Thierry C. Vrain is a PhD soil biologist who formerly worked as a agriculture researcher for the Canadian government. He now runs an organic farm, education and holistic health center in British Columbia, Canada with his wife, who is a medicinal herbalist.
Over the past two decades, he has emerged as a vocal opponent of GMOs, traveling around the world claiming genetically engineered crops and glyphosate pose unacceptable human health and environmental risks .Vrain has not published a scientific paper in 18 years.
In his most recent brush with controversy, the Houston Museum of Natural Science invited him to give a talk on March 29, 2016, titled "The Poison in Our Food Supply," on the effects on human health of the herbicide glyphosate and GMOs. Vrain's believes that Monsanto, which produces glyphosate and transgenic crops that tolerate the herbicide, has conspired to cover up evidence that these products are dangerous to humans. In response to outrage by the science community, including from scientists associated with the museum, the Houston Museum of Natural Science has canceled the lecture. The Museum noted that it had asked Vrain for scientific evidence to support his claims. When he was unable to provide that information, the museum staff canceled the event. It was initially moved to a local church but that was also canceled. Rice University has now agreed to host the lecture.
Vrain has made a career of traveling around the world making similar claims. The centerpiece of his talks are highlighting numerous papers that have been retracted or rejected by mainstream scientists that suggest GMOs cause "all manners of ills."
Dr. Vrain specifically cites two papers that were rejected by the scientific community—one suggesting that GM potatoes caused immune system suppression in rats, and one recently retracted paper suggesting that GM corn caused tumor growth in rats.
A native of France, Vrain earned an undergraduate degree in physiology from the Université de Caen and a doctoral degree from North Carolina State University in nematology. After moving to Canada he taught physiology at Université du Québec in Montréal. Then he worked for 30 years as a research scientist for the Canadian government in Québec and British Columbia where he conducted research on genetically modified potatoes, among other projects.
He has claimed he was director of the biotechnology department at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, BC. However, according to the head of Agri-Food Canada, "Thierry Vrain was the Section Head of the Biotechnology and Nematology sections under general direction of Dr. Gordon Neish, Director of the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland at that time. Dr. Vrain does not speak for the department. Departmental positions are policies on GMO."
Vrain also was a past president of the Society of Nematologists.
According to Vrain, "After thirty five years of research and teaching of soil biology and molecular biology – what he now calls “Chemical Agriculture”, he decided to retire young and reinvent life. A very few years later, newly remarried, co-owner of an incredibly beautiful property called Innisfree, he foresees a long future of service to the community. He has become a gardener, a teacher, and a passionate speaker about organic gardening – from soil health to GMO’s."
Vrain is often mis-characterized by anti-GMO advocates as "the former head of Agriculture Canada," "Canada’s foremost knowledgeable people on the subject," or the "father of molecular biology" and other claims elevating his actual research role. According to Dr. Wayne Parrot, "He (Vrain) is a soil scientist who used some molecular techniques to classify soil organisms. He is not even a plant biologist. As for being Head of Biotechnology he may have been head of a molecular section (might even have been called biotechnology) but that is purely an administrative function. That doesn't mean he was a leader in biotechnology, especially plant biotech."
In addition to running his organic farm, medicinal herb business and earning speaking fees, Vrain's income depends on speeches and videos sold via various alternative lifestyle commercial groups like En*theos.
Agriculture Canada Summerland Research Station
Vrain claims to be the former "head of biotechnology" at Sumerland Research Station. (See note from Vrain's superior clarifying this statement above.) He claims he changed his position on the safety of GMOs after "paying attention to the flow of published studies coming from Europe (Pusztai, Chapela & Seralini) that questions the impact and safety of engineered food" which he's presented on a Ted Talk entitled "The Gene Revolution, The Future Agriculture".
Innisfree Organic Farm
Innisfree is a seven acre organic farm Vrain runs with his second wife Chanchal Cabrera, where they offer workshops, seminars and a local CSA program serving family subscribers. They promote a philosophy of "food matters" in which they advocate "pay more and eat less." Chanchal Vrain is a "medical herbalist" consultant who promotes their philosophy at alternative and integrative medicine conferences and who runs "therapy gardens" at Innisfree to treat people with disabilities.
Vrain centrail claim is that, "The whole paradigm of genetic engineering technology is based on a misunderstanding... Every scientist now learns that any gene can give more than one protein and that inserting a gene anywhere in a plant eventually creates rogue proteins. Some of these proteins are obviously allergenic or toxic."
He also claims, regarding GMOs, that transgenic crops are based only on "30 years of unproven science" which he's frequently repeated in a TED talk and multiple other venues. He is often quoted for his worry about "rogue genes" which he worries could create unknown health and environmental risks.
Vrain is a supporter of his local "GE-Free" organization "GE Watch Comox Valley" (Society for a GE-Free British Columbia) and frequent speaker and writer for organic, anti-GMO and alternative health programs and websites. In 2013 Vrain appeared as part of the Food Revolution Network "mini summit" on GMOs with new age alternative health promoters Ocean and John Robbins to promote the otherwise anonymous GMO-Awareness.com advocacy campaign. (See John Robbins profile for more information on the paid-GMO mini-summits sponsored by various alternative health and organic industry groups.
Vrain's claims are used by the organic industry "Just Label It" lobbying efforts and promoted by Maharishi organic marketing promoter Ken Roseboro noting Vrain's conversion to organic farming as a counter balance to the well publicized Mark Lynas conversion in support of GMOs. He frequently cites the discredited Seralini study in his presentations as well as relying heavily upon Maharishi Raja John Fagan's Earth Open Source "Myths and Truths" report claims.
Vrain is staunchly opposed to the Arctic Apple—which do not brown when exposed to mechanical damage—which "There’s no research or toxicity tests to show that it’s not toxic."
Vrain and his supporters have been criticized for characterizing himself and overstating his credentials as a 'senior genetic engineering scientist who was in charge of biotechnology research at a leading Canadian institution'. He was a nematode and soil scientist whom one Canadian colleague noted as having "used molecular techniques to classify soil organisms. But he is not a plant biologist." Adding, "As for being Head of Biotechnology, he may have been head of a molecular section (might even have been called biotechnology), but that is purely an administrative function and does not mean he was a leader in biotechnology (especially plant biotech)."
Robert Wager M.Sc., B.Sc., Vancouver Island University said about his claims:
Dr. Vrain's comment on the nature of GE crops is very misleading... The truth is GM crops undergo between 10-50 times as much testing as crops from other breeding methods. With the advancement of technology, the next generation GM crops will have very specific insertion sites for the transgenes....Dr. Vrain claims "a large body of internationally publicly funded science" demonstrated mice and rats were harmed from being fed GE crops. All of the studies he refers to have been examined by world experts and without exception have been dismissed."
University of Florida scientists Kevin Folta PhD on why Houston Museum of Natural Science should cancel his lecture:
Vrain is no stranger to pseudoscience. His talks feature the usual fallacies of arguments from ignorance and outdated understanding of biotechnology...He says exactly what activists want to hear, and does so from the credible platform of a once-published scientist. He is one of the darlings of the anti-GMO movement because he’s willing to look the other way at evidence to push an activist agenda and/or cash a check.
Bibliography & Resources
TC Vrain research in the 1990s is widely published and cited, here is a small sample of citations:
- Expression of Recombinant Proteinase Inhibitors in Plants, The importance of proteolytic enzymes in plant-pest and plant-pathogen interactions has recently been recognized, and control strategies based on their inhibition with protease inhibitors (PIs)... by Dominique Michaud, Thierry C. Vrain in Recombinant Proteins from Plants (1998)
- Genetic engineering (chapter) Genetic engineering is a technology that enables us to alter the genotype of plants and other organisms. We are now capable of introducing precise mutations to specific genes, of adding or deleting entire gene... by Thierry C. Vrain in The Cyst Nematodes (1998)
- Stability of Recombinant Proteins in Plants, In almost all living organisms, proteolytic enzymes are involved in a variety of cellular functions not only associated with the control of specific endogenous metabolic reactions, but also with the degradatio... by Dominique Michaud, Thierry C. Vrain, Véronique Gomord… in Recombinant Proteins from Plants (1998)
- Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism Separates Species of the Xiphinema americanum Group, by Theirry C. Vrain, J Nematol. 1993 September; 25(3): 361–364. PMCID: PMC2619403