Greenpeace exposes a GM wheat scandal in Australia

Feature story - July 8, 2011
Greenpeace has released a report in Australia on a controversy surrounding trials across that country of genetically modified wheat that will lead to testing on humans.

The national science body in Australia, CSIRO, has approved the world’s first human feeding trials of genetically modified (GM) wheat, despite serious health, economic and environmental risks.

The report, Australia's wheat scandal: The biotech takeover of our daily bread reveals that CSIRO is in partnership with GM biotech companies to commercialize Australia’s daily bread. The Greenpeace report highlights large gaps in the risk analysis on GM wheat, including:

  • Lack of specification over which foreign gene has been inserted into the wheat plants;
  • Lack of genetic mapping to determine the number of foreign genes inserted or how
    stable the resulting GM organism is;
  • Lack of testing for toxic and allergic effects of GM wheat;
  • Failure to provide a credible plan to prevent GM wheat from contamination in the field.

If Australia pursues GM wheat ,biotech companies stand to benefit while farmers and consumers stand to lose. The involvement of biotech companies in the field trials represents a clear conflict of interest and corrupts the thorough risk analysis that would have prevented the release of GM wheat across Australia.

There are alarming health risks associated with GM food. Australians will be tested on GM wheat in short-term and superficial trials that run for just one day. There is no stated intention to test for long-term effects or other negative health effects such as allergic or toxic reactions.

Dr. George Crisp, a medical practitioner from Perth with a special interest in diabetes, has said:

“Our understanding of how genes function and interact is rudimentary to say the least, and we can have no idea what possible consequences for human and environmental health might arise from altering the structure of plant genomes. “Preliminary studies have raised several potential health problems, such as allergy and immune dysfunction, but these remain unstudied and ignored."

Read an open letter from scientists and doctors around the world regarding human feeding trials of genetically modified wheat in Australia

GM wheat has been rejected by all the other major wheat producing countries in the world – including the U.S. and Canada – due to the risks. Evidence shows that it is inevitable that GMO wheat will contaminate traditional wheat crops, putting at risk Australia’s $4.7 million wheat industry if buyers refuse to accept GM wheat.

GM wheat poses an environmental risk since once released into the environment, GM crops can’t be recalled but can reproduce indefinitely and unpredictably. Releasing GM wheat threatens Australia’s natural biodiversity and also increases reliance on chemical pesticides.

CSIRO is testing potentially unstable genetically modified organisms on Australians in secret. CSIRO has rejected Greenpeace’s Freedom of Information request for documents outlining the health, safety and ethical parameters of its human trials.

Download the report: Australia's Wheat Scandal