Jack Heinemann: Science vs assumption
13 November 2014
The first intentionally pesticidal GM crop trait based on RNA is before food safety regulators for approval to release as a food for humans or feed for animals. Will regulators substitute their assumptions, seemingly validated by the bold statements of some scientists, for data on its safety?
A key plank in the argument made by the food regulator and some scientists is that ingested dsRNAs are too fragile to survive digestion and therefore we cannot be ‘exposed’ to them in an active form. A second plank in the argument is that the concentration of dsRNAs in food would be too low to have an effect even if they were taken up. These arguments are rapidly losing their power to convince as a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that nature doesn’t share their assumptions.
Differences between food and environment regulators
Furthermore, risk assessment by food regulators does not take into account environmental effects. Therefore, their opinions are not relevant to the potential for adverse effects to arise in the environment and are not the final word when it comes to generating the full picture of GMO safety, for people or the environment.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently concluded a large-scale evaluation of dsRNA-based pesticide products and whether or not existing risk assessment frameworks are sufficient to evaluate them for safety. The answer, succinctly, was ‘no’.
...the argument that RNA won’t survive digestion is hypothetical because there are few studies on dsRNA stability through digestion, and none that prove complete removal of dsRNA at the stomach acidity levels typical of different kinds of consumers. Consequently, the EPA Panel “recommended that the stability of dsRNA in individuals that manifest diseases, immune compromised, elderly, or children be investigated.”
Probably more troubling to the scientists and regulators who have attempted to paint a one-dimensional picture of dsRNA risk assessment will be two new publications. The first demonstrates that dsRNAs (miRNAs) found in cow milk are biologically active in humans. The research, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that the miRNA in the cow milk survived digestion and could alter gene expression. The authors said: “We conclude that miRNAs in milk are bioactive food compounds that regulate human genes”