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No GMOs here. The harvest is in on this farm in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Photo: Gordon Robertson via Flickr (CC BY).
No GMOs here. The harvest is in on this farm in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Photo: Gordon Robertson via Flickr (CC BY).
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We scientists welcome Scotland's GM-free status

The undersigned 30 scientists and specialists

4th September 2015

Scotland's decision to maintain its GM-free status is in the best interests of the country, its people and its farmers, 30 scientists write to Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead. It is abundantly justified by the scientific evidence and will support the sustainable, agroecological farming systems of the future.

A Scottish ban on GMOs is entirely justified on scientific grounds alone. We hope that you and your advisors will not be beguiled by the unjustified claims and promises of an increasingly desperate GM industry.

Dear Mr Lochhead,

Firstly, as members of the science community, we wish to congratulate you on your recent announcement of a GM-free status for Scotland.

You have received a letter from Sense About Science urging you to abandon Scotland's ban on genetically modified (GM) crops and asking for a meeting to persuade you in that direction. We, the undersigned, urge you to maintain Scotland's admirable integrity on this issue and not to fall victim to the unfounded claims made for GM crops.

Each of us has been involved either with the process of genetic modification and/or with the debate around genetic modification. Over many years, the following facts have become clear to us.

Who supports GM crops?

It is a documented fact [1] that professionals with a career or financial interest in a controversial product are much more likely to endorse it than are those who have no such interest. This is very much the case with GM.

In this instance, however, the stakes for a multi-billion dollar industry, and the organisations and scientists funded by it, are so high that opposition extends far beyond endorsement.

'Unfavourable' research results in company-sponsored studies are routinely suppressed; and we see, repeatedly, vitriolic attacks and defamation of independent scientists who report evidence of harm resulting from GM crops, as in laboratory animal-feeding trials. [2]

The GM industry and disinformation

In spite of the huge body of evidence to the contrary that continues to accumulate, the GM industry wishes the public and politicians to believe that GM crops are friendly to the environment and safe to consume by humans and animals - and, indeed, to be an essential tool of modern agriculture.

A number of industry-backed 'front' organisations have been created that employ 'stealth PR techniques' to promote the interests of clients, and Sense About Science is one of these. [3] [See Sense about Science's rebuttal of this description at the conclusion of this article.]

GM pesticide use and yields

GM crops are designed for intensive, chemical agriculture, which has already led to the degradation of our soils and the micro-organisms that promote soil fertility. Food crops now contain only a fraction of the mineral content they had a mere 50 years ago.

The amount of pesticides that are applied to GM crops is increasing year-on-year. [4] A class of GM crops that actually have decreased amounts of applied insecticide (the Bt crops) are engineered to produce their own insecticide within their cells - and these toxins cannot be washed off but must be eaten.

The total amount of insecticide occurring in and on Bt crops is estimated to be greater than if an applied insecticide had been used. [5] As weeds and insects become resistant to the controlling chemicals, additional and more highly toxic pesticides are being added.

Yields of GM crops are similar to, or lower than, yields of conventional crops [6]; there is no gene for higher yield in any GM crop.

If a bigger harvest occurs, it is rather a decreased loss to weeds or insects than an intrinsically higher yield. Some newer GM crops that are claimed to give intrinsically higher yields or other desirable trait were actually developed by traditional breeding to achieve that trait, and they were subsequently made GM (and patentable) by introducing the usual herbicide-tolerance or insect-resistance genes. [7]

Safety of GM crops for environment and health

In the United States, where GM crops are most widely grown, an increasing number of weeds has become resistant to Roundup, the glyphosate-based herbicide that is used on most herbicide-tolerant GM crops.

On some farms, old-fashioned weeding by hand has become necessary, and there are even cases where farms have had to be abandoned because the weed problem became intractable. [8] Some varieties of weeds are now resistant to several herbicides.

GM seed developers perform their own animal-feeding nutritional and safety studies. Usually these are commercially confidential and unavailable for public scrutiny. Those that are published are short-term and dismiss as not 'biologically meaningful' the statistically significant differences they acknowledge to occur between the animals fed a GM variety and the control animals. [9]

Independent scientists almost always find harm to health (immune system, kidneys, liver, reproductive fertility, etc.) when animals are given GM feed. [10] Many farmers have also reported health problems from GM feed, and these disappear when a non-GM diet is re-introduced. [11]

In March of this year, the widely used herbicide glyphosate was declared to be 'probably carcinogenic' by the experts in the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which operates under the auspices of the World Health Organisation. [12] Only peer-reviewed publications were considered, not unpublished company-sponsored studies.

Monsanto Company, which owns the huge majority of patents on GM crops dependent on glyphosate, has described this report as "junk science" and is now trying to discredit it and to have it retracted. [13]

Genetics remains an imperfectly understood science, and genetic engineering often induces unexpected and even harmful changes that may not be recognised during testing.

More information

An excellent online publication that provides summaries and examples of all aspects of GM processes and products can be found online. Two of the three authors are geneticists who either are, or have been, engaged in genetic engineering.

From our perspective as independent scientists, a Scottish ban on GMOs is entirely justified on scientific grounds alone. We hope that you and your advisors will not be beguiled by the unjustified claims and promises of an increasingly desperate GM industry.

Scotland must maintain its high-quality crops and foods, without contamination by genetically engineered varieties. Instead of pursuing a route that is already causing serious environmental and health problems, Scotland should become a leader in the science of agroecology, which has already proved its efficacy and sustainability. [14]

Together with non-invasive modern innovations like Marker Assisted Selection to speed traditional breeding, agroecology has promise to replace our present conventional and GM agriculture and to produce healthy soils leading to healthy plants, animals and food.

Yours sincerely,

The undersigned

 


 

Sense About Science has written to The Ecologist with the following message:

The description of Sense About Science is completely false: "A number of industry-backed 'front' organisations have been created that employ 'stealth PR techniques' to promote the interests of clients, and Sense About Science is one of these." Please can you amend this immediately.

If you are unaware of where our funding comes from this information is available here along with our funding policy. As a charity our accounts are also available on the charity commission website. This PR claim is completely fabricated. Misconceptions surrounding GM is one of hundreds of subjects we respond to and very obviously not our main activity. PR for whom? Paid for by whom? A front for whom?

Clearly we are unable to change the article without the approval of all 30 signatories, however we are happy to inform readers that this rebuttal has been made.

See also the following background information about Sense About Science on Powerbase which contains a considerable volume of information about the organisation's operations and links to the GM industry, including the full text of an article published in The Times Higher Education by Zoe Corbyn under the title 'Charity guide criticised for not declaring GM interests'.

 

Scientists

Prof. Carlo Leifert (PhD, Dipl. Ing. agr.), School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development at Newcastle University; Director, Stockbridge Technology Centre

Dr Michael Antoniou, King's College London, Head of Gene Expression and Therapy Group

Prof Susan Bardocz, PhD, formerly at University of Debrecen, Hungary; formerly at the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen

Dr. E. Ann Clark, Associate Professor (retired), Plant Agriculture, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Prof. Joe Cummins Emeritus Professor of Genetics Western University, London Ontario, Canada Fellow of Science In Society, London, UK; Many reports and articles opposing Genetic Engineering beginning around 1980

Dr S. W. B. Ewen, M.B.Ch.B., Ph.D.,F.R.C.Path, retired, Histopathologist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary

Dr John Fagan, Director, Earth Open Source

Dr Angelika Hilbeck, Chair, European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), Germany

Dr Mae-Wan Ho, Institute of Science in Society, Roster of Experts on Cartagena Protocol for Biosafety

Dr David Hookes, PhD in molecular biology, Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Department of Computer Science, Liverpool University

Prof Malcolm Hooper, Professor Emeritus of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Sunderland

Dr. Don M. Huber, Professor Emeritus Purdue University; 55 years research, microbial ecologist/plant pathologist

Dr Jonathan Latham, Executive Director, The Bioscience Resource Project

Dr Ulrich Loening, Reader in Zoology and Director of the Centre for Human Ecology (retired), University of Edinburgh

Dr Alexander Kenneth Lough, PhD, DSc, FRSC, FRSE, Formerly at the Rowett Research Institute.

Dr Eva Novotny, University of Cambridge (retired); formerly Co-ordinator for GM Issues at Scientists for Global Responsibility

Dr Arpad Pusztai, FRSE, formerly at the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen

Dr Fakhar Qureshi (PhD), formerly at the BBSRC, Institute for Animal Health, Compton, Newbury

Prof Peter Saunders, Co-director, Institute of Science in Society; Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, King's College London.

Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji, Institute of Science in Society, London, UK

Dr William W.M. Steiner, Ph.D. (Genetics). former Dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management, University of Hawaii, Hilo; former Director of the USGS Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center, Honolulu, Hawaii; former researcher at USDA Biological Control of Insects Research Laboratory, Columbia, Missouri

Professor Terje Traavik, PhD, Professor of Virology and Professor Emeritus of Gene Ecology, UiT The Arctic University of Norway; Founder and Former Scientific Director of the National Competence Institute GenÖk- Centre of Biosafety; Former member of the governmental Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board.

Dr Hector Valenzuela, Full Professor and Vegetable Crops Extension Specialist, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Prof Brian Wynne, Professor Emeritus of Science Studies at Lancaster University; Former member of science committees of the Royal Society and European Environment Agency; Former special advisor to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology

Non-scientists with relevant qualifications

Dr Myrto Ashe MD, M.P.H., Functional Medicine, San Rafael, California.

Prof Philip L. Bereano, Professor Emeritus of Technology and Public Policy, University of Washington; Negotiator for the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, the Supplemental Protocol on Liability and Redress; and Codex Alimentarius Guidelines on Food from Modern Biotechnology.

Helen Browning OBE; Director, Soil Association, UK; Former member of the UK Government's Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission.

Dr Brian Higginson MB, BS, LRCP, MRCS, DO, DRCOG, DAB, General Practitioner (retired) in UK National Health Service.

Dr Rosemary Mason, MB, ChB, FRCA; Former Consultant Anaesthetist at West Glamorgan Health Authority, UK.

Dr Michelle Perro MD, Institute for Health and Healing, Greenbrae, California.

Note: Each signatory has signed as an individual, not on behalf of any organisation.

References

1. 'Association of financial or professional conflict of interest to research outcomes on health risks or nutritional assessment studies of genetically modified products', Johan Diels, Mario Cunha, Célia Manaia, Bernardo Sabugosa-Madeira, Margarida Silva, Food Policy, Volume 36, Issue 2, April 2011, Pages 197-203.

2. (a) (i) Re: Prof. Gilles-Eric Séralini et al.: Letters to the Editor, Food and Chemical Toxicology, 2014. (The reference also contains supporting letters).
(ii) 'Smelling a corporate rat', Jonathan Matthews, 12 December 2012, published by Spin Watch on the web site Scribd.
(b) Re: Dr Ignacio Chapela: (i) Don't Worry, It's Safe to Eat, Andrew Rowell, 2003, Earthscan Publications Limited, London and Stirling, Virginia, pp. 152-153.
(ii) 'Has GM corn "invaded" Mexico?', Charles C. Mann, March 2002, Science, Volune 295, Number 5560, Pages 1617-1619.
(c) Re: Dr Arpad Pusztai: (i) 'The sinister sacking of the world's leading GM expert and the trail that leads to Tony Blair and the White House', Andrew Rowell, 7 July 2003, The Daily Mail [UK], reproduced by GM Watch.
(ii) Seeds of Deception,. Jeffrey Smith, 2003, Yes! Books, Fairfield, Iowa, Pages 15-23.
(iii) Don't Worry, It's Safe to Eat, Andrew Rowell, 2003, Earthscan Publications Limited, London and Stirling, Virginia; Page 78 ff.

3. 'Spinning Food', Kari Hamerschlag, Anna Lappé and Stacy Malkan, Friends of the Earth Report, June 2015.

4. (a) 'Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years', Cherles Benbrook, November 2009, The Organic Center, Critical Issue Report.
(b) 'Impacts of generically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. - the first sixteen years', Charles M. Benbrook, 2012, Environmental Sciences Europe, Volume 24, Page 24-36.

5. 'Impacts of generically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. - the first sixteen years', Charles M. Benbrook, 2012, Environmental Sciences Europe, Volume 24, Page 24-36.

6. 'Failure to Yield', Doug Gurian-Sherman, April 2009, Union of Concerned Scientists.

7. E.g., 'Syngenta's Agrisure Artesian drought-tolerant maize'.

8. 'Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years', Cherles Benbrook, November 2009, The Organic Center, Critical Issue Report.

9. 'Results of a 13 week safety assurance study with rats fed grain from glyphosate tolerant corn', B. Hammond, R. Dudek, J. Lemen and M. Nemeth, 2004, Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 42, Pages 1003-1014.

10. 'Ban GMOs Now', Mae-Wan Ho and Eva Sirinathsinghji, May 2013, Institute of Science in Society.

11. 'Deformities, sickness & livestock deaths: the real cost of glyphosate & GM animal feed?', Andrew Wasley, 28 November 2013, The Ecologist.

12. 'Glyphosate', IARC Monograph 112, July 2015:

13. (a) 'IARC's Report on Glyphosate', Monsanto Company, July 2015:
(b) 'Monsanto says panel to review WHO finding on cancer link to herbicide', Carey Gillam, July 2015, Reuters, Yahoo News.

14. (a) 'Food Futures Now', Mae-wan.Ho, Sam Burcher, Lim Li Ching and others, Institute of Science in Society and Third World Network Report, March 2008:
(b) 'The Farming Systems Trial, Celebrating 30 Years', Rodale Institute, 2012:

Note: This list is representative, not comprehensive.

 

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