No. 7 · Safe Food Campaign Newsletter ·July/August 2000
· GE UPDATE·
Allergies and GE Food Labelling
People often wonder about the safety of genetically engineered food, and some assume that the safety issues are primarily environmental. Food allergies are a potential problem for GE food and have been subject to considerable concern, even within the US Food and Drug Administration.
Food allergies are more wide spread than many realise. Some estimates suggest that 2% of the population have allergic responses to certain foods. Allergies can increase in intensity over time with increasing exposure to the same allergens.
All food allergens are proteins, and virtually all gene manipulation in crops involves the modification of, or transplantation of, proteins or protein production. Genes are the chemical blue print for proteins, and proteins are involved in a wide variety of cellular processes including cell growth and enzyme activity. Enzyme proteins are catalysts for chemical reactions within the cell that are necessary for cell metabolism.
There are serious concerns that new proteins in genetically engineered food (which the human digestive system has never been exposed to) could give rise to allergic responses. Such allergic responses may be similar to those we already know about such as hay fever, rashes, seizures and even death (as is the case with peanut allergies for some people). So serious is the allergic response to peanuts (i.e. it is lethal), that foods with peanut ingredients are required to indicate this on the label. Many foods that do not have peanut ingredients, but are made in the same factory where peanuts are present, may have labels suggesting that the product "may contain" traces of peanut.
Allergic problems with genetically engineered food have already occurred. In 1996, for example, a company inserted a single gene from a brazil nut into genetically altered soybeans to give them extra protein. The gene from the brazil nut took the allergenic property with it and made the soybeans severely allergenic to people who are sensitive to brazil nuts.
Because much of the genetic material being inserted into food crops has never been in the human diet before (e.g. protein from leeches, waxmoths, mice), we cannot know in advance whether such proteins are likely to produce allergies or not. Accordingly, GE food has the potential to bring countless new proteins into our diet - proteins whose allergenic status is unknown. Obviously, pre-market allergenicity testing is needed. But the problem is that currently only foods with known allergens are required to undergo allergenicity testing. We are not in the habit of eating African clawed toads, and because of this we cannot know whether we are allergic to them or any of their many different proteins, some of which we may unwittingly end up eating in a piece of GE corn.
It is for these reasons that GE foods need to be labelled in ways that allow innocent consumers the opportunity to avoid food products that have the potential for serious health effects. Even though allergic responses may only affect a tiny proportion of the population, the magnitude of the risk (e.g. death in the case of some allergens) is sufficient to warrant labelling to indicate whether a product has been produced using gene technology or not.SF
The planned trial planting of geneti-cally engineered Bt maize in Pukekohe by firm Pioneer New Zealand is no longer going ahead. This is because Pioneer New Zealand, an American company, is pulling out of New Zealand. Spokesperson Rex Oliver says the move is mainly due to a reorganisation within the company.
Whatever the reason, this is good news because this same strain of Bt maize was banned in Austria last year after laboratory tests showed that the maize, engineered to resist corn-borer insects and tolerate herbicide, killed the larvae of the monarch butterfly and could threaten other non-targeted insects. Last year ERMA approved the trials saying they were confident the trial planting would be adequately contained.SF
A phone-in survey conducted in Adelaide earlier this year revealed:
- 100% of the respondents were in favour of the labelling of GE food
- 92% indicated that they would not purchase a product which was labelled "may contain GM ingredients"
- 98% stated that they would support a five-year moratorium on the commercial release of any new GE food and the suspension of the use of those already in the food supply until more safety and environmental testing has been carried out.SF
Source: Consumers International April 2000
Kellogg's Cereal contains GE Soy
Testing laboratory Biotest in Western Australia recently found GE Soya DNA in the soya flour in Kellogg's All Bran Soy'n Fibre. Martin Oliver from the Gene-Ethics Network Northern Rivers, in Australia believes that Kellogg's are exploiting the current lack of labelling for GE food to sell consumers something that the majority of consumers don't want. Kellogg's have recently been targeted by Greenpeace for going GE-free in Europe in response to consumer demand, but not in the US, where they are likely to be using GE corn.
Source: Consumer Food News, July 2000
(Kellogg's advise that their All Bran Soy'n Fibre is not sold in NZ).
- Contact Kellogg's on free-call 0800-881-889, or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for confirmation of their GE policy. Tell them you will not buy their products if they use GE ingredients. SF
A Life Sciences Network spokesperson (Pro GE) revealed at the Royal Commission's formal application hearing on Friday 11 August that the Hamilton City Council has already spent $1million to encourage GE industries to their area. SF