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[SANET-MG] GMOs and human health
http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GMOSandHumanHealth.phpISIS Press Release 16/08/05
GMOs and Human Health
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho told the People's Health Assembly that GM is proving bad
for health because it goes against the grain of the new genetics science
A GMO or genetically modified organism is one whose natural genetic
material has been modified by having synthetic genetic material inserted
into it. That is how we have GM crops grown for food and feed, for fibre
and for a range of pharmaceuticals and industrial products in the latest
offering, if we don't manage to stop it.
Maybe you have heard the mantra from certain scientists that GM food is
perfectly safe because the technology is so very precise and wonderful
and the regulation the strictest in the world; that GM is good for
biodiversity, increases yield, reduces pesticide use, and so on. All of
the claims have been falsified, with data collected by the US Department
of Agriculture and by independent scientists .
The World Health Organization has just issued a report, Modern food
biotechnology, human health and development: an evidence-based study (23
June 2005) claiming that although there may be potential risks involved
in the use of GMOs, the GM crops that are grown today are not likely to
present health risks.
Yet there has been a string of incidents indicating GM food and feed are
far from safe. These include studies carried out by biotech companies
producing the GM crops, which they have kept secret under confidential
Kidney and blood abnormalities in rats fed one of Monsanto's GM maize in
Monsanto's secret dossier.
Villagers in the south of the Philippines who suffered mysterious
illnesses when another GM maize came into flower in a nearby field two
years in a row. Antibodies to the Bt protein inserted into the GM maize
were found in the villagers.
A dozen cows that died after eating a third GM maize made by Syngenta,
and others in the herd had to be slaughtered because of mysterious
illnesses. Autopsies failed to be carried out, which is why Greenpeace
and farmers are demonstrating in front of the Robert Koch Institute
Senior scientist Arpad Pusztai and colleagues in Scotland found young
rats fed GM potatoes ended up with damage in every organ system; the
most dramatic being an increase in thickness of the stomach lining to
twice that in controls. Scientists in Egypt found similar effects in
mice fed GM potatoes with another gene.
The US Food and Drug Administration had data dating back to early 1990s
that rats fed GM tomatoes had developed small holes in their stomach.
To cut a long story short, different species of GM food and feed crops
with different genes had adversely affected several species of animals.
You don't have to be a scientific genius to see that there may be
something in the genetic engineering process itself that's harmful .
So what's wrong with GMOs?
First, new genes and combinations of genes made in the laboratory, which
have never existed in billions of years of evolution, are being
introduced into our food chain.
Allergies and other toxicities come to mind. In fact, 22 out of 33
proteins incorporated into GM crops were found to have similarities to
known allergens, and are therefore suspected allergens.
The synthetic genetic material are introduced into the cells of
organisms with invasive methods that are uncontrollable, unreliable and
unpredictable, and far from precise.
It ends up damaging the natural genetic material of the organism with
many unpredictable, unintended effects, including gross abnormalities
that you can see, and metabolic changes that may be toxic that you can't
Many foreign synthetic genes are copies of those from bacteria and
viruses that cause diseases.
They also contain antibiotic resistance marker genes to help track the
movements of the foreign gene inserts and select for cells that have
taken up the foreign genes.
Right from the beginning, in the mid1970s, geneticists themselves have
worried that releasing those synthetic genetic material runs the risk of
creating new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases, and spreading
antibiotic resistance to make infections untreatable. As the result of
the Asilomar Declaration, a moratorium was imposed. Unfortunately, the
moratorium was short-lived, as geneticists were in a hurry for
commercial exploitation of genetic engineering.
The dangers arise because the genetic material persists long after the
cells or organism is dead, and can be taken up by bacteria and viruses
that are in all environments
This process - called horizontal gene transfer and recombination - is
the main route to creating dangerous pathogens.
Genetic engineering is nothing if not greatly enhanced horizontal gene
transfer and recombination, and nasty surprises have already been sprung.
Researchers in Australia ‘accidentally' transformed a harmless mousepox
virus into a lethal pathogen that killed all the mice, even those that
were supposed to be resistant to the virus. Headlines in the New
Scientist editorial: “The Genie is out, Biotech has just sprung a nasty
surprise. Next time, it could be catastrophic.”
The lead article continued in the same vein: “Disaster in the making. An
engineered mouse virus leaves us one step away from the ultimate
The researchers added a gene coding for an immune signalling molecule to
the virus, which they thought would boost antibody production; instead,
it suppressed immune responses. The researchers had previously put the
same gene into a vaccinia virus and found it delayed the clearance of
virus from the animals, so it may well have the same immune suppressive
effects for all viruses. Imagine what would happen if this gene ever got
into a smallpox virus!
More surprisingly, researchers at the University of California in
Berkeley found that disrupting a set of disease-causing genes in
Mycobacterium tuberculosis , the tuberculosis bacterium, resulted in a
hyper-virulent mutant strain that killed all the mice by 41 weeks, while
all the control mice exposed to the unmodified bacterium survived.
There is yet another insidious danger.
The synthetic genes created for genetic modification are designed to
cross species barriers and to jump into the natural genetic material of
cells. Such constructs jumping into the natural genetic material of
human cells can trigger cancer .
This is not just a theoretical possibility. It has happened in gene
therapy, which is genetic modification of human cells.
In 2000, researchers in the Neckar Hospital in Paris, France treated
infants with X-linked Severe Combined Immune Deficiency apparently
successfully by isolating bone marrow cells from the patients, applying
gene therapy, and then injecting the genetically modified cells back
into the patients. But since 2002, 3 infants have developed leukaemia.
One child has died. The foreign synthetic gene has inserted near a human
gene that controls cell division, making it overactive, resulting in
uncontrollable multiplication of the white blood cells.
I have only scratched the surface of the problems and hazards of genetic
modification. But you can already see that there has been a massive
campaign of misinformation and disinformation on the part of the GM
The greatest danger, I think, is the mindset of the GM proponents
Genetic engineering of plants and animals began in the mid 1970s under
the illusion that the genetic material is constant and static and the
characteristics of organisms are hardwired in their genes. One gene
determines one characteristic. But geneticists soon discovered to their
great surprise that the genetic material is dynamic and fluid, in that
both the expression and structure of genes are constantly changing under
the influence of the environment. Geneticists have coined the term, “the
fluid genome”, which encapsulated this major paradigm change. The genome
is the totality of all the genetic material in an organism.
The processes responsible for the fluid genome are precisely
orchestrated by the organism as a whole in a dance of life that's
necessary for survival. In contrast, genetic engineering in the lab is
crude, imprecise and invasive. The rogue genes inserted into a genome to
make a GMO can land anywhere in any form and has a tendency to be
unstable, basically because these rogue genes do not know the language
of the dance. Genetic engineers haven't learned to dance with life.
That is why dozens of prominent scientists from seven countries launched
ourselves as the Independent Science Panel, to overcome the campaign of
disinformation from pro-GM scientists who are working to promote the
corporate agenda, and to reclaim science for the public good. We
compiled all the evidence against GM crops as well as the evidence on
the successes and benefits of all forms of sustainable non-GM
agriculture. Based on this evidence, we are calling for a ban on the
environmental releases of GM crops and a comprehensive shift to
sustainable agriculture. I hope the Assembly will support this call!
Plenary lecture to the People's Health Assembly 2, 17-22 July 2005,
Cuenca, Ecuador. For further information please visit the Institute of
Science in Society website: www.i-sis.org.uk
The Institute of Science in Society, PO Box 32097, London NW1 OXR
telephone: [44 20 8643 0681] [44 20 7383 3376] [44 20 7272 5636]
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