The Obama administration will seek to allow the unlimited sale of a corn variety genetically engineered by Monsanto Co. to resist drought, the Department of Agriculture announced today. The corn, if approved, would be the first commercial biotech crop designed to resist stressful environmental conditions like drought, rather than pests or herbicides.
Drought tolerance has been a longtime goal of the agricultural biotech companies, who hold up the trait as one way they could aid both their bottom line and farmers in drought-prone regions. But the trait, influenced by a wide variety of genes, has proved difficult to develop.
The market could be vast. In North America, up to 40 percent of crop-loss insurance claims are due to heavy or moderate drought, according to some estimates. Worldwide, corn-growing regions lose about 15 percent of their annual crop to drought, and losses run much higher in severe conditions.
However, Monsanto's corn is unlikely to perform well enough to tap this potential, USDA found.
While the agency's draft environmental assessment of the modified corn found the crop unlikely to pose a plant pest risk, prompting USDA to seek deregulation, the agency also noted that many corn varieties on the market match Monsanto's strain in their water use.