You can eat your bugs — and toxins, too

Science has led to increases in farm productivity and has helped farmers protect the 
environment. That’s why it’s such a shame when good science is mal-igned and poorly executed pseudoscience gets the spotlight.

In his opinion piece Eat GM Corn? I’d Rather Eat Bugs, (Nov. 9th), NDP MP Alex Atamanenko delivers loads of misleading information. Here are a few counterpoints.

Atamanenko says he’d rather eat bugs than B.t. corn, but fungal toxins, called fumoninins that follow bug damage on corn is a real health concern.

Medical science has documented that fumonisin toxins can have devastating effects on a developing human fetus by blocking folic acid metabolism.

Lack of folic acid can lead to terrible spinal cord defects in the baby.

Research has been clear that B.t. corn has far less fumonisin than non-B.t. corn. A 2005 study in Italy found 100 times lower fumonisin B1 levels in B.t. corn grown directly beside non-B.t. corn.

In 2003, Great Britain’s Food Standards Agency examined 30 corn imports, six of which were organic corn imports. All six organic corn imports failed the proposed standard for fumonisin toxin. One had a toxin level almost 30 times the limit of 500 parts per million.

It is quite evident that B.t. corn has significantly safer levels of fumonisin. Based on this fact alone, we are safer eating the GM corn than “the bugs.”

However, Atamanenko can still choose the bugs, if he wishes, by eating organic corn where reduced toxin GM corn is prohibited.

And how about industry and regulation? Industry manages trials and testing of new crop varieties based on guidelines developed by Environment Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. It must adhere to strict science-based protocols.

It’s important to note that industry doesn’t pay for “approvals” but bears the cost of all trials and tests. The alternative is for taxpayers to foot the bill.

However, does Atamanenko support providing the tax funds?

Atamanenko refers to a recent scientific study, calling it “damning” evidence on the safety of GM foods. If anything, this study is a “damning” example of poorly executed science.

Gilles-Eric Séralini in France claimed that rats fed genetically modified corn or exposed to glypho-sate suffered tumours and multiple organ damage.

But the real scientists, including those in Europe, immediately refuted these claims.

Séralini’s study was more an exercise in media manipulation than an example of rigorous scientific work. Using a well-constructed public relations strategy and backed by anti-GM organizations, Séralini pushed this study into the media spotlight along with his personal agenda.

It’s no coincidence that he launched an anti-GM book and a movie that same week. It appears as if the goal of the study was to “prove” something rather than to objectively “investigate” something.

There are key problems with this study:

  • Séralini did not disclose that the rat breed used as a model for the study had a genetic pre-disposition for getting tumours.
  • Séralini refused to release the methods and data that allow other scientists to replicate the work.

Independent research scientists — “real” scientists, not lobbyists — and reputable food safety organizations have discredited the Séralini study, pointing out its many flaws. In short, Séralini’s work is an example of how “bad science” can get “good legs” in the media.

Atamanenko takes a biased position here, misrepresenting good science and promoting poor science. It’s just politically motivated propaganda. We think that Canadian farmers and consumers deserve to know the facts.

Ryan is a research associate with the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources. Wager
 is a laboratory demonstrator at Vancouver Island University’s biology department.

  • heidi

    The rat breed chosen for the study was the exact same Sprague-Dawley rat breed used by Monsanto in its 90 day study from 2004.
    The control group did not develop the explosion of tumors seen in the rats fed GMO corn.(NK603)
    The French study fed the rats over 24 monthes-long enough to see health problems arise. Same rats, same corn-different length of study.
    Please note that Seralini has stated he is willing to disclose his data as soon as Monsanto is willing to do the same.
    Health Canada must conduct its own independent safety studies, not rely on data from corporations.

    Heidi Osterman certified nutritionist http://www.truefoodfoundation.org

    • http://web.viu.ca Robert Wager

      you seem to miss the point. Those rats spontaneously generate tumours starting shortly after ninety days of age and increasing in frequency until death.
      There is no evidence presented in that paper that demonstrate any difference between the spontaneous generated tumours and those in the GM fed rats. in fact some of the male rats who were fed GM corn had fewer tumours than the control rats. Hmmm

      Scientists from around the world have reviewed the Seralini paper and unanimously rejected it as poor science. Many are asking some very difficult questions of the journal that published the paper. The number of flaws in the paper are far too numerous to post here but if you e-mal me I would be happy to supply world science opinion on this so-called research paper. BTW it is the third time Seralini et al have been caught publishing science that is completely rejected by world food safety authorities.

  • Nicho

    However, Atamanenko can still choose the bugs, if he wishes, by eating organic corn where reduced toxin GM corn is prohibited.
    Perhaps, but there is a concerted effort to deny that same choice to those of us who do not live in an area where GM foods are frohibited. I have yet to hear a convincing rationale that doesn’t, in the end, boil down to ‘ if we label food as GM people won’t buy it’. Denying people that free choice because you believe their fears are unfounded smacks to me, of facism.

  • Denise Trafford

    Farmers are caught on this insecticide ,herbicide and fungicide treadmill. In the space of a decade the corn crop has undergone a 10 fold increase in average insecticide use.
    “Neonicotinoids( strong insecticides) are known to synergize with certain fungicides to increase the toxicity of the former to honey bees up to 1000-fold, and fungicides may be the key culprits to undermining beneficial bee microbiota that do things like make beebread nutritious and support the immune response against GUT pathogens like Nosema.”- Heather Pilatic
    ( Ground Truth) 2012-04-19
    Honey bees rely on corn as a major source of protein and 95% of the corn planted is Bt corn with these potent fungicides.
    This neonicotinoid treated corn is harming our bees
    Now which is more important- the bees and our health or Monsanto et al ‘s profiteering

  • JJ

    Would be grateful for the links/refs to the Italian fumonisin corn study and the UK’s organic corn imports survey. Thanks!

  • jj

    I looked for such a reference recently, could you please provide the link to the Italian fumonisin corn study and to the UK organic corn imports survey? Thanks!

  • Robert Wager

    The Italian government blocked the publication of the research. go figure. I relayed the raw data from the researcher involved with the study. as far as I know it has not been published. But there is this:

    http://www.aspajournal.it/index.php/ijas/article/view/ijas.2011.e19/html_43

    and this

    http://jay.law.ou.edu/faculty/kershen/articles/healthandfoodsafety.pdf

    • jj

      Thanks!