Genetically Engineered Crops May Produce Herbicide Inside Our Intestines
Spilling the Beans
By Jeffrey M. Smith
Pioneer Hi-Bred’s website boasts that their genetically modified (GM) Liberty Link corn survives doses of Liberty herbicide, which would normally kill corn. The reason, they say, is that the herbicide becomes “inactive in the corn plant.” They fail to reveal, however, that after you eat the GM corn, some inactive herbicide may become reactivated inside your gut and cause a toxic reaction. In addition, a gene that was inserted into the corn might transfer into the DNA of your gut bacteria, producing long-term effects. These are just a couple of the many potential side-effects of GM crops that critics say put the public at risk.
Herbicide tolerance (HT) is one of two basic traits common to nearly all GM crops. About 71% of the crops are engineered to resist herbicide, including Liberty (glufosinate ammonium) and Roundup (glyphosate). About 18% produce their own pesticide. And 11% do both. The four major GM crops are soy, corn, cotton and canola, all of which have approved Liberty- and Roundup-tolerant varieties. Herbicide tolerant (HT) crops are a particularly big money-maker for biotech companies, because when farmers buy HT seeds, they are required to purchase the companies’ brand of herbicide as well. In addition, HT crops dramatically increase the use of herbicide, which further contributes to the companies’ bottom line.
There are no required safety tests for HT crops in the US—if the biotech companies declare them fit for human consumption, the FDA has no further questions. But many scientists and consumers remain concerned, and the Liberty Link varieties pose unique risks.
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US Government, Biotech Firm Deceive Public on GM Corn Mix-up
by Jeffrey M. Smith
“This seems to be yet another display of deceit, secrecy, incompetence and arrogance from the GM [genetic modification] industry.”i This condemnation from Francis Blake of the organic farmers association in Europe was one of several choice comments hurled at the biotech firm Syngenta after it was revealed that their unapproved genetically engineered corn variety had contaminated the food supply for four years. Furthermore, after it was made public, both Syngenta and the US government misled the public about its composition and safety. The German consumer protection minister described the whole affair as “Unbelievable sloppiness!”ii The European commissioner for health and consumer affairs said, “We deplore the unauthorized imports of this corn.”iii
The controversy, which may eventually cost hundreds of millions of dollars, is centered on Syngenta’s Bt10, an experimental, unapproved corn variety genetically, engineered to produce its own pesticide. In mid December 2004, the company informed the US government that it had just learned that the corn had been mislabeled in the 1990s as Bt11, an approved variety. From 2001 – 2004, about 14,000 bags of Bt10 seediv were grown on 37,000 acres in the US and the resultant 165,000 tons of corn was sold as food and feed in the US and abroad.
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US Government Proposal Puts Food Supply at Risk
By Jeffrey M. Smith
Welcome to the year 2021. Genetically engineered wonder seeds lead to exploding crop yields. . . . But there’s a problem. When the wheat seed was modified, a long-dormant gene was activated causing severe allergic reactions in nearly 3 billion people. Years pass before the connection is made. By then, the world’s wheat supplies must be destroyed, and a global food shortage sets in.
This was the scene described by the narrator of a Modern Marvels episode entitled "Doomsday Tech," shown on the History Channel throughout the U.S. on December 28, 2004. Could this scenario be possible? Unfortunately yes, and new guidelines proposed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) increase the likelihood that GM crops will make people sick in new, hard-to-track ways.
Genetically modified (GM) crops may produce dangerous allergens or toxins that are difficult to detect. Since the FDA does not require safety testing and refuses to monitor the effects of GM foods on public health, the seeds for such a catastrophe might have already been sown.
While the seven approved, commercialized varieties of GM food crops (soy, corn, cotton, canola, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and crook neck squash) may pose a greater threat to our health, increasing risk comes from more than 100 other GM species, not approved for human consumption, that have been planted in experimental field trials since 1987. About 40,000 test sites covering approximately half a million acres are virtually unregulated. Several are reported to have contaminated non-GM crops, but the overall extent of contamination is unknown and potentially widespread.
This makes the food and the biotech industries nervous, and rightly so. When a corn engineered to produce a pig vaccine contaminated half a million bushels of soybeans, the corn's producer required a government bail out to pay nearly $3 million in fine and cleanup costs--a fraction of the cost if the drug had made it to grocery shelves. When StarLink™ corn, a potentially allergenic GM variety, did end up in the food supply, product recalls, lost exports, clean-up efforts, and lawsuits totaled about $1 billion.
On August 2, 2002, a White House directive issued by its Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) told the FDA, USDA, and EPA to create ways that contamination from "field tests could be found acceptable." On November 19, 2004, the FDA proposed a "Guidance for Industry," which acting FDA commissioner Lester Crawford described as "a high priority for the Administration and the industry, to enhance public confidence [and] avoid product recalls." What the new guidance does not do, however, is protect public health. In fact, it does the opposite. If approved, it would increase the chances that the world food supply will suffer dangerous untraceable contamination.
The gist of the new draft guidance is this: A GM crop developer voluntarily provides the FDA with answers to two pages of questions. These may include the results of two superficial tests on their crop that take as little as 20 hours to complete. If crop contamination is later discovered, companies can claim that they have complied with FDA requirements and the agency can declare that their prior "evaluation" shows that the contamination will not cause harm. Armed with what appears to be a legal defense, companies would become less likely to spend the money needed to prevent contamination.
FDA Ignores Science
Biotech scientists insert genes into DNA to produce new proteins. According to the draft guidance, a new protein "might be an allergen or toxin." That's true. But the guidance also states that the "FDA believes that any potential risk from" contamination by GM field trials "would be limited to" this potentially allergenic or toxic protein. That's not true.
There is evidence of numerous other ways in which GM plants may create a health catastrophe. In the History Channel scenario, for example, "WHEN THE WHEAT SEED WAS MODIFIED, A LONG-DORMANT GENE WAS ACTIVATED." Later in the TV program, I am quoted describing one way this might occur: the promoter, which is inserted with the foreign gene to switch it on, might accidentally switch on other genes-permanently. This danger is not acknowledged in the guidance. Nor are other dangers described by FDA scientists in internal memos, made public by a lawsuit. The FDA's Division of Food Chemistry and Technology, for example, predicted in 1991 that genetic engineering might create "increased levels of known naturally occurring toxins" or the "appearance of new, not previously identified" toxins. Subsequent studies have verified this. GM yeast, for example, contained a 200-fold increase in a naturally occurring toxin. A GM tobacco plant produced a toxin not found in natural tobacco, and not directly created by the inserted gene. The FDA division also warned of "undesirable alterations in the levels of nutrients," and of an increased tendency to gather "toxic substances from the environment" such as "pesticides or heavy metals."6 These concerns were also later verified. But the warnings by FDA scientists' were ignored, even denied, in the official FDA policy. That policy was overseen by Michael Taylor, former outside attorney for Monsanto, turned FDA policy chief, later turned Monsanto vice-president.
In a 2001document, the agency finally acknowledged that genetic engineering carried risks that were different from traditional breeding. They described insertion mutations-a well known effect of gene insertion that damages DNA. Each GM variety may be uniquely damaged, which can lead to unpredicted problems. Thus, the document states that, "FDA believes that it needs to be provided with information about foods from all separate" GM varieties, even if the gene that was inserted was the same one used in another, already approved variety. This logical position is reversed, however, in the new draft guidance, which says that if the FDA looks at a novel protein created in one GM variety "and no safety concerns are identified,"12 they do not have to look at other GM crops that insert the same gene.
So what do they propose to look at? Not much that would protect public health. For example, they will tell biotech companies, "You should consider whether the new protein is an allergen, or a toxin." From the formerly secret FDA memos, FDA scientist Carl Johnson wrote in 1991, "Are we asking the crop developer to prove that food from his crop is non-allergenic? This seems like an impossible task." While there are no tests to verify that a novel protein is not a human allergen, the World Health Organization and the United Nations FAO recommend criteria to minimize the likelihood that it is. The GM corn, soybeans, and papaya already on the market, however, fail those criteria. That hasn't stopped them from being approved.
The FDA recommends test tube studies to simulate digestion, but they are a poor indicator of what really happens inside human beings or animals. Moreover, biotech companies typically manipulate the test parameters to force their own conclusions, so that the tests often give a false sense of security.
But even these poorly designed studies, like all FDA regulation of GM foods, are entirely voluntary. The draft guidance states: "The use of the word should in agency guidances means that something is suggested or recommended, but not required." Thus, if a company's response to the FDA's questionnaire "raises questions about the food safety of" the new protein, the best that the FDA can come up with is to say to the company: "You may wish to discuss the identified issues with us prior to engaging in any activity that might result in material from your plant inadvertently entering the food supply."12
Threat Grows over Time
Even if harm from experimental crops were a small probability, repeated enough times, it becomes a certainty. From 1987 through 2002, the USDA issued 8,571permits and more are expected. The government identifies about 500 different foreign genes used, but the actual number is higher since most are kept secret-classified by companies as confidential business information. We don't know what might end up in our food supply and we don't even know how to test for its presence. In some cases, even tiny amounts of contamination carry significant risks. According to the EPA's expert Scientific Advisory Panel, no minimum amount of StarLink was considered safe. Some GM crops produce pharmaceutical products which are known to be active at billionths of a gram. Instead of creating a framework to prevent contamination, the new guideline tries to make it legal and "acceptable."
In an April 2004 joint press release, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the U.S. grain industry instructed the U.S. government that it "must vigorously promote global adoption of compatible regulatory systems." They want the world to also accept contaminated food. Five months later, acting FDA commissioner Crawford heralded the draft guidance as "an international model."4
In the History Channel scenario, YEARS PASS BEFORE THE CONNECTION IS MADE. This may be optimistic. Without monitoring, a food-related health problem could go untracked for decades. And even if evidence were compiled, like tobacco and pesticides, the biotech industry may fight to keep their products on the market.
Soy allergies skyrocketed in the UK by 50% after GM soy was introduced. According to Russian scientists, allergies there tripled in the three years corresponding to the widespread introduction of GM foods. And food related illnesses in the U.S. doubled between 1994 and 2001, when many GM crops entered the food supply. A History Channel scenario might already be in the making.
The FDA's draft guidance comment period ends January 24, 2005. To send a pre-worded letter or write your own, go to http://www.thecampaign.org/alertFDA012405.php
This monthly column & citations are found at www.seedsofdeception.com. © Copyright 2004 Jeffrey M. Smith.
Publishers and webmasters may offer this article or monthly series to your readers at no charge, by e-mailing a request to us [email protected] . Individuals may read the column each month, by subscribing to a free newsletter at www.seedsofdeception.com. Also on the site, you will find these columns formatted as a two page handout.
© Copyright 2004 by Jeffrey M. Smith. Permission is granted to reproduce this in whole or in part.
For an excellent analysis of the draft guidance, see Friends of the Earth Briefing Paper, "How the US Government is Planning to Approve Contamination of the World's Food Supply with Experimental GM Crops," November 2004 http://www.foei.org/publications/pdfs/contamination.pdf
The Myth and Necessity of GM Free Zones
- Jeffrey M. Smith, "Genetically Engineered Foods may Pose National Health Risk," Spilling the Beans, August 1, 2004, http://www.seedsofdeception.com/newsletter-Aug1_2004.php
- Richard Caplan, "Raising Risk: Field Testing of Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States," U.S.PIRG Education Fund, June 2003 http://www.uspirg.org/reports/RaisingRisk2003.pdf
- OSTP (2002). "Proposed federal actions to update field test requirements for biotechnology derived plants and to establish early food safety assessments for new proteins produced by such plants," Notice, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Federal Register ,Vol.67, No.149, p. 50578-50580.
- Lester M. Crawford, Acting Commissioner of the FDA. Speech before The U.S. Vatican Mission's Conference "Feeding A Hungry World: The Moral Imperative Of Biotechnology," September 2004 www.agbioworld.org
- FDA Proposes Draft Guidance for Industry for New Plant Varieties Intended for Food Use, FDA Talk Paper, November 19, 2004, http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/ANSWERS/2004/ANS01327.html
- Division of Food Chemistry and Technology and Division of Contaminants Chemistry, "Points to Consider for Safety Evaluation of Genetically Modified Foods: Supplemental Information," November 1, 1991, www.biointegrity.org
- Doug Gurian-Sherman, "A Look at the Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineering Food Plants Re. The National Academy of Sciences Report on Unintended Effects," The Center for Food Safety, Briefing Paper.
- Premarket Notice Concerning Bioengineered Foods, Food and Drug Administration, 21 CFR Parts 192 and 592, [DocketNo.00N-1396] Federal Register, Volume 66, Number 12. page 4711, January 18, 2001 "Because some rDNA-induced unintended changes are specific to a transformational event (e.g., those resulting from insertional mutagenesis), FDA believes that it needs to be provided with information about foods from all separate transformational events, even when the agency has been provided with information about foods from rDNA-modified plants with the same intended new trait and has had no questions about such foods. Similarly, the agency believes that it needs to be provided with information about foods from rDNA-modified plants whose intended change is the introduction of a pesticidal protein subject to oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rather than by FDA, because the transformational event that is used to introduce the pesticidal trait may also cause unintended changes to the food that would raise adulteration or misbranding questions subject to FDA jurisdiction."
- Carl B. Johnson, Memo on the "draft statement of policy 12/12/91," January 8, 1992 www.biointegrity.org
- Guidance for Industry Recommendations for the Early Food Safety Evaluation of New Non-Pesticidal Proteins Produced by New Plant Varieties Intended for Food Use, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, November 2004, http://www.fda.gov/OHRMS/DOCKETS/98fr/04d-0369-gdl0001.pdf
- "Assessment of Additional Scientific Information Concerning StarLink Corn," FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel to the EPA, SAP Report No. 2001-09, from meeting on July 17/18, 2001.
- Bill Freese, "Manufacturing Drugs and Chemicals in Crops: Biopharming Poses New Threats to Consumers, Farmers, Food Companies and the environment," July 2002, Friends of the Earth, www.foe.org/biopharm.
- "US Grain Industry, BIO Urge US Government to Expedite 'Trace-Amounts' Policy for Biotech Products," press release, Biotechnology Industry Organization & National Grain & Feed Association, and other trade groups, April 7,2004, www.bio.org/newsroom/newsitem.asp?id=2004_0407_01.
By Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Seeds of Deception
From Newsletter on GM Foods, Spilling the Beans,
Oct. 1, 2004
Imagine being hired by a new company whose boss says, “You’re an environmentally minded person. That’s why we picked you to organize a recall of our genetically engineered salmon—from the ocean. Good luck.” While this may seem far fetched, it may not be far off. One company, Aqua Bounty, had hoped for US government approval for their genetically modified (GM) salmon as early as 2002. A study published in June 2004 may prolong their wait. When GM salmon, engineered to be seven times their normal size, were put into tanks with a limited food supply, all hell broke loose. Whether
swimming with other GM fish or with natural salmon, the “transgenic salmon experienced population crashes or complete extinctions.”1 Some of the Frankenfish killed and even ate their rivals.
To read more please visit http://www.seedsofdeception.com/newsletter.php
Another Reason for Schools to Ban
Genetically Engineered Foods
By Jeffrey M. Smith
From Newsletter on GM Foods, September issue Spilling the Beans
Before the Appleton Wisconsin high school replaced their cafeteria’s processed foods with wholesome, nutritious food, the school was described as out-of-control. There were weapons violations, student disruptions, and a cop on duty full-time. After the change in school meals, the students were calm, focused, and orderly. There were no more weapons violations, and no suicides, expulsions, dropouts, or drug violations. The new diet and improved behavior has lasted for seven years, and now other schools are changing their meal programs with similar results.
Years ago, a science class at Appleton found support for their new diet by conducting a cruel and unusual experiment with three mice. They fed them the junk food that kids in other high schools eat everyday. The mice freaked out. Their behavior was totally different than the three mice in the neighboring cage. The neighboring mice had good karma; they were fed nutritious whole foods and behaved like mice. They slept during the day inside their cardboard tube, played with each other, and acted very mouse-like. The junk food mice, on the other hand, destroyed their cardboard tube, were no longer nocturnal, stopped playing with each other, fought often, and two mice eventually killed the third and ate it. After the three month experiment, the students rehabilitated the two surviving junk food mice with a diet of whole foods. After about three weeks, the mice came around.
Sister Luigi Frigo repeats this experiment every year in her second grade class in Cudahy, Wisconsin, but mercifully, for only four days. Even on the first day of junk food, the mice’s behavior “changes drastically.” They become lazy, antisocial, and nervous. And it still takes the mice about two to three weeks on unprocessed foods to return to normal. One year, the second graders tried to do the experiment again a few months later with the same mice, but this time the animals refused to eat the junk food.
Across the ocean in Holland, a student fed one group of mice genetically modified (GM) corn and soy, and another group the non-GM variety. The GM mice stopped playing with each other and withdrew into their own parts of the cage. When the student tried to pick them up, unlike their well-behaved neighbors, the GM mice scampered around in apparent fear and tried to climb the walls. One mouse in the GM group was found dead at the end of the experiment.
It’s interesting to note that the junk food fed to the mice in the Wisconsin experiments also contained genetically modified ingredients. And although the Appleton school lunch program did not specifically attempt to remove GM foods, it happened anyway. That’s because GM foods such as soy and corn and their derivatives are largely found in processed foods. So when the school switched to unprocessed alternatives, almost all ingredients derived from GM crops were taken out automatically.
Does this mean that GM foods negatively affect the behavior of humans or animals? It would certainly be irresponsible to say so on the basis of a single student mice experiment and the results at Appleton. On the other hand, it is equally irresponsible to say that it doesn’t.
We are just beginning to understand the influence of food on behavior. A study in Science in December 2002 concluded that “food molecules act like hormones, regulating body functioning and triggering cell division. The molecules can cause mental imbalances ranging from attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder to serious mental illness.” The problem is we do not know which food molecules have what effect. The bigger problem is that the composition of GM foods can change radically without our knowledge.
Genetically modified foods have genes inserted into their DNA. But genes are not Legos; they don’t just snap into place. Gene insertion creates unpredicted, irreversible changes. In one study, for example, a gene chip monitored the DNA before and after a single foreign gene was inserted. As much as 5 percent of the DNA’s genes changed the amount of protein they were producing. Not only is that huge in itself, but these changes can multiply through complex interactions down the line.
In spite of the potential for dramatic changes in the composition of GM foods, they are typically measured for only a small number of known nutrient levels. But even if we could identify all the changed compounds, at this point we wouldn’t know which might be responsible for the antisocial nature of mice or humans. Likewise, we are only beginning to identify the medicinal compounds in food. We now know, for example, that the pigment in blueberries may revive the brain’s neural communication system, and the antioxidant found in grape skins may fight cancer and reduce heart disease. But what about other valuable compounds we don’t know about that might change or disappear in GM varieties?
Consider GM soy. In July 1999, years after it was on the market, independent researchers published a study showing that it contains 12-14 percent less cancer-fighting phytoestrogens. What else has changed that we don’t know about? [Monsanto responded with its own study, which concluded that soy’s phytoestrogen levels vary too much to even carry out a statistical analysis. They failed to disclose, however, that the laboratory that conducted Monsanto’s experiment had been instructed to use an obsolete method to detect phytoestrogens—one that had been replaced due to its highly variable results.]
In 1996, Monsanto published a paper in the Journal of Nutrition that concluded in the title, “The composition of glyphosate-tolerant soybean seeds is equivalent to that of conventional soybeans.” The study only compared a small number of nutrients and a close look at their charts revealed significant differences in the fat, ash, and carbohydrate content. In addition, GM soy meal contained 27 percent more trypsin inhibitor, a well-known soy allergen. The study also used questionable methods. Nutrient comparisons are routinely conducted on plants grown in identical conditions so that variables such as weather and soil can be ruled out. Otherwise, differences in plant composition could be easily missed. In Monsanto’s study, soybeans were planted in widely varying climates and geography.
Although one of their trials was a side-by-side comparison between GM and non-GM soy, for some reason the results were left out of the paper altogether. Years later, a medical writer found the missing data in the archives of the Journal of Nutrition and made them public. No wonder the scientists left them out. The GM soy showed significantly lower levels of protein, a fatty acid, and phenylalanine, an essential amino acid. Also, toasted GM soy meal contained nearly twice the amount of a lectin that may block the body’s ability to assimilate other nutrients. Furthermore, the toasted GM soy contained as much as seven times the amount of trypsin inhibitor, indicating that the allergen may survive cooking more in the GM variety. (This might explain the 50 percent jump in soy allergies in the UK, just after GM soy was introduced.)
We don’t know all the changes that occur with genetic engineering, but certainly GM crops are not the same. Ask the animals. Eyewitness reports from all over North America describe how several types of animals, when given a choice, avoided eating GM food. These included cows, pigs, elk, deer, raccoons, squirrels, rats, and mice. In fact, the Dutch student mentioned above first determined that his mice had a two-to-one preference for non-GM before forcing half of them to eat only the engineered variety.
Differences in GM food will likely have a much larger impact on children. They are three to four times more susceptible to allergies. Also, they convert more of the food into body-building material. Altered nutrients or added toxins can result in developmental problems. For this reason, animal nutrition studies are typically conducted on young, developing animals. After the feeding trial, organs are weighed and often studied under magnification. If scientists used mature animals instead of young ones, even severe nutritional problems might not be detected. The Monsanto study used mature animals instead of young ones.
They also diluted their GM soy with non-GM protein 10- or 12–fold before feeding the animals. And they never weighed the organs or examined them under a microscope. The study, which is the only major animal feeding study on GM soy ever published, is dismissed by critics as rigged to avoid finding problems.
Unfortunately, there is a much bigger experiment going on—an uncontrolled one which we are all a part of. We’re being fed GM foods daily, without knowing the impact of these foods on our health, our behavior, or our children. Thousands of schools around the world, particularly in Europe, have decided not to let their kids be used as guinea pigs. They have banned GM foods.
The impact of changes in the composition of GM foods is only one of several reasons why these foods may be dangerous. Other reasons may be far worse (see http://www.seedsofdeception.com ). With the epidemic of obesity and diabetes and with the results in Appleton, parents and schools are waking up to the critical role that diet plays. When making changes in what kids eat, removing GM foods should be a priority.