Bt corn threatens aquatic ecosystem in the heartland

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GMO Crop Warning(NaturalHealth365) An environmental professor at Indiana University says that toxic pollen and other byproducts from GMO corn have made their way into Indiana waterways, where they are harming the aquatic ecosystem. Todd V. Royer, an assistant professor in the university’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, studied the effects of Bt corn pollen on caddisflies, a common inhabitant of local streams which serve as an important food source for fish and frogs. Working with Royer were researchers from Loyola University Chicago, Notre Dame and Southern Illinois University.

To conduct the study, which was published in Proceedings of the Natural Academies of Sciences, Royer and the team researched an intensely farmed section of northern Indiana, using litter traps to measure the existence of Bt corn pollen, corn leaves and corncobs in 12 different headwater streams located near cornfields. Noting that wind and rain dislodge corn byproducts and wash them into streams, the team reported that they found corn pollen in the digestive systems of caddisflies – evidence that the insects were ingesting it.

In their trials, they found that consumption of these Bt corn byproducts caused increased caddisfly mortality rates, along with decreased growth.

What is Bt corn and should we be eating this stuff?

Bt corn has been engineered to contain a gene from the Bacillus thuringiensis bacterium, a naturally-occurring microorganism toxic to many insect pests that feed on corn crops. As a result, Bt corn produces the Cry1Ab protein, an endotoxin; this is intended to make it resistant to lepidopteran pests — butterflies and moths – as well as flies and beetles. Three quarters of the 97 million acres of corn currently planted in the US have been injected with the Bt toxin.

Professor alleges inadequate EPA testing on GMOs.

Before GMO crops were licensed in 1996, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted toxicity tests. But Royer reports that the agency only conducted tests on Daphnia, a tiny planktonic crustacean commonly used for toxicity research.

Instead, Royer says, they should have tested on insects – such as caddisflies — that are more closely related to the types of pests that Bt corn was engineered to resist.

What did the study reveal about Bt corn?

When caddisflies were fed on leaves from Bt corn which contained two to three times the amount found in the testing sites, they showed significantly higher death rates, as well as growth rates that were less than half of those that were fed non-Bt corn leaves. With Bt corn crops being used even more heavily in the western Corn Belt than in northern Indiana, Royer noted that streams in Iowa and Illinois could conceivably reach the Bt levels used in the feeding trials.

Criticism of Royer’s work has suspicious origin.

In a letter published in a subsequent issue of Proceedings of the Natural Academies, a group of scientists took issue with Royer’s studies on caddisflies, alleging that he failed to use proper controls and failed to identify and quantify the Bt protein and other agricultural chemicals in the water.

However, at least one of the authors of the dissenting letter lists his place of employment as the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, which owes its existence to a $50 million gift from Monsanto.

With the emergence of disturbing facts about the presence of Bt corn pollen in waterways and streams – and potential harm to aquatic life – it’s time for a good hard look at the effects of GMO crops. With our rivers and streams already impaired by nutrient enrichment and excessive habitat degradation, we simply can’t afford to subject these delicate ecosystems to another stressor – especially one in which the full extent of the damage is as yet unknown.

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References:
http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/nov07/gm_corn.php
http://www.pnas.org/content/104/41/16204.full
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2268211

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