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Via Kwame Ogero
The commercialisation of any genetically modified organism (GMO) necessitates regulatory approval in the home country of cultivation as well as in countries where the organism, such as a GM crop commodity, might be exported. Thus, for example, if the GM crop is to be exported to Japan, it will be necessary to have a regulatory approval for the GM event in Japan. Furthermore, even if the particular event will not be directly exported to Japan, it will still be necessary to obtain approval there because of the possibility of low level presence of the event in other versions of the crop.
A picture in Wednesday’s Daily Nation showed the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition demonstrating against GMOs. A while back the lobby opposed the importation of maize from South Africa, saying it was genetically modified.
I wonder who funds these anti-science crusades. The most prominent sign on the picture had a barely visible subscript with writings in German.
Upon googling the words, you are led to a German website for a faith-based organisation concerned with matters nutrition. Surprise, surprise. GM is the 21st century’s Galileo’s telescope.
No one does anti-science hysteria like a religious organisation. One of the placards in the photos shows a skeleton; this is despite the fact that there has not been a single case of a person dying from eating GMO products.
I am just glad that the protesters were willing to show us the names of the bankrollers of their confected outrage so that we may put their protest in perspective.
In the background was a partially hidden placard repeating the allegation that GMOs cause cancer.
In Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives, Michael Specter writes about how whole subsections of society refute evidence of a scientific nature and turn away from reality.
Their version of truth is their own belief not backed by evidence, but because of a rapidly changing world. In their topsy-turvy world, they dismiss scientific evidence as just another scientific point of view
and march off to the fringes of pseudoscience to forage for “studies” that conform to their internal belief.
So that is how you find manufactured “debates” where the remains of discredited and discarded studies are exhumed, touched up by a mortician, and put on display. You end up with claims such as GM food causes cancer.
This claim also recently appeared in the Nation a while back. Thankfully, the letters page robustly discredited the study cited.
If the government wants to make policy using science and evidence, there is no question; GMO is the way to go. If the government wants to make policy based on superstition and single issue lobbyists, it should ban GMOs.
All plant and animal breeding is based on rearranging genetic material. All our food is the result of
human intervention unless it is harvested from the wild.
We have been doing it for several millenniums and, more importantly, nature has been doing it through evolution for millions of years. Agriculture has been the story of mankind’s interference with plant and animal species for his own purposes.
I am sure there were a few foragers who opposed the domestication of animals. Others questioned the use of irrigation as opposed to rain-fed agriculture. Some objected to the plough. Or oxen in the field.
Now we have this lot who think that modifying the genes of food to make it better is wrong. Anti-GMO campaigns are a sort of biological Luddism (opposition to technological progress) and aversion to change that has its roots in superstition.
It stems from the idea that anything contrary to nature will wipe us out. Forgetting what a cruel mistress nature is. They claim that nature knows best despite the fact that 99 per cent of all species of animal and plants that have existed are extinct.
Now, humans who eat more GM foods live longer. Is this a coincidence? Even in societies that have had a longer experience with GM foods, the average life span has been going up progressively.
GM crops have the potential for higher yield, need less pesticides (hence better for the environment), and require less weeding. They could be made to grow in less than desirable locales, and some are even resist to viruses.
A recent study by noted organic researcher Charles Benbrook of Washington State University published in Environmental Sciences Europe claimed that pesticide use in the US has increased substantially since the introduction of genetically modified crops 16 years ago. The research was ballyhooed by anti-GM activists and carried uncritically by many mainstream journalists...
There never any plausible scientific reason to believe that genetically engineered crops posed risks any different from other crops.
By Henry I. Miller and Bruce Chassy
Last week French microbiologist Gilles-Eric Séralini and several colleagues released the results of a long-term study in which rats were fed genetically engineered (AKA genetically modified, or “GM”) corn that contains enhanced resistance to insects and/or the herbicide glyphosate. They took the unprecedented step of pre-releasing the paper to selected media outlets under an embargo on the condition that they sign a non-disclosure agreement. (That prevented the journalists from seeking scientific experts’ opinions on the article.) At a carefully orchestrated media event they then announced that their long-term studies found that the rats in experimental groups developed tumors at an alarming rate. Within hours news of their “discovery” echoed around the world. As we say today, the story “went viral.”
But there is both more and less to this story than meets the eye.
Who is Professor Séralini and how did he make this shocking discovery which conflicts with decades of research and extensive worldwide use of genetically engineered crops? Whom should non-experts believe? Is there now evidence that suggests that genetically engineered crops are dangerous?
To begin to answer those questions we need to roll the clock back a few months. In a Forbes.com article earlier this year, we speculated that Séralini was less guilty of actually fudging data to get the desired answer than of performing poorly designed experiments and grossly misrepresenting the results. (Séralini has made a specialty of methodologically flawed, irrelevant, uninterpretable — but over-interpreted — experiments intended to demonstrate harm from genetically engineered plants and the herbicide glyphosate in various highly contrived scenarios.)
The experiment we wrote about purported to show toxicity in vitro to a line of cultured embryonic kidney cells exposed to two proteins commonly incorporated into many varieties of corn, soybean and cotton to enhance their insect-resistance. As we discussed, because the experiment was so poorly conceived, any result would have been meaningless.
We were mistaken about Séralini. The experiments reported last week show that he has crossed the line from merely performing and reporting flawed experiments to committing gross scientific misconduct and attempting fraud.
Séralini claimed that his experiments found harmful effects, including a high incidence of tumors, in laboratory rats fed genetically modified corn and/or water spiked with the commonly used herbicide, glyphosate. The treatments lasted for two years.
There is so much wrong with the experimental design that the conclusion is inescapable that the investigators intended to get a spurious, preordained result. Here are a few of the criticisms that have been raised by the scientific community:
– the investigators used a strain of rats that were bred to develop tumors as they aged (a detail they failed to disclose). Significantly, mortality rates and tumor incidence in all experimental groups fall within historical norms for this strain of laboratory rats. Therefore, the claim that the genetically engineered corn component of the diet or the herbicide caused the tumors is insupportable.
– Séralini et al. argue that the exceedingly long time-frame of their study was necessary to reveal the experimental effects, but animal researchers long ago established that such lengthy studies add no additional meaningful or valid information beyond that which can be collected in shorter times; there is no documentation of the rats’ food intake, which strongly affects the incidence of tumors in this strain;– the experiment included 180 rats (9 groups of 20) fed the genetically engineered or herbicide-containing diets (the “treated rats”), while only 20 rats were fed a standard (control) diet. Both common sense and a rudimentary understanding of statistics tell you that even if there were no actual differences between the groups, the greater numbers of animals in the pooled treated groups increases the odds that one of the treated rats would die first (one of the parameters reported in the paper);
– the statistical methods employed were unconventional and appeared to be selected specifically in order to give a certain result. Tom Sanders, head of the nutritional sciences research division at King’s College London, called the treatment of data “a statistical fishing trip”;
absence of statistical analysis for mortality or tumor incidence. Statistical analysis is a basic requirement of scientific research, and given that the claims of the study allege tumor and mortality effects, the omission of statistical analysis is inexcusable;– the investigators have refused to release all the data from the experiment, which constitutes scientific misconduct;
– insufficient information is provided about the source and quality of corn varieties used in the rats’ diet (contamination with molds could be a critical factor);
– absence of data concerning liver or kidney histopathology and liver function tests;
– insufficient explanation of the absence of a dose-response relationship between the experimental variables and supposed effects;
– inappropriate, unnecessary suffering of the rats, which should have been euthanized long before the tumors became so huge – an especially egregious ethics violation given that the study is, in any case, worthless.
– the reported results conflict with innumerable experiments conducted by laboratories around the world on both genetically engineered corn and glyphosate, and also with vast real-world experience.
Finally, the authors wrongly claim that they have no conflicts of interest. Séralini is president of the scientific board of a self-described anti-genetic engineering NGO which apparently is hosted by his laboratory; he has a long and sordid history of anti-genetic engineering and anti-agricultural chemicals activism; and his research is funded by two large, “GM-free” French supermarket chains, purveyors of organic and homeopathic products, and perhaps by other undisclosed parties who stand to profit from the smear campaign against genetically engineered foods.
It also deserves mention that the publication of this article represents an abject, egregious failure of peer-review and editorial competence at Food and Chemical Toxicology, the journal in which it appeared. The honorable course of action for the journal would be to retract the paper immediately – a point on which the editors have thus far been silent. An obvious question is why Séralini would publish such obviously shoddy studies. The answer may be that negative headline stories laden with color pictures of rats with grotesque tumors are not easily forgotten even if the studies are fraudulent. Also, it may be hard for the non-expert to ignore the reported differences between control and experimental groups, and many non-experts will probably believe that where there is smoke, there is fire even if there are flaws in the experiment. But scientists understand that if the design, execution, or analysis of a study is fundamentally flawed, any conclusions are disqualified.
There is no question that the publication of Séralini’s latest attack on genetically engineered foods was a well-planned and cleverly orchestrated media event. The study was designed to produce exactly the false result that was observed and was deliberately allowed to continue until large, grotesque tumors developed. The conduct of the study, including the treatment of the animals, raises serious ethical concerns and questions of scientific misconduct.
In the past Séralini and other anti-genetic engineering activists have played the media like a fiddle, but this time even journalists usually willing to trade accuracy and integrity for an “if it bleeds, it leads” story were skeptical of Séralini’s claims. Maybe we have reached a turning point where the media will finally realize that they have been manipulated for years by expert professional con-men.
Not only was there never any plausible scientific reason to believe that genetically engineered crops posed risks any different from other crops, but hundreds of risk-assessment experiments and the vast cultivation and consumption of them during the past 17 years provide a high level of confidence about their safety and usefulness.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the FDA. Bruce M. Chassy, a biochemist and molecular biologist, is former head of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is now Professor Emeritus of Food Science.
A team of seasoned Ghanaian science journalists has set the ball rolling for the Biosciences for Farming in Africa (B4FA) project, committing to bridge the gap between science and the public.
The six-month Pan-African Professional Development programme is aimed at promoting better understanding and dialogue on developments in agriculture and biosciences throughout Africa.
Subjects under the Fellowship include plant breeding, genetic sciences and agricultural biotechnology.
Participating media professionals have been engaging local and international researchers on advances in technologies to address food production challenges and secure agricultural production.
They are also discussing the regulatory and commercial aspects of biotech and crop improvement.
Project Director, Dr Bernie Jones says the programme is to better inform media professionals and others of recent advances in plant breeding and agricultural biotechnology, and to examine how these advances could be and are being applied nationally.
Global food production is threatened by population, climate change, water availability, rising costs of inputs and need to conserve natural resources.
Poor quality planting material and depleted soils have kept farmers' yields at one-quarter of the global average and less than one-quarter of African farmers use high yielding, locally adapted seed.
New technologies are being developed, which could help double agricultural productivity in Africa.
The B4FA project seeks to empower the media to lead the crusade of exposing the public, especially farmers, to scientific and technological advances.
It is expected that media reportage science and agriculture-related issues would be enhanced at the end of the project, which is also running in Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda.
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