After months of debate over whether to increase refuge requirements, EPA has granted an extended registration for Monsanto's Bollgard cotton gene with no significant change in the amount of land growers must plant to non-transgenic cotton.

Under the terms of the new registration agreement announced in Washington, the Environmental Protection Agency extended Monsanto's commercial license to sell Bollgard cotton an additional five years. The registration was scheduled to expire this fall following a one-year extension.

“We are pleased that the EPA has re-registered Bollgard cotton without any significant change in the insect resistance management plans as recommended by the industry,” said Hollis Isbell, Alabama grower and chairman of the National Cotton Council's producer organization.

“Growers need this technology and are keenly aware of the importance of an effective IRM strategy. Consistent refuge options will help promote compliance.”

In applauding the extension, the Cotton Council pledged to continue encouraging producer compliance with the extended insect resistance management requirements, which it helped negotiate with EPA.

The EPA originally approved Bollgard cotton in 1995. The renewal amends and continues the original registration, coming at the end of an extensive re-registration process that included evaluation of the technology, monitoring of commercial-level environmental impacts and an assessment of required stewardship practices.

“This renewed registration assures that cotton growers can continue to use this valuable technology to protect against insect pests while reducing the use of chemical pesticides,” said Randy Deaton, global cotton lead for Monsanto. “This renewal affirms the EPA's assessment of the environmental and health safety, effectiveness and benefits of this technology.”

EPA also extended its decision on insect-protected corn, including Monsanto's YieldGard corn, to allow the public additional time to review recently published scientific studies that demonstrate no harm to Monarch butterflies. A decision is expected in about two weeks.

As in the past, insect resistance management plans will continue to require growers using Bollgard cotton to plant a conventional cotton refuge to provide an adequate population of susceptible insects to mate with any resistant insects that could emerge from protected fields.

Key elements of the renewed registration include:

  • The term of the renewed registration is another five years, with the same resistance management options offered in the past. EPA will review the effectiveness of the 95:5 untreated option in 2004 to determine whether it will continue after that season.

  • A third party will conduct an annual survey to measure grower understanding and proper use of the resistance management requirements as is currently done with insect-protected corn, and EPA will expect growers to affirm their compliance with the requirements annually.

  • Growers can continue to use a “community refuge,” following specific guidance, rather than requiring each grower to plant unprotected cotton in their own fields.

Under the new registration, growers can continue to opt for a 95:5 external unsprayed refuge, a 95:5 embedded refuge or an 80:20 sprayed refuge.

In earlier meetings with farm organizations, EPA officials attempted to make a case for increased refuge requirements to forestall the buildup of resistance to cotton containing the Bollgard gene. Environmental groups had requested higher refuge acres, citing concerns over the loss of sprayed Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis compounds for organic farmers.

But farm organizations, including such groups as the Stoneville, Miss.-based Delta Council, argued that increasing the refuge requirement to as high as 30 percent would pose economic hardship for producers who are already dealing with low cotton prices and weather problems.

The farm organizations noted that no cases of insect resistance have been documented although Bollgard cotton has been planted on 20 million acres in the United States since its introduction in 1996.

National Cotton Council leaders also stressed the need for consistency in insect resistance management plans to help farmers comply.

In preparation for Bollgard re-registration, EPA completed a risk assessment for cotton containing the Bt gene concluding, “there are no unreasonable adverse effects from these products.”

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