EPA approves Bt corn

Steve Gilman sgilman at netheaven.com
Fri Oct 26 10:53:14 EDT 2001

	EPA has long supported agribusiness-as-usual. Here's a forward from
Steve Gilman

U.S. EPA Approves Bt Corn Despite Lack of Testing

October 22, 2001

On October 15, 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 
announced approval of genetically engineered Bt corn for an additional 
seven years, despite serious questions about the dangers crops pose to 
human health or the environment. Genetically Engineered Food Alert (GE 
Food Alert) criticized the EPA for rushing to approve Bt corn without 
conducting necessary tests on human health effects and failing to 
investigate new concerns about environmental impacts.

Bt plants produce a type of insecticidal or Bt toxin, one of a family of 
related molecules produced by a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis 
(Bt). To develop these Bt crops, a company clones the insecticidal gene 
from the bacterium and inserts it into a crop plant. The plant then 
produces the toxin in most, if not all, parts of the plant through all 
or most of a growing season. There five varieties of Bt corn still on 
the market are made by Monsanto, Pioneer/DuPont, Dow and Syngenta. At 
least three types of Bt corn were previously taken off the market. Most 
Bt corn varieties were approved by EPA in 1995 with a federal 
registration that expired on September 30, 2001.

As we learned with the StarLink debacle, human allergenicity is a key 
issue related to Bt crops; however, during the re-registration process, 
EPA failed to take into account several recent studies showing that Bt 
toxins could act as possible human allergens. In July, EPA's own 
scientific advisory panel, which included leading U.S. allergists, 
called for more tests to determine the potential allergenicity of Bt 
crops, yet the Agency approved the corn for planting before such tests 
were carried out.

The allergenicity studies that serve as the basis for EPA's approval of 
Bt corn have several serious flaws. For example, the Agency has not 
required that biotechnology companies conduct toxicity and allergenicity 
tests on the pesticidal proteins actually produced in Bt crops and eaten 
by consumers. Instead, EPA accepts substandard tests conducted on 
surrogate proteins from bacteria, which can differ substantially from 
their plant-produced counterparts. (For more information visit the 
Friends of the Earth Web site at http://www.foe.org/safefood.)

In addition to human health research, studies on potential environmental 
impacts of Bt corn were inadequate. EPA ignored the concerns of 
researchers at Cornell University, Iowa State University and the 
University of Minnesota about impacts of Bt corn on monarch butterflies. 
Recently released studies leave open the possibility that exposure to Bt 
corn may have long-term, harmful effects on the butterflies. Biologists 
from the three schools, all of whom have been involved in related 
research, urged EPA to delay a decision, or grant a one-year provisional 
renewal, until more data were available on the risk for monarch 
caterpillars exposed to Bt corn. (For more information see Ag Biotech 
Infonet at http://www.biotech-info.net/butterflies_btcorn.html.)

Organic farmers were also disappointed with EPA's decision. Bt sprays 
are an important pest management tool for many organic and some 
conventional farmers, but continued use of Bt crops may reduce their 
effectiveness. Toxins in Bt sprays break down rapidly in the environment 
as opposed to the Bt in genetically engineered crops, which breaks down 
very slowly. With widespread use of Bt crops, there is increased insect 
exposure to the toxin, and insect resistance is much more likely to 
develop resulting in the loss of Bt sprays as a valuable tool.

EPA announced that to ensure that Bt continues to be a safe and 
effective form of pest management for farmers, the Agency has mandated 
several provisions "to strengthen insect resistance management, to 
increase research data on potential environmental effects and to improve 
grower education and stewardship." Whether these mandates will be 
successfully implemented is doubtful when one examines implementation of 
such requirements in the past. A biotechnology industry survey published 
in January 2001 showed that nearly 30% of farmers who grew Bt corn in 
2000 did not follow the resistance management guidelines. 

Lack of implementation and enforcement of Bt corn guidelines was also 
clearly evident during the StarLink corn disaster. In 2000, GE Food 
Alert found that StarLink corn, a type of Bt corn approved only for 
animal feed, had contaminated the human food supply. In the resulting 
investigation, it was found that many farmers had not followed the 
guidelines for growing StarLink, and had not segregated the corn after 
harvest. Regulations and guidelines agreed to by Aventis, the 
corporation that produced the StarLink seed, were not passed on to 
farmers, and little if any follow up by the corporation or EPA was done 
to see if the plans were being implemented.

Genetically Engineered Food Alert supports the removal of genetically 
engineered ingredients from grocery store shelves unless they are 
adequately safety tested and labeled. Genetically Engineered Food Alert 
founding members include: Pesticide Action Network North America, Center 
for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, Institute for Agriculture and 
Trade Policy, National Environmental Trust, Organic Consumers 
Association, and the State Public Interest Research Groups. The campaign 
is endorsed by more than 200 scientists, religious leaders, doctors, 
chefs, environmental and health leaders, as well as farm groups. Find 
out more about the campaign at http://www.gefoodalert.org.

Sources: GE Food Alert press releases, July 24 and October 12, 2001. EPA 
Pesticide Program Update, October 18, 2001. "Farmers violating biotech 
corn rules," Associated Press, January 31, 2001.

More information about the Market-farming mailing list