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Genetic engineering is not beyond the fall armyworm

by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)

A field of maize
Contrary to various studies, some scientists propagate genetically modified maize as a solution in the combat against the fall armyworm. © Pixabay

Supporters of agro-genetic engineering have a new favourite pest, the fall armyworm. This butterfly with its voracious caterpillars comes from the USA and has conquered half the world within a few years: First of all South America, since 2016 Africa and meanwhile, the first specimen have been observed in India. The caterpillars plunge onto fields of young maize and 80 other plant species and eat the yield of the whole lot.

Holistic approaches are needed

Some scientists and manufacturers are propagating genetically modified Bt-maize as a solution to the triumphant advance of the pest through Africa, which is plagued by hunger. In Uganda and Mozambique, field trials were conducted with a variant of the MON810 genetically modified maize. However, it is already clear that genetic engineering will not help against the adaptable butterfly in the long term. In the USA and in Brazil, the pest soon developed resistance to Bt-toxins. In addition to that, the armyworm quickly becomes resistant to chemical spray poisons. In a study, the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) concluded that genetic engineering maize is not a solution in the fight against the army worm. Instead, holistic strategies are needed.

Alternative strategies

These include the Push&Pull system, in which plants detering the army worm are cultivated within a maize field, while plants attracting it are grown around the field. According to a study by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology reported by GMWatch, the application of this system has reduced the infestation by 80%. The organization critical of genetic engineering also refers to studies and media reports according to which certain ants eat the butterfly's eggs and that further, leaves of the neem tree have a defensive effect. The Food and Agriculture Organization FAO also considers the use of genetic engineering maize to be of little help. The FAO relies on early warning systems with pheromone traps and adapted control, which included insecticides as a last resort, as the Frankfurter Rundschau reported. The article also covers research conducted by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in West African Benin. Its scientists are developing a bio-pesticide based on viruses that only attack the armyworm caterpillars. They also experiment with ichneumon wasps as natural enemies.


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