Researchers fed a single
meal of a hamburger and a milk shake that both contained genetically engineered
soy to study participants. According to the FSA gene uptake study, entitled "Evaluating
the Risks Associated with Using GMOs in Human Foods" (pp. 22-27, http://www.foodstandards.gov.uk/science/sciencetopics/gmfoods/gm_reports),
an herbicide resistance gene from a Roundup Ready variety of engineered soy was
found by researchers in bacteria from the small intestines of three out of seven
study participants (pg. 24).
Adrian Bebb, GM food campaigner for Friends of the Earth UK
said, "This research should set alarm bells ringing. Industry
scientists and government advisors have always played down the risk
of this ever happening, but the first time they looked for it they
The biotech industry has
long maintained that DNA is destroyed during digestion and that there are barriers
to incorporation of genetically engineered crop genes by bacteria. According to
a March 4, 2001 news release by the multi-million dollar biotech lobbying initiative
called the Council for Biotechnology Information, "the DNA contained in food --
including the antibiotic-resistance gene -- is broken down in the human gut during
the digestive process." (http://www.whybiotech.com/index.asp?trackid=7&id=1726#1726).
However, these assertions crumbled under the FSA findings, which showed that engineered
crop genes can survive digestion long enough to be incorporated by bacteria.
The new evidence raises safety concerns for people eating
genetically engineered foods. In particular, if antibiotic
resistance genes used in some varieties of engineered crops are
being picked up by bacteria in the intestines of people eating
engineered foods, this could increase bacterial resistance to
According to Michael Antoniou, a senior lecturer in molecular
genetics at King's College Medical School in London, the study
"suggests that you can get antibiotic marker genes spreading
amongst the bacterial population within the intestine which could
compromise future antibiotic use. They have shown that this can
happen even at very low levels after just one meal."
Given the research results, Friends of the Earth is calling for
the immediate withdrawal of genetically engineered crops containing
antibiotic resistance markers from the market. The organization
also calls for further research into the effects of gene transfer
In May 1999, the British Medical Association also called for a ban of crops
with antibiotic resistance marker genes stating, "There should be a ban on the
use of antibiotic resistance marker genes in GM food, as the risk to human health
from antibiotic resistance developing in micro-organisms is one of the major public
health threats that will be faced in the 21st Century."