FEED Business Worldwide - October / November, 2011
Study: Pests becoming resistant to GM corn
Monsanto's genetically modified (GM) corn may be losing its resistance to the pests it was designed to repel.
According to a study published by researchers from Iowa State University, western corn rootworms in four Iowa fields are surviving after eating an insect-killing protein derived from Bacillus thuringiensis (a.ka. 'Bt'), the natural insecticide in Monsanto's GM corn plant. Laboratory testing confirmed that the beetles passed on their resistance to the GM corn's Bt toxin to their offspring.
Iowa State University entomologist Aaron Gassman said that these were "isolated cases" at the moment, but it may be an early warning that farm management practices need to change.
"These results suggest that improvements in resistance management and a more integrated approach to the use of Bt crops may be necessary," Gassman wrote in the study.
This is the first time a major US Midwest scourge has developed resistance to a genetically modified feed crop.
"The western corn rootworm is one of the most significant insect pests of corn in the United States and has a potential to become a very significant insect in Europe," said Michael Gray, a crop scientist at the University of Illinois, who is also investigating crop damage in northwestern Illinois caused by rootworms earlier this year.
The discovery raises concerns that uncontrolled use of biotech crops could spawn superbugs. It could also encourage some farmers to switch back to traditional, non GM seeds or spray harsher synthetic pesticides on their fields.
Many farmers rely heavily on insect-proof and herbicide-resistant crops to make farming easier. Using the same insect toxin-laced GM corn year after year may have allowed pests to adapt, the study warned.
Monsanto replied that its rootworm-resistant corn seed lines are working as expected on most of the acres planted with this technology.
"Our Cry3Bb1 protein is effective, and we don't have any demonstrated field resistance," said Monsanto global corn technology lead Dusty Post. "We do have some performance inquiries in those counties where there's a high level of insect pressure, but it's no greater now than it's been."
However, he added that Monsanto will take the study's results "very seriously". "The durability of the technology is not only important to the company, it's important to farmers," Post said.
US government regulations require that farmers who plant the genetically modified corn take certain steps aimed at preventing insects from developing resistance, including creating a refuge for the pests by planting non-modified corn in up to 20% of their fields. This is done to reduce the chances that two toxin-resistant pests mate and pass along that trait to their offspring.
Prior to the availability of insecticide-producing corn, US Midwest farmers also used to rotate their crops every year, often between corn and soy, in order to starve the offspring of the previous year's pests.
The US Environmental Protection Agency said it was too early to comment on any implications arising from Gassmann's paper.
JBS restructures Brazilian operations
Brazilian meat giant JBS is restructuring parts of its Brazilian operations so as to raise output and save taxes.
The company announced that it will suspend operations at its Presidente Epitacio unit in Sao Paulo state due to tax inefficiencies. The output from that unit will be transferred to a unit in neighbouring Mato Grosso do Sul state.
Slaughtering and deboning units in Parana, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso and Roraima states will also be moved to other locations.
JBS expects the restructuring to enhance the efficiency of its domestic operations, raising output by 5% and saving around BRL200 million (US$120 million) annually from reduced tax bills and overheads.
JBS will also offer a substantial portion of employees a transfer to other units, and claims the move will create jobs.
"The balance between the layoffs and the number of people hired in the plants that will increase slaughter and deboning activities will be positive, with 500 new jobs in the communities," JBS said.
JBS said it did not expect to resume operations at units where it was suspending work for as long as the current tax regime that applied to them remained in place.
Fonterra downsizes New Zealand organic dairy production
Blaming a slowdown in the organic diary market's growth Fonterra has announced that it is downsizing its organic produce operations in New Zealand,.
Fonterra's group director supplier and external relations Kelvin Wickham said growth in the organics market had significantly slowed since the global financial crisis, but the New Zealand-based farmer-owned cooperative remained committed to the market.
Fonterra, the world's largest dairy manufacturer, outlined a plan in August to bring the business into a break-even situation. The plan involved concentrating North Island organic suppliers around one hub, which would reduce the number of organic suppliers by half, as well as reducing the amount of product processed at Fonterra's other two certified organic sites.
Wickham added that the organic product range would focus on cheese, which provided the best returns, and on emerging Asian and Australian organics markets, where the returns and growth potential were stronger.
"We understand the big commitment many of our farmers have made to the organics programme and that this transition will not be an easy one to make. The decision to reduce our organics operation was not taken lightly but we need to get the business back into a break-even situation," he said, adding that the reforms would bring "efficiencies of scale in processing the milk."
Fonterra's decision has drawn criticism from both suppliers and politicians.
Federated Farmers Dairy organic spokesman Gray Beagley said the announcement left organic suppliers "in the lurch".
"We need to ask how hard Fonterra has worked to develop new markets locally and internationally," he said. "Only last year, Fonterra said publicly that the only way for organics was up even in the current economic climate."
"Organics give New Zealand dairy a competitive advantage for value-added products. Fonterra should be supporting farmers who have, and who wish to, convert to organic farming," said Kevin Hague, agriculture spokesperson for the opposition Green Party.
Wickham said Fonterra would honour all organic contracts through to their formal termination dates, some of which have several years to run, and would work with farmers as they make their transition out of the organics programme.
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