(Beyond Pesticides, May 19, 2011) Scientists at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada found that pesticides associated with genetically engineered (GE) foods are present in maternal, fetal and nonpregnant women’s blood, emphasizing the need for further research into the effects that GE food has on human health. The study, “Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada” is published in Reproductive Toxicology.
Scientists Aziz Aris and Samuel Leblanc analyzed blood samples for 39 nonpregnant women and 30 pregnant woman and their fetuses in Sherbrooke, an urban area of Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. It’s important to note that none of the women in the study had ever worked or lived with a spouse that worked in contact with pesticides. The diet of the women involved in the study is described as “typical of a middle class population of Western industrialized countries.”
The Cry1Ab toxin, which is an insecticidal protein produced by the soil bacterium Baccillus thuringiensis (Bt) was detected in 93% of maternal blood samples, 80% of fetal blood samples and 69% of the nonpregnant women’s blood. In genetic engineering, the Cry1Ab protein from Bt is transferred into corn so that it will produce it’s own insecticide so that it will be toxic to the pests such as corn borers. Though Bt is used by organic farmers as a least-toxic alternative to control bugs, organic farmers use Bt sparingly and only as a last resort. Conversely, thousands of acres of GE crops contain Bt, so experts believe it’s only a matter of time before insects become resistant to Bt.
Glufosinate is a broad-spectrum weed killer which some crops, such as oilseed rape, maize, soybeans, sugar beets, cotton can be genetically engineered for resistance (also known as LibertyLink). Glufosinate was detected in 18% of nonpregnant women’s blood but not detected in maternal and fetal blood. It’s metabolite, 3-mehtylphosphinicopropionic acid (3-MPPA), however, was detected in 100% of maternal and umbilical cord blood samples and in 67 % of the nonpregnant women’s blood.
The study did not find any significant detection of glyphosate in maternal or fetal blood, though it was present in 5% of nonpregnant women’s blood samples. The authors explain that this might be due to either the absence of exposure, efficiency of elimination of the chemical or simply limitations for current detection methods.
Though this research presented only a small sample size, and was very narrowly focused, the results of this work provide a baseline for future studies on nutrition, toxicology and reproduction in women. It also provides a valuable case for the need for further assessment of genetically engineered foods, as not much information is currently known on the impacts of GE food on human health.
Whether it is the incorporation into food crops of genes from a natural bacterium (Bt) or the development of a herbicide-resistant crop, the GE approach to pest management is short sighted and dangerous. There are serious public health and pest resistance problems associated with GE crops. There are currently no regulations requiring GE foods to be labeled as such, therefore the best way for consumers to avoid GE foods is to choose organic products.
For more information regarding genetic engineering of agricultural crops and the recent controversy surrounding USDA’s approval of several new varieties, including GE alfalfa and GE sugar beets, see our genetic engineering program page and other Daily News blog entries.