The US Department of Agriculture made a sweeping pronouncement about genetically improved food crops last month, and just about no one in the United States took notice. Only a trade group in New Zealand is making a big deal of it.
What’s the big news? The USDA says “the risk to the monarch butterfly by Bt corn pollen is negligible.” Astute readers will note that this finding echoes a 2001 determination by the Environmental Protection Agency that “Bt corn does not harm monarch butterfly populations.”
For years, anti-biotech activists have rallied around the monarch as a graphic symbol, and insisted (despite the lack of real science to back them up) that biotech corn would spell butterfly doom. As the University of California’s Martina McLoughlin noted recently, biotech scare stories like this are “easy to do and have [the] potential to stir reader emotion.”
For this reason, don’t expect these scare campaigns to go away any time soon. In North Dakota, for instance, a state legislator is capitalizing on the mythical “damage” and “contamination” for which organic farmers blame their biotech-friendly neighbors. His idea: encourage organic farmers to sue biotech corporations as soon as other locals plant genetically improved wheat.
And anti-technology activists are already planning the successor to their failed bid to get modern foods labeled (and eventually forced from the market) in Oregon. John Robbins, a vegetarian/organic convert and founder of Earthsave International, told the Chicago Tribune on Sunday that “California is the next domino [to fall].”