Monsanto research aims to protect crop and biological entities, especially bees

Monsanto research on GMO crops is aimed at protecting bees.
Monsanto research on GMO crops is aimed at protecting bees.
Monsanto’s Non-target Organism Lead-Biotechnology Platform has been conducting research on how the company’s genetically modified crops affect other organisms.

By screening non-target organisms such as honey bees, the company can assess any potential adverse effects its products would have on important biological entities, Monsanto said.

Monsanto’s research team did a study on one of its products, MON 87411, which protects against corn rootworm by producing a double-stranded RNA that targets the Snf7 gene ortholog in corn rootworm (DvSnf7). Pests in the corn rootworm family are estimated to cause $1 billion in yield loss annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So Monsanto sought to create a product that would eliminate the pests without harming pollinators.

“This study was done to assess the effects on both adult and larval honey bees because if you think about this (it) is going be a corn product that expresses double-stranded RNA that is insecticidal and controls corn rootworm,” Pamela Bachman, Monsanto senior ecotoxicologist told Crop Protection News. “And so if you think about corn plants, it produces a lot of pollen for a couple of weeks each summer and there could (be) rapid exposure for honey bees bringing that pollen back to the hive.”

Bachman said the company wanted to look at adult bees and larval bees and do a thorough assessment to make sure the company’s products targeting corn rootworm wouldn’t have any adverse impacts on pollinators, which are essential to agriculture.

“The regulatory agencies, the EPA, I think many folks across the board, both the government and the public, want that assurance that our products are also going to not adversely impact these organisms,” Bachman said. “So that is why we would do these studies. And we are very pleased to show that under a thorough and rigorous assessment, and that under very high dose studies that are worse-case scenarios exceeding whatever they’d be exposed to in the environment, we found no adverse effects. And so it really goes a long way to show (the) safety of this product toward honey bees.”

Monsanto believes it’s important to send the findings to peer-reviewed publications so independent experts can look at the data, evaluate it, and ultimately agree that the findings are accurate and worth of publication in scientific literature, Bachman said.

“It shows the quality of the data here, and again, showing no adverse effects on honey bees is something the EPA is particularly interested in for the regulation of products, not just for Monsanto products, but of other both chemistry and biotech products,” Bachman said.

The rate of global bee decline has raised concern that industrial agriculture, bee-killing pesticides and climate change are contributing to the demise of bees – with many casting heavy blame on agricultural chemicals and biotechnology.

Bachman said safety is paramount to Monsanto because healthy pollinators are sustainable to healthy agriculture, and the company wants to ensure its products are not contributing to honey bee decline.

“Being able to offer a product (or) another mechanism of controlling the corn rootworm will be very beneficial to corn growers; and again, demonstrating the safety of that product is important to the company as well as myself, because I am somebody who thinks of myself as an environmentalist, (so) I want to make sure we are behind products that are friendly to the environment,” Bachman said.

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