Better Technicolor DNA

Published on July 19th, 2013 | by Tanya Sitton

16

Watch and Share: Genetic Scientist’s TED Talk Indicts GMO Agriculture

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Technicolor DNA

Dr. Thierry Vrain spent most of his working life advocating for biotechnology companies, as a soil biologist and genetic engineering enthusiast. In his recent TED talk Vrain systematically unravels the biotech spin, from the perspective of a scientist who can no longer ignore a growing body of evidence that GMOs cause problems. No matter how desperately chemical companies seek to paint critics as anti-science, reality rears its evidence-based head: considering everything we’ve learned since 1996, genetically engineered food crops deserve our best and most enthusiastic skepticism.

TED Who?

For those unfamiliar with its excellent work, TED is a nonprofit organization dedicated to highlighting and sharing ‘ideas worth spreading’ — originally focused on technology, entertainment, and design, its scope has spread to all domains of human endeavor. The designation ‘TEDx’ indicates an independently organized event, within the organization’s guidelines, rather than material presented at one of TED’s biannual conferences. TED video talks attract a global audience of millions.

Biotech Fairy Tales vs. Reality

When the first GMO crops were introduced in the mid-1990′s, they were marketed (and received) as ‘magic’ — a perfectly safe, practically water-like substance that erased pest problems without changing the quality of the food.

Enter pest resistance, pesticide escalation, and superweeds stage right!

Vrain uses the term ‘genetic pollution’ to describe the inevitable contamination of rogue genes, transported from GM fields to the surrounding ecosphere.

He also raises the issue of GMOs in the context of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Did you know that CAFOs aren’t the only culprit?! Teaser: every river tested, in China, carried antibiotic resistant bacteria linked to genetically modified crops.

Food allergies have also spiked since the GMO infiltration of our food system, with studies (published in such radical and anti-science venues as the Journal of Immunology) showing that Bt corn causes anaphylactic response in mice and rats.

Vrain also points out:

  • Mice fed GM soy have damaged testicles, uterus, and ovaries (European Journal of Histochemistry)
  • Rats fed RoundUp Ready corn have damaged liver and kidneys (Food and Chemical Toxicology)

As research piles up, it has become increasingly clear that ‘the impact [of RoundUp] on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time, as inflammation dmages cellular systems throughout the body.’

Vrain explores the biotech-industry-embraced fallacy that one gene equals coding for one and only one protein. Not so!

‘There are many many proteins that are created [from each gene], and we really don’t know what they are… and we are just waking up to these problems.’

‘So this is the status of genetic engineering today… my conclusion would be that the future of agriculture is not necessarily engineered.’

When a genetic scientist makes that assertion, the technology in question deserves our most serious and skeptical scrutiny.

Image credit: DNA photo via Shutterstock.

 


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About the Author

is an ecovore, veganist, messy chef, green girl, food revolutionary, and general free-thinkin' rabble-rouser. M.S. in a health profession, with strong interests in biology, nutrition, and healthy living - find her on .



16 Responses to Watch and Share: Genetic Scientist’s TED Talk Indicts GMO Agriculture

  1. Pingback: Eat Drink Better | Healthy recipes, good food: sustainable eats for a healthy lifestyle!

  2. Valentine Dyall says:

    It would be interesting to know whether Tanya Sitton has actually read the literature, the scientific literature that is, claiming to have discovered toxic effects on animals (and, by implication, on humans) of eating GM-foods? And if she has, could she understand and analyze it?

    She has, apparently, an “M.S. in a health profession, with strong interests in biology, nutrition, and healthy living.” Does that equip her to appreciate technical papers in biology and its specialisms or has she gone further in her studies, formal and informal? Into biochemistry. perhaps? Or chemical pathology?

    She might try a recent paper of comments on and analysis of the French study purporting to show the effects of GM-corn and glyphosate on the prevalence of tumors in rats; she can find it at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11248-013-9692-9.

    Or did she form her opinions on the advice and suggestions of somebody else? If so, from whom? And since she asks such questions and is sensitive to such issues, did she inquire as to the source of funding for her informant? If we knew all this, we might appreciate her position and her article more sensitively.

    • Tanya Sitton says:

      Um, you know you’re talking to me directly, right? Tanya Sitton chooses not to talk about herself in the third person — I certainly hope that won’t interfere with our ability to understand each other.

      I’m not a genetic engineer, but even if I were you’d disregard my perspective — as you did Dr. Vrain’s — since it fails to conform with your pre-selected position.

      There’s no shortage of folks with more advanced degrees than mine who disagree with the position you’re arguing. But even a lowly M.S. knows that bias creeps into even the best studies, and relying exclusively upon secretive industry studies of their own products is guaranteed to create problems — as is deliberate data manipulation for the sake of profit, such as when biotech companies were caught trying to bribe Canadian officials or suppress investigative journalists’ reports about rBGH problems… Does that sound like good scientific technique to you? I’m no genetic engineer, but it sounds a lot like greedy corporations attempting to manipulate a scientifically naïve public, to me.

      However condescending you try to be, the fact remains that not one single study has been conducted on the safety of GM crops for human consumption. NOT ONE: that is a problem, whether or not you think I have the credentials to say so.

      The environmental impact of fossil-fuel-dependent GMO farming techniques, with their reliance on extensive monocropping and ever-escalating pesticide use and genetic pollution of surrounding ecosystems, are fundamentally different than other farming methods — and if it would matter, I could point you towards environmental scientists and ecologists who would argue the same point.

      The privatization and corporate monopolization of access to seed for food crops offers only a recipe for disaster, for poor farming communities. As physicist Vandana Shiva often points out — would you like me to cite her credentials? — GMO ag is a devastatingly efficient method by which global megacorporations extract money from poor communities. I don’t think that’s an ag model likely to do anything but aggravate already dire resource inequality in hungry parts of the world, and I care not one whit whether or not you think I have sufficient credentials to entertain that opinion.

      You’ve brought a red herring to the table, here: you don’t give a flip about the curriculum vitae of anyone expressing an opinion on this topic that differs from your own, as evidenced by your very first comment on this thread. If you don’t like it when former biotech industry employees and genetic engineers see problems in the failing GMO-ag model, take it up with them!

      Meanwhile I’ll happily continue sharing their work — it offers a valuable perspective on the problems facing modern agriculture, and they’re well-qualified to address the topic under current debate within the scientific and sustainable-ag communities. If you don’t like my interpretation of the issues at hand, or blogs that share such things, perhaps eatdrinkbetter.com was a poor choice for you. Please feel free to surf around the interwebs for more industry-friendly pro-GMO writers, who will agree with you and leave biotech-dependent agriculture unchallenged.

      I’m sure Tanya Sitton won’t mind.

      Have a nice day!

    • Alex says:

      The great consitent thing about people like Valentine Dyall is that they are unable to admit that there are any problems with GM agriculture, even those we can see with our eyes.

      The problems happening in India with GM cotton with poor farmers suffering, animals dying after grazing on the cotton leaves as the traditionally do and farmers protesting against the GM cottom.

      http://www.france24.com/en/20130705-wb-en-reporters-india-transgenic-cotton-fields-monsanto-farmers-maharastra-state?page=1

      The clear problems with weed resistance reported by the BBC illustrating a failing technology destined to be defeated by the evolution of nature.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19594335

      And rootworm resistance:
      http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2013/05/29/gm-resistant-rootworms-and-the-future-of-farming/

      As well according to academic studies from Kansas and Wisconsin state University the Ht corn and Soy technology suffers from 5-10% yield drag because the creation of the new proteins requires energy and data from USDA do not showing increasing yields as GMO supporters are always on about.

      So Monsanto’s technologies although showing promise in the early days are increasingly failing to work effectively, while making famers quite depedent on a failing technology through a dominatnt market share and the need to enter into legal agreements do to patented seeds. Certainly that dependency is made worse when the technologies patented are not working as effectively.

      They are no longer reducing pesticide use and now the FDA is having to increase the allowable limits of glyphosate residue on food because farmers need to apply more and more.

      Why Valentine would you want to strongly support these technologies and patented seeds that are increasingly being shown to be less abd ess effective than promised?

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  4. Iresha says:

    Please help me spread the word
    Take the pledge
    And we CAN make a difference
    http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/pledge-to-boycott-all

  5. Valentine Dyall says:

    There you are. We will have to make up our own minds. Do we believe what Thierry Vrain says or the opposite views that all the other scientists accept, apparently from the same evidence? Why do most of them, and all the regulators and academies of science, conclude that the French rat studies and the mouse GM soy experiments are meaniningless while Vrain accepts their arguments? Are the world’s scientists, academies and regulators ALL on Monsanto’s payroll? Is Vrain funded by the anti-GM campaigners and the organic lobby? Or are they all giving their honest assessments, not funded by either side? So why the differences? Just the richness of life or something else?

    • Tanya Sitton says:

      ‘The opposite views that all the other scientists accept’?! Really?! … there is no scientific consensus among researchers about the health effects of GM food consumption — that would be impossible, since it has never been studied. The toxicology and epidemiology research Vrain cites clearly indicate that he’s not alone in his concerns… in addition to health concerns related to the absolute vacuum of research on safety for human consumption, there’s also a large and growing body of research about pest resistance, genetic pollution, increasing pesticide use, and lack of positive impact of GMO-driven agriculture on world hunger. The chemical companies who profit from biotech product sales do their own research and (surprise!) always report glowing results; there is undoubtedly a consensus among researchers currently employed by such companies (or they would no longer be so)… but consensus among scientists is not the same thing as focused PR messaging, and the two should never be conflated.

      No, not all world scientists and regulators are on industry’s payroll — generally the researchers who are allowed to find and report GMO problems ar not, nor are the regulators in the 60 or so countries that (unlike the US) DON’T let Monsanto et al write their own rules re: national food policy.

      It’s not a simple difference of opinion: science is about demonstrable reality. Industry interests like to assert that ‘all scientists accept’ the premise they’re selling. But when ample evidence controverts it, and genetic researchers are going ‘hey! wait! no!’ … clearly that consensus is imaginary.

      See also http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/58 .

      • Robert Wager says:

        “No scientific consensus’ My eye.

        http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2012/1025gm_statement.shtml

        http://www.ama-assn.org//resources/doc/csaph/a12-csaph2-bioengineeredfoods.pdf

        The main conclu-
        sion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research
        projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research,
        and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is
        that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not
        per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies…Now, after 25 years of field trials without evidence of harm,
        fears continue to trigger the Precautionary Principle. But
        Europeans need to abandon this knowingly one-sided stance
        and strike a balance between the advantages and disadvan-
        tages of the technology on the basis of scientifically sound
        risk assessment analysis. from http://ec.europa.eu/research/biosociety/pdf/a_decade_of_eu-funded_gmo_research.pdf

        WHO:
        GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.

        and

        The GM products that are currently on the international market have all passed risk assessments conducted by national authorities. These different assessments in general follow the same basic principles, including an assessment of environmental and human health risk. These assessments are thorough, they have not indicated any risk to human health.

        I could go on and on if you like.

        • Tanya Sitton says:

          Ok, first: take it up with the increasing number of your fellow researchers who disagree with you! There clearly isn’t a consensus, or Vrain and others saying ‘HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM’ wouldn’t be.

          As a consumer, here are some of the reasons that I think Vrain’s perspective is worth sharing. If we’re going to have this debate, please address all of them:

          1) High level of dependence on fossil fuels, to develop/ market/ grow GM crops — the opposite of where we need to be looking for sustainable food production in the age of global climate change.
          2) High level of dependence on monocropping, which erodes soil and guarantees the need for pesticide escalation.
          3) High probability of genetic contamination of surrounding ecosphere, with unpredictable environmental impacts.
          4) At least for some crops (lately corn), we’re seeing steadily increasing levels of pesticide/ herbicide, in response to (completely predictable) pest resistance. Slated-for-fast-track-approval new double-poison GM crops (Roundup + dicamba resistance, for example) seem well-designed to worsen this trend.
          5) Studies on safety and environmental impact typically left up to corporate entities, with a history of particularly hideous behavior (journalist suppression, bribery, dousing VA towns with toxins illegally and trying to dodge accountability for same, etc etc etc etc) — with suppression of any data that isn’t flattering (as happened with rBGH) …bias guaranteed/ results suspect by default.
          6) Said corporate entities allowed to staff our allegedly ‘regulatory’ agencies, such that every single biotech product ever submitted gets approved, and national food policy is effectively set by biotech profiteers.
          7) Industry-run studies focus on acute and subchronic toxicities, ignoring chronic/ developmental/ reproductive toxicities — the last of which is a particular problem when dealing with known endocrine disruptors like glyphosate. Also: only rodent models, which the scientific community knows perfectly well don’t necessarily correlate with human studies. Imagine a drug that contained pesticide winning FDA approval for sale in the US, after only ever being tested for acute toxicity in mice: you’ll have to be content with imagination, there, b/c it would never happen! Only with food, since Monsanto et al were allowed to literally write the national food policy they wanted when GMOs were first approved for sale, under the Bush 1 administration. #problem
          8) Since the biotech companies have used their vast resources to fight labeling so very desperately, it’s impossible to even design simple correlational studies to begin to assess whether GMOs could be linked to any of the health problems that have spiked in incidence since the invisible introduction of GMOs to our food supply in the mid-90′s.
          9)GMO ag products are expensive expensive expensive to develop, and as such absolutely will be used to extract money from farmers. That’s good for shareholders, but bad for farming families — and devastating to poor communities historically dependent at least to some degree on farming actual food for their own consumption, vs. continual growing of one cash-crop over and over in order to be able to buy GM seeds and the related patented chemistry.
          10) It’s a trade issue — domestically GMO crops contaminate surrounding areas, diminishing freedom of choice among those who prefer organic/ nonGMO foods. And it’s an export problem for US farmers, because (whether you approve of their decision making or not) many countries simply don’t want to buy GMO-contaminated food products.

          I notice that until now you’ve commented 0 times on this particular blog, so you may not already know this; but here at EDB, any time we tag anything ‘GMO’ the trolls come out of the woodwork… I see that you’re a researcher, and I respect your credentials. I’m open and interested, and would like to hear how these things look to you. But please don’t do that thing we see so often, here, and just talk about why one study is good/ bad and ignore all the other things that I just mentioned, which (all) make GMOs look potentially problematic to a large and growing body of citizens and researchers… This debate is about more than one subject category.

          All of these factors are relevant, when we’re talking about potential problems related to a GMO-driven agricultural model.

          With all of that in mind, I look forward to your response.

          Best,
          Tanya

        • Ben says:

          The problem with the ongoing PR war (in which I would include the articles you linked) is that we conflate all GM organisms, and tend to focus on the the actual modification, rather than individual crops and cultivation methods. Advocates do this to avoid talking about chemicals, and opponents do it so they can say “frankenfoods” on the evening news.

          You’re right that there is a scientific consensus around the idea that the genetic alteration in RR crops is not inherently bad, which would be great if that were all we have to worry about. RoundUp Ready means farmers spray their fields heavily with glyphosate, and often other chemicals, like atrazine, to kill weeds and RR-adapted weeds. That does end up in our bodies, and there is an emerging body of research to support the common-sense idea that putting a ton of poison, even if it’s plant poison, in our bodies is a bad thing.

          There is also a tendency to conflate other concerns about GMOs into discussions of health impacts, as the author is doing in her comments. Tanya, I agree that there are many, many issues with the way Monsanto in particular markets their products, but human health impacts are still a touchy subject. Let’s focus on those, first.

          • Tanya Sitton says:

            Hi Ben,

            I’m not sure I see where we disagree, exactly, based on your remarks. I think there’s a problem with the perception of GM crop issues as strictly PR wars — there’s actual data, which is often complex and lends itself to multiple interpretations; but it’s beyond not a ‘he said/ she said/ whoever has the best PR team “wins”‘ kinda deal. And part of my point, which maybe you didn’t pick up on — it was part of the presenter’s issue with GM ag, too — is that you CAN’T conflate all GM organisms. In other words, saying ‘all GM crops are safe’ is scientifically meaningless, as is saying the opposite: each must be considered and tested on it’s own merit. I’m quite aware there’s more than one area to worry about; hence my desire for non-industry-based testing and regulation of each new GM crop.

            And regarding your usage again of ‘conflate,’ I really don’t know if it’s the word you’re looking for, or if I’m just not following your line of thought:

            “There is also a tendency to conflate other concerns about GMOs into discussions of health impacts…” “…but human health impacts are still a touchy subject. Let’s focus on those, first.”

            Um. It’s not conflating those concerns with anything when we identify them. Those concerns are a touchy subject b/c they haven’t been addressed, and folks are increasingly peeved about that. We can talk about environmental impacts and effects of GMO ag on impoverished farming communities; those are important topics too, in their own rights. But that doesn’t make the health risks any less extant, when we release new things into the food supply that have never been there before without unbiased independent research on human health impacts. No conflation, here: there are at least three separate areas of concern, and imo they each deserve our attention.

            Thanks for your comment, but I’m not sure exactly what you mean to convey by it.

            Cheers,
            Tanya

  6. Alex says:

    Hi,
    Please sign and help promote the change.org petition for Dr Thierry Vrain!

    ” Petition CBC News, The National to Interview Dr Thierry Vrain Regarding GMO & The Future of Agriculture ”

    http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/petition-cbc-news-the-national-to-interview-dr-thierry-vrain-regarding-gmo-the-future-of-agriculture

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