Geneticist warns of dangers of GMOs

Speaker: Thierry Vrain, formerly with Agriculture Canada, tells residents of the dangers of genetically engineered foods.  - James Murray/Observer
Speaker: Thierry Vrain, formerly with Agriculture Canada, tells residents of the dangers of genetically engineered foods.
— image credit: James Murray/Observer

Beware of genetically engineered foods.

Thierry Vrain, a former lead researcher with Agriculture Canada, brought warnings about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to a packed crowd at First United’s church hall Friday.

He urged his audience to talk to friends, family and doctors about GMOs, to lobby municipal politicians to join the other 22 municipalities in B.C. which have declared themselves GE-free, to ask grocery store managers where the non-engineered foods in their stores are, to avoid processed foods, to become educated about their food and about the difference between organic and natural.

“Natural means nothing,” he remarked. “It could be full of pesticides and engineered.”

Vrain recently spoke in Kelowna and noted that genetically engineered apples are to be registered next year, a plan that has growers there furious.

He said there is lots of confusion about GMOs. People are told they will help feed the world – about golden rice  that can provide vitamin A, about drought-tolerant crops. Those are diversions, he said, noting the vitamin A in rice is too minimal to help.

“The reality of GMOs today is that 90 per cent of all engineered crops today are tolerant of Round-up…,” he said, suggesting it’s all about selling the chemical.

Aside from Round-up resistance, the other trait that 10 to 15 per cent of engineered plants have is resistance to insects, made possible by Bt, or Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces a protein toxic to insects.

“We have two traits and that’s it. Practically all engineered plants on the planet have one of those two.”

The theory with engineered crops was that farmers would no longer have to worry about weeds. When weeds come up, farmers spray with Monsanto’s Round-up, which doesn’t hurt the Round-up tolerant plant but kills the weeds.

“There’s no denying the technology has been incredibly successful, it has taken agriculture by storm. The first crops to be engineered were in 1996. Now 90 per cent of soy is engineered, 90 per cent of corn is engineered, 90 per cent of canola is engineered and 100 per cent of sugar beet is engineered… It’s an incredible success for the GMO industry.”

However, he said, what has happened is that weeds and insects became resistant – something that “any biologist would have told you.” Vrain notes 40 species of weeds are now resistant to Round-up in Canada.

Another problem is antibiotic resistance. When scientists add a gene to a plant, they often also add an antibiotic-resistant gene to help in pinpointing the gene.

Consequently, he said, antibiotics are being lost because of the spread of antibiotic resistance, something once thought to be only the result of giving antibiotics to farm animals.

Vrain also pointed to genetic pollution. It’s normal for bacteria to pass genes when they come in contact with one another, he said. Genes from a GMO plant can be passed to other bacteria, even bacteria in humans.

There’s also ‘gene flow’ or contamination, where pollen from an engineered plant blows onto other fields, posing problems for organic farmers. Farmers have also been sued by Monsanto for ‘stealing’ their technology.

When scientists add genes, new ‘rogue’ proteins can be created that can be allergenic, toxic or dangerous, Vrain says. However, testing on GE foods either isn’t done or is not adequate.

“They’ll tell you it’s an incredibly lengthy assessment process. That’s paperwork…,” he says of the approval process. “No testing has ever been done. Any done has been paid by the biotech industry. They give a great deal of money, billions, to academia. They churn out study after study saying it is safe.”

He said independent studies have shown organ damage in mice and rats fed genetically engineered soy and corn, studies the biotech industry has tried to discredit. For a link to ‘GMO myths and truths’ he says go to: There are also many sites listing GE foods.

Vrain notes that 64 countries have banned, regulated or labelled GE foods or crops.

Round-up’s glyphosate molecule was initially patented as a herbicide and more recently as an antibiotic. The molecule is designed to grab onto metal ions so, for example, it can compete with your blood for iron. He notes that it’s toxic to fish and can kill beneficial bacteria in the guts of animals.

Gut bacteria or microbiome are responsible for many essential processes such as digestion, even happiness – as they make 90 per cent of serotonin.

He said autistic children have been shown to have low numbers of bacteria in the gut.

Vrain cited a medical doctor who was suspicious of environmental factors in diseases such as obesity, depression, alzheimer’s and autism. She plotted data on the dramatic increase in autism in the U.S. versus the volume of sales of glyphosate. Although it wasn’t a peer-reviewed, scientific study, it showed autism and glyphosate sales increased at a similar rate.

“The biotech industry is prompt to say millions of people have eaten trillions of meals and no one has fallen ill. This is the most empty statement I’ve ever heard,” said Vrain.

Vrain says organic food and food where you know the farmer is the way to go. He says no vegetables except sweet corn have been engineered and no fruits except Hawaiian papaya.

“Meat and dairy, all the animals are fed engineered corn and soy that have been sprayed with Round-up, by definition. Bread and grain products, even though they have not been engineered, they are sprayed with Round-up three days before harvest... Anything that contains grains, anything that’s baked, anything that’s processed, canned and contains soy, corn, canola or sugar – 100 per cent of sugar beets are sprayed with Round-up. So it’s the Round-up diet.”


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