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Question

What are the experts responses to the youtube video, GMOs Explained Dr. Thierry Vrain The Gene Revolution

Submitted by: ktotels


Answer

Expert response from Kevin Folta

Professor and Chairman, Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida

Friday, 10/10/2014 12:21

I’m glad to answer your question, but it required spending an hour watching the video. I’ve never paid much attention to Vrain. What I have read is tired and uninspired repetition of the same old, same old. The word is that he was a scientist who understood the technology fundamentally but went off the rails due to some political motivations and a lack of a contemporary understanding of the technology. To give an honest evaluation of your question, I’ll have to provide running commentary, followed by a synopsis … Here goes!

 

05:00: Vrain talks about Roundup (glyphosate) accurately, especially emphasizing the benefits to farmers. Seems right on.

 

He alludes to problems with “increased yields.” Nobody ever claimed that transgenic crops would increase yields, as the genes installed are herbicide resistance and insect resistance, not yield traits. That said, the traits do ensure yields. Removing weed and insect pressure allows the genetic potential of the underlying hybrid genetics to reach its maximum.

 

Moderator Note: Brian Scott, Indiana farmer, provides his perspectives on the claim that GM crops increase yield in this response.

 

08:00: So far, so good.

 

10:41: He says he won’t eat sweet corn because it is transgenic. Only some sweet corn is transgenic — not even much of it. He won’t eat it, so he’s missing out on good stuff!

 

12:00: He is correct so far; not much to argue with …

 

12:29: Gene gun. He shows the Flash Gordon version with the scary animation. Not quite what biolistics looks like either. His description is correct otherwise.

 

18:00: Agrobacterium discussion.

  

22:00: He’s spent a lot of time explaining something that could have been done in five minutes. Nothing wrong with what he’s said, but he has not communicated it especially well.

 

23:30: He’s right on about the reduction in insecticide from Bt.

 

24:30: He’s also right about the potential for resistance.

 

24:50: “The chemical industry likes that.” Here, he shows his cards. He speaks at 23:30 that insecticide use is down, but then says that the companies use this technology to sell insecticide. Classic playing to the room, and they don’t realize his contradiction.

 

26:00: “It’s biology.” He’s right about resistant weeds. This is a problem in any crop, in any weed control mechanism. He’s also right about how technology changes and that plants find a way around it. It will always be a challenge to agriculture.

 

Moderator Note: Rob Wager, faculty member at Vancouver Island University, provides context to pros and cons to GM crops, including herbicide-resistant weeds in this response.

 

28:00: He gets 2,4-D wrong. It was not Agent Orange; 2,4-D has been a useful herbicide for 70 years. It was weaponized by the US government as a defoliant. It was an herbicide made into a weapon, not a weapon made into an herbicide.

 

Moderator Note: Learn more about how 2,4-D is used as an agricultural herbicide here.

 

29:00: Yes, scouting and periodic insecticide sprays do limit development of resistant insects.

 

29:12: He now says they do not reduce insecticides, which opposes what he just said a few minutes ago when he acknowledged the benefit in insecticide reduction.

 

30:00: Here, he talks about how yields have not increased. GM plants were never supposed to increase yield, except if yields were gained by allowing better performance against insects or weed pressure. I also think he’s being a little dishonest about “yield drag.” If farmers made more money off conventional crops, they’d use it. Seeds cost a lot less! The bottom line is that many literature reviews clearly show reports where yields have increased. Most remain about the same. A few decrease. It depends on the traits, the weather, the farm and a dozen other variables. The net gain is an improvement over conventional methods, which is why farmers use it.

 

32:45: Contamination. There is no evidence that anyone has lost a market due to “contamination.” There are allowable limits, and there will be little outcrossing from a “field across the street.”

(He forgets that the idea of “contamination” is a political issue, not a scientific one. Nobody cared about plant genetics moving around until they could use the subject as a political football.)

 

35:30: Genetic pollution. I think he’s a little goofy about bacterial transfer. Some bacteria are known to do horizontal transfer, like Haemophilus species, but that is not a concern. Antibiotic resistance genes in plants come from bacteria in the first place, and his fears of antibiotic resistance are a little dishonest, because the antibiotics used in plant biotech are not used for human therapies.

 

38:00: He’s speaking to horizontal gene transfer to gut bacteria. This is such a lame argument. The plant genome has 40,000 genes, and none of them shows up in gut bacteria. Why would this one added gene? That’s manufactured fear.

41:00: He’s being a little disingenuous about “substantial equivalence.” He knows that the approval process is a lot more rigorous and takes many years.

 

Moderator Note: Explore how a GMO gets to market here.

 

42:00: “Rogue proteins” — absolutely. It is possible — but no more than in conventional breeding.

 

42:40: Oh no! He’s not going to Pusztai! Nothing like dragging out information from 1997 that nobody has replicated since!

  

46:55: “We don’t know what we’re doing.” This is an argument based on ignorance. Unfortunately for Vrain, he many not know what’s happening, but science has a handle on it. Everything is testable, and our resolution of differences between crops is amazing these days, thanks to modern metabolomics techniques.

 

48:00: If it shows up in non-Bt controls, then it is “background noise.”

 

48:44: Outright false. We know exactly where every transgene is.

 

49:15: Then why not show those data?

 

49:33: He claims that researchers can’t get plant material. That’s not true. Get plants under an academic research license or have them made. Do your research.

 

50:11: I’m not sure what he’s referring to, but he clearly shows that science found a problem that was never released. It contradicts his point that science has no idea what it is doing.

 

51:00: Argumentum ad sumptu — an argument that publications can’t be believed because of funding. There is no evidence of publications that were presenting false data. And there is no set of papers that shows “the proteins are not safe” or are “quite oncogenic.” That’s a flat-out lie.

 

52:00: Canary in the coal mine. “Bt is allergenic”? No data shown means it is not allergenic. If it were, its allergenicity would be easily demonstrated.

 

Moderator Note: Check out this response from Lisa Katic, registered dietician, that explains how GM crops don’t cause new allergies.

 

53:00: Damaged blood cells and liver — all based on work with major flaws that have been widely discredited. (We can discuss specifics if you’re interested.) He’s reading websites, not critically evaluating literature.

 

54:30: Roundup is not much of a chelator. Duke et al., 2012, show its dissociation kinetics and its affinity for metal ions. Plus, there is no glyphosate on foods from GM crops in any appreciable amounts that would lead to biological consequences.

56:00: Teratogenic? Not according to the MSDS. The only evidence is when it is injected into embryos in concentrations that would never be observed in organisms, and even the figures in that paper don’t match.

 

57:00: He cites reports but forgets to note that the experiments he refers to are done in petri dishes and cannot be related to the organism.

 

57:30: AAEM is an activist group of physicians who don’t endorse vaccines either.

 

59:00: He closes with “GMO Myths and Truths,” a document that was not peer reviewed and represents a synthesis that is not consistent with the scholarly literature, the scientific consensus or the synthesis of the world’s leading scientific organizations.

 

1:00: “Oncogenic proteins”? Never showed any evidence to support that.

 

Overall, this is disappointing. It is amazing that anyone would find this presentation compelling. It amazes me that some audience members were so blown away that they gave him a standing ovation. What does this mean? It means that they heard something they agree with, that Vrain reinforced their beliefs with bad information and falsehoods — and they bought it. Some of the information he presented is correct—the technical part in the beginning is not completely crazy. But the political spin is clear. He ignores data, turns a blind eye on good science, promotes fringe opinions and overemphasizes work that has long been dismissed by the scientific community, or at least has never been reproduced and never shown evidence of harm.

 

There’s my synopsis! I’m really disappointed. I was expecting much more.