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Keeping House: GMOs – no scientific consensus

Part two of two - Alex Atamaneneko discusses GMOs and Food Biotechnology in Canada.

In Part I of this column I talked about the motion passed by the Union of BC Municipalities to make BC a GE free area and presented an overview of GE crops grown in Canada.  I noted the potential economic consequences to farmers and the environmental dangers of introducing uncontainable GE alfalfa and the GE Artic Apple.

If a GE crop looks, tastes and smells the same as its non-GE counterpart, then it is deemed to be ‘substantial equivalent’ and completely safe. This was a regulatory gift by our government to the biotech industry to help them avoid any need for testing. This approval procedure has been criticized and rejected by many important bodies of scientists including The Royal Society of Canada (RSC).  In their 2001 report ‘Elements of Precaution: Recommendations for the Regulation of Food Biotechnology in Canada’, the RSC stated that it is scientifically unjustifiable to presume that GM foods are safe without rigorous testing because when new genes are introduced there can be unanticipated changes in the expression of other genes, the pattern of proteins produced and/or metabolic activities.  The RSC report listed 58 regulatory recommendations, one of which included mandatory labeling, but most have been ignored by our government.

This year’s World Food Prize, which is meant to recognize individuals who have increased the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world, was awarded to three biotech scientists. One recipient works for Monsanto (the company donated $5 Million to WFP); another who worked for Syngenta (also a company sponsor of the prize) while the third is the president of the lobby European Federation of Biotechnology. “We need to make people understand the technology has been tested and the safety has never been compromised.” stated the WFP recipient Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief biotechnology officer.  A flood of articles appeared in newspapers and commentators gushed that the scientific debate about GM food is over and all agree that they are safe.

The conflict of interest in this choice of award recipients and the commentary which followed, prompted 93 world renowned scientists, and other professionals relative to the legal, social and safety aspects of GE crops to counter with ‘Statement: No Scientific Consensus on GMO Safety’, (easily found on the web). They note that a literature review on the safety assessment of GE plants found an equal number of studies between those which found harm and those that didn’t.  And, you guessed it:  those that concluded GM foods were as safe and nutritious as any obtained by conventional breeding were performed by the biotech companies responsible for their commercialization.

The Statement also notes the complete absence of epidemiological studies in human populations to determine if health effects might be associated with GM food consumption.

Of course, without GM labeling anywhere in North America it would be scientifically impossible to trace patterns of consumption and its potential impacts. Could this be why Monsanto spends millions upon millions of dollars lobbying officials and issuing false and misleading ad campaigns to squash labeling initiatives such as those that were defeated in the recent California and Washington referendums?

I have personally had meetings with two of the signatories to the Statement, Dr. Ann Clark and Dr. Gilles Seralini, and admire them for their scientific integrity.

It is disturbing to see the relentless personal attacks that they and other independent scientists are forced to endure at the hands of this corrupt industry.

When it comes to the science behind technologies and products which can affect our health and environment, there should be zero tolerance for such obvious conflicts of interest.

Our regulators are failing all of us when they refuse to challenge industry science and propaganda with thorough and long-term independent testing.

Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior