To the editor:
Josh Steiner’s opinion piece in the Jan. 10, 2013 edition of HPR might be entertaining, but it’s hardly informed. Due to space limitations and the complex issues surrounding transgenic technology, I’ll offer only three observations:
One, genetic modification has been ongoing for centuries, but Steiner doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that genetic modification and transgenic technology are not the same. The creation of transgenic organisms – resulting from inserting genes into one organism from a totally unrelated organism (e.g., a fish gene into a tomato)—is a phenomenon of only the past few decades, and this genetic transfer can occur only in a laboratory setting, not in nature itself. The determination in the 1990s that conventional foods and foods containing transgenes are “substantially equivalent” was based on politics, not science.
Two, I would argue that Mark Lynas, a Brit, is not “the face of the anti-GMO movement in the United States.” Perhaps Steiner should look to Charles Benbrook, Michael Pollan or Jeffrey Smith for bestowing that honor.
And three, Steiner concludes: “Until the science comes in ....” Well, when it comes to food safety, the science is supposed to come in before the food goes out the door to the public. However, the “science” of transgenic technology relies mostly on research performed by the very companies that benefit – i.e. profit – from from the technology.
In 2003, Scandinavian researchers Ian Pryme and Rolf Lembcke published an article in a peer-reviewed journal (“Nutrition and Health,” Vol. 17, pp 1-8) dealing with the possible health consequences of foods containing transgenic ingredients, what they refer to as “GM material.” Here is part of their conclusion: ” ... we feel that much more scientific effort and investigation is necessary before we can be satisfied that eating foods containing GM material in the long term is not likely to provoke any form of health problems. It will be essential to adequately test in a transparent manner each individual GM product before its introduction into the market.”
In 2010, I contacted Dr. Pryme via email and asked him what, if anything, had changed from 2003. Here is part of his 2010 reply: “It is crystal clear that GM companies have completely failed to produce convincing data – i.e. peer-reviewed studies regarding safety. I see three possible reasons for this:
1) There are no convincing results to put forward.
2) The companies do have results but these represent bad reading and are therefore being kept secret. Perhaps a historical similarity here with tobacco companies? Had data not been kept hidden millions of lives could have been saved.
3) Although the companies do have results, they now understand that the methodologies they used were insufficient, meaning that the observations would not stand up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.”
Pryme continues: “That GM companies have completely failed to produce necessary scientific evidence of the claim that their products are safe has been clearly demonstrated by statements such as ‘after over 10 years of consumption of GM food, there is no indication of any associated health risk.’ Where is the actual documentation that this is indeed correct? The answer simply is that there is none! We know for example that it takes maybe 20-30 years before a cancer develops. Unfortunately, we have to conclude that a major section of the world’s population is currently being subjected to a massive field trial.”
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