Read the exchange between, Dr. Paul Horgen, Professor Emeritus, The University of Toronto, and Dr. Thierry Vrain, noted anti-GMO campaigner
Dr. Paul Horgen wrote in a letter to the Comox Valley Environmental Council last week:
I would like to clarify my position with respect to the comments I made on the GMO free Comox Valley presentation at the CVEC meeting on March 13. My sensitivities were heightened as I had experienced one of that group at a recent Elder College Lecture on Agriculture and Climate Change. Most of the lecture was accurate, but the speaker from the GMO group made some comments that were based on opinion regarding GM sweet corn and a facial rash developed by one individual that he knew and a comment he made suggesting ‘poisoning your grandchildren if you eat sweet corn’. There was no scientific basis for these statements and I abhor scare tactics that are not scientifically substantiated by the peer review scientific community.
Dear Dr. Horgen,
I was the Lecturer at North Island College in Courtenay on Agriculture and Global Warming. I thank you for the compliment of being accurate – I am careful to be accurate. My lecture was a scientific report about Global Warming and the role of Agriculture. And if you agreed with my assessment of our predicament, and if you are the Chair or a Board member of environmental organizations in the Comox Valley, surely you cannot approve of some or many of the practices of Industrial Agricuture. The Green Revolution has been wonderful with creating more food, but it has been at the expense of the soil food web and such a gas guzzler that we might think of it as turning oil (inputs) into food.
My offending response was after my lecture during the Question period to a comment by a woman in the audience of a previous lecture. That her husband developed a rash every time they had sweet corn last summer. In the light of the many scientific research papers published in peer reviewed Journals that demonstrate that the protein pesticide engineered into corn and soy and every other major crop is an allergen in mice and rats and possibly humans, my association is valid. Many of these publications show organ failure in many lab animals, especially mice and rats.
These publications are not from research funded by Monsanto. Monsanto and the other Biotech companies are exceptionally generous corporate donors to many Universities and research labs in the US and abroad. But of course they only fund research that agrees with the corporate line and the central dogma of biotechnology. Thus a large body of mercenary literature is created to support the claims of GMOs. That they are safe to eat, have no side effects in the environments, decrease pesticide use and increase yields. And then there is the new maxim “Patent and get Rich”, that replaced “Publish or Perish”, which was the dominant paradigm of Science research until 1990s. So many of my colleagues are feeding at the Biotech trough and happy to contribute letters and newspaper articles to support the myth of substantial equivalence and safety of GMOs.
Genetic Engineering technology was first invented in 1973, it is 40 years old and it relies on a hypothesis established 60 years ago by Watson and Crick, the one gene one protein hypothesis. Each gene creates one protein. So if you insert a gene, you expect one protein. This hypothesis was blown out of the water in 2002 when the Human Genome Project was completed. And we discovered that our genome has just under 25,000 genes, while our bodies function with approximately 100,000 proteins. It does not add up. A genome, we learned is a complex ecosystem under much influence from the environment. We now know that each gene of a genome makes many proteins according to environmental cues. Not only that, it is also documented that the engineering process itself, the insertion of a gene in the middle of the genome, anywhere really, causes disruptions in many enzymes performing basic metabolic work.
And since the Human Genome Project we now know that genetic engineering creates rogue proteins. Inserting a transgene into a genome and expecting only the single protein you want and nothing else, is corporate fallacy.
As past director of the Biotechnology Program at the University of Toronto, I am not aware of any credible report of any GM food affecting human health of any kind. 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. There are individuals with scientific credentials that make claims and post them on the internet, but I know of none of these claims that have been accepted by the scientific community that subject their studies to peer review in good journals.
I am turning you towards a recent compilation (June 2012) 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 was made by a genetic engineer in London, and an investigative journalist who summarized the gist of the publications for the lay public.
GMO Myths and Truths – an evidence based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetical modified crops. A report of 120 pages, it can be downloaded for free from Earth Open Source. “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.
Below is a statement from the American Medical Association (AMA) on GM foods released in 2012: “The AMA recognizes the continuing validity of the three major conclusions contained in the 1987 National Academy of Sciences white paper, “Introduction of Recombinant DNA-Engineered Organisms into the Environment.” The three major conclusions are: (a) There is no evidence that unique hazards exist either in the use of recombinant techniques or in the movement of genes between unrelated organisms; (b) The risks associated with the introduction of recombinant-engineered organisms are the same in kind as those associated with the introduction of unmodified organisms and organisms modified by other methods; (c) Assessment of the risk of introducing recombinant-engineered organisms into the environment should be based on the nature of the organism and the environment into which it is introduced, not on the method by which it was produced.”
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 Ready 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.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada, the two agencies in Canada responsible for approving GM foods, together, have one of, if not the most robust approval programs in the world. I must apologize for my statements on organic food and the lack of regulation by government. The last time I taught a course on Agriculture was in 2007 and neither the US nor Canadian government regulated organic food at that time. Instead it was self-regulated. A number of food safety issues occurred and both the US and Canada now have government standards for organic food. I enclose a CBC report on those regulations. I also enclose a report from the Canadian Medical Association 2013, and a report on labelling in Canada. I also attach an article from a respected source in the UK published in 2012.
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.
In summary, I am totally in agreement with sustainable farming and enjoy organic food because it tastes good. What I cannot support are unfounded claims that the world’s scientific community has not shown care in food production, and the use of scare tactics to influence food security issues. We have, and will continue to have, a major shortage of food worldwide. I personally believe that anything we can do to increase food and food choices for people are a positive thing. We must remember that the organic food industry, as well as the traditional food industry, is there to make money and feed the hungry people of the world. The government has the responsibility to insure our food safety and as far as I can determine, it has done an excellent job. Neither I nor any of my former scientific colleagues either in Universities or in industry use their expertise to create food that has not been carefully assessed. Read the article from the UK and the others I attach. Look at where they originate and make your decisions based on good data. I hope the GMO Group submits articles for you to consider and review. These are my personal views and do not reflect the views of any of my colleagues at Project Watershed. Paul A. Horgen Professor Emeritus and Past Director, University of Toronto Biotechnology Graduate Program
The results of the first long term feeding studies of lab rats reported last year in Food and Chemical Toxicology show that they developed breast cancer in mid life and showed kidney and liver damage. The current statistic I read is that North Americans are eating 193 lbs of GMO food on average annually. That includes the children I assume, not that I would use that as a scare tactic. But obviously I wrote at length because I think there is cause for alarm and it is my duty to educate the public.
One argument I hear repeatedly is that nobody has been sick or died after a meal (or a trillion meals since 1996) of GM food. Nobody gets ill from smocking 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 the whole food system that is of concern. The corporate interest must be subordinated to the public interest, and the policy of substantial equivalence must be scrapped as it is clearly untrue.
Dr. Horgen I hope that you will refrain from an argument that all these scientific reports and publications are not valid and instead check the validity of or read enough of the many references cited in GMO Myths and Truths and perhaps revise your judgement about the performance of GMOs in light of this new information. If you made it this far, I thank you for your consideration and for the work you do as an environmentalist.