by Raoul Bedi, BASc
Dr.Vrain spoke about “The Future of Agriculture” at TED talks on May 23, 2013
Building on the theme of collaboration and synergy, in the work of food security, anti-GMO awareness and public education, through the examples of interviews (Vandana Shiva May 1, 2013), writings (Dr. Thierry Vrain’s May 23 GMO Dangers essay), podcasts, activism and rallies, I continue this process with a summary about the recent June 5 “Community Forum on GM Food” and lecture by retired GM Scientist Dr.Thierry Vrain in Surrey BC that was sponsored by Phil Harrison, the Council of Canadians ( www.canadians.org ) and others.
Apart from disseminating the information shared with the audience by Dr. Vrain, it is also useful to provide some background on the organizational and activist elements involved, so that towns and regions across Canada may more easily and quickly replicate and build upon this work.
To demonstrate how we are already working towards the inevitable goal of banning GMO’s in all the municipalities of BC, it is instructive to look at the example of Langley, as GMO Free Langley (www.gmofreelangley.com) was also a co-sponsor of the forum. Langley is a small town with a population of 100,000 people and is due east of the Metro Vancouver suburb of Surrey. The past nine months have witnessed an incredible explosion of food security initiatives in Langley, way out of proportion to its size. Although Langley has not yet joined the exclusive club of 62 BC municipalities, including nearby Richmond and now North Vancouver (as of June 10!), I am not exaggerating when I say that the efforts of activists, organizations and colleges there have, at times, carried the whole Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley region “on its shoulders “!
On September 25, 2012, Anti-GMO world-wide celebrity author Jeffrey Smith www.responsibletechnology.org , “parachuted” in to the Amazing Discoveries centre in Langley,BC and gave lectures and initiated activist groups and trainings there to a sold out group of 400 people over 2 days. On November 8, distinguished activist and director of CBAN www.cban.ca , Lucy Sharratt presented at the new Langley Town Hall to 120 people as part of a tour of 8 towns in BC. This was immediately followed by the sold out and highly successful BC Seeds Gathering (click here for conference videos) regional conference (To hear the original Conscious Living Radio podcast with organic farmer Susan Davidson about it click here) that was sponsored by the highly distinguished Langley-based Food Security organization “Farm Folk City Folk “ www.farmfolkcityfolk.ca on November 10th and 11th. It was there that it was announced that the Langley campus of Kwantlen college would be launching one of the largest regional seed banks as part of their horticultural program and in support of multi-generational food security. Lastly, we have the example of Lucy Nickel , a highly dedicated Langley “mom” activist who launched, in August 2012, the popular new cross-Canada anti-GMO Facebook awareness page called “GMO Free Canada”www.facebook.com/groups/gmofreecanada with its more than 1,300 members.
“My message to people living in large urban centres is that if the small town of Langley can do as much productive work for improving food security and banning GMOs as a city of several million, then people in large cities need to start mentally preparing themselves for, individually and collectively, doing ten to twenty times more than is currently being done to upgrade, improve and strengthen their current local food networks.” – Raoul Bedi, local food activist and writer.
But the exponential growth and changes do not stop there. The lead up to the inspiringly successful ‘March Against Monsanto’ world-wide May 25 rally has necessitated the spawning of over a dozen new specific and dedicated Facebook pages representing local towns across BC, perhaps 30 or 40 more across Canada, and around 250 more across the United States. This has the effect of elevating the whole urgency, networking possibilities, activism and implementation to the most important grassroots level of all : THE LOCAL AND IMMEDIATE ONE.
B: Evening Lecture Summary
The evening began with a brief, and activist-oriented, introduction from the event emcee and co-sponsor from the Coalition for a GE Free Surrey, Phil Harrison. Phil got us right down to business by exhorting people to e-mail, phone and personally meet their local Surrey, BC town councilors as they do not appear to be motivated to “just do the right thing “ in the matter of banning GMOs. He said “the Surrey town council was proving to be a tough nut to crack“ without sustained public pressure. Phil thought that a municipal ban on GMOs would actually prove to be “good for business” in the long run . On the other side of the coin, Phil gave the example of nearby Richmond,BC where organic farmers, businesses and consumers find the municipality’s non-gmo ban and supportive local Food Security initiatives so attractive that they are interested to move there in increasing numbers.
Next Phil touched on some recent national events and issues like the Oregon GM wheat trials fiasco which has already led to the cancellation of export contracts from the US to Japan, Korea and Russia. This is not a localized issue and affects every single wheat farmer, along with their associated supply and distributor chains even if they are situated thousands of miles away, in a totally unrelated region, from where the contamination problem has just been identified . A similar situation in 2009 arose in Canada with contaminated GM Triffid flax seed from seed trials that should never have gotten released into the general environment (reference : www.cban.ca/Resources/Topics/GE-Crops-and-Foods-Not-on-the-Market/Flax ). This resulted in a ban from the EU and hundreds of millions of dollars of losses to local Canadian farmers in the ensuing years of the ban.
The 3 most pressing issues on the plate for anti-GMO activist-minded Canadians, at the moment, are the GM Salmon, the new GM non-browning apple and GE alfalfa. About the GM salmon, Phil said that approval could come at any time from the Canadian federal government (reference: www.cban.ca/Resources/Topics/GE-Fish ). About GE alfalfa he said this is a major and multi-dimensional problem beyond just the basic human consumption of sprouts. Alfalfa is important for feeding and raising healthy livestock and for maintaining soil fertility and quality. There is also the possibility of GM alfalfa impinging on the already delicate situation with bees (reference: www.cban.ca/Resources/Topics/GE-Crops-and-Foods-Not-on-the-Market/Alfalfa ). About GE alfalfa (and the GM non-browning apple for that matter) Phil Harrison stated that this is one of the best examples of forcing a solution to a problem that does not even exist in the first place. Perhaps what Phil really should have said is that “ it is a powerful example of forcing a problem onto a solution (in this case one from nature) that already exists!” As Phil concluded, “alfalfa has no need for man-made sprays. Cows are happy to eat it just as it now grows”.
Dr. Thierry Vrain began his formal portion of the lecture by reviewing his background and long career with Agriculture Canada and his initial faith and advocacy work on behalf of the biotech industry. He said that the major turning point for him occurred when he retired. He was able to take a lot of time out to read and study gardening and agriculture from different angles and not just the for-profit chemical/biotech industry’s perspective. As he read more and more about GMOs without the constraints of a biased employer and also immersed himself in organic farming, medical herbalism and permaculture he became sincerely concerned about the direction that GMOs were taking in Canada.
Historically, he said GMO’s have already, in their short 17 year lifespan, revolutionized farming in North America. Over 80% of corn and over 90% of all soy is now genetically engineered. He posed the question of why have farmers so readily adopted this untried technology? Why is it so (superficially) successful? The first reason is that weeds are a huge problem for conventional farmers, whether in gardens or in fields, a farmer can spend 80% of his budget on weed and pest control. The biotech industries shrewdly marketed GMOs as a quick fix for all the farmers’ problems. It was claimed to be as safe as water, and the farmer would only have to focus on the planting of seeds thereby simplifying his work and saving time. Once he had sprayed the magic herbicide (i.e. Roundup) only the desired vegetables would remain.
What are GMOs ? How are they created ? Do they deliver ?
Next he posed some more fundamental questions to set the tone for his evening presentation. Just what exactly are GMOs? How are they created? Do they deliver? He mentioned four of their proponent’s primary claims i.e. i) reduction of pesticide use ii) increase of crop yields iii) safety for human consumption and iv) environmental safety. (For a more comprehensive list of claims made by the biotech industry, researchers are also referred to the executive summary on Pg. 8 of the outstanding GMO Myths and Truths report). Dr. Vrain relies extensively on this report when making presentations to concerned citizens.
Dr. Vrain spoke of 2 primary classes of GMOs : Ht (herbicide tolerant) and Bt (Bacillus Thuriensis ) . He said that 80% of GMO crops are of the Ht variety. But that you could engineer a plant for both at the same time i.e. to be resistant to pests (Bt variety) and tolerant of herbicides. GM Sweet corn is an example of both types. It was engineered for cattle feed, and to make high fructose corn syrup and other processed foods. Thus he suggested up to 90% of processed food now contains GM ingredients. This doubly genetically-modified corn variety was directly released into the human food supply chain about 2 years ago.
Other major GE crops in Canada include Canola (at 90%+ market penetration), and Sugar Beets with 95% market penetration after just 7 years on the market. And, as organizer Phil Harrison mentioned in his intro, GE alfalfa is coming soon to Canada and has already been available in the US for about 2 years.
How are GMOs created? Dr. Vrain reviewed the 2 main technologies. This section was highly technical. The first is the gene gun approach. A device is used which looks like a hair dryer and shoots millions of micro-pellets into plant cells. A few find their way to a plant cell nucleus. By some miracle some of those find their way to actual plant cell chromosomes. This method has a low rate of success. Few cells are actually engineered by it. Theoretically it would take an enormous amount of work to regenerate and reengineer a whole plant. To speed up the process a gene is added for antibiotic resistance. All the plant cells are then exposed to harmful bacteria, so that only the engineered ones survive. The “GMO Myths and Truths” report also refers to a “chemical method” for selecting out desired GE plant cells.
The second method or alternative technique for gene insertion involves linking the GM gene to a special piece of DNA present in the soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens. When the A. tumefaciens infects a plant, the GM gene is carried into the cells and can insert itself into the plant cell’s DNA. On page 9 of “GMO Myths and Truths” report http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/58 they provide more details about this process and how the genetic engineer then adds hormones to cause the new GE plant cells to proliferate. He then further weeds out the ones that are not performing well using similar methods to the ones just described in the “gene gun “ approach.
Dr. Vrain elaborated that proteins are molecules that do the work in the cell. Sugars, carbohydrates, fats and lipids do not move by themselves. Life is about movement. What then are the implications and possibilities of gene technology ? A plant could, for example, be engineered to make bacterial sugars that do not normally exist in the plant kingdom in what he called “elegant parasitism”. Just by cutting and pasting proteins and enzymes, you can use bacteria to push into the plants genes for any potentials you want. So, practically speaking, a plant could now be engineered to make human insulin. Using the above methodology over 100 million acres of land have now been engineered in the US .
Claim #1 : Have GMO’s delivered on their promises? For example do they reduce the need for pesticides? According to Dr.Vrain, a reduction of 100 million pounds of pesticide use was initially observed . This is a significant amount. The trouble is that even in the 1990’s some eminent insect specialists predicted that insects could eventually overcome the pesticides. Because while most die from the exposure to GE plant material, a few always do not. And thus through a process of natural selection, resistance is bred into the species of undesirable insects or pests. After a few years a new alternative chemical pesticide is needed to do the work. In the US, 40 weeds are now resistant to roundup. Half of all US acreage for agricultural growing purposes is now infected with resistant weeds. We are now right back to square one. In BC there are no notable weeds that are resistant to current herbicidal control measures but it is only a matter of time before the problem surfaces here too. In herbicide resistant regions of the US, farmers must now revert to highly ancient methods of hiring human labour to pull weeds by hand as 50% of the herbicides used are now useless.
Now 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (usually referred to by its abbreviation, 2,4-D) is being heavily promoted as an alternative to Roundup. In Wikipedia , it is described as a common systemic pesticide/herbicide used in the control of broadleaf weeds. It is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, and the third most commonly used herbicide in North America. A similar version of it was used as “Agent Orange “ in the Vietnam war and resulted in widespread civilian casualties and suffering. It is known to be highly toxic to many forms of life including human. [Editor’s note 2,4-D is one component of Agent Orange].
Thus in the final account, GMOs not only fail to reduce the need for pesticides , but worse, necessitate the use of harsher and ever more dangerous chemicals, in ever increasing quantities, to do the same work of weed and pest removal.
Claim #2 : Yield Increase?
There is nothing about the current gene insertion technologies or the contents of that process that increases yields. Perhaps indirectly one could argue that the initial control of insects would mean there is more crop leftover for the farmer to harvest. But over time such a minor benefit declines to zero over times as surviving pests develop a resistance to the toxic chemicals used. More importantly, the gene insertion process is very costly to the overall metabolism of the plant. Dr.Vrain suggested that there is a 5% to 10% loss of vitality and functionality in the GM plant’s metabolic function as compared to conventional plants and perhaps even more when compared to organically raised plants which have the highest vitality of all since they do not have to suffer the stress of any kind of toxic chemical inputs, synthetic fertilizers or poor soil fertility .
Claim #3 No Effect on Environment?
This claim is refuted by the fact that GM farmers automatically contaminate their neigbhours’ crops whether or not those neighbours are GM, conventional or organic farmers. This is an unavoidable consequence of GM technology i.e. uncontrollable and irreversible proliferation. A GM farmer has no responsibility to “fence in “ his production unlike for other traditional cases where a farmer has to fence in his animals to prevent them from damaging or eating from a neighbour’s field. A further consequence of this short-sighted approach is that some organic farmers have lost markets for their products and/or simply given up and had to change their crop to one where a GM imitation does not exist. Dr.Vrain suggested that this has cost such farmers over $100 million. The recent fiasco with the Oregon wheat trials could negatively impact US conventional wheat farmers to the tune of billions of dollars (reference : http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2013/06/06/did-monsanto-just-single-handedly-ruin-the-economy.aspx ) .
Furthermore , the process of lateral or species-to-species gene transfer violates certain fundamental laws and filters in nature. Transgene crops can spread to soil organisms, beneficial insects (such as bees) and then to farm and wild animals and finally to humans. 90% of all cells in the human body are bacteria . This is well documented. So if bacteria containing transgenes with harmful traits reach and modify or proliferate in the human intestine there are several possible negative outcomes. Our guts could be turned into “pesticide factories” spitting out toxic herbicides or they could develop new levels of antibiotic resistance. Dr.Vrain suggested that this is a very serious problem on par with the threat of nuclear radiation. Here is another good article on the problem of contamination (http://occupymonsanto360.org/blog/ge-wheat-controversy-further-proof-ge-crops-are-uncontrollable/ .
Video interview about “Substantial Equivalence” by Tony Mitra www.tonu.org
Claim #4 : Are GM Crops Really Substantially Equivalent to Conventional Ones ?
Are GM Crops Safe for Human Consumption?
The government of Canada and the US use an infantile and unscientific logic for determining so-called ‘substantial equivalence’ . For example , GM corn looks and tastes like corn from conventional seed therefore it must be the same and there is no need to test it. The FDA rubberstamps a biotech firms application and essentially says “You do not have to do any supporting research and even if you do we do not need to see it “ . While this is now the current policy , in 1996 when GMO’s were first being considered for approval by the FDA , the majority of the leading and supporting FDA research scientists said this technology has many potential unintended side effects and that more study is needed before approving or (not) approving it . They were overruled.
In Scotland, distinguished research scientist Dr. Arpad Pusztai was provided with a 1.5 million Euro grant to study GMO effects on rats. They were fed engineered potatoes over a period of time against a control fed regular food . When killed and later dissected extensive organ damage of a statistically significant nature was found in the rat’s liver, brain, testes and other areas. His results were published in the distinguished Lancet Journal in 1999. He was promptly discredited and his funding was withdrawn (detailed reference: www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pusztai_affair ) .
Dr.Vrain explained that early geneticists from the 1940’s postulated that one gene was the cause of one protein. But that the truth of the matter is more complex and unpredictable than this as a gene can encode for up to 4 or 5 different proteins in an unpredictable and uncontrollable manner. The technology is anything but precise (a further false claim). This means that in the process of trying to introduce a desired trait into a gene you may unknowingly and simultaneously interfere with, damage, or mutate, 3 or 4 other important and unrelated genes . According to Dr. Vrain up to 43 proteins in the genetically-modified MON 810 plants were found to be damaged or disrupted as compared to their non-GM plant cousins. Dr. Vrain suggests that the biotech industry does little research of its own and the money it gives universities to do research is mostly not for safety studies. Regardless of the outcomes or absence of those corporate or university safety studies on GMO crops, the majority (if not all ) of their published results appear to only put out the message that the GM technology is “safe and innocuous”.
Dr. Vrain said that rats are the “canary in the mine” . He cited a half dozen different studies that show detrimental health effects in rats and mice fed GMO food over a longer term. Roundup ready corn was also found to damage the liver and kidneys of rats fed this food in lab studies. Another concern that Dr.Vrain had with Monsanto’s Roundup or Glyphosate was that it displays a tendency to bind on to necessary metals in the body and neutralize them . He explained that many proteins doing essential work in the body require specific metals to do their work. He gave the example of chlorophyll in plants or iron in hemoglobin . This process is particularly insidious and dangerous in the long term because it is not immediately noticeable or toxic.
As mentioned earlier, throughout Dr.Thierry Vrain’s eye-opening evening presentation in Surrey on June 5 , at the Forum on GM Food, he drew extensively from an outstanding 123 page report entitled “GMO Myths and Truths “ at Earth’s Open Source. Therefore for completeness, I would like to now include some of their conclusions with his final words as due to shortness of time he may not have covered a few of their points or I may have missed recording them. (Reference website link: http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/gmo-myths-and-truths ) .
“A large and growing body of scientific and other authoritative evidence shows that claims (made by the biotech industry) are not true. On the contrary, evidence presented in this report indicates that GM crops:
1. Are laboratory-made, using technologies that are totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks than from non-GM crops
2. Can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts
3. Are not adequately regulated to ensure safety
4. Do not increase yield potential
5. Do not reduce pesticide use but increase it
6. Create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant “super weeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops
7. Have mixed economic effects
8. Harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity
9. Do not offer effective solutions to climate change
10. Are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops
11. Cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on.
Based on the evidence presented in this report, there is no need to take risks with GM crops when effective, readily available, and sustainable solutions to the problems that GM technology is claimed to address already exist. Conventional plant breeding, in some cases helped by safe modern technologies like gene mapping and marker assisted selection, continues to outperform GM in producing high-yield, drought-tolerant, and pest- and disease-resistant crops that can meet our present and future food needs.”
According to Dr.Thierry Vrain the influential and distinguished American Academy of Environmental Medicine has asked for a moratorium on GM foods, testing and labeling . In his final closing words he strongly declared that the GM technology leads to “super weeds, super bugs, contamination, genetic pollution, allergens” and more. One can therefore only safely conclude that the “FUTURE OF AGRICULTURE IS NOT (AN) ENGINEERED (ONE)”!
C: Upcoming GMO/Food Security Events
1.GE FREE 2013 Fall Tour
Dr. Thierry Vrain has announced that he is available to travel and teach in BC and the rest of Canada about the dangers of GMOs in the fall and winter of 2013/2014. You may make a donation at the following GOFUNDME link page http://www.gofundme.com/2ys84s .
Here is Dr.Vrain’s Direct and Personal Appeal to the Public :
I am asking you to support my crusade to test and label genetically engineered foods. I am a retired scientist and I am alarmed at the avalanche of scientific studies out of Europe showing that Genetically Engineered plants contain rogue proteins that can be allergenic or toxic. Rats fed GM plants show organ damage after a few months. I want to tour 100 towns and address 20,000 people in BC and Alberta this fall and winter 2013/2014 to give my presentation on GMOs and make them aware of the results of the latest scientific studies. I have already presented this information to a small number of groups and communities in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, where I live. I wish to raise the alarm so that the provincial and federal agencies finally take notice. There are a number of videos on YouTube about what I teach.
If you can afford to do so, please share a little of your wealth, time or both to spread my message. If you would like others to fight for your right to know what is in your food, then please support the cause. Or get involved, if you live in Canada, by joining the CBAN www.cban.ca or the GE FREE BC (www.gefreebc.wordpress.com ) wave against GMOs . And please tell all your friends.
Dr. Thierry Vrain
Innisfree Farm www.innisfreefarm.org
2. World Food Day
“World Food Day is celebrated every year around the world on the 16th of October in honor of the date of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 1945. World Food Day has also been a tradition in the USA since the first World Food Day in 1982. In the United States the endeavor is sponsored by 450 national, private voluntary organizations” (Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Food_Day ).
This year , after the highly successful “March Against Monsanto” ( www.march-against-monsanto.com ) rallies on May 25, involving up to 2 million people in 400 towns and cities world-wide, a number of new local MAM groups have decided to hold a follow-up march and rally to roughly coincide with World Food Day.
3. Since October 1993, FarmFolk CityFolk has been supporting community-based sustainable food systems by engaging in public education with farm and city folks; actively organizing and advocating around local, timely issues; building alliances with other organizations and businesses; and harnessing the energy of our volunteers. By supporting this work you are helping communities across Canada protect farmland, support farmers and producers, and celebrate local, seasonal, and sustainable food. In 2013, FarmFolk CityFolk celebrates 20 years of supporting sustainable agriculture and celebrating local food! To celebrate this success and launch FarmFolk CityFolk into the next 20 years we are hosting a series of special events, activities and fundraisers including our big anniversary celebration party in late October 2013. Date & location to be announced.
D: Other News
1. Toronto podcaster and videographer Dan Dicks www.pressfortruth.tv interviews the 2 main organizers of the May 25 March Against Monsanto Toronto rally: Jennifer Berman Diaz and James Connor. www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=W2xZBgcnqmk#!
2. Kristen Traversy, a March Against Monsanto Vancouver organizer (with Shyanne Nyman), has co-produced with videographer Michael Bernas from www.visualize.tv an excellent 12 minute documentary http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fl_sCALqmxI&feature=player_detailpage about the May 25 rally there. It provides you with all the wonderful fragrances and experiences of music, art, sidewalk graffiti , songs and chants, dances and talks by the 3000 odd participants there .
3. From the front lines of the war against Monsanto and GMOs, here’s footage from the March Against Monsanto in Austin, Texas, May 25th 2013. Introduction by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger www.NaturalNews.com . As usual Mike does not waste a second explaining what you need to know about what is happening on the ground in the GMO activist world and what you can do, now and in future, to better prepare yourself and your family for this collective challenge we face to our food security, as well as possible steps for those interested in public advocacy work. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=mdlo7JOGGEE#!
About the author: Raoul Bedi has worked in the field of educational seminars with a focus on nutrition and health for 25 years. Over the past 5 years he has been actively involved in educational and fundraising initiatives and campaigns for farmer’s rights and food security in Canada. He is also an administrator for the “Canadian Raw Dairy Consumer Advocacy“ Facebook page. Raoul can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org . His company, Vedic Harmony Centre, sponsors a variety of food and wellness events, not-for-profit radio interviews about Food Security, conscious living and green solutions. Vedic Harmony Centre’s website, for educational materials and products, or to make a donation to support future extensive non-profit blogging initiatives about Food Security, is www.biofield.ca .