Scientists Speak Against GM CropsNov 30, 2011 | Bharat Dogra
At a time when the strong lobby for GM crops has escalated its campaign to get more clearances and concessions from the Indian Government, it is extremely important to high-light the fact that many distingushed scientists have not only rejected GM crops in strong terms but in addition, to counter the sinister propa-ganda of the powerful GM lobby, they have even found it to necessary to form panels and groups where they can voice the collective opinion of several eminent scientists aginst the many-sided threats posed by GM crops.
An eminent group of scientists from various countries who constitute the Independent Science Panel have said in their conclusion after examining all aspects of GM crops: “GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits and are posing escalating problems on the farm. Transgenic contamination is now widely acknowledged to be unavoidable, and hence there can be no co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture. Most important of all, GM crops have not been proven safe. On the contrary, sufficient evidence has emerged to raise serious safety concerns that, if ignored, could result in irreversible damage to health and the environment. GM crops should be firmly rejected now.”
The Independent Science Panel (ISP) is a panel of scientists from many disciplines and countries, committed to the promotion of science for public good. In a document titled ‘The case for a GMO-free Sustainable World’ the ISP has stated: “By far the most insidious dangers of genetic engineering are inherent to the process itself, which greatly enhances the scope and probability of horizontal gene transfer and recombination, the main route to creating viruses and bacteria that cause disease epidemics.”
Further the ISP said: “GM crops have cost the United States (US) an estimated $ 12 billion in farm subsidies, lost sales and product recalls due to transgenic contamination…..The instability of transgenic lines has plagued the industry from the beginning, and this may be responsible for a string of major crop failures.”
More recently 17 distinguished scientists from Europe, the USA, Canada and New Zealand wrote to the Prime Minister of India warning against “the unique risks (of GM crops) to food security, farming systems and bio-safety impacts which are ultimately irreversible.” This letter adds:
The GM transformation process is highly mutagenic leading to disruptions to host plant genetic structure and function, which in turn leads to disturbances in the biochemistry of the plant. This can lead to novel toxin and allergen production as well as reduced/altered nutrition quality.
Numerous animal feeding studies demonstrate negative health impacts of GM feed on kidney, liver, gut, blood cells, blood biochemistry and the immune system. Of greatest concern is that studies show negative health effects with GM crops that have already been approved and which have been grown commercially for 10-13 years. This highlights the inadequacy of the original criteria and set of data on the basis of which marketing approval was and is still being granted.
Apart from pointing out serious health hazards. This letter by 17 distinguished scientists also refutes in strong terms the false claims of yield increase by GM crops.
…The basic problem is that GM as employed in agriculture is conceptually flawed, crude, imprecise and poorly controlled technology, that is incapable of generating plants that contain the required multiple, co-ordinately regulated genes that work in an integrated way to respond to environmental challenges.
…GM has not increased yield potential. Yields from GM crops to date have been no better and in the case of GM soya have been consistently lower.
…GM crops have led to vast increases in pesticide use, not decreases and therefore reduction of agricultural pollution cannot be claimed
…Climate change brings sudden, extreme, and unpredictable changes in weather, which requires that a cropping system be flexible, resilient and as genetically diverse as possible. GM technology offers just the opposite.
…Stability of productivity and production is much lower with many of the GM crops commercialised today. Herbicide tolerant GM soya is far more sensitive to heat or drought stress than conventional soya.
…GM crops are designed to be used in conjunction with synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, which are manufactured from oil and natural gas.
GM crops do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Recent data from the US Department of Agriculture has shown a vast increase in herbicide use since the introduction of GM crops tolerant to the application of these agrochemicals.
Therefore, the introduction of GM crops has exacerbated rather than reduced agriculture’s carbon footprint and is clearly unsustainable.
In April 2009, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) published a report “Failure to Yield” confirming that “after 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialisation, GM crops have failed to increase yields” and that “traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down”.
Dr Jack A. Heinemann, of the School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand, has a decade-long experience of reviewing safety information from companies on their genetically engineered crops. He writes: “The ‘Bt’ trait does not increase yield, it just is becoming nearly impossible to source the best varieties without the Bt transgenes.”
Why is this so? Dr. Heinemann answers: “The yield benefit (in Bt cotton) comes from the use of high yielding hybrids that are only available as GM varieties because genetic engineering companies like Mansanto control a large proportion of the seed supply and only offer them as GM cotton varieties.”
SOME years back several scientists involved in studying the implications and impacts of genetic engineering got together at the Inter-national Conference on ‘Redefining of Life Sciences’ organised at Penang, Malaysia, by the Third World Network. They issued a statement (the Penang Statement, or PS) which questioned the scientific basis of genetic engineering. This statement said:
The new biotechnology based upon genetic engineering makes the assumption that each specific feature of an organism is encoded in one or a few specific, stable genes, so that the transfer of these genes results in the transfer of a discrete feature. This extreme form of genetic reductionism has already been rejected by the majority of biologists and many other members of the intellectual community because it fails to take into account the complex interactions between genes and their cellular, extracellular and external environments that are involved in the development of all traits.
It has thus been impossible to predict the consequences of transferring a gene from one type of organism to another in a significant number of cases. The limited ability to transfer identifiable molecular characteristics between organisms through genetic engineering does not constitute the demonstration of any comprehensive or reliable system for predicting all the significant effects of transposing genes.
This statement listed a wide range of potential adverse effects of genetic engineering. Of particular concern is the difficulty or impossibility of recalling GEOs which have been released into the environ-ment, or which have escaped from containment and later found to have adverse effects.
The potential ecological risks of applying genetic engineering to agriculture include the possibility that some transgenic crops could become noxious weeds, and others could become a conduit through which new genes may move to wild plants which themselves could then become weeds. The new weeds could adversely affect farm crops as well as wild ecosystems. Similarly, genetically engineered fish, shellfish and insects could become pests under certain conditions.
Plants are presently being engineered to contain parts of a virus in order to become virus-resistant. Some scientists have raised the possibility that widespread use of transgenic virus-resistant plants in agriculture may lead to new strains of viruses or allow a virus to infect a new host. There are concerns that the creation of new viral strains and the broadening of the virus’s host may increase the risks of new viral diseases that adversely affect crops and other plants. Mechanisms have been described whereby genetically engineered plants could plausibly give rise to new plant diseases.
In addition this statement warns that the rapid spread of transgenic crops poses a threat to traditional crop varieties and wild plants that are the major sources of crop genetic diversity.
Some traits of organisms may take decades or even longer to manifest themselves. An organism declared ‘safe’ in the short term could eventually prove to be dangerous.
Another ecological risk is the possibility that field or forestry plants engineered to express toxic substances like pesticides and pharma-ceutical drugs may poison certain nontarget organisms. Transgenes for insecticidal or fugicidal compounds that are introduced into crops to inhibit pests may unintentionally kill non-target and beneficial insects and fungi. Transgenic crops used to manufacture drugs or industrial oils and chemicals could potentially harm animals, insects and soil microorganisms.
The possible chemical contamination of surface-water and ground-water by microor-ganisms or plants with unusual or accelerated metabolic processes is a special concern because of the crucial importance of water for all life. It may be impossible to recall and difficult to control harmful GEOs, especially those that may contaminate ground-water.
This statement adds that developing countries in particular face special risks: “Third World countries face even greater environmental risks than countries of the North because, in contrast, they have many wild relatives of many crops and thus there are more opportunities for various kinds of rogue species to be created.” Moreover, most Third World countries currently have less scientific expertise and legal or regulatory capacity to monitor, assess and control activities involving genetically engineered organisms, and are thus even more vulnerable to adverse impacts.
In a widely quoted paper titled ‘The Biotechnology Bubble’ Dr. Mae-Wan Ho (who headed Bio-Electrodynamics lab of the Open University in the UK), Joe Cummins (Professor Emeritus of Genetics in Canada) and Hartmut Meyer have summarised the results of several experiments, trials and commercial releases of GMOs. They write:
There are many signs of the problems caused in genetic engineering organisms. For every product that reaches the market, there are perhaps 20 or more that fail. It is particularly disastrous for animal welfare.
• The “superpig” engineered with human growth hormone gene turned out arthritic, ulcerous, blind and impotent.
• The ‘supersalmon” engineered, again, to grow as fast as possible, with genes belonging to other fish, ended up with big monstrous heads and died from not being able to see, breathe or feed properly.
• The latest clones of the transgenic sheep Dolly are abnormal and eight times as likely to die at birth compared with ordinary lambs.
• Even products that reach the market are failing, including crops that have been widely planted.
The authors of this widely quoted paper (published in the Ecologist) concluded:
It is important to realise that the failures are not just teething problems. They are very much the result of a reductionist science and a hit or miss technology. The transgenic foods created are unwholesome, because they involve stressing the developmental and metabolic system of organisms out of balance. There are bound to be unintended effects including toxins and allergens, which current risk assessments are designed to conceal rather than reveal. The major problem is the instability of transgenic lines.
Several distingushed scientists have questioned the basis of GM technology. Marcello Buiatti (Plants Genetics Department, University of Florence) has concluded in an essay, ‘GMOs-Facts and Fiction’, “Far from being the new science, which will solve all the problems of humanity in a short time, present day genetic engineering is based on obsolete knowledge and an equally obsolete and wrong conception of life.”
Cesare Gessler, of the ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, says: “The products of genetic engineering today are still at the level of a dinosaur technology. We use genes, which are foreign to a species, not knowing where they are inserted or what else will change in the whole chain from gene to protein.”
Dr Peter Wills, theoretical biologist, Auckland University, says: “By transferring genes across species barriers, which have existed for aeons between species like humans and sheep, we risk breaching natural thresholds against unexpected biological processes. For example, an incorrectly folded form of an ordinary cellular protein can under certain circumstances be replicative and give rise to infectious neurological disease.”
Robert Mann, biochemist, University of Auckland, says: “The gene-manipulators claim they can foresee the evolutionary results of their artificial transposings of human genes into sheep, bovine genes into tomatoes, altered bacterial genes into eggplant, etc. But such claims are a reflection more of arrogance than of scientific analysis.”
(courtesy- MAINSTREAM, VOL XLIX NO 32, JULY 30, 2011)