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Rumors of anthrax-like dangers from organic pesticides
and biotech plants are unfounded

Contact: C.S. Prakash at 334-727-8023 or 334-444-7884 or prakash@agbioworld.org

Tuskegee, AL, Oct. 29 -- As letters containing anthrax have terrorized the U.S. in recent weeks, many assertions have been made comparing the anthrax bacterium Bacillus anthracis (Ba) to Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacterium popular with farmers who use it as an organic spray to kill insects. However, scientists at the Agbioworld Foundation have recently discredited these rumors, stressing that there is nothing to fear from organic farming or other agricultural applications of Bt, such as biotech plants that contain a single gene from Bt.

Recent misleading quotes on the alleged dangers involving bioterrorism and agriculture which have appeared in newspaper articles, web sites and electronic newsletters include:

  • An October 2 article published in the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers by Jeremy Rifkin, who wrote “Even more troubling is the fact that the genetic engineering technology being used commercially in the fields of agriculture, animal husbandry and medicine today is potentially convertible to the development of a wide range of pathogens that can attack plant, animal and human populations.”

  • An article by Vandana Shiva, published by The Hindu immediately after the first anthrax case in Florida, which stated that bacterial agents are "invented in defence or corporate labs,” even though the anthrax bacterium is found in nature. Shiva went on to say that “anthrax has been part of the ascent of biological warfare of the very states which are today worried about bioterrorism. And genetic engineering of biological organisms, both for warfare and food and agriculture, is creating new biohazards.”

  • Two recent posts from University of Western Ontario Professor Joe Cummins to the Institute of Science in Society web site which said although there is “no reason to discourage the use of Bt bacteria in conventional and organic agriculture… it would be wise to ensure that Bt and Ba do not come into contact with each other by hazardous aerial spray programs. Apart from the above considerations, accumulating evidence that Bt-toxins are actual and potential allergens should make the protection of farm workers and sprayers a matter of primary concern.”

  • A message to all Victorian [Australian State] MPs from the director of the Australian GenEthics network, Bob Phelps, titled "Bt GM crop toxin is from anthrax family."

However, according to experts in public health and agriculture these statements are misleading and should not be interpreted to mean that Bt can infect human beings as anthrax does. Bt is a naturally occurring soil bacterium which has been safely used in organic and conventional agriculture for over 30 years. In fact, testing of microbial Bt preparations and Bt biotechnology applications over the past 35 years has provided an extensive body of scientific data that supports their safe use. U.S. federal regulators have concluded this vast body of scientific research "clearly argues for the human safety of these active microbial pesticide ingredients." (McClintock et al. 1995; A Comparative review of the mammalian toxicity of Bacillus thuriengiensis-based pesticides. Pestic. Sci., 45:95-105.)

Statements about anthrax crossing with insect-resistant crops which have been engineered to contain Bt proteins are equally – if not more – misleading, as Rick Roush, Professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia, explained: "Bt crops produce only one or two insect-specific proteins from Bt and thus eliminate the potential for accidental contamination with anthrax toxins or bacteria."

Dr. C.S. Prakash, President of the AgBioWorld Foundation, said that this latest misinformation campaign is “nothing but an insidious exploitation of fear among the public to advance their anti-progress vested agenda. Americans have been burdened enough by the anthrax scare. The last thing they need is for their fears to be compounded by misinformation and lies.”