No guarantees for consumers that food is free of GM content

Representatives of the environmental organization Greenpeace presented the FAGE dairy company with four tons of non-genetically modified soya during a protest outside the factory on February 14, in an attempt to persuade the company to stop using dairy products from cows that eat fodder containing genetically modified organisms. The company’s products were on Greenpeace’s Consumer Guide issued in late January, a blacklist of products containing GM organisms, since FAGE cannot guarantee that its animal fodder is free of GM organisms. Greenpeace’s Consumer Guide showed that a large percentage of Greek products of animal origin are likely to contain GM organisms, as FAGE is not the only manufacturer that cannot give a guarantee regarding its animal fodder. The only real tests carried out on livestock feed are at customs, where soya and corn, imported in bulk as livestock fodder, are examined to see whether the genetic modification these products have undergone is of the approved kind. A senior Agriculture Ministry official told Kathimerini that the ministry does not carry out inspections of animal fodder for GM substances. «I don’t see why they should. After all, these substances are not illegal,» he said. Greenpeace’s Myrto Pispini, head of the organization’s consumer network, said the purpose of the protest at FAGE was to show Greece’s manufacturers that it was feasible to have «clean» primary resources. European opinion polls show that Greeks are opposed to the use of GM organisms in food. Just over 93 percent of Greeks do not want to eat GM foods and 85 percent to not want to eat eggs laid by hens fed with GM products. However, the Association of Greek Food Industries (SEBT), to which FAGE belongs, issued an announcement in response to the publication of Greenpeace’s list, accusing the organization of misleading the public. They claim that GM organisms do not end up in the final products even if they are in the food the animals are given. This claim was reiterated by FAGE as its official position. Indications of harmful effects Not all scientists are convinced of the safety of GM products. There have been very few studies made of the effects of consuming GM products by animals or humans. But in November 2000 it emerged in a court case in Britain against the cultivation of GM corn that chickens fed with GM organisms had a high mortality rate. At the trial, Professor Bob Orskov, director of Aberdeen University’s International Feed Resource Unit, said that speaking as a scientist, he himself would not drink milk from cows fed with GM corn. Associate Professor Dimitris Kouretas, of Thessaly University, told Kathimerini that it has been shown that genes resistant to antibiotics – such as those included in GM soya or corn – can pass into bacteria in the mouth of the animal and create bacteria resistant to antibiotics. «That can also happen in the gastrointestinal tract. When a person eats an animal product, (the bacteria) can be passed on in the same way. Although bacteria from animal products die in the stomach, the DNA remains and is likely to be transferred.» According to a survey last year by the universities of Munich, Kuhlbach and Braunschweig, some of the DNA eaten by animals passes straight into their tissue unchanged. In the experiments, chickens were fed with GM corn. It was seen that the corn DNA had passed into the animals’ tissue and could be detected in the liver, spleen, legs and breast. By eating one of these chickens, we absorb a gene that is resistant to specific antibiotics, which puts us at risk of developing the same resistance.