This past October, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) deregulated Monsanto’s genetically engineered soybeans, MON87705, one of the parent lines used to make Vistive Gold oil. The other parent line for the new GMO cooking oil consists of traditionally bred soybeans. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for its part, accepted Monsanto’s representation that Vistive Gold oil is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) without further questions.
Monsanto boasts that Vistive Gold oil is “a golden opportunity for better health,” touting that the new oil has higher oleic (monounsaturated fat), and lower linolenic (polyunsaturated) and palmitic and stearic (saturated fat) content than the non-modified soybean seeds. The cooking oil is intended for frying and spraying in a variety of foods including meat, poultry, and fish dishes (commercial and restaurant), fried eggs (commercial and restaurant), French fries, potato chips and puffs, creamy salad dressings, salty snacks, and grain mixture dishes.
Vistive Gold soybeans are also stacked with the Roundup Ready gene trait.
Along with other new genetically engineered products, like blood oranges, Vistive Gold soybeans lead the shift in biotech R&D and marketing focus away from the alleged GMO benefits to farmers to the alleged health benefits to consumers.
So what’s the problem, you are wondering by now, with Vistive Gold oil? Putting aside the fact that USDA has approved more than 80 genetically engineered crops while denying none since the first approval in 1996, calling into question the regulatory framework for GMOs, there are several reasons to be concerned about this product’s safety.
Bill Freese, a science policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety, aptly summed up the problems:
First, the uncertainties attending all GE crops are exacerbated by the use of a relatively new form of genetic engineering known as RNA interference (RNAi) to generate MON87705, one parent line of Vistive Gold (VG). Second, the regulatory reviews of Vistive Gold and its parent, MON87705, were irregular and lacking in rigor. Third, there is no evidence that animal feeding trials or state-of-the-art “non-targeted” testing methods were used to assess VG oil or MON87705 for unintended effects. Finally, what limited targeted testing that was done raised unanswered questions re: MON87705 and VG oil.
One of the concerns with the new technology used to make MON87705, a process that silences the gene that produces the enzyme that transforms oleic to linoleic acid thus allowing oleic acid to “build up” in the plant, is the off-target effects. Potential adverse effects of this genetic engineering process include the unintended amplification of naturally occurring toxins that are normally present at low, unobjectionable, levels, the unintended creation of novel toxins, or reduced levels of nutrients.
Freese told me that “many scientific studies have shown that RNAi [new technology] can shut down other genes that happen to resemble the target gene (i.e. have similar sequence motifs). This could give rise to unintended disruption of cellular metabolism.” In general, he continued, “RNAi does NOT have a history of safe use; it has been used very little in GM crops.”
But important testing, as Freese and other critics point out, has not performed.
Genok, the Norwegian based Center for Biosafety which provides, among other things, risk assessment for Norwegian authorities related to new GMO applications, critically noted that Monsanto’s assertion in its submission to the European Union that there were no new proteins or metabolic constituents in MON87705 “is both misleading and incorrect.” Genok went on to state that “[t]he only way to be certain that MON 87705 is not producing a protein with either toxic or immunomodulating characteristics is to test it for such proteins,” which is precisely what Monsanto concluded that it need not do.
Additionally, the FDA approval process for foods containing genetically engineered ingredients allows the biotech developer, with millions invested in R&D, to vouch for the safety of a new product in most cases by asserting that it’s substantially equivalent to another non-modified safe product.
Freese criticized the U.S. and European regulatory authorities, stating that “neither US nor EU regulatory authorities demand either comprehensive profiling assessments or long-term animal feeding studies with the whole GM plant,” to detect subtle long-term effects such as reproductive disorders, cancers, or endocrine disruption. In the case of Vistive Gold oil, Freese faults the FDA because the agency “completed its consultation with Monsanto on the VG soybean oil (the product to be introduced into the food supply) nearly a year before it completed its consultation on MON87705, the genetically engineered precursor line.”
Likewise, Genok noted the many problems with the information presented by Monsanto to the Norwegian government:
In on our detailed analysis of the dossier submitted by the Developer [Monsanto] concerning MON 87705, a number of improper assumptions, lack of information, weakness in study design or methodological treatment that bias against the detection of unintended differences, missing or deficient information on potential adverse effects were identified, all of which do not merit the conclusion of safety given by the Developer.
Genok also noted that in addition to failing to analyze off-target effects of the novel technology, Monsanto failed to address “several important health issues or substantiate its claims of benefits to be derived from use of MON 87705, including the combinatorial (in food) or cumulative (in environment) effects of both high oleic acid levels and unintended increases and decreases in other fatty acids. This may be of significance for those who suffer from, or are prone to, acute respiratory distress, as elevated fatty acids are associated with the disease or its symptoms and when inhaled can irritate the lungs.”
“We are completely in the dark as to unintended effects in VG oil that Monsanto has proposed for food use,” said Freese.