Australian food regulators are being urged to investigate alarming reports from Europe that GM crops worldwide may contain a gene that is potentially poisonous to humans.
A study by the EU’s official food watchdog – the European Food Safety Authority – has revealed that the international approval process for GM crops failed to identify the gene when these food crops were being assessed for safety.
The discovery is the work of independent experts, the EFSA’s Nancy Podevin and Patrick du Jardin of the University of Liege in Belgium.
The findings will come as an embarrassment to pro-GM interests during their current PR blitz in Australia and overseas.
The potentially poisonous gene is found in GM crops such as corn and soya, which are now grown widely around the world for both human and animal consumption.
Researchers found that 54 of the 86 GM plants approved for commercial growing and food in the US contain the viral gene, which is known as ‘Gene VI’.
EFSA researchers concluded that the presence of segments of Gene VI ‘might result in unintended phenotypic changes’ including the creation of proteins that are toxic to humans.
They could also trigger changes in the plants themselves, making them more vulnerable to pests.
Scott Kinnear, Director of the Safe Food Foundation, says the discovery has many implications for GM foods. “First and foremost, this raises the urgent question of the safety of genetically modified foods,” he said. “The approval process used for the past 20 years is deeply flawed and protects the corporations selling GM food at the expense of public health and safety.”
“The failure also implicates the regulators and industry as a whole for their incompetence and dogged complacency in insisting that GM foods are safe to eat. The oft repeated line that one trillion GM meals have been eaten without any evidence of harm only reflects the truth of the well known fact that if you don’t look you won’t find”.
“Clearly the simple assurances of the food regulators and pro-GM scientists do not stand up to scrutiny in the face of the type of scientific investigation that they should be doing.”
NZ molecular biologist and geneticist Professor Jack Heinemann from the University of Canterbury, NZ, says the EU findings are a wakeup call on the need for independent studies on GM plants.
“While the work does not demonstrate harmful effects of the GM plants that contain gene VI sequences, it does make clear that they could have been overlooked by historical risk assessments.”
For interview or more information (till 9 am Wednesday January 23)
Scott Kinnear, Director, The Safe Food Foundation 0419 881 729