When tiny corn earworm caterpillars start hatching and munching and the farmer sprays with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), the little worms ingest some of the Bt bacterial spores. Bt reacts in their guts to make a toxin that eats holes in the gut walls, so they get sick and die, but the risk to animals and people is low. Bt in this form is a natural biological pesticide spray approved for organic crops. It washes off and degrades rapidly. Rincon-Vitova sells dry granular Bt for a backup control against caterpillar pests that get past the predators and parasites.
Corn Pests Can Be Managed Cost Effectively Using Biological Methods
Corn earworm and European cornborer are key pests of corn in different regions. Before big corporate agribusiness and bad farm policies put so many small to medium sized farmers out of business, they used crop rotations and early planting as part of integrated pest management. Much more can be done than has been with using adult suppression and habitat enhancement for predators to set the stage for good biological control. Coleomegila maculata and other predatory beetles and bugs can eat many egg masses before they even hatch. Likewise, green lacewing larvae and other predators contribute to biocontrol of caterpillars.
Patenting Seeds Creates Profit Motive Favoring Unnatural Methods
Big corporations are unlikely to ever own these farming tools. US patent law has not yet been perverted to allow the likes of Monsanto to mess with the genes of beneficial insects and mites, engineering little M’s on their dorsal thoraces. (Some entomologists have undoubtedly dabbled with the genes of predators and parasites, but it’s been easier to persuade farmers to pay the big bucks for GMO seed than GMO beneficials.) Monsanto that owns the seed and the Roundup herbicide figured it was losing potential Roundup profits, so it is now stacking the “Roundup gene” with the “Bt gene” onto the corn genome.
Now, whether they grow corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, or alfalfa hay, farmers can sign a technology use agreement (a contract) to buy a lot more Roundup from their seed company and make their weeds into superweeds (resistant to glyphosate) a lot faster. These are the trends leading to big monocultures of GM crops and superweeds replacing natural cultural and biocontrol strategies, with a loss of the knowledge and skills for biological farming.
Rincon-Vitova Promoting Biocontrol in Corn for Fifty Years
Trichogramma, a micro-wasp that lives on moth eggs, is the foundation of biological systems for growing corn and cotton. It is relatively inexpensive to produce in adequate numbers to prevent most of the moth eggs from becoming caterpillars. My father Everett J. “Deke” Dietrick began mass rearing this egg parasitoid in 1960. “Trichos” can give 70-95% control when used in a biological farming system. That means no repeated blanketing of the farm with Roundup that reduces soil ecology and fertility, and harms the diversity of biocontrol hosts and sources of pollen and nectar for resident natural enemies. Habrobracon hebetor is produced as a second line of defense against caterpillars in Central Asian cotton and the same could be done in corn here. See page 23 of Sacha Greenberg’s resume where he describes leading such a project.
The best way for farmers to have Trichogramma when they need it is to cooperate to support a regional insectary to grow Trichogramma, as well as something like the Bracon wasp or another larval parasitoid to be ready in case Trichogramma and naturally occuring predators don’t clean up the moth eggs and small worms fast enough. The insectary will grow enough so all supporting farms in the region to get the recommended amount, but it is released in the hotspots wherever the moths are laying eggs and the larval parasites where larvae are not coming under biological control. A third line of defense is Bt and other virus based insecticides can be developed or sourced as a last resort on problem areas, like Gemstar or isolates of polyhedrosis virus
Such natural methods have been proven safe and effective for decades. Our customers grow sweet corn with few or no worms and rarely or never even resort to Bt sprays. Bottom line: pests can be cost-effectively managed in corn without genetically engineering the corn plant to be a pesticide and tolerate repeated applications of Roundup to the whole field.
Benefits to Farmers from GE Crops Unsupported
Charles Benbrook’s recent analysis shows more use of herbicide in GM crops. So why are farmers opting for Bt/Roundup Ready corn instead of using safe and effective biological pest control? Why aren’t farmers organizing to have predators and parasitoids and biological materials? Why do many farmers only know about the Bt option promoted with billions of annual profits of Big Biotech? The Union of Concerned Scientists corrected a wrong impression about GM crops offering better yields. The potential for an increase in yield is only 5%. There are reports of GM crops needing more water and being less drought resistant. This report requires a subscription to ISIS to see comparative photos. There is no yield advantage if that season’s corn borer pressure is so low that the farmer would not have treated for it anyway. Biotech funded research touts higher yields, but common sense says they may be more clever at manipulating study designs than genomes!
You will see negative reports and comments about the papers in the above paragraph. The biotech industry is threatened by this data that shows that biotech crops fail in providing any value to farmers. The biotech cheerleaders are all heaping derision on the studies and ad hominum attacks against the researchers. But these independent research studies are peer-reviewed and the way science works, these data stand until another peer reviewed study is published that challenges the data questioning the economic viability of GMOs for farmers. All of the people dissing these studies are not peers and their comments in no way negate the facts – GMO crops have failed, are failing, and offer no improvement/benefits for the future. GMO Myths and Truths: An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops done by top world experts explains the findings of all relevant peer reviewed studies in 123 pages.
Meanwhile On the Farm
Still farmers are gambling on a mixed hand dealt by Casino Monsanto. “Next year might be a bad worm year. I figure even though Bt seed costs a lot more, it might pay off. What if I’m the only field with nonGMO and the moths know it! Besides, the guy said he’d give me some discount on Roundup if I sign up. Hey, they have a stacked version so I don’t have to weed the field. I’ll spend less on the Roundup than I MIGHT have to spend if there turns out to be cornborer pressure this year.”
Everyone else the farmer talks with favors playing the GMO corn card: Farm Advisors, the banker, the insurance broker, the incentives and subsidies from the USDA, and, most of all, the folks at the coffee shop. Channels carrying independent information for wise long-range economic decisions are drowned out by a culture driven by a lot of money and peer pressure and sometimes by threats from the seed monopoly to go along or face the possibility of not being able to source nonGMO seed. It takes courage for a farmer to buck such forces. Critical thinking is required to weigh the longer term costs and benefits related to resistance and social and economic benefits for the farmer, the environment and consumers.
Eating GMO Corn
AND meanwhile American families have been kept in the dark for the past decade eating increasing amounts of Bt corn—sugar flakes and KIX, pancake syrup, snack bars, chips, tortillas and tamales, cornbread, soft drinks, ice cream and starting this year, fresh, frozen and canned corn. Bio Ag Biotech and the FDA say Bt gene in the corn we eat is destroyed during digestion and it’s never made anybody sick, but no safety tests have been done. Steven Druker’s Altered Genes, Twisted Truth – How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public documents the suppression of GMO food safety concerns of scientists within the FDA.
So, how DID Bt toxin end up in the the blood of over 90% of pregnant women and over 80% of fetal cord blood in that study in Canada? What IF the Bt gene that makes the toxin that eats holes in caterpillar guts transfers to human gut bacteria, engineered moreover into the corn genome so the “on switch” to make the toxin is always turned on? What HAPPENS if Bt toxin is being continuously produced in our guts by our own bacteria? There is no barrier between the mother’s blood and the fetal brain. Bt toxin could be eating holes in the developing brain matter of the unborn.
We Aren’t Keeling Over in Large Numbers, But…
The Biotech industry says the food is safe because there has not been one person drop dead yet from eating it. One question that comes to my mind however is the reported steady rise in gut problems in the US. Dr. Robyn Bernhoft, M.D. recently spoke at an educational forum at Ventura College. He said, “The reason people get autoimmunity, or allergies, or asthma, frequently, is gut problems. The animals fed GMO corn and soy all have problems with their gut. They have breakdown in gut integrity, they have food leaking into their bloodstream, they have thickening of the lining of their gut that looks to some pathologists like precancerous lesions. When humans get breakdown of the gut integrity they start absorbing partially digested food into their bloodstream. The immune system has to deal with that… This is where the tremendous rise in allergies comes from.”
One expert in bowel problems observed a direct relationship between escalating digestive symptoms and increasing test loads of fructose. It was not in the report, but the fructose was probably made from GMO corn. I wonder how closely the consumption of high fructose corn syrup relates to digestive problems on the rise, like Celiac disease, acid reflux, GERD, colitis and Crohn’s? Soy allergies are also increasing associated with digestive issues (not to speak here of the other varied reproductive problems, infertility, and implications for SIDS). Over 90% of the soy in food is engineered to be Roundup Ready and contains unsafe levels of Roundup that has recently been linked to mammary tumors, kidney and liver problems, and premature death in the first ever long-term peer reviewed study. Autistic spectrum disorder parallels the rise in GMOs in the US diet. The gastrointestinal lining of children with autism has abnormal appearing villi similar to those in rats fed genetically engineered feed. See what Jeffrey Smith has compiled about the connections between autism and GM foods.
The cost of Bt corn to public health needs to be examined. A recent study suggests that Bt toxin probably has the ability to eat holes in animal and human intestinal lining as it does in the insect gut. It was shown that Bt toxin in a dish with human cells pokes holes in them, causing leakage of cell contents, the same mode of action that kills the caterpillars. See Dr. Galland’s post about types and causes of leaky gut where undigested food particles go into the blood and lymph systems?
Doctors are saying patients get better when they stop eating GMOs. Leaky gut syndrome is associated with allergies, autoimmune disorders, inflammation, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and autism. When the Bt gene is engineered into every cell of every kernel of corn and then it is eaten by animals and humans throughout every day, Monsanto has taken Bt to a very scary level. There have been no safety studies, BUT doctors are just starting to talk about GMOs, and especially corn products. While Americans are blindly eating Bt and Roundup Ready corn and having more digestive problems that underlie related diseases that are on the rise, the producers of GMO corn-based food products are spending over $44 million to try to defeat a California ballot initiative to require labeling of the food. In the European Union where GMOs have been labeled for years, seven countries – Austria, Hungary, Greece, France, Luxembourg, Germany and Bulgaria have banned Bt corn.
DNA and mRNA in the Food Chain Affects the Consuming Organism
There was no economic or practical reason for agriculture to go down this dangerous path. The pests that evolved with natural corn can be managed with the natural enemy complex that evolved with those pests. Organisms that eat corn, from caterpillar to human, have evolved in physiological systems involving thousands of metabolites in a corn plant and in what eats the corn plant. As it turns out, new research about micro RNA suggests that the human body is affected by the genes of the plants we eat. We want to apply the precautionary principle to halt genetic manipulation of food and animal feed until the implications are known. It is well within the farmer’s means to grow corn that respects the elaborate relationships in the biochemical and physiological makeup of the corn and organisms that eat corn.
Vote for Labeling and Vote with Your Food Dollars (Ways to Avoid GMO Corn)
We have been fighting for over a year to achieve regulations that honor our right to know if the Bt gene was engineered into corn and corn-based foods. Until labeling happens, we encourage you to do your best to stop eating Bt corn. It’s easy to avoid high fructose corn syrup with many alternative sweeteners. There are other delicious and inexpensive grains and starches, like rice, oats, barley, millet, amaranth, tapioca, pumpkin, winter squash and root vegetables. As time passes that you don’t eat GMO foods and your gut lining starts to heal, it should be safe to eat more wheat again without the risk of undigested gluten protein passing into the bloodstream causing allergic responses.
We love corn, so we buy from local farmers who protect their corn from contamination by Bt gene. Since we don’t eat meat, we don’t think about the increasing amount of GMO fed to livestock, and we do invest in only organic dairy and eggs. We are OK with the limit for organic food being .9% GMO contamination. It’s easy to find reasonably priced organic corn chips, but organic or NonGMO Project Verified corn tortillas are hard to find. La Guera Tamalera-White Girl Tamale Maker sells everything on-line out of LA to make organic non-GMO tamales! Trader Joe’s has organic polenta that isn’t expensive. It is a bit of a challenge, but not really difficult to avoid GMOs and it does not have to raise your food budget. Moms for Safe Food is a resource. Just plan to prepare more whole foods, less processed foods, and make room for a few organic versions of corn and soy foods you really like by reducing meat, junk food, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages that aren’t that healthy anyway!
Buying organic and nonGMO corn products supports those farmers using the proven safe natural biological farming methods. Vote with your food dollar for nonGMO biological corn production.