Date Posted: 07/26/1999, Posted by: M.W.Ho@open.ac.uk
Press Release July 27, 1999
Institute of Science in Society
Contact: Dr. Mae-Wan Ho. Tel: 44-01908-653113/44-0171-272-5636 e-mail:
MAFF Reveals New Scientific Findings Confirming Fears Over Health
Hazards of GMOs
The following warnings come from a letter from N. Tomlinson of UK MAFF's
Joint Food Safety and Standards Group dated 4 December 1998 to the US
FDA, commenting on its draft document, "Guidance for Industry: Use of
Antibiotic Resistance Marker Genes in Transgenic Plants".
* Exposure of farm workers and food processors to transgenic DNA in
dust and pollen
* Transfer of antibiotic resistant marker genes to gut
* Transfer of antibiotic marker genes to environmental organisms
* Transfer of transgenic DNA into mammalian cells
* Ampicillin resistance marker gene may compromise treatment for
The letter from MAFF cites new findings from the University of Leeds
showing "the relative difficulty with which plant DNA is degraded during
processing"(p.4). It mentions other new research showing that bacteria
in the mouth can take up foreign DNA and express the gene(s); and
transformable bacteria are also present in the respiratory tract.
MAFF warns that "there is a case to be concerned about the problem of
gene transfer to environmental organisms" and that bacteria that have
taken up the antibiotic resistance genes "could also act as a gene pool
that may interact with human pathogens." (p.4). "The widespread use of
transgenics carrying antibiotic resistance marker genes will involve a
massive amplification of these genes in the biosphere.
Whether or not these genes are expressed, amplification on the scale
that will occur when transgenic crops are planted in large fields means
that arguments about the rarity of possible transfer events will become
less significant." (p.5).
MAFF cites recent publications showing that transgenic DNA may gain
access into mammalian cells by being carried in pathogenic bacteria that
invade cells. The ampicillin-resistance marker gene encodes a
beta-lactamase which inactivates penicillin and other penicillin-like
This gene is highly mutable, and hence capable of extending its spectrum
of resistence to many other similar antibiotics. "Human respiratory
flora contains notable potential pathogens including Neisseria
meningitidis and Streptococcus pneumoniae. These bacteria do not
currently exhibit high-level, beta-lactamase mediated resistance to
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho , a scientists who has been warning of these
possibilities of horizontal gene transfer to unrelated species for
several years, says,"It is irresponsible for the Government to continue
with the massive farm-scale field trials in view of the evidence its own
scientists are taking into account." She points out that transgenic
pollen can travel for miles. Not only farm workers and food processors,
but the general public will also be exposed to transgenic DNA, while
bees will certainly take it up and contaminate the honey.
There is no provision to monitor for horizontal gene transfer or impacts
on health in the current farm-scale trials.
The current farm-scale field trials involve herbicide-tolerant
transgenic maize and canola. The transgenic maize carries a 'disrupted'
ampicilllin-resistance gene, which is not expressed. However, given the
mutability of that gene, it may become re-activated in bacteria.
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