Massey University professor claims GM fears 'largely unfounded'.

In response to the NZ Herald article 'GMOs are the way to go - and grow - safely' November 24, 2014 written by Professor Peter Kemp.

Professor Kemp cites the fears regarding GMO food and livestock feed are unfounded.  Perhaps Professor Kemp could consider reviewing current research in published journals or the letters written by independent scientists, outlining international concern regarding the consequences of GMO’s in cropping and food. 


One extract from a 2013 letter stated:  ‘The claim that it does exist is misleading and misrepresents the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of opinion among scientists on this issue. Moreover, the claim encourages a climate of complacency that could lead to a lack of regulatory and scientific rigour and appropriate caution, potentially endangering the health of humans, animals, and the environment.’ [1]

There have been a series of letters from international – independent scientists with no financial connections to the biotech industry, demanding more research and stating that current research does not illustrate that GMO’s are safe. The first statement was written in 1999.  Since then, many more have come forward to declare ‘there is no consensus on GMO safety.


Scientists with no financial connections to the bottom line.

Kemp states that ‘no human health problems have been proven after decades of use’. He quotes a ‘well known’ study which originates from the University of California, Davis, which has a Seed Biotechnology Center.  This centre 'received funding from biotech companies like Monsanto. The University runs a student Fellowship funded by Monsanto'. This is just the first of many concerns with the paper, documented in the study: Review of paper by Alison Van Eenennaam and AE Young (2014): Prevalence of impacts of genetically engineered feedstuffs on livestock populations. J Anim Sci, 92:4255-4278 – A compilation of critiques by scientists

There are problems too in securing research. When Dr Huber, a soil scientist with years working in the US government researching nuclear fallout was repeatedly contacted by vets who kept finding a mysterious organism in ill livestock. He found the same organism in GMO plants and immediately contacted the head of the USDA requesting urgent research. He was ignored. Over two years later, following Huber’s letter to the head of US agriculture, following directions - USDA personnel have not been permitted to be involved. 


There is simply not enough funding - and the research that actually demonstrates harm appears, for some reason, to be ignored by governments and assessment agencies. Research by Professor Giles-Eric Seralini and Dr Judy Carman come immediately to mind. It is surprising that an independent, agricultural focussed university such as Massey has not considered these independent studies.


To date, 99% of GM crops publicly released hold insecticide or herbicide tolerant traits.  They have resulted in a net increase in herbicide use. This increased herbicide use is implicated in soil degradation as well as demonstrated negative effects regarding plant and animal health, particularly concerning the effects of glyphosate based herbicides as heavy metal chelators.

It may be worth reading the Sribd article, The So-Called Scientific "Consensus": Why the Debate on GMO Safety is Not Over. Also consulting GMWatch’s Myths and Truths. This paper is written by scientists with no financial connections to biotech.  They are independent.


The question for many independent scientists, is why can’t we follow the precautionary principle?  Test this food that is consumed by both our livestock and children, test also for the effects of Roundup and glyphosate based herbicides that are sprayed on the over 80% that is herbicide tolerant - investigate the long term effects on our soil – and then proceed. Because to date a notion called ‘substantial equivalence’ – has been adopted by our governments and assessment agencies. It means that there is no need for feeding studies to assess toxicological safety. This is the ticket for ‘no research needed’.


If there weren't such enormously high barriers to researching the safety perhaps GMO food have gained a different acceptance level with everyone from independent scientists to mothers.  Perhaps a professor from Massey wouldn't have to write and article to NZH to help boost 'consumer confidence'.  I note there was no room for comments below the article to provide evidence of 'consumer confidence'.


With so many concerns being raised regarding the digestive system, people may want to know if drought tolerant ryegrass will have the same impact on the gut as Carman’s pig study. To date, drought tolerant GM traits have been found to be underwhelming.


Let’s talk about the money. Europe does not want GMOs in its food. So there is no premium in a GM content for export to the wealthiest continent. Europe has also found that varieties of non GMO corn are producing greater yields thank GMO varieties. Our farmers in NZ are feeding their stock GM protein meal because it is the cheapest available stuff available. Are there any effects of this?  No research available. China is currently rejecting GM DDGS - a protein meal we are importing to feed our NZ livestock, they have quarantined US alfalfa/lucerne imports that are GM contaminated. China has also banned the herbicide chlorsulfuron (Telar), implicated in the HT swede Southland cow deaths, the results of which are yet to be made public.

Europe and China are very cautious about GMO, for good reason.


To date we still don’t have feeding studies for the thousands of tonnes of GMO’s that are currently imported into New Zealand. For processing into Kiwi food and for our livestock.
If you want to talk about greenhouse gas emissions – the increased pesticide use has led to a direct reduction in micro-organisms in soils. Micro-organisms help maintain fertile soil. Increased pesticides use associated with current GMOs create unhealthier soils and result in less carbon sequestration. A natural effect of good management that has traditionally gone hand in hand with farming for centuries. 


Generate some independent GMO feeding studies, and release them in public journals Massey University and we’ll talk. The tragedy with GM technology acceptance is that, from the start, the actual product was never subject to feeding trials to prove safe. Ever. 

You say step one must be to increase consumer confidence. To facilitate this, GM production should be underpinned by rigorous independent science demonstrating long term safety.  Not just a fancy dream that sounds appealing.   


And right now it’s not. 

A version of the above article was submitted to NZ Herald but remained unpublished, as was the following 200 word letter: 

Regarding the article by Professor Peter Kemp.

Kemp states that ‘no human health problems have been proven after decades of use’.  Independent scientists internationally state ‘ there is no consensus on GMO safety’.

This means GMOs have not been proven safe. The study Prof Kemp quotes have been repudiated by scientists as having conflicts of interest, missing important data etc.

Not safe. Premium markets like Europe reject GM content in food. China is rejecting GMO’s we import to feed our livestock.

GM varieties have been found to be less drought tolerant than conventional. If there are not feeding studies for existing GM our livestock & children are exposed to how is a drought tolerant ryegrass going to be tested? In the paddock?

Regarding greenhouse gas emissions, over 80% of current GM farmed is herbicide tolerant, resulting in degraded land sequestering less carbon than traditional farming.

Professor Kemp is correct, 'step one must be to increase consumer confidence'. Generate independent GMO feeding studies for GM lines imported into NZ as livestock & human food today, release them in public journals Massey University, and we’ll talk.

Create an international model in safety assurance that will meet with the approval of independent scientists and health specialists.

GM production should be underpinned by rigorous science demonstrating long term safety.  Not just a fancy dream that sounds appealing.   For our kids, livestock & land.

References: 
[1] http://www.ensser.org/increasing-public-information/no-scientific-consensus-on-gmo-safety/
Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. -- the first sixteen years
Charles M Benbrook  http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24
http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/pocketk/16/
http://www.gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archive/2014/15717-junk-science-and-gmo-toxicity

http://www.gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archive/2014/15756-living-with-gmos-letter-from-america-to-the-uk-and-eu