Genetically Modified Soy Diets Lead to Ovary and Uterus Changes in Rats

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If you’re still eating genetically modified (GM) soybeans and you plan on having kids, a Brazilian study may make you think again about what you put in your mouth. Female rats fed GM soy for 15 months showed significant changes in their uterus and reproductive cycle, compared to rats fed organic soy or those raised without soy. Published in The Anatomical Record in 2009, this finding adds to the mounting body of evidence suggesting that GM foods contribute to reproductive disorders (see summary at end).

Unlike women whose menstrual cycle starts automatically at puberty, female rats need to be "inspired." Their (estrous) cycle conveniently kicks in only after being introduced to male rats. Since no males were present in this study, the females fed organic soy or no soy were appropriately untriggered (diestrus).  For some odd reason, however, those fed GM soy appeared to have their ovulation cycle in full gear.

Although the researchers did not perform a check on the estrous cycle directly, their microscopic analysis of ovaries and uterus tissue showed that the hormone-induced changes (i.e. early ovulation and formation of corpus luteum) were well underway. In addition, the lining of the uterus (endometriim) had more cells than normal and the glands were dilated. In simpler terms, according to senior UK pathologist Stanley Ewen, something in the GM soy diet was "wrecking the ovary and endometrium" of the rats.

Hormonal imbalance and disease risk

Dr. Ewen speculated on the significant hormonal changes in the rats and their implications for women who eat GM soy. He said that the proliferative growth (hyperplasia) of the (endometrial) cells lining the uterus implies changes in important reproductive hormones. There might include excessive production of estrogen, follicle stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone, or even damage to the pituitary gland itself.

The presence of the corpus luteum, which is normally formed during the estrous cycle, means that the rats likely have higher amounts of progesterone. This hormone could increase the number of eggs released from the ovary, as well as increase their tendency to implant and be viable. If eating GM soy increased progesterone in women, this might improve their fertility.

On the other hand, if women also experienced similar changes in the uterus lining and altered hormonal levels, Dr. Ewen said it might increase the risk of retrograde menstruation, in which menstrual discharge travels backwards into the body rather than through the uterus. This can cause a disease known as endometriosis, which may lead to infertility. The disorder can also produce pelvic and leg pain, gastrointestinal problems, chronic fatigue, and a wide variety of other symptoms. The cause is unknown.

Dr. Ewen also pointed out that the changes in the rats, if extrapolated to humans, might lead to abnormally heavy or longer menstrual periods (menorrhagia).

He was quick to point out that more studies are needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn, particularly because such a method of study, called histology, "is a static observation—only a snapshot." In addition, follow-up studies may be able to better rule out other variables. In this study, an amino acid (cysteine) was added only to the organic soy diet but not the GMO (although even a cysteine-deficient diet would not explain the reproductive issues). Also, the soybeans used in both diets were purchased commercially. It is much better to use similar genetic varieties grown side by side in the same climatic conditions. Unfortunately, Monsanto doesn’t usually make the similar varieties (isolines) available for research.

The variable that Dr. Ewen wants looked at the most is the weedkiller used on GM soybeans, as he mentioned over and over that it is a probable cause of the disruption.

Is Roundup herbicide causing us reproductive problems?

Genetically modified soybeans are called Roundup Ready. They are inserted with a bacterial gene, which allows the plants to survive a normally deadly dose of Roundup herbicide. Although the spray doesn’t kill the plant, its active ingredient called glyphosate does accumulate in the beans themselves, which are consumed by rats, livestock, and humans. There is so much glyphosate in GM soybeans, when they were introduced Europe had to increase their allowable residue levels by 200 fold.

Although there is only a handful of studies on the safety of GM soybeans, there is considerable evidence that glyphosate—especially in conjunction with the other ingredients in Roundup—wreaks havoc with the endocrine and reproductive systems. "I think the concentration of glyphosate in the soybeans is the likely cause of the problem," says Ewen.

Glyphosate throws off the delicate hormonal balance that governs the whole reproductive cycle. "It’s an endocrine buster," says Ewen, "that interferes with aromatase, which produces estrogen." Aromatase is required by luteal cells to produce hormones for the normal menstrual cycle, but it’s those luteal cells that have shown considerable alterations in the rats fed GM soybeans.

Glyphosate is also toxic to the placenta, the organ which connects the mother to the fetus, providing nutrients and oxygen, and emptying waste products. In a 2009 French study at the University of Caen, scientists discovered that glyphosate can kill the cells in the outer layer of the human placenta (the trophoblast membrane), which in turn can kill the placenta. The placenta cells are, in Ewen’s words, "exquisitely sensitive to glyphosate." Only 1/500th the amount needed to kill weeds was able to kill the cells. The amount is so small, according to the study authors the "residual levels to be expected, especially in food and feed derived from R[oundup] formulation-treated crops" could be enough to "cause cell damage and even [cell] death." Furthermore, the effect of the toxin may bioaccumulate, growing worse with repeated consumption from Roundup laden foods.

Ewen says, "If the endocrine functions of the placenta are destroyed by glyphosate in the test tube, by extrapolation, ovarian and endometrial function would be expected to suffer." The implications for pregnant woman consuming glyphosate, he says, could be abortion.

Indeed, in a Canadian epidemiological study, which looked at nearly 4000 pregnancies in 1,898 couples, women exposed to glyphosate during the three months before getting pregnant had a significantly higher risk of abortions, especially for those above 34 years of age.

Dr. Ewen regrets that he didn’t follow up a referral by a local gynecologist about 20 years ago, who told him that women were having abortions when the fields next door were sprayed. He doesn’t know what was sprayed.

Fathers exposed to glyphosate also increase reproductive risks

In the Canadian study above, even fathers who were exposed to glyphosate before their wives got pregnant showed an increase in early delivery and abortions. In addition, a study of male rabbits showed that glyphosate can cause a reduction in sexual activity and sperm concentration, and an increase in dead or abnormal sperm.

Birth defects increased in humans and animals

Numerous indigenous people and peasant communities in Argentina have blamed aerial spraying of Roundup on a significant rise of birth defects. Dr. Andreas Carasco of the Embryology Laboratory, Faculty of Medicine in Buenos Aires, decided to investigate. He exposed amphibian embryos to a tiny concentration of glyphosate (diluted 5000 fold). According to an excellent summary of glyphosate-related effects by the Pesticide Action Network,

"Effects included reduced head size, genetic alterations in the central nervous system, increased death of cells that help form the skull, deformed cartilage, eye defects, and undeveloped kidneys. Carrasco also stated that the glyphosate was not breaking down in the cells, but was accumulating. The findings lend weight to claims that abnormally high levels of cancer, birth defects, neonatal mortality, lupus, kidney disease, and skin and respiratory problems in populations near Argentina’s soybean fields may be linked to the aerial spraying of Roundup."

Although human embryos are not directly treated with glyphosate in the same way that Carrasco treated his amphibian embryos, it is known that glyphosate does cross the placenta and enters the fetal circulation.

In his article, Dr. Carrasco describes some disturbing findings in Argentina, where more than 50 million gallons of glyphosate-based herbicide is used on more than 45 million acres of GM soy.

In Argentina, an increase in the incidence of congenital malformations began to be reported in the last few years. In Co´rdoba, several cases of malformations together with repeated spontaneous abortions were detected in the village of Ituzaingo´, which is surrounded by GMO-based agriculture. These findings were concentrated in families living a few meters from where the herbicides are regularly sprayed.

Glyphosate may also cause reproductive disorders in the offspring of those exposed. When pregnant rats, for example, were exposed to glyphosate, their male offspring suffered reduced sperm production, increased abnormal sperm, and decrease in testosterone, in puberty and/or adulthood.

Other evidence of reproductive problems from GMOs

The changes in the rat uterus and ovulation cycle are by no means a smoking gun. But they are now part of a pattern of multiple reproductive disorders found in GMO feeding studies.
Professor Vyvyan Howard, a toxico-pathologist of the University of Ulster, says, "Several new hazards can now be identified." The growing body or research showing problems, he says, "provides ample evidence that the producers of GMO crops are not performing risk assessments for some of the hazards that independent scientists are identifying and testing." Dr. Howard, who specializes in the effects of toxins on the fetus and infants,  asks, "What will be the effect on the fetus in the womb of women eating these foods? This needs to be tested."

The few tests that have been done on animals are more than sobering. In April 2010, researchers at Russia’s Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the National Association for Gene Security found that after feeding hamsters GM soy for two years over three generations, by the third generation most lost the ability to have babies. They also suffered slower growth, a high mortality rate among the pups, and a high incidence of a rare phenomenon of hair growing inside their mouths.

When I reported the results of the hamster study, I included the following review of other GMO-related reports of reproductive disorders:

In 2005, Irina Ermakova, also with the Russian National Academy of Sciences, reported that more than half the babies from mother rats fed GM soy died within three weeks. This was also five times higher than the 10% death rate of the non-GMO soy group. The babies in the GM group were also smaller (see photo) and could not reproduce.
In a telling coincidence, after Ermakova’s feeding trials, her laboratory started feeding all the rats in the facility a commercial rat chow using GM soy. Within two months, the infant mortality facility-wide reached 55%.

When Ermakova fed male rats GM soy, their testicles changed from the normal pink to dark blue! Italian scientists similarly found changes in mice testes (PDF), including damaged young sperm cells. Furthermore, the DNA of embryos from parent mice fed GM soy functioned differently.

An Austrian government study published in November 2008 showed that the more GM corn was fed to mice, the fewer the babies they had (PDF), and the smaller the babies were.
Central Iowa Farmer Jerry Rosman also had trouble with pigs and cows becoming sterile. Some of his pigs even had false pregnancies or gave birth to bags of water. After months of investigations and testing, he finally traced the problem to GM corn feed. Every time a newspaper, magazine, or TV show reported Jerry’s problems, he would receive calls from more farmers complaining of livestock sterility on their farm, linked to GM corn.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine accidentally discovered that rats raised on corncob bedding "neither breed nor exhibit reproductive behavior." Tests on the corn material revealed two compounds that stopped the sexual cycle in females "at concentrations approximately two-hundredfold lower than classical phytoestrogens." One compound also curtailed male sexual behavior and both substances contributed to the growth of breast and prostate cancer cell cultures. Researchers found that the amount of the substances varied with GM corn varieties. The crushed corncob used at Baylor was likely shipped from central Iowa, near the farm of Jerry Rosman and others complaining of sterile livestock.
In Haryana, India, a team of investigating veterinarians report that buffalo consuming GM cottonseed suffer from infertility, as well as frequent abortions, premature deliveries, and prolapsed uteruses. Many adult and young buffalo have also died mysteriously.

Biotech advocates usually deny or try to discredit the evidence, and often attack scientists who discover it. But they rarely call for follow-up studies. With little or no money to follow up on these findings, we won’t know for sure if GMOs are the cause, or if it is glyphosate, or something else. But numerous medical doctors aren’t waiting for more research. They are telling their patients, especially those pregnant or planning to have kids, just say no to GMOs.

So if you were still eating GMOs before you read this, perhaps it’s time to take the doctors’ advice.

International bestselling author and filmmaker Jeffrey M. Smith is the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology. His first book, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating, is the world’s bestselling and #1 rated book on GMOs. His second, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, documents 65 health risks of the GM foods Americans eat every day. Both are distributed by Chelsea Green Publishing. To help you choose healthier, non-GMO brands, use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide.

Genetically Modified Soy Linked to Sterility, Infant Mortality in Hamsters

“This study was just routine,” said Russian biologist Alexey V. Surov, in what could end up as the understatement of this century. Surov and his colleagues set out to discover if Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) soy, grown on 91% of US soybean fields, leads to problems in growth or reproduction. What he discovered may uproot a multi-billion dollar industry.

After feeding hamsters for two years over three generations, those on the GM diet, and especially the group on the maximum GM soy diet, showed devastating results. By the third generation, most GM soy-fed hamsters lost the ability to have babies. They also suffered slower growth, and a high mortality rate among the pups.

And if this isn’t shocking enough, some in the third generation even had hair growing inside their mouths—a phenomenon rarely seen, but apparently more prevalent among hamsters eating GM soy.

The study, jointly conducted by Surov’s Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the National Association for Gene Security, is expected to be published in three months (July 2010)—so the technical details will have to wait. But Surov sketched out the basic set up for me in an email.

He used Campbell hamsters, with a fast reproduction rate, divided into 4 groups. All were fed a normal diet, but one was without any soy, another had non-GM soy, a third used GM soy, and a fourth contained higher amounts of GM soy. They used 5 pairs of hamsters per group, each of which produced 7-8 litters, totally 140 animals.

Surov told The Voice of Russia,

“Originally, everything went smoothly. However, we noticed quite a serious effect when we selected new pairs from their cubs and continued to feed them as before. These pairs’ growth rate was slower and reached their sexual maturity slowly.”

He selected new pairs from each group, which generated another 39 litters. There were 52 pups born to the control group and 78 to the non-GM soy group. In the GM soy group, however, only 40 pups were born. And of these, 25% died. This was a fivefold higher death rate than the 5% seen among the controls. Of the hamsters that ate high GM soy content, only a single female hamster gave birth. She had 16 pups; about 20% died.

Surov said “The low numbers in F2 [third generation] showed that many animals were sterile.”

The published paper will also include measurements of organ size for the third generation animals, including testes, spleen, uterus, etc. And if the team can raise sufficient funds, they will also analyze hormone levels in collected blood samples.

Hair Growing in the Mouth

Earlier this year, Surov co-authored a paper in Doklady Biological Sciences showing that in rare instances, hair grows inside recessed pouches in the mouths of hamsters.

“Some of these pouches contained single hairs; others, thick bundles of colorless or pigmented hairs reaching as high as the chewing surface of the teeth. Sometimes, the tooth row was surrounded with a regular brush of hair bundles on both sides. The hairs grew vertically and had sharp ends, often covered with lumps of a mucous.”

(The photos of these hair bundles are truly disgusting.)

Rat Study Oral Hair

At the conclusion of the study, the authors surmise that such an astounding defect may be due to the diet of hamsters raised in the laboratory. They write, “This pathology may be exacerbated by elements of the food that are absent in natural food, such as genetically modified (GM) ingredients (GM soybean or maize meal) or contaminants (pesticides, mycotoxins, heavy metals, etc.).” Indeed, the number of hairy mouthed hamsters was much higher among the third generation of GM soy fed animals than anywhere Surov had seen before.

Preliminary, but Ominous

Surov warns against jumping to early conclusions. He said, “It is quite possible that the GMO does not cause these effects by itself.” Surov wants to make the analysis of the feed components a priority, to discover just what is causing the effect and how.

In addition to the GMOs, it could be contaminants, he said, or higher herbicide residues, such as Roundup. There is in fact much higher levels of Roundup on these beans; they’re called “Roundup Ready.” Bacterial genes are forced into their DNA so that the plants can tolerate Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Therefore, GM soy always carries the double threat of higher herbicide content, couple with any side effects of genetic engineering.

Years of Reproductive Disorders from GMO-Feed

Surov’s hamsters are just the latest animals to suffer from reproductive disorders after consuming GMOs. In 2005, Irina Ermakova, also with the Russian National Academy of Sciences, reported that more than half the babies from mother rats fed GM soy died within three weeks. This was also five times higher than the 10% death rate of the non-GMO soy group. The babies in the GM group were also smaller and could not reproduce.

Smaller Rats

In a telling coincidence, after Ermakova’s feeding trials, her laboratory started feeding all the rats in the facility a commercial rat chow using GM soy. Within two months, the infant mortality facility-wide reached 55%.

Rat Testicles

When Ermakova fed male rats GM soy, their testicles changed from the normal pink to dark blue! Italian scientists similarly found changes in mice testes (PDF), including damaged young sperm cells. Furthermore, the DNA of embryos from parent mice fed GM soy functioned differently.

An Austrian government study published in November 2008 showed that the more GM corn was fed to mice, the fewer the babies they had (PDF), and the smaller the babies were.

Central Iowa Farmer Jerry Rosman also had trouble with pigs and cows becoming sterile. Some of his pigs even had false pregnancies or gave birth to bags of water. After months of investigations and testing, he finally traced the problem to GM corn feed. Every time a newspaper, magazine, or TV show reported Jerry’s problems, he would receive calls from more farmers complaining of livestock sterility on their farm, linked to GM corn.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine accidentally discovered that rats raised on corncob bedding “neither breed nor exhibit reproductive behavior.” Tests on the corn material revealed two compounds that stopped the sexual cycle in females “at concentrations approximately two-hundredfold lower than classical phytoestrogens.” One compound also curtailed male sexual behavior and both substances contributed to the growth of breast and prostate cancer cell cultures. Researchers found that the amount of the substances varied with GM corn varieties. The crushed corncob used at Baylor was likely shipped from central Iowa, near the farm of Jerry Rosman and others complaining of sterile livestock.

In Haryana, India, a team of investigating veterinarians report that buffalo consuming GM cottonseed suffer from infertility, as well as frequent abortions, premature deliveries, and prolapsed uteruses. Many adult and young buffalo have also died mysteriously.

Denial, Attack and Canceled Follow-up

Scientists who discover adverse findings from GMOs are regularly attacked, ridiculed, denied funding, and even fired. When Ermakova reported the high infant mortality among GM soy fed offspring, for example, she appealed to the scientific community to repeat and verify her preliminary results. She also sought additional funds to analyze preserved organs. Instead, she was attacked and vilified. Samples were stolen from her lab, papers were burnt on her desk, and she said that her boss, under pressure from his boss, told her to stop doing any more GMO research. No one has yet repeated Ermakova’s simple, inexpensive studies.

In an attempt to offer her sympathy, one of her colleagues suggested that maybe the GM soy will solve the over population problem!

Surov reports that so far, he has not been under any pressure.

Opting Out of the Massive GMO Feeding Experiment

Without detailed tests, no one can pinpoint exactly what is causing the reproductive travesties in Russian hamsters and rats, Italian and Austrian mice, and livestock in India and America. And we can only speculate about the relationship between the introduction of genetically modified foods in 1996, and the corresponding upsurge in low birth weight babies, infertility, and other problems among the US population. But many scientists, physicians, and concerned citizens don’t think that the public should remain the lab animals for the biotech industry’s massive uncontrolled experiment.

Alexey Surov says, “We have no right to use GMOs until we understand the possible adverse effects, not only to ourselves but to future generations as well. We definitely need fully detailed studies to clarify this. Any type of contamination has to be tested before we consume it, and GMO is just one of them.”

Genetically Modified Foods: Toxins and Reproductive Failures

Rhetoric from Washington since the early 1990s proclaims that genetically modified (GM) foods are no different from their natural counterparts that have existed for centuries. But this is a political, not a scientific assertion. Numerous scientists at the FDA consistently described these newly introduced gene-spliced foods as cause for concern. In addition to their potential to produce hard-to-detect allergies and nutritional problems, the scientists said that "The possibility of unexpected, accidental changes in genetically engineered plants" might produce "unexpected high concentrations of plant toxicants."[1] GM crops, they said, might have "Increased levels of known naturally occurring toxins, . . . appearance of new, not previously identified" toxins, and an increased tendency to gather "toxic substances from the environment" such as "pesticides or heavy metals." They recommended testing every GM food "before it enters the marketplace."[2] But the FDA was under orders from the first Bush White House to promote the biotechnology industry, and the political appointee in charge of agency policy was Monsanto’s former attorney—later their vice president. The FDA policy ignored the scientists’ warnings and allowed GM food crops onto the market without any required safety studies.

From the few safety tests that have been conducted, the results are disturbing—lab animals fed GM diets show damage to virtually every system studied. Reports from farmers are even less encouraging—thousands of sick, sterile and dead animals are traced to GM feed.[3]

GM diet shows toxic reactions in digestive tract

The very first crop submitted to the FDA’s voluntary consultation process, the FlavrSavr tomato, showed evidence of toxins. Out of 20 female rats fed the GM tomato, 7 developed stomach lesions.[4] The director of FDA’s Office of Special Research Skills wrote that the tomatoes did not demonstrate a "reasonable certainty of no harm,"[5] which is their normal standard of safety. The Additives Evaluation Branch agreed that "unresolved questions still remain."[6] The political appointees, however, did not require that the tomato be withdrawn.[*]

According to Arpad Pusztai, PhD, one of the world’s leading experts in GM food safety assessments, the type of stomach lesions linked to the tomatoes "could lead to life-endangering hemorrhage, particularly in the elderly who use aspirin to prevent [blood clots]."[7] Pusztai believes that the digestive tract should be the first target of GM food risk assessment, because the gut is the first (and largest) point of contact with the foods; it can reveal various reactions to toxins. He was upset, however, that the research on the FlavrSavr never looked passed the stomach to the intestines. Other studies that did look found problems.

Mice were fed potatoes with an added bacterial gene, which produced an insecticide called Bt-toxin. Scientists analyzed the lower part of their small intestines (ileum) and found abnormal and damaged cells, as well as proliferative cell growth.[8] Rats fed potatoes engineered to produce a different type of insecticide (GNA lectin from the snowdrop plant) also showed proliferative cell growth in both the stomach and intestinal walls (see photo – click here for larger image).[9] Although the guts of rats fed GM peas were not examined for cell growth, the intestines were mysteriously heavier; possibly resulting from such growth.[10] Cell proliferation can be a precursor to cancer and is of special concern.

GM diets cause liver damage

The state of the liver—a main detoxifier for the body—is another indicator of toxins.

  • Rats fed the GNA lectin potatoes described above had smaller and partially atrophied livers.[11]
  • Rats fed Monsanto’s Mon 863 corn, engineered to produce Bt-toxin, had liver lesions and other indications of toxicity.[12]
  • Rabbits fed GM soy showed altered enzyme production in their livers as well as higher metabolic activity.[13]
  • The livers of rats fed Roundup Ready canola were 12%-16% heavier, possibly due to liver disease or inflammation.[14]
  • And microscopic analysis of the livers of mice fed Roundup Ready soybeans revealed altered gene expression and structural and functional changes.[15] Many of these changes reversed after the mice diet was switched to non-GM soy, indicating that GM soy was the culprit. The findings, according to molecular geneticist Michael Antoniou, PhD, "are not random and must reflect some ‘insult’ on the liver by the GM soy." Antoniou, who does human gene therapy research in King’s College London, said that although the long-term consequences of the GM soy diet are not known, it "could lead to liver damage and consequently general toxemia."[16]

Higher death rates and organ damage

Some studies showed higher death rates in GM-fed animals. In the FlavrSavr tomato study, for example, a note in the appendix indicated that 7 of 40 rats died within two weeks and were replaced.[17] In another study, chickens fed the herbicide tolerant "Liberty Link" corn died at twice the rate of those fed natural corn.[18] But in these two industry-funded studies, the deaths were dismissed without adequate explanation or follow-up.

In addition, the cells in the pancreas of mice fed Roundup Ready soy had profound changes and produced significantly less digestive enzymes;[19] in rats fed a GM potato, the pancreas was enlarged.[20] In various analyses of kidneys, GM-fed animals showed lesions, toxicity, altered enzyme production or inflammation. Enzyme production in the hearts of mice was altered by GM soy.[21] And GM potatoes caused slower growth in the brain of rats.[22]

Reproductive failures and infant mortality

In both mice and rats fed Roundup Ready soybeans, their testicles showed dramatic changes. In rats, the organs were dark blue instead of pink (see photo – click here for larger image).[23] In mice, young sperm cells were altered.[24] Embryos of GM soy-fed mice also showed temporary changes in their DNA function, compared to those whose parents were fed non-GM soy.[25]

More dramatic results were discovered by a leading scientist at the Russian National Academy of sciences. Female rats were fed GM soy, starting two weeks before they were mated.

  • Over a series of three experiments, 51.6 percent of the offspring from the GM-fed group died within the first three weeks, compared to 10 percent from the non-GM soy group, and 8.1 percent for non-soy controls.
  • "High pup mortality was characteristic of every litter from mothers fed the GM soy flour."[26]
  • The average size and weight of the GM-fed offspring was quite a bit smaller.[27]
  • In a preliminary study, the GM-fed offspring were unable to conceive.[28]

After the three feeding trials, the supplier of rat food used at the Russian laboratory began using GM soy in their formulation. Since all the rats housed at the facility were now eating GM soy, no non-GM fed controls were available for subsequent GM feeding trials; follow-up studies were canceled. After two months on the GM soy diet, however, the infant mortality rate of rats throughout the facility had skyrocketed to 55.3 percent (99 of 179).[29]

Farmers report livestock sterility and deaths

About two dozen farmers reported that thousands of their pigs had reproductive problems when fed certain varieties of Bt corn. Pigs were sterile, had false pregnancies, or gave birth to bags of water. Some cows and bulls also became sterile. Bt corn was also implicated by farmers in the deaths of cows, horses, water buffaloes, and chickens. [30]

When Indian shepherds let their sheep graze continuously on Bt cotton plants, within 5-7 days, one out of four sheep died. There was an estimated 10,000 sheep deaths in the region in 2006, with more reported in 2007. Post mortems on the sheep showed severe irritation and black patches in both intestines and liver (as well as enlarged bile ducts). Investigators said preliminary evidence "strongly suggests that the sheep mortality was due to a toxin. . . . most probably Bt-toxin."[31]

Dangerous denial

The warnings of the FDA scientists appear to have come true. But we were not supposed to know about their concerns. The agency’s internal memos were only made public due to a lawsuit. Instead, we were supposed to believe the official FDA policy, claiming that the agency is not aware of information showing that GM foods are meaningfully different. This statement, crafted by political appointees, directly contradicts the scientific consensus at the FDA.

Nearly every independent animal feeding safety study on GM foods shows adverse or unexplained effects. But we were not supposed to know about these problems either—the biotech industry works overtime to try to hide them. Industry studies described above, for example, are neither peer-reviewed nor published. It took lawsuits to make two of them available. And adverse findings by independent scientists are often suppressed, ignored, or denied. Moreover, researchers that discover problems from GM foods have been fired, stripped of responsibilities, deprived of tenure, and even threatened. The myth that GM crops are the same safe food we have always eaten continues to circulate.

With the overwhelming evidence of problems since their introduction in 1996, however, it is likely that GM foods are contributing to the deterioration of health in the United States. Without human clinical trials or post-marketing surveillance, we can’t tell which worsening health statistic may be due to these foods. But we also can’t afford to wait until we find out. GM foods must be removed from our diet immediately. Fortunately, more and more people are making healthy non-GM choices for themselves and their family. To learn which foods are genetically modified and how to protect yourself, visit the Non-GMO Shopping Guide.

[*] Calgene had submitted data on two lines of GM tomatoes, both using the same inserted gene. They voluntarily elected to market only the variety that was not associated with the lesions. This was not required by the FDA, which did not block approvals on the lesion-associated variety. The FlavrSavr tomato has since been taken off the market. After the FlavrSavr, no other biotech company has submitted such detailed data to the FDA. And the superficial summaries they do present to the agency are dismissed by critics as woefully inadequate to judge safety.

[1] Edwin J. Mathews, Ph.D., in a memorandum to the Toxicology Section of the Biotechnology Working Group. Subject: Analysis of the Major Plant Toxicants. Dated October 28, 1991.

[2] Division of Food Chemistry and Technology and Division of Contaminants Chemistry, "Points to Consider for Safety Evaluation of Genetically Modified Foods: Supplemental Information," November 1, 1991, www.biointegrity.org

[3] Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, Yes! Books, Fairfield, IA USA 2007

[4] Department of Veterinary Medicine, FDA, correspondence June 16, 1993. As quoted in Fred A. Hines, Memo to Dr. Linda Kahl. "Flavr Savr Tomato: . . . Pathology Branch’s Evaluation of Rats with Stomach Lesions From Three Four-Week Oral (Gavage) Toxicity Studies . . . and an Expert Panel’s Report," Alliance for Bio-Integrity (June 16, 1993) http://www.biointegrity.org/FDAdocs/17/view1.html

[5] Robert J. Scheuplein, Memo to the FDA Biotechnology Coordinator and others, "Response to Calgene Amended Petition," Alliance for Bio-Integrity (October 27, 1993) www.biointegrity.org

[6] Carl B. Johnson to Linda Kahl and others, "Flavr Savr™ Tomato: Significance of Pending DHEE Question," Alliance for Bio-Integrity (December 7, 1993) www.biointegrity.org

[7] Arpad Pusztai, "Genetically Modified Foods: Are They a Risk to Human/Animal Health?" June 2001 Action Bioscience www.actionbioscience.org/biotech/pusztai.html

[8] Nagui H. Fares, Adel K. El-Sayed, "Fine Structural Changes in the Ileum of Mice Fed on Endotoxin Treated Potatoes and Transgenic Potatoes," Natural Toxins 6, no. 6 (1998): 219-233.

[9] Stanley W. B. Ewen and Arpad Pusztai, "Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine," Lancet, 1999 Oct 16; 354 (9187): 1353-4.

[10] Arpad Pusztai, "Facts Behind the GM Pea Controversy: Epigenetics, Transgenic Plants & Risk Assessment," Proceedings of the Conference, December 1st 2005 (Frankfurtam Main, Germany: Literaturhaus, 2005).

[11] Arpad Pusztai, "Can science give us the tools for recognizing possible health risks of GM food," Nutrition and Health, 2002, Vol 16 Pp 73-84.

[12] John M. Burns, "13-Week Dietary Subchronic Comparison Study with MON 863 Corn in Rats Preceded by a 1-Week Baseline Food Consumption Determination with PMI Certified Rodent Diet #5002," December 17, 2002 www.monsanto.com/monsanto/content/sci_tech/prod_safety/fullratstudy.pdf

[13] R. Tudisco, P. Lombardi, F. Bovera, D. d’Angelo, M. I. Cutrignelli, V. Mastellone, V. Terzi, L. Avallone, F. Infascelli, "Genetically Modified Soya Bean in Rabbit Feeding: Detection of DNA Fragments and Evaluation of Metabolic Effects by Enzymatic Analysis," Animal Science 82 (2006): 193-199.

[14] Comments to ANZFA about Applications A346, A362 and A363 from the Food Legislation and Regulation Advisory Group (FLRAG) of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) on behalf of the PHAA, "Food produced from glyphosate-tolerant canola line GT73," www.iher.org.au/

[15] M. Malatesta, C. Caporaloni, S. Gavaudan, M. B. Rocchi, S. Serafini, C. Tiberi, G. Gazzanelli, "Ultrastructural Morphometrical and Immunocytochemical Analyses of Hepatocyte Nuclei from Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybean," Cell Struct Funct. 27 (2002): 173-180.

[16] Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, Yes! Books,Fairfield, IA USA 2007

[17] Arpad Pusztai, "Can Science Give Us the Tools for Recognizing Possible Health Risks for GM Food?" Nutrition and Health 16 (2002): 73-84.

[18] S. Leeson, "The Effect of Glufosinate Resistant Corn on Growth of Male Broiler Chickens," Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, University of Guelph, Report No. A56379, July 12, 1996.

[19] Malatesta, et al, "Ultrastructural Analysis of Pancreatic Acinar Cells from Mice Fed on Genetically modified Soybean," J Anat. 2002 November; 201(5): 409-415; see also M. Malatesta, M. Biggiogera, E. Manuali, M. B. L. Rocchi, B. Baldelli, G. Gazzanelli, "Fine Structural Analyses of Pancreatic Acinar Cell Nuclei from Mice Fed on GM Soybean," Eur J Histochem 47 (2003): 385-388.

[20] Arpad Pusztai, "Can science give us the tools for recognizing possible health risks of GM food," Nutrition and Health, 2002, Vol 16 Pp 73-84.

[21] R. Tudisco, P. Lombardi, F. Bovera, D. d’Angelo, M. I. Cutrignelli, V. Mastellone, V. Terzi, L. Avallone, F. Infascelli, "Genetically Modified Soya Bean in Rabbit Feeding: Detection of DNA Fragments and Evaluation of Metabolic Effects by Enzymatic Analysis," Animal Science 82 (2006): 193-199.

[22] Arpad Pusztai, "Can science give us the tools for recognizing possible health risks of GM food," Nutrition and Health, 2002, Vol 16 Pp 73-84.

[23] Irina Ermakova, "Experimental Evidence of GMO Hazards," Presentation at Scientists for a GM Free Europe, EU Parliament, Brussels, June 12, 2007.

[24] L. Vecchio et al, "Ultrastructural Analysis of Testes from Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybean," European Journal of Histochemistry 48, no. 4 (Oct-Dec 2004):449-454.

[25] Oliveri et al., "Temporary Depression of Transcription in Mouse Pre-implantion Embryos from Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybean," 48th Symposium of the Society for Histochemistry, Lake Maggiore (Italy), September 7-10, 2006.

[26] I.V.Ermakova, "Genetically Modified Organisms and Biological Risks," Proceedings of International Disaster Reduction Conference (IDRC) Davos, Switzerland August 27th – September 1st, 2006: 168-172.

[27] Irina Ermakova, "Genetically modified soy leads to the decrease of weight and high mortality of rat pups of the first generation. Preliminary studies," Ecosinform 1 (2006): 4-9.

[28] Irina Ermakova, "Experimental Evidence of GMO Hazards," Presentation at Scientists for a GM Free Europe, EU Parliament, Brussels, June 12, 2007.

[29] I.V.Ermakova "GMO: Life itself intervened into the experiments," Letter, EcosInform N2 (2006): 3-4.

[30] Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, Yes! Books, Fairfield, IA USA 2007.

[31] "Mortality in Sheep Flocks after Grazing on Bt Cotton Fields—Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh" Report of the Preliminary Assessment, April 2006, http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp

Genetically Engineered Foods May Cause Rising Food Allergies (Part One)

Genetically Engineered Soybeans

Read in Portugese

The huge jump in childhood food allergies in the US is in the news often[1], but most reports fail to consider a link to a recent radical change in America’s diet. Beginning in 1996, bacteria, virus and other genes have been artificially inserted to the DNA of soy, corn, cottonseed and canola plants. These unlabeled genetically modified (GM) foods carry a risk of triggering life-threatening allergic reactions, and evidence collected over the past decade now suggests that they are contributing to higher allergy rates.

Food safety tests are inadequate to protect public health

Scientists have long known that GM crops might cause allergies. But there are no tests to prove in advance that a GM crop is safe.[2] That’s because people aren’t usually allergic to a food until they have eaten it several times. "The only definitive test for allergies," according to former FDA microbiologist Louis Pribyl, "is human consumption by affected peoples, which can have ethical considerations."[3] And it is the ethical considerations of feeding unlabeled, high-risk GM crops to unknowing consumers that has many people up in arms.

The UK is one of the few countries that conducts a yearly evaluation of food allergies. In March 1999, researchers at the York Laboratory were alarmed to discover that reactions to soy had skyrocketed by 50% over the previous year. Genetically modified soy had recently entered the UK from US imports and the soy used in the study was largely GM. John Graham, spokesman for the York laboratory, said, "We believe this raises serious new questions about the safety of GM foods."[4]

Critics of GM foods often say that the US population is being used as guinea pigs in an experiment. But experiments have the benefit of controls and measurement. In this case, there is neither. GM food safety experts point out that even if a someone tried to collect data about allergic reactions to GM foods, they would not likely be successful. "The potential allergen is rarely identified. The number of allergy-related medical visits is not tabulated. Even repeated visits due to well-known allergens are not counted as part of any established surveillance system."[5] Indeed, after the Canadian government announced in 2002 that they would "keep a careful eye on the health of Canadians"[6] to see if GM foods had any adverse reactions, they abandoned their plans within a year, saying that such a study was too difficult.

Genetic engineering may provoke increased allergies to soy

The classical understanding of why a GM crop might create new allergies is that the imported genes produce a new protein, which has never before been present. The novel protein may trigger reactions. This was demonstrated in the mid 1990s when soybeans were outfitted with a gene from the Brazil nut. While the scientists had attempted to produce a healthier soybean, they ended up with a potentially deadly one. Blood tests from people who were allergic to Brazil nuts showed reactions to the beans.[7] It was fortunately never put on the market.

The GM variety that is planted in 89% of US soy acres gets its foreign gene from bacteria (with parts of virus and petunia DNA as well). We don’t know in advance if the protein produced by bacteria, which has never been part of the human food supply, will provoke a reaction. As a precaution, scientists compare this new protein with a database of proteins known to cause allergies. The database lists the proteins’ amino acid sequences that have been shown to trigger immune responses. If the new GM protein is found to contain sequences that are found in the allergen database, according to criteria recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and others, the GM crop should either not be commercialized or additional testing should be done. Sections of the protein produced in GM soy are identical to known allergens, but the soybean was introduced before the WHO criteria were established and the recommended additional tests were not conducted.

If this protein in GM soybeans is causing allergies, then the situation may be made much worse by something called horizontal gene transfer (HGT). That’s when genes spontaneously transfer from one species’ DNA to another. While this happens often among bacteria, it is rare in plants and mammals. But the method used to construct and insert foreign genes into GM crops eliminates many of the natural barriers that stop HGT from occurring. Indeed, the only published human feeding study on GM foods ever conducted verified that portions of the gene inserted into GM soy ended up transferring into the DNA of human gut bacteria. Furthermore, the gene was stably integrated and it appeared to be producing its potentially allergenic protein. This means that years after people stop eating GM soy, they may still be exposed to its risky protein, which is being continuously produced within their intestines.

Genetic engineering damaged soy DNA, creating new (or more) allergens

Although biotech advocates describe the process of genetic engineering as precise, in which genes—like Legos—cleanly snap into place, this is false. The process of creating a GM crop can produce massive changes in the natural functioning of the plant’s DNA. Native genes can be mutated, deleted, permanently turned on or off, and hundreds may change their levels of protein expression. This collateral damage may result in increasing the levels of an existing allergen, or even producing a completely new, unknown allergen within the crop. Both appear to have happened in GM soy.

Levels of one known soy allergen, trypsin inhibitor, were up to 27% higher in raw GM soy. In addition, although cooking soybeans normally reduces the amount of this protein, the trypsin inhibitor in GM varieties appears to be more heat resistant. Levels in cooked GM soy were nearly as high as those found in raw soy, and up to seven times higher when compared to cooked non-GM soy.[8] This suggests that this allergen in GM soy may be more likely to provoke reactions than when consumed in natural varieties.

Another study verified that GM soybeans contain a unique, unexpected protein, not found in non-GM soy controls. Moreover, scientist tested the protein and determined that it reacted with the antibody called IgE. This antibody in human blood plays a key role in a large proportion of allergic reactions, including those that involve life-threatening anaphylactic shock. The fact that the unique protein created by GM soy interacted with IgE suggests that it might also trigger allergies.

The same researchers measured the immune response of human subjects to soybeans using a skin-prick test—an evaluation used often by allergy doctors. Eight subjects showed a reaction to GM soy; but one of these did not also react to non-GM soy. Although the sample size is small, the implication that certain people react only to GM soy is huge, and might account for the increase in soy allergies in the UK.

Increased herbicides on GM crops may cause reactions

By 2004, farmers used an estimated 86% more herbicide on GM soy fields compared to non-GM.[9] The higher levels of herbicide residue in GM soy might cause health problems. In fact, many of the symptoms identified in the UK soy allergy study are among those related to glyphosate exposure. [The allergy study identified irritable bowel syndrome, digestion problems, chronic fatigue, headaches, lethargy, and skin complaints, including acne and eczema, all related to soy consumption. Symptoms of glyphosate exposure include nausea, headaches, lethargy, skin rashes, and burning or itchy skin. It is also possible that glyphosate's breakdown product AMPA, which accumulates in GM soybeans after each spray, might contribute to allergies.]

GM soy might impede digestion, leading to allergies

If proteins survive longer in the digestive tract, they have more time to provoke an allergic reaction. Mice fed GM soy showed dramatically reduced levels of pancreatic enzymes. If protein-digesting enzymes are less available, then food proteins may last longer in the gut, allowing more time for an allergic reaction to take place. Such a reduction in protein digestion due to GM soy consumption could therefore promote allergic reactions to a wide range of proteins, not just to the soy. No human studies of protein digestion related to GM soy have been conducted.

Soy linked to peanut allergies

There is at least one protein in natural soybeans that has cross-reactivity with peanut allergies.[10] That means that for some people who are allergic to peanuts, consuming soybeans may trigger a reaction. While it is certainly possible that the unpredicted side effects from genetic engineering soybeans might increase the incidence of this cross-reactivity, it is unlikely that any research has been conducted to investigate this. GM soy was introduced into the US food supply in late 1996. We are left only to wonder whether this had an influence on the doubling of US peanut allergies from 1997 to 2002.

Eating GM foods is gambling with our health

The introduction of genetically engineered foods into our diet was done quietly and without the mandatory labeling that is required in most other industrialized countries. Without knowing that GM foods might increase the risk of allergies, and without knowing which foods contain GM ingredients, the biotech industry is gambling with our health for their profit. This risk is not lost on everyone. In fact, millions of shoppers are now seeking foods that are free from any GM ingredients. Ohio-based allergy specialist John Boyles, MD, says, "I used to test for soy allergies all the time, but now that soy is genetically engineered, it is so dangerous that I tell people never to eat it—unless it says organic."[11]

Organic foods are not allowed to contain GM ingredients. Buying products that are certified organic or that say non-GMO are two ways to limit your family’s risk from GM foods. Another is to avoid products containing any ingredients from the seven food crops that have been genetically engineered: soy, corn, cottonseed, canola, Hawaiian papaya and a little bit of zucchini and crook neck squash. This means avoiding soy lecithin in chocolate, corn syrup in candies, and cottonseed or canola oil in snack foods.

Fortunately, the Campaign for Healthier Eating in America will soon make your shopping easier. This Consumer Non-GMO Education Campaign is orchestrating the clean out of GM ingredients from foods and the natural products industry. The campaign will circulate helpful non-GMO shopping guides to organic and natural food stores nationwide. The Campaign will provide consumers with regular GM food safety updates that explain the latest discoveries about why, Healthy Eating Means No GMOs.

Safe eating.

This article is limited to the discussion of allergic reactions from GM soybeans. The evidence that GM corn is triggering allergies is far more extensive and will be covered in part 2 of this series.

[1] See for example, Charles Sheehan, "Scientists see spike in kids’ food allergies," Chicago Tribune, 9 June 2006, http://www.montereyherald.com/mld/montereyherald/living/health/

[2] See for example, Carl B. Johnson, Memo on the "draft statement of policy 12/12/91," January 8, 1992. Johnson wrote: "Are we asking the crop developer to prove that food from his crop is non-allergenic? This seems like an impossible task."

[3] Louis J. Pribyl, "Biotechnology Draft Document, 2/27/92," March 6, 1992, www.biointegrity.org

[4] Ibid.

[5] Traavik and Heinemann, "Genetic Engineering and Omitted Health Research"

[6] "Genetically modified foods, who knows how safe they are?" CBC News and Current Affairs, September 25, 2006.

[7] J. Ordlee, et al, "Identification of a Brazil-Nut Allergen in Transgenic Soybeans," The New England Journal of Medicine, March 14, 1996.

[8] Stephen R. Padgette et al, "The Composition of Glyphosate-Tolerant Soybean Seeds Is Equivalent to That of Conventional Soybeans," The Journal of Nutrition 126, no. 4, (April 1996); including data in the journal archives from the same study.

[9] Charles Benbrook, "Genetically Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Nine Years"; BioTech InfoNet, Technical Paper Number 7, October 2004.

[10] See for example, Scott H. Sicherer et al., "Prevalence of peanut and tree nut allergy in the United States determined by means of a random digit dial telephone survey: A 5-year follow-up study," Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, March 2003, vol. 112, n 6, 1203-1207); and Ricki Helm et al., "Hypoallergenic Foods—Soybeans and Peanuts," Information Systems for Biotechnology News Report, October 1, 2002.

[11] John Boyles, MD, personal communication, 2007.