“Bt cotton” is genetically modified to produce a toxin from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that is deadly to the bollworm. More than 4 million hectares of Bt cotton are now grown in China.
But according to Nature:
“Numbers of mirid bugs (insects of the Miridae family), previously only minor pests in northern China, have increased 12-fold since 1997.”
Mirids are now the main pest in the region, and their rise in number can be directly linked to the scale of Bt cotton cultivation.Meanwhile, in the United States, farmers’ widespread use of Roundup weedkiller is spurring the creation of superweeds. There are now at least 10 different species of superweeds resistant to Roundup, spread over 22 states and millions of crop acres.
Those who believe crops genetically modified to poison specific insects are the solution to agricultural pest control are suffering from a serious case of tunnel vision. As Chinese farmers can now attest, when you wipe out one pest, it simply paves the way for another to flourish.
Bt cotton was engineered with a gene from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis. Organic farmers use the natural form of the bacterium as an insecticide, spraying it occasionally during times of high pest infestation.
Monsanto engineers, however, isolated and then altered the gene that produces the Bt-toxin, and inserted it into the DNA of the cotton plant.
Now every cell of their Bt cotton produces a toxic protein that kills certain pests, including the bollworm -- one of the major pests that threatened China’s cotton crops.
Killing Off One Pest Throws Nature Out of Balance
When Bt cotton was first introduced, farmers were able to temporarily cut back on their use of broad-spectrum pesticides, which GM advocates use to support their flawed argument that GM crops are environmentally friendly.
What happened, though, was that as bollworms decreased, mirid bugs, which are not vulnerable to the Bt toxin and were once only a minor pest in the area, increased significantly. Mirids are just as much of a threat to cotton crops as bollworms, so Chinese farmers have upped their pesticide use on the Bt cotton crops to kill the mirid bugs.
So now, not only are farmers planting Bt cotton crops to ward off bollworms, but they are spraying increasing amounts of pesticides to tackle the mirid bugs that only became a problem because of the Bt crops! This is hardly a benefit to the environment.
Further, the mirid bugs are not only a threat to cotton crops, they’re also a threat to green beans, vegetables, fruits and cereal crops as well. Worse still, the evolution of Bt-resistant bollworms worldwide have been confirmed and documented, which means Monsanto’s Bt crops are a miserable failure on all counts.
Despite the fact that Bt cotton has done the area no favors whatsoever, Chinese researchers are looking into developing more GM crops that will kill both bollworms and mirid bugs -- even though it’s fairly obvious that a new pest will soon step up to take their place.
Bt Crops May Also Kill Animals
Along with creating new pest problems, Bt crops may also be toxic, even deadly for animals.
As Jeffrey Smith, the leading spokesperson on the health dangers of genetically modified foods, recently shared, in India animals graze on cotton plants after harvest. But when shepherds let sheep graze on Bt cotton plants, thousands died.
Investigators said preliminary evidence "strongly suggests that the sheep mortality was due to a toxin. . . . most probably Bt-toxin." In one small study, all sheep fed Bt cotton plants died; those fed natural plants remained healthy.
Jeffrey Smith visited one village in Andhra Pradesh and interviewed the villagers. He reported:
“Buffalo grazed on cotton plants for eight years without incident. But on January 3rd, 2008, 13 buffalo grazed on Bt cotton plants for the first time. All died within three days.
The village also lost 26 goats and sheep.
Buffalo in Haryana, India are fed cottonseed and oil cakes. But those fed the Bt variety, according to veterinarians and farmers, suffered from reproductive disorders, skin problems, and sudden death of both adults and calves.
According to Jeffrey Smith:
“Bt corn is also implicated in the deaths of cows in Germany, and horses, water buffaloes, and chickens in the Philippines.”
More Reasons to be Very Concerned About Bt Crops
So far it’s been revealed that Bt crops are spurring the creation of new pests and Bt-resistant bugs, along with being toxic to animals. What’s left? The crops are also potentially toxic to humans.
The Bt toxin kills pests by splitting open their stomachs. Monsanto claims the crops are safe for humans, however, because organic farmers have used natural Bt sprays as pest control for years. But Jeffrey Smith points out that there’s actually a very big difference:
“GM plants produce about 3,000-5,000 times the amount of toxin as the sprays. A Bt-producing GM plant continuously produces the toxin in every cell where it does not dissipate by weather and cannot be washed off.
The bacterial spray form, on the other hand, is broken down within a few days to two weeks by sunlight, high temperatures, or substances on the leaves of plants, and can be "washed from leaves into the soil by rainfall," or rinsed by consumers.
The natural toxin produced in bacteria is inactive until it gets inside the alkaline digestive tract of an insect. Once inside, a "safety catch" is removed and the Bt becomes toxic.
But scientists change the sequence of the Bt gene before inserting it into GM plants. The Bt toxin it produces usually comes without the safety catch. The plant-produced Bt toxin is always active and more likely to trigger an immune response than the natural variety.”
In India, farm workers who handle Bt crops are already reporting allergy and flu-like symptoms. There’s also concern that the Bt toxin could remain active in your intestines, turning your digestive tract into a virtual pesticide factory. As Smith says:
“The only published human feeding study revealed that even after you stop eating GMOs, harmful GM proteins may be produced continuously inside of you; genes inserted into GM soy transfer into bacteria inside your intestines and continue to function.
If Bt genes also transfer, eating corn chips might transform your intestinal bacteria into a living pesticide factory”
“Superweeds” Now Devastating Farmers
Since 1996, when GM crops were first introduced, at least 10 species of U.S. weeds have developed resistance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp herbicide.
In case you’re not familiar with Roundup, Roundup Ready soybean, cotton and corn crops are the world’s largest group of genetically modified crops. This particular variety of GM crops became so popular because it allows farmers to spray Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide directly onto their fields without harming the crops. Ordinarily, if you were to spray Roundup, or any other glyphosate-based herbicide, onto a plant, it would die.
As you might imagine, the use of Roundup herbicide has increased dramatically since the GM Roundup Ready crops were introduced. In the first 13 years, American farmers sprayed an additional 383 million pounds of herbicide due to these herbicide-tolerant crops. And now the repeated exposures have given Mother Nature all she needs to stage her comeback in the form of devastating superweeds.
As a result, farmers are being forced to spray their crops with even more toxic herbicides, along with return to labor-intensive methods like pulling weeds by hand. According to the New York Times:
“Farm experts say that such efforts could lead to higher food prices, lower crop yields, rising farm costs and more pollution of land and water.
“It is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,” said Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts.”
Just Say No to GMO!
China’s GM-induced pest problems are likely a drop in the bucket compared to what the United States is in for. The United States has planted more GM crops than any other country every year since 1996, when GM crops were first made available commercially.
It’s bad enough that the United States allows GM crops to be grown at all -- and it’s even worse that we grow two-thirds of the GM crops worldwide. Fortunately, there are two strategies the non-GM movement is currently working on to rid our food supply of GM products:
- Labeling all foods for their GM/non-GM status
- Educating the public so that it will choose non-GM foods over GM foods.
The labeling campaign is making progress, thanks to the persistence of Jeffrey Smith and the Institute for Responsible Technology, an organization whose goal is to end the genetic engineering of our food supply and the outdoor release of GM crops.
If you like, you can join the fight by signing the petition to President Obama in support of mandatory labeling of GM foods. According to a CBS/New York Times survey, most consumers (53%) say they would avoid brands with GM ingredients if given a choice—if they were labeled.
In the meantime, nearly all GM foods can be avoided by steering clear of five basic food products:
- Sugar derived from sugar beets (new GM crop as of 2009)
Additionally, avoid the following produce that is commonly GM by purchasing only organic varieties:
- Crookneck squash
- Hawaiian papaya
For your convenience, download this Non-GMO Shopping Guide, which uses information from the Center for Food Safety and Institute for Responsible Technology that you can get for free.
By educating the public about the risks of GM foods through a massive education campaign, and by circulating the Non-GMO Shopping Guide so consumers can make healthier non-GMO choices, the Institute’s plan is to generate a tipping point of consumer rejection to make GMOs a thing of the past.