THE DETAILS: For the study, blood samples were drawn from a group of 30 healthy pregnant women and from 39 healthy nonpregnant women living in Quebec, Canada. The authors also took samples of umbilical cord blood from the 30 pregnant women. Each sample was tested for residues of two pesticides commonly used on GM crops, glyphosate (sold as Roundup) and gluphosinate ammonium (sold as Liberty and used on “Liberty Link” genetically modified soy, corn, and canola). The researchers also tested for Cry1Ab toxin, which is produced by a gene derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt); the gene is injected into genetically modified Bt corn and cotton.
Glyphosate was detected in just 5 percent of the nonpregnant women and not at all in the pregnant women or their babies’ cord blood. Gluphosinate was detected in 18 percent of nonpregnant women and not at all in pregnant women or infants, but a metabolite, or breakdown product, of the chemical was found in 100 percent of pregnant women’s and fetal blood samples and in 67 percent of nonpregnant women’s blood. The metabolite, 3-MPPA, has been shown to exhibit the same toxicological effects as its parent compound, namely that it can affect central nervous system development and is suspected of stunting growth.
Cry1Ab, the Bt toxin, was detected in 93 and 80 percent of maternal and fetal blood samples, respectively, and in 69 percent of nonpregnant women. Studies have shown that Bt toxins raise levels of certain antibodies associated with allergies and infections as well as cytokines, chemicals in the body that trigger inflammatory responses; people with chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis have elevated levels of cytokines. Studies from Monsanto, the company that makes Bt corn and cotton, have even shown liver and kidney problems in rats fed its Bt crops.
WHAT IT MEANS: While it isn’t uncommon for genetically modified foods to contain residues of pesticides—a report published in late 2009 found that genetically modified crops, like Roundup Ready corn and Liberty Link soy, have led to as much as a 200 percent increase in pesticide use—the fact that women are carrying genes transplanted into genetically modified food flies in the face of “safety” reassurances given by the biotech industry, who have said in the past that such genes don’t wind up in humans. Smith says that the fact that residues such as Bt toxin are passing from mother to fetus may help explain the rise in chronic diseases in the United States since Bt crop varieties were first introduced in 1996. And while fetuses are certainly the most susceptible to genetically modified foods, the mothers don’t fare any better, the authors of the study concluded. Among the possible problems associated with pesticides found in GMO foods, they write, are perinatal complications, such as abortion, prematurity, intrauterine growth restriction, and preeclampsia (pregnancy-related high blood pressure), or reproductive disorders including infertility, endometriosis, and gynecological cancer.
If you’re pregnant, now’s a good time to convert to a diet of all-organic food to preserve your own health and keep GM pesticides out of you and your baby. And as this study shows, we could all stand to eat organic diets to prevent pesticides and their breakdown products from winding up in our bodies. When you can’t find organic versions of what you need, look for foods verified by the Non-GMO Project, which tests food for GM DNA and contamination.
For more information on finding healthy, organic, GMO-free food, see: