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Gene-Altered Corn Poses Little Risk To Butterflies

Friday 5, November

The New Zealand Life Science Network has today welcomed news from the US which disproves earlier reports of significant risk to Monarch butterflies from gene-altered corn.

Seventeen separate studies have been carried out since researchers from Cornell University published a report which linked the deaths of Monarch butterflies to genetically altered Bt corn.

“The conclusion is that Bt corn poses only a modest and perhaps insignificant threat to Monarch butterflies,” said Dr William Rolleston, interim Chairman of the Network, today.

The original study was criticised as sloppy by many scientists. “It is a pity that sloppy research is allowed to create such media attention and influence public opinion. As a result we risk missing out on many of the future benefits responsible biotechnology innovation has to offer us.”

Bt corn produces a caterpillar toxin which is deadly to corn-boring caterpillars. The economic loss from these caterpillars is calculated at $1b a year in the US.

“The questions these studies answer is that the level of Bt corn pollen in the environment around a Bt corn crop is at a level which does not significantly harm the Monarch and that the original fears expressed by the Cornell University team were significantly overstated. ”

The bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, which also contains the Bt gene is used as an insecticide spray by organic growers. “The challenge for those organic growers who have spread fear among the public over the Monarch butterfly issue is now to prove the Bt spray they use is as safe for the Monarch as genetically engineered Bt corn” says Dr Rolleston

“Scientists, politicians and others who have concerns about genetic modification must be careful that they don’t irresponsibly increase public fear by mis-reporting incomplete research and describing speculation as evidence,” concluded Dr Rolleston.

For further information contact:

Dr William Rolleston
Interim Chairman
NZ Life Sciences Network
Ph (03) 612 6688

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