Last month, a group of Australian scientists published a warning to the citizens of the country, and of the world, who collectively gobble up some $34 billion annually of its agricultural exports. The warning concerned the safety of a new type of wheat.
As Australia’s number-one export, a $6-billion annual industry, and the most-consumed grain locally, wheat is of the utmost importance to the country. A serious safety risk from wheat — a mad wheat disease of sorts — would have disastrous effects for the country and for its customers.
Which is why the alarm bells are being rung over a new variety of wheat being ushered toward production by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of Australia. In a sense, the crop is little different than the wide variety of modern genetically modified foods. A sequence of the plant’s genes has been turned off to change the wheat’s natural behavior a bit, to make it more commercially viable (hardier, higher yielding, slower decaying, etc.).
What’s really different this time — and what has Professor Jack Heinemann of the University of Canterbury, NZ, and Associate Professor Judy Carman, a biochemist at Flinders University in Australia, holding press conferences to garner attention to the subject — is the technique employed to effectuate the genetic change. It doesn’t modify the genes of the wheat plants in question; instead, a specialized gene blocker interferes with the natural action of the genes.
The process at issue, dubbed RNA interference or RNAi for short, has been a hotbed of research activity ever since the Nobel Prize-winning 1997 research paper that described the process. It is one of a number of so-called “antisense” technologies that help suppress natural genetic expression and provide a mechanism for suppressing undesirable genetic behaviors.
RNAi’s appeal is simple: it can potentially provide a temporary, reversible “off switch” for genes. Unlike most other genetic modification techniques, it doesn’t require making permanent changes to the underlying genome of the target. Instead, specialized siRNAs — chemical DNA blockers based on the same mechanism our own bodies use to temporarily turn genes on and off as needed — are delivered into the target organism and act to block the messages cells use to express a particular gene. When those messages meet with their chemical opposites, they turn inert. And when all of the siRNA is used up, the effect wears off.
The new wheat is in early-stage field trials (i.e., it’s been planted to grow somewhere, but has not yet been tested for human consumption), part of a multi-year process on its way to potential approval and not unlike the rigorous process many drugs go through. The researchers conducting this trial are using RNAi to turn down the production of glycogen. They are targeting the production of the wheat branching enzyme which, if suppressed, would result in a much lower starch level for the wheat. The result would be a grain with a lower glycemic index — i.e., healthier wheat.
This is a noble goal. However, Professors Heinemann and Carman warn, there’s a risk that the gene-silencing done to these plants might make its way into humans and wreak havoc on our bodies. In their press conference and subsequent papers, they describe the possibility that the siRNA molecules — which are pretty hardy little chemicals and not easily gotten rid of — could wind up interacting with our RNA.
If their theories prove true, the results might be as bad as mimicking glycogen storage disease IV, a super-rare genetic disorder which almost always leads to early childhood death.
Although Heinemann and Carman cannot provide rock-solid proof that the new wheat is harmful, they have produced a series of opinion papers that point to the possibilities that could happen if a number of criteria are met:
Then the wheat might cause very severe adverse reactions in humans.
Opinion papers like this — while not to be confused with conclusions resulting from solid research — are a critically important part of the scientific process. Professors Carman and Heinemann provide a very important public good in challenging the strength of the due-diligence process for RNAi’s use in agriculture.
However, we’ll have to wait until the data come back from the numerous scientific studies being conducted at government labs, universities, and in the research facilities of commercial agribusinesses like Monsanto and Cargill — to know if this wheat variety would in fact result in a dietary apocalypse.
But if the history of modern agriculture can teach us anything, it’s that GMO foods appear to have had a huge net positive effect on the global economy and our lives. Not only have they not killed us, in many ways GMO foods have been responsible for the massive increases in public health and quality of life around the world.
Nevertheless, the debate over genetically modified (GM) food is a heated one. Few contest that we are working in somewhat murky waters when it comes to genetically modified anything. At issue, really, is the question of whether we are prepared to use the technologies we’ve discovered.
In other words, are we the equivalent of a herd of monkeys armed with bazookas, unable to comprehend the sheer destructive power we possess yet perfectly capable of pulling the trigger?
Or do we simply face the same type of daunting intellectual challenge as those who discovered fire, electricity, or even penicillin, at a time when the tools to fully understand how they worked had not yet been conceived of?
In all of those cases, we were able to probe, study, and learn the mysteries of these incredible discoveries over time. Sure, there were certainly costly mistakes along the way. But we were also able to make great use of them to advance civilization long before we fully understood how they worked at a scientific level.
Much is the same in the study and practical use of GM foods.
While the fundamentals of DNA have been well understood for decades, we are still in the process of uncovering many of the inner workings of what is arguably the single most advanced form of programming humans have ever encountered. It is still very much a rapidly evolving science to this day.
While RNAi is not a panacea for GMO scientists — it serves as an off switch, but cannot add new traits nor even turn on dormant ones — the dawn of antisense techniques is likely to mean an even further acceleration of the science of genetic meddling in agriculture. Its tools are more precise even than many of the most recent permanent genetic-modification methods. And the temporary nature of the technique — the ability to apply it selectively as needed, versus breeding it directly into plants which may not benefit from the change decades on — is sure to please farmers, and maybe even consumers as well.
That is, unless the scientists in Australia are proven correct, and the siRNAs used in experiments today make their way into humans and affect the same genetic functions in us as they do in the plants. The science behind their assertions still needs a great deal of testing.
Still, their perspective is important food for thought… and likely fuel for much more debate to come. One thing is sure: the GMO food train left the station nearly a century ago and is now a very big business that will continue to grow and to innovate, using RNAi and other techniques to come.
Alex Daleyfor The Daily Reckoning
Alex Daley is the senior editor of Casey's Extraordinary Technology. In his varied career, he's worked as a senior research executive, a software developer, project manager, senior IT executive, and technology marketer.
He's an industry insider of the highest order, having been involved in numerous startups as an advisor to venture capital companies. He's a trusted advisor to the CEOs and strategic planners of some of the world's largest tech companies. And he's a successful angel investor in his own right, with a long history of spectacular investment successes.
What a misleading headline for this article.
Whoever told the author that he can write for a serious and respectful newsletter made a huge mistake… When you have such a big problem and such a big discussion around it you can’t just simply make a conclusion, like “GMO foods have been responsible for the massive increases in public health and quality of life around the world”. Very disappointed.
“the GMO food train left the station nearly a century ago . . .” Ignorant. Genetic Modification is not plant breeding or hybridization. It is not like breeding horses and donkeys (sterile hybridization), it is more like using invasive biological technology to impart alligator properties to kittens. Count me out, I’m an unwilling guinea pig.
Read more: Is Genetically Modified Food Killing Us? http://dailyreckoning.com/is-genetically-modified-food-killing-us/#ixzz2DNoBoWj4
GMO food is killing you, destroying your quality of life, and the expanded chemical use is destroying the soil and leaching through the environment. It’s being misrepresented in most USA media outlets but the rest of the world is not so ignorant as to believe the hype. Many countries have banned these products because independent research does show the damage being done. Maybe you’re a tech insider, possibly a tech junkie – but you should dig a little more into this one. And stop eating corn and soy beans or anything made from them if you live in the USA.
Wow Alex, Thanks for the opinion, I mean public relations, or maybe it is an opinion piece! In fairness I think you do an excellent job in outlining the potential issue of signs potentially interacting with our RNA. But then you make a couple of statements that don’t hold up to the light; 1. The new wheat is in early-stage field trials … part of a multi-year process on its way to potential approval and not unlike the rigorous process many drugs go through. Since when is a 3-6 month trials either done directly or indirectly (though corporate funded research institutes) and never by independent research bodies that never looks at the long term effects of consumption of GMO foods ever considered rigorous?!?
2. But if the history of modern agriculture can teach us anything, it’s that GMO foods appear to have had a huge net positive effect on the global economy and our lives. Pray tell, what huge net positive effect do you speak of. The whole premise of GMO foods is that it would increase the marginal yields of organic or conventionally grown crops that it was replacing; which would ultimately benefit the world economy since it would increase levels of productivity in agriculture. But let’s be honest, that has not happened. First because more copious amounts of pesticides are being used in order to fight off the more pesticide resistant bugs that are the birth children of the GMO approach, second the price of the seeds are more expensive vs the free ones that one gets as a by-product of organic or conventional farming, third, the yields have not increased at all compared to organic or conventional farming. In fact, if you travel to places like India, not only have the crops failed but because of the costs it has led to mass suicides by indian farmers; Lastly, it’s embarrassing that you even try to associate GMO foods with improved health when the incidents of obesity, diabetes and a whole swath of what were previously rare diseases are appearing in a frequency that suggest a linkage with GMO consumption. Of course if we had traceability (i.e. labelling) we could establish a definitive link between what people are consuming and their illnesses but I suspect that most agricultural concerns like Monsanto already know the results of that query.
Wow Alex, Thanks for the opinion, I mean public relations, or maybe it is an opinion piece! In fairness I think you do an excellent job in outlining the potential issue of siRNAs potentially interacting with our RNA. But then you make a couple of statements that don’t hold up to the light; 1. “The new wheat is in early-stage field trials … part of a multi-year process on its way to potential approval and not unlike the rigorous process many drugs go through”. Since when is a 3-6 month trials either done directly or indirectly (though corporate funded research institutes) and never by independent research bodies that never looks at the long term effects of consumption of GMO foods ever considered rigorous?!?
2. “..But if the history of modern agriculture can teach us anything, it’s that GMO foods appear to have had a huge net positive effect on the global economy and our lives.” Pray tell, what huge net positive effect do you speak of. The whole premise of GMO foods is that it would increase the marginal yields of organic or conventionally grown crops that it was replacing; which would ultimately benefit the world economy since it would increase levels of productivity in agriculture. But let’s be honest, that has not happened. First because more copious amounts of pesticides are being used in order to fight off the more pesticide resistant bugs that are the birth children of the GMO approach, second the price of the seeds are more expensive vs the free ones that one gets as a by-product of organic or conventional farming, third, the yields have not increased at all compared to organic or conventional farming. In fact, if you travel to places like India, not only have the crops failed but because of the costs it has led to mass suicides by indian farmers; Lastly, it’s embarrassing that you even try to associate GMO foods with improved health when the incidents of obesity, diabetes and a whole swath of what were previously rare diseases are appearing in a frequency that suggest a linkage with GMO consumption. Of course if we had traceability (i.e. labelling) we could establish a definitive link between what people are consuming and their illnesses but I suspect that most agricultural concerns like Monsanto already know the results of that query.
if the author ate a more natural diet he might not have written this piece of ‘work’
“But if the history of modern agriculture can teach us anything, it’s that GMO foods appear to have had a huge net positive effect on the global economy and our lives. Not only have they not killed us, in many ways GMO foods have been responsible for the massive increases in public health and quality of life around the world.
Very irresponsible and erroneous statement!Not to mention dangerous! GMO’s are causing many health problems, and lead to infertility and cancer! Millions of people are against GMO’s . They do not good at all except to the bottom line of Monsanto. Do some research before you make such asinine statements. See Genetic Roulette, Food Inc. , The Future of Food, and The World According to Monsanto!
Read more: Is Genetically Modified Food Killing Us? http://dailyreckoning.com/is-genetically-modified-food-killing-us/#ixzz2DTcf1JR9
Minnesota corn farmers will disagree with you wholeheartedly, Alex, for your misinformation about GMO’s successes. Last year many GMO corn fields were eaten up by the same insects the GMO’s are bred to kill or resist. Their solution? More insecticide! The exact opposite of what GMO’s were touted to help minimize. Crop rotation and non-GMO seeds are needed to keep insects naturally at bay. The world grows more food than people will ever eat. Much of it goes to feeding cattle and/or is burned in gasoline and/or is hoarded by governments in developing countries when donated which they then sell for-profit to their poor, starving populations. Just a little investigative journalism and the truth will set you free.
Whoa, ease up everyone. I am strictly non-GMO for all the reasons you have listed, but you need to sit back and realise that Alex is neither supporting nor opposing GMOs. What this article does (in my humble opinion) is create a bridge between the two sides. Like it or lump it, there are a heck of a lot of people out there who support GMOs, just like the opposing “team” (which is us). It gives food for thought to all those who think that GMOs are the way of the future and that we’re all a bunch of stoned hippies – that yes, genetic and scientific advancement has many great attributes, but we need to be very careful how we use it. Just because we have the technology it doesn’t mean it is good for us. Like Alex said, are we just a herd of monkeys armed with bazookas?
I think this article isn’t aimed at the anti-GMO movement, I think it’s aimed at the other side. What we need to do is sit back and gain understanding as to how the supporters of GMOs think. What Alex said in the article is true, for them. We don’t need to agree with what he said, we just need to develop an understanding that there are people who think that way. And be-littling them, disregarding their intelligence and experience, and getting angry will not serve our purpose at all. It will simply create a bigger rift between the two sides, when we should be coming together for the common good (that would be our food source!).
There are a lot of things in this article that I most definitely do not agree with, but it’s given me a wonderful understanding as to how to approach GMO supporters from now on. Some are just as passionate about supporting GMOs as we are about opposing them. We wouldn’t like to have our opinion discreditied, just as they wouldn’t either.
Historically in regards to GMOs, the science which we’ve been told previously would only have effect on certain plants or insects have been proven to cause the same effect in humans. We’ve seen instances where research papers into GMOs have been modified, doctored, or had certain information witheld in order to show the benefits of GMOs. So there’s a fair arguement to say that this time around with GM wheat, there is more to it than what the companies are saying. That we need to hold off until more INDEPENDANT research can be done.
Thankyou Alex for the article. I don’t agree with most of it, but I have learned a lot!
No, the people responsible for unleashing these bio-weapons on us are not the equivalent of monkeys armed with bazookas “In other words, are we the equivalent of a herd of monkeys armed with bazookas, unable to comprehend the sheer destructive power we possess yet perfectly capable of pulling the trigger?”.
The fact of the matter is, that the people unleashing these bio-weapons on us think that WE, the intended victims of these bioweapons, are a herd of monkeys, and they are going to commit genocide on us precisely because of that erroneous belief. The people responsible for that agenda do in fact have precisely that false religious belief, that the rest of us are non-living souls, mere animals at best, in human form.
I am from The Netherlands and notice that the EU forces countries that have banned GMO with sanctions, which does not make sense to me.
GMO food is incest in the field of nutrition. The complex coherence of genes foresees in more then people can see in it. There must be a basis of respect for nature / genes of plants and animals.
It is not possible to predict the future to know what is needed tomorow for succes. We therefor need to collaborate with nature for the best chance on survival and respect plants and animals as beings with a ‘shared unforseeable future’.
“It takes two to tango” You can’t stand above life as being life because when you try to do so you work in the wrong direction what results in a figurative stone that sinks into the ocean of time.
Folks, a quick and simple answer to the question, “Is GMO food killing us?” ABSOLUTELY!!!
One thing not mentioned here is the nasty tentacles that companies like Monsanto use to ensnare farmers. Legally, a farmer cannot save seed from his original GMO planting, but as we look farther, we see Monsanto is actually trying to control ALL varieties of the various crops they manufacture. Once you are planting their varieties, which greatly outnumber non GMO’s, you are caught in the web. Unless farmers use very careful methodologies and crop rotations, things can get messy. Also, pollen can escape the fields and settle onto the tassels of non-GMO’s. What happens? If the farmer is “caught” by the legal authority by tampering with the original genetic material, he is legally apprehended and often prosecuted. Unsought outbreeding with non-GMO’s is a nasty dilemma, especially when one is like to be “caught”. Do not confuse genetic engineering and monopoly market power as a benevolent messenger, either. Monsanto would love to rule the world of agriculture and slowly strangle farmers. We cannot allow these forms of monopoly to make us captive. When we then have a monovalent world of grain controlled by an entity such as Monsanto, we are in the deepest of trouble. Nay, stay away from these creatures of destruction. Evil accompanies the grim reaper.
Regardless of ones view on the subject, be it for or against, all of us have been unknowingly subjected to the products of GM and are in essence being included in a massive science experiment, with potentially devastating results! And, this experiment is being conducted on the masses without our informed consent!
Are people not paid for participation in new drug trials? Even if they aren’t paid, are they not made to understand that the drug could have harmful side effects before they proceed? What are we, lab rats?
It’s simple…LABEL IT!!!!!!!!!
Let the people decide what’s best for their own bodies.
If there’s nothing to hide and nothing to fear, JUST DO IT!!!!
I also disagree with the majority of what he has said. The testing has not been rigorous up to this point. The studies done are only from the companies that have a pony in the race. Drug companies are hardly a re-assuring comparison.
if the history of modern agriculture can teach us anything, it’s that
GMO foods appear to have had a huge net positive effect on the global
economy and our lives. Not only have they not killed us, in many ways
GMO foods have been responsible for the massive increases in public
health and quality of life around the world.
The penicillin, fire and electricity comparison is really awkward. The current GMO’s in use right now, will in the very near future be conclusively shown to all have been far more damaging than beneficial. There is no current gene insertion technology that warrants continuation. The reason that it is difficult to ‘meet in the middle’ or find common ground is because the leading bio tech companies are bent on profits, money, greed.
The confusion of Alex’s statements, misunderstanding of efficacy of current bio technologies in use makes much more sense after reading Alex’s biography. We have plowed head first into every possible rush to success with the idea that someone else will simply deal with the consequences down the road. The concern of what is good for everyone has to be greater than the lust of spectacular successes or we are really in for a rough ride ahead.
Namaste Everyone, Once an alien gene is inserted into an organism the genome responds seeking to destroy the invader.The genes are now out of equilibrium and try to 1. fullfiling their previous designed task, 2 fighting the intruder, 3. trying to unite with an incompatible occupancy gene. In this altered state food is produced thats altered resulting in critical health problems. Thank You, Namaste Timothy.
Dr. Pieter Dahler.
GM and GMO foods are making pesticide factories out of our Large Intestines (LI) when the genetic changes affect our genes. The LI is where heath should begin and death certainly starts, the GMO gangs are out to help Big Pharma, Big Medicine, and Big Undertakers.
Welcome to a grand experiments which is costing our “health-care” system huge amounts of money to take care of, as it is bankrupting families who do ot know because they are bamboozeled by all of the above ‘Biggies”
Quote from article: “But if the history of modern agriculture can teach us anything, it’s
that GMO foods appear to have had a huge net positive effect on the
global economy and our lives. Not only have they not killed us, in many
ways GMO foods have been responsible for the massive increases in public
health and quality of life around the world.”
This is utter BS! You sound just like the idiot scientists Monsanto pays to spin their agenda to the media. You have NOT done proper due diligence. You said the same crap in Doug Casey’s newsletter and got lots of flack from readers – have you not listened?? Scientists understand a tiny fraction of what goes on inside a single cell – of any organisim. Way too many unknowns for me to want any part of this so called ‘food’. Saying Genetic Modifications is “net positive” just shows your ignorance of the matter. I did not say you are stupid, just ignorant because you are IGNORING important information. So far the only GMO’s produced that have even a little health benefit are just for marketing purposes – so they can say GMOs make food better. But these foods are not in the majority, not even close. Because that is not the true goal for Monsanto. They want to control the worlds food supply for power and profit and screw everyone else. The issue is not about dropping dead, it is about quality of life. And the crap Monsanto makes is not going to improve life for the people that end up eating it; without even knowing they are eating it, because there is no labeling to let them in on the experiment.
If gmo food is safe let the people in charge eat it 24/7!
Indeed. It is a surprising fact also that GM foods are forbidden to be served to workers at their Monsanto company canteens, and that should start alarm bells ringing.
Also, Mike Adams featured a printed document from Monsanto in one of his excellent videos stating that Monsanto had never done any tests to establish the safety of GM food for humans, not one, zero, as they did not think it was necessary.
I agree with you. One additional fact that most people have not yet factored into the whole GM thing, is that they have been modifying the genetic structure of plants for decades now already, before using genetic splicing techniques, by bombarding seeds with high doses of radiation to produce random mutations, which itself is also an extremely dangerous experiment.
And today, as a result of that, a massive percentage of the common crop plants that we eat today are mutants from radiation bombardment. Hardly healthy stuff for us at all.
Don’t these sRNA molecules already exist in us along other sections of our DNA? What prevents them from moving? What prevents any sRNA molecules from anything we eat from migrating into our cells and wreaking havoc ? Does this sRNA glycogen off switch already exist in other grains that we eat? If so, why aren’t they killing us off?
Highly interesting article. I found out about 7 months ago that I “wheat” and gluten are highly poisonous to me. Thats right, I said poisonous. I have been eating wheat all my light believing I was eating healthier than most. 4 years ago I became so sick I was admitted to the hospital. 3 1/2 years later and after multiple hugely expensive tests, the multiple doctors I visited could still not tell me what was wrong. Some even started to show signs they thought it was more in my head than anything. Once I went to the emergency room, covered in hives and it was suggested they were caused by stress…I kid you not. For 3 1/2 years I honestly woke up every morning believing I could check out at any moment. Thats how bad I felt. then one day about 6 months ago on a whim because I heard it may help with some of the digestive problems, I cut out guten completely from my diet. With in two weeks I noticed a substantial difference. 3 and it was clear this had been my issue. Today, I have issues left over, I see it as permanent damage that has been done to me by wheat and gluten. My balance is off, my heart occasionally still goes into palpitations every now and then (it was much worse before getting off wheat) and my heart is racing by the time I get up a small flight of stairs. If I have anything with gluten or wheat, it magnifies these things by a hundred fold, it also makes it hard for me to breath, will swell up my joints to the point I can barely walk across the floor and gives me diarrhea. I have no way to prove this but I believe it highly possible that since genetically modified wheat and has been added into our food with little if no warning, it is poisoning all of us. Some of us faster than others. Think about all the people you hear about these days that cant drink beer, eat wheat or gluten. You never heard about this before. Why now?
The cross-bred varieties of new wheats developed decades ago by Norman Borlaug massively increased production and fed millions of people, but that came at some cost to people’s health, as they contain weird compounds that mess up our normal biochemical processes, introducing new chemicals into the equation that we cannot adjust to properly, as we and the wheat have not evolved together gently as we should have, hence the rash of intolerances to some modern grains like wheat. I use mainly uncooked, steam-pressed organic oats myself, rather than any bread, as I find oats make me feel better than bread.
You could try the older varieties like Egyptian Kamut and Roman Spelt.
It is interesting to note that one of the greatest wheat research laboratories in the world was in Iraq, as they had varieties of wheat going way back from many hundreds of years ago, from which they could always develop hardy new strains whenever required.
The Americans bombed that research facility and seedbank flat after stealing all their research, and then forced the Iraqis to have GM wheat instead to really nuke them, whilst falsely claiming that they had to introduce some good new varieties of wheat into the area to cope with feeding the Iraqi people there, in a way better than the Iraqi’s own wheat varieties had been capable of, but their own varieties were already highly productive, being some of the finest in the world, extremely well-tuned to the climatic conditions there. Monsanto was behind that, in what can only be termed a hostile military operation in combination with the American government.
Tough crowd Alex. Yes I am sure all those scientific companies are out to kill off all their customers. I bet they sit around in a bat cave or something plotting the demise of all their customers. To the person who stated that the big companies do not let their own employees eat GM foods in the company cafeteria, that sounds like an internet founded rumor. Get some strong meds and see a therapist for anxiety. If you keep scaring yourself it will have an effect upon your body. Seriously my friend do not do things like that to yourself. Nice article Alex.
I find several problems with GMO’s beyond the Monopoly of our food supply by Monsanto and a few corporations. I would urge those interested to watch: Genetic Chile (2010). see Trailor:
What a worrying article! Thalidomide and DDT are better comparative discoveries than electricity and penicillin but the tragic difference is that the infiltration of GM organisms into the global food supply is irreversible. Your backyard chickens fed commercial feed will lay GMO damaged eggs for your breakfast and their manure will contaminate your vegetable garden so that you get a dose with your salad as well. There is plenty of peer-reviewed, independent research exposing very concerning consequences for human health but it cannot break through the corporate controlled media stone wall.
Well, In my opinion even though GMO foods might be cheaper and will give bigger yields to the consumers; I would always like to know what my family is eating. I would prefer organic food rather GMO foods. Recently I heard that the commonest modification in GM crops includes a “significant fragment of a viral gene” known as Gene VI, a new viral DNA in GMO foods causing food contamination. Check out few shocking facts about GMO corn risks & problems with GMO foods here – http://www.rosebudmag.com/truth-squad/gene-vi-hidden-hidden-viral-dna-spawn-gmo-food-recall
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