GENTECH archive


Lancet says GMO have not been tested accurately

The Lancet has an editorial rather critic toward FDA and proponents of =
The firsts lines are strong in such a journal.


Volume 353, Number 9167, 29 May 1999
 Health risks of genetically modified foods=20

Crops genetically modified to have reduced susceptibility to pests are
promoted as a solution to low food yields in developing countries. The
motive of these promoters is profit, not altruism. Monsanto, one of
the largest developers of genetically modified crops, has developed a
grain that gives an improved crop and is sterile, so instead of
keeping back some seeds for the next year's sowing, farmers must
return to the supplier for more.

In view of this unbridled commercial approach to genetic modification,
it is perhaps not surprising that companies have paid little evident
attention to the potential hazards to health of genetically modified
foods. But it is astounding that the US Food and Drug Administration
has not changed their stance on genetically modified food adopted in
1992 ( ). They announced in
January this year, "FDA has not found it necessary to conduct
comprehensive scientific reviews of foods derived from bioengineered
plants . . . consistent with its 1992 policy". The policy is that
genetically modified crops will receive the same consideration for
potential health risks as any other new crop plant. This stance is
taken despite good reasons to believe that specific risks may exist.

For instance, antibiotic-resistance genes are used in some genetically
modified plants as a marker of genetic transformation. Despite
repeated assurances that the resistance genes cannot spread from the
plant, many commentators believe this could happen. Of greater concern
is the effect of the genetic modification itself on the food. Potatoes
have been engineered with a gene from the snowdrop to produce an
agglutinin which may reduce susceptibility to insects. In April last
year, a scientist, Arpad Pusztai, from the Rowett Research Institute
in Aberdeen, UK, unwisely announced on television that experiments had
shown intestinal changes in rats caused by eating genetically
engineered potatoes. He said he would not eat such modified foods
himself and that it was "very, very unfair to use our fellow citizens
as guineapigs".

A storm of publicity overtook Pusztai. He was removed from his job, a
sacrifice that did not quell public alarm in the UK or in Europe. Last
week (May 22, p1769 ) we reported that the Royal Society had reviewed
what it could of Pusztai and colleagues' evidence and found it flawed,
a gesture of breathtaking impertinence to the Rowett Institute
scientists who should be judged only on the full and final publication
of their work. The British Medical Association called for a moratorium
on planting genetically modified crops. The UK Government, in
accordance with national tradition, vacillated. Finally, on May 21 the
Government came out with proposals for research into possible health
risks of genetically modified foods.

Shoppers across Europe had already voted with their feet. By the end
of the first week in May, seven European supermarket chains had
announced they would not sell genetically modified foods. Three large
food multinationals, Unilever, Nestl=E9, and Cadburys-Schweppes
followed suit. The Supreme Court in India has upheld a ban on testing
genetically modified crops. Activists in India have set fire to fields
of crops suspected of being used for testing. The population of the
USA, where up to 60% of processed foods have genetically modified
ingredients, seem, as yet, unconcerned.

The issue of genetically modified foods has been badly mishandled by
everyone involved. Governments should never have allowed these
products into the food chain without insisting on rigorous testing for
effects on health. The companies should have paid greater attention to
the possible risks to health and of the public's perception of this
risk; they are now paying the price of this neglect. And scientists
involved in research into the risks of genetically modified foods
should have published the results in the scientific press, not through
the popular media; their colleagues, meanwhile, should also have
avoided passing judgments on the issue without the full facts before

The Lancet