Frankenfoods in the Human Gut

Genetically Engineered Crop Gene Found for First Time in Bacteria in Human
Digestive System;
Concerns About Antibiotic Resistance Raised

Press Release by Friends of the Earth

New evidence from British scientists raises serious questions about the
safety of genetically engineered foods. A study published by the British
Food Safety Standards Agency (FAS) showed for the first time that a gene
inserted in a genetically engineered crop has found its way into bacteria in
the human gut. Many engineered crops have antibiotic resistance marker genes
inserted in them, and there are fears that if material from these marker
genes passes into humans, people's ability to fight infections may be
reduced. Researchers fed a single meal of a hamburger and a milk shake that
both contained genetically engineered soy to study participants.

According to the FSA gene uptake study, entitled "Evaluating the Risks
Associated with Using GMOs in Human Foods" (pp. 22-27, reports),
an herbicide resistance gene from a Roundup Ready variety of engineered soy
was found by researchers in bacteria from the small intestines of three out
of seven study participants (pg. 24).

Adrian Bebb, GM food campaigner for Friends of the Earth UK said, "This
research should set alarm bells ringing. Industry scientists and government
advisors have always played down the risk of this ever happening, but the
first time they looked for it they found it."

The biotech industry has long maintained that DNA is destroyed during
digestion and that there are barriers to incorporation of genetically
engineered crop genes by bacteria. According to a March 4, 2001 news release
by the multi-million dollar biotech lobbying initiative called the Council
for Biotechnology Information, "the DNA contained in food -- including the
antibiotic-resistance gene -- is broken down in the human gut during the
digestive process."


However, these assertions crumbled under the FSA findings, which
showed that engineered crop genes can survive digestion long enough
to be incorporated by bacteria.

The new evidence raises safety concerns for people eating genetically
engineered foods. In particular, if antibiotic resistance genes used in some
varieties of engineered crops are being picked up by bacteria in the
intestines of people eating engineered foods, this could increase bacterial
resistance to life-saving antibiotics.

According to Michael Antoniou, a senior lecturer in molecular genetics at
King's College Medical School in London, the study "suggests that you can
get antibiotic marker genes spreading amongst the bacterial population
within the intestine which could compromise future antibiotic use. They have
shown that this can happen even at very low levels after just one meal."
Given the research results, Friends of the Earth is calling for the
immediate withdrawal of genetically engineered crops containing antibiotic
resistance markers from the market. The organization also calls for further
research into the effects of gene transfer to bacteria.

In May 1999, the British Medical Association also called for a ban of crops
with antibiotic resistance marker genes stating, "There should be a ban on
the use of antibiotic resistance marker genes in GM food, as the risk to
human health from antibiotic resistance developing in micro-organisms is one
of the major public health threats that will be faced in the 21st Century."

CONTACT: Mark Helm, 202-783-7400 Adrian Bebb (UK), 44-771-284-3211 both of
Friends of the Earth

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