Muddying Up the Gene Pool: Are Genetically Modified Foods Causing an Allergy Epidemic?

Got the latest edition of 'the non-toxic times' today. This was one of their articles.
Vol. 8, No. 9 - July 2007
Muddying Up the Gene Pool: Are Genetically Modified Foods Causing an Allergy Epidemic?
One of the more vexing medical mysteries to have surfaced in recent years is the startling and inexplicable rise in food allergies currently being seen in the western world. As medical offices and emergency rooms increasingly fill with adults and children suffering reactions to common foods, researchers are scratching their heads over the cause. Some in the scientific community, however, believe the alarming increase in food allergies can be traced to the public’s growing exposure to genetically modified foods.
From a biological perspective, an allergic reaction is a hair-trigger immune system overreaction to a foreign substance, typically a protein, that the body perceives as a threat. Unlike normal immune system responses, however, allergic reactions are characterized by a reaction so massive that the body itself is imperiled.
Allergies develop when the body experiences repeated encounters with an allergen. Each time it does, it produces antibodies that are specifically designed to fight that substance. These antibodies bind to the surface of special cells called mast cells and wait for the body’s next encounter with the allergen. While they wait, the mast cells start gathering chemicals, like histamines, from the bloodstream that can be used to aid the body’s defense. The next time the allergen is encountered, it attaches to the antibodies on the surface of the mast cells, which triggers the release of all the chemicals those cells have collected. Repeated exposures to the allergen result in more chemicals being stored and then released by the mast cells. Eventually the quantities released become so large that an allergic reaction results.
Thirty years ago, food allergies were fairly rare. But today they affect an estimated 4.3 million U.S. children. Ninety-five percent of all elementary schools are affected by the problem, where school nurses report an average of ten students per school with food allergies. Rates of peanut allergies alone doubled between 1997 and 2002. Overall, more than 11 million Americans suffer food allergies. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, such allergies are responsible for 30,000 emergency room visits a year and 150 deaths.
A growing number of researchers believe that genetically modified (GM) foods may be causing this allergy epidemic. These foods have been altered by technologies that insert foreign genes from other species into the DNA of the target species. The addition of these new genes causes the food plant or animal in question to produce new substances or behave in certain ways that offer benefits to farmers. A GM food may have been altered, for example, to resist a particular disease or pest, withstand applications of an otherwise harmful pesticide, stay fresh longer, or behave in a new way during processing.
Because the new genes in GM foods sometimes come from species to which people are commonly allergic or cause their new hosts to produce proteins similar to those to which many people are sensitive, scientists have been aware that GM foods could provoke allergies. And lately the evidence that they’re doing just that has been accumulating:
• In 1999, an annual study of food allergens in the U.K. found that soy allergies had increased 50% over the previous year. This trend coincided with the first imports of GM soy from the U.S., which led scientists to strongly suspect a connection.
• In the mid 1990s, a gene from the Brazil nut was inserted into a type of GM soybean. This new soy plant was never marketed because blood tests of people allergic to Brazil nuts showed reactions to the new soybeans.
• Amounts of a soy allergen called trypsin inhibitor have been found to be as much as 27% higher in raw GM soy vs. raw natural soy.
• Another study of GM soy discovered that such crops contained a unique new protein that triggered a human antibody response.
• Mice given a diet rich in GM soy had significantly lower levels of pancreatic enzymes, which are needed to break down proteins in the digestive tract. When proteins last longer in the body, they’re more likely to provoke an allergic response.
• Some types of GM corn have been bred to produce the same toxin produced by natural Bt bacteria, a common organic pest control. This corn is “naturally” pest resistant, but because it typically produces 3,000-5,000 times more Bt toxin than Bt bacteria, the resulting food is also filled with Bt, which survives cooking processes. Mice fed Bt-toxin exhibited immune responses as severe as those seen in cholera victims. The toxin also sensitized their immune systems to formerly harmless substances.
• A Monsanto study on Bt corn that legal action forced the company to reveal showed that rats who ate it experienced a significant increase in three types of immune system blood cells.
• When Australian scientists inserted a kidney bean gene that produces a natural insecticide into pea plants, tests showed that the pea plants’ version of the compound was subtly altered. Though harmless when consumed in kidney beans, the substance caused inflammatory responses in mice when produced by the pea plants.
• Similarly, a type of GM potato that produced yet another natural insecticide was found to damage rat immune systems even though the same substance was harmless when produced by its original host plant.
Evidence like this is troubling, and even though it isn’t enough to definitively declare that any specific GM food is harmful to human beings, it’s our opinion that you don’t have to be a biologist to read the handwriting on the lab room wall.
Until more is known, the Precautionary Principle clearly dictates that concerned consumers avoid GM foods. The best and indeed only way to do that is to eat organic foods as often as possible. By law, organic foods cannot be genetically modified nor contain GM ingredients.
For further information about the potential of GM foods to cause food allergies and more on the research cited above, including references, visit . 2
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