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Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs

August 31, 2015 Biotechnology, Commentaries, Health 41 Comments

Jonathan R. Latham, PhD

By training, I am a plant biologist. In the early 1990s I was busy making genetically modified plants (often called GMOs for Genetically Modified Organisms) as part of the research that led to my PhD. Into these plants we were putting DNA from various foreign organisms, such as viruses and bacteria.

I was not, at the outset, concerned about the possible effects of GM plants on human health or the environment. One reason for this lack of concern was that I was still a very young scientist, feeling my way in the complex world of biology and of scientific research. Another reason was that we hardly imagined that GMOs like ours would be grown or eaten. So far as I was concerned, all GMOs were for research purposes only.

Gradually, however, it became clear that certain companies thought differently. Some of my older colleagues shared their skepticism with me that commercial interests were running far ahead of scientific knowledge. I listened carefully and I didn’t disagree. Today, over twenty years later, GMO crops, especially soybeans, corn, papaya, canola and cotton, are commercially grown in numerous parts of the world.

Jonathan Latham

Jonathan Latham

Depending on which country you live in, GMOs may be unlabeled and therefore unknowingly abundant in your diet. Processed foods (e.g. chips, breakfast cereals, sodas) are likely to contain ingredients from GMO crops, because they are often made from corn or soy. Most agricultural crops, however, are still non-GMO, including rice, wheat, barley, oats, tomatoes, grapes and beans.

For meat eaters the nature of GMO consumption is different. There are no GMO animals used in farming (although GM salmon has been pending FDA approval since 1993); however, animal feed, especially in factory farms or for fish farming, is likely to be GMO corn and GMO soybeans. In which case the labeling issue, and potential for impacts on your health, are complicated.

I now believe, as a much more experienced scientist, that GMO crops still run far ahead of our understanding of their risks. In broad outline, the reasons for this belief are quite simple. I have become much more appreciative of the complexity of biological organisms and their capacity for benefits and harms. As a scientist I have become much more humble about the capacity of science to do more than scratch the surface in its understanding of the deep complexity and diversity of the natural world. To paraphrase a cliché, I more and more appreciate that as scientists we understand less and less.

The Flawed Processes of GMO Risk Assessment

Some of my concerns with GMOs are “just” practical ones. I have read numerous GMO risk assessment applications. These are the documents that governments rely on to ‘prove’ their safety. Though these documents are quite long and quite complex, their length is misleading in that they primarily ask (and answer) trivial questions. Furthermore, the experiments described within them are often very inadequate and sloppily executed. Scientific controls are often missing, procedures and reagents are badly described, and the results are often ambiguous or uninterpretable. I do not believe that this ambiguity and apparent incompetence is accidental. It is common, for example, for multinational corporations, whose labs have the latest equipment, to use outdated methodologies. When the results show what the applicants want, nothing is said. But when the results are inconvenient, and raise red flags, they blame the limitations of the antiquated method. This bulletproof logic, in which applicants claim safety no matter what the data shows, or how badly the experiment was performed, is routine in formal GMO risk assessment.

To any honest observer, reading these applications is bound to raise profound and disturbing questions: about the trustworthiness of the applicants and equally of the regulators. They are impossible to reconcile with a functional regulatory system capable of protecting the public.

The Dangers of GMOs

Aside from grave doubts about the quality and integrity of risk assessments, I also have specific science-based concerns over GMOs. I emphasise the ones below because they are important but are not on the lists that GMO critics often make.

Many GMO plants are engineered to contain their own insecticides. These GMOs, which include maize, cotton and soybeans, are called Bt plants. Bt plants get their name because they incorporate a transgene that makes a protein-based toxin (usually called the Cry toxin) from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. Many Bt crops are “stacked,” meaning they contain a multiplicity of these Cry toxins. Their makers believe each of these Bt toxins is insect-specific and safe. However, there are multiple reasons to doubt both safety and specificity. One concern is that Bacillus thuringiensis is all but indistinguishable from the well known anthrax bacterium (Bacillus anthracis) (1). Another reason is that Bt insecticides share structural similarities with ricin. Ricin is a famously dangerous plant toxin, a tiny amount of which was used to assassinate the Bulgarian writer and defector Georgi Markov in 1978. A third reason for concern is that the mode of action of Bt proteins is not understood (Vachon et al 2012); yet, it is axiomatic in science that effective risk assessment requires a clear understanding of the mechanism of action of any GMO transgene. This is so that appropriate experiments can be devised to affirm or refute safety. These red flags are doubly troubling because some Cry proteins are known to be toxic towards isolated human cells (Mizuki et al., 1999). Yet we put them in our food crops.

A second concern follows from GMOs being often resistant to herbicides. This resistance is an invitation to farmers to spray large quantities of herbicides, and many do. As research recently showed, commercial soybeans routinely contain quantities of the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) that its maker, Monsanto, once described as “extreme” (Bøhn et al 2014).

Glyphosate has been in the news recently because the World Health Organisation no longer considers it a relatively harmless chemical, but there are other herbicides applied to GMOs which are easily of equal concern. The herbicide Glufosinate (phosphinothricin, made by Bayer) kills plants because it inhibits the important plant enzyme glutamine synthetase. This enzyme is ubiquitous, however, it is found also in fungi, bacteria and animals. Consequently, Glufosinate is toxic to most organisms. Glufosinate is also a neurotoxin of mammals that doesn’t easily break down in the environment (Lantz et al. 2014). Glufosinate is thus a “herbicide” in name only.

Thus, even in conventional agriculture, the use of glufosinate is hazardous; but With GMO plants the situation is worse yet. With GMOs, glufosinate is sprayed on to the crop but its degradation in the plant is blocked by the transgene, which chemically modifies it slightly. This is why the GMO plant is resistant to it; but the other consequence is that when you eat Bayers’ Glufosinate-resistant GMO maize or canola, even weeks or months later, glufosinate, though slightly modified, is probably still there (Droge et al., 1992). Nevertheless, though the health hazard of glufosinate is much greater with GMOs, the implications of this science have been ignored in GMO risk assessments of Glufosinate-tolerant GMO crops.

A yet further reason to be concerned about GMOs is that most of them contain a viral sequence called the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) promoter (or they contain the similar figwort mosaic virus (FMV) promoter). Two years ago, the GMO safety agency of the European Union (EFSA) discovered that both the CaMV promoter and the FMV promoter had wrongly been assumed by them (for almost 20 years) not to encode any proteins. In fact, the two promoters encode a large part of a small multifunctional viral protein that misdirects all normal gene expression and that also turns off a key plant defence against pathogens. EFSA tried to bury their discovery. Unfortunately for them, we spotted their findings in an obscure scientific journal. This revelation forced EFSA and other regulators to explain why they had overlooked the probability that consumers were eating an untested viral protein.

This list of significant scientific concerns about GMOs is by no means exhaustive. For example, there are novel GMOs coming on the market, such as those using double stranded RNAs (dsRNAs), that have the potential for even greater risks (Latham and Wilson 2015).

The True Purpose of GMOs

Science is not the only grounds on which GMOs should be judged. The commercial purpose of GMOs is not to feed the world or improve farming. Rather, they exist to gain intellectual property (i.e. patent rights) over seeds and plant breeding and to drive agriculture in directions that benefit agribusiness. This drive is occurring at the expense of farmers, consumers and the natural world. US Farmers, for example, have seen seed costs nearly quadruple and seed choices greatly narrow since the introduction of GMOs. The fight over GMOs is not of narrow importance. It affects us all.

Nevertheless, specific scientific concerns are crucial to the debate. I left science in large part because it seemed impossible to do research while also providing the unvarnished public scepticism that I believed the public, as ultimate funder and risk-taker of that science, was entitled to.

Criticism of science and technology remains very difficult. Even though many academics benefit from tenure and a large salary, the sceptical process in much of science is largely lacking. This is why risk assessment of GMOs has been short-circuited and public concerns about them are growing. Until the damaged scientific ethos is rectified, both scientists and the public are correct to doubt that GMOs should ever have been let out of any lab.

(An earlier version of this article appeared at http://nutritionstudies.org/)

(1) Two references on the anthrax issue (added Sept 2nd): Helgason, E., O. A. Økstad, D. A. Caugant, H. A. Johansen, A. Fouet, M. Mock, I. Hegna, and A.-B. Kolstø. 2000. Bacillus anthracis, Bacillus cereus, and Bacillus thuringiensis—one species on the basis of genetic evidence. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 66: 2627-2630.

And:

Adelaida M. Gaviria Rivera, Per Einar Granum, Fergus G. Priest. 2000. Common occurrence of enterotoxin genes and enterotoxicity in Bacillus thuringiensis. FEMS Microbiology Letters 190 (2000) 151-155; http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1574-6968.2000.tb09278.x

References

Bøhn, T, Cuhra, M, Traavik, T, Sanden, M, Fagan, J and Primicerio, R (2014) Compositional differences in soybeans on the market: Glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready GM soybeans. Food Chemistry 153: 207-215.
Droge W, Broer I, and Puhler A. (1992) Transgenic plants containing the phosphinothricin-N-acetyltransferase gene metabolize the herbicide L-phosphinothricin (glufosinate) differently from untransformed plants. Planta 187: 142-151.
Lantz S et al., (2014) Glufosinate binds N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors and increases neuronal network activity in vitro. Neurotoxicology 45: 38-47.
Latham JR and Wilson AK (2015) Off -­ target Effects of Plant Transgenic RNAi: Three Mechanisms Lead to Distinct Toxicological and Environmental Hazards.
Mizuki, E, Et Al., (1999) Unique activity associated with non-insecticidal Bacillus thuringiensis parasporal inclusions: in vitro cell- killing action on human cancer cells. J. Appl. Microbiol. 86: 477–486.
Vachon V, Laprade R, Schwartz JL (2012) Current models of the mode of action of Bacillus thuringiensis insecticidal crystal proteins: a critical review. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology 111: 1–12.

Currently there are "41 comments" on this Article:

  1. Dan Barski says:

    Thanks for sharing both the personal and technical aspects of what is a fascinating (and disturbing) story. To quote from an article I read recently in regard to climate change, “When scientists become activists, it’s time to take them seriously.” This certainly applies to your experience with the GMO experiment. And hat’s off to you for choosing ethical values over monetary ones as your compass. Just as with tobacco, the truth will eventually emerge. The only question is, how many victims will GMOs claim before it does?

  2. wtf says:

    Great read, I can’t keep a straight face when people suggest that patenting the worlds food supply will alleviate malnutrition or whatever is the flavour of the month. Problem is public scientists have a financial interest in the success of GM, therefore they cannot claim independence, also I think some have patents of their own. These are very muddy waters and they need cleaning up.

  3. MJ says:

    Thank you for this inspiring piece of personal history and scientific integrity. It’s a gem that deserves the widest possible audience. Because so much of this debate hinges on risk assessment, one who should be in that audience is the mathematical probabilist NN Taleb. In my perfect world, Taleb and Latham are not strangers. If Taleb gets wind of this article, he could extend its reach to many thousands of people:

    https://twitter.com/nntaleb

  4. Jeremy Alderson says:

    Back around 1996, when I was doing a weekly radio show out of Geneva, NY, I became curious about just what GMO’s they were putting in the ground at Cornell’s Geneva ag station. So with the aid of a pro bono lawyer, I sued Cornell under NY’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The question of whether or not the ag school, a state-supported land-grand college, was susceptible to FOIL had never been fully adjudicated, and the case dragged n for five years, going up and down the judicial ladder until finally it was resolved in an unsatisfactory split decision.

    On the way to that split decision, we were able to do discovery, and one thing we asked for was to see the risk assessments Cornell had supposedly done before putting GMOs out n the field. Cornell had assured the NYS legislature that it did perform such risk assessments, and that assurance was key to getting permission for the research. But when we asked for copies of those risk assessments, Cornell testified in a deposition that it did not have any such risk assessments in its possession.

    Cornell was trying to make it sound like maybe they had once had those documents and they had all gone on vacation to the south of France or something, so they were no longer available. But how can you not have a risk assessment once you’ve had it? The data would have to pass through many hands, one would think, in order to be assessed, and then the assessment would have to be signed off on by multiple people. Cornell’s story simply seemed impossible, but we were not able to pursue it beyond this point.

    The most likely explanation for Cornell’s inability to produce those risk assessments is either that they never existed in the first place or that they were so damning that
    Cornell lied about not having them anymore so as to avoid scrutiny. Either way, the evidence seems to indicate that Cornell was putting GMOs out in the field without the safeguards they had claimed to have in place. I did try to raise the alarm about this with politicians and the press, but at the time, no one in authority or the mainstream media cared. That’s not surprising given that, for the most part, they still don’t care.

    • Jeff K says:

      Great article. Now I am sure you will (or have) get a quite a beating from the GMO advocate crowd, as that is the usual reaction. Consider David Quist, Don Huber, Ignacio Chapela, John Losey, Dr. Mae-Wan Ho (a genetics engineer forced to resign after advocating for a ban on GMOs), Arpad Pusztai (one of the earlier victims), and of course, Seralini. Add Tyrone Hayes in there too, for being a whistle blower against Syngenta’s atrazine — he survived, but what an ordeal — for all of them. Even people like David Suzuki are attacked for saying things like “Any politician or scientists who tells you these [GMO] products are safe is either stupid or lying.”

      Tell the truth, and then those who tell myths go on the attack.

  5. Anne Maguire says:

    I am looking at the world from the perspective of nearly eighty years of experience.It is easy to feel helpless when observing the results of uncontrollable
    greed and disregard for the people and planet.I am thankful that there are still those who are prepared to speak out although they know that they will pay a price for their honesty.For so long I have known that,if one wanted to eat healthy food, it would be necessary to grow everything and process everything oneself. Even then contamination is not always avoidable.
    Thank you Jonathan Latham

  6. Theresa says:

    Thank you all for your comments and to Jonathan.
    Does anyone have any information regarding the current review of US GM regulations?
    http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2015-0036
    This appears to have fallen under the radar as comments were open to those outside of the US.
    Monsanto’s comments are under the name of Raymond Dobert.
    I am in the UK. Most people don’t know that when they buy chips here in the UK that they are probably cooked in GM cooking oil and we have a problem in UK supermarkets with GM animal feed. GM aside, campaigners are currently trying to improve the situation regarding UK farmers and getting a fair price for milk.

  7. Scott says:

    Most commercially raised animals (CAFO) are fed GMO grains and silage. If we are what we eat, and I believe this is true, then there are indeed GMO animals offered as food.

  8. I am a medical anthropologist with a strong biochemistry background. My biggest concern with GMOs concerns the production of pharmaceuticals in Baker’s yeast and E. coli. For example, human insulin is produced by fermentation in genetically modified Baker’s yeast and E. coli, and these organisms have been accidentally released into the environment, as reported by the manufacturers Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly. Release of these organisms is also a normal part of the fermentation process. If these organisms get into the intestines they could produce insulin that would be absorbed and could cause hyperinsulinemia, which manifests as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Could this be a cause of the obesity and diabetes pandemic? Other proteins hormones, including growth hormone and glucagon, and certain protein drugs are also made by GMO yeast and E. coli. We face a future where metabolic diseases could be caused by the colonization of the intestines with these organisms. See my article on this here: https://www.academia.edu/8396829/Could_Genetically_Modified_Bakers_Yeast_Be_Causing_Obesity_Diabetes_and_Gluten_Intolerance

  9. David says:

    As anyone who has ever worked with transgenic animals could tell you, when it comes to adding (or deleting) genes from an organism, you can’t do just one thing. When you modify the genome of an organism–even by adding or removing a single gene–it sets in motion a complex dynamic in which the activity of other genes in the organism adjust to the change in their genetic environment. The outcome of this process, which is akin to introduction of a non-native species into an ecosystem, might be relatively benign, but it could also be profoundly disruptive (think Kudzu) or subtly detrimental. In any case, it can’t be predicted in advance. It’s also safe to say that the designers of these modified organisms haven’t done the expensive analyses that would be required to determine what unintended genetic consequences their modifications produced. So when manufacturers of GMOs issue blithe assurances about the safety of their products–whether for human health or the health of the environment–they’re basing their claims on the narrowest possible dataset. The fact of the matter is, they don’t really know.

    • jrlatham says:

      I fully endorse this comment. I didnt have room to say this but the first GMO paper we wrote after leaving academia explains the genetic consequences of engineering plants. Rarely is simple adding or deleting actually achieved. In some instances many genes are added or deleted (or both!) but often this is not found out ’til later. The GMO virus-resistant papaya so celebrated by the biotech industry has not one transgene but five (possibly six). Here is our paper: http://www.bioscienceresource.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/BSR-2-BGERvol23.pdf

      • Tom says:

        Can you comment on the ‘gene gun’ or particle bombardment method? I’m currently reading Steven Druker’s book, Altered Genes, Twisted Truth (which I highly recommend to anyone wanting to learn about GMOs and how they got through the FDA/USDA/EPA into our food), and he talks about how the corn and soy GMOs couldn’t be accomplished using the ‘normal’ methods of gene insertion, and so Monsanto had to come up with an even MORE imprecise and messy process for getting the Roundup tolerance gene into the plant DNA.

        Monsanto started by using a .22 caliber bullet coated with the transgene (presumably it would hit an object and send fragments out into the plant DNA), but later ‘upgraded’ the process to using air to fire tiny particles covered with the “Roundup Ready” gene into the corn and soy host DNA.

        Needless to say, no one would ever call a shotgun precise… Imagine the collateral damage caused throughout the corn and soy DNA by this brutal, haphazard process! But that’s how the corn and soy GMOs (ubiquitous in both junk food and animal feed) that are the most eaten in America were ‘engineered’…

        Then, there is the tissue culture phase which all by itself causes many changes in the DNA through shock, and yet all GMOs apparently go through this phase after the gene insertion to ‘grow’ a plant from a single cell. Another avenue for unintended genetic changes…

        There are so many aspects to this technology that just scream “bad idea…” Studies have shown that the more people know about GMOs, the less they trust the technology. So maybe there’s hope for us yet, as real scientists like yourself speak out against the predominant corporate pro-GMO propaganda and the rest of us start to actually understand what we’re eating!

        • jrlatham says:

          I know quite a bit about the gene gun methodology. As you say it is as imprecise as any technology could be. The pellets pass through multiple strands of DNA and are much bigger than it and so at the site of insertion and elsewhere, there is a lot of damage. Sometimes backcrossing of the original GMO plant (slowly) gets rid of the damage elsewhere in the genome but the damage at the site of insertion remains. Some crops. eg potatoes, bananas, papayas are hard or very slow to backcross and that is why the GMO virus-resistant papaya has so many transgenes, all over the genome, in it. The papers: Transformation-induced Mutations in Transgenic Plants: Analysis and Biosafety Implications (2006) http://www.bioscienceresource.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/BSR-2-BGERvol23.pdf. We wrote a second shorter paper: The Mutational Consequences of Plant Transformation (2006) http://www.bioscienceresource.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/BSR-2-The-Mutational-Consequences-of-Plant-Transformation-2006.pdf People find these helpful and they are widely cited.

          • Tom says:

            Thank you for your reply, Dr Latham, and for the links to your papers. I’m looking forward to reading them and hopefully gaining a deeper understanding of the issues involved.

            Maybe that’s a bright spot in this situation- that the public is having to become more engaged and to ‘go to the source’ to find out what the science actually says rather than getting information only through the filter of the media, industry, and government. I’ve never read an actual scientific paper before, but this will be a good place to start! Thanks again for your work on this issue.

          • There are two studies that Jonathan links to, and since the date that comment was posted, the URL has changed on both. For those who are interested in further research, please see:

            “Transformation-induced Mutations in Transgenic Plants: Analysis and Biosafety Implications,” by Allison Wilson, Jonathan Latham and Richard Steinbrecher, Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews, Vol. 23, December 2006 (26 pages)
            http://bsr.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/BSR-2-BGERvol23.pdf

            AND

            “The Mutational Consequences of Plant Transformation,” By Jonathan Latham, Allison Wilson & Ricarda Steinbrecher, Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, Vol. 2006; March 1, 2006 (7 pages)
            http://bsr.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/BSR-2-The-Mutational-Consequences-of-Plant-Transformation-2006.pdf

  10. Lynne says:

    Jonathan, Thank you for this poignant article. This is a very sad time for farmers and consumers and the way this seems to be progressing, we are both on the losing end. I hope your words are dispersed among the masses so they will wake up and become educated about the dangers of GMO’s. Please continue to voice your concerns and share your knowledge! Many blessings to you.

  11. Thierry Vrain says:

    This article is quite misleading in that it exposes all sorts of details about GMOs but completely ignores the flip side of GMOs which is the residues of antibiotic glyphosate in food. Please see this lecture on YouTube

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiU3Ndi6itk

    • jrlatham says:

      Not details in my opinion. Perhaps you mean specifics? I agree that roundup residues are a problem but that is mentioned in the text. Best wishes, Jonathan

      • Tony Mitra says:

        The creation of GMO may have dual purpose – to capture patent rights on living organisms, as well as for selling more and more of Glyphosate.

        The scope of the article is on GMO only . Unfortunately it leaves out a vitally important issue of Glyphosate not just in RoundUp ready GM crops, but in even non-GM crops as a desiccant.

        It also leaves out the effects of Glyphosate use in forests, parks, lawns, watersheds and coming down on us even in rain.

        By focussing just on GMO, and leaving out the cumulative effects of so much Glyphosate in our environment, will be misleading the reader into thinking that curtailing GMO is all that is needed. This is false.

        The article does mention that a consumer may not know if his diet includes GM crop due to lack of labelling in some countries. Yet it fails to address the issue that even when a consumer does buy non-GMO food, he still does not know if it contains Glyphosate which makes his food essentially toxic.

        This omission should be corrected. It aught to be the responsibility of learned people to help the public be aware of the ravages of Glyphosate , with or without GMO in our food and our environment and what it is doing to people and the living planet.

        • simon says:

          This comment seems bizarre. The author has written en excellent article on his experience of GMO’s and their regulation, etc. Why should he detour into territory not really germane to the subject ? Why not write the article yourself ?

  12. Cheryl says:

    Many thanks to you for speaking rational, understandable truth.

  13. Banouh says:

    Thank you so much,

    Most of us (consumers) ignore these things. We really appreciate righteous and courageous scientists who tell the truth and don’t care about anything else. Be sure Lynne, many people will wake up and many lives will be saved in the future because of what Jonathan and other true scientists write.

    I also really liked what you said about research and knowledge: «As a scientist I have become much more humble about the capacity of science to do more than scratch the surface in its understanding of the deep complexity and diversity of the natural world. To paraphrase a cliché, I more and more appreciate that as scientists we understand less and less.»

    Keep doing the right thing, and share your thoughts so we can learn! Yush almighty bless you.

    Regards from south Algeria.

  14. D Salter says:

    here is a useful link to discovery documents from another court trial that shows that many of the FDA’s own scientists were concerned about the unique risks of GMOs, even in the early days, but they were completely ignored.

    Documents are under “Key FDA Documents”

    http://www.biointegrity.org/

    I suggest downloading and keeping copies, as I suspect the documents will be taken down.

    • Tom says:

      This website is Steven Druker’s project (I mentioned him above in a comment). His book Altered Genes, Twisted Truth gives a great history of the GMO ‘enterprise’ and chronicles how the FDA illegally violated US food safety laws to allow them into our food supply. I was under the impression that Europe’s food laws were more strict than America’s, but was amazed to find out that ours are actually much more strict… but the FDA bypassed our laws to allow GMOs on the market.

      Along with a number of scientists, Druker sued the FDA over their malfeasance (FDA’s own scientists tried time and again to raise alarms about the GMO submissions, but they were overruled by political administrators beholden to the Biotech industry).

      It’s important to realize that every administration starting with Reagan has pushed biotech and GMOs onto America (and the world) without any regard for the harm that could be caused (and in many cases covering up the harm that was observed). Right up to current times, when President Obama appointed Michael Taylor (former Monsanto executive) to head of food safety with the FDA, and Tom Vilsack (biotech advocate for Monsanto) to head of the USDA.

      But they can’t stop the truth from coming out, and the more people know, the more they’ll turn against GMOs. That’s why I’m really thankful that scientists like Jonathan Latham are speaking out.

  15. Julie Pittman says:

    Aloha, Jonathan Fabulous article ! Thank you so much for coming out with this information. We here in Hawaii are fighting a huge battle against the ignorance surrounding GMO’s. The Shaka Movement was formed last year and a petition written for a ballot measure to require a Moratorium and testing to be conducted before any more of Monsanto’s, Syngenta’s , Bayer’s, Etc. open field tests where allowed to continue in Paradise ! It was truly a David and Goliath battle, with Monsanto outspending us by millions and pulling out all of their troll tactics ! But we stood on the side of the roads with our cardboard signs and did the coconut wireless with family and friends…and we WON ! But ,of course, its now in court and being fought by our local government. The Case is in the ninth circuit at this point, which we did expect,so well, we sure could use some more help trying to awaken the masses to the real possible dangers of GMO’s and more importantly what they are doing at these test fields. Kauai and all Hawaii has had a huge spike in birth defects since these companies moved into town and started spraying over 52 Restricted Use Toxic substances which are routinely mixed together without any accumulative testing …right next to our schools and homes.
    Would you please consider helping us. Check out the Shaka Movement site and well, maybe you could come and speak here or write to our Maui News newspaper or well, we would love just about any kind of help you can think of… Paradise has been sold down the road to a possible no return with what they have released out into our environment , we have to stop them from further harm ! MAHALO NUI LOA

  16. TS2015 says:

    Thank you for a wonderful piece!

    This really needs to be distributed far and wide, especially since GMO critics have resoundingly LOST in the court of public opinion, in the US at least. Almost all the mainstream media is now pro-GMO, thanks in part to the brilliant marketing campaign of portraying critics as anti-science hippies.

    Hopefully, that will slowly change — with more articles like yours and more decisions such as the WHO’s about the carcinogenicity of glyphosate.

  17. Once again, actual scientific stories, from the likes of a respected liberal environmental organization like Grist, refute much of what is stated here.

    http://grist.org/series/panic-free-gmos

    Sadly, on matters like genetic inheritance, I know that this is a science-like site second, an advocacy site first.

    • jrlatham says:

      The Grist author, Nathanel Johnson, has no scientific research background. He is just speaking industry talkng points. Once upon a time Grist was a reader-supported organisation. Now, under new management, it gets money from who-knows-where but we can probably make some guesses.

  18. Thanks, Jonathan, for a very readable and informative essay!

    One of the concerns not adequately addressed by other scientists who rightly critique Genetic Engineering is the interplay between GMOs, pesticides and herbicides, let alone between “individual” genes. By narrowly zeroing in on the mechanisms within the gene or chromosome — which is an important contribution, yes! — even scientists who are critical of GMOs may (and do, frequently) lose a wider perspective, as though the reductionist approach itself could become an accepted way to proceed if only the variables could be controlled and predictability could be improved.

    There are all sorts of extremely troubling consequences to that framework … that way of examining and thus seeking to understand life. So I very much appreciate your contributions here, as well as those of Brian Tokar, Richard Levins, Stuart Newman, Lynn Margulis and others who start by accepting and appreciating non-reducible interactions, which exposes the reductionist and narrow determinist model.

    You’re in quite stellar company there! Thanks again.

    Mitchel Cohen
    Coordinator, No Spray Coalition against pesticides
    http://www.NoSpray.org

  19. arlene hickory says:

    Jonathan Latham ……as a citizen I have been working with Food and Water Watch and Organic Consumers Association on getting food labeling. I am thankful for coming across your work and the independent science news website. I recently testified at a hearing of the Chicago Municipal Water Reclamation District, to support one of the commissioners addressing the Board to ban GMO related herbicides on district properties. I came across your article just several days prior in Counterpunch. I was able to provide input that was particularly powerful, because of that article. I belong to a “little” truly grass roots organization called CAPOW (citizens act to protect our water), but we try to get anywhere there is something going on with water ( which is pretty much everywhere). My ability to effectively communicate depends on the quality of my information. Your article,”Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMO”s” was so clearly written and covered such vital territory, that I felt empowered giving what was my first testimony at this kind of event. Thank You…..I will be a regular reader at this site. Arlene Hickory, Lake Bluff Illinois.

  20. Jon B. Abrahamson says:

    I’m just a regular guy that has been studying GMO’s extensively for over 6 years now. From what I clearly see, this technology is either flawed, or rigged right out of the starting gate. Knowing how the game is played, I believe the latter. What I’ve seen is when someone (an expert) wont answer your questions, the obvious comes to mind. That is usually the path I will follow because I’m not one of those ignorance is bliss types. What I’ve found, and many scientists wont talk about, is how flawed the science is. If the lab animals for generations now have been fed a diet with GMO’s, and even the control group is fed GMO’s, how on Earth can anyone in there right mind call that a legitimate study?

    Another point is the BT plants kill bugs that eat it. The HT plants can survive a lethal poisoning. Then there’s plants with not only both being BT & HT traits, but a multitude of these traits. 8 I believe (6 BT & 2HT). Sorry I can’t remember the name, and this has been around for quite awhile now. Who in there right mind would want to eat this, or NOT know there eating this?

    Also as Sydney Ross Singer is talking about about GMO yeast in drugs, he’s just scratching the surface. Since there are over 100,000 deaths a year now from drugs “Proven Safe and Effective” by the same agency that says GMO foods are safe (FDA), I assume this can only be intentional!

    “The Flawed Processes of GMO Risk Assessment”
    “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”
    W. C. Fields

    This needs to be spread far and wide!

    Lab Chow Contaminated by Glyphosate
    http://farmwars.info/?p=14095

    Worldwide Seralini Study Published! Laboratory Rodent Diets Contain Glyphosate
    http://farmwars.info/?p=14155

    • Jon B. Abrahamson says:

      Our food supply is truly in sad shape. To really get a good grasp on the GMO technology, one would have to read 10’s of 1000’s of pages. Then there’s all the other chemical and biotoxins that are added to boot. Then there’s the environmental effects if the food isn’t scarey enough.
      The following paper should make one want to look deeper into GM technology. To a person with out a PhD, just the charts and graphs should be enough to tell you that something is dreadfully wrong.

      Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America
      http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/Swanson_et_al_2014.pdf

      Drs. Stephanie Seneff and Anthony Samsel has done a lot of research into GM technology and there effects. I have Dr. Seneff’s Home page at the bottom.
      I see Dr. Thierry Vrain left a comment, I’ll add that I have spent numerous hours reading and listening to what he has to say.

      Glyphosate: The “Safe” Herbicide that’s Making Us All Sick. July, 2015. Hawaii tour, sponsored in part by Seeds of Truth.
      Video
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYC6oyBglZI
      PDF
      http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/SeneffHawaiiSummer2015.pdf

      Stephanie’s Home Page
      http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/

      There are 100’s of papers about GMO’s out there despite what they say. If anyone wants to go deeper into this, here’s over 1800 studies on one page.

      GMO SCIENCE
      http://www.gmofreeusa.org/enigma-portfolio/gmo-science-2/

  21. Sharon Reeve says:

    Thank you for this well-written and articulate article.

  22. neal valley says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I’ve wondered this before, but since your article specifically calls out BT and stacked BT transgenics, I thought this might be a good venue to seek clarification.

    BT is used extensively in all methods of agricultural production, transgenic, conventional, and organic. In application, my experience has been that different BT strains are effectively stacked for the general pest pressure expected by crop. These applications seem especially common across the entire family of brassica and maize crops in commercial organics.

    Your risk assessment for BT (and specifically Cry toxin strains) doesn’t distinguish between commercial pesticide applications and embedded genes. I also can’t tell from the text of your argument what that distinction would be. Is it simply that we’re to assume that if plants produce their own BT toxins instead of external applications, there would be a higher risk for consumers? This makes some sense to me, but I don’t understand the physiological aspects of consumption of BT on humans.

    I’m curious if there’s something I’m missing on this issue, or if you have thoughts about the transgene/external application distinction.

    • jrlatham says:

      Hi Neal
      Its a really good question. My take on this is that Bt proteins are different when they are produced inside GMO plants and that they are risk assessed inadequately. Probably the most important difference is that purified (or partially purified) Bt toxins, as used in organic and other settings, are crystals. These crystals are inert and require complex processing to become active. This processing is pretty much restricted to insect guts.
      GMO Bt toxins, however, are different because they are 1) altered by the companies in many ways, 2) also are soluble (not crystals) and 3) in their active, toxic, form, which is smaller than the full size protein. The upshot is that weight for weight the GMO toxin is definitely more dangerous to nontarget insects and maybe other organisms (inc. people?). For example, Ciba–Geigy did an unpublished study of their processed and purified Bt-176 alongside purified bacterial (ie traditional organic Bt) and the GMO version was 5-10 times more toxic against three different insect species. However, none of this story has ever been pulled together but it is necessary to explain why I say the risk assessment has been done inadequately, and why it matters.

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