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The view from the GMO crowd

A world of contradictions, impossible arguments and badly translated chants

How many times have I seen slogans that say, “No GMOs?” I even see it in Canadian horticultural seed catalogues. Do we expect the horticultural seed catalogues to sell Roundup Ready canola, soybeans or field corn? It’s just that the gossips and fuddy duddy’s of this world have seen or heard “no GMO’s.”

It seems the anti-pesticide and organic food producers have gotten together to decry all genetically modified crops. Blaming pesticides and GM crops for all kinds of ailments and problems has served to create opportunities for “organic” crop production.

Initially GM corn, for example, was seen as a way of reducing weed control and pesticide use, a biological way of controlling some insect pests. A Godsend.

Insect-resistant corn was developed to produce a protein isolated from a bacterium, Bacillus thuringensis (Bt). Each different strain of Bt produced a distinct protein called Cry. Cry was highly specific to a strictly limited number of insect species. This Bt protein would kill insects that ingested them, but only those specific insects. The Cry protein that kills the insect must be activated by an enzyme that only occurs in the gut of that particular insect. This protein will bind onto cells of the insect’s digestive system, killing the offending insect. Unrelated insects were not harmed in any way. Eventually even the target insects developed resistance to Bt Cry proteins.

The flip flop in this genetic strategy was that naturally occurring Bt strains were the darlings of the anti-GM movement. What a wonderful way to control insects — spraying Bt spores on crops to control insect pests. Organic farmers still use Bt to control insect pests. But once biotechnical researchers incorporated this Cry-producing gene into plants, organic farmers cried foul play. The logic for this reversal of thinking by the anti-GM crowd is beyond comprehension.

If you are an organic farmer, you can spray Bt onto corn to control the European corn borer but no way can you use corn with an incorporated Cry gene to control this self-same pest. Logic is defied as usual.

You will see advertisements saying that crop plants have been engineered to produce their own pesticides. In fact, many plants produce their own very toxic and often lethal pesticides. I would not eat potatoes that have had their vines significantly damaged by Colorado beetles during the growing season. Such potatoes, defending themselves from beetle attacks, produce bitter toxins called glycoalkaloids. These poisons move into the potato tubers, and can make you very sick. The same effect as eating green potatoes.

Strychnine, curare and belladonna are other examples of highly toxic chemicals produced by plants, naturally and organically. These natural chemicals can kill you. Botox (botulin) is produced by a bacterium — a common bacterium that produces the most toxic poison known. It kills in a few parts per billion. Botox in fewer parts per billion has become a fashionable beauty treatment among the anti-GMO crowd. What a contradiction!

People are afraid of GMO’s yet will eat “organic” peanut butter. Improperly harvested and stored peanuts may be infected with a mould fungus, Aspergillus flavus. This fungus produces one of the most potent liver carcinogens known to man. It is not uncommon for Canada to reject shipments of peanut butter from the U.S. because they contain higher levels than permitted in Canada — 20 parts per billion of this carcinogenic aflatoxin. Canada’s limit is 10 parts per billion.

Wheat gluten has become another whipping favourite of the anti-GMO types. Again, it is nonsensical as only about one in a thousand individuals is a celiac and perhaps 10 in a thousand have trouble digesting gluten. Gwyneth Paltrow is the queen of the anti-gluten movement but a truly ironic fact is that the name “Gwyneth” is the Welsh language word for wheat.

Have you seen the emphasis on eating wild salmon in many restaurants? Our neighbours to the west in B.C. (the Free Willy types) love their killer whales (sounds nice to call them orcas). Trouble is, the salmon-eating whale pods around B.C. are dying of starvation. The wild salmon — their principal food — is taken away from them to be served in restaurants. Farmed salmon (Atlantic salmon) tastes much better than Pacific salmon and is environmentally sustainable. Need I say more?

I’m disappointed when members of the farming community stand back and allow fake news, misinformation write-ups and fiction to spread without countering these ridiculous claims. Just remember: virtually every field or horticultural crop that we grow has been genetically modified in one or more ways.

About a year ago, I was watching a video showing a crowd of people in California chanting “Monsanto my devil.” I believe some of the onlooking Hispanic citizens must have been very amused. Monsanto translated means, “My saint.” Go GMO!

About the author

Contributor

Dr. Ieuan Evans is a forensic plant pathologist based in Edmonton, Alta. He can be reached at [email protected]

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