Modified crop foes likely to heat up controversy

Two crusaders against genetically modified crops will present their case Friday at a press conference.

They are U.S. lawyer Steven Druker, who has been campaigning against modified crops for more than 25 years, and chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall, who lately has turned her attention to plants.

The presentation is being sponsored by the The Pax Natura Foundation that has as co-chairpersons Ms. Goodall and former president Óscar Arias Sánchez.

The visit is likely to reignite the demand for a national moratorium on genetically modified plants. A legislative committee has declined to propose this to the full legislature after hearing weeks of testimony. However, many cantons have passed such moratoriums. President Luis Guillermo Solís has been pressed to decree the moratorium.

Ms. Goodall wrote the forward for the book, “Altered Genes, Twisted Truth,” and she says Druker is a hero and his work is “without doubt, one of the most important books of the last 50 years.”

Druker is head of the Fairfield, Iowa, Alliance for Bio-Integrity. He gained prominence in the early 1990s for a suit against the U.S. Federal Drug Administration that generated working documents by the agency’s scientists. Some expressed reservations about approving genetically modified crops.

The book is certain to gain readership among the expats in Costa Rica. Many are older and concerned about their health. In addition, surveys have shown that the public in general is more suspicious of genetically modified crops than scientists.

A Pew Research report in January of the U.S. population determined that 57 percent says that genetically modified foods are generally unsafe to eat, while 37 percent says such foods are safe. In contrast, the same report said that 88 percent of scientists who are members of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science say such foods are generally safe.

The official publication date for the self-published book in Tuesday, although it is generally available online for prices ranging from $20 to $30.

Druker’s basic point is that the Federal Drug Administration violated its own policies by approving genetically modified products.

His opinions have received wide distribution on Web sites that promote natural foods or oppose genetically modified ones.

A summary of the book’s contents posted to the Barnes & Noble Web site says this, in part:

“This book uncovers the biggest scientific fraud of our age. It tells the fascinating and frequently astounding story of how the massive enterprise to restructure the genetic core of the world’s food supply came into being, how it advanced by consistently violating the protocols of science, and how for more than three decades, hundreds of eminent biologists and esteemed institutions have systematically contorted the truth in order to conceal the unique risks of its products — and get them onto our dinner plates.”

Criticisms of the book are beginning to be published.

Terry Simpson, a general surgeon in Arizona, also addresses medical issues on his Web site. He said he read the book and that it is filled with logical fallacies and that:  “Druker’s tryptophan story is drukerbook031915incorrect, and yet throughout the book he refers to this as the basis for the view he hammers into the reader.  What Druker also fails to realize is that the new proteins made in GMO have undergone extensive tests.”

The tryptophan story, mentioned by  Simpson, refers to deaths and illnesses attributed to a food supplement imported from Japan that contained the amino acid L-tryptophan. That was in the late 1980s. Druker correctly has noted that dozens died and 1,500 were disabled.

The Japanese firm used bioengineering to produce the amino acid, but extensive investigation failed to find a link. Another cause might have been contamination, according to researchers at the time. The cause still is a mystery.

Simpson also notes that the book makes extensive use of a discredited French study on rats and another suspect report that suggested damage was caused by genetically modified potatoes.

The sponsor, the Pax Natura Foundation, says on its Web site that “We stand at a critical juncture in history. While wars have ravaged human civilization in the form of armed conflict between our fellow brothers and sisters, an undeclared war has also been raging against the natural world.”

The controversy over modified crops began here because the Monsanto Corp. sought to plant several tracts of its modified Bt corn to produce seed for export.

The corn is bioengineered to produce protein from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis that kills the European corn borer.

Nearly all the corn products produced in the United States contain modified crop contributions. And that is true for snack foods imported into Costa Rica.

Defenders of the modified crops say that for 30 years there has been no evidence of harm. Some crops are modified to resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide so farmers can spray rather than hoe weeds.

European countries have generally been opposed to modified crops, and labeling is a big issue even in the United States.

Foreign genes are introduced to modify organisms via bacteria or viruses. An ironic twist to the entire controversy is that all humans might be genetically modified organisms.

A research report last week said that many animals, including humans, acquired essential foreign genes from microorganisms co-habiting their environment in ancient times.

The research was in the open access journal Genome Biology. The study challenges conventional views that animal evolution relies solely on genes passed down through ancestral lines, suggesting that, at least in some lineages, the process is still ongoing, the report said.

Far from being a rare occurrence, it appears that such gene transfer “has contributed to the evolution of many, perhaps all, animals and that the process is ongoing, meaning that we may need to re-evaluate how we think about evolution,” said lead author Alastair Crisp from the University of Cambridge

In humans, researchers said they confirmed 17 previously reported genes acquired from transfer in humans, and identified 128 additional foreign genes in the human genome that have not previously been reported, according to  summary of the research by BioMed Central.

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