Monsanto GMO corn concerns send shares down 4 pct

Fri Dec 2, 2011 7:03pm GMT

Quotes

   

* Monsanto shares down 4 pct

* Resistance problems noted with older corn technology

* EPA wants enhanced monitoring for new Smartstax

By Carey Gillam

Dec 2 (Reuters) - Shares in global seed company Monsanto Co. (MON.N) were off more than 4 percent on Friday as concerns about the company's biotech corn products were noted in government reports.

With the growing pest resistance seen in an older type of the company's biotech corn as the backdrop, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants Monsanto and corn seed partner Dow Chemical (DOW.N) to strengthen monitoring practices related to their newer SmartStax corn product, according to information contained in a U.S. Environmental government regulatory report dated Nov. 29.

An action document issued by EPA's Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division (BPPD) calls on Monsanto and Dow to submit within 90 days an enhanced rootworm resistance monitoring plan for SmartStax that accounts for reports of suspected and/or confirmed resistance, along with an enhanced remedial action plan for suspected and confirmed resistance events.

Additionally, EPA wants additional modeling and scientific data submitted by August 2012, and if resistance to SmartStax corn is confirmed, EPA said it could reassess the refuge requirements that impact how and how much of the biotech corn can be planted on farm fields.

Under those conditions, EPA on Nov. 30 extended the companies' registrations for the dual-mode-of-action SmartStax corn trait products. Initial approval was granted in 2009. The SmartStax corn offer herbicide tolerant trait technology as well as control for above- and below-ground insects.

Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical are complying with the EPA requirements according to both companies, who called the requirements "routine" and "expected". Monsanto sees the dual-mode-of-action products as "critical to the long-term durability of trait technologies," Monsanto said.

The enhanced caution with SmartStax comes amid growing concerns about Monsanto's single-mode corn technology, which has been genetically engineered to contain an insect-killing protein and was introduced in 2003 to kill rootworms. That corn, engineered with the Cry3Bb1 protein to act as a sort of plant-embedded insecticide, appears to be losing its effectiveness in four states as worms show resistance.

Farms in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota have had documented cases of crop damage, according to reports from entomologists.

The EPA has called Monsanto's monitoring of resistance concerns "inadequate."

Monsanto has said that no "scientific confirmation" of the rootworm damage has yet been made, but says regardless any damage is very limited in scope.

Monsanto and Dow have recommended farmers switch to the SmartStax, rotate corn crops with soybeans or other crops, and if necessary, use chemical insecticides.

Indeed, the EPA states said last month that more chemical pesticides may be needed for U.S. corn production if pest resistance to genetically engineered corn plants accelerates. Such a scenario could have harmful impacts on "the environment and man," the EPA said.

Shares in Monsanto were down more than 4 percent at $70.23 in early afternoon trading.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

((carey.gillam@thomsonreuters.com; +1 913 663 2658; Reuters Messaging: carey.gillam.reuters.com@reuters.net ))

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