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Insight Into The Mindset Of The GMO Industry

By Colin Todhunter

30 December, 2012

Engaging with senior figures in the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) biotech industry can be quite revealing. I recently wrote an article for an Indian readership that leant on a recent William F Engdahl piece ( http://www.globalresearch.ca/stench-of-eu-corruption-in-monsanto-gmo-whitewash/5316294 ), which included the results of a study published in the September edition of the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology and that comprise the most damning indictment of GMOs carried out so far. Led by Gilles-Eric Seralini, Professor of Microbiology at the  University  of  Caen  in  France , the research analysed the health effects of GMOs on rats.  

Females rats fed GMOs died two to three times more than controls (groups of rates not fed GMOs) and more rapidly. They developed large mammary tumors almost always more often than the controls. Liver congestions and necrosis were 2.5 to five times higher in males that were fed GMOs. Marked and severe kidney nephropathies were also generally 1.3–2.3 greater. Males presented four times more large palpable tumors than controls.

By the beginning of the 24th month of the study, 50–80% of GMO-fed female animals had developed tumors, with up to three tumors per animal, whereas only 30% of non GMO-fed rats were affected. The GMO-fed groups showed the greatest rates of tumor incidence with 80% of animals affected.

Such results had not yet become evident in the first 90 days, the length of most all agribusiness industry tests to date - perhaps why the industry has avoided longer tests. Being mammals, rats' systems should react to chemicals, in this case GMO corn treated with Monsanto Roundup chemical herbicide, in a similar way to those of a human.

Seralini's was the first long-term independent study of the effects of a GMO diet on rats. It took place 20 years after US President George H.W. Bush gave the commercial release of GMO seeds the go ahead. William F Engdahl notes that Bush did so following a closed-door meeting with top officials of Monsanto Corporation. GMO seeds were permitted in the US with not one single independent government test to determine if they were safe for human or animal consumption.

My article appeared in an Indian newspaper whose editorial stance is anti-GMO. Within a couple of days of the piece appearing, a top biotech figure, a professor at a prestigious US university and a leading figure in and former employee of the GMO industry responded with a torrent of personal abuse and indignation.

The following engagement took place in the comments section of the newspaper's website. It is freely available for all to read, but I will accord the professor anonymity in this piece because I feel that many of his views are symptomatic of a warped mindset that is prevalent within the industry. And that mindset displays a tendency to mask unscrupulous practices behind the façade of ‘free market' ideology and discredited economic theory. It also displays attempts to justify imperialist/corporate expansionism and profiteering by equating such things with high-minded notions of ‘human progress'. Finally, it displays a tendency within the industry that seeks to abuse and smear anyone that stands in the way of its goals. 

The professor's response to my article began with the following statement, which attacked both the newspaper for publishing it and me for writing it.

I do not understand what kind of editorial nod this article got at (name of newspaper), it seems that the editors must have a bent of mind that is anti-US and anti-MNC and thereby anti-GMO. It must be that a white-skinned name is sufficient to accept the article for publication when my repeated attempts in the past couple of years to publish scientifically factual information on GMOs have not seen the light of the day. This is what I call the editorial bias and this is rampant in India 's print media with respect to GMO issues. Colin Todhunter must be a journalist without any professional ethics. He is not only misleading the readers with factually incorrect information, but is presenting all sorts of false information. Why is that he has ignored the aftermath of the publication of Seralini's paper which the scientific world has rejected as its methodology and materials and methods included in the study are flawed. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has released yet another review of Seralini's study and rejected it. Just this past week, government of Russia which had banned the importation of the GM maize based on Seralini's paper, reversed its decision based on a thorough scientific review. Not just EFSA, but German Risk Assessment Agency , New Zealand biotech regulatory authority and many other leading regulatory organizations have rejected Seralini's study. For Todhunter to now bring up this half truth is a travesty of professional journalism. Editors of (name of newspaper) would not know, know enough to publish an anti-GM story the moment it arrives in the mail.

I was the branch chief of USDA's regulatory authority when decision to commercialize was made. There is no truth in that George Bush's White House intervend on behalf of Monsanto. These are all great conspiracy theories good for a sensational journalism, but not for professionally and ethically correct journalism. It is a shame that there are writers like Todhunter deliberately mislead readers, papers like (name of newspaper) chooses to publish them, just because it comes from a firangi (foreigner). I demand that I am given equal space to publish the scientifically correct article on the same subject and I advice (name of newspaper) to get my article peer-reviewed before publication to test its veracity.

My initial response was:

The personal abuse and bitterness expressed by (name), a former Syngenta man and CEO of ABLE, the Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises, which represents the biotech industry in India , and companies like Monsanto, BASF, Syngenta, etc, does him no justice at all. Or maybe it does. He places great emphasis on peer review. But it seems even when things are peer reviewed, like the Seralini study, he still rejects it. Only to be published if he agrees with the sentiments expressed it seems! He talks of ethics!!

The onus is on the GMO industry to prove its food is safe. It has patently failed to do this. No independent testing was done before Bush senior allowed GMOs onto the US market. Where is the outrage over that? Where is the defence of that. It is indefencible. The tactics of the GMO industry have been well documented. Readers may research that for themselves and may then well ask, 'how can we trust this industry?' It's a valid question.

(Drawing from the Engdahl piece, I went on to state) Seralini's group based their experiment on the same protocol as the Monsanto study but, critically, were testing more parameters more frequently. And the rats were studied for much longer—their full two year average life-time instead of just 90 days in the Monsanto study. The long time span proved critical. The first tumors only appeared four to seven months into the study. In the industry's earlier 90-day study on the same GMO maize Monsanto NK603, signs of toxicity were seen but were dismissed as “not biologically meaningful” by industry and EFSA alike. It seems they were indeed very biologically meaningful.

People are rightly suspicious of the links between the FDA and GMO industry in the US and the links between it and the regulatory body within the EU. The wider public should be made aware of the political connections of the GMO industry, as well as credible science that associates dangerous health risks with GMOs. Credible science that went through a more than four-month period of peer review by a qualified group of scientific peers for its methodology prior to being deemed publishable in a highly esteemed international journal.

The GMO industry wields enormous political power, possesses huge financial resources and controls massive PR machinery. I feel no compulsion to regurgitate their views, their 'research' findings or the views of those who have links to them. The industry has spent millions of dollars resisting the labelling of food as containing GMOs in the US . They do not want it labelled (or tested or debated) because they are aware the public would choose not to buy it.

If you can call a conflict of interests as being on the side of the ordinary person who has had GMO food pushed on them with no say in the matter then I have a conflict of interest. If you call a conflict of interest as trying to raise public awareness of not just the health risks associated with food (not only GM food), but bringing to light associated deceit, duplicity and institutionalised corruption then I have no problem in stating that there is a conflict of interest. If you call a conflict of interest as highlighting undemocratic practices to benefit rich and powerful corporations then I have a conflict of interest. You might not like this type of journalism, it might offend certain preconceived notions you have about 'journalism', but it has a long and valid history.

Dr Meryl Hammond, founder of the Campaign for Alternatives to Pesticides, told a Canadian parliament committee in 2009 that a raft of studies published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals point to strong associations between chemical pesticides and serious health consequences, including endocrine disruption and fertility problems, birth defects, brain tumours and brain cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, childhood leukaemia, cancer clusters in communities, gastric or stomach cancer, learning disabilities, non-Hodgkin's lymphomaand canine malignant lymphoma.

Shiv Chopra was a top food advisor to the Canadian govt. He exposed how all kinds of dangerous food products were knowingly put on the market there due to the power of the food industry.

Given the amount of hormones, antibiotics, food additives, preservatives and colourings, artificial sweeteners, aluminium, sulphur, flavour enhancers and heavy metals being put into what we eat, is it any wonder that we are becoming sick? Severe anemia, permanent brain damage, Alzheimer's, dementia, neurological disorders, reproductive problems, diminished intelligence, impaired immune system, behavioural disorders, cancers, hyperactivity and learning disability are just some of the diseases linked to our food.

Of course, just like cigarettes and the tobacco industry before, trying to ‘prove' the glaringly obvious link will take decades as deceit is passed off as ‘science' by the corporations involved in food production.

In ‘GMOs Ticking Time Bomb', Rima E Laibow, Medical Director of Natural Solutions Foundation, argues that every single independent study conducted on the impact of GMOs shows they damage organs and cause infertility, immune system failure, holes in the GI tract and multiple system failure when eaten. She argues that they cause a variety of changes, some of which we can't even guess at as new proteins are coded due to altered DNA – some which we've never seen before. Laiblow concludes we are playing with genetic fire. Yet, they are on the commercial market in the US and elsewhere. I'll say it again, the onus is on the GM industry to prove its technology is safe. It hasn't.

Choosing to ignore everything I had said thus far, the next comment from the professor was:

I just spoke to a former editor at (name of newspaper) who is now retired after working there for three decades to understand what is that clinches an article to be accepted for publication at newspapers in India . He clearly told me that most often no great intellectual input goes into publishing an article or not. It is just the whim and fancy of the day some senior editor of that page happens to be. He specifically told me that one should not rule out the fact that if some article comes from abroad, no critical scrutiny goes into it and most local editors think that their paper's credibility and visibility is enhanced by such foreign articles. I know this to be true with another worst offender on GM issues, namely The Hindu that never publishes a single scientifically accurate on GM issues. Its then editor Mr. N. Ram, a known leftist and carries all the leftists junk the Guardian publishes without wincing an eyelid, published an strong pro-GM article by my good friend who shared all his correspondence with Ram on his article and it was a clear case of exempting my friend that just once because he is not only white skinned fellow and that he is a professor at an Ivy league like Cornell U. My friend agrees with a smile that is exactly what happened to him. I am afraid that (name of newspaper in which my article appeared) does not do any better. And, I know a lot about it as I grew up with it way back in sixties. Many journalists have told me that scientific facts don't make news. What makes news is sensationalism. And, that is exactly what anti-GM activist scientists Seralini has been doing all his career and he stands condemned by the scientific community of the world.

If you live in India , you must know how foreigners are treated in all walks of life. Any word from them becomes the Gospel truth. That is the only reason I see why Colin Todhunter's piece was published. these days, most journalists bothers to verify facts.

My response :

(Name of professor) throws around lots of suppositions and accusations and hearsay 'evidence' in an attempt to rubbish a piece and a writer. White skinned firangi whose word is 'gospel truth', 'leftist junk', slurs against newspapers.

He asserts: "There is no truth in that George Bush's White House intervend on behalf of Monsanto. These are all great conspiracy theories." This is his assertion - a GM industry man. Perhaps we are to take his word as the 'gospel truth'. I prefer to place my faith in William F Engdahl, a credible and established researcher who is not part of the GM industry and who has written a good deal on the GM issue.

"These are all great conspiracy theories good for a sensational journalism, but not for professionally and ethically correct journalism. It is a shame that there are writers like Todhunter deliberately mislead readers."

On the topic of misleading, I refer you to 90 day trails by the industry and criminal practices of certain GM companies, from Indonesia to Massachutes. The list is in fact a long one. Accusations of 'misleading' coming from someone associated with a sector, some of whose companies have a track record of 'misleading', if that is what we can call criminality - who also have a track record of spending millions of dollars so that the US public cannot tell which foods are GM and which are not because the industry does not want labelling.

Of course, aside from indulging in an abusive tirade towards me, in an attempt by him to appear 'professional' and 'ethical', he accuses me of being neither.

I have accurately conveyed some of the findings of the Seralini study to the reader, given the space allotted by the newspaper. And I have accurately reported on some of the links between regulatory bodies/persons and the GM industry, such as the ILSI and EFSA. I urge anyone to look at the US FDA and its revolving door with agribusiness. And that's just for starters. After researching into such links and how GM foods have been forced on the US public especially, who could not arrive at the conclusion (as I did in my article) that governments and regulatory bodies have virtually become mouthpieces of private vested interests, in this case agribusiness?

(Referring to what I mentioned in my article:) It is also fact that Dr Arpad Pusztai was effectively silenced over his research and a campaign was set in motion to destroy his reputation. The extract about the WikiLeaks cable highlighting how GMOs were being forced into European nations by the US ambassador to France who plotted with other US officials to create a ‘retaliatory target list' of anyone who tried to regulate GMOs is also correct.

At this point I received a comment in support of my piece. The good professor responded to this:

I pity you. You are another clueless as you don't know anything about the world of agricultural crops. All you know is scare mongering on falsehoods. All that people like you know is to stop progress and US agriculture is doing fine and thanks to the absence of scientists like Seralini and Pushpa Bhargava. These two so called scientific jokers will not allowed set foot in the real world of science in North America . They have a hey day in countries like India because of ignoramuses like yourself. People like Todhunter serve you right. You two are made for each other.

My response:

The more I read (the professor's) comments and read about this former Syngenta man, the more I realise he cannot be taken seriously. But his ideology is dangerous. He talks of people 'stopping progress'. What he means is the progress of his industry and the raping and contamination of nature for profit. He thinks US agriculture is doing fine. Well, much could be said on that. Again, he means profits for his industry. No independence and no comeback on the criticisms of his industry I have set out elsewhere here.

I expect nothing better from someone associated with an industry that has a record of smearing and attempting to ruin people who criticise it. Feel free to continue to slur and attempt to demean me if you must, but my conscience is clear and I'll take no sermons on ethics from anyone with close links to the GM industry and a former employee of it. An industry that has been responsible for the best part of 250,000 farmer deaths in India, an industry that has contaminated crops and bullied farmers in North America, an industry whose companies have been charged with and most often found guilty of contaminating the environment and seriously damaging health with PCBs and dioxins, an industry complicit in concealing the deadly impact of GM corn on animals, an industry where bribery seems to be second nature, an industry associated with human rights violations in Brazil, an industry that will not label its foods in the US, an industry ... I could go on but the list it too lengthy. So much for high minded ethics. Little wonder the popular print media fail to give you a voice, which you are clearly so bitter about - so bitter about you resort to rants with xenophobic undertones.

And then, the final response from the professor:

Colin: I don't think I should respond to all your intellectually deceitful nonsense. You are a part of that global anti-GM brigade who has specialized in lies, innuendos and deceit much against the scientific facts, which is why one is hard pressed to find a biotech regulatory who rejects any GM application anywhere in the world. The latest country to reject your gang's scientific nonsense using Seralini's incompetent paper to scare governments to ban GM crops has come a cropper. Since 1996, there has been no other crop variety or a hybrid (most of you don't know the difference) that grown in adoption by farmers world over than GM crops. Eat your heart out. You people have no shame. You are all disgusting enemies of the poor farmers around the world by trying to block a safe product of a frontier technology when all of you enjoy using recombinant insulin, vaccines and information technology tools made by those "evil" MNCs for your own pleasure and comfort.

And my final response:

The more you come out with phrases like 'your gang' and 'deceitful nonsense', 'disgusting enemies', the more ridiculous you sound. How about responding to the long list (I could make it longer if you like) of criminal practices and deceit that I have outlined and which your sector has engaged in? A free marketeer indeed and a champion of the poor too. Well, we know where such dogma that masquerades as economic theory has got the world (and where your 'frontier technology' got those dead Indian farmers) don't we? What with veiled coercion from the US Government, bribery, retaliatory lists, destroying careers, misleading information, lies, etc, it's hardly surprising biotech regulatory approval is achieved more often than not. 

Colin Todhunter has written for numerous publications. His East by Northwest website is at colintodhunter.blogspot.com





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