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[SANET-MG] GM Crops for health?
Below is the first of 5 parts of a long brief I prepared with Mae-Wan Ho
for codex. I urge as many as possible to submit briefs on this important
subject to codex. Of course USDA/APHIS would benefit from such a review
of a topic of growing importance and threat to organic farmers.
GM Crops for Health?
New genetically modified crops are being promoted for nutritional or
health benefits. Health depends on a balance of macro and
micronutrients, cofactors and vitamins, best achieved by organic
agricultural practices. Overdose of many single nutritional factors can
be toxic, and hence food crops genetically modified to overproduce
single nutrients could be public health hazards.
Above all, genetic modification fails to address climate change and the
depletion of energy, water, soil nutrients, and other agricultural
resources that already threaten food security; it is a dangerous waste
of time and dwindling resources.
Prof. Joe Cummins and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
The Codex Alimentarius Commission of the United Nations is deliberating
Safety Assessment of Food Derived from Recombinant-DNA Plants Modified
for Nutritional or Health Benefits. Governments and international
organizations wishing to submit comments on the subject matters are
invited to do so no later than 1 October 2006, preferably in electronic
format, for the attention of Dr. FUJII Mitsuru, Fax No: +81 3 3503 7965;
E-mail:email@example.com with a copy to the Secretary, Codex
Alimentarius Commission, Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme, Viale
delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy (Fax +39.06.5705.4593;
Our submission from the Institute of Science in Society consists of a
review followed by specific comments.
Metabolic engineering for health
The first genetically modified crop, Calgene’s Flavr Savr tomato for
prolonged shelf life, was approved for commercial release in 1992. It
was not a commercial success. Since then, however, the area planted to
GM crops has been increasing, and according to industry sources, reached
90 million ha in 2005 . Two traits, herbicide-tolerance and
insect-resistance, currently account for nearly all GM crops; but that
will soon change.
New GM crops with other traits are poised to enter the market, in the
guise of nutritional benefits and health foods. In 2004, Monsanto
received approval for commercial release of high lysine corn modified
with a bacterial gene to produce enhanced production of the amino acid
lysine  (Why Not Transgenic High Lysine Maize). In the same year,
Monsanto released ‘Vistive’ soybeans with reduced linolenic acid fat, a
trait selected using traditional breeding but bred into a glyphosate
resistant soybean  (Beware Monsanto’s "Vistive Soybeans"), and should
not have been considered a crop modified only for food quality. In 2005,
Syngenta applied for commercial release of a corn modified to produce a
heat stable amylase enzyme as an aid in food and feed processing .
There are many more crop modifications for ‘food quality’ in the
pipelines to be petitioned for commercial release. But are they safe?
And what criteria are used in their food safety assessment?
A number of reviews have appeared, one of the most comprehensive coming
from the International Life Sciences Institute of Washington DC, whose
Trustees include academics as well as representatives from Monsanto,
Syngenta, Novartis, Unilever and other corporations . “Metabolic
engineering” is highlighted, which consists of up or down regulating
metabolic pathways, or introducing entirely new pathways to enhance
production of key nutrients in foods . Genes for biosynthetic enzymes
or regulatory genes are introduced, as well as anti-sense genes to block
competing pathways to increase production of desired secondary
metabolites . Engineering soybeans has focused on altering functional
properties of soy protein to improve processing and on improving the
flavour of soy products .
Plant genomics is also put forward as an alternative to genetic
modification. Using marker assisted selection in conventional breeding
to improve flavour, health and nutritional value would obviate the need
for genetic modification of the crops , and ultimately prove much
more acceptable to consumers worldwide.
Nevertheless, a lot of work involving genetic modification is in
progress, targeting every aspect of nutrition and health, from the
improvement of storage proteins to increased mineral content.
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