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Monsanto's Bt corn Disaster: Burden not Boon to Agriculture

The Greenpeace report challenges Monsanto's claim that Bt corn is the answer to poverty.
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Manila, Philippines — Greenpeace activists today occupied the Department of Agriculture's offices with banners denouncing Bt Corn, a genetically engineered (GE) corn patented and owned by American company Monsanto, as a financial and environmental burden for farmers. Greenpeace released evidence that Monsanto's claims of increasing crop yield and reducing dependence on fertilizers are patently false.

"Greenpeace's findings prove that the Arroyo government should never have approved the commercialization of Bt corn. Monsanto is promoting it as profitable for small farmers but it's not. Bt corn is actually a lot more expensive than conventional corn varieties," said Daniel Ocampo of Greenpeace.

The Greenpeace report entitled "The Economics of Bt Corn: Whose Interest Does It Really Serve?" details the exorbitant cost of planting GE corn over conventional varieties. Bt corn seeds can cost as high as P4,400 to P4,900 per 18-kg bag; in contrast conventional corn varieties cost a lot lower, starting from P1,500 for conventionally bred hybrid seeds to as low as P460 for Open Pollinated Varieties (OPVs).

Bt corn varieties also require higher fertilizer inputs, which makes it clear from the beginning that planting Bt corn comes at a huge premium that most farmers cannot recover from.

Last week, farmer Tomas Datinguinoo, from Naujan, Orienal Mindoro, publicly exposed his experience of failure from Bt corn.

"After hearing that Bt corn will mean higher yields and will not be attacked by the corn borer I decided to try my luck with Bt Corn. However, after planting three hectares of Bt corn, I decided to go back to conventional varieties because I did not earn more than I used to due to the high cost of seeds and inputs. I was told by the Monsanto agent to use 15 bags of fertilizer per hectare which amounted to thousands of pesos and, after selling my harvest, I only broke even," said Datinguinoo.

The Greenpeace report also challenges Monsanto's claim that Bt corn is the answer to eradicating damages caused by the Asiatic Corn Borer. Bt corn kills the corn borer by means of the Bacillus thuringiensis strain incorporated into its genetic makeup, which, according to Monsanto, reduces the need for pesticides. However, Monsanto conveniently forgets to mention that Bt corn also kills beneficial insects and contaminates soil, sometimes remaining active in Bt-planted plots for more than 200 days during cold periods. This accumulation can have possible long-term detrimental effects on soil health.

In contrast to the expensive quick-fix offered by Monsanto, a growing number of Filipino farmers are using an innovative way of solving the corn borer problem. The use of Trichogramma wasps, a natural enemy of the corn borer, to control infestations has proven to be safe and effective. Farmers that have shifted to Trichogramma say they have stopped using chemicals altogether because they have seen its effectiveness in controlling corn borer populations.

The low cost, availability, efficiency and significant reduction of chemical inputs have made Trichogramma an extremely attractive option for farmers. These have contributed to the success rate of the program which has effectively reduced the occurrence of corn borer by 80-85% in the province of Isabela. The National Crop Protection Center even promotes its use, yet the Arroyo government remains staunchly pro-GMO, therefore undermining the success of an innovative, farmer-oriented and environmentally-friendly solution.

"Clearly, an effective solution to control the corn borer exists. And Bt corn, contrary to the promises made by Monsanto, is a burden, not a boon. We call on the government to re-evaluate its position on Bt corn's commercialization," Ocampo said. "We should not put our farmers' livelihoods and our environment in danger for a company that is only interested in recouping its investments."

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