For GM food and vaccinations, the panic virus is a deadly disease

Sep 23, 2013 by David Tribe & Richard Roush, The Conversation
In places like Indonesia, where white rice is a staple food, vitamin deficiency is a serious problem – especially for children. Credit: Shreyans Bhansali

Most readers are aware of the benefits of using vaccines to boost the immune system and prevent infectious disease. Many readers will not be aware of a very different disease prevention tool: supplementing vitamins in crops through genetic modification (GM).

Anti-science opposition to both is rife; to save lives, that opposition has to stop.

The benefits of A were accidentally discovered in 1986 by public health scientists. They were working to improve nutrition in the villages of Aceh, Indonesia, where families are heavily dependent on rice as their main source of nutrition.

These scientists discovered that simple supplementation of infant diets with capsules containing beta-carotene (a of vitamin A) reduced rates by 24%.

White rice is a very poor source of vitamin A, so the people of Aceh (like millions of poorer people in large regions of the world) suffered from vitamin A deficiency. This impaired proper development of their biological defences against infection.

We now better understand vitamin A deficiency as a disease of poverty and , responsible for near two million annually. It is mostly children under the age of five and women who are affected.

Many other studies carried out in several Asian, African and Latin American countries reveal the health benefits of beta-carotene supplementation in the diets of people subsisting on vitamin A-deficient staple foods.

Rejecting science

Small wonder then that scientists internationally were outraged at the recent wanton sabotage of field trials to evaluate new varieties of rice called Golden Rice. This rice is genetically modified to contain nutritionally beneficial levels of beta-carotene.

In an editorial in the journal Science last week, prominent scientific leaders, including three Nobel prize winners, expressed their dismay and outrage at unethical anti-scientific efforts to prevent introduction of Golden Rice to smallholder farmers in the Philippines:

If ever there was a clear-cut cause for outrage, it is the concerted campaign by Greenpeace and other non-governmental organisations, as well as by individuals, against Golden Rice.

Trenchant opposition to vaccines, and opposition to genetically modified crops, are examples of the disturbing and strong anti-scientific sentiment in many modern countries. They share some common features.

Golden rice can save lives. Credit: IRRI Images

Both movements flourish among those who reject mainstream science. They rest on misuse and misinterpretation of badly designed experiments, such as those taken to falsely indicate that mercury preservatives in vaccines cause autism.

They include false detection of proteins from GM plants in tissues of pregnant women using invalid protein measurements.

They flourish in news media, which report ill-founded comments. Examples include British medical researcher Andrew Wakefield's disastrous 1998 press conference about the measles , and the anti-GM Safe Food Foundation's press releases about CSIRO's genetically modified wheat.

These would not pass muster in the professional scientific literature.

Selective 'evidence'

Conspiracy theory abounds in both movements. Anti-GM extremists think support for GM crops results from money by Monsanto. Anti-vaccine true believers say support for vaccines among public health professionals is fuelled by money from manufacturer Merck.

In that sense, both the anti-vaccine and anti-GM extremists are anti-science. Where they part company is in the willingness of anti-GM extremists to actively sabotage and destroy legal scientific experiments designed to address exactly the questions to which activists demand answers.

Even anti-GM activists who profess to respect the scientific method pick and choose which scientific-sounding claims to accept, depending on whether they are compatible with their own personal cultural beliefs and social affiliations.

The hundreds of studies unpinning GM crop safety are ignored. The few studies raising questions about GM crops, almost invariably of questionable quality, are the sole focus of activist attention.

Jessa Latona, the young woman convicted of sabotaging the CSIRO GM wheat trials said that she is a huge fan of what the CSIRO does in many areas, and particularly on climate change and … yes … but I believe that not all science is equal.

Some clinics, such as this one in Haiti, provide vitamin A capsules to children, but they can’t cater to the whole developing world. Credit: Bread for the World

This cultural bias about which science is acceptable is at the root of now considerable harm being caused by unscientific rejection of GM crops and vaccines. Nutrient fortified crops and vaccines can save lives if they are given a fair opportunity.

Long-term effects

Anti-scientific opposition to vaccines is promoting the re-emergence of diseases such as measles and whooping cough in developed countries such as the USA and United Kingdom, but anti-scientific opposition to GM crops is largely hurting developing countries.

It is denying them much needed opportunities for improvements in health and human welfare, including by reducing risky pesticide use.

Some may say that the movements cause little harm, and that a precautionary approach is needed to prevent harm.

But the history of the anti-vaccine movement, spelt out marvellously in several books by paediatrician Paul Offit and journalist Seth Mnookin, underlies the fallacy of this attitude.

As Paul Offit says in relation to people against vaccination:

doing nothing is doing something.

Doing nothing about vitamin and micronutrient-fortified staple foods in the face of widespread deficiencies in the staple diets of many developing countries is condemning many people to disease-impoverished and tragically shortened lives.

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User comments : 7

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Tom_Hennessy
2 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2013
The plague vaccine recently killed a researcher working with the vaccine because he had too much iron in his body, leading to a black box warning, the plague vaccine should not be given to those with iron excess.
"Hereditary Hemochromatosis Restores the Virulence of Plague Vaccine Strains"
LariAnn
1.5 / 5 (8) Sep 23, 2013
There is a difference between "anti-science" and anti agenda-driven "science". No one can dispute the fact that, if one corporation stands to benefit hugely from the global adoption of GM seeds, their "research" is biased. Don't forget that scientific work is done by humans who are willing and capable of pushing an agenda if it benefits them personally and professionally. Real science is not a religion, should not be a promotion device for corporations, and is not performed by unbiased robotic entities.
jimjim
1 / 5 (7) Sep 23, 2013
Anti-Science... You can do all the experimenting all you want. Just don't feed us your science experiments. We don't know what were doing when it comes to genetic manipulation. I don't believe in patenting life and I don't condone secretly selling us science experiments as food.

You have no idea what the consequences are when you don't ensure the "product" is sterile and can't reproduce. Current GMO policies are barbaric to humanity. It is our duty as APEX predators to protect our food sources from this potential massive corruption. It is not our duty to protect fauna that cannot adapt to their environment.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (7) Sep 23, 2013
"Doing nothing about vitamin and micronutrient-fortified staple foods in the face of widespread deficiencies in the staple diets of many developing countries is condemning many people to disease-impoverished and tragically shortened lives."

Yet other articles on phys.org announce that vitamin supplements offer no net benefits in health or longevity
Chromodynamix
2.5 / 5 (11) Sep 24, 2013
The majority of the above posts indicate that the Bad Science virus has infected "scientifically" minded people as well.
I will be reposting this aimed at all people who are part of the AEFT Brigade.
(Against Every F****** Thing)
Science is not perfect, but the advances outweigh unfounded accusations of dangerous technologies. Has anyone died of GMOs?
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Sep 28, 2013
The majority of the above posts indicate that the Bad Science virus has infected "scientifically" minded people as well.
I will be reposting this aimed at all people who are part of the AEFT Brigade.
(Against Every F****** Thing)
Science is not perfect, but the advances outweigh unfounded accusations of dangerous technologies. Has anyone died of GMOs?


You ask the wrong question --purposefully so, I suspect.

The right question is: what are the health, environmental and economic consequences of the adoption of GMOs?

So far, all the evidence supports negative consequences in all three. It would be just as simple and cost-effective --probably more so-- to distribute these critical nutrients as supplements, rather than risking runaway "unforeseen effects of GMOs".

A lttle basic research will go a long way in curing your ignorance --if you are not morally and ethically bankrupt, that is.

Chromodynamix
1 / 5 (4) Sep 28, 2013
Supplements for poor people in far flung rural environments. Some hope!
OK, until the final personal attack.
Better check my credentials.
Doc Brown
Sep 29, 2013
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