Hazards of GE Foods & Crops: Examples of
What's Already Gone Wrong

This is part of a recent report by Norwegian scientists warning of the
serious hazards of genetically engineered foods and crops. For a full copy
of the report in English, contact:

TEL: +47 73 58 05 00
FAX: +47 73 58 05 01
ISSN 0804-1504
ISBN 82-7072-304-5
TE 803

During the short time that GMOs (mostly plants) have been employed a number
of documented hazards and risks have emerged which are included in the
[Norway scientists']

… Genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) was considered to be
substantially equivalent to its natural counterpart. Independent research
demonstrated that epsilon-N-acethllysine was substituted for lysine in the
engineered hormone (Violand et al,. 1994) Recent indications have been
published that suggest milk from cows treated with BGH contains an increased
concentration of IGF-1 which may lead to an enhanced risk of mammary cancer.
(Outwater et al ,. 1997 ; Gebauer et al,. 1998; Hawkinson et al,. 1998).

… GM cotton plants with inserted herbicide tolerance genes have shown two
types of malfunction. In some cases the plants dropped their cotton balls
and in others the tolerance genes were not properly expressed so that the GM
plants were killed by the herbicide (Fox, 1997). (The manufacturers blamed
extreme climate conditions and refuted claims of unpredictability put
forward by their opponents. They did however agree to pay substantial out
of court settlements to all the farmers who pressed charges against them).

… GM Tobacco plants were engineered to produce gamma-linolenic acid.
Instead they produced a toxic product; octadecatetraenic acid which does not
exist in unmodified tobacco plants (Reddy & Thomas, 1996).

… GM yeast modified to obtain increased fermentation was found to accumulate
the metabolite methyl-glyoxal in toxic and mutagenic concentrations (Inose &
Murata, 1995)

… A brazil nut gene was inserted into Soya and unexpected strong allergic
reactions were recorded in nut-allergic persons whom had never had a problem
with normal Soya. Also the inserted brazil nut gene did not code for any
known allergen (Nordlee et al,. 1996).

… A bacterium was engineered to produce increased levels of the amino acid
L-tryptophan which was harvested and sold as a nutritional supplement in a
tablet form extensively across health food stores. Small amounts of a
toxic, tryptophan-related molecule was identified in the tablets (Sidransky
et al,. 1994). This toxic tryptophan-related molecule may have been the
cause of EMS (easinophilia-myalgia syndrome) in persons whom consumed the
product and resulted in 37 deaths and 1500 cases of chronic neurological and
auto-immune symptoms. However, this has never been clarified because the GM
stock of bacteria was not available for investigation (Australian Gen-Ethics
Network, 1994).

… Research at the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Dundee demonstrated
indirect ecological effects from GM potatoes expressing an inserted lecthin
gene to reduce aphid attacks. Ladybirds predating the aphids had a
significant reduction in life expectancy and reproducibility. Likewise,
researchers at the Swiss Federal Research Station for Agroecology in Zurich
demonstrated serious harm to lacewings foraging on aphids affected by the
insecticide Bt toxin produced by GM. (The disappearance of predators of
crop-ruining insects via modern farming practices is already a major
worldwide problem for the maintenance of biodiversity, further acceleration
in this process would indeed be tragic, claims this report).

… Field trails in Denmark and Scotland have shown that GM oilseed rape
transferred its inserted transgene by cross-pollination of wild relatives
(Mikkelsen et al,. 1996). In France transfer of resistance genes from rape
to radish have been documented (Chevre et al., 1997). (Similar examples of
the spread of transgenes over long distances have been demonstrated for
other GM species and it is for this reason that organic farmers in European
countries have initiated legal actions for fear that their produce may
become deprived of the "organic" label).

… It was earlier thought that naked DNA introduced to an intact animal would
be very quickly broken down and would lack biological importance. This dogma
was removed (Wolff et al ,.1990) when it was discovered that naked DNA was
readily up-taken in muscle cells of living mice following direct injection.
The possibility for directed genetic expression using such strategies has
now been demonstrated in several species of animals including human beings.
Intravenous injection or local installation in the respiratory passages
achieved in vivo gene transfer to rabbit lungs (Canonico et al ,. 1994).
The report suggests that a careful study should be made to determine whether
genetic expression from liposome-plasmid complexes following installation in
the respiratory passages is a common phenomenon which happens to plasmids
that go astray and may lead to serious reactions in the respiratory

… The belief that DNA in food and forage cannot be up-taken from the
gastrointestinal tract is considered to be a dogma by this report. Recent
research demonstrated that following ingestion by mice, DNA from the M13
bacteriophage could be detected as relatively long fragments in faeces,
peripheral leukocytes, spleen and liver cells in significant time intervals
after feeding. In cells the ingested M13 DNA was found in a chromosome
integrated form (Doerfler et al,. 1997; Schubbert et al,. 1997). When such
DNA was fed to pregnant mice it was detected in various organs from foetuses
and newborn animals ( Doerfler and Schubbert 1998).

All these factors add up to a real possibility of genetic pollution via
cross-pollination, unplanned breeding and horizontal gene transfer. The
level of naked DNA persistence in the environment is likely to increase the
chances of such pollution occurring and the report suggests that extensive
unpredictable health, environmental and socioeconomic problems may result.

This report questions whether the development of GMO deserves the label
"technology". Technology is associated with predictability, control and
reproducibility yet the GM of cells and organisms means no possibility to
target specific genomic sites, no control over the changes in gene
expression patterns for the inserted gene and the endogenous genes of the
GMO and no control over the fate of the transgene or parts of the transgene
once in situ and once released into an ecosystem.

The [Norway] report claims that there has been a lack of competent,
independent expertise in many technological fields and goes on to document
examples of accidents and erroneous evaluations where the full extent of
ecological damage largely remains unknown. e.g. the mis-use of antibiotics
and the spread of antibiotic resistance, the emergence of recombinant
viruses within transgenic plants engineered to be resistant to viruses
(Green & Allison, 1994), the laboratory escape of the hybrid "African killer
Bees" which resulted in the deaths of more than 1000 people and the BSE/
nvCJD episode in Britain.

The report demonstrates and promotes the importance of research into
molecular ecology. It certainly does not lack confidence in existing
commercial and academic research groups and suggests a functional division
of labour and confidential co-operation in it's recommendations. If this
should come into practice, academic and industrial gene technology and the
new molecular ecology will be able to mutually fortify one another both
intellectually and methodologically. The overall objective is to
realistically utilize technology to the advantage of mankind without
compromising the biosphere. The use of gene technology may represent a
historical turning point for science. Might it be the first example of
mankind's feeling of responsibility for life in the future being stronger
than the urge for short-term advantages?

Let us all hope so.