The New Poison Plants

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The New Poison Plants

by Richard Wolfson, Ph.D., Health Advisor to the Natural Law Party of Canada

(From the July 1997 issue of Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition)

Genetically engineered potatoes and corn now on the market produce their own pesticide. These crops contain a foreign soil bacterial gene called bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, which creates a toxin in the plant to kill insects.

Evidence indicates that the Bt corn does not produce a season-long high dose against the European corn borer. Farmers who were initially advised there was no need to spray their crops, were later told to spray in order to save their crops from disaster.

In addition to corn and potatoes, insect-resistant cotton was also cultivated last season, but with foreboding results. In its first year of commercialization, genetically engineered Bt cotton (Bollgard) failed dramatically to control cotton bollworms, its targeted pest. This failure now puts in question the major focus of biotechnology in developing many Bt crops. (Other Bt crops soon to be released include tobacco, tomatoes, walnuts, and beets.)

Insect Resistance

Agronomists are concerned that by making Bt an integral part of crops, biotech firms will hasten the evolution of Bt resistant insects, which are more difficult to control and force farmers to used more toxic chemicals. Biotech companies admit that it is only a matter of time before the bugs develop resistance to Bt. Organic and non-organic farmers who have been applying Bt externally as a natural pesticide for many crops will no longer find this effective for controlling insect pests.

Another concern with the Bt crops is the unknown long-term effects for the entire population from eating foods containing the insect toxin. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised that crops containing insect toxin be regulated like chemical pesticides, which require extensive acute and chronic safety tests. However, the biotech companies, which want to avoid these expensive, lengthy tests, convinced the government to forego the long-term testing. Consequently, Bt crops (and other GE foods) are generally considered "substantially equivalent" to their non-GE counterparts, and then fast-tracked to the market.

Short-Term Animal Tests Only

For instance, one can look at the official decision document of Agriculture Canada (reference #DD96-06) for the insect resistant potatoes now being grown and marketed in Canada. The document states that these potatoes were deemed safe for human consumption following short-term tests conducted on animals (rats, mice, and birds). The animals fed these potatoes showed no significant adverse effects in the short-term. However, long-term tests have not been conducted on animals or humans. (Those of us eating these foods could be considered the laboratory animals for the long-term tests.)

Biotech officials claim that when these foods are eaten by humans or other mammals, the Bt toxin is deactivated in the acidic environment of the stomach. However, doctors, scientists, and health professionals are concerned about possible long-term toxic or other adverse effects for those with low stomach acidity, such as the elderly, or individuals using antacid medications.

Richard Wolfson, PhD
Campaign to Ban Genetically Engineered Food
Natural Law Party
500 Wilbrod Street
Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
Tel. 613-565-8517 Fax. 613-565-6546
NLP Website:

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