Food Sovereignty Ghana

A grass-roots food advocacy movement of Ghanaians both home and abroad!

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GMO Foods – The FAQs

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) issued a statement on Genetically Modified Foods.

“GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health.”

Because GM foods pose a serious health risk the AAEM calls for a moratorium on all genetically modified foods.

What are the facts? The Non-GMO Shopping Guide has put together a list of FAQs, frequently asked questions and the answers to those questions, based on information in the AAEM statement. There has been no testing for safety of GMOs in the human diet. Testing and observation of animals fed GMOs reveal serious health problems including “infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system.” The AAEM cites the studies and calls for a GMO food moratorium.

1. What is a GMO?

  • According to the World Health Organization, Genetically Modified Organisms(GMOs) are “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in such a way that does not occur naturally.”
  • A GMO (genetically modified organism) is the end product of a fusion of genes from different species to create one or more desired traits or features.
  • The process is also known as Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetic Modification (GM).

2. What is a gene?

  • All living organisms are made up of cells.
  • Each cell has a centre called a nucleus.
  • Inside every nucleus are strings of DNA.
  • Short chains of DNA are called genes.
  • Genes operate finely-tuned complex networks that allow the processes of living organisms to happen in the right place and at the right time.

3. But haven’t growers been grafting trees, breeding animals, and hybridizing seeds for years?

Genetic engineering is completely different from traditional breeding and carries unique risks. In traditional breeding it is possible to mate a pig with another pig to get a new variety, but is not possible to mate a pig with a potato or a mouse. Even when species that may seem to be closely related do succeed in breeding, the offspring are usually infertile—a horse, for example, can mate with a donkey, but the offspring (a mule) is sterile.

  • Genetic modification breaks down the natural barriers between species, to create new organisms from a mix of genes from different species.
  • The results are plants and animals with characteristics that you cannot obtain from natural processes such as grafting or crossbreeding.
  • Such organisms bring with them unique risks.

4. How is genetic engineering done?

  • In order to breach these natural barriers and make possible the introduction of DNA from a different species, genetic engineers have to find ways to force the DNA from one organism into another. These
    methods include:
  • Using viruses or bacteria to “infect” animal or plant cells with the new DNA.
  • Coating DNA onto tiny metal pellets, and firing it with a special gun into the cells.
  • Injecting the new DNA into fertilized eggs with a very fine needle.
  • Using electric shocks to create holes in the membrane covering sperm, and then forcing the new DNA into the sperm through these holes.

5. Is genetic engineering precise?

  • The technology of genetic engineering is currently very crude. It is not possible to insert a new gene with any accuracy, and the transfer of new genes can disrupt the finely controlled network of DNA in an organism.
  • Current understanding of the way in which DNA works is extremely limited, and any change to the DNA of an organism at any point can have side effects that are impossible to predict or control. The new gene could, for example, alter chemical reactions within the cell or disturb cell functions. This could lead to instability, the creation of new toxins or allergens, and changes in nutritional value.
  • Current understanding of the way in which DNA works is extremely limited, and any change to the DNA of an organism at any point can have side effects that are impossible to predict or control. The new gene could, for example, alter chemical reactions within the cell or disturb cell functions. This could lead to instability, the creation of new toxins or allergens, and changes in nutritional value.

6. What combinations have been tried?

  • It is now possible for plants to be engineered with genes taken from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. Scientists have worked on some interesting combinations:
  • Spider genes were inserted into goat DNA, in hopes that the goat milk would contain spider web protein for use in bulletproof vests.
  • Cow genes turned pigskins into cowhides.
  • Jellyfish genes lit up pigs’ noses in the dark.
  • Arctic fish genes gave tomatoes and strawberries tolerance to frost.
  • Potatoes that glowed in the dark when they needed watering.
  • Human genes were inserted into corn to produce spermicide.
  • Corn engineered with human genes (Dow)
  • Sugarcane engineered with human genes (Hawaii Agriculture Research Center)
  • Corn engineered with jellyfish genes (Stanford University)
  • Tobacco engineered with lettuce genes (University of Hawaii)
  • Rice engineered with human genes (Applied Phytologics)
  • Corn engineered with hepatitis virus genes (Prodigene)

7. Does the biotech industry hold any promise?

  • Genetic modification of plants is not the only biotechnology.
  • The study of DNA does hold promise for many potential applications, including medicine.
  • However, the current technology of GM foods is based on obsolete information and theory, and is prone to dangerous side effects.
  • Economic interests have pushed it onto the market too soon.
  • Moreover, molecular marker technologies – so called Marker Assisted Selection (MAS) used with conventional breeding shows much promise for developing improved crop varieties, without the potentially dangerous side effects of direct genetic modification.

8. What are the problems created through genetic engineering of food and crops?

  • Genetic engineers continually encounter unintended side effects.
  • GM plants create toxins, react to weather differently, contain too much or too little nutrients, become diseased or malfunction and die.
  • When foreign genes are inserted, dormant genes may be activated or the functioning of genes altered, creating new or unknown proteins, or increasing or decreasing the output of existing proteins inside the plant.
  • The effects of consuming these new combinations of proteins are unknown.

9. Hasn’t research shown GM foods to be safe?

  • No. The only feeding study done with humans showed that GMOs survived inside the stomach of the people eating GMO food.  No follow-up studies were done.
  • Various feeding studies in animals have resulted in potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, smaller brains, livers, and testicles, partial atrophy or increased density of the liver, odd shaped cell nuclei and other unexplained anomalies, false pregnancies and higher death rates.
  • The science supporting GMOs is outdated.  Animal studies indicate serious health problems resulting from GMOs in the diet No testing has been done regarding GMO effects on humans or in the human diet. Commercial interests, rather than health and scientific interests are driving the push for GMOs. For these reasons, for the health and safety of all Ghanaians, for all the people of Africa and the world, Foods Sovereignty Ghana calls for a moratorium on GM crops, seeds, and food.

Duke Tagoe, Deputy Chairperson, FSG

for The Director, Research and Information Department,
Food Sovereignty Ghana

This information comes, with our gratitude and appreciation, from:
Non-GMO Shopping Guide – Why Should I Avoid GMOs
and is based on:The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) position paper on
Genetically Modified Foods

FURTHER READING:World Health Organization. (Internet).(2002). Foods derived from modern technology: 20 questions on genetically modified foods.

Smith, JM. Genetic Roulette. Fairfield: Yes Books.2007. p.10

Freese W, Schubert D. Safety testing and regulation of genetically engineered foods. Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews. Nov 2004. 21.

Society of Toxicology. The safety of genetically modified foods produced through biotechnology. Toxicol. Sci. 2003; 71:2-8.

Hill, AB. The environment and disease: association or causation? Proceeding of the Royal Society of Medicine 1965; 58:295-300.

Finamore A, Roselli M, Britti S, et al. Intestinal and peripheral immune response to MON 810 maize ingestion in weaning and old mice. J Agric. Food Chem. 2008; 56(23):11533-11539.

Malatesta M, Boraldi F, Annovi G, et al. A long-term study on female mice fed on a genetically modified soybean:effects on liver ageing. Histochem Cell Biol. 2008; 130:967-977.

Velimirov A, Binter C, Zentek J. Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice. Report-Federal Ministry of Health, Family and Youth. 2008.

Ewen S, Pustzai A. Effects of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine.Lancet. 354:1353-1354.

Kilic A, Aday M. A three generational study with genetically modified Bt corn in rats: biochemical and histopathological investigation. Food Chem. Toxicol. 2008; 46(3):1164-1170.

Kroghsbo S, Madsen C, Poulsen M, et al. Immunotoxicological studies of genetically modified rice expression PHA-E lectin or Bt toxin in Wistar rats. Toxicology. 2008; 245:24-34.

Gurain-Sherman,D. 2009. Failure to yield: evaluating the performance of genetically engineered crops. Cambridge (MA): Union of Concerned Scientists.

Lofstedt R. The precautionary principle: risk, regulation and politics. Merton College, Oxford. 2002.

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