61 Food & Drug L.J. 197 (2006)
Health and Food Safety: The Benefits of Bt-Corn

handle is hein.journals/foodlj61 and id is 221 raw text is: Health and Food Safety: The Benefits of Bt-Corn
DREW L. KERSHEN*
I. INTRODUCTION
In 1990-199 1, Mexican-American women living in the Rio Grande valley bordering
Mexico experienced pregnancies affected by neural tube defects (NTDs) at a surpris-
ingly high rate.1 The number of NTD births caught the attention of, and was investigated
by, the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS). Based on the 1990-1991
TDSHS investigation and follow-up investigations into NTDs for Mexican-American
women living in the Rio Grande valley, investigators learned that NTD pregnancies are
endemic to the region. Those Mexican-American women suffered NTD pregnancies at
a significantly greater rate than American women generally in 1990-1991 and continued
to suffer such pregnancies from March 1995 through May 2000. Mexican-American
women living on the Rio Grande border are poor women who consume a diet heavy
in corn tortillas. The corn is contaminated with a mycotoxin2 called fumonisin. As the
authors of a recent investigation of this situation wrote, Our findings suggest that
fumonisin exposure increases the risk of NTD, proportionate to dose, up to a threshold
level, at which point fetal death may be more likely to occur.3
American farmers have produced transgenic crops since 1996; in particular, crops
that are herbicide tolerant and insect resistant. With respect to insect-resistant crops,
most transgenic crops carry a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis4 and are called Bt-crops.
One Bt-crop, Bt-com, has significantly reduced fumonisin contamination.
*Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law, University of Oklahoma College of Law, Norman, Okla.
This article benefited greatly from the insights and encouragement of Dr. Bruce Chassy, University
of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, with whom I co-authored a newspaper article on this topic (Bruce Chassy
& Drew Kershen, BT Corn Reduces Serious Birth Defects, WESTERN FARM PRESS, Nov. 6, 2004, at 18), and
from presenting three lectures on this topic to the Facultad de Ciencias Mbdicas, Universidad de San Carlos,
Guatemala City, Guatemala (Mar. 2005), as the Wershow Distinguished L'eturer at the University of Florida,
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Apr. 2005), and to the XLV Congreso Anual de la Sociedad
Americana de Fitopatologia-Divisi6n Caribe, San Jos6, Costa Rica (June 2005).
I also express my gratitude to Stanley Abramson, Martin Bohn, Erwin Calgua, Bruce Chassy, Jim Chen,
Frederick Degnan, Richard Finnell, Janee Gelineau-van Waes, Stanley Kowalski, Walter Marasas, Richard
Merrill, William McNichols, Lars Noah, Michael Olexa, and Thomas Redick, who read the first draft and
whose suggestions and comments greatly improved this article.
' The information in this first paragraph of the article comaes from Stacey A. Missmer et al., Exposure to
Fumonisins and the Occurrence of Neural Tube Defects Along the Texas-Mexico Border, 114 ENvmL. HEALTH
PERSP. 237 (2006), available at http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/members/2005/8221/822 l.pdf.
2 See KIMBALL R. NILL, GLOSSARY OF BIOTECHNOLOOy TERMS 162 (2d ed. 1998) (defining mycotoxins
as [tioxins produced by fungi). Nill adds:
More than 350 different mycotoxins are known to man. Almost all mycotoxins possess the capacity
to harmfully alter the immune systems 6f animals. Consumption by animals (including humans)
of certain mycotoxins (e.g., via eating infected corn, nuts, peanuts, cottonseed products, etc.) can
result in liver toxicity, gastrointestinal lesions, cancer, muscle necrosis, etc.
Id.    Missmer et al., supra note 1, at 23/.
4 Nill states:
[B]acillus thuringiensis refers to a group of rod-shaped soil bacteria found all over the earth, that
produce cry proteins which are indigestible by-yet still bind to--specific insects' gut (i.e.,
stomach) lining receptors, so those cry proteins are toxic to certain classes of insects (corn bor-
ers, com rootworms, mosquitoes, black flies, some types of beetles, etc.), but which are harmless
to all mammals. At least 20,000 strains of Bacillus thuringiensis are known.
NILL, supra note 2, at 22.

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