Talk Back
Farmer asserts Canadian, other GMO research
is done thoroughly, justifying “safe” claim

By Rolf Penner

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a response to Paul Beingessner’s “Letter from Saskatchewan” posted December 30, 2003. To see Penner’s earlier writings that Paul was responding to, go to:

March 12, 2004: Paul Beingessner has responded to my recent article “The Divine Right of Stagnation” with a characteristically venomous op-ed entitled “Saying it does not make it so,” in which he challenges my honesty, my sources and science itself.

Well, Paul, challenge accepted.

First off I am not a hog farmer. I am a hog and grain farmer, running 1,700 acres of land. Why someone who is interested in having an honest debate would leave this out is a question that answers itself.

Mr. Beingessner jumps into the food safety issue claiming “Science most certainly has not proven there is no risk to eating GM crops since science has done virtually no direct testing of that hypothesis.” We’re supposed to believe after decades of groups carrying on about toxic reactions to these crops that hardly anyone has testing them for just that. I guess it’s true; denial is not just a river in Egypt.

I counted 85 studies on this referenced on the University of Guelph’s web site. There are also extensive lists at The Royal Society of Edinburgh, at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, National Academies of Sciences in America, UK, Brazil, China, India, Mexico, the Third World Academy of Science, the U.S. Institute of Food Technologists, Swiss Association for Research and Nutrition, American Society of Toxicology and affiliates of the American Council on Science and Health. All conclude that this food is safe.

And let’s be clear about where the alleged danger is coming from -- DNA. The average person consumes between 0.1 to 1 gram of DNA each day. In transgenic corn the amount of transgenes represents 0.0001% of the total DNA present. If someone were eating 100% transgenic food, the amount of transgenic DNA they consumed would still amount to less than a needle in a haystack.

Then Beingessner asserts, “It is a bold leap of logic, based on the claim that science, and hence all scientists, are united in the position that GM foods are harmless. Nothing could be further from the truth.” Which is a common anti-technology tactic -- the demand of consensus.

Fortunately, science does not work that way. It works on strict adherence to the scientific method, through double-blind studies, good lab practices, etc. and the ability to replicate results. To demand absolute consensus is not necessary, and results in the politicalization of the process.

However, if one desires large consensus, I would again direct them to the above list (particularly the “Society of Toxicology,” representing over 5000 toxicologists) and invite them to check their well-referenced position paper, “The safety of genetically modified crops produced through biotechnology.” It details Beingessner’s loathed “substantial equivalence” concept -- which is only a starting point, not an ending one as he would have us believe.

Which brings us to a statement that shows a complete ignorance of the regulations: “Genetically engineered foods classified as substantially equivalent are spared from extensive safety testing on the assumption that they are no more dangerous than the corresponding non-GM food,” writes Beingessner. The health Canada website clearly shows that all GM foods undergo health risk assessments for chemical, physical, microbiological contaminants, toxicants and allergens. [These assessments are] done by evaluators with expertise in molecular biology, toxicology, chemistry, nutritional sciences and microbiology. This is the case with regulatory bodies worldwide.

The truth is that no other agricultural process technology, or the foods derived from it, has ever been subjected to this level of analysis or regulation before.

Then there is the “tryptophan” red herring. The deaths were traced to impurities in the manufacturing process of both GM and non-GM versions. Lobbying by the (surprise) health food industry has resulted in legislation tying regulators’ hands when it comes to evaluating all “dietary supplements” like vitamins, minerals, herbal products, and amino acids (trptophan).

I agree that “saying it, does not make it so.” Facts are vital. The problem with those engaged in the anti-GM jihad is that they have little more than science fiction and emotion to go on. When it comes to actual evidence they are all bark and no bite.

Rolf Penner farms 1,700 acres of various grains and oilseeds, as well a hog operation in southern Manitoba. He is a graduate of the University of Manitoba agriculture program and has a keen interest in economics, politics and philosophy as well as in animal rights, biotech, and environmental issues. He regularly writes editorials for two Manitoba farm papers, the Manitoba Cooperator and the Southeast Agri-Post.