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Announcing a new Report from ISIS. The most complete up-to-date summary of the dangers of GM agriculture in 52 pages. Buy Now, or download here
Thank you for inviting me here. I am Director of the Institute of Science
in Society (ISIS). Our mission is to provide accessible and critical scientific
information to the public and policy makers on a wide range of topics, genetic
engineering, climate change, renewable energies, sustainable agriculture,
and so on, in a bid to reclaim science for the public good, which is very
important as corporations are increasingly monopolising not just seeds and
food but scientific knowledge  (Corporate
Monopoly of ScienceSiS 42). The ‘public’ includes also scientists
trying to understand work done in other disciplines, which is not easy. We
are fortunate to have scientists, Peter Saunders and myself, and Joe Cummins,
who are polymaths to varying degrees. The ISIS website www.i-sis.org.uk contains many useful resources,
and we publish a colourful, beautifully illustrated quarterly magazine,
Science in Society.
I first spoke out against GMOs in 1994, when the Third World
Network (TWN) (www.twnside.org.sg) asked me to advice on
genetic engineering. It was a desperate situation when almost everyone who
knew anything about genetic engineering was involved in exploiting it commercially,
and safety was simply not an issue. Worse yet, scientists who spoke up for
it were vilified and victimised. I want to pay special tribute to Arpad Pusztai,
who is in hospital recovering from a stroke. It was Arpad who really alerted
the public to the potential hazards of GMOs by telling them the truth about
Very soon after working with TWN, I realised that the lack of
independent, reliable, and accessible scientific information was much larger
than just genetic engineering. That was why my husband Peter Saunders and
I co-founded ISIS in 1999. Reliable and independent scientific information
is crucial for democracy, not just for food, but right across the board for
health, energy, and decisions on science policies that affect our everyday
life and that of our children and grandchildren.
The return of Golden Rice
I want to use Golden Rice as the jump off point to talk about the hazards
of GMOs, because Golden Rice is presented as the flagship product of the industry,
the beneficent, ethical and acceptable face of GMOs; its hazards, therefore,
are all the more insidious and dangerous.
Golden Rice was created 10 years ago as a public relations exercise
for the biotech industry that was failing to convince people to accept GMOs.
Ingo Potrykus appeared on the cover of Time magazine (7 August 2000),
with the headline: “This Rice could save a million kids a year” (from blindness
due to vitamin A deficiency). The rice was genetically engineered to produce
pro-vitamin A or b-carotene. The ploy was thoroughly exposed
in our ISIS report  (see The
'Golden Rice', An Exercise in How Not to Do Science, ISIS Report),
by Greenpeace, and others. But Golden Rice did not go away.
Last year, it staged a come back with a special feature in
Science journal , “Tough lessons from Golden Rice”. And it transpired
that Tufts University in Boston, United States, has been carrying out ‘clinical
trials’ of Golden Rice on children. More than 30 senior scientists and academics
signed an open letter condemning the work  (Scientists
Protest Unethical Clinical Trials of GM Golden Rice). The trials
were in breach of the Nuremberg Code of Ethics brought in at the end of the
Second World War to prevent repetition of experiments conducted by Nazi scientists
including many on children.
Clinical trials on children expose the inadequacies of the regulatory regime
Of the three clinical studies listed on the US clinical Trials website, two
involved children 6-10 years old, to compare the vitamin A value of the
b-carotene in oil capsule, spinach and Golden Rice. The third was on
6 adults 40-70 years of age. These trials were carried out at different times
between 2004 and 2009. None registered any results whatsoever. Although WHO
succeeded in making it mandatory to register clinical trials, that did not
extend to reporting the results.
What’s more, the Golden Rice in the trials (GR2) was not one
identifiable variety. Instead, it was an experimental collection of
transgenic events still in the laboratory  (The
Golden Rice Scandal Unfolds, SiS 42), not characterised in terms
of basic molecular genetics or biological and biochemical properties, not
tested pre-clinically on animals, or subjected to any other safety assessment.
That they have been approved for clinical trails on the most
vulnerable shows just how inadequate the regulation of GMOs is in the United
States, and any other country that follows that same model. The Americans
not only depend on the biotech companies to do safety assessment, and regulation
is entirely voluntary. They also routinely waive even that on grounds that
the GMO is “generally regarded as safe” or GRAS for short.
In the case of so-called nutritionally enhanced plants such as
Golden Rice, it will most likely have no requirement for safety testing at
all, as Dave Schubert at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La
Jolla California, points out . And that in itself raises serious safety
The registered clinical trials were not the only ones. The Golden
Rice Project website  (accessed 21 April 2009), which claims unjustifiably
that “Golden Rice has been researched thoroughly”, lists 9 tests that included
tests for b-carotene bioavailability and bioconversion
to retinol with deuterium-labelled Golden Rice fed to adults in USA and a
small group of children in China; also feeding trials with human adults in
China to measure the effect of fat in the diet on bioconversion and bioavailability.
Again, no results were posted.
Golden Rice was never ready for commercial approval
Although Golden Rice was created by Ingo Potrykus at the Institute of Plant
Sciences in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Peter Beyer at the
University of Freiburg some ten years ago , it has remained in the lab
since. Speaking to Science journal in April 2008 , Potrykus bitterly
blamed “2 decades of fear-mongering by organizations such as Greenpeace” that
has created a regulatory climate so burdensome that only big companies can
afford to get any GM products approved. Closer to the truth may be that the
product was never ready for commercial approval.
According to a recent report commissioned by foodwatch in Germany
, a sample of the Golden Rice grains was sent to Germany in 2001 for a
feeding trial with mice. But when the grains were tested for carotenoid content,
the scientists were “surprised to find it contained less than one percent
of the amount expected.” After cooking, this was reduced by another 50 percent,
so the trial was abandoned.
In 2005, Syngenta made GR2  using the maize version of the
enzyme phytoene synthase that was transferred from daffodil
in the original GR1. GR2 produced up to 23 times the amount of carotenoids
But GR2 was not a transgenic variety based on a single
transformation event. On the contrary, it was explicitly stated that :
“The reported transgenic rice events [emphasis added] are experimental.”
There is no telling whether all the children or adults taking part in any
of the trials were given Golden Rice from the same GR2 event. The technology
is so uncontrollable that each event from a single experiment using the same
materials will result in a completely different variety with unpredictable
properties (which is why Europe requires ‘event specific characterisation’).
The results of the clinical trials, as yet undisclosed, could well be utterly
A GM Trojan Horse in the guise of a Humanitarian Project
Syngenta had donated the GR2 events, via the Humanitarian Project for Golden
Rice, for further research and development (to institutes across China, India,
Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam) “through license under certain
conditions”, such as “being governed by the strategic direction of the Golden
Rice Humanitarian Board”, which as it turns out, includes clinical trials
on children. Requests were to be directed to Adrian Dubock, a previous employee
Dubock helped Potrykus and Beyer work out a deal in which Syngenta
could develop Golden Rice commercially, but farmers in developing countries
who made less tha US$10 000 could get it for free. Dubock retired from Syngenta
in 2007, but remains a member of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, chaired
Golden Rice has all the trappings of a Trojan Horse to get GM
rice widely to Third World countries. It is being hybridised with local varieties
, in a bid to contaminate and jeopardize the major rice producers and consumers
of the world, which include the poorest, most vulnerable nations.
Golden Rice, an exercise in how not to do science
Golden Rice had already cost US$100 million in public money, and was tied
up in at least 70 patent on genes, sequences, and constructs; a problem only
partly solved in the “ground-breaking deal” worked out by Dubock (see above)..
As pointed out then and now, there are infinitely cheaper sources
of vitamin A or pro-Vitamin A such as carrots and certain green vegetables,
which would be rich in other essential vitamins and minerals, and hence much
more nutritious [2, 6, 11].
The main cause of hunger and malnutrition in the Third World is the industrial
monoculture of the Green Revolution, which obliterated agricultural biodiversity
and soil fertility, resulting in ever-worsening mineral and micronutrient deficiencies
in our food. Golden Rice, like other GM crops being promoted in the so-called
“Doubly Green Revolution” is industrial monoculture, only worse, and will exacerbate
this trend  (see Beware the New "Doubly
Green Revolution", SiS 37).
GR1 was made with the standard ‘first generation’ genetic modification
techniques, using GM constructs that cause uncontrollable mutations and other
collateral damage to the host plant genome, with many unintended, uncharacterized
effects . In addition, the viral and bacterial sequences, including antibiotic
resistance marker genes, in the construct and in the vectors created for gene
transfer enhance horizontal gene transfer and recombination, the main route
to creating new pathogens and spreading antibiotic resistance.
GR2 represents an improvement in so far as antibiotic resistance
markers were no longer used, but still includes a medley combination of sequences
from plant pathogens Agrobacterium (used in a binary vector system)
and Erwinia uredovor, and from E. coli, inhabitant of the human
gut, which also contains pathogenic strains. I have highlighted the special
hazards of the Agrobacterium vector system since 2003  (Agrobacterium &
Morgellons Disease, A GM Connection?, SiS 38) (more later)
A detailed audit on the project , and I think this should be done for all
scientific projects, uncovered fundamental flaws from the scientific and social
rationale to the science and technology involved. The situation has changed
The phase II clinical trials of uncharacterized, unapproved,
experimental GR2 events on children, some of whom may indeed be suffering
from vitamin A deficiency, is morally inexcusable. GR2 has not been assessed
for safety, and there are reasons to suspect it is unsafe.
GMO safety in question
The biotech industry has consistently found genetically modified food and
feed ‘as safe as their conventional counterparts’, and regulators in the United
States and European Union have accepted this assertion overwhelmingly based
on studies carried out and interpreted by the industry  (GM Food Nightmare
Unfolding in the Regulatory Sham, ISIS scientific publication).The situation
is that whenever and wherever feeding trials are carried out independently
of the biotech industry, health impacts are found. And this applies to re-analysis
of the raw data in experiments carried out by the biotech industry, as Giles-Eric
Seralini has highlighted in his talk.
ISIS called for a moratorium in 1999 and in 2003, a global ban
on environmental releases and a comprehensive shift to non-GM sustainable
agriculture  (The Case for A GM-Free Sustainable World, Independent Science Panel Report, ISIS Publication).
There is indeed a string
of evidence that exposure of many species of animals to a variety of genetically
modified crops, and food and feed derived from them, can cause illnesses,
sterility and death, raising the distinct possibility that genetic modification
is inherently dangerous  (GM is Dangerous and Futile,
SiS 40). We have accumulated a big dossier of the problems and hazards
of GMOs, including socioeconomic impacts  GM Science Exposed: Hazards Ignored, Fraud, Regulatory Sham, Violation of Farmers
Rights (ISIS CD book). This is reinforced
in results obtained in the most recent studies.
The Austrian government commissioned long term studies showing
that mice fed GM maize hybrid (NK603xMON810) with combined glyphosate tolerance
and biopesticide Cry1Ab produced fewer and smaller litters with many genes
affected compared to controls  (GM Maize Reduces
Fertility & Deregulates Genes in Mice, SiS 41). At the same
time, the Italian National Institute of Research published a study showing
that GM maize MON810 fed to mice produced disturbances in the immune system
of the young and the old  (GM Maize Disturbs
Immune System of Young and Old Mice, SiS 41). In India, the first
independent assessment carried out by Giles-Eric Seralini of CRIIGEN (France)
of the feeding study submitted by Monsanto and its subsidiary Mahyco to the
Indian regulatory authorities showed that Bt Brinjal (aubergine) caused many
changes in several species of animals including diarrhoea, increased water
consumption and decreased liver weight in rats  (Bt Brinjal Unfit for Human
Consumption, SiS 41)
There are several reasons why genetic modification is inherently
hazardous, as spelt out in my book  (Genetic
Engineering: Dream or Nightmare?) first published more than ten years
ago, and unfortunately, still not taken on board by the regulatory authorities,
let alone systematically investigated, though many of the predictions have
come to pass.
I mentioned that the dangers might come from the transgenic protein
itself, as subsequently shown when a harmless protein transferred from bean
to pea caused severe inflammation in the lungs of mice and generalised food
sensitivity  (Transgenic Pea that Made Mice Ill,
SiS 29). I stressed the toxicity of herbicides; and indeed, glyphosate
to which more than 80 percent of GM crops now grown globally are made tolerant
, has since been found to be highly toxic to human placenta and embryonic
cells (Death by Multiple Poisoning,
Glyphosate and Roundup, SiS 42). I drew attention to totally unexpected,
unintended effects resulting from the mutagenic insertion of foreign DNA into
the genome, and worse, the instability of transgenic lines, which makes proper
safety assessment well nigh impossible  (Transgenic Lines Unstable
hence Illegal and Ineligible for Protection, SiS 38). By the way,
this is also the best challenge to patents on life, as there is no scientific
basis for patent protection whatsoever.
Transgenic lines are unstable, basically because the constructs
are artificial combinations of sequences that never existed in billions of
years of evolution with extra weak joints (recombination hotspots). The constructs
are equipped with sticky ends (also recombination hotspots) designed to invade
genomes. They insert randomly, though much more likely into regions with active
genes, causing major disruption. Once inserted, they may not stay put, but
can rearrange, jump to another location in the host genome, or else into the
genome of a cell from a different species (see  Living
with the Fluid Genome, ISIS publication).
One major hazard inherent to GM organisms (GMOs) that I have
highlighted is enhanced horizontal gene transfer and recombination , and
this has been corroborated (Horizontal Gene Transfer
from GMOs Does Happen, SiS 39). Horizontal gene transfer is considerably
worse with transgenic plants like Golden Rice (both GR1 and GR2) that have
been created using the Agrobacterium binary vector system, basically
because the Agrobacterium bacteria as well as the binary vector tend
to persist in the transgenic plants, providing a ready vehicle for further
horizontal gene transfer to all species that interact with the transgenic
plant material, including human cells. This was known for a long time,
in research commissioned by the British government, but has been swept under
the carpet. I have tried to chase up the sequel with the Department for the
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) without success. Agrobacterium
is known to share regulatory factors required for conjugation (gene exchange)
between bacteria; and to invade human cells. In general, horizontal transfer
of transgenic DNA facilitates the creation of new pathogens. Horizontal transfer
of transgenic DNA into human cells has the potential to cause harmful mutations
including cancer. The identification of Agrobacterium sequences in
patients with Morgellons’ Disease raises questions as to whether the widespread
use of Agrobacterium vectors in genetic modification has resulted in
creating a new pathogen for humans . We have sent our report to the Centers
for Disease Control in the United States, which had announced it would investigate
the cause of Morgellons Disease after years of denying it exists.
Golden Rice particularly dangerous
A good, health-promoting diet requires a balance of different nutrients as
well as vitamins and minerals. The unbalanced enhancement of single nutrients,
as in ‘nutritionally enhanced’ GM crops may do more harm than good  (GM Crops and Microbes for Health or
Public Health Hazards? SiS 32). As David Schubert points out ,
plant enzymes have very low substrate specificity, which are unpredictably
altered by mutations and gene interaction effects associated with GM technology.
One metabolite of b-carotene enhanced
in Golden Rice is retinoic acid (RA). RA is biologically active at very low
concentrations. Schubert states that  “excess RA or RA derivatives are
exceedingly dangerous, particularly to infants and during pregnancy.”
Six hundred naturally occurring compounds exist in the carotene
family, and at least 60 can be precursors to retinoids. While all retinoids
and derivatives are likely to be teratogenic, only three: retinol, RA, and
retinal are sufficiently known and can be measured. Therefore, at the very
least , “extensive safety testing should be required before the introduction
of golden rice as a food.”
GM science is obsolete, we need organic localised agriculture & food systems
We should ban the environmental releases of GMOs decisively now. The greatest
danger from GMOs is that genetic modification was inspired by the old genetic
determinist paradigm, already superseded by the
new genetics of the fluid genome  almost as soon as genetic modification
began in the late 1970s. And there have been plenty of indications that the
technology simply does not work well, apart from anything else.
In March this year, South African farmers suffered massive losses
when 82 000 ha of GM maize failed to produce hardly any seeds (MON810, Nk603
and hybrids thereof). , possibly the result of genome instability that
continues to dog transgenic varieties . Not only have GM crops failed,
at times catastrophically. They are not safe, and the harm is not restricted
to a single generation.
Geneticists are documenting how toxic substances affect not just
the individuals exposed, but also their children and children’s children 
- What Genes Remember, SiS 41), basically because the substances
mark and determine how certain genes are expressed, and the effects become
inherited  (Epigenetic
Toxicology, SiS 41). That’s why risk assessment of GMOs and other
xenobiotics have to be carried out over three or four generations. Decades
of sequencing and dissecting the human genome have confirmed that the real
causes of ill health are environmental and social  (From Genomics to
Epigenomics, SiS 41). It is not the genetic messages encoded in
genomic DNA, but environmentally induced epigenetic modifications that overwhelmingly
determine people’s health and wellbeing. Early nutrition and parental care
play a large role  (Caring
Mothers Strike Fatal Blow against Genetic Determinism, SiS 41)
in an individual’s physical and mental health.
Europe’s agricultural policies must support and promote organic,
localised and biodiverse agriculture that is the most effective way to deliver
health, wealth, and happiness to the world’s nations, as shown in the ISIS
report  Food Futures Now: *Organic *Sustainable
*Fossil Fuel Free.
Pete Brenton, Comment left 29th April 2009 18:06:19 This makes depressing reading.The 'regulatory' bodies who still do not take advise and experimental findings presented to them seriously should be forced to take responsibility and do their job properly. I visit several local food establishments regularly and find nearly all use GM oils while the council do little or nothing to enforce at least a current EU labelling legislation to inform customers during their 'safety' spot checks.. GM animal feed also thrives and seems to be on the increase in supermarkets who , use any excuse not to take action,or inform the customer. Someone needs to come up with a concerted plan of action quick!
susan rigali Comment left 29th April 2009 21:09:17 Statement from the World Food Program "When world leaders gathered six times over the past two years to discuss how to grapple with pandemic disease – like the one we may be facing now – the same issue was raised by every single delegation: safe and reliable access to food." It seems that six times is not enough to come to any conclusion? Yet corporations set a mandate some thirty years ago that laid claim to answering what WHO,WFP,WTO and CDC are still grappling over. Systematic failure on a global scale. Policies from our leaders only go as far as the depths of their pockets. I am sorry for the harm brought to many from these greedy corporations and our puppet government that props them up.
Rory Short Comment left 29th April 2009 21:09:44 GMO's are a classic example of science being mis-used for one purpose and one purpose only, that is to feed human greed for money. There was no other reason for GMO's to be foisted on the public that I am aware of.
Texas Consumer against GMO. Comment left 30th April 2009 07:07:24 HOW DO WE STOP MONSANTO FROM GETTING FDA APPROVAL ON GMO FOODS? THE LARGEST GROCERY FIRM IN THE STATE OF TEXAS IS "HEB". THEY DO NOT SELL ANY BEEF THAT HAS ANY TYPE OF ADDITIVES TO IT. IF WE CAN SUPPLY THE OWNER WITH APPROPRIATE INFORMATION ON THE HAZARDS I BELIEVE WE COULD GET THEM TO CONTACT OUR TEXAS CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVES TO EXERT SOME PRESSURE AGAINST THE APPROVAL OF WHAT MONSANTO IS TRYING TO. I AM ONE OF THE FOLKS AFFECTED BY WHAT HAS BEEN DONE WITH GMO CROPS. COULD YOU TELL ME WHERE THEY ARE CURRENTLY TESTING FOR AGROBACTERIUM SINCE DR.CITOVSKY WAS PRESSURED TO DISCONTINUE THEIR ANALYSIS?
amicus curiae Comment left 30th April 2009 07:07:49 Brilliant and helpful collection. I also am questioning the Legality?? of Patent rights, when the patented plants appear to Loose Traits by 3rd or 4th generation. This, to me, shows the plants are NOT stable, at all, and therefore should be removed from sale immediately. No data on changes has, or will be? published by the Big Gm corps. and I suggest, with good reason, as they are possibly a LOT more unstable, and therefore harmful than anyone has guessed, even in the early releases.
Maewan ho Comment left 30th April 2009 07:07:59 In answer to Texas consumer against GMO, they are not required to test for Agrobacterium. I did not know that Citovsky was pressured to discontinue their analysis. It will be up to us to put pressure on our regulators to test for Agrobacterium properly now.
Jonathan Bell Comment left 30th April 2009 11:11:33 Your embargo on distributing this information renders the whole exercise unworkable and, to all intents and purposes, worthless.
Mae-Wan Ho Comment left 30th April 2009 11:11:12 In reply to Jonathan Bell, we have definitely never forbidden people to distribute our reports. We simply want people to give the correct URL and to preserve the links to our website. This is just normal, courteous practice!
Carmelo D Verdan Comment left 30th April 2009 12:12:03 All you said in your lecture are true. That"s why there are diseases occurring now a day are due to this gmo plants that we are feeding the animals and human.This big corporation are greedy.I myself is practicing zero pesticide agriculture.
Erica Gray Comment left 30th April 2009 12:12:22 I sure hope we can get a lot of Americans to voice their opinions on the extended public comment period on genetically engineered crops/foods.
Go to gov regulations,then type in APHIS 2008-0023
Robyn Williamson Comment left 1st May 2009 07:07:55 The Seed Savers Network has recently produced a 57 minute film "Our Seeds ... seeds blong yumi" that documents the extent to which agribusiness has penetrated the Pacific Islands and many remote villages throughout the world with dire consequences for the health and well-being of diverse, once-thriving indigenous cultures. Traditional foods are disappearing and the landscape is being littered with the packaging of long-life, pseudo-food products that have little nutritional value, are not produced locally and are touted as "food aid". A trailer of the film can be seen at www.seedsavers.net
The question remains of what can be done about "agency capture" and other dodgy strategies employed by the multinationals to shore up their intended monopoly. Here in Australia our local intellectual property and other laws are being undermined by a Free Trade Agreement with the US that was negotiated by a previous government. Despite peaceful protests our current government also appears to be ignoring the will of the people to remain GM-free because they are already locked in to legally binding contractual obligations.