Earth Open Source press release 17 June 2012
Aren’t critics of genetically engineered food anti-science? Isn’t the debate over GMOs (genetically modified organisms) a spat between emotional but ignorant activists on one hand and rational GM-supporting scientists on the other?
A new report released today, “GMO Myths and Truths”, challenges these claims. The report presents a large body of peer-reviewed scientific and other authoritative evidence of the hazards to health and the environment posed by genetically engineered crops and organisms (GMOs).
Unusually, the initiative for the report came not from campaigners but from two genetic engineers who believe there are good scientific reasons to be wary of GM foods and crops.
One of the report’s authors, Dr Michael Antoniou of King’s College London School of Medicine in the UK, uses genetic engineering for medical applications but warns against its use in developing crops for human food and animal feed.
Dr Antoniou said: “GM crops are promoted on the basis of ambitious claims – that they are safe to eat, environmentally beneficial, increase yields, reduce reliance on pesticides, and can help solve world hunger.
“I felt what was needed was a collation of the evidence that addresses the technology from a scientific point of view.
“Research studies show that genetically modified crops have harmful effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials and on the environment during cultivation. They have increased the use of pesticides and have failed to increase yields. Our report concludes that there are safer and more effective alternatives to meeting the world’s food needs.”
Another author of the report, Dr John Fagan, is a former genetic engineer who in 1994 returned to the National Institutes of Health $614,000 in grant money due to concerns about the safety and ethics of the technology. He subsequently founded a GMO testing company.
Dr Fagan said: “Crop genetic engineering as practiced today is a crude, imprecise, and outmoded technology. It can create unexpected toxins or allergens in foods and affect their nutritional value. Recent advances point to better ways of using our knowledge of genomics to improve food crops, that do not involve GM.
“Over 75% of all GM crops are engineered to tolerate being sprayed with herbicide. This has led to the spread of herbicide-resistant superweeds and has resulted in massively increased exposure of farmers and communities to these toxic chemicals. Epidemiological studies suggest a link between herbicide use and birth defects and cancer.
“These findings fundamentally challenge the utility and safety of GM crops, but the biotech industry uses its influence to block research by independent scientists and uses its powerful PR machine to discredit independent scientists whose findings challenge this approach.”
The third author of the report, Claire Robinson, research director of Earth Open Source, said, “The GM industry is trying to change our food supply in far-reaching and potentially dangerous ways. We all need to inform ourselves about what is going on and ensure that we – not biotechnology companies – keep control of our food system and crop seeds.
“We hope our report will contribute to a broader understanding of GM crops and the sustainable alternatives that are already working successfully for farmers and communities.”
The report, “GMO Myths and Truths, An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops”, by Michael Antoniou, PhD, Claire Robinson, and John Fagan, PhD is published by Earth Open Source (June 2012). The report is 123 pages long and contains over 600 citations, many of them from the peer-reviewed scientific literature and the rest from reports by scientists, physicians, government bodies, industry, and the media. The report is available here:http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/58
A shorter summary version will be released in the coming weeks.
Michael Antoniou, PhD is reader in molecular genetics and head, Gene Expression and Therapy Group, King’s College London School of Medicine, London, UK. He has 28 years’ experience in the use of genetic engineering technology investigating gene organisation and control, with over 40 peer reviewed publications of original work, and holds inventor status on a number of gene expression biotechnology patents. Dr Antoniou has a large network of collaborators in industry and academia who are making use of his discoveries in gene control mechanisms for the production of research, diagnostic and therapeutic products and human somatic gene therapies for inherited and acquired genetic disorders.
John Fagan, PhD is a leading authority on sustainability in the food system, biosafety, and GMO testing. He is founder and chief scientific officer of a GMO testing and certification company. He is a director of Earth Open Source. Earlier, he conducted cancer research at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and in academia. He holds a PhD in biochemistry and molecular and cell biology from Cornell University.
Dr Fagan became an early voice in the scientific debate on genetic engineering when in 1994 he took an ethical stand challenging the use of germline gene therapy (which has subsequently been banned in most countries) and genetic engineering in agriculture. He underlined his concerns by returning a grant of around $614,000 to the US National Institutes of Health, awarded for cancer research that used genetic engineering as a research tool. He was concerned that knowledge generated in his research could potentially be misused to advance human germline genetic engineering (for example, to create “designer babies”), which he found unacceptable on grounds of both safety and ethics. For similar reasons, around the same time, he withdrew applications for two additional grants totalling $1.25 million from the NIH and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). In 1996 he founded one of the pioneering GMO testing and certification companies after realising that this could be useful to assist industry in providing consumers with the transparency that they desired regarding the presence of GMOs in foods.
Claire Robinson, MPhil is research director at Earth Open Source. She has a background in investigative reporting and the communication of topics relating to public health, science and policy, and the environment. She is an editor at GMWatch (www.gmwatch.org), a public information service on issues relating to genetic modification, and was formerly managing editor at SpinProfiles (now Powerbase).
I have kind of a dumb question:how do we know if we're eating GM modified food ?
I don't know about Canada, but in America GM foods are NOT labeled!
In america you don't.
10- Biotech companies have used patent claims and intellectual property protection laws to restrict access of independent researchers to GM crops for research purposes.
That's what's wrong.
Yes, that is outrageously wrong.
I am trying to think where I saw a report that was saying that patents actually hinder innovation rather than promote innovation. When I remember where I saw the plurry article I will post it.
29 Conventional plant breeding, with the help of non-GM biotechnologies such as marker assisted selection, is a safer and more powerful method than GM to produce new crop varieties required to meet current and future needs of food production, especially in the face of rapid climate change.
30 Conventionally bred, locally adapted crops, used in combination with agroecological farming practices, offer a proven, sustainable approach to ensuring global food security.
This is the path we should be taking not Genetically modifying food crops.
IMO- We should not rule out plant Gene modification altogether - As there is one way that it can be used and that is for producing products that are being produced from plants such as cotton which are high water consuming crops and also require a large amount of pesticides in their production.
There are trees that already produce a cotton like material but it is not produce in bolls like the cotton plant nor are the fibres as long as cotton. These trees are the poplars also known as cottonwoods. These trees are at the moment grown because of their fast growth rate for biomass. Being harvested between five to ten years.
Now if we could get these trees to have the shape of Lombardy poplar, with them producing cotton bolls at the end of branches making it easier to harvest the bolls. We have a tree that not only saves water because it produces cotton also eliminating the need for high applications of pesticides.Then at the end of ten years or even 20 years the trees are harvested for biomass or in the production of cellulose based plastics.
The trees can be grown in a windbreaks around fields thus giving farmers an additional source of income without having to acquire additional land or set aside land for the trees. Plus it helps meets our needs for cotton fibre.
The gene modification cannot make it resistant to pests either but should it go wild then the genes that produce the tight cotton bolls becomes dormant and the tree produces bolls that allow the wind to disperse the seeds. It should also be able to cross pollinate with other trees within the species and allow the processes of evolution to decide what becomes of it in the wild.
Just some of my thoughts!
GM food crops the Indian farmers have learnt the hard way that GM crops are no better than natural crops. They bought GM corn from Monsanto and they were not allowed to keep it like all good farmers do, keep enough seeds from one crop for the following years crop. They also had to buy more of Monsanto's seeds the following year. The crop they grew the yields were not much better than the crops they grew before.
Funny you mention cottonwood. At one point when I had a backyard there were more than twenty of these around the house, with a few that were gigantic. On a warm windless say, the whole lawn would be covered in fluffy white fiber. Pretty surreal.
Yeah. I know what you mean because that is what got me thinking about it as well.
Imagine all that fluff as cotton fibres. How many pounds of fibre would there have been?
Imagine if they were like the trees I mentioned above. They would not only be decorative but also a source of fibre that helps to meet our demands for fibre.
It would be a form of vertical gardening in a sense.
Also: the leaves of these trees are very thick. I've read somewhere that they have an exceptionally high protein content. If we were thorough we could easily rake up to fifty garbage bags of leaves in the fall.
We can forego the leaves to feed the tree thus limiting the need for additional fertiliser input.
The leaves of deciduous tree should be composted and returned back to the soil as Organic Matter which is further broken down to form humus that chelates the elements that the plants requires which can be leached from the soil horizon. Humus also holds up to seven times it weight in soil moisture which is available to plants.
There is nothIng intrinsically wrong in modifying crops by genetic engineering; the problem is that to make money, companies like Monsanto do not carry out a sufficient number of studies. The risk assessment is insufficient. Also, it all depends what you are modifying as well: are you putting in resistance to weed-killers? Are you modifying yields? Etc, etc. Physiologically it may be very different, depending on the modification. For example, all the Roundup health problem are a problem because of Roundup, basically; even we use it in our own gardens or patios it's problem. Of course, one can question the idea to genetic engineer for resistance to roundup, when you know that shit is toxic!