The Bt corn! Everybody panic!

Much of the anti-GMO misinformation centers on something called Bt, specifically Bt corn. Activists point to flawed studies about fetal deformities and other scary stories. They say because Bt is genetically inserted into a plant, when humans eat it we are eating the insecticide and we’re all going to die from it.

So, what is Bt? Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis. It is a natural bacteria found in all kinds of soil. It produces proteins that are toxic to many types of insects. Bt products are safe for the environment, humans, animals and groundwater. In fact, the EPA has exempted it from groundwater restrictions and special review requirements.

It is safe for humans due to the proteins it contains. Those proteins break down in our digestive system and are flushed out. There is no accumulation. Our digestive systems are highly acidic and Bt doesn’t fare well in high acidic environments.  It has been used for over 50 years with no ill effects.

There was a recent flap over a Canadian study that traces of Bt were found in the bodies of pregnant women and umbilical cords. The study was discredited. I wrote about it here. Yet, it is still making the rounds of all the anti-GMO websites.

The beneficial aspect of Bt is that there are about 600 strains. Each is used to target a specific insect. Therefore, it eliminates the need for different pesticides.

Guess who the biggest users of Bt are? Organic farmers. They spray it on their crops, a lot.

But here’s the interesting aspect. It easily breaks down in the environment because it is susceptible to the sun and rain. Due to this, organic farmers have to spray more often to make sure they manage to eliminate the pests. By genetically inserting a specific Bt protein into a plant, it ensures the insect will eat it. It also has the added benefit of killing corn pests that otherwise would be unaffected by spraying, but when they eat it, it kills them.

The fact is, organic farmers who grow corn are actually using a much less effective method of controlling pests. We’ve seen that Bt is safe for humans and the environment, so spraying more than you have to isn’t really a health issue as much as it is an economic one.

The fear mongering surrounding Bt is just that, fear mongering.  If it is as bad as the activists and organic proponents say, why is it the most widely used insecticide used by organic growers? They want to have it both ways. Either it’s poisonous or it’s not.  The fact that organic farmers are on this bandwagon makes me wonder if they are being disingenuous to prop up their bottom line or just don’t know what the hell they’re doing.


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