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Sci Tech    H2'ed 4/7/09

Independent studies refute GMO safety claims

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Serious concern about Bt-brinjal is justified given that the same marker gene used in Bt-cotton, promoted by the same company, is used in the modified eggplant.

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"In an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Janata Party (S) Parliamentary Party leader M.P. Veerendrakumar has expressed concern at the move to introduce Bt brinjal in the country.

"According to the letter, released here on Thursday, genetically modified crops are widely believed to have had adverse impacts on people, livestock and the environment. He quoted scientists in support of his argument that Bt brinjal should not be introduced.

"He said a number of similar genetically modified crops introduced earlier, within and outside of the country, had been reported to have had harmful effects on health and economy....

"'The aad marker gene and the nptll marker gene used in Bt brinjal are antibiotic-resistant,' he said." 

The Hindu. (emphasis added)

The former Union Minister said that in his opinion the data put out by the promoters of the new brinjal variety regarding the advantages of Bt seeds were unreliable as "these had been proved to be false with respect to Bt cotton". Mr. Veerendrakumar said "the haste with which Bt brinjal is going to be introduced is of much concern, especially when there is absolutely no crisis in the production of brinjal and there are reliable and successful pest management approaches that could be adopted by India's farmers to grow the crop.''

Quoting scientists, Mr. Veerendrakumar said that "in the light of the opinion expressed by well known experts about the dangers arising from genetically modified crops, the green signal shown by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for field trials to Mahyo-Monsanto enabling them to commercially launch the world's first Bt brinjal in 2007, becomes a recipe for disaster of immense magnitude".

He said India should learn lessons from the experience of Hawai in launching a commercialised GM fruit — papaya. That virus-resistant papaya variety was introduced in Hawai in 1998, but the GM variety soon turned out to be "more devastating than the virus" as traditional buyers of Hawaiian papayas rejected the new variety.

Mr. Veerendrakumar appealed to the Prime Minister to immediately effect a comprehensive ban on all GM field trials since "GM crops had detrimental effects on agricultural, economic, health and ecological fronts."

An independent study by French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini released in January 2009 has strengthened their claims, finding that Bt brinjal produces a protein that could induce resistance to the widely-used antibiotic kanamycin. Professor Seralini also noted “numerous significant differences” in feeding trials with non-Bt controls — for instance, in goats fed with Bt brinjal, the time taken to produce the hormone prothrombin was modified, and in rabbits, a reduction in consumption was observed. 

Research on the impact of GMOs on health 

Although some GMOs have been approved and marketed for several years, there was no body of scientific research on their impact on the biology of living organisms. This is partly because animal feeding trials are not required in the current safety approval process for GMOs in the EU or USA. Only now is a body of evidence starting to emerge from a small number of animal feeding trials into the health effects and progress in the new science of epigenetics. This indicates that genetic engineering is much more unpredictable and risky than traditional breeding.
Animal feeding trials
Recent studies have found a range of serious, unexplained effects from GM consumption:
  • an Australian study of GM peas revealed immunological effects of genetic engineering with the transfer of a ‘safe’ gene to a different plant species producing allergic reactions in mice1. A trial by Monsanto also indicated immunological effects with higher white blood cell levels in GM maize fed rats2.
  • the only long-term feeding trial (24 months, by an Italian team) found GMOs can affect key body organs, changing the cell structure and cell functioning of the liver, pancreas and testes of mice fed Roundup Ready soya3. Similarly, a Monsanto trial found rats fed its GM maize Mon863 developed smaller kidneys4.
  • a Monsanto trial found GM consumption affects the development of the blood with fewer immature red blood cells and changes in blood chemistry in rats fed its GM maize Mon8635.
  • a Russian rat study found apparent generational effects of GMOs with very high death rates in the young of rats fed GM Roundup Ready soya (56% died) and stunted growth in the surviving progeny6.
  • a programme of UK studies funded by the Food Standards Agency found that genetic engineering routinely causes a large number of random genetic and chemical changes in GM plants, the health impacts of which are unknown7.
  • two UK trials, one with humans and one with sheep, found that when GMOs are eaten some of the inserted genes move out and transfer into the gut bacteria8.

Additionally, past studies found GM consumption damages the gut wall and is associated with unexplained deaths of test animals:
  • studies by three scientific teams of two different GM plants found GMOs have the potential to cause haemorrhage. Feeding trials by two teams found that GM potatoes cause lesions in the gut wall of rats and mice9, and two US feeding trials found that GM tomatoes cause lesions in the gut wall of rats10.
  • at least two trials of different GMOs found unexplained deaths among the test animals, with 7 of 40 rats (17.5%) in a feeding study of GM tomatoes dying within two weeks11, and a 7% mortality rate for chickens fed GM glufosinate-tolerant Chardon LL maize (twice the rate of the non-GM fed chickens)12.

(It should be noted that these studies were designed to identify health impacts and include toxicological studies involving tissue analysis. These are different to the various non-toxicological feeding studies frequently referred to by the biotechnology industry, which are primarily carried out to test commercial aspects of GM feed).

The study of Epigenetics

The actual causes of these effects are not known, but many possible factors could account for them. It has long been known by scientists that the artificial insertion of the genes physically disrupts other genes through the damage caused by the uncontrolled insertion process (‘positional effects’). In addition, the chemical functioning of the new gene interacts with the activity of the plants’ existing genes and biochemical pathways, and so disrupts the metabolism in unpredictable ways. However, research into the new science of “epigenetics” (meaning ‘above genetics’) is also now showing that genes account for only a part of the control of the biochemistry of organisms, and organisms have a level of control above genes that interact with genes. The exact details of this interaction between the rest of the organism and its genes are still far from known. However, this more complete understanding explains why genetic engineering is so unpredictable, with different results produced by each attempt and why the products are often unstable. 

Also see Threat to fertility  
Nov. 12, 2008 Greenpeace — A study published today by the Austrian government identified that genetically modified (GMO) crops pose serious threats to reproductive health. In one of the very few long-term feeding studies ever conducted with GMO crops, the fertility of mice fed with a variety of Bt corn, a genetically-modified organism (GMO) was found to be severely impaired, with fewer offspring being produced than by mice fed on natural crops. Considering the severity of the potential threat to human health and reproduction, Greenpeace is demanding a recall of all GMO food and crops from the market, worldwide. The GMO crop used in the study is NK 603 x MON 810, a variety of Bt corn owned by GMO seed company Monsanto. The crop, marketed in the Philippines under the name 'DEKALB Roundup Ready Corn 2' or 'DK818YG(RRC2),' has been approved for food use since 2004 and planting since 2005, despite concerns by sustainable agriculture groups. The corn contains a built-in insect-killer, as well as tolerance to a powerful herbicide, glyphosate, meant to be used with the crop.

The study, sponsored by the Austrian Ministries for Agriculture and Health, was presented on last week at a scientific seminar in Vienna, Austria. Prof. Dr. Jürgen Zentek, Professor for Veterinary Medicine at the University of Vienna and lead author of the study, summarized the findings: mice fed with GMO corn had less offspring in the third and fourth generations, and these differences were statistically significant. Mice fed with non-GMO corn reproduced more efficiently. This effect can be attributed to the difference in the food source.

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