Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A look into The Institute for Responsible Technology

I know I promised to review the European Commission's response to Seralini's article. However, I feel that I've made up my mind about Seralini's 2012 article and think I should move on to something new. Don't you?

One of the anti-GMO sites that I frequently see links to in Facebook is The Institute for Responsible Technology. They specifically have a page dedicated to health risks of GMOs, so I thought I'd go through their information to find a new article to read.

Regarding the website itself, I found that the first half of the Health Risks page didn't have any health information at all. It was critical of the FDA, the lab techniques used to generate GMOs, and the potential risks. A lot of "can"s, "may"s and "might"s. Quite a few statements have no references at all. As I read this, all I could think about was why it should matter if scientists use "gene guns" or another method? Frankly, I think it's because "gene guns" sound scary. Otherwise, why aren't they telling you about pipettes or centrifuges? It's because the latter are boring. Anyway, I digress.

It isn't until citation #8 that I got to the first health impact: "Soy allergies skyrocketed by 50% in the UK, soon after GM soy was introduced". The citation is from an article written by Mark Townsend in the Daily Express from March 12, 1999. The paper's archive is locked, but I did a websearch and found the statistic on many, many sites despite the fact that the reference is to an opinion piece. I finally found the article and apparently, the number of allergies "skyrocketed" from 10 in 100 to 15 in 100 individuals. For the life of me, I can't seem to find the original paper by York Nutritional Laboratory and am not sure if it was even published (additionally, page 58 of this book creates doubt around the whole thing). Without information on statistics and significance, one cannot really determine the validity of the statement.

Citation #9 was linked to "A skin prick allergy test shows that some people react to GM soy, but not to wild natural soy". The citation was to an article in Allergy and Asthma Proceedings which I had no access to. However, a lot of interesting info was in the abstract: they performed skin tests on 49 patients with 13 showing positive results to wild soybeans and 8 positive to GMO soybeans. One patient had a positive skin test result to GMO soybeans only. One. One patient. The conclusion of the paper is that more research is needed. But, the Institute for Responsible Technology fails to mention this conclusion. At the same time, without appropriate stats and full study, you could reach the conclusion that more individuals were allergic to wild soybeans vs GMO soy beans based on the numbers above.

So, I decided to take a look at the whole allergen issue with soya. With a quick look in NCBI, I found a paper where they looked at 1716 individuals and found no difference in allergic reactions between GM and non-GM soya. In an additional paper, they looked at 106 allergy-sensitive individuals and didn't find any difference in reaction between GM and non-GM crops, including soya. Those were the first two I found. Neither study was funded by an agribusiness, although the second paper acknowledged a scientist from Monsanto for sending them a protein sample and seeds for the study, which is pretty harmless.

Moving on to citation #10: "Cooked GM soy contains as much as 7-times the amount of a known soy allergen". This citation is linked to a chapter in a text book, which again, I do not have access to. It's bad form to list a text book as a citation, because text books are reviews and very seldom have novel findings. Again, I digress. I can't verify this citation, but the abstract for the chapter seems pretty neutral about GMOs and indicates that recommended testing protocols have already been built in to world food safety standards.

So the last citation is linked to "GM soy also contains a new unexpected allergen, not found in wild natural soy". This finding was from the same paper as citation #9. I don't think this really matters, because they did the allergy tests (as I pointed out earlier) and there was no significant difference in allergic reactions between GM soy and wild type soy. Oh yeah... except that one patient. One patient. Let me point out again that this one paper which is cited 2x by the Institute for Responsible Technology clearly states that more studies need to be done in order to reach a conclusion. And there have been several studies published since then. The paper with the single reactive patient was written in May 2005. The two papers that I cite above were written in August 2005 and June 2006.

This is getting long. I'll pick up next time with the section on "Bt corn and cotton linked to allergies" on the Institute's webpage. I hope it's better than what I've read so far...

I want to finish off by saying that I may sound critical of the Institute for Responsible Technology, but in all honesty, I can only form a semi-informed opinion about them because I can't access half the material they cite. But if I can't access the material with the resources I have at hand, then the vast majority of people on this planet can't either. Yet that hasn't stopped literally hundreds of webpages from reusing the same statistics over and over. From the second half of material that I CAN access, the health impact of GMOs seem to be vastly overexagerated, which is why I've been growing increasingly skeptical of the webpage as my analysis progresses.

BioChica out.

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