Scientists refute Greenpeace claim that genetically modified corn caused new insect pest

An article in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Integrated Pest Management (JIPM) refutes claims by Greenpeace Germany that the western bean cutworm (WBC), Striacosta albicosta (Smith), is "a new plant pest" that was "caused by genetically engineered corn." The Greenpeace Germany report, which was written by author Richard Then of Testbiotech, offers a "surprisingly simplistic conclusion" regarding the spread of western bean cutworm over the last decade, according to the JIPM authors.

In "Genetically Engineered Bt and Range Expansion of the Western Bean Cutworm (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) in the United States: A Response to Greenpeace Germany," corresponding author William Hutchison, professor and chair of the University of Minnesota Department of Entomology, and his co-authors maintain that the Greenpeace report fails to consider broader ecological and agronomic factors which explain why the WBC's range has expanded. These additional factors include , synchrony of insect and corn phenology, reduced insecticide use, increases in conservation tillage, , glyphosate-resistant crops, insect genetics, insect pathogens, pre-existing densities, and climate change.

The JIPM authors focus on several discrepancies of fact and interpretation in the Greenpeace document, beginning with its title, "Agro-biotechnology: New plant pest caused by corn. The spread of the western bean cutworm causes massive damage in the U.S."

Despite the Greenpeace claim, the WBC is neither "new" nor has it caused "massive damage" recently. The WBC was originally collected in Arizona in the 1880s and was considered an economic pest of beans and corn as early as 1915. Over the last decade its range has expanded, but documentation of economically damaging infestations has been relatively limited.

The Greenpeace claim that the WBC has historically "been confined to very limited regions and did not cause any major problems in maize crops" is also untrue, according to the authors. Farmers in Nebraska reported major problems as early as 1962, and instead of being "confined to very limited regions," the WBC was documented throughout the western Great Plains from Mexico to Alberta, where it was found in the mid 1950s, despite the Greenpeace claim that it was found in Canada for the first time as recently as 2009.

According to the authors, "a curious theme throughout the Greenpeace Germany report, is that Then (2010) ignored the possibility of other influences on western bean cutworm range expansion, including several ecological and agronomic factors." For example, the increasing use of conservation tillage since the mid-1990s favors the survival rate of WBC larvae because less deep plowing minimizes mortality to insect pests that overwinter in the soil. Another possible reason is the reduction or elimination of insecticide applications, which has occurred with increased use of Bt corn over the past decade, likely resulting in increased survival of the WBC. Other possibilities for the WBC range expansion, such as climate change, were also ignored by Greenpeace and Testbiotech.

Out of concern that "potential misinterpretation of selected quotes" in the Greenpeace report may lead to confusion among future regulatory decision makers, the authors go on to give specific responses to other claims in the report.

Explore further

Seed mixtures and insurance pest management: Future norm in the Corn Belt?

More information: These responses, and the full JIPM article, can be downloaded at .
Citation: Scientists refute Greenpeace claim that genetically modified corn caused new insect pest (2012, January 6) retrieved 21 July 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jan 06, 2012
Amazing! The biotech industry and the agrochemical industry have been responsible for a number of grossly erroneous research articles over the years and have taken great steps to ensure that they don't get taken to task over them and yet here they are fighting against a lesser document as if it were the greatest lie of all time. Talk about double standards.
As for the lesser use of insecticides that would make not a damned bit of difference because of the 'Bt' modification and not in spite of it. This modification is only a part of the insecticidal spectrum used. So it either works or it doesn't? The truth is that the biotechs and their chemical cousins don't want to lose a market share with the truth getting out, even if it is a little bit shy of detail. So maybe its time to stop all the obfuscating and get down to the truth and admit that Bt corn is ineffective against WBC. Why? Probably because the WBC has developed an adequate resistance to Bt corn. Why else would it prevail? :)

Jan 07, 2012
i would be more concerned over the link with G/M crops and diabetes.
if feeding rats and mice on the G/M crops caused pre-diabetic conditions to appear in the rodents, what effect can the crops be doing to people.
esp as one of the main G/M growers also has a major share in the diabetic drug market.

do your own digging... its all there if you dig deep enough.

Jan 07, 2012
I'm writing about GMO related problems here. http://aetherwave...der.html
The problem of this technology is, it has many subliminal effects, the impacts of which are cumulating in emergent way. We will save some money in application of chemical pesticides, but these money are payed back in the increased costs of medical care and environmental impacts. Just because these money cannot be calculated so easily, the biotechnological farmers appear to win - but their success is much more modest, when various emergent, subliminal and long term effects are taken into account.

We could say, whole industrial areas (GMO farming) are behaving like selfish memes, which are trying to cheat people in spending of their money in another areas (medical care). We are asking the cheaper food an we are forced to spend the money for this food in another seemingly unrelated areas. Or they're simply delayed in time.

Jan 07, 2012
For example, here you can read, how GM corn plant may be losing its effectiveness because a major pest appears to be developing resistance more quickly than scientists expected. Instead of it, it just helped to decline of bees and bats, which developed resistance more slowly, than scientists expected...


So, with using of GMO we saved some money in application of chemical insecticides like the Thuricide, but now we are forced to spend another money in research of new generation of insecticides, because the application of GMO helped pests into evolution of more resistant mutations. We are actually paying the Monsanto for solution of problem, which has been caused just with its own products - this is what the "successful business model" is called.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more