Scientists reject human trials of GM wheat
Belinda Tasker, National Medical Correspondent
June 27, 2011
AAP (Australian Associated Press Pty Limited) via Sydney Morning Herald
A group of prominent scientists and researchers from around the world has urged Australia not to go ahead with human trials of genetically modified (GM) wheat.
The CSIRO is carrying out a study of feeding GM wheat grown in the ACT to rats and pigs and could extend the trial to humans.
The modified wheat has been altered to lower its glycaemic index in an attempt to see if the grain could have health benefits such as improving blood glucose control and lowering cholesterol levels.
But eight scientists and academics from Britain, the US, India, Argentina and Australia believe not enough studies have been done on the effects of GM wheat on animals to warrant human trials.
The CSIRO has dismissed their concerns, insisting no decision has been made on if or when human trials will begin.
In a letter to the CSIRO's chief executive Megan Clark, the scientists expressed their "unequivocal denunciation" of the experiments.
"The use of human subjects for these GM feeding experiments is completely unacceptable," the letter said.
"The experiments may be used to dispense with concerns about the health impacts of consuming GM plants, but will not in fact address the health risks GM plants raise.
"The feeding trials should not be conducted until long-term impact assessments have been undertaken and appropriate information released to enable the scientific community to determine the value of such research, as against the risks."
Among the signatories were Dr Michael Antoniou, of the gene expression and therapy group at King's College London School of Medicine, and Professor David Schubert, from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California.
The scientists said they were concerned that the CSIRO had inadequately described the biological and biochemical make-up of the GM wheat being used in the trials.
They said that, based on previous research, GM food products had been shown to be prone to having multiple effects, including damaging the health of animals which had eaten them.
They believed the CSIRO's animal feeding trials of up to 28 days were "completely inadequate" to assess such risks.
But CSIRO spokesman Huw Morgan said animal trials of the GM wheat, which began in 2005, were still continuing.
"No decision has been made as yet to undertake human trials," he told AAP.
"It's still something that we are considering."
Mr Morgan said many studies carried out in the past 15 years had shown GM foods had no detrimental impact on human health.
The CSIRO's trials were trying to determine whether the new type of GM grain had health benefits for people with conditions such as colourectal cancer and diabetes, he said.
Greenpeace food campaigner Laura Kelly said GM experts recommended that long-term animal feeding studies of two years should be carried out before human testing to evaluate any carcinogenic, developmental, hormonal, neural and reproductive dysfunctions.
"This is the first generation of Australian children that will be exposed to GM in food for a lifetime," she said.
"If Julia Gillard doesn't stand up to foreign biotech companies, soon they'll be eating it in their sandwiches and pasta, even though it has never been proven safe to eat."