GM Science Review - Comments on First Report

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Name: Swindon Friends of the Earth Location (optional): Date: 26 September 2003
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26 September 2003

Swindon Friends of the Earth

It is all well and good to suggest that only peer-reviewed papers should be used in the scientific debate on GMOs. However the first scientific report mentions Monsanto's feeding studies as evidence of "no harm" (p.68). So where have Monsanto's studies been published and who has peer-reviewed them?

There is no foundation in the speculation (page 105) that "many hundreds of millions of people" have been eating GM foods or GM-fed animals "for up to seven years with no substantiated adverse effects reported". We might just as easily quote the statistic that in the same period that GM food has been eaten, food-related incidents in the US have doubled and, as such, might point the finger at the novel foods. Neither of these statements is proof of anything. However, we do know that there has been no monitoring programme conducted in the United States and food is not labelled for GM content. What has been reported and peer-reviewed is that scientists at the Centres for Disease Control in the US found that between 1994 and 1999, foodborne illnesses increased two to ten-fold. The precise causes are unknown. However, as the first indication of possible harm from GM food might translate as a stomach upset, this is unlikely to go reported to doctors. Only time will tell who is right and wrong but bear in mind that a sick animal/plant might appear to be substantially equivalent to one that is not, but this is no proof of safety.

As there have been no (or few) toxicological studies conducted on target and non-target species who might eat GM food/feed/plants, one would suppose that those that have shown adverse impacts might set the alarm bells ringing. We now have evidence that transgenic materials are not broken down in processing and cooking, nor are they destroyed by stomach acids, gene transfer has taken place in human gut bacteria, transgenes have been found in gut cells, bloodstream and the liver of mice, various studies have shown inflammatory and necrotic changes in the alimentary canal. Do we need to take any more risks when we still don't understand how genes work?

The report states (page 24) that the "appropriate agriculture for the UK" includes one that would "allow coexistence of farming systems." On a case by case basis, it is clear that some crops, notably oil seed rape, cannot co-exist by virtue of the nature of the promiscuity of the plant, the existence of wild brassicas and the proclivity of oil seed rape to become a weed in its own right that produces seed that can lie dormant for 10 years. So, can we be assured that some GM crops might be banned?

So will GM bring "safer, nutritionally enhanced" GM foods, or will it be hype like Vitamin A rice that contains a minute amount of Vitamin A? We doubt it, but there are plenty of safe and nutritionally enhanced non-GM foods that will.