Environmental Assessment of SmartStax GM Corn

GM food crops raise 2 distinct set of ethical issues: 1) is the food safe to consume? and 2) do the crops themselves pose ecological hazards? This story is primarily about the latter. (For better or for worse, in Canada a single agency & The Canadian Food Inspection Agency & is in charge of both questions.)

Via the Regina Leader-Post: Quick, quiet genetic corn approval questioned

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has quietly approved a new genetically engineered corn with eight different insect- and weed-fighting traits, but farmer and environmental groups in Canada say the approval was rushed and environmental risks ignored.

Developed through a research agreement between Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, SmartStax corn is unique in that it “stacks” eight different genetically engineered traits that will allow corn to tolerate certain weed- and insect-killing products made by the two companies.

Each of the eight traits has been individually approved by the CFIA, but opponents are concerned there might be unintended consequences when the traits are combined….

Quick notes:
1) There’s no good evidence that GM foods pose any risk to human health, but informed opinion (to the best of my ability to read the relevant literature) is that we do need to know more about the potential environmental impacts of GM crops. So, even for those of us who are generally optimistic about genetic modification, the concerns expressed about SmartStax are not silly.
2) The Greenpeace statement to the effect that expecting Monsanto and Dow to report on environmental impact is “like putting the wolf in charge of the sheep’s welfare” suggests an unrealistic expectation that government would participate actively in gathering such information. There are too many products out there (food, drugs, consumer goods, and so on) for government to do the testing itself. Like it or not, government for the most part has to rely on industry to submit data.
3) Stories that cast doubt, as this one seems to, on the rigour of the regulatory process are probably going to do damage to the prospects of GM food crops in general.

Here’s Monsanto’s page about SmartStax Corn.
Here’s the website for the CFIA. Here’s CFIA’s approval of SmartStax corn.
And here’s the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

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About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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2 Responses to Environmental Assessment of SmartStax GM Corn

  1. Nadiv says:

    Is anyone able to translate the following statement?

    “The CFIA has evaluated the potential impact on and risk to the environment of using a 5 per cent non-Bt refuge strategy for this product, and has concluded that a conditional authorization until December 31, 2012,”

    What is a 5 per cent non-Bt refuge strategy?

  2. Chris MacDonald says:

    Nadiv:

    I’m not positive, but I believe it means that 5% of the field has to be planted in regular, non-modified corn.

    Chris.

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