ISIS Report 2000
Promoting Critical Public Understanding of Science And
Enhancing The GM Debate
ISIS Mission Statement
To promote science responsible to civil society and the public good,
independent of commercial and other special interests, or of government
Science is intrinsically honest, open and pluralistic, and disagreements
must be openly and democratically debated.
Science should be unbiased and accessible to all, regardless of gender,
age, race, religion or caste.
To ensure public participation in decision-making, accurate information
should be promptly accessible to the public in unbiased and uncensored forms.
To develop a science that can help make the world sustainable, equitable
and life-enhancing for all its inhabitants.
Science should be based on a holistic, ecological perspective that takes
proper account of the complexity, diversity and interdependence of all nature.
It is consonant with the holistic perspectives of diverse indigenous
sciences across the world.
It is in accordance with the precautionary principle: when there is
reason to suspect threats of serious, irreversible damage, lack of scientific
evidence or consensus must not be used to postpone preventative action.
To integrate science in society and promote its
highest moral values.
Science should contribute to the physical and spiritual well-being of
It must promote equity, justice, democracy and freedom from oppression
What is ISIS?
The Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) is a not-for-profit
organization founded in 1999 by Mae-Wan Ho and Peter Saunders to work for
social responsibility and sustainable approaches in science. A major part of
our work is to promote critical public understanding of science and to engage
both scientists and the public in open debate and discussion. ISIS has been
providing inputs into the GM debate that would have been conspicuously lacking
ISIS and the GM Debate
ISIS involvement in the debate on genetic engineering,
euphemistically referred to as genetic modification, or GM, by its
proponents, dates from 1994, when Mae-Wan Ho became scientific adviser to the
Third World Network (see below). ISIS goal since the beginning, is to
enable the widest cross-section of the global society to participate in
deciding on science policies, which are among the most important in our time.
Science and technology must be critically assessed by society and be held
accountable, not only for safety, but also with regard to social and ethical
implications. Such assessment is of necessity holistic. To be most effective,
it should also be proactive as far as possible, particularly as technologies
are becoming increasingly powerful and uncontrollable. That is why most
governments have accepted the precautionary approach to risk assessment, now
enshrined in the Cartegena Biosafety Protocol, negotiated in Montreal in Jan.
2000, regulating the use and cross-boundary transfer of GM organisms and
products. To act with precaution requires monitoring and anticipating
scientific developments, so that technical information may be freely
available in an accessible form at the earliest stage, to be assessed in the
proper social and global context.
How does ISIS Work?
ISIS works in close collaboration with and provide scientific advise
to the Third World Network (TWN), a well-known and respected non-government
organization based in Penang, which has been in the forefront of the struggle
for equity and justice for the Third World. We advise and represent them on
science and related issues in international forums such as the United Nations
Convention on Biological Diversity, World Health Organization, United Nations
Development Programme and the World Trade Organization (WTO). We have written
numerous scientific reports and assessments for policy-makers and the general
public which are used also by other public interest organizations all over the
world to support their local and national campaigns and debates (see
Publications at the end of this Report).
ISIS and TWN run training and capacity building programmes on genetic
engineering and biosafety in developing countries and elsewhere. This has
already involved several special lecture tours and visits to Ethiopia,
Cameroon, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Brazil, India and many countries in
Europe. A lecture tour to Ecuador, Argentina and Uruguay will take place this
ISIS produces scientific papers for peer-reviewed journals that have
played the key role in opening the GM debate within the scientific
community not only on the hazards inherent to GM technology, but also on
science and the precautionary principle and on social responsibility and ethics
The ISIS website set up in
March 1999, greatly facilitates general access to our written material.
It is currently linked to many other websites, and has been visited by
thousands of people since it began over a year ago. Constraint on time and
resources has so far prevented us from improving the site and establishing more
links, but this will be a high priority task for the coming year.
ISIS News began as an update on
science and related issues in July, 1999. It is circulated mainly via the
internet to scientists and non Government organizations. Five issues have been
produced so far. It contains a unique combination of reports relating to
science and society, social responsibility and science policy. It contains
accessible, lively articles and notes on science aimed at promoting genuine,
critical public understanding as well as assessments on the latest scientific
developments. A special section updates on biotech patents and finally, reviews
of important books that feed into the GM debate, including ecology, ethics, and
sustainable approaches to health and agriculture.
The World Scientists Statement and
Open Letter initiated by ISIS have been highly influential in the GM
debate. The scientists are demanding a moratorium on releases of GM organisms,
a ban on patents on life-forms and living processes and support for sustainable
agriculture (see ISIS News #3, #4 and #5). Our signatories, now numbering 327
from 38 countries, include international figures and scientists in high
prestige laboratories and universities. The World Scientists Statement
was launched in Cartegena Feb. 1999 during a conference on the Biosafety
Protocol. Successive drafts of the Open Letter, with increasing number of
signatories have been submitted to
- The UK Government during the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth,
- All Heads of Delegation at the WTO Conference in Seattle November
29-December 3, 1999, where it played a key role in resisting the attempt by US,
Canada and Japan to force trade of GMOs via the WTO. In the event, the WTO
negotiations broke down completely.
- The International Biosafety Protocol Conference of the Parties in
Montreal in Jan. 2000, where, together with a number of crucial briefing notes
and reports, including one on the hazards of naked nucleic acids, it
contributed to strengthening the position of the like-minded group and other
countries seeking a strong Biosafety Protocol. In the event, a strong (though
not perfect) Biosafety Protocol was agreed, to the delight and surprise of all
- The Philippines Congress by Dr. Oscar Zamora in March 2000, helping
to secure a moratorium on imports of GMOs into that country.
- The UN Commission on Sustainable Development 8th Session, New York,
April 24 May 3, 2000, where it was welcomed by all except industry.
- The UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Nairobi, May 16-26, 2000,
where it was given prominent press coverage amidst calls for moratorium on GMOs
- The US Congress during the special education forum, "Can
biotechnology help fight world hunger?", June 29, 2000, Capitol Hill,
Washington D.C. where the scientific concerns on risks inherent to genetic
engineering and the scientific case for sustainable, organic agriculture were
simultaneously made to a packed audience consisting of a high proportion of
The Sustainable Science Audit is an important new ISIS initiative
in collaboration with TWN, which explicitly assesses science and technology for
social accountability and sustainability. The first Audit
on the GM golden rice (widely publicized by proponents of GM
agriculture as the cure for vitamin A deficiency in the Third World) was
released via the internet on June 15, 2000. This project brings science
squarely into the social context, and our link with TWN is particularly vital
in providing a balanced global context. We intend to continue with this project
and draw on a wide range of scientific and social inputs.
ISIS engaging science and society
- A non-exhaustive list of ISIS other activities is given below,
from which it can be seen that ISIS plays an unique, multifarious role in
bridging science and society that is both proactive and responsive. We have
received many appreciative, positive comments to that effect, and plan to
continue in that role, if we get enough financial commitment for the next three
- First scientific briefing and seminar on patents of life-forms and
living processes for Third World delegates to the World Trade Organization in
Geneva, June 1999.
- Joint reports on specific topics, conferences and public meetings
with public interest organizations in UK.
- Informal scientific clearing house for policy-makers, public interest
organizations and members of the public.
- Public lectures and debates in international, national and local
community forums in more than 20 countries around the world since 1997.
- Expert witness for civil society in legal cases concerning genetic
engineering in UK and Ireland between 1998 and 1999.
- Many interviews on radio and TV, and for newsprint journalists, given
in UK and more than 20 countries around the world.
- Letters and articles written for newspapers and magazines on genetic
engineering and related issues.
- Official and unofficial briefing meetings with members of parliament
and government ministers in UK and other countries since 1995. This includes a
debate with molecular geneticists advising the UK
Government in the office of Environment Minister, Michael Meacher , March,
- Meetings with stakeholders including representatives from
the biotech companies, farming unions, major retailers and public interest
- Informal and formal meetings with scientists.
- Submissions to public consultation by the UK Government agencies and
parliamentary committees, and critiques of ensuing reports.
- Submission to Pilot Project of the Biotechnology Group in the
Trans-Atlantic Economic Partnership Action Plan (TEP) on the detailed molecular
genetic data which must be provided by industry seeking product approval. (The
TEP is generally regarded as a transatlantic free-trade agreement between US
and the European Union, and the Pilot Project is the first step towards
harmonization of regulation and trade.) The molecular genetics data required by
the US and Canada are not adequate to guarantee the stability and safety of the
crops being approved. Our comments and recommendations have been taken up by
major pressure groups in the US such as the Consumer Choice Council, Consumers
Association, Council for Responsible Genetics and Institute of Agricultural and
- Organized with UK Member of Parliament Alan Simpson, for Norwegian
virologist and senior Government advisor, Terje Traavik, and lawyer
spearheading a major civil lawsuit against the US Food and Drug Administration,
Steven Druker, to brief UK Parliament and to meet with Michael Meacher,
Minister for the Environment, Feb. 2000. This generated much media attention.
One result, according to a newspaper report, was UK Prime Ministers
U-turn in acknowledging the potential hazards of genetic engineered food.
- Submission to UK Government objecting to placing GM seeds on the
National Seeds Register.
- Moral support for independent, dissident scientists who have been
unfairly treated or victimised for honest work, and putting them in touch with
other scientists in position to offer help and collaborative research.
ISIS activities have been expanding exponentially within the past
two years with increasing world-wide public demand for accessible, critical
scientific information and for other scientific inputs into the debate. Perhaps
as the result of our success, things have come to a head as ISIS is being
targeted in the mainstream media and the internet by pro-biotech scientists in
US, UK and elsewhere. Concerted attempts have been made to attack and discredit
us (see ISIS News#4 and #5). The corporations are reported to be spending
US$250 million in a new public relations offensive. A rival scientists
letter has been started by the pro-biotech lobby last November in the US to
counter our World Scientists Open Letter, and Cropgen, a new
pro-biotech group of scientists funded by industry, has been set up within the
past months in the UK.
We see this as an opportunity to enhance public understanding of science
and to bring sustainable, socially accountable science into the GM debate. In
order to meet the ever increasing demands on our time and effort, however, we
need serious commitments of funding for the next three years to attract the
right personnel and to obtain the proper organizational support. Our major
tasks shall be as follows.
1. Nucleate a Science Clearing House
The role of a Science Clearing House is to monitor scientific
developments and to provide accessible scientific information, ultimately, for
the global network of Third World and other governments and public interest
organizations. This information will be widely circulated in the form of short
summaries, special reports and other papers produced electronically as well as
in hard copies. We hope to link up with local clearing houses which could be
established along our model. And we shall be drawing on the expertise of other
institutions, notably, the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology in Tromso, with
which have been collaborating on an informal basis. This will be a very
important part of the capacity-building on biosafety as the Biosafety Protocol
has come into effect. At the moment, no such Science Clearing House exists. See
Annex 1 for further details.
2. Capacity-Building on Biosafety for the Third World
Training programmes on genetic engineering and biosafety will be
designed in collaboration with the Third World Network and the Norwegian
Institute of Gene Ecology which would serve the needs of policy-makers as well
as members of the public. We shall produce a series of accessible, interactive
texts that can be adapted for different countries and local communities.
Lecture tours will combine training of GM science and technology with
evaluation of holistic, sustainable approaches to health and agriculture in the
countries visited. See Annex 2 for further details.
3. Broadening the GM Debate
So far, ISIS has focussed largely, though not exclusively, on
agriculture. We plan to enlarge the debate to health and medical applications
including genetic screening, prenatal and preimplantation diagnosis, gene
therapy, cloning, xenotransplantation, and stem cell techniques.
A special issue on medical applications in genetic engineering will be
done for Third World Resurgence, the official publication of Third World
Network, and one on Science and the Precautionary Principle will be produced
with Edward Goldsmith of The Ecologist.
We shall formalize collaborations and cooperation with a network of
public interest organizations around the world to help build a more coordinated
In addition to appearances and writings in the popular and not so
popular media, we shall be keeping a high profile in public debates and
discussion, and continue to emphasize that science and technology must be
socially accountable and sustainable. See Annex 3 for further details.
Publications selected listing
Cummins, J., Ho, M.W. and Ryan, A. (2000). Hazards of CaMV promoter. Nature Biotechnology
Goodwin, B.C., Saunders, P.T., Ho, M.W., et al (1996). Patent threat to
research. Nature 384, 108,
Ho, M.W. (1995) Genetic engineering: hope or hoax? Third World
Resurgence 53/54, 28-29.
Ho, M.W. (1996). Are genetically engineered foods safe? M.W. HoThird
World Resurgence ,
Ho, M.W. (1996) Unravelling gene biotechnology. Soundings 1,
Ho, M.W. (1996) Are current transgenic technologies safe? Capacity
building in biosafety urgently needed for developed countries. Paper presented
for Workshop on Capacity Building in Biosafety for Developing Countires,
Stockholm Environment Institute May 22-23. Abbreviated version in Biosafety
Capacity Building: Evaluation Criteria Development (I. Virgin and R.J.
Frederick, eds.), pp. 75-80, Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm.
Ho, M.W. (1996). Perils amid promises of genetically modified foods.
Report for Greenpeace International.
Ho, M.W. (1997). Genetically engineered foods: The hazards are inherent
in the technology. Third World Resurgence 79, 10-11.
Ho, M.W. (1997). The unholy alliance The Ecologist 27, 152-158.
Ho, M.W. (1997, 1998)(1999 2nd ed.). Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare? The Brave New
World of Bad Science and Big Businesss, Third World Network Gateway, Gill
Ho, M.W. (1998). The life industry, The Ecologist 28, 182-4.
Ho, M.W. (1998). Seed-saving. The Ecologist 28(5).
Ho, M.W. and Ryan, A. (1999). Disease outbreaks: is there a GM link?
Ho, M.W. (1999).Why genetic engineering is hazardous. Third World
Resurgence #104/105, 22-25.
Ho, M.W. (2000). Back to Nature. The Guardian, May 24.
Ho, M.W. (2000). Anti GM is not anti science. The Guardian
Letters, June 8.
Ho, M.W. (2000). Dodgey genes. The Guardian Letters, June 16.
Ho, M.W. (2000). Sustainable Science Audit #1 The Golden Rice An Exercise in How Not to
Do Science, ISIS-TWN, London & Penang
Ho, M.W. (2000). Towards a new ethics in science. In Careers That
Dont Cost the Earth, An Ethical Careers Guide for Young Scientists,
Scientists for Global Responsibility, London.
Ho, M.W., et al (1998). Sowing diseases new and old. Genetic
engineering and the world health crisis. Third World Resurgence 92,
Ho, M.W., Meyer, H. and Cummins, J. (1998). The
biotechnology bubble. The Ecologist 28, 146-53, 1998.
Ho, M.W. and Ryan, A. (1999-2000). ISIS News #1
Ho, M.W., Ryan, A. and Cummins, J. (1999). The cauliflower mosaic viral promoter a recipe
for disaster? Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 11,
Ho, M.W., Ryan, A. and Cummins, J. (2000). Hazards of transgenic plants
with the cauliflower mosaic viral promoter. Microbial Ecology in Health and
Disease (in press).
Ho, M.W., Ryan, A., Cummins, J. and Traavik, T. (2000). Unregulated Hazards: Naked and Free
Nucleic Acids, ISIS and TWN Report
Ho, M.W. and Steinbrecher, R. (1998). Fatal Flaws in Food Safety
Assessment: The Joint FAO/WHO Biotechnology and Food Safety Report, Third
Ho, M.W. and Steinbrecher, R. (1998). Opinion paper: Fatal flaws in food
safety assessment: Critique of the Joint FAO/WHO Biotechnology and Food Safety
Report, Environment and Nutritional Interactions 2, 51-84.
Ho, M.W. and Saunders, P.T. (1997). Will life itself be up for grabs?
Letter to the Editor. The Guardian July 14.
Ho, M.W. and Tappeser, B. (1997). Potential contributions of horizontal
gene transfer to the transboundary movement of living modified organisms
resulting from modern biotechnology. Proceedings of Workshop on
Transboundary movement of Living Modified Organisms Resulting from Modern
Biotechnology: Issues and Opportunities for Policy-makers (K.J. Mulongoy,
ed.), pp. 171-193, International Academy of the Environment, Geneva.
Ho, M.W. and Traavik, T. (1999). Why Patents on
Life-Forms and Living Processes Should be Rejected from TRIPS
Scientific Briefing on TRIPS Article 27.3(b), TWN and ISIS Report
Ho, M.W., Traavik, T., Olsvik, O., Midtvedt, T., Tappeser, B., Howard,
V., von Weisacker, C. and Gavin, G. (1998). Gene Technology and the Etiology
of Infectious Diseases, Third World Network, Penang.
Ho, M.W., Traavik, T., Olsvik, O., Tappeser, B., Howard, V., von
Weisacker, C. and Gavin, G. (1998). Gene technology and gene ecology of
infectious diseases. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 10,
Ho, M.W. (1999). Special safety concerns of transgenic agriculture and
related issues. M.W. Ho, in Seminario Internacional sobtre Direcito da
Biodiversidade, Revista cej: Centro de estudos Judiciarios do Conselho da
Justica Federal, pp.120-6.
Ho, M.W. (1998). Deadly liason dangerous gamble. In National
Agricultural Biotechnology Council USA, Report.
Ho, M.W. (1998). Technologie genetique et ecologie des genes. In
Transgenique: le temps des manipulations, pp.15-26, Editions
Ho, M.W. (1999). Weerwek tegen de heelijke nieuwe wereld. In Blauwe
Banaen Gemanipuleered Voedsel, ed. Alma De Walsche, pp.45-62,
Noordzuid cahier Februari, Brussel.
Ho, M.W. (1999). Turning the tide on the brave new
Miflin, B. and Ho, M.W. (1999). Head to head. Sovereign 27,
Ryan, A. and Ho, M.W. (1999). Transgenic DNA
in Animal Feed. ISIS Report
Submissions and correspondences
Ho, M.W. (1997). Comments on HSE Health Directorate Executive
consultation paper, "Draft Guidance on Certificate of Exemption No. 1". Sent to
UK HSE, Members of Parliament, and circulated to UK and other scientists.
Ho, M.W. (1997). Further comments and reply to Angela Eagle of the UK
Department of the Environment on release of GMMs in liquid wastes without
treatment. Sent to UK Members of Parliament and circulated to scientists.
Ho, M.W. and Traavik, T. (1999). Comments on EU contained use Directive
to European Commission.
Ho, M.W. (1999). Submission to TransAtlantic Economic Partnership Pilot
Project on Biotechnology, on the Molecular Characterization Required for
Commercial Approval of GMOs <www.i-sis.org.uk>
Ho, M.W. and Ryan, A. (2000). Submission re: The Proposed decision to
add Chardon LL (Aventis T25 Maize) to the National List, 20 April.
Saunders, P.T. and Ho, M.W. (1999). Submission to Select Committee on
Science and Technology, UK Parliament, on Scientific Advise to the Government
Saunders, P.T. (1999). Submission to UK House of Lords Select Committee
on Science and Technology, on Science and Society
Institute of Science in Society
Director: Dr. Mae-Wan Ho (CV)
Board of Directors
Dr. David Ehrenfeld, Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA
Prof. Samuel Epstein, Cancer Prevention Coalition, Univ. Illinois,
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Reader in Biology, Open University, UK
Mr. Mohammed Idris, Third World Network, Malaysia.
Prof. Peter T. Saunders, Dept. of Mathematics, King's College, UK
Dr. Michael Antoniou, Dept. of Molecular Biology, Guys Hospital,
Prof. Joe Cummins, Geneticist, University of Western Ontario, Canada
Dr. Tewolde Egziabher, Institute of Sustainable Development,
Prof. David Suzuki, Geneticist, Sustainable Development Research
Institute, UBC, Canada
Mr. Martin Khor, Director, Third World Network, Malaysia
Dr. David Korten, author and Editor, Yes! a Positive Future,
Dr. Jerry Mander, Foundation of Deep Ecology, USA
Prof. Franco Musumeci, National Institute of Structured Matter, Catania
University, Sicily, Italy.
Dr. Vandana Shiva, Research Foundation of Science and Ecology, India
Prof. Terje Traavik, Institute of Gene Ecology, Tromso, Norway
Mae-Wan Ho (CV), Director of ISIS, gained her B.Sc. in Biology and Ph. D. in
Biochemistry from Hong Kong University and began postdoctoral research in human
biochemical genetics in University of California at San Diego. She soon won a
competitive Fellowship of the National Genetics Foundation, USA, which enabled
her to further her research in London University. She became Lecturer in
Genetics, then Reader in Biology, and currently Senior Research Fellow at the
Open University, UK, where she has continued an outstanding career in research
and teaching across many disciplines, including molecular genetics. She is
well-known as a leading exponent of a new science of the organism which has
implications for holistic health and sustainable systems, and is currently
visiting Professor of Biophysics in University of Catania, Sicily. She became
scientific advisor to the Third World Network in 1994, and co-founded the
Institute of Science and Society with her husband and long time collaborator,
Prof. Peter Saunders of Kings College, London who shares her concerns
about social accountability of science and science for sustainability. Her
written materials on genetic engineering and related issues (including a
best-selling book) have been translated into many languages; and have been used
by public interest organizations all over the world in submissions to their
governments and posted on many websites. She has participated in numerous
debates, lectures, and interviews for radio, TV, newspapers and magazines in
more than 20 countries around the world. She has over 200 publications
including 10 books.
Peter Timothy Saunders, co-founder of ISIS, obtained his first degree in
Mathematics in the University of Toronto, Canada, and his Ph.D. in Relativity
and Cosmology in Kings College, London, where he is now Professor of
Applied Mathematics. He has more than 35 years experience in teaching and
scientific research, and is a world authority on complex dynamical systems,
with key contributions to Gaia theory and physiological regulation. He has
supported many of ISIS activities since the Institute was founded. As
Council member of Save British Science and Editor of its Newsletter, he
has introduced the debate on the commercialization of science into the
mainstream. He chairs the Education Committee of the London Mathematical
Society (the national mathematical society in the UK), of which he was
previously a Council member for six years. He is also member of the Councils of
European Mathematical Society, of the Executive Committees of the Joint
Mathematical Council of the UK and of the UK Parliamentary and Scientific
Committee. He has more than 90 publications including 4 books.