Science in Society Archive

Science in Society #20 - Autumn/Winter 2003

The only radical science magazine on Earth

Science in Society 20 cover


From the Editor
Science rules against GM
Winning the GM Debate
GM Crops Harm Wildlife
Lead Us Not into GM
"Cynical & Dishonest Science" in GM Maize Trials
World Against GM
GM Crops Irrelevant for Africa
Argentina’s GM Woes
Dutch Precaution Keeps Bt Crops At Bay
The Fall & Fall of GM Giant Monsanto
Farmers Want Review of Publicly Funded Science
Life of Gaia
Back to the Future for Gaia
Abrupt Climate Change Happening
Why Gaia Needs Rainforests
How Iraq Benefits US Oil Companies
Soya Destroying Amazon
Global Warming & then the Big Freeze
Why the United States Needs the Amazon
Bush Vulnerable to Climate Change
More CO2 Could Mean Less Biodiversity & Worse
Biosafety Alerts
No Bt Resistance?
Transgenic Lines Proven Unstable
Transgenic Trees Spread Mercury Poisoning
ISP News
Independent Science Panel Rejects Conclusions of GM Science Review
Rethinking Health
Diet Trumping Genes
European Directive against Vitamins & Minerals
Nobel Geneticist Spurns Gene Drugs & DNA Biobanks
Reproductive Health
What’s Wrong with Assisted Reproductive Technologies?
Eating for Two – Badly
No Place for Birth
Patients are "Guinea Pigs" for New IVF Treatments
WTO Cancún Ministerial
Lest We Forget
Behind the Collapse of the Ministerial
SiS Review
Architect of Life

From the Editor

Science rules against GM

The GM debate ended with a resounding "no" to GM crops on the weight of scientific evidence. Much of the damning evidence is detailed in the widely circulated report, The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World, compiled by an Independent Science Panel of 24 scientists from 7 countries. It has now received ample corroboration from surprising sources.

The long awaited results of the UK Government’s three-year Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs), released October 16, showed two of the three GM crops were harmful to wildlife. The third appeared to do better only because the conventional crop was sprayed with a deadly pesticide atrazine that Europe had banned a week earlier. These findings are highly significant, if only because the FSEs were intentionally restricted in scope, and biased in methodology.

Most culpable, perhaps, is the failure to monitor the stability of the GM crops. For years, I have challenged the scientific advisory committees on this issue, only to be met with persistent denial and personal attacks.

Two laboratories in France have recently produced clear evidence that five out of five commercially approved GM crops were unstable. This invalidates any safety testing done on the GM crops, and raises continuing safety concerns as the crops are grown in the field. It is indeed the process of genetic modification itself that is unsafe.

In the light of all the evidence, the pro-GM scientists advising our governments ought to be publicly humiliated at the very least, for having abused science and public trust.

Instead of which, they are among the hundred or so who have the temerity to write to Tony Blair blaming their defeat on "anti-GM groups" "hi-jacked meetings" and on "misleading" reports in the press.

Interviewed on the BBC, one of them, Derek Burke said he wanted "arguments based on evidence" instead of "opinion". He should be reprimanding himself and his cosignatories on that very point. And how dare he and Chris Leaver presume to speak on behalf of the "scientific community"? Many scientists do not share their pro-GM stance, and molecular geneticists are but a minute minority of all scientists.

If the scientific community is disaffected, as they claim, it is because scientists like them are unashamedly pushing the corporate agenda, and compromising all the traditional standards of good science.

The corporations are deserting biotech research as a financial dead-end. Monsanto is decamping from Europe as losses mount and its downward slide in the stock market continues.

More importantly, genetic modification has been discredited, and is a scientific dead-end. It would be a sin for Tony Blair to allow GM crops to be grown in Britain. It would be adding insult and injury to the scientific community and the public by continuing to support this line of research at the expense of many other infinitely more deserving, socially promising and financially rewarding approaches.

GM crops bad for developing countries

If the effects of GM crops for Canada and the US are bad enough, they have the potential to be far worse for developing countries. Third World governments should be wary as the biotech giants, forced out of Europe, are aggressively targeting their countries. Scientists in Argentina, the third largest grower of GM crops, are just now discovering the devastating impacts of GM crops on the health of their children and on their agricultural and natural biodiversity.

A detailed study on flagship projects of corporate giants in African countries, meanwhile, has pronounced GM crops "irrelevant" for the continent. All the GM projects showcased by the industry as huge successes for small-scale African farmers in fact yield much less benefit than can be obtained with either conventional breeding or agroecology-based techniques, and for just a tiny fraction of the investment in research.

Environment trumping genes

Another sign that biotech research is going nowhere comes from Nobel Laureate genome sequencer Sydney Brenner, who has recently called for a new appraisal of public healthcare instead of going in the direction of the human genome banks and personalised medicines. There are good reasons for Brenner and other scientists to break rank with the pro-GM brigade.

Diet is found to affect genetic imprinting, a developing process in which genes are marked to become silent, resulting in immediate and longer-term health impacts on the unborn. The malnutrition of teenage mothers with too little to spend on food is a potential time bomb for the already overstretched public health service.

On the bright side, while inadequate diet can compromise the health of the unborn and cause them to become obese as adults, appropriate dietary supplements may reverse the damage. Obese mice given dietary supplements were found to give birth to lean, healthy offspring.

Another unexpected burden on public health is coming from assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization, which are linked to a range of birth defects, developmental abnormalities and ectopic pregnancies. Some of the birth defects appear to be due to stresses experienced by manipulated germ cells and embryos, and are similar to those resulting from poor diet.

The trend towards turning birth into a medical procedure is also compromising the health of both mother and infant. It is significant that where measures have been taken to reverse this trend, as in the Netherlands, practically all the health indicators have improved.

Dutch precaution keeps Bt crops at bay

The Dutch have the reputation of being the most sensible among Europeans, and their precautionary safety assessment of GM crops containing the biopesticide Bt is exemplary. Questions are raised about the effects of Bt crops on the entire food web, and special consideration is given to the much smaller size of fields in the Netherlands compared to those in the United States.

The contrast between safety assessment in the United States and the Netherlands is like night and day. And still, false reassurances are being handed out on the lack of Bt-resistance evolving in insect pests.

Life of Gaia

We continue to bring exciting new developments in the on-going paradigm change in science. SiS review introduces the work of remarkable architect Chris Alexander who spent a life-time in quest of beautiful architecture, and comes up with the surprising finding that all nature is alive, even "empty space" itself.

This brings us to the star mini-series, Life of Gaia, dedicated to our planet earth, who is indeed alive, so we may better appreciate how she lives and sustains all creatures large and small, that we may learn to dance to the complex rhythms of her life music without stopping her in her tracks.

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