Rejoinder to a scientist’s ‘blast’ against SC for stopping GMOs

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The Supreme Court (SC) decision banning field trials of genetically modified eggplant, also known as Bt talong, and stopping applications for (GMOs) is a wise decision. It upholds the people’s basic right to health and to a healthful environment as guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution, international humanitarian law, and various international agreements. It also gives due recognition to people’s science opposing GMO crops and puts the burden of proof on corporate science pushing for GMOs.

The knee-jerk, irrational, and arrogant outburst from a purportedly eminent Fil-Am scientist vehemently lambasting the SC decision is a reflection of the anti-people stance and corruption of many elite scientists with pecuniary interest and close ties with big business promoting GMOs. Consider, for example his emphatic claim that, “There is clear consensus! Ask the various national academies of science around the world, or the various independent scientific professional societies…GMO technology is safe.” He goes on to cite two reviews, an Italian research in 2014 supposedly reviewing 1,783 research papers and a European Union-funded research on GMO safety conducted between 2001-2010.

He conveniently ignores the fact that numerous scientific, health-related, and other bodies have stated in various ways that foods from GMOs have not been proven safe. The list includes, among others, American Public Health Organization, British medical Association, California Medical Association, American Cancer Society, European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility, American College of Physicians, American Nurses Association, Public Health Association of Australia, Royal Society of Canada, European Parliament and Council and the UN sponsored Int’l Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology (IAASTD).

He also omits the fact that the Italian research he is referring to is replete with serious flaws:

1) The authors included many studies that are industry generated and studies largely irrelevant to assessing the safety of GMOs. As evidence of GMO safety the authors cite animal feeding studies that are too short to show long-term health effects. There were no studies similar to those required for pesticide active ingredients, studies that could address the vital question of long-term impacts of GM foods on human and animal health. No post-commercialization monitoring studies in humans have ever been performed for any GMO, despite mounting evidence of adverse effects on animal health. It included many non-scientific articles, opinion and advocacy pieces promoting GMOs.

2) Studies that find risks and toxic effects from GMOs were omitted and were not mentioned in their discussion.

3) The authors dismissed empirical evidence of toxicity from GM foods. Worse, this “eminent” Fil-Am scientist grossly misrepresents the Italian research authors because the authors themselves do not conclude that there is a consensus on the topic. Instead they note that there is “intense debate” on the safety of GMOs.

With respect to his claim that the European Union-funded research conducted between 2001-2010 have concluded that GMO technology is safe, again, this is gross misrepresentation of facts. The research mentioned actually presents no data that could provide evidence of safety from long-term feeding studies. The project was not designed to test the safety of any single GM food, but to focus on “the development of safety assessment approaches.” Only five published animal feeding studies are referenced in the section of the report which is dedicated to the issue of GM food safety. None of these studies tested a commercialised GM food; none tested the GM food for long-term effects beyond the subchronic period of 90 days; all found differences in the GM-fed animals, which in some cases were statistically significant; and none concluded on the safety of the GM food tested, let alone on the safety of GM foods in general. Therefore the EU research project provides no evidence for sweeping claims about the safety of any single GM food or of GM crops in general.

He distorts science further by declaring that “Bt is so safe, even the organic farming community certifies it… And because of the introduction of Bt crops, insecticide use has been lowered in farms that carry these GMO crops, reducing the exposure of farmers and consumers to synthetic insecticides.” It is obscene for a supposedly eminent scientist to make such grossly distorted claims that have long been discredited as corporate propaganda and not based on scientific facts.

He also resorts to appeal-to-emotion, irrational fear and pseudo-nationalist arguments. He says: “The SC has just halted a major avenue for scientific research in our country, and has ceded future agricultural progress to the developed world…Our population continues to rise…Climate change is altering weather patterns…GMO crops provide a potential safe and targeted way to help our farmers feed ourselves. ..This Supreme Court ruling has just decreed that, when we find out we need it the most, our own scientists will be unable to use this technology to bring new crops to the field. At that future day, not long in coming, we will find ourselves completely at the mercy of the big agricultural companies …. Our scientists had a chance to work with this technology and help develop crops made by Filipinos, for Filipinos,” he concluded.

These are pretentious arguments deliberately designed to mislead and stir up misplaced fear and emotion. This kind of flamboyant reasoning, a worn-out tactic of corporate apologists, is based on spurious claims about the safety and benefits of GMOs and are intended to divert attention away from the true state of science and agricultural development in the country and the real causes of hunger, poverty and food security threats. It is small farms and peasant farmers that are more productive and which produce most of the world’s food. The experience with GM crops shows that the application of GM technology is more likely to actually undermine food security and entrench the social, economic and environmental problems created by industrial agriculture and the corporate elite whose primary motivation is power and profit, not humanity’s interests.

The global neo-liberal system imposing corporate agriculture and trade rules that biotech companies pushed to force their products into developing countries is the major cause of stunted Filipino scientific research, continuing poverty, hunger, illness, environmental destruction, structural violence and underdevelopment in general. By its very design, this patently oppressive capitalist system is meant to exploit the nation’s human and natural resources and strengthen corporate control of the country’s institutions and its people, including scientists.

Romeo F. Quijano, M.D.

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