Science in Society Archive

Syngenta Charged for Covering up Livestock Deaths from GM Corn

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 [1].

Syngenta’s Bt 176 corn variety expresses an insecticidal Bt toxin (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 authorised 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 Syngenta as partial compensation for 5 dead cows, decreased milk yields, and vet costs (see [2] 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 analysed 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 two days. 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 court case.

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 [3] 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 diarrhoea, 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 diarrhoea 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 [4] 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.

Cause of deaths unknown

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 [5]. 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 [6]. Farm workers dealing with Bt cotton have consistently reported allergic responses requiring hospitalisation in some cases (see [7] More Illnesses Linked to Bt Crops, SiS 30). Binding of Cry1Ac to the intestine of mice has been shown, with concomitant diarrhoea symptoms [8]. 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 [9] GM Feed Toxic, Meta-Analysis Confirms, SiS 52).  A recent study finds Cry1Ab toxic to human kidney cells, causing cell death at low doses (see [10] Bt Toxin Kills Human Kidney Cells, SiS 52).

To conclude

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 health.

Article first published 13/06/12


  1. Syngenta charged with lying over cattle deaths, GM Watch, 25th May 2012
  2. Ho MW and Burcher S. Cows ate GM maize and died.Science in Society2004, 21, 4-6.
  3. Ho MW. Mass death in sheep grazing on Bt cotton.Science in Society30, 12-13, 2006
  4. Ho MW. GM ban long overdue, dozens ill & five deaths in the Philippines. Science in Society 29, 26-27, 2006
  5. Aris A, Leblanc S. Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. Reproductive Toxicolology, 2011,31, 528-33
  6. Vázquez RI, Moreno-Fierros L, Neri-Bazán L, De La Riva GA, López-Revilla R. Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac protoxin is a potent systemic and mucosal adjuvant. Scand J Immunology 1999 49, 578-84.
  7. Ho MW. More illnesses linked to Bt crops. Science in Society 30, 8-10, 2006
  8. Vázquez-Padrón RI, Gonzáles-Cabrera J, García-Tovar C, Neri-Bazan L, Lopéz-Revilla R, Hernández M, Moreno-Fierro L, de la Riva GA. Cry1Ac protoxin from Bacillus thuringiensis sp. kurstaki HD73 binds to surface proteins in the mouse small intestine. Biochemical Biophysical Research Communications 2010, 271, 54-8.
  9. Sirinathsinghji E. GM feed toxic, new meta-analysis confirms.Science in Society 52, 30-32, 2011
  10. Sirinathsinghji E. Bt Toxin Kills Human Kidney Cells, Science in Society 54, 36-38, 2012

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There are 10 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

Alice Comment left 13th June 2012 23:11:18
For good quality GM-free maize, try Australia:

David Llewellyn Foster Comment left 14th June 2012 01:01:15
Conflict of interest is now so endemic it cuts at the very root of ethical governance. The paranoid era of unregulated greed inaugurated in the 1980's has borne its polluting progeny in abundance ~ corruption, executive collusion, corporate fraud, systemic poisoning of our foods, biosphere degradation, bribery in universities, a bought judiciary in the US, the catalogue of abuse is sickening. When are people going to take responsibility for the chaos this commodity convenience has unleashed? All the solutions are at hand, we only need the will to implement them.

Todd Millions Comment left 15th June 2012 15:03:52
My encounter with starlink bt corm,came too my notice in 1998-the same year as it was approved in the us-for pig feed only.So the pollen had already drifted by that point.My symptoms matched the toxic pig obsevations that caused it to have the approval withdrawn in 2002-just before testing confirmed complete contamination of all us and canadaian corn crops("We can't have a problem with this,we never approved it".-Canadian fed health minister A.Mclungh 2002 cbc interveiw-And annie WASN'T the stupidest health/pharmawhore minister we have ever had-the current thing is the more usual Rock/Manley grade .).Under NAFTA chapter11 ,patent protection goes with liability exemption-only the gov approving(taxpayers)are liable.Out of country suits of us gov have no standing in their courts.And our current goverment is just as much of a gang of treasonous warcrimminals as the one that signed NAFTA-being elected NOT to sign it.

Patrick Monk RN Comment left 14th June 2012 15:03:36
We recently submitted almost 1 million signatures requesting that all GMO foods sold in California be labeled as such, the measure has been approved, certified and will be on the State Ballot in November for a vote of the people. Please visit:- More 'stuff' on my Facebook home page Thank you. Patrick Monk.RN. SF. Ca. USA

Barbara Rutgers Comment left 17th June 2012 19:07:12
We are compelled to act as the legacy we leave our children is one of disease, environmental distruction, and malnutrition. The California Right to Know grassroots movement should inspire all people to stand up and speak out. If you only tell one nieghbor, friend, or stranger, you have done something. Support us in California with your dollars as well, refuse to buy foods from companies who are promoting GMO "foods" as the origional, naturally occuring real foods. To learn how to educate yourself, to endorse, or to make a statement.

Diana Reeves Comment left 17th June 2012 19:07:02
Great article... thank you! California is facing upwards of $60 - $100 million to be spent on propaganda by Monsanto to derail the upcoming November vote. We all need to step up and back California by raising awareness. I started a GMO Free consumer email initiative to round up 5,000 people to individually contact one food manufacturer a week. We are starting to go viral now, with almost 4,000 members. This is one way we can raise awareness - hope you'll join us. Here's more info:

mike hill Comment left 18th June 2012 06:06:10
not only cows,sheep,pigs etc. but posibly the worst of all the bees!!! it is not wise to mess with Mother Nature!! looking4che

Robynne Burchell Comment left 18th June 2012 14:02:58
A very disturbing article that confirms the worst suspicions that many of us have harboured about the effect of g m. That we are deprived of the right to self-determination about the contents of the food that we eat is reprehensible. It suggests that instead of looking after their citizens, Governments are supporting this dangerous industry. How many more cases will come to light?

Virginia Thomson Comment left 18th June 2012 18:06:07
This is certainly a disturbing article. First we find that cows are fed on "dead cows" - hence "Mad Cow Disease". Now we find that cover-ups are taking place with the growth of corn and GM modifications. It seems to be happening by stealth - but governments must know. How on earth do they get away with it, and what can a simple consumer, like me, do about this?

Robert Foy, D.C. Comment left 19th July 2012 00:12:46
I live in St. Louis, home of Monsanto. Negative press on Monsanto is never seen here. I challenged one author of a glowing pro gmo piece in the Post-Dispatch, a Pulitzer Prize winning paper, about the facts that were presented. The reply included "I can't believe that they (Monsanto) would withhold evidence or negative data." Believe? What happened to journalistic research and fact checking? If you publish without fact checking, you are not a journalist but a shill. Major media is bought and paid for in this country. Any press questioning the validity and safety of GMO crops will have to come from independent sources. Keep it coming frequently.