Volume 6, Number 2: Summer Solstice, 2004

Genetically Modified Foods - BC Endocrine Research Foundation

Dr. Eric G. Norman PhD

Staff Member with the Division of Endocrinology University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.

Food For Thought

I have received several requests for information regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Given the previous issue’s Evolution of Diet article it seemed appropriate to follow with a brief comment on GMOs since these impact our food choices, food quality and the health and future of our children and the planet.

For this discussion a genetically modified organism (GMO) is a plant food that has been artificially created by splicing genes from one species into the DNA of another. I say artificial to distinguish from the natural process of pollination. What GMO’s typically represent is a combination of genetic material that would never ever have come together under any natural pollination process. In other words fish genes would never ever have combined with corn genes.

While this makes them a bit strange perhaps is it really cause for alarm? The answer to that is a resounding YES. The European Union ban on GMOs is certainly an indicator that someone is concerned about the impact of these plants on our health and on the environment. There is not room for a complete discussion here but a recently published book called ‘Seeds of Deception’ written by Jeffery M. Smith provides an excellent starting point and some valuable insight. The book has numerous references, websites and even suggestions for action if this is an issue that you find you would like to pursue.

One of the major problems with the theory behind the GMO concept is that it is based on an outdated concept of one gene regulating the production of one protein. This is now known to be false as demonstrated in the human genome project where the expected 100,000 genes for an equivalent number of proteins turned out to be only 30,000 genes. We now know that genes can code for numerous proteins, the record being held by a fruit fly gene which has been shown to generate 38,016 different proteins. Based on this new information it is clear that attempts to insert a gene with a single desired trait is going to also include numerous additional proteins with completely unknown effects. And they really are unknown because at this point in time there is no adequate safety testing of these foods. That is only the tip of the iceberg lettuce, as you’ll find out if you read Jeffrey Smith’s book. Numerous other genetic problems arise which further compromise the safety of the resulting food product. And this only refers to the human safety issues.

Another major issue is the environment and the fact that pollen travels in the wind and this cannot be controlled. This means that there is documented extensive contamination of adjacent crops and the potential for genes to move across plant species. This is not finely controlled laboratory science. This is happening right now in fields throughout North America and now that these genes are in the gene pool they can never be recalled. This is happening without our consent and our governments are not looking out for our best interests but rather the interests of the biotech industry.

The testing is in fact being done on us, the general population who consume these products without knowing it. There is no way of knowing since there is no labeling required to inform us which products contain genetically modified plant material. As mentioned by Arran Stephans in the Preface to Jeffrey Smith’s book, ‘we are now in the middle of the largest feeding experiment in history and we human beings are the guinea pigs’.

On May 1, 2003, a new organization, the Independent Science Panel was formed with a commitment to the Promotion of Science for the Public Good. The founding members consist of 24 scientists in a variety of disciplines from all over the world. They released a 136 page document on the GMO issue and at the end they recount the major problems with GMO’s. The excerpt below summarizes many of the concerns we should all share. For their comments they use GM when referring to the GMO issue.

“We find the following apects especially regrettable and unacceptable:

  • Lack of critical public information on the science and technology of GM
  • Lack of public accountability in the GM science community
  • Lack of independent, disinterested scientific research into and assessment of, the hazards of GM
  • Partisan attitude of regulatory and other public information bodies, which appear more intent on spreading corporate propaganda than providing crucial information
  • Pervasive commercial and political conflicts of interests in both research and development and regulation of GM
  • Suppression and vilification of scientists who try to convey research information to the public that is deemed to harm the industry
  • Persistent denial and dismissal of extensive scientific evidence on the hazards of GM to health and the environment by proponents of genetic modification and by supposedly disinterested advisory and regulatory bodies
  • Continuing claims of GM benefits by the biotech corporations, and repetitions of these claims by the scientific establishment, in the face of extensive evidence that GM has failed both in the field and in the laboratory
  • Reluctance to admit that the corporate funding of academic research in GM is already in decline, and that the biotechnology multinationals (and their shareholders) as well as investment consultants are now questioning the wisdom of the ‘GM enterprise’
  • Attacks on, and summary dismissal of extensive evidence pointing to the benefits of various sustainable agricultural approaches for health and the environment, as well as for food security and social well-being of farmers and their local communities.”

Eric Norman is a research scientist investigating heart disease in post-menopausal women and in individuals with type II diabetes.

Reading

  • Seeds of Deception, Jeffrey M Smith., 2003. Publisher YES1 Books, Fairfield, Iowa, US.
  • The Case for A GM-Free Sustainable World, Independent Science Panel, May 10th, 2003.
  • www.indsp.org

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