Mega-agro-biotech corporation Monsanto recently denied that insects have developed resistance to their patented Bt corn. Injected with a bacterial gene toxic to corn rootworms, Bt corn has proven so successful with farmers that it now makes up 65 percent of the corn planted in the US. Fields of wilting, dying corn are now following years of massive popularity. Bt-resistant worms have been found in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, and are likely to continue spreading.

Profit motive aside, it's absurd that Monsanto would ever deny that resistance could occur. Monocultures are a pest's best friend, and no amount of high-tech genetic tweaking will get rid of the fact that pest species evolve at a lightning pace. Neither Monsanto nor outside scientists really thought that Bt-resistant pests would not crop up. The Environmental Protection Agency recommended that fields be planted 50/50 with Bt and "normal" corn, while Monsanto scientist-accountants claimed that a 80/20 split would be sufficient to keep resistant mutations from spreading through the worms' gene pool.

What's so striking about this is not the cynical corporate denial, (which we've come to expect), but Monsanto's industrial conception of pest management. It adopts an outdated, early 20th century view of nature: that it can be completely understood, contained, and made static through the power of science. A truly next natural approach to pest management takes into account the principles of guided growth. By providing room for natural genetic variation and maintaining diverse communities of crop species, guided growth helps plants to help themselves- an approach which is, ironically, more characteristic of "old fashioned" organic farms than vast tracts of single-crop GM fields. Of course, I may be giving Monsanto too little credit for their corporate strategy. Without the wonders of pest resistance, they would not be able to roll out a new product every few years. Sustainable systems are bad for capitalism.

Via Mother Jones. Image via Iowa State University.

Enjoying this story? Show it to us!


Share your thoughts and join the technology debate!


  • Bee, if you read the article, you would see that the point is not that the pests have evolved, it's that Monsanto is denying that they have evolved (or denying, at least, that there is a problem). Therefore, the company is either naive or extremely cynical. Monsanto's last-century techno-optimism has created a massive problem for American farmers who are watching their crops wither. No conspiracy theory needed. Thanks Rich for the thoughtful comment.

    Posted on

  • Bee

    Stop the conspiracy theories ... Top the bad corporation blather ... What is your point ... I think it's simple ... The bugs have figured a way around their enemy ... So what ...thats evolution at work

    Posted on

  • Sustainable systems are not necessarily bad for an individual growth driven company; it can alway roll out regularly improved sustainable systems. The problem is that sustainable systems are not as productive and therefore limit the size of the overall economy in which the company participates meaning that there will be fewer or smaller such companies employing fewer people

    Posted on

  • I should amend that.. sustainable systems are bad for a growth-driven economy. I suppose capitalism doesn't necessarily have to be growth-based?

    Posted on

  • Sustainable systems are great for capitalism, as a whole. It's the individual companies who don't like it.

    Posted on

More like this