Scientific American’s Unscientific Disinformation on GMOs

The Institute of Science in Society reports that Scientific American isn’t really so very scientific when it comes to GMOs.Is America’s most trusted science magazine is spreading disinformation on behalf of a failing and desperate industry, in utter disregard of scientific integrity and the overwhelming evidence of hazards to health and the environment? Judge for yourself.

ISIS Report 14/10/13

Scientific American Disinformation on GMOs

Scintific American CoverAmerica’s most trusted science magazine is spreading disinformation on behalf of a failing and desperate industry, in utter disregard of scientific integrity and the overwhelming evidence of hazards to health and the environment Dr Mae Wan Ho, Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji and Prof Peter Saunders

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Deceptively authoritative pronouncements not backed up by evidence, scientific or otherwise

A recent editorial in Scientific American entitled “Labels for GMO Foods are a Bad idea” caught most people by surprise. In beguilingly authoritarian tone and without providing references for any of its confident-sounding assertions, it tells us that labelling GM Foods [1] “would only intensify the misconception that so-called Frankenfoods endanger people’s health.” If anything, the editorial itself is guilty of spreading disinformation regarding GMOs, which is very disappointing for a normally trustworthy and serious science magazine. We feel obliged to expose some of the major misconceptions in the editorial.

The piece begins with the tired old pronouncement used by industry to reassure the public since the early 1990s that humans have been “tinkering” with crop genomes since the beginning of time through the process of conventional breeding, implying that genetic modification is no different. In reality, there is no longer any doubt that genetic modification is distinct from conventional breeding and introduces new risks, as fully acknowledged in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety for regulating GMOs under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity [2], which was adopted by the international community on 29 January 2000 and entered into force on 11 September 2003.

The assertion that genetic engineering is more “precise” than natural plant reproduction flies in the face of abundant evidence documenting extensive mutations and scrambling (rearrangements) of the host genome as the result of genetic modification, with new transcripts and harmful proteins found in the rare cases that were subjected to further investigations [3].

Using American citizens as guinea pigs for the past 20 years is another common justification for GM food. The claim that they are eating it without evidence of harm is not based on science, as without GM labelling it is impossible to tell who has eaten GM food and who has not or in what amounts. The only way one could tell if GM food has any effect on the health of American citizens is to compare their health status before and after GM food was introduced.

Increase in GMOs parallels deterioration of health in the United States CSI: Health Crimes - Genetically Modified Foods

Dr Nancy Swanson, retired scientist of the US Navy, used data from official sources -including the Centers for Disease Control, National Cancer Institute, National Kidney and -Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse and US Renal Data System – to find out if the status of health of US citizens has changed since GM crops were introduced [4]. According to Swanson, the data revealed a “marked deterioration of health” with the introduction of GM crops. The incidence of diseases and adverse conditions that have gone up in parallel with the increase in GM crops and the use of glyphosate herbicide since 1994 (first year of commercialization of GM crops) include thyroid cancer, liver and bile duct cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, hospitalizations for acute kidney injury, diabetes, and end stage renal disease. As Swanson points out, correlation does not necessarily imply cause and effect, and there may be other factors, i.e., a long list of environmental endocrine disruptors and toxic substances including food additives and preservatives. “GMOs may be pushing us off the cliff.” She said. “Certainly more research should be done to firmly establish causality.”

Although the epidemiological findings do not establish cause and effect, there is now overwhelming evidence from laboratory studies on cells and animals documenting damages to practically every organ system from exposure to GMOs and/or glyphosate herbicides, confirming what farmers have been experiencing for years in the fields (see our comprehensive report [5] Ban GMOs Now).

GM crops do not increase yield

A common myth perpetrated by the pro-GM lobby is that GM crops increase yield, which is blatantly untrue. A recent study based on yield data from United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization showed that the US staple crop system has been failing since the adoption of GMOs and is being overtaken by predominantly non-GM Europe in all respects including yields, resilience, pesticide use, and genetic diversity [6, 7] (US Staple Crop System Failing from GM and Monoculture, SiS 59).

The Scientific American editors tell us that [1] “a seven-year study of Indian farmers show that those growing a genetically modified crop increased their yield per acre by 24 percent and boosted profits by 50 percent.” This was a real surprise, as the failures of Bt cotton in India were documented by many grassroots organisations and widely publicised as was its role in accelerating farm suicides (see ISIS review [8] Farmer Suicides and Bt Cotton Nightmare Unfolding in India, SiS 45). As recently as April 2013, the agriculture minister of Maharashtra (one of the main cotton states) openly admitted that Bt cotton was a failure [9]. He stressed the need for agriculture officials to be more proactive. Bt cotton spread has increased to 95 %. “Cotton yields in Vidarbha [in India’s cotton belt] remains an abysmal 177 kg per acre.” The agriculture minister said. “Even Pakistan was doing 400 kg average yield.” He noted that Bt cotton was benefiting seed companies more than farmers and wondered why agriculture scientists and officials failed to promote time-tested traditional varieties and indigenously developed hybrids.

So what is the Sci Am editors’ assertion based on?

Get Paid For Your OpinionsOur investigation turned up a paper [10] published in top journal Science (which has long become the apparent mouthpiece of the GM industry). The main author Martin Qaim at University of Bonn in Germany is notorious for having previously co-authored a paper published in the same journal in 2003 claiming even greater (80 %) yield increases from Monsanto’s GM cotton [11]. That paper drew a storm of protest and derision, as Monsanto had provided the data, and the findings were completely at odds with reports coming from Indian farmers and grassroots organisations. Dr Devinder Sharma, a food policy expert, called the paper a “scientific fairytale” [12].

Bt cotton has been an unmitigated disaster for India in exacerbating farm suicides, with an ecological and agronomic nightmare still unfolding in plagues of secondary and novel pests, pest resistance, novel diseases, and soils so depleted in nutrients and essential microorganisms that they will no longer support the growth of any crop [8].

Beneficial GM crops that do not exist

In order to put a beneficent gloss over GM crops – now consisting of two major categories Bt and glyphosate tolerant both damaging to health and ecosystems and benefiting no one else but the companies [5] – the pro-GM lobby is conjuring crops supposedly good for health and the environment out of thin air.

The most publicised is the GM golden rice, engineered to make pro-Vitamin A, which the editors tell us [1] will curb vitamin A deficiency that “blinds as many as 500,000 children worldwide every year and kills half of them.” But “Greenpeace and other anti-GMO organizations have used misinformation and hysteria to delay the introduction of Golden Rice to the Philippines, India and China.”

The truth is that Golden Rice does not exist, at least not as a variety that is ready for commercialization.

Golden Rice (GR1) was created as a public relations exercise nearly 14 years ago [13] (see ‘Golden Rice’ – an exercise in how not to do science, ISIS/TWN Report). It produced so little pro-vitamin A that you would have to eat buckets every day to get enough. Golden Rice staged a comeback as GR2 in 2008 with a special feature in Science [14], which revealed that Tufts University in Boston USA has been carrying out ‘clinical trials’ of Golden Rice on children. More than 30 senior scientists and academics signed an open letter (16 February 2009) condemning the work [15] (Scientists Protest UnethicalClinical Trials of GM Golden Rice) as being in breach of the Nuremberg Code of Ethics. Two of the studies involved children 6-10 years old. Furthermore, the Golden rice in the trials (GR2) was not one identifiable variety. Instead it was a collection of experimental transgenic events still in the laboratory [16] (The Golden Rice Scandal Unfolds, SiS 42), not characterized in terms of basic molecular genetics or biological and biochemical properties, not tested pre-clinically on animals, or subjected to any other safety assessment. The Tufts University scientist and the Chinese scientists involved in the trials have been reprimanded by Tufts University authorities and the Chinese government respectively since [17].

The editors tell us that for the past 20 years, Americans have been eating plants genetically modified to “tolerate drought” [1]. Actually, a GM crop claimed to be drought tolerant is commercially available for the first time in 2013 [18].

Casava RootBut it is the GM cassava that gets the prize for disinformation. The editors wrote [1] “An international team of researchers has engineered a variety of cassava – a staple food for 600 million people – with 30 times the usual amount of beta-carotene and four times as much iron, as well as higher levels of protein and zinc.” Our investigation failed to locate any such GM cassava, except as stated intentions, or at best in experimental varieties subjected to “contained” field trials [19], all created with the Agrobacterium vector system that’s especially hazardous for health and the environment (see [5]). The only GM cassava created by the Donald Danforth Plant Research Center in St. Louis Missouri and actually described in a paper published in 2011 was retracted in September 2012 because [20] “an institutional investigation revealed that significant amounts of data and supporting documentation that were claimed to be produced by the first author could not be found” and “the validity of the results could not be verified.”

Instead, great strides have already been made in improving cassava through conventional breeding, including three varieties of b-carotene rich cassava that are being widely released in Nigeria [21] (How Non-GM Cassava Can Help Feed the World, SiS 59).

References

  1. The Editors. Labels for GMO foods are a bad idea. Scientific American, accessed 8 October 2013, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=labels-for-gmo-foods-are-a-bad-idea
  2. Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Convention on Biological Diversity, accessed 7 October 2013, http://bch.cbd.int/protocol/
  3. Latham JR. Wilson AK and Steinbrecher RA. The mutational consequences of plant transformation. J Biomed and Biotech 2006, 1-7.
  4. Swanson NL. Genetically modified organisms and the deterioration of health in the United States. First published as a series of articles on Seattle examiner.com. http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/glyphosate/NancySwanson.pdf
  5. Ho MW & Sirinathsinghji E. Ban GMOs Now.Health and Environmental Hazards Especially in Light of the New Genetics. ISIS Special Report, 2013. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Ban_GMOs_Now.php
  6. Heinemann JA , Massaro M, Coray DS, Agapito-Tenfen SZ, Wen JD. Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 2013, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14735903.2013.806408
  7. Sirinathsinghji E. US Staple crop system failing from GM & monoculture. Science in Society 59, 12-13+17, 2013.
  8. Ho MW. Farmer suicides & Bt cotton nightmare unfolding in India. Science in Society 45, 32-39, 2009.
  9. “Vikhe-Patil wants agri officers to be proactive”, Ramu Bhagwat, TNN, Times of India, 30 April, 2013, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/Vikhe-Patil-wants-agri-officers-to-be-proactive/articleshow/19794150.cms
  10. Kathage J andQaim M. Economic impacts and impact dynamics of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton in India. Proc Natl Acad Sci 2012 109, 11652-6.
  11. Qaim M and Zilberman D. Yield effects of genetically modified crops in developing countries. Science 2003, 299, 900-2.
  12. Sharma D. Response to latest Qaim and Zilberman “fairytale”. http://www.gmwatch.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1465:response-to-latest-qaim-and-zilberman-qfairytaleq-2742005
  13. Ho MW. ‘Golden Rice’ – An Exercise in How Not to Do Science, ISIS/TWN Report, 2002, http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/rice2.htm
  14. Enserink M. Tough lessons from Golden Rice. Science 2008, 320, 468-71.
  15. Scientists Protest Unethical Clinical Trials of GM Golden Rice, Open Letter, 12 February 2009, for complete list of signatories see http://www.gmfreecymru.org/open_letters/Open_letter12Feb2009.html)
  16. Ho MW and Cummins J. The Golden Rice scandal unfolds. Science in Society 42
  17. “Golden rice not so golden for Tufts”, Martin Enserink, Science Insider, Science, 18 September 2013, http://news.sciencemag.org/asiapacific/2013/09/golden-rice-not-so-golden-tufts
  18. Monsanto.com http://www.monsanto.com/products/Pages/droughtgard-hybrids.aspx, accessed 05th October 2013
  19. Sayre R, Beeching JR, Cahoon EB, et al. The biocassava plus program: biofortification of cassava for sub-Saharan Africa. Annu Rev Plant Biol 2011, 62, 251-71.
  20. GM Cassava study retracted over ‘missing data’. Scidev.com http://www.scidev.net/global/biotechnology/news/gm-cassava-study-retracted-over-missing-data.html , accessed 5th October 2013
  21. Saunders P. How non-GM Cassava can feed the World. Science in Society 59, 22-24, 2013

The GMO Wheat Mystery Deepens

By Dan Charles

Wheat grows in a test field at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Some scientists believe that there's a chance that genetically modified wheat found in one farmer's field in May is still in the seed supply.

Wheat grows in a test field at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Some scientists believe that there’s a chance that genetically modified wheat found in one farmer’s field in May is still in the seed supply.

Natalie Behring/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The strange case of genetically engineered wheat on a farm in Oregon remains as mysterious as ever. If anything, it’s grown more baffling.

As we almost two months ago, the presence of this wheat was revealed earlier this spring when a farmer in eastern Oregon sprayed a field with the weedkiller glyphosate, or Roundup. Most vegetation died, as the farmer intended, but clumps of green wheat stalks kept growing. They apparently had sprouted from grain that was leftover in the field from last year’s crop.

It was such a strange sight that the farmer wondered if this wheat might be genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate, just like the popular Roundup Ready versions of corn and soybeans. He called a weed scientist named Carol Mallory-Smith at Oregon State University to ask her opinion.

“I said I didn’t think so,” recalls Mallory-Smith. The biotech company Monsanto had developed such wheat years earlier, and carried out field trials of it, but those trials ended at least eight years ago. Monsanto never asked for government approval to sell such wheat, and growing it without a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture actually would violate the law.

“So I was pretty skeptical, but I said, ‘If you send me some samples, I’ll test it,’ ” Mallory-Smith says.

To her surprise the tests came back positive. She passed the samples on to the USDA, which confirmed her results and an investigation.

The USDA is trying to answer two big questions about this wheat. First, where else can it be found? Second, how did it get into this farmer’s field?

Hundreds of millions of dollars could hang on the answer to the first question. If rogue genes are present in America’s wheat harvest, some customers — especially in Japan and Korea — say they won’t take it.

Fortunately for American wheat farmers, the search so far has come up empty. Korea has been testing shipments of U.S. wheat and the USDA has tested thousands of samples collected from farms and seed companies — including the business where that Oregon farmer bought his seed. They’ve found no GMOs, anywhere.

Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Commission, expects Japan, which has suspended its purchases of U.S. wheat, to resuming buying when it’s sure the wheat is GMO-free. “We’re confident they will come back to the market, but there’s a lot of concern about how quickly that will happen,” he says.

Every test that comes up negative eases the worries of the wheat industry, but it also makes the source of this GMO wheat a bigger mystery. Investigators are finding no trail that leads from the Oregon farm back to Monsanto’s research operation.

Across the wheat-growing areas of the Pacific Northwest, farmers and wheat dealers now are trading speculative theories about how this might have happened.

Monsanto’s chief technology officer Robert Fraley, laid out a particularly attention-grabbing scenario a few weeks ago during in a conference call with reporters. “The fact pattern indicates the strong possibility that someone intentionally introduced wheat seed containing the CP4 event into his field, sometime after that farmer initially planted it,” Fraley said, referring to Monsanto’s Roundup resistance gene

As for a motive, “there are folks who don’t like biotechnology and would use this as an opportunity to create problems,” Fraley continued. He speculated that anti-biotech activists may have stolen wheat from one of Monsanto’s field trials of GMO wheat. They could have stored this grain for a decade, then planted it in a field and waited for a farmer to discover it.

Others find Monsanto’s theory dubious, or “a stretch,” as , a wheat breeder at Oregon State, puts it.

Zemetra thinks an ordinary mistake is more likely: that somebody involved in Monsanto’s GMO wheat trials just happened to misplace a bag of wheat at some point. “Or you have a bag that gets mislabeled and gets put on the shelf and just sits there,” he says.

In this scenario, somewhere along the way someone picks up that bag and treats it like normal, conventional wheat seed. Some goes to that farm. Maybe the amount of GMO wheat is so small that tests now miss it.

Zemetra admits that his scenario isn’t exactly convincing, either. But he’s heard nothing better.

Bernadette Juarez, an official with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service who is in charge of the investigation, says the agency is now analyzing the genetic makeup of the GMO wheat, to figure out exactly which genetic variety of wheat it is. This will be a clue to its source; it should pinpoint, for instance, which of Monsanto’s many different field trials involved that variety.

Maybe investigators will be able to pick up a trail of rogue wheat leading from one of those trials to the farm in eastern Oregon. If not, the case may remain a mystery.

Foreign Buyers Spurn U.S. Corn

By IAN BERRY

CHICAGO—Corn futures slid to a five-month low last week, weighed down by persistently weak overseas appetite for the U.S. crop.

A string of tepid export-sales reports for U.S. corn continued last week as importers balk at prices for the grain. Despite recent declines, prices for U.S. corn remain high in historical terms, prompting corn buyers to look elsewhere. In recent months, buyers, including Japanese importers, have turned to less-expensive sources such as Brazil, which ranks behind only the U.S. among corn exporters.

Corn exports for the crop year that began Sept. 1 are 50% lower than they were at this stage a year ago, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. They are also 55% below the recent five-year average.

image

Bloomberg News  Corn is loaded into a grain hopper in Le Roy, Ill. Foreign demand for U.S. corn is down due to high prices.

It isn’t that global corn demand has slumped. “It’s just U.S. corn is still the most expensive corn in the world,” said Jason Ward, an analyst with futures brokerage Northstar Commodity in Minneapolis.

Corn for March delivery settled at $7.02 a bushel at the Chicago Board of Trade Friday. Prices last week touched lows not seen since early July, ending the week down 3.9% despite a 0.8% gain Friday.

Corn futures have tumbled 16% since August, when they soared to a record in nominal terms as a severe drought pummeled crops in the Farm Belt. But $7 a bushel is still too steep for many foreign buyers, traders and analysts said.

Before the drought, prices were closer to $6, well above the levels of $3 or less common until the mid-2000s.

Among the buyers that have backed off lately is China, which emerged last year as a significant importer of U.S. corn for the first time in several years.

Total corn imports to China are expected to fall 54% in the current marketing year to 2.4 million metric tons from 5.2 million tons in the previous year, according to China’s National Grain and Oils Information Center.

China needs to import less because it had a huge corn harvest, the result of good weather and more land being planted with corn, market participants said.

Currently, local corn on a delivered basis in southern China costs around $409 a ton. That is cheaper than imported U.S. corn, which is being offered for around $457 a ton, including taxes.

The concerns about Chinese import demand have also fueled a swoon in U.S. soybean futures, which fell to their lowest level in a month last week. Importers in China canceled two huge export purchases last week. Soybeans closed Friday at $14.3075 a bushel, down 4.4% for the week.

Traders and analysts in Asia say Chinese buyers are likely to stay out of the corn market until at least April, but that it could be next October, when the new U.S. harvest starts rolling in, before large-scale purchases are made.

“China will only start large-scale imports when overseas prices have significant advantage, or are about 10% lower than in the domestic market,” said Zhang Hong, analyst with Cofco Futures Co.

—Owen Fletcher in Chicago, Chuin-Wei Yap in Beijing and Sameer Mohindru in Singapore contributed to this article.

Write to Ian Berry at ian.berry@dowjones.com

Long Term Toxicity Of Roundup Herbicide and Roundup-Tolerant Genetically Modified Corn

Rats fed a lifetime diet of Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn or exposed to the company’s popular Roundup herbicide, in amounts considered “safe” in drinking water and GM crops in the U.S., developed tumors and suffered severe kidney and liver damage, according a study released this week in Food and Chemical Toxicology

Gilles-Eric Séralinia, Corresponding author contact information, E-mail the corresponding author,Emilie Claira, Robin Mesnagea, Steeve Gressa, Nicolas Defargea, Manuela Malatestab, Didier Hennequinc, Joël Spiroux de Vendômoisa

  • a University of Caen, Institute of Biology, CRIIGEN and Risk Pole, MRSH-CNRS, EA 2608, Esplanade de la Paix, Caen Cedex 14032, France
  • b University of Verona, Department of Neurological, Neuropsychological, Morphological and Motor Sciences, Verona 37134, Italy
  • c University of Caen, UR ABTE, EA 4651, Bd Maréchal Juin, Caen Cedex 14032, France

Abstract

The health effects of a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize (from 11% in the diet), cultivated with or without Roundup, and Roundup alone (from 0.1 ppb in water), were studied 2 years in rats. In females, all treated groups died 2–3 times more than controls, and more rapidly.

This difference was visible in 3 male groups fed GMOs. All results were hormone and sex dependent, and the pathological profiles were comparable. Females developed large mammary tumors almost always more often than and before controls, the pituitary was the second most disabled organ; the sex hormonal balance was modified by GMO and Roundup treatments.

In treated males, liver congestions and necrosis were 2.5–5.5 times higher. This pathology was confirmed by optic and transmission electron microscopy. Marked and severe kidney nephropathies were also generally 1.3–2.3 greater.

Males presented 4 times more large palpable tumors than controls which occurred up to 600 days earlier. Biochemistry data confirmed very significant kidney chronic deficiencies; for all treatments and both sexes, 76% of the altered parameters were kidney related. These results can be explained by the non linear endocrine-disrupting effects of Roundup, but also by the overexpression of the transgene in the GMO and its metabolic consequences.


Highlights

► A Roundup-tolerant maize and Roundup provoked chronic hormone and sex dependent pathologies. ► Female mortality was 2–3 times increased mostly due to large mammary tumors and disabled pituitary. ► Males had liver congestions, necrosis, severe kidney nephropathies and large palpable tumors. ► This may be due to an endocrine disruption linked to Roundup and a new metabolism due to the transgene. ►

GMOs and formulated pesticides must be evaluated by long term studies to measure toxic effects..

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