Monsanto’s “refuge in a bag” corn gets CFIA approval

Federal food regulators have granted their approval for Canada’s first line of “refuge in a bag” (RIB) corn seed.

Monsanto Canada on Friday reported it has picked up Canadian Food Inspection Agency authorization to sell Genuity SmartStax stacked-trait corn seed with its required five per cent refuge in the same bag.

The single-bag concept cuts out the need for farmers to plant structured plots of non-Bt corn seed, or “refuge” seed, within a field of genetically-modified corn containing the insect-resistant Bt protein, the company said.

“The simplicity and convenience associated with managing just one type of seed bag and the savings in time and labour of not having to plan and plant a separate, structured refuge is significant in and of itself,” Chris Anderson, stewardship lead for Monsanto Canada, said in a release.

Monsanto’s new single-bag product, to be branded as Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete, will contain a blend of 95 per cent Genuity SmartStax corn seed and five percent non-Bt refuge corn that farmers can plant across an entire field.

Field-scale demonstration plots of Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete have been set up this summer in both Ontario and Quebec, Monsanto said, in advance of what’s expected to be a full commercial rollout by several licensees of the trait package in 2012.

Monsanto-owned seed firm DeKalb, for one, expects to have “a good selection” of RIB Complete corns for sale to growers this fall, for planting in 2012. The DeKalb hybrids will include the extension “RIB” at the end of their variety numbers, the company said in a separate release Friday.

Offspring

The refuge, whether across an entire field or seeded in separate plots or strips, is meant to provide a form of shelter for insects targeted by Bt, such as European corn borer and corn rootworm. Thus, any individual insects that survive after feeding on Bt corn would be more likely go on to mate with susceptible insects and produce susceptible offspring.

Thinning the gene pool for Bt resistance in target pests is thus meant to extend the useful life of Bt technology. Monsanto, for one, set up a policy last year in which growers who don’t maintain the minimum refuge requirements for their Bt corn would be cut off from future use of Bt traits licensed by the company.

The “refuge in a bag” approach is also expected to help create a sort of automatic compliance for corn growers, the company noted, as the refuge seed is intermittently dispersed throughout a field during planting.

Genuity SmartStax, along with Pioneer Hi-Bred’s Optimum Intrasect, is among the few Bt seed corn brands approved for a refuge, in a bag or otherwise, of just five per cent per field. Most other Bt corns come with a 20 per cent refuge requirement.

The single-bag approach has previously been allowed for refuge seed in midge-tolerant wheat varieties such as AC Goodeve and AC Unity, but had not been approved for use in corn until now.

The RIB system for corn comes a year after the Canadian Corn Pest Coalition, a group of corn growers’ associations, seed industry players, researchers, regulators and academics, warned that Canadian corn growers had been “slipping significantly” in maintaining non-Bt refuge in Bt corn.

Refuge compliance, the groups said in February 2010, had dropped to 61 per cent in 2009 from highs of up to 80 per cent in 2005.

Related stories:

Field audits for Bt corn growers in Ontario and Quebec, July 20, 2010

Monsanto to enforce Bt corn refuge rules, March 2, 2010

Bt corn growers warned to step up refuge compliance, Feb. 24, 2010

CFIA approves Monsanto/Dow SmartStax corn, July 20, 2009

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