A 3 million dollar, ten-year trial of genetic modification (GM) on
field peas at The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization
(CSIRO), Australia's national science research organization, was scrapped last
week (November 18, 2005) when the GM pea caused inflammation in the lungs of
mice it was fed to. (1)
Pea weevil takes a 30% whack out of Australia's 100 million dollar pea industry
and the GM strain, which inserted a bean gene into the peas that the pesky weevil
could not digest, was touted to reduce the need for insecticide to tackle the
But scientists at the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra who
led the immunological research found that when inserted into the pea, the bean
gene triggered an immune reaction in mice. Their results were published in the
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Slight as it seems, the case has fired up the anti-GM movement and may even
have the potential to derail the biotech juggernaut. Point by point, here's
* Though CSIRO insists that the case shows that regulating GM does work,
it does no such thing. Instead, it shows up the alarmingly weak science behind
GM. Greenpeace spokesman Jeremy Tager said that Food Standards Australia New
Zealand (FSANZ) approved a type of GM corn, Mon863, for consumption even though
it had caused "serious organ damage" to rats in Germany. The FSAZ
also claimed publicly that the rat study did not mean the corn was "unsafe."
Greenpeace Germany sued the corn manufacturer, Monsanto, in 2004 to require
it to release the rat study findings.
The problem gets worse in the US, which unlike Australia, does not even have
a scientific body that studies food technology before springing it on the public.
With rather touching trust, the FDA leaves the job of guarding pubic health
to the biotech industry. So the only reason we know that Monsanto's soy is OK
for human beings, is because Monsanto says so.
The FDA's convenient see-no-evil stance goes back to a 1992 policy which claims
GM foods don't differ from other foods in any "meaningful or uniform way."
But documents revealed by a lawsuit years later tell a different story. It seems
the FDA's own experts did indeed think that GM foods were hazardous, but they
were shunted aside by the FDA's policy chief, none other than ex-Monsanto attorney
and future vice- president, Michael Taylor. Any wonder that a FDA microbiologist
dismisses the agency's GM policy as "a political document" without
scientific basis. Ultimately, the FDA keeps all regulation of GM voluntary,
even the industry's massaged and poorly designed studies. (2)
*CSRO's deputy director T. J. Higgins trots out the hoary claim beloved among
biotech shills and flaks that "people have been eating GM food for 10
years and there isn't a single piece of evidence that it's any less safe than
Also not true. There is evidence that biotech is not safe. True, it's limited
but only for the astounding reason that in the history of biotech there have
been fewer than 20 peer-reviewed studies that pass the academic smell test and
no human clinical trials. There were just five papers published in peer-reviewed
journals until June 2000 (Jose Domingo, Science, June 9).
And the treatment meted out to one of them - the Pusztai-Ewen paper - illustrates
just why there have been so few. (3) Arpad Pusztai, a respected
biologist from Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland conducted a series
of experiments with Stanley Ewan on potatoes inserted with a gene from the snowdrop
plant. Rats fed the potatoes sustained organ damage and depressed immune systems.
Pusztai also found that GM destabilized the genome of the potato, a finding
that suggested that GM, unlike other breeding methods, might cause unpredictable
and uncontrollable effects that could contaminate non-GM crops. In 1998, before
the research was even completed, Pusztai was savaged by the British scientific
establishment and forced out of his position at Rowett even though independent
scientists in other countries validated his work Rowett was reported to have
received £140,000 from Monsanto before the blow-up.
Truth is, scientists who look like they might create obstacles for the biotech
profit machine, are usually dropped like, well, hot potatoes.
That's why the pea trial is important. Especially, following on the heels of
another bombshell ignored by the press. About a month ago at the Russian National
Association for Genetic Security, Dr. Irina Ermakova described how within three
weeks, half of a group of rats fed GM soy died, compared to less than a tenth
from a non-GM soy group and little over 5% of non-soy controls. Within two weeks
of feeding, the pups of the GM-fed rats were also significantly lighter in weight.
Ermakova used Monsanto's Roundup Ready soy which has genes inserted that let
it withstand Monsanto's "Roundup" brand of herbicide. But we're not
just talking herbicides and pesticides. About 85% of the soy gown in the US
is Roundup Ready and soy derivatives, including oil, flour and lecithin, are
found in the majority of processed foods sold in the US. That means many Americans
eat ingredients derived from Roundup Ready soy every single day.
And that's the bottom line. Everyday most of us eat a GM food that has been
demonstrated to kill living creatures and affect their off-spring. Any wonder
that soy allergies skyrocketed in the UK by 50% after GM soy was introduced;
that in Russia, allergies tripled in the three years when GM foods were widely
introduced; and that food-related sicknesses in the U.S. doubled between 1994
and 2001, when many GM foods entered the supermarket.(5)
It's not the activists but biotech groupies who need to put up or shut up.
If they can't prove their products are clean, time for them to take them off
the shelf and get into another line of business.
Lila Rajiva is a free-lance journalist and author of "The
Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American media," (Monthly
Review Press). She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) "GM Pea Causes Allergic Damage in Mice," Emma
Young, New Scientist, Nov. 21, 2005.
(2) See Sourcewatch
(3) "Hot Potato: Excerpt From 'Don't Worry It Is Safe
To Eat,'" Andrew Rowell, Z Mag, Znet.org, July 23, 2003
modified soy affects posterity: Results of Russian scientists' studies,"
Regnum News Agency, regnum.ru, cited on October 31, 2005.
(5) "Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government
Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You're Eating,"
Jeffrey M. Smith, Yes! Books, Septmeber 2003.