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SmartStax Corn: Corporate War on Bees

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US regulatory agencies are aiding and abetting in killing bees and more

The Institute of Science in Society Prof. Joe Cummins

This report has been submitted to the US EPA on behalf of ISIS

SmartStax corn

Smartstax is a genetically modified (GM) corn that has eight GM traits combined or ‘stacked’ together, six for insect resistance (Bt) and two for herbicide tolerance. Current stacked GM trait crops on the market only have up to three traits each. SmartStax was created through a collaboration between Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, allowing the two corporations to share GM traits. The traits are combined together using crosses between existing transgenic corn lines rather than using genetic transformation of a single maize strain. Interestingly, a collection of old transgenes brought together with traditional crosses are being described as the ‘new’ technology.  Monsanto and Dow are predicting that SmartStax will be the largest commercial launch of a single GM corn because it will replace a lot of the existing GM corn varieties on the market. The main benefit of Smartstax maize is that it provides above and below ground insect protection along with tolerance to two herbicides (glyphosate and glufosinate) [1]. Herbicide tolerance and insect resistance genes are engineered in redundant combinations in the belief that it will prevent establishment of resistances to herbicides and the Bt proteins among weeds and insect pests respectively [2]. The USDA provided a premium reduction in the cost of crop insurance for farmers growing  Smartstax maize while the US EPA  granted a reduction in the size of the refuge area set aside from 20 percent to 5 percent, which constitutes substantial government financial incentives for growing  Smartstax maize [3]. It is supposed to protect growers of Smartstax maize from the uncertainties of climatic instabilities associated with global warming. The USDA crop insurance program covers organic farmers too, but fails to protect the organic premium on price and will not consider the crop loss from pollen contamination from GM crops. Organic and conventional growers are placed at a clear disadvantage in comparison to growers of  Smartstax  corn.

Smartstax can end bees

Smarstax corn contains a potpourri of transgenes claimed to control pests both above and below ground. Monsanto’s subsidiary Genuity, which markets Smartstax corn along with stacked versions of GM soybeans and cotton, uses Acceleron seed treatment products. These contain a combination of fungicides including ipconazole, metalaxyl and trifloxystrobin for  protection against primary seed-borne and soil-borne diseases, along with clothianidin, an insecticide, to reduce damage caused by secondary pests [2].  Clothianidin is a systemic insecticide that may be carried to all parts of the corn plant including the pollen-producing tassel and pollen visited by bees [4].

The selection of clothianidin for seed treatment is rather cavalier because the insecticide has been implicated in bee die-offs[5].

A German judge prohibited the use of clothianidin in maize seed treatment after the pesticide was observed to have killed foraging honey bees [6] Emergency Pesticide Ban for Saving the Honeybee, SiS 39). A German coalition of farmers brought legal action against the president of Bayer Crop Science  for marketing the dangerous neonicotinoid pesticides such as clothianidin that have caused mass death of bees all over the world [7]. The Institute of Science in Society has long maintained that  the neonicotinoid insecticides, such as clothianidin, in seed dressing and sprays are responsible for the collapse of honey bee colonies, The insecticides  impair the bee’s foraging behaviour and its immunity to parasitic and viral diseases. The Bt toxins such as those contained in the Smartstax corn have also been found to impair the bee’s behaviour and immunity to disease [8-10] (Requiem for the Honeybee, SiS 35;  Saving the Honeybee Through Organic Farming, SiS 38;To Bee Organic or not to Bee, SiS 39).

Can Smartstax be safe for bees or humans?

The stacked  transgenic varieties assembled using conventional breeding are not regulated by USDA/APHIS and environments assessment is not required.  But such introductions are regulated by US EPA, which does not appear to be concerned over the die-off of bees from seed treatment chemicals nor from the transgenic Bt proteins. This is clearly unacceptable, and these regulatory agencies should be held fully responsible for aiding and abetting in the corporate killing of bees.

EPA should also note that ISIS has previously requested the agency to ban glyphosate and Roundup herbicide based on new evidence over its toxicity [11] (Death by Multiple Poisoning, Glyphosate and Roundup, SiS 42), and more damning evidence has emerged since that glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and endocrine disrupting [12]. In addition, a ban on glufosinate herbicide has been approved by the European Parliament in January 2009 [13].


1. Agbios GM Database MON-89Ø34-3 x DAS- Ø15Ø7-1 x MON-88Ø17-3 x DAS-59122-7 (MON89034 x TC1507 x MON88017 x DAS-59122-7) SmartStax™ 2010 http://www.agbios.com/dbase.php

2. Genuity: Traits: Corn: SmartStax™ Early season insect control utilizing clothianidin, a leading insecticide, to reduce  damage caused by secondary pests.2010  http://www.genuity.com/Traits/Corn/Genuity-SmartStax.aspx

3. California Farmer Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences Smartstax Corn Hybrids Eligible for Crop Insurance Pilot Premium Rate Reduction Program In 2010 http://californiafarmer.com/story.aspx/monsanto/dow/agrosciences/smartstax/corn/hybrids/eligible/

4. Gross M. Pesticides linked to bee deaths.  Current Biology 2008, 18(16), R684.

5. Everts S. Germany suspends use of clothianidin after the pesticide is linked to honeybee deaths. Chemical & Engineering News May 26, 2008, p. 10

6. Ho M-W. Emergency pesticide ban for saving the honeybee. Science in Society 39, 40, 2008.

7. Environmental News Service German Coalition Sues Bayer Over Pesticide Honey Bee  Deaths 2008 http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/aug2008/2008-08-25-01.asp

8. Cummins J. Requiem for the honey bee. Science in Society 35, 37,2007

9. Cummins J. Saving the honey bee through organic farming. Science in Society 38, 16, 2008.

10. Cummins J. To bee organic or not ot bee . Science in Society 39, 41, 2008.

11. Ho MW and Cherry B. Death by multiple poisoning, glyphosate and Roundup. Science in Society 42, 14, 2009.

12. Gasnier C, Dumont C, Benachour N, Clair E, Chagnon M-C, and Séralini G-E. Glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and endocrine disruptors in human cell lines. Toxicology 2009, 262, 184-91.

13. “MEPs approve pesticides legislation”, European Parliament, 13 January 2009, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/expert/infopress_page/066-45937-012-01-03-911-20090112IPR45936-12-01-2009-2009-false/default_en.htm

Reposted with permission.


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