PENTICTON - Genetically modified foods, such as the non-browning Arctic Apple, can be unsafe for humans according to two scientists.
Dr. Thierry Vrain, a retired soil biologist and former staffer at the Summerland Research Station and Dr. Shiv Chopra, a former Health Canada advisor, told about a dozen people at the Lier House Cultural Centre, plants and animals should not be genetically modified. The talk was part of their cross-Canada genetic modification education tour.
Vrain said the science of genetic modification is not necessarily harmful. It can lead to things like generating pure insulin using bacteria.
"It's very useful technology in the lab," he said.
The methods used to change foods' characteristics, such as turning off part of an apple's genetic make-up to stop it from browning, is what's problematic.
"The technology can do all kinds of nifty things but not in your food," Vrain said. "The technology is basically flawed as it's applied in agriculture."
How Okanagan Specialty Fruits developed the Arctic Apple and silenced the gene to turn off an apple's browning is the problem. "To do that you still have to do something. You have to inject and insert sequences that will silence the gene," he said.
This process creates an antibiotic resistant gene which can be passed on to consumers and this antibiotic resistance makes it harder for antibiotic drugs to kill harmful bacteria in humans.
"That's a flaw of genetic engineering technology."
Vrain said he sided against particular aspects of genetic engineering about five years ago. After retiring he spent part of his free time studying the negative effects of fertilizers and the long-term results of genetic modification. The scientist said there've been North American studies showing increasing cases of Alzheimer's disease, depression and autism among humans since the advent of commercial genetic engineering.
He said companies and some governments talk about the need for genetic modification to make plants pest resistant, drought resistant and to increase yields.
Chopra and Vrain explained making a pest-resistant plant uses the same gene modification techniques which gives rise to antibiotic resistance and unwanted proteins.
As for upping the number of plants being harvested it's impossible with the current technology Vrain said.
The two men explained they are not alone in their opposition of genetic modification. Many European countries as well as South Korea will not buy certain products coming from North America over concerns of gene manipulation.
There is also citizen opposition in this continent but Chopra said don't expect support from the provincial and federal governments. The former Health Canada advisor said citizens opposing genetic modification should get their municipalities to help them, to support more local and GMO-free products and help with lobbying the government for better regulations.
For more information on genetic modification and the views of Vrain and Chopra visit GE Foods Tour.
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