The Problems Of Biotechnology - GM Foods
    By Gerhard Adam | October 4th 2012 08:00 AM | 29 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    In my previous article, the fundamental equivalence of foods was discussed recognizing that there is a difference in assessing problems with the food, versus problems with food handling.  Moreover, much of the focus has been on the safety of these foods regarding human/animal consumption, however I would argue that there are much more serious problems that need to be addressed.

    Many of these problems have been examined in various articles and studies, although they are rarely brought together to establish the picture of the entire environment.

    Considering two of the primary genetic modifications involves plants that have the Bt toxin (i.e. Bt maize, soy) and plants that are Roundup resistant (RR).  Both of these technologies are intended to protect the plant from insect pests (i.e. Bt toxin as pesticide) and plant pests (i.e. herbicides).  As everyone is aware, the introduction of such traits also introduces a selection pressure on the targeted species.  So, the question isn't whether such selection pressures are created.  Instead the question is whether the use of these components can be varied enough to prevent any species from actively being selected for these resistant traits.

    In truth, no one knows whether this is possible.  Even the best plans will be subject to the actual execution of those plans in the field.  It matters little what the "proper" scientific protocol is, if farmers don't consistently follow it.  As an example, consider that one of the recommendations to avoid promoting herbicide resistance in weeds is to rotate crops, as well as herbicides, so that no single plant species experiences continued exposure which would tend to promote the selection pressures for resistance.  However, if the crops being rotated are RR maize to RR soybeans, then the problem is aggravated because even though the crops are being rotated, the herbicide is not.  Instead of achieving the desired result of mixing up the exposure for weeds, the grower would be increasing the likelihood of selecting weeds that are herbicide resistant.  A recent study indicates that this is precisely what is occurring and that herbicide use is increasing in both quantity and variety.

    Another problem is presented when we consider how undesirable genes that may be released into the environment can be "recalled".  In examining the Starlink corn controversy, it has become clear that there is no means by which control can be exercised (1).  As a result, it is important to recognize that while some crops may have difficulty cross-pollinating, this is hardly a universal condition, so we must recognize that any attempt to control genetic dispersal is something beyond our abilities.

    This is further complicated by the fact that many patents have been granted to allow food plants like corn and rice to be the vehicles for developing other "products", such as pharmaceuticals (2).  In other words, the corn produced would not be intended for human consumption but would merely act as a vehicle for producing a particular pharmaceutical product.  However, if the genes or methods "escaped" into the environment, we can be reasonably certain that there would be no way to contain the dispersal of those genes.

    These problems alone [herbicide resistant weeds, pesticide resistant insects, and unintended genetic dispersal to conventional plants] are serious with few adequate answers, or few answers that are exempt from corruption by human error and mistakes (3).

    However, there is an even more serious aspect to this entire discussion that has been largely ignored in the public discourse.  These are represented by technologies referred to as "Terminator" and "Traitor" [collectively known as Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURT)].  What's important to recognize here is that neither of these technologies are intended to enhance a farmer's production, nor provide anything positive to the plant.  These are technologies whose sole purpose is to protect intellectual property and control market share.  The "Terminator" technologies, or "suicide seeds" introduce a trait that ensures that second generation seeds are sterile.  This prevents seeds from being collected and saved requiring replacement of new seeds for planting.  "Traitor" technology creates a requirement that for desirable traits to be expressed by the modified gene, then some additional chemical ["inducible promoters"] must be applied to turn "on" the gene.  In other words, it is now possible to produce a Roundup Resistant plant that actually requires Roundup [or some other chemical] be applied in order to activate the desired trait [i.e Bt toxin gene activation], since the purpose of "Traitor" technologies is to provide the seed producers the ability to turn genes "on" or "off".  

    The arguments of protecting intellectual property rights are unconvincing, since there is no provision nor mechanism to prevent other researchers from determining what genes have been modified and how they are expressed.  In short, research that could actually compromise intellectual property can't be prevented by this means.  What these technologies represent is the ability to control the market by creating a dependence on the seed producers.  In this case, since seeds can't be saved because of the "Terminator" technology, and the use of "Traitor" technology could also force additional chemicals be purchased to maintain the viability of the plants.  As a result, this mechanism will not protect intellectual property as much as it will "lock" farmers into a particular market.

    I have seen little or no discussion regarding the risks associated with these types of technologies "escaping" into the environment.   There has been virtually no public discussion about the unthinkable possibility of actually "weaponizing" this technology (4).

    Lest anyone think that this is some aspect of a conspiracy theory, it is worth considering that Monsanto now currently holds patents on this technology with little more than their assurance that they won't use it.  As a result, it is important to recognize that it isn't that these technologies aren't available, but rather simply that corporations, currently, have indicated that they won't use this technology (5).  What assurance is there that business conditions in the future won't create motivation for corporations to renege on this promise?  In short, this is a technology that I wouldn't trust in the hands of governments, let alone corporations whose primary objective is to simply maintain their profit picture.  This level of control over human food production should never be allowed in the hands of any single group.

    For those that want to complain about restricting technologies, the truth is that we do it all the time.  Companies are not permitted to develop nuclear or biological weapons, just as they are restricted from selling certain technologies to other countries [i.e. computer technology].  This is precisely where government, despite its imperfections, has a distinct role and it is ultimately up to the people to control this type of technology, not private interests.

    Let's also be clear that these issues are not directly the result of biotechnology.  They are almost purely business and policy decisions.  Whatever direction events take in the future, the science will have little input into the results.

    (1) What is telling is that while this was a relatively small planting of corn, even 9 years later there were still traces of the Cry9C protein detected in the food supply.  This did not present any specific kind of hazard, but illustrates how difficult such dispersals are to contain.

    (2) The targeted plant may not necessarily be designated as a food source.
    "INB Biotechnologies (Philadelphia) is developing a nontoxic anthrax vaccine through the transgenic modification of petunias, causing the plant to manufacture new proteins, which when eaten prompt the development of anti-anthrax antibodies.  So, instead of "eat your peas," the imperative will be to "eat your petunias!"
    Transgenic plants have already been shown to transfer certain genes to wild relatives or bacteria. The possibility that the terminator gene could be transferred is not denied by anyone. In fact, the tendency of genetically manipulated plants to "leak" traits is greater than others. "They learned that the transgenic plants were 20 times more likely to outcross than the mutants-they were "promiscuous," as a headline in the journal Nature put it. "Nobody knows why," Bergelson says. "We're still trying to find the mechanism that drives the pattern we saw. There's a lot we don't understand, including how common it is." "It's inevitable that they will get out," says ecologist Joy Bergelson of the University of Chicago.

    (4)   "Weaponeers have only just begun to explore the potential of the biotechnological  revolution."
    The Coming Explosion of Silent Weapons”, by Commander Steven Rose (Naval War College Review, Summer 1989)

    "If this prediction is correct, biotechnology will profoundly alter the nature of weaponry and the context within which it is employed. During World War II and the Cold War, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union developed and field-tested biological weapons designed to attack people and food crops over vast areas."

    (5)  It is extremely disconcerting to note that the "promise" to not use these technologies couldn't even be sustained for a few paragraphs.
    "We stand firmly by this commitment. We have no plans or research that would violate this commitment in any way."
    While a mere three paragraphs later we read:
    "If Monsanto should decide to move forward in the area of GURTs, we would do so in consultation with experts and stakeholders, including NGOs."


    Wouldn't the implication of GURT traits escaping be...drumroll....absolutely nothing.

    Because if the trait escapes, presumedly the progeny will be weak and die without the input. So, they don't reproduce, so survival of the fittest does not smile upon them, so no impact. To have a real impact you need the exponential growth of population only possible through successive generations. The technology effectively short circuits that.

    It get's activists all hot and bothered because it does lock customers into buying more product. But, the beauty of this type of gene is that is self destrucitve. It can't be maintained in a population. It's an environmentalists best scenario for any GMO.

    Gerhard Adam
    Well, first that's a rather simplistic view.  If such a trait were introduced, then it could very well produce sterile seeds [or at least some portion being sterile] in non-target plant species.  That's not a good thing.

    Obviously such a trait has no selection capability.  It doesn't need to, since it's purpose is only destructive.  So, if it gets introduced once it decimates the plants in which it exists.

    Moreover if such a trait were picked up by microbes or viruses and transferred that way, you could readily have a "disease" of plants which simply renders them sterile.  So, the problem can become a bit more than an "absolutely nothing" result.
    It can't be maintained in a population.
    That's because there is no population when it works.
    It's an environmentalists best scenario for any GMO.
    Perhaps, but the producers and the government have already shot themselves in the foot.  They've effectively killed the market, and all the talk about helping the hungry just went up in a puff of smoke.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Pollen escaping from the tetracycline treated seed-producing crop can spread the terminator blocking genes. When a weed is fertilized, for example, with the terminator pollen, the new generation of seeds will bear plants, with fertile pollen. In the next generation, only 25% of the terminator plants will produce fertile genes, since the sterile pollen cannot spread the terminator genes, the spread of terminator genes will always be in the population. The situation is similar to lethal genetic diseases in human. Terminator does not threaten plant populations if it is spread only by normal sexual processes.  However, spread of terminator by other means is more intimidating. Spreading terminator genes by virus could easily cause a wide array of weeds and crops to be rendered sterile ...
    Mundus vult decipi
    I'm not sure I buy the viral spread idea. I believe it to be within the realm of possibility, but I also don't really how realistically genes from plants are taken up by a virus and then propogated as a disease. Wouldn't it be wishful thinking to think that wilt resistance in tomatoes would suddenly be incorporated into a virus and spread throughout the population - spontaneous gene therapy. It just doesn't seem likely.

    Now if you're really concerned about it hapenning for weapons purposes that's different. But there are a lot of things that bad people can come up with if we're theorizing about that.

    Gerhard Adam
    Well, first of all, "likely" doesn't cut it when it comes to introducing genes.  It only has to happen once to produce disastrous consequences.  However, I don't have a problem with your refuting it, just so long as it's something more than your opinion.

    Regarding "weapons", that's not a matter of theorizing.  That's current reality.  The fact, is that given the opportunity to do something beneficial, the government and private corporations saw fit to research and develop a gene whose sole purpose is destructive.  This isn't a "possibility", it is already patented and real.

    At this stage, any country that willingly uses seeds with these genes is giving up their food security to whomever controls the seeds.  It is absolute insanity.

    Rationalize it how you will, but even contemplating using such technology in a weapons-oriented scenario is a crime against humanity.  It makes anthrax look like an allergy.
    But there are a lot of things that bad people can come up with if we're theorizing about that.
    I find it interesting that you should think this is the product of "bad people".  It's a direct result of the U.S. government and Delta&Pine Land company's efforts.  This isn't some nefarious James Bond novel, or some think tank "what if" scenario. 

    After all, do you think only "bad people" possess nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons?  Do you think only "bad people" would pursue such technologies?  Do you think only "bad people" would actually use such weapons?

    Control of Plant Gene Expression, U.S. Patent 5723765

    So what does that make them?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Kudos, Gerhard, for taking a well reasoned approach to this thorny situation. You have, however, placed yourself squarely between the cheerleaders and the reactionaries; a place where you seem to be comfortable.

    Thanks for the info on the GURT problem. I wasn't aware of the terminator and traitor genetics. That's two more reasons to be suspicious of seed supply businesses. Human error, and the more likely case of ignorance, almost assures that these genetics will escape and produce undesirable results. One must hope that our staple crops will survive.

    When I first read about the potentials of GM plants, I was excited about the potential for feeding large populations of needy citizens. I now realize that I hadn't considered the potential for corporate greed (that's what market control is about, right?). The dangers to our global flora need to be seriously investigated. It seems apparent that seed producers don't care to do this investigation and that governments aren't inclined to do so either.

    We may be seeing the beginnings of a revolt in which massive protests by the populace require the various governments to step in and actively do 'something'. The California debates on the merits of GM foods aren't likely to end with the vote on Prop 37. There has been some nationwide attention to GM foods, which is a good thing, that may bring about a more general interest in the effects that genetic engineering could have on our collective health. We'll have to wait and see.

    Call me a hopeless romantic, but I still hold to the potentials of GM crops. The fact of the matter is that altruism is a human condition and is not in the lexicon of corporate, or political, entities.

    End of the ramble. I enjoyed both articles.

    Gerhard Adam
    Call me a hopeless romantic, but I still hold to the potentials of GM crops.
    Frank, thanks for the good words.  I also hold out hope for biotechnology.  In my view, it is a strong indication that science is no longer a "spectator sport".  People, everyday citizens, need to get more involved in becoming informed and participating in translating the scientific achievements into viable public policy.

    Watching Animal Planet is no longer sufficient to establish an interest in science.  The technology is becoming too powerful to not be under the scrutiny of the people themselves.

    I've maintained all along, that our biggest handicap was in divorcing philosophy from science, and thinking that somehow the objectivity of science would carry us through all the tough decisions.  Hopefully it's becoming much more apparent that without a well thought out set of philosophical ideas and ethics, we are lost.
    Mundus vult decipi
    When round-up ready corn goes off patent, won't other companies make stains with related tricks?
    And terminator traits do seem to protect property - I have to buy new seed all the time, I cannot cheat by saving my own. I can note that my grandfather already did that, after hybrids became popular. He did it cause it was in his own financial interests to use store-bought seed.
    Protecting intellectual property doesn't mean the other guy doesn't get to know how you did it. In my world (biomedical research), when I patent something, I tell you exactly how it's done. If we want to keep something secret, we certainly don't patent, since that is screaming it from the roof-tops.
    I'm more worried about Bt genes getting spread to new species.

    Gerhard Adam
    And terminator traits do seem to protect property...
    I think you're missing the larger picture here.  Do you really think it's wise for a nation to put its food supply under such control to another nation?  Protecting property or not, what liability do you think a company should assume if such a gene were to "escape" into the environment?

    If the only possible use were related to protecting intellectual property, then you might have a point. 
    Protecting intellectual property doesn't mean the other guy doesn't get to know how you did it.
    I'm glad you pointed that out, because it clearly demonstrates that the problem is related directly to "locking" farmers in to certain producers.  It has nothing to do with improving food production or food security.  It is a purely profit-driven motivation.

    Now, lest someone accuse me of simply being anti-corporate and not wanting companies to make a profit.  Not at all.  However, corporations do not have a right to compel use simply to protect and lock in their own market share.  So, if this is the path they've chosen, then don't complain when consumers reject it.  That isn't "anti-science", that's protecting economic choice.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Thor Russell
    I think the sterile seeds business has the potential to really turn counterproductive and evil. A corporation can start offering seeds with some improvement over conventional seeds at a lower price, but gradually increase the price. The farmer is then trapped in a bad situation. Overlooked is the fact that without further R&D work at massive cost the GM seeds do not get better, however conventionally bred seeds do by the same process which has been used ever since cave men worked out agriculture. 
    So say the GM crop is originally 20% better, and is cheap. The farmers start using it, and lose out on say their 2% yearly incremental improvement they would have got with conventional agriculture. In 10 years time the GM crop is no better than what they would have had anyway but they are locked in to buying the seeds. Also the improved crop they would have got by staying with conventional breeding simply doesn't exist so its not like they can swap to it. It can get worse than this also. 

    Climate change is unpredictable and seed companies cannot predict the exact challenges that will be faced in coming decades by 3rd world farmers. They can only guess. However conventional breeding always selects for the actual current challenges whether that be more/less water, a particular bug, changing nutrient in the soil etc. Compare two scenarios. One where farmers use GM seeds and face a challenge that is local and small enough not to get the seed companies attention. The GM seeds are no longer beneficial in the new environment and the seed company has no incentive to change them. The farmer is left down a dead end. They cannot breed from the GM seeds and improve them. 

    The other situation is where the farmer uses conventional seeds and can select the seeds that cope with the latest challenge. They will still have crop losses, but they are in control of their own destiny. Also in a changing environment, conventional breeding could give greater than the average low % per year improvement. e.g. if a new pest destroys 50% of the crop, and conventional breeding reduces this damage by 50%, you have a 25% improvement over where you would otherwise be, and over the frozen in time GM crop with no protection against the new, unanticipated threat. 

    Both conventional and GM techniques improve crops, but in different ways. The sterile seeds route locks you out of one to get the benefit of the other. This is not high-tech and better, you are just using one technique but losing another. There is no guarantee this is the better choice.

    Ideal of course is if farmers can breed and improve the "GM"crop to suit their local (ever more unpredictable and changing) needs but that doesn't happen as far as I know, and that is definitely commercial interests coming before science.

    On a different note, I need to point out that a "GM" crop is in fact 99% conventionally bred over the last 10,000 years or so. Its like putting a cherry on top of a chocolate cake and now patenting it as a cherry cake. 

    Thor Russell
    Gerhard Adam
    You bring up some good points.  Actually I was thinking of something that was a much simpler scenario, but even more destructive.

    Once companies have the ability to control production in this fashion, what's to stop them from using their own capabilities to interfere with each other in an effort to improve competition or gain market share?  Does anyone really believe that if farmers are "locked" into a particular provider, that competitors won't seek the means to find ways around that?

    The other side of this issue [which hasn't really been discussed, although hints of it appear in the literature], is the idea of creating plants with multiple genes present that can be selectively turned "on" or "off" based on the necessary inducers.  This would obviously provide an economy of scale where any given seed could be "customized" to the environment in which it is supposed to live.

    The downside is that it adds a more volatile mix of genes, that should they "escape" into the environment might be significantly more difficult to deal with.  Also, there's the basic problem of not really knowing how these genes will "evolve" on their own.  Biology certainly isn't static, so any assumption that the plants/genes of today will be the same 50 years hence is wishful thinking.
    Mundus vult decipi
    "Does anyone really believe that if farmers are "locked" into a particular provider, that competitors won't seek the means to find ways around that?"
    I think you are finally admitting there is more than one seed producing company in the world, and that there actually might be some choice about what you plant. Rather works against any truly locked scenario - though I do hear that language allot I do not expect it to happen. There might be a bit of bottleneck now, but I'm hoping choices will actually increase as 1) tricks come off patent, 2) we get new tricks. Let a thousand flowers bloom and all that. Perhaps I'm ignorant about how farmers are forced to plant this or that, if they are.

    Also, the point of the weaponizing talk: Interesting, but it's not about farmers planting crops. It has nothing to do with labeling or the choices farmers face about what to grow. Maybe I wouldn't mix the subjects so much.

    Gerhard Adam
    You're ignoring the obvious.  To lock in a food supply so that they must keep going back to the same company for seeds creates a unique situation.  What if the company were to go out of business?

    You argue that they could go someplace else, but this isn't just about sterile seeds, it's also about seeds with genes that can be turned "on" or "off".  Once someone is locked in, they are locked in to ensure that the business stays in business, paying whatever price is demanded, and even preventing the government or legal system from doing anything to ensure enforcement of legislation.  After all, if the company controls the food supply, there's little anyone can do to compel them to cooperate.

    What you call "tricks" are serious biological issues, and I find it disturbing that people are so casual about introducing technologies that have the potential to create problems well beyond our ability to solve.  All one has to do is look at our past successes in using "biological tricks" to cure agricultural problems [i.e. think cane toads].
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    On a different note, I need to point out that a "GM" crop is in fact 99% conventionally bred over the last 10,000 years or so. Its like putting a cherry on top of a chocolate cake and now patenting it as a cherry cake.
    Actually no one [at least in this country] can patent the plant.  They can only patent the process by which the genetic modification is made.  However, it is important to note that there is fundamentally no liability [not that it would do much good] if a particular gene did become inadvertently introduced into the environment.  So, there's really not a great deal of incentive to be careful.  In fact, if the genes did escape, it is only to the good for the companies involved.

    Moreover it would be the ultimate in protectionism.  After all, what country with a dependency on such seeds could afford to let such companies go out of business?
    Mundus vult decipi
    I think you are incorrect on the issue. There is a long history of patenting plants themselves. Rose growers rely on this to be able to make money on what they do. Essentially you buy a rose and are generally allowed to grow it as you wish, but cannot propogate it at least for proffit. I think breeders are allowed to use patented varieties to generate new strains.

    This is different than the patetnting transgenics which is more like patenting the gene and trait in the manner it is inserted into the remaining plant.

    Gerhard Adam
    Well, you're right that there is a plant patent, but I believe the GM foods only have the seeds patented.

    In any case, a patent has specific requirements, so I'm not clear on whether the GM foods would necessarily qualify.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I do understand that pollen escape and contamination would essentially hurt one generation of production (potentially). But it would only apply to seed savers, which with corn there effectively are none - besides GMO, hybrids are pretty much the only types of field corn being grown and you already can't save seeds.

    As for other crops where seeds are saved generally you do so at risk. You are always at risk of crosses from neighboring pollen, so those doing this are already forced to take steps to ensure you only get true pollination.

    I know canola for example likest to spread to weeds and then to other brassica crops, but that method is short circuited with vGURT because the weed seeds are sterile so no weed pollen can ever be created to facilitate this kind of spread.

    I think in reality the cross contamination only affects seed saving, and only for one generation, and only will be able to occur if you're already taking steps to fail at saving seeds - back to corn, if your sweetcorn is pollinated by field corn or popcorn then you're in trouble anyway.

    And to the early comment on "likely not cutting it" I respectfully disagree wholeheartedly. Just because we can dream up a way that a gene could end up in a virus doesn't make it a reasonable scenario. You can say this about every native gene in a plant and could find many that would probably be scary to introduce into a virus. If the transgene is no more likely to be taken into a virus, then the likelihood is pretty much nill. We have to engineer the gene into a viral vector to do this stuff effectively in labs so as to avoid randomness and jumbling of the genetic material that gets recombined into a virus. It's not common as far as I know that entire working genes are taken up by a virus and then ditributed throughout a population of its host. It's also not impossible for a schoolbus to fall out of the sky and land on me today, but I guess since its just not "likely" that I should prepare myself for the event.

    Gerhard Adam
    I'm going to have to disagree, because I think the general consensus is that genes will likely "escape".  In fact, this is precisely the rationalization used regarding the "terminator" genes.  So, this isn't about picking some miniscule probability and running with it.  If you check out the links in the article, I think you'll find that scientists aren't writing this off as an improbable event.

    If you have them, I'd like to see any links or articles that argue that it can't happen.
    Mundus vult decipi
    One of biggest problems with Biotech is getting the straight story from Monsanto.

    The approval and promotion of genetically modified foods has been built on a foundation of lies.

    Perhaps the most significant came from the FDA, as revealed by this 2.5 minute clip.


    So it's a vast conspiracy among government and corporations.  Figured that was coming.
    If only scientists outside the corporate world could do research.  Oh wait, they can. And still find nothing.
    Gerhard Adam
    Oh wait, they can. And still find nothing.
    There are other issues besides just food safety, and there are many studies besides Seralini that suggest problems/concerns in these other areas.  Also, before you say it ... this does not imply, suggest, require, etc. that GM foods be banned.  As with anything scientific, it requires that people pay attention to what the science actually says and not merely dress it up to represent the objective they hope to achieve.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank, sounds like you only see what you want to see. Many independent scientists have reported negative effects from GMOs.

    Exhibit A
    From renowned biologist Pushpa M. Bhargava who believes that GMOs are a major contributor to the deteriorating health in America.

    Pregnant Women and Babies at Great Risk
    GM foods are particularly dangerous for pregnant moms and children. After GM soy was fed to female rats, most of their babies died—compared to 10 percent deaths among controls fed natural soy.1
    GM-fed babies were smaller, and possibly infertile.2

    Testicles of rats fed GM soy changed from the normal pink to dark blue.3 Mice fed GM soy also had altered young sperm.4
    Embryos of GM soy-fed parent mice had changed DNA.5 And mice fed GM corn had fewer, and smaller, babies.6

    In Haryana, India, most buffalo that ate GM cottonseed had reproductive complications such as premature deliveries, abortions, and infertility; many calves died.

    About two dozen US farmers said thousands of pigs became sterile from certain GM corn varieties. Some had false pregnancies; others gave birth to bags of water. Cows and bulls also became infertile.7

    In the US, incidence of low birth weight babies, infertility, and infant mortality are all escalating.

    2. Irina Ermakova, "Genetically modified soy leads to the decrease of weight and high mortality of rat pups of the first generation. Preliminary studies," Ecosinform 1 (2006): 4–9.
    3. Irina Ermakova, "Experimental Evidence of GMO Hazards," Presentation at Scientists for a GM Free Europe, EU Parliament, Brussels, June 12, 2007
    4. Irina Ermakova, "Experimental Evidence of GMO Hazards," Presentation at Scientists for a GM Free Europe, EU Parliament, Brussels, June 12, 2007
    5. L. Vecchio et al, "Ultrastructural Analysis of Testes from Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybean," European Journal of Histochemistry 48, no. 4 (Oct–Dec 2004):449–454.
    6. Oliveri et al., "Temporary Depression of Transcription in Mouse Pre-implantion Embryos from Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybean," 48th Symposium of the Society for Histochemistry, Lake Maggiore (Italy), September 7–10, 2006.
    7. Alberta Velimirov and Claudia Binter, "Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice," Forschungsberichte der Sektion IV, Band 3/2008

    GMOs have tested unsafe for years—here are some of the reason you never hear it.

    Biologist Arpad Pusztai had more than 300 articles and 12 books to his credit and was the world’s top expert in his field.
    But when he accidentally discovered that genetically modified (GM) foods are dangerous, he became the biotech industry’s bad-boy poster child, setting an example for other scientists thinking about blowing the whistle.
    In the early 1990s, Dr. Pusztai was awarded a $3 million grant by the UK government to design the system for safety testing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). His team included more than 20 scientists working at three facilities, including the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, the top nutritional research lab in the UK, and his employer for the previous 35 years.
    The results of Pusztai’s work were supposed to become the required testing protocols for all of Europe. But when he fed supposedly harmless GM potatoes to rats, things didn’t go as planned.
    Within just 10 days, the animals developed potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, smaller brains, livers, and testicles, partially atrophied livers, and damaged immune systems. Moreover, the cause was almost certainly side effects from the process of genetic engineering itself. In other words, the GM foods on the market, which are created from the same process, might have similar affects on humans.
    With permission from his director, Pusztai was interviewed on TV and expressed his concerns about GM foods. He became a hero at his institute -- for two days.
    Then came the phone calls from the pro-GMO prime minister’s office to the institute’s director. The next morning, Pusztai was fired. He was silenced with threats of a lawsuit, his team was dismantled, and the protocols never implemented. His Institute, the biotech industry, and the UK government, together launched a smear campaign to destroy Pusztai’s reputation.
    Eventually, an invitation to speak before Parliament lifted his gag order and his research was published in the prestigious Lancet. No similar in-depth studies have yet tested the GM foods eaten every day by Americans.
    Irina Ermakova
    Irina Ermakova, a senior scientist at the Russian National Academy of Sciences, was shocked to discover that more than half of the baby rats in her experiment died within three weeks. She had fed the mothers GM soy flour purchased at a supermarket. The babies from mothers fed natural non-GMO soy, however, only suffered a 10% death rate. She repeated her experiment three times with similar results.
    Dr. Ermakova reported her preliminary findings at a conference in October 2005, asking the scientific community to replicate her study. Instead, she was attacked and vilified. Her boss told her to stop doing anymore GM food research. Samples were stolen from her lab, and a paper was even set fire on her desk. One of her colleagues tried to comfort her by saying, “Maybe the GM soy will solve the overpopulation problem.”
    Of the mostly spurious criticisms leveled at Ermakova, one was significant enough to raise doubts about the cause of the deaths. She did not conduct a biochemical analysis of the feed. Without it, we don’t know if some rogue toxin had contaminated the soy flour. But more recent events suggest that whatever caused the high infant mortality was not unique to her one bag of GM flour.
    In November 2005, the supplier of rat food to the laboratory where Ermakova worked began using GM soy in the formulation. All the rats were now eating it. After two months, Ermakova asked other scientists about the infant mortality rate in their experiments. It had skyrocketed to over 55 percent.
    It’s been four years since these findings were reported. No one has yet repeated Ermakova’s study, even though it would cost just a few thousand dollars.
    Andrés Carrasco
    Embryologist Andrés Carrasco told a leading Buenos Aires newspaper about the results of his research into Roundup, the herbicide sold in conjunction with Monsanto’s genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops.
    Dr. Carrasco, who works in Argentina’s Ministry of Science, said his studies of amphibians suggest that the herbicide could cause defects in the brain, intestines, and hearts of fetuses. Moreover, the amount of Roundup used on GM soy fields was as much as 1,500 times greater than that which created the defects.
    Tragically, his research had been inspired by the experience of desperate peasant and indigenous communities who were suffering from exposure to toxic herbicides used on the GM soy fields throughout Argentina.
    According to an article in Grain, the biotech industry “mounted an unprecedented attack on Carrasco, ridiculing his research and even issuing personal threats.” In addition, four men arrived unannounced at his laboratory and were extremely aggressive, attempting to interrogate Carrasco and obtain details of his study. “It was a violent, disproportionate, dirty reaction,” he said. “I hadn’t even discovered anything new, only confirmed conclusions that others had reached.”
    Argentina’s Association of Environmental Lawyers filed a petition calling for a ban on Roundup, and the Ministry of Defense banned GM soy from its fields.
    Judy Carman
    Epidemiologist Judy Carman used to investigate outbreaks of disease for a state government in Australia. She knows that health problems associated with GM foods might be impossible to track or take decades to discover. Moreover, the superficial, short-term animal feeding studies usually do not evaluate “biochemistry, immunology, tissue pathology, gut function, liver function, and kidney function” and are too short to test for cancer or reproductive or child health.
    Dr. Carman has critiqued the GMO approval process on behalf of the Public Health Association of Australia and speaks openly about her concerns. As a result, she is repeatedly attacked. Pro-GM scientists threatened disciplinary action through her Vice-Chancellor, and circulated a defamatory letter to government and university officials.
    Carman was awarded a grant by the Western Australia government to conduct some of the few long-term animal feeding studies on GMOs. Apparently concerned about what she might find, GMO advocates wrote letters to the government demanding that the grant be withdrawn. One scientist tried to convince the Western Australia Agriculture minister that sufficient safety research had been conducted and he should therefore cancel the grant.
     As his evidence, however, he presented a report summarizing only 60 GMO animal feeding studies -- an infinitesimal amount of research to justify exposing the entire population to GM foods.
    A closer investigation, however, revealed that most of the 60 were not safety studies at all. They were production studies, measuring, for example, the animals’ carcass weight. Only 9 contained data applicable to human health. And 6 of the 9 showed adverse effects in animals that ate GM feed!
    Furthermore, there were several other studies with adverse findings that were mysteriously missing from the compilation. Carman points out that the report “does not support claims that GM crops are safe to eat. On the contrary, it provides evidence that GM crops may be harmful to health.”
    When the Western Government refused to withdraw the grant, opponents successfully interfered with Carman’s relationship with the university where she was to do the research.
    Terje Traavik
    Prominent virologist Terje Traavik presented preliminary data at a February 2004 meeting at the UN Biosafety Protocol Conference, showing that:
    1. Filipinos living next to a GM cornfield developed serious symptoms while the corn was pollinating;
    2. Genetic material inserted into GM crops transferred to rat organs after a single meal; and
    3. Key safety assumptions about genetically engineered viruses were overturned, calling into question the safety of using these viruses in vaccines.
    The biotech industry mercilessly attacked Dr. Traavik. Their excuse? -- he presented unpublished work. But presenting preliminary data at professional conferences is a long tradition in science, something that the biotech industry itself relied on in 1999 to try to counter the evidence that butterflies were endangered by GM corn.
    Ironically, three years after attacking Traavik, the same biotech proponents sharply criticized a peer-reviewed publication for not citing unpublished data that had been presented at a conference. The paper shows how the runoff of GM Bt corn into streams can kill the “caddis fly,” which may seriously upset marine ecosystems. The study set off a storm of attacks against its author, ecologist Emma Rosi-Marshall, which Nature described in a September 2009 article as a “hail of abuse.”
    Companies Prevent Studies on Their GM Crops
    When Ohio State University plant ecologist Allison Snow discovered problematic side effects in GM sunflowers, Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Dow AgroSciences blocked further research by withholding GM seeds and genes.
    After Marc Lappé and Britt Bailey found significant reductions in cancer-fighting isoflavones in Monsanto’s GM soybeans, the seed seller, Hartz, told them they could no longer provide samples.
    Research by a plant geneticist at a leading US university was also thwarted when two companies refused him GM corn. In fact, almost no independent studies are conducted that might find problems. According to a scathing opinion piece in an August 2009 Scientific American,
    “Agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers ... Only studies that the seed companies have approved ever see the light of a peer-reviewed journal.”
    A group of 24 corn insect scientists protested this restriction in a letter submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency. They warned that the inability to access GM seeds from biotech companies means there can be no truly independent research on the critical questions. The scientists, of course, withheld their identities for fear of reprisals from the companies.
    Restricted access is not limited to the US. When a Japanese scientist wanted to conduct animal feeding studies on the GM soybeans under review in Japan, both the government and the bean’s maker DuPont refused to give him any samples. Hungarian Professor Bela Darvas discovered that Monsanto’s GM corn hurt endangered species in his country. Monsanto immediately shut off his supplies.
    Dr. Darvas later gave a speech on his preliminary findings and discovered that a false and incriminating report about his research was circulating. He traced it to a Monsanto public relations employee, who claimed it mysteriously appeared on her desk -- so she faxed it out.
    GMO Contamination: Don’t Ask and Definitely Don’t Tell

    In 2005, a scientist had gathered seed samples from all over Turkey to evaluate the extent of contamination by GM varieties. According to the Turkish Daily News, just before her testing was complete, she was reassigned to another department and access to her lab was denied.
    The unexpected transfer may have saved this Turkish scientist from an even worse fate, had she discovered and reported contamination.
    Ask Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist from UC Berkeley. In 2001, he discovered that the indigenous corn varieties in Mexico -- the source of the world’s genetic diversity for corn—had become contaminated through cross pollination with GM varieties.
    The government had a ban against GM corn to prevent just this possibility, but apparently US corn imported for food had been planted nonetheless.
    Dr. Chapela submitted the finding to Nature, and as a courtesy that he later regretted, informed the Mexican government about the pending publication. He was called in to meet with a furious Director of the Commission of Biosafety and GMOs. Chapela’s confirmation of contamination would hinder introduction of GM corn. Therefore the government’s top biotech man demanded that he withdraw his article. According to Chapela, the official intimidated and threatened him, even implying, “We know where your children go to school.”
    When a traumatized Chapela still did not back down, the Underminister for Agriculture later sent him a fax claiming that because of his scientific paper, Chapela would be held personally responsible for all damages caused to agriculture and to the economy in general.
    The day Chapela’s paper was published, Mary Murphy and Andura Smetacek began posting messages to a biotechnology listserve called AgBioWorld, distributed to more than 3,000 scientists. They falsely claimed that Chapela was biased, that his paper had not been peer-reviewed, that Chapela was “first and foremost an activist,” and his research was published in collusion with environmentalists. Soon, hundreds of other messages appeared, repeating or embellishing the accusations. The listserve launched a petition and besieged Nature with a worldwide campaign demanding retraction.
    UC Berkeley also received letters from all over the world trying to convince them not to grant Chapela tenure. He had overwhelming support by his college and department, but the international biotech lobby was too much. Chapela’s tenure was denied. After he filed a lawsuit, the university eventually reversed its decision.
    When investigators later analyzed the email characteristics sent by agitators Mary Murphy and Andura Smetacek, the two turned out not to be the average citizens they claimed. According to the Guardian, both were fabricated names used by a public relations firm that worked for Monsanto. Some of Smetacek’s emails also had the internet protocol address of -- the server owned by Monsanto.
    Science and Debate is Silenced
    The attacks on scientists have taken its toll. According to Dr. Chapela, there is a de facto ban on scientists “asking certain questions and finding certain results.” He says, “It’s very hard for us to publish in this field. People are scared.” He told Nature that young people “are not going into this field precisely because they are discouraged by what they see.”
    New Zealand Parliament member Sue Kedgley told a Royal Commission in 2001: “Personally I have been contacted by telephone and e-mail by a number of scientists who have serious concerns about aspects of the research that is taking place ... and the increasingly close ties that are developing between science and commerce, but who are convinced that if they express these fears publicly ... or even if they asked the awkward and difficult questions, they will be eased out of their institution.”
    University of Minnesota biologist Phil Regal testified before the same Commission, “I think the people who boost genetic engineering are going to have to do a mea culpa and ask for forgiveness, like the Pope did on the inquisition.” Sue Kedgley has a different idea. She recommends we “set up human clinical trials using volunteers of genetically engineered scientists and their families, because I think they are so convinced of the safety of the products that they are creating and I’m sure they would very readily volunteer to become part of a human clinical trial.”

    This is an even better article on GMOs than the last one. Thanks again.

    Yes, these are the concerns. Not even all of them.

    Even if (huge if) GM foods -and GM agriculture- turn out to be perfectly safe, what's the effect of reducing the variety? Once upon a time there were countless varieties, countless strains of seeds. I expect it will be worse to replace that existing variety with one or two GM strains, even if individually they are inherently better in every way. And that's the -intended- outcome...

    It's an irreversible experiment. There's no being too careful. There's no place for trust that any institution will get it right. There's too much at stake for trust.

    The potential of biotechnology is wondrous and enormous. Also, ruinous. It should be done - but slowly and very, very surely. As an earthling, I vehemently do-not-care how much potential profit is lost by slowing the pace.

    Gerhard Adam
    Thanks again, for the good words.  I agree that this is a technology that may address many important issues, but it's a precarious process.  If something were to go wrong, the public backlash would render this technology dead. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Ashwani Kumar
    Biotechnology is for detecting genetic diseases, correcting birth disorders, making vaccines, producing proteins and never for food  for eating if you don't like it that way. 

    Ashwani Kumar
     GM food is like photography 100 years ago. It was common belief in some part of the world (to whom Camera  and photography were introduced for the first time) that if you are photographed your age will be reduced as Camera will take away your age. It is again in some part of the world that something  adverse is going to happen to them if they will eat the GM food. 
    Perhaps they are right or  perhaps it is fear of unknown ? 
    Ashwani Kumar
    Biotechnology and GM crops are good for country across Atlantic and Pacific but they are not good for countries lying in the middle ? Not good for Japan and not good for Asian countries. ? GM foods and Biotechnology is variable or lobbies and understanding is different ? 
    Gerhard Adam
    The question is still; "good for who"?  There's no question that many GM foods, especially those that are drought resistant and disease resistant can make a huge difference.  However, we already know that our problem isn't producing food, it's distributing it.

    Many people are also reluctant to simply accept the argument that it's important when it seems that the only point being made is that it allows producers to increase their profits.  It's not wrong to make money, but it should be done by legitimately selling products and letting consumers decide.  Not by getting legislation passed that allows these "improvements" to be kept a secret from the consumers.

    The problem here is that GMO crops are the only product I can think of that attempts to avoid anyone knowing it exists to improve its market.  That is bad PR, no matter how you look at it.  It simply looks like they have something to hide and from there it becomes 100% political.
    Mundus vult decipi