GM Science Review - Comments on First Report

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Name: Philip Dupont Location (optional): Date: 22 September 2003
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The GM science review panel report makes for interesting reading, in one particular paragraph the report states that 'Gene flow between crop varieties is inevitable' (Pg 204 GM science review panel report). This reports admits that commercialisation of GM crops will inevitably contaminate non-GM produce.

But in fact, there are no measures we can take which would stop cross-contamination. Essentially, all produce in the agricultural process would be viewed as contaminated because, 'Gene flow between crop varieties is inevitable'.

It is therefore likely that the commercialisation of GM would be the end of organic farming.

Organic farmers could not guarantee that their produce was GMO free.

This means consumers would not be able to choose.

So who ultimately benefits from GM crops? The only real benefit we might see from accepting GM is avoiding the economic and political consequences of standing up to the U.S. And once GM is commercialised the U.S. will dominate and control our food market. Since as we have established, if introduced commercially it is inevitable that other crops will end up being viewed as contaminated by it. At least the U.S. has the space to buffer crops with distance and can therefore claim consumers have a real choice. Here, we do not have that luxury. Farms here operated close together, there would be absolutely no way of protecting Non-GM and Organic crops from being contaminated. And a time when organic farming is thriving.

Do we really need GM? No. The benefits are minimal in comparison to the costs that we would incur if it went commercial. Nobody would want to eat it anyway. We know that agriculture is in crisis at the moment because intensive farming is not working. GM is just an extrapolation of intensive farming. It is manipulation of the agricultural process in the extreme, it is intensive farming taken to another level. We have suffered BSE, Foot and Mouth disease, the public is extremely wary of farming practices. Precisely because we have witnessed the consequences of artificial intensive intervention in the agricultural process and we don't want to go there again.

And what about the science of GM? Our ancestors and today's farmers deliberately select genetic traits to increase yield and productivity. But this did not happen overnight, it is a process that works relatively within the bounds of what occurs in the natural environment. As it takes advantage of the natural genetic diversity that already exists. It uses the evolutionary process: It slowly increases advantageous natural traits and characteristics. And this breeding would have been physically possible in the natural environment anyway. The process of breeding ensures that the rest of the genetic code is stable and well rounded, functions normally, within the bounds of what is physically and naturally possible. If something goes wrong ge netically, the process aborts and man can't do much about it. The genetic code is not altered so radically that there is a stark difference in characteristics of the next generation. The process of breeding naturally takes account of genetic complexity, even if man chooses the partners. But, what I understand from the GM science review panel report, is that there are no such safeguards with GM technology.

"No other plant breeding technique permits the incorporation of genetic material from such diverse biological sources. Inevitably this raises the possibility that some new consequences of GM plant breeding may be unexpected." (Pg 10 GM science review panel report)

The manipulation of one gene, can dramatically affect others around it. Which in turn, can profoundly alter the overall characteristics expressed by the organism. Perhaps this might seem to be acceptable to do in controlled conditions; where the effects can be contained if the worst should happen. But release it into the wild?! The report effectively translated as; genetically modified organisms are capable of interbreeding and can mutate when released into the natural environment. They have the potential to damage us, wildlife and the natural environment.

Conventional methods of selecting for the best genetic traits through breeding, have been tried and tested over the past 11 thousand years (approximately 9 000 BCE development of agriculture Middle East). This method of farming has gone on perfectly safely and without incident. It has provided us with all the food we want.

Then 21 whole years ago, a giant profit making company genetically modified the first plant cell. And since then, we have heard about super-resistant strains of GM plants cause serious problems in Canada: GM potatoes are found to be accidentally highly toxic: And a study by an eminent scientist which said that genetically modified food fed to mice, damaged their immune systems. etc. People might say there are reasons for not trusting the company behind GM technology. Reasons which cannot be explored here for fear that these comments will be censored.

'Can plant-virus-derived transgenes recombine with, and be transferred to viruses? If horizontal gene transfer is possible between GM plants and viruses could this result in new viruses that could cause irrecoverable damage to the ecosystem or to crops?' (7.5 Pg 235)

'Could transgenes (or parts of their DNA sequences) in food survive digestion and behave differently in comparison to traditional foodstuffs in their ability to relocate, recombine or modify the consumer's genome or that of associated gut microflora? If so, would this pose an increased risk to health compared to the consumption of non-GM derived food?' (5.4 Pg 90)

The answer is that we do not know. Science does not know whether GM food is dangerous or not. At least, that is the overall impression the report gives: That we really do not know. So it would be foolish and reckless to put people and the environment at risk in this way.

'Uncertainties and gaps in knowledge' (Pg 10), are just not acceptable where something as serious as this is concerned.

There really is absolutely no need at all for consumers to be subjected to this unnecessary risk.

Would you really guarantee that GM is safe from what you know of it? For example page 93 of the GM science review panel report states, 'The scientific literature on DNA fate includes a series of papers that demonstrate significant persistence of DNA following its consumption. It is important to emphasise that these studies are not focused on transgenes and they are relevant to the fate of all consumed DNA. This data suggests that intact DNA may survive in the gastro-intestinal tract, cross the gut epithelium, enter the blood stream and interact with mammalian cells.'

I do not believe the British public would purchase food which you admit has the potential for genetically modified DNA to enter and 'interact' with the human body. The public in this country appear to be much more sensible and awake to the potential implications of the science and how little scientists really know. That Companies would try to market this as food and dare to put us at unnecessary risk, is rather disturbing. Especially when we already have safe and healthy food to eat, we just don't need GM.

"If the food originates from a GM crop in which bacterial DNA is part of the transgene, then, whilst still likely to be a rare occurrence, there is increased opportunity for that DNA to transfer into gut bacteria." (Pg 12)

And government ministers actually propose to allow this to be fed to our children?!

So on the basis of the evidence we have, which is rather sketchy: The very least the report appears to recommend, is that since we do not really know, it would be prudent to treat GMO with extreme caution. Which means, not growing GM crops commercially. And certainly not eating them.

What the GM science review panel report essentially says, is that the cost of monitoring and attempting to control the affect of crops will be astronomical:

"If herbicide tolerant crops are carefully managed, this should delay, or even prevent, the emergence of any herbicide-tolerant weed problem" (Pg 221)

GM is not economically viable, compared to what it would cost to 'manage'. But more than that, we cannot afford the human and environmental consequences of not knowing what GM is capable of. Remember that "there has been no epidemiological monitoring of those consuming GM food." (Pg 10)

And "rare, mild or long-term adverse effects are not easy to detect and could in future be the subject of postmarketing monitoring and surveillance." (Pg 13) Although from a sentence like that, the public could be forgiven for thinking that you are about to experiment on them.