Con­cerns over GMO pota­toes

Franklin County News - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE - JOHN ALLEN

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?


Let­ters should not ex­ceed 250 words and must have full name, res­i­den­tial ad­dress and phone num­ber. The ed­i­tor re­serves the right to abridge or with­hold any cor­re­spon­dence with­out explanation. Let­ter may be edited. Write to Let­ters to the Ed­i­tor, Franklin County News, PO Box 14, Pukekohe or email julie.kaio@fair­fax­me­ with your views.

John Allen

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