NEWS

GM foods are still a threat, say researchers

A recent scientific experiment has raised serious questions about the safety of the genetically modified (GM) products that are readily available. The experiment linked mortality among newly born mice with the consumption of modified soya. Yet consumers and producers remain firmly opposed to GM products, as was made clear at a Balkan conference held in Thessaloniki with delegates from Turkey, Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Greece. A Russian scientist conducted a simple experiment in order find out what would happen to the offspring of mice that ate GM soya during pregnancy. The results of the experiment, which were announced during a conference held by the National Association for Genetic Security (NAGS), a Russian organization, came as a warning to companies that make vast amounts from producing GM foods. Irina Ermakova, head of the scientific staff at the institute of Neurophysiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, added Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soya, which has been genetically modified to be resistant to a specific insecticide, to the food of female mice. A second group of mice was given unmodified soya and a third group was given food that contained no soya. The experiment was begun two weeks before the mice conceived and continued for the duration of the pregnancy and birth. When the mice started giving birth, some of the infants that had been fed GM soya were very undersized. But the real shock came when the newly born mice started dying. Within three weeks, 25 of the 45 baby mice (55.6 percent) born to mothers fed on GM soya had died, compared with 9 percent of those fed on conventional soya, and 6.8 percent of those whose food contained no soya. Ermakova described the results as «early» since funds are needed to continue the experiment in order to draw reliable conclusions. However, the results are especially worrying because they raise doubts about the safety of a product that is readily available. Roundup Ready soya is very widely available in the United States, where it is used mainly in animal feed. In fact Roundup Ready represents an estimated 85 percent of the GM soya grown in the US. Dimitris Kouretas, assistant professor of biotechnology at the University of Thessaly, claims that the results are not at all surprising: «When alien DNA is introduced to a plant during the process of genetic modification, it enters a different position each time. Consequently, each time a plant is produced it has different properties, which may or may not be dangerous.» According to Kouretas, companies provide very inadequate information when applying for approval of a GM variety, and the European Union’s advisory committee is made up largely of individuals who are in favor of genetic modification. It is worth noting that, despite the objections that have been raised, the European Commission constantly approves new GM varieties that have previously been rejected by the EU’s Council of Ministers. The results of the experiment have not been published in any international journal so as to be evaluated by the scientific community. «This makes us a little cautious about the data. But it is not unusual for such research never to be published, precisely because the results do not favor GM products,» said Kouretas. However, the institute and Ermakova have invited her fellow scientists to engage in public debate to discuss the worrying results of the experiment. At the conference held in Thessaloniki on November 26-27, representatives of environmental organizations, agencies and citizens of Balkan countries made the first attempt to organize a Pan-Balkan zone against GM foods. As representatives from all the countries noted, consumers object to GM foods, but do not know which products contain them and how to protect themselves. Both Serbia and Albania acquired GM seeds as gifts from the US, but Turkey and most Balkan countries are in favor of legislation in line with EU law. Swiss vote ‘yes’ to moratorium Switzerland, home to the Syngenta firm, which is a leader in the field of research into and production of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is not obliged to follow the same paths as EU states. But it responded to a petition submitted by a coalition of environmental organizations, farmers and consumers by holding a referendum of whether to impose a five-year moratorium on GMOs. The Swiss voted in favor of the moratorium, which is now in force and covers the use GMOs in farming. During the course of the moratorium, imports of products that come from animals fed on GM foods will be permitted, though the Swiss would prefer any experimental crops to be labeled.