“The processes of genetic engineering and traditional breeding are different and according to the technical experts in the agency, they lead to different risks.” (1) - Linda Kahl, FDA Compliance Officer; 1992 memo to the FDA Biotechnology Coordinator, highlighting the consensus of FDA experts
There are numerous risks and unpredictable side-effects that can occur due to the process of genetic engineering. These are just some of those risks that apply to the genetically engineered banana.
1. The process of GMO gene (transgene) insertion and the tissue culture phase of the GM transformation process can cause significant mutations including rearrangements of the host plant’s DNA. These mutagenic events plus the resulting novel combinations of genes can result in a disturbed plant biochemistry leading to new or higher levels of endogenous toxins, allergens, carcinogens, and anti-nutrients. Monsanto’s Bt corn variety MON810, for example, has a new allergen (gamma zein) not found in natural non-GMO corn, while their Roundup Ready soybean has significantly more trypsin inhibitor, a known soy allergen.
2. Altered DNA, whether intentional or accidental, can produce altered RNA, which can theoretically exert a harmful effect on health.
3. The termination sequence that is part of the inserted gene construct, which is supposed to stop the transcription process, is not consistently reliable. A study conducted on Monsanto’s GMO soy, for example, revealed that the sequence failed to stop transcription in all cases, resulting in the production of overly long RNA transcripts. These, in turn, were alternatively spliced into four variations. The unexpected RNA sequences could encode for novel fusion proteins that may have negative health consequences.
4. The promoter sequence that is part of the inserted gene construct, which turns on the transgene, might unexpectedly increase expression of native genes located near the site of insertion. This can result in the overproduction of gene products, resulting in an altered biochemistry leading to dangerous outcomes. [In human gene therapy, this resulted in the activation on of an oncogene, giving the human subjects leukemia.]
5. The only human feeding study ever published on commercialized GMOs demonstrated that part of the Roundup Ready (glyphosate tolerance) gene that is inserted into soybeans transferred into the DNA of bacteria within the gut of human subjects. The transgene promoter also transferred. It is unclear whether the transgenes continued to function once they were integrated into the bacterial gene. This study confirms that genes inserted into GMOs might transfer to the gut microbiome of the consumer of that GMO, which may result in long term changes in bacterial gene expression. It is also true that food DNA, including that from GMOs, can migrate into various organs of the animals (and presumably humans) that eat the crops. It is unknown whether the DNA becomes integrated into their DNA. If so, this carries unique risks.
6. The amino acid sequence produced by the inserted transgene in the GMO may be mis-folded in the new biological environment and can cause serious health effects.
7. The novel GMO protein may also be modified by attachment with various other substances, such as sugar chains (glycosylation). This is known to create allergic and inflammatory reactions and is potentially deadly.
The GMO banana has not been sufficiently studied to protect subjects from these and other potential health problems that can result from the generic process of genetic engineering. In addition, there are unique risks associated with the GMO banana. Because it is designed to produce beta-carotene, also known as pro-vitamin A, it may result in overproduction of retinoic acid (Vitamin A). As Vitamin A is a crucial growth regulator, particularly during fetal development, this has the potential to produce birth defects (see accompanying paper).
FDA scientists had repeatedly warned about some of these risks and called for in-depth safety testing. Unfortunately, the person in charge of FDA policy on GMOs was Michael Taylor, the former attorney to GMO giant Monsanto, and later its vice president. The policy he oversaw ignored the agency scientists’ warnings and allowed GMOs on the market without a single required safety study.
One FDA scientist, Louis Pribyl, Ph.D., accurately predicted that industry would “not do the tests that they would normally do because they are not on the FDA’s list.” Furthermore, that “once the technology catches on,” developers would have “less concern about safety, because of a false sense of ‘knowing what one is doing’ and ‘it’s been done hundreds of times before without a problem, why check it now.” (2) This appears to be what is happening with the GMO banana. Its producers have been lulled into a false sense of security by a well-funded industry propaganda program that assures us all that there are no risks or concerns.
In actual fact, animal studies on GMOs have demonstrated a long list of adverse findings, including: damage to the immune system and vital organs, potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, stomach lesions, hormonal imbalance, toxicity of the liver and kidneys, accelerated aging, gastrointestinal and reproductive damage, altered blood biochemistry, inflammation, hormonal imbalance, and higher death rates.
We urge you to take a precautionary approach when it comes to risking the health and lives of your students. Cancel the GMO banana feeding study and fund the long-overdue extensive safety studies needed for GMO foods.
1 Linda Kahl, Memo to James Maryanski about Federal Register Document “Statement of Policy: Foods from Genetically Modified Plants,” Alliance for Bio-Integrity(January 8, 1992) http://www.responsibletechnology.org/fraud/fda-quotes
2 Louis J. Pribyl, “Biotechnology Draft Document, 2/27/92,” March 6, 1992 http://www.responsibletechnology.org/fraud/fda-quotes
Scientific references are available on request.