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.

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