On May 20 1999, Nature magazine sounded what might have been the death knell of the biotech food industry. A short paper in the respected British science magazine by John Losey, an assistant professor of entomology at Cornell University, reported the ominous results of his laboratory study on the effects of pollen from genetically modified corn on the Monarch butterfly. Losey found that that Monarch caterpillars fed on milkweed leaves dusted with genetically modified corn pollen ate less, grew more slowly and suffered a higher mortality rate than those fed on leaves with normal pollen, or with no pollen at all. Nearly half of the GM pollen-fed caterpillars in the study died.
The corn in question is “Bt” corn, modified by genetic engineers in corporate labs to produce Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil bacterium and natural pesticide that organic farmers have for years been spraying on crops, if and when threatened by insects. In contrast to the intermittent doses of the organic farmers, however, the GM variety exudes Bt all the time, at a level of toxicity 10 to 20 times that deployed by the organic sprayers and is distributed via wind-blown pollen. The target of this laboratory-bred plant is the dreaded European corn borer, pending the inevitable evolution of a Bt resistant borer.