By Sean Poulter, Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Daily Mail, UK
Wednesday, July 17 2002
EATING GM food can change the genetic make-up of your digestive system and
could put you at risk of infections that are resistant to antibiotics,
experts said today.
A British study has revealed that volunteers who ate one meal containing
genetically modified soya had traces of the modified DNA in bacteria in
their small intestines.
Scientists now fear that GM foods, which are often modified to be resistant
to antibiotics, will leave Britons vulnerable to untreatable diseases. The
research contradicts repeated claims by the GM industry that gene transfer
from foods to humans is extremely unlikely. It also raises the possibility
that millions of people may already have GM bacteria from food they have
The study, carried out at the University of Newcastle, consisted of feeding
seven volunteers GM soya. Researchers found that three of them had evidence
of DNA gene transfer in the bacteria that occurs naturally in their
digestive systems. This is the first time this transfer has been identified
'THE STUDY RAISES SERIOUS CONCERNS'
Research leader Professor Harry Gilbert played down the dangers, but
confirmed that 'surprising' levels of GM DNA transfer were found. He said:
"There is some evidence of gene transfer, but it is at an extremely low rate
and therefore it probably does not represent a significant risk to human
health'. The research report suggested that this transfer may have
'reflected previous exposure of the subjects to genetically modified
plants'. But yesterday experts claimed the possibility of eating GM crops
containing antibiotic resistance genes raised 'serious concerns'.
Geneticist Dr Michael Antoniou, of Guy's Hospital, London, said the results
indicated the need for an extensive GM foods testing programme. He added:
"The most significant finding is that there is GM soya DNA in the bacteria
at readily detectable levels in the small intestines. 'It was always said
by the industry that this could not happen or was extremely unlikely. There
is a whole slew of different antibiotic resistant genes that are being used
in GM crops in their production in the laboratory. They stay in the final
crop.' These genes are often used as a marker to signal that the desired GM
change, such as resistance to a particular weed killer, has taken place.
Dr Antoniou added: 'Bacteria in the gut are going to take up genes that will
make them resistant to potentially therapeutic antibiotics. 'The possibility
is that someone who picked up the antibiotic resistance through food and
then fell ill, that a medical antibiotic might not be effective.'
However the Food Standards Agency tried to reassure consumers that GM foods
are safe. A spokesman said the findings had been assessed by several
Government experts who had ruled that humans were not at risk. In a
statement on its website, the agency said the study had concluded it is
'extremely unlikely' that GM genes can end up in the gut of people who eat
Friends of the Earth GM expert Adrian Bebb said this response contradicted
the opinions of many international scientists. He added: 'The FSA's
attitude to the release of this information has been extraordinary. 'It can
only fuel concerns that the Government and its agencies only want the public
to hear positive news about GM. This is the first time a change to bacteria
in the gut has been identified in humans. It is enormously significant.
This is something the GM industry said could not happen. Yet in the first
experiment looking at just seven people, there it is. The suggestion that
the GM DNA could already have been in the bodies of the participants raises
important questions. Either it got into the gut many years ago and has been
passed down or people are eating GM soya in their diet on a daily basis.
Whatever the reason, it would seem millions of people could have GM DNA from
this soya in their bodies'.