for the background see 'Avery et al attack Smith'

Modified food threatens SA
Business Day (S. Africa), 30 September 2005

Alex Avery's letter, 'Misleading' (September 26), challenged me to present the health dangers of genetically modified foods.

Internal memos by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists made public during a lawsuit showed they had warned that genetically modified foods might create unpredicted allergies, toxins and antibiotic resistant diseases and urged their superiors to require long-term safety studies.

They were ignored by the political appointee in charge of FDA policy - a former attorney and later vice-president at Monsanto - who established a policy that industry can determine if their own products are safe.

A UK government-funded study demonstrated that rats fed a genetically modified potato developed potentially precancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, partial atrophy of the liver and smaller brains, livers and testicles. When the lead scientist went public with his concerns, he was fired from his job of 35 years and silenced with threats of a lawsuit.

Most genetically modified maize is engineered to produce its own pesticide. Preliminary evidence shows that 39 Filipinos living next to a pesticide-producing maize field developed skin, intestinal and respiratory reactions while the maize was pollinating. Tests of their blood also showed an immune response to the pesticide.

The World Health Organisation suggests criteria designed to prevent allergenic genetically modified crops from getting on the market. Genetically modified soy and maize do not pass that criteria.

The only human feeding study conducted showed that the gene inserted into soybeans transferred into the DNA of gut bacteria.

If the antibiotic resistant marker genes also transfer, they could create super diseases, untreatable with antibiotics.

A genetically modified food supplement killed about 100 Americans and caused sickness or disability in 5000-10000 others.

The people of SA may be the population most at risk. SA is the only nation to genetically engineer a staple food, and those already fighting HIV/AIDS may be particularly at risk from the dangers of genetically modified foods.

Jeffrey M Smith
Maryland, US