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Published on October 4th, 2010 | by Rachel Shulman

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Bt Toxin From Genetically Modified Corn Found in U.S. Streams

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As if industrial agriculture wasn’t polluting water enough with fertilizers and manufactured chemical pesticides, now researchers have discovered that U.S. streams are also contaminated with insecticides genetically engineered into crops.

In 2009, 63 percent of the corn planted in the U.S. was genetically modified to include the Bt toxin, a bacterial protein that kills agricultural pests like the European corn borer. According to a study published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Bt toxin is finding its way into streams.

Based on a survey of 217 streams in Indiana, the study showed that 23 percent of the streams had the Bt toxin floating in the water. The streams were sampled six months after the corn harvest.

Leaves, stems, cobs, and other detritus from genetically modified corn routinely wash into the waterways of the Midwest. The researchers demonstrated that 86 percent of surveyed streams contained such crop waste.

All of the streams that were contaminated with the Bt toxin were located 500 meters or less from a corn field. Since the landscape of the Midwest is dominated by corn production, the sample streams from the study are representative of Midwest waterways. The researchers estimated that 91 percent of streams in Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana are within that distance from a corn field.

The researchers suspect that their finding might be an unintended consequence of “no-till” farming, a practice in which the unused portions of crop are left on the fields. Even though this tactic minimizes erosion, crop detritus still ends up in adjacent streams.

Since this study was a survey, not an actual experiment, the researchers were unable to say anything about the ecological impact of the Bt toxin on aquatic ecosystems.

Additional research will be necessary to determine how GMO by-products influence the health of these Midwest streams as well as the water bodies into which they drain: the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes.

Image courtesy of fishhawk via a Creative Commons license.

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About the Author

I'm an ecologist turned journalist turned farmer-in-training. I'm currently working on an organic farm and creamery in Illinois. Follow me on twitter (http://twitter.com/rachelshulman), friend me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=3105709), or follow me on StumbleUpon (http://www.stumbleupon.com/stumbler/RachelShulman/).



  • http://www.decriminalize.com DeCriminalize

    The solution is too never eat GMO corn and write to your Politicians who may not yet have been corrupted by Monsanto Corporation. Consuming genetically modified food is dangerous to our health since it takes thousands of years for humans to evolve to accept such genetic changes in our food. Whole Foods sells safe corn. So do others.

  • http://www.greentech-bg.net Sevdalina Peeva

    I live in Europe where more than 60% of citizens are opposed to GE-crops. There is a unique opportunity called European Citizens’ Initiative that allows to start legislative process with 1 000 000 signatures of EU-citizens. Just few days ago Greenpeace and Avaaz gathered one milion supporters to petition to the President of EU Commision to put Moratorium on groing GE-crops before enough scientific evidense of their safety is gathered.
    But it seems that day after day there are coming bad news regarding GMO’safety for humans and environment.

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