[A-List] Destructive creation: GM foods
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Mon Dec 9 12:09:01 MST 2002
GM expert warns of cancer risk from crops
Demand for Executive to ban crop trials until effects of GM food on health
By Rob Edwards, Environment editor
The Sunday Herald, 8 December 2002
EATING genetically modified (GM) food could give you cancer. That is the
stark warning today from one of Scotland's leading experts in tissue
Dr Stanley Ewen, a consultant histopathologist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary,
says that a cauliflower virus used in GM foods could increase the risk of
stomach and colon cancers.
He is calling for the health of people who live near the farm-scale GM crop
trials in Aberdeenshire, Ross-shire and Fife to be monitored. Their food and
water will be contaminated by GM material, he said, which could hasten the
growth of malignant tumours.
'I don't want to be scare-mongering, I want to be understated,' Ewen told
the Sunday Herald. 'But I'm very concerned that people who rely on local
produce might be endangering themselves.'
The government, backed by its scientific advisors, has always insisted the
GM trials pose no risk to human health or the environment. Never theless,
the trials have provoked widespread opposition, with dozens of protesters
arrested for damaging GM crops.
Ewen's warning, which has been delivered to the Scottish Parliament's Health
and Community Care Committee, is bound to be seized on by critics . The
committee is just completing an investigation into the safety of GM food and
is hoping to report its findings this week.
Ewen, who has 29 years' experience as a histopathologist, is currently
leading a pilot project in Grampian to screen people for colon cancer. In
1999, along with Dr Arpad Pusztai, a former researcher at Aberdeen's Rowett
Institute, he published a study suggesting that GM potatoes harm rats.
In his submission to the health committee, Ewen expressed 'great concern'
about the use of the cauliflower mosaic virus as a 'promoter' in GM foods.
The virus is used like a tiny engine to drive implanted genes to express
But Ewen pointed out that the virus is infectious, and could act as a
'growth factor' in the stomach or colon, encouraging the growth of polyps.
The faster and bigger polyps grow, the more likely they are to be malignant,
There are also risks in feeding GM products like maize to cattle, he
'It is possible cows' milk will contain GM derivatives that can be directly
ingested by humans as milk or cheese. Even a lightly cooked, thick fillet
steak could contain active GM material.'
GM material can be destroyed by cooking or boiling for 10 minutes, and it
can be broken down by the acids and enzymes in the stomach. But Ewen is
worried that genes in uncooked GM fruit and vegetables could survive common
'It is possible GM DNA could affect stomach and colonic lining by causing a
growth factor effect with the unproven possibility of hastening cancer
formation in those organs,' he stated.
Ewen stressed that he is not opposed to all GM technology, which he believes
could have real benefits, particularly in medicine. But he is sufficiently
alarmed by the current use of the technology to urge the health committee to
call for a ban on GM crop trials while their safety is tested on animals.
Doctors from the British Medical Association have also suggested a GM ban to
the committee because of the unknown effects on health. The committee's
investigation was prompted by a petition of 6000 signatures gathered by
protesters who maintained a vigil at a GM trial site at Munlochy in
'What is most worrying about Dr Ewen's evidence is that while his concerns
are disease-specific, the risks extend to a wide range of GM food crops,'
said Jo Hunt, director of the lobby group Highlands and Islands GM Concern.
'The effects are caused not by just one 'bad' DNA fragment, but are a result
of the reaction of plant cells to genetic engineering itself. All the major
GM food plants currently produced could have the same effect when eaten.'
Hunt argued that long-term research was needed to establish whether GM food
was safe. 'But instead of looking at the impact of GM food on people's
health, the Scottish Executive has spent over £5 million on farm-scale
trials to see how growing GM crops on Scottish farms will affect butterflies
and weeds. The Executive has already released GM at 11 sites and is
considering allowing GM to be released anywhere in the country from 2004,
before it knows whether GM food is safe to eat.'
The Executive also came under fire from the Scottish National Party's shadow
environment minister, Bruce Crawford, who demanded a freeze on GM crops
trials. 'We cannot allow GM material to enter the food chain until there are
absolute guarantees that there are no risks,' he said.
He pointed out that, in a recent letter, the environment minister, Ross
Finnie, had admitted to him that plants around GM crops could become
contaminated . Finnie added, however, that the government's advice was
'unanimous in its conclusion that GM crops that have approval do not pose a
Ewen's evidence to the health committee is backed up by a separate
submission from Arpad Pusztai, who now works as an independent consultant.
He warned that GM contamination could jeopardise human health and cause
irreversible environmental damage.
'We need to rethink the whole strategy of genetic engineering,' Pusztai
said. 'Because of its potential importance for, and effect on, mankind, it
should not be left to the decision of a few multinational companies.'
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