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GMO assessment has ‘failed’ at protecting public health – report

Published time: February 21, 2014 09:10
Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

A basic principle in the classification of GMO foods is fundamentally flawed and “has failed miserably” at protecting public health, a study argues. The error has allowed companies to market potentially dangerous GMO products.

The principle itself is known as ‘substantial equivalence’ and is the basis for the safety protocol used by most international food regulators. It works off the idea that if a new food product (GMOs in this case) are found to be similar to an already-existing non-GMO product, then it can be treated the same with regard to safety regulations.

However, the Australia-based Permaculture Research Institute has revealed that new studies, independent of the biotech industry, are showing up “glaring differences” between GMOs and their non-GMO counterparts, suggesting the concept of substantial equivalence is flawed.

“This makes a mockery of the regulatory principle of ‘Substantial Equivalence’ which has facilitated approvals of GMOs with practically no protection for public health and the environment,” writes a study published on Friday.

At present the international regulation bodies that use the principle include the World Health Organization, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

AFP Photo/Robyn Beck

According to the report, the principle allows too much leeway for potentially dangerous products to find their way onto the consumer market. In practice a GMO crop is compared to any existing variety of the same species, meaning that a product made up of a collection of species is not treated differently. Moreover, the tests that GMO products undergo to show they are ‘substantially equivalent’ to their counterparts are not nearly detailed enough, writes the study.

“Traits used for comparisons are also based solely on gross and insensitive chemical compositional tests such as levels of carbohydrate, protein and sugars. This process cannot even begin to tackle safety issues.”

The study cites research carried out by Professor El-Sayed Shaltout at Alexandria University last year that found that Monsanto’s 810 Corn (Ajeeb-YG®) was radically different to its non-GM counterpart. Research revealed that Monsanto’s corn had “abnormal levels” of amino acids and fatty acids, as well as increased total protein, crude fat and decreased starch content.

Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

The full extent of the difference in the GMO corn was shown when the product was tested on lab rats. After consuming the modified corn the lab rats displayed a range of health problems, ranging from tissue abnormalities to fatty degeneration in the liver and congested blood cells in the kidneys.

The Permaculture Research Institute’s study recommends rigorous research by independent organizations to examine and highlight the differences between GMO products and their equivalents and reassess the principle of substantial equivalence.

“In reality, genetic modification causes very real and substantial, unpredictable and uncontrollable changes in the host genome including mutations,” the study concludes, stressing "GM crops have already been shown to cause damage to both health and the environment in many independent studies.”

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