GMO Potatoes

GMO Potatoes

Are they safe?

Genetically engineered potatoes are now entering the food supply. Should you be concerned?

In this article from the Food Revolution Network, one of the scientists who developed GMO potatoes tells the truth. He explains what these potatoes really are, and why you most definitely should be concerned. And he tells you what you can do to protect yourself and those you love.

A genetic engineer who helped create GMO potatoes, including ones that are currently being sold to consumers, speaks out and explains why he renounces his work and why he believes his genetically engineered crops should be pulled from the market.


By Caius Rommens, PhD • A version of this article was originally published on IndependentScienceNews.org

Genetic engineering isn’t everyone’s childhood dream. Even I
didn’t care for it when I started studying biology at the University of
Amsterdam, but my professor explained it was an acquired taste and the best
option for a good job. So, I suppressed my doubts and learned to extract DNA
from plants, recombine the DNA in test tubes, reinsert the fusions into plant
cells, and use hormones to regenerate new plants.

People say that love is blind, but I started loving what I
did blindly. Or, perhaps, what started as an acquired taste soon became a
dangerous addiction. Genetic engineering became part of me.

Dr. Rommens’ Corporate Career Begins at Monsanto

After I received my PhD, I went to the University of
California in Berkeley to help develop a new branch of genetic engineering. I
isolated several disease resistance genes from wild plants, and demonstrated,
for the first time, that these genes could confer resistance to domesticated
plants. Monsanto liked
my work and invited me to lead its new disease control program in St. Louis in
1995
.

I should not have accepted the invitation. I knew, even
then, that pathogens cannot be controlled by single genes. They
evolve too quickly around any barrier to infection. It takes about two to three
decades for insects and plants to overcome a resistance gene, but it takes only
a few years, at most, for pathogens to do the same.

I did accept the invitation, though, and the next six years
became a true boot camp in genetic engineering. I learned to apply many tricks
about how to change the character of plants, and I learned to stop worrying
about the consequences of such changes.

A New Chapter at J.R. Simplot, A Top Agribusiness Company

In 2000, I left Monsanto and started an independent
biotech program at J.R. Simplot Company in Boise, Idaho
. Simplot is one of
the largest potato processors
in the world. It was my goal to develop GMO potatoes that would be admired by
farmers, processors, and consumers.

Genetic engineering had become an obsession by then, and I
created at least 5,000 different GMO versions each year — more than any other
genetic engineer. All these potential varieties were propagated, grown in
greenhouses or the field, and evaluated for agronomic, biochemical, and
molecular characteristics.

The almost daily experience I suppressed was that none of my
modifications improved potato’s vigor or yield potential. In contrast, most
GMO varieties were stunted, chlorotic, mutated, or sterile, and many of them
died quickly, like prematurely-born babies
.

Despite all my quiet disappointments, I eventually combined
three new traits into potatoes: disease resistance (for farmers), no tuber
discoloration (for processors), and reduced food-carcinogenicity (for
consumers).

Doubts Begin to Creep in About GMO Potatoes

It was as hard for me to consider that my GMO varieties
might be corrupted as it is for parents to doubt the perfection of their
children
. Our assumption was that GMOs are safe. But my pro-biotech filter
eventually wore thin and finally shattered entirely.

I identified some minor
mistakes
 and had my first doubts about the products of my work.
I wanted to re-evaluate our program and slow it down, but it was too little too
late. Business leaders were involved now. They saw dollar signs. They wanted to
expand and speed up the program, not slow it down.

I decided to quit in 2013. It was painful to leave behind
the major part of my adult life.

Major Mistakes Are Identified

The true scope of my errors became obvious to me only after
I had relocated to a small farm in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.

By this time, Simplot had announced the regulatory approval
of my GMO varieties. As the company began to plan for quiet introductions in
American and Asian markets, I was breeding plants and animals independently,
using conventional methods. And since I still felt uncomfortable about my
corporate past, I also re-evaluated the about-two-hundred patents and articles
that I had published in the past, as well as the various petitions for
deregulation.

Not so much biased anymore, I easily identified
major mistakes
.

For instance, we had silenced three of potato’s most
conserved genes, assuming that the three genetic changes would each have one
effect only.
 It was a ludicrous assumption because all gene functions
are interconnected.

Each change had indeed caused a ripple effect. It
should have been clear to me that silencing the ‘melanin gene’ PPO would have
numerous effects, including an impairment of potatoes’ natural stress-tolerance
response. Similarly, asparagine and glucose are among the most basic compounds
of a plant, so why did I believe I could silence the ASN and INV genes involved
in the formation of these compounds? And why did nobody question me?

Another strange assumption was that I had felt able to
predict the absence of unintentional long-term effects on the basis of
short-term experiments
. It was the same assumption that chemists had used
when they commercialized DDT, Agent Orange, PCBs, rGBH, and so on.

The Real Problems with GMO Potatoes

The GMO varieties I created are currently released under
innocuous names, such as InnateHibernate, and White RussetThey are described as better and
easier-to-use than normal potatoes and to contain fewer bruises, but the
reality is different
.

The GMO potatoes are likely to accumulate at least two
toxins that are absent in normal potatoes, and newer versions (Innate 2.0)
additionally lost their sensory qualities when fried.

Furthermore, the GMO potatoes contain at least as
many bruises as normal potatoes, but these undesirable bruises are now
concealed
.

There are many more issues, and some of them could have
been identified earlier if they had not been covered-up by misleading
statistics in the petitions for deregulation
.

How could I have missed the issues? How could I have trusted
the statisticians? How could the USDA have trusted them? My re-evaluation of
the data clearly shows that the GMO varieties are seriously compromised in
their yield potential and in their ability to produce normal tubers.

Why Consumers Need to Be Concerned

Unfortunately, most GMO potatoes end-up as unlabeled
foods that are indistinguishable from normal foods
. Consumer groups would
have to carry out PCR tests to determine if certain products, including fries
and chips, contain or lack the GMO material.

Given the nature of the potato industry, the most common
potato varieties, such as Russet Burbank and Ranger Russet, will soon be
contaminated with GMO stock.

Other GMO Foods Have Hidden Concerns, Too

My book describes the many hidden issues of GMO potatoes,
but GMO potatoes are not the exception. They are the rule
.

I could just as well have written (and may write) about the
experimental GMO varieties we developed at Monsanto, which contains an antifungal
protein
 that I now recognize as allergenic, about the disease
resistance
 that caused insect sensitivity, or about anything else in
genetic engineering.

The Real Anti-Science Movement

On May 3rd, 2018, the columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the
Washington Post:

Anti-GMO is anti-science.” His statement was echoed by
Mitch Daniels, his colleague, who added, “[It] isn’t just anti-science. It’s immoral.”

But these two columnists are not scientists. They
don’t understand the level of bias and self-deception that exists among genetic
engineers. Indeed, anyone who is pro-science should understand that
science is meant to study nature, not to modify it — and certainly not to
predict, in the face of strong evidence, the absence of unintended effects
.

The real anti-science movement is not on the streets. It is,
as I discovered, in the laboratories of corporate America.

 

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.

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Author,
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