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Biotech crops risky to consume, says former pro-GMO scientist

A DECADE after retiring from his job as a research scientist at Agriculture Canada, Dr. Thierry Vrain, a former promoter of genetically modified organisms (GMO), has warned that eating biotech crops is essentially risky.

In an article on on May 6, Vrain cites Russian and European studies in saying that “diets containing engineered corn or soya cause serious health problems in laboratory mice and rats.” He adds that studies have also questioned the efficacy of proteins produced by engineered plants.

“These studies show that [these] proteins…are different [from] what they should be. Inserting a gene in a genome using [genetic-engineering] technology can and does result in damaged proteins. The scientific literature is full of studies showing that engineered corn and soya contain toxic or allergenic proteins,” Vrain says.

Genetic engineering, now 40 years old, is “based on the naive understanding of the genome, based on the ‘one gene, one protein’ hypothesis of 70 years ago that [says] each gene codes for a single protein. The Human Genome project, completed in 2002, showed that this hypothesis is wrong,” he adds.

According to the scientist, the philosophy of science for genetic engineering is mistaken.

“The whole paradigm of the genetic-engineering technology is based on a misunderstanding. Every scientist now learns that any gene can give more than one protein and that inserting a gene anywhere in a plant eventually creates rogue proteins. Some of these proteins are obviously allergenic or toxic,” Vrain says.

“Genetic pollution is so prevalent in North and South America, where GM crops are grown, that the fields of conventional and organic growers are regularly contaminated with engineered pollen and losing certification,” he adds.

“The canola and flax export market from Canada to Europe…were recently lost because of genetic pollution. Did I mention superweeds, [produced] when RoundUp crops pass on their genes to RoundUp Resistant weeds? Apparently over 50 percent of fields in the US are now infested [with superweeds] and growers have to go back to using other toxic herbicides such as 2-4 D. Many areas of Ontario and Alberta are also infested. The transgenes are also transferred to soil bacteria,” the scientist says.

“Transgenes are also transferred to humans. Volunteers who ate engineered soybeans had undigested DNA in their intestines and their bacterial flora was expressing the soybean transgenes in the form of antibiotic resistance. This is genetic pollution to the extreme, particularly when antibiotic resistance is fast becoming a serious global health risk,” he adds.


Refuting biotech firms’ claims

“I HAVE, in the last 10 years, changed my position. I started paying attention to the flow of published studies coming from Europe—some from prestigious labs and published in prestigious scientific journals—that questioned the impact and safety of engineered food,” Vrain says.

“I refute the claims of biotechnology companies that their engineered crops yield more, that they require less pesticide applications, that they have no impact on the environment and, of course, that they are safe to eat,” he adds.

“There are a number of scientific studies that have been done for Monsanto by universities in the US, Canada and abroad. Most of these studies are concerned with the field performance of the engineered crops, and of course they find GMOs safe for the environment and therefore safe to eat,” the scientist says.

“Individuals should be encouraged to make their decisions on food safety based on scientific evidence and personal choice, not on emotion or the personal opinions of others,” he adds.

According to Vrain, these studies should given serious attention. He demands that government agencies replicate them rather than rely on studies paid for by the biotech companies.

“The Bt [Bacillus thuringiensis] corn and soya plants that are now everywhere in our environment are registered as insecticides. But are these insecticidal plants regulated and have their proteins been tested for safety? Not by the federal departments in charge of food safety, not in Canada and not in the US,” he says.

“There are no long-term feeding studies performed in these countries to demonstrate the claims that engineered corn and soya are safe. All we have are scientific studies out of Europe and Russia, showing that rats fed engineered food die prematurely,” the scientist adds.





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