Dr. Lorrin Pang on GMOs
Born and raised in Honolulu, Dr. Lorrin Pang is a district health officer in Maui County, Hawaii. He holds several degrees, including a bachelor’s in Chemistry from Princeton and an MD in Public Health from Toulane University. Additionally, he has a Masters in Tropical Disease. From 1985 to 2005, he served as consultant to the World Health Organization. He also worked at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research where he co-founded a project that trained researchers on conducting clinical studies. He returned to Hawaii in 2000. Following his return, he became concerned about the lack of testing of GMOs.
NOTE: In the following interview Dr. Lorrin Pang speaks as a private citizen. This is a transcript of a live interview that has been edited to correct for common transcription issues between spoken and written language. Any grammatical errors are the fault of this website.
Q: How did you get into the area of GMOs?
In the year 2000 I kind of retired from the clinical trial fields at universities. I came back home to Hawaii because my parents were aging, and I took a job with the Department of Public Health. Remember, right now I am speaking as a private citizen.
You have to ask them for their opinion on these things and it always seems to change. When I came back I found out that I had been testing products, intervention, food, drugs and vaccines to pretty rigorous standards. Then I found out, because some community members complained, that some of these GMOs, genetically modified foods, weren’t really being tested.
But they were worried about them. So I thought ‘oh for sure they’re being tested’. When I checked, they really weren’t, and I was appalled. I was rather insulted, because I used to work closely with the FDA to try and bring international standards up to FDA standards. It was called harmonization where regulators in Japan, Australia, Canada, and Austria would agree as to what is good testing. And I was quite appalled that our FDA had allowed them to slip on an idea of substantial equivalence.
Q: What does the term ‘substantial equivalence’ mean in relation to GMOs?
Substantial equivalence is a principal that genetically modified foods are “substantially equivalent.”
Substantial equivalence is a new coined phrase. It’s basically an idea, a principle, that the GM foods are equivalent, substantially equivalent, to the natural analogs in the foods. Now scientifically you begin to really get into it when you say well ‘what do you mean equivalent’. Do you mean for the efficacy? Do you mean if you have a food, say oranges, that gives you vitamin c, and you make a GMO orange, that it has the same amount of vitamin c? What we call efficacy, is your intended outcome. OR do you mean toxicity? That no matter how much vitamin C your GMO has or doesn’t have, ALL the rest the potential side effects, headache, nausea, vomiting, bleeding, cancer, and kidney failure, are equivalent as well?
Now it got really grey and muddled, and I can tell by looking at the data or lack of data, they haven’t proved the second part. That regarding toxicity, it’s equivalent. The American Medical Association picked up on this after like being asked to look at this recently after seven years without any new data. They finally agreed or took a very strong position that the GMOs needed the full range of safety testing as well as the efficacy. A lot of these products you make, it’s kind of easy to make them for the target outcome. Like the rice, the vitamin A enriched rice. The golden rice. I don’t doubt that you can make the rice contain a lot of vitamin A. But what about all the other possible side effects. Have you tested for those? Number one, no you haven’t.
There is no data. Number two, a basic principle that you learn when you test drugs, vaccines and diagnostics, is that you are not supposed to test these things in animals or in humans. You can test them in the lab until you get a consistent product, maybe. The GMO products are not that consistent; they drift off over time. They drift under different conditions like fertility of the soil or humidity and they’re beginning to show that they’re kind of drifting or not drifting, or we don’t know how much drift is drift.
But once again, if you’re gonna show me that your products are consistent, I’m going to ask you to split it. Do you mean for the targeted, intended products? The vitamin A? Or do you mean toxicity?
Now I believe that the AMA, American Medical Association agrees with me that this testing not good enough.
Q: Let’s start with the basics of GMOs. What is Genetic Engineering?
Genetic engineering simply means that you take the genes from one organism, put it into the other organism, and you hope that the gene on it makes the proteins active. That organism could be man to man, or it could be goat to goat. It could be a spider gene into a goat. It could be a fish gene into tomato.
Flavr Savr tomato. So you can cross animal or plant kingdoms and you can cross species. And you can simply go within that species. Now, the medical people have been dealing with this for quite a long time. It’s called gene therapy. And we have learned our lesson once again. I’m appalled that with all the cautions, all the things we’ve seen in the medical field, that they haven’t translated, to the food field.
What did we see? There’s a statement that gene therapy has been one of the biggest disappointments we have ever seen. There was lots of promise in theory that it could work. There are many examples. There were some boys in Philly who were missing an essential gene for immunity. And so they had to live in the bubble. Severe combined immune deficiency. SCID. You and I have that gene. We don’t have to live in the bubble and we simply wanted to take the gene from us and put it into the boys.
And turn on their immunity. Simple idea, that’s outcome. Now when we did that , a lot of our genes, maybe 95% or 98%, are silent at any one time, so you want to put a a promoter to turn the thing on. So we did that.
But there are parts of our genes that should not be turned at certain times. Some of them should never be turned on. These are the onco genes. Onco is cancer, oncology. And so the typical onco genes, they turn on and cause leukemia. We gave the boys this gene that they needed and we put on the switch.
Well, what happened to the boys? Did they gain immunity? I don’t know. They got leukemia, quickly, and died. Okay? It was published in the “New England Journal of Medicine.” Not only did they get leukemia, I guess we turned on the leukemia gene. It wasn’t dumb luck that we hit them.
I think there was a fourfold chance above dumb luck that we would turn on the wrong genes. There’s a propensity for the leukemia gene to want to be turned on. So the medicine guys, after numerous failures, especially in animals, had this big moratorium on gene therapy. It doesn’t say we shouldn’t ever do it , but you have to know exactly what you turn on. You have to be able to stop it or withdraw the whole construct. And you have to put it in a place so it turns on THAT thing. Otherwise you can’t do it. And in general, we don’t do it or we’re very cautious now.
According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine’s data, it has shown that the on switch for our GMO foods can cross and turn on mammalian genes. And in the test tubes, it’s shown that they can cross and turn on human genes.
So there’s a lot of warning there.
Q: Is the genetic engineering of seeds a reliable process?
Generally, the answer is the official scientific answer. If we’re asking if these GMOs, genetically modified seeds are crops, do they make a consistent product then the standard scientific answer should be that they are inconsistent until proven consistent. We’re always precautionary. Theoretically I don’t see how they can be constant. You shot the gene all over, and although you selected parts that it seems to be expressing NOW under certain conditions, how do you know that the on switch won’t turn on something else under different conditions? You don’t know. There are some publications in “Science” about the genetically modified papaya, I think, and whether it turns on other things at different times.
And it’s split. Some people said ‘well it doesn’t look like it’s changing, drifting’. Some people said ‘well it is kind of drifting’. Well how much is too much? You don’t really know do you? So rather than say ‘well it’s drifting or it’s not drifting’, if you suspect the product is in constant, I would short circuit the whole thing and just say ‘show me repeated studies of whatever your product is doing’. Show me repeated safety studies in either animal or humans and confirm that a small amount of drift isn’t dangerous? Or is a large amount is okay? I have no idea.
Q: What does gene drift mean?
That means that the genes that you put in, or the pieces of genes you put in, are turning on and off. They’re expressing different times. And we know that the environment will make some genes expressed and some not. So when they initially put in the genes it’s not one gene one in place. If we could do that we would satisfy the medical guys. It’s kind of the shot gun. We take a step back and say ‘well what seems to be on now’? That’s now.
What’s gonna be turned on when you plant it under different conditions? I mean we’ve got major problems here.
Q: What about crop pollen drift of GMOs?
Classically, people have talked about containing genetically modified crops. But the first kind of reflex response they gave was the terminator gene. If this gets out of hand it terminates itself. And then they said ‘why don’t we have it terminate every year’? So that everything dies and we start again with new seeds. The patent people say ‘then we have to buy your seed every year’.
But that’s not a scientific question. Then it dawned on people that the gene itself, the terminator gene, might cross and terminate non-target organisms, like our native plants or any plant. So the terminator gene was kind of pooh-poohed. Then they said ‘let’s contain the pollen’! Well, gee some of the pollen blows in the wind. Then they said ‘oh don’t worry, the gene won’t cross between species’. So sometimes it comes in genetically modified.. I believe that was in Hawaii.
They asked if we brought in GM cotton, and the pollen started to spread, did we have any plant that it might cross to. Well actually yeah, we have native cotton. And so a lot of people said it might wipe out our native cotton and all related species like hibiscus.
We don’t even have to cite that.. You don’t have to say, ‘we’ll we don’t have any other plant like that GMO thing you brought in’. You don’t have to say that. We know that these things can cross species. So I don’t think that it would be impossible to contain. And somebody might say ‘there we contained it for 5 years’. Well tell me about 10 years, 20 years, and 30 years. Remember my background is in medicine. So when we saw the massive spread of DDT, it stayed in the environment for a long time. Well, we couldn’t recall it but we could stop using DDT.
Or certain carcinogens we use, like asbestos. We could stop using them. GMOs are a life form. Even if you couldn’t contain them, I don’t think you could recall it. And I think it would tend to multiply on its own.
You are in a whole different magnitude of risk.
Q: If GMOs were banned today, would it solve the problem?
First of all, scientifically, I don’t like the word ‘ban’. The word I like to use, and it’s different, is moratorium. It will not be used until it meets certain conditions. And that’s what the AMA as well as the Academy of Environmental Medicine says. It doesn’t say ban. You have to meet certain conditions that are very difficult to meet, especially if you talk about consistency in testing and drift over time.
Very difficult. Then, we will allow it in certain circumstances like labeling or something. But if they were to be stopped today, moratorium or banned, that would be good. A lot of people have said, ‘it’s hopeless, it’s already out there’. 80% of our drinking water has drugs that we’ve been using.
Yeah, but you only have four drugs because we’ve been just using four drugs. Although a lot of food has GM mutations in them, canola, cotton, soy, and corn, it’s only those four kinds. But you’ve gotta see what’s coming down the pipeline. There’s some stuff that we blocked in court due to lack of EIS, Environmental Impact Statements.
So the judge was correct. It’s the number of kinds. So if I said your water is polluted with antibiotics, but it’s only two kinds, can we stop it before the other 12 kinds come in? Or pesticides. We see this with pesticides. The GMO crops use a lot of pesticides.
Well, certain kinds of pesticides are used in many places. So this is a qualitative argument.
Well, all you have to do is look in court. Because the legislative people, the political people, have money, they can argue economics. They give jobs to our people. But you’ve got to look at how they win in court. Some of the things coming out of the pipeline are blocked in court, or what’s called bio pharm. Bio pharm. Now, when you make a bio pharmaceutical, there’s the intended product. Remember, because it’s intended and non-intended.
The intended product is biologically, pharmaceutically, and pharmacologically active. . Well when that gets out, the intended product has effects. Let alone the untended products. And so some of these technical ones, like immune modulators, they mess with your immunity. And there were attempts to modify algae.
To make the algae produce these immune modulators for humans, they were going to harvest the algae and make these drugs. And we blocked it in court. It was supposed to be on the Big Island. And Judge Transis, said ‘i don’t see the EIS’ on health. I see the possibility of the stuff spreading to all the algae species of the world.
Not just Hawaii. And so they weren’t banned. They said ‘moratorium until you can show us the environmental impact statement including health’. They said they would be back. And they never came back. They shut down the company.
A few years later, there was a bio pharmacologically produced product called TGN1412. Look it up, it’s on the internet. These guys made a product, which was GM in algae or bacteria, and they did the right thing. They tested it in humans. One tested on people in the UK. The medical community never saw such bizarre reactions.
Never mind the intended things, the unintended was bizarre. This was published worldwide.What did the drug companies say? They denied that it was GM. New Zealand discovered and tracked the paper down. This was genetically modified. This is the kind of stuff that was going to be released into the fields of Poland. What did the companies say?
Well, yeah it was bad. Yes, it was GM. But the side effects we saw were from contaminants. So what did the German companies say? They pulled the data and said ‘call it what you want, “contained or not”, the product was made to the correct recipe’. If you follow the correct recipe your contaminants are inevitable. That company folded quickly.
And I don’t think the other GM companies want them to rain on their parade. A couple of bad eggs were kind of raised there.
Q: Tell me about studies that show the safety of GMOs.
The industry, not necessarily bio pharm, but the GM food, is now claiming they have to give some kind of argument that it’s safe. Generally, the typical claim now is that we’ve eaten millions of meals and if there was something wrong we would have seen it by now.
First of all, ethically, that’s wrong. Now that we’ve millions of meals, how did you get us to eat the first ten meals? Was there informed consent? When you released them, before a million meals. Say 10 years ago, when it was unknown, could you admit now, that with hindsight, did you get informed consent?
Did I sign a form that said I was exposed to these things? No I didn’t.
So that initial release was unethical. All GM products, even they will say this, the companies. You can’t say this is not GM, that’s like saying THAT drug is like that drug. So the new ones coming out, how did you release that?
Did you get informed consent as a new product? But let’s just forget that, it was a little bit unethical, and move forward to a a hundred million meals. You’re gonna claim that based on 100 million meals, it’s safe. That is their argument now. Later on, we’ll talk about why they have to use such a desperate argument. Let me remind people how many millions of cigarettes we smoked until we proved it caused cancer. And by the way we never proved cigarettes caused cancer.
We don’t know, biologically, how cigarettes cause cancer. We only know the association. And that is what they call epidemiological proof. Hill’s Factors of causation. So how many billions of cigarettes did we smoke? Well we have smoked since god knows when. Since at least the turn of the century? The Suffragettes were encouraged to smoke.
We modernized and then we showed it caused cancer in the mid nineteen fifties. That’s when we showed it. And it definitely causes cancer as well as cardiovascular disease. Great. Now our ears are perked up. Cigarettes and nicotine cause cancer.
How many more years was it until we showed that second hand smokes causes problems. Another 20 years. So number one, you can eat a lot of meals and smoke a lot of cigarettes before you actually show something causes the other.
Now how do you actually show it? Well, you just match how many guys smoke to how many guys don’t smoke and follow the cancer rates. How many kids lived with fathers who smoked? But you have to know who smokes and who doesn’t.
GMOs are unlabeled. I don’t know who ate what. Point blank. Point Blank. Here’s the argument that I want everybody to remember is, because I might not be there to argue, and you will have to argue. 10 million meals, yet you saw nothing? You mean you saw nothing?
Well out of 10 million people who ate a meal, how many would have a heart attack? In the next, three months. And it’s not zero. 10 million guys get heart attacks. How many guys would get cancer in the next six months. It’s not zero. Ten million people get cancer. Well, what is that?
Well, it’s some background? Well, what’s the background? Nowadays, I don’t know, maybe it’s 10 cancers in six months for 10 million people. Yeah, well that’s the background. Did they eat GMOs?
I don’t know; it’s not labeled. You’ve lost your control. You have no background. You cannot look at history like in 1950 before we had GMOs. The attack rate on 10 million people in maybe was X percent gets cancer. You cannot use that because now we have things beyond GM foods: pesticides and all that other stuff. Radio waves, who knows? But you have no control group. You cannot claim it’s zero because it’s not zero. It’s more than background but you cannot determine whose background. We brought this up with the company and Monsanto flew out their lead medical expert, Daniel Goldstein.
I think he’s still their lead expert. He talked with me before the Maui Medical Society and he had a very different opinion of safety. I asked him for data showing safety and he said ‘data will never be shown’.. Now that’s not exactly true; you can show data, but data has NOT been shown.
And he says it’s because you cannot lock someone away for 30 years and feed them but nothing but GM food. The statement that data safety cannot be shown is wrong. The reason he gives is wrong. So, wrong reason; wrong statement. He said this in front of the Maui Medical Society. If you say that have to lock someone away for 30 years and give them nothing but GM foods then how do we determine that smoking causes cancer?
Guys are eating and smoking. How did we determine that grapefruit juice blocks Lipitor, this drug for cholesterol? We tested it against the normal background of food. But it’s just that that statement is quite profound. I think it’s a really bizarre statement for somebody in such a position. And it’s also bizarre to say it cannot be done.
It can’t be done, but we test for other drugs?? But I think the Maui Medical Society was a little bit appalled. Because our president at that time, Dr. Borwash, gave a talk about how grapefruit juice blocks the effects of cholesterol drugs. Well how in the world would we know that if we just locked someone away
and gave them nothing but the drug? Once I heard that, it kinda rang a bell that these guys either don’t know or they know and they’re kind of like ‘blind’? Either one is a little bit disturbing.
Thank you Dr. Pang. Part 2 to follow.