Contrary to claims by Grist's food writer Nathanael Johnson, access for researchers to GM seed and the non-GM parent lines to carry out independent studies is still highly problematic.
Johnson has variously claimed that the inability of independent researchers to access the necessary materials to carry out GM research is largely an illusory problem or a problem of the past.
The necessary materials for such studies are the GM crop and its non-GM parent variety, grown side-by-side in the same conditions, at the same time, to minimize variation caused by environmental factors.
Here is a reply to Johnson's claims from Howard Vlieger, co-author and coordinator of Dr Judy Carman's toxicology study on pigs, which found GM feed caused severe stomach inflammation and heavier uteri.
Johnson had criticised Dr Carman's study for not using the non-GM parent varieties as the comparators to the GM crops.
Howard Vlieger has submitted his response as a letter to the editor of Grist and on the magazine's comments thread.
Incidentally, Prof GE Seralini, who led the 2012 study that found GM maize and tiny amounts of Roundup caused severe health effects in rats fed over their lifetime, has also spoken about the problems his team experienced in accessing the GM crop and the non-GM parent variety for his study.
Prof Seralini and his team were unwilling to agree to the restrictive conditions placed on them by GM seed companies. The search for a supplier that would not compromise his scientific independence took him over a year.
Letter to the editor, Grist
24 August, 2013
Nathanael Johnson's comments about the ability to access the genetics for research purposes are inaccurate. He makes it sound as if the researchers at our land grant universities are waiting with open arms to conduct research on GMO crops and or glyphosate. He makes it sound as if the companies that develop GM crops are eager for full disclosure and testing of GM crops. This is not the case, based on my experience, which has been repeated more than once in different parts of the country. When we approach the land grant researchers with the funding in hand to test a specific hypothesis on a GM crop or how glyphosate may be affecting a GM crop, the reaction is the same every time. This is what we have been told by the researcher(s): “It would be very unhealthy for the career of any researcher to get involved with any research that may shed negative light on a GM crop or glyphosate”.
I have been active in studying GMOs since 1994 and researching GMOs from the farmer perspective since 1997. As a seed salesman for a seed corn company I have conducted side by side research of BT corn with identical isogenic lines in my field 2 years in a row in the 1990s. The seed was provided by the seed company without need for any signature of a technology agreement. I have never signed a technology agreement with any company that holds a patent on seed. In 1997 it was not illegal to conduct on-farm research comparing [GM] traited seed to its conventional counterpart. Today a bag of patented traited seed cannot even be unloaded on a dealer’s property unless the dealer has signed a technology agreement with the patent holder of the seed. That technology agreement prohibits any research without the written consent of the patent holder. The BT corn caused us to lose money (an average of $58 dollars per acre) both years that we tested it. We also conducted a test with the grain and our cattle. When given a choice between the conventional corn and the BT corn they refused to eat the BT corn.
While this was not considered a scientific study, on the farm we have to recognize facts from a common sense perspective more than a scientific perspective. When we lose money we try to avoid making that mistake twice. As a result of those early experiences you might say that we have paid closer attention than some. We have witnessed many negative side effects in crop and livestock production relative to GMO crops and glyphosate herbicides. Thankfully this has led me to connect with many qualified researchers from around the world.
The protocol for our pig study was reviewed and data evaluated by scientists from universities and research institutes. The controls were much more closely adhered to than in many industry studies.
Isn’t it interesting that every scientist or researcher that conducts a study that documents a problem with a GMO crop is labeled as an extremist or a junk scientist?
This is the view from where I stand, at ground level.
Sincerely, Howard Vlieger, co-author and primary coordinator of the pig study that Johnson criticised.