Genetic Misinformation

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In Unhealthy Betrayal (Fundamental Press 2015) , I introduced the chapter on nuclear radiation by describing it as ‘the supreme industry for externalising costs and manipulating public opinion.’ In some respects the way the genetic modification of our food is portrayed in our society bears a close comparison with the nuclear industry—with its ability to manipulate public opinion.

Recently, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired a program about genetically modified food on its Panorama program.   As a publicly-funded broadcasting station, the BBC has a reputation of impartiality to uphold. So, it will, in my view, be useful to review this program, as it was a well-crafted piece that tried to put a good light on genetically modified food.

The program begins with comments from Professor Jonathon Jones, from the Sainsbury Laboratory, ‘It is certainly not a dangerous technology, it is the most benign technology I can imagine.’ Following this there is a further comment from a former spokesman for Greenpeace, Stephen Tindale, who comments: ‘It is morally unacceptable to stand out against these new technologies.’

Their reporter, Tom Heap, then informs us that there are 18 million farmers growing GM crops in 27 countries. The program focuses on a crop that was developed in the UK, and is being grown in Bangladesh. They cite the aim of the crop, Bt Bringal, a genetically modified aubergine, is to reduce pesticide use and increase the yield. They focus in on a farmer, Hafizar Rahman who they say used to spray pesticides on his crop twice a week. The interviewer suggests that spraying is expensive and bad for the farmer. The farmer describes symptoms that he used to get after spraying the crops—‘Most of the time I felt a burning sensation in my body, my eyes were irritated, my head was spinning around, I used to feel very weak.’

They suggest that more pesticides are sprayed on aubergines than any other crop, mostly due to the infestation of the fruit and shoot boring caterpillar. They mention that Hafizar no longer sprays for the caterpillar, but they do acknowledge that he still sprays for other pests. They state that the Bt gene in the plant enables it to make a toxin from microbes in the soil that kills the caterpillar. They suggest it may help farmers who over-use pesticides without adequate protection and then show farmers spraying pesticides wearing sandals and no protective clothing.

The program transfers to the main hospital in Dhaka, where the interviewer discusses the problem of pesticide spraying with Dr Robed Amin. This gentleman suggests that in addition to the large number of people who are reported as suffering from pesticide poisoning, there are thousands of farmers who suffer from such poisoning, who never see a doctor. The interviewer then asks whether, in his opinion, Dr Amin would approve of an aubergine variety that would not need spraying, and of course Dr Amin agrees this would be of great benefit.

The program transfers to a supporter of GM crops, Mark Lynas, who supposedly fought against GM crops for two decades. He states that in this instance the farmers are allowed to keep their seed for the following crop. Lynas states: ‘This is just a way of protecting a crop against an insect pest, there is nothing scary about it.’ 

The film then moves to another farmer, this time a woman, Farada Akhter, who grows aubergines organically. She apparently grows varieties that do not attract the fruit and shoot boring caterpillar, so has no need of the Bt modified plant. She asks ‘what happens when we eat the worm that dies in the aubergine?’. She says there is no evidence it will not have a health impact. Heap poses the question: ‘The scientists behind the GM crops are quite happy for organic farming to continue—you’re farming—but you don’t want them in the country at all, is that fair?’ Farada replies: ‘We are not doing any harm, but we do not want to open the lock of the door which will do harm to us.’


Science Loves to Portray non-Scientists as Just ‘The Ignorant’, But Are They?

At this point it is worth giving some background information about genetic engineering and some prior experience with Bt crops in particular.

Firstly, one of the fallacies that promoters of genetically modified crops would like us believe is that there is no inherent difference between these crops and conventional breeding techniques. For this reason I feel it would be useful to understand how genetic transfers are made. Nature does not permit gene transfer from one species to another. Even amongst the same species, gene transfer can be very difficult to achieve. So whilst transferring genes from a fish to a potato is impossible in traditional breeding techniques, even transferring genes from a peach to a cherry—both cousins—via pollen transfer will not work.


Modern ‘Science’ or ‘Gambling’ with Our Health?

Whilst a detailed description of genetic techniques could fill a book in itself, the basic principles of some of the methods used may help clarify the pitfalls of the process. For those who would like a more complete understanding I would suggest Steven Drucker’s book, Altered Genes, Twisted Truth.[i] He gives a good background to the development of genetic engineering techniques, relating how the discovery of a distinct class of enzymes found in bacteria that protected against viruses, called restriction enzymes, in the 1970s, led to the development of genetic engineering—as they were found to be able to cleave DNA in a precise manner, in short enough segments to work with. They were also able do it in a way that enabled binding with other segments via their so called ‘sticky ends’. Once a useful gene had been isolated, it needed to be copied in vast quantities, and also required a mechanism to transfer it into the target organism—in the early days, a bacterium was used. To do this, plasmids that resided in bacteria were cleaved using similar ‘sticky ends’. However the ‘sticky ends’ weren’t sticky enough, so biotechnicians added an enzyme called a ligase, that cells normally use to repair DNA, to help bond the new segments together. These new genes also needed to be identified when mixed with large numbers of bacteria, and were often further spliced with another gene that confers resistance to a particular antibiotic. Thus, when they were doused with a particular antibiotic, all cells were supposedly killed—except for the genetically altered plasmid-endowed bacteria.

It is however no simple matter to transfer this gene into another species, such as a plant cell. The mechanism for gene expression in a plant cell differs significantly from that of a bacteria—switching genes on and off is a complex process so genetic technicians had to find a way of turning off the plant’s natural switching mechanisms, and substitute a new one that would artificially turn on the newly inserted gene, utilizing what is generally referred to as a ‘promoter’. One of the promoters used was the cauliflower mosaic virus, known to be very effective at attacking plants such as cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli. It was further developed to be hyperactive, to be able to be effectively expressed in a plant cells. Unfortunately, this technique did not succeed with the two most valuable crops, corn and soya. So eventually a more outlandish technique was developed—using a gene insertion gun, and particle bombardment, that initially involved the use of a .22 calibre bullet coated with DNA—being fired at plant cells. Following dousing with antibiotics, material was then transferred to a growing medium, and cells that survived were grown and assumed to be effectively altered genetically. This mechanism was the initial way corn was genetically modified.


If the Science is Sound, Why Hide the Truth?

One of the problems with this technique is that the cauliflower mosaic virus promoter, can over-promote the gene expression, leading to cell stress, and causing unexpected side effects. One of these I discussed in Unhealthy Betrayal.[ii]  I referred to the eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS) epidemic of 1989 that was greatly under-reported. It affected more than 10,000 people, and to date has been successfully ignored by the adherents of genetic engineering. More than 80 people died, and more than 1500 people were left permanently disabled. This all stemmed from a batch of tryptophan supplements manufactured using genetically engineered bacteria by the Japanese manufacturer Showa Denko, Japan’s fourth largest chemical company. They reputedly paid out US $2 billion to avoid being taken to court. I have previously cited the story of Henryk Behr, one casualty of this syndrome who was able to order some tryptophan in 2010, and after taking two 500mg capsules as directed, succumbed to this disease and in his words “the gates of hell opened and they have not closed to this day.” He documents his experience in his book, A Momentary Lapse of Reason—Living with L-Tryptophan Induced EMS and the Hidden Dangers of Genetic Modification of our Foods. [iii]

EMS has been found to be an incurable, untreatable autoimmune disease. In his book, Behr relates how his life went from a happy and contented busy family life to a life of sitting on a couch in severe pain every day, where he could no longer play with his children or watch television. He complains he has been unable to sleep more than two hours a night in the last seven months, and has been unable to perform sexually. At times he is even unable to walk. He suffers from severe depression and anxiety because of it—so it’s no small wonder the proponents of genetic engineering do not want the general public to link this disaster with their work.

There have been many warnings by respected scientists that, for example, installing a cauliflower mosaic virus, switched on in an arbitrarily unregulated manner, would produce “genomic shock”, and lead to the production of unintended harmful substances.

In 2001 the Report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, following submissions regarding GM modification of crops, expressed the following view:

Submitters suggested the consumption of food either containing genetically modified ingredients or manufactured by a process using genetic modification would create serious risks of damage to human health. While there was some reference to possible carcinogenic effects of genetic modification and to alterations to the nutritional value of modified foods, the main worry was the creation of new allergens in foods that have not hitherto been considered allergenic, and new toxins in foods previously considered safe. [iv]

Prior to this, back in 1995, Japanese researchers had already identified problems with genetically modified yeast—when they discovered an accumulation of a highly toxic compound that did not exist in the non-engineered cells, their comments serve as a warning to us all:

The results presented here indicate that, in genetically engineered yeast cells, the metabolism is significantly disturbed by the introduced genes or their gene products and the disturbance brings about the accumulation of the unwanted toxic compound MG in cells. Such accumulation of highly reactive MG may cause a damage in DNA, thus suggesting that the scientific concept of `substantially equivalent’ for the safety assessment of genetically engineered food is not always applied to genetically engineered microbes, at least in the case of recombinant yeast cells. In order to apply recombinant yeast cells to practical fermentation processes, the safety level of MG in cells should be established. 

Thus, the results presented may raise some questions regarding the safety and acceptability of genetically engineered food, and give some credence to the many consumers who are not yet prepared to accept food produced using gene engineering techniques. [v]

In Unhealthy Betrayal, I document many more misgivings from serious scientists than I have space for here, but I will offer some sober warnings where appropriate. However let us direct our attention specifically to some of the information raised by the BBC Panorama program. As the program was suggesting that the BT Bringal auberine, was a great forward step, with their campaigner, Mark Lynas quoting “This is just a way of protecting a crop against an insect pest, there is nothing scary about it.”


Serious Concerns Raised by Molecular Scientists

Well, some people would beg to differ. Jeffrey Smith reported rats fed Monsanto’s Bt corn (MON 863) for 90 days developed numerous reactions, including increased blood sugar levels, kidney inflammation, and liver and kidney lesions amongst other symptoms. In another study, mice fed on GM potatoes which were also engineered with the Bt toxin, abnormal and excessive cell growth was discovered in the lower part of the small intestine. Cells were also damaged, were abnormally shaped, and some had multiple nuclei. These studies exposed the myth that adherents of Genetic Engineering like to promote, that the BT toxin would not survive the digestive process, and therefore cause harm. [vi]

In India, sheep fed on Bt cotton plants simply died—more than 1800 sheep from 42 different herds. In one village, the death rate was 25% following ingestion of the plant in just five to seven days. Some estimates put the number of casualties as high as 10,000 animals. Workers complained of allergies associated with Bt cotton, that made their eyes red and swollen, and gave them excessive tears, nasal discharge, facial itching and other skin related problems.

Some scientists worry that the property of the Bt toxin could transfer to humans, by mechanisms such as horizontal gene transfer. Susan Bardocz, a biochemist and nutritionist, expressed the problem with the following warning: “As shown in the human feeding experiment, a fully functional transgenic construct rendering Roundup Ready soya resistant to glyphosate can partially survive, be taken up by bacteria resident in the alimentary tract and convert us and our animals into pesticide factories.” [vii]

Of course this equally applies to the Bt toxin. Who in their right mind would want to risk turning their own body into a pesticide factory I wonder? 

Proponents of genetically modified plants would like us to believe that there is simply no risk attached to this process, that it is a very precise science that is well-studied and monitored, and that there have been no problems with this technology. But this view is not held by the Royal Society of Canada which took the view that ‘(a) it is “scientifically unjustifiable” to presume that GE foods are safe and (b) the “default presumption” for every GE food should be that the genetic alteration has induced unintended and potentially hazardous side effects’. They further recommend that a national research program be established to monitor the long-term effects of GM organisms on the environment, and both human, and animal health and welfare. [viii]

As regards the claim that Monsanto’s reason for this Bt Bringal aubergine trial was altruistic—simply wanting to reduce the use of pesticide spraying by the Bangladesh farmers—it simply doesn’t bear scrutiny. When has Monsanto ever cared about anything other than their bottom line, their profits? If they were really interested in this, why not promote a truly viable farming production method, the successful growing of organic aubergines, where there are no herbicides or pesticides sprayed at all?

I reported a brief encounter with an organic farmer in the Panorama program above who used the analogy of ‘opening a lock in a door’ with the use of genetically modified crops. It is obviously all very well to add a comment by an organic farmer, but it would have been useful to have looked at some of the science behind her words. What she means by her comment is left for us simply to guess. In Unhealthy Betrayal, I devote a chapter to this subject under the heading ‘The Genie is Out of the Bottle’. [ix]

As regards the idea that Monsanto’s motives are altruistic I will offer the observations of one of the most prestigious scientific publications, The Lancet :

Crops genetically modified to have reduced susceptibility to pests are promoted as a solution to low food yields in developing countries. The motive of these promoters is profit, not altruism. ..In view of this unbridled commercial approach to genetic modification, it is perhaps not surprising that companies have paid little evident attention to the potential hazards to health of genetically modified foods. But it is astounding that the US Food and Drug Administration has not changed their stance on genetically modified food adopted in 1992.

The issue of genetically modified foods has been badly mishandled by everyone involved. Governments should never have allowed these products into the food chain without insisting on rigorous testing for effects on health.[x]

Returning to the BBC program for a moment, Jonathon Jones, from the Sainsbury Laboratory compares genetically modifying plants with smart phone technology:

‘GM is a method whereby you can add genes to a plant and thus confer some improvements in the properties of that plant. I like to use the analogy of a smart phone; so if you download some apps to it, well then you have got some functionality on your smart phone. It’s pretty hard to imagine that you could do something dangerous by doing that. Most of these things are utterly benign.’


The True Nature Genetic Engineering Becomes Apparent

According to Steven Drucker, the pro-genetics supporters love to compare genetic modification to hi-technology such as the smart phone (as stated above) or computer. Drucker takes the industry to task over this—and actually compares computer systems to genetic engineering in his book Altered Genes, Twisted Truth. Whilst computers can be complex in some respects, they all use the same basic formatting, expressing all information via a ‘1’ or a ‘0’. Gene expression, however, is far more complex—computers by comparison can be considered primitive. More recent discoveries have revealed that the ideas behind genetic engineering were overly simplistic, and based on the idea that gene expression was a simple mechanism to change.

Drucker uses the example of the fruit fly genome, one of the most studied genomes that exists. In March 2014, Indiana University announced the discovery of thousands of new genes, transcripts and proteins, revealing the fruit fly’s genome to be vastly more complex than had previously been understood. Of the 1,468 newly discovered genes, 536 were found in zones that were previously considered to be gene-free.

He further cites the discovery revealed in Nature by Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute in Israel and Jonathan Widom, of Northwestern University in Illinois, and their colleagues, of a second code that was previously unknown and hidden until now. The genetic code which specifies all the proteins that a cell makes, was found to have a  second code, superimposed on the first, which was found to set the placement of the nucleosomes, the miniature protein spools around which the DNA is looped. The spools both protect and control access to the DNA itself.

Biologists have suspected for some time that some locations on DNA might be more responsive to nucleosomes than others, but, until now, no overall pattern had been determined of the estimated 30 million nucleosomes understood to exist in each cell.

Drs. Segal and Widom analyzed the sequence at some 200 sites in the yeast genome, where nucleosomes are known to bind, and discovered that there is indeed a hidden pattern. Understanding this pattern, they were able to predict the placement of about 50 percent of the nucleosomes in other organisms.[xi]

Since the genetic code was deciphered in the 1960s, scientists have assumed that it was used exclusively to write information about proteins. University of Washington scientists were stunned to discover that genomes use the genetic code to write two separate languages. One describes how proteins are made, and the other instructs the cell on how genes are controlled. One language is written on top of the other, which is why the second language remained hidden for so long.

“For over 40 years we have assumed that DNA changes affecting the genetic code solely impact how proteins are made,” said Stamatoyannopoulos. “Now we know that this basic assumption about reading the human genome missed half of the picture. These new findings highlight that DNA is an incredibly powerful information storage device, which nature has fully exploited in unexpected ways.” [xii]

More Doubts Raised About the Very Basis of Genetic Modification

These revelations are part of the ongoing revision of our understanding about the nature of DNA. As we revealed in Unhealthy Betrayal, after Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans had been on the market for seven years, the world was shocked when it was discovered that there were two additional gene fragments in the soya DNA that were not supposed to be there. This prompted Andrew Pollack in the New York Times to comment:

“The world’s most widely grown genetically engineered crop contains some unexpected DNA next to its inserted gene, casting some doubts on the biotechnology industry’s assertions that its technology is precise and predictable.” [xiii]

These sorts of revelations support the criticism of genetically modified food that prompted another New York Times veteran technology reporter, Denise Caruso to observe: “The presumption that genes operate independently has been institutionalized since 1976, when the first biotech company was founded. In fact, it is the economic and regulatory foundation on which the entire biotechnology industry is built.” [xiv]

Dr Mae-Wan Ho, director of the Institute of Science in Society, senior academic scientist at the Open University in the UK, and previously Fellow of the National Genetics Foundation in the USA, spoke out at what she regarded as slipshod scientific claims about GMO safety. At an international Independent Science panel on GM plants, she warned that genetic modification was not like normal plant breeding: 

“Contrary to what you are told by the pro-GM scientists, the process is not at all precise. It is uncontrollable and unreliable, and typically ends up damaging and scrambling the host genome, with entirely unpredictable consequences.”

She explained her belief that genetic modification of food is based on an obsolete theory, and hence was both ineffective and dangerous:

Genetic engineering of plants and animals began in the mid-1970s in the belief that the genome (the totality of all the genetic material of a species) is constant and static, and that the characteristics of organism are simply hardwired in their genome. But geneticists soon discovered that the genome is remarkably dynamic and ‘fluid’, and constantly in conversation with the environment. This determines which genes are turned on, when, where, by how much and for how long. Moreover, the genetic material itself could also be marked or changed according to experience, and the influence passed on to the next generation… These processes are precisely orchestrated and finely tuned by the organism as a whole, in a highly coordinated molecular ‘dance of life’ that’s necessary for survival.

In contrast, genetic engineering in the laboratory is crude, imprecise and invasive. The rogue genes inserted into a genome to make a GMO could land anywhere; typically in a rearranged or defective form, scrambling and mutating the host genome, and have the tendency to move or rearrange further once inserted, basically because they do not know the dance of life. That’s ultimately why genetic modification doesn’t work and is also dangerous. [xv]

Whilst it is beyond the scope of this report to respond to every point raised in the BBC program that prompted this article, I will however, draw your attention to some of the points raised. For example, in the program we are introduced to a previous Greenpeace employee, Stephen Tindale, who was reportedly head of Greenpeace UK for 4 years, until 2005. He says: ‘The reason I have decided to speak out on GM now is because I think it is necessary for people like me who have opposed it to say things have changed. I think it should be a case by case basis. What is this being done for and is it worth taking the risk?’

He continues: ‘The overwhelming majority of scientists think that it is safe. It is in my view unacceptable, morally unacceptable to stand out against these new technologies. I worry for Greenpeace and the other green groups because they could, by taking such a hard line on GM, they could be seen to be putting ideology before the need for humanitarian action.’

The interviewer comments: ‘It is the poorer world where hunger is commonplace, the debate is more polarised, sometimes, scare tactics prevail.’

In response to his comment that the overwhelming majority of scientists think that it (GM food) is safe: In 2014, almost three hundred scientists had signed a statement asserting that there is not a consensus about the safety of GM foods. [xvi]  According to Drucker, a public interest attorney, this makes the Generally Recognised as Safe (GRAS) status as of dubious legality, he comments: “As long as GE foods are on the US market, their presence will be illegal.” Drucker, who also founded The Alliance for Bio- Integrity, initiated a lawsuit against the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) forcing it to divulge its files on genetically engineered foods. In his book, Altered Genes Twisted Truth, he reveals how even the FDA’s own scientists were seriously concerned about the evidence of safety with genetically engineered foods. [xvii]

One of the scientists who signed the statement asserting that there was no consensus, the Salk Institute Biologist, David Shubert, wrote to the Los Angeles Times: “As a medical research scientist who published a comprehensive, peer-reviewed critique of genetically modified food safety testing, I can state confidently that it is false to say such foods and the toxic chemicals they require are extensively tested and proved safe.” [xviii]

Aside from the FDA scientists criticism, regarding the safety of genetically modified food, Dr Suzanne Wuerthele, a toxicologist with the US Environmental Protection Agency, voiced her concerns: “This technology is being promoted, in the face of concerns by respectable scientists and in the face of data to the contrary, by the very agencies which are supposed to be protecting human health and the environment. The bottom line in my view is that we are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its consequences.” [xix]


The Myth behind the ‘Need’ for Genetic Engineering

Further, in response to the above interviewer’s comments about it being a ‘poorer world where hunger is commonplace’, we need to dispel the often quoted myth that genetically engineered crops are necessary to help feed the growing population. I have previously dealt with that fiction in Unhealthy Betrayal. As I reported, yields for GMOs are not as good as the GMO lobby would like us to believe. Generally yields are better for organic crops, particularly in the more arid conditions, where the richer humus associated with organic agriculture maintains the moisture levels of the plants.

The Panorama program engages with the former British Member of Parliament, Andrew Miller, who chaired the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. He stated: “We have I think a moral duty to go ahead and develop some of the technologies [genetically modified]…It is impossible to consider how to feed a planet of nine or ten billion people without genetic modification. GM to my mind is a safe technology to use and we should encourage its exploitation in appropriate circumstances.”

Panorama also interviews Justin King, who used to run Sainsbury’s, who brings to our attention that genetically modified food is already in the UK (a fact that I mentioned in Unhealthy Betrayal) in the food chain. Since 2013 most of Britain’s supermarkets have allowed their suppliers to give genetically modified feed to the poultry and meat we consume.

Also interviewed is Anne Glover, previously Chief Scientific Advisor to the President of European Commission, who expressed the view “The evidence is very straight forward on the safety of GM technology. So if you don’t like the technology for ideological reasons, then what you have to do is make stuff up.”

It is not very difficult to find information that gives cause for concern regarding genetically modified food. And as the Panorama program is woven around the BT Bringal Aubergine, let me give you some comment from the Institute of Science in Society:

Genetically modified (GM) Bt brinjal was introduced to Bangladesh and rapidly approved for commercial growing despite widespread protest. Brinjal (eggplant or aubergine) is one of Bangladesh’s most important crops both for home consumption and export, making the cultivation of Bt brinjal a huge environmental, health and economic risk. More seriously, the region is a centre of origin and genetic diversity for brinjal, and should be protected from genetic contamination according to the UN Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. India had imposed a moratorium on its cultivation after fierce opposition from civil society groups, top scientists, state governments, as well as citizens and environmental organizations. The cultivation in Bangladesh has drawn similar controversy, with 100 civil society organisations writing to the country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in protest.

Why is there such fierce opposition you may wonder. According to Dr Mae-Wan Ho, “Bt brinjal varieties planted all over the country die from disease prematurely or fail to fruit, and fail to protect against target pest; a moratorium must now be imposed as a matter of utmost urgency to prevent the spread of new disease to indigenous varieties”.[xx] Hardly a great product to feed the world’s poor it seems.

This follows on from the information of the mixed success of a previous attempt to grow Bt Brinjal in Bangladesh as reported by The Guardian in 2014:

The Guardian has visited or spoken to all but one of the 20 farmers growing the Bt brinjal crop and established that it has so far had mixed results. While it appears to have successfully repelled the fruit and shoot borer pest as expected, some of the fields have succumbed to other ailments including bacterial wilt and drought. Of the 19 farmers, nine said they had had problems with the crop, with a failure rate of four out of five farms in Gazipur, the region closest to Dhaka.[xxi]

Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji reports further misgivings about the GMO plantings that gave little confidence that any real monitoring is actually taking place at all:

To add to the controversy, the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) running the pilot scheme with the support of USAid and Cornell University, appear not to have followed some stipulations of its licence agreement, raising questions over the legality of the scheme. Stipulations included proper labelling, formulation of field production planning, field biosafety management planning, safety measures such as isolation distance management planning, border row management planning and techniques for the protection of local and indigenous varieties and wild plants. BARI admit that they did not visit the fields before planting the crops. Further, reports of improper labelling suggest citizens are completely unaware of what they are buying.

Further she warns:

Unfortunately, Bangladesh has a weak biosafety regulatory system and lacks a toxicology lab of its own, making it vulnerable to exploitation by GM corporations and institutions. Cultivation of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh also has implications for bordering nations such as India due to cross-pollination, making genetic contamination a concern not only for Bangladesh. Despite India banning its cultivation, the pilot scheme is taking place in regions bordering the Indian state.  As has occurred previously, the illegal spread of GM crops across borders has forced the legalisation of GM crops by nations such as Brazil, due to the difficulty in removing the crops once they have already started growing [9]. This may well happen for India. [xxii]

The warnings being voiced don’t just come from people who might simply be against biotechnology, some enthusiasts for it express serious concerns too. Take David Suzuki, a geneticist: “I’m a geneticist, so I’m very excited by what’s going on in terms of genetic engineering… What bothers me is we have governments that are supposed to be looking out for our health, for the safety of our environment, and they’re acting like cheerleaders for this technology, which… is in its infancy, and we have no idea what the technology is going to do.

Anyone that says, ‘Oh, we know that this is perfectly safe,’ I say is either unbelievably stupid or deliberately lying. The reality is we don’t know. The experiments simply haven’t been done and we now have become the guinea pigs.”[xxiii]

The Centre for Food Safety published a report titled “Debunking Popular Myths about GE Crops portrayed in the Media in 2014. They point out that biotechnology corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising and marketing each year. They estimate that Monsanto, one of the leading biotech companies, spends from $87 million to $120 million annually on advertising, with a large proportion of it focused on promoting genetically modified crop technology. They further point out the many millions more spent on lobbying, opposing ballot initiatives to label GE foods, and further promotional activities. They suggest that such massive spending has effectively framed a favourable narrative about GE crops and foods in several major media outlets, including The New Yorker [following an article, “Seeds of Doubt” which prompted their report].[xxiv]

Such is the power of these vast sums, and the influence they have, that when it comes to the production of such programs as the Panorama film cited above, or articles in the media generally, it is hard to determine whether it is due simply to ignorance of the science—and the controversy surrounding genetically modified food, or a determined agenda to promote it, irrespective of the threat to human health. One thing that is certain, is that the controversy will not go away, nor will its threat to your health.

Andrew A D Burgoyne.


[i] Steven M. Drucker,  Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, Clear River Press, 2015.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Henryk Behr, A Momentary Lapse of Reason—Living with L-Tryptophan Induced EMS and the Hidden Dangers of Genetic Modification of our Foods. Xlibris Publishing 2011.

[iv] Report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, New Zealand 2001

[v] Tomoko Inose & Kousaku Murata. “Enhanced accumulation of toxic compound in yeast cells having high glycolytic activity: a case study on the safety of genetically engineered yeast.” International Journal of Food Science and Technology (1995) 30, 141-146 1 April 1995.

[vi] Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette, The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, Yes Books, 2007.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Amy Dean, D.O. and Jennifer Armstrong, M.D. Genetically Modified Foods, American Academy of Environmental Medicine , May 8, 2009.) Available at:

[ix] Andrew Burgoyne, Unhealthy Betrayal, Fundamental Press, 2015

[x] Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods, The Lancet, Volume 353, Issue 9167, Page 1811, 29 May 1999. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(99)00093-8

[xi]  Reported by Steven M. Drucker, in: Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, Clear River Press, 2015. Andrew B. Stergachis et al: “Exonic Transcription Factor Binding Directs Codon Choice and Affects Protein Evolution”. Science vol 342, 13 Dec 2013, 1367-1372. See also “The Hidden Codes That Shape Protein Evolution”. Science 13 December 2013: Vol. 342 no. 6164 pp. 1325- 1326 DOI:10.1126science.1248425.



[xiii] Andrew Pollack, ‘Mystery DNA is Discovered in Soyabeans by Scientists’, New York Times, August 16, 2001.

[xiv] Denise Caruso, “A Challenge to Gene Theory, A Tougher Look at Biotech.” New York Times, July 1 , 2007. Reported by Drucker 2015.

[xv] Dr Mae-Wan Ho, Invited lecture at conference on TRADITIONAL SEEDS OUR NATIONAL TREASURE AND HERITAGE -Traditional and Organic Agriculture instead of GMO, 17 May 2008, Bewelder, Warsaw, Poland.

[xvi] European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility. “No scientific consensus on GMO safety.”

[xvii] Steven M. Drucker,  Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, Clear River Press, 2015.

[xviii] Schubert, D., Letter to the Los Angeles Times , October 28, 2012.

[xix] Raven Clabough, “House Committee Passes Bill to Ban State GMO-Labeling Laws.” New American, 21 July 2015, See also:  Jeffrey Smith, Seeds of Deception, 2003.

[xx] The Institute of Science in Society Bt Brinjal Fails Two Years Running Risks Spreading Disease. Report  20. 04. 2015

[xxi] “Bangladeshi farmers caught in row over $600,000 GM aubergine trial” The Guardian, 5 June 2014

[xxii]  Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji.  “Bangladeshi Bt Brinjal Pilot Scheme Failed”  The Institute of Science in Society

[xxiii] Dr David Suzuki, geneticist and broadcaster, quoted in Angela Hall, “Suzuki warns against hastily accepting GMOs”, The Leader-Post (Canada), 26 April 2005.

[xxiv] The Centre for Food Safety: “Debunking Popular Myths about GE Crops portrayed in the Media.” September 2014.

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