June 19, 2013
The “conversion” of former anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas to GMO promoter has garnered huge media attention, but Thierry Vrain, Ph.D., a former genetic engineer who speaks out against the risks of genetically engineered foods, has far more credibility–and a far more important story to tell the public.
Thierry Vrain’s career has spanned the full range of agriculture–from being a proponent of “chemical” agriculture and genetic engineering to being an advocate for organic farming and an opponent of GMOs.
A native of France, Vrain earned an undergraduate degree in plant physiology from the UniversitÃ© de Caen and a doctoral degree from North Carolina State University. After moving to Canada he taught plant physiology at UniversitÃ© du QuÃ©bec in MontrÃ©al. Then he worked for 30 years as a research scientist for the Canadian government in QuÃ©bec and British Columbia where he conducted research on genetically modified potatoes, among other projects. He was director of the biotechnology department at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, BC.
After 35 years of research and teaching of soil and molecular biology, Vrain retired to a small farm in Courtenay, BC called Innisfree. Today, Thierry Vrain is a gardener, a teacher, and a passionate speaker about organic gardening–from soil health to GMOs.
Ken Roseboro: Tell me a little more about your background.
Thierry Vrain: I worked in three research institutes in Montreal, Vancouver, and Summerland. I was the head of a research group using molecular biology tools. We worked on food crops. I was genetically engineering small fruit and potatoes for nematode resistance using the snowdrop lectin gene.
The genetically engineered apple (now under regulatory review in the US and Canada) originated in our group though I wasn’t involved with the research.
KR: Did you speak publicly in favor of genetic engineering when you were at Agriculture Canada?
Vrain: Yes, I just took it on as my job. I explained the safety of the technology to the public and did a good amount of lecturing, educating small groups.
KR: What led you to change from a supporter of genetically modified foods to an opponent?
Vrain: I have some difficulties with how the controversy is handled. If you aren’t a scientist you don’t understand the science. If you are a scientist and discover things that are of concern, then you are accused of doing “pseudoscience” and often viciously attacked by the industry and academics on the payroll. This has happened many times, for example to Arpad Pusztai in England and then Ignacio Chapela, who discovered GMO contamination in native corn in Mexico. He was attacked and almost fired from his post at the University of California. A year later his findings were confirmed.
There are now quite a number of research publications, in peer reviewed journals, showing concerns from feeding GM corn and soy to rats. Those studies are ignored and shouldn’t be. Federal agencies should repeat the studies and must test these crops for safety.