Kicking the science into shape

January 2014
Photo of a gloved hand holding a test tube with biotech lab in background
CC photo of a biotech lab - via Tuur van Balen on Flickr
In 2004, three Canadian Government scientists were dismissed for “insubordination” after publicly expressing serious reservations about the approval of GM products they believed would harm the food chain and, ultimately, threaten the well-being of Canadians.  Since then, the Canadian Government has kept tight control of the situation and successfully pushed GM foods, unlabelled, throughout its domain [1].

How it managed to do this seems, ironically, to have been down to the failure of subsequent government scientists to question the science, or to question the validity of what their employers ordered them to do.

Soil specialist, Dr. Thierry Vrain, worked for Agriculture Canada for 30 years.  His job there was designated spokesperson to assure the public of the safety of GM crops.  Vrain describes his attitude during those years very succinctly “... I didn't question the status quo or dogma. I just did my work ...”
However, since retiring ten years ago, he has begun organic farming.  Once off the Government payroll, Vrain had the freedom to read different sources and get different perspectives on genetic engineering.  He's been discovering new things about soil biology never taught in graduate school.  The result has been a complete about-turn from GM promoter to anti-GM whistle-blower.
Vrain highlights the underlying influence of the corporate take-over of science.
Until a generation ago, the life of a scientist was “publish or perish”.  Corporate sponsors were not allowed, and the bench-mark of success and the route to funding was the number of peer-reviewed publications a scientist had his name on.  Put another way, it was the output of quality research, judged worthy by fellow scientists, which moved careers and science forward.
Then, about 25 years ago, things changed.  It became not only permitted, but strongly encouraged, to seek corporate funding: the bench-mark of 'good' science became how much cash industry would give you to do it.  All money, accordingly, flowed into molecular biology with its GM spin-offs, patents and profits.  Vrain says

“if you publish results that are not acceptable to companies such as Monsanto, your corporate grant is going to dry up”

as a scientist you're finished.
The key-stone of US regulation, that undefinable but elastic concept of 'substantial equivalence', has been easy to sell, even to scientists.  A GM tomato looks and tastes very much the same as any other tomato: “there is something easy about believing in 'substantial equivalence'” Vrain says.
Other more subtle pressures are being applied to 'adjust' the science so that anything inconvenient about a GMO never sees the light of day.
One American MD has pointed out that if you're trying to find toxic effects from a food, you use longer test times, a wider range of animals, higher doses, incorporate more tests to cover both acute and chronic effects, and compare them with identical animals given nutritionally identical food.  He said

“Toxic effects show up more over longer times, with more animals to look at, with higher doses of the toxins, and with more tests to look at more specific types of acute and chronic change in physiology”. 

But if you don't want to find out anything which might interfere with your business he adds “As Monsanto I want studies with shorter times, fewer animals fed my corn, animals fed lower doses of my corn (maybe give some of my corn to the control group, but by not genetically analysing their feed, so they are secretly more similar to the test groups), and I don't want to do very many liver or kidney or sex hormone tests, and I don't want to do them very often, and I want to end the whole study well before cancer has a chance to start, or 'long-term-toxicity' can kick in. ... Mission accomplished!”  Then you pronounce your conclusion that the food is safe, and hide all the records.
The Institute of Science in Society has pointed out another effective shield erected by industry to protect its bad science, 'Good Laboratory Practice' (GLP).
GLP guidelines were set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a trade organisation, nothing to do with science.  The guidelines specify nothing about the quality of the research design, the level of skill of the technicians, the sensitivity of the assays, nor whether the methods employed are current or out-of-date.  They keep science locked at the level of a less sophisticated past.
Both the European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority operate on the principle that independent research which does not conform to GLP can be ignored for assessment purposes, while  inadequate industry data produced using GLP is accepted.
In practice, this now means that out-of-date protocols are accepted, for example, using very high doses of a toxin with little relevance to real-world situations, or killing test animals before old age so that most developing diseases are masked.  Conversely, newer, better protocols, able to generate more  sensitive and meaningful results, are rejected.
The OECD also set rigid and scientifically incorrect criteria for dose-response in toxicological tests.  This eliminates the consideration of endocrine effects or sub-lethal chronic effects [2].


There you have it.  Science and scientists are biotech industry footballs on a pitch uniquely redesigned by testing procedures which keep the defence-team out of action in a game tyrannically refereed by GLP, while regulators move the goal-posts to make sure only what industry wants ever gets through to score.
Thought for the day: that's your food, health, and future being kicked around for industry's pleasure.



Tsiporah Grignon, GMO spokesman turned GMO whistleblower followed the science, Common Ground, October 2013

John Day MD, Misinformed by “science”,, September 2012

EU Regulators and Monsanto Exposed for Hiding Glyphosate Toxicity, Institute of Science in Society Report 13.07.11

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