Super Bugs and Genetically Modified Food

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I have blogged before on superbugs in our bodies—like C. diff, MRSA and Klebsiella pneumoniae. Superbugs is the term for bacteria that have developed antibiotic resistance, making the infections they cause very difficult to treat. The main reason for the development of these superbugs is the overuse of antibiotics—in medicine, food production (livestock) and even in hand soaps.

Now, there’s a new superbug in town, a superbug of a different kind. And who is behind it, but Monsanto, the biotechnology giant. It seems that one of Monsanto’s biggest money-makers—Bt corn, is creating superbugs. The majority of non-organic corn planted in the U.S. is genetically modified to produce a toxic compound against western corn rootworms—a major corn pest. This corn is well-known as Bt corn, because it contains a gene from the soil microorganisms Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which produces an insecticide against the corn rootworm.

Genetically modified Bt corn worked so well against the corn rootworm that some farmers began planting it every year, instead of the usual rotation of growing corn one year and soybeans the next—a method that helps reduce pest populations. If there is one thing that farmers should know, it’s that planting the same thing every year is a recipe for disaster (even if it doesn’t seem that way at first).

It turns out the corn rootworms, much like the superbug bacteria infecting humans, are developing a resistance to the Bt toxin that usually destroys the pest. A few farms in Iowa are reporting that the Bt corn no longer kills the corn rootworm, meaning the bugs—now superbugs—have developed resistance to the Bt toxin. First superbugs in our guts, now superbugs on corn, soon superbugs everywhere. (Anyone notice a problem, here?)

Competitors of Monsanto estimate that about one-third of all the corn grown in the U.S. is Monsanto’s Bt corn. These competitors have their own Bt corn, with slightly different genes, that they are offering as a solution for the Bt resistant rootworm. Are you kidding? This seems ridiculous to me. It’s like placing a Band-Aid on a war wound. If they think that the corn rootworm won’t also develop resistance to their Bt toxin, they’re crazy. Unfortunately, it’s all about money. Preserving human health, or even feeding the planet, has nothing to do with it.

Corn and its by-products are in so many foods. Try to buy products using organic corn, or at least non-GM corn, to avoid being part of the human experiment that is the consumption of GM foods in this country. We just don’t know if they’re safe yet, and many studies suggest they’re not.