GM Science Review and lack of GM health studies (17/7/2003)

The UK's GM Science Review is due to be published on Monday. Its publication will mark a watershed for the UK Government's strategy of denying health concerns of GM food and crops while allowing for some environmental and other uncertainties.

The strategy can be seen in UK Environment Minister Elliot Morley's recent comments in response to ex-Environment Minister Michael Meaccher's flagging up of the safety concerns, 'I am not as convinced as Michael about the health threats. The greater risk is environmental cross-contamination, and that's the focus of the field scale evaluations.'

It has been at its most transparent in the appointment of Sir John Krebs, who was known to be highly unsympathetic to concerns about GM foods before he was even appointed - dismissing them as "shrill, often ill-informed and dogma-driven", to head the Food Standards agency and his declaration of the safety of approved GM foods on day one of his appointment without subjecting thenm to any sort of review.

The Science Review Panel (SRP) drawing up the current review notably contains a majority of known GM supporters, including not only scientists from institutes that have received significant funding from the GM industry (eg Gale and Dale of the JIC), or have acted as its consultants (eg Chris Leaver - Syngenta, Rhone Poulenc), but also scientists directly in the employ of Monsanto and Syngenta.

One of these is Dr Andrew Cockburn, Monsanto's Director of Scientific Affairs (Europe & Africa). Unsurprisngly, Cockburn is a staunch defender of the current safety assessments of GM crops and food and of the highly controversial concept of "substantial equivalence".

According to a review of these issues by Cockburn, "genetically modified crops are as safe and nutritious as those derived from traditional crops. The lack of any adverse effects resulting from the production and consumption of GM crops grown on more than 300 million cumulative acres over the last 5 years supports these safety conclusions."

However, according to the paper below the published evidence to support Cockburn's claims is almost non-existent. There have been only ten published studies of the health effects of GM food/feed. The quality of some of these is questionable and a number were done in collaboration with commercially interested parties. Moreover, a number of those done independently found potentially negative changes which have never been explained.

Details of SRP panel members, and their backgrounds and interests, are available here.

1.Review of published studies of the health effects of GM food/feed
1. Review of published studies of the health effects of GM food/feed
from Gundula Azeez <[email protected]>

Dear friends,

"In vivo studies on possible health consequences of genetically modified food and feed - with particular regard to ingredients consisting of genetically modified plant materials" by Ian F. Pryme and Rolf Lembcke, Nutrition and Health, 2003, Vol 17, pp.1-8

In view of the forthcoming report of the GM Science Review on Monday, I would like to draw your attention to an important paper which has been passed to me by a Danish colleague and I think few people are aware of in the UK.

It says that there have only been ten published studies of the health effects of GM food /feed.  From my reading of the paper, the researchers found that the quality of some of these was inadequate.  Over half were done in collaboration with companies (fully or partially), and these found no negative effects on body organs.  The others were done independently and looked more closely at the effects on the gut lining.  Several of these found potentially negative changes which have not been explained.

As we know, similar effects on the gut lining were found in the unpublished animal feeding study on the Flavr Savr tomato.  In addition, there is the unpublished human feeding trial by Newcastle University which found that the transgenes transfer out of GM food into gut bacteria at detectable levels after only one GM meal.  The biotechnology companies often refer to c. 100 animal feeding studies (which they sent us) as proof of safety. However, these were designed to test the commercial value of the animal feed, not safety.  Anyway, many of these studies were duplicates and not all were published.

Science is about testing and proving a hypothesis.  With only ten studies, many of which were inadequate, the hypothesis of the biotechnology companies and the FSA that GM foods are safe has actually not been proven, because the science to prove it simply does not exist.  Moreover, the limited available evidence indicates that there could be negative effects.

We are trying to put a link to the paper on our website.

Kind regards
Gundula Azeez
Policy manager
Soil Association
Bristol House, 40-56 Victoria Street, Bristol BS1 6BY
T: 0117 987 4560 (direct)    F: 0117 9252504

For enquiries including membership, please see website:
In vivo studies on possible health consequences of genetically modified food and feed--with particular regard to ingredients consisting of genetically modified plant materials.

Pryme IF, Lembcke R.

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Bergen, Arstadveien 19, NO-5009 Bergen, Norway.
[email protected]


This synopsis reviews published in vivo studies on possible health consequences of genetically modified food and feed where the ingredients in question have consisted of genetically modified plant materials. The following, however, have not been taken into consideration:--ingredients consisting of genetically modified microorganisms or parts of animals/fish--ingredients produced by/from genetically modified organisms but without any DNA present--studies on consequences for the environment or biodiversity--in vitro studies or computer simulations. According to a Norwegian report "Gen-mat" (NOU 2000:29), and a more recent search in Medline and Citations Index, to our knowledge a total of ten studies have been published on the health effects of GM-foods and feeds. In this minireview the data made available in these published studies is discussed.

PMID: 12803276 [PubMed - in process]

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