Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





August 21, 2000


Bt corn and Monarch butterfly


Dear Colleagues,

Attached are a letter from Ed Shonsey and a backgrounder from Novartis

Seeds, Inc. which we hope you will find helpful in view of the current


Please call or email me with any additional questions.

Thanks. Sincerely,

Tony M.


|Tony Minnichsoffer, Communications |Tel (763) 593-7128

|Manager |Fax (763) 593-7154

|Novartis Seeds, Inc. |Web site: www.nk.com

|Field Crops ? NAFTA |

|7500 Olson Memorial Highway |

|Golden Valley, MN 55427 |

| |

|P.O. Box 959 |

|Minneapolis, MN 55440 |

|e-mail: |

|tony.minnichsoffer@seeds.novartis. |

|com |


21, 2000

To Our Industry Colleagues

and Food Chain Friends:

Little more than one year ago, a single laboratory study set off a
firestorm of concern about the impact of genetically improved corn
pollen on Monarch butterfly larvae. That research, led by Dr. John
Losey of Cornell University, suggested that Monarch larvae force-fed
milkweed coated in Bt corn pollen might die.

In the ensuing months, Novartis Seeds joined with others in the
industry to fund independent research by 20 leading entomologists at 10
universities across the U.S. and Canada -- research designed to gain
real world answers to the theoretical possibilities suggested by Dr.
Losey and his colleagues. What they found by a preponderance of
evidence was that, under actual field conditions Bt corn pollen has
little impact on Monarch butterfly populations. These researchers
presented their independent findings in scientific forums such as the
Entomology Society of America's annual meeting, providing opportunity
for peer-review, discussion and debate. The research will continue for
another year to ensure data integrity and an appropriate level of
scientific input.

This week, CBS Evening News plans to air a report on a "new" study
whose findings are contrary to this body of evidence. This time, the
lead researcher is Dr. John Obrycki of Iowa State University and,
similar to Losey's research, this study appears to be based on an
experimental design that has questionable relevance to what Monarch
butterflies will encounter under actual field conditions.

The reality is that the Obrycki study, like Losey's work last year,
offers no new insights into the Bt corn discussion. During its initial
review of the technology, officials at the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) evaluated the risk of Bt corn pollen and its potential
impact on other insects. At that time, they concluded that the
benefits of Bt corn far outweighed any theoretical risk to non-target
species. This risk assessment was once again upheld earlier this month
when the EPA extended its registration of these Bt corn products.

Novartis Seeds, in cooperation with industry colleagues, has provided
the CBS reporter with additional scientific information, in an attempt
to help him weigh the relevance of Obrycki's findings against the
mountain of contrasting evidence, including that generated to date from
the comprehensive institutional study described above. We hope the
news story will reflect a balanced assessment of the facts. The CBS
news report is slated to air Monday, August 21.


of Research Presented at the Monarch Butterfly Research Symposium

discussion of the impact of Bt corn on monarch butterfly populations
was originally spurred by a single, four-day laboratory study conducted
by Dr. John Losey of Cornell University and published in the May 20,
1999, issue of Nature. In the study, monarch larvae
fed milkweed leaves artificially coated with Bt corn pollen ate less,
grew slower and suffered a higher death rate than larvae that consumed
milkweed leaves free of corn pollen.

By design, Losey's research did not mimic natural conditions. In the
laboratory, the caterpillars were given no choice but to feed on leaves
artificially covered with corn pollen.

Under actual field conditions, a complex series of events must fall
into place for there to be even a possibility that Bt corn
pollen may cause any harm to monarchs.

Courier_NewThe monarchs must be
in their larval development stage, a period which last just 12 to 16

Courier_NewThe monarch larva
must be feeding at the same time corn is pollinating, a narrow period
of seven to 10 days.

Courier_NewThe milkweed plant
that the larva feeds on must be located near a Bt cornfield.

Courier_NewBt corn pollen must
fall on the particular milkweed leaf that the caterpillar is feeding

Courier_NewThe caterpillar must
consume the pollen before rain or dew washes it away.

To determine what impact, if any, Bt corn pollen has on monarchs in
their natural environment, a coalition of leading scientists from
government, universities and Extension fielded a series of independent
studies in 1999, and continued their work in 2000. The results of
their initial studies were presented on Nov. 2, 1999, at the Monarch
Butterfly Research Symposium in Chicago. Key findings from this
extensive body of field research include:

migration and Bt pollen shed may not
Courier_New For
many areas of the U.S., June is the peak time when the first generation
of Monarch larvae are actively feeding on milkweed plants.
contrast, the peak time of corn pollen shed is typically mid-July
through early August. To evaluate the potential interaction between
later generations of Monarch larvae and Bt corn pollen, Dr.
Galen Dively, pest management specialist and professor of entomology at
the University of Maryland, monitored Maryland cornfields and monarch
development in 1999. He found that corn plants had completed pollen
shed before later generations of monarch caterpillars were first
observed feeding on milkweed. Similarly, Dr. John Foster, professor of
entomology at the University of Nebraska, observed that by late July,
corn pollination in Nebraska was 95 percent complete before monarch
eggs were observed on milkweeds near corn.

prefer milkweed away from
Courier_New Tests
by Dr. John Losey, Cornell University assistant professor of
entomology, show that monarchs avoid laying eggs on milkweed surrounded
by corn. Further, researchers from USDA-Agricultural Research Service
(ARS) and Iowa State University found that when given a choice between
feeding on milkweed leaves with no pollen or high levels of Bt pollen,
the majority of monarch larvae chose no pollen.

Courier_NewCorn pollen
doesn't travel
Researchers at Stanford University, University of Guelph, Iowa State
University and University of Maryland conducted independent studies to
evaluate the spread of corn pollen. In each case, the scientists found
that corn pollen levels decrease rapidly a short distance from the
field edge.

density is highest along roadsides, not corn
Courier_New Dr.
Doug Buhler, research agronomist for USDA-ARS and Dr. Robert Hartzler,
associate professor and Extension weed scientist at Iowa State
University, found that Iowa roadsides typically had 48 common milkweed
patches per hectare, while corn and soybean fields had only seven
patches per hectare.

A more detailed summary of these research findings is available at

Additionally, the following scientists could provide more information
on the relationship between monarch butterfly larvae and Bt corn

Courier_NewDr. Dennis Calvin,
Pennsylvania State University, (814) 863-4640

Courier_NewDr. Chris Difonzo,
Michigan State University (517) 353-5328

Courier_NewDr. Galen Dively,
University of Maryland, (301) 405-3919

Courier_NewDr. John Foster,
University of Nebraska, (402) 472-8686

Courier_NewDr. Rick Hellmich,
USDA-ARS, Iowa State University, (515) 294-4509

Courier_NewDr. Michael
Phillips, Executive Director, Food & Agriculture, Biotechnology
Industry Organization, (202) 857-2306

Courier_NewDr. John Pleasants,
Iowa State University, (515) 294-7204

Courier_NewDr. Marlin Rice,
Iowa State University, (515) 294-1101

Courier_NewDr. Mark Sears,
University of Guelph, (519) 824-4120

Courier_NewDr. Warren Stevens,
Missouri Botanical Garden, (314) 577-5103

Courier_NewDr. Tom Turpin,
Purdue University, (765) 494-4554