Greens have made a song and dance about a study that finds that Bt toxins can get into our bloodstreams despite the assumption that they could not. But the fuss about it seems utterly cynical.

A paper in Reproductive Toxicology last month showed that toxins associated with some common GM crops can enter the human bloodstream and even make be passed through to a fetus, despite the assumption that this wouldn’t be possible. But these Bt toxins are used as a spray by organic farmers as well as being engineered into crops using transgenic technologies. So whether these readings are from GM crops is not clear. However, the amounts involved are tiny - less than one part per billion. It could be cyanide at that level and be utterly harmless.

Writing about the issue in the Guardian, Jonathan Latham - who seems to be none-too-keen on GM foods - sees this all as a telling argument in favour of the precautionary principle, while pulling together a whole bunch of disparate scares:

‘That regulators should repeatedly choose ignorance over both precaution (which is required by EU law in this case) and good science will probably surprise most readers. That is because there is a myth, much promoted by governments and industry, that scientific risk assessments typically fail only when events or science take an unforeseeable turn. Detailed examinations of historical failures consistently show something very different. From thalidomide to BSE, oil rigs and nuclear power stations, failures result when regulators specifically and repeatedly choose not to know crucial facts. In the simplest possible terms, they cross roads regardless.’

Equally, proponents of the precautionary principle seem to shut their eyes and put their fingers in their ears when it comes to the dangers of not introducing innovations. As Matt Ridley notes in relation to the E. coli outbreak, irradiation of foods is safe and has been available for a long time, but precautionary EU rules prevent its widespread use. That’s 37 dead and counting so far following the German outbreak and perhaps 100 who will need new kidneys or lifelong dialysis.