Belgian researchers discovered an aberrant DNA pattern in genetically modified soybeans, and the unknown DNA—called problematic by Greenpeace, but safe by originator Monsanto—has been in foods Americans have been eating for five years.
The unrecognized gene sequence, found in Roundup Ready soybeans, is next to the inserted gene that makes the plant immune to the herbicide. The Belgian scientists say that the DNA is probably the plant's own, but that the sequence was scrambled when the gene was inserted. The lead researcher, Marc de Loose, said the DNA pattern was not cause for concern. A spokesman for Monsanto told the New York Times the unknown sequence was 534 letters long in a soybean genome of 1.5 billion letters and consequently was not meaningful.
Greenpeace, however, is not so sanguine. One of its scientists has speculated the DNA could be from another organism that was mistakenly inserted when the soybean was genetically modified. The organization has published on its Web site an appeal to other scientists to help identify the unknown DNA and its possible consequences.
Soybeans are the largest genetically modified crop; more than half of the U.S. soybeans are Roundup Ready. Soy is used in hundreds of processed foods—from granola bars to baby food—to add protein and texture.
The day after the DNA story broke in the New York Times (Aug. 16), soybean futures dropped 15 cents a bushel. However, the following day, after an intense public relations blitz by the American Soybean Institute, futures were up 3 to 4 cents per bushel.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXII/number 10/p. 14