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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Catangui Research Shows Monsanto Corn Helps Spread Pests

South Dakota State University's firing of entomologist Mike Catangui has struck me as odd from the beginning. The Extension Service advocates a regional standard for spraying soybeans for aphids. Dr. Catangui declines to advocate that standard, pointing to his research that suggests South Dakota farmers should follow a different standard. SDSU and the Board of Regents decline to continue Dr. Catangui's employment.

Monsanto executive board member and SDSU president David Chicoine has provided no explanation for Catangui's firing or for the university's apparent violation of due process that could get the university in hot water again with the American Association of University Professors.

A professor is fired for expressing views based on his peer-reviewed, published research. It just doesn't add up. That's why I've kept wondering if this case is revealing the fruits of Monsanto's corporate control over our land-grant university. Is there some way in which Catangui's research could be damaging to Monsanto?

Stop right there. I rail against other conspiracy theorists for seeing plots and cabals (and liberal media monsters) where there are none. But we all see what we want. I may be looking for a grand design where there is none. Cantangui's dismissal could well be just what the university said it was: "performance deficiencies" and insubordination. For all we know, Catangui may have mooned the boss.

So let me be clear: I have no documents to prove that Monsanto ordered Catangui's dismissal.
I only have some casual Googling and reading well out of my field that establish that Catangui's research includes some findings relevant to a Monsanto product. I have pieces, but no finished puzzle... and not even evidence that there is a puzzle to finish.

But there are pieces. It's a lot of science, so I'll boil it down and then provide you with the bibliography.

Dr. Catangui has done research on the spread of western bean cutworm. This pest used to be no big deal. But since the introduction and widespread planting of Monsanto's genetically engineered Bt corn, western bean cutworm has been cropping up in higher numbers and in new places. Bt corn also appears to be an inviting home for corn leaf aphids. The western bean cutworms and corn leaf aphids appear to be benefiting from pest replacement: the toxins in Bt corn wipe out targeted competitor species, allowing previously minor pests to pig out and flourish. Monsanto and other corporations then trap farmers on a treadmill of new pesticides and seeds engineered to tackle the new pests... and all the while we dine on a revolving smorgasbord of tasty toxins.

Now Catangui isn't the only guy saying these things, so one could argue that Monsanto wouldn't benefit by targeting one professor in South Dakota. But Monsanto does have a history of going after small operators, and corporations do profit by maximizing every marginal percentage. When Monsanto wants 100% control and zero competition, even one less set of critical scientific eyes on their products may be worth the effort. And hey, you don't buy control of a major land-grant university for nothing.
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  1. Any MSM on this, Cory? Woster is going forward on environmental reporting.

  2. Your caveats aside, I'm not a fan of the 'could it be approach' in this post. It comes across as more of a Pat Robertson or Pat Powers strategy.

    Catangui's paper you cite isn't particularly anti-Monsanto. The paper notes that cutworm susceptibility applied to only a subset of the Bt corn lines. Others were effective against cutworm. The paper also tacitly accepts that other factors could be involved in cutworm emergence. These include seed treatments, milder winters, reduced foliar insecticide use, and increased use of no-till systems. That multiple factors are involved is supported by 2002 being the high year for cutworms in traps in South Dakota (SD has highest proportion of transgenics on its farmland). Increases in Iowa have continued since 2002 and they have moved East.

    The paper also references two of Catangui's previous publications that showed the effectiveness of Bt corn in South Dakota. He also doesn't appear anti-corporate. His aphid spraying report was financially supported by Dow, FMC, and Syngenta.

    If you examine the PloS one article you cite, it is indicated that the only discovered possible reason for increased aphids is due to higher nutritional content in the Bt corn (tastier corn = more aphids). This causes more honeydew. More honeydew=more wasps. These wasps are better able to control caterpillar pests that eat the corn. Not much of a hardy indictment of Bt corn. Realistically the alternative to Bt corn is more chemical pesticides that are less discriminating in toxic effects.

    I would note that this study is not necessarily supported by a meta-analysis of the literature.


    As an aside, Bt proteins have potential (it's still early) for treatment of parasitic roundworm infections in humans.

  3. ["denature" -- can you provide a name with the comment? I appreciate your intelligent contribution; I'd just like to keep all participants "nymous".]

  4. Did denature appear through the hyperlink at this post? If so, good to see you here.

  5. Cory, so far, after 5 years of blogging, there are only a handful of anonymous SD bloggers whose identity I'll probably never know, but should they quit posting, I would sorely miss.

    Denature is one of them.


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