1.7—No evidence that pollen causes disease
Inhaled Bt corn pollen did not trigger disease in humans
Analysis of Peer-Reviewed Research:
These are unfounded claims by an anti-GM crusader from Norway. The Norwegian anti-GM crusader presented no data to support his claims and no paper has been published. Jeffrey Smith chooses to repeat the claims, however farfetched they may be, as though they were scientific observations without bothering to share with the reader that doctors and government regulators have carefully investigated the claims and have discounted the claimed involvement of Bt maize. These investigators found in fact no unusual medical problems existed. That Bt corn caused no harm could have been anticipated since pollen from Bt corn contains infinitesimal amounts of Bt, does not travel far from the cornfield, and has not caused problems anywhere else in the world.
- There is no evidence of anything unusual having happened. The claims were made by a Norwegian scientist, Terje Traavik, who admits that he is opposed to GM crops. No scientific evidence to support his claims was provided. The report has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. It is largely based on claims made at a press conference. Traavik ignored requests from other scientists that he make his data available (AgBioWorld, 2004)
- People in villages that were not near Bt cornfields had the same health problems as people near Bt cornfields. Philippine medical examiners concluded that the subjects were suffering from common colds, influenza and a variety of other diseases and conditions that are unrelated to Bt corn or corn pollen. They concluded that people who didn’t live near cornfields had identical health problems. Bt maize is widely grown but there have been no similar claims from other places. In fact, no similar claims have been made elsewhere despite the fact that Bt corn is grown on hundreds of millions of acres around the world by millions of farmers (Brookes and Barfoot, 2007). Bt sprays have been used in agriculture and forestry for more than 50 years. Highly concentrated Bt sprays have been used in agriculture for many years and adverse reactions are rarely seen, and even more rarely documented as problems with Bt. Allergy or adverse reactions to Bt are extremely rare or non-existent (Seigel 2001).
- It is highly unlikely that exposure to corn pollen could have caused any health problems. Bt corn pollen contains very little Bt and corn pollen is very heavy, over 99% of it falling to ground within 5 meters of a cornfield. Additionally, corn pollinates in a narrow 1 week window (Pleasants and others 2001).
- Human blood contains antibodies to many proteins to which we are not allergic. The presence of antibodies of the kind claimed (IgG) is unrelated to allergy. Even if the presence were confirmed of antibodies of the kind claimed (namely IgG type antibodies), such antibodies are not related to food allergy responses, which require IgE type antibodies. Human blood contains antibodies to myriad proteins to which we are not allergic. A completely different kind of antibody (IgE) is associated with, but not proof of, allergenic reactions. The antibody data claimed by Traavik has never been shared with other scientists or the public.
References: AgBioWorld (2004). www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/pr/traavik.html
Brookes G and Barfoot P 2007. Global impact of biotech crops: Socio-economic and environmental effects, 1996-2006.
AgBioForum, 11: 21-38. Available on the World Wide Web: www.agbioforum.org.
Pleasants, JM, Hellmich RL, Dively GP, Sears MK, Stanley-Horn DE, Mattila HR, Fosteri JE, Clarki P, Jones GD (2001). Corn pollen deposition on milkweeds in and near cornfields. PNAS 98 : 11919-11924
Siegel JP (2001). The Mammalian Safety of Bacillus thuringiensis- Based Insecticides. J. Invert. Pathol. 77:13-21
- In 2003, about 100 people living next to a Bt cornfield in the Philippines developed skin, respiratory, intestinal reactions, and other symptoms while the corn was shedding pollen.
- Blood tests of 39 people showed antibody response to Bt toxin, which supports, but does not prove, a link.
- The symptoms reappeared in 2004 in at least four other villages that planted the same corn variety.
- Villagers also attribute several animal deaths to the corn.
It is claimed that people living next to Bt cornfields in the Philippines developed a variety of allergic reactions and other ailments that they attributed to Bt corn.