The Plain Dealer may have unwittingly contributed to the “near panic because of uncertainty over genetically engineered crops” by citing, out of context, the findings of the now infamous Cornell University study of monarch butterfly caterpillars (“U.S. farmers fear lean market for genetically altered crops,” Sept. 19).
Yes, some monarch butterfly caterpillars died when force-fed milkweed dusted with pollen from corn engineered to produce a naturally occurring insecticide. But the lead Cornell researcher urged “caution in over-interpreting” the results in a press statement released by the Biotechnology Industry Organization. First, the statement noted, the caterpillars had no choice but to eat the pollen-dusted milkweed in the laboratory. “In the field the caterpillars may move about and avoid ingesting pollen.” Nor would they have to move far. According to the release, pollen density decreases “by 90 percent three meters away from the edge of the cornfield.” Further, because corn plants “shed” pollen for a short five- to 10-day period, “the majority of monarch larvae feed on milkweed when corn pollen is not present.”
Most important, the researchers expected the caterpillars to die as the pollen was modified to include a naturally occurring pesticide toxic to the monarch caterpillars. In other words, it worked as intended. Unfortunately, none of this crucial information is getting into the news stories about genetically engineered foods. Once again, the anti-choice activists are succeeding in twisting credible research into junk science in an effort to advance their political agenda.