Two thirds of GM crops approved in the US contain the hitherto unidentified viral gene, but although regulators have insufficient information to determine if it is safe for human consumption EFSA has opted for a retrospective review rather than a ban.
The existence of the Gene VI viral gene was revealed in a study authored by EFSA staff and published in the journal GM Crops and Food.
The gene is in many widely-grown GM crops, including Monsanto’s RR MON810 soya, NK603 maize and other crops imported to the EU for food and animal feed.
Recently, co-founder of the anti-GM movement Mark Lynas said GM technology could in fact deliver safe food with less impact on the planets’ resources at a recent lecture.
“I realised genetic engineering technology could be a powerful tool to address planetary boundaries, such as issues with the nitrogen cycle,” said Lynas.
He said food production was limited by nitrogent availability, ‘but we had overcome this by synthesising around 120bn tonnes of atmospheric nitrogen a year into fertilisers’.
“This is a good thing because it keeps more than half of humanity alive, but it has doubled the nitrogen cycle on land.”
“Environmental impacts include eutrophication and the release of nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.”
“Not using GM technology is risky in itself,” said Lynas.
“It is regulated out of existence in most of Africa.”
“It is effectively illegal to use this technology in any environmentally beneficial way in most of the world except in very specific applications.”
Researchers found Gene VI in 54 of the 86 GM crops currently approved in the US.
It is linked to the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus promoter gene used in many of the GM traits already in crop plants, but the gene may affect other aspects of the genetic performance of the plant with unknown, unintended consequences.
Scientists are concerned the gene could disturb the normal functions of crop plants, and while there is insufficient data available to determine what impacts this might have, researchers have already identified three potential mechanisms for plant function to be disrupted:
– The gene sequence could make plants more susceptible to some pathogens and less to others. This could have a serious impact on crop health.
– Interference with messenger RNA, which relay information from the plant’s DNA to the structures that build proteins. This means the sequence could induce plants to produce novel proteins with unknown impacts on plant, human or animal health.
– Gene silencing, which could lead to genes that are normally turned on being turned off, which could in turn interfere with plant’s defences.
Gene VI was tested against known toxins and allergens, but such evaluation will miss novel proteins and/or toxins being produced by the gene in plants. It is impossible to determine if these are present or harmful without further study.
Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said: “This discovery of this previously unidentified gene in GM crops raises serious concern about the safety of GM food and feed. It totally undermines claims that GM technology is safe, precise and predictable.”
“The very existence of Gene VI has been missed for many years, so we don’t know what implications it might have.”
“It is impossible to say if this has already resulted in harm to human or animal health, and since there is still no GM labelling in places like the US where GM is more common the diet, no epidemiological studies can be carried out.”
“Possible harmful effects of GMOs could easily be lost in the general morass of ailments which vets and medics have to deal with on a daily basis, especially if these were as result of low level exposure over several years, and the link to GM could take many years to establish that way.”
“This is a clear warning the GM is not sufficiently understood to be considered safe. EFSA cannot continue to take risks with public health. Authorisation for these crops must be suspended immediately, and they should be withdrawn from sale, until a full and extended review of their safety has been carried out.”
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