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Chris Woolmams / Catherine Woollams
The dangers of GM foods and possible risks with cancer

GM Foods - Weapons of Mass Destruction?

Call them GM Foods or GMO, it doesn´t matter. Much has been written about the concerns and the politics. With GM foods, for the first time a company has been allowed to patent a seed, the life form of a food, by altering the DNA. The fact that it is synthetic allows the patent. No longer is it a corn seed, instead it is a number. But unlike all other foods which would need regulatory approval before they are launched, these foods are untouchable. They are unregulated, save by the manufacturers own hand. 

And this baffles most people. At the same time as an EU Directive seeks to make illegal the high street sales of herbs that have been consumed freely in Europe, China and India for thousands of years, you can openly buy something that was invented last year! How can that be? We have clear laws in the UK. You simply cannot launch a new food unless you can prove it safe.

The dangers of GM foods - or just a story of greed and politics?

As you will read, profits are a major factor involved in the GM story; profits for some very large companies in America, however much they might try to convince us that they are saving the world from starvation. And these American companies are blatantly supported by their Government, which is only too happy to see a credit in their horrendous and ongoing balance of payments shortfall.

The original, no-need-for-approval, fast track, self-regulatory approval was heralded by none less than Dan Quayle, who at the time was Vice-President of the USA. US Congress passed no new laws to allow GM introduction. Furthermore, prior to this, seeds were not allowed patents, being life forms. With the allowance to self-regulate went the unilateral US decision to allow the food companies to patent the seeds. GM seeds are a growing and major worldwide revenue earner for the US economy.

But the US Government support knows few restraints. It is well known in Europe how France, for example, has stood against taking GM foods. Now read this from WikiLeaks concerning comments made by the US Ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton, via cables to the US Government:

´Europe is moving backwards not forwards on this issue with France playing a leading role, along with Austria, Italy and even the (European Commission)... Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voice.´

Note the word ´retaliation´. But it gets worse.

´Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory...´

So a sustainable effort against ´the worst culprits´ (those not wanting GM foods) in ´retaliation´ for simply not wanting synthetic and unregulated foods growing in your country!

What lovely people!

Weapons of mass destruction? Or feeding the world?

A simple story of poor science.

This is a story more than a report. A story centred on ´Poor Science´. Nothing more, nothing less. What the Americans involved have singularly failed to realise is that science is not mixing chemicals together, or moving genes around. Science is about RIGOUR. It is about being able to prove to doubters that what you say is true, based on clear and logical research evidence. The FDA correctly demands Clinical Trials on drugs against a control group, and they hold these trials over at least 5 years studying both the benefits and the side-effects. Many critics feel that even this is not rigorous enough and still allows harmful and even dangerous drugs into the mass population. But GM foods blatantly flaunt any and all of this discipline and rigour. They lie outside of such FDA demands.

Proponents of GM foods have now taken to attempting to bully the doubters, who number many top scientists. Debate, after all, is another essential ingredient in science. But as we all know, bullies tend to be people with low self-confidence and/or something to hide. In this case it is poor science and a total lack of rigour in the evidence provided.

1. The science of Genetic Modification:

The theory runs that if you modify the genetic structure of a seed in a certain way, the resultant plant could be made to be immune to attacks from certain moulds or funghi, for example, or could be made such that certain pesticides, weedkillers/herbicides had no effect on the resulting crop, just on all the surrounding weeds. Also, if the weeds and microrganisms cannot attack this new resistant crop, then you need less pesticide/herbicide. Stronger crops could be produced and more yield per acre could result.

The flaws in this logic are many. For example, genetic modification can use genes which have never been part of the human food supply chain; although inclusion of these genes has always seemed ´logical´ to scientists, to date in the laboratory certain of these have produced unexpected results and were not used. Who knows if that would happen in real life over the fullness of time with the ones that were eventually used?

No long-term testing has shown that these genetic changes cannot get into the organisms (and humans) that eat the resultant food. But at a lower level, often genetic engineers use antibiotic-resistance genes to code genetically engineered cells. What happens if bacteria attacking the crops pick up this antibiotic resistance? What happens if the bacteria in your gut do? (New Scientist 1999) 

Genetic engineering has been shown to produce allergens in food (Nordlee 1966). So humans may develop more allergies to the foods they eat (a doubling of allergic reaction to GM soya milk was noted in the UK in the first two years of its use). 

There is precedence for concern. Mayeno, 1994, reported on genetically modified bacteria that formed tryptophan and killed 37 people with over 1500 becoming paralysed.

The surrounding ecology may be damaged as farmers ´test´ GM foods. Not just the soil´s infrastructure and life forms, but through cross polination of adjacent ´normal´ crops.

Genetic pollution cannot be reversed. If this unregulated science turns out to be yet another example of scientific enthusiasm (Vioxx, Thalidomide) overwhelming the authorities, a few billion dollars of compensation is not going to make the problem go away.

2. The lack of approval:

There is an excellent review article from the Institute for Responsible Technology in the USA on the GM issue, which I quote from in places below. It is supported by 127 scientific research references. And it makes disturbing reading. This review states that in the late 90´s, and quite unusually, the FDA labelled the seeds ´Generally Recognised as Safe´ (GRAS). Normally, to obtain a GRAS rating, detailed peer-approved studies have to be completed - in the case of GM foods none was. In fact, the FDA ruled that the seeds are GRAS as long as the manufacturers say they are and has even removed references to scientific tests from reports!

Food compnies now do their own testing and their own approval, and usually publish results before launching new seeds. Equally Governments, do little in the way of independent checks. The GM foods sail through (past) the normal stringent regulatory systems in many major countries.

The flaws in the system are clear: Consider the observation by Judy Carman an Epidemiologist and GM expert when reviewing Food Safety Australia New Zealand conclusions about the safety of GM foods, that they overlooked potential problems including birth defects, cancer and long-term nutritional deficiencies. ´A review of 12 feeding trials includes none with people and one where the seed was not even tested with animals´. Tests usually only monitored effects after 7 to 14 days and then only looked for any effects from the planned genetic change and not for any side effects or unplanned effects. Some experiments only tested the foods with five or six animals.

Often the ´studies´ actioned at the manufacturers´ laboratories are kept confidential because of ´Business Interests´. This has already been condemned by the Royal Society of Canada. Dr Dean Metcalf in one Government panel review said that were he reviewing the GM food for a journal it would be rejected, such was the lack of research provided.

The US National Academy of Sciences has stated clearly that this system is seriously flawed as have similar institutions in Europe and Canada.

But the greater worry is that existing systems and even laws in major countries are being flouted. If I were to launch a new food today, it is not enough to prove there are no negatives; I have to prove it is safe for human consumption. And the British Medical Association has stated that there is no evidence that GM foods are safe.

. the case of GM foods no peer-approved studies

                                    had been completed

For example, Bt toxin is used by organic farmers as a spray to kill off unwanted bugs. Scientists then assumed - but didn´t proove - that Bt toxin could be incorporated into the very seed and plant. And since it was ´harmless´ as a spray, it would be harmless after incorporation into the plant and its ingestion by humans. All assumption, no science.

In fact Bt as a spray, washes off and degrades quickly. But even then farm workers often get serious allergic reactions to it. In India, where it is used on cotton crops, the workers take a daily anti-histamine tablet! Tests on farmer workers in the US show it can cause irritation of eyes, skin and respiratory tract; and it can produce an increase in antibody reaction in the immune system.

Bt incorporated into plants is estimated by critics to be over 1000 times more concentrated and clearly doesn´t wash off; you eat it.

More than 20 farmers in the USA reported that their pigs fed GM corn, had low conception rates and false pregnancies. Some gave birth to bags of water! Other farmers from Germany (with cows) and India (with sheep) reported up to a quarter of their herds dying as a result of GM food consuption, or merely grazing where GM cotton had previously grown. (See Jeffrey Smith´s book Genetic Roulette for references)

Independent research has shown that Bt ingestion produces an immune reaction, which can last and make the recipient more prone to allergies. The immune response was found to be as potent as that in response to cholera! (M. Malatesta, B. Baldelli, S. Battistelli, C. Tiberi, E. Manuali, M. Biggiogera, Nuclear Changes Induced in Hepatocytes after GM Diet are Reversible, 7th Multinational Congress on MicroscopyEuropean Extension (2005): 267268).

3. Antibiotic resistance

The Responsible Technology review covers the way such seeds are produced and the errors, and toxins that can occur. Even the FDA prepared a report on the fear that Antibiotic Resistant Marker genes (ARM) could transfer into the beneficial bacteria of the intestine.

´Antibiotic Resistant Marker genes would be a

               SERIOUS HEALTH HAZARD´ - FDA report. 

One FDA report actually wrote in capital letters that ARM would be a SERIOUS HEALTH HAZARD as they could create a new breed of bacteria immune to antibiotics.

4 Less Pesticide and Herbicide use?

Whatever the original claims, about 99 per cent of the seed now used is herbicide-resistant (80 per cent) or pesticide-producing (19 per cent). In both cases the farmers sign a deal that each year they will purchase new seed. Using the herbicide resistant seed also involves an agreement to use the manufacturer´s herbicide. Should they keep seed back, the farmer will be ´struck off and will no longer be supplied. This is potentially big business.

Already statistics are showing that, despite original claims to the contrary, herbicide usage is increasing, as are herbicide resistant weeds. This is hardly surprising and can only get worse.

In Cancer Watch we have covered the Thai Government declaring that thousands of years of use of crushed herbs like chilli, garlic, neem and so on was to be declared ´hazardous´. Farmers had to seek approval for the concentrations of these herbal pesticides, or be fined. Instead they could use chemicals. So now they make up mixtures of chemical and use those freely. But many cannot read, and so the concentrations they mix up and use can be excessive and dangerous. Thailand now uses more chemicals per head of the population than anywhere else in S.E. Asia. Other farmers in the third world countries have been told that these new crops are resistant to pesticides and herbicides and so spray away merrily. Already, both the UK and US import agencies have declared levels of pesticides on imported foods to be above danger limits set for home grown crops. 

The companies that supply the seed, more often than not, insist the pesticides and herbicides are purchased from them too.

5 Organ defects; pre-cancer conditions

A number of studies using potatoes, corn, soy and canola have shown liver damage in the GM food fed animals, while others have shown GM fed animals had impaired gene expression, greater mortality and more organ damage overall. Smaller babies are also observed. In other cases (for example with GM Soy) higher incidence of allergies is noted.

Overlooked birth defects, cancer and long-term nutritional deficiencies

In Cancer Watch we have covered reports of GM potatoies in Russia causing organ problems and seemingly increasing cancer risk.

Of course, there have been independent studies. One showed that GM soy had 12-14 per cent less cancer-fighting phytoestrogens. However these are often countered by other studies from the seed firms and the research waters are most usually muddied.

Back in 1996, Dr Arpad Pusztai was commissioned by the UK Government to lead a 20 member consortium to develop a set of our own rigorous standards to test these GM foods. His defined protocols have never been adopted. In fact, undaunted, he then conducted several independent reviews himself, and his team brought about the withdrawl of two GM foods:

GM soy had 12-14 per cent less cancer fighting phytoestrogens

Two research studies did cause GM Foods to be rejected: (V E Prescott, Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 2005; and Ewan, Pusztai 1999 Lancet). In one, rats fed GM potatoes had pre-cancerous cell growth in the intestines, underdeveloped brains and organs and weakened immune systems. In the other, GM peas promoted an allergic reaction in mice, suggesting a possibility of anaphylactic shock in humans. In both cases the approval research team used advanced research techniques, none of which has ever been used with GM foods already on the market! So who knows what might turn up if similarly advanced techniques were used with the other GM foods?

What concerns me, as a comparative layman (although I am an Oxford University educated Biochemist) is that we are only just really discovering the importance to our health contributed by the bacteria in our gut. 4000 research studies over the last 5 years have shown a clear picture: That they aid our digestion, help release our vitamins, help produce anti-cancer chemicals, help chelate and remove cancer forming chemicals such as excess oestrogens and nitrosamines, and by their presence they produce an antibody reaction stimulating an estimated 80 per cent of our immune response and even holding our ´immune memory´ through that process.  Mess with them and the human surrounding them is in serious trouble. (Readers might like to read an article on ´Beneficial Bacteria´. Click here)

In summary:

The whole issue seems to be one of business and National interests trampling over regulation, good science, common sense and your health. 

If, having read this, you are concerned why not write to your MP immediately with a demand for a detailed explanation as to why there are no proper controls in place by your country before GM seeds are grown in it and GM foods are sold in the shops. All this, when there are clear laws governing the launch of new food products.

You might also point out the ridiculous nonsense that GM foods are sold freely on the high streets of your country without adequate testing or regulation, while 5,000 year old herbs (whose long term benefits and side-effects are well known and documented) cannot be sold as openly and are about to be regulated almost out of existence in Britain. Where is the HEALTH logic in that?

In the UK there must be an added question over why the Pusztai protocols have never been adopted. What benefit can the British population possibly derive from allowing improperly tested foods onto our market and quite possibly into the genetic fibre of our children?

It is extremely worrying.


To read a 2003 piece on how Britain came to take GM foods in the first place - click here.

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