Friday, 1 July 2011

Bt Toxins - new threat or old timer

You know, there seem to be so many health scares and threats to life-as-we-know-it these days that it is difficult to know what to do for the best. Life was much simpler when BFTF was a lad. In fact, back then there was only really one thing you had to worry about. Admittedly, that one thing was Global Thermonuclear War which would incinerate hundreds of millions and leave the survivors to mostly die a slow gruesome death from radiation poisioning or starve to death in the subsequent nuclear winter - but at least you knew where you stood.

A typical example of how difficult it can be to decide whether the wool is being pulled over your eyes can be found in an article that BFTF read recently in the Guardian. Written by Jonathan Latham reports a Canadian paper in the journal Reproductive Toxicology in which pregnant women (and their foetuses) were tested for a range of chemicals characteristically found in GM modified crops.

The article states that "Canadian women now routinely have GM pesticides – called Bt toxins – present in their blood streams. So, too, do 80% of their unborn babies. Presumably, they acquired the toxins by eating GM corn or from livestock fed on it."

The article implies that these "Bt toxins" are a new phenomena and that authorities should have performed more tests to invesigate their effects.

So far, so "big bad pharma"

But then BFTF read the reader comments and noted posts that sugested that the source of the Bt toxins might have been "from eating organic food, since organic farms use the same pesticides, just applied externally instead of coded into the genome of the crop". Other readers stated that "Bt toxins have been used since before WW2, so I don't think we need to fear them per se." and that "Bt is actually an approved Organic pesticide, widely used in the UK". A brief look on the Internet revealed that Bt toxins are chemicals that are naturally produced by certain types of soil living bacteria - so they are certainly not something that is new to nature.

These comments suggest that the article is being misleading and that "Bt toxins" have been around for a long time.

But then there are other comments stating that GM crops have been found to have hamful effects on animals in lab tests.

So who is right? Well, BFTF isn't a biochemist so has absolutely no idea !

It is perhaps worth mentioning that the author of the article could have made life easier for readers if he had simply admitted that Bt toxins have been around for a long time and then explained how GM versions of the Bt toxin represent a higher level of alarm, or posted a link to the article

In an effort to find out more BFTF emailed the report author and an expert in GM issues at a local university to see if they could clarify things. Should BFTF get an answer, it will get posted here. . . .


Spores and bipyramidal insecticidal crystal proteins from BT bacteria.  

UPDATE : 07 Jul 12

BFTF doesn't think it received a response to the email, so has resent it.

Links:
Canadian paper showing presence of Bt toxin in women

Original article in the Guardian

Paper investigating effects of GM crops on lab animals

A Science Blog with some useful information

Bt in Wikipedia


Image Source : Wikipeida