In September 2012, pictures of seriously tumorous rats (Figure 1) went viral across the Internet, setting off passionate and acrimonious exchanges between proponents and opponents of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Charges and countercharges flew like verbal grapeshot across the various levels of the digital world and scientific media as each side tried to spin what these photos meant.
“GMOs may be creating an entire generation of cancer victims who have a frighteningly heightened risk of growing massive mammary gland tumors caused by the consumption of GM foods. We are witnessing what may turn out to be the worst and most costly blunder in the history of western science: the mass poisoning of billions of people with a toxic food crop that was never properly tested in the first place,” wrote Mike Adams, an award-winning journalist specializing in health issues, in Op-Ed News.1
“The researchers clearly seem to be focused on achieving political ends, namely a ban on the use of genetically modified crops. All indications are that they have performed sloppy science, presented it as indicating something it hasn’t, and then knowingly manipulated the press coverage of their work. All in order to ensure the paper had an oversized impact in the public sphere,” said John Timmer, writing in Ars Technica.2
All of this arose in response to a study released that September, whose principal investigator was French molecular biologist, Gilles-Eric Seralini, professor and departmental chair of Molecular Biology at the University of Caen, where he heads a research team for the French National Centre for Scientific Research and the National Institute for Agricultural Research.
Seralini was already well known for his concerns about GMOs, and along with French researchers, Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, François Roullier, and Dominique Cellier, three years earlier had published a precursor study in the International Journal of Biological Sciences: “A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health.” This study concluded:
“for the first time a comparative analysis of blood and organ system data from trials with rats fed three main commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize (NK 603, MON 810, MON 863), which are present in food and feed in the world … Our analysis clearly reveals for the 3 GMOs new side effects linked with GM maize consumption … mostly associated with the kidney and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs … We conclude that these data highlight signs of hepatorenal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn. In addition, unintended direct or indirect metabolic consequences of the genetic modification cannot be excluded.”3
This earlier study also generated considerable controversy, but nothing compared with the new study, perhaps because it did not include photographs of the grossly tumorous rats.
But the pictures only told part of the story. In the study, rats of the same strain were put on a GMO diet whereas controls were not. In addition to the mammary tumors, the GMO rat also experienced severe liver and kidney damage, and 50% of the males and 70% of the females died prematurely, compared with only 30% and 20% in the control group.
The European Food Safety Authority has taken the study to task. Per Bergman, the agency’s director of scientific evaluation of regulated products said, “When conducting a study it is crucial to ensure a proper framework is in place. Having clear objectives and the correct design and methodology create a solid base from which accurate data and valid conclusions can follow. Without these elements a study is unlikely to be reliable and valid.”4
European Food Safety Authority’s GMO, pesticide, and scientific assessment units have concluded that the study fails on methodological grounds. Bergman points out:
The strain of rat used in the two-year study is prone to developing tumors during their life expectancy of approximately two years. This means the observed frequency of tumors is influenced by the natural incidence of tumors typical of this strain, regardless of any treatment. This is neither taken into account nor discussed by the authors.5
It would seem this report on GMOs ought to be dismissed. But, in the strange world of nutrition genetics, it’s never that simple. Everything has to be seen in its true context. Because literally billions of dollars may hang on a study’s outcome, this area of research is fraught with hidden agendas. I am not exaggerating here. After the release of Seralini’s study indicating a link between Monsanto’s controversial genetically engineered corn and cancer, Russian authorities suspended all imports and use of GMO corn.6
And Russia is only one government taking action. The French government asked European authorities to “take all necessary measures to protect human and animal health, measures that could go as far as emergency suspension of imports” of GM corn in the entire European Union.6
In the European Union, 15 nations already mandate labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. Many also restrict or outright ban the planting of genetically engineered crops. You can bet that those invested in genetic nutrition have an attitude about all this. The funding and shaping of a study in this field can never be truly assessed until one knows who funded, who carried out the research.
Like the pernicious influence in medicine exercised by the corporations and institutions that make up the American Illness Profit System, the agriculture and chemical industries cannot seem to keep their hands off the scale.
And as is the case in pharmaceuticals and energy, an unholy alliance has arisen between government and industry.
“U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that the U.S. government has been conspiring to retaliate against Europe for refusing to use GM seeds by engaging in aggressive trade wars against reluctant nations. According to the WikiLeaks’ release:
The cables showed that the U.S. government, working with biotech firms, has planned to ‘retaliate’ against those who attempted to stop the spread of GM crops. They recommended causing ‘pain’ in the EU and to be prepared for a prolonged battle.6
Is it any wonder that an open letter, published in Independent Science News and signed by a long list of researchers in the field, calls for appropriate testing and proper standards? It recounts that even threats of physical violence have been used, most recently against Andres Carrasco, Professor of Molecular Embryology at the University of Buenos Aires, whose research7 identified health risks from glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.8
Nor can one feel comfortable knowing that in 2009, 26 corn entomologists took the unprecedented step of writing directly to the US Environmental Protection Agency to complain about industry control of access to GM crops for research. The letter was sent anonymously, demonstrating the scientists’ fears.9
So the criticism of the French study has to be taken probationally. To begin with Seralini’s study is far from the only example of GMO animal research that has produced a bad outcome. In August biologist Alexey V. Surov, leading a Russian team, reported on a study involving Campbell hamsters fed Monsanto GM soy for two years across three generations.
“In an interview with The Voice of Russia broadcast service, Surov said, ‘[O]riginally, everything went smoothly.’ As time went on, however, Surov and his team ‘noticed quite a serious effect when we selected new pairs’ from the previous generation’s cubs. They ‘continued to feed them as before. These pairs’ growth rate was slower and reached their sexual maturity slowly.’ By the third generation, the hamsters were infertile.”10
But infertility was almost the least of the strange pathologies observed. The GM diet hamsters developed hair growing in recessed pouches inside their mouths. In another interview in Doklady Biological Sciences, Surov described how
“Some of these pouches contained single hairs … (in) others, thick bundles of colorless or pigmented hairs reaching as high as the chewing surface of the teeth. Sometimes, the tooth row was surrounded with a regular brush of hair bundles on both sides. The hairs grew vertically and had sharp ends, often covered with lumps of mucous.”10
Surov and the other authors concluded that this weird hair growth in the mouths of the Campbell Hamsters occurred more frequently in third-generation GM-fed animals. Surov says the GMO feed may not be the only cause; contaminants and herbicide residue (such as the Roundup used as part of the GMO agriculture system developed by Monsanto) could also be playing a role in the pathologies.10
I should note here soy is not typically part of a hamster’s diet, anymore than corn is normally part of a cow’s diet. Cows are ruminants who normally eat grasses; they are fed corn to build up weight in the thoroughly unnatural growth cycle to which virtually all cows in the U.S are subjected.
Nor does it end there:
As these studies have gone on, the hand of the Virtual Corporate States weighed ever more heavily.
As early as 2001, New Zealand Parliament member Sue Kedgley told the 2001 Royal Commission of Inquiry on Genetic Modification: “Personally I have been contacted by telephone and e-mail by a number of scientists who have serious concerns about aspects of the research that is taking place … and the increasingly close ties that are developing between science and commerce, but who are convinced that if they express these fears publicly, even at such a commission … or even if they asked the awkward and difficult questions, they will be eased out of their institution.”
On September 2, 2009, the prestigious journal Nature acknowledged that the regular attacks on biotech researchers are orchestrated by a “large block of scientists who denigrate research by other legitimate scientists in a knee-jerk, partisan, emotional way that is not helpful in advancing knowledge and is outside the ideals of scientific inquiry.”
Although some of the studies may (or may not) be flawed in one way or another, it is hard not to come away from surveying the entirety of this literature without concluding that something is deeply wrong here.
The research suggests that when DNA is manipulated, it is not a simple linear change. Altering genes sets in motion a chain of other changes, producing unintended consequences. The entire process is not yet fully understood, so introducing GMOs into a nation’s food supply in essence constitutes a large population experiment, in which we are all essentially lab rats. This theory is vehemently denied by the corporations involved in GMOs, but their behavior towards research suggests they know it is a lie.
Consider the story of Arpad Pusztai, biologist at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, the top nutritional research lab in the United Kingdom. Pusztai had worked at Rowett for 35 years. He had published his first paper in the field in 1961 and had been publishing regularly ever since—he has more than 300 papers published in the peer-reviewed literature, as well as 12 books. By any standard, he is acknowledged to be a major figure in the field.
In the early 1990s, Pusztai was given a three-million-dollar grant by the British government specifically “to design the system for safety-testing genetically modified organisms (GMOs)” that would result in establishing testing protocols that would be used throughout Europe. Working with him was a team of more than 20 other scientists from three facilities.
Pusztai felt strongly that it was important to develop an accurate assessment of the effects of GMOs. He was the perfect man for the job.
In 2002, he spelled it out in a paper: Can science give us the tools for recognizing possible health risks of GM food? In it he said:
Nearly ten years after the introduction of GM foodcrops there are still only a handful of published studies about their safety. Independent studies are even fewer, moreover, no peer-reviewed publications exist in which the results of clinical investigations on the possible effects of GM food on human health are described. Even though the evaluation of the safety or possible toxicity of GM foodstuffs is more difficult than that of drugs or food additives, this scarcity of data and the lack of a scientific database is curious particularly as descriptions of the results of chemical, nutritional and biological testing in some early (unpublished) studies or some more recent publications demonstrate the feasibility of carrying out proper and scientifically valid health risk assessment on GM foods.11
The protocol Pusztai designed called for feeding supposedly harmless GM potatoes to rats. The potatoes had been genetically modified to produce a chemical, called lectin, whose purpose was to discourage pests from attacking the potatoes. Laboratory tests already done had shown lectin to be safe even at high concentrations. The growing rats were fed with ordinary potatoes, the GM potatoes, and ordinary potatoes with the lectin added—a sophisticated but basically straightforward research project. It didn’t work out that way, which is the context, I think, in which one should see the Seralini and Surov studies, and what followed in the case of Dr Puszati.
Jeffrey M. Smith of the Center for Global Research, describes what happened: “Within just 10 days, the animals developed potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, smaller brains, livers and testicles, partially atrophied livers, and damaged immune systems. Moreover, the cause was almost certainly side effects from the process of genetic engineering itself. In other words, the GM foods on the market, which are created from the same process, might have similar affects on humans.”12
Pusztai received a request for an interview and, following his institute’s media protocol, applied to his director for permission to do the interview, which was granted. During the course of the interview he expressed his concerns about what his research had revealed.
When the interview was released in August 1998, for two days he was a hero at the institute. Then, as Smith recounts, someone in pro-GMO prime minister Tony Blair’s office called “the institute’s director. The next morning, Pusztai was fired. He was silenced with threats of a lawsuit, his team was dismantled, and the protocols never implemented. His institute, the biotech industry, and the U.K. government, together launched a smear campaign to destroy Pusztai’s reputation. Arpad Pusztai, saw his career ruined by big government and big agri-business because he told the truth about GM food.”6
Although his career as it had run was finished, Puszati’s sacrifice compelled Parliament to lift his gag order. And the study itself? It was published in The Lancet.13
These examples I am citing are but a selection from a much larger database of evidence. I could have mentioned Argentine embryologist Andrés Carrasco who researched the impact of Roundup, the herbicide sold in conjunction with Monsanto’s genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops.
According to an article in Grain, the biotech industry “mounted an unprecedented attack on Carrasco, ridiculing his research and even issuing personal threats.” Four men arrived unannounced at his laboratory and were extremely aggressive, attempting to interrogate Carrasco and obtain details of his study. “It was a violent, disproportionate, dirty reaction,” he said. “I hadn’t even discovered anything new, only confirmed conclusions that others had reached.”14
Or prominent virologist Terje Traavik, who presented his preliminary data at a February 2004 meeting at the UN Biosafety Protocol Conference, showing that Filipinos living next to a GM cornfield developed serious symptoms while the corn was pollinating. That genetic material inserted into GM crops transferred to rat organs after a single meal. And safety assumptions about genetically engineered viruses had been overturned, and this called into question the continued uses of such vaccines. Serious issues every one.
As with Sarelini, Pusztai and the others, Dr Traavik was savaged by scientists professionally associated with the Biotech corporations. Their principal criticism: he had presented unpublished work. It was an absurd criticism. Scientists have been presenting preliminary papers at conferences for over a century.
We could go on for several pages of this, but let those I have already cited make it clear that this is an intentioned trend, not a series of bureaucratic screw-ups or unrelated commentaries. It is a coordinated strategy paid for by corporations using “for-hire” deniers.
The other thing that stands out when you really climb up inside this literature is that the GMO/pesticide/herbicide industry is owned by basically six companies, each of which is working very hard to get control at the agriculture and processing phase of the business, of all but a small fraction of the food eaten in the world. No kidding.
The Big Six chemical and seed companies are working diligently to monopolize the food system at the expense of consumers, farmers and smaller seed companies,’ said Philip H. Howard, an associate professor at Michigan State University and an expert on industry consolidation.”15
Furthermore, he pointed out what can be instantly ascertained from Google. People want to know what they are eating. Howard says, “Polls consistently show that the public wants much more transparency in food production, yet the chemical/seed industry wants to suppress this information.”10
So how is it that if GMO foods are the wonderful developments in farming and nutrition that their proponents claim, then why aren’t they anxious to have foods labeled as GMO? Why aren’t GMO foods considered a marketing plus, like labeling something “organic?”
Why is this industry persecuting its leading scientists and why did it spend millions upon millions of dollars to defeat California’s Prop 37, the GMO labeling proposition? Obviously because these mammoth corporations fear something, and will spend almost anything to make it go away. And apart from the GMO issue, what is also disturbing is that while money cannot seem to buy a Presidential election, the failure of Prop 37, which began with a 90 per cent approval, does suggest money can purchase the outcome of a state level proposition. Facts are no longer dispositive. It will become a milestone election in the geopolitical trend of the age—the rise of the Virtual Corporate State. In many ways, these corporations are authoritarian geography-less nations, whose only real priority is profit. But, is there a one-to-one correlation between profit and national wellness? There is not, and American healthcare proves it. We spend more than any other country in the world to produce mediocre social and health outcomes (See An Appraisal of the Illness Profit System16). That ought to be a cautionary tale to keep in mind when considering GMOs.
At a research congress in 2000 in Bangalore, India, Puszatai spelled it out: “Though GM foods did not create acute toxicity, they could have a cumulative effect after 20 to 30 years of consumption. Rigorous, independent and transparent studies, involving biological and chemical tests, (are) needed to take a rational decision on whether it was safe to allow GM foods into the food chain.” Very few studies had been carried out so far and no money was available, even from governments, for such work.”17
Reading the literature and journalism of the genetic saga, one cannot avoid thinking: “Are we engaged in a huge mammal study, in which the world’s population collectively—which is to say us, you and me, and our kids and grandkids—constitutes the lab rats? Are we engaged in a great, potentially catastrophic experiment?”
Ms Hope Shand, Research Director of the North American NGO, the Rural Advancement Foundation International, spoke about the growing consolidation and power of the “gene giants.” A few giant corporations, whose aim was to retain their monopoly, were in a position to make critical decisions concerning agriculture and health. The new patent regimes were only strengthening their control, Ms Shand said.17
Can this possibly be a good thing? Will human wellness result? What if it doesn’t? Then, the agri-industry and the illness profit system can join forces, the one to create the problems, the other to treat them. It will be very profitable. But will it produce wellness?
Oh, and as to Seralini’s rat study: Russian researchers plan to improve on Seralini’s protocol to meet the criticisms, and to do the experiment again, this time as a kind of public experiment. Anyone interested will be able to tune in and watch the study as it happens, like a reality show. Whatever takes place with these rats, it will be public knowledge as it goes along.
As reported on the Russian news site, RT, “After witnessing what happened to Seralini the Russian researchers from the National Association for Genetic Safety ‘came up with the idea of public experiment. Web cameras, installed in cages with rats, will broadcast all stages of the experiment online. The unique reality show will be available on the Internet 24/7 worldwide.’
‘This is a unique experiment,’ project author Elena Sharoykina told RT. ‘There hasn’t been anything like it before—open, public research by opponents and supporters of GMO.’”18
We are going to know whether GMOs are safe. The question is how much damage will be done, if they are not, and how was this foisted off on the world?
- Adams M. The GMO debate is over; GM crops must be immediately outlawed; Monsanto halted from threatening humanity . Op-Ed News. September 22, 2012 at 15:40:12http://www.opednews.com/articles/The-GMO-debate-is-over-GM-by-Mike-Adams-120922-488.htmlAccessed October 9, 2012
- Timmer J. Anti-GMO researchers used science publication to manipulate the press . Ars Technica. Sept 24 2012, 12:30pmhttp://arstechnica.com/science/2012/09/anti-gmo-researchers-used-science-publication-to-manipulate-the-press/Accessed October 24, 2012
- de Vendômois JS , Roullier F , Cellier D , Séralini GE. A comparison of the effects of three GM corn varieties on mammalian health . Int J Biol Sci. 2009;5:706–726
- Fynn D. French GM corn study not scientifically valid . Food Safety News. October 18, 2012;http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/10/french-gm-corn-study-not-scientifically-valid/Accessed October 18, 2012
- Flynn D. French GM corn study not scientifically valid . Food Safety News. October 8, 2012;http://www.foodsafetynews.com/contributors/danflynn/Accessed October 18, 2012
- Robbins O. Game-changing news about GMOs . Huffington Posthttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/ocean-robbins/gmo-california-vote_b_1955563.htmlAccessed October 5, 2012
- Paganelli A , Gnazzo V , Acosta H , Loìpez SL , Carrasco AE. Glyphosate-based herbicides produce teratogenic effects on vertebrates by impairing retinoic acid signaling . Chem Res Toxicol. 2010;23:1586–1595
- Seralini and science: an open letter . Independent science News. October 2, 2012;http://independentsciencenews.org/health/seralini-and-science-nk603-rat-study-roundupAccessed October 2, 2012
- Pollack A. Crop scientists say biotechnology seed companies are thwarting research . New York Times. February 19, 2009;
- Garber L. GMO-Fed hamsters become infertile, have stunted growth . RSN/Natural Society. August 8, 2012;http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/312-16/12842-gmo-fed-hamsters-become-infertile-have-stunted-growthAccessed November 9, 2012
- Pusztai A. Can science give us the tools for recognizing possible health risks of GM food? . Nutr Health. 2002;16:73–84
- Smith J. GMO researchers attacked, evidence denied, and a population at risk (Center for Research on Globalization) . http://www.globalresearch.ca/gmo-researchers-attacked-evidence-denied-and-a-population-at-riskAccessed November 8, 2012
- Ewen SW , Pusztai A. Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine . Lancet. 1999;354:1353–1354
- Smith J. GMO Researchers Attacked, Evidence Denied, and a Population at Risk (Center for Research on Globalization) . http://www.globalresearch.ca/gmo-researchers-attacked-evidence-denied-and-a-population-at-riskNovember 1, 2011;Accessed October 8, 2012
- Parker J. Monsanto and “Big 6” pesticide corporations funding effort to stop genetically modified organisms (GMO) labeling . Examiner. July 31, 2012;http://www.examiner.com/article/monsanto-and-big-6-pesticide-corporations-funding-effort-to-stop-gmo-labelingAccessed October 9, 2012
- Schwartz S. An appraisal of the illness profit system . Explore (NY). 2011;7:72–75
- Puzstai A. Call for detailed studies on genetically modified foods . The Hindu, Wednesday. September 27, 2000;http://www.hindu.com/2000/09/27/stories/0227000v.htmAccessed October 15, 2012
- Rat reality show: Russian scientists to broadcast GMO experiment . RT. September 29, 2012;http://rt.com/news/gmo-experiment-online-rats-240/Accessed October 15, 2012
Stephan A. Schwartz is the editor of the daily web publication The Schwartzreport (http://www.schwartzreport.net), which concentrates on trends that will shape the future, an area of research he has been working in since the mid-1960s. He is also the Senior Samueli Fellow in Brain, Mind and Healing at the Samueli Institute. For over 35 years Schwartz has also been an active experimentalist doing research on the nature of consciousness, particularly Remote Viewing, healing, creativity, religious ecstasy, and meditation. He is the author of several books and numerous papers, technical reports, and general audience articles on these topics.
TLB recommends you visit Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing for more great/pertinent articles.
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