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Consumer And Environmental Groups Demand EPA Delay Re-Registration Of All Genetically Engineered Bt Corn Crops

October 20, 2000


Michael Hansen, CU, 914-378-2455


Consumer and Environmental Groups Demand EPA Delay Re-Registration of All Genetically Engineered Bt Corn Crops

Cite Failure to Conduct Critical
Health Test

Washington, DC – Consumers Union, Friends of
the Earth, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group demanded
that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) not re-register Bt
corn crops until it has conducted fundamental allergy testing
available to the agency for over a year. The EPA is concluding three
days of hearings regarding the crop re-registrations today.

Groups demanding the delay in the Bt corn
re-registrations pointed to a study showing a potential risk to farm
and mill workers and the fact that EPA has the ability to test.
Funded in part by EPA itself and co-authored by Donald L. Doerfler,
Biostatistics and Research Support Staff, National Health and
Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, U.S. EPA, the study
concludes, “…future clinical assessment [of allergenic
sensitivity] is now feasible because of the availability of
reliable Bt skin and serologic reagents developed during the course
of the investigation.”

“EPA scientists have the allergy test, so they
should use it,” said Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Research Associate at
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, who discussed the
study in testimony
at EPA. The study, entitled “Immune Responses in Farm Workers
after Exposure to Bacillus thuringiensis Pesticides” appeared in the
July 1999 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives published by the
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Farm and mill workers may be most at risk for
developing allergies, according to the study. The study looked at
whether conventional Bt pesticide sprays might lead to allergic
sensitivities in farm workers. The study found 2 out of 123 workers
who picked and packed vegetables on a farm where Bt is used exhibited
reactivity to the Bt pro delta endotoxin. This natural pesticide has
now been introduced via genetic engineering into some 20 percent of
the corn grown in the United States today. The Bt delta endotoxin is
present in genetically engineered corn at a level at least 50 times
that found in the conventional sprays in the study, according to

“This study raises serious questions about the
safety of farm and mill workers who are breathing large amounts of Bt
corn pollen or corn flour every day,” said Larry Bohlen, Director of
Health and Environment Programs at Friends of the Earth, the group
that first detected the presence of Starlink corn in taco shells.
“The EPA should not allow Bt corn to be planted next year unless they
can assure millworkers, farmers and rural residents that they will
not develop allergies and respiratory problems. Farmers could be
affected and not even know the reason why due to the EPA’s failure to
test for health impacts.”

The groups urged EPA to immediately use the
tools developed over a year ago in this study to assess allergic
sensitivity in a wide sample of workers who breathe genetically
engineered corn flour.

The study said it was “unlikely” that the Bt
endotoxin present in corn would cause allergies in consumers who eat
it. However the reagents developed in the study make it possible to
address this question, as well as effects on farmers and mill

To date, the EPA has said it has had “no
confirmed reports” of allergic reactions to Bt endotoxin. It based
its evaluation of Bt’s allergenicity on several general indicators of
allergenic potential, such as digestibility and heat stability.

In testimony at today’s hearing, Friends of the
Earth pointed out significant flaws in the allergenicity studies
submitted by StarLink registrant Aventis CropScience, including many
breaches of basic scientific protocol. The group also criticized the
EPA for recent statements downplaying the health risks of StarLink
corn, and for the federal government’s gravely flawed regulatory
system that permitted it to enter the food supply in the first place.

The article in Environmental Health
Perspectives notes that, as of July 1999, “Although health risks to
pesticides containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) have been minimal,
the potential allergenicity of these organisms has not been

“This further demonstrates the premature rush
to commercialize genetically engineered crops before full evaluations
can be made of their safety. EPA has allowed genetically engineered
crops to enter the marketplace before independent scientists fully
debated their safety and efficacy,” said Richard Caplan,
Environmental Advocate with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
“At this critical juncture when they are re-evaluating the
registration of Bt crops, they should put the environment and health
of the American public first.”

Testimony by Consumers Union and Friends of the
Earth before the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Panel on Bt Corn may be
found at

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