Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Truth about GMO

 
GM Maize that contains genes thought
to confer resistance to herbicides,
pesticides, droughts and disease
At long last, the cracks in the cover-up about the risks of GMO are beginning to show and about time too. A recent study (September 2012) conducted by a French research team published last month in the American Journal: Food and Chemical Toxicology highlighted the very thing most of us are worried about regarding the safety of GM foods. However, the publication of this paper has triggered an astonishing level of attack on the research group especially the lead author and scientist by pro-GM groups and organisations with a vested interest in GMO which has now become downright personal and insulting (and who says that the scientific community lacks its fair share of entertainment?!). Interestingly, it was only in June of this year that scientists themselves, from King's College London who specialise in GMO research and safety published a highly critical report (GMO Myths & Truths) that discredited the claims made by proponents of GMO and called into question the safety, viability and sustainability of using GMO technology on any short-term and importantly, long-term basis. Their verdict was a damning one which was based on sound evidence and one that's hard to refute. At last, all the things many of us suspected about the global GM trade and inclusion of GM technology into almost every facet of the food industry, not to mention the risks to health appear to be gaining strong support that is backed up by scientific evidence.
Genetic modification and GM technology has been around for some time now and it is firmly embedded in the system, be it food chains or indeed in research and development. Of great concern to most people (and probably one that is likely to affect us more immediately) is GM technology in food production, crop production and its uses in the food industry. About the time that GM technology became big (about 15-20 years ago, possibly earlier) was around the time when we were sold the premise that there was a food shortage crisis and this new revolutionary technology was going to save the day, prevent starving millions and address the needs of feeding the world for future generations. Other claims made by GM manufacturers and supporters included the following:
  • GM are an extension of natural breeding and do not pose different risks from naturally bred crops
  • GM foods are safe to eat and can be more nutritious than naturally bred crops
  • GM foods are strictly regulated for safety
  • GM increase crop yields
  • GM reduce pesticide use
  • GM benefit farmers and make their lives easier
  • GM bring economic benefits
  • GM benefit the environment
  • GM can help solve problems caused by climate change
  • GM reduce energy use
  • GM help feed the world
Many of these claims are now being disputed (fundamentally because there is a growing body of scientific evidence that says that they are simply not true). Worryingly, the evidence suggests the contrary, indicating that GM crops:
  • are laboratory-made, using technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks from non-GM crops
  • can be toxic, can cause allergies and can be less nutritious than their natural counterparts
  • are not adequately regulated to ensure safety
  • do not increase yield potential
  • do not reduce pesticide use but increases its use
  • create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant 'superweeds', compromise soil quality and increase disease susceptibility in crops
  • have mixed economic effects
  • harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems and reduce biodiversity
  • do not offer effective solutions to climate change
  • are energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops
  • cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes (poverty, corrupt political power and greedy governments causing food wastage (western world) and lack of access to food (developing world) and increasingly (which is very depressing), lack of access to land to grow crops)
What is galling of course is that there really needs to be no need to take risks with GM crops when effective, readily available and sustainable solutions to the problems already exist. Traditional plant bleeding (which has been the mainstay of farming methods for thousands of years to select crops that have desirable traits), in some cases assisted by safe technologies by gene mapping and marker-assisted selection (ie. techniques that map and identify the very genes within a complex genome responsible for such desirable traits) continues to outperform GM in producing high-yield, drought-resistant, pest-resistant and disease-resistant crops that can meet the present and future food requirements for the world.

Although no GM crops can be grown in the UK, GM commodities especially soya can be imported and used for animal feed, and to a lesser extent, in some food products. Many campaigners have fought and continue to campaign for better labelling of foods that contain GM products but this is patchy and nowhere near what they want it to be. We may never know which of our foods contain GM ingredients and this is particualrly the case with prepacked and processed foods where the sources of ingredients comes from many different places and it is nigh on impossible to trace the origins of all the ingredients.This is the very thing that campaigners want to see an improvement in but the ideal scenario appears to be a long way off.

There is no further comfort in that 2 types of GM crop are currently authorised for cultivation in the EU: an insect-resistant maize and a potato with modified starch content for industrial use. Neither of these is relevant or suitable for production in the UK. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) plays a central role in assessing applications for the cultivation, production and marketing of GM products which is also scrutinised by independent scientists. This also relates to other GMO such as vaccines in a clinical trial. The GMO approvals process can be divided into international and national depending on the purposes of the GMO being proposed. For instance, products for consumption have to be considered and meet the requirements at an international level whereas GMO intended for research and development are considered at a national level. The US however follow a different guideline and a set of requirements where GM crops can be grown and there are currently no labelling obligations by food manufacturers to state whether ingredients are GM. Indeed, the American Medical Association stated in June of this year that they saw no health purpose for labelling genetically modified foods."There is no scientific justification for special labelling of bioengineered foods, as a class, and that voluntary labelling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education". Undoubtedly, the campaign for labelling is as strong as ever in light of recent findings and especially the most recent French study paper. Interestingly, the EFSA have dismissed this latest study which I believe is short-sighted at best and disturbing at worst. So what did the French study reveal......

Rats developed huge cancers
after feeding on GM maize and
herbicides commonly used in crop
production throughout the world
In summary, it showed that rats that were fed on a diet of Monsanto's GM maize that were tolerant to the world’s best-selling weedkiller (Monsanto's Roundup), as well as a diet of just the herbicide alone, developed tumours, multiple organ damage and died prematurely. In the first ever study to examine the long-term effects of Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, or the NK603 Roundup-resistant GM maize, scientists found that rats exposed to even the smallest amounts, developed mammary tumours and severe liver and kidney damage as early as four months in males, and seven months for females, compared with 23 and 14 months respectively for a control group. An extraordinary number of tumours developed earlier and more aggressively - particularly in female animals. The lead scientist suggested that the results could be explained by the endocrine(hormone)-disrupting effects of Roundup and overexpression of the transgene in the GMO. This was the first study that tested the effects of such maize (with these specific genes) on rats over 2 years (nearly the rats' full life span), as opposed to the 90 days that is demanded by regulators. Around a dozen long-term studies have failed to demonstrate this before so this new finding is unsurprisingly causing a bit of a stir! Worryingly, the study also demonstrated the toxicity of the herbicide itself when the rats were fed this directly and in the emerging furore, the voice of a few scientists who pointed this out seems to have have got lost in the noise and mayhem.

Sadly, there have been many critics of this study accusing the French research team of a biased, poorly performed, inadequate, and sloppy study (amongst other accusations). To his credit the lead scientist Gilles-Eric S√©ralini (Professor of Molecular Biology at the Caen University in France) has responded to all of the criticisms with credible data and sound explanations. Many forget that this is a peer-reviewed paper but whilst science has its own parameters for testing the safety of GM, there is an enormous amount we just don't know at this stage. In fact, I don't think even the specialists themselves know the scale or boundaries of the long-term health issues regarding GM. There is a sinister and coercive political agenda not to mention the corporate interests of GM manufacturers such as Monsanto and Dow Chemical amongst others. Thus far, there has been precious little informed debate within the corporate-controlled mainstream western media (which mainly comprises scientifically-illiterate journalists) about the potentially deleterious effects of introducing little-understood GMO on a large/corporate scale into nature which has the potential to cause irreversible damage to the soil and our food supply. It is abundantly clear that more peer-reviewed, long-term studies like this are urgently warranted before our political governments start adopting GM as a 'safe' replacement to naturally-derived food sources.

It's a worrying sign when scientists in the field of GM are raising concerns and little is being offered by way of explanation or indeed  steps to address the issues that has the potential to cause harm to so many, not least of which human health, wildlife, biodiversity, soil quality and ultimately sustainability. I do hope we can see a change in fortunes of these corrosive GM corporations that have far too much political power and very little by way of substance to allay the fears of so many who are justifiably concerned about GMO.

Details of the French study: Séralini G, Clair E, Mesnage R et al. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicology. Published online September 19 2012

For more information about the report GMO Myths & Truths go to Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) website: http://www.anh-europe.org/news/genetic-engineers-publish-damning-evidence-based-report-about-gmo-food