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New Restrictions on Biotech Corn
Updated 4:00 PM ET January 16, 2000
By PHILIP BRASHER, AP Farm Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The government is putting new planting restrictions on genetically engineered corn to prevent insects from developing resistance to the toxin in the biotech crop. About 30 percent of the corn grown last year was Bt corn, named for the 
bacteria it contains to kill the European corn borer. The new restrictions, which the Environmental Protection Agency worked out with the industry, will require farmers to plant at least 20 percent conventional corn in most regions, and 50 percent in areas where cotton is 
grown. 

Seed companies will be required to expand field monitoring for signs of where insect resistance may be occurring. The companies also are to "communicate voluntary measures" to protect Monarch butterflies from the corn. The EPA posted a brief notice about the new restrictions Friday on its Web site. 

The butterfly larvae feed on milkweed, which sometimes is found around corn fields. A study released in May by Cornell University said Monarch larvae died when they ate pollen from the Bt corn. "We are really happy to see that the agency is taking the resistance issues and the Monarch issue seriously," said Margaret Mellon, director of the agricultural and biotechnology program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "We think the agency has done a good job of jawboning the industry and getting them to agree to the restrictions in an environment where strictly speaking they don't have to. We're concerned that they didn't go far 
enough." 

Rebecca Goldburg, senior scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the new restrictions "confirm the fact that Bt corn can pose both an environmental and resistance management risk." The planting restrictions are along the lines of recommendations made by 
the National Corn Growers Association, said Leon Corzine, an Illinois farmer who serves on an association committee that handles biotech issues. 

The EPA action is unlikely to have much effect on farmers because they already are likely to cut back on production of Bt corn due to consumer resistance to biotech food in U.S. export markets. Also, corn borer infestations have been low throughout much of the Midwest for the past two years. 

The planting restrictions will be higher in cotton-growing areas because of the widespread use of a Bt-version of cotton. The European Commission, which enforces rules for the 15-member European Union, cited the Cornell study last summer in delaying approval of pending requests to sell the corn variety. Mexican environmentalists urged their government to ban its import and use. In response to the study, EPA scientists said last year that they knew that the pollen could kill insects but did not believe the butterflies would be exposed to the toxin outside the laboratory. The agency is to consider renewing expiring registrations for Bt corn 
later this year and has asked seed companies to provide data on its impact.