THE first shots in what could be a new war between the US/UK combo and Europe, just as acrimonious as the war against Iraq, may already have been fired as long ago as March. It was then that Britain's Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckitt, revealed that 18 applications to grow or import commercial quantities of GM crops into Britain were being processed. And, since then, reports have leaked that Britain's stance against GM foods has weakened almost to the point of total erosion thanks to the influence of Agro/Chemical giants close to HMG. However, while Britain dabbles her feet in murky GM waters her European allies still believe that there is a lack of scientific certainty regarding the potential effects of GM foods. For them, GM food policy is closely tied to political responsibility, and must thus deal with broader health, environmental and ethical questions.
Therefore the closer the UK veers towards the US view that GM foods are safe until proven dangerous the further HMG moves away from Europe and ultimately into conflict with Europe. Last week's GM conference may well have the opposite effect than that desired by HMG. Dozens of prominent scientists from seven countries, spanning the disciplines of agroecology, agronomy, biomathematics, botany, chemical medicine, ecology, histopathology, microbial ecology, molecular genetics, nutritional biochemistry, physiology, toxicology and virology, joined forces to launch themselves as an Independent Science Panel. The panel has now issued a summary of a report, The Case for a GMfree Sustainable World, which will be published in full on June 15.
The summary calls for a ban on all GM crops. This authoritative report is billed as the strongest, the most complete dossier of evidence ever compiled on the problems of GM crops. (The Institute of Science in Society. www.isis.org.uk)
The report contains dire warnings:
GM crops are posing escalating problems on farms with triple herbicidetolerant weeds emerging, with Glyphosatetolerant weeds plaguing GM cotton and soya fields. Atrazine is back in use and Bt biopesticide traits threaten to create superweeds and Btresistant pests.
Extensive transgenic contamination is unavoidable with extensive transgenic contamination found in maize in remote regions of Mexico; 32 out of 33 commercial seed stocks found contaminated in Canada.
Pollen can remain airborne for hours. Therefore can be no coexistence of GM and nonGM crops
Regulations regarding GM are fatally flawed.
GM food raises serious safety concerns including growthlike' effects in the stomach and small intestine of young rats attributed to the transgenic process and may hence be general to all GM food. The list is 15 sections long and includes: a section on how, via GM crops, dangerous gene products can be incorporated into food crops and linked to dementia, neurotoxicity and mood and cognitive side effects. These include vaccines and viral sequences, in the same family as the SARS virus linked to the current SARS epidemic. The report also suggests that terminator crops could spread male sterility and herbicide tolerance traits via pollen.
The report states: Glufosinate ammonium and glyphosate, used with herbicide tolerant GM crops which currently account for 75% of all GM crops worldwide, are both systemic metabolic poisons. Glufosinate ammonium is linked to neurological, respiratory, gastrointestinal and haematological toxicities, and birth defects in humans and mammals; also toxic to butterflies and a number of beneficial insects, to larvae of clams and oysters, Daphnia and some freshwater fish, especially the rainbow trout; it inhibits beneficial soil bacteria and fungi, especially those that fix nitrogen. The report adds: Glyphosate is the most frequent cause of complaints and poisoning in the UK, and disturbances to many body functions have been reported after exposures at normal use levels; glyphosate exposure nearly doubled the risk of late spontaneous abortion, and children born to users of glyphosate had elevated neurobehavioral defects; glyphosate retards development of the foetal skeleton in laboratory rats, inhibits the synthesis of steroids, and is genotoxic in mammals, fish and frogs If that does not frighten enough, the rest of the report contains warnings of the creation of super viruses. The evidence shows transgenic DNA from plants taken up by bacteria both in the soil and in the gut of human volunteers, making infections very difficult to treat. Then it cites the the link between transgenic DNA and cancer and warns that the feeding of GM products such as maize to animals can carry risks for humans consuming animal products. The report concludes: 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 coexistence of GM and nonGM 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 therefore be firmly rejected now. A conclusion of many of the critics is that, apart from the direct health threat, ultimately only the multinational chemical/agricultural companies benefit from GM crops but local farmers, wherever they are, do not benefit and are likely instead to be wiped out. The principal issue, notes George Monbiot in the London Guardian this week, is the corporate takeover of the food chain. By patenting transferred genes and the technology associated with them, then buying up the competing seed merchants and seed breeding centres, the biotech companies can exert control over the crops at every stage of production and sale. Farmers are reduced to (being) their subcontracted agents This has devastating implications for food security in the poor world: food is removed from local marketing networks and therefore the mouths of local people and gravitates instead towards sources of hard currency. This problem is compounded by the fact that most of the acreage of GM crops is devoted to producing not food for humans, but food for animals. Meb Cutlack