Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods

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July 14, 2001 | 22,074 views

In 1998, Arpad Pusztai,a researcher at Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland,preformed the first independent non-industrysponsored study analyzing genetically engineered food and its effectson mammals.

The study had been undertaken to determine whether or not the splicedgenes themselves could be damaging to the mammal ingesting them.However, preliminary data from the study suggests something evenmore startling.

The actual process of genetic alterationitself may cause damage to the mammalian digestive and immune systems.

Pusztai's study found that rats fed transgenic potatoes (artificiallybioengineered to include a gene from another species) showed evidenceof

The transgenic potatoes used in the study had been geneticallyengineered to contain lectin, a sugar binding protein, to make theplants pest-resistant. The adverse reactions only occurred in thegroup that was fed the transgenic potatoes. The control group, fedplain potatoes mixed with lectin from the same source, were normal.

These results indicated that the adverse reactions were not causedby the added lectin, but by the process of genetic engineering itself."All the presently used genetically modified material has beencreated using essentially the same technology, If there really isa problem, it won't just apply to the potatoes, but probably toall other transgenics.

In August 1998 Pusztai appeared on the British television programThe World in Action to report the findings of his study. In an attemptto quell the resulting public furor, Rowett Institute director PhilipJames (who had approved Pusztai's TV appearance) said the researchdidn't exist. He fired Pusztai, broke up his research team, seizedthe data, and halted six other similar projects.

It came out later that Monsanto, a leading U.S. biotech firm, hadgiven the Rowett Institute a $224,000 grant prior to Pusztai's interviewand subsequent firing.

Evidence emerged to support the legitimacy of Pusztai's research.The research that James claimed did not exist showed up during aninternal audit. Later, Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal,published a peer-reviewed paper Pusztai had co-authored supportingthe research.

Prince Charles began to question the safety of genetically engineeredfoods on his website and became allies with Pusztai. Charles wrotean article in the Daily Mail expressing concerns over the lack ofprerelease safety research on genetically engineered foods.

Back in 1992 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had determinedthat genetically engineered foods were in most cases "the sameas or substantially similar to substances commonly found in food"and thus are not required to undergo specific safety tests priorto entering the market.

The FDA's policy was a dramatic shift away from the long- standingrequirement that companies prove their products are safe. Says RebeccaGoldburg of the Environmental Defense Fund. "FDA'spolicy strongly favors food manufacturers at the expense of consumerprotection."

According to author Ben Lilliston,no independent or government-sponsored research into the effectsof genetically engineered foods on mammals is now being carriedout in either the United Kingdom or the United States.

Update by BenLilliston (blilliston@iatp.org)

Genetically engineered crops have been introduced in the U.S. ina quiet, almost stealthy manner. Most Americans know little aboutthis radically new way of producing food, and even less about whattype of risks these foods pose. Traditionally, U.S. regulatory agenciesare some of the toughest in the world in protecting human healthand the environment.

But, as the article points out, geneticallyengineered foods have entered the marketplace almost entirely unregulated.

The story was published at the beginning of a turbulent year forthe biotech industry. For the first time since engineered cropshave been introduced, we saw a decline in the overall planting ofGE crops in the U.S. In response to growing domestic and internationalcriticism, the Food and Drug Administration announced it was draftingnew rules for regulating these crops.

Perhaps the most important event in the last year was the contaminationof the food supply with the unapproved genetically engineered StarLinkcorn. The corn had been approved by the Environmental ProtectionAgency for consumption by animals but not humans, because of concernsthat it may cause allergic reactions.

The StarLink discovery by a coalition of advocacy groups has resultedin approximately 300 food products recalled, mass litigation withinthe agriculture community, and drops in exports to key markets includingJapan. StarLink has also raised questions about the U.S. regulatorysystem, and, at the end of 2000, several bills in Congress wereproposing major changes in the way U.S. agencies regulate thesecrops.

The last year has seen dramatic changes within the agriculturecommunity regarding GE crops. Farmers are now having to worry aboutliability, markets, and cross pollination. Grain elevators are facingincreased expenses associated with testing and segregating geneticallyengineered and non-GE crops.

And even giant grain processors like Archer Daniels Midland arewarning farmers about growing genetically engineered crops.

The entire food sector is wary of theimpacts these crops are having on our ability to export.

The mainstream media has been consistently behind the ball on thestory of genetically engineered crops-particularly the regulatoryangle. While they have been quick to cover the latest scientificbreakthroughs by the industry, and report extensively on the promiseof the technology, they have ignored the inability of U.S. regulatoryagencies to keep up with the advances and unique risks of biotechfoods.

While the StarLink debacle has received considerable coverage,few reporters have identified the underlying cause, which is theoverwhelmed, antiquated system that allowed it to happen.

There are numerous resources on the web for more information ongenetically engineered foods:

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy - www.sustain.org/biotech/
Greenpeace USA - www.greenpeaceusa.org/ge/
Union of Concerned Scientists - www.ucsusa.org
Ag Biotech Info-Net - www.biotech-info.org

Update by KarenCharman (aurora@ulster.net)

Genetic technologies, like chemical and nuclear technologies beforethem, have the potential to alter in unforeseen and unwelcome waysall that we depend upon for our survival-our environment, our food,and our health. Like the products of chemical and nuclear technologies,biotechnology products are being usheredout into the environment and onto the market for people to consumewithout fully considering, let alone understanding, either theirlong- or short-term impacts.

Through intellectual property patents, biotechnology grants privatecorporations ownership to previously unowned living things. Theeconomics behind biotechnology are the technology's driving force,but discussion of life patents and their implications are absentfrom most media accounts and, consequently, public debate.

Scientific understanding of how genes work in organisms is in itsinfancy. The same is true for scientific understanding of ecology.Yet, without a thorough understanding of the web of life and howits different components interact with each other, it's impossibleto know what the true impact of releasing these novel organismswill be or to assess whether we should be taking this genetic gamble.

Much less risky solutions exist to theproblems biotech purports to solve.

But they are not being presented in the mainstream media. Instead,most coverage continues to uncritically spread industry-promotedmyths about biotechnology while failing to comprehensively and accuratelyreport the technology's impacts, risks associated with biotechnology,and why it is being pushed so hard.

Biotech food has become a flash point with consumers overseas andnow that opposition is growing here on the home turf, biotech promotersare attempting to manage the public debate with sophisticated PR.Unfortunately, much of the PR continues to appear in the mainstreammedia.

A number of citizen groups are now doing excellent work on geneticengineering issues.

The Organic Consumers Associationwww.purefood.org has a websitewith a tremendous amount of information and links to other sitescovering genetic engineering.

The Institute for Agriculture and TradePolicy www.iatp.orghas in- depth information on economics and trade issues relatedto agricultural biotechnology. The Ag BioTech InfoNet compiles scientificreports and technical analysis on biotechnology and genetic engineeringin food production, processing and marketing.

Update by JoelBleifuss (itt@inthesetimes.com)

The U.S. media has not covered the disturbing public health questionsraised by Arpad Pusztai's research into genetically engineered potatoes.Genetic engineering continues to receive a clean bill of healthby U.S. regulatory agencies despite the fact that no independent,government-supported research into the effects of genetically engineeredfoods on mammals has been or is being conducted.

This is in large part because the biotechindustry has a sophisticated PR apparatus in place thathas so far successfully been able to spin the industry's line thatgenetically altered food is absolutely safe.

Concerns raised by scientists like Pusztai or Michael Hansen atConsumers Union are all but ignored. As Hansen told me, "Butfor the folks that criticize it, Pusztai's study is still a muchbetter-designed study than the industry-sponsored feeding studiesI have seen in peer-reviewed literature.

Pusztai's are the kinds of experimentsthat need to be done with engineered foods.

ProjectCensored.org- #7 of the Top 25 CensoredStories of 2000

In These Times
January 10, 2000
Title: No Small (Genetic) Potatoes
Author: Joel Bleifuss

May/June 2000
Title: Genetic Gambling
Author: Karen Charman

Multinational Monitor
January-February, 2000
Title: Don’t Ask, Don’t know
Author: Ben Lilliston

Corporate news coverage: Wide coverage in England including TheIndependent, The Herald, Irish Times, The Guardian, The Times London
Washington Post, 10/15/99 p. A-3 (negative review)

The Wall Street Journal attempted to debunk the story with theheadline "Attack of the Killer Potato," 2/16/99

Faculty evaluators: Lynn Cominsky, Myrna Goodman, Richard Senghas

Student Researchers: Katie Anderson, Kate Sims, Stephanie Garber,


This is the best review I have read of the original researchI had mentioned earlier, regarding the potential implications ofeating genetically modified food.

Let me repeat.

Back in 1992 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had determinedthat genetically engineered foods were in most cases "the sameas or substantially similar to substances commonly found in food"and thus are not required to undergo specific safety tests priorto entering the market.

No Safety Testing Has EVER Been Done on These Foods

With the exception of the study mentioned above which clearlyhas negative health implications.

It is hard to believe that the these companies have been ableto manipulate the system for the detriment of all future generations.

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