Scientists Vigorously Objected To This Food - Are You Eating It?

Dr. Philip Bereano is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington and an actively engaged activist against genetically modified (GM) foods. His academic work is within Technology and Public Policy, and over the past 30 years,

Dr. Bereano's work has focused on genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) in foods, crops and animals, as well as human genetic engineering issues.

Dr. Philip Bereano has spent the last three decades looking into genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) in foods, crops, animals, and humans—both nationally, here in the United States, and internationally. His work led him to participate in the negotiation of two international treaties under the United Nations that dealt with issues relating to GMOs. He's also participated in the U.N. agency relating to foods, and the Codex Alimentarius Committee's taskforce on genetically engineered foods.

GMOs have never been proven safe, nor effective

In this interview, he shares his perspective on the safety of GM foods, or rather the lack thereof.

"First of all, we need to understand what we mean by the word safe," he says. "Actually, in terms of the academic literature, "safe" refers to "an acceptable level of risk." It doesn't refer to situations where there is no risk. Most of us drive in cars all the time and consider it to be safe even though we know that people are killed and injured in automobiles frequently. We have to understand that safe equals acceptable risk.

The problem with calling genetically engineered organisms safe is that there are no valid risk assessments being done on them. There is no research, really, being done into the health or environmental effects of a genetically engineered organism. Certainly no work that is published in the peer-reviewed literature that isn't proprietary. Corporations promoting these things claim that they have done research, but you can't get any information on it because it's all claimed to be proprietary.

Under what is known now as the precautionary principle—which is what your grandparents used to teach you about looking before you leap—the only prudent course of action is to NOT proceed with something which has potential risks and only potential benefits until you know a little bit more about it."

I couldn't agree more.

Safety principals are being ignored in a number of ways

There are in fact international treaties—most notably the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, which about 175 countries have signed—that enshrine the precautionary principle.

"It says very clearly that countries may use the precautionary approach before allowing the import of any genetically engineered organisms into their territories," Dr. Bereano explains.

The US is one country, however, that has fully embraced GM foods, on a government level, and does not appear to have any intentions of following the precautionary principle. The primary reason for this is because Monsanto, the clear leader in the biotech industry, has managed to infiltrate virtually every government office that has a hand in regulating their industry.

Another way to ensure safety (or acceptable level of risk), is to conduct the necessary research to evaluate the potential environmental- and human health risks involved prior to condoning the use of GMOs. However, that's NOT being done either. In fact, there are very few peer-reviewed studies available on the effects of GMOs.

"There is quite a bit of research that has indicated that there may be health risks," Dr. Bereano says, "but this research has not been funded for replication, for extension, for further studies, and so forth. And very often the scientists who have performed that [independent] research… have become ostracized instead of recognized for maybe opening up an important area of inquiry."

Dr. Bereano also brings up another important point, which is that for all the benefits touted, they're primarily potential benefits, because just like there's a lack of proof of safety, there's a glaring lack of proof of actual benefit.

Who actually benefits from GMO's, and who or what might be harmed by it?

"It's not just a question of what the total risks or benefits might be, but who do they accrue to? That makes it also a more political or social set of issues," he says.

Then of course there are the conflicts of interest, which can be found at virtually every level, from the research labs to the regulatory agencies. But there's also the issue of group-think, which is typically more insidious and harder to root out because it's a social mechanism, and few people are immune to its power.

"Conflicts of interest operates very institutionally too, because a lot of scientists are in departments that get funding from the biotech industry. What it evolves into is a set of world views.

If you are immersed in a profession and a culture and all of your colleagues think certain ways about certain things, then you're not very likely to challenge that… The exact same phenomenon happens with geneticists and people who do biotech science. They read the same journals. They get reviewed for promotion…  You have to parrot the same views that your older superiors believe or otherwise they're going to think you're crazy and not doing good work and won't promote you.

There are social mechanisms which reinforce this that go well beyond "conflict of interest" in a very simplified sense."

Safety principals are being ignored in a number of ways

There are in fact international treaties—most notably the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, which about 175 countries have signed—that enshrine the precautionary principle.