A scientific researcher of international renown will visit the area this month to talk about his research on genetically modified foods and their health risks and, in particular, on their links to immunity and growth problems.
Dr. Arpad Pusztai, who appeared in the documentary film The World According to Monsanto, is a protein scientist currently performing research in collaboration with the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology at the University of Tromso.
Formerly employed by the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, Pusztai got his first degree in Chemistry at the Eötvös Lóránd University in his native Budapest, Hungary in 1953; he subsequently obtained his PhD in biochemistry and physiology from the University of London and taught at the University of Illinois Medical Centre.
In 2005, Pusztai received the Whistleblower Award from the German Section of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms and the Federation of German Scientists.
“He’s one of the most well-known scientists in the area of genetically modified research, so when you’re looking at the topic, and when we’ve had speakers in the past, his name has consistently come up. He is someone that we’d like to have,” said Becky Shaw, a marketing consultant at Wellesley’s Bio-Ag, an agricultural consulting, manufacturing and distributing company that sells GMO-free products.
The local company is sponsoring and organizing Pusztai’s visit.
Bio-Ag holds annual seminars for farmers and agricultural clients and, in the past, has featured speakers such as CBC’s Wendy Mesley and former federal agricultural minister Eugene Whelan.
Pusztai will be at the Perth East Recreation Centre in Milverton on Jan. 21, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will also speak at a number of other locations throughout the area including the universities of Guelph and Waterloo.
Pusztai argues that although GM biotechnology companies often assert that genetically modified crops are safe, they do so without disclosing industry data, claiming that these qualify as confidential business information. Many such companies are often reluctant to yield samples of their seeds for independent verification of these claims.
“The challenge in genetically modified foods is that there are a lot of unknowns because of the methodology for that gene injection – you don’t know exactly what it’s doing at the end. You have an idea of what you want to happen, but there’s a lot of room for error in between,” said Shaw.
A genetically modified organism is a plant or animal that has been genetically modified through the addition of a small amount of genetic material from other organisms through molecular techniques. Many GMOs on the market today have been given genetic traits to provide protection from pests, tolerance to pesticides, as well as for improved quality.
The fact that a pesticide can protect a genetically modified plant without harming it does not preclude the pesticide from entering the food stream, Shaw suggested.
“If that pesticide is in the plant, how does that not transfer to the food? That is the question to be raised.”
Interest in these issues, and in particular those investigating the origins of our food, is growing, said Shaw.
“The more your read about food the scarier it is sometimes because you see how one product is so heavily subsidized, especially in the U.S., and ends up in so many things.”