GM Animal Feed: The Hidden GM in Your Trolley
Download or print GM Freeze's 2-sided A4 campaigning leaflet here.
If you, like most people, don’t want to eat GM foods, you may be surprised to learn that millions of tons of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are going into producing the food we eat.
These are the stealth GMOs whose presence in the food chain is carefully concealed. And here is how the trick is pulled.
Because people around the world don't want to eat GM foods, hardly any GM ingredients are going directly into foods that have to be labelled or that can easily be boycotted by consumers.
In the USA, where most GM crops are grown, GM ingredients don’t have to be labelled. As a result, GM ingredients are going into highly processed US foods where they are hard to identify. More recently, US government subsidies for biofuels, and particularly corn (maize) ethanol, means GMOs have also been used for fuel, avoiding direct consumer contact.
But this is not where most GM crops are going. They’re being traded around the world in a way that’s almost entirely hidden from consumers, including consumers in Europe. Although GM ingredients that go directly into food products have to be labelled in the European Union, products from animals raised on GM feed do not have to be labelled.
Animal feed is the only large-scale outlet for GM crops in Europe. This is because animal feed can be bulk traded, making it harder to trace. And because of a loophole in the European Union’s GM food labelling laws, the meat, dairy products and eggs produced with GM animal feed do not have to be labelled as such. So, animal feed means GMOs are getting into the human food chain through the back door.
Because of this, despite the availability of plentiful supplies of GM-free farm animal feed, our meat, eggs, and dairy products are being contaminated by stealth GMOs.
And scientific studies show that these stealth GMOs could have important health implications.
GM DNA is found in animal tissue
A Testbiotech survey released in August 2010 shows that DNA fragments from transgenic plants are increasingly found in animal tissue such as milk, inner organs and muscles. In April 2010, scientists from Italy reported DNA sequences stemming from genetically engineered soy in milk from goats. These DNA fragments are presumably, entering the blood stream from the gut and then from there reaching the udder and the milk. Traces of specific DNA were also identified in kids fed with the goat's milk. These findings are not the first to be reported after DNA fragments have been found in the tissue of animals fed with transgenic plants. A few years ago, DNA from genetically engineered maize was found in samples from pigs. More recently, research found traces from transgenic plants in the organs of fish, namely rainbow trout and tilapia. In fish, the gene sequences were found in nearly all inner organs.
"Recent publications could lend support to those stakeholders in favour of labelling products such as meat, milk and eggs derived from animals fed with genetically engineered plants. If the methods for sampling DNA get even better, those traces will be found more often in future," says Christoph Then from Testbiotech. "So far detection is not possible in each and every case. Most frequently these traces seem to occur in fish."
In the past, several experts and also the European Food Safety Authority EFSA were of the opinion that specific DNA fragments related to transgenic material, could not be detected in animals. For years now it has been known that in general, DNA from plants is not completely degraded in the gut, and can be found in inner organs, the blood stream and even in the offspring of mice.
In Testbiotech's opinion, mandatory labelling of those products is important for consumers interested in more transparency about how genetically engineered plants are used. Millions of tons of genetically engineered soy are fed to animals such as pigs, poultry and cattle in Europe. Most experts think that products derived from those animals are not likely to pose a health risk. There is however, a need for further research since for unknown reasons some enzyme activity in kids fed with goat's milk containing specific DNA was found to be enhanced.
Some recent literature:
Tudisco, R., Mastellone, V., Cutrignelli, M.I, Lombardi, P, Bovera, F., Mirabella, N., Piccolo, G., Calabro, S., Avallone L., Infascelli, F. (2010) Fate of transgenic DNA and evaluation of metabolic effects in goats fed genetically modified soybean and in their offsprings.
Chainark, P. (2008) Availability of genetically modified feed ingredient II: investigations of ingested foreign DNA in rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss. Fisheries Science, 74(2): 383–90(11)
Ran,T, Mei, L., Lei, W., Aihua, L., Ru, H., Jie, S (2009) Detection of transgenic DNA in tilapias (Oreochromis niloticus, GIFT strain) fed genetically modified soybeans (Roundup Ready). Aquaculture Research, Volume 40 (12): 1350–1357
Mazza, R., Soave1,M., Morlacchini M., Piva, G., Marocco, A. (2005) Assessing the transfer of genetically modified DNA from feed to animal tissues, Transgenic Res. 14: 775–784
Sheep and pigs
Sharma R., Damgaard D., Alexander T.W., Dugan M.E.R., Aalhus J.L., Stanford K., McAllister T.A. (2006) Detection of transgenic and endogenous plant DNA in tissues of sheep and pigs fed Roundup Ready canola meal. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 54: 1699–1709.
Schubbert R., Hohlweg U., Renz D., Doerfler W. (1998) On the fate of orally ingested foreign DNA in mice: chromosomal association and placental transmission to the fetus, Molecular Genetics and Genomics 259: 569–576.
EFSA (2007) Statement on the fate of recombinant DNA or proteins in the meat, milk or eggs of animals fed with GM
GM food DNA is released during digestion and can be taken up by gut bacteria. Because many GM crops contain antibiotic-resistant genes, there is a risk that superbugs will be created, i.e. bacteria that cannot be controlled by antibiotics.
What is most shocking is that the potential problems of GM animal feed have been known about right from the start. In 1992, when America’s Food and Drug Administration was considering how to regulate GM foods, Gerald B. Guest, the FDA official in charge of the Center for Veterinary Medicine, warned:
"Animal feed derived from genetically modified plants presents unique animal and food safety concerns. These concerns arise partly because one crop – field corn – supplies 50 to 75% of the diet of most domestic animals, so small changes in nutrient levels from genetic engineering can have large effects on animal health. The antibiotic resistance marker genes contained in most crops would likely make animals resistant to some antibiotics, especially neomycin, which is used in animal feed. Furthermore, toxicant residues from transgenic crops could end up in meat and milk products and may pose human food safety problems.”
Nearly two decades later, few studies have been done on the health implications for farm animals and those who eat animal products. And Professor Bob Orskov OBE, director at the International Feed Resource Unit in Aberdeen, is among those who have warned that the lack of proper testing would justify consumers in avoiding GM-feed derived animal products. "As a scientist, I wouldn't drink milk from cows fed GM maize with the present state of knowledge," Prof Orskov told a public enquiry.
There are also important ethical considerations that arise from stealth GMOs.
Unethical treatment of animals
As GM feed can harm the health of animals, the use of GM feed should be considered unethical.
Lack of transparency for consumers
It is an outrage that consumers are not properly informed that they may be eating milk, eggs and meat from GM-fed animals. This represents a denial of choice.
In spite of this, the European Commission continues to approve GM crops for use as food and animal feed (more than 24 crops to date), and the GM industry continues to lobby to change the GM regulations even further in their favour.
But we can do something about it. If we want to protect our health and that of our families, or if we care about the treatment of animals, we need to take action.
Supermarkets need to understand that consumers do not want meat, dairy products and eggs produced from GM feed. They need to get GM feed out of their production lines and to clearly label their products as GM-free so consumers can have confidence in what they are buying.
Take action now to stop stealth GMOs.