In the summer of 2002, the British government sponsored the first ever research on genetically modified food (GM) using human subjects. Researchers fed seven volunteers a single meal of soy burgers and soy milkshakes. The soy was genetically modified, as are 80% of the soybeans planted in the U.S. Foreign genes are inserted into the beans' DNA, which allow the plant to survive the application of herbicide.
The volunteers were selected because they had all previously had their lower intestines removed and were using a colostomy bag-the bag collected digested material after it passed through the small intestine. Researchers were surprised to discover that in every case, a large amount of genetically modified DNA survived digestion and remained intact. (Biotech companies insisted that DNA is broken down). The modified gene from the soybean transferred into DNA of bacteria inside the gut of three volunteers. Their intestinal bacteria, like GM soybeans, contained a foreign gene that allowed the bacteria to survive a dose of weed killer. No one knows what the health consequences of this are.
Scientists are more concerned about a related danger. Most genetically engineered crops contain an antibiotic resistant marker (ARM) gene. These allow the cells to survive an otherwise deadly application of antibiotics. The ARM gene used in GM corn, for example, confers resistance to ampicillin. What if an ARM gene jumped from our corn muffins into our gut bacteria? Could bacteria in our body become resistant to antibiotics? The British Medical Association thinks so and cited this serious risk as one of their reasons for wanting an immediate moratorium on genetically engineered foods. Having disproved these assumptions, the soy burger study raises a more serious threat. Before inserting a foreign gene, engineers attach a promoter to keep the gene permanently switched on. Promoters overpower the cells' regulatory system, which normally turn on genes only as needed. But promoters can sometimes unintentionally switch on other naturally occurring genes in the DNA, causing them to pump out potentially toxic or allergenic proteins. They may also create a "hotspot," a point of genetic instability that can wreak havoc on DNA structure and function. Scientists are afraid that if these promoters transferred to bacteria or internal organs, they might turn genes on at random or create unstable DNA.
Stanley Ewen, one of Scotland's leading experts in tissue disease, believes that promoters might generate uncontrolled cell growth that could theoretically lead to cancer. Evidence of unusually high cell growth in the digestive tract of animals was discovered in three of the ten published animal feeding studies on GM foods. Two showed increased cell growth. One showed increased weight of the intestines. The other seven were not necessarily designed to detect such changes. In addition to the cell growth, a study published in the prestigious Lancet found that young GM-fed rats also had more sluggish immune systems, partial atrophy of the liver and smaller brains, livers, and testicles. Researchers believe that the unstable, unregulated, and aggressive promoter may be the culprit. (When a scientist tried to warn the public about these discoveries, he lost his job and was silenced with threats of a lawsuit).
Geneticists in Canada and the UK raise an even greater threat. They say that DNA contains dormant viruses that have accumulated over eons of biological evolution. While most have eroded, some may be intact and could, in theory, be switched on by a promoter. The question of whether promoters in GM food can wake up sleeping viruses, create potentially cancerous cell growth, turn on genes at random, or create genetic instability, is theoretical at this point, with scientists arguing both sides. Unfortunately, no one is conducting tests to evaluate these threats. In the absence of long-term safety tests, many people avoid eating GM foods. The four main GM crops (unless labeled organic or Non-GMO) are soy, corn, cottonseed oil and canola oil. There is also Hawaiian papaya and a small amount of GM zucchini and yellow crookneck squash. GM enzymes, additives and sweeteners (aspartame) are used in many foods and there are dairy products made from cows injected with genetically engineered bovine growth hormone. Monsanto is now trying to introduce GM wheat.
To learn more about the dangers of GM food and their cover-up, see Jeffrey Smith's new book, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You're Eating. To order, call 888-717-7000, or www.seedsofdeception.com.