Letter: Raging Hormones

Frank Cagle seems to be tilting at windmills with his most recent opinion column on [genetically modified] Bt corns. ["Sterile Corn and Hormonal Cows," Frank Talk, Sept. 22, 2011] Monsanto is not the first to put Bt sweet corns on the market. Syngenta (Rogers brand) has had very tasty Bt corns on the market for at least 15 years with no ill effects and little outcry. The fact that growers can't save their own seed using these corns is immaterial.

Like many cultivars grown by commercial growers, these Bt corns are hybrids. Ever hear of Gregor Mendel? Hybrids have been around since his day and by their very nature are not saved because they will not reproduce true to type. The advantage of Bt (which stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a common bacterial pesticide used by many organic growers) is that it allows growers to greatly reduce their use of pesticides in growing the crop. Under high insect pressure, sweet corn grown for the commercial marketplace could be sprayed 15-20 times or more. By the way, reportedly more than 70 percent of the organic produce consumed in the U.S. is imported.

Another benefit of the new (Roundup Ready) crops is that soybeans, cotton, and field corn can now be grown using minimum or no tillage, thus reducing erosion on erodible ground. The highly productive loess soils in West Tennessee would be blown halfway to Knoxville or make the Mississippi even muddier if growers had not adapted this technology in the last 30 years. If growers did not use some weed control (i.e. Roundup), their crop yields would be greatly reduced by weed pressure. Roundup can be sprayed over the top once the crop is up and growing, taking out competing weeds and maintaining topsoil-saving cover.

These technologies have been adopted by many growers here in the U.S. because they work. However, there are some legitimate concerns; that is why growers of field crops are required to plant a refuge and plow down the crop residue to reduce target insects building up an immunity to the Bt. New stacked sweet corns may allow a grower to completely eliminate use of pesticides to control corn ear worm, corn borer, fall army worm, and western bean borer. This is a good thing. Scaring consumers with half-baked information is not. In the future, I hope Frank Cagle and the opinion columnist in the Knoxville News Sentinel will get their facts straight.

On a positive note, I concur that Cruze Farm is a great asset to our community. Drinking their chocolate milk will take your back to the days when milk came in glass bottles. Their buttermilk, whole milk, and ice cream are the best. I am proud to also be a grower who sells wholesome produce directly to consumers at local farmers markets.

Kevin Hosey

Knoxville