MINNEAPOLIS — An outspoken opponent of Monsanto’s genetically-modified crops recently challenged the agribusiness giant to prove that it’s working with safety assessment standards for its GMO soybeans and other products. If Monsanto follows through, the challenger’s Boston-area property could be at stake.
Shiva Ayyadurai, an American scientist with a PhD in systems biology from MIT, challenged Monsanto Corporation to disprove a study published in Agricultural Sciences, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. According to computer models used in the research, modifications to the soybean can lead to “significant accumulation of formaldehyde,” which in turn causes depletion of glutathione, an important antioxidant in many plants that helps protect cells from damage.
According to a report from Tap Into West Essex, a local news site in New Jersey, Ayyadurai says that if Monsanto can disprove his findings, he’ll turn over a building he owns in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that’s valued at $10 million.
“If this is what it takes to bring the truth to the American people, then I am more than willing to do it,” Ayyadurai said in a press release.
Ayyadurai and his co-author on the study, Prabhakar Deonikar, suggest that systems biology, “which aims to understand complexity of the whole organism, as a system, rather than just studying its parts in a reductionist manner,” may offer a new approach to the controversial question of the safety of GMO crops. They argue that the scientific discipline can show how relatively small changes can have much-larger and unexpected effects. They further suggest that a combination of computer modeling combined with studies both in the field and in laboratories, could provide governments with better methods for determining the long-term effects of genetic modifications on food safety.
Ayyadurai’s challenge has gone unanswered as of press time, according to a report from Eric Kiefer, a New Jersey-based staff writer at Patch:
“Ayyadurai told Patch that he has made repeated attempts to contact and meet with Monsanto officials to discuss his findings, but that the agrochemical giant has ignored his requests.
‘They know who I am,’ Ayyadurai emphasized. ‘And they definitely know about our research.’”
While Monsanto may be reluctant to respond to Ayyadurai’s challenge, one scientist, Kevin Folta, responded on his blog Illumination in July, pointing out that the publisher of Agricultural Sciences, Scientific Research Publishing, has been criticized for predatory “pay to publish” practices. Additionally, Folta, who is a professor and chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, suggested the study’s authors have a pre-existing bias against GMOs that affected their computer models.
“This outcome is likely exactly what the authors wanted to see, and allowed them to publish a verbose, poorly-written, goofy paper that serves an important political purpose to advance at least one of the author’s interests,” he wrote.
Although their popularity continues unabated in the United States, other countries are beginning to raise concerns about the safety of GMO crops. A government official told a biotechnology conference in September that Russia has banned the use of GMO crops in its food supply. And on Monday, EcoWatch reported that a pair of court decisions in Mexico cast doubt on the future of GMO crops south of the border.
Watch “Science and the Safety of GMOs” from Shiva Ayyadurai:
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