Health Risks of GMOs Have Been Systematically Misrepresented

Health Risks of GMOs Have Been Systematically Misrepresented by UK's Royal Society


Excerpt: "For more than twenty years, many eminent scientists and scientific institutions have routinely claimed that genetically modified foods are safe. And because of the perceived authority of their pronouncements, most government officials and members of the media have believed them. But when the arguments these scientists employ to support their claims are subjected to scrutiny, it becomes clear that important facts have invariably been misrepresented — either deliberately or through substantial negligence. And when these facts are fairly considered, the arguments collapse.

A prime example of a purportedly scientific — but in reality, inaccurate — publication on GM foods was issued by the UK’s Royal Society in May 2016. Titled “GMO Plants: Questions and Answers,” it claims to provide “unbiased” and “reliable” answers to peoples’ most pressing questions. However, analysis reveals that it not only displays a strong pro-GMO bias, but that several of its assertions are demonstrably false. The following paragraphs examine these defects and reveal the surprising extent to which that document, as well as previous publications of the Society about GM foods, conflict with the truth.

This analysis has major implications, because if the world’s oldest and most respected scientific institution cannot argue for the safety of GM foods without systematically distorting the facts, it indicates that such distortion is essential to the argument.

Obfuscating the unnatural nature of the GM process and ignoring its unsettling features

The document’s bias is evident from the outset, and the authors fail to furnish a forthright answer to the initial question: “What is genetic modification (GM) of crops and how is it done?”. Instead, their response is significantly misleading because it omits the most unnatural and unsettling features while downplaying the unnaturalness of those that are mentioned.

Failing to note the randomness and disruptiveness of the insertion process

In one of the biggest obfuscations, the authors avoid mentioning that biotechnicians have been inserting foreign DNA into plant genomes in a haphazard manner — and that the insertions not only disrupt the region of DNA into which they wedge but cause disruptions throughout the DNA strand, a well-documented phenomenon that some scientists call “genome scrambling.”

Concealing the need to artificially induce gene expression

The authors are equally evasive regarding how the foreign genes are induced to actually function, and they fail to disclose a crucial fact: that inserting a new gene does not in itself endow the plant with the desired new trait. That’s because it’s essential to convert the information encoded within the gene into a protein or other molecule, and in almost every case, that won’t happen without artificial alteration of the inserted genetic material.

Here’s why.

The default condition of most genes is to be inactive and blocked from expressing — which conserves the organism’s energy and prevents proteins from being produced when and where they’re not needed. A gene transitions from its closed-down default mode to its active mode through the operation of a regulatory element called a promoter, a segment of DNA adjoined to the gene that serves as its on/off switch. This switch is finely responsive to specific biochemical signals so that the gene expresses in harmony with the organism’s needs. Consequently, when a gene is taken from one species and transferred to an unrelated one, the promoter will rarely (if ever) receive signals to which it’s sensitive, and the gene will remain inactive. Hence, before making such transfers, biotechnicians must remove the native promoter and replace it with one that will reliably function in the foreign milieu. Moreover, to deliver the desired results, the promoter must in most cases not only induce the gene to express, but to boost its expression (and consequent protein production) to an extraordinary level.
For virtually every GM crop on the market, the potent promoter that’s been used to achieve such unusual results comes from a plant virus. Not only does it impel the inserted genes to produce proteins at an abnormally elevated level, it drives the production continuously, regardless of the organism’s needs and completely outside the intricate regulatory system through which its other genes are controlled. This can create serious problems by inducing metabolic imbalances or upsetting complex biochemical feedback loops.

Therefore, given the crucial role played by viral promoters, and the degree to which their employment is unnatural, it’s reasonable to expect that any purportedly balanced account of the GM process would mention them — and to deplore the Society’s failure to do so.

Obscuring the disruptiveness of the process that transforms modified cells into whole plants

The Royal Society authors are likewise elusive in explaining how an isolated plant cell that has incorporated new genes is subsequently turned into a mature plant. They say this is possible “because individual plant cells have an impressive capacity to generate entire plants,” but they neglect to disclose that this capacity can only be actualized through a distinctly artificial process — in contrast to natural seeds, which grow into plants spontaneously. That artificial process is called tissue culture, and although the authors note that it’s employed, they say nothing more about it — which obscures the fact that through its procedures, the cell is “forced to undergo abnormal developmental changes.” The authors also becloud the fact that besides being highly unnatural, tissue culture is highly disruptive and imparts what’s referred to as a “genomic shock” that causes numerous mutations throughout the plant’s DNA.

Thus, the authors’ systematic avoidance of disquieting facts causes their account of the GM process to be significantly distorted — which, as will be seen, leads to the distortion of other key parts of their presentation as well.

Denying the significant differences between GM crops and those bred conventionally

Because the authors acknowledge only the most obvious differences between GM and conventional breeding, while ignoring the lesser-known but more important ones, they’re emboldened to claim that GM is no more likely to entail “unforeseen effects.” But this is flat-out false, and experts who have taken the key differences into account have decisively reached the opposite conclusion. For instance, a major report by the Royal Society of Canada concluded that GM is far more likely to induce unforeseen effects, and a report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has acknowledged this greater likelihood too.

Misrepresenting Reality

The authors attempt to support their spurious claim by arguing that “all” plant genomes “frequently” receive insertions of new DNA through viral and bacterial infections and through the activity of ‘jumping genes’, that these insertions are “similar” to those made via GM, and that conventional breeding is therefore just as likely to have unforeseen consequences.

These assertions are false.

Whereas the genes that are inserted into plant cells via GM technology are always integrated into the entire genome of the resultant plant, genes from viruses and bacteria rarely enter plant genomes. Although viruses frequently infect plant cells, they seldom insert their genes into the DNA of the gametes (the sex cells), a necessary step for transferring to the plant’s progeny and becoming established in the genome. Consequently, the few viral DNA sequences that are present within plant genomes have been there for an extremely long time — and during that time, the plants’ defense mechanisms have inactivated them.

Further, scientists know of only two bacterial species that can insert their genes into the DNA of plants, and those genes are hardly ever incorporated into an entire genome. There are only three plant species in which such integrations have been observed, and just one is a food crop (sweet potato). Moreover, the bacterial genes in the potatoes have no discernible effect, are being transcribed at low levels, and either may not be producing any proteins at all or are producing very little.

In contrast, the new genes that are added to a plant’s genome via GM not only produce proteins, they hyper-produce them, which could cause hazardous imbalances. As previously noted, this hyper-production is driven by a powerful viral promoter. While none of the active genes within conventionally bred crops are associated with that promoter, it’s affixed to one or more active genes within the genome of virtually every commercialized GM crop.

So not only are insertions of bacterial and viral DNA into plant genomes exceptionally rare, and not only are they dissimilarfrom the insertions wrought by GM, it is through the GM process alone that new viral DNA has recently and widely entered plant genomes — and this incursion has introduced new risks.

The actual facts about ‘jumping genes’ are likewise at odds with the authors’ claims. In reality, those segments of DNA, technically termed ‘transposons’, rarely mobilize in the absence of extraordinary stress; so most of their current locations have been stable since an ancient era. In fact, a GM plant is much more likely to harbor new transposon-induced perturbations than its parent because the GM process tends to activate transposons and get them jumping. Conversely, pollen-based breeding rarely causes transposons to move

Reaching a patently false conclusion

Thus, not only do the authors of the Society’s guide fail to acknowledge the abundant evidence that demonstrates the disruptive effects of the GM process, they significantly misrepresent important biological realities that they do discuss. Only in this way can they conclude that GM is no more likely to entail unforeseen consequences than is conventional breeding.

In glaring contrast, the expert panel that produced the report of the Royal Society of Canada, who took account of the facts the guide’s authors ignored or distorted, concluded that while pollen-based breeding rarely involves worrisome unintended outcomes, the “default prediction” for every GM crop should be that it entails unintended effects that are hard to predict, could be difficult to detect, and might be harmful to human health.

Which leads to the question of whether GM crops are safe, another issue that the authors of the guide have seriously mishandled.

Declaring the safety of GM crops by dishonoring the standards of science

“Is it safe to eat GM crops?” Of all the questions the guide addresses, this is the most crucial. And it answers with a resounding “Yes.”

But this simple answer is simply unjustified.

For one thing, the unequivocal declaration that all GM crops are safe flies in the face of the World Health Organization’s assertion that “it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.” As the WHO noted, because “different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways” it’s necessary to assess them “on a case-by-case basis.” Even the Royal Society’s president emphasized the need for a case-by-case assessment in comments he released in conjunction with the guide’s publication.

Unjustifiably dismissing all the research that has detected harm
So how do the authors attempt to support their all-inclusive claim? They declare: “All reliable evidence produced to date shows that currently available GM food is at least as safe to eat as nonGM food.” And they assert “there has been no evidence of ill effects linked to the consumption of any approved GM crop.”

But there has indeed been such evidence, and many studies published in peer-reviewed journals have detected ill effects to the animals that consumed a GM crop. For instance, a systematic review of the toxicological studies on GM foods that was published in 2009 concluded that the results of “most” of them indicate that the products “may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive effects and may alter hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters the significance of which remains unknown.” It also noted that further studies were clearly needed.  that encompassed the additional studies that had been published up until August 2010 also provided cause for caution. It concluded that there was an “equilibrium” between the research groups “suggesting” that GM crops are as safe as their non-GM counterparts and “those raising still serious concerns.”

My comment: Seems that Royal Society is just maintaining the big heresy of evolution. GM organisms disrupt designed mechanisms and that's why they are not safe.