Fw: A Scientist's Experience of GMOs

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Jane Arnold

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Sep 2, 2015, 2:04:52 AM9/2/15
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--- On Wed, 2/9/15, Colin Holden <LAB...@smcholden.plus.com> wrote:

> From: Colin Holden <LAB...@smcholden.plus.com>
> Subject: A Scientist's Experience of GMOs
> To:
> Date: Wednesday, 2 September, 2015, 0:53
> Interesting piece, raises a few less
> well known issues.
> C
> ------------
> http://www.independentsciencenews.org/health/growing-doubt-a-scientists-experience-of-gmos/
>
> Growing Doubt: a Scientist's Experience of GMOs
> August 31, 2015
>
> Jonathan R. Latham, PhD
>
> By training, I am a plant biologist. In the early 1990s I
> was busy making
> genetically modified plants (often called GMOs for
> Genetically Modified
> Organisms) as part of the research that led to my PhD. Into
> these plants
> we were putting DNA from various foreign organisms, such as
> viruses and
> bacteria.
>
> I was not, at the outset, concerned about the possible
> effects of GM
> plants on human health or the environment. One reason for
> this lack of
> concern was that I was still a very young scientist, feeling
> my way in the
> complex world of biology and of scientific research. Another
> reason was
> that we hardly imagined that GMOs like ours would be grown
> or eaten. So
> far as I was concerned, all GMOs were for research purposes
> only.
>
> Gradually, however, it became clear that certain companies
> thought
> differently. Some of my older colleagues shared their
> skepticism with me
> that commercial interests were running far ahead of
> scientific knowledge.
> I listened carefully and I didn’t disagree. Today, over
> twenty years
> later, GMO crops, especially soybeans, corn, papaya, canola
> and cotton,
> are commercially grown in numerous parts of the world.
>
> Depending on which country you live in, GMOs may be
> unlabeled and
> therefore unknowingly abundant in your diet. Processed foods
> (e.g. chips,
> breakfast cereals, sodas) are likely to contain ingredients
> from GMO
> crops, because they are often made from corn or soy. Most
> agricultural
> crops, however, are still non-GMO, including rice, wheat,
> barley, oats,
> tomatoes, grapes and beans.
>
> For meat eaters the nature of GMO consumption is different.
> There are no
> GMO animals used in farming (although GM salmon has been
> pending FDA
> approval since 1993); however, animal feed, especially in
> factory farms or
> for fish farming, is likely to be GMO corn and GMO soybeans.
> In which case
> the labeling issue, and potential for impacts on your
> health, are
> complicated.
>
> I now believe, as a much more experienced scientist, that
> GMO crops still
> run far ahead of our understanding of their risks. In broad
> outline, the
> reasons for this belief are quite simple. I have become much
> more
> appreciative of the complexity of biological organisms and
> their capacity
> for benefits and harms. As a scientist I have become much
> more humble
> about the capacity of science to do more than scratch the
> surface in its
> understanding of the deep complexity and diversity of the
> natural world.
> To paraphrase a cliché, I more and more appreciate that as
> scientists we
> understand less and less.
>
> The Flawed Processes of GMO Risk Assessment
>
> Some of my concerns with GMOs are “just” practical ones.
> I have read
> numerous GMO risk assessment applications. These are the
> documents that
> governments rely on to ‘prove’ their safety. Though
> these documents are
> quite long and quite complex, their length is misleading in
> that they
> primarily ask (and answer) trivial questions. Furthermore,
> the experiments
> described within them are often very inadequate and sloppily
> executed.
> Scientific controls are often missing, procedures and
> reagents are badly
> described, and the results are often ambiguous or
> uninterpretable. I do
> not believe that this ambiguity and apparent incompetence is
> accidental.
> It is common, for example, for multinational corporations,
> whose labs have
> the latest equipment, to use outdated methodologies. When
> the results show
> what the applicants want, nothing is said. But when the
> results are
> inconvenient, and raise red flags, they blame the
> limitations of the
> antiquated method. This bulletproof logic, in which
> applicants claim
> safety no matter what the data shows, or how badly the
> experiment was
> performed, is routine in formal GMO risk assessment.
>
> To any honest observer, reading these applications is bound
> to raise
> profound and disturbing questions: about the trustworthiness
> of the
> applicants and equally of the regulators. They are
> impossible to reconcile
> with a functional regulatory system capable of protecting
> the public.
>
> The Dangers of GMOs
>
> Aside from grave doubts about the quality and integrity of
> risk
> assessments, I also have specific science-based concerns
> over GMOs. I
> emphasise the ones below because they are important but are
> not on the
> lists that GMO critics often make.
>
> Many GMO plants are engineered to contain their own
> insecticides. These
> GMOs, which include maize, cotton and soybeans, are called
> Bt plants. Bt
> plants get their name because they incorporate a transgene
> that makes a
> protein-based toxin (usually called the Cry toxin) from the
> bacterium
> Bacillus thuringiensis. Many Bt crops are “stacked,”
> meaning they contain
> a multiplicity of these Cry toxins. Their makers believe
> each of these Bt
> toxins is insect-specific and safe. However, there are
> multiple reasons to
> doubt both safety and specificity. One concern is that
> Bacillus
> thuringiensis is all but indistinguishable from the well
> known anthrax
> bacterium (Bacillus anthracis). Another reason is that Bt
> insecticides
> share structural similarities with ricin. Ricin is a
> famously dangerous
> plant toxin, a tiny amount of which was used to assassinate
> the Bulgarian
> writer and defector Georgi Markov in 1978. A third reason
> for concern is
> that the mode of action of Bt proteins is not understood
> (Vachon et al
> 2012); yet, it is axiomatic in science that effective risk
> assessment
> requires a clear understanding of the mechanism of action of
> any GMO
> transgene. This is so that appropriate experiments can be
> devised to
> affirm or refute safety. These red flags are doubly
> troubling because some
> Cry proteins are known to be toxic towards isolated human
> cells (Mizuki et
> al., 1999). Yet we put them in our food crops.
>
> A second concern follows from GMOs being often resistant to
> herbicides.
> This resistance is an invitation to farmers to spray large
> quantities of
> herbicides, and many do. As research recently showed,
> commercial soybeans
> routinely contain quantities of the herbicide Roundup
> (glyphosate) that
> its maker, Monsanto, once described as “extreme” (Bøhn
> et al 2014).
>
> Glyphosate has been in the news recently because the World
> Health
> Organisation no longer considers it a relatively harmless
> chemical, but
> there are other herbicides applied to GMOs which are easily
> of equal
> concern. The herbicide Glufosinate (phosphinothricin, made
> by Bayer) kills
> plants because it inhibits the important plant enzyme
> glutamine
> synthetase. This enzyme is ubiquitous, however, it is found
> also in fungi,
> bacteria and animals. Consequently, Glufosinate is toxic to
> most
> organisms. Glufosinate is also a neurotoxin of mammals that
> doesn’t easily
> break down in the environment (Lantz et al. 2014).
> Glufosinate is thus a
> “herbicide” in name only.
>
> Thus, even in conventional agriculture, the use of
> glufosinate is
> hazardous; but With GMO plants the situation is worse yet.
> With GMOs,
> glufosinate is sprayed on to the crop but its degradation in
> the plant is
> blocked by the transgene, which chemically modifies it
> slightly. This is
> why the GMO plant is resistant to it; but the other
> consequence is that
> when you eat Bayers’ Glufosinate-resistant GMO maize or
> canola, even weeks
> or months later, glufosinate, though slightly modified, is
> probably still
> there (Droge et al., 1992). Nevertheless, though the health
> hazard of
> glufosinate is much greater with GMOs, the implications of
> this science
> have been ignored in GMO risk assessments of
> Glufosinate-tolerant GMO
> crops.
>
> A yet further reason to be concerned about GMOs is that most
> of them
> contain a viral sequence called the cauliflower mosaic virus
> (CaMV)
> promoter (or they contain the similar figwort mosaic virus
> (FMV)
> promoter). Two years ago, the GMO safety agency of the
> European Union
> (EFSA) discovered that both the CaMV promoter and the FMV
> promoter had
> wrongly been assumed by them (for almost 20 years) not to
> encode any
> proteins. In fact, the two promoters encode a large part of
> a small
> multifunctional viral protein that misdirects all normal
> gene expression
> and that also turns off a key plant defence against
> pathogens. EFSA tried
> to bury their discovery. Unfortunately for them, we spotted
> their findings
> in an obscure scientific journal. This revelation forced
> EFSA and other
> regulators to explain why they had overlooked the
> probability that
> consumers were eating an untested viral protein.
>
> This list of significant scientific concerns about GMOs is
> by no means
> exhaustive. For example, there are novel GMOs coming on the
> market, such
> as those using double stranded RNAs (dsRNAs), that have the
> potential for
> even greater risks (Latham and Wilson 2015).
>
> The True Purpose of GMOs
>
> Science is not the only grounds on which GMOs should be
> judged. The
> commercial purpose of GMOs is not to feed the world or
> improve farming.
> Rather, they exist to gain intellectual property (i.e.
> patent rights) over
> seeds and plant breeding and to drive agriculture in
> directions that
> benefit agribusiness. This drive is occurring at the expense
> of farmers,
> consumers and the natural world. US Farmers, for example,
> have seen seed
> costs nearly quadruple and seed choices greatly narrow since
> the
> introduction of GMOs. The fight over GMOs is not of narrow
> importance. It
> affects us all.
>
> Nevertheless, specific scientific concerns are crucial to
> the debate. I
> left science in large part because it seemed impossible to
> do research
> while also providing the unvarnished public scepticism that
> I believed the
> public, as ultimate funder and risk-taker of that science,
> was entitled
> to.
>
> Criticism of science and technology remains very difficult.
> Even though
> many academics benefit from tenure and a large salary, the
> sceptical
> process in much of science is largely lacking. This is why
> risk assessment
> of GMOs has been short-circuited and public concerns about
> them are
> growing. Until the damaged scientific ethos is rectified,
> both scientists
> and the public are correct to doubt that GMOs should ever
> have been let
> out of any lab.
>
> References
>
> << snip >>
>
> ----------
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