January 15, 2010
In a landmark ruling, the NZ Commerce Commission has accepted evidence from Prof Jack Heinemann, from an exhaustive review of the literature and on the basis of his own extensive professional experience, that animals fed on GM components ARE different from those which are reared using non-GM feed. This is a direct challenge to EFSA and FSA, who have maintained consistently that there are no differences between GM- fed and non-GM-fed animals, and that there is therefore no need for labelling or segregation of feed supplies to meet consumer demand for GM-free products.
This issue came to a head because of complaints that NZ poultry producer Inghams claimed, in a high-pressure advertising campaign, that its chickens contained no GM ingredients, in spite of using up to 13% GM soy-based feed. In one of its adverts, Inghams said: “Research confirms that animals that consume feed with a component of GM are no different compared to animals that have been fed a low GM or GM free diet.”
The Commission has now told Inghams that it was breaching the Fair Trading Act by making false or misleading claims. Inghams continued to argue on its website that the use of GM soy did not compromise an absolute GM-free status and animals that ate feed with a GM component were no different to animals that may have been fed a low GM or GM- free diet. This position was verified by numerous feeding studies, the website said. The company cited publications by a New Zealand Royal Commission, the Royal Society and the Federation of Animal Science Societies. However, those publications were at least 7 years old; and the company accepted the CC ruling and stopped the advertising as soon as Prof Heinemann’s investigation was commenced.
Prof Heinemann’s Report, entitled “Report on animals exposed to GM ingredients in animal feed” (July 2009), makes interesting reading. It surveys all of the published animal feeding studies which are cited by EFSA, FSA and other bodies, and subjects them to a careful analysis. He refuses to be drawn on human health and safety safety issues (since that was not his brief) but concludes that there are many deficiencies in the studies which purport to show “no effects” from the consumption of GM animal feed. Sometimes, in animal feeding experiments, GM components have been used in both the test group and the control group, which would have the effect of masking GM effects. Many animal feeding experiments are too short to reveal physiological changes. Other deficiencies are related to variability in the GM DNA of feed supplies, the sensitivity of the testing methods used, and the use of surrogate proteins rather than whole GM feed in the testing protocols.
Nonetheless, there are abundant studies (including some conducted under the auspices of the GM industry itself) that show statistically significant physiological changes in GM-fed animals, and that reveal the presence of “DNA and protein unique to GM plants within animals and animal products.” Prof Heinemann also concludes: “There is compelling evidence that animals provided with feed containing GM ingredients can react in a way that is unique to an exposure to GM plants. This is revealed through metabolic, physiological or immunological responses in exposed animals.”
This is a very important study which should form the basis of a direct challenge to EFSA and FSA to change the wording on their websites and to abandon their fondly-held beliefs that GM components fed to farm animals do not enter the animal and animal product food chain.
2.Report on animals exposed to GM ingredients in animal feed
Prepared for the Commerce Commission of New Zealand
by Professor Jack A.Heinemann, PhD
24 July 2009
Summarised by GMWatch. NB: in some cases we have simplified language. If this results in any loss of scientific accuracy, the fault is ours. Readers who need accuracy of information are advised to consult Prof Heinemann’s original report.
This report addresses the questions:
*could DNA from GM plants be transferred to the animal?
*could GM plants be incorporated into other products sold as chicken products, including bread or stuffing?
*could proteins from GM plants be transferred to the product or could the GM feed alter metabolites [any substance involved in metabolism, either as a product of metabolism or as necessary for metabolism] in the animal?
*could GM feed cause physiological or immunological responses in the animal?
Summary of conclusions
There is substantial literature that reports the detection of DNA and protein unique to GM plants within animals and animal products. Based on studies, it is not possible to conclude that animals and derived products are free of GM material when they have been exposed to GM plants through i) feeding, ii) proximity to other animals on GM feed, or iii) subsequent processing. The most consistent finding in the literature is that animals not exposed to GM feed were unlikely to be contaminated with GM material.
There is compelling evidence that animals provided with feed containing GM ingredients can react in a way that is unique to an exposure to GM plants. This is revealed through metabolic, physiological or immunological responses in exposed animals. In the absence of appropriate testing, we can’t assume that raising an animal on GM feed will not affect the final product – even if there is no detectable residue from the GM material.
The cumulative strength of positive detections reviewed in studies leave no unreasonable uncertainty that GM plant material can transfer to animals exposed to GM feed in their diets or environment, and that there can be a residual difference in animals or animal products as a result of exposure to GM feed.
On current GM policy for retailers in Europe
Retailers are linking the use of GM feed with the GM status of their animal products. For the United Kingdom and Ireland:
“All of Marks & Spencer’s fresh meat and poultry, salmon, shell eggs and fresh milk comes from animals fed on a non-GM diet. The Kepak Group, which controls 60% of Irish beef exports, requires some farmers who produce meat for its flagship KK Club brand to exclude the use of GM animal feed,
“All Kepak’s chicken meat comes from birds reared on a vegetarian, non-GMO diet. The Silver Pall Dairy in Co Cork has signed multi-million euro foreign direct investment deals with Baskin Robbins (the world’s largest ice-cream retailer) and with Ben & Gerry’s, to produce GM-free ice cream (made from milk from cows fed a certified non-GM diet) for the European market.
“Tesco, Sainsburys, M&S and Budgen Stores all have quality labels for meat and dairy produce from livestock fed on certified GM-free animal feed. All of Marks & Spencer’s fresh meat and poultry, salmon, shell eggs and fresh milk comes from animals fed on non-GM diet. Moreover, standard poultry sold In most UK supermarkets now carries a label certifying GM-free feed”.
Similar practices are reported for Italy, France and Switzerland. TraceConsult™, which describes itself as a consultancy, reported on 20 July 2009 that the Swedish Dairy Association “were suddenly unable to continue their claim of supplying GMO-free milk” due to inadvertent distribution of GM feed to member farmers.
On whether consumers can avoid eating GM DNA in animal products
Would a consumer eating an animal raised on GM feed be able to avoid ingestion of DNA, protein or other substances unique to a GM plant, or able to avoid animal physiological or immunological responses to substances unique to GM plants? According to the evidence, no.
The research is clear on the following. If a consumer wanted to avoid eating GM DNA, then this consumer would have a high likelihood of success through purchasing meat products from animals raised on GM-free feed. For products that are breaded or stuffed, that consumer could probably avoid exposure to GM DNA if the ingredients in the breading and stuffing were certified organic or GM-free. If a consumer wanted to avoid eating proteins or metabolites unique to GM plants, then this consumer would have a high likelihood of success purchasing meat products from animals raised on GM-free feed. If a consumer wanted to avoid the ingestion of metabolites or proteins in animals that were only present, or present at different concentrations, when the animal was fed a GM plant, then this consumer would have a high likelihood of success through purchasing meat products from animals raised on GM-free feed.