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Genetically engineered vegetables expressing proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis for insect resistance: successes, disappointments, challenges and ways to move forward

Anthony M Shelton
GM Crops & Food 2012, 3 (3): 175-83
22538234
Genetically engineered (GE) insect-resistant crops that express proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) have been widely adopted in the two field crops currently commercially available, Bt cotton and Bt corn. However, the development and commercialization of Bt vegetables has lagged in comparison, which is unfortunate since vegetables tend to be insecticide-intensive crops due to high pest pressure and cosmetic standards required for the market. While it is often stated that consumer choice has played a major role in companies avoiding development of Bt vegetables, this concept requires re-evaluation. In market studies in North America when consumers have been provided basic information about Bt genetic engineering, then given a choice between Bt and conventional sweet corn, they have often preferred the former. Likewise, 77% of consumers in a US survey said they would likely purchase foods produced through biotechnology for their ability to reduce pesticide use. Presently, however, the only commercialized Bt vegetable is sweet corn. Perhaps more critical obstacles to Bt vegetables are their relatively smaller acreages and the cost of government biosafety regulations that inadvertently favor large acreage of field crops because companies can obtain a better return on investment. In developing countries, private-public partnerships may provide the vehicle to bring Bt vegetables to market. However, these can be subverted by misinformation from anti-biotech campaigns, as is the case with Bt eggplant in India. Without the use of Bt vegetables as a tool for integrated pest management, farmers and the general public will not be able to realize the substantial environmental and economic benefits that have been well documented with Bt cotton and Bt corn.

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