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Viral Promoter in GE Corn May Be Cause of Illnesses in Philippines

Africa News
March 9, 2004 Tuesday

Scientists Suspect Health Threat From GM Maize

BY: New Vision

Scientists investigating a spate of illnesses among people living close to
genetically modified (GM) maize fields in the Philippines believe that the
crop may have triggered fevers, respiratory illnesses and skin reactions.

If preliminary results are confirmed, it would be one of the first recorded
cases of serious health problems associated with GM crops, and could damage
the reputation of the biotech agriculture industry, which is rapidly
expanding and taking ground in developing countries.

The scientists' findings were immediately challenged by Monsanto, the
world's leading GM company, and by the Philippine government.

The concern surrounds an unnamed village in northern Mindanao, where 39
people living near a field of Bt maize - which contains a pesticide in the
gene - started suffering last autumn when the crop was producing pollen.

Doctors thought they had an infectious disease, but when four families left
the village and recovered, and then showed the same symptoms on return, an
environmental cause was suspected.

Terje Traavik, scientific director of the Norwegian Institute of Gene
Ecology, was asked to investigate. Blood tests showed the villagers had
developed antibodies to the maize's inbuilt pesticide.

Professor Traavik, who issued a summary of his results yesterday, said more
tests were needed, but felt his preliminary findings were reliable.

His studies suggest that a virus promoter - which is like a motor driving
the production of the genetic message - was unexpectedly found intact in
human cells.

His team also said it had found that genetically engineered viruses used in
the GM process recombined with natural viruses to create new hybrid viruses
with unpredictable characteristics.

If confirmed, this could suggest that they could cause new diseases and
spell doom for the growing GM industry.