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Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods
"An independent study conducted by the Deccan Development Society in India has revealed symptoms of reduced food intake, swollen lips, frothy salivation, nasal discharge, bulging of head and deaths within 25 to 30 days of continuous Bt Cotton fodder consumption. Similarly in the state of Haryana a study has revealed that buffaloes suffered prolapsed uterus, premature deliveries, abortions, reduction in milk output and fat content, change in taste of milk, and sudden deaths after being fed Bt Cotton fodder and oil seed cakes for a regular period."
Debjeet Sarangi & Jagannath Chatterjee : January 29, 2009
Jeffrey M Smith, renowned author of three bestsellers on health risks of genetically engineered food, cautioned the Orissa government against allowing commercial production of genetically engineered crops, particularly Bt Brinjal, which is poised to be sanctioned very soon. During his recent visit to Bhubaneswar, he appealed the government to go in for confined tests instead apprehending that the field trials of genetically engineered crops can result in cross pollination and may cause contamination by releasing the inserted gene into the environment and into other associated crops appealing to the government.
While in Bhubaneswar to attend the launch of the Indian edition of his widely acclaimed book "Genetic Roulette, The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered food", Jeffrey Smith explained that his experience of giving lectures to various audiences in 30 countries and his interaction with expert scientists for thirteen years helped a lot in documenting 65 health risks as brought out by studies conducted across the globe.
He pointed out how Bt Cotton has adversely affected the health of farmers and resulted in deaths of cattle, sheep and goats in the states where it has been permitted. He wondered how the illegal cultivation of Bt Cotton in Orissa has been allowed to go on without any monitoring and research to gauze the fallout. He said he was certain that the entire cotton crop of the state has been contaminated. This crop would also result in health risks to the general public as cotton seed oil forms a part of most cooking oils that are regularly consumed.
Among the scientific studies cited were studies on rats that brought out serious organ disorders, high infant mortality, changes in intestinal gut flora and deaths. The only human study ever conducted revealed that inserted genes are getting transferred to intestinal bacteria.
An independent study conducted by the Deccan Development Society in India has revealed symptoms of reduced food intake, swollen lips, frothy salivation, nasal discharge, bulging of head and deaths within 25 to 30 days of continuous Bt Cotton fodder consumption. Similarly in the state of Haryana a study has revealed that buffaloes suffered prolapsed uterus, premature deliveries, abortions, reduction in milk output and fat content, change in taste of milk, and sudden deaths after being fed Bt Cotton fodder and oil seed cakes for a regular period. Post mortems on dead animals has revealed holes in lungs and change in colour of internal organs. The Andhra Pradesh Animal Husbandry Department has official acknowledged such effects. What is most dangerous, Smith pointed out, is that there is undigested food in the rumen indicating that perhaps rumen bacteria are being killed by the Bt toxin. The Bt toxin, dangerous in itself, becomes 1000 times more toxic during the genetic engineering process. This toxin has never been approved for mammalian consumption!
Jeffrey Smith cautioned against the consumption of food products imported from USA and a few other countries that were growing genetically engineered crops. He said that consuming genetically modified corn, Soya, canola, rape seed containing products imported from the USA and GM papaya from Hawaii could be dangerous. The fact that the proposed "GMO Free" labeling for food products is being resisted by governments makes it very difficult for consumers to know whether the food they are consuming is safe to eat.
Scientists from the OUAT, Veterinary Surgeons of the Orissa Veterinary College, doctors and senior policy makers have expressed great concern and displeasure with the inadequate nature of the bio safety studies conducted by the seed companies which are the only studies that are being considered by the Government of India to approve such crops.
Jeffrey Smith pointed out that Dr Pushpa Bhargava, Supreme Court appointed nominee to oversee the manner of approvals by the GEAC, has expressed displeasure at the way the approvals have been granted. According to Dr Pushpa Bhargava, renowned molecular biologist, less than 10% of the required studies have been done and even these studies have not been done in a proper manner. Not a single adverse event has been considered.
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Smith informed that Dr Bhargava has devised a protocol that includes a laboratory being set up in India for testing genetically engineered food and crops. These crops, according to Dr Bhargava, are being commercially released 20 years too soon without having adequate knowledge or technology to ensure that the intended effects occur and the foods are safe for human consumption.
The Government of Orissa has requested Jeffrey Smith to interact with Dr Bhargava and explore the possibility of carrying out the tests recommended by the molecular biologist in Orissa itself at a meeting where Mr. Smith expressed his happiness that the Chief Minister of Orissa, a nature lover, has pledged not to allow Bt Brinjal into the state. He informed senior officials that the Government of Orissa should protest the decision of the Centre to impose legislation that would take away the decision making power of states with regard to agriculture and thus pave the way for introduction of genetically engineered food and crops into the state.
Senior Agriculture Officials of the State have assured Jeffrey Smith that the Government is in no mood to allow the entry of GM food crops into Orissa but there is always the possibility of illegal cultivation as farmers, longing for a greater income, fall a prey to the promises made by seed sellers. The same thing has happened with Bt Cotton in Orissa. In such a case, said Dr Smith, the consumers in Orissa have to give up eating brinjal as it would be very difficult for the consumer to distinguish between natural brinjal and its genetically engineered version.
Jeffrey Smith has given us very good insight into the probable risks associated with genetically engineered food and crops, opined a senior scientist of the state under conditions of anonymity. We sincerely hope that the Government of Orissa will do rigorous, unbiased independent scientific research under the guidance of Dr Pushpa Bhargava so as to protect the health of all living beings and the environment and also share the findings of such studies with the public. Bt Cotton has already shown its dark side in Orissa by rendering the soil infertile and causing allergies in human beings. Cattle in the districts where Bt Cotton is being grown illegally are dying mysteriously in large numbers. "Bt Brinjal should definitely be banned in India," said a very senior official of the agriculture department of Orissa during his interaction with Jeffrey Smith.
(Mr Sarangi is the Secretary and Mr Chatterjee is the Campaign Coordinator of 'Living Farms', Bhubaneswar, Orissa)