20 August 2005
President and General Manager
KVIE Public Television
Dear Mr. Hosley,
I am writing both in my capacity as Director of the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) and a member of the Independent Science Panel (ISP).
I-SIS is a not-for profit organisation dedicated to providing critical public information on cutting edge science and to promoting social accountability and ecological sustainability in science. We do this through reports posted on our website www.i-sis.org.uk and circulated to our extensive e-mail list, and quarterly magazine Science in Society, of which I am editor.
The ISP, launched 10 May 2003 at a public conference in London, UK, consists of dozens of prominent scientists from all over the world, spanning the disciplines of agroecology, agronomy, biomathematics, botany, chemical medicine, ecology, epidemiology, histopathology, microbial ecology, molecular genetics, nutritional biochemistry, physiology, plant biotechnology, taxonomy, toxicology and virology (http://www.i-sis.org.uk/isp/ISPMembers.php). They share a deep concern over the commercialisation of genetic engineering and other technologies without the due process of thorough scientific assessment, informed public consultation and public consent; and are dedicated to researching and actively promoting science for a sustainable world through education, advocacy and social engagement.
I and my fellow scientists have long held the Public Broadcasting Service in high regard for its role in providing critical and reliable information to the public, and for maintaining the highest standards of balance and independence.
Recently, members of I-SIS residing in the United States have alerted me to the potentially unbalanced coverage of genetic engineering in the forthcoming PBS series, “America’s Heartland”.
According to a letter circulated by the Union of Concerned Scientists in the United States, “America’s Heartland” is “a series on American agriculture that appears to unevenly promote the interests of the series’ main sponsors - Monsanto and the Farm Bureau - two historic proponents of industrial-style food production. Advance materials indicate that the series will portray an entirely positive portrait of U.S. agriculture. Despite an in-depth approach spanning 20 episodes, the series producers appear unwilling to give time to any concerns about agribusiness, from the impact of pesticides on human health, to pollution and foodborne illness caused by industrialized meat production, to the debate over genetically engineered crops.”
I-SIS and ISP would like to add our voice to the concerns expressed. The ISP have reviewed the evidence on the problems and hazards of genetically modified (GM) crops as well as the proven successes of sustainable agriculture and published its report in June 2003 . This report has been republished in the United States in 2004, and translated into five major languages.
The key findings of the ISP report on GM crops are as follows:
Since its publication, all the major findings of the ISP report have been further corroborated; and the inadequacies of the US regulatory system identified by US scientists .
New evidence confirms that most, if not all GM varieties may be unstable. French government scientists examined five GM varieties already commercialised, and found all the GM inserts had rearranged themselves. Belgian government scientists confirmed those results, and found some of the GM varieties were also non-uniform [3-5].
A paper published in 2002  reported that 22 out of 33 transgenic proteins have runs of 6 or 7 amino acids identical to known allergens. These include all the Bt toxins (Cry proteins), the CP4 EPSPS and GOX conferring glyphosate tolerance, the coat protein of the papaya ringspot virus, and even marker proteins such as GUS (b-glucuronidase). A follow-up study confirmed those results , highlighting the inadequacy of current methods to predict the allergenic potential of proteins new to our food chain and the need to take these positive findings seriously until they can be ruled out by further tests to be “false positives” . This warning is particularly significant as a string of anecdotal evidence – including feeding trials presented by companies to regulatory authorities under “confidential business information” – continue to raise serious doubts over the safety of GM crops and GM food and feed .
More reports from the scientific literature indicate that the natural toxin is not the same as, or “substantially equivalent” to, the GM toxin. Green lacewings suffer significantly reduced survival and delayed development when fed an insect pest (lepidopteran) that has eaten GM maize containing the Bt toxin Cry1Ab, but not when fed the same pest treated with much higher levels of the natural toxin in bacteria [10,11]. These findings again suggest that the genetic modification process itself may be unsafe.
Recent findings indicate that glyphosate is toxic to human placental cells and Roundup Ready considerably worse [12, 13]. Roundup was found to be extremely lethal to frogs [14, 15].
A report drawing on 9 years of US Dept of Agriculture data concludes that overall, GM crops have increased pesticide use by 122 million pounds weight since 1996 .
These uncertainties over the safety of GMO are widely publicised amid mounting opposition to GM food and feed from farmers and consumers around the world.
In view of the evidence against GM crops and in favour of all forms of sustainable non-GM agriculture, the ISP has called for a global ban on further environmental releases of GM crops and a comprehensive shift to non-GM sustainable agriculture.
The shift to non-GM sustainable agriculture is all the more urgent as industrial monoculture is showing all the signs of collapse under global warming; and water and oil - on which industrial monoculture, and even more so, GM agriculture are heavily dependent - are both rapidly depleting .
To respond to these challenges, ISIS and ISP have launched the Sustainable World Global Initiative to make our food system sustainable, to provide food sovereignty, food security and health for all and to mitigate global warming http://www.i-sis.org.uk/SustainableWorldInitiativeF.php; http://www.i-sis.org.uk/isp/SustainableWorldInitiative.php).
We hope the PBS will do its part to inform the public as fully as possible.
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
Member of ISP
Director, Institute of Science in Society
PO Box 32097
London NW1 0XR, UK
Article first published 01/09/05
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