Project News and Views
BSR has published a new Scientific Review Paper: The Distinct Properties of Natural and GM Cry Insecticidal Proteins
PDF of Press Release: Are GMO Pesticides Super Toxins (Press Release)
Press Release: Are GMO Pesticides Supertoxins? A New Analysis Raises Questions of Food and Environmental Safety
Oct 4, 2017, The Bioscience Resource Project, Ithaca, New York, USA
Summary: The chief benefit claimed for GMO pesticidal Bt crops is that, unlike conventional pesticides, their toxicity is limited to a few insect species. Our new peer-reviewed analysis systematically compares GMO and ancestral Bt proteins and shows that many of the elements contributing to this narrow toxicity have been removed by GMO developers in the process of inserting Bt toxins into crops. Thus, developers have made GMO pesticides that, in the words of one Monsanto patent, are “super toxins”. We additionally conclude that references to any GMO Bt toxins being “natural” are incorrect and scientifically unsupportable.
New Publication Title: The Distinct Properties of Natural and GM Cry Insecticidal Proteins
Authors: Jonathan R. Latham, Madeleine Love & Angelika Hilbeck (2017), in Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews, 33:1, 62-96,
Available online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02648725.2017.1357295
Bt toxins are a diverse family of protein toxins produced in nature by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which is a gut pathogen of many species. Naturally occurring toxins (also known as Cry toxins) of B. thuringiensis are believed to all have very limited toxicity ranges. These toxins exist in nature as crystals packaged around DNA. Through a complex sequence of unpacking and protein processing steps these molecules are converted to active toxins and kill their targets by creating holes in the membranes of the gut lining of their victims.
Commercially, GMO pesticidal corn, cotton, and soybeans are widely grown around the world. GMO Bt crop varieties constitutively synthesize these Bt toxins and can contain numerous different Bt transgenes (1), each with somewhat different pest control properties. For this publication, we reviewed biosafety application documents for 23 globally traded Bt pesticidal GM crop events as well as peer-reviewed research and patents. We sought to compare GM proteins with natural ones. Our analysis is the first to explore the chemical and functional differences between GMO Bt toxins and natural ones.
Our review describes numerous differences between naturally occurring and GM Bt proteins. Some are intentionally introduced but others are inadvertent in origin. First, all GMO Bt toxins are soluble proteins rather than crystalline structures; many GMO Bt toxins are truncated proteins; parts of natural Bt toxins are often combined to make hybrid GMO molecules that don’t exist in nature; GMO Bt toxins often have added to them synthetic or unrelated protein molecules; GMO Bt toxins may be mutated to replace specific amino acids. Sixth and not least, all GMO Bt proteins are further altered inside plant cells. GMO crop plants themselves thus cause changes to the nature of Bt toxins.
Surprising as it may seem, these changes are poorly taken into account in GMO risk assessment. For example, GMO regulators frequently refer to the “history of safe use” of specific natural Bt toxins. Regulators also controversially allow most tests of safety to be on surrogate toxins, rather than GMO crops themselves (2). Our next question was therefore to determine whether these physical changes enhanced Bt protein toxicity, which would imply real world food and biosafety implications.
In the publication, we identify clear theoretical reasons, and sometimes direct evidence, to suppose that each of the six types of changes noted above enhances Bt toxin activity. For example, Ciba-Geigy measured their Bt-176 toxins to be 5-10 times more toxicologically active when inserted into plants. Monsanto patented a series of novel Bt toxins with up to 7.9-fold enhanced activity and called it these “super toxins” having “the combined advantages of increased insecticidal activity and concomitant broad spectrum activity.” The most powerful of these is now found in commercial MON863 corn. Additionally, there are theoretical reasons to expect all GMO Bt toxins to have broader spectrums of activity. Natural Bt toxins are large, insoluble, and non-toxic precursors requiring unusual chemical conditions to become active toxins, but thanks to the processing undergone by all GMO Bt proteins these are far closer to the toxicologically active form having bypassed key specificity requirements.
Apparently ignored by GMO biosafety regulators, Bt developers have been commercialising pesticide-containing GM crops with increased and broadened toxicity, undermining the chief safety advantage of Bt toxins over conventional pesticides.
“We are raising important questions here. This publication reveals compelling scientific reasons to be concerned about the toxicological consequences of GM Bt toxins in food and in the environment. But it also reveals the complex interplay between corporations which carefully select the data they share with regulators and, on the part of regulators, a willingness to ignore the science if it threatens to derail a GMO approval.” says Jonathan Latham, Executive Director of The Bioscience Resource Project.
“Naturalness is a key claim about pesticidal GM crops. But it is constructed to justify the omission of actual testing of the GMO. “O” stands for organism, after all, but what we observe in the use of surrogate proteins for risk assessment is the reduction of biology to chemistry.”–Angelika Hilbeck of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
The publication is available open access from:
Citation: Jonathan R. Latham, Madeleine Love & Angelika Hilbeck (2017) The distinct properties of natural and GM cry insecticidal proteins, Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews, 33:1, 62-96, DOI: 10.1080/02648725.2017.1357295.
Jonathan Latham, PhD, Executive Director, The Bioscience Resource Project
Ithaca, NY 14850, USA
Phone (1) 607 319 0279
Angelika Hilbeck, PhD, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
Phone: (41) 44 632 4322
(2) Dolezel, M., et al. (2011). Scrutinizing the current practice of the environmental risk assessment of GM maize applications for cultivation in the EU. Environmental Sciences Europe, 23, 33. doi:10.1186/2190-4715-23-33
Download the press release at: https://bioscienceresource.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Are-GMO-Pesticides-Super-Toxins-Press-Release.pdf
ClassAction.com interviewed Lisa Graves, the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), about the “Poison Papers” and why CMD and the Bioscience Resource Project joined together to get the documents online and available to the public. Graves also discusses some of the issues documented in the Poison Papers and their relevance today.
“And there’s an array of documents from studies that show harms by a number of chemicals, including PCBs, dioxins, and more. What we’re left with is a situation in which many of these chemicals remain on the market, are in products that are being used by consumers and by government agencies, and continue to pose a risk to human health and to the health of our ecosystem.”
Original article posted here
“‘Poison Papers’ Reveal Chemical Industry Secrets” published on ClassAction.com on September 6, 2017 can be found at https://www.classaction.com/news/chemical-industry-poison-papers/
A new article based on papers in the Poison Papers DocumentCloud database has just been published in German on Buzzfeed. The article: “Diese Dokumente zeigen, wie BASF, Bayer & Co gefährliche Stoffe über Jahre verharmlost haben: US-Aktivisten haben 100.000 zum Teil vertrauliche Seiten über die Chemieindustrie veröffentlicht: die Poison Papers.”, ursprünglich veröffentlicht auf 24. August 2017, 12:17, Petra Sorge, BuzzFeed Contributor.
The English translation reads: “These documents show how BASF, Bayer & Co have dealt with dangerous substances for years: US activists have published 100, 000 partly confidential pages about the chemical industry: the Poison Papers.” The article was originally published on 24 August 2017, by Petra Sorge, BuzzFeed Contributor.
The article can be read in German at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/petrasorge/diese-dokumente-zeigen-wie-basf-bayer-co-gefahrliche-stoffe?bffbdenews&utm_term=.fwDv3Pqpb#.qy6Z240Mw.
St. Louis Public Radio has published a new article about The Poison Papers and Carol Van Strum. Van Strum is an activist who collected the documents during her past 40 years involved in lawsuits against chemical companies and the federal government. Making the Poison Papers available to the public on DocumentCloud is a project of The Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy.
“It began in the early 1970s, when Van Strum’s family saw an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle and moved to a farm in the Siuslaw National Forest.
Soon after, she said, they were sprayed by a helicopter with 2,4,5-T — a component of Agent Orange — that was meant to treat a timber crop on nearby public land.
She banded together with neighbors, sued and won an injunction to stop the spraying.”
The hope is that the newly digitized Poison Papers will aid in current efforts to protect the public from toxic exposure.
“Bill Sherman, assistant attorney general for the state of Washington, said he was reviewing the new documents and expected they would be involved in the state’s lawsuit against Monsanto.
‘They confirm that Monsanto was aware of the harms that their PCBs were causing and continued to sell them without telling the public or their customers,” Sherman said of the documents.’”
“Monsanto continued to produce and sell toxic industrial chemicals known as PCBs for eight years after learning that they posed hazards to public health and the environment, according to legal analysis of documents put online in a vast searchable archive.”
The Poison Papers archive has been analyzed by Bill Sherman, the assistant attorney general for the US state of Washington. Washington state and various west coast cities are suing Monsanto for PCB contamination. Sherman is quoted as saying that Poison Paper documents provide “damning evidence” that was previously unknown to the state.
Due to their extreme toxicity to human and environmental health, by 1979 PCBs were banned in many countries.
“Yet a decade earlier, one Monsanto pollution abatement plan in the archive from October 1969, singled out by Sherman, suggests that Monsanto was even then aware of the risks posed by PCB use.”
To learn more about what Monsanto knew and hid about PCB toxicity read the full article “Monsanto sold banned chemicals for years despite known health risks, archives reveal” by Arthur Neslen on The Guardian (10 August 2017) go to: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/09/monsanto-continued-selling-pcbs-for-years-despite-knowing-health-risks-archives-reveal.
The Bioscience Resource Project provides scientific and intellectual resources for a healthy future. It publishes Independent Science News, a media service devoted to food and agriculture, and their impacts on health and the environment. It also offers resources for scientists and educators and internships and training for students. Through its innovative scientific journalism and original biosafety review articles, the project provides unique and revealing perspectives on issues that are fundamental to the survival of people and the planet. The project does not accept advertising or corporate funding and is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. It is completely dependent on individual donations.
Sign up to our mailing list