Claim: Monsanto-developed corn contains toxins that protect against insects and are harmful to humans.
Example:[Collected via e-mail, May 2012]
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Monsanto has released its first direct-to-consumer product, a GM sweet corn containing Bt toxin, designed to protect the plant by rupturing the stomach of any insect that feeds on it. Monsanto claims the toxin will break down before the corn makes it to your dinner table, but rats fed the GM corn showed organ failure and the toxin has been detected in the bodies of pregnant women.
Origins: The Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) protein referred to in the above graphic is a naturally occurring one which has been used in agriculture for decades, often by organic growers and more recently in genetically modified (GM) plants. The Bt protein is employed as a repellant that targets a specific species of insect but has no impact on non-target insects, animals or humans. When field insects like European corn borer or corn rootworm larvae feed on the corn plant, the Bt protein causes them to stop feeding on the plants within a few short hours, and then they die within a few days.
According to Monsanto:
For our Bt corn products, we submitted a detailed (typically several hundred pages) document to FDA containing data comparing the composition of the GM plant to the unmodified plant. In addition to information about the biology of the plant and the introduced trait, applicants provide detailed information on the levels of nutrients such as amino acids, fats, proteins, carbohydrates and anti-nutrients to determine if there are any statistically significant differences between the GM plant and unmodified plant which would result in any safety concerns. If the introduced trait encodes a protein (which would be the case in Bt corn), data is provided to compare the sequence to a known database of allergens and toxins and how that protein is digested as a food source. FDA reviews this information, consults with the applicant if additional information is needed, and if all issues are addressed to their satisfaction issues a letter of no concern.
The claim about GM corn causing organ failure in rats stems from a 2009 article by Dr. Joël Spiroux de Vendômois (et al) published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences. Monsanto has published its own response to this article, which includes evaluations from several food safety authorities, concluding that the studies do not support such an allegation.
The claim about Bt "toxin" having been detected in the bodies of pregnant women stems from a 2011 article by Aziz Aris and Samuel Leblanc published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology. Likewise, food safety authorities have challenged the validity of that study.
Consumer groups and activists who say genetically modified foods may pose environmental and health risks have urged major food vendors to avoid Monsanto's sweet corn. Companies such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and General Mills have pledged not to sell or use it, but in August 2012 WalMart Stores confirmed that the company would not restrict sales of the genetically modified corn in its stores.