Easy to understand information on Genetically Modified Foods.

Traditional plant and animal breeding (not genetically modified foods) selects individuals that perform well and mates them together, generation after generation so offspring inherit genes for desired characteristics like high yield and resistance to disease. Traditional farmers do this with local breeds creating a diversity of locally-adapted crops and animals, but only individuals from similar species can be successfully cross-bred.

Genetic modification of food is something quite different from the cross-breeding that has been conducted by farmers for centuries. It deals with selecting a gene with a desired trait which could come from any plant or animal species – thereby mixing genes from across the species divide, which would never occur naturally in nature. Scientists also add transgenes to ‘switch on the desired protein in the nucleus, a terminator sequence, a marker gene all making up a gene cassette which is inserted into the nucleus of plant cells.

A fundamental assumption of the original scientists conducting genetic modification of food was that gene transfers occur naturally in traditional plant breeding and that GE only hastens these transfers, meaning that GE food crops are substantially equivalent to non-GE foods. It was due to this assumption that food control agencies across the world have legalise the planting of GE crops in their countries. However, this assumption has been proven wrong and GE crops couldn’t be more different from traditional crops with profound differences in the effects from GE foods.

Further more, not enough research has been done on the effects of GE foods on our health in order to guarantee their safety. By 2007 only 20 peer review animal feeding studies had been done on GE foods. None of these were long term studies and only one human feeding trial has been published.

What we do know from studies conducted is that:

• Rats fed GM tomatoes developed stomach lesions and died;

• Rats fed GM potatoes developed pre-cancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, partial atrophy of the liver and inhibited development of their brains, livers and testicles;

• Workers exposed to Bt Cotton developed allergies and skin irritations and respiratory problems;

• GM crops have altered levels of nutrients and toxins;

• Increased infant mortality rates;

• A GM food supplement killed 100 people;

• GM foods produce pesticides inside our intestines.

Even more worrying is that producers do not need to label their products as GM foods keeping consumers in the dark about what products they are buying are genetically modified!

South Africa and GM foods

South Africa is the only country in the world to have allowed its staple food to be genetically modified. With no labelling, there is no way to know if eating these foods is causing health problems.

In June 2007, French Research Institute Criigen produced a report on Mondanto’s research on their NK603Maize – which was approved by the South African government in 2002. They found that rats fed the GM maize and those fed conventional maize differed in brain, kidney, heart and liver measurements and had significant weight differences. They found Monsanto’s analysis of their data “improper and poor” as certain important information was omitted on grounds that it was commercially confidential.

The only human feeding trial carried out with GM foods revealed the possibility of the human gut producing pesticides and creating antibiotic resistance in humans.

Most of the Maize and 90% of the Soya products in South Africa today are produced from genetically modified ingredients.

For more information on GM foods in South Africa contact the South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering at safeage@mweb.co.za