By Jeffrey M. Smith
If you eat lots of corn, be careful. Most US corn is genetically modified (GM), and most is engineered to produce its own toxic pesticide. When certain insects such as European corn borers take a bite, the toxin from the plant splits open their stomachs and kills them.
The idea that we consume that same toxic pesticide that kills some insects is hardly appetizing. But biotech companies insist that the poison, 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)
The Bt-toxin produced in the GM plants is more dangerous than in its natural spray form. The sprayed-on version biodegrades or washes off. Not so with Bt corn. (12, 13) Further, the toxin inside the plant is about 3,000-5,000 times more concentrated than the spray and it is designed to be more toxic than the natural version. (14) 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. (15)
Immune, toxic, and reproductive problems
Studies and reports confirm that Bt crops provoke reactions in humans and animals. For example, large numbers of Indian farm workers are getting sick from touching Bt cotton. Their allergic and flu-like symptoms match precisely with those experienced by the hundreds of people in the Pacific Northwest who reacted to Bt spray. (16)
Even inhaled Bt-toxin from pollen may be dangerous. 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 each location—only during the time of pollination.
A Monsanto rat study on Bt corn showed a significant increase in blood cells related to the immune system. (17) A November 2008 study by the Italian government showed immune responses in mice that ate Bt corn. (18) Rats fed Bt corn had liver lesions and indications of poisoning. (19) The intestines of mice fed Bt potatoes had damaged cells with abnormal growth patterns. (20)
In a rare long-term GMO feeding study, commissioned by the Austrian government, the longer mice were fed GM corn, the fewer babies they had. Their offspring were also smaller, and therefore less healthy. (21) None of these problems would have shown up in normal industry-funded studies, which are a maximum of 90 days and rarely look at reproductive health.
About two dozen farmers in the US reported that pigs fed varieties of Bt corn became sterile, had false pregnancies, or gave birth to bags of water. Cows and bulls also became sterile from the same varieties. Other farmers blamed Bt corn for the deaths of cows, horses, water buffaloes, and chickens. (22)
When Indian shepherds let sheep graze continuously on Bt cotton plants after harvest, within five to seven days, one out of four sheep died. Thousands died in one region alone. Post mortems showed severe irritation and black patches in the intestines and livers. Investigators said preliminary evidence “strongly suggests that the sheep mortality was due to a toxin. . . . most probably Bt-toxin.” (23) In one small follow-up study, all six sheep that were fed Bt cotton plants died within 30 days, while the control sheep raised on natural cotton plants remained healthy. Buffalo that grazed on Bt cotton plants or cottonseed cakes also died or were stricken with reproductive and other problems.
Turning your intestinal bacteria into pesticide factories
Astoundingly, there has been only one single human feeding study on GMOs. In UK-government-funded research on Roundup Ready soybeans—engineered to survive Roundup herbicide—scientists made an alarming discovery. The Roundup Ready genes inserted into soy used for food transfers into the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines and continues to function. Although they never bothered to test GM corn, if Bt genes from corn chips also transfers, it might convert our intestinal flora into living pesticide factories—continually producing Bt-toxin inside of us.
Avoiding GM corn
About 73 percent of corn grown in the United States is GM. These include corn plants that produce Bt-toxin, as well as Roundup Ready or Liberty Link varieties, which are tolerant to herbicides like Roundup or Liberty. (Chickens fed Liberty Link corn died at twice the rate of those fed natural corn.)
Popcorn is NOT genetically engineered, nor is blue or red corn. Only a small percentage of corn on the cob is genetically modified, but is not labeled so it’s a gamble. Organic corn is not allowed to be GMO. And several natural food brands of chips and tortillas label their products as non-GMO.
Although highly processed corn derivatives like high fructose corn syrup no longer have Bt-toxin or GM DNA, there is still a risk. There are massive unpredicted changes that occur in plants due to the process of engineering it, so some other toxin created in the GM corn might survive the processing and be harmful.
The other major GM foods are soy, cottonseed and canola used for oil, and sugar beets used in sugar. There is also Hawaiian papaya and a small amount of zucchini and crook neck squash.
Many health problems have gotten worse since GMOs entered the US food supply. For example, when GMOs were widely introduced in 1996, 7 percent of US citizens had three or more chronic illnesses. Within nine years, that percentage nearly doubled to 13 percent. Without any human clinical trials or post-marketing surveillance, we can’t tell which declining health statistic may be due to GMOs. But we also can’t afford to wait to find out. To learn which foods are genetically modified and how to protect yourself, download or order the Non-GMO Shopping Guide at www.ResponsibleTechnology.org.
Jeffrey M. Smith is the international bestselling author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette, and the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology.
1. Vazquez et al, “Intragastric and intraperitoneal administration of Cry1Ac protoxin from Bacillus thuringiensis induces systemic and mucosal antibody responses in mice,” Life Sciences, 64, no. 21 (1999): 1897–1912; Vazquez et al, “Characterization of the mucosal and systemic immune response induced by Cry1Ac protein from Bacillus thuringiensis HD 73 in mice,” Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research 33 (2000): 147–155.
2. Vazquez et al, “Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac protoxin is a potent systemic and mucosal adjuvant,” Scandanavian Journal of Immunology 49 (1999): 578–584. See also Vazquez-Padron et al., 147 (2000b).
3.EPA Scientific Advisory Panel, “Bt Plant-Pesticides Risk and Benefits Assessments,” March 12, 2001: 76. Available at this link.
4. M.A. Noble, P.D. Riben, and G. J. Cook, “Microbiological and epidemiological surveillance program to monitor the health effects of Foray 48B BTK spray” (Vancouver, B.C.: Ministry of Forests, Province of British Columbi, Sep. 30, 1992).
5. A. Edamura, MD, “Affidavit of the Federal Court of Canada, Trial Division. Dale Edwards and Citizens Against Aerial Spraying vs. Her Majesty the Queen, Represented by the Minister of Agriculture,” (May 6, 1993); as reported in Carrie Swadener, “Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.),” Journal of Pesticide Reform, 14, no, 3 (Fall 1994).
6. J. R. Samples, and H. Buettner, “Ocular infection caused by a biological insecticide,” J. Infectious Dis. 148, no. 3 (1983): 614; as reported in Carrie Swadener, “Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.)”, Journal of Pesticide Reform 14, no. 3 (Fall 1994)
7. M. Green, et al., “Public health implications of the microbial pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis: An epidemiological study, Oregon, 1985-86,” Amer. J. Public Health, 80, no. 7 (1990): 848–852.
8. A. Edamura, MD, “Affidavit of the Federal Court of Canada, Trial Division. Dale Edwards and Citizens Against Aerial Spraying vs. Her Majesty the Queen, Represented by the Minister of Agriculture,” (May 6, 1993); as reported in Carrie Swadener, “Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.),” Journal of Pesticide Reform, 14, no, 3 (Fall 1994).
9. Carrie Swadener, “Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.),” Journal of Pesticide Reform 14, no. 3 (Fall 1994). See also, Health effects of B.t.: Report of surveillance in Oregon, 1985-87. Precautions to minimize your exposure (Salem, OR: Oregon Departmentof Human Resources, Health Division, April 18, 1991); and Material Safety Data Sheet for Foray 48B Flowable Concentrate (Danbury, CT: Novo Nordisk, February, 1991).
10. Washington State Department of Health, “Report of health surveillance activities: Asian gypsy moth control program,” (Olympia, WA: Washington State Dept. of Health, 1993).
11. M. Green, et al., “Public health implications of the microbial pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis: An epidemiological study, Oregon, 1985-86,” Amer. J. Public Health 80, no. 7(1990): 848–852.
12. C. M. Ignoffo, and C. Garcial, “UV-photoinactivation of cells and spores of Bacillus thuringiensis and effects of peroxidase on inactivation,” Environmental Entomology 7 (1978): 270–272.
13. BT: An Alternative to Chemical Pesticides, Environmental Protection Division, Ministry of Environment, Government of British Columbia, Canada, link.
14. See for example, A. Dutton, H. Klein, J. Romeis, and F. Bigler, “Uptake of Bt-toxin by herbivores feeding on transgenic maize and consequences for the predator Chrysoperia carnea,” Ecological Entomology 27 (2002): 441–7; and J. Romeis, A. Dutton, and F. Bigler, “Bacillus thuringiensis toxin (Cry1Ab) has no direct effect on larvae of the green lacewing Chrysoperla carnea (Stephens) (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae),” Journal of Insect Physiology 50, no. 2–3 (2004): 175–183.
15. FAO-WHO, “Evaluation of Allergenicity of Genetically Modified Foods. Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Allergenicity of Foods Derived from Biotechnology,” Jan. 22–25, 2001; link.
16. Ashish Gupta et. al., “Impact of Bt Cotton on Farmers’ Health (in Barwani and Dhar District of Madhya Pradesh),” Investigation Report, Oct–Dec 2005.
17. John M. Burns, “13-Week Dietary Subchronic Comparison Study with MON 863 Corn in Rats Preceded by a 1-Week Baseline Food Consumption Determination with PMI Certified Rodent Diet #5002,” December 17, 2002, link. See also Stéphane Foucart, “Controversy Surrounds a GMO,” Le Monde, 14 December 2004; and Jeffrey M. Smith, “Genetically Modified Corn Study Reveals Health Damage and Cover-up,” Spilling the Beans, June 2005, link.
18. Alberto Finamore, et al., “Intestinal and Peripheral Immune Response to MON810 Maize
19. John M. Burns, “13-Week Dietary Subchronic Comparison Study with MON 863 Corn in Rats Preceded by a 1-Week Baseline Food Consumption Determination with PMI Certified Rodent Diet #5002,” December 17, 2002, link.
20. Nagui H. Fares, Adel K. El-Sayed, “Fine Structural Changes in the Ileum of Mice Fed on Endotoxin Treated Potatoes and Transgenic Potatoes,” Natural Toxins 6, no. 6 (1998): 219–233.
21. Alberta Velimirov, et al., “Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice,” Forschungsberichte der Sektion IV Band 3/2008, November 2008
22. Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, Yes! Books, Fairfield, IA USA 2007
23. “Mortality in Sheep Flocks after Grazing on Bt Cotton Fields—Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh” Report of the Preliminary Assessment, April 2006, link.