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Controversy Over New SmartStax Corn

A new genetically engineered corn var iety has been approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency after reviewing the combination of previously approved traits blended into the plant through cross breeding.

Krista Thomas, acting national manager of the Plant Biosafety Office, said in an interview July 28 the SmartStax corn variety from Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences “meets all relative requirements for food and feed safety.”

The Canadian Biotechnology Network Canada condemned the approval of the new variety because it said a full environmental impact wasn’t conducted and CFIA didn’t release a decision document explaining the reasons for the approval.

“You’d think that a combination of eight GE traits would trigger an environmental assessment but the CFIA has no public record of their evaluation,” said CBAN co-ordinator Lucy Sharratt.

Thomas said the decision documents and environmental assessment are required when a new GE plant is presented for approval. But the SmartStax corn was produced through traditional cross breeding of previously approved GE varieties. The information on those varieties is available from CFIA.

Sharratt also criticized CFIA for allowing only a five per cent refuge of non-Bt corn that’s supposed to delay the evolution of insect resistance to the traditional pesticide. Bt (bacillius thuringiensis) is a key pesticide for organic growers.

Thomas said CFIA carefully reviewed the refuge issue before deciding it could safely be reduced to five from 20 per cent. “We’re not lowering our standards of safety for other corn lines. We took a hard look at the refuge issue and the science told us SmartStax corn with a five per cent refuge will delay Bt resistance better than the previous 20 per cent refuge.”

SmartStax corn is root-worm resistant and tolerant to glyphosate and glufosinate-ammonium herbicides. The seed should be commercially available next year and the companies have to report to CFIA on any insect resistance problems.

The companies said SmartStax “combines each company’s industry-leading corn traits to provide farmers the absolute broadest spectrum of above-and below-ground protection available against insects and weeds versus any product in the market today.” It will likely be planted on three million to four million acres next year.

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