EPA failed to conduct critical health test
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 today 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, "Öfuture 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 today. 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 Hansen.
"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 workers.
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 evaluated."
"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 www.foe.org/safefood
Speakers will be available for comment at the EPA hearing 9:30 am to 2:30 pm and afterward at the Friends of the Earth offices, 1025 Vermont Ave. NW, Washington DC.