Tuesday, 1 January 2008

GM will make global food crisis worse

Lecture by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho at the conference, TRADITIONAL SEEDS OUR NATIONAL TREASURE AND HERITAGE, 17 May 2008, Warsaw, Poland Dr. Mae-Wan Ho is the co-founder of The Institute of Science In Society The Brave New World of GM Science In 1994, I met some of the most remarkable leaders in the Third World: Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher (Institute of Sustainable Development, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), Martin Khor (Third World Network, Penang, Malaysia), and Vandana Shiva (Navdanya, New Delhi, India), who persuaded me to look into genetically modified organisms (GMOs), especially GM crops, which they rightly saw as a special threat to small family farmers. The biotech industry was promising miracle GM crops that would boost yield to feed the world, improve nutrition, and clean up and protect the environment. Monsanto's Flavr Savr tomato, the first GM crop, had just been commercialised, though it turned out to be a complete flop, and was withdrawn several years later. The biotech industry's aggressive campaign of disinformation and manipulation of science did nothing to obscure the signs that the dream would soon turn into nightmare; and I said so in my book first published in 1997/1998 [1] Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare, the Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business, which became an international bestseller, translated into many languages, and recently reprinted with an extended introduction to coincide with its translation into Indonesian. Everything predicted in that book has happened. It also explained why the science behind GM is obsolete; a story elaborated further in Living with the Fluid Genome [2] published in 2003. Genetic modification based on an obsolete theory and hence ineffective and dangerous Genetic engineering of plants and animals began in the mid 1970s in the belief that the genome (the totality of all the genetic material of a species) is constant and static, and that the characteristics of organism are simply hardwired in their genome. But geneticists soon discovered that the genome is remarkably dynamic and "—fluid', and constantly in conversation with the environment. This determines which genes are turned on, when, where, by how much and for how long. Moreover, the genetic material itself could also be marked or changed according to experience, and the influence passed on to the next generation. The best thing about the human genome project is to finally explode the myth of genetic determinism, revealing the layers of molecular complexity that transmit, interpret and rewrite the genetic texts [3] (Life Beyond the Central Dogma series, SiS 24). These processes are precisely orchestrated and finely tuned by the organism as a whole, in a highly coordinated molecular 'dance of life' that's necessary for survival. In contrast, genetic engineering in the laboratory is crude, imprecise and invasive. The rogue genes inserted into a genome to make a GMO could land anywhere; typically in a rearranged or defective form, scrambling and mutating the host genome, and have the tendency to move or rearrange further once inserted, basically because they do not know the dance of life. That's ultimately why genetic modification doesn't work and is also dangerous. Independent science against GM In 1999, I co-founded the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) with my husband and long-time collaborator Peter Saunders, Professor of Mathematics at King's College, London, to work for science, society and sustainability and to reclaim science for the public good. We are fortunate to have the support of wonderful fellow scientists, especially Prof. Joe Cummins, who joined ISIS from the start and continues to play the leading role in monitoring GM science. (Joe Cummins has been honoured with the ISIS Distinguished Fellow Award 2008.) In 2003, dozens of scientists from around the world joined us in ISIS to form the Independent Science Panel, and produced a report, The Case for A GM-Free Sustainable World [4], documenting all the problems and hazards of GM crops as well as the successes and benefits of non-GM sustainable agriculture. The report was republished within a year, translated into many languages and widely circulated. We presented the report to the European Parliament in 2004 [5] (Keep GM Out of Europe, SiS 24), with the help of Jill Evans MEP. In 2007, we updated the ISP report with a dossier containing more than 160 fully referenced articles from the archives of ISIS' magazine Science in Society, spelling out the scandals of serious hazards ignored, scientific fraud, the regulatory sham and violation of farmers' rights [6] (GM Science Exposed: Hazards Ignored, Fraud, Regulatory Sham, Violation of Farmers Rights). Duped farmers in India are driven to suicide in hundreds of thousands. GM science is a crime against humanity. In a scientific review paper [7] (GM Food Nightmare Unfolding in the Regulatory Sham), we documented how national and international regulators and advisory bodies such as the European Food Safety Authority have been ignoring the precautionary principle (which is accepted by the European Commission), abusing science, sidestepping the law, and helping to promote GM technology in the face of evidence piling up against the safety of GM food and feed. We presented our dossier and review paper to the European Parliament in June 2007, once again to press for a GM-Free Europe and a GM-free world, thanks to the sponsorship of Polish MEP Mr. Janusz Wojciechowski and his office. Our panel consisted of key scientists from six countries including Poland, and friends of independent scientists, including MEPs Dr. Caroline Lucas and Jill Evans. The case for a GM-free world has grown much stronger since 2004, not only because so much more evidence has stacked up against GM crops; but especially because accelerating global warming, the depletion of water and fossil fuels, and the current food crisis make it that much more urgent to shift comprehensively to sustainable food and energy systems as proposed in ISIS/TWN's energy report Which Energy? [8]. There is neither the time nor resources to waste on GM We'd had 30 years of GMOs and more than enough damage done, as detailed in the ISP Report [4], in our GM Science dossier [6], and more recent evidence has been piling up. Thirty years of GMOs are more than enough:

- No increase in yields; on the contrary GM soya decreased yields by up to 20 percent compared with non-GM soya [4], and up to 100 percent failures of Bt cotton have been recorded in India [6]. New studies confirmed these findings. Research from the University of Kansas found a 10 percent yield drag for Roundup Ready soya [9] that required extra manganese applied to the soil to make up the yield deficit. A team of scientists from the USDA and the University of Georgia found growing GM cotton in the US could result in a drop in income by up to 40 percent [10, 11] (Transgenic Cotton Offers No Advantage, SiS 38)

- No reduction in pesticides use; on the contrary, USDA data showed that GM crops increase pesticide use by 50 million pounds from 1996 to 2003 in the United States [4].

New data paint an even grimmer picture:

- The use of glyphosate on major crops went up more than 15-fold between 1994 and 2005, along with increases in other herbicides [12] in order to cope with rising glyphosate resistant superweeds [6]. Roundup tolerant canola volunteers are top among the worries of Canadian farmers [13, 14] (Study Based on Farmers' Experience Exposes Risks of GM Crops, SiS 38).

- Roundup herbicide is lethal to frogs and toxic to human placental and embryonic cells [6]. Roundup is used in more than 80 percent of all GM crops planted in the world.

- GM crops harm wildlife, as revealed by UK's farm scale evaluations [6], and more recently in a study led by Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois in the United Stated, which found that wastes from Bt corn impaired the growth of a common aquatic insect [15, 16] (Bt Crops Threaten Aquatic Ecosystems, SiS 36).

- Bt resistance pests and Roundup tolerant superweeds render the two major GM crop traits practically useless [6]. A recent review concluded that [17] "evolved glyphosate-resistant weeds are a major risk for the continued success of glyphosate and transgenic glyphosate-resistant crops."? And the evolution of Bt resistant bollworms worldwide have now been confirmed and documented in more than a dozen fields in Mississippi and Arkansas between 2003 and 2006 [18].

- Vast areas of forests, pampas and cerrados lost to GM soya in Latin America, 15 m hectares in Argentina alone [6]; and this has worsened considerably with the demand for biofuels (see later).

- Epidemic of suicides in the cotton belt of India involving 100 000 farmers between 1993-2003, and a further 16 000 farmers a year have died since Bt cotton was introduced [6].

- Transgene contamination unavoidable, scientists find GM pollination of non-GM crops and wild relatives 21 kilometres away [19].

- GM food and feed linked to deaths and sicknesses both in the fields in India and in lab tests around the world (more below).

- GM food and feed inherently hazardous to health [7].

Here are some highlights from our GM Science dossier [6] on the hazards of GM food and feed: - Dr. Irina Ermakova of the Russian Academy of Sciences showed how GM soya made female rats give birth to severely stunted and abnormal litters, with more than half dying in three weeks, and those remaining are sterile. - Hundreds of villagers and cotton handlers in India suffer allergy-like symptoms, thousands of sheep died after grazing on the Bt cotton residues, goat and cows as well were reported in 2007 and 2008 [20] (Mass Protests against GM Crops in India, SiS 38). - A harmless bean protein transferred to pea when tested on mice cause severe inflammation in the lungs and provoked generalised food sensitivities. - Dozens of villagers in the south of the Philippines fell ill when neighbouring GM maize fields came into flower in 2003, five have died and some remain ill to this day. - A dozen cows died having eaten GM maize in Hesse Germany and more in the herd had to be slaughtered from mysterious illnesses. - Arpad Pusztai and his colleagues in the UK found GM potatoes with snowdrop lectin damaged every organ system of young rats; the stomach lining grew twice as thick as controls. - Chickens fed GM maize Chardon LL were twice as likely to die as controls. - And finally, GM maize Mon 863 was claimed to be as safe as non-GM maize by the company, and accepted as such by European Food Safety Authority. But independent scientists of CriiGen in France re-analysed the data and found signs of liver and kidney toxicity. [1] Ho MW. Genetic Engineering Dream of Nightmare? The Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business, Third World Network, Gateway Books, MacMillan, Continuum, Penang, Malaysia, Bath, UK, Dublin, Ireland, New York, USA, 1998, 1999, 2007 (reprint with extended Introduction). [2] Ho MW. Living with the Fluid Genome, ISIS & TWN, London and Penang, 2003. [3] Ho MW. Life beyond the Central Dogma series, Science in Society 24, 4-13, 2004. [4] Ho MW and Lim LC. The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World, Independent Science Panel Report, Institute of Science in Society and Third World Network, London and Penang, 2003; republished GM-Free, Exposing the Hazards of Biotechnology to Ensure the Integrity of Our Food Supply, Vitalhealth Publishing, Ridgefield, Ct., 2004 (both available from ISIS online bookstore. [5] Lim LC. Keep GM out of Europe! Science in Society 24, 26-27, 2004. [6] GM Science Exposed: Hazards Ignored, Fraud, Regulatory Sham and Violation of Farmers' Rights, ISIS CD book, 2007. [7] Ho MW, Cummins J and Saunders PT. GM food nightmare unfolding in the regulatory sham. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 2007, Disease 2007, 19, 66-77. [8] Ho MW, Bunyard P, Saunders PT, Bravo E and Gala R. Which Energy? 2006 ISIS Energy Report, Institute of Science in Society, London, 2006. [9] Gordon B. Better Crops 2007, 91, 12-14. [10] Jost P, Shurley D, Culpepper S, Roberts P, Nichols R, Reeves J and Anthony S. Economic Comparison of transgenic and montransgenic cotton production systems in Georgia. Agronomy Journal 2008, 100, 42-51. (doi:10.2134/agronj2006.0259) [11] Ho MW and Saunders PT. Transgenic cotton offers no advantage, Science in Society 38 (in press). [12] Who benefits from gm crops? The rise in pesticide use, executive summary, Friends of the Earth International, Amsterdam, January 2008. [13] Mauro IJ and McLachlan SM. Farmer knowledge and risk analysis: postrelease evalulation of herbicide-tolerant canola in Western Canada. Risk Analysis 2008, 28, DOI:10.1111/j.1539-6924.200801027.x [14] Ho MW. Study based on farmers' experience exposes risks of GM crops. Science in Society 38 (in press). [15] Rosi-Marxhall EJ, Tank JL, Royer TV, Whiles MR, Evans-White M, Chamgers C, Griffiths NA, Pokelsek J and Stephen ML. Toxins in transgenic crop byproducts may affect headwater stream ecosystems. PNAS 2007, 104, 16204-8. [16] Ho MW. Bt crops threaten aquatic ecosystems. Science in Society 36, 49, 2007. [17] Powles, SB. Evolved glyphosate-resistant weeds around the world: lessons to be learnt. Pest Management Science 2008, 64, 360-5. [18] "First documented case of pest resistance to biotech cotton" Science Daily, 8 February 2008. [19] Van de Water PK, Watrud LS, Lee EH, Burdick C and King GA. Long- distance GM pollen movement of creeping bentgrass using modelled wind trajectory analysis. Ecological Applications 2007, 17, 1244-56. [20] Kurunganti K. Mass protests against GM crops in India. Science in Society 38 (in press). [21] Cummins J and Ho MW. Approval of GM crops illegal, US federal courts rule. Science in Society 34, 24, 2007. [22] "An American court bans genetically modified alfalfa -- How will Ottawa react: CNW TELBEC, 4 May 2007. [23] "D.C. Circuit Court says "no" to Scotts and Monsanto on biotech grasses", Center for Food Safety Press Release, 19 March 2008. [24] History of AB 541, Californians for GE-Free Agriculture. [25] "Montville: first U.S. town outside of California to ban genetically engineered crops", Food for Maine's Future, 29 March 2008. [26] "GM crop ban extended indefinitely in SA", The Land, 18 April 2008. [27] "Romania joins EU members in GM crop ban", Matt Williams, The Parliament.com, 28 March 2008. [28] Ho MW, Saunders PT and Jost M. Croatia to be organic and GM-Free. Science in Society 38 (in press). [29] "Greenpeace applauds Greek ban on GMO corn," ANA-MPA, 7 May 2008. [30] "Germany tightens restrictions on genetically modified corn," Der Spiegel, 9 May 2007. [31] "Government to back bid to ban GM crops in Europe", Sunday Herald, 25 November 2007. [32] "French state body upholds decision of GM crop ban", Reuters.com, 21 March 2008. [33] "French Senate approves GMO law", Reuters, 18 April 2008. [34] "Wales set to ban GM crops", Steve Dube, icWales.co.uk, 18 March 2008. [35] GMO-free regions, biodiversity and rural development, GENET, May 2008. [36] Ho MW. GM-free Europe beginning? Science in Society 36, 51, 2007. [37] "EU food agency under fire as commission debates GMOs", Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace Press Release, 7 May 2008. [38] International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science & Technology (IAASTD) Synthesis Report 25 November 2007. [39] Ho MW, Burcher S, Lim LC, et al. Food Futures Now, Organic, Sustainable, Fossil Fuel Free, ISIS and TWN, London, 2008. [40] Ho MW. GM-free organic agriculture to feed the world. International panel of 400 Agricultural scientists call for fundamental change in farming practice. Science in Society 38 (in press). [41] "Puncturing the GM myths", Interview of Dr. Mae-Wan Ho by Anastasia Stephens of the Evening Standard, Science in Society 22, 23-25, 2004. [42] "Farmers ask why GM crops worse in drought", Network of Concerned Farmers, 30 June 2005. [43] Manifesto on Climate Change and the Future of Food Security, The International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture, Florence, Italy, 2008. [44] Ho MW. Beware the new "doubly green revolution". Science in Society 37, 26-29, 2008.

No comments: