Bt in the Bloodstream!

Over at my favorite blog (besides this one of course!) Garden Rant, Amy Stewart posted about exploding watermelons — which Linda blogged about below — and about how Bt from genetically engineered food had found its way into our blood stream (and the bloodstream of unborn children).  Sounds pretty scary doesn’t it?  I’m not going to tell you it isn’t a little troubling, because it is, and I absolutely do not think this finding should be disregarded.  But the truth is that I’m not too worried about Bt in the bloodstream for the following reasons:

1.  The world’s ending on Saturday anyway, right?

2.  It’s impossible to tell from this study where the Bt toxin came from — I do think it probably came from transformed crops — HOWEVER, as scientists we can’t make that assumption.  We eat Bt all the time EVEN IF WE EAT NO TRANSGENIC CROPS because this bacteria is found all over the place.  I would have liked to have seen testing between people who eat transgenic food and people who eat no transgenic food.

3.  The Bt toxin is extremely specific in terms of what it affects in an insects gut.  It’s unlikely (but not impossible) that it would react with anything in our bloodstream (or an unborn child’s bloodstream).

4.  There are arguments over whether transgenic crops are sprayed more or less than than non-transgenic crops — but for insect control transgenic crops are generally sprayed less — and non-transgenic crops are sprayed with some seriously nasty stuff including nerve toxins.  If I get to pick my poison I’ll go with Bt any day.

5.  As a rule you should NEVER worry until a second study confirms the findings.  This paper is important enough that you can be sure that within a year someone else will try something similar.  If the findings hold my concerns will increase somewhat.

6.  Finally, the dose makes the poison.  Bt has been fed to various mammals for years to determine the effects that it has on them — and it generally has little effect, even over long periods of time.  These animals, obviously, had the toxin in their blood (just because it wasn’t tested doesn’t mean it wasn’t there).

It should be no surprise that when we eat something with a toxin in it, that toxin gets into our blood.  When you eat garlic — toxins from the garlic get into your blood.  When you eat hot peppers — capsaicin (an insecticide) gets in your blood.  When you drink alcohol — you get the picture.  Is it bad for things to be in the blood?  It depends entirely upon the thing and the concentration.  This article talked about fetal issues so lets use a fetal example — Aspirin is considered a bad idea during pregnancy — it can get into the unborn child’s bloodstream.  However, low doses of aspirin can reduce risks of pre-eclampsia.  By the way, a chemical very similar to aspirin is also known as a fungicide….(actigard).

So, there are my reasons for not being too worried.  Could I change my mind — YES.  Could I be wrong — YES.  BUT as a scientist who reads a lot of what I’ll call “reactionary/radical articles” I have my doubts when I read about the next thing that’s going to kill us all.  If we responded to every troubling article we’d never leave our houses.  BUT there’s always that one important article that warns us about something real — and we need to be on the lookout for it.  My reaction to the Bt threat — this isn’t it — but time will tell whether I’m right or wrong.

14 thoughts on “Bt in the Bloodstream!”

  1. OK, Jeff. I was pretty alarmed when I saw Amy’s post, but you’ve injected reason into the discussion (as per usual). I still don’t like the idea of eatin
    g Bt, but sure, we likely eat lots of bacteria species daily without ill effects. Guess I’ll calm down. I can grow my own watermelons (and not make them explode). Prefer to, even. But I don’t have room to grow my own corn, never mind the time to process it into tortillas and chips and grits. Still wish I knew when it was/was not GMO corn, though.

  2. To expand the idea of further testing, it would be interesting to test for Bt toxin the the blood of people eating 4 different diets:
    1 conventional with known Bt GMOs consumed
    1 with no Bt GMOs consumed AND with no foods sprayed with Bt insecticides
    1 ALL organic (with Bt insecticides used)

    Maybe I’m missing a couple variable to test for there. That would be one way to determine if Bt in the bloodstream is due to the GMOs, use of Bt as a pesticide, or naturally occuring Bt in bacteria in the environment.

  3. I would have liked to have seen testing between people who eat transgenic food and people who eat no transgenic food.

    Of course, this is probably impossible (or at least very difficult) because Monsanto etc have succeeded in denying consumers access to that information.

    It’s unclear whether GE crops are really dangerous, but the damage that Monsanto has done in terms of legal precedents is definitely troubling.

  4. I am SO glad people like you exist! The Garden Rant post pissed me off royally. Thank you for thoughtful and thorough deconstruction of the actually issues at hand.

  5. Yeah, more research needs to be done to see if all this stuff is okay but in the meantime, should unborn fetuses be the guinea pigs? And if it’s all so great, why can’t it be labeled? Let people choose what they want. That way, the pregnant lady can avoid it until the research is complete. People still buy regular produce even though organic is an option, right? And I don’t even like babies!!

  6. It seems to me that our scientific standards have it backwards. Chemicals should be banned until they are proven safe, not the other way around.

  7. Lisa, I understand what you’re saying — but how do you prove that a chemical is safe in every situation? It’s impossible.

  8. I do understand the quandary. I wish we had a better answer than the methods we are a currently adopting. I still stand by my former statement, but I am aware there are other points of view.

  9. Thanks for the blog Jeff. Perhaps as a scientist you could describe the blood test needed to prove/disprove the presence of the BT Toxin in humans. My need for concrete test results is based on the belief that science, particularly university science, is highly influenced by deep-pocketed corporations and the troubling relationship between Monsanto and the FDA. If there are no problems with GMOs then why is Monsanto fighting the labeling issue. I think we all remember the struggle with tobacco labeling. I simply want to make a consumer choice to buy or not buy GMO products. All science is replaced with better science. In the mean time I’d like to be in control of my family’s shopping cart.

  10. Hi Cathy — It’s an immunoassay. As far as I know it’s not a standard test that you can just ask for. Monsanto is fighting labeling because people tend to overreact to the fact that Bt gets in their food. The biggest problem with GMOs is that people misunderstand them. That said — I actually do think you should have the right to decide whether you eat GMOs or not — even though I’m not worried about them. I’m also not a fan of some of the junk Monsanto has done over the years — particularly with controlling genes.

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