Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Trust the Animal Instinct on GM Food

The skepticisms on the safety of genetically modified (GM) food have been overwhelming, voiced by a majority of scientists and humanity throughout the world. Nevertheless, a handful of governments led by the United States have allowed biotech corporations to push GM food onto the world's food market. As recent as June 24, 2005, EU Environment Ministers, against the wishes of the European Commission, voted to uphold the safety ban on genetically modified organism (GMO) maize after scrutinizing a report by the biotech giant, Monsanto, that demonstrated rats fed on GMO corn developed abnormalities - damage to the kidneys and changes to their blood. Undoubtedly, animal testing on the safety of GM food is inadequate due to the short period of monitoring and observation and flawed by applying the traditional testing methods to a novel science, which opens up a whole new field of unknowns. The compelling evidence of GM food being unsafe comes from the animals themselves - preferring natural food to GM food and suffering internal injuries or succumbing to death after eating GM food.
Ironically, peer-reviewed papers on animal testing on the safety of GM food are far and few between, considering the aggressive campaigning for GM foods and products by the biotech companies in the last ten years. Both the U. S. government's agency and U. K. government's advisory committee on novel foods and products based their decisions on safety mainly on animal data results provided by biotechnology companies. Obviously, biotech corporations with self-serving interests provided their versions of the animal test results. It appears that most research papers by biotech corporations couldn't meet the scientific standards - to have the experiments replicated and published in peer-reviewed journals.
Animals have a natural instinct to know what's good for them. Throughout the United States, farmers have been reporting animals rejecting GMO crops: cattle and hogs that wouldn't eat when the GMO crops were mixed in with the ration; cattle would rather trot a longer distance to munch on the non-GMO corn than consume the nearby Round-up Ready (herbicide resistant) corn; a herd of deer mowed down natural tofu beans, ignoring the Round-up Ready variety across the road; and the raccoons raided an organic corn field, leaving Bt (induced insecticide) corn untouched down the road. If wild and domestic animals would only eat natural food and avoid various GM foods, they're certainly sensitive enough to know the distinction between natural and unnatural - as some scientists had claimed that GM food is no different from natural food. 

The most highly publicized case against the safety of GM food was the experiment on rats fed on GM potatoes. In 1995, Dr. Arpad Pusztai, a highly respected British scientist, embarked on the first government-funded research project to study the health effects of genetically modified crops on animals. The rats given GM potatoes (raw and cooked) after 10 days showed significant damages - impairment of the immune system, shrinkages of brain, liver and testicle, as well as pre-cancerous cell growth in the intestines and stomach. Later, Pusztai's colleague, Dr. Stanley Ewen of Aberdeen University Medical School reconfirmed Pusztai's findings that were finally published in the prestigious journal, The Lancet, in 1999. 

In the "Report for the Chardon LL Hearing: Non-suitability of genetically engineered feed for animals" >published by The Scientists for Global Responsibility in May 2002, Eva Novotny contradicted the official conclusions on the chicken and rat experiments. She pointed out three abnormalities as a result from testing Chardon LL: 1) some animals consumed GM feed did not gain weight rapidly enough; 2) some animals given GM feed displayed erratic feeding habits; and 3) mortality rate of chickens fed on GM maize doubled of those fed on non-GM maize.

The unpublished research of Calgene's FLAVR SAVR tomato (first GM food on the U.S. market) noted some laboratory rats that were given the GM crop developed stomach lesions; and seven of the forty rats died within two weeks. In Germany, twelve cows died after digesting Syngenta's GM maize, prompting the Swiss biotech company to compensate the farmer. The recent disappearance of the once populous Monarch butterflies in North America might be related to GM crops. The Monarch butterfly larvae died from eating milkweed that had been contaminated with Bt corn pollen. 

A few more papers on animal feeding studies on GM food were published, but most of them are experiments not designed to identify health effects conducted by biotech industry scientists.
In animal experiments to ensure thorough safety of GM food, four main areas of concern should be addressed for evaluation - toxic effects, allergic reactions, nutritional impacts, and antibiotic-resistant genes that play a role in the GM process. Besides the unknown long-term effects of GM food on health and environment, the restructured genetically modified DNA itself becomes unstable which enhances horizontal gene transfer and recombination - the very process for spawning new diseases and spreading antibiotic resistance that can cross species barriers.
As the only human experiment on GM food, a study at Newcastle University in 2002 sponsored by Food Standard Agency, had volunteers consume a single meal of GM soya. The genetically modified DNA was not dissolved, as scientists had claimed it would be, instead it was transferred into the intestinal bacteria, confirming the process of horizontal gene transfer. Coincidentally, since 1994 when GM food was first introduced, food borne illnesses have been dramatically on the rise in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Although the causes of those diseases remain largely unknown, the possibility that they may be linked to GM food cannot be dismissed.
The world's unease about GM food for human consumption exists for a very good reason - GM food hasn't been proven safe. As a novel science, GM food technology is unlike other modern technologies - it directly affects the environment, human health, and the future of our humanity. Any mishap could decimate the human race with an unknown deadly virus created from GM food. Perhaps, our sense of GM food - being unnatural and unsafe - comes from our animal instinct after all.

(First published on UniOrb.com, July 4, 2005)