Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Genetically modified food danger

Published in The Fiji Times - Off the Wall with Padre J.S. Bhagwan - Wednesday, October 27, 2010

With a strengths, weaknesses and loopholes of consumer protection laws in Fiji beginning in Suva today, I have been thinking of the quality and type of foods that are imported into Fiji, some of them genetically modified.

In December 2007, I represented the Pacific Conference of Churches at a Global Consultation on Genetics and New Biotechnologies and the Ministry of the Church in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I shared my concern that while economic development is important for the nations of Pacific; governments and churches need to examine the possible negative social, economic and health implications of the introduction of farming of genetically-modified crops for export or local consumption.

Looking at the devastation of communities, local economies and cultures by the actions of Biotechnology companies involved in Genetically-Modified crop farming such as Monsanto, in Mexico, Paraguay and Latin America, but also the impact of large-scale GM farming on small farmers in North America, the Pacific needs to heed the "writing on the wall" and be proactive in this area.

The danger of overlooking the health and social implications and focusing on the immediate economic benefits for a few, when looking to introduce the planting of GM crops, is real.

Already we have heard of the States of Victoria and New South Wales in Australia, not renewing the ban on growing genetically-modified crops.

This has direct implications on Pacific Islanders as many of our countries import food products from Australia.

Genetically Modified Foods, Plants, Animals, Additives, Body Products, Fish, Crops and Trees have had their genes manipulated, changed, and put into other species that normally they would not mate with, blend with, consume, or grow in. Incredible combinations have been produced, and have been found to have mutations, diseases, abnormalities and trigger other diseases that otherwise may have remained dormant.

14 South Pacific countries - American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu - have recommended a moratorium on the import of GMOs pending the implementation of appropriate national risk assessment and risk management procedures.

Genetically Engineered Foods Pose Higher Risk for Children

In his publication, "Seeds of Deception," Jeffrey Smith writes that GM foods put our children at risk.

Children's bodies develop at a fast pace and are more likely to be influenced and show the effects of genetically modified (GM) foods. That is why independent scientists used young adolescent rats in their GM feeding studies. The rats showed significant health damage after only 10 days, including damaged immune systems and digestive function, smaller brains, livers, and testicles, partial atrophy of the liver and potentially pre-cancerous cell growth in the intestines.

Children are more susceptible to Allergies

Children are three to four times more prone to allergies than adults. Infants below two years old are at greatest risk-they have the highest incidence of reactions, especially to new allergens encountered in the diet.

Even tiny amounts of allergens can sometimes cause reactions in children. Breast fed infants can be exposed via the mother's diet, and fetuses may possibly be exposed in the womb. Michael Meacher, the former minister of the environment for the UK, said, "Any baby food containing GM products could lead to a dramatic rise in allergies." GM corn is particularly problematic for children, as they generally eat a higher percentage of corn in their diet. Further, allergic children often rely on corn protein. Mothers using cornstarch as a talc substitute on their children's skin might also inadvertently expose them via inhalation.

Children are more susceptible to problems with milk

Milk and dairy products from cows treated with the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH) contain an increased amount of the hormone IGF-1, which is one of the highest risk factors associated with breast and prostate cancer. The Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association called for more studies to determine if ingesting "higher than normal concentrations of [IGF-1] is safe for children, adolescents, and adults." Sam Epstein, M.D., Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition and author of eight books, wrote, "rbGH and its digested products could be absorbed from milk into blood, particularly in infants, and produce hormonal and allergic effects." He described how "cell-stimulating growth factors . . . could induce premature growth and breast stimulation in infants, and possibly promote breast cancer in adults." Dr. Epstein pointed out that the hormones in cows could promote the production of "steroids and adrenaline-type stressor chemicals . . . likely to contaminate milk and may be harmful, particularly to infants and young children."

Children are more susceptible to nutritional problems

A 2002 report by the UK's Royal Society, said that genetic modification "could lead to unpredicted harmful changes in the nutritional state of foods." They therefore recommended that potential health effects of GM foods be rigorously researched before being fed to pregnant or breast-feeding women, elderly people, those suffering from chronic disease, and babies. Likewise, according to former minister Meacher, unexpected changes in estrogen levels in GM soy used in infant formula "might affect sexual development in children," and that "even small nutritional changes could cause bowel obstruction."

Children are in danger from antibiotic resistant diseases

Children prone to ear and other infections are at risk of facing antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, due to the use of antibiotic resistant genes in GM food. The British Medical Association cited this as one reason why they called for a moratorium of GM foods.

May the rest of your week be blessed with simplicity, serenity and spontaneity.

*Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma serving as a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva.

This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email:

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