Evening Standard 5/3/04 - by Mark Prigg
Dramatic new research claims to show for the first time the danger of genetically modified crops to humans.
The fresh evidence comes as the Government prepares to give the go-ahead next week for GM maize to be farmed commercially in the UK.
Norwegian scientists studying farmers in the Philippines found GM maize may cause breathing difficulties that could lead to long-term respiratory problems and skin rashes. Their preliminary results showed chemicals used in the crops were absorbed by the body causing allergic reactions.
Farmers working close to the crops suffered from gastrointestinal pain, vomiting and headaches. The man behind the study, Professor Terje Traavik, has called for further research to be done "as soon as possible".
Professor Traavik's laboratory in Tromso, Norway, studied blood samples from farmers on the slopes of Mount Matutum, a remote volcano in the Philippines.
The farmers started noticing health problems last July, when the GM maize began flowering. "There was this really pungent smell," said Maryjane Malayon, who lives near the GM fields. "It was like we were breathing in pesticides." Her family began coughing, throwing up and feeling dizzy - but when they moved five kilometres down the mountain, they recovered within a week.
Livestock also suffered. "One day my horse ate some of the plants and its appetite went," said farmer Nestor Catoran. "Its belly swelled, its mouth started frothing and it slowly died."
Some experts doubt Professor Traavik's results because so far similar symptoms have not been elsewhere in the world. But he insists: "My research showed footprints of GM toxin were found in the blood samples of people near the maize."
His study stores up fresh trouble for the Cabinet, which gave the green light for GM maize crop yesterday. Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett is set to tell MPs that a strain from Bayer has been proved not to harm nearby wildlife or vegetation after a five-year trial.
MPs on the all-party environmental audit committee said today the trial was flawed because ordinary crops used for comparison with the GM variety were sprayed with a weedkiller that is to be banned.
Shadow agriculture secretary John Whittingdale said approval for commercial planting should not be satisfied that the production of GM crops is based on sound and thorough research".
Village under threat
The village of Sitio Kalyong, which consists of 800 houses, is in the Cabatao region of the southern Philippines.
Its residents rely heavily on maize for their livelihood. Monsanto's YieldGard 818 variety of GM maize is grown in at least two fields in the area.
The firs of three studies links a form of GM maize grown in the Philippines to allergic reactions in local families.
A second study found the virus used to spread GM genes in plants was intact in rats tissue after they ate GM food and was active in farmers living near the crops. A third study found GM viruses can combine with natural viruses to create unpredictable hybrids.
from: Evening Standard (West End Final) 5/3/04 page 4