The Premier’s decision to allow genetically modified crops is also bad for the economy.
JOHN Brumby’s announcement to allow genetically modified (GM) foods to grow in Victoria threatens more than just the income of Australia’s farmers and food companies. There is irrefutable evidence that GM foods are unsafe to eat.
Working with more than 30 scientists worldwide, I documented 65 health risks of GM foods. There are thousands of toxic or allergic-type reactions in humans, thousands of sick, sterile and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ and system studied in laboratory animals.
Government safety assessments, including those of Food Standards Australia New Zealand, do not identify many of the dangers, and a careful analysis reveals that industry’s superficial studies submitted to FSANZ are designed to avoid finding them. The process of inserting a foreign gene into a plant cell and cloning that cell into a genetically engineered crop produces hundreds of thousands of mutations throughout the DNA. Natural plant genes may be deleted or permanently turned on or off, and hundreds can change their function. This massive collateral damage is why GM soy has less protein, an unexpected new allergen, and up to seven times higher levels of a known soy allergen. It also may explain why British soy allergies skyrocketed by 50% soon after GM soy was introduced.
But there is another possible cause. Genes inserted into GM soy produce a protein with allergenic properties. Moreover, the only human feeding study ever conducted on GM foods found that those genes had transferred into the DNA of our gut bacteria and remained functional. This means that long after we stop eating a GM food, its potentially dangerous protein may be produced continuously inside our intestines.
GM corn and cotton have genes inserted that produce a pesticide called Bt. If the gene transferred from corn snacks, for example, it could turn our intestinal flora into living pesticide factories. Farmers on three continents link Bt corn varieties with sterility in pigs and cows, or deaths among cows, horses, water buffaloes and chickens. Hundreds of farm workers who pick Bt cotton get allergic reactions.
When sheep grazed on the cotton plants after harvest, one out of four died within a week — about 10,000 sheep died last year. Lab animals fed GM crops had altered sperm cells and embryos, a five-fold increase in infant mortality, smaller brains, and a host of other disturbing problems.
Documents made public by a lawsuit revealed that scientists at the US Food and Drug Administration warned that gene-spliced foods might lead to allergies, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems.
Although they urged superiors to demand long-term studies, official FDA policy claims they never heard such concerns and that no safety tests are required. The person in charge of that FDA policy was the former attorney for the biotech giant Monsanto — and later the company’s vice-president.
In the US, the White House had instructed the FDA to promote GM crops, hoping it would increase US exports. They were wrong. When 25% of US corn farmers planted GM varieties, corn sales to the EU dropped by 99.4%. All corn farmers suffered as prices fell by 13 to 20%. Soy and canola markets also closed, and the US now spends an additional $3 to $5 billion per year in subsidising the GM crops no one wants. The US Department of Agriculture admits that GM crops do not increase farmer profit and can actually hurt incomes; they do not increase yield and often produce less.
Canadian canola yields were down 7.5% and profits plummeted as exports were diverted from the premium-paying EU market to the low-priced Chinese. What was bad for Canada was good for Australia, as Australia captured non-GM markets and soon enjoyed a $63 price advantage.
Food marketers in North America deeply resent GM crops, which don’t offer a single consumer benefit. In fact 29% of Americans are strongly opposed to GM foods and believe they are unsafe. A growing number of doctors are prescribing a non-GM diet. Next year, the US natural food industry will remove all remaining GM ingredients and non-GM shopping guides will appear in stores nationwide.
Consumer buying pressure will likely force the entire food chain in North America to swear off GM within the next two years. Such a tipping point was achieved in Europe in April 1999, when virtually all major manufacturers vowed to go non-GM in a single week.
So with all this evidence, why is Australia turning a blind eye to the dangers of genetically engineered foods?
Australia should be sitting down and taking notice of the response to GM foods throughout the world.
With GM markets closing, the negative impact of GM in North America, and the overwhelming evidence of harm from GM food, it is certainly not the time to let the state ban expire.
With the state ban lifting in Victoria and now NSW, before we know it there won’t be any food on our tables that is not genetically engineered.
Jeffrey Smith, the author of Genetic Roulette and Seeds of Deception, is executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology in Iowa, USA.