Azerbaijani population eats genetically modified potatoes, tomatoes and rice – INVESTIGATION

Azerbaijani population eats genetically modified potatoes, tomatoes and rice – <font color=red> INVESTIGATION </font>
# 22 February 2010 12:43 (UTC +04:00)
Baku. Kamala Guliyeva – APA. Recently polemics over the genetically modified products have been intensified in Azerbaijan. This is fact that it creates great threat for human beings. People eating genetically modified foods are like test animals.

What is GMO?

A genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. Transgenic organisms, a subset of GMOs, are organisms which have inserted DNA that originated in a different species. Some GMOs contain no DNA from other species and are therefore not transgenic but cisgenic. The general principle of producing a GMO is to add new genetic material into an organism’s genome. This is called genetic engineering and was made possible through the discovery of DNA and the creation of the first recombinant bacteria in 1973. This led to concerns in the scientific community about potential risks from genetic engineering, which was thoroughly discussed at the Asilomar Conference. One of the main recommendations from this meeting was that government oversight of recombinant DNA research should be established until the technology was deemed safe. In 1986, field tests of bacteria genetically engineered to protect plants from frost damage (ice-minus bacteria) at a small biotechnology company called Advanced Genetic Sciences of Oakland, California, were repeatedly delayed by opponents of biotechnology. In the same year, a proposed field test of a microbe genetically engineered for a pest resistance protein by Monsanto Company was dropped. First scientific prove of harmfulness of GMO was described by Árpád Pusztai, a Hungarian-born protein scientist who has spent most of his career, from 1968-1998, at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland. Between 1995 and 1998 Pusztai performed a series of experiments on some genetically modified potatoes which had been developed by an English biotech company, Cambridge Agricultural Genetics, later called Axis Genetics. They had been field-grown at Rothamsted, and were intended for commercialization. The potatoes were the widely grown desiree red variety, modified with a gene taken from snowdrop (Galanthus) plants, that caused the potatoes to express snowdrop lectin, a protein which Árpád Pusztai had previously shown to be toxic to insects but harmless to mammals. Initially Pusztai and his team observed a lack of correlation between levels of the lectin in the potato leaves and their toxicity to insects. Subsequently they experimented by feeding rats on raw and cooked genetically modified potatoes, using Desiree Red potatoes as controls. One of the controls was unmodified desire red potatoes mixed with snowdrop lectin. The rats fed on the genetically modified potatoes showed intestine damage and harm to their immune systems. These effects were not observed in rats fed on unmodified potatoes, or unmodified potatoes mixed with snowdrop lectin. The team concluded that the effects observed were a result of the genetic modification, not the snowdrop lectin. Initially the Rowett Institute claimed that they were not doing any research on GM crops. Later the Institute claimed that Pusztai had voluntarily retired, and apologized for his "mistake". In 1998 Pusztai publicly announced that the results of his research show eating genetically modified potato causes harm to rats, leading to his dismissal from the institute. The resulting controversy over his dismissal and the attempts to invalidate the conclusions of his research became known as the Pusztai affair. World Health Organization, UN Food Program and international environmental organizations are alarming about the problem. Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China and a number of developed countries banned import of genetically modified products.

Most-required transgenic products in Azerbaijan are meat, sausages, ice creams, pasta, fruits and vegetables, and some sorts of infant foods

Azerbaijani expert Babek Tatliyev, who is researching this field for many years, told APA that rapid development of GM production started in 1992 and there are 15 companies in the word actively involved in production of these products. Tatliyev said there were no enough GMO researches. Not only Azerbaijan, but many countries are not ready for prevention of expansion of transgenic goods produced by the Western companies in a short period. Scientists and press need to educate people what is GMO and how it can be dangerous. Tatliyev said most-required transgenic products in Azerbaijan were meat, sausages, pastas, fruits and vegetables, ice creams and some sorts of infant foods. These products are imported mostly from Iran, Georgia and Russia. The products imported from USA, Canada and Argentine are also transgenic. You see they are injecting scorpion genes to potato to make it cold-resistant. Some tomatoes and strawberry are injected with flatfish genes to be cold-resistant. They injected human genes to rice to make it more nutritious. Injection of human genes to pigs in some Western countries is protested by the representatives of traditional religions. The expert said Azerbaijani legislature should maximum restrict import of GMO products. Transgenic products are sold separately in foreign countries, but in Azerbaijan, there are no such restrictions. We don’t know what we are buying. Currently nearly 20 Russian companies are producing 200 sorts of transgenic products and most of them are imported to the Azerbaijani market. Infectious diseases become more aggressive because weakening of immune system which based on nutrition. Producer should test its products first, investigate its harmful effects and then decide to sell it or no. British and Russian scientists have already proved that it is very dangerous. There are many evidences, but the governments of those countries try to cover up these evidences.
The person, who conducted these studies in England, was dismissed. Mutant animals are burned in Slovenia. The results of the studies concerning transgenic products are not transparent. It is a fact that 70 percent of the population in America, where genetic engineering has developed, suffer from allergy, while in Sweden this figure is 7 percent,” he said.

State Statistical Committee told APA that 11911.5 tones of poultry, 10560.7 tones of butter, 29434 tones of potatoes, 36514.4 tones of fresh vegetables, 56829.5 tones of fruit, 931.2 tones of wheat, 22055.1 tones of rice, 80575.5 tones of vegetable oil and fat, 18232.9 tones of chocolate products, 14069.5 tones of canned fruit and vegetables, 14938.2 tones of fruit and vegetable juices were imported in Azerbaijan in 2009.

“As there is no law, we can not ask an entrepreneur if his product is transgenic or not.”

Director of nutrition hygiene department of the Republic Hygiene and Epidemiology Center Imran Abdullayev told APA that it is impossible to regulate the usage of these products, as there is no law on “Genetically Modified Foods” in Azerbaijan.
“Therefore, we can not ask an entrepreneur if his product is transgenic or not. As there is no prohibition, regulating norm, it is impossible to put forward a demand. It is difficult to say something about the influence of these products on the human organism. We want the law to be adopted, scientific labs studying GMO opened in Azerbaijan,” he said.
Abdullayev said the Republic Hygiene and Epidemiology Center can not study the GM foods alone.
“Biologists, geneticists, mathematicians, veterinarians should be involved in this field. The question is only the usage of these products, growing, increasing of these products, application of agrochemical rules, suspension of unnecessary products, normalization of commodity and safety indicators of these products should be studied. The adoption of the law on GM foods is not enough. The law should cover a number of features. Azerbaijani Cabinet of Ministers should prepare a number of normative acts. If the law is adopted, the requirements arising from the law will be fulfilled,” he said.
Abdullayev said Azerbaijani President issued a decree #3004 on safe food provision of the population (2008-2015). Azerbaijani Cabinet of Ministers prepared an action plan. The decree also contains an item on GM foods. The decree envisages examination of these products, requirements for them. But, as the law has not been adopted, it is impossible to take serious measures.

GM foods are out of control in Azerbaijan

Chairman of the Free Consumers Union Eyyub Husey told APA that the union had finished the project “Initiative of consumers in the protection of biodiversity” financed by the European Commission in seven countries, as well as Azerbaijan.
“We conducted studies within this project. Azerbaijan joined a number of international documents, including Kartakhen protocols in 2005. Over 150 countries joined this protocol. So, Azerbaijan has undertaken commitments to assess the risks, prevent their spread, usage. Unfortunately, GM foods are out of control in Azerbaijan. There is GMO crop growing, GMO seed-growing in Azerbaijan. 80 percent of the imported potatoes, 70 percent of the tomatoes imported from Iran, generally 90 percent of the imported tomatoes, 98 percent of soyas, 70 percent of the maizes, 60 percent of beet, almost all of the watermelons are GM foods. There exist various views on GMO. Monsatnto company of America is improving GMO in the world. Former American presidents are its companions,” he said.
Eyyub Huseyn said the law on “Ecologically clean agriculture” adopted in Azerbaijan on July 13, 2007, out a green light to the spread of GMO in Azerbaijan, despite the fact that Azerbaijan had undertaken commitments with the international documents.
“When the law was adopted, we demanded to ban the import of GM foods to Azerbaijan. But Azerbaijan is weak before WTO. Therefore, GMO is improving in Azerbaijan. It is impossible to prevent it. Azerbaijan is already in captivity of GMO,” he said.
Eyyub Huseyn said the consumers should use only local products. He said Free Consumers Union had been struggling against GM foods for two years. About 10,000 booklets have been released, workshops held in ten regions. but as there is no lab in Azerbaijan, the union can not file a suit.
“As there is no ban for GMO in the laws, we try to achieve stamping of the imported GM foods. After that we will start campaign to promote these stamps,” he said.

“We should admit that all of the products we eat have been deteriorated.”

Scientific worker of the Cropping Institute of Agriculture Ministry Elkhan Aliyev told APA that Azerbaijani markets are full of GM foods.
“If we do not speak openly about this problem, it will become more serious. There is lab revealing GMO, even small methods proving GMO. People suffer various allergic reactions, gastrointestinal problems, various pathologies. Doctors face difficulties in revealing the origin of the disease. The problem is too serious. Experts consider that there are global problems in the world: ozone hole, atom bomb and GMO. Azerbaijan has a unique territory. Importation of GM foods must be prevented.
These foods may cause poisoning of environment in different levels, losing of biodifference, increase varieties of damage to the biodifference. We may stumble in protecting the human health. We have to agree that the composition of our foods have become worse”. To Aliyev, there is no forbiddance in bringing the GMO foods to Azerbaijan. Only in the second item of the 27th article of law “About seedage” it was spoken about forbiddance in bringing genetically-modified foods to Azerbaijan. These foods can be brought only for exceptional cases- practice at exhibitions, closed atmospheres: “But you know that businessmen bring these foods to Azerbaijan by contraband, by humanitarian aid, by very different ways. The shortage of laws cause the uncontrol. We have to love people”. Aliyev noted that the main problem in GMO sphere in Azerbaijan is insufficiency of the laboratories: “There are 5 laboratories in Ukraine now, but there are hundreds of such laboratories in Germany. After long years, Russia also has constructed such a laboratory. But Azerbaijan acts as an “open door” for the time being. These labs have to be constructed in Azerbaijan; experts have to be prepared for this work”. Experts said draft law on “About security during gene engineering” has been prepared in Azerbaijan: “There is a special article about this lab in that law. We hope this law will be adopted. It isn’t so expensive lab. What is 70-80 000 AZN for Azerbaijan?”

Azerbaijan couldn’t forbid GMO foods in its legislation for the cause of membership to WTO

Chairman of Azerbaijani parliament’s committee for agrarian policy Eldar Ibrahimov told APA that there isn’t a separate law on regulation GMO foods in Azerbaijan, yet. But articles in different laws regulate this problem partly. In the 6.5 article of the law on “Ecological fresh agriculture” was noted not to use genetically modified organisms and its reproductions in production of foods and ecological fresh agriculture. It has been noted in the 19.9 article of the law that for the guarantee of buyers there must be information about use of GMO and its reproductions in production of ecological fresh agriculture and foods on the etiquettes in Azerbaijan Republic. In the 18.4 article of that law it has been noted that there must be information about use of GMO and its reproductions in production of ecological fresh agriculture and foods on the etiquettes of importing foods to Azerbaijan. Ibrahimov said there is a separate law about GMO in Russia. There is a decision of Moscow Mayor Yuri Lujkov about it – to write information about the use of GMO in all produced foods: “It is pity, we haven’t it. There must be expert and lab for the examination of GMO. These foods enter the market openly. There isn’t any information on foods brought from Russia and other countries”. He said that Azerbaijan couldn’t forbid the use of GMO in its legislation for the cause of membership to WTO: “Organization has a principle- one can not forbid the import of any food without proving its negative influence to human organism. And it is impossible to prove the GMO’s negative influence yet. Some time must pass for this. But certain results occur preliminary. Gastro-intestinal diseases, weakened immune system occur especially in children’s organism. Productivity is good by the use of GMO. These foods especially are brought to starvation countries. It carries commerce character. All foods produced in Azerbaijan are ecologically fresh. Why we must buy such foods when we have our own fresh foods? After the membership to WTO we can make an amendment to this law”. There must be enlightment about GMO for people whether to buy this food or not.