Science Once Again Defeated by Lobbyists
GM Crop Safety Concerns Abandoned by EPA
by Craig WintersThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has renewed approval of genetically engineered Bt cotton. This action allows the pesticidal cotton to continue to be grown for another five years. Genetically engineered cotton now makes up some 64 percent of the U.S. cotton crop.
This approval is disappointing news to environmentalists and organic farmers who oppose the continued use of genetically engineered crops such as cotton and corn that contain the Bt toxin (Bacillus thuringiensis).
Bt is a soil bacteria that is cultivated and made into a spray for use in organic agriculture. When used on organic crops as a spray, Bt dissipates in a day or two. It kills the insects exposed to the Bt spray, but leaves no residual toxins on the crops. When genetically engineered into cotton, corn and potatoes, the Bt toxin in present in every cell of the plant throughout the entire lifecycle of the crop. Overexposing insects to crops that contains the Bt toxin could render it ineffective as a spray for use in organic agriculture. If insect immunity develops (as is expected by many research scientists), it could result in significant crop losses for the organic agriculture industry.
More and more consumers have become aware that when the Bt toxin is genetically engineered into crops, it is present all the way to the dinner table. We are eating it. The biotech companies that produce these pesticidal Bt crops tell consumers not to worry because Bt is "species specific" and will not harm humans who eat it. But consumers remain skeptical of these promises of safety. After all, many of the companies that produce genetically engineered crops are the same ones that once told consumers that DDT and other cancer-causing chemicals are not harmful to humans.
The biotech companies argue that farmers can use less pesticides on Bt crops and therefore benefit the environment. Environmentalists point out that lingering toxic poisons are still present, but simply in a different form. The long-term effects of Bt crops on beneficial insects, birds, wildlife and the environment is simply unknown. [Lobbyists got EPA approval without scientific study of these issues.]
The biotech industry was surprised in 1999 when Cornell University announced that the pollen from genetically engineered Bt corn is toxic to Monarch butterflies. A recent report funded by the biotech industry claimed the impact of Bt corn pollen on Monarch butterflies is "negligible." But in reviewing additional information on the impact on Monarch butterflies, a recent article from The New York Times stated "the debate is far from ended."
If the EPA and the biotech companies didn't know that the pollen from genetically engineered Bt corn could be harmful to Monarch and other butterflies, what else don't they know?
The EPA is the same agency that approved the Bt StarLink corn for animal use only, but did not establish an adequate review process to prevent it from entering the human food supply. This was a major failure of regulatory oversight.
Are we now to believe that the review process that the EPA is establishing to determine whether Bt crops start to cause insect resistance is adequate and accurate?
Approval for ongoing use of Bt corn is also up for renewal. Since Bt cotton has been approved, the EPA is unlikely to rule any differently on the Bt corn. If you wish to read the EPA documents supporting their decision on the Bt cotton, go to the following web site: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides/reds/brad_bt_pip.htm
The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods opposes the approval of all biotech Bt crops. The Campaign wants the Agriculture committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to hold oversight hearings on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) policy on biotech corn.
We hope that Agriculture committee oversight hearings on genetically engineered corn will be held next spring. If enough organic food consumers demand such hearings, they are likely to be held. But if not enough letters, e-mails and telephone calls are received, Congress will find other issues to spend their time on. As the saying goes, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease."
Remember, the EPA only looks for effects on the environment. It is the USDA that needs to be asked why they are allowing the continued planting of genetically engineered corn, especially Bt corn, since its continued use is tilting the playing field -- damaging the organic industry to the advantage of the biotech industry.
Craig Winters is the executive director of the Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods. For more information, visit the Campaign's web site. And for our own Fred Foldvary's classic editorial on this subject, click here.
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