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Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

Should Cuba be Concerned about GMO Health Risks? (II)

September 3, 2016 | Print Print |

Isbel Diaz Torres

Illustration: buzzle.com

Illustration: buzzle.com

HAVANA TIMES — After having shed some light on some of the controversy that surrounds GMO investigations in the first part of this post, it’s relevant to list some of the risks and real impact that these products have had.

In April 2009, for the very first time, the US Academy of Environmental Medicine warned its members and the general public that GMOs were a danger to human health.

According to the same non-profit medical society, “there is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects in the areas of strength of association, consistency, specificity, biological gradient, and biological plausibility.”

Among these adverse effects, which have been confirmed through various animal studies carried out in Scotland, France, the US, Austria and other countries, “serious risks” include:

  • acute and chronic toxicity due to contaminated transferred gene sequences
  • chromosomal instability
  • involuntary production of toxins
  • allergies (especially in children)
  • antibiotic resistance
  • weakening and disruption of immune system
  • accumulative effects which can produce degenerative changes in body tissue
  • hormone imbalances
  • infertility
  • accelerated aging
  • deregulation of genes associated with cholesterol and insulin synthesis
  • changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system
  • weight loss

In 2009, the Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition magazine published a summary of every scientific study published on the effects of foods derived from GM crops on human health. The authors of this summary concluded that «the results […] show that they may cause some common toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive effects and may alter the hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters.»

However, way before this, back in 2002, Newcastle University was already carrying out the first experiments on human-beings, showing that just after one meal; GM material had been absorbed by bacteria in the intestine. Contrary to what corporate and private science says, GM material cannot be eliminated through the human digestive tract.

There have been other public experiments that have revealed the unwanted effects and harm of GM foods on humans:

  • 1989. Dozens of US citizens died and several hundred people were seriously affected by impurities in the L-tryptophan dietary supplement. Showa Denko, the third largest Japanese chemical company, had to pay 2 billion dollars in compensation.
  • 1994. The FDA approved rBGH, a synthetic bovine growth hormone created by Monsanto for use on lactating cows, which leads to a strong chemical hormone linked to breast, prostate and colon cancer. Furthermore, cows injected with rBGH suffered from a higher incidence of mastitis, or udder infection, and needed to take more antibiotics. This left unacceptable levels of antibiotic residue in the milk they produced. Scientists warned us of the public health risks implied with increasing our resistance to antibiotics. Canada, the EU, Australia and New Zealand banned the use of the rGBH hormone. Moreover, the UN Codex Alimentarius, an international food standard, which protects consumer health and promotes fair practices in food trade, refused to classify rBGH as “safe for human consumption”.
  • 1995. Allergic reactions to GM soybeans made by Brazil’s Novartis Company were reported. Food products were recalled and taken off the market.
  • 1996. Genes from Brazil nuts were injected into soybean sprouts by the Pioneer Hi-Bred company. People allergic to this nut suffered from an anaphylactic shock. Studies with animals confirmed this danger and the product was recalled and taken off the market.
  • 1999. A study carried out by Dr. Marc Lappe, which was published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, revealed that certain GM foods have very low levels of vital nutrients, especially in phytoestrogens which are thought to protect the body from heart disease and cancer.
  • 2000. A high incidence of allergic reactions to StarLink protein in foods produced by Kraft in the US, were reported. 2.5 million boxes of these foodstuffs were taken off the market by Aventis.
  • 2004. People living near GM corn fields in the Phillipines developed an allergy to its pollen.
  • 710 people were intoxicated by Roundup Ready soybeans in Chile.
  • In the UK, the York Nutritional Laboratory reported a 50% increase in allergies relating to GM soybeans.
  • In Ireland, the Irish Doctors’ Environmental Association detected an increase in allergies amongst children, also related to GM soybeans.
  • BT toxins in US GM potatoes produced toxicity in human cells, skin irritation, infections and a weakened immune system in correlation with the quantity consumed.
  • In the US, 27 deaths and 1500 people were reported to be seriously affected after having consumed products made with RR soybeans, from Pioneer, which had to be recalled and taken off the market.

The unforeseen genetic changes in GMOs are extremely frequent, not only altering their own modified gene sequence, but also other genes found in organisms which ingest them, which can result in deformations, infertility or triggering allergies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) calls for us to be careful with GM foods. In 2005, a report entitled “Modern food biotechnology, human health and development:  an evidence-based study” was issued which claimed that:

“The use of GMOs may also involve potential risks for human health and development. Many genes used in GMOs have not been in the food supply before […] in many cases it leads to random insertion in the host genome, and consequently may have unintended developmental or physiological effects […] Introduction of a transgene into a recipient organism is not a precisely controlled process, and can  result in a variety of outcomes with regard to integration, expression and stability of the transgene in the host.”

This is why it’s a cause for great concern that Cuba, without any laws that protect its consumers, without a society ready to stand up to these kinds of processes, without transparent financial operations, without independent studies in the public health sector; is not only already willing to feed its people GM foods (something which it has been doing for decades now), but is also willing to produce them and extend their cultivation in the country’s farmlands.

In my third and last post on this subject, I will take a little look at the kind of reactions GM food have provoked the world over, as well as the exact opposite which has happened here in Cuba.


What's your opinion?

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    “GM material cannot be eliminated through the human digestive tract.”
    Does this explain obesity?

    • steve webster

      No it does not cause obesity .it cause other problems With the BT material in corn. is a poison that can cause certain birth defects. The soybeans their is not enough proof that for sure what they do in my view.

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        I think Steve that you miss-interpreted my remark which was intended to be humorous. My point was that if as the author is suggesting GM material cannot be eliminated through the digestive tract, it must remain in the body – which would rapidly lead to obesity. Sabe? Despite the large volumes of GM product being consumed in Cuba, it does not appear to have led to obesity.

  • steve webster

    Many well educated people in other countries ( who make a lot more money than people in CUBA do)feel that it is worth an extra 5 or 10% to buy products that are not GMO foods We have been told the Bt in the corn plants (to kill root worm) may be toxic to some humans. Crop rotation is much better I believe that with what Cuban know about organics and the right use of certain sprays and other imputs, that they can still double many crop yields. This has been done with many crops in On. since 1950. Example roundup in a very good use is when clearing underused farmland and small trees. It is also good for spot spraying weeds with a backpack sprayer It is not so good to be sprayed on crop one week ahead of harvest of a wheat or bean crop as the chemical will still in the grain and the straw in much larger amounts. GMO is ok to feed to livestock and hens but must be kept separate in Cuba today. At this time the safeguards do not seem to be in place.