GM Free Cymru

Scientists warn of GM wheat health dangers

GM-Free Cymru, 12th September 2012

Expert scientists have today warned that a type of GM wheat being trialled in Australia wheat may trigger a deadly liver disease when consumed by human beings (1).

In a new report on GM wheat, New Zealand genetics Professor Jack Heinemann, of the University of Canterbury, said the CSIRO's technology as used in the wheat suppressed an enzyme which was similar to the human enzyme that produces glycogen. Humans eating the wheat could experience a decline of glycogen production in their bodies, leading to liver failure.

His report was backed up in independent reviews by Australian biochemist Dr Judy Carman, of Flinders University, and by molecular genetics expert Dr Michael Antoniou, from Kings College, London.

The CSIRO has revealed that two GM field trials are under way, using wheat and barley with altered starch composition. The latest crop was planted in June.

Professor Heinemann said he had not seen any evidence that the CSIRO had even considered the possibility that this variety of GM wheat could affect human glycogen production. "There are very special risk assessments that should be done on this kind of modification because we have very limited experience with this," he said. "The vast majority of GM organisms in the human food supply have been modified to change a protein and that's a very different molecule with a different risk spectrum."

Professor Heinemann said he wasn't able to identify which sequence the CSIRO had used to suppress enzyme production in the wheat. But he had identified several possible sequences, each of which raised a different possible reaction.

Australia is on track to be the first country in the world to allow the commercial growing of GM wheat. It is not yet grown anywhere else, nor is there any market worldwide that wants GM wheat. Current GM food crops, like canola and corn, are experiencing fierce resistance across the globe, and there is a growing anti-GM movement in the USA, the birthplace of GM food technology. In spite of fierce public opposition at home, Australia is leading the push for the acceptance of GM wheat and CSIRO is currently conducting field trials of GM wheat in a number of different locations. CSIRO says human feeding trials are planned. It is feared these may already be underway.

In her report Professor Carman says: "There is an obvious risk to animals and humans who eat these GM wheat varieties." She says this could lead to disease and death. In fact, humans born with a genetic form of Glycogen Storage Disease IV usually die by the age of 5.

Dr Michael Antoniou, Reader in Molecular Genetics at King's College, London, has reviewed and endorsed the Heinemann and Carman expert opinions. He says that if the GM wheat is consumed, gene function disturbances are virtually inevitable, with currently unknown health consequences. He criticises CSIRO, and the regulators in Australia and New Zealand, for not being up to date with the latest developments in the field of RNAi technology and says that they have not taken the necessary steps to properly evaluate the safety of the GM wheat.

These urgent independent assessments were commissioned by the Safe Food Foundation, which campaigns and takes on an advocacy role on food issues. Director Scott Kinnear says "Apart from the serious public health risk, the cost to taxpayers and farmers could be significant. CSIRO lacks the capacity to do proper safety studies. In fact the Australian regulators – FSANZ and the OGTR – do not conduct any safety testing, nor require the safety testing recommended by our experts. FSANZ and the OGTR rely on GM applicants to do their own safety testing."

The Safe Food Foundation has now called on CSIRO to immediately release all details of its safety testing on GM wheat for urgent independent scientific review, and immediately to release the precise DNA sequences involved so that independent scientists can conduct further urgent checking. "If CSIRO cannot provide immediate and adequate responses to these issues we call on them to cease all field trials currently underway, stop all plans for human feeding trials, and agree to undertake the recommended safety testing," Mr Kinnear said.

Commenting on these new developments, Dr Brian John of GM-Free Cymru said: "What we see here is yet another example of a GM wheat variety released into the environment without any proper assessment of health and safety issues. CSIRO and the Australian and New Zealand regulators have long had a strategy of promoting GM crops which nobody actually wants, with a degree of enthusiasm that verges on criminal negligence. We see a very similar scenario in the UK, where GM wheat is being grown at Rothamsted in spite of strong public opposition and in spite of zero market demand, just to satisfy the whims of politicians and multinational corporations. It is high time for this absurd and dangerous experiment with GM technology to be stopped in its tracks, since new evidence of harm to health and the environment now seems to be appearing on a weekly basis."


1. See PDF files below for full information on the 3 opinions.

SFF media release 20120911

Antoniou Appraisal 20120909

Heinemann Opinion 20120828

Carman Opinion 20120907

CSIRO = Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
FSANZ = Food Standards Australia New Zealand
OGTR = Office of the Gene Technology Regulator