- The Russian scientist planned a simple experiment to
see if eating genetically modified (GM) soy might influence offspring.
What she got, however, was an astounding result that may threaten a multi-billion
- Irina Ermakova, a leading scientist at the Institute
of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology of the Russian Academy of
Sciences (RAS), added GM soy flour (5-7 grams) to the diet of female rats.
Other females were fed non-GM soy or no soy at all. The experimental diet
began two weeks before the rats conceived and continued through pregnancy
- Ermakova's first surprise came when her pregnant rats
started giving birth. Some pups from GM-fed mothers were quite a bit smaller.
After 2 weeks, 36% of them weighed less than 20 grams compared to about
6% from the other groups (see photo below).
- (Photo of two rats from the Russian study, showing stunted
growth - the larger rat, 19 days old, is from the control group; the smaller
rat, 20 days old, is from the "GM soy" group.)
- But the real shock came when the rats started dying.
Within three weeks, 25 of the 45 (55.6%) rats from the GM soy group died
compared to only 3 of 33 (9%) from the non-GM soy group and 3 of 44 (6.8%)
from the non-soy controls.
- Ermakova preserved several major organs from the mother
rats and offspring, drew up designs for a detailed organ analysis, created
plans to repeat and expand the feeding trial, and promptly ran out of research
money. The $70,000 needed was not expected to arrive for a year. Therefore,
when she was invited to present her research at a symposium organized by
the National Association for Genetic Security, Ermakova wrote "PRELIMINARY
STUDIES" on the top of her paper. She presented it on October 10,
2005 at a session devoted to the risks of GM food.
- Her findings are hardly welcome by an industry already
steeped in controversy.
- GM Soy's Divisive Past
- The soy she was testing was Monsanto's Roundup Ready
variety. Its DNA has bacterial genes added that allow the soy plant to
survive applications of Monsanto's "Roundup" brand herbicide.
About 85% of the soy gown in the US is Roundup Ready. Since soy derivatives,
including oil, flour and lecithin, are found in the majority of processed
foods sold in the US, many Americans eat ingredients derived from Roundup
Ready soy everyday.
- The FDA does not require any safety tests on genetically
modified foods. If Monsanto or other biotech companies declare their foods
safe, the agency has no further questions. The rationale for this hands-off
position is a sentence in the FDA's 1992 policy that states, "The
agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these
new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way."
The statement, it turns out, was deceptive. Documents made public from
a lawsuit years later revealed that the FDA's own experts agreed that GM
foods are different and might lead to hard-to-detect allergens, toxins,
new diseases or nutritional problems. They had urged their superiors to
require long-term safety studies, but were ignored. The person in charge
of FDA policy was, conveniently, Monsanto's former attorney (and later
their vice president). One FDA microbiologist described the GM food policy
as "just a political document" without scientific basis, and
warned that industry would "not do the tests that they would normally
do" since the FDA didn't require any. He was correct.
- There have been less than 20 published, peer-reviewed
animal feeding safety studies and no human clinical trials - in spite of
the fact that millions of people eat GM soy, corn, cotton, or canola daily.
There are no adequate tests on "biochemistry, immunology, tissue pathology,
gut function, liver function and kidney function," and animal feeding
studies are too short to adequately test for cancer, reproductive problems,
or effects in the next generation. This makes Ermakova's research particularly
significant. It's the first of its kind.
- Past Studies Show Significant Effects
- Other studies on Roundup Ready soy also raise serious
questions. Research on the liver, the body's major de-toxifier, showed
that rats fed GM soy developed misshapen nuclei and other cellular anomalies.
This indicates increased metabolic activity, probably resulting from a
major insult to that organ. Rats also showed changes in the pancreas, including
a huge drop in the production of a major enzyme (alpha-amylase), which
could inhibit digestion. Cooked GM soy contains about twice the amount
of soy lectin, which can also block nutrient assimilation. And one study
showed that GM soy has 12-14% less isoflavones, which are touted as cancer
- An animal feeding study published by Monsanto showed
no apparent problems with GM soy, but their research has been severely
criticized as rigged to avoid finding problems. Monsanto used mature
animals instead of young, more sensitive ones, diluted their GM soy up
to 12-fold, used too much protein, never weighed the organs, and had huge
variations in starting weights. The study's nutrient comparison between
GM and non-GM soy revealed significant differences in the ash, fat, and
carbohydrate content, lower levels of protein, a fatty acid, and phenylalanine.
Monsanto researchers had actually omitted the most incriminating nutritional
differences, which were later discovered and made public. For example,
the published paper showed a 27% increase in a known allergen, trypsin
inhibitor, while the recovered data raised that to a 3-fold or 7-fold increase,
after the soy was cooked. This might explain why soy allergies in the UK
skyrocketed by 50% soon after GM soy was introduced.
- The gene that is inserted into GM soy produces a protein
with two sections that are identical to known allergens. This might also
account for the increased allergy rate. Furthermore, the only human feeding
trial ever conducted confirmed that this inserted gene transfers into the
DNA of bacteria inside the intestines. This means that long after you decide
to stop eating GM soy, your own gut bacteria may still be producing this
potentially allergenic protein inside your digestive tract.
- The migration of genes might influence offspring. German
scientists found fragments of the DNA fed to pregnant mice in the brains
of their newborn. Fragments of genetically modified DNA were also found
in the blood, spleen, liver and kidneys of piglets that were fed GM corn.
It was not clear if the GM genes actually entered the DNA of the animal,
but scientists speculate that if it were to integrate into the sex organ
cells, it might impact offspring.
- The health of newborns might also be affected by toxins,
allergens, or anti-nutrients in the mother's diet. These may be created
in GM crops, due to unpredictable alterations in their DNA. The process
of gene insertion can delete one or more of the DNA's own natural genes,
scramble them, turn them off, or permanently turn them on. It can also
change the expression levels of hundreds of genes. And growing the transformed
cell into a GM plant through a process called tissue culture can create
hundreds or thousands of additional mutations throughout the DNA.
- Most of these possibilities have not been properly evaluated
in Roundup Ready soy. We don't know how many mutations or altered gene
expressions are found in its DNA. Years after it was marketed, however,
scientists did discover a section of natural soy DNA that was scrambled
and two additional fragments of the foreign gene that had escaped Monsanto's
- Those familiar with the body of GM safety studies are
often astounded by their superficiality. Moreover, several scientists who
discovered incriminating evidence or even expressed concerns about the
technology have been fired, threatened, stripped of responsibilities, or
censured. And when problems do arise, they are not followed up. For
example, animals fed GM crops developed potentially precancerous cell growth,
smaller brains, livers and testicles, damaged immune systems, bigger livers,
partial atrophy of the liver, lesions in the livers, stomachs, and kidneys,
inflammation of the kidneys, problems with their blood cells, higher blood
sugar levels, and unexplained increases in the death rate. (See Spilling
the Beans, August 2004.) None have been adequately followed-up or accounted
- Ermakova's research, however, will likely change that.
That's because her study is easy to repeat and its results are so extreme.
A 55.6% mortality rate is enormous and very worrisome. Repeating the study
is the only reasonable option.
- American Academy of Environmental Medicine Urges NIH
to Follow Up Study
- I presented Dr. Ermakova's findings, with her permission,
at the annual conference of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine
(AAEM) in Tucson on October 27, 2005. In response, the AAEM board passed
a resolution asking the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to sponsor
an immediate, independent follow-up of the study. Dr. Jim Willoughby, the
Academy's president, said, "Genetically modified soy, corn, canola,
and cottonseed oil are being consumed daily by a significant proportion
of our population. We need rigorous, independent and long-term studies
to evaluate if these foods put the population at risk."
- Unfortunately, there is a feature about GM crops that
makes even follow-up studies a problem. In 2003, a French laboratory analyzed
the inserted genes in five GM varieties, including Roundup Ready soybeans.
In each case, the genetic sequence was different than that which had been
described by the biotech companies years earlier. Had all the companies
made a mistake? That's unlikely. Rather, the inserted genes probably rearranged
over time. A Brussels lab confirmed that the genetic sequences were different
than what was originally listed. But the sequences discovered in Brussels
didn't all match those found by the French. This suggests that the
inserted genes are unstable and can change in different ways. It also means
that they are creating new proteins-ones that were never intended or tested.
The Roundup Ready soybeans used in the Russian test may therefore be quite
different from the Roundup Ready soybeans used in follow-up studies.
- Unstable genes make accurate safety testing impossible.
It also may explain some of the many problems reported about GM foods.
For example, nearly 25 farmers in the US and Canada say that certain GM
corn varieties caused their pigs to become sterile, have false pregnancies,
or give birth to bags of water. A farmer in Germany claims that a certain
variety of GM corn killed 12 of his cows and caused others to fall sick.
And Filipinos living next to a GM cornfield developed skin, respiratory,
and intestinal symptoms and fever, while the corn was pollinating. The
mysterious symptoms returned the following year, also during pollination,
and blood tests on 39 of the Filipinos showed an immune response to the
Bt toxin-created by the GM corn.
- These problems may be due to particular GM varieties,
or they may result from a GM crop that has "gone bad" due to
genetic rearrangements. Even GM plants with identical gene sequences, however,
might act differently. The amount of Bt toxin in the Philippine corn study
described above, for example, varied considerably from kernel to kernel,
even in the same plant.
- With billions of dollars invested in GM foods, no adverse
finding has yet been sufficient to reverse the industry's growth in the
US. It may take some dramatic, indisputable, and life-threatening discovery.
That is why Ermakova's findings are so important. If the study holds up,
it may topple the GM food industry.
- I urge the NIH to agree to the AAEM's request, and fund
an immediate, independent follow-up study. If NIH funding is not forthcoming,
our Institute for Responsible Technology will try to raise the money. This
is not the time to wait. There is too much at stake.
- Click here for press release on Russian rat study.
- Click here for the resolution by the American Academy of Environmental
- Click here for downloadable photos of the rats.
- Jeffrey M. Smith is working with a team of international
scientists to catalog all known health risks of GM foods. He is the author
of Seeds of Deception , the world's bestselling book on GM food, and the
producer of the video, Hidden Dangers in Kids' Meals.
- Spilling the Beans is a monthly column available at www.responsibletechnology.org.
Publishers and webmasters may offer this article or monthly series to your
readers at no charge, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Individuals
may read the column each month by subscribing to a free newsletter at www.responsibletechnology.org.
- "Statement of Policy: Foods Derived from New
Plant Varieties," Federal Register vol. 57, no. 104 at 22991, May
- Louis J. Pribyl, "Biotechnology Draft Document,
2/27/92," March 6, 1992, www.biointegrity.org
- Epidemiologist Judy Carman's testimony before New
Zealand's Royal Commission of Inquiry on Genetic Modification, 2001.
- Malatesta M, Caporaloni C, Gavaudan S, Rocchi MB,
Serafini S, Tiberi C, Gazzanelli G. (2002a) Ultrastructural morphometrical
and immunocytochemical analyses of hepatocyte nuclei from mice fed on genetically
modified soybean. Cell Struct Funct. 27: 173-180.
- Manuela Malatesta, et al, Ultrastructural analysis
of pancreatic acinar cells from mice fed on genetically modified soybean,
Journal of Anatomy, Volume 201 Issue 5 Page 409 - November 2002
- Stephen R. Padgette and others, "The Composition
of Glyphosate-Tolerant Soybean Seeds Is Equivalent to That of Conventional
Soybeans," The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 126, no. 4, April 1996 (The
data was taken from the journal archives, as it had been omitted from the
- Lappe, M.A., Bailey, E.B., Childress, C. and Setchell,
K.D.R. (1999) Alterations in clinically important phytoestrogens in genetically
modified, herbicide-tolerant soybeans. Journal of Medical Food 1, 241-245.
- Stephen R. Padgette and others, "The Composition
of Glyphosate-Tolerant Soybean Seeds Is Equivalent to That of Conventional
Soybeans," The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 126, no. 4, April 1996
- For example, Ian F. Pryme and Rolf Lembcke, "In
Vivo Studies on Possible Health Consequences of genetically modified food
and Feed-with Particular Regard to Ingredients Consisting of Genetically
Modified Plant Materials," Nutrition and Health, vol. 17, 2003
- Doerfler W; Schubbert R, "Uptake of foreign
DNA from the environment: the gastrointestinal tract and the placenta as
portals of entry," Journal of molecular genetics and genetics Vol
242: 495-504, 1994
- Raffaele Mazza1, et al, "Assessing the Transfer
of Genetically Modified DNA from Feed to Animal Tissues," Transgenic
Research, October 2005, Volume 14, Number 5, pp 775 - 784
- P. Windels, I. Taverniers, A. Depicker, E. Van Bockstaele,
and M. DeLoose, "Characterisation of the Roundup Ready soybean insert,"
European Food Research and Technology, vol. 213, 2001, pp. 107-112
- Jeffrey M. Smith, Seeds of Deception, Yes! Books,
-  Collonier C, Berthier G, Boyer F, Duplan M-N, Fernandez
S, Kebdani N, Kobilinsky A, Romanuk M, Bertheau Y. Characterization of
commercial GMO inserts: a source of useful material to study genome fluidity.
Poster presented at ICPMB: International Congress for Plant Molecular Biology
(n°VII), Barcelona, 23-28th June 2003. Poster courtesy of Dr. Gilles-Eric
Seralini, Président du Conseil Scientifique du CRII-GEN, www.crii-gen.org;
also "Transgenic lines proven unstable" by Mae-Wan Ho, ISIS Report,
23 October 2003 www.i-sis.org.uk
-  http://www.i-sis.org.uk/UTLI.php
-  http://www.seedsofdeception.com/utility/showArticle/?objectID=36
- © Copyright 2005 by Jeffrey M. Smith.
- Permission is granted to reproduce this in whole or in