Bad Science

by Prof. Tom Jack | 11/5/02 6:00am

To the Editor:

We are writing in response to the article "Eco Group campaigns at Collis" published in The Dartmouth on Oct. 24. Considerable bias against genetically modified organisms has resulted from the publication in "Nature" in May, 1999 of an article entitled "Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae." In this study, the authors performed a laboratory experiment in which they applied pollen from Bt corn plants (plants expressing a gene encoding a bacterial insect toxin) to milkweed plants and observed increased mortality in monarch larvae that had fed upon pollen from Bt corn plants.

Based on this result, the authors suggested that Bt corn may pose a threat to wild monarch butterfly populations. The popular press reported the story as if it were fact that pollen from Bt corn plants was damaging monarch butterflies in the wild. Furthermore, the initial study reported in "Nature" was quite preliminary and incomplete. For example, this study left open the question of whether the concentration of Bt pollen used was similar to that which would be found on a milkweed plant growing in the wild adjacent to a plot of Bt corn. Follow-up studies using plants grown in field conditions demonstrated that the widely reported conclusion of the 1999 paper, that pollen from Bt corn posed a major threat to monarch butterflies in the wild, was not true. Unfortunately, these later studies were not widely reported in the popular media.

We are concerned that many of the arguments of the anti-GMO movement are not based on scientific evidence. This is unfortunate as it causes a problem for concerned consumers who, due primarily to a lack of understanding, are not supporting GMO products due to perceived ill effects on human health and the environment.