Increasing Concern About GM Foods

This is according to sustainable and green hospitality specialist and founder of and Lorraine Jenks, who says she has studied and followed trends in all aspects of environmental challenges.

Global agribusiness Syngenta says maize is the staple diet for about 200-million people in developing countries and about 60% of global maize production is used for animal feed.

Maize is South Africa’s staple diet and also serves as feed grain for livestock. Further, South Africa is the only country in the world where the staple diet is a GM food, says Jenks.

She tells Engineering News that an area of particular concern is the genetic modification of seeds, one of the most common being making them resistant to glyphosate-based herbicides.

These herbicides are sprayed over the crops to kill a variety of plants, such as grasses, broadleaf and woody plants, except for the GM plant. “Consequently, the biodiversity of the area collapses because the insects that feed on the other plants die out, while soil and rivers become contaminated with these herbicides.”

Agricultural biotechnology companies provide local farmers with their patented GM seeds to resist herbicides and insects, she explains, adding: “Some GM seeds are engineered to be sterile so that the plant does not produce seeds naturally. This means farmers become contractually obliged to constantly buy GM seeds from the seed companies.”

Jenks says biotechnology companies promise farmers higher yields if their seeds are used, adding that farmers will enter into contracts with a company, which then provides the seeds and better farming equipment. She says crop yields in the first few years are increased not because of the GM seeds, but because of the better equipment.

“If an organic farmer was given the same equipment, natural fertilisers and pesticides without the GM seeds and chemicals, the yield would probably be better than that of the GM farm,” says Jenks, noting that there is consensus amongst environmentalists that seed companies are acting purely on the basis of profit and are not considering the harmful effects genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could have on humans and the environment.

She adds that supporters of genetic modification argue that if GM crops are discontinued, the world will starve, as farmers will not be capable of meeting the food requirements of the growing population.

According to the Consumer Protection Act, any goods containing 5% or more GMOs are to be labelled as containing GMOs. Also, all marketing material pertaining to the product must state that it contains GMOs.

Global Protests against GM Crops

Protestors from more than 400 cities in 40 countries worldwide gathered in their respective cities on May 25 to march against the use of GM seeds and, specifically, multinational agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto. In South Africa, protests were held in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and Plettenburg Bay. Two-million signatures were collected during the global march and another international protest is planned for October 12.

Protesters also voiced their concerns about there not being any long-term testing on the effects of eating GM food or the effects of GM plants on the environment and demanded labelling of food. Biotechnology companies conduct only 90-day tests on rats to check for possible harmful effects of GM food consump- tion, according to peer-reviewed journal publications such as ‘Health and nutritional status of Wistar rats following subchronic exposure to CV127 soybeans’, published March 2012 in Food and Chemical Toxicology.

France-based University of Caen Institute of Fundamental and Applied Biology professor Gilles-Eric Seralini compiled a research report, ‘Long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize’, which was published in September 2012 by Food and Chemical Toxicology.

It documented the results of a two-year test, during which the effects on rats of consuming GMOs was tested. One hundred male and 100 female albino Sprague-Dawley rats, which have a life expectancy of between two to three years, were used in the test.

The rats were separated according to gender and evenly separated into ten different groups. The control group was given a diet of water and the nearest isogenic nontransgenic maize. Six of the groups were fed maize, containing 11%, 22% or 33% of Monsanto’s GM Roundup ready NK603 maize that was either sprayed or not sprayed with Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup. The other three groups were placed on a diet using the maize of the control group and water, containing either 0.09% or 0.5% of the Roundup herbicide, which was alternated weekly.

The results of the report state that the females that were fed the GM maize died two to three times more often, compared with those on the control diet. This same result was also found in half of the male groups on the GM diet.

The report states the following: “Results were hormone and sex dependent and the pathological profiles were comparable. Females developed large mammary tumours almost always more often than and before controls, the pituitary was the second-most disabled organ and the sex hormonal balance – such as testosterone and estradiol – was modified by GMO and Roundup treatments.”

Cases of liver congestion and cell degenera- tion in males on the GM maize diet were 2.5 to 5.5 times higher than those of the control group, with results confirmed using optic and transmission electron microscopy. “Marked and severe kidney damage was also generally 1.3 to 2.3 times greater. Males developed four times more palpable tumours than those of the control group, which occurred up to 600 days earlier,” notes the report, adding that biochemistry data confirmed chronic kidney deficiencies for all the groups on the GM diet and that “76% of the altered para- meters were kidney related”.

The article has been peer-reviewed with negative and positive results. The critics particularly take issue with the use of albino Sprague-Dawley rats in the study, as results are inconclusive, owing to the species’ sensitivity to develop tumours in its lifetime, regardless of what tests it undergoes.

In November 2012, Europe-based food and feed safety organisation the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) released its final assessment on the report by Seralini, which states that the study “. . . was found to be inadequately designed, analysed and reported” and, therefore, that conclusions cannot be drawn.

The EFSA states the study “. . . is of insufficient scientific quality for safety assessments. The EFSA concludes that the currently available evidence does not impact on the ongoing re-evaluation of glyphosate and does not call for the reopening of the safety evaluations of maize NK603 and its related stacks”.

In a report published in July by the EFSA, titled ‘Considerations on the applicability of OECD TG 453 to whole food/feed testing’, it was agreed to allow requests for two-year tests on GM foods, depending on findings of an obligatory 90-day oral toxicity study. This report states that this is due to a majority vote by member countries of the EFSA in favour of the European Union’s proposal on a regulation concerning applications for the authorisation of GM food and feed.

Monsanto also responded to Seralini’s research, stating that “. . . this study does not meet minimum acceptable standards for this type of scientific research, the findings are not supported by the data presented and the conclusions are not relevant to the purpose of a safety assessment”.

Further, the Monsanto response points to toxicologists and public health experts questioning the research design, such as the lack of critical information on the way in which the research was conducted and the data presented not supporting the author’s interpretations.

Monsanto highlights key shortcomings such as:

  • The research protocol does not meet the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development standards.
  • The source and quality of the maize used is unclear.
  • Critical details on diet preparation and dietary intake are lacking.
  • The complete lack of data pertaining to assertions of liver or kidney histopathology (the microscopic examination of tissue to study the manifestations of disease), liver function tests and cytochrome (the molecules in the mitochondria of plant and animal cells) activity.
  • The lack of any statistical analysis for mortality or tumour end points.
  • Mortality rates and tumour incidence in all groups fall within historical norms for this strain of laboratory rat, which is known for a high incidence of tumours.
  • Data presented are highly sporadic and use different methods for male and female animals, which is insufficient to support the conclusions that were drawn.
  • There is a lack of a dose-response relationship throughout the study.


The first GM foods were sold for consumption in 1994. The first food product to be genetically engineered was a tomato, called the Flavr Savr, which was modified to stay ripe longer. Scientists from US-based biotechnology company Calgene, which was acquired by Monsanto in 1996, engineered the tomato.

The Little ‘Green Queen’

Jenks, known as the ‘Little Green Queen’ by her peers, is also a member of nonprofit member-supported international association Slow Food, which aims to protect the biodiversity of the ecosystem, the culture and knowledge of heritage foods and traditional food-production processes.

She worked with environmentalists and the Environmental Protection Agency and was a ‘green’ activist during the 1960s in California, in the US. The movement began because of the looming energy crisis and threats such as pollution and overpopulation.

“These activists grew and fed off of their own crops, they did not wear synthetic materials and they recycled their waste,” she says.

The activists promoted a system of community-based living, in which all members of the community provide food and other living essentials, otherwise known as collaborative consumption.

“In 1968, we heard that work was being done to genetically modify seeds, which was worrying, as a seed has evolved naturally to make it what it is and genetic engineering is a completely unnatural process,” argues Jenks.

Food security is a big challenge worldwide, as crops are destroyed by natural disasters, climate change and extreme weather, says Jenks, predicting that there will be a serious shortage of food as a result.

She concludes that these disasters, coupled with the decrease of available potable water and the irresponsible depletion of natural resources, are the greatest challenges facing the future of the human race. However, the next generation are increasingly aware and better informed and Jenks has no doubt that they will devise solutions and new lifestyles to overcome these challenges.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter