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Thierry reflects on OUR 2011 GMO Symposium

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Thierry Vrain of Innisfree Farm has graciously allowed us to post this piece he wrote after attending O.U.R. 2011 Insight Into GMOs Symposium. We really wanted to share this because Thierry is an extremely qualified local resource on the subject of food security.

I recently went for a GMO symposium at the OUR Ecovillage in Shawnigan Lake. This Ecovillage is a special place where a small group of very dedicated and mostly young people are living the permaculture principles to the hilt. Their mission statement is to educate, inspire and transform by co-creating a thriving learning community and permaculture demonstration site. Not just growing their own food but recycling everything, erecting beautiful cob buildings and living in community, challenging existing zoning and building bylaws (see ourecovillage.org). The keynote speaker at the GMO symposium was a retired professor from Purdue University in Indiana. He had sent a letter to John Vilsack, the US Secretary of Agriculture, requesting support for his research about GMOs and a new type of organism – new to science, that seems to parasitize plants and animals and found mostly in engineered crops. The letter, written to a politician, not a scientist – therefore lacking the technical elements, went viral and was read by millions. He was promptly criticized and chastised by the Industry and some of his colleagues – for suggesting that there maybe something wrong with GMOs, and yet ignored by the USDA. I was amazed that he accepted an invitation to explain his research at this Ecovillage in Shawnigan Lake, of all places.

So this retired professor showed – with lots of scientific references, how Monsanto’s herbicide RoundUp is damaging the soil food web and the health of animals (and humans) that eat the crops sprayed with it. You have probably read that the nutrient content of our crops has been declining in the last 50 years. The US Department of Agriculture measures the amount of nutrients in all sorts of crops every year and makes the data publicly available. It is shocking to see the very significant loss of all vitamins and minerals and all sorts of other important nutrients in industrial crops as well as fruits and vegetables. It is bound to impact the health of our animals and of course our own health. RoundUp and other herbicides do not kill plants directly. They are chelators, they block the absorption of minerals that are essential for certain enzymes to function. That is how the weeds die, they are unable to take up certain elements from the soil – like manganese or molybdenum or copper. And the crops that grow where the herbicide is applied pick up residue and also become nutrient deficient – and so do we when we eat them.
And that is only half the story. The other half is about genetically engineered plants that can survive being sprayed with the herbicides. Practically all of the corn (grain fed to cattle – engineered sweet corn is not yet available in BC but is coming to a market near you next year), and all of the soy and canola are engineered for RoundUp tolerance. That gives you an idea of how widespread the nutrient deficiencies are – confirmed by the USDA analyses. The rest of the story is about direct toxicity of this herbicide to animal and human cells. I don’t have space here to go in much more details, but while I am on the topic of GMOs, a study this year at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, reported in the Journal of Reproductive Research, is causing fresh doubts about the safety of genetically modified crops. The research found Bt toxin, in human blood. The Bt toxin is a bacterial protein that makes engineered crops toxic to insect pests. The toxin is present in many GM crops, and it is “registered” as posing no danger to the environment and human health. Studies done to register this chemical are based on the understanding that the protein breaks down in the human gut. But the University of Sherbrooke scientists have detected the insecticidal protein in the blood of pregnant as well as non-pregnant women. They have also detected the bacterial protein in fetal blood, implying that it passes on to the next generation. This is the first study to reveal the presence of circulating PGMFs (Pesticides associated with Genetically Modified Food) in women, with and without pregnancy. This is a game changer and I hope that this story will make it to the big media. The good doctors of the University of Sherbrooke see the need for a new field in reproductive toxicology, including nutrition and utero-placental toxicities. As if GMO’s will be with us forever, and we better learn to cope and monitor their toxic effects on the human species. They can’t even imagine getting rid of the stuff.
And the new organism, you ask. There is no more known about it, other that it multiplies on its own (not a virus), that it is very small, like a virus, that it is usually found in crops engineered to tolerate RoundUp, and that it kills. It causes abortions in cattle and all other animals tested. Stay tuned.

This little except from Thierry’s resume gives an idea of his background:
His research covered the gamut from applied nematode management to biological control, chemical control and resistance breeding, to biochemistry, genetic engineering and molecular taxonomy, of root-knot, root-lesion, stem and bulb and virus vector nematodes on alfalfa, small fruit crops, ginseng, grapes, apple, vegetables, and forest trees. He pioneered the use of non coding ribosomal DNA sequences to identify nematodes. His universal DNA primers are now used to identify all plant parasitic nematodes, in particular the difficult virus vector nematodes and other quarantined nematodes, entomophagous nematodes, and even pathogenic fungi and beneficial fungi. He developed a popular biochemical method to evaluate the strength of bonding between enzymes and their protein inhibitors, and he showed the potential of cystatin and serine proteinase inhibitors against the Colorado potato beetle, the root-knot nematodes, and several pathogenic fungi. He published the results of his collaborations with 57 researchers from 14 countries and states in 84 refereed publications, 7 book chapters, and 132 Abstracts and technical summaries. He presented 56 seminars and keynote addresses in 19 countries and states.

He retired from research in June 2003 and traveled in many countries of Central America, Europe and Asia, for a year. India is his favourite countries, one to be seen in many trips. He lived on Gabriola Island for a year before settling in Courtenay BC in 2005. He developed a focus on gardening and organic lifestyle, bought a small farm with his companion Chanchal Cabrera, they were married in July 2006. They are currently developing the farm as a community centre offering educational programs in organic farming (www.innisfreefarm.ca) , medical herbalism (www.chanchalcabrera.com) , and Horticulture Therapy (www.gardenswithoutborders.org)

Permaculture. Sustainable Food Production. Natural Building. Education. Community.