Some of the most popular products of biotechnology — corn and cotton plants that have been genetically modified to fend off insects — are no longer offering the same protection from those bugs.
These crops were the original genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. They weren’t the first ones invented, but they were the first to be widely embraced by farmers, starting in the late 1990s.
Now all of those benefits are increasingly at risk. Bt crops are losing their power. New strains of bollworms, rootworms, and other pests have emerged that are able to feed on Bt plants without dying. David Kerns says some farmers are pretty angry about it. “There are words I can’t use,” he says, “but they want to know what the heck they’re doing, paying for a technology and then they’re still having to spray.”
Scientists have long warned about this risk. They’ve been engaged in a long-running argument with the companies selling Bt crops, such as Monsanto, which has been acquired by Bayer.
Image courtesy Rich Pedroncelli / AP