Judge GM on a case-by-case basis: experts

Lucy Sharratt and Robert Wager don’t agree on much.

Sharratt spends most of her time opposing genetically modified food, while Wager is a vocal defender of the technology.

However, they do see eye to eye on one matter: it’s wrong to make blanket statements about the safety of GM food.

“Each GM food needs to be assessed on its own merits,” said Sharratt, co-ordinator with the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, which is a group of 17 organizations with “serious concerns” about crop biotechnology.

“Each GM food or each GM crop is assessed for safety because each one poses a different set of safety questions.”

Related stories in this issue:

Wager, a biologist at Vancouver Island University and social media advocate of GM food, said basically the same thing: each GM crop should be assessed individually.

“If you are introducing a new trait that has no history of being in the food supply, then rigorous testing, beforehand, is essential.”

However, when it comes to GM crops already in the food system, such as B.t. corn, Wager said there are no doubts about their safety.

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“(It) has been very well documented from decades of research,” he said. “And, of course, trillions of meals with no evidence of harm.”

Most experts would agree with Wager:

  • A 2015 Pew Research Centre survey found that 88 percent of scientists believe GM food is safe to eat.
  • A U.S. National Academy of 
Sciences report on GMOs, released this May, “found no substantiated evidence that foods from GE (genetically engineered) crops were less safe than foods from non-GE crops.”
  • The National Academy of Sciences went even further, saying: “There is also nothing about the current processes used to generate GMOs that would theoretically pose a unique health risk…. (And) over the last two decades, animals and humans exposed to GMOs have not experienced any relative increase in any major disease.”

Seeing how membership in the National Academy of Sciences is one of most prestigious honours in the scientific world and 200 of its members have earned Nobel Prizes, a layman might assume that such a report would settle the matter.

Nope.

After pornography, Donald Trump and Justin Bieber, it seems like the remainder of the internet is dedicated to angry debates over GM food.

The online divide does translate into the real world. Public opinion polls consistently show that half or a majority of Canadians and Americans think GM food is unsafe.

Proponents of GM food say junk science and the power of social media have skewed public opinion against the technology, but Sharratt sees it differently.

A 2015 Ipsos Reid survey, conducted for CBAN, found that 57 percent of Canadians don’t trust the regulatory system that oversees GM crops and food.

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Sharratt said much of the skepticism stems from the process.

Corporations that want to commercialize a GM crop provide Health Canada with safety studies on their technology. Experts say the corporate-funded studies are comprehensive, independent and of the highest quality.

However, Sharratt and others say the industry science isn’t transparent and cannot be trusted.

“If the Canadian government is relying on industry data … then the question of ‘are they safe’ becomes more complex,” she said.

“That’s an ongoing problem in discussing safety.”

Wager agreed that transparency is an issue, but it’s the GM haters who aren’t transparent.

“The critics of the technology are demanding 100 percent transparency on those who support this technology,” he said “But they themselves are hiding behind all manners of facades to not let the public realize how big and how much money is being put forward by the anti- (GM) industry…. The reason the public has anxiety towards this is because of a massive multibillion-dollar, multi-decade fear campaign designed to generate that anxiety.”

  • There is a diversity of opinion on the safety of GMOs in the scientific community. The biotechnology industry has a vested interest in promoting the incorrect idea of a scientific consensus.
  • Even after 20 years, the scientific literature on GM food safety is inconsistent and far from robust.

Quick facts

In a chapter of a 2015 report called GMO Inquiry, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network said:

  • There is a diversity of opinion on the safety of GMOs in the scientific community. The biotechnology industry has a vested interest in promoting the incorrect idea of a scientific consensus.
  • Even after 20 years, the scientific literature on GM food safety is inconsistent and far from robust.

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Source: CBAN

  • P_B

    You forgot to mention the other internet argument — global warming! And that discussion mirrors the GM debate, with the two groups changing sides as to who supports the “science” and who is calling research a bunch of baloney. It is an interesting dichotomy!

    • ZEPHANIAH54321

      research a bunch of baloney.

      Long term effects ? Who knows. What generation gets to reveal it.

      Sad AY

  • RobertWager

    A correct on Lucy’s statement. Testing protocols are dictated to companies. The company has zero say on what tests, how many tests, for how long, with how many animals, with what controls etc. All of these testing protocols are determined by OECD/WHO food safety testing guidelines. Yes the companies must do the testing (it costs lots of money and so it should be the companies paying for it and not the taxpayer) but when the test results are submitted to the regulatory agencies the results are scrutinized extensively and often more test are demanded of the company to answer questions the government has. Only after the government regulators are satisfied all the relevant safety risks have been answered is the company given permission to market a any GE crop.

    I have asked Lucy many times “What tests not already done would you like to see added to the evaluation of GE crops and why?” She does not answer the question

    • Harold

      We would like to re-test many times over the code and data held in the possession of the corporate, which were used to gain support. (verification) From this, appropriate testing which was not completed becomes self evident by the absence of documents. This is not available because all testing is the property of the company, and not the property of those who have conducted the testing. Furthermore, those who participate are sworn to company secrecy. Rather an “open book” would’t you say. Science is not a hidden domain, and when it is hidden, it defies the meaning of science itself. Do you have a problem with this, or is the current status quo perfectly fine? When is all science not in the public domain? Where there is profit involved, is when. Citing agencies with a history of “recalls” does not provide you with the weight of their reliability.
      Furthermore, some people save their speeches for only those who are in control of something. Lucy may be one, and ignoring you personally, is not evidence of her failure to have the appropriate answers.

  • StopGMO

    Ms. Sharratt is 100% correct! Wager is just another industry mouthpiece. You can see how he got obliterated in this discussion. Check it out: http://tvo.org/video/programs/the-agenda-with-steve-paikin/judging-gmos

  • “Substantially equivalent” argument only works when describing a Picasso painting when describing a portrait and should not absolve Health Canada’s obligation to prove safety of Novel Foods.
    see “Canada often approves GMO (genetically modified organism) products without conducting independent tests on their safety. It accepts food based on data provided by the maker, who obviously have an incentive to see their product approved. This self-regulating is a clear case of conflict of interest.”
    Independent studies show GMO is not substantially equivalent to the stomach or intestines of many species. http://kimhunter.ca/gmo/tummy_troubles_gmo_ibs.png

    Salmon fed GMO studies show similar results. see: From Chronic Feed-Induced Intestinal Inflammation to Adenocarcinoma with Metastases in Salmonid Fish

    Most recently, studies show GMO corn is not substantially equivalent. :
    “An
    integrated multi-omics analysis of the NK603 Roundup-tolerant GM maize
    reveals metabolism disturbances caused by the transformation process
    … Proteome profiles of the maize kernels revealed alterations in the
    levels of enzymes of glycolysis and TCA cycle pathways, which were
    reflective of an imbalance in energy metabolism. Changes in proteins and
    metabolites of glutathione metabolism were indicative of increased
    oxidative stress. The most pronounced metabolome differences between
    NK603 and its isogenic counterpart consisted of an increase in
    polyamines including N-acetyl-cadaverine (2.9-fold), N-acetylputrescine
    (1.8-fold), putrescine (2.7-fold) and cadaverine (28-fold), which
    depending on context can be either protective or a cause of toxicity.
    Our molecular profiling results show that NK603 and its isogenic control
    are not substantially equivalent….”