By Jeffrey Smith
The biotech industry is fond of bragging about their genetically modified (GM) crops that “resist pests.” This conjures up images of insects staying away from GM fields.
But resisting pests is a euphemism for contains its own pesticide. When bugs take a bite of the GM plant, the toxin from the plant splits open their stomach and kills them.
The idea that we consume that same toxic pesticide in every bite is hardly appetizing. But the biotech companies insist that the pesticide, called Bt-toxin, has a history of safe use.
Organic farmers, for example, have used solutions containing the natural form of Bt-toxin—produced from Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria—as a method of natural insect control.
Genetic engineers simply remove the gene that produces the Bt in bacteria and insert it into the DNA of corn and cotton plants. Moreover, they claim that Bt-toxin is quickly destroyed in our stomach; and even if it survived, it won’t cause reactions in humans or mammals.
Studies show otherwise.
Bt Spray is Dangerous, the GM Version is Worse
Mice fed natural Bt-toxin showed significant immune responses and caused them to become sensitive to other formerly harmless compounds. This suggests that Bt-toxin might make a person allergic to a wide range of substances. 1,2,3
Farm workers and others have also had reactions to natural Bt-toxin,4,5,6,7,8 and authorities acknowledge that “People with compromised immune systems or preexisting allergies may be particularly susceptible to the effects of Bt.”9
In fact, when natural Bt was sprayed over areas around Vancouver and Washington State to fight gypsy moths, about 500 people reported reactions—mostly allergy or flu-like symptoms. Six people had to go to the emergency room.10,11
Now, thousands of agricultural workers in India exposed to GM Bt cotton varieties are reporting those exact symptoms; they don’t react to natural cotton.12
The Bt-toxin produced in the GM plants is probably more dangerous than in its natural spray form. In the plants, the toxin is about 3,000-5,000 times more concentrated than the spray, it doesn’t wash off the plants like the spray does,13,14 and it is designed to be more toxic than the natural version.15
In fact, the GM toxin has properties of known allergens and fails all three GM allergy tests recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and others.16
Do Failed Safety Studies Mean "Proceed Anyway?"
Tests cannot verify that a GM protein introduced into the food supply for the first time will not cause allergies in some people. WHO and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) offer criteria designed to reduce the likelihood that allergenic GM crops are approved.
They suggest examining a protein for:
- Similarity of its amino acid sequence to known allergens
- Digestive stability
- Heat stability
These properties aren‘t predictive of allergenicity. But according to experts, their presence should be sufficient to reject the GM crop or at least require more testing.
The Bt-toxin produced in GM corn fails all three criteria.
For example, the specific Bt-toxin found in Monsanto‘s Yield Guard and Syngenta‘s Bt 11 corn varieties is called Cry1AB. In 1998, an FDA researcher discovered that Cry1Ab shared a sequence of 9-12 amino acids with vitellogenin, an egg yolk allergen. The study concluded that "the similarity... might be sufficient to warrant additional evaluation."
No additional evaluation took place.
Cry1Ab is also very resistant to digestion and heat. It is nearly as stable as the type of Bt-toxin produced by StarLink corn. StarLink was a GM variety not approved for human consumption because experts believed that its highly stable protein might trigger allergies.
Although it was grown for use in animal feed, it contaminated the US food supply in 2000. Thousands of consumers complained to food manufacturers about possible reactions and over 300 items were subject to recall.
After the StarLink incident, expert advisors to the EPA called for "surveillance and clinical assessment of exposed individuals" to "confirm the allergenicity of Bt products."
Again, no such monitoring has taken place.
GM Pollen may Cause Allergies
Bt-toxin is produced in GM corn and can be eaten intact. It is also in pollen, which can be inhaled. In 2003, during the time when an adjacent Bt cornfield was pollinating, virtually an entire Filipino village of about 100 people was stricken by a disease.
The symptoms included headaches, dizziness, extreme stomach pain, vomiting, chest pains, fever, and allergies, as well as respiratory, intestinal, and skin reactions. The symptoms appeared first in those living closest to the field, and then progressed to others by proximity. When the same corn was planted in four other villages the following year, the symptoms returned in all four areas—only during the time of pollination.
The potential dangers of breathing GM pollen had been identified in a letter to the FDA in 1998 by a UK government committee. They had even warned that genes from inhaled pollen might transfer into the DNA of bacteria in the respiratory system.17
Although no studies were done to verify this risk, years later UK scientists confirmed that after consuming GM soybeans, the foreign inserted genes transferred from the soy into the DNA of human gut bacteria. If Bt genes from GM corn chips, for example, also transfer, it might convert our intestinal flora into living pesticide factories—continually producing Bt-toxin inside of us.
Lab Animals React to GM Crops
Studies confirm that several GM crops engineered to produce built-in pesticides provoke immune responses in animals. A Monsanto rat study on Bt corn showed a significant increase in blood cells related to the immune system.18 Pesticide-producing GM peas19 and potatoes20 (not Bt) also provoked immune responses in rodents.
Allergic reactions are a defensive, often harmful immune system response to an external irritant. The body interprets something as foreign, different, and offensive, and reacts accordingly.
All GM foods, by definition, have something foreign and different. According to GM food safety expert Arpad Pusztai:
“A consistent feature of all the studies done, published or unpublished … indicates major problems with changes in the immune status of animals fed on various GM crops/foods.”21
In addition to immune responses, several studies and reports suggest that GM foods are toxic.
To learn more about the health dangers of GMOs, and what you can do to help end the genetic engineering of our food supply, visit www.ResponsibleTechnology.org.
To learn how to choose healthier non-GMO brands, visit www.NonGMOShoppingGuide.com.
About the Author
International bestselling author and filmmaker Jeffrey Smith is the leading spokesperson on the health dangers of genetically modified (GM) foods.
His first book, Seeds of Deception, is the world’s bestselling and #1 rated book on the topic. His second, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, provides overwhelming evidence that GMOs are unsafe and should never have been introduced. Mr. Smith is the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, whose Campaign for Healthier Eating in America is designed to create the tipping point of consumer rejection of GMOs, forcing them out of our food supply.
Take Action Now by visiting http://truefoodnow.org/ and join the free network to receive updates on GM policy, as well as education to keep you on top of what is happening to your food supply.
Keep Fighting for Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods
While California Prop. 37 failed to pass last November, by a very narrow margin, the fight for GMO labeling is far from over. The field-of-play has now moved to the state of Washington, where the people's initiative 522, "The People's Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act," will require food sold in retail outlets to be labeled if it contains genetically engineered ingredients. As stated on LabelitWA.org:
"Calorie and nutritional information were not always required on food labels. But since 1990 it has been required and most consumers use this information every day. Country-of-origin labeling wasn't required until 2002. The trans fat content of foods didn't have to be labeled until 2006. Now, all of these labeling requirements are accepted as important for consumers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also says we must know with labeling if our orange juice is from fresh oranges or frozen concentrate.
Doesn't it make sense that genetically engineered foods containing experimental viral, bacterial, insect, plant or animal genes should be labeled, too? Genetically engineered foods do not have to be tested for safety before entering the market. No long-term human feeding studies have been done. The research we have is raising serious questions about the impact to human health and the environment.
I-522 provides the transparency people deserve. I-522 will not raise costs to consumers or food producers. It simply would add more information to food labels, which manufacturers change routinely anyway, all the time. I-522 does not impose any significant cost on our state. It does not require the state to conduct label surveillance, or to initiate or pursue enforcement. The state may choose to do so, as a policy choice, but I-522 was written to avoid raising costs to the state or consumers."
Remember, as with CA Prop. 37, they need support of people like YOU to succeed. Prop. 37 failed with a very narrow margin simply because we didn't have the funds to counter the massive ad campaigns created by the No on 37 camp, led by Monsanto and other major food companies. Let's not allow Monsanto and its allies to confuse and mislead the people of Washington and Vermont as they did in California. So please, I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can, regardless of what state you live in.
- No matter where you live in the United States, please donate money to these labeling efforts through the Organic Consumers Fund.
- If you live in Washington State, please sign the I-522 petition. You can also volunteer to help gather signatures across the state.
- For timely updates on issues relating to these and other labeling initiatives, please join the Organic Consumers Association on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.
- Talk to organic producers and stores and ask them to actively support the Washington initiative.