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Genetically engineered foods and health risks A review of recent events in India
This is a summary article of what has transpired in the last fifteen days in Delhi in matters concerning genetically engineered seeds and foods.

Dr. SN Pandey, professor and head of the School of Oriental Medicine, The Global Open University [TGOU], at a seminar held 5th February said that he would initiate 40-50 research studies on health and environmental aspects of genetically engineered seeds and foods. Jeffrey M Smith, author of 'Seeds of Deception' and 'Genetic Roulette', was the keynote speaker in the TGOU seminar attended by over thirty top health professionals and advisors to the Government of India.

The myth of safe Bt seeds

During his hour-long power point presentation, Jeffrey described how genetic engineering of seeds is an imperfect science with unknown consequences. The method of gene insertion is essentially based on chance that the desired traits would be transferred to natural gene sequences. This is fraught with dangers because inserted genes are not stable and can and do mutate in unintended ways. This is extremely dangerous for human and animal health and the wider environment. He further stressed that neither the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] in the USA nor India's Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee [GEAC] have conducted the required biosafety, toxicity and other tests on any of the released engineered seeds.

Dr Pushp M Bhargava [one of world's leading molecular biologist] said that he had submitted to the Government of India, at least twenty years ago, a list of thirty tests that must be done before releasing genetically engineered organisms in nature. He further said that if these tests are properly carried out it would take around twenty years before safety of an engineered organism can be established. Instead of exercising due diligence and oversight, the GEAC has been approving food and fibre seeds on the assurance of firms like Monsanto [1] that their Bt seeds are safe "without even reading and reviewing tests done by seeds' firms," said he. This was a scathing indictment of the Indian regulatory authority.

Recalling earlier days of the technology of gene splicing and genetic engineering, he said that he had reviewed six hundred research papers in 1973 and had come to the conclusion that the technology is 'unreliable.' Later, in a major meeting in 1975, scientists had reached a consensus that there is need for caution 'even in laboratory experiments.' [2] He told the Rajiv Gandhi Government (1984-89) to set up a laboratory for testing. Why was this laboratory not set up? In India there is not a single laboratory that can perform the required tests. "India shining" has no funds to set up a laboratory to test its genetically engineered foods that would eventually take all the shine off?

Jeffrey added that the excuse used by Indian regulators 'that FDA is satisfied therefore there is no cause for concern' is false as top officials of FDA, mainly political appointees, despite overwhelming evidence of adverse health and environmental impacts of engineered seeds and foods uncovered by FDA's own scientists, have brushed aside these concerns and, in utter violation of laid down protocols, approved seeds that are already devastating the health of American citizens and the environment. Please recall that Bayer's Liberty Link event 601 [an engineered rice seed] has contaminated American rice affecting rice exports to the European Community. [3]

Farmers' suicides and Bt seeds

Earlier, on 23rd January 2009 press conference [5] Dr KB Chaudhary, leader of India's largest farmers' union called Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, (BKS), had soundly condemned the secretive and irresponsible manner of the functioning of GEAC. He said that Bt seeds neither increase yield nor reduce cost of production nor reduce pesticide consumption and further added that the Indian Council for Agriculture Research [ICAR] has been fraudulently manipulating yield data on Bt seeds in collusion with firms like Mahyco [the Indian subsidiary of Monsanto]. He even demanded that Dr. Mangla Rai, Director General of ICAR, should be charged with treason.

The seeds firms led by Monsanto, a US registered corporation, in turn, have been luring and defrauding poor farmers all over India. Particularly in cotton growing regions of central India, year after year, failed seeds were pushed leaving millions of cotton farmers trapped in massive debt.

In Green Revolution regions of India the cost of farming operations has been going up, yields are now stagnant, and farmers are trapped in debt. India has provision of 'Civil Jail' under Money Lending Act introduced by the British during the hay days of their Raj to enslave the farmers. If farmers default on repayment of debt, they are imprisoned in Civil Jail because failure to repay loan is a civil offense. Dr. BD Sharma, a former civil servant and advisor to the Government of India, says that it is not merely imprisonment but the manner in which they are arrested, handcuffed and paraded through the village up to the Police Station that psychologically destroys a farming household. "It is shameful and breach of the letter and spirit of the law," said he. When that happens, a farmer finds his credibility and social standing destroyed and is left with no option but to commit suicide. The mass suicide of farmers is yet another, perhaps 'intended' outcome of the Gene revolution 

Unconfirmed report of a meeting of top Agri-business firms' representatives and senior officials of India's Department of Biotechnology indicates that the Big Agri-biz firms need just two million farmers to take full control over India's agricultural production. When Indian officers reminded them that there are 149 million farming households in India they were told that "you do what you want with the remaining 147 million." There is no way one can verify what transpired between the two groups but all evidences point up to the fact that corporate control of India's agriculture is on, like the Titanic, full steam ahead. The corporations destroyed American farmers and people's pride and self respect; exactly the same process is on here, now, right now. Like the Titanic, when they do see the disaster, it would be perhaps too late; I suspect that the Titanic of Indian agriculture is already sinking with no lifeboats to rescue even the few chosen ones.

Thus far, over 125,000 farmers have committed suicide. The powerful ground swell of people's opposition to this genocide led the Government of India to announce sop of Rupees 50,000 million bailout of the farmers. What happened?

Kishore Tiwari of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samittee [VJAS, translated into English would be Vidabha People's Revolution Committee] says that, in a plea to the Maharashtra High Court, the institutionalized corruption and red-tapism in implementation of Rs 50,000 million bailout is the main cause of the government's failure to arrest the ever growing suicide of distressed farmers in the most backward Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. [6]

Why grazing animals died?

Early 2008, 13 buffalos grazing on Bt cotton fields after harvest died. Jeffrey presented the summary of the autopsy report in the seminar which shows that the digestive system of the buffalos was compromised and they all died of toxicity leading to the failure of vital organs. [7]. This was consistent with what happened to a German farmer's cows, quoted in William Engdahl's 'Seeds of Destruction', a book I had reviewed in 2008. [8] I wrote this:

"Engdahl cites the example of a German farmer Gottfried Glockner's experience with GM corn. Glockner planted Bt176 event of Syngenta essentially as feed for his cows. Being a scientist, he started with 10% GM feed and gradually increased the proportion, carefully noting milk yield and any side effects. Nothing much happened in the first three years but when he increased the feed to 100% GM feed, his animals "were having gluey-white feaces and violent diarrhea" and "milk contained blood." Eventually all his seventy cows died. Prof Angelika Hilbeck of Swiss Federal Institute of Technology found from Glockner's Bt 176 corn samples Bt toxins were present "in active form and extremely stable." The cows died of high dose of toxins. Not if, but when human food is 100% contaminated should be a sobering thought."

These events clearly demonstrate that genetically engineered fodder kills animals. Given to animals in feed lots or grazing free range in raw form, animals will die a painful death. It essentially means that only genetically engineered animals will survive the genetically engineered environment. Will engineered animals survive is also a vital question because none appears to be viable.

What about humans?

No serious toxicity and allergenicity tests have ever been conducted on humans. Dr Bhargava on 23rd January said exactly this. He said that, since no toxicity studies have been done, 'we don't know how unstable genes will mutate, what protein make-up will emerge' …..and cause unknown diseases and fatalities. The Indian Council of Medical research [ICMR] has no idea; none of the regulatory bodies anywhere in the world has any idea as to how they will treat a person with violent, perhaps lethal reaction, to food poisoning engendered by genetically engineered foods. Jeffrey said that 100+ persons have died of severe reactions and perhaps about 5000+ were hospitalized in the USA. How many countries in the world have the physical ability to respond to a medical emergency caused by food poisoning from genetically engineered foods? How many doctors even know what protocols to follow in the event of food poisoning by genetically engineered foods? Perhaps none.

Both Dr Bhargava and Jeffrey Smith quoted the animal studies of Irina Ermakova [Russia], Dr Seralini [Bt Brinjal studies in France] and Dr Arpad Pusztai's studies [in England] among others. They said that these scientists have all found that Genetically engineered foods:

*Damage vital organs like lungs, liver, kidney and testes; [Arpad Puzstai studies]

*Offspring of female mice were half the size as compared to normally fed mice and that 50% of the offspring of genetically engineered food fed female mice died prematurely; [Ermakova studies]

*Bt Brinjal will cause a serious health and environmental problems; [Seralini study] It should be noted that brinjal is native plant of India, a vital food for South Asians. We Indians eat brinjal often half cooked. [9]

Every scientist anywhere in the world who has raised concerns over threats posed by genetically engineered seeds and foods has been denigrated, frequently dismissed from service. Dr Psztai was summarily removed after 36 years of distinguished career. Dr Irena Ermakova was denied further financial support in Russia and told not to pursue her research on animal studies. Despite these constraints she has been honest enough to state publicly in Delhi that her studies should be replicated [October 2, 2008, New Delhi]

Do we need engineered foods?

Dr Bhargava posed a question in the Press Conference, 'Do we really need Bt brinjal?' Look at any Government data anywhere. Was there a "decline" in  brinjal production anywhere in India? Did Bt brinjal seeds need to be engineered? Against what?

Bayer, a German GM seeds' firm, contaminated American rice, destroyed the global credibility of American farmers. Rice is so valuable a crop that it is not only the number one cereal of the world; it has religious, cultural and spiritual value in Asia. Just one criminal firm destroyed the worth of American rice and destroyed te credibility of American farmers. Can we the people of the world live this sort of criminality of one firm?

Read on for the unabridged article plus extensive footnotes at: http://www.thepeoplesvoice.org/TPV3/Voices.php/2009/02/07/genetically-engineered-foods-health-risk

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