Science wars over GM foods - Pusztai/FSA/Morley/Monsanto... (25/6/2003)

Thanks to Jean Saunders for several of these and comments.

*Modifying the truth (on Pusztai)
*Minister's GM evidence 'flawed' (on Meacher's ministerial replacement)
*Unhealthy humans 'taint' GM test (FSA and Monsanto spin)
*Mae-wan Ho on FSA spin on the Newcastle study
Modifying the truth
BBC Wildlife Magazine, vol 21 no 7, July 2003

Julian Jocelyn's letter (June) about Arpad Pusztai's GM work is misleading.

Dr Pusztai went public with his results prior to peer review because there was a clear public interest issue. He did so with the full support of his Institute, the Rowett. The major part of his research has since passed peer review and been published in The Lancet.

But if peer review was the real issue, why do pro-GM scientists make assertions about the safety of GM food which are not backed up by peer-reviewed and published evidence?

Dr Pusztai's opponents did go on public record with erroneous statements about his work. These included claims that the substance genetically engineered into the potatoes was a known toxin (false); that he used a poisonous line of potatoes (not borne out by evidence); that no GM potatoes were fed to the rats (false); that raw potatoes were fed, which are toxic (but cooked GM potatoes also produced problems).

Mr Jocelyn's statement that Dr Pusztai "admitted his mistakes" is unjustified, in that his research has never been repeated and found faulty, in spite of the Royal Society's call for replication. Far from Dr Pusztai's career being "over" at the time of the row, he enjoyed a world-class reputation, and retirement was not on the cards.

Claire Robinson
Arable news
Minister's GM evidence 'flawed'
Source: FWi 24 June 2003
By Farmers Weekly staff

ENVIRONMENT minister Elliot Morley has been accused of using flawed evidence to convince the public that eating genetically modified food is safe.

The minister reportedly said two studies by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Council for Science demonstrated the safety of GM foods.

But the Daily Mail says that both studies turned out to be academic and theoretical reviews of old material.

The paper reports: "It later emerged that neither [study] had involved the sort of human and animal feeding trials that would provide such evidence.

"Mr Morley's comments were condemned by GM critics as being part of Downing Street's campaign of spin and subterfuge."

The paper reports the story as part of its GM campaign called Frankenstein Food Watch.

It adds: "Last year a University of Newcastle report found that eating just one GM meal can change the bacteria in the gut.

"However, the work was abandoned by the Food Standards Agency as 'insignificant'."

Mr Morley spoke on BBC Radio Four's Today programme about claims made by his predecessor, former environment minister Michael Meacher.

Mr Meacher had claimed that the government's Food Standards Agency had tried to bury results from the only human research carried out.

Asked on Monday (23 June) whether any other human studies had shown GM in a positive light, Mr Morley said: "There have been very many studies.

"There has never been any indication of the slightest risk to health.

"There have been studies in this country, in France and studies by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

"In terms of existing products there has never been any indication that there is a health risk."

The Mail says the FAO study looked only at nutritional values of GM food versus conventional food, and did not examine health and safety with any human trials.

The paper adds that work by the Paris-based International Council for Science involves no new research.

"It concludes GM foods, such as soya, are "safe" because various governments have said so."
Unhealthy humans 'taint' GM test
Source: FWi 24 June 2003
By Tom Allen-Stevens

[comment from Jean Saunders: You are going to love this piece from Farmers Weekly Interactive.  So only healthy people are going to eat GM food - ie not the starving and sick!]

HUMAN guinea pigs who were fed genetically modified food already had health problems, according to the Food Standards Agency.

The FSA issued a statement on Tuesday (24 June) about the study after concerns were raised by former environment minister Michael Meacher.

Mr Meacher had said that certain studies which questioned the safety of GM food had been brushed aside by the government's food safety inspector.

But the FSA said the study by Newcastle University was dismissed largely because it was a small study carried out on people who already had unrelated health problems.

The study aimed to monitor the health effects of GM food and examined whether DNA in GM soya survives passage through the human intestines.

Just one GM soya meal was fed to seven ileostomy patients, who have had an operation to divert part of the small intestine following a painful blockage.

Monsanto criticised the study, pointing out that it should have been carried out on a more representative sample of the population.

"The change in gut bacteria is most likely entirely unrelated to GM food," said Monsanto-UK director of corporate affairs Tony Combes.

He disputed claims made by Mr Meacher that human health issues of GM food had not been properly addressed.

"The health, safety and environmental assessments all of these products have to go through before coming to market ensure that these questions were satisfactorily answered many years ago."

The Newcastle study had found that small amounts of DNA from the soya did survive in the upper regions of the gut.

But the FSA concluded that this was entirely normal for any food DNA, and noted that no transgenes from GM food were incorporated into the gut microflora of the volunteers.

"Such fragments of DNA cannot change the genetic make-up of the body," said the FSA.
[via Jean Saunders, responses to FSA press release on the Newcastle study]
Mae Wan Ho has added in her response to the original message below. [For clarity, FSA is prefixed to paras by the Food Standards Agency and Maewan Ho’s paras are prefixed by her name.]
From: Mae-Wan Ho <[email protected]
Sent: Tuesday, June 24, 2003 1:45 PM
Subject: Re: GM-ACT: FSA statement regarding research into the safety of gm food

More spin from the FSA who state:

"The fact that fragments of GM DNA survived in the upper regions of the gut is entirely consistent with existing scientific knowledge, which is that fragments of DNA from food eaten by humans can survive in the gut. Such fragments of DNA cannot change the genetic make-up of the body."

This is false reassurance. Fragments can be large or small, can be a gene or a promoter. And even fragments can become incorporated into the genome, and can have biological effects. Parts of promoters less than 10bp long for example, are binding sites for factors that boost gene expression.

There are two points here: - we were told that transgenic material would be broken down by stomach acids - now they are changing their tune - no further research was undertaken to see if the DNA had entered the body eg cells in the lining of the gut, bloodstream, liver etc etc. so they cannot claim that the genetic make up of the body cannot change.

Food Standards Agency statement regarding research into the safety of genetically modified food
Tuesday, 24 June 2003

FSA: The Food Standards Agency commissioned and published a series of five research projects on the safety of GM foods in July 2002. All the completed studies were published on the Agency website, and four of the five pieces of research were also published in scientific journals.

FSA: The smallest of the five studies, conducted by scientists at Newcastle University, examined whether DNA in genetically modified soya survives passage through the intestine of human volunteers. Although small fragments of GM DNA survived in the upper regions of the gut of some participants in the study, no GM material survived the passage through the entire human digestive tract, and no intact transgenes from GM food were incorporated into the gut microflora of the human volunteers.

Maewan Ho: This passage contains falsehood, and also give false assurance. First, intact transgenes coding for herbicide tolerance were transferred to bacteria in the gut contents isolated from colostomy bags of subjects that have undergone ileotomy. Second, DNA that did not pass through the entire human gut could have gone into cells of the intestine, or through the gut wall into the blood stream. No monitoring for transgenic DNA in blood was carried out.

FSA: The fact that fragments of GM DNA survived in the upper regions of the gut is entirely consistent with existing scientific knowledge, which is that fragments of DNA from food eaten by humans can survive in the gut. Such fragments of DNA cannot change the genetic make-up of the body.

Maewan Ho: This is false, as stated above.

FSA: A report published by the Royal Society - produced by a panel of eminent independent international experts - in February 2002? noted that a normal diet for humans and animals comprises large amounts of DNA. It added: *.indeed digestion of DNA in the gastrointestinal tract may make a significant contribution to nutrition. . Given the very long history of DNA consumption from a wide variety of sources, it is likely that such consumption poses no significant risk to human health, and that additional ingestion of GM DNA has no effect.'

Maewan Ho: The difference between transgenic DNA and non-transgenic DNA is at issue here. There are many reasons to believe transgenic DNA is more prone to horizontal gene transfer and recombination, and may be more invasive than non-transgenic DNA. No experiment to follow this up has ever been carried out.

FSA: All GM foods approved to date in the EU have undergone a rigorous safety assessment. This assessment is carried out on a case-by-case basis and includes detailed consideration of the genetic modification that has been used, tests which address the potential for allergenicity and toxicity of the introduced protein, an analysis of the composition of the food and a consideration of the intended use of the food (e.g. whether it will be highly processed or eaten raw).

Maewan Ho: So-called rigorous safety assessment is nothing of the sort. Many tests are completely undiscerning. Expts have been poorly designed and executed, and significant differences have been dismissed.

Further information
Royal Society report, February 2002:
*Most ingested DNA is rapidly broken down in the intestinal tract (see Royal Society, 1998, section 3.4), although it can persist for some time in saliva (Schubbert et al., 1994). Nevertheless, low levels of uptake of gene-sized DNA into cells of the gastrointestinal tract have been detected (Duggan et al., 2000; Schubbert et al., 1996; Doerfler, 2000; Einspanier et al., 2001; Flachowsky, 2000). The uptake may be due to specialised cells of the lining of the gastrointestinal tracts (so-called M-cells), which actively sample gut contents as part of the process of protecting the body from infection (Nicoletti, 2000). This will normally have no biological consequences because the DNA will be degraded in the cell. There have been no reports of transgenes detected in the cells of cows fed GM maize, although the presence of plant chloroplast genes, which are present at about 1000 times higher concentration than any transgene, could be detected (Einspanier et al., 2001; Flachowsky, 2000). This suggests that DNA present in food can find its way into mammalian cells at some low frequency. In the unlikely event that the DNA is recombined into a host chromosome, the probability that it will exert any biological effect on that cell is very low. The likelihood of any biological consequence for the whole organism is even more remote.'

Maewan Ho: This review missed out the important finding that transgenic DNA can pass through the gut wall into the blood stream and from there to cells in all other organs and tissues.

FSA: The independent Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) advises the Food Standards Agency in the UK. The ACNFP consists of scientists from a variety of different disciplines (nutrition, molecular biology, toxicology, allergenicity and microbiology), two consumer representatives and an ethicist.
? Genetically modified plants for food use and human health - an update, The Royal Society, February 2002.

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