WATERVILLE – Maine joined the rest of the nation Friday in allowing the use of a genetically modified corn that is resistant to insects.

Citing a mandate to try to reduce the use of pesticides, the Board of Pesticides Control approved applications by Dow AgroSciences, Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Monsanto to register seven Bt corn products to be grown for animal feed.

While allowing the corn to be grown in Maine for the first time, the board plans to develop rules for the crops’ use to alleviate organic farmers’ fears of contamination.

“I’m only going to be able to say there aren’t unreasonable risks if we add some conditions (for use),” said the board’s chairwoman, Dr. Carol A. Eckert.

The board voted 6-0 to approve the applications under the conditions that the three companies report sales data to the board and support education and training. The board also agreed 6-0 — John Jemison Jr. abstained from both votes for unstated reasons — to develop rules for use.

Those rules, and how they are enforced, will be key to many of the roughly 60 people who filled the room at the Hampton Inn for Friday’s meeting. While conventional farmers argued that the Bt corn will help make them competitive with corn growers around the country, organic farmers raised concerns of genetic drift, the creation of super-resistant bugs, and potential threats to the health and welfare of people and animals.

“We should not be endangering our food supplies with dangerous biotech gambles,” said Jody Spear of the Sierra Club.

The board considered the applications in two primary areas: whether the Bt corn would have an adverse effect on the environment and whether farmers had shown a need to use the crop.

Genetic drift — the cross-pollination of a genetically modified crop with a nonmodified crop — may occur, said Jemison, a water quality and soil specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Orono. European markets allow products to be labeled organic with up to 5 percent genetic modification. 

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