Genetically engineeered soy beans may cause allergies

This is just a short section of a very much longer, and very interesting, article on 'Genetically Modified Foods : Monsanto's Weapon of Mass Destruction' on GhanaWeb.

GM Foods May Cause Allergies

Allergic reactions occur when the immune system interprets something as foreign, different and offensive, and reacts accordingly. All GM foods, by definition, have something foreign and different. And several studies show that they provoke reactions.

Rats fed Monsanto’s GM corn, for example, had a significant increase in blood cells related to the immune system.

GM potatoes caused the immune system of rats to respond more slowly. And a harmless protein was transformed into a potentially deadly allergen, when produced within GM peas.

Although the potatoes and peas were not commercialized, they had passed the superficial tests normally used to approve most GM crops. Crops that did make it to the market, however, may be triggering immune responses in the unsuspecting population.

GM soy might have doubled UK soy allergies

Soon after GM soy was introduced into the UK, researchers at the York Laboratory reported that allergies to soy had skyrocketed by 50% in a single year.

Although no follow-up studies were done, there are many ways in which genetic engineering could be the culprit.

Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” GM soy is planted in 89% of US soy acres. A foreign gene from bacteria (with parts of virus and petunia DNA) is inserted, which allows the plant to survive applications of the otherwise deadly Roundup herbicide. Because people aren’t usually allergic to a food until they have eaten it several times, we don’t know in advance if the protein produced by bacteria, which has never been part of the human food supply, will provoke a reaction. As a precaution, scientists compare the amino acid sequence of the novel protein with a database of known allergens. If there is a match, according to criteria recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and others, the GM crop should either not be commercialized or additional testing should be done. Sections of the protein produced in GM soy are identical to known allergens36, but the soybean was introduced before WHO criteria were established and the recommended additional tests were not conducted.

To make matters worse, the only published human feeding study on GM foods verified that portions of the gene inserted into GM soy transfers into the DNA of human gut bacteria.

This means that years after people stop eating GM soy, they may still be exposed to its potentially allergenic protein that is continuously produced inside their intestines.

GM soy has new (or more) allergens

Although biotech advocates describe genes like Legos that cleanly snap into place, the process of creating a GM crop can produce massive collateral damage in plant DNA. Native genes can be mutated, deleted, permanently turned on or off, and hundreds may change their levels of protein expression. The result may be an increase of an existing allergen or production of a completely new one. Both appear to have happened in GM soy.

Levels of one soy allergen, trypsin inhibitor, were as much as seven times higher in cooked GM soy compared to a non-GM control.

Another study verified that GM soybeans contain a unique, unexpected protein, not found in controls. Moreover, it reacts with IgE antibodies, suggesting that it may provoke dangerous allergic reactions. The same study revealed that one human subject showed a skin prick immune response only to GM soy, but not to natural soy.

In addition, a protein in natural soy cross-reacts with peanut allergies.40 That means that soy may trigger reactions in some people who are allergic to peanuts. This cross-reactivity could theoretically increase in GM varieties. Thus, the doubling of US peanut allergies in the five years immediately after GM soy was introduced might not be a coincidence.

GM soy might impede digestion, leading to widespread allergies

GM soy also produces an unpredicted side effect in the pancreas of mice—production of digestive enzymes is dramatically reduced.

If fewer enzymes cause food proteins to breakdown more slowly, there is more time for allergic reactions to take place. Thus, digestive problems from GM soy might promote allergic reactions to a wide range of proteins, not just to soy.

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First published in September 2010

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