GMO proponent Kevin Folta can’t understand how consumers can accept GM medicines but not GM foods. Claire Robinson spells it out
The news that a GM virus shows promise in treating some people’s skin cancer is being hyped by GMO proponent Kevin Folta, who believes that because people largely accept GM in medicines, they should also accept it in food crops – and if they don’t, they are hypocrites.
“#GMO insulin? OK! #GMO cheese? OK! Oil from a GM soybean? The hypocrisy of fighting science.”
“The hypocrisy of what we accept, what we don't, from recombinant DNA technology.”
But Folta’s attempt to equate the use of GM “human insulin” and cancer therapies with genetically modified food crops is unscientific and illogical.
There is a world of difference between the two. For example:
1. Medicine is contained use of GMOs, targeted at the sick person. GMOs in contained and medical use are genetically crippled so that it is extremely difficult or impossible for them to replicate. This is in stark contrast to agricultural GMOs, which do replicate and spread.
2. Medicine is administered on the basis of informed consent. The patient considers the potential benefits and risks of taking the medicine and compares them with the risk of allowing the disease to remain untreated. In contrast, people in North America cannot exercise choice as to whether they eat GM foods, as they are unlabelled there. Globally, choice is also undermined by GMO contamination of organic and non-GM crops and withdrawal of non-GMO seeds from the marketplace.
3. Medicines are tested far more thoroughly than GM foods. Medicines have to go through long-term toxicity testing in rodents before proceeding to controlled trials in healthy people and then in sick people. In contrast, no regulatory authority anywhere in the world requires long-term safety testing of GMO foods prior to release into the food system.
4. Post-release monitoring of medicines is relatively simple because there are records of what people take and they are under the supervision of a medical professional. But post-release monitoring of GM food consumption is non-existent.
As for Folta’s reference to the apparent public acceptance of “GMO cheese”, he appears to be referring to the enzyme chymosin, the substitute for calves’ rennet in cheese making. Chymosin can be made by GM or non-GM organisms, though most of it now appears to be GM-derived. There are conflicting claims about whether it actually remains in the final product that is eaten.
The GM-derived form hasn’t been safety tested in live animals, as far as we know, and it was sneaked into cheese production before consumers were aware of the GM issue. The food industry has done nothing to publicise this GMO element of cheese production and most consumers remain unaware of it. However, the UK organic certification body, the Soil Association, does not allow the use of GMO-derived chymosin in certified organic cheese. All Folta’s point really shows is what we already know – that the only way to get consumer acceptance of GMOs is to hide them.
In conclusion, Folta’s argument is doomed to fail because it is based on a lie. GMOs used in medicine and food crops are completely different issues.
Cold sore virus “treats skin cancer”
By Michelle Roberts
BBC News online, 26 May 2015
A genetically engineered version of a virus that normally causes cold sores shows real promise for treating skin cancer, say researchers.
The modified herpes virus is harmless to normal cells but when injected into tumours it replicates and releases substances to help fight the cancer.
Trial results published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology show the therapy could lengthen survival by years - but only for some melanoma patients.
The treatment is not yet licensed.
Similar "immunotherapy" treatments for melanoma are already available in the US and in Europe, but researchers believe T-Vec would be a welcome addition to these.
It would also be the first melanoma treatment that uses a virus.
The latest study is the largest ever randomised trial of an anti-cancer virus and involved 436 patients from 64 centres in the US, the UK, Canada and South Africa who had inoperable malignant melanoma.
UK trial leader Prof Kevin Harrington, from the Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: "There is increasing excitement over the use of viral treatments like T-Vec for cancer, because they can launch a two-pronged attack on tumours - both killing cancer cells directly and marshalling the immune system against them.
"And because viral treatment can target cancer cells specifically, it tends to have fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy or some of the other new immunotherapies."
Dr Hayley Frend, science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "Previous studies have shown T-Vec could benefit some people with advanced skin cancer, but this is the first study to prove an increase in survival.
"The next step will be to understand why only some patients respond to T-Vec, in order to help better identify which patients might benefit from it."
Although it has not yet been licensed, doctors are excited about the very real prospect of a brand new type of treatment for advanced melanoma - and, in the future, possibly other cancers too.
The idea of using viruses to enter and kill cancerous cells has been gathering scientific pace and kudos.
This latest study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology is the largest ever randomised trial of an anti-cancer virus and provides tantalising evidence that the treatment concept could soon be moved into the clinic, after decades of work in the lab.
Researchers now want to do more studies to identify which patients might benefit from the treatment and whether it should be used alongside other melanoma drugs that are already approved.
Drug regulators will be watching closely and will soon make a final decision about T-Vec.
Earlier this year an immunotherapy drug, pembrolizumab, became the first treatment "fast-tracked" for NHS patients in England with advanced melanoma, under a new government scheme.
Drugs approved through the Early Access to Medicines scheme, launched in England in April 2014, have been scrutinised by regulators weighing up the risks and benefits.
Melanoma is the sixth most common cancer in the UK and kills more than 2,000 people in Britain each year.
Damage to the skin by the sun's harmful UV rays increases your risk of developing this cancer.