From the Editor
Get involved in the GM science debate!
The debate over the commercial growing of GM crops in Britain is happening as summer temperatures soar to record highs in Europe and other parts of the world.
There is no longer any doubt within the scientific community that climate change is well on its way. By now, however, the effects are very difficult to reverse. New evidence suggests it will be more abrupt and substantial than previously thought.
With GM crops, there is still time to reverse and prevent serious damages to health and the environment. A comprehensive shift now to non-GM sustainable agriculture, especially agroecology practiced by non-corporate family farmers (see "Agroecology rescues organic farming"), will benefit health and the environment and ameliorate climate change by reducing consumption of fossil fuel from industrial agriculture, which GM crops epitomise. Some 75% of current GM crops depend on industrial herbicides sold as a package with the crops; and at least half the total energy consumed is spent on manufacturing herbicides and pesticides.
Despite the tens of millions of hectares already planted with GM crops that accounts for just 5% of the worlds agriculture land - as pointed out by The Economist - still confined largely to the United States, which has 66% of all GM hectares. Argentina comes a distant second with 23%, Canada 6% and China 4%.
The bad news is that transgene contamination has spread worldwide, which is the most convincing evidence that there can be no co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture. But that is nothing compared to the spread of dirty science.
The GM Science Review is perhaps the most important of the three-pronged consultation that includes an economic review and a national debate, but it is also the most controversial. Its Review Panel is dominated by industry, with Monsanto drafting the report on GM safety. On the eve of the release of its report, one panel member said he has resigned weeks earlier, unhappy with pressures on him to toe the pro-biotech line, and another panel member revealed a top establishment scientist has attempted to undermine his research funding and career.
The good news is that the real scientific concerns have been widely taken up, and by no less than ex UK environment minister Michael Meacher, who came to the launch conference of the Independent Science Panel (ISP) on GM in May, shortly before he was sacked from his job.
The ISP is a group of prominent independent scientists who found it necessary to join forces to inform the public of the scientific evidence of hazards inherent to the GM technology, as well as the proven successes and benefits of diverse forms of non-GM sustainable agriculture, so that civil society as a whole can make a rational choice for the future of our food and agriculture. And they are helping to make waves.
Resistance to GM is spreading like wildfire across the world. Farmers, mothers, independent scientists and many other ordinary people have taken up arms against GM crops. Getting the science right is so important that you cannot leave it to the scientists. It is time to take matters into your own hands. Make an effort to understand the scientific debate and this issue of SIS gives you plenty of help. If you need more, see FAQs on genetic engineering on ISIS website.
More Science & Precaution
Unless we take science seriously and adopt a precautionary approach in line with good science, we will end up ignoring all the early warnings of hazards, as we had, on just about any and every great technology that plagues our planet today. Thats the message of a landmark publication from the European Environment Agency (SiS review). The time lag between the first scientific evidence suggestive of hazards to the final ban could be a hundred years or more, with monumental costs in human lives, environmental damage as well as in economic monetary terms.
Yet, tens of thousands of industrial chemicals are still released into our environment without any safety consideration let alone safety testing; among them hundreds of actual and potential carcinogens, hormone disrupters, neurotoxins, genotoxins and agents causing birth defects. The UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has challenged the government to seriously address the safety of these industrial chemicals in its latest report.
Bio-defence & biohazard
The economic review in UKs public GM consultation presented a bleak future for GM crops, as there is simply no market. The biotech slump has extended to the biomedical applications. Technologies from cloning and gene therapy to xenotransplantion are unravelling, and high profile companies are going bust.
Amid such signs that the much touted biotech century could be ending, bio-defence is the next big business. Bushs ProjectBioShield is pouring billions into creating dozens of bio-defence labs around the country, some located in heavily populated areas in big cities. If theres any doubt that GM could be dangerous, look no further than these high level biological containment labs that handle and genetic engineer the most deadly pathogens. Worse, secrecy surrounds the intended labs; one is refusing to disclose any information, even though full disclosure is required by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines on recombinant DNA research. It is a test case on how much civil society is entitled to know about dangerous research, and ultimately, how much say it has on whether such research should be done.
The mainstay of bio-defence research is developing vaccines, which even the US Department of Defence has acknowledged are not as effective as the facemask.
Health & the fluid genome, and beyond
In my new book, Living with the Fluid Genome, I wrote,
"The responsiveness of genes and genomes to the environment makes clear that the only way to keep genes and genomes constant and healthy is to have a balanced ecology... On the other hand, it is definitely futile to think that we can go on ruining our ecosystem and stay healthy so long as we have good genes...."
New evidence indicates how major chronic diseases, such as Gulf War Syndrome, AIDS, autoimmune diseases and more, could arise from environmental agents that shuffle genomic DNA, and how existing strategies to combat the diseases could make things worse.
This fully exposes the poverty of the health genomics approach that amasses DNA samples and databases in the hope of identifying gene variants predisposing individuals to diseases, and demands dedicated attention instead, to environmental health as well as a shift to minimally interventionist holistic medical practices.
Could homeopathy work? New research indicates that water may retain memory of dissolved substances that have been diluted away.