GMO versus pharmaceuticals: the case for stronger regulatory oversight

Here’s some stuff to consider about GMO.

1. GMO is not ‘the same as plant breeding,’ it is creating new protein sequences that have never before existed in nature.

2. An insecticide resistant GMO crop must produce heavy chemical doping in order to become resistant to what is otherwise a deadly poison, and antidotes have been known to have side effects as deadly as poisons.

3. Clinical trials for new drugs typically last twenty years, GMOs use three-month ‘feeding trials’ instead.

4. Despite extensive testing, new pharmaceuticals typically have fatal side effects but we are to believe that far less testing will result in GMOs that are perfectly safe.

5. Would you buy an ear of GMO corn if it came with a label warning of possible side effects such as ‘nausea, burning sensation, dizziness, vomiting . . . . ‘ yet such warning labels are typically attached to pharmaceuticals that have undergone decades of testing as ‘safe’ for a market of only a few thousand consumers, while GMO crops are being targeted to a market for millions.

Because GMOs aren’t simply shuffling around existing DNA protein sequences but rather are engineering protein sequences that have never existed before in nature, it stands to reason that they should be subjected to the same controls and testing utilized by an industry that already has extensive experience with creating new chemical compounds for human ingestion. That industry is the pharmaceuticals industry. Based on its experience — written in the blood of patients — the pharmaceuticals industry has adopted a system of lengthy clinical trials and extensive warning labels and a controlled distribution system that requires written authorization from a medical professional before the product can be obtained. And even so, people suffer unanticipated side effects and die from pharmaceutical drugs that were determined ‘safe’ via the exhaustive FDA review process.

In the case of GMOs, we’re disregarding all that industrial experience and saying, “Yep, the cows are still alive after three months, it must be okay to give it to billions of people.”

Pharmaceutical drugs can often be expressed in simple formulas less than one line in length. A child could construct a ball-and-stick model of most pharmaceutical drug molecules in a matter of minutes. In contrast, proteins are the equivalent of molecular robots with thousands of atoms folded into precise configurations. In the same way that a computer program of millions of bytes can be corrupted by the change of a single bit, so too are the functions of proteins radically altered by the change of a single atom.

Can GMOs be safe? Yes, with clinical testing, potential side-effects warning labels, and a distribution system controlled by licensed physicians. We do that with relatively simple pharmaceutical drugs, we should do that with far more complex protein modifications. Of course we won’t, because there isn’t going to be a market for corn that you need a prescription to buy. Especially if it has a peculiar ’roundup-resistant’ aftertaste.

But the question is not whether we want to be scientific about GMOs, because of course we do. The question is whether we want to lower the scientific standard for regulatory oversight of introducing complex chemicals to be ingested into the human body. And if we do that, the quality of human life is going to be very different in the years to come.

About engineerzero

Once and future engineer.
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