Thursday, July 18, 2013

Autism and GMOs - From

I know I'm supposed to be reviewing all the health risks from the Institute for Responsible Technology's webpage, since I keep getting referred to the page by many anti-GMO organizations. But this week I took a break to review an article on, whom my twitter feed referred me to.

I first went to their "Get Informed" section and saw a link entitled "Poor Gut Health And Autism Linked Through GMOs". Having worked in a lab that did Autism research (although I never worked on autism-related projects), I've always tried to follow news and studies on the disorder and thought it would be a good read.

The article, originally published in "Health and Wellness Magazine", had no references and most of the arguments presented were people's opinions or interviews. The author refers to a talk given in Germany in 2011, where a research scientist presented information on physiological, neurogical and behavioural symptoms of livestock animals which were remarkably similar to those in autistic patients. I looked up the name of the speaker (Don Huber from Purdue University) and only found two papers that he's published, and neither one of them was about GMOs. I went to his page on the Purdue website, but he doesn't have any publications listed about GMOs or autism. Here's why this matters: talks, posters, and workshops are not peer reviewed. There's no vetting process, so you could talk about anything you wanted, even if the information is incorrect.

The author goes on to state that 20 years ago, autism was rare. Now, it's found very frequently in the population and a large number of these patients have digestive ailments. Animals fed GM feed also have gastrointestinal ailments. The author sites one Dr Snow, a veterinarian, who has noted that since GMOs were introduced in the '90s, he's seen an increase in small intestine irritation. Then the author mentions a mysterious Dutch farmer, whose animals got diarrhea when he switched them to GM feed. Autistic patients also suffer from diarrhea. Autistic patients have unbalanced gut bacteria, and the author is willing to bet that GM-fed livestock do, too.

Believe it or not, that's as strong as the evidence gets. The rest of the article has nothing to do with autism and I felt that the purpose of the additional info was to instill fear.

I went into the pubmed database to search for papers linking autism to GMOs. I searched to "GMO + autism", "genetically modified + autism", and "Bacillus thuringiensis + autism", and didn't find a single paper. I couldn't find a single published paper on the topic.

Just because two seemingly related items change during the same time period does not mean that they're related. For example, polio rates decreased over the course of the last century while the production of televisions increased over the same period of time. If you look at the map, polio is currently found in nations where they don't have many TVs per capita: Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. So polio is being irradicated by television appliance sales. I should make a donation to Samsung.
TV Manufacturing Causes a Decrease in the Incidence of Polio

There's a limitless number of examples: I bought more shoes in the past 2 years and my son has been growing an average of 2 lbs per month over the same time period. Therefore the increase in the number of shoes I own is caused by my kid's growth.

In conclusion, I could not find a single peer reviewed article about autism and GMOs. But if you go into google, you'll find 853,000 results (a quick scan revealed things such as "the amish population doesn't have autism and they don't eat GMOs"... really??). If you visit the Autism Science Foundation, you'll see that there are a few featured papers about nutrition and autism, but none of them are about GMOs. I also checked Autism Speaks and the National Autism Association's webpages, and didn't find any information on genetically modified organisms. I would suggest that the gmoinside organization take down this article as being misleading.

Now, I'm off to buy shoes. After all, the kid's going through a growth-spurt :)

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