New international study shows Bt gene to be toxic

January 28th, 2011 by

DAVAO CITY –   Organic  farming advocates in Davao welcomed the latest independent  study which revealed that  the consumption of the Bt eggplant can  cause inflammation, reproductive disorders and liver damage.

The Institute for  Independent Impact Assessment in Biotechnology released a report prepared by  Lou Gallagher, an environmental epidemiologist and risk assessment expert  from New Zealand , which revealed that the safety claims made for the Bt  brinjal (eggplant) are unwarranted and not supported by existing data.  “On the contrary, there are alarming signs that the consumption of food derived from these plants could result in adverse health effects”, Gallagher said.

After analyzing the raw data of the 14 and 90-day feeding studies of the Bt brinjal on experimental rats, she confirmed that there is  “organ and systems damage: with  OVARIES at half their normal weight, enlarged spleens with white blood cell counts at 35 to 40 percent higher than normal with elevated eosinophils, indicating immune function changes;  and toxic effects to the liver: as demonstrated by elevated bilirubin and elevated plasma acetylcholinesterase”.

She then concluded that on the basis of the existing data, the genetically engineered eggplant cannot be recommended for human consumption. ““Major health problems among test animals were ignored in these reports. The single test dose used was lower than recommended by the Indian protocols. Release of Bt brinjal for human consumption cannot be recommended given the current evidence of toxicity to rats in just 90 days and the studies’ serious departures from normal scientific standards”. ,she said.

Go Organic Mindanao Coordinator Angelica Castro said that this latest report underscored the dangers of the Bt eggplant to human health.  “The City Government of Davao was correct in deciding to uproot the Bt talong from the experimental site to prevent contamination and the eventual accidental consumption of the Bt eggplant”, she said.

The gene being used in  Bt talong has been sourced from the same stock of bt brinjal hybrids being tested in India. The Bt eggplant is genetically engineered to produce insecticidal proteins (called Bt toxin) which target  the Eggplant Fruit and Shoot  Borer (EFSB) pest.

But according to Dr. Rodel Maghirang,  Bureau of Plant Industry scientist,  there is really no need for Bt talong because there are varieties which are resistant to EFSB.  Maghirang who was in Davao last November  11, 2010  to give a seminar on Integrated Pest Management to personnel of the City Agriculture Office was asked about  his opinion on the Bt talong issue. “May matitibay na  tayong variety ng talong pero nagdevelop pa rin sila ng Bt mainly for money.”, he said.

UP Mindanao  has repeatedly  maintained that it is testing the open pollinated variety (OPV)  which it intends to  distribute to small farmers everywhere.

But GOM members are not convinced.  Interface Development Interventions  Policy Advocacy Officer Chinkie Pelino-Golle said that the field testing of the OPV Bt talong opens the  gates for further  testing of commercial varieties  of genetically modified BT talong which  are better than the OPV but will be sold in the market.  “ Who will then stand to gain from this scenario? Certainly not the small farmers who cannot afford to buy these hybrid seeds. Only Monsanto, who will continue to profit from these seeds”, she said.

The Bt eggplant was originally developed by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company  (Mahyco), the Indian subsidiary of the US seeds corporation Monsanto.  Mahyco  had sub-licensed the technology to the University of the Philippines in Los Banos to develop Bt talong in the Philippines.

Gallagher’s  findings are the latest in the list of negative findings on the Bt eggplant . In 2010, negative findings have already been discovered from an examination of the dossier by  Jack Heinemann (Genomics), Judy Carman (study design and statistical rigour etc) and the authoritative environmental risk assessment by Andow (published), which confirme  that the ERA (Environmental Risk Assessment) for Bt brinjal has essentially not been done.