SA's attitude to GM foods 'unbelievable' (22/9/2005)

'Clear industry manipulation of research and political collusion'

SA's attitude to GM foods 'unbelievable'
Melanie Gosling
Independent Online (South Africa), Sep 22 2005

It was "simply unbelievable" that the South African government had allowed maize, a staple food, to be genetically modified to contain a poison.

It was clear the government had no idea of the risk this posed to the population.

This was said on Wednesday by best-selling US author Jeffrey Smith, who is visiting southern Africa to raise awareness about the health, environmental and financial risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

"Maize has been genetically engineered with a poison designed to kill pests. What impact is there on human health from eating a pesticide? In the US it is simply assumed the pesticide is safe.

But mice fed on it developed an immune response equivalent to that of cholera. And this is being put into mielie meal, which is a huge percentage of the diet here. In the US people get only 3% to 5% of their calorific intake from maize," Smith said.

Originally it had been said that the GM genes were destroyed in the digestive system.

However, a study done in the UK last year on seven volunteers with colostomy bags, had found intact genetically modified DNA which had survived the digestive system, Smith said.

The fear was that these GM genes would be transferred to bacteria in the human gut. Smith's best-selling book Seeds of Deception documents the biotechnology industry's manipulation of research.

Scientists who raised questions about GM food were silenced by the biotech industry with threats of lawsuits or withdrawal of funding.

"There is clear industry manipulation of research and political collusion. If it were not for this clear deception, these foods would not be in circulation," Smith said.

The person in charge of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, who wrote the FDA's policy on GM foods, was the same person who had been the lawyer for Monsanto, the biggest producer of GM seed in the world.

"One company gave data to the FDA that rats fed on GM tomatoes developed stomach lesions. Seven of the 40 died. They approved the tomato," Smith said.

Twenty-five farmers who fed only GM maize to their pigs subsequently found problems with the pigs' productivity. Some were sterile and some gave birth to "bags of water".

There were fewer than 20 peer-reviewed animal studies on GMOs, he said.

"GM foods have been an economic disaster for the US. The EU is refusing all but 1% of US corn (maize) because they don't trust that the US farmers can keep GM corn out of non-GM corn. Also meat and diary products are endangered. We lost billions of dollars in exports, now we're trying to push open the doors in Africa.

"I've been told by politicians and officials in Africa that they're under enormous pressure by the US government and biotech industry to invest in GM food.

"South Africa is investing in products which will cut out export to entire countries," Smith said.

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