Whenever critics of genetically modified (GM) plants warn that GM crops are inserted with dangerous parts of a virus, biotech advocates rush in to correct their “misunderstanding.” We don’t have to worry, they tell us. Only a small portion of a plant virus is used in order to “turn on” the accompanying gene. Called the promoter, it’s like an on-switch. They say it’s completely harmless.

Researchers in Europe finally got around to looking more closely at the genetic sequence from that promoter, and… well… now we can worry.

It’s called the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CaMV) Promoter and is used in most GM crops to force the foreign gene to pump out their proteins at high volume, 24/7. But the actual strand of inserted DNA turns out to have much more genetic material than it was supposed to have. And this addition might be causing a health catastrophe.

Just beyond the promoter, or more accurately overlapping with it, is part of an actual virus gene. It is sufficient in size and characteristics such that it could theoretically be producing viral proteins. And that would be bad. Viral proteins are well known to suppress defenses against viral infection—for both plant and humans.

In other words, if you eat food from any of the 54 types of GM plants that use the CaMV promoter (including soybeans and most corn), you may be much more susceptible to viral infections, including colds, hepatitis, even AIDS. And because viral proteins can also be toxic to cell functions, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in your diet might also promote cancer and other diseases.

Crops too can be more susceptible to both viral and bacterial diseases.

But it doesn’t stop there. The specific nature of this viral gene, called Gene VI, allows it to switch on multiple genes downstream along the genome. This means that depending on where it is inserted into the DNA, it might produce allergens, toxins, carcinogens, anti-nutrients, etc. And because it is randomly inserted, each of the 54 varieties of GMOs that contain Gene VI carries their own unique and special danger.

Regulation or Abdication?

All this depends on whether Gene VI is, in fact, active. And that remains the question. In the recently published analysis by European authorities, they came to a definite maybe. But instead of ordering an immediate withdrawal of the offending GMOs from the market to protect the public, they offered up a flowchart—A FLOWCHART!—to evaluate the unpredicted problems that might have occurred.

According to Virologist Jonathan Latham, “GMO regulators around the world have been complacent and incompetent.” They have had the details about the CaMV promoter even before GMOs were ever approved, but are only now identifying the danger. In their excellent and detailed article about this new development, Latham and co-author Alison Wilson call on regulators to do the only scientifically justifiable thing—Recall GMOs that use this potentially disastrous CaMV promoter.

Evidence of Substantial Harm

Biotech advocates will try to water down the situation, like they’ve done in the past. They might pull out their often used claim that since there hasn’t been any harm seen after feeding GMOs to hundreds of millions of people for more than an decade, we can just ignore these and other findings. But in reality, no one in the world is monitoring the health impacts of these high-risk foods on human health. And numerous disorders, including GI problems, infertility, asthma, allergies, autism, diabetes, and many others, have been accelerating since GMOs were introduced in 1996.

And it may be no coincidence that the popular GMOs that contain Gene VI show significant, even lethal results in animal studies. Roundup Ready corn, for example, caused tumors, organ damage, and early death in rats. Rodents fed Roundup Ready soybeans have been afflicted with sterility, organ damage, accelerated aging, and high infant mortality. And Monsanto’s pesticide producing Bt corn has is linked with massive immune responses in mice—among others.

Let’s not hold our breath waiting for US and European regulators to actually do their job and remove GMOs. We can support the efforts in 35 US states for mandatory labeling laws. And in the meantime, consult with NonGMOShoppingGuide.com for healthier non-GMO choices.

Jeffrey M. Smith is the director of Genetic Roulette—The Gamble of Our Lives, which was just names the Movie of the Year by the Solari Report. He is also the international bestselling author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette, and executive director of The Institute for Responsible Technology.

Read State-of-the-Science on the Health Risks of GM Foods