Guest Writer for Wake Up World
The whole paradigm of the genetic engineering technology is based on a misunderstanding.
I retired 14 years ago after a long career as a research scientist for Agriculture Canada. When I was on the payroll, I was the designated scientist of my institute to address public groups and reassure them that genetically engineered crops and foods were safe. I don’t know if I was passionate about it but I was knowledgeable. I defended the side of technological advance, of science and progress.
There is, however, a growing body of scientific research – done mostly in Europe, Russia, and other countries – showing that diets containing engineered corn or soya cause serious health problems in laboratory mice and rats. I have in the last 12 years changed my position. I started paying attention to the flow of published studies coming from Europe, some from prestigious labs and published in prestigious scientific journals, that questioned the impact and safety of engineered food.
I refute the claims of the biotechnology companies that their engineered crops yield more, that they require less pesticide applications, that they have no impact on the environment and of course that they are safe to eat. The scientific literature is full of studies showing that engineered corn and soya contain toxic or allergenic proteins. The Bt corn and soya plants that are now everywhere in our environment are registered as insecticides. But are these insecticidal plants regulated and have their proteins been tested for safety? Not by the federal departments in charge of food safety, not in Canada and not in the U.S.
There are a number of scientific studies that have been done for Monsanto by universities in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. Most of these studies are concerned with the field performance of the engineered crops, and of course they find GMOs safe for the environment and therefore safe to eat. We should all take these studies seriously and demand that government agencies replicate them rather than rely on studies paid for by the biotech companies.
There are no long-term feeding studies performed in these countries to demonstrate the claims that engineered corn and soya are safe. All we have are scientific studies out of Europe and Russia, showing that rats fed engineered food die prematurely. These studies show that proteins produced by engineered plants are different than what they should be. Inserting a gene in a genome using this technology can and does result in damaged proteins.
Genetic engineering is based on the naive understanding of the genome based on the “One Gene – One Protein” hypothesis of 70 years ago, that each gene codes for a single protein. The Human Genome project completed in 2002 showed that this hypothesis is wrong; and too simple to describe the relationship between genes and proteins. Every scientist now learns that any gene can give more than one protein and that inserting a gene anywhere in a plant eventually creates rogue proteins. Some of these proteins are obviously allergenic or toxic. The whole paradigm of the genetic engineering technology is based on a misunderstanding.
GMO Myths and Truths
I refer you towards a recent compilation (May 2014) of over 500 government reports and scientific articles published in peer reviewed Journals, some of them with the highest recognition in the world — like The Lancet in the medical field, or Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, or Biotechnology, or Scandinavian Journal of Immunology, European Journal of Histochemistry, Journal of Proteome Research, etc. This compilation “GMO Myths and Truths” was co-authored by genetic engineers Dr John Fagan and Dr Michael Antoniou and researcher Claire Robinson, who summarized the gist of the publications for the lay public. A 120-page evidence based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops, “GMO Myths and Truths” disputes the claims of the Biotech industry that GM crops yield better and more nutritious food, that they save on the use of pesticides, have no environmental impact whatsoever and are perfectly safe to eat.
Genetic pollution is so prevalent in North and South America where GM crops are grown that the fields of conventional and organic grower are regularly contaminated with engineered pollen and losing certification. The canola and flax export market from Canada to Europe (a few hundreds of millions of dollars) were recently lost because of genetic pollution. Did I mention superweeds, when RoundUp crops pass their genes on to RoundUp Resistant weeds? Apparently over 50% of fields in the USA are now infested and the growers have to go back to use other toxic herbicides such as 2-4 D. Many areas of Ontario and Alberta are also infested.
The transgenes are also transferred to soil bacteria. A chinese study published last year shows that an ampicillin resistance transgene was transferred from local engineered crops to soil bacteria, that eventually found their way into the rivers. The transgenes are also transferred to humans. Volunteers who ate engineered soybeans had undigested DNA in their intestine and their bacterial flora was expressing the soybean transgenes in the form of antibiotic resistance. This is genetic pollution to the extreme, particularly when antibiotic resistance is fast becoming a serious global health risk. I can only assume the American Medical Association will soon recognize its poorly informed judgement.
In 2009 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for a moratorium of GM foods, safety testing and labeling. Their review of the available literature at the time noted that animals show serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system. In response, Monsanto writes “There is no need to test the safety of GM foods. So long as the engineered protein is safe, foods from GM crops are substantially equivalent and they cannot pose any health risks.”
The US Food and Drug Administration waived all levels of safety testing in 1996 before approving the commercialization of these crops. Nothing more than voluntary research is necessary, and the FDA does not even want to see the results. And there is certainly no need to publish any of it. If you remember 1996, the year that the first crops were commercialized, the research scientists of the US FDA all predicted that transgenic crops would have unpredictable, hard to detect side effects, allergens, toxins, nutritional effects, new diseases. That was published in 2004 in Biotechnology, if you recall seeing it.
I know well that Canada does not perform long term feeding studies as they do in Europe. The only study I am aware of from Canada is from the Sherbrooke Hospital in 2011, when doctors found that 93% of pregnant women and 82% of the fetuses tested had the protein pesticide in their blood. This is a protein recognized in its many forms as mildly to severely allergenic. There is no information on the role played by rogue proteins created by the process of inserting transgenes in the middle of a genome. But there is a lot of long term feeding studies reporting serious health problems in mice and rats. The results of the first long term feeding studies of lab rats reported in Food and Chemical Toxicology show that they developed breast cancer in mid-life, and showed kidney and liver damage.
One argument I hear repeatedly in support of GMOs is that nobody has been sick or died after a meal (or 20,000 meals since 1996) of GM food. Nobody gets ill from smoking a pack of cigarette either. But it sure adds up, and we did not know that in the 1950s before we started our wave of epidemics of cancer. Except this time it is not about a bit of smoke, it’s our whole food system that is of concern.
Individuals should be encouraged to make their decisions on food safety based on scientific evidence and personal choice, not on emotion or the personal opinions of others. Just as importantly, the corporate interest must be subordinated to the public interest, and the policy of “substantial equivalence” must be scrapped — it is clearly untrue.
Previous article by Thierry Vrain:
About the author:
Dr. Thierry Vrain, a former soil biologist and genetic scientist, worked for Agriculture Canada for 30 years. He was once the designated spokesperson to assure the Canadian public of the safety of GMO crops. Since retiring 12 years ago from Agriculture Canada, Dr. Vrain is now an advocate for organic farming, and warning others of the dangers of GMOs.
A native of France, Vrain earned an undergraduate degree in plant physiology from the Université de Caen and a doctoral degree from North Carolina State University. After moving to Canada he taught plant physiology at Université du Québec in Montréal. Then he worked for 30 years as a research scientist for the Canadian government in Québec and British Columbia where he conducted research on genetically modified potatoes, among other projects. He was director of the biotechnology department at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, BC.
After 35 years of research and teaching of soil and molecular biology, Dr. Vrain retired to a small farm in Courtenay, BC. Today, he is a gardener, a teacher, and a passionate speaker about organic gardening — from soil health to GMOs.
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