As an environmentalist and campaigner who has dedicated her work to highlighting the truth behind genetically engineered organisms, joining an event packed with some of the world’s most respected researchers was inspiring.
To hear the findings of decades of scientific work underscored the danger in which we have been placing our world - after all, once we’ve released GE organisms, there’s no going back.
What’s more, evidence presented by these experts showed that if the world is to find real food security, it has to move away from the contaminating, monopolistic, monocultures of corporate-owned GE seeds.
We have been assured, after all, that GE foods are safe to eat, yet until now there has been no evidence to back up these safety claims, just as there has been no safety testing nor diagnostic tools to track any of the problems that might be associated with eating these foods.
Lest we forget, we were told that smoking, 2,4,5-T, PCBs and DDT were safe, but just look at the persistently devastating problems they have wreaked.
The Kunming conference focused on safe foods from the field to the plate, with international scientists presenting their research across a broad range of topics from hygienic food preparation to the harm they believed that GE foods will cause.
China has showed great leadership in opening up the debate on GE foods by inviting the likes of Jack Heinemann, the genetics researcher from Otago University, biochemist Mae Wan Ho, molecular biologist Gilles-Eric Séralini, plant pathologist Don Huber, physicist and author Vandana Shiva. Along with other eminent scientists, they were given a platform to present their evidence of serious health and environmental harm from GE foods.
According to Prof. Heinemann’s 50 years of data on corn and canola spanning two continents, yield, diversity and pesticide use in US GE crops was inferior to data from European non-GE crops. Naturally, such performance indicators would impact on the economic viability of any farmers growing GE crops.
The detrimentally low nutritional levels of the GE corn in comparison to its non-GE counterpart would not be able to sustain health, warned Prof. Huber. His surprising evidence of the poor performance of water hungry GE plants in the recent U.S. drought of 2012, found that maize yields were severely affected with GE maize yielding only 26 bushels per acre where as the conventionally grown maize yielded 109 bushels per acre.
What’s more, Huber found that the nutritional deficiencies caused by the chelation of vital trace minerals like manganese, cobalt and copper, which has seen a rise in soil-borne pathogenic moulds like fusarium, and plants containing highly toxic levels of formaldehyde (200ppm) in GE corn that is resistant to glyphosate based herbicides.
Dr Shiva lent weight to this from the point of view of her work in ecological agricultural farming. Using traditionally bred seeds, she said, ownership of the commons bred and selected over the millennia, yield performance and nutritional values of the plants were superior in comparison to GE plants. By continuing the traditional practice of replanting seeds from high-performing plants that could survive to the extremes of the climate, they would preserve diversity and performance traits to feed their communities in the future.
Then there is the rising resistance to proprietary pesticides from weeds and insects, which has become catastrophic for farmers. In an effort to control invading pests and weeds, even higher levels of pesticides are now being sprayed - the result being that regulators are forced to raise their Maximum Residue Levels of herbicide residues in the foods, revealed Prof. Ho.
Environmental degradation to the soil rhizosphere and waterways is causing dangerous levels of these pesticides to show up in the urine of animals and humans, while GE pollen drift and poor seed segregation is causing irreversible contamination of non-GE seed stocks, she warned.
Meanwhile, Prof. Séralini presented his shocking evidence of harm to the health of animals eating GE foods sprayed with the herbicide RoundUp. His groundbreaking study showed in lifetime feeding studies on rats there is evidence of harm to the animals that ranged from severe stomach inflammation, liver and kidney and endocrine disruption with reproductive failure to tumorigenic formation.
I believe the food we eat should sustain and enhance our health, today and in future generations. For this to happen we must adopt sustainable, climate reliable, low-pesticide-resilient farming methods based on ecological agricultural systems of farm management.
And through decades of research, the scientists in Kunming gave proof that the continued use of science-informed best practice in ecological agriculture, supported in the Millennium Development Goals, was the best way to ensure health and sustainability.
Please note: The Soapbox column gives a platform for industry figures to have their say on issues affecting food, nutrition, beverages and ingredients. FoodNavigator-Asia and its publishers do not necessarily agree with the views expressed by the writer, and provides the space as a means to encourage debate.
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