Beware of GMOs

Beware of GMOs

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By Carmelo Ruiz Marrero

The government of Puerto Rico is betting on biotechnology as a way out of the economic debacle that the country is suffering, as evidenced by the showy and onerous campaign, pompously titled "the bio-island." Due to the policy of successive governments, our territory has become one of the favorite places for the biotechnology industry to grow experimental transgenic (genetically modified) crops in the open air and to propagate commercial transgenic seed (mostly corn and soybeans on farms in the south and western Puerto Rico).

Deja vu! Once again our government embarks on a path of economic and technological development without inquiring at all about the possible social and ecological costs and long-term impacts. The same story is repeated as with the pharmaceutical boom of 936, with its balance of toxic garbage and Superfund sites; petrochemicals, an equally toxic sector now in decline; and open pit mining –originally proposed in the 2020 plan–.

Due to the policy of successive rulers, our territory has become one of the favorite places for the biotechnology industry to grow experimental transgenic (genetically modified) crops in the open air and to propagate commercial transgenic seed (mostly corn and soybeans on farms in the south. and western Puerto Rico).

As much as biotechnology companies assure us that foods derived from transgenic crops are safe, the truth is that the safety and innocuousness of these foods is in controversy.

The president of the Puerto Rico Seed Researchers Association, Jaime Sánchez, told El Nuevo Día in an article published on August 30 that "no study has proven that genetically modified products threaten people's health." I recommend to Mr. Sánchez that he educate himself and become more documented on the subject.

Those who defend GMOs argue that there is no scientifically valid evidence that they do harm. Is there such evidence or not? This question has only two possible answers, neither of which brings peace of mind. Either I answer that there is evidence of damage or I answer that there is not. I could immediately answer yes, but to show that it is the wrong question I will first answer no.

If there is no such evidence, the debate is still open, it is not yet proven at all that they are safe. After all, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Anyone who is calm and satisfied with the assertion that there is no evidence of damage is presuming that someone somewhere is making or has made inquiries about it. Proponents of GMOs point out, with an air of finality as to end the debate, that the FDA declared that these products are substantially equivalent to their non-GMO counterparts and therefore do not present any novel risks to the consumer.

But the FDA does not examine genetically modified foods. What it does is accept the data submitted by the companies that make it. Almost all the studies they submit are confidential. If these products are so safe, why confidentiality?

"Consulting the FDA on the safety of GM foods is a purely voluntary exercise, in which the agency receives summaries without data and unsubstantiated conclusions," reports researcher Jeffrey Smith in his excellent book 'Genetic Roulette'. “If the company claims its food is safe, the FDA has no further questions. Therefore, transgenic varieties that were never fed to animals in rigorous safety studies are approved for sale and probably never to humans either. "

Of the studies that have some relevance to human health, how many of these are public and not confidential? How many have gone through the peer review process and been published in the scientific literature? Like the pile keeps getting smaller. And of these, how many were NOT funded by the biotech industry?

Who can believe that the source of funding for scientific research is not important? In a report published in the journal Nutritional Health, IF Pryme and R. Lembcke note that scientific studies on GMOs that are not funded by industry tend to find problems with serious implications for human health, while studies funded by industry they never find any problem.

Anyway, what company has found something wrong with its own products? How many decades did it take before the tobacco industry sheepishly admitted that there might be a link between their product and cancer?

The world according to Monsanto

The few times that confidential data on GM foods have come to light they have proven to be extremely worrying.

On May 22, 2005, the English newspaper The Independent reported the existence of a secret report from the biotechnology company Monsanto about its genetically modified corn Mon 863. According to the 1,139-page report, rats fed this corn for thirteen weeks had abnormal counts. high levels of white cells and lymphocytes in the blood, which increase in cases of cancer, poisoning or infection; low reticulocyte numbers (indicative of anemia); weight loss in the kidneys (indicating problems with blood pressure); necrosis of the liver; high blood sugar levels (possibly diabetes); and other adverse symptoms.

It is significant to note that this important information is public not because of Monsanto's good faith but because some good employee with access to confidential company documents took the risk of taking it to the press. Were it not for this anonymous hero, we would still be blissfully ignorant about the effects of Mon 863 today. It may be asked then, are there other harmful GMOs that the biotech industry is feeding us knowingly that they are harmful?

What else can you expect from a company like Monsanto? The excellent documentary Le Monde Selon Monsanto ("The World According to Monsanto") by French filmmaker Marie Monique Robin, shows how this corporation has spent decades denying responsibility for the horrendous damage to health caused by Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant that it manufactured. and it was used extensively in the Vietnam War.

Also featured in the film is the case of the town of Anniston, in Alabama, USA, which suffered for decades from contamination from toxic substances known as PCBs released by Monsanto, contamination that the company tried to cover up. In the course of the battle that the Anniston community gave in court, an internal company memorandum came to light that read, "We can't afford to lose a single dollar of profit." one dollar of business ”).
In light of these facts, what can you expect from this company when it assures us that its GMOs are safe? Robin and I do not criticize Monsanto arbitrarily and gratuitously. It is that the company has 90% of the world market of transgenic crops, therefore it is only fair that it receives 90% of our criticism.

The australian petit pois

Another disturbing case that shows that the FDA is doing nothing at all to ensure the safety of GMOs is that of the Australian pea. In 2005, an experimental transgenic pea developed in Australia by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization elicited a strong immunological reaction in laboratory rats.

Scientists at the John Curtin School of Medical Research in the city of Canberra subjected the transgenic pea to a battery of tests that are normally done on drugs, not food. The rats that ingested the product showed significant changes in their immune systems and lymph nodes. This is more than enough to prohibit its consumption.

It should be emphasized that the tests carried out by the Australians are not required by law for GM foods in the United States. This product would have entered the US market if it had gone through the FDA regulatory system. So, we are not surprised that GMO products equal to or more harmful than the pea in question may be on the market right now.

Equally or more interesting than the results of the experiment is the fact that the same scientists who developed the pea and conducted the experiment did not understand the importance of what they had done. The tests they had never done before had been done with GM foods and yet they really believed that the tests they had done were the norm in the rest of the world. This shows that biotechnologists themselves - at least most of them - are extremely uninformed about their own work.

Goats watch transgenic lettuces

To be fair, the FDA did examine genetically modified products, but it did so only once, in 1992. At the time it determined that these foods are perfectly safe and that since they present no new risks, they do not need additional testing.

The agency refused to release internal documents related to these tests, prompting a 1998 lawsuit by a coalition of civil society groups led by the Alliance for Biointegrity demanding that they be made public. The judge agreed with the plaintiff and as a result, over 44,000 pages of documents related to the tests carried out on transgenics were made public. These documents teach that, contrary to what the top leadership of the FDA said, there was no consensus among agency scientists regarding the safety of GMOs, and that several of them expressed serious concerns about health risks.

It turns out that the officer in charge of the GMO investigation was not a scientist but a lawyer, Michael Taylor. Prior to his public service, he represented Monsanto. And after finishing his work at the FDA, he returned to the private sector and became vice president of Monsanto. It is a classic case of putting the goat to watch the lettuces. In English they call it “revolving door”, the conflict of interest created by the continuous movement of professionals between the private and public sectors.

And Taylor's case is nothing out of the ordinary. Clarence Thomas, now a Justice of the US Supreme Court, was a lawyer for Monsanto, and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was for eight years head of the pharmaceutical company Searle, which Monsanto bought in 1985. And Anne Veneman, the first secretary of Bush-Cheney Administration Agriculture, had been on the board of Calgene, a company bought by Monsanto in 1997.

Activist and researcher Beth Burrows, founder of the Edmonds Institute, spent years researching the "revolving door" of the biotech industry but eventually abandoned this effort because she reasoned that it would be more helpful to make a list of public servants who were NOT jumping to the ground. biotechnology companies.

I could tell you about many other instances that demonstrate concerns about GMO safety, such as the Pusztai potatoes, the tryptophan tragedy, the transgenic hormone rBGH fiasco, the Ermakova rats, the testimony of Kirk Azevedo, and many more. plus. But for the sake of brevity, let's get straight to the punch line: tagging.

If these foods are so safe, why is the industry opposed to being labeled so that consumers can identify them and use their judgment to decide whether or not they want to buy them? The companies' arguments against labeling are not remotely convincing.

They just don't trust their own product and they don't trust consumer intelligence either. Perhaps they are opposed because without labeling it cannot be traced, and without the possibility of being traced, responsibility cannot be assigned if any of these GM foods turns out to have unforeseen effects.

The complaints and questions presented here do not constitute opposition to all biotechnology, as some mistakenly believe. It is simply a claim that ecology, human health and the public interest be safeguarded in the development of this and any other new technology. Biotechnologists do not have to consider the approaches presented here inappropriate, if it is the best interests of humanity that motivates them. If what motivates them is profit and ambition then their annoyance can be understood.

* The author, Carmelo Ruiz Marrero, a resident of the Santa Rita neighborhood of Río Piedras, is a journalist and environmental educator, author of the book “Balada Transgénica” and director of the Puerto Rico Biosafety Project. (
Article written for Claridad, El Periódico de la Nación Puertorriqueña.

Video: How are GMOs Made? The Genetically Modified Hawaiian Papaya Case Study (June 2022).


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