Seed giant Monsanto plans large-scale tests this year of the first government-approved biotech crop developed to deal with drought. The new corn is being introduced as much of the US remains abnormally dry and areas in the South and Southwest still face severe drought. The company plans farm trials from South Dakota to Texas to quantify how well the corn works before releasing it commercially next year.
Monsanto developed the corn with a gene taken from a bacterium commonly found in soil and vegetation. The Department of Agriculture decided against regulating it late last year, essentially approving it for commercial release. The decision is notable because it marks the first time USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has approved a product that has been genetically engineered to resist drought, rather than a pest or herbicide. A senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists' Food and Environment Program said there's no reason to think the corn might be unsafe, though he wishes there were more stringent regulation of biotech crops.