18 July 2002
GM food is not safe
The GM food bubble is about to burst. As more and more scientific studies point to the dangers of growing and consuming GM crops and food, the biotechnology industry is increasingly coming under pressure.
New evidence from British scientists raises serious questions about the safety of GM food. The research, published by the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA), showed for the first time that genes inserted in GM crops are finding their way into human gut bacteria. GM crops have antibiotic-resistant marker genes inserted in them, and there are fears that if material from these marker genes passes into humans, people's ability to fight infections may be reduced. This research was commissioned by the UK Government, as part of a project entitled "Evaluating the risks associated with using GMOs in human foods." Click here to download the full report
The FSA obviously is keen to downplay the findings. In fact, it is matter of days before the loudspeakers of the industry will launch a deafening chorus to discredit the research findings. This has been the normal pattern with all the research findings, without exception, which have questioned the safety and applicability of the risky and unproven technology.
This research should set alarm bells ringing. This research should make you think and react. It is only when you begin to voice your concerns that the government, the scientific community and the industry will begin to listen.
After all, what is at stake is your health and the health of your children.
We at the Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security strongly feel that GM food should be immediately withdrawn from the market and further research must be commissioned as a matter of urgency.
British scientific researchers have demonstrated for the first time that genetically modified DNA material from crops is finding its way into human gut bacteria, raising potentially serious health questions.
Although the genetically modified material in most GM foods poses no health problems, many of the controversial crops have antibiotic-resistant marker genes inserted into them at an early stage in development.
If genetic material from these marker genes can also find its way into the human stomach, as experiments at Newcastle university suggest is likely, then people's resistance to widely used antibiotics could be compromised.
The research, commissioned by the food standards agency, is the world's first known trial of GM foods on human volunteers. It was last night described as "insignificant" by the agency but as "dynamite" by Friends of the Earth.
The scientists took seven human volunteers who had their lower intestine removed in the past and now use colostomy bags. After being fed a meal of a burger containing GM soya and a milkshake, the researchers compared their stools with 12 people with normal stomachs. They found "to their surprise" that "a relatively large proportion of genetically modified DNA survived the passage through the small bowel". None was found in people who had complete stomachs.
But to see if GM DNA might be transferred via bacteria to the intestine, they also took bacteria from stools in the colostomy bags and cultivated them. In three of the seven samples they found bacteria had taken up the herbicide-resistant gene from the GM food at a very low level.
The report added "that transgenes, although surviving passage through the small intestine, appear to be completely degraded in the human colon."
Michael Antonio, a senior lecturer in molecular genetics at King's College Medical School, London, last night said that the work was significant.
"To my knowledge they have demonstrated clearly that you can get GM plant DNA in the gut bacteria. Everyone used to deny that this was possible."
He said there were "lots of inadequacies" in the research but that did not take away the importance of the main findings. "It suggests that you can get antibiotic marker genes spreading around the stomach which would compromise antibiotic resistance. They have shown that this can happen even at very low levels after just one meal.
"Marker genes are inserted into GM plants to allow identification of GM cells or tissue during development. The House of Lords has called for them to be phased out as swiftly as possible.
Last night Friends of the Earth called for an immediate halt to the use of marker genes in GM crops. "Industry, science and government advisers have always played down the risk of this happening and here, at the very first attempt by scientists to look for it, they find it," said Adrian Bebb, GM foods campaigner.
The FSA said the research "showed in real-life conditions with human volunteers, no GM material survived the passage through the entire human digestive tract... the research concluded that the likelihood of functioning DNA being taken up by bacteria in the human or animal gut is extremely low".
EATING GM food can change the genetic make-up of your digestive system and could put you at risk of infections that are resistant to antibiotics, experts said today.
A British study has revealed that volunteers who ate one meal containing genetically modified soya had traces of the modified DNA in bacteria in their small intestines.
Scientists now fear that GM foods, which are often modified to be resistant to antibiotics, will leave Britons vulnerable to untreatable diseases.
The research contradicts repeated claims by the GM industry that gene transfer from foods to humans is extremely unlikely. It also raises the possibility that millions of people may already have GM bacteria from food they have eaten.
The study, carried out at the University of Newcastle, consisted of feeding seven volunteers GM soya. Researchers found that three of them had evidence of DNA gene transfer in the bacteria that occurs naturally in their digestive systems. This is the first time this transfer has been identified in humans.
THE STUDY RAISES SERIOUS CONCERNS
Research leader Professor Harry Gilbert played down the dangers, but confirmed that 'surprising' levels of GM DNA transfer were found. He said:
"There is some evidence of gene transfer, but it is at an extremely low rate and therefore it probably does not represent a significant risk to human health'. The research report suggested that this transfer may have 'reflected previous exposure of the subjects to genetically modified plants'. But yesterday experts claimed the possibility of eating GM crops containing antibiotic resistance genes raised 'serious concerns'.
Geneticist Dr Michael Antoniou, of Guy's Hospital, London, said the results indicated the need for an extensive GM foods testing programme. He added:
"The most significant finding is that there is GM soya DNA in the bacteria at readily detectable levels in the small intestines. It was always said by the industry that this could not happen or was extremely unlikely. There is a whole slew of different antibiotic resistant genes that are being used in GM crops in their production in the laboratory. They stay in the final crop. These genes are often used as a marker to signal that the desired GM change, such as resistance to a particular weed killer, has taken place."
Dr Antoniou added: 'Bacteria in the gut are going to take up genes that will make them resistant to potentially therapeutic antibiotics. The possibility is that someone who picked up the antibiotic resistance through food and then fell ill, that a medical antibiotic might not be effective."
However, the Food Standards Agency tried to reassure consumers that GM foods are safe. A spokesman said the findings had been assessed by several Government experts who had ruled that humans were not at risk. In a statement on its website, the agency said the study had concluded it is 'extremely unlikely' that GM genes can end up in the gut of people who eat them.
Friends of the Earth GM expert Adrian Bebb said this response contradicted the opinions of many international scientists. He added: "The FSA's attitude to the release of this information has been extraordinary. It can only fuel concerns that the Government and its agencies only want the public to hear positive news about GM. This is the first time a change to bacteria in the gut has been identified in humans. It is enormously significant. This is something the GM industry said could not happen.
Yet in the first experiment looking at just seven people, there it is. The suggestion that the GM DNA could already have been in the bodies of the participants raises important questions. Either it got into the gut many years ago and has been passed down or people are eating GM soya in their diet on a daily basis. Whatever the reason, it would seem millions of people could have GM DNA from this soya in their bodies."
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