Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Smart Chickens

When an animal refuses to eat its regular feed it is often a clear sign that something is wrong with the food. Animals, as opposed to humans, tend to have a “sixth sense” about what’s safe to eat, and what’s not.

I know that to be true in my own house. I have a loss in the sense of smell, and because of it, I am often afraid of foods that have been refrigerated more than a couple of days since I cannot smell them unless almost putrid. My solution has been to give a sample of questionable food to my (now-deceased) fat cat. If she refused it, the food went into the trash or compost. 

A 2003 report on the British Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) web site states that both experimental and anecdotal evidence shows animals seek to avoid GM food, and do not thrive if given no other choice.

Last year in South Africa, chickens refusing to eat the maize (corn) they had been fed led to the discovery that their feed had been genetically modified to include a well-known weed and insect killer.

Owner Strilli Oppenheimer was approached by Dawid Klopper, the head gardener at the family estate, Brenthurst, informing her that her indigenous African chickens were refusing to eat the mealies in the chicken feed bought from a large supplier. Concerned that the birds may be ingesting genetically modified maize, she instructed Klopper to have the maize tested.

The chickens' diet was immediately changed to include organic vegetables, and the Oppenheimer family stopped consuming the home-grown eggs. The maize was sent to the GMO testing facility at the University of the Free State for analysis. The results confirmed Oppenheimer's initial suspicion - the maize had been genetically engineered to produce proteins that are toxic to certain insects and weeds.

"It contained BT1 which makes the maize insect resistant, as well as Roundup which makes it weed resistant. This is the first report we have had of chickens not eating GM feed," said a GM expert. 

Oh, really?

While small quantities of BT1 and Roundup weed killer were found in the seeds, the concern remained with the cumulative effect of GM feed, not only on the chickens, but also on the eggs they produced for the family.

"This is of serious concern. Do you know that 96 percent of soy-based foods are genetically modified, and that maize in South Africa is contaminated?" asked Oppenheimer, pointing out that research by well-known scientist Dr Arpad Pusztai had shown that rats fed on GM potatoes suffered from a weakened immune system and stunted growth of their internal organs, including the liver, kidneys and brain.

Pusztai was fired by the Rowett Research Institute in the UK in 1998 after his research into the human nutritional consequences of GM. His findings had far-reaching implications for the biotech industry, which had contended that GM crops and products would not adversely affect human health.

Yeah, it's harmless... right?


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