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St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

Rootworms, the most costly pest affecting the U.S. Corn Belt, are showing signs of resistance to Syngenta AG's genetically modified corn just as they do with crops developed by Monsanto Co., researchers said at a conference.

Switzerland's Syngenta, the world's largest producer of crop chemicals, and Creve Coeur-based Monsanto compete to supply farmers with corn containing a genetic trait that enables it to produce its own pesticide.

Rootworm resistance, first documented last year in Iowa and suspected in Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska, is forcing farmers to spray crops with the kind of chemical pesticides the modified corn was supposed to avoid.

Laboratory experiments show Syngenta's Agrisure corn may have "cross-resistance" with Monsanto's YieldGard corn, meaning the crop is vulnerable to the same rootworms that are no longer killed by Monsanto's toxin, said Sarah N. Zukoff, a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri, and Bruce E. Hibbard, a research entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

They spoke Tuesday in a presentation at the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America in Knoxville, Tenn.

Rootworm can cause $1 billion of damage annually, making it the most costly corn pest, according to the USDA. There's "mounting evidence" that resistance is developing in multiple states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in August.

Monsanto, the world's biggest seed company, sold enough of its rootworm-killing corn last year to cover 37 million acres, with 75,000 acres showing "unexpected damage" from the pest, William J. Moar, the company's corn insect-resistance management technical lead, said Tuesday in a presentation at the conference.

That figure dropped to 45,000 acres this year, said Kelly J. Klauss, a company spokeswoman.

Such numbers show farms with suspected resistance are rare, Monsanto says. Growers can avoid problems by rotating to non-corn crops or switching to a product such as SmartStax, which includes a second trait that kills rootworms, and following planting recommendations, Klauss said in an e-mail.

Monsanto's SmartStax combines the company's technology with Herculex, a genetically-modified corn developed by DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co. Herculex didn't exhibit cross-resistance in Zukoff's experiment.

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