As an organic farmer, I am always mindful of the principles of organic agriculture. These principles are four and they are:
- The Principle of Health – Organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal and human as one and indivisible.
- The Principle of Ecology – Organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.
- The Principle of Fairness – Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.
- The Principle of Care – Organic agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well being of current and future generations and the environment.
Personally, examining these principles makes it difficult to reconcile organic agriculture with the concept of genetically modified foods. At the Organic Agriculture conference in January 2016, I got this free book which is so detailed and worth reading by anyone who still has doubts about genetically modified foods.
I would be highlighting a few of the content of the book just as a flavor to reading the whole book.
‘GM crops are a risky distraction from the real causes of hunger. What is more, there is no reason to take this risk, since GMO crops do not consistently raise yields, reduce pesticide use or provide more nutritious food. GM crops and foods have not been shown to be safe to eat – both animal feeding studies and non-animal laboratory experiments indicate that some GM foods as well as most of the chemicals required to produce them are toxic.
– David Schubert, PhD Professor and Director, Cellular Neurobiology, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California, USA
“The role of provider of children’s healthcare has become an onerous job in this modern era. The rapid demise of children’s health where more children are more chronically sick than well is statistically demonstrated in the US. The common denominator to all children’s health is their food. We, as paediatricians, have had to become geneticists and toxicologists to understand the impact of our changing food system in our modern agro-environment and its effect on our childen’s well being without support from our traditional medical literary sources.
– Michelle Perro, MD, Institute for Health and Healing, Greenbrae, California, USA
“Genetic engineering and its applications in agriculture are complex topics, even for scientists that are engaged with them. The range of techniques is large, as is the range of their implications for different groups in society, from the farmer, through to the citizen, to the corporation.
– Jack Heinemann PhD, Professor School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
I could go on and on listing all the comments from erudite scholars praising the book “ GMO Myths And Truths: A citizen’s guide to the evidence on the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops and foods.” The authors are Claire Robison, MPhil, Michael Antoniou PhD and John Fagan PhD.
Claire Robinson, is an editor at GM Watch, a public news and informative service on issues relating to genetic modifications.
John Fagan was an early voice in the scientific debate on genetically engineered food. Today as a director of Earth Open Source, he conducts research on biosafety and sustainable agriculture and works to advance environmental sustainability and social responsibility in the food system
Michael Antoniou, is a reader in Molecular Genetics and Head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Group, King’s College London School of Medicine UK. He has over 30 years of using genetic engineering technology in the investigation of gene organisation and control.
This book is the second edition. The first edition, was published as a 120-page free download on the Earth Open Source website in 2012. Unexpectedly for the publication, it hit a nerve, coinciding with a push for GMO labelling in the USA. It was also taken up and used by campaigners, policy makers and scientists in China, India, South America, Europe, Russia and Scandinavia. This second edition published in 2014 is three times longer and takes account of new studies and answers criticisms from GMO proponents. The book GMO Myths and Truths: A citizen’s guide to the evidence on the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops and foods.” It is condensed and updated for those with limited time and patience. It debunks 13 myths with very extensive scientific justifications which I shall leave for the readers of my blog to explore further by themselves. I do not hide the fact that I prefer organically grown food.
1st Myth: Genetic engineering is just an extension of natural breeding and no more risky.
Truth: Genetic engineering is radically different from natural breeding and poses special risks
Proponents of genetically modified (GM) crops claim genetic engineering is just an extension of natural plant breeding. But GM is technically and conceptually different from natural breeding and poses different risks. This is recognised in the European Laws which defines GMO as an organism in which “the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and or natural recombination” and requires the risks of each GMO to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, an agreement signed by 168 governments worldwide that seeks to protect biological diversity from the risks of GM technology, and the United Nations food safety body, Codex Alimetarius, agree that GM differs from conventional breeding and that safety assessment should be required before GMOs are used in foodor released into the environment.
GM is an artificial laboratory-based technique that is designed to enable the transfer of DNA from any source into any organisms.
2nd Myth: GM foods are strictly tested and regulated for safety
Truth: Regulation relies on GM food safety tests conducted by developer companies and regulatory processes are weak.
”One thing that surprised us is that US regulators rely almost exclusively on information provided by the biotech crop developer, and those data are not published in journals or subjected to peer review……The picture that emerges from our study of US regulation of GM foods is a rubber-stamp ‘approval process’ designed to increase public confidence in, but not ensure ‘approval process; designed to increase public confidence in but not ensure the safety of, genetically engineered foods” – David Schubert
3rd Myth: Independent studies confirm that GM foods and crops are safe
Truth: Independent research on GM foods is difficult or impossible to carry out, but many existing studies have found problems.
The GMO industry restricts access to seeds for independent research. Researchers are often denied access to these seeds. Only studies that the seed companies have approved ever see the light of a peer reviewed journal. In a number of cases, experiments that had the implicit go-ahead from the seed company were later blocked from publication because the results were not flattering.
4th Myth: GM crops are safe to eat.
Truth: GM crops have toxic and allergenic effects on laboratory and farm animals
Claims that there is no evidence of dangers to health from GM crops and foods is false. Peer reviewed studies have found potential signs of toxicity and actual toxic and allergenic effects on the health of laboratory and farm animals fed GMOs. Rats fed GM potatoes for only 10 days showed excessive growth of the lining of the gut similar to a pre-cancerous condition as well as toxic effects in multiple organ systems.
5th Myth: Many long-term studies show GM is safe.
Truth: Few long-term studies have been carried out, but some show toxic effects from GM food.
Most studies on GM foods are short or medium term. No regulatory authourity anywhere in the world requires animal feeding studies beyond 90 days in rats (equivalent to 7-8 years in a human). The health effects detected in long-term animal feeding studies cannot be predicted merely by analyzing the composition of the GM food.
In all there are serious 13 myths which are listed and justified as untrue in the book. To end it the book lists several non-GM breeding successes to show there is no need for GM.
A few of them are:
- Maize varieties that yield well in drought conditions including some developed for Africa
- Cassava that gives high yields in drought conditions and resists diseases
- Beans resistant to heat, drought and disease
- Rice varieties bred to tolerate drought, flood, disease, and saline (salty) soils.
- Drought-resistant rice that yields up to 30% higher than other local varieties in Uganda
- Tomato varieties developed by Nepali farmers that tolerate heat and resist disease
- High yield tomato with sweeter fruit
- Potato that resists root-knot nematodes
- A purple tomato containing high levels of anthocyanins and vitamins (this attracted a fraction of the publicity gained by the GM purple ‘cancer- fighting’ tomato.
- Low-allergy peanuts
- A non-GM non-browning apple but the non-browning GM version is more celebrated
“When we look at actual examples, it has taken 10-15 years to develop a GM trait. And it is important to note that this is not an issue of delay due to regulatory requirements, as GM proponents are fond of asserting, but inherent in the limitations of the process.” Gurian-Sherman continues, “years of backcrossing are needed to get rid of possible harmful mutations and epigenetic changes introduced through the tissue culture process used with GM. And backcrossing is also needed to transfer the trait into elite crop varieties.”
I agree with what Carlo Leifert, Professor For Ecological Agriculture at Newcastle University said about the book “This is an excellent and urgently needed scientific critique of GM crops”.
I urge you to read the book. GMO Myths and Truths Condensed and Updated by Claire Robison, MPhil, Michael Antoniou PhD and John Fagan PhD.
Are you still in doubt about GM foods, do you support it or dislike it? Share your thoughts.