GMO scientist turned anti-GMO activist

From Ken Roseboro, on

Dr. Thierry Vrain (left). Photo via

“The “conversion” of for­mer anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas to GMO promoter has gar­nered huge media atten­tion, but Thierry Vrain, Ph.D., a for­mer genetic engineer who speaks out against the risks of genetically engi­neered foods, has far more credibility—and a far more impor­tant story to tell the public.

Thierry Vrain’s career has spanned the full range of agriculture—from being a proponent of “chemical” agriculture and genetic engineering to being an advo­cate for organic farming and an oppo­nent of GMOs.

A native of France, Vrain earned an under­graduate degree in plant physiology from the Université de Caen and a doc­toral degree from North Carolina State University. After mov­ing to Canada he taught plant physiol­ogy at Université du Québec in Montréal. Then he worked for 30 years as a research scientist for the Canadian government in Québec and British Columbia where he con­ducted research on genetically modified potatoes, among other projects. He was director of the biotechnology department at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, BC.

After 35 years of research and teaching of soil and molecular biol­ogy, Vrain retired to a small farm in Courtenay, BC called Innisfree. Today, Thierry Vrain is a gardener, a teacher and a pas­sion­ate speaker about organic gardening—from soil health to GMOs.

Ken Roseboro: Tell me a little more about your background.

Thierry Vrain: I worked in three research insti­tutes in Montreal, Vancouver and Summerland. I was the head of a research group using mol­e­c­u­lar biol­ogy tools. We worked on food crops. I was genet­i­cally engi­neer­ing small fruit and pota­toes for nema­tode resis­tance using the snow­drop lectin gene.

The genet­i­cally engi­neered apple (now under regulatory review in the U.S. and Canada) orig­i­nated in our group though I wasn’t involved with the research.

KR: Did you speak pub­licly in favor of genetic engineering when you were at Agriculture Canada?  

Vrain: Yes, I just took it on as my job. I explained the safety of the tech­nol­ogy to the pub­lic and did a good amount of lec­tur­ing, edu­cat­ing small groups.

KR: What led you to change from a sup­porter of genet­i­cally mod­i­fied foods to an opponent?

Vrain: I have some difficulties with how the controversy is han­dled. If you aren’t a sci­en­tist, you don’t understand the science. If you are a sci­en­tist and dis­cover things that are of con­cern, then you are accused of doing “pseudo­science” and often viciously attacked by the industry and academics on the pay­roll. This has hap­pened many times, for exam­ple to Arpad Pusztai in England and then Ignacio Chapela, who dis­cov­ered GMO con­t­a­m­i­na­tion in native corn in Mexico. He was attacked and almost fired from his post at the University of California. A year later his find­ings were confirmed.

There are now quite a num­ber of research publications, in peer reviewed jour­nals, showing concerns from feed­ing GM corn and soy to rats. Those stud­ies are ignored and shouldn’t be. Federal agen­cies should repeat the stud­ies and must test these crops for safety.

Research scientists from the US Food & Drug Administration made it clear in the early 1990s that there could be indirect effects from eat­ing GM crops, such as tox­ins, allergens, and nutritional deficiencies. Those warn­ings were ignored. Now a good num­ber of publications are confirming the predictions of the FDA scientists.

It trou­bles me that money and the bot­tom line are at the root of the use of the technology.

KR: You say that the science behind genetic engineering is based on a misunderstanding. Please elaborate on this.

Vrain: When we started with genetic engi­neer­ing in the 1980s, the sci­ence was based on the the­ory that one gene pro­duces one pro­tein. But we now know, since the human genome project, that a gene can cre­ate more than one pro­tein. The inser­tion of genes in the genome through genetic engi­neer­ing inter­rupts the cod­ing sequence of the DNA, creating truncated, rogue pro­teins, which can cause unin­tended effects. It’s an inva­sive technology.

Biotech companies ignore these rogue pro­teins; they say they are back­ground noise. But we should pay atten­tion to them. It must be ver­i­fied that they pro­duce no negative effects.

A key point is that the concern about genetic engi­neer­ing should be about the pro­teins. Many plants and animals are not edi­ble because their pro­teins are toxic or poisonous. To test for the safety of Bt crops, sci­en­tists have mostly fed the pure protein to rats, and there may be no problem. But it’s dif­fer­ent if you feed rats the whole GM plant because they are getting these rogue proteins that could cause harm.

How do you explain pub­lished papers describing how rats and mice suf­fer organ dam­age from eat­ing GM corn or soy? It’s too easy to dis­miss those as pseudo­science. Rats and mice are the canary in the mine, and we should be pay­ing atten­tion to what hap­pens to them….”


Dr Thierry Vrain has been featured in three recent GMO-related stories on The Bovine, compiled by Raoul Bedi: 

June 26: Video of Dr. Theirry Vrain, speaking in Surrey

June 11: The Gene Revolution with Dr. Thierry Vrain (incl Dr. Vrain’s TED talk)

May 23: Dr Thierry Vrain on GMO Dangers

1 Comment

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One response to “GMO scientist turned anti-GMO activist

  1. Reblogged this on Live Nakedly and commented:
    From a con of science to a conscience…

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