EXCERPTS from the first conference of the Independent Science Panel (from text of full summary below):
"Risk assessment is now applied to complex systems, often with no hard data. It is just computer modeling, and you can get any answer you want.
"Interactions in the ecosystem are non-linear, poorly predictable, and have irreversibilities...
"Risk assessment is the main tool used to impede the Precautionary Principle. It is presented as evidence that technologies are safe and accepted as hard 'proof' even when based on no data. There may be no methodology behind the opinions expressed in the risk assessment - and opinions are what they are - but they are taken as fact.
"What our regulators have is 'fact-free' risk assessment: there's little or no data, what relevant data that exist are simply ignored and dismissed, so they can conclude the risk is 'very, very low, effectively zero'
"Gerald Guest of the US FDA pointed out possible problems with GM foods. But Monsanto's data all says 'low risk' or 'effectively zero'".
"An exposure assessment is needed; the doses of foods will be higher than with pharmaceuticals. Yet there is less testing on GM foods.
"American promoters of GM foods claim that Americans have been eating GM for a long time and there are no problems. But there is
* no baseline data
* no exposure data
* no human feeding trials
so it's an uncontrolled experiment! If GM foods are causing changes to common conditions (allergy, cancer, auto-immune disease) there is no way we could know."
"The lag time for cancers to develop can be 20 years, so if there were a risk from GM foods we would not know for about another 15 years. - VYVYAN HOWARD, Medical toxi-pathologist at Liverpool University
"The known effects of the herbicide glufosinate ammonium [used with Bayer's GM crops] are sufficient to halt all field trials immediately...
"Glyphosate [used with Monsanto's GM crops] causes neurotoxicity and can cause complete paralysis. One man developed Parkinson's after just one exposure. The neurotoxicity tests originally done by Monsanto on glyphosate have been ruled invalid by US EPA. Glyphosate depresses the liver's ability to detoxify by interfering with enzymes. It also has neurotoxic effects and causes endocrine disorders, adrenal deficits, etc. It accumulates in the bone..."
"The thing that's dismayed me most is coming face-to-face with scientists who are not concerned about the truth." - MALCOLM HOOPER, Emeritus Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Sunderland
Summary of the Independent Science Panel Conference, "GM Crops: Do we need them? Are they safe?"
The first conference of the Independent Science Panel, convened to promote science for the public good, independent of commercial and government interests, was held at Kings College, London on 10 May 2003. The following is a summary of the presentations by eminent scientists, created from the notes of two attendees: myself, GMWATCH monthly review editor Claire Robinson; and Trish Shuker (thanks, Trish!). Comments by GMWATCH, as distinct from those of the speakers, are in square brackets.
The quality of the presentations was very high and the audience, which contained many laypersons as well as scientists, seemed to have no trouble following the arguments and asking informed questions. I found myself wishing that Baroness Susan Greenfield, who likes to berate the public for scientific illiteracy, was there so that she could see that when scientists tell their findings truthfully and without obfuscation, the public can grasp the essence of the proceedings.
*DAVID BELLAMY, botanist, author and broadcaster
*ARPAD PUSZTAI, formerly of the Rowett Research Institute, Scotland
*STANLEY EWEN, Consultant Histopathologist at Grampian Hospitals Trust and co-researcher with Arpad Pusztai on the GM potato experiments
*MALCOLM HOOPER, Emeritus Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Sunderland
*VYVYAN HOWARD, Medical toxi-pathologist at Liverpool University
*GUNDULA AZEEZ, policy manager for the Soil Association
*BRIAN JOHN, geomorphologist and environmental scientist
*MAE-WAN HO, director of ISIS
Our thanks at GMWATCH are due to the scientists who shared their findings and thoughts with us, and to Drs Mae-Wan Ho and Peter Saunders, whose formidable organising skills helped make the event happen.
PETER SAUNDERS, professor of applied mathematics at Kings College, London, introduced environment minister MICHAEL MEACHER, who attended but was unable to stay for the whole afternoon.
*Peter introduced the first speaker, the botanist, author and broadcaster DAVID BELLAMY.*
David cited the words of the blind seer of ancient Greece, Tiresias: "Ah! How terrible is knowledge to the man whom knowledge profits not." He said he would not object to GM, provided planning and evaluation were properly carried out. However, he had not seen that yet. Upstream and downstream effects had not been evaluated. He gave examples of countries 'getting it wrong' with other food growing decisions, including fish farming. Intensive salmon farming had led to increased sea-lice in wild fish and pollution. He said that fish farming was intended to preserve stocks of wild fish. However, salmon are carnivores and a lot of wild fish need to be caught to make the fish pellets which are fed to the farmed salmon.
David said that if the popular hybrid crops that have long been widely grown by farmers were patentable, we may never have seen GM terminator technology. [Hybrid crops produce low quality seed that cannot be saved from year to year. So if hybrids were patentable, seed companies would earn patent technology fees and royalties from yearly sales of hybrid seeds. Companies would not need terminator, a "technology protection" system which renders plants sterile, ensuring that farmers buy new seed every year; perhaps they would not have come up with GM crops themselves, whose only 'advantage' is their patentability.]
*The next speaker was ARPAD PUSZTAI, formerly of the Rowett Research Institute, Scotland.*
Arpad's talk, "What can science say on the safety of GM foods?", stated the need for a protocol for establishing the safety or otherwise of GM foods. He said it was not enough to claim [as industry and governments have done] that GM foods are 'substantially equivalent' to non-GM counterparts. The concept of substantial equivalence had not been defined or quantified scientifically, and therefore had no meaning. Substantial equivalence needed to be put on a rational basis. For example, amounts of known biologically active compounds in GM foods and non-GM counterparts should be compared. The GM and non-GM plants to be compared should be grown under identical conditions.
This was exactly what was done in Arpad's experiments at the Rowett [which ended in his losing his job when he went public with his findings that GM potatoes had damaged the health of rats]. The two lines of potatoes tested - one a GM potato, the other the non-GM parent line, were first grown under identical conditions at Rothamstead. But to make sure that the different lines were grown under identical conditions for the analyses they were re-grown at SCRI (Invergowrie) in fields with tents erected over them. So these were the third generation after the genetic modification. Even so, the protein content of the two lines was different, and other components such as lectin were also found in differing amounts. With GM foods, it is difficult to find two lines having the same composition even when there is every reason for them to be the same (same type, same growing conditions, etc.). After the conference, Arpad commented that in the Monsanto publication on soya in Journal of Nutrition in 1996 the scientists compared soya lines from different parts of the country instead of test and control lines grown at the same site. This is the more curious because the soya lines had already been grown by Monsanto at a single site in Puerto Rico - but findings on these Puerto Rico lines were never published. Could this be because they showed major differences between the GM and control lines?
So does substantial equivalence mean anything at all?
[Even if substantial equivalence were put onto a scientific basis, Arpad has pointed out elsewhere, it would only show up differences in known compounds. In order to identify possible new toxins, anti-nutrients or allergens, toxicological and nutritional testing would need to be done.] A GM food is unlikely to be highly poisonous to the extent that it will produce immediate ill effects, but long-term effects should be investigated.
Arpad suggested animal testing as a first step towards establishing whether a GM food is safe. The diets fed should be a GM food variety compared with the non-GM parent line; a third diet should test non-GM feed spiked with the gene product isolated from the GM variety. The diets should have the same amount of protein and energy value. Then, if the diets do not support growth in the same way, you know there is a problem. Young growing animals should be used because they need food [so are keen to eat it] and because their body organs and systems are still developing, so any harmful effects of the food are more likely to show up than if mature animals were used. The animals should be weighed daily and when they are killed at the end of the experiment, they should be dissected and the individual organs weighed [underdevelopment or enlargement of organs as compared to the control group, as indicated by different weights, can show problems]. Microscopic analysis of the tissues can show up changes in the tissue that may indicate dangers from the food.
Regarding food crops grown to be fed to livestock [as most GM crops currently are], a farmer is primarily concerned as to how much meat the animal produces per kilo of feed it devours. Why should this test not be applied to GM crops?
In the animal feeding trial done by Aventis for their Chardon LL maize, the starting weights of the animals were different. This is wrong; weights should be the same so that the weights at the end can be measured and the significance assessed.
Arpad is one of very few researchers who have done such testing. Industry may claim to have done animal feeding studies, but as Arpad said in answer to a question from the audience on the elusive Chinese research that claimed to have repeated his experiments and to have found no problems with GM, "In science, if it isn't published, it doesn't exist."
In his 110-day study on male rats, some were fed GM potatoes (engineered to express a protein called a lectin taken from the snowdrop, the GNA lectin, meant to confer insect resistance) and some fed potatoes from the parent line (non-GM). Others were fed non-GM potatoes spiked with the gene product, a lectin (type of protein) known to be non-toxic to mammals. At the end of the study the rats were killed and their guts were compared. The organs were weighed and were found to be different in rats fed GM potatoes.
He showed some spectacularly worrying slides of the dissected intestines where the difference could clearly be seen: the GM-fed animals had enlarged crypts [small sacs in the intestines]. In the GM-fed rats he also found a large increase in the numbers of lymphocytes - white blood cells involved in the immune response, which are known to increase when intestinal damage occurs. Blood samples showed that the GM food did suppress the immune response, an important factor for young and old people [not to mention the increasing numbers of immune-compromised people of all ages]. He also found abnormalities in the sexual organs of the GM-fed rats. As the rats used were all male, a study should be done with female rats, to see if their sexual organs would be affected too. If female rats showed problems with development of sexual organs, this would be a compelling reason to do reproductive experiments. Arpad said, "If there are any problems in this respect it will be no good to say in thirty or so years' time, when the already strong trend of reduced human fertility in the Western world may be reduced even further, that we are sorry because we did not know!"
In the 110-day experiment the rats on COOKED GM potatoes were growing significantly less than on the control potatoes. It is emphasised that, contrary to the claims of some of Arpad's attackers, these were NOT raw potatoes.
If the diet consisting of the non-GM parent line spiked with the gene product isolated from the GM plant does not produce ill effects, then the problem lies with the process of gene insertion - for instance, the vectors or promoters used to insert and switch on the desired gene.
If animal studies showed no ill effects, then the food should be tested in a similar way on human volunteers. The young, old, and sick are most at risk, including people with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Arpad said we ought to take this seriously because when studies are done independently there seem to be problems with GM food. He added that his attackers were able to crucify him because he was alone, since no one else at that time had openly attempted to test the safety of GM food.
After the conference, Arpad said that his experiments had been designed not to find out the safety of one particular GM food but the ideal protocol for testing all GM foods for safety. His results suggested a further research protocol which could show whether the ill effects seen in the rats were reversible. The experiment could contain a group of rats who would be fed for, say, a 10-day period with a diet containing the GM product, and then for the next 10 days with a diet without the GM product to see if the changes reversed themselves or not. Another group could be fed the GM product for 20 days to see whether changes seen in 10 days would be reversed, reinforced, or have some other outcome. Arpad said, "This way one can get a reasonable idea of the possible long-term effects of GM feed consumption. At any stage the reversibility can be tested for by putting the rats back to control diet. It is unlikely that anybody will ever do this massive experiment. We were planning to do it but 'where is the snow of yesteryear?'"
"Many scientists and the lay public hungry for information have been struck by the scarcity of published data relevant to the safety of GM foods. Not only that, but the scientific quality of what has been published is, in most instances, not up to the usually expected standards of good science." - Dr Arpad Pusztai
*STANLEY EWEN, consultant histopathologist at Grampian Hospitals Trust and co-researcher with Arpad Pusztai on the GM potato experiments, gave a talk called "Eating growth factors? No thanks". He explored the effects of the GM potatoes on the rats' guts after a 10-day feeding study.
He said the research showed that this potato had growth factor effects, ie caused proliferation of cells. He did not believe that it was fully carcinogenic (cancer-causing) but that we must be careful as the things we put in our mouths can steal control systems in our bodies. Feeding the GM potatoes for just 10 days produced an elongation of the small bowel mucosa (lining). This effect had been observed by other independent researchers, such as Fares et al [Fares, N.H. and El-Sayed, A.K. (1998) Fine structural changes in the ileum of mice fed on delta-endotoxin-treated potatoes and transgenic potatoes. Natural Toxins 6], who fed raw GM (Bt) potatoes to mice:
* Fares found a +21.7% increase in ileal (part of the small intestine) cell size in 14 days;
* Ewen and Pusztai found a +57.8% increase in jejunal (another part of small intestine) crypt size in 10 days.
He showed slides of the dissected gut showing the increased elongation of the crypt in a GM-fed rat. The researchers found this effect in the ileum as well as the jejunum, so it affected the whole intestine. The study found that crypt cell count and the mitotic (cell proliferation) rate increased in the small bowel of young rats fed GM potatoes. These increases show that GM potatoes acted as a growth factor leading to hyperplasia (increased production and growth of normal cells) of the intestine. The crypt length had increased by around 25%. The lymphocyte (white blood cells involved in immune response) count increased in rats fed GM potatoes:
* Parent line: 132
* GM: 214
Both raw GM potatoes and cooked GM potatoes were used, and the effect was greater using raw GM potatoes.
Ewen and Pusztai published their study in the Lancet (vol 354, no 9187, Oct 16, 1999). They commented on the intestinal effects of the GM potatoes: "We suggest that the promotion of jejunal growth was the result of the transformation of the potato with the GNA gene, since the jejunum of rats was shown to be stimulated only by GM potatoes but not by dietary GNA... in agreement with a previous study in which the dietary GNA concentration was 1000-fold higher than the one used in this study. Thus, we propose that the unexpected proliferative effect was caused by either the expression of other genes of the construct, or by some form of positioning effect in the potato genome caused by GNA gene insertion." [In other words, it was not the GNA lectin but some element of the genetic engineering process itself that caused the jejunal changes.]
The authors conclude, "The possibility that a plant vector in common use in some GM plants can affect the mucosa of the gastrointestinal tract and exert powerful biological effects may also apply to GM plants containing similar constructs, particularly those containing lectins, such as soya beans or any plants expressing lectin genes or transgenes."
[Since the vector used in this GM potato is widely used in other GM crops, this research throws doubt on the safety of most GM foods currently on the market. This is why the research had to be suppressed and the messengers 'shot'.]
There were also microscopic changes in the colon: raw GM potatoes caused a thickening of the colon. Could active GM DNA reach the colon? Harry Gilbert et al [Newcastle feeding study] showed that GM DNA from soya does reach the colon in human ileostomy patients. These people have had their colon removed; material that has passed through the small intestine collects in a bag. The researchers analysed this material and found GM DNA, meaning that in people with intact colons, the GM DNA would have reached the colon.
Stanley then talked about the colon and growth factors, saying that disease of the colon in humans is common. It can be either inflammatory (ulcerative colitis) or neoplastic (polyp-cancer sequence).
He asked, how safe is it to expose diseased colon linings to growth factors? He said that colon cancer is the biggest killer of non-smoking males in Scotland, and that North-East Scotland has a high incidence of polyps. About 30% of polyps turn into invasive cancer. If the faecal content of the colon is unbalanced (for example, if a person eats a lot of red meat, then the levels of bile salts in the colon increase), then a benign polyp starts to grow on the surface, increasing in size due to growth factors. Malignancy may develop later.
He said that the polyp-cancer sequence is thought to take about three years and seems to involve growth factors. Could extra growth factors shorten this time? His conclusion is that raw GM foods may act as growth factors and could accelerate the polyp-cancer sequence.
He noted that the Flavr Savr tomato in an Egyptian study was found to cause stomach ulcers. The GM potatoes did not cause ulcerative damage.
Arpad Pusztai commented after the conference on other known and possible growth factors. He said that most lectins that bind to the gut surface will induce proliferative growth, particularly in the small intestine. The best and most studied example is the kidney bean lectin. However, all bacterial protein toxins, including cholera, E. coli, AND the Bt toxin [that we are expected to swallow in many GM crops], are AB type toxins in which A part is the toxin while the B part is a lectin. These toxins are only harmful to those animal species whose gut lining binds these lectins. [Do we know whether the Bt toxin expressed in GM foods is a growth factor? No, since it seems that nobody is trying to find out.]
"It is unfortunate that very few animal trials of GM human food are available in the public domain in scientific literature. It follows that GM foods have not been shown to be without risk and, indeed, the available scientific experimental results demonstrate cause for concern." - Prof Stanley Ewen
*MALCOLM HOOPER, Emeritus Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Sunderland, has specialist knowledge of the effects of herbicides and pesticides on the body.*
Because Gulf War syndrome is thought to be partly caused by exposure to pesticides sprayed on uniforms and equipment, along with other toxic exposures including experimental vaccines, he was contacted by affected Gulf War veterans, to whom he is chief scientific advisor.
In his talk, "Eating pesticides, too, with GM foods", Malcolm said he was concerned about the safety of ingesting the pesticides and herbicides that are used with GM foods. He talked about the effects that pesticides and herbicides could have on the human body over time, and the fact that fruit and vegetables often have residues which exceed the recommended levels. He said that because of GM superweeds, GM crops often need more spraying, not less.
Organophosphates (OPs), he explained, are nerve agents. The herbicides glyphosate and glufosinate ammonium, which most GM herbicide resistant crops are engineered to resist, are chemically related to OPs. OPs can affect all processes in the body that use phosphates [very many. The regeneration of bone is one process with which OPs are known to interfere.] Drugs for osteoporosis are made from bisphosphonates.
["Dr Stephen Hodges (University of Essex) ... demonstrated the impacts of OPs on skeletal metabolism. A sample of sheep dipping farmers had significantly lower bone density and a lower rate of bone replacement than controls. They might expect more bone fractures in later life, and there was currently no preventive treatment." Pesticides Action Network UK, OP Scientific Workshop, 28 Mar 2000 http://www.pan-uk.org/press/OPworksh.htm]
Herbicides have universal targets; they are not just specific to plants. The effects of such chemicals always include unexpected ones: who would have thought when penicillin was invented that it can produce allergic reactions in some people?
Glyphosate kills plants by inhibiting an enzyme that enables synthesis of amino acids necessary for survival of plants and bacteria.
Most toxicity testing on glyphosate was done orally, but inhalation is the most important pathway affecting people. Glyphosate causes neurotoxicity and can cause complete paralysis. One man developed Parkinson's after just one exposure. The neurotoxicity tests originally done by Monsanto on glyphosate have been ruled invalid by US EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]. Glyphosate depresses the liver's ability to detoxify by interfering with enzymes. It also has neurotoxic effects and causes endocrine disorders, adrenal deficits, etc. It accumulates in the bone; could this lead to osteoporosis, since OPs are known to cause this?
During questions from the audience, one lady said that the Royal Society stated that glyphosate herbicide (Roundup) disappeared from the soil in one day and left no residues. However, she said that Monsanto has twice been fined $50,000 for making similar claims about glyphosate in the US and was forced to withdraw the claims. [This is true]
"Glyphosate is ... related to organophosphate insecticides ... Although it is generally regarded as the one of the safest pesticides there are disturbing reports of its toxicity and '[the] literature of toxicological and ecotoxicological properties ..is extremely sparse, considering its importance as herbicide' (Neskovic et al Bull Environ Contam Toxicol. 1996, 56, 295-302)." - Prof Malcolm Hooper, "Gene Modified crops and human health", GM News 10/08/01.
"Parkinsonism developed one month after a 54-year old man accidentally sprayed himself with glyphosate. It remains and has required treatment with the standard drugs to control it. It is a permanent condition. This is the most disturbing report of toxicity associated with this compound. The early effects following this accident were skin lesions that developed with in 6 hours." - Prof Malcom Hooper, "Gene Modified crops and human health", GM News 10/08/01. http://www.gm-news.co.uk/gmnews13.html
Glufosinate ammonium is related to the organophosphate pesticides as well as to the essential amino acid L-glutamate. It has a variety of biological actions.
This is how it operates as a herbicide: Glufosinate ammonium contains ammonia. Ammonia is toxic to plants so when the plant cannot remove it, it dies. In the natural course of things, a plant removes ammonia by means of an enzyme, glutamate synthetase, which combines the ammonia with glutamate to make glutamine, de-activating the toxic effect. When glufosinate ammonium is sprayed, this de-toxifying enzyme is inhibited and so ammonia builds up to toxic levels in the plant, killing it.
Glutamine is a major compound for the maintenance of brain and gut tissues so anything that reduces our capacity to manufacture this important molecule could have very serious consequences in these areas. Neurotoxicity is characteristic of glufosinate poisoning although the mechanism remains to be elucidated. In the offspring of mice exposed to glufosinate, functional abnormalities in the brain have been demonstrated. Known ill effects of glufosinate ammonium exposure include convulsions, birth defects and respiratory ailments.
When glufosinate ammonium is sprayed, beneficial insects are more affected than the pests they protect against [meaning that more and more herbicide is needed, trapping farmers on a chemical treadmill that ensures ongoing profits for chemical companies].
Malcolm said: "Commerce is winning out over science in consideration of the hazards of pesticides."
Of glufosinate-resistant Chardon LL maize, genetically engineered to resist the herbicide via the 'PAT' gene, Malcolm said: "The known effects of the herbicide glufosinate ammonium are sufficient to halt all field trials immediately, until critical questions about metabolism, storage and reconversion of the N-acetylphosphinothricin [breakdown product] have been fully answered for all PAT gene-containing products."
The PAT gene enables the GM plant to inactivate the glufosinate molecule, thereby rendering it ineffective as a herbicide. However, the N-acetylated glufosinate molecule is not further destroyed but is stored in the plant as inactive N-acetylphosphinothricin.
N-acetylphosphinothricin is not found in the natural crop and represents a very significant difference in bio-equivalence between the transgenic and non-transgenic crops. It is a feature only of the GM crop. [Thus Chardon LL cannot be 'substantially equivalent' to non-GM maize.] (Some information is taken from Malcolm Hooper, "Evidence with special emphasis on the use of glufosinate ammonium (phosphinothricin)", presented at the Chardon LL T 25 Maize Hearing, May 2002, at http://www.gm-news.co.uk/gmnews25.html)
These herbicides and other pesticides damage the thalamus in the brain stem. The olfactory bulb [which governs smell] conveys them into the brain, so chemical exposures damage the brain. Scientists are now able to trace molecules of pesticides going into the brain even from very low doses. There is evidence that these exposures cause greater permeability in the 'blood brain barrier' [the body's system for keeping toxins and disease causing agents away from the brain, which is the most important organ for survival], making us more susceptible to other toxins.
[Scientists working with chemically damaged people have for many years concluded that certain pollutants, even in very low and supposedly 'safe' doses, can 'sensitise' a person to many other chemicals as well as to natural agents like pollens and foods. Thus after the initial exposure, the person's sensitivities escalate and multiply in what is known as the 'spreading phenomenon'.]
Malcolm said, "The thing that's dismayed me most is coming face-to-face with scientists who are not concerned about the truth."
["A medical practice in Herefordshire has already adopted the policy that none of its GPs will diagnose ill-health as being OP-related." - Pesticides Action Network UK http://www.pan-uk.org/pestnews/pn47/pn47p9.htm]
*VYVYAN HOWARD, medical toxi-pathologist at Liverpool University, gave a talk on "Anti-precautionary risk assessment".* [Risk assessment is the procedure now used by chemical/GM companies to assess the risks arising from their products and processes; it usually results in statements such as "the risk is negligible/very low/low to non-existent" and sometimes calculates the number of people who will be maimed or killed by the product/process. If sufficiently low, this is considered an "acceptable" risk.]
He said risk assessment has its uses and misuses. It was invented by engineers to assess the integrity of built structures. In engineering, the information required for the risk assessment is predictable, because we know a lot about geology and the behaviour of materials and we can model potential disasters. But despite years of sophisticated modeling, failures in such structures do happen. And that's where we know a lot about the elements involved.
Risk assessment has 4 phases:
1. Hazard identification, which requires an understanding of the system in question
2. Hazard assessment. This costs time and money for the hard science needed, and it has to be borne in mind that any positive findings will require action.
3. Exposure assessment: who is exposed to the risk and what is the risk?
4. The final risk assessment depends entirely on the quality of the first three steps.
Risk assessment is now applied to complex systems, often with no hard data. It is just computer modeling, and you can get any answer you want. Interactions in the ecosystem are non-linear, poorly predictable, and have irreversibilities (when something happens meaning you can't go back).
Risk assessment is the main tool used to impede the Precautionary Principle. It is presented as evidence that technologies are safe and accepted as hard 'proof' even when based on no data. There may be no methodology behind the opinions expressed in the risk assessment - and opinions are what they are - but they are taken as fact.
In the toxicology studies for Chardon LL maize, the purified PAT protein (the product of the genetic engineering process in this plant) was taken from another species than maize [the same gene construct can express differently in different species]. It was fed to non-relevant species and an irrelevant anti-nutrient, phytate, was looked at. The fact that there was non-substantial equivalence [between the GM and parent maize] was ignored. There was no feeding trial of the whole food to cattle, the target species for the product.
Gerald Guest of the US FDA pointed out possible problems with GM foods. But Monsanto's data all says "low risk" or "effectively zero". An exposure assessment is needed; the doses of foods will be higher than with pharmaceuticals. Yet there is less testing on GM foods.
The US experience
American promoters of GM foods claim that Americans have been eating GM for a long time and there are no problems. But there is
* no baseline data
* no exposure data
* no human feeding trials
so it's an uncontrolled experiment! If GM foods are causing changes to common conditions (allergy, cancer, auto-immune disease) there is no way we could know.
Since 1971 the rate of cancer in humans has greatly increased, and the predominant factor is environmental - as much as 85% of cancers are caused by environmental factors, according to Lichtenstein. The lag time for cancers to develop can be 20 years, so if there were a risk from GM foods we would not know for about another 15 years.
The European Environment Agency report, "Late Lessons from Early Warnings" is a must-read. [download a pdf version from http://reports.eea.eu.int/environmental_issue_report_2001_22/en/tab_content_ RLR]
It tells how from 1904 radiation was known to be dangerous. But only much later was this accepted. Plutonium has a half-life [time taken for the radiation to decrease to half original level] of 24,390 years! The report tells how the model assumptions were totally wrong in the case of radiation from Chernobyl [here he showed a chart showing far higher number of cancers than expected from models].
The report gives examples of the time lag between awareness of risk and action taken:
1898 asbestos dangers known; took 100 years to ban it
Alexander Fleming warned in 1945 of the over-use of penicillin.
Addressing the American claim of 'no danger from GM foods', Vyvyan said that in terms of the time lags shown above between awareness of risk and action taken, GM is very new.
1975-7: first GM modifications of bacteria with plasmids
1980-3: first GM plants
1984-5: first transgenic mice
1994: first GM food, a tomato paste, marketed
1996: First GM soy harvests
Risk assessment should assume [it doesn't] that GM will get everywhere 5 Feb 2002: awareness of gene stacking
We have also become aware of US soy being contaminated with pig vaccine.
What legacy will be left by GM? Vaccines in crops, polymers in crops.
GM foods should be tested for allgenicity. This would need 3000 human volunteers. It has not been done. The toxicological side is do-able. Substantial equivalence is a chemical test of composition and is not indicative of biological effects.
Recent years have seen conceptual shifts in toxicology. There are not linear dose curves [the higher the dose, the more the toxic effect]; we are learning that low levels cause impacts.
How long are the reassurances in risk assessment [that no disaster will occur] good for? With GM we are dealing with eternity.
There is an unspoken option: we DO have the option of doing nothing [with GM]. Adopting the precautionary principle will often mean postponing use of a technology, but this is not anti-science.
You rarely see statements of uncertainty in risk assessments. But they are presented as proof that it's safe.
"What our regulators have is 'fact-free' risk assessment: there's little or no data, what relevant data that exist are simply ignored and dismissed, so they can conclude the risk is 'very, very low, effectively zero'. That's completely counter to the precautionary principle." - Dr Vyvyan Howard
*GUNDULA AZEEZ, policy manager for the Soil Association, spoke about co-existence of GM and non-GM crops.*
She said that consumers have been eating non-GM food forever and should be able to continue to do that. However, contamination can undermine that choice. She said that GMOs have no place in organic farming and that contamination could be irreversible. She mentioned Seeds of Doubt, published by the Soil Association in September 2002. She also said that it is very difficult now to buy GM free seed and grow such crops in the US because of contamination. Contamination is not only via pollen, but can be from volunteers in the crop, from the previous crop. Flooding can also cause GM contamination. She said that the planting of GM crops in the US has increased year by year, and that this is matched by loss of export markets and by increased government subsidies to US farmers to compensate for loss of sales.
*Geomorphologist and environmental scientist Dr Brian John gave his inspiring talk, "Fit for public consumption?" as a representative of GM Free Cymru (Wales).*
He said that right across Wales there is support for it to be totally GM free. The spin put out by government is that if you are pro-GM you are informed and that if you are against, you are ignorant; and that to be against GM technology is harmful to the biotechnology industry. But biotech is not the same as GM and it is wrong to say that a GM free Britain would mean there would be no biotech in the UK.
The pro-GM case is based on reductionist views. No scientist is looking for causal relationships from GM foods. The FSA has confirmed that it will not do this.
We need less biological and chemical bombardment, not more. People feel let down by scientists and science. The whole business of GM science is corrupt from top to bottom. For example, Monsanto claimed they were phasing out Terminator Technology, but now we hear they never did so. Also, antibiotic resistant marker genes are not being phased out, despite claims that they were.
As further examples of corruption, he said that co-existence is the Whitehall word for pollution. The Royal Society is supposed to be independent yet they promote GM. The term substantial equivalence was originally developed as a marketing term and is now used by the GM industry to justify no testing, because a GM crop is considered the same as a non-GM crop of the same fruit or vegetable.
What are GM crops for? To extend the market share for GM companies. Consumers see a host of problems and do not want GM crops.
*The final speaker was MAE-WAN HO, director of ISIS.*
She talked about there being "A time and a place for gene transfer". Her opening slide was of two butterflies mating. She went right back to the start of life on this planet and said that there probably was horizontal gene transfer before the three main strands of life-forms became separate. However, genetic engineering is breaking all the rules in recombining DNA from widely different sources. When firing the gene into DNA the genetic engineer has no control over where this lands up. She said that genetic engineering is inherently hazardous and gave an example of researchers in Australia who produced a mouse virus, which killed all the mice used in the research. DNA shuffling can create millions of recombinant viruses, which have never previously existed. She said that there is evidence that GM DNA is more likely to leave organisms by horizontal gene transfer.
She was asked about the SARS virus. She said there was no evidence that it had arisen from genetic engineering, but as far as she knew the possibility was not being investigated. She said that the virus has mosaic characteristics although said to be a corona virus.
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