On September 23, 2016 Jesse Schwartz, the founder of Living Tree Community Foods, interviewed Professor Raymond Seidler clarifying issues surrounding GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Professor Raymond Seidler is a Professor of Microbiology & retired Senior Research Scientist of the EPA:
ISSUE 1: Usually, articles about GMOs say that everything humans eat is genetically modified. For example, sweet corn, potatoes, plums, tomatoes and so on were all made by selection. That’s the same as what’s done with the super salmon, where a gene from an eel is spliced with a gene from a salmon. This is a common claim that is written about in articles in respected publications such as the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
Professor’s clarifications: When natural selection was made by humans, we were seeking size, color, texture, fragrance, which evolved naturally by the process biologists call “natural selection” that results in a beautiful diversity. This was a result of sexual reproduction in the plants, animals, etc. In “natural selection,” the entire genetic makeup (all of the chromosomes in virtually all of the genes) of the female meets the entire genetic makeup of the male and then produces offspring which contains aspects of both parents. Genetic Engineering (GE), however, is not natural. GE is done in a laboratory. 2 to 5 genes are typically mechanically inserted in an artificial, asexual process in a “hit and miss system” into some organism in order to try to improve a characteristic of that organism. “It’s not natural. It’s not the same as the processes involved in the evolution of life on the planet.” GE might take 1 or 2 genes from a bacteria and mechanically shoot it into the genetic material of a plant to create a plant capable of producing a chemical narrowly associated with a bacteria - like a bacteria resistant to a weed killer, which is very commonly done. The genes are injected in order to endow that plant with one characteristic. Not all of the capabilities that are endowed in that plant/ bacteria, but for one purpose. So when we consume the plant, we’re also ingesting some of the genetic makeup of a bacteria. That’s not a natural process and they are not the same. The GE is also highly patented because of the processes involved in producing them. But the natural selection that occurs all the time and has been occurring for so many generations is not a patented event. “They are qualitatively, fundamentally different,” sums up Jesse Schwartz.
ISSUE 2: There’s no evidence to date that GMOs are not safe, according to respected publications such as the WSJ. Nothing’s been demonstrated to show that they have negative effects on human’s health. As a scientist, Professor Seidler says, there have been articles in Peer Reviewed Journals around the world that clearly demonstrate and state that that is simply not the case. Often we hear that some 2,000 papers have demonstrated the safety of Genetically Engineered Organisms. But they don’t mention that the vast majority of those papers claimed to address the safety have results that are not agreed upon by many scientists & leading researchers around the world. Additionally, there’s approximately 1,800 papers, he says with a chuckle, published in Peer Reviewed Journals that demonstrate some issues with GMOs i.e. health issues, chronic disease, ecological, non-target & beneficial organisms effects, and so on. The 2,000 papers referred to often speak of yields, benefits, controlling weeds or pests, and do not directly deal with health effects at all ! So, the professor says, he is “really disappointed” that this type of information continues to be published by one of the nation’s leading newspapers. Either there is undue influence from industry, the authors have not thoroughly reviewed these publications, or both.
ISSUE 3: How is it that the FDA so rapidly agreed to GMOs being as safe as any other food? One would think that this “disruption” to the normal development of food would require extended and extensive scrutiny. How were they so quick to proclaim the doctrine of “substantial equivalence”? According to the Professor, the response was not based on science, rather on politics. In the mid to late 1980s and 1990s, when GE crops went from nil to millions of acres, “we knew very, very little from a scientific perspective about the consequences of releasing those kinds of products…” The studies showing the chemical effects of these organisms, discussed earlier, were discovered after that political statement made by Dan Quayle, former Vice President of the U.S.
ISSUE 4: Let’s discuss a specific example of a GMO. There’s an apple, the “Arctic Apple,” that was released this harvest season to markets which does not brown. You can cut it open and leave it out and it will not get brown. Fast food national chains have declared they won’t be buyers, so those apples will likely go into apple sauces or wind up in general markets around the U.S. Their claim is that the shelf life is extended. But the browning reaction we’ve all likely seen is, biologically speaking, a natural response by apples (usually within 5-15 minutes) that says, “ouch! I’ve been injured. This is my natural healing process to keep away pathogens from my seeds.” When we expose inner surfaces of food items, apples in particular, we open it to the atmosphere. Though these Arctic Apples may remain white, that doesn’t allow them to remain free from mold/ bacterial contamination. When they’re on the shelf, they can become colonized by microorganisms that can cause sickness or disease to humans/ animals. “We don’t hear about this conversation enough these days, but in my research days we discovered that plants in general harbor many potential human pathogens on their surfaces, on their roots, and when exposed, they become rapidly colonized because they’re a great source of food, not only for [us humans] but for other microbes.” The Professor’s concern is to watch out for the shelf life of green apples that are not turning brown within a few hours; they’re likely to become colonized. Sadly, you won’t even know that they are Genetically Modified since GMOs are not labeled in this country. “Buyer Beware.”
ISSUE 5: On the OpEd pages of the WSJ and other major publications, it is often spoken about “with utmost piety” that GMOs are necessary to feed the hungry masses and alleviate world hunger. Professor Seider agrees that this has been a mantra from industry, but now, in 2016, there are so many studies published from all over the world that show “beyond any reasonable doubt” that there is no mathematically significant difference in the yields between GM crops and not. “There are no yield-enhancing genes that are genetically engineered into commercially engineered products.” So, why would we expect more? Farmers may say that they’re controlling weeds thereby giving them more yield. But, “my answer is: come back and let’s have this conversation after three years. Are you still controlling your pests? Are you still controlling your weeds with Glyphosate? Ohh, you have to use Glyphosate and another weed-killer now? Oh, did you know that there are now crops that are resistant to 3 weed killers? Try that and see how your costs compare to someone who might have incredibly clean fields without increased technology costs to the seed producers.”
Jesse Schwartz concludes the interview with a quote that “Mankind never sets itself a problem that it cannot solve,” so: “let’s conclude on a hopeful note.”