NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

This Corn Shouldn't Have Raised Bureaucratic Objections

February 20, 2001

When Rachael Carson wrote "Silent Spring" in 1962, she objected to the use of chemical sprays -- but gave a green light to certain biological pesticides. One was a common soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces a crystalline spore lethal to some insects.

By 1990, molecular biologists isolated the insecticidal protein in BT -- as it came to be known -- and implanted it in corn, which allowed the plant to produce its own pesticide, meaning death for the European corn borer.

While Carson might have applauded, environmentalists and bureaucrats took up arms.

  • With 18 percent of American cornfields planted with insect-resistant corn, pesticide spraying in 1999 declined for the first time in history.
  • When a French company marketed the corn under the StarLink brand, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency speculated that ingestion of the corn might cause an allergic reaction.
  • Experts found no cause for alarm over a variation of the protein which had developed -- then the EPA found the corn okay for animal consumption, but not for humans.
  • Inevitably, the varieties found their way in a mixed state into the market -- and confusion ensued, even though no dangers from the modified corn were found.

But environmentalists engineered a panic and food companies involved were forced to a recall.

So some experts contend that science was usurped by the woefully uninformed -- in a manner that would have caused Rachael Carson to readjust herself in her grave.

Source: William Tucker, "A Bumper Crop of Alarmism," Weekly Standard, February 12, 2001.


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