Eminent Scientists Comment

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Eminent Scientists Comment on the Dangers of Genetically Engineered Foods

(Prepared by the Natural Law Party of New Zealand)

Professor Richard Lacey, microbiologist, medical doctor, and Professor of Food Safety at Leeds University has become one of the best-known figures of food science since his prediction of the BSE (mad cow disease) crisis made more than seven years ago. Recently Professor Lacey has spoken out strongly against the introduction of genetically engineered foods, because of 'the essentially unlimited health risks' _ "The fact is, it is virtually impossible to even conceive of a testing procedure to assess the health effects of genetically engineered foods when introduced into the food chain, nor is there any valid nutritional or public interest reason for their introduction."

Professor Mae Wan-Ho, of the UK Open University Department of Biology says, "Genetic engineering bypasses conventional breeding by using artificially constructed parasitic genetic elements, including viruses, as vectors to carry and smuggle genes into cells. Once inside cells, these vectors slot themselves into the host genome. The insertion of foreign genes into the host genome has long been known to have many harmful and fatal effects including cancer of the organism."

Professor Dennis Parke of University of Surrey School of Biological Sciences, a former chief advisor on food safety to Unilever Corporation and British advisor to the US FDA on safety aspects of biotechnology writes: "In 1983, hundreds of people in Spain died after consuming adulterated rapeseed oil. This adulterated rapeseed oil was not toxic to rats". Dr Parke warns that current testing procedures for genetically altered foods including rodent tests are not proving safety for humans. He has suggested a moratorium on the release of genetically engineered organisms, foods, and medicines.

Dr Peter Wills, theoretical biologist at Auckland University writes: "Genes encode proteins involved in the control of virtually all biological processes. By transferring genes across species barriers which have existed for aeons between species like humans and sheep we risk breaching natural thresholds against unexpected biological processes. For example, an incorrectly folded form of an ordinary cellular protein can under certain circumstances be replicative and give rise to infectious neurological disease".

Dr Joseph Cummins, Professor Emeritus of Genetics at the University of Western Ontario warns: "Probably the greatest threat from genetically altered crops is the insertion of modified virus and insect virus genes into crops. It has been shown in the laboratory that genetic recombination will create highly virulent new viruses from such constructions. Certainly the widely used cauliflower mosaic virus is a potentially dangerous gene. It is a pararetrovirus meaning that it multiplies by making DNA from RNA messages. It is very similar to the Hepatitis B virus and related to HIV. Modified viruses could cause famine by destroying crops or cause human and animal diseases of tremendous power."

Dr John Fagan, an award winning microbiologist and cancer researcher, Professor of Microbiology at Maharishi University of Management, has renounced $3 million in US government research grants to publicise the dangers of misuse of biotechnology. He advocates a science-based precautionary approach requiring the labelling of all novel foods. He says "without labelling it will be very difficult for scientists to trace the source of new illness caused by genetically engineered food".

The British Retail Consortium which represents over 90% of food retailers in the UK has issued a policy statement calling for clear labelling of foods produced using genetic engineering: "Retailers in the UK and Europe as a whole are clear that the preservation of consumer choice is paramount, and that substantial work over several years on product ingredient traceability should not be compromised". The Consortium has decided to boycott suppliers of raw ingredients who cannot guarantee that natural foods are kept separate from those produced using genetic engineering.

Dr Norman Ellstrand, Professor of Genetics at the University of California, is one of the world's leading authorities in genetic engineering. He comments on the economic implications for farmers of gene exchange between crops and weedy relatives. "We see this as a multi-million dollar problem. In Europe, there is already a big problem with gene flow between wild beet and cultivated beet. Oil-seed rape also has close relatives and is going to cause problems in the future. One would expect that the kind of genes that are now being engineered are going to be the ones that have a higher potentiality for causing trouble".

Dr Michael Antoniou, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Pathology at a London teaching hospital says, "the generation of genetically engineered plants and animals involves the random integration of artificial combinations of genetic material from unrelated species into the DNA of the host organism. This procedure results in disruption of the genetic blueprint of the organism with totally unpredictable consequences. The unexpected production of toxic substances has now been observed in genetically engineered bacteria, yeast, plants, and animals with the problem remaining undetected until a major health hazard has arisen. Moreover, genetically engineered food or enzymatic food processing agents may produce an immediate effect or it could take years for full toxicity to come to light." Because genetically engineered foods reproduce themselves and can never be recalled from the environment, Dr Antoniou warns of an unprecedented health risk for humanity