Science in Society Archive

Letter to Hilary Benn MP on GMOs

From:

Dr. Eva Novotny
25 Brownlow Road
Cambridge, CB4 3NG
25 October, 2008

To:

Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA


Re: Genetically Modified (GM) Crops and Foods

Dear Mr Benn,

The Government appears to believe that genetically modified (GM) crops are needed to solve the crisis of food shortages and high food prices in the world. In the past, the Government has expressed an intention to be a leader in the field of biotechnology. However, the GM seed developers, as well as some government advisors and scientists, have made many claims about the benefits and safety of GM crops but have failed to disclose the harm that has been done by these products. Much of what is stated by the industry is actually a misrepresentation of the facts: documents show that the industry has manipulated data, including data designed to prove safety. Please see the two enclosed books Seeds of Deception: Exposing Corporate and Government Lies About the Safety of Genetically Engineered Food and Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods .

Most relevant to the present food crisis is the fact that GM crops do not increase yields; at best, they prevent losses to weeds or pests. Often, GM crops yield less than conventional varieties, while pesticide use has been increasing steadily as a result of the introduction of GM crops (Figure 1). Some c onventional soya bean varieties, for example, are a better option because they incur lower seed and weed-control costs. Moreover, farmers can save the seeds.

Annual Percent Change in Pecticide use brought about by Herbicide-Tolerant and BT Transgenic Corn, Soybeans and Cotton

Figure 1 Increasing Use of Pesticides.
(From Charles M. Benbrook, October 2004, BioTech InfoNet, Technical Paper Number 7. The latest value, for 2004, is a projection.)

Along with conventional crops, which also require the use of fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, GM crops cannot be part of sustainable agriculture: not only does this type of agriculture degrade the soil, but manufacture of these chemicals requires oil, an increasingly expensive and scarce commodity. Organic agriculture requires only 25-50% of the energy used by conventional agriculture, and carbon sequestration in soil is increased by organic matter. Traditional breeding also offers the best hope for producing crops with special characteristics like tolerance to drought, floods, heat or salt; and a number of such traditionally bred crops already exist, while GM companies are still years away from such accomplishment. Tom Crosbie, of Monsanto, has noted that ‘ultimately [non-GM] biotech offers the greatest potential'” for such crops.

Only chemical-free agriculture is truly sustainable for the indefinite future. Moreover, it has already proven its worth in many countries where farmers have doubled or tripled their yields; please see the enclosed report, Food Futures Now . The farmers have no debts to repay for expensive seeds and chemicals. Soil micro-organisms that promote soil fertility are not harmed, as they are by at least some GM crops. These productive, small farms are the real answer to world food problems, as acknowledged in the recent IAASTD ( International Assessment on Agricultural Science and Technology for Development) report by over 400 scientists representing 57 governments. The report views GM crops as “ unreliable as to yields, while creating problems for farmers because of the licensing and patenting of these crops”. On 25 September, the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations produced a report stating that: “ The essential purpose of food, which is to nourish people, has been subordinated to the economic aims of a handful of multinational corporations that monopolize all aspects of food production, from seeds to major distribution chains, and they have been the prime beneficiaries of the world crisis.” Also, “r esearch conducted by the UN Environment Programme suggests that organic, small-scale farming can deliver the increased yields which were thought to be the preserve of industrial farming, without the environmental and social damage which that form of agriculture brings with it. An analysis of 114 projects in 24 African countries found that yields had more than doubled where organic, or near-organic practices had been used. That increase in yield jumped to 128 per cent in east Africa.” These statements are highly relevant to the Prime Minister's concern to aid the developing countries.

The UK Government must take measures to examine the counter-evidence against GM crops provided by independent scientists with no vested interests. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are already convinced that GM crops and foods are not the way forwards and have declared their intention to be GM-free.

Support for genetically engineered crops and foods would undoubtedly prove to have far-reaching, damaging consequences. Please refer to the enclosed books and DVD; some highlights from the DVD are noted in Appendix 0. You may also wish to look at Appendix 1 (and its associated Appendices 2, 3A and 3B), where more information about GM crops is compiled.

If the Government continues to believe that the benefits of GM crops and foods outweigh any risks and documented harm, would you please answer the following questions:

1. Industry-sponsored research almost always reports that GM foods are safe to eat; yet every feeding trial carried out on laboratory animals by scientists independent of the GM industry has found serious damage to the health of the animals, sometimes including pre-cancerous states.

What scientific evidence is there that these independent experiments have little credibility and can be ignored? Please provide references.

2. Co-existence between GM and non-GM crops is not a realistic possibility. There have been many incidents world-wide of accidental contamination, sometimes for reasons that cannot be traced. In the field, wind and insects carry pollen for several miles to produce significant cross-pollination ; and GM seeds and crops can be accidentally mixed with non-GM varieties during the many processes through which they pass.

If GM crops are grown in this country, or if GM foods continue to be imported, how will the Government ensure that contaminated foods are not being sold illegally, i.e. , without labelling as being genetically modified?

3. Robert Fraley, when co-president of Monsanto's agricultural sector , stated after Monsanto began buying up smaller seed companies: "What you are seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies, it's really a consolidation of the entire food chain". Already several years ago, some farmers in the United States found that they could no longer purchase non-GM varieties of the seeds they wanted. GM corporations are now seeking patents on conventional, non-GM plants and animals, including common food varieties.

Why does the Government believe that a few giant multinational corporations should be allowed to gain control over our food and also the food of poor people in developing countries?

I look forward to your response. I also look forward to hearing and meeting you at the Soil Association conference in November.


Yours sincerely,

(Dr) Eva Novotny

Enclosures: Two books by Jeffrey Smith, Monsanto DVD, report Food Futures Now , Appendices, Conference notice and programme


Cc:

Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, Prime Minister
10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AA

Professor Robert Watson, Chief Scientific Advisor for DEFRA and Director at IAASTD
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR

Prof John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Advisor,
Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills
Castle View House, East Lane, Runcorn, WA7 2GJ

Rt Hon Jane Kennedy MP, Minister of State for Farming and the Environment,
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR

Rt Hon Lord Drayson, Minister of State for Science and Innovation,
Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills
1 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0ET

Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP, Secretary of State for International Development,
1 Palace Street, London SW1E 5HE

Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP, Secretary of State for Health,
Department of Health, Richmond House
79 Whitehall, London SW1A 2NS

Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP, former Minister for the Environment,
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

Mr David Howarth MP (Cambridge),
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

Prof Peter Saunders, Deputy Editor,
Institute of Science in Society,
P.O.Box 51885, London, NW2 9DH

Dr Stuart Parkinson, Director,
Scientists for Global Responsibility,
Ingles Manor, Castle Hill Avenue, Folkestone, CT20 2RD

Article first published 06/11/08



References

  1. Jeffrey M. Smith, 2004, Seeds of Deception: exposing corporate and government lies about the safety of genetically engineered food , Green Books, Foxhole, Dartington, Totnes, Devon, p.13; originally published in the USA in 2003 by Yes! Books, Fairfield, Iowa.
  2. Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods . 2007, Yes! Books, P.O. Box 469, Fairfield, Iowa, USA; available in the UK from Green Books, Foxhole, Dartington, Totnes, Devon .
  3. A misleading paper published in 2006 bears the title “The First Decade of Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States”. Table 3 list only one of the 15 studies examined as showing even a ‘small increase' in pesticide use. However, with one possible exception , all these studies date from the years 1995-1998 . It was in the following year, 1999, that pesticide use on GM crops began to increase rapidly. The paper omitted the damaging studies published from 1999 until 2006, the date of the paper. ( Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo and Margriet Caswell, April 2006, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Economic Information Bulletin Number 11, “The First Decade of Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States”; available at http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib11/eib11.pdf ).
  4. Grover Shannon, an agronomist at the University of Missouri Delta Research Center in the Missouri Bootheel, 8 September 2008, available at: http://agebb.missouri.edu/news/ext/showall.asp?story_num=4547&iln=49_.
  5. FAO publication, May 2008, “Low Greenhouse Gas Agriculture”, summary available at http://www.biosafety-info.net/article.php?aid=528 ; the full paper is at ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/ai781e/ai781e00.pdf .
  6. Tom Crosbie of Monsanto has noted that “ultimately [non-GM] biotech offers the greatest potential” for such special crops; see Legalbrief Environmental, 19 November 2007, “Are GM crops the solution to Africa's food dilemma?”, available at http://www.legalbrief.co.za/article.php?story=20071115143713877 .
  7. Mae-Wan Ho, Sam Burcher, Lim Li Ching and others, April 2008, Food Futures Now, Institute of Science in Society, and Third World Network.
  8. For example: A. Turrini, C Sbrana. M.P Nuti, B M Pietrangeli and M. Giovannetti, 2004, Plant and Soil , vol. 266, pp. 69-75, “ Development of a model system to assess the impact of genetically modified corn and aubergine plants on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi” ; available at: http://www.liberidaogm.org/liberi/folder_file/OGM-P&S-2004.pdf .
  9. Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report of the Internatoinal Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), April 2008; available at http://www.agassessment.org/docs/SR_Exec_Sum_130408_Final.htm.
  10. H.E.M. Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, President of the 63 rd General Assembly, opening remarks at the High-level Event on the Millennium Development Goals, 25 September 2008; available at http://www.un.org/ga/president/63/statements/mdg250908.shtml .
  11. Daniel Howden, 22 October 2008, The Independent , “Organic farming ‘could feed Africa'”; a vailable at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/organic-farming-could-feed-africa-968641.html .
  12. Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods . 2007, Yes! Books, P.O. Box 469, Fairfield, Iowa, USA; available in the UK from Green Books, Foxhole, Dartington, Totnes, Devon .
  13. Two examples: (1) A rare blue maize contaminated yellow maize to an estimated 1% on three neighbouring farms, one as far away as 3 miles in a cross-wind direction: see Letter to Mrs Beckett MP , February 2004, Scientists for Global Responsibility; available at:
    http://www.sgr.org.uk/GenEng/letter_Beckett_BlueMaize_06feb04.htm .
  14. (2) An experimental rice being trialled in the U.S. contaminated commercial varieties, causing import bans in foreign countries and losses to farmers resulting in court action: see Andrew Harris and Margaret Cronin Fisk, 20 October 2008, Bloomberg.com: available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=auu3BOBRYwaE&refer=home .
  15. George Monbiot, 2000, Captive State: the Corporate Takeover of Britain , Macmillan, London, p. 253, quoting from Farm Journal , cited by the Rural Advancement Fund International, September 1996: The Life Industry .
  16. Hugh Warwick and Gundula Meziani, September 2002, Seeds of Doubt: North American farmers' experiences of GM crops , Soil Association report, Chapter 9.
  17. See coalition press-release, 23 October 2008, “Patents on cows and tomatoes are theft!”; available at www.no-patents-on-seeds.org .
  18. Jeffrey M. Smith, 2004, Seeds of Deception: exposing corporate and government lies about the safety of genetically engineered food , Green Books, Foxhole, Dartington, Totnes, Devon, p.13; originally published in the USA in 2003 by Yes! Books, Fairfield, Iowa.
  19. Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods . 2007, Yes! Books, P.O. Box 469, Fairfield, Iowa, USA; available in the UK from Green Books, Foxhole, Dartington, Totnes, Devon .
  20. A misleading paper published in 2006 bears the title “The First Decade of Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States”. Table 3 list only one of the 15 studies examined as showing even a ‘small increase' in pesticide use. However, with one possible exception , all these studies date from the years 1995-1998 . It was in the following year, 1999, that pesticide use on GM crops began to increase rapidly. The paper omitted the damaging studies published from 1999 until 2006, the date of the paper. ( Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo and Margriet Caswell, April 2006, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Economic Information Bulletin Number 11, “The First Decade of Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States”; available at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib11/eib11.pdf ).
  21. Grover Shannon, an agronomist at the University of Missouri Delta Research Center in the Missouri Bootheel, 8 September 2008, available at: http://agebb.missouri.edu/news/ext/showall.asp?story_num=4547&iln=49_.
  22. FAO publication, May 2008, “Low Greenhouse Gas Agriculture”, summary available at http://www.biosafety-info.net/article.php?aid=528 ; the full paper is at: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/ai781e/ai781e00.pdf .
  23. Tom Crosbie of Monsanto has noted that “ultimately [non-GM] biotech offers the greatest potential” for such special crops; see Legalbrief Environmental, 19 November 2007, “Are GM crops the solution to Africa's food dilemma?”, available at http://www.legalbrief.co.za/article.php?story=20071115143713877 .
  24. Mae-Wan Ho, Sam Burcher, Lim Li Ching and others, April 2008, Food Futures Now, Institute of Science in Society, and Third World Network.
  25. For example: A. Turrini, C Sbrana. M.P Nuti, B M Pietrangeli and M. Giovannetti, 2004, Plant and Soil , vol. 266, pp. 69-75, “ Development of a model system to assess the impact of genetically modified corn and aubergine plants on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi” ; available at: http://www.liberidaogm.org/liberi/folder_file/OGM-P&S-2004.pdf .
  26. Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report of the Internatoinal Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), April 2008; available at http://www.agassessment.org/docs/SR_Exec_Sum_130408_Final.htm.
  27. H.E.M. Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, President of the 63 rd General Assembly, opening remarks at the High-level Event on the Millennium Development Goals, 25 September 2008; available at http://www.un.org/ga/president/63/statements/mdg250908.shtml .
  28. Daniel Howden, 22 October 2008, The Independent , “Organic farming ‘could feed Africa'”; a vailable at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/organic-farming-could-feed-africa-968641.html .
  29. Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods . 2007, Yes! Books, P.O. Box 469, Fairfield, Iowa, USA; available in the UK from Green Books, Foxhole, Dartington, Totnes, Devon .
  30. Two examples: (1) A rare blue maize contaminated yellow maize to an estimated 1% on three neighbouring farms, one as far away as 3 miles in a cross-wind direction: see Letter to Mrs Beckett MP , February 2004, Scientists for Global Responsibility; available at:
    http://www.sgr.org.uk/GenEng/letter_Beckett_BlueMaize_06feb04.htm .
  31. (2) An experimental rice being trialled in the U.S. contaminated commercial varieties, causing import bans in foreign countries and losses to farmers resulting in court action: see Andrew Harris and Margaret Cronin Fisk, 20 October 2008, Bloomberg.com: available at http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=auu3BOBRYwaE&refer=home .
  32. George Monbiot, 2000, Captive State: the Corporate Takeover of Britain , Macmillan, London, p. 253, quoting from Farm Journal , cited by the Rural Advancement Fund International, September 1996: The Life Industry .
  33. Hugh Warwick and Gundula Meziani, September 2002, Seeds of Doubt: North American farmers' experiences of GM crops , Soil Association report, Chapter 9.
  34. See coalition press-release, 23 October 2008, “Patents on cows and tomatoes are theft!”; available at www.no-patents-on-seeds.org .

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