Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About GMOs

3 thoughts on “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About GMOs”

  1. I also haven’t read all of the Grist pieces, but one element niggles at me at the (seemingly growing) triumph narrative around the safety of GMOs. Ok, two elements.
    (1) The retraction of the Seralini study considered, and the majority (though not 100%) of peer-reviewed studies finding no health effects doesn’t seem to address that many (not all) of the critiques of Seralini’s study could be leveled at many of the peer-reviewed studies “proving” safety, and very very little (to my knowledge) long-term epidemiology has been conducted (feeding through end-of-life/death by natural causes rather than methodological “sacrificing” of the animals). I could be wrong here, but I believe this is true based on what I’ve seen.
    (2) The “same as conventional breeding” claim is spurious, because “conventional breeding” includes numerous different (disparate, even) practices with different levels of projected unknown risk (page 64 here: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10977&page=64#p2000a7b39960064001). One form of what is typically considered genetic engineering (Agrobacterium transfer within closely related species) is classed at being similarly “dangerous” as the husbandry humans have been doing for ages. Of the four methods deemed most likely to present unintended effects, three are genetic engineering methods; only mutation breeding (radiogenically or chemogenically derived) is “higher” than those methods. So really, the safety of both “traditional” foods and GE foods are likely variable.

    Several colleagues told me they distrusted this graphic, as the axis (“Less likely –> More Likely”) is not numerical and one is skeptical on how it was derived. But it seems to me this could only be done by asking experts to “guess”, as true numbers would require the kind of extensive testing and reporting regime that is not present — and ultimately, this is what worries me. I’m convinced that GE is not inherently more risky in all its forms, for human health. But this makes me worry about how much we may be missing–in our large, interconnected food system, something that would only affect 0.001% of the population could potentially sicken 3000 people. As far as I can tell, we have nothing like the system that would allow us to detect than level of health effects based on food variety changes (or most anything else in food for that matter) *unless they are acute*. If a conventionally bred cultivar will, for some reason, induce biological changes over decades in 3000 people, that’s not at all nothing, but we would never know.

    To me, this all militates for being more cautious about all breeding (not to mention food additives), not less. There are almost certainly no acute health effects of GE food, at least, not as distinct from conventional techniques. There is probably a lot of “churn” of uncommon sub-acute effects for many, many Americans (something as yet determined seems to be increasing allergies and sensitivities), including some that are positive. Maybe it all evens out. It’s certainly not dropping us like flies. But let’s be humble in the face of a big “We don’t know, and can’t know for a long time”, alongside a “some forms of GE are almost certainly more ‘risky’ than others, and this militates for more careful testing all around, not less careful testing of GE.'”

  2. And actually, to be clear, I’m more worried about the possibility of new varieties–GE or not–that could some day pop up that might have much higher rates of effects than .001%– 0.1% is several hundred thousand people in the US, sorry for the US-centric take. If these effects were gradual and subacute, we’d have very little way to detect them. I don’t trust industry to do the long-term close vigilance on this kind of unlikely-but-possible scenario, and I don’t trust them to tell us if they did (knowing as they do that something that affects a small percentage of people on a decadal time scale would probably not hurt their business at all).

    That said, it’s not the highest worry. But it seems to me a scientifically valid one that belies easy assurances of our safe food system. Sandra Steingraber’s work on this has been excellent wrt agricultural (suspected) carcinogens. (http://www.livingdownstream.com/)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *