Below we reproduce a brief yet authoritative summary of the main direct and indirect health risks associated with GM foods and crops. The authors have looked in particular at glyphosate / Roundup effects, and health risks associated in particular with GM soy -- but there are clearly much wider implications. The list of references is now very impressive indeed, and I cannot see how EFSA can now maintain its stance that GM products are "as safe as their conventional counterparts." They MUST be called to account, and hauled before the European Court for persistently and deliberately failing to act on the accumulated evidence of harm which has been brought to their attention over and again by NGOs and consumer groups -- and indeed by a number of national governments. As far as the effects of Roundup are concerned, we need to remind ourselves that EFSA and the Commission are required by European law to take full account of the INDIRECT health and safety effects of growing GM crops and feeding them into the food chain. They are also required by law to implement the Precautionary Principle where there is scientific doubt relating to health and safety. The toxic effects of Roundup residues on plants are now incontrovertible, and the EC must now bring in a total ban on the import of all RR products into the EU.
EFSA's GMO Panel should have issued advice on this some years ago, and since it is apparent to all that that body is unfit for purpose, we call on the Commission to use its own judgement on the accumulated evidence of harm, and to bring in a full GM moratorium forthwith. If it does not, and if it persists with the pretence that GM crops and foods are safe, it will fully deserve the wrath of the people of Europe............
(Extract from: GM SOY - Sustainable? Responsible? by Michael Antoniou, Paulo Brack, Andrés Carrasco, John Fagan, Mohamed Habib, Paulo Kageyama, Carlo Leifert, Rubens Onofre Nodari, Walter Pengue. Summary of key findings) GLS Gemeinschaftsbank eG / ARGE Gentechnik-frei
The rapid expansion of GM RR soy has led to large increases in the use of glyphosate. It is often claimed that glyphosate is safe for people and the environment. But scientific research challenges these claims.
Studies show that glyphosate has serious toxic effects on health and the environment. The added ingredients or adjuvants in Roundup increase its toxicity. Harmful effects from glyphosate and Roundup have been found even at levels that are commonly used in agriculture and found in the environment.
Findings include: In human cells, Roundup causes total cell death within 24 hours. These effects are found at levels far below those recommended for agricultural use and corresponding to low levels of residues found in food or feed.6 • Glyphosate herbicides are endocrine disruptors (substances that interfere with hormone functioning) in human cells. These effects are found at levels up to 800 times lower than residue levels allowed in some GM crops used for animal feed in the United States. Glyphosate herbicides damage DNA in human cells at these levels.7 • Glyphosate and Roundup adjuvants damage human placental cells in concentrations lower than those found with agricultural use.8 9 10 • Glyphosate and Roundup damage human embryonic cells and placental cells, in concentrations well below those recommended for agricultural use.11 • Roundup is toxic and lethal to amphibians. Applied at the rate recommended by the manufacturer for agricultural use, Roundup caused a 70 per cent decline in the species richness of tadpoles.12 An experiment using lower concentrations still caused 40 per cent mortality.13 • Glyphosate herbicides and glyphosate’s main metabolite (environmental breakdown product), AMPA, alter cell cycle checkpoints in sea urchin embryos by interfering with the physiological DNA repair machinery.14 15 16 17 Such disruption is known to lead to genomic instability and the possible development of human cancers. • Glyphosate is toxic to female rats and causes skeletal malformations in their foetuses.18 • AMPA, the major environmental breakdown product of glyphosate, causes DNA damage in cells.19 These findings show that glyphosate and Roundup are highly toxic to many organisms and to human cells.
New study confirms glyphosate’s link with birth defects
In 2009 Argentine government scientist Professor Andrés Carrasco20 announced his findings that glyphosate herbicide causes malformations in frog and chicken embryos, in doses much lower than those used in agricultural spraying. The malformations were of a similar type to those seen in the offspring of humans exposed to such herbicides.21
Carrasco commented, “The findings in the lab are compatible with malformations observed in humans exposed to glyphosate during pregnancy.” He added that his findings have serious implications for people because the experimental animals share similar developmental mechanisms with humans.22 Carrasco said that most of the safety data on glyphosate herbicides and GM soy were provided by industry and are not independent.
In their study, Carrasco’s team criticized Argentina’s overreliance on glyphosate caused by the expansion of GM RR soy, which in 2009 covered 19 million hectares – over half the cultivated area of the country. They noted that 200 million litres of glyphosate herbicide are used in the country to produce 50 million tons of soybeans per year.23 24
Carrasco said in an interview that people living in soy-producing areas of Argentina began reporting problems in 2002, two years after the first big harvests of GM RR soy. He said, “I suspect the toxicity classification of glyphosate is too low ... in some cases this can be a powerful poison.”25
Carrasco found malformations in frog and chicken embryos injected with 2.03 mg/kg glyphosate. The maximum residue limit allowed in soy in the EU is 20 mg/kg, 10 times higher.26
Argentina: Proposed ban on glyphosate and and court ruling
After the release of Carrasco’s findings, environmental lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court of Argentina to ban glyphosate. But Guillermo Cal, executive director of CASAFE (Argentina’s crop protection trade association), said a ban would mean “we couldn’t do agriculture in Argentina”.27
No national ban was implemented. But in March 2010, a court in Santa Fe province, Argentina upheld a decision blocking farmers from spraying agrochemicals near populated areas.28
Argentina: Chaco provincial government report
In April 2010 a commission opened by the provincial government of Chaco in Argentina completed a report analyzing health statistics in the town of La Leonesa and other areas where soy and rice crops are heavily sprayed.29 The commission reported that the childhood cancer rate tripled in La Leonesa from 2000 to 2009. The rate of birth defects increased nearly fourfold over the entire state of Chaco.
This dramatic increase of disease coincided with the expansion of glyphosate and other agrochemical spraying in the province.
A member of the commission that prepared the study, who asked not to be identified due to the “tremendous pressures” they were under, said, “We don’t know how this will end, as there are many interests involved.”30
Argentina: Sprayed community prevented from hearing glyphosate researcher
There is intense pressure on researchers and residents in Argentina not to speak out about the dangers of glyphosate and other agrochemicals. In August 2010 Amnesty International reported31 an incident in La Leonesa, a town where residents have actively opposed agrochemical spraying. An organized mob violently attacked people who gathered to hear a talk by Professor Andrés Carrasco on his research findings that glyphosate caused malformations in frogs. Three people were seriously injured and the event had to be abandoned. Carrasco and a colleague shut themselves in a car and were surrounded by people making violent threats and beating the car for two hours. Witnesses said they believed the attack was organized by local officials and a rice producer, in order to protect agro-industry interests.
Epidemiological studies on glyphosate
Epidemiological studies on glyphosate exposure show an association with serious health problems, including: • premature births and miscarriages32 • multiple myeloma (a type of cancer)33 • non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (another type of cancer)34 35 • DNA damage.36
By themselves, these epidemiological findings cannot prove that glyphosate is the causative factor. But the toxicological studies on glyphosate cited above confirm that it poses health risks.
Indirect toxic effects of glyphosate
Glyphosate is marketed as a product that breaks down rapidly and harmlessly in the environment. But this is not true. In soil, glyphosate has a half-life (the length of time it takes to lose half its biological activity) of between 3 and 215 days.37 38 In water, glyphosate’s half-life is 35–63 days.39 Glyphosate reduces bird populations40 and is toxic to earthworms.41 42 Claims of the environmental safety of Roundup have been overturned in court in New York43 and France.44
The most obvious risks of GM RR soy relate to the glyphosate herbicide used with the crop. But another set of risks must also be considered: those arising from genetic manipulation.
Do regulators ensure the safety of GM crops and foods?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed the first GM foods onto world markets in the early 1990s.
Contrary to claims by the GM industry and its supporters, the FDA has never approved any GM food as safe. Instead, it has de-regulated GM foods, ruling that they are “substantially equivalent” to their non-GM counterparts and do not require any special safety testing. The term “substantial equivalence” has never been scientifically or legally defined.
The FDA’s ruling was widely recognized as an expedient political decision with no basis in science. Controversially, the FDA ignored the warnings of its own scientists that GM is different from traditional breeding and poses unique risks.45
In the US, safety assessment of GM foods is a voluntary process, driven by the commercializing company. The company chooses which data to submit to the FDA and the FDA sends the company a letter reminding the company that the responsibility for ensuring the safety of the GM food in question rests with the company.46
The European GM regulator, EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), like the FDA, believes that feeding trials with GM foods are generally unnecessary and bases its safety assessment of GM foods on the assumption that GM foods are substantially equivalent to their non-GM equivalents. When differences have been found, EFSA often dismisses them as not being of “biological significance”.47
Is GM just an extension of natural breeding?
GM is not just an extension of conventional plant breeding. It uses laboratory techniques to insert artificial gene units into the host plant’s genome – a process that would never happen in nature.
The process is imprecise and can cause widespread mutations48 that can disrupt the functioning of hundreds of genes, leading to unpredictable and potentially harmful effects.49
Unexpected ill effects have been found in experimental animals fed on GM crops and foods that have been commercialized.
These include GM maize50 51 52 53 and canola/oilseed rape54 as well as soy (see below, “Hidden GM RR soy in animal feed”).
GM foods and crops: Restrictive research climate
The body of safety data on GM crops and foods is not as comprehensive as it should be, given the length of time they have been in the food and feed chain. This is because GM companies use their patent-based control of the crops to restrict research. They often bar access to seeds for testing, or retain the right to withhold permission for a study to be published.55
There is also a well-documented pattern of GM industry attempts to discredit scientists whose research reveals problems with GM crops.56 UC Berkeley researchers David Quist and Ignacio Chapela found themselves the targets of an orchestrated campaign to discredit them after they published research showing GM contamination of Mexican maize varieties.57 An investigation traced the campaign back to the Bivings Group, a public relations firm contracted by Monsanto.58 59
Is GM RR soy safe to eat?
Since GM RR soy was approved for commercialization, studies have found ill effects in laboratory animals fed on GM RR soy, which were not seen in non-GM-fed control groups: • Mice fed GM RR soy had cellular changes in the liver, pancreas and testes.60 61 62 • Mice fed GM soy showed more acute signs of ageing in their liver.63 • Rabbits fed GM soy showed enzyme function disturbances in kidney and heart.64 • Female rats fed GM soy showed changes in their uterus and ovaries.65 • In a multigenerational study on hamsters, most of the GM soy-fed hamsters had lost the ability to reproduce by the third generation. They also had slower growth and higher mortality among pups.66
The findings suggest that GM RR soy could pose serious health risks to humans. The fact that differences were found between GM-fed and non-GM-fed animals contradicts the FDA’s assumption that GM soy is substantially equivalent to non-GM soy.
Hidden GM RR soy in animal feed
Around 38 million tons of soymeal per year are imported into Europe, which mostly goes into animal feed. About 50–65 percent of this is GM or GM-contaminated, with 14 to 19 million tons GM-free. Products from animals raised on GM feed do not have to carry a GM label, based on assumptions including: • GM DNA does not survive the animal’s digestive process • GM-fed animals are no different from animals raised on non- GM feed • meat, fish, eggs and milk from animals raised on GM feed are no different from products from animals raised on non-GM feed.
However, these assumptions are false. Studies show that differences can be found in animals raised on GM RR soy animal feed, compared with animals raised on non-GM feed, and that GM DNA can be detected in the milk and body tissues (meat) of such animals. • DNA from plants is not completely degraded in the gut but is found in organs, blood, and even the offspring of mice.67 GM DNA is no exception. • GM DNA from GM maize and GM soy was found in milk from animals raised on these GM crops. The GM DNA was not destroyed by pasteurization.68 • GM DNA from soy was found in the blood, organs, and milk of goats. An enzyme, lactic dehydrogenase, was found at significantly raised levels in the heart, muscle, and kidneys of kids fed GM RR soy.69 This enzyme leaks from damaged cells and can indicate cellular injury.
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20: Carrasco is director of the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology, University of Buenos Aires Medical School and lead researcher of the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), Argentina.
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