OPINIONS DIFFER ON THE SCIENCE BEHIND GM FOODS
Irish Medical News, letters to the editor, 3 March 2008
Prof Trewavas (GM food is as scientifically safe as non-GM food, IMN, 14/1/08) sits on the governing council of the John Innes Centre, England, which is mired in controversy over GM foods.
His request that Dr Elizabeth Cullen trust our regulatory bodies' claims on GM food gives science a bad name. Most GM crops have scrambled genomes, with unpredictable metabolic and ecological consequences.
Their transgenic DNA produces novel proteins our immune systems may not recognise. The long-term health risks of GM food and animal feed are unknown.
Mr Jeffrey Smith's book, Genetic Roulette: the documented health risks of GM food, links GM ingredients with deaths and diseases in laboratory animals, livestock and humans.
Here in Ireland, Food Safety Authority of Ireland Chief Biotechnology Specialist Dr Pat O'Mahony has been quoted as acknowledging: 'We are a law enforcement agency so we do not carry out research.' FSAI Director of Food Science and Standards Mr Alan Reilly has also been quoted as stating: 'We rely on scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA).'
EU Environment Commissioner Mr Stavros Dimas has said it [EFSA] 'cannot deliver a sound scientific opinion on GMOs,' because it mostly relies on risk assessments provided by the applicant companies.
Pseudo-scientific claims that GM food is safe are as spurious as earlier claims made for tobacco, asbestos, DDT, and the bone meal animal feed that led to BSE.
Mr Michael O'Callaghan
Coordinator, GM-free Ireland Network,
Little Alders, Knockrath, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow Ireland ...
Prof Anthony Trewavas replies:
Mr O'Callaghan seems to espouse ignorance over knowledge, fear over bravery and retreat over progress.
He would seem to have us believe that in flying to our holiday destination, it is preferable to use the rank amateur rather than a jumbo jet pilot with 10,000 hours flying experience.
The reason that we all rely on expert knowledge is that mistakes by qualified experts are thousands of fold lower than those of unqualified amateurs.
Mr Jeffrey Smith's book, which seems to be Mr O'Callaghan's sole source of knowledge on GM crops and agriculture, is typical railway stall trivia written in my opinion to maximise circulation.
Of course we should use the EFSA, it is composed of scientists across Europe with the resources and essential expertise by those with the knowledge and long experience to provide balanced judgements on issues that are too complex for even those like myself to make.
It is certainly the case that Commissioner Dimas bangs his own anti-GM drum but he is not supported by the other Commissioners and his remit is environmental issues, which is what Mr O'Callaghan's quote was lifted from; not health issues.
University researchers using both microarrays and metabolomics have shown that GM modification has far less effect on the molecular structure of plants than conventional methods of plant breeding and conventional cultivar variation, which we have eaten happily for many decades.
Continued claims about the health effects of GM are simply absurd.
Prof Anthony Trewavas
Institute of Molecular Plant Science
Edinburgh EH9 3JH