15 August 2005,
José Maurício Bustani,
32 Green Street,
I am writing on behalf of the Independent Science Panel (ISP) to urge the Brazilian government to stop growing GM soya and indeed, any other GM crop, in Brazil. The soya in Brazil is intended for the European, Chinese and other markets, mainly as animal feed. But there is stiff consumer opposition in Europe and growing rejection around the world on account of serious concerns over the safety of GM food and feed.
The ISP, launched 10 May 2003 at a public conference in London, UK, consists of dozens of prominent scientists from 11 countries spanning the disciplines of agroecology, agronomy, biomathematics, botany, chemical medicine, ecology, epidemiology, histopathology, microbial ecology, molecular genetics, nutritional biochemistry, physiology, toxicology and virology ( http://www.i-sis.org.uk/isp/ISPMembers.php ).
As their contribution to the global GM debate, the ISP reviewed the evidence on the hazards and problems of GM crops as well as the proven successes of sustainable agriculture, and published its report in June 2003 .
The key findings of the ISP report on GM crops are as follows:
Regulations over the releases of GM crops and products have been highly inadequate.
There has not been a single credible independent scientific study showing that GM food and feed are safe to eat.
Few feeding studies have been carried out, but existing evidence raises serious doubts over the safety of the transgenic process itself.
GM varieties are unstable; and this may enhance the horizontal spread of transgenes, with the potential to create new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases, and to disrupt gene function in animal and human cells.
Many GM crops contain gene products known to be harmful: Bt proteins incorporated into a wide range of GM crops to control insect pests are known to be strong immunogens and allergens.
Herbicide tolerant GM crops - accounting for 75% of all GM crops worldwide - are tied to the broad-spectrum herbicides glyphosate and glufosinate ammonium , and will likely increase their use. Both herbicides are systemic metabolic poisons linked to spontaneous abortions, birth defects and other toxicities for human beings and laboratory animals, and also harmful to wild life and beneficial organisms in the soil.
GM crops have resulted in no benefits to the environment. There has been no reduction in the use of pesticides, while herbicide tolerant weeds and volunteers have emerged, and highly toxic herbicides have had to be brought back in use.
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 two 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.
Many also share the ISP scientists' concern about the accelerating destruction of the Amazon rainforest to make way for soya cultivation, as the integrity of the Amazon rainforests is widely acknowledged to be crucial for stabilizing global climate and rainfall patterns, and hence mitigating global warming [17, 18].
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. This is all the more urgent as water and oil - on which industrial monoculture, and even more so, GM agriculture are heavily dependent - are both rapidly depleting.
We urge you to convey a strong message to President Lula to reverse the decision to allow cultivation of GM soya. Instead every effort should be made to support reforestation of existing soya plantations for sustainable, small-scale agro-forestry that can truly provide food security for all .
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho,
Member of ISP,
Director, Institute of Science in Society,
PO Box 32097,
Freese W and Schubert D. Safety testing and regulation of genetically engineered foods. Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews 2004, 21, 299-324.
Collonier C, Berthier G, Boyer F, Duplan M-N, Fernandez S, Kebdani N, Kobilinsky A, Romanuk M, Bertheau Y. Characterization of commercial GMO inserts: a source of useful material to study genome fluidity. Poster presented at ICPMB: International Congress for Plant Molecular Biology (n°VII), Barcelona, 23-28th June 2003. Poster courtesy of Pr. Gilles-Eric Seralini, Président du Conseil Scientifique du CRII-GEN, www.crii-gen.org
Kleter GA and Peijnenburg Ad ACM. Screening of transgenic proteins expressed in transgenic food crops for the presence of short amino acid sequences identical to potential, IgE-binding linear epitopes of allergens. BMC Structural Biology 2002, 2:8 http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6807/2/8
Fiers MWEJ, Kleter GA, Nijland H, Peijnenburg Ad ACM, Nap JP and van Ham R CHJ. Allermatch TM, a webtool for the prediction of potential allergenicity according to current FAO/WHO Codex alimentarius guidelines. BMC Bioinformatics 2004, 5:133 http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2105/5/133
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Richard S, Moslemi S, Sipahutar H, Benachour N and Seralini G-E. Differential effects of glyphosate and Roundup on human placental cells and aromatases
Benbrook CM. Genetically engineered crops and pesticide use in the United States: The first nine years. Northwest Science and Technology Centre, Sandpoint, Idaho. 25 Oct 2004. http:/www.biotech-info.net/highlights.html#technical_papers.