Posted by & filed under GMOs, Health & Disease, Insects.

by Frank Gapinski

Monsanto versus the Corn Rootworm Beetle
in a dangerous game of tit for tat.

This story is almost a parable of two worlds, a battle between the natural and the man-made.

Like a boxing match, in the one corner we have Monsanto – a large company aided by big money and big investment, tinkering away in the science labs, discovering even more devious ways to develop the perfect pest resistant strain of GM corn that can be easily marketed and harvested to a massively large, over-subsidized monoculture industry.

The one aim is to develop the perfect foodstuff that can’t be attacked by pests or disease. Sounds good.

One the other side we have Nature, in the form of a humble beetle — the corn rootworm beetle — eying off all those wonderful acres of unblemished genetically modified corn, with their silk corn heads waving gently in the breeze signalling “C’mon over here little guy – come on over and eat me!”

The system is out of whack and out of balance. But pesky nature likes a balanced system.

So let the battle begin.

Recently Iowa State University researchers have discovered that Monsanto’s new improved genetically modified corn, that was previously thought to be resistant to all the nasty little bugs out there, has struck a problem.

It seems nature has not been idle. The western corn rootworm beetle has developed resistance to the insect-killing protein that is the natural insecticide found in Monsanto’s genetically modified corn.

Researchers have found that the new generation of beetles are now able to munch quite happily on Monsanto’s bug resistant corn.

The stakes have been raised now for Monsanto to go back to their labs and develop even more lethal GM corn to fight the army of rootworm beetles munching their way into their profits.

So how dangerous is the corn rootworm beetle?

Should millions of dollars in research be conducted developing more toxic chemicals to get rid of a greater threat to humanity?

It’s like the old cold war arms race between the US and the Soviets. Millions of dollars spent in a battle to suppress Nature? Is it even possible to suppress Nature?

As Geoff Lawton says in his permaculture videos, “We are Nature.” The war against nature is a battle we are fighting within ourselves.

The old definition perhaps rings true that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

So how do you fight a pest like the rootworm beetle?

Can it be fought in a monoculture system at all? Should new ways of crop diversity and predator habitats be encouraged?

Well, here’s University of Illinois horticulturalist Jeff Rugg with a small solution that unfortunately Monsanto may have slightly overlooked.

Perhaps the last word should be given to Joel Salatin, a renegade farmer, on the crazy war against nature by agri-business.

Well we can start with the philosophical difference that we think that food is fundamentally biological and most of the culture thinks that food is primarily mechanical.” says Salatin, “And that’s why we can pull DNA structure and genes from a pig and put some in a pepper plant and some in a salmon and have a brand new life form, that’s a parts-oriented thing, like pieces of an engine.

But some of us believe that life is fundamentally biological not mechanical; the difference being that biological systems can heal, they have resiliency, and they have a reason to be, a reason to exist that demands respect. I call it the “pigness of the pig” and the “cowness of the cow”. And when you disrespect that – for example when the USDA took farmers like me to free dinners for 30 years to teach us the new science-based feeding of cattle with dead cows, we did not do it because we didn’t like the USDA or because we were luddites or not progressive or hated science, we didn’t do it because there was no pattern or template in nature in which herbivores eat carrion!

And so, 30 years later, there is this big collective “Oops, maybe we shouldn’t oughta done that.” You know, as this mechanical approach toward life has caught up to us with bovine spongiform encephalopathy. And in fact, that’s exactly what has created, you know the E.coli, salmonella, all these things are modern mutations and toxic proliferations that have become mainstream with a mechanical view towards life.

We’ve even got research now going to try to isolate the porcine stress gene so we can take that stress gene out of the pig and abuse him a little more aggressively but at least he won’t be stressed about it. A culture that views its life with that kind of conquistador, mechanical, disrespectful, manipulative mentality will soon view its citizens the same way and other cultures the same way. — Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin

But back to the rootworm beetle. Will this alter the way agri-business approach their war against nature? Apparently not. It seems the new outbreak of superbugs that have grown resistant to their GM Food only spurs them on to greater heights. New Agri-business rivals have entered the market and the race amongst crop biotechnology rivals to locate the next generation of genes that can protect plants from insects is storming ahead.

Scientists at Monsanto and Syngenta AG of Basel, Switzerland, are already researching how to use a medical breakthrough called RNA interference to, among other things, make crops deadly for insects to eat.

If this works, a bug munching on such a plant could ingest genetic code that turns off one of its essential genes.

Wonderful stuff… until the next outbreak overtakes them.

Further Reading:

8 Responses to “Monsanto Versus the Beetle”

  1. Daniel

    The problem (or maybe it’s not a problem) is that bio/organic/permaculture doesn’t seem to work on large scale.
    Imagine you have hectares with a crop, pumpkins, corn, wheat, can you spray with water and soap all the bugs?

    I have yet to see permaculture providing food for a larger community, like a village or a small town.
    I’m still looking, though.

  2. Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor

    The truth of the matter Daniel is that monocultures don’t work on large scale either. Indeed, it’s because they don’t work that agri-businesses have moved into GMOs.

    As we decline in fossil fuels large scale agriculture will become prohibitively expensive:

    In that respect, we could wish the world’s oil wells would dry up pronto, as in the meantime fossil fuel based agriculture is steadily eroding soils, contaminating water, and reducing biodiversity, and it’s not cycling the all important phosphorus.

    We should stop kidding ourselves that large scale agriculture works. It doesn’t, and never will. There are certainly transitional approaches that can help us make the necessary shift back to smaller scaled localised agriculture, but they should be seen as just that – transition approaches, to lessen abrupt suffering as we reskill and reorganise where and how we live.

  3. Paul

    for a long while now i am finding more and more that the solutions to the problems i see before me in suburban living is to exist in smaller communities. i believe these proven successful, smaller communities are traditionally referred to as tribes.
    im posting this because i think it is relevant to your post daniel. as craig said, large scale agriculture doesnt work and never will. you dont need a lot of space to provide enough food for a few familes with a surplus to trade with other communities for food you cant/dont grow. the trick is time and modern suburban lifestyles dont offer very much of it. i could rant and perhaps i already have but i wont because i feel like a baby at 29 years old learning how to walk when it comes to permaculture.
    however i do know, and will say, food production for a large community would not fall under the banner of permaculture. not in this gluttonous society anyway.

    small communities.

  4. Brad

    Mark Shepard has a 100-acre permaculture farm in Wisconsin that works on a large scale. He used the local Oak/Hazelnut savanna as a model and created a Chestnut/Hazelnut savanna. Granted it’s taken a while to tease out the solid performers, but permaculture doesn’t happen overnight.

    In a well designed system you shouldn’t be spraying anything. You just need the patience to let the ecology find a balance, and the knowledge to guide the system in a productive direction.

  5. jason

    What will happen is that nature will evolve and the pesticides etc won’t work as nature’s creatures develop an immunity to it.

    You can’t beat nature. If you could we’d all live to 150 or so!

  6. Daniel

    It seems that Joel Salatin at Polyface farm does production, via permaculture, also on quite large scale.

  7. Excelsior Concordia

    @ Daniel

    1) Nature does not make large scale production, only humans try to …

    2) Montsanto (and others) already fight for a lost cause: they can’t win against an “enemy” prepared to employ any solution viable and in their reach while all the engineers struggle to gain the upper hand in a fight for which they are not prepared to give “a decent response”!

    3) Nature developed itself after hundreds of million years of evolution … we might try that in a lab BUT WE CAN NOT (AND NEVER WILL) CHANGE THE SUBSTANCE OF IT for the simple reason that Nature developed in harmonica relation with every element present in it … which, by the way, was also created by Nature itself!!!

    No skill, no science, no technology can change or push (in any given direction) the course of Nature.

    We can try … but we shall only lose this game and it’s just a matter of time until we shall discover this truth!


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