A new generation of insect larvae is eating the roots of genetically engineered corn intended to be resistant to such pests. The failure of Monsanto’s genetically modified Bt corn could be the most serious threat ever to a genetically modified crop in the U.S.
And the economic impact could be huge. Billions of dollars are at stake, as Bt corn accounts for 65 percent of all corn grown in the US.
The strain of corn, engineered to kill the larvae of beetles, such as the corn rootworm, contains a gene copied from an insect-killing bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt.
But even though a scientific advisory panel warned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the threat of insects developing resistance was high, Monsanto argued that the steps necessary to prevent such an occurrence — which would have entailed less of the corn being planted — were an unnecessary precaution, and the EPA naively agreed.
According to a recent NPR report:
“The scientists who called for caution now are saying ‘I told you so,’ because there are signs that a new strain of resistant rootworms is emerging…[A] committee of experts at the EPA is now recommending that biotech companies put into action, for the first time, a ‘remedial action plan’ aimed at stopping the spread of such resistant insects …
The EPA’s experts also are suggesting that the agency reconsider its approval of a new kind of rootworm-killing corn, which Monsanto calls SmartStax. This new version of Bt corn includes two different Bt genes that are supposed to kill the rootworm in different ways. This should help prevent resistance from emerging, and the EPA is allowing farmers to plant it on up to 95 percent of their corn acres. But if one of those genes is already compromised… such a high percentage of Bt corn could rapidly produce insects that are resistant to the second one, too.”
There can be little doubt that genetically engineered crops are the most dangerous aspect of modern agriculture. Not only are we seeing rapid emergence of super-weeds resistant to glyphosate, courtesy of Roundup Ready crops, we now also have evidence of emerging Bt-resistant insects. Add to that the emergence of abrand new organism capable of producing disease and infertilityin both plants and animals, and a wide variety of evidence showing harm to human health, and the only reasonable expectation one can glean is that humanity as a whole is being seriously threatened by this foolhardy technology.
Bt Corn—a Most Dangerous Failure
Monsanto’s genetically modified “Bt corn” has been equipped with a gene from soil bacteria called Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which produces the Bt-toxin. It’s a pesticide that breaks open the stomach of certain insects and kills them.
This pesticide-producing corn entered the food supply in the late 1990’s, and over the past decade, the horror stories have started piling up. And the problem with Bt crops go far beyond the creation of Bt-resistant insects.
Monsanto and the EPA swore that the genetically engineered corn would only harm insects. The Bt-toxin produced inside the plant would be completely destroyed in the human digestive system and would not have any impact at all on consumers, they claimed. Alas, they’ve been proven wrong on that account as well, because not only is Bt corn producing resistant “super-pests,” researchers have also found that the Bt-toxin can indeed wreak havoc on human health.
Bt-Toxin Now Found in Many People’s Blood!
Last year, doctors at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebecfound Bt-toxin in the blood of:
- 93 percent of pregnant women tested
- 80 percent of umbilical blood in their babies, and
- 67 percent of non-pregnant women
The study authors speculate that the Bt toxin was likely consumed in the normal diet of the Canadian middle class—which makes sense when you consider that genetically engineered corn is present in the vast majority of all processed foods and drinks in the form of high fructose corn syrup. They also suggest that the toxin may have come from eating meat from animals fed Bt corn, which most livestock raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO, or so-called “factory farms”) are.
These shocking results raise the frightening possibility that eating Bt corn might actually turn your intestinal flora into a sort of “living pesticide factory”… essentially manufacturing Bt-toxin from within your digestive system on a continuing basis.
If this hypothesis is correct, is it then also possible that the Bt-toxin might damage the integrity of your digestive tract in the same way it damages insects? Remember, the toxin actually ruptures the stomach of insects, causing them to die. The biotech industry has insisted that the Bt-toxin doesn’t bind or interact with the intestinal walls of mammals (which would include humans). But again, there are peer-reviewed published research showing that Bt-toxin does bind with mouse small intestines and with intestinal tissue from rhesus monkeys.
Bt-Toxin Linked to Allergies, Auto-Immune Disease, and More
If Bt genes are indeed capable of colonizing the bacteria living in the human digestive tract, scientists believe it could reasonably result in:
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Autoimmune diseases
- Food allergies
- Childhood learning disorders
And lo and behold, all of these health problems are indeed on the rise… The discovery of Bt-toxin in human blood is not proof positive of this link, but it certainly raises a warning flag. And there’s plenty of other evidence showing that the Bt-toxin produced in GM corn and cotton plants is toxic to humans and mammalsand triggers immune system responses. For example, in government-sponsored research in Italy , mice fed Monsanto’s Bt corn showed a wide range of immune responses, such as:
- Elevated IgE and IgG antibodies, which are typically associated with allergies and infections
- An increase in cytokines, which are associated with allergic and inflammatory responses. The specific cytokines (interleukins) that were found to be elevated are also higher in humans who suffer from a wide range of disorders, from arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, to MS and cancer
- Elevated T cells (gamma delta), which are increased in people with asthma, and in children with food allergies, juvenile arthritis, and connective tissue diseases.
Rats fed another of Monsanto’s Bt corn varieties called MON 863, also experienced an activation of their immune systems, showing higher numbers of basophils, lymphocytes, and white blood cells. These can indicate possible allergies, infections, toxins, and various disease states including cancer. There were also signs of liver- and kidney toxicity.
Topical versus Internal Toxins
Farmers have used Bt-toxin from soil bacteria as a natural pesticide for years, and biotech companies have therefore claimed that Bt-toxin has a “history of safe use in agriculture.” But there’s a huge difference between spraying it on plants, where it biodegrades in sunlight and can be carefully washed off, and genetically altering the plant to produce it internally.
Bt crops have the Bt-toxin gene built-in, so the toxin cannot be washed off. You simply cannot avoid consuming it. Furthermore, the plant-produced version of the poison is thousands of times more concentrated than the spray.
There are also peer-reviewed studies showing that natural Bt-toxin from soil bacteria is not a safe pesticide either:
Do You Know what You’re Eating?
Did you know that two years ago, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called on all physicians to prescribe diets without genetically modified (GM) foods to allpatients?
They sure did, although few doctors seem to have gotten the memo. They also called for a moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), long-term independent studies, and labeling, stating:
“Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. …There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation…”
I couldn’t agree more. Avoiding genetically engineered foods should be at the top of everyone’s list—at least if you want a decent shot at optimal health.
The simplest way to avoid genetically engineered (GE) foods is to buy whole, certified organic foods. By definition, foods that are certified organic must never intentionally use GE ingredients, and must be produced without artificial pesticides or fertilizers. Animals must also be reared without the routine use of antibiotics, growth promoters or other drugs. Additionally, grass-fed beef will not have been fed GE corn feed.
You can also avoid genetically modified (GM) ingredients in processed foods, if you know what to look for. There are currently eight genetically modified food crops on the market:
Sugar from sugar beets
Cottonseed (used in vegetable cooking oils)
Some varieties of zucchini
Canola (canola oil)
This means you should avoid products with corn, soy, canola, and any of their derivatives listed as an ingredient, unless it’s labeled USDA 100% Organic. As of late last year, this also includes sweet corn, as Monsanto introduced a brand new genetically engineered sweet corn called Seminis®, which contains not just one but TWO types of Bt-toxin, PLUS the Roundup Ready gene for weed control! So besides containing the insecticide, their toxic Roundup herbicide will also accumulate in the kernels.
For a helpful, straightforward guide to shopping Non-GMO, see theNon-GMO Shopping Guide, created by the Institute for Responsible Technology.
Why We MUST Insist on Mandatory Labeling of GM Foods
Mandatory labeling may be the only way to stop the proliferation of GM foods in the U.S. because while GM seeds are banned in several European countries, in the U.S., certain states are actually passing legislation that protects the use of GM seeds and allows for unabated expansion! At present, no less than 14 states have passed such legislation. Michigan’s Senate Bill 777i, if passed, would make that 15. The Michigan bill would prevent anti-GMO laws, and would remove “any authority local governments may have to adopt and enforce ordinances that prohibit or regulate the labeling, sale, storage, transportation, distribution, use, or planting of agricultural, vegetable, flower or forest tree seeds.”
While legislation like this sounds like crazy nonsense to normal people, such bills are essentially bought and paid for through the millions of dollars Monsanto and other biotech companies spend lobbying the US government each year. In the first quarter of 2011 alone, Monsanto spent $1.4 million on lobbying the federal government — a drop from a year earlier, when they spent $2.5 million during the same quarter.
Their efforts of persuasion are also made infinitely easier by the fact that an ever growing list of former Monsanto employees are now in positions of power within the federal government.
Proof Positive that GMO Labeling WILL Change the Food Industry
Many don’t fully appreciate the strategy of seeking to have genetically engineered foods labeled in California. The belief is that large companies would refuse to have dual labeling; one for California and another for the rest of the country. It would be very expensive and a logistical nightmare. So rather than have two labels, they would simply not carry the product, especially if the new label would be the equivalent of a skull and crossbones. This is why we are so committed to this initiative as victory here will likely eliminate genetically engineered foods from the US.
Powerful confirmation of this belief occurred in early 2012 when both Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo Inc. chose to alter one of their soda ingredients as a result of California’s labeling requirements for carcinogens ii:
“Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. are changing the way they make the caramel coloring used in their sodas as a result of a California law that mandates drinks containing a certain level of carcinogens bear a cancer warning label. The companies said the changes will be expanded nationally to streamline their manufacturing processes. They’ve already been made for drinks sold in California.”
This is a PERFECT example of the national impact a California GMO labeling mandate can, and no doubt WILL, have. While California is the only state requiring the label to state that the product contains the offending ingredient, these companies are switching their formula for the entire US market, rather than have two different labels. According to USA Today:
“A representative for Coca-Cola, Diana Garza Ciarlante, said the company directed its caramel suppliers to modify their manufacturing processes to reduce the levels of the chemical 4-methylimidazole, which can be formed during the cooking process and as a result may be found in trace amounts in many foods. “While we believe that there is no public health risk that justifies any such change, we did ask our caramel suppliers to take this step so that our products would not be subject to the requirement of a scientifically unfounded warning,” Garza-Giarlante said in an email.”
To learn more about GM foods, I highly recommend the following films and lectures:
Important Action Item: Support California’s Ballot Initiative to Label GMO’s!
In 2007, then-Presidential candidate Obama promised to “immediately” require GM labeling if elected. So far, nothing of the sort has transpired.
Fortunately, 24 U.S. states have (as part of their state governance) something called the Initiative Process, where residents can bring to ballot any law they want enacted, as long as it has sufficient support. California has been busy organizing just such a ballot initiative to get mandatory labeling for genetically engineered foods sold in their state. The proposed law will be on the 2012 ballot.
Since California is the 8th largest economy in the world, a win for the California Initiative would be a huge step forward, and would affect ingredients and labeling nation-wide. A coalition of consumer, public health and environmental organizations, food companies, and individuals has submitted the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act to the State Attorney General. Now, they need 800,000 signatures to get the Act on this year’s ballot.
I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can. Be assured that what happens in California will affect the remainder of the U.S. states, so please support this important state initiative, even if you do not live there!
- Whether you live in California or not, please donate money to this historic effort
- Talk to organic producers and stores and ask them to actively support the California Ballot. It may be the only chance we have to label genetically engineered foods.
- Distribute WIDELY the Non-GMO Shopping Guide to help you identify and avoid foods with GMOs. Look for products (including organic products) that feature the Non-GMO Project Verified Seal to be sure that at-risk ingredients have been tested for GMO content. You can also download the free iPhone application that is available in the iTunes store. You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the applications.
- For timely updates, please join the Organic Consumers Association on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.
- Look for in-depth coverage of the issue at the Institute for Responsible Technology, subscribe to Spilling the Beans, and check out their Facebook or Twitter.