Monsanto GM corn controversy
Posted by Jonathan Chamberlain on April 22, 2014
The message was shared to me on Facebook. There was a picture of a cob of corn with the top of a grenade. The text read: “Monsanto has released its first direct to consumer product, a GM sweet corn, containing Bt toxin, designed to protect the plant by rupturing the stomach of every insect that feeds on it. Monsanto claims the toxi8n will break down before this product reaches your dinner table but rats fed the corn have shown signs of organ failure and the toxin has been detected in the bodies of pregnant women.”
This message is powerful and deeply emotive – but is it true?
What I discovered is that Bt “toxin” is “a naturally occurring bacterium common in soils throughout the world. Several strains can infect and kill insects. Because of this property, Bt has been developed for insect control…Unlike typical nerve-poison insecticides, Bt acts by producing proteins (delta-endotoxin, the “toxic crystal”) that reacts with the cells of the gut lining of susceptible insects. These Bt proteins paralyze the digestive system, and the infected insect stops feeding within hours. Bt-affected insects generally die from starvation, which can take several days. …” Colorado State University http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05556.html
However, it is very likely that the protein is in very much higher concentrations in the GM food than elsewhere and not everything natural is beneficial so I kept searching.
I discovered that the studies that purported to demonstrate the negative impacts on the livers and kidneys of rats and the residues in pregnant women are considered to be flawed. You can find details of these on Snopes. (http://www.snopes.com/food/tainted/monsantocorn.asp)
The problem you and I face is this: Pharmaceutical companies like Monsanto can afford to pay researchers to find flaws in research that throws a bad light on their products. (They would be derelict in their duty to their shareholders if they did not do this). They can also use the weapon of ‘scientific authority’ to persuade pages like Wikipedia (and Snopes) to publish information that puts their own views in a positive way and opposing views in a negative light. The views of a researcher at a highly regarded university (Harvard) will be given higher credibility than those of a researcher at an unregarded university (Madras). But what happens when the Madras researcher is right and the Harvard researcher wrong? Well, you’ll probably never know.
If you think that I am being overly suspicious of the ‘facts’ presented in say Wikipedia for example then understand this: It is estimated that as many as 50% of the articles published in major medical journals were not written by the people whose name appears as author. This is not the view of crazies. This is the view of the Editors of these journals. There is major fraud being perpetrated – and it is being perpetrated by the major drug companies.
We do know that all major universities are beholden to grants and other forms of financial support from major corporations and we know the impact this has because, from time to time, someone who doesn’t toe the line gets fired. The history of scientific progress is marked by the bodies of dissenters who were later proved right. So just because information that appears to be ‘factual’ and appears on a university website doesn’t put it beyond suspicion.
So, I think it would help if everyone who has had consultancy or research payments from any company, or who works for a department supported by a company, should be obliged to list these – and access to this list should be available at the click of a button on all online editions of scientific journals. Then we would know how impartial a view is.
But the other side of the coin should also be put under the microscope. My initial instinct on reading the Facebook message was to say “This is outrageous!” but then I became disturbed by the lack of factual references and its obvious propagandistic references to ‘pregnant women’.
Hype is a problem for all of us who belong to the natural therapies camp. We certainly needn’t (or shouldn’t) believe everything just because the conclusions fit in with our prejudices. So we can’t believe the hype and we can’t (necessarily) trust the ‘facts’ – what are we to do?
In this case there is a third option – abstention. We don’t need to choose sides. And we can do some thinking of our own.
The Snopes review of this particular story refers to a paper, published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology in November 2012 written by Gilles-Eric Séralini, a professor of molecular biology at France’s University of Caen (not one of the great universities).
The conclusion of his research was that rats fed Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize developed more tumors, died in greater numbers, and died more rapidly during a given time span than rats from a control group who were not fed genetically modified corn.
The publication of this article immediately resulted in an inundation of letters criticising the research on many methodological grounds. A deluge of letters? This strongly suggests an organised campaign, which in turn suggests the mucky fingers of Big Pharma have been at work.
The paper was eventually withdrawn because of two objections involving the number of rats used and the type of rats. However, and this is what concerns me, there has been no attempt to repeat the study with a larger number of more appropriate rats.
Since these conclusions are disturbing we are right to ask: Why not?
So, am I going to trust GM corn? Hahaha! You’ve got to be joking.
We live in dangerous times.