miércoles, junio 20, 2007

En defensa del libro de Smith

Claire Robinson responds to Monsanto man's review

[Claire's responding to this review in the Des Moines Register
http://www.dmregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070513/ENT01/705130322 ]

Surely the point of getting a scientist like Paul Christensen to review Jeffrey Smith's book about the hazards of GM foods, "Genetic Roulette", is so that he can come up with some reasoned scientific arguments against it. Disappointingly, Christensen doesn't quote any science to support his sweeping claims that the book is "short on science". Smith's book, on the other hand, is stuffed with science supporting the notion that GM foods are hazardous to health.

Christensen implies that there is an "existing scientific consensus" on the safety of GM foods. Yet Smith's book proves that there is no such consensus. Hordes of scientists - geneticists, epidemiologists, toxicologists, pathologists, soil biologists, and agronomists - are warning us of the risks and real harm associated with GM foods and technology. They're all quoted and their work is extensively presented in the book. You only have to read it to realize that Christensen is engaging in wishful thinking and not scientific thinking when he invokes the non-existent consensus.

Christensen also implies that unnamed "regulators" test GM foods for safety. They have never done so. What they do is to take a quick look at summaries of research (prepared by industry) that industry scientists claim to have done (but which is often not published and open to scrutiny). Often, such summaries do not provide data on which claims of safety are based, and the data remains secret. When data is forced into the open, as a result of lawsuits or Freedom of Information legislation, the summaries are found to be wildly at odds with the data.

Christensen engages in a common industry ploy to dismiss worrying findings of research or case studies when he claims that the diversity of the observations and explanations in the book "undermine the assertion of science-based concern". The pharmaceutical, weapons, chemical, and vaccine industries have used the same argument of "too many notes" (an accusation leveled against Mozart in his lifetime) when seeking to dismiss the symptoms of people who have been made sick or killed by their activities. There is nothing unscientific about diversity of observations. One action may have many effects. It's up to scientists (not Smith) to pull together some of that diversity of effects into a coherent argument. Many scientists, as Smith's book shows, have begun that process, and Smith presents their arguments. However, the continuance of those scientists' work is often frustrated by having their funding cut off or, as has been the case in several proposed studies on GM food, being denied access to the GM foods they want to test. So perhaps there are fewer cut-and-dried, undeniable arguments than Christensen demands, but that isn't the fault of GM critics, but of those who want to silence the scientists' warnings.

Indeed, for someone who claims to want more science, Christensen seems strangely determined not to engage with the science in Smith's book. "Science," he says, "is looking for a pattern that consistently repeats," and therefore, he implies, Smith's book is not science. But, in a bizarre self-contradiction, he then castigates Smith for doing just that - giving us "new patterns in the data"! Christensen further complains that "Genetic Roulette" "contributes little because it does not sort out the patterns and how they are linked to plausible causes." But this is exactly what the book does do. True, Smith hasn't set up a lab to repeat and complete all the aborted and suppressed research that found problems with GM food, but that isn't really his job, is it? In fact, Mr. Christensen, isn't that what you and your former scientific colleagues in industry were supposed to have done before releasing GMOs into our food supply?

I say "former colleagues in industry" because according to Christensen's resume at http://www.seeds.iastate.edu/directory/paul.pdf

he was Monsanto's technical product manager for Asia from 1999-2001, and before that he worked for Dekalb Genetics, where, in his own words, he "developed European regulatory strategy to support the approval of Dekalb transgenics". Such closeness between industry and "regulators", in which industry people effectively write the rules for regulators, and slide back and forth between private and public sectors, has been the rule since the launch of GM products. And the process has nothing to do with science or proof of safety. GM foods were initially approved as a result of a political directive to support the biotech industry which overrode the warnings of the US Food and Drug Administration's own scientific experts. When government and industry work together so tightly, there is no need for the "conspiracy theories" that Christensen accuses GM critics of espousing.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of Christensen's response to "Genetic Roulette" is that it follows to the letter the predictable arguments that biotech advocates use to try to silence GM critics, as described on page 252 of Smith's book. Two that come to mind are "Sweeping dismissal" while avoiding responding to specific details, and "Invoking of scientific organisations", implying that there's a consensus on safety and that regulators think GM food is OK.

If you'd like a more realistic picture of what's in Smith's book than Christensen's review yields, you can read my review of it at http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=7885 .

Or better still, read the book itself and the evidence therein, and decide for yourself!

Claire Robinson
Co-editor, GM Watch