The safety of genetically modified foods is a matter that has long been under debate. Despite mountains of evidence showing the harms caused by GMO foods, some high-profile scientific institutions and scientists have defended the products. The mainstream media and government officials tend to take their arguments at face value given their authority, but closer scrutiny shows a high degree of misrepresentation.
Whether it’s deliberate deceit or a high amount of negligence, many of the so-called facts supporting GMOs simply don’t hold water.
Steven Druker of Independent Science News recently took aim at a paper by the U.K.’s Royal Society titled, “GMO Plants: Questions and Answers” and other publications from the same society. The paper claims that it offers “reliable” and “unbiased” answers to common GMO questions, but Druker says that analysis shows not only a tremendous amount of bias in favor of GMOs, but also some outright false assertions.
He notes that the “unbiased” paper’s pro-GMO stance is evident from the start. In answering the first question of what genetically modified crops are and how the process takes place, the response conveniently leaves out the most disturbing features of genetic modification and downplays how unnatural it is. There is no mention, for example, of just how disruptive and random the insertion process is, nor is there any reference to the fact that such insertions disrupt the entire DNA strand in an unsettling phenomenon that has become known as genome scrambling.
There is another concerning aspect of the genetic modification procedure that is completely left out, and that is the need for gene expression to be artificially induced. It is not merely a matter of inserting a new gene into a plant’s DNA; the information encoded in the gene has to be converted before it can be expressed. Most genes are blocked from expressing by default to protect the organism, and it’s only when a type of on/off switch or “promoter” deems it appropriate that it is expressed.
Promoters rarely activate when dealing with genes from an unrelated species, so biotechnicians first remove native promoters and then replace them with ones that will allow the expression to take place prior to the transfers. These promoters, which often spur the inserted genes to start producing proteins at abnormally high levels on a continuous basis and bypass the plant’s inbuilt regulatory system, often come from plant viruses and create metabolic imbalances. Leaving out this vital part of the process means the paper is far from balanced.
Is eating GM crops safe?
The guide answers the question of whether eating GM crops is safe with a resounding yes, but their answer cannot be justified. Even the World Health Organization has said “it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.” Instead, they need to be assessed on an individual basis because various genes are typically inserted in different ways.
The authors back up their claim of safety by saying that all of the “reliable evidence” that has been produced thus far shows that GM food is as safe as non-GM food, adding that no evidence has emerged of adverse effects from consuming approved GM crops.
That would be nice if it were true, but plenty of credible studies that have been published in peer-reviewed journals have highlighted the negative effects these crops have had on animals who consumed them.
In one instance, a 2009 systematic review of GM food toxicological studies found that most of the foods studied could cause pancreatic, reproductive, hepatic and renal effects and could alter biochemical, immunologic and hematological parameters in unknown ways. This comprehensive review called for further studies into the matter.
Another peer-reviewed journal published a study in which Tufts University Processor Sheldon Krimsky wrote: “One cannot read these systematic reviews and conclude that the science on health effects of GMOs has been resolved within the scientific community.” And yet the U.K. Royal Society paper claims the opposite in very certain terms!
Making matters worse, they go on to claim that just a few studies have concluded that GM foods are harmful, but there have actually been many studies showing dangers. These are dismissed by the paper as being unreliable.
Attacks on Seralini research
In a now-famous study, a team of researchers led by Gilles-Eric Seralini found that an approved GM crop significantly damaged the livers and kidneys of rats in the long term even though it had passed the 90-day toxicological feeding study required by regulators. These results called all GM food into question because no regulations call for tests of longer than 90 days.
Those with a vested interest in GM crops denounced the study and demanded it be retracted. After a Monsanto employee joined the journal’s editorial board, it was indeed retracted, and the U.K. Royal Society uses this retraction to back up its claim that studies showing harm caused by GM crops are unreliable.
It is clear that the Royal Society publication is misrepresenting facts and ignoring scientific principles. Druker is calling on scientists who have promoted GM foods to re-evaluate the situation and be more honest in order to ensure public safety. After all, if the only way to defend GMO foods is by distorting facts, how safe can they possibly be?