Colleen Scherer
Colleen Scherer

Two new studies were released in May that take aim against the use of biotechnology in agriculture. As is typical with the majority of biotech studies that are slanted to prove the “evils” of the technology, the way the studies were handled are questionable.

The first study was done in Uruguay on the containment of genetically modified crops. The findings of the study, which were published in the academic journal Environmental Biosafety Research, contends that cross-fertilization between biotech and non-biotech crops are more common and more difficult to control in a natural environment than previously thought.

“Out of a sample of five pairs of seedlings that were selected, the researchers discovered in three cases that the non-GM crops contained ‘transgenes’ originating from the GM crops. Most traces of cross-fertilization were found in an area ranging 100 meters away from the GM crops, while in another case cross-fertilization occurred even though Eucalyptus trees stood in between the two fields, and finally in a case where the two fields were set at a distance that exceeded 250 meters,” according to the journal.

The study, however, has been criticized by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development for not gathering proper evidence to prove the cross-fertilization risks. The experts also criticized the method used to conduct the experiment, citing that it was not sound and that the concentration of transgenes was poor.

Nevertheless, many in the anti-GMO world will use this as further evidence of biotechnology’s pervasiveness in the natural world.

However, that study is chump change compared to the traction the second study will get since it was conducted in Canada instead of South America. The Canadian study, “Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada” tested blood samples of 39 pregnant women and 30 non-pregnant women for the presence of Bacillus thuringiensis in their blood. None were exposed directly to Bt, the study claims. And all claimed to have conventional diets. The study claims that 93 percent of pregnant women and 80 percent of their fetuses had Bt in their blood. It was also present in 69 percent of the non-pregnant women in the study.

What is not clear from the study is the level of concentration of Bt in any of the samples, in addition to the low size of the sample group. Articles written about the study have tried to link its findings to other health issues — without any proof — including chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, as well as the increase in food allergies, autism and non-alcohol-related liver disease.

It is not too far of a leap to see that the anti-GMO crowd is building momentum to use agricultural biotechnology as the scapegoat for many of the country’s ills, whether they be long term or short term. What could be scary is if this information is accepted and used politically to change agricultural policy. Considering that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was willing to bring organic groups to the table earlier this year to discuss a peaceful coexistence between organic and conventional agriculture, it’s not a far-fetched concern.

Fortunately, these types of studies don't have much traction when held up to scientific scrutiny. Instead, they are fodder for the anti-GMO crowd to use to beat their chests.

The study of pregnant women is the more concerning of the two latest studies. It shows the anti-GM movement will claim to have proven that GM foods are unsafe to eat and no longer just theoretical. Watch for more similar studies to come out in the next couple years. This trend is highly likely to continue.