GM foods and mutant hamsters

Until recently, I hadn’t come down strongly on one side or the other in the GM foods debate. I thought there could be benefits given the number of people we have to feed in the world, although better access to contraception and less food waste would seem a preferable (albeit less profitable) alternative.

However, having seen Monsanto’s antics in the film “Food Inc” I had a very uncomfortable taste in my mouth. They mercilessly misused the patent system to bankrupt farmers who stood in their way. I used to be a patent attorney and I know how possible this would be. (It’s one of the reasons I’m not a patent attorney any more!)

There are also some serious question marks over health risks. A study published by the International Journal of Biological Sciences found that rats ingesting GM corn for just 90 days were subject to statistically significant organ damage and raised triglycerides (associated with heart disease and diabetes.) The researchers stated:

“Effects were mostly concentrated in kidney and liver function, the two
major diet detoxification organs, but in detail differed with each GM
type. In addition, some effects on heart, adrenal, spleen and blood
cells were also frequently noted. As there normally exists sex
differences in liver and kidney metabolism, the highly statistically
significant disturbances in the function of these organs, seen between
male and female rats, cannot be dismissed as biologically insignificant
as has been proposed by others. We therefore conclude that our data
strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of
hepatorenal toxicity.[…] These substances have never before been an
integral part of the human or animal diet and therefore their health
consequences for those who consume them, especially over long time
periods are currently unknown.”

Monsanto dispute the findings and to be fair to Monsanto, there do seem to be some question marks over the study. However, it suggests that more research is needed, especially on the longer term effects, and this is something Monsanto are not rushing to encourage. After all, if you can see any effect at all in just 90 days, something pretty alarming is going on.

Here’s the paper:

In one of the few studies that did look at longer term effects, Russian biologist Alexey V. Surov fed GM soy to hamsters for 2 years over three generations of hamsters. By the third generation, the GM-fed hamsters were suffering from sterility and infant mortality. Some of the unfortunate hamsters even had hair growing inside their mouths.

There is more detail in this Huffington Post article:… And it includes a link to a website which shows pictures of the hair in the hamsters’ mouths, if you can stomach it.

These results can always be regarded as “inconclusive” but I will be avoiding GM foods where possible. I pity the poor US consumers who are not even given the courtesy of a label to tell them their products contain GM ingredients.

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