Organic Lies About Bt Sweet Corn

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May 21 2012

Take this simple test to determine whether or not Bt corn is equivalent to a hand grenade for you: Are you a larval-stage European corn borer? No? Well, probably not, then.

A couple of my facebook friends are among the 755 people* who’ve shared this image, originally posted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). It’s part of a broader campaign against Monsanto’s Bt sweet corn that’s starting to heat up because the first commercial crop is poised to debut in supermarket produce bins this summer.

Important disclaimer: I’m not a fan of Monsanto. I think they represent some of the worst tendencies of monopolistic, profit-driven enterprise. They bully farmers to buy their seeds every year and sue the ones who don’t if patented seed gets into their fields anyway, whether or not the farmers wanted it there (see: Food, Inc., The World According to Monsanto, Knight-Ridder/Tribune, They risk their workers’ health and pollute the environment, often at great public cost (see: Wikipedia, Washington Post, Environmental Working Group). They have fired whistle-blowing scientists willing to talk to journalists about the potential health risks of their products (see: New York Times). Their PR is Orwellian in a way that strikes me as somewhere between darkly hilarious and seriously unnerving (see: their website**). They’d make an outstanding movie villain.***

In fact, Monsanto is so stereotypically evil that I totally understand why people are willing to believe that food grown from their seed is dangerous, that Monsanto could be aware of this but try to sell it to you anyway, and that the regulatory agencies who ought to stop them have probably been effectively bought off.^ However, that’s not what’s happening here. I’m reasonably certain that Bt sweet corn is totally safe for human consumption. If it’s not and Bt is a real threat, then no sweet corn you can buy is safe for human consumption because Bt insecticides have been used by organic farmers for over 50 years.

How Bt Works

What’s wonderful about Bt-toxin is that it’s only toxic to insect larvae. Rather than referring to Bt compounds as “toxins,” it would probably be more accurate to call them proteins.^^ Unless you happen to be a larval-stage weevil or gypsy moth, in which case the description of what happens in the ad is fairly accurate: it binds to your gut, ruptures your intestines and you die.

These larvae-killing proteins occur naturally in the spores of a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis. The proteins are activated by the digestive juices of vulnerable caterpillars, and here’s James McWilliams’ account of what happens next: 

Precisely what happens with the Bt-toxin is, in its own way, a masterpiece of natural adaptation. Certain insects that ingest the bacterium cease processing potassium. As a result, they become paralyzed and die as their cells drown in a cascade of water. As so often happens with life down in the dirt, one organism’s demise is another’s meal ticket. Indeed, the besotted gut mucosa of the dead insect becomes a fertile breeding ground for millions of Bt spores, which proceed to grow exponentially, catch a gust of wind, and dust the topsoil with a layer of natural repellent. If anything can be called natural, this would seem to be it. (Just Food p. 87)

Top: unprotected peanut plant ravaged by cornstalk borer larvae; Bottom: Bt peanut plant--the larva has crawled off the plant and died just above the center leaf. Source: wikipedia  Bt insecticides are also highly specific. Each Bt strain is only effective against the larvae of a handful of species. They’re not even effective against the adults of those species, let alone other kinds of insects (including agriculturally-useful ones like bees). So it’s not true that Bt is designed to rupture the stomach of “any insect” that feeds on it. Nor does it matter if it breaks down before it gets to your dinner table, although it probably does because it breaks down pretty easily, especially when exposed to UV light (source: UCSD Aorian Laboratory).

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Bt is so safe that the EPA has exempted Bt insecticides from its food residue tolerances, groundwater restrictions, endangered species labeling and special review requirements. Bt has no known effects on fish, birds, or mammals, with one exception: if you apply it directly to rabbits’ eyes, they get irritated. Researchers note that that may be caused by the formulation tested and not the Bt itself (source: UCSD Aorian Laboratory).^^^

So this isn’t some crazy, newfangled technology. We have no idea how old the bacterium is, although it probably evolved along with the larvae it attacks, which may have evolved along with the plants they target. It was first discovered in 1901 by a Japanese biologist. In 1911, it was independently discovered in Germany and identified as the cause of a disease affecting flour moth caterpillars. It’s been used to control insect pests since the 1920s and was first developed for commercial use in 1958. It’s not synthetic, doesn’t accumulate in the soil, and poses no threat to wildlife, water, or human health, so it has always been compatible with the current restrictions on pesticides approved for “organic” farming (sources: Wikipedia and UCSD).

Using GM seed as a delivery mechanism for the protein is newer, although that’s been happening for the better part of two decades with no apparent negative effects. In 1987, the gene that produces the insecticidal protein in the bacterium was successfully transferred to tobacco and cotton. Transgenic Bt food crops including commodity corn and potatoes have been grown in the U.S. since 1996. The only thing that’s new and different about Bt sweet corn is that it’s designed for immediate human consumption rather than cattle feed or high fructose corn syrup. Since there’s no reason to believe that Bt is bad for you, before or after it passes through a cow’s gut or refining plant, there’s no reason to believe that Bt sweet corn is some kind of strange, new, scary thing. Unless you happen to be an organic farmer who grows sweet corn, in which case you may be relying on the far-less-efficient process of applying Bt insecticides externally via spraying, which must be repeated at least half a dozen times throughout the growing season. Then, I imagine you might indeed feel threatened by farmers who can grow plants that produce the very same proteins themselves. 

So What’s With the Rats Whose Organs Failed?

The short answer is there are no such rats.

The claim that rats fed GM corn showed organ failure is probably a reference to this study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences. Discover Magazine already pointed out a number of problems with the paper: 1) The authors got Monsanto to give them some data from studies they ran on three varieties of GM corn, and the authors themselves admit that the data are insufficient to reach any meaningful conclusions about the health effects of GM corn, 2) They found between 20-30 significant effects out of about 500 measurements, which is actually statistically likely when you’re running that many tests looking anything with a 5% chance of occurring randomly because 5% is not 0%, 3) The statistically-significant correlations that they found were not linear; for example, rats fed GM corn as 11 percent of their diet showed a (barely) statistically-significant effect of having large unnucleated cell count, but the rats fed 3x as much GM showed no similar effect, 4) Measurements like that were interpreted as "signs of organ failure,” although no actual organ failure was involved, and 5) The authors offer no possible explanation for any of the correlations, and there’s no corroborating research to suggest that the effects were causal or meaningful.

This doesn’t even rise to the relatively low bar of “suggestive findings that should prompt further research.” It was a bad study that no one would have paid any attention to unless they were actively looking for a way to cast aspersion on GM crops. Also, it doesn’t even involve Bt sweet corn (or in some cases Bt corn, because the data also included Roundup-ready seed). So this is emphatically not a situation where a bunch of rats fed the product coming to market this summer died from liver failure but the research was swept under the rug. Instead, this seems to be a case where a few publication-hungry scientists ran SPSS on a found data set until they got a handful of results with a p value < .05 and slipped it into an obscure and poorly-vetted journal. Is it really any wonder Monsanto is reluctant to release their data for that kind of “independent analysis” more often?

What About the Pregnant Women?

Ignoring for just a moment the fact that literally hundreds of compounds that are actually toxic to humans can probably also be “detected in pregnant women,” that part of the ad is probably a reference to this study from Quebec published in Reproductive Toxicology last year. It was designed to see if there was any correlation between the consumption of genetically modified foods and fetal exposure to herbicides like glyphosate, aka Round-up. In other words, the presence of Bt proteins was being used as a marker of GM consumption. No one has any reason to believe that Bt is harmful to pregnant women, or their fetuses, or anyone else who isn’t a corn-boring caterpillar. Instead, the researchers appear to be concerned about the potential effects of fetal exposure to Roundup, or more accurately, how to safely measure those potential effects. The main conclusion of the study was that the technique they used seems to be a good way to measure pesticide exposure: “This is the first study to reveal the presence of circulating PAGMF in women with and without pregnancy, paving the way for a new field in reproductive toxicology including nutrition and utero-placental toxicities.”

It’s not clear from the ad what its designers thought would be so sinister about the mere presence of Bt proteins in pregnant (or non-pregnant) women. Wouldn’t that just show that Bt proteins are already in our diet, even before a single ear of Bt sweet corn has been consumed? Perhaps it’s included as “evidence” to counter the claim attributed to Monsanto that “the toxin will break down before the corn makes it to your dinner table.” Which, again, it probably will, not that it matters. Aside from the hysteria-inducing reference to pregnant women, I suspect that what they were really trying to do was activate fears related to pesticides like DDT, whose persistence in the ecosystem and presence in human bodies might legitimately be a cause for concern. Never mind that Bt insecticides and transgenic seed are exactly the kinds of agricultural innovations^^^^ that can prevent the use of pesticides like DDT.

If You Want to Be An Informed Consumer, Act Like It

Organic farmers have commercial interests and organizations aimed at protecting those interests, just like conventional agribusiness. If this campaign is any indication, they’re no more trustworthy than Monsanto, just far less powerful.

When not referring to carbon-based compounds, “organic” is a marketing term, not a scientific one. In the U.S., it refers to products grown or made without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides or a few other disallowed things including transgenic seed, as certified by one of the roughly 100 USDA-accredited agencies (source: USDA). It doesn’t mean it’s produced without any fertilizers or pesticides, which would make farming all-but-impossible anyhow. Many organic-permissible fertilizers and pesticides are actually worse than conventional ones in terms of how much energy they take to produce, how they affect the environment, how effective they are, and how they affect the health of farmers and people living downstream. Obviously, if you want to buy organic-labeled things anyway, that’s up to you, but I wouldn’t go around feeling smug about it or anything.

What really makes the veins in my temples throb uncomfortably is when people post things like the ad above with a tagline like “This is why it’s so important to know where your food comes from!” I don’t expect people to be experts on Bt, or any other aspects of farming and food production. Most people have more pressing things to do with their time than actually find out whether the organic berries at the store were grown using sodium nitrate mined in South America that leached perchloride into surrounding waterways, which might interfere with the human thyroid gland if it seeps into drinking water. Or if this or that brand of organic wine was protected from fungus with copper sulfate, which is toxic to fish and accumulates in the soil and in the breastmilk of vineyard employees (see: the section of Just Food titled “Chemicals” pp. 62-72).

But if you insist on posturing as an informed consumer, the least you can do is pay attention to the sources of your information and attempt to verify suspicious claims. Especially if someone has a clear profit motive for getting you to believe something or is trying to sell you on an idea by making emotional appeals, like gesturing towards oblique threats to pregnant women, google that shit.

Extraneous Asterisked Babble

*As of 6:43 pm Sunday, May 20.

**From the innocence of their logo, designed to look like the border’s been hand-sketched, to their high-production quality commercials about how they’re working to fight hunger and help farmers around the world, featuring lots of wide-eyed non-white people, including schoolchildren obediently raising their hands in class (well-fed and ready to learn—Thanks, Monsanto!), to the boilerplate that shows up below the website in a google search: “If there were one word to explain what Monsanto is about, it would have to be farmers. It is our purpose to help them meet the needs of a growing population,” you would almost think they’re a non-profit anti-hunger organization instead of a company that specializes in the production of herbicides applied by the truckload and growth hormones administered to industrial livestock via syringe and whose gross annual profits last year were US$11.822 Billion. Profitability and noble social causes aren’t inherently incompatible, but Monsanto’s litigation history leaves little doubt about which one of those they prioritize.

***I’d be surprised if they weren’t the inspiration for U-North, the corporation in Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007). On the other hand, I’m sure many of the people who run and work for Monsanto are decent people who genuinely believe they’re doing more good than harm, and depending on how you quantify “good,” maybe that’s even true. According to the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, in 2001 the most common biotech cultivars being planted—corn, cotton, soybeans, and virus-resistant papaya and squash—were solely responsible for a national pesticide reduction of 46 million pounds. GMO Bt corn alone reduces annual pesticide use to battle the corn borer by about 2.6 million pounds (source: Tomorrow’s Table p. 72).

The possibility of reducing pesticide dependence is especially promising for poor farmers around the world who still rely on chemical cocktails including DDT applied from leaky backpack sprayers. Not that Monsanto is actually concerned about those farmers, but I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect corporations to pursue social good over profits. If we want Monsanto, or any other corporations, to behave more ethically, we need to pass legislation and arm regulatory bodies with the power to enforce it. And I know that’s hard, especially when the corporations have so much more money (see below), but as far as I can tell, concerned rich people shopping at farmer’s markets and Whole Foods instead of Wal-mart is not a particularly effective alternative strategy.

^Annual lobbying expenditures vary by year. Monsanto spent $US 8.83 Million on lobbying in 2008 and $US 6.37 Million last year (source: Open Secrets). They also wield their influence in other ways—the current head of the FDA is Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto lobbyist.

^^Unfortunately, the bacterium used in GM seed is actually called “Bt-toxin,” because the person who named it probably wasn’t in advertising.

^^^I wonder if this disclaimer actually means anything more sophisticated than: “We can’t really tell, but we think maybe rabbits just don’t like getting stuff in their eyes.”

^^^^If you’re against the very idea of “agricultural innovation” and think we should only allow people to farm the way they did 100 years ago, but you’re reading the internet… I give up.

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Bt and other things

I've heard that the genes that have been engineered into the plants can escape into neighboring plants. That's the *worst* that I've heard about it. (If I have to choose between Bt in corn and the nastier pesticides they'd otherwise be using, I'll take Bt, thanks.)


As far as I know, the danger of transgenic traits "escaping" is a much bigger concern for things like Round-up immunity than Bt. The former is what can lead to the development of "superweeds" that are resistant to Round-up. But if some random weeds also happen to acquire a defense against the European corn borer (which really prefers to eat corn), that's not such a big deal.

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Food which can harm our body

Food which can harm our body should be banned. No matter what is the price, the main concentration should be in the food quality.
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No matter what it's advances

No matter what it's advances if any food have any toxic element which is harmful for the body, it should be banned as early as possible. We eat food to maintain good health not for harm our body.
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all minerals and metals

all minerals and metals naturally occuring in convential and organic produce and grains have toxicity.

People need to read both sides, not just articles that reinforce exisitng biases and gaps in their knowledge.

google heavy metals and produce (including organic).

it's about risk, not low level insignificant hazard

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what ? I think I can find toxicity concerns about any food you care to name. The Dannish are currently considering banning some danish pastries because of toxicity concerns about cinimmon. You just read an article saying organic farmers use Bt toxin as the pesticide of choice ?

what ???

If I had a doctor that said avoid all risks, I would get a new doctor. Every single aspect of our live, and all foods we eat have risk.

rant over :)_

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Toxic food is harmful for our

Toxic food is harmful for our body. No matter what is the advantages of the food, if it toxic it should be banned.
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What if a competitor steals

What if a competitor steals propriety information of your business and, in the ensuing lawsuit, the Judge directs the Jury to make an adverse inference from the fact that the thief failed to properly maintain electronic data, like e-mails, didn't produce them, or even destroyed them.

Though Monsanto claim that Bt

Though Monsanto claim that Bt sweet corn which contain Bt-toxin do not harm in our body but elements showed that that toxin still found in pregnant women!! This product should be banned as early as possible. workbenches

Gene Flow

Gene flow from crops to weeds, crops to crops, weeds to crops, etc can be a problem. However, resistance of insects to Bt and resistance of weeds to glyphosate isn't due to gene flow from genetically engineered crops* - instead the resistance is evolution in action. Spray a population of weeds with the same herbicide again and again and eventually you'll get resistance. Feed a population of insects the same insecticidal protein over a few years and you'll get resistance. All pesticides need to be rotated to slow the development of resistance. Unfortunately, Bt and Roundup Ready crops are so easy to use, plus market forces that encouraged year after year of corn, that rotation didn't happen.

*The one exception maybe being weedy canola in Canada acquiring glyphosate resistance from crop canola.

Canola is not food.

Canola is not a weed, it was biodiesel. CANadian Oil Less Acid is the spin Canada developed to avoid the negative connotation of RAPEseed. As demand fell for the machinery fuel after WWII, Canada decided to market it to sell to eat. Lovely concept. Euric Acid...heart damage. Google it maybe?? Refined with HEXANE, according to OSHA is a neurotoxin. And GMO for 2 decades now. It is a major source of nectar for the bees, I wonder how they like it. We could ask them, but ... they just keep disappearing, now dont they??? It just keeps getting better, no????

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Excellent, fantastic writing.

Excellent, fantastic writing. "If You need to End up being An educated Buyer, Perform like It"
Thanks pertaining to getting this specific jointly, I will be pointing people below...

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Especially if someone has a

Especially if someone has a clear profit motive for getting you to believe something or is trying to sell you on an idea by making emotional appeals, like gesturing towards oblique threats to pregnant women, google that shit.
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Bt Corn

I suspect your info has been derived from one of the many Monstanto ads directed at organic consumers. The truth of the matter is that Monsanto's genetically modified "Bt corn" has been a failure as it has been discovered that superpests and superweeds have been able to destroy many of the crops. The frightening aspect is that this corn is spliced 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 and can potentially compromise the human digestive tract.

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 Quebec found 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

Read more at:

I would love to see the

I would love to see the citations for this:

"There are peer-reviewed published research showing that Bt-toxin does bind with mouse small intestines and with intestinal tissue from rhesus monkeys."

I reference the research from Quebec above. Of course it's not surprising that Bt would be found in many people's blood. I have yet to see any evidence that there's any reason to think that's "frightening" or that it "colonizes" the bacteria in mammalian intestines. The researchers themselves note that there's no reason to be concerned about the presence of Bt in anyone--pregnant or otherwise. They were interested in evaluating neo-natal exposure to pesticides like Round-up and using Bt as a marker of GM corn consumption.

And again, if Bt is unsafe for human consumption, then all sweet corn is unsafe for human consumption. Bt sprays are approved for use by organic farmers and widely used to battle the corn borer.

My primary sources, all linked above, are James McWilliams' book Just Food, Discovery Magazine, and the Aorian Lab at UCSC, which primarily does research on organic agriculture. The only time I cited Monsanto was to show how creepy their advertising is.

Dr. Merclola and, the source you site, comes from an entrepreneur who profits from people believing that organic and "natural" products are healthier. He has been ordered by the FDA to stop making illegal claims regarding his products' ability to detect, prevent and treat disease (via Wikipedia: and his business has an "F" from the Better Business Bureau for failing to honor the "money back guarantee" when his products fail to deliver the promised results. He also propagates misinformation about vaccines and flouride (see:

Bt in blood - not so much

Unfortunately, Aris and Leblanc used a test kit designed to find Bt in plant tissue in their effort to find Bt in blood. Plus, the Bt they claimed to find was below the lower detection limit of the test. I honestly don't know how it got published. You can find some commentary here and here.

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junk science

so ? naturally occurng Bt toxin, used in organic farming, present in convential products and gmo. No analysis done as to the source, or even if it is not typical. No commentary on it being unhealthy.

just through in the words pregnant women and the emotions fly. Risk theartre.

where's the beef ?

Thank you for this analysis

A friend just posted the organic poster on her wall and I went looking for clarification when I came across your lucid and thoughtful post. I completely agree that Monsanto's monopolies are undesirable and take issue with many of their policies, yet I support transgenic research as a way to cope with our changing climate, growing population, and ongoing agricultural struggles. I recently interviewed the scientist behind the transgenic papaya and am about to post a Q&A that I hope will inspire conversation and thought rather than binary thinking.

Also, you nailed it when you identified organic as a marketing rather than scientific term. I've been thinking about writing an entry about all the things organic isn't (or at least isn't necessarily): pesticide-free, ecologically responsible, good for you, more nutritious, small independent farmers...

what monopoly ?

A company the size of the Gap stores. No one forced to buy their products, plenty of alternatives.

And the evil agricultural monoplist matra just gets parroted without anyone even thinking.

"If You Want to Be An

"If You Want to Be An Informed Consumer, Act Like It"
Spot on! It's so frustrating when people say they want to know more about their food then just believe whatever Mercola, Oprah, etc tells them. I know the scientific literature can be annoyingly hard to read, but there are a lot of science bloggers out there trying to write summaries and answer questions. For example, I write about agriculture at, a group blog of volunteer scientists. You're welcome to stop by or send me a tweet @geneticmaize if you're looking for evidence. I won't tell you what to believe, but I'm happy to help answer questions :)

I love the summary of Bt here, it's nice and clean. I probably went a little overboard, but I've got a post on Bt here if you are interested.


I will note I drive by his corporate headquarters just off I 90 outside of chicago. Lets see, a guy who puts his employees on an interstate cooridor into chicago, 100'000s of thousand of cars and trucks going by daily (combustins emissions known to contain many toxins)....and he is concerned about peoples health. I'm sure his is to some degree, and says some good things. But please, his mansion in Barrington Hills is paid for by his preaching, just like the corporate religious figures.

Phenomenal piece.

Great, great writing. "If You Want to Be An Informed Consumer, Act Like It"
Thanks for putting this together, I will be directing others here...

I agree with you on the vast

I agree with you on the vast majority of the post, but for the title "Organic lies about..." and a few other blatant over-generalization that are sensationalism in the same way the grenade-corn image is.
"Organic" is a fairly broad and diverse movement, and while some organic supporters (and some who are not b/c it's "guberment" too, but don't trust Monsanto anymore than they trust Earthbound Organic) have been promoting falsehoods - the movement as a whole is not. You don't see Organic Trade Association posting this crap. MOFGA is fringe ("Maine is full of fringe lunatics!" is my headline). So unfortunately your credibility falls apart for me with the headline. "Asians rely on superstitious chanting for healing" is what I read....a segment of a population acting/believing does not make the entire population guilty. Not all organic farmers or consumers are smug. Not all are anti-science. And not all are even against biotech. Some just don't like the current applications of the technology - and heck - the CEO of Monsanto eats organic, so does Grant lie? And some farmers farm both organic and biotech. You're rage got the best of what could have been a good article.

Label it and let me decide

The real issue here is the fact that Monsanto and others have paid off politicians to block any requirements for labeling Genetically Modified food. I have the right to buy what I believe is best for my health. If it were labeled, people would not buy it. That has been shown in the inability for GM foods to gain any traction in countries that require labeling.

The fact that there are no quality studies of this issue, is also due to the corruption of our public officials. Monsanto was not required to prove safety at the level required by the FDA for most consumer products.

I am also not sure that spraying Bt on the outside of a corn husk is quite the same as engineering it into the genes of the plant itself.

you do have the right

Avoiding GMOs is simple: don't eat anything that contains corn, soy, canola, or sugar beets or their derivatives. If you are also concerned about meat/eggs/dairy that have been fed GMO crops, avoid anything without the "Organic" label.

See also:

There are studies which

There are studies which suggest that Bt containing bacteria offer a safer insecticide than Bt GMOs since the DNA of the bacteria (plasmid DNA) is identified and discarded whereas viral DNA with its Bt producing DNA in GMO food could be absorbed.

Another study suggesting adverse affects on the intestines of mice and rats can be found referenced in these two articles, respectively:

Another concern with GMO crops is the potential adverse affects of the viral DNA used to encourage gene expression in GMO crops. While it is suggested that the virus the DNA is taken from only affects plants, the portion of the virus DNA used (CaMV 35S promoter) has been found to function on non-plant DNA.

Read more on the gene promoter used in GMO crops here:

Wow! Study #1 was garbage as

Wow! Study #1 was garbage as it was all opinion and NOT ONE piece of actual evidence. e.g. Dr. Ewen says things like "virus used in GM foods could increase the risk of stomach and colon cancers" or "the virus is infectious, and could act as a 'growth factor' in the stomach". There was absolutely no evidence presented that it DOES this, just some hypothetical and theoretical "could". All of Dr. Ewen's statements were pure unsubstantiated fear-mongering like this.

Professor Cummins' review article is slightly better as one might expect but is poorly written and some of the references are incorrect. However, these are minor issues. Let's look directly at the claims. The referenced paper by Fares did indeed show that the effects of Bt produced by transgenic potatoes was different from that of potatoes sprayed with bacterial Bt. But, importantly, the transgenic Bt potatoes had MUCH LESS of an effect on the intestinal cells. As Fares says, for rats fed the transgenic Bt potatoes, the "architecture of the intestinal villi and their cellular structures, including enterocytes, Paneth cells, and mucous cells were almost as normal as the control group". So organic crops are sprayed with bacterial Bt but transgenic crops are not. The study showed transgenic (GMO) Bt is LESS harmful than the bacteria; which would you rather eat? (by the way, here's the link to the actual paper if you wish to read it yourself

Professor Cummins then goes on to talk about how the bacterial cell wall prevents the release of DNA and DNA-peptide complexes during digestion as compared to readily digested plant material. He then goes on to claim that such molecules circulate throughout the bloodstream and that they are highly immunogenic and can cause arthritis. He essentially makes the case that such undigested DNA is about as bad for us as the injected DNA vaccines he references. In particular he seems to be excited that unmethylated CpG DNA sequences are very immunogenic.

First of all whether or not the CpG sequences are methylated does not depend on the DNA sequence (i.e. whether it was viral, bacterial or eukaryotic) but rather on what kind of cell it was replicated in. The bacterial Bt (Cyr A1) gen CpG sequences when grown in a GMO crop (a eukaryote) will be methylated and therefore no more harmful than the normal DNA of plants and animals. So Dr. Cummins logic is completely WRONG here. The GMO food with a Bt transgene makes the bacterial gene look like a eukaryotic gene. The only thing I would be worried about is food sprayed with the Bt bacteria; Oh! wait, that's the "organic" food.

So it seems that this paper SCREAMS to eat GMO food and avoid organic food, especially if it's sprayed with Bt bacteria. I'm sure that's not what Prof. Cummins would like to hear, but it seems to be where the data (as opposed to the politics) is pointing.

Prop 37 is not about whether

Prop 37 is not about whether GMOs and Bt corn should be outlawed or permitted. It is about whether they should be LABELED, allowing consumers to make educated choices regarding the foods they eat.

Are Monsanto's studies legit? Are the organic studies legit? Regarding the ballot proposition, that is immaterial. Put a label on there, and those that are not concerned about transgenic or Bt corn can continue to purchase those foods, while the rest of us have the info we need to avoid products that we feel we cannot trust.

BT toxins are toxic

As a biochemist, I am stunned that the EPA can say that the BT toxins are not toxic. The proteins (Cry1 for example) acts by putting holes in cell membranes. It doesn't matter if the cell is an insect cell or a human cell. In fact, these toxins are being investigated as new cancer treatments because they kill human cells so well.

My wife was not able to eat gluten for 10 years in the US. After moving overseas, she is now able to eat as much gluten as she wants, and other food related health issues have gone away. I don't think its a stretch to think that if people are eating a toxin that puts holes in the cells of the gut, that might contribute to the increase in food related problems in the US.

Everyone should be critical of the information that they read, especially if the study is funded by a corporation, as corporations are required by law to generate as much profit as possible, at any cost.

I too am stunned

I'm stunned that a biochemist would reference a protein with 21.9% homology (and a weak 56.4% similarity) that further required trypsin activation in order to become toxic to human cells as in ANY WAY representative of the potential toxicity of transgenic Bt toxin. Further, and in general, the human gut is in almost no way similar to the insect gut so indeed differences in cytoxicity could be expected. You can kill cockroaches (and other bugs) by spraying them with ethanol as it ruptures their "lungs" but you can't kill many people that way. I'm also surprised by your anecdotal supporting evidence. Although I'm glad your wife is able to enjoy eating gluten (hopefully not in its pure form) now that you've moved overseas, but you really should know that a sample of one is only a curiosity not scientific evidence of anything (e.g. maybe you're all less stressed). I do agree with you that everyone should be critical of the information they read, though.

If you were my doctor, I would get a new doctor.

not good enough mr biochemist. Why then are organic farmers the biggest users of Bt toxin pesticides ? Maybe your wife ate to much organic food ?

just teasing...I really don't thing the antedotal wife story sells though. As a biochemist I am sure you know of the concept of significance (both in risk, and in coincidences)

I am very certain you are

I am very certain you are being paid, indirectly or directly, by Monsanto. Label the corn, let consumers decide if they want to eat this product or not. Enough said.

Great post. I'm not a fan of

Great post. I'm not a fan of Monsanto by any means, but this facebook image is just incredibly misleading. One note, Monsanto hasn't ever come close to an 11 billion dollar profit. The $11.82 billion figure you reference is actually net sales, of which about 15% is profit. Still a lot of money though.

Things you didn't see 15 years ago

15 years ago I never saw the diseases I see today in a population that seems to be younger and younger. Food allergies, eosinophilic esophagitis, gastroparesis, crohn's, irritable bowel disease...the list goes on. I'm taking care of kids that grew up on gmo formula, high fructose corn syrup soda and a neverending list of other gmo products. It's fascinating to me to see what health issues will arise in the next 20 years. Is it the gmo's that are causing these gi tract issues? Can't say for sure...can't not say for sure.


Could it be people are just getting weaker? More people live in the city/burbs than ever people. Getting away from the "exposed" lifestyle of living in the country. Research has already found that children that live, and regularly work on farms are more resistant because of their exposure than children from the city/burbs.

Just can't say

Julie, thanks for your balanced concern. I've been defending the GMO technologies for a while now just because it feels a bit like a witch-hunt to me. I understand that we are seeing increases in the incidents of a number of illnesses and I have been affected by this as well. However, it seems to me that we've latched onto GMOs as the culprit because we don't like Monsanto's business practices. The concern I have is that we might identify the wrong cause of these illnesses and the "cure" of removing GMOs from our diets might not help at all. This is the time when you really want good science to lead the way not hysterical fear-mongering. If you get it wrong (e.g. maybe we're not getting the right balance of gut bacteria in our "too clean" diets and lifestyles) then everyone feels more righteous but no one is any healthier.

What good science?

The problem with the "good science" is that it is often sponsored by Monsanto, Dow or some other multi billion dollar company that is making scads of money off of gmo products. For example the studies done on honey bees looked at 1-2 generations of bees exposed to gmo pollen. But it took multiple generations exposed to pollen and reared on gmo tainted honey to cause the colony collapse. Vanishing of the Bees is a great documentary and compares practices here and in Europe. The fact of the matter is you can't take a perfect seed, pervert it with toxins, viruses, bacteria and then, my personal favorite, a promoter gene and not expect to have negative consequences. I liken gmo exposure to radiation. LIMIT IT!!

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