The trouble with Monsanto and GMOs — Dr. David Suzuki spells it out

From Jeremy Bloom on the Red Green and Blue blog:

Well-known geneticist and science broadcaster Dr. David Suzuki. Photo via Red Green and Blue blog.

I’ve been asked why we’re writing so much about Monsanto and genetically modified food. “It’s been tested,” they say. “It’s safe,” they say. “There’s nothing to fear. Why are you spreading disinformation?”

I’m not a geneticist. If I say “We don’t know enough about this,” I’m just one guy. So I’ll let a geneticist answer those questions.

David Suzuki is a geneticist. He’s one of the top scientists in Canada, his textbook is one of the most widely-used in the world, he’s published more than 30 books. As head of the David Suzuki Foundation, he’s both a promoter of science and a popularizer.

So when David Suzuki speaks, I listen (see the end of this article for a list of sources). And David Suzuki says,

“Because we aren’t certain about the effects of GMOs, we must consider one of the guiding principles in science, the precautionary principle. Under this principle, if a policy or action could harm human health or the environment, we must not proceed until we know for sure what the impact will be. And it is up to those proposing the action or policy to prove that it is not harmful.”

It’s complicated

One plus one equals two. That’s simple. But one gene inserted into a complex chromosome may not work in a simple, linear fashion.

Transgenic crops are not simple products like widgets, ipods or even automobiles. They are living organisms that can interact with other creatures in the environment in myriad ways. Nature is complicated. When you modify an organism at a genetic level, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the results are also complicated, and often unexpected.

…Science does not proceed in a linear fashion the way we write up our grant applications, you know—experiment A leads to experiment B to C to a cure for cancer. So all of the supposed benefits of our manipulations are purely speculative. We don’t know how it will all turn out. And then when we create new organisms, new products, and release them in the wild, in our food, in our drugs, we simply don’t know enough to anticipate what the consequences will be.

We don’t know…

The bottom line with GMO is very simple: We simply don’t have the science lined up to make any sort of blanket reassurances that GMO is really safe. Here’s Suzuki:

I’m a geneticist. What bothers me is we have governments that are supposed to be looking out for our health, for the safety of our environment, and they’re acting like cheerleaders for this technology, which… is in its infancy and we have no idea what the technology is going to do.

…At the cutting edge of scientific research, most of our ideas are far from the mark – wrong, in need of revision, or irrelevant. That’s not a derogation of science; it’s the way science advances. We take a set of observations or data, set up a hypothesis that makes sense of them, and then we test the hypothesis. The new insights and techniques we gain from this process are interpreted tentatively and liable to change, so any rush to apply them strikes me as downright dangerous.

…Because they won’t tell us

Not only have there not been enough studies done… when studies ARE performed, outside researchers often have to pry the data out of Monsanto via Freedom of Information filings and lawsuits. That’s a big concern concern as well.

Transgenic crops are, in many ways, radically new and should be subject to the greatest of scientific scrutiny, not suppressed by proprietary concerns.

So what is the rush to apply ideas that will prove to be irrelevant or wrong? Money, of course.

Unintended consequences

The history of science is the history of the unexpected.

…History informs us that though we love technology, there are always costs, and since our knowledge of how nature works is so limited, we can’t anticipate how those costs will manifest. We only have to reflect on DDT, nuclear power, and CFCs, which were hailed as wonderful creations but whose long-term detrimental effects were only found decades after their widespread use.

…As we learned from experience with DDT, nuclear power and CFCs, we only discover the costs of new technologies after they are extensively used. We should apply the Precautionary Principle with any new technology, asking whether it is needed and then demanding proof that it is not harmful. Nowhere is this more important than in biotechnology because it enables us to tamper with the very blueprint of life.

Putting genes back in bottles

How do you clean up a potential GMO mess? You don’t.

The difference with GM food is that once the genie is out of the bottle, it will be difficult or impossible to stuff it back. If we stop using DDT and CFCs, nature may be able to undo most of the damage – even nuclear waste decays over time. But GM plants are living organisms. Once these new life forms have become established in our surroundings, they can replicate, change, and spread; there may be no turning back. Many ecologists are concerned about what this means to the balance of life on Earth that has evolved over millions of years through the natural reproduction of species.

Next page: We’re experimenting on… us


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6 responses to “The trouble with Monsanto and GMOs — Dr. David Suzuki spells it out

  1. Pingback: Say NO to GMO « Grains-n-Things

  2. Pingback: GMO crops are compounding in the food chain and we need to know the truth about their long term effects

  3. Lincoln Paradox

    So, GMOs are safe because the world is 5000 years old? Or because Dr. Suzuki subscribes to a common paradigm for his discipline, everything he has to say is false?

    The bottom line is the GMO plants, at least the varieties that we plant in the US today, were designed with the promise to reduce the need for harmful pesticides and herbicides. Since the advent of GMO seeds, pesticide/herbicide use has increased dramatically, mostly because the pests have been selected to be resistant to these chemicals. So, regardless of how that happened, GMO plants have not fulfilled their most basic promise.

    The idea that organisms change over time does not discount the existence of G-d. It only discounts your theological interpretation of Genesis 1-2:24.

  4. Gloria Hope


  5. Dear Friends of Real (Non-GMO) Food:

    Readers will note that the link to page 2 of this highly popular article,”The trouble with Monsanto and GMOs — Dr. David Suzuki spells it out”, in THE BOVINE archives is no longer functional. After considerable research I was finally able to locate the orginal version of Page 2 of the Jeremy Bloom’s article about David Suzuki’s thoughts on GMO’s . ******************************
    We’re experimenting on… us

    In effect, by feeding this stuff to the American population without any long-term studies, we’ve made the US one giant petri dish. Europeans – who have banned GMOs (which ought to make you wonder about safety) get to be the control group of this planet-wide experiment.

    Anyone that says, “oh, we know that this is perfectly safe.” I say is either unbelievably stupid, or deliberately lying. The reality is, we don’t know. The experiments simply haven’t been done, and now we have become the guinea pigs.

    …A review of the science conducted under the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development in 2008 concluded that “there are a limited number of properly designed and independently peer-reviewed studies on human health” and that this and other observations “create concern about the adequacy of testing methodologies for commercial GM plants.”

    …Some have argued that we’ve been eating GM foods for years with few observable negative consequences, but as we’ve seen with things like trans fats, if often takes a while for us to recognize the health impacts. With GM foods, concerns have been raised about possible effects on stomach bacteria and resistance to antibiotics, as well as their role in allergic reactions. We also need to understand more about their impact on other plants and animals.

    …Without our consent

    We have learned from painful experience that anyone entering an experiment should give informed consent. That means at the very least food should be labeled if it contains GMOs so we each can make that choice.

    I am most definitely not in favour of release of GMOs in the food stream and given that it’s too late, I favour complete labelling of GMO products.

    But wait, there’s more:

    And that’s only the beginning. Other issues include:

    Monsanto monopolizing the seed supply for the US… and the world
    Monsanto’s GMO seeds are designed to maximize use of pesticides, as well, further impacting the environment
    Use of pesticides has already led to super-weeds that acquire resistance
    Bacteria transfer genes directly. This could lead to super-bugs with unknown consequences
    Monocultures – reliance on one crop – is bad agriculture. Reliance on a single strain could be disastrous. Biodiversity is nature’s insurance policy.
    Traditionally, farmers have saved some of their crop as seed to plant the next season. It’s the heart of sustainability. Not with Monsanto – they want you to buy new seed from them every year. Keeping some of your crop to plant next season is a violation of your contract, and farmers get sued for it.
    American farmers with access to credit can buy seed every year. But Monsanto is also pushing their product line in the developing world, destroying a 10,000-year-old system of sustainable agriculture.
    Monsanto has a history of suing farmers for “stealing” their patented genes… when they get contaminated by pollen from nearby GMO fields. And the court system has generally backed Monsanto.
    That same GMO gene contamination has already led to some farmers losing their organic certification.
    Monsanto hired the mercenary company Blackwater (now Xe) to spy on anti-GMO activists.
    With all that, is it any wonder some of us have taken this irrational dislike to Monsanto?

    Suzuki sources:

    True Food Foundation – Dr Suzuki Says
    More Science Needed on effects of genetically modified crops
    American Scientist – An Interview with David Suzuki
    Yes Magazine – Experimenting With Life
    What can you do?

    Make a donation to the Center for Food Safety, so that they can get the USDA back into court ASAP
    Support the Non-GMO project and use the resources they provide tokeep GMO foods out of your shopping basket
    Check out the list of things you can do from the David Suzuki Foundation… and make a donation while you’re there.

    Tom Vilsack – USDA Alfalfa Comments Line: 301-851-2300
    President Obama 202-456-1111 (or send a written message online)
    Monstanto 314-694-1000
    More on Monstanto and GMOs:

    End of Organics? Monsanto’s GMO Alfalfa Approved
    Stonyfield Farm Takes a Swing at Monsanto (And the OCA)
    Monsanto back in court: Center for Food Safety challenges GMO alfalfa ruling
    Too Much of a Bad Thing: Monsanto Did NOT Buy Blackwater
    Did Monstanto Finally Buy Blackwater? There’s No Way to Know
    Be Nice to Monsanto; They’re having a Bad Year
    Beef is the Worst: Why Put Oil On Your Barbecue?

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