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Risk on a platter

The Hindu, New Delhi, 5th May, 2013

A recent research on the safety of GM (genetically modified) foods has exposed the folly of limiting earlier researches to just 90 days as it found that many of the serious health problems appear after 90 days. This research was conducted by a team led by Gilles-Eric Seralini, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Caen in France.

Before this, most research on rats regarding safety of GM foods had been conducted for only 90 days. The need for longer-duration research was widely felt. The significance of Seralini’s research was that it was conducted over a period of two years. The results of this research, published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, have shown that among the rats fed on GM food (maize), female rats died two to three times more compared to female rats not fed GM food (controls). Similarly health problems relating to liver, kidney and tumours were much more severe in female rats fed on GM crop compared to controls. Male rats fed on GM food also had much higher incidence of tumours.

It is believed that the short duration of observation was due to pressure of corporate interests.

Erik Millstone, Professor of Science Policy at the University of Sussex, has commented, “The fundamental problem of the way in which GM foods have been approved is that they haven’t really been tested properly at all. All that has happened is something which I would characterise as an exercise in wishful thinking.”

Despite the efforts by big GM corporations to direct research along lines convenient to them, warnings relating to serious health hazards of GM crops and GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have the support of some of the world’s most eminent and well-qualified independent scientists and experts in the field.

The Independent Science Panel, which consists of eminent scientists from many countries covering a wide range of relevant disciplines, reviewed the evidence on the hazards of GMOs. This review concluded that many GM crops contain gene products known to be harmful. For example, the Bt proteins that kill pests include potent immunogens and allergens. Food crops are increasingly being engineered to produce pharmaceuticals, drugs and vaccines in the open environment, exposing people to the danger of inappropriate medication and their harmful side effects.

Herbicides tolerant GM crops are tied to the broad-spectrum herbicide glyphosate and glufosinate ammonium. These have been linked to spontaneous abortions, birth defects and other serious health problems for human beings, animals and soil-organisms. GM varieties are unstable, with the potential to create new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases, and to disrupt gene function in animal and human cells.

More recently, 17 distinguished scientists from Europe, the U.S., Canada and New Zealand wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister of India: “GM transformation can produce novel biochemical processes that are unpredictable and for which there is no natural history to assume are safe.

Of greatest concern is that studies show negative health effects with GM crops that have already been approved and which have been grown commercially for 10-13 years. This highlights the inadequacy of the original criteria and set of data on the basis of which marketing approval was and is still being granted.”

In the more specific context of Bt brinjal, this letter said, “Bt toxin is a proven potent immunogen raising justifiable concerns that it can give rise to allergic reactions. Animals fed diets containing Bt corn have shown signs of direct toxicity. Independent re-evaluation of Monsanto’s own research on their Bt corn crops shows negative health effects even in short-term (90-day) animal feeding studies.”

The Mahyco-Monsanto dossier of the raw experimental data of animal feeding studies with Bt brinjal shows highly statistically significant negative signs of toxicity on the functioning of multiple organ systems such as liver, kidney, blood and pancreas in all animals tested (especially rats, rabbits and goats). It is very important to note that these adverse effects were observed after only at most, a 90-day feeding time, which raises serious concerns about the safety of consuming this product over an entire lifetime. Long-term (at least two-year) animal feeding studies were not done and are stated as not required by the apex regulator, contrary to the science, which requires these studies to detect chronic slow-onset toxicity and cancer.