Environmentalists have long warned of the ecological risks posed by Bt corn, which is genetically engineered to resist European and southwestern corn borers. Now farmers have yet another reason not to grow those high-tech yellow ears: It could put their farms in the red.
Bt corn growers have been losing out on exports to Europe, where engineered food is often unwanted. And now, a report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy calculates that they also lost an average of $1.31 per acre over the last six years-a total loss of $92 million nationwide. For the privilege of planting Bt corn, farmers pay 30 to 35 percent more than the cost of conventional seed. But those higher costs usually didn't pay off in increased yields.
"For each farm, the economics will differ depending upon the frequency of [corn borer] infestations . . . and a whole host of biotic (like natural predators and corn-plant defenses) and abiotic (cold weather and hard rains) factors," writes Dr. Charles Benbrook, the report's author and a former executive director of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Biotech corporations have promoted Bt corn as a one-size-fits-all solution to farmers' woes, but the result can be a field of bad dreams.