THE CASE OF GM FOOD

 

FDA’s Position: The vast majority of foods developed using the tools of modern biotechnology-also called bioengineering-that the FDA has evaluated have not raised issues that would require premarket review and approval. To ensure that the FDA is fully aware of these products, the agency has proposed to make obligatory the current voluntary system under which food developers have consulted with the FDA before introducing their genetically modified products on the market. In the roughly 50 voluntary consultations done so far, the FDA’s scientists were confident that the new foods contained no new allergens, no increased levels of toxicants and no unapproved food additives, and that important nutrients were not altered-in short, that these foods are as safe and wholesome as their conventional counterparts. The FDA is confident that the bioengineered foods reviewed under its system so far are safe for consumers.  FDA Publication No. FS 01-2 Revised: February 2002

Industry’s Position: “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is [the U.S. Food and Drug Administration]’s job.” Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications, to the New York Times, October 25, 1998

 

The US is one of only a few countries using genetically engineered food – The US, Canada and Argentina account for 96% of the world’s GE crops. Unfortunately, neither the FDA[230], the Department of Agriculture (USDA)[231], nor the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)[232] have done any long-term testing of GMOs in food or the environment, nor has any regulation specific to bioengineered food been established. Biotech companies are on the honor system. They have virtually no requirements to show that this new technology is safe, and the FDA has no legal authority to compel the companies to submit the data.

 

“The Food and Drug Administration cannot guarantee the safety of genetically modified foods because it is unable to obtain all scientific data from biotech companies.”Reuters, January 7, 2003

 

A new Greenpeace report, Genetically Engineered Food: Still Unlabeled and Untested, has found that only three health studies on genetically engineered foods have been published in peer-reviewed journals. None of these met scientists’ recommendations that gene altered foods be tested for 90 days, nor did they meet the FDA’s own testing requirements for food additives that would require, in some cases, up to two years multiple feeding studies. To read about the studies in greater detail click the link http://www.actionbioscience.org/biotech/pusztai.html

Genetically engineered crops and additives are already used in the preparation of over 75% of processed foods (See Free Bonus No. 4 for a full list). Millions of people are now unknowingly consuming novel genetically engineered foods in every meal. These foods are mostly allowed to be sold without labeling, yet several studies show that they can cause new toxins, cancers, allergens, and illnesses of great power. [233]

“It is astounding that FDA has not changed their stance on genetically modified food. Governments should never have allowed these products into the food chain without insisting on rigorous testing for effects on health.”

The Lancet, Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods, Vol. 353, Number 9167, 29 May 1999

Government’s Position: Although current tests have been adequate for evaluating the few genetically modified foods that have, so far, undergone relatively simple compositional changes, new technologies are being developed to evaluate the increasingly complex compositional changes expected. Monitoring the long-term health risks of genetically modified foods is generally neither necessary nor feasible. No scientific evidence exists, nor is there even a hypothesis, suggesting that long-term harm, such as higher cancer rates, results from these foods. Moreover, technical challenges make long-term monitoring infeasible. General Accounting Office Report GAO-02-566 May 23, 2002

Hundreds of genetically engineered foods, food additives and ingredients contain genes derived from animals, fish, insects, viruses, and bacteria. Biotechnology companies erroneously claim that their manipulations are similar to natural genetic changes or traditional breeding. However, the cross-species transfers being made, such as between fish and tomatoes, or between other unrelated species, would not happen in nature. Biotechnology companies also claim their methods are precise. In fact, there is a random element in gene insertion methods. Genetic research shows that many weaknesses in plants, animals and humans have their origin in tiny imperfections in the genetic code. Therefore, side effects and accidents are inevitable, and scientists have assessed the risks to be unlimited. [234]

“Something curious happened when a synthetic gene was inserted into the sweet potato. The protein content soared, but the new gene accounted for only a small fraction of this boost. Somehow, the sweet potato’s natural protein genes shifted into high gear. How? Tuskegee University’s C.S. Prakash, who helped develop this super sweet potato, chuckles, ‘we have no idea.’” [235]

When genetic engineers insert a new gene into any organism there is a “position effect” which entails an unpredictable pattern of genetic function. The protein product of the transposed gene may carry out unexpected reactions and produce toxic products. There is also serious concern about the dangers of using genetically engineered viruses as delivery vehicles (vectors) in the generation of transgenic plants and animals. This could destabilize the genome and lead to horizontal gene transfer to other species, including mammals. This may cause dangerous new diseases, resistance to antibiotics, and severe immune reactions.

“Fears that genes for antibiotic resistance could jump from genetically modified foods to bacteria in the gut may be fuelled by new research from the Netherlands. The results show that DNA lingers in the intestine, and confirm that genetically modified bacteria can transfer their antibiotic-resistance genes to bacteria in the gut. Using an “artificial gut”, the Dutch researchers showed that DNA remains intact for several minutes in the large intestine. “It was a surprise to see that DNA persisted so long in the colon,” says Hub Noteborn of the State Institute for Quality Control of Agricultural Products in Wageningen, who helped organize the research.” [236]

“Foreign DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is part of our environment. Considerable amounts of foreign DNA of very different origin are ingested daily with food. In a series of experiments we fed the DNA of bacteriophage M13 as test DNA to mice and showed that fragments of this DNA survive the passage through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in small amounts (1-2%). Food-ingested M13 DNA reaches peripheral white blood cells, the spleen and liver via the intestinal epithelia and cells in the Peyer’s patches of the intestinal wall. There is evidence to assume that food-ingested foreign DNA can become covalently linked to mouse-like DNA. When M13 DNA is fed to pregnant mice the test DNA can be detected in cells in various organs of the fetuses and of newborn animals, but never in all cells of the mouse fetus. It is likely that the M13 DNA is transferred by the transplacental route and not via the germ line.” [237]

Genetic engineering also interferes with RNA editing and molecular folding, which may cause the formation of prion-based diseases similar to BSE-mad cow disease. [238]

Probably the greatest threat from genetically altered crops is the insertion of modified virus and insect virus genes into crops. It has been shown in the laboratory that genetic recombination will create highly virulent new viruses from such constructions. Certainly the widely used cauliflower mosaic virus is a potentially dangerous gene. It is a pararetrovirus meaning that it multiplies by making DNA from RNA messages. It is very similar to the Hepatitis B virus and related to HIV. Cauliflower mosaic virus may recombine with related Hepatitis B or for that matter HIV to create a most powerful disease. The salient feature being large numbers of people or animals consuming large numbers of viral genes incorporated into crop plants making up a major part of human and animal diet. Thus modified viruses could cause famine by destroying crops or cause human and animal diseases of tremendous power.” Dr Joseph Cummins, Professor Emeritus of Genetics at the University of Western Ontario

 

The process of genetic engineering can introduce dangerous new allergens and fatal toxins into foods that were previously naturally safe:

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