Concerns over GMO potatoes
Five years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, a fungal-like disease devastated the Irish potato crop. The consequent famine left an estimated million Irish people dead and another million emigrated.
There are three means to treating that destructive potato late blight disease. One sees crops treated with more chemicals than any other food plant. Another is biological control using a soilbased and naturally occurring fungus. Products of the third method, genetic engineering, were last week cleared for commercial release by the US Environmental Protection (EPA) and Food and Drug (FDA) Agencies. These potatoes will appear in food chains around the world this year.
Actually, GMO potatoes are not new. Monsanto marketed the world’s first GE crop - a potato - in 1998. That product was withdrawn from sale in the US in 2001, three years after scientific research in Europe raised concerns that there were ’’most likely health issues associated with GMO produce.’’
The US FDA allowed this food to be released for public consumption. When Stephen Drucker, author of the book ‘‘Altered Genes, Twisted Truth:’’ sued the FDA, declassified documents showed the FDA had ignored GMO safety warnings from its own scientists. Let me be clear about this. There is no scientific proof that GMO foods are not safe. But nor have they been proved to be safe. Like our own food safety regulator (FSANZ), the US FDA are charged with the responsibility of protecting public health. And like the US FDA, our own FSANZ regulator has ignored warnings about the risks of GMO foods.
A 2013 article in International, warned that GM plants using gene silencing mechanisms can create biosafety risks. In countering that study, the FSANZ argued ’’the authors have not taken into account the presence of a vast repertoire of RNA molecules in living organisms, the environment and our diet, which establishes a history of safe consumption by humans’’.
The lie to that assumption by our food safety regulator, is given in another 2013 study. Brazilian research scientists fed a single meal of jellyfish genetic material to young honey bees. That genetic material was used because it is not naturally found in bees, and was assumed to have insignificant impacts. As those bees aged, 10 per cent of their genes changed compared to the control bees. The authors concluded that such a massive change ‘‘undoubtedly triggered changes in the bees’ development, physiology, and behaviour’’.
The concern of scientists is that we do not know if there will be a similar change to our genes’ working, when we eat GMO potatoes. Can we trust our FSANZ regulator to prevent those GM potatoes entering the local food system until their safety is proved?
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