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Ammann: Bt maize and mycotoxins, a documentation
Posted by: DR. RAUPP & madora (IP Logged)
Date: August 22, 2004 04:27PM ;

Actually, we should make a strong point in defining Bt maize as health
food, non-Bt maize has been scientifically proven to be riskier, especially
in developing countries where growing conditions of maize are not really ok,
and more so the storage lacks hygiene. This is an excellent example showing
that even the today generation of GM crops can offer benefits to the

Its time to talk about new concepts of risk, which should relate to all
kinds of agriculture. Why does organic food has its automatic blessings from
the consumers?
One of the reasons is that we in science stare like hypnitized chicken in
one direktion to find out about the risks of GM food (which is per se
allright, but thats not the end of the story)

Therefore I propose to come to a more balanced risk definition, which takes
into account a balance between risk and benefit, a balance, the Chinese have
found hundreds of years ago by combining the icons risk and chance into the
same word RISK.
I suggest, risk should be defined as follows:

More documentation, including some helpful slides and a bibliography, see

Thomas R. DeGregori: A Fungus in the New York Times

A shorter version of this letter was sent to the Times -- and to the Houston
Chronicle, which reprinted the Times piece under discussion:
To the editor:

In his column on language in the Sunday New York Times, William Grimes
praises the virtues of huitlacoche, "a fungus that grows on corn" and "ranks
as a delicacy in Mexico, where cooks use it to impart a rich, mushroomy
flavor to food." True though this may be, Grimes ignores or is unaware of
the dangers that huitlacoche poses to pregnant women, particularly poor
women who may not have a choice of what to eat.

Huitlacoche is a fumonisin, a carcinogenic mycotoxin produced by the fungus
called fusarium ear rot. It inhibits the utilization of folic acid, lack of
which in pregnant women often results in infants with spina bifida and, less
commonly, acephalous infants. This was very likely the cause of the thirty
acephalous infants born in the lower Rio Grande valley in 1990-1991. A
recent article in the Journal of Nutrition has studied occurrences of the
condition worldwide, including those in Texas, and makes the risk very

In his praise for Chez Panisse, Grime demonstrates an identification with
the food police who would have us fear modern food production while praising
that which is "natural" and therefore "safe." Going online, one finds that
huitlacoche is a proffered item in "health food stores" in the U.S. A
recent investigation by the United Kingdom Food Standard Agency found some
batches of "organic" maize (or corn) to have close to thirty times the usual
level of fumonisins. The much-maligned transgenic Bt corn has far and away
the lowest level of fumonisins, 90 to 95% less than conventionally grown
maize, which is in turn vastly below "organically" grown maize, which has
the highest level of infestation (DeGregori 2002, 108 109, Burke 2004, and
FSA 2003a&b). Fumonisin-infested maize or corn can be fatal when fed to
pigs and horses and can end up in milk when fed to cows. And we must never
forget the other major fungal infestation of corn (as well as rye and
peanuts), aspergillus flavus, whose aflatoxins have brought untold misery to
humans, such as the affliction known as St. Anthony's Fire, and remains a
scourge causing serious health problems and death for the poor, especially
where they cannot afford fungicides and the routine screening to identify
the infestations. In many poor areas of Africa, the infestation is real and
identifiable, but for them, the choice is either to eat the infested grain
or starve.

We would not wish to prevent healthy adults (who are not pregnant) from
enjoying this delicacy, as long as they are aware of the dangers and can
avail themselves of vitamin B supplementation, one of marvels of
twentieth-century science, which identified vitamins and then learned to
manufacture them cheaply. The issue is serious enough, though, that the
Times might wish to run a brief news item for those who do not read the
letters column, so that readers have the information to make the proper
judgment and take the necessary precautions. Precautionary principle

Sincerely yours,
Thomas R. DeGregori
Professor of Economics
University of Houston

Burke, M. (2004),
Electronic Source: Don?t worry, it?s organic, Royal Society of Chemistry
(RSC) online, Chemistry World Issue 6,

DeGregori, T. (2002)
Bountiful Harvest: Technology, Food Safety and the Environment Cato
Institute, Washington, pp Pp. xiii, 262.

Food Standard Agency (2003),
Electronic Source: Contaminated maize meal withdrawn from sale,
[] and
[] and

Marasas, W.F.O., Riley, R.T., Hendricks, K.A., Stevens, V.L., Sadler, T.W.,
Gelineau-van Waes, J., Missmer, S.A., Cabrera, J., Torres, O., Gelderblom,
W.C.A., Allegood, J., Martinez, C., Maddox, J., Miller, J.D., Starr, L.,
Sullards, M.C., Roman, A.V., Voss, K.A., Wang, E., & Merrill, A.H. (2004)
Fumonisins disrupt sphingolipid metabolism, folate transport, and neural
tube development in embryo culture and in vivo: A potential risk factor for
human neural tube defects among populations consuming fumonisin-contaminated
maize. Journal of Nutrition, 134, 4, pp 711-716

Further reading on the subject in a broad sense is announced by

Henry Miller and Greg Conco
The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech
The book will soon be available, here the details:
Miller, H. & Conco, G. (2004)
The Frankenfood Myth, How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech
Revolution Praeger Publishers, London, IS: 0-275-97879-6, pp 296
you will find purchase details in the link, endorsements of scientists and a
short description.

some more materials:

recipe for an excellent meal with Huitlacoche from Mexico, a famous
speciality with some really special features

A text showing the connection between powerty and fungal desease and its
disastrous impact on the population, reason enough to switch to Bt maize
Exposure of Rural and Urban Populations in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, to
Fumonisin B1 in Maize

Chelule, P.K., Gqaleni, N., Dutton, M.F., & Chuturgoon, A.A. (2001)
Exposure of rural and urban populations in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, to
fumonisin B-1 in maize. Environmental Health Perspectives, 109, 3, pp

a very helpful text from the internet, the figures included in a pdf - and
ppt - document below

Munkvold, G. & Hellmich, R. (1999),
Electronic Source: Genetically modified, insect resistant corn: Implications
for disease management,
A. Feature, APSnet, Plant Pathology Online, The American Phytopathological
Society (APS) Copyright 1994-2004, accessed: 2004

some slides as a pdf document for downloading, some helpful illustrations
from the google/internet and from Munkvold et al. 1999

a bibliography extracted from the Web of Science with some more additions
about the topic of mycotoxins:

a further important reference is a report from Kurt Bodemüller:
Bodenmüller, K. (2001),
Electronic Source: Health-relevant and environmental aspects of different
farming systems: organic, conventional and genetic engineering,, InterNutrition - Swiss Association for Research and
Nutrition, Switzerland, accessed: 2004

with my best personal regards, Klaus Ammann

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