Scientific evidence has convinced the man who used to be Canada’s top apologist for GMO products to change his mind.
Dr. Thierry Vrain, a genetic scientist and soil biologist, now thinks that genetically modified organisms are dangerous and unproductive.
Just 10 years ago, Vrain was assuring the public of the safety of GMO crops as a spokesman for Agriculture Canada (Canada’s department of agriculture). Now retired, running an organic farm and working as an independent scientist, Vrain has changed his mind about genetically engineered crops. He now believes genetic engineering is based on bad science.
“Not being on the payroll anymore, I had the freedom to read different sources and look at genetic engineering from new perspectives,” Vrain said of his new perspective in an interview with GMWatch.org. “That is how I first became aware of the possibility that GMOs were not all rosy and perfect.”
Money The Driving Force
Biotech companies and government agencies are ignoring the science that refutes GMO arguments, Vrain argued.
“It is about the money,” he said. “Again, it becomes very important for the biotech companies to push aside the studies that are not confirming the corporate line or questioning safety. But it’s simpler. Most investors in the biotech companies just want to make money… it’s the bottom line. They may think if they can get away with selling it then why not?”
Scientists have an incentive to ignore the science because they want to get rich by patenting and selling GMOs, Vrain alleged. He also accused companies like Monsanto of buying off scientists.
“Now a lot of scientists get grants from biotech companies,” Vrain said. “When you get a half a million dollar grant, you have five graduate students, three post docs and a big lab and now you’re professor so and so because you have a big lab with lots of money flowing. But if you publish results that are not acceptable to companies such as Monsanto, your corporate grant is going to dry up.”
The Science That Is Being Ignored
The science behind GMO crops has been discredited, Vrain said.
“Genetic engineering is 40 years old,” Vrain wrote for a blog called Prevent Disease. “It is based on the naive understanding of the genome based on the One Gene-one protein hypothesis of 70 years ago, that each gene codes for a single protein. The Human Genome Project completed in 2002 showed that this hypothesis is wrong.”
The Human Genome Project, an effort to map all of the DNA in the human body, disproved the basic theory underlying GMO, Vrain said. The old belief was that the proteins in each cell of the human body were separate. The Project found that many cells actually share proteins. That means it is possible for genetically engineered proteins to spread from one species to another, Vrain said. He thinks this validates concern about GMO cross-contamination.
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“Proteins are what make life because life is movement,” Vrain told Common Cause Canada. “So when you want to engineer a plant what you are actually doing is engineering a protein in the plant so that the protein will do something new in the plant, such as herbicide or insect resistance.”
He believes it is entirely possible for GMO proteins to get out of control and produce unwanted changes in plants. He called them rogue proteins.
“When you engineer a plant, you put a gene in the plant,” Vrain said. “That gene is going to make a protein. And that gene can go anywhere in the plant because you have no control. It goes anywhere in the genome, anywhere in the chromosome.”
Could Impact Antibiotics
“It does go into what I call genetic pollution: that engineered crops are releasing their pollen so the genes are released in the environment, whether it’s bacteria or other plants,” Vrain said. He mentioned a study from the University of Szechuan in China that showed antibiotic resistance genes had spread from crops to bacteria in rivers.
“And that antibiotic resistance gene is in the genome; it’s in the roots, it can go into the soil, so that can be picked up by the bacteria in the soil,” Vrain said. That could make bacteria, including those harmful to people, resistant to antibiotics and lead to diseases that don’t respond to treatment, he said.
What do you think? Is Dr. Vrain right? Let us know in the comments below.