A Public Voice
A Public Voice on Biotechnology and Agriculture
Union of Concerned Scientists
Fall/Winter 1998

Canada Takes the Lead on Bt

Canadian officials have announced that companies selling Bt corn must implement resistance management plans ensuring large on-farm refuges. The plans, which require a minimum 20% unsprayed refuge of non-Bt corn on each farm planting Bt corn, will be conditions on all authorizations of Bt crops issued after December 3, 1998. The government is also amending existing authorizations of Bt corn to require the new resistance management plans. Companies must adjust conditions of sale and advertising literature to conform with the new requirements by January 1, 1999.

The Canadian government's bold action was based on a report developed by the Bt Corn Coalition, a group made up of corn growers, the seed industry, and university and government scientists. The Coalition issued a consensus report in favor of a resistance management plan based on the large refuges. The report is consistent with the recommendations of the US Department of Agriculture's North Central Regional Research Committee and with Now or Never: Serious New Plans to Save a Natural Pest Control published last year by UCS.

The decisive move puts the Canadians far ahead of the US government in taking the needed steps to establish scientifically sound requirements for resistance management. Although existing US permits for Bt corn and cotton include conditions for resistance management plans, currently those plans contain no requirements for refuges for most Bt corn and only puny refuge requirements for Bt cotton. The permits for Bt potatoes contain no conditions on resistance management; the existing plans are completely voluntary.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials have indicated privately that they are interested in establishing stronger requirements for resistance management, but so far nothing official has emerged from the Agency. Industry, notably Monsanto, is vigorously opposing implementation of large refuges. If the EPA requirements are to have an impact on the 1999 growing season, the Agency should act by early January 1999.

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