There has been a flurry of news articles hearalding the end of peanut allergies, now wouldn’t that be something? And if scientists can change peanuts into safe tasty treats can they do this for other allergens?
You can read more in this Daily Mail article “GM peanuts could end danger to children”. Why the Daily Mail thinks only children will benefit from this is interesting. Just the usual headline grabbing sensationalism.
This really worries me though, will the new GM peanut really be completely allergy free? or just less likely to cause an allergic reaction? This is dangerous stuff to go playing around with.
What is a Genetically Modified Peanut?
Scientists claim they have managed to remove the allergy causing protein molecules from the peanut without altering it in any other way. Apparently in laboratory tests they have succeeded in altering the makeup of the peanut so it no longer triggers a life-threatening reaction.
A quote from the Daily Mail said, “The threat of peanut allergies could soon be wiped out by genetic engineering, scientists have revealed.”
Well I’ll believe it when I see it. I think this is very dangerous ground and will have to be testing extremely carefully before letting it loose on the world.
Would you try them?
If GM peanuts got mixed up with normal ones, how could you tell? Faced with a bowl of GM allergy free peanuts, would you be willing to take a handful and crunch away if you had a potentially life threatening allergy to them? Some people can have anaphylaxis just from being in the same room as peanuts so this just sounds terrifying. I certainly wouldn’t want to try these new GM peanuts. Just the smell of peanuts makes me feel sick. These are very bold claims, and I for one am not convinced.
A much more constructive use of time would be towards campaigning for restaurants and food manuafacturers to be far more aware of ALL allergens that they might use in their foods. Thousands of us allergy sufferers are excluded from enjoying every day foods and passtimes due to our fear of being exposed to allergens without our knowledge. They are hidden in all kinds of food stuffs.
Are they really safe?
The safe peanuts are part of a new generation of allergy-free food being produced by several international scientific teams. In Britain alone, the number of children developing potentially fatal allergies to nuts has trebled in the last decade. Almost one in every 30 children is now thought to suffer from peanut allergy, which can cause anthing from swelling of the tongue, wheezing and difficulty in breathing to a fatal anaphylactic attack; killing around ten people in this country each year.
Some experts blame the increase in peanut allergy on the number of women eating peanuts when they are pregnant and breastfeeding, which could sensitise their children. My mother ate peanuts when she was pregnant with me, my sister and brother, but only one of us has an allergy to them.
Scientists at the University of Arkansas, USA, are trying to use genetic engineering to modify specific proteins that give the peanut its allergenicity. They have so far succeeded in modifying the genes that produce two major peanut proteins so that they are no longer allergenic in lab tests.
So what’s next?
Several studies are also under way in America to create allergy-free prawns and soya beans. Interestingly these experiments have managed to remove up to 65% of allergenicity, so not quite all of it. This is probably no good whatsoever for those who are highly allergic, but may stop allergies developing in the first place, and will mean those with intolerances and mild reactions could see big improvements and a reduction of symptoms.
Can anything go wrong?
Some scientists and anti-gm lobbyists warn that messing with our foods vital and intricate make-up could cause problems to human health in the future, and effect our delicate eco-system of bugs, insects, birds, and so on up the food chain.
Cross contamination would also be a very real problem. The real organic allergy-full foods would look identical to their new GM allergen free cousins, so if there were any mistakes and crops/foods stuff got mixed up, the results could be potentially disasterous and life threatening.
I’m still not sure about GM allergen free peanuts, or any other foods for that matter. If scientists are successful we won’t see these products in our manufacturing processes, restaurants of supermarket shelves for years to come. With allergies on the increase and no real understanding about why this should be the case, could the new GM crops create a whole new type of problem and new allergies? We just don’t know. I for one am going to continue with my regime of avoidance of ALL allergens. NO GM crops for me.
I try to avoid genetically modified food stuffs anyway if I can and will always choose organic. What are your views on GM peanuts? Are they a good idea? Or are you, like me, feeling slightly uneasy about the whole thing? I’d love to hear from anyone, even some scientists who could perhaps allay some of my fears.
Now finally there is a test. Can you tell me which of the usual suspects in the picture above of the genetically modified peanut? and which are the real ones?