by Dr. Eva Sirinathsinghji
June 13, 2012
Corporation faces criminal
charges for concealing own study in which cows died
after eating its genetically modified corn
Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji
Biotech giant Syngenta has been
criminally charged with denying knowledge that its genetically
modified (GM) Bt corn kills livestock during a civil court case that
ended in 2007 .
Syngenta’s Bt 176 corn variety expresses an insecticidal
(Cry1Ab) derived from the bacterium,
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and
a gene conferring resistance to glufosinate herbicides. EU
cultivation of Bt 176 was discontinued in 2007. Similar varieties
however, including Bt 11 sweet corn are currently cultivated for
human and animal consumption in the EU.
The charges follow a long struggle for justice by a German farmer
whose dairy cattle suffered mysterious illnesses and deaths after
eating Bt 176. They were grown on his farm as part of authorized
field tests during 1997 to 2002. By 2000, his cows were fed
exclusively on Bt 176, and soon illnesses started to emerge.
He was paid 40 000 Euros by
partial compensation for 5 dead cows, decreased milk yields, and vet
costs (see 
Cows ate GM Maize and Died, SiS 21).
During a civil lawsuit brought against
the company by the farmer however, Syngenta refused to admit that
its GM corn was the cause, claiming no knowledge of harm. The case
was dismissed and Gloeckner remained thousands of Euros in debt.
Gloeckner continued to lose cows and many more had to be put down
due to serious illnesses, compelling him to stop using GM feed from
2002. He approached the Robert Koch Institute and Syngenta to
conduct a full investigation. However, only one cow was ever
analyzed and the data are still unavailable to the public.
Unsurprisingly, no causal relationship
between the GM feed and deaths was determined; and there is still no
explanation for the deaths.
But in 2009, the farmer learned of a feeding study allegedly
commissioned by Syngenta in 1996 that resulted in four cows dying in
The trial was abruptly terminated. Now
Gloeckner, along with a German group called Bündnis Aktion Gen-Klage
and another farmer turned activist Urs Hans, have brought Syngenta
to the criminal court to face charges of withholding knowledge of
the US trial, which makes the company liable for the destruction of
the farmer’s 65 cows.
Syngenta is also charged with the
deaths of cattle in the US trial and on Gloeckner’s farm, which
should have been registered as “unexpected occurrences”.
Most seriously, the German head of
Syngenta Hans-Theo Jahmann, is charged for withholding knowledge of
the US study from the judge and from Gloecker in the original civil
Gloecker’s cows not alone
This is by no means the only account of mysterious deaths associated
with Bt GM feed.
In India where livestock are left to graze on
post-harvest cotton, thousands of livestock deaths have been
recorded in different villages across central India where Bt cotton
is grown (see 
Mass Deaths of Sheep Grazing on Bt
Cotton, SiS 30).
Shepherds’ own observations and
post-mortem analysis carried out in the laboratory revealed abnormal
liver, enlarged bile ducts and black patches in the intestine. The
shepherds said that the sheep became “dull/depressed” after 2-3 days
of grazing, started coughing with nasal discharge and developed red
lesions in the mouth, became bloated and suffered blackish diarrhea,
and sometimes passed red urine.
Death occurred within 5-7 days of
grazing. Sheep from young lambs to adults of 1.5-2 years were
affected. One shepherd reported getting diarrhea from eating the
meat of an affected sheep. The vets declared that the toxicity could
be due to the Bt toxin but this could not be proven as results were
confounded by additional pesticides used on the fields.
The shepherds were however, advised
against letting the sheep graze on any more Bt cotton plants.
Philippine villagers living around Bt Maize fields have also
suffered deaths and similar illnesses of fever, respiratory,
intestinal and skin problem (see 
GM ban long overdue,
five deaths and dozens ill in the Philippines, SiS 29). Five
mortalities were reported in 2003 and subsequently, 38 individuals
had their blood analysed and all were positive for antibodies
specific to Cry1Ab, suggesting an immune reaction to the toxin.
As is often the case, intimidation and
denial by government officials meant that there were no further
investigations into the matter.
There is still no explanation provided by the authorities as to the
cause of death of Gloeckner’s cows.
The biotech industry claims that Bt
toxins are quickly digested in the stomach and are only effective in
insect target species. However, a recent study has found the toxin
in the blood of over 80 % of women and their unborn children tested
in Canada .
Because naturally existing Bt toxins
from the soil bacterium have been used for a long time, long-term
toxicology and health risk assessments on Bt proteins in GM crops
were not done. However, there are important differences between the
naturally produced toxins that can be washed off the crops, as
opposed to genetically modified toxins that are part and parcel of
the GM crop.
Independent studies have shown that
basing health assessments on flawed scientific assumptions is not
only arrogant, but foolish.
Scientific studies dating from the 1990s have identified Bt toxins
as potent immunogens, with Cry1Ac inducing immune responses in mice
similar to the cholera toxin . Farm workers dealing
with Bt cotton have consistently reported allergic responses
requiring hospitalization in some cases (see 
Illnesses Linked to Bt Crops, SiS 30).
Binding of Cry1Ac to the intestine of
mice has been shown, with concomitant diarrhea symptoms .
A meta-analysis of 3 month feeding studies in laboratory animals
found that Bt maize led to changes in blood protein levels
indicative of abnormal liver metabolism (see 
Toxic, Meta-Analysis Confirms, SiS 52).
A recent study finds Cry1Ab toxic to
human kidney cells, causing cell death at low doses (see 
Bt Toxin Kills Human Kidney Cells, SiS 52).
Safety assessments of new GM products surely need to be tested
independently, not controlled by the very industry pushing it onto
the market place. Conflicts of interests are obscuring data that are
crucial to our farming industry and animal welfare, as well as human
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toxic, new meta-analysis confirms.Science
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