Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Reason for Growing Your Own

An editor’s note that appeared in the August 2009 issue of Scientific American pointed out that agritech companies (like Monsanto and Pioneer) control access to the Genetically Modified (GM) seeds that they produce, and that independent research on these seeds is carefully controlled by the agritech companies. The editor’s note said,

“For a decade their user agreements have explicitly forbidden the use of the seeds for any independent research. Under the threat of litigation, scientists cannot test a seed to explore the different conditions under which it thrives or fails. They cannot compare seeds from one company against those from another company. And perhaps most important, they cannot examine whether the genetically modified crops lead to unintended environmental side effects.”

In other words, we have to trust the word of these companies that their GM seeds are safe and better than other, non-GM seeds, because they have control over the research. Based on the word (and approved research) of these companies, quite a few GM crops have been released for use in the fields of regular farmers both in the U.S. and elsewhere.

However, the article “A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health” (Int J Biol Sci 2009; 5:706-726 ©Ivyspring International Publisher) by Vendômois, Roullier, Cellier, and Séralini, suggests that at least some of the already commercially available GM corn (approved as being safe) could cause negative effects on the health of mammals. Vendômois et al used data that was originally produced in industry research, some of which was obtained from Monsanto through a court order.

The study essentially re-evaluated the original data (that had been used to show that the three varieties of GM corn were safe), through different statistical tests and by separating the data into results by gender. The re-evaluation by Vendômois et al showed that male and female rats (the study animal used) were affected differently by the different corns tested, but that

“Our analysis highlights the kidneys and liver as particularly important on which to focus such research as there was a clear negative impact on the function of these organs in rats consuming GM maize varieties for just 90 days.”

I would not, of course, make a major lifestyle change on the basis of just one study. Also, the Vendômois et al study does conclude that the adverse health effects of the GM corn were seen to be dose-dependent. In other words, rats fed a higher percentage of GM corn had more and worse problems than rats fed a lower percentage of GM corn.

It is good to know that, if these health effects are shown in future research to be real, reducing the amount of corn in the diet would likely reduce the health risks, but anyone who becomes concerned about possible problems with GM corn and who has enough garden space could consider growing a little of his or her own non-GM corn.

Note: I first saw a reference to the Vendômois et al article in a discussion thread on The Oil Drum, but I did not mark the original and can’t say for sure exactly where that comment is; then I found, in my email, a link to an article in the Huffington Post about this study.

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