GM Science Review - Comments on First Report

Return to index of comments

Name: Bristol Area SERA Group Location (optional): Bristol Date: 15 October 2003
Title (optional):
Full comment:

Socialist Environment & Resources Association - Labour's Green affiliate
17 Belmont Rd
St Andrews
Bristol BS6 5AW

GM Science Review: First report

This Group's response is:

Executive Summary


The Executive Summary minimises the extent of uncertainty and lack of research, as acknowledged in the body of the report (see below).

It is noted that some scientific evidence which has not been peer-reviewed and published has also been used (pp 8-9) The problem we see with this is that GM development is not a scientifically neutral field of research but is dominated by a small number of powerful commercial corporations (with political resources and backing). Peer review will normally put knowledge into the public domain, and in consequence cutting edge knowledge which has a likely future commercial value may not be subjected to peer review and/or to a full safety audit.

The similarity of GM to traditional breeding transformations is over-emphasised (pp50-52). The latter occurs only within the same family or with viruses.

5.2.6 Lack of successful litigation (p 73)


We do not consider this to be a valid "form of societal evidence". Impoverished farmers dependent upon bio-tech companies for seed, pesticide and herbicides cannot fund litigation. It is also often very difficult to link cause and effect for low-level poor human health.

Is there a serious error in the phrase "Milder or less widespread or more delayed adverse effects can be completely ruled out..." - should can be cannot?

5.2.3 Compositional equivalence (p 70)


Two molecules may be compositionally and structurally identical, the one being the mirror-image of the other, but have widely differing properties.

5.5.1 GM crop plants with enhanced value as animal feed (p 101)


We do not accept the assertion that such crops will reduce pollution. It is over-dense stocking that causes pollution. Soil microbes naturally recycle faeces, particularly when composted.

6.2.1 Alien species model (p 111)


We believe that the emerging evidence is undermining the credibility of the Crop Model. The alternative hypothesis of the Alien Species Model that roughly 1% of introduced GM plants would become pests, is not reassuring. The number of new pests is not the main concern but the extent of the devastation that a very few or even a single species can cause (numerous examples from New Zealand, Australia, Pacific islands, Hebrides, mainland UK and the USA).

6.3.3 Anecdotal evidence (p 132)


We detect bias in the characterisation of U.S. farmers' testimonies (as on p. 17 of the Soil Association's Report "Seeds of Doubt") as anecdotal while information from scientific bodies and Bio-Technology corporations is treated as factual. The corporation reports may be over-optimistic about the advantages of GM crops and the absence of harmful effects, because of the need to recoup expenses and show a profit.

6.4.3 Resistance to several herbicides - "gene-stacking" (p 143)


The statement that HT gene-stacked volunteers are not an agricultural problem because of the multiplicity of herbicides available fails to mention that this may lead to the use of older, more toxic, herbicides. This is a wider problem than the single example quoted from English Nature.

The report frequently admits lack of knowledge or lack of research. Examples, but not the only ones are on pages:-


73,74,79,98,100, 103,104,107,113,116,118,119,124,127,132,135,147,148,152,153,174, 178,188-189,190,191,193,198,202,212,221,223,232,233.

We also make these points:-

1. Commercial GM crops come as part of an operation by a small number of transnational corporations which seek to create and exploit a monopoly of the food supply of the World. The operation includes the use of the corporations' designated pesticides and/or herbicides. The report does not examine the possible consequences of this.

An example is atrazine which was used on GM maize in the farm trials in this country. Yet this is one of the pesticides that, on the basis of other scientific evidence, are to be banned by a European Pesticides Directive. This undermines the value of the farm trial as a guide to whether GM commercial planting should be permitted here.

There is an impact of pesticides on soil and the micro-organisms in it, the amount and quality of both of which are diminishing across the World. From this First Report it does not appear that the possible harmful effects of the accumulated use of glyphosate or glufosinate on this phenomenon are being evaluated in the Scientific Review. We believe that they must.

2. As more GM crop plantings are scientifically examined more adverse environmental effects are being reported. The concerns of some scientists that horizontal gene transfer will occur appear increasingly to be validated. We see no evidence to support the re-assurance that this transfer is "likely to be reversible".

3. We believe that the Scientific Review must take account of:

(i) Dr. Pusztai's work on potatoes.

(ii) "Characterisation of the Roundup Ready Soybean insert"( P. Windels et al, Eur Food Res Technol 213:107-112, 2001) where it was found that a segment of a plant's own DNA had been scrambled and that "The abnormal DNA was large enough to produce a new protein, a potentially harmful protein".

(iii) "Evaluating the risks associated with using GMOs in human foods" - the July 2002 report of research at Newcastle University commissioned by the Food Standards Agency.

(iv) "GM Science Review deeply flawed" by Dr Mae-Wan Ho ("Science and Society" No. 19, Summer 2003) and Dr Ho's other work on GMOs, particularly the dangers of horizontal gene transfer.

(v) "Unravelling the DNA myth" (B. Commoner in Seedling July 2003) which questions the scientific theory that inheritance is governed only by DNA:-

"Molecular genetics is now confronted with a growing disjunction between this widely accepted premise and an array of discordant experimental results that contradict it. But this disparity remains largely unacknowledged and experiments with transgenic plants and animals (many of which are not even recognized to be experiments) continues on a massive scale." One of the sources to which Commoner refers in support of this is:-

(vi) "Updated molecular characterisation and safety assessment of Roundup Ready Soybean Event 403-2" Confidential Report [MSL-16712] produced by Monsanto Product Safety Center, Monsanto Company, St Louis, Missouri, USA.

We are concerned that Commoner, the Monsanto report and Windels do not figure in your Review, while the Newcastle report has been buried and the work of Pusztai and Ho has been rubbished.

4. Our members welcome the conclusions in the report that although there have been no verifiable adverse effects from GM food, this does not mean that they are safe; and the recommendation that caution continue to be exercised with regard to allergies.

5. We welcome the removal of "substantial equivalence" from the discussion.

6. GM crops will eliminate the possibility of uncontaminated organic seed and thus of organic crops and food which the population, including our members, is increasingly demanding.

7. While we recognize the scope of the Science Review we do not believe it can disregard the fact that non-GM agricultural techniques already available are fully capable of satisfactorily feeding the World. GM food is not needed. GM seeds of which the patents are owned by a few transnational corporations will create monopoly monocultures, seriously harming health, food security and biodiversity.

Will Fancy
Bristol Area SERA Group