Science in Society Archive

Dr. Brian John of GM-Free Cymru and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Director of the Institute of Science in Society, both members of the Independent Science Panel on GM launched 10 May 2003, have written a strongly worded letter to Margaret Beckett to challenge the approval of Chardon LL GM maize for Britain. The letter is reproduced below.

19 February 2004

The Rt Hon Margaret Beckett, MP
Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,
Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR

Dear Mrs Beckett,

We are gravely concerned by the leaked Minutes of the Cabinet Office Ministerial Sub-Committee on Biotechnology, which demonstrate that you are about to give approval for the National Seed Listing of Chardon LL.

We respectfully remind you that if you do that you will be failing to exercise the duty of care that you owe to the public, and also failing to act as required by Article 20 of the Deliberate Release Directive (2001/18/EC). This article requires competent authorities (ie your Department) to bring to the attention of the European Commission and other EU countries any new evidence relating to Chardon LL which might involve a likelihood of harm arising from its use. This information should be accompanied by a request for a variation in the conditions attached to the original consent which comes to an end in October 2006.

In this case the "lead" competent authority responsible for the original consent is France. We understand that the FSE research results and the ACRE recommendations have already been submitted to France and the other EU countries, and to the Commission. This is a start, but we urge you as a matter of the highest priority to request a variation in the consent conditions, citing the following crucial scientific evidence:

1. Chardon LL transgenic insert has changed from the structure reported in the company's original dossier, indicating it is unstable, and hence illegal under the current EC directive on the deliberate release of GMOs. Studies by a French scientist also found that the transgenic insert in Chardon LL is in a transposon, which would further increase its instability.(1)

2. Its instability is associated with CaMV 35S promoter, mentioned in the minutes of the European Food Safety Authority plenary meeting 10 December 2003. The EFSA also raises other safety issues that have not been addressed by the UK Government. (2)

3. By common consent, the FSE maize trials did not replicate the likely commercial growing conditions that would apply if Chardon LL is grown in the future. The ACRE assessment of the FSE research results was not a simple "positive assessment." The ACRE opinion was a highly qualified one, with a recommendation that Chardon LL should only be grown in the UK if the herbicide regime is EXACTLY AS IT WAS IN THE FSEs. (3)

4. There was a virtually identical opinion on the FSE research from the GM Science Review Panel chaired by Sir David King, ie that plantings of Chardon LL would be acceptable "IF ALL ELSE REMAINS CONSTANT AND THE CROPS ARE INTRODUCED AND MANAGED IN THE WAY THEY WERE IN THE TRIALS."

5. There are now major concerns about the toxicity of GA (Liberty) herbicide (5). We understand that Sweden is currently conducting a review of the safety of GA on behalf of the other EU countries. In addition, the Danish authorities have discovered dangerously high levels of the herbicides used with GM crops in groundwater where it it not supposed to persist (6).

6. There is published and peer-reviewed information from the USA on the ineffectiveness of Liberty when used on its own with GM maize crops after 2 - 3 years. The problem manifests itself in the development of herbicide resistance by common weeds (7). Bayer has recognized this itself, and has been recommending a Liberty / atrazine mix to US GM-maize farmers since early 2001. (8) (9)

7. We have seen reports of cattle deaths in Germany associated with Syngenta Bt 176 maize (10). This is similar to Chardon LL in that it is unstable as well as nonuniform, and it shares the CaMV 35S promoter responsible for instability. We are also mystified as to the fate of the famous Reading University feeding studies on Chardon LL, years after their results should have been published. (11) 8. Recent reports on cross-pollination involving blue maize and purple maize suggest that there are serious shortcomings in the current DEFRA view that GM maize is unlikely to out-cross significantly beyond a few tens of metres. Cross-pollination and hybridization of conventional maize was identified at a distance of c 5 km from the source crop (12) (13). It is not known at present whether this contamination was above the 0.9% threshold.

There are other scientific concerns also, some of which were analysed in detail during the Chardon LL Hearing. Many of these concerns have not been adequately addressed by ACRE.

Please confirm receipt of this letter, and confirm that you will immediately take the actions required by Article 20 of the Directive.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely, Dr Brian John and Dr Mae-Wan Ho Independent Science Panel

(1) Mae-Wan Ho, Transgenic Lines Proven Unstable, Collonier C. et al., Characterization of commercial GMO inserts: a source of useful material to study genome fluidity.
(2) Mae-Wan Ho, Unstable Transgenic Lines Illegal.
(3) ACRE advice on the implications of the farm-scale evaluations of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops. January 13, 2004, paras 36-40.
(4) see para 24 of the ACRE advice 13 Jan 2004. Also:
(5) Prof Malcolm Hooper "Evidence with special emphasis on the use of GA herbicide", Chardon LL Hearing, May 2002. See also: Josef Hoppichler (Austrian Federal Institute for Less-Favored and Mountainous Areas), "Critical Observations Regarding the Use of Genetic Engineering in Agriculture and Food" Voluntary Report - public distribution Date: 2/2/2004 GAIN Report Number: AU4002 AU4002 Austria Biotechnology Austrian Observations on Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture 2004 Approved by: Robert H. Curtis, U.S. Embassy, Vienna
(6) Analyses of the Danish Pesticide Leaching Assessment Programme found glyphosate and its degradation products in groundwater above the warning concentration of 0.1Y´µg/l. Denmark has thus restricted the application of Roundup. It is reasonable to assume that GA herbicide would have the same effect.
(7) The spread of glufosinate-resistant weeds is a growing problem likely to make the use of Liberty ATZ almost essential in areas where GM maize has been grown for several years. American researchers have documented the emergence since 1996 of heritable glufosinate-resistance in ryegrass,goosegrass, horsetail and waterhemp in areas of high glufosinate (Liberty) use. See this:
(8) The marketing and packaging materials for Liberty ATZ say that it is specifically for use on Bayer Cropscience GM maize. The Aventis Liberty ATZ Data Sheet was printed on 12/03/2001, ie before the commencement of the British FSE maize programme. Therefore it must be concluded that Aventis/Bayer knew prior to 2001 that Liberty would be mixed with ATZ for commercial plantings, but still applied for the use of unmixed Liberty in the FSE trials.
(9) Transcript of BBC 2 - Newsnight - Tuesday 25th June on Atrazine use on GM Maize at: In the Newsnight report, 25th June 2002, agricultural experts revealed that between 75% and 90% of US GM maize growers were using a product called Liberty Atz - a mixture of Aventis' weed killer GA and Atrazine, the traditional herbicide used on maize crops. Atrazine has been a problem pesticide for decades, and washes readily into rivers and groundwater. It is an EU Red List pesticide and is on the EU Priority List for hormone disrupting effects in animals.
(10) The Institute of Science in Society Mae-Wan Ho and Sam Burcher, "Cows ate GM Maize & Died". See also reports in Science and Society that animals avoid GM feed,if given the choice, and if force-fed on GM fodder, fail to thrive.
(11) At the ACRE hearing into T25 in Feb 2002 Prof Phipps of Reading University gave evidence on cattle feeding for Bayer. He said that he and his colleagues had carried out a cattle feeding study using silage from an FSE maize site. The study was complete and being written up for publication in a peer reviewed journal. Since then nothing has been said or appeared, and it is therefore assumed that the results of the study have been so disastrous that they have been withheld from public or peer-review scrutiny.
(12) Letter from Scientists for Global Responsibility to The Rt Hon Margaret Beckett re "New Evidence of Long-Range Pollination by Maize" 5th February 2004. Letter signed by Dr Eva Novotny.
(13) Corn pollen drifts further than thought, 29 Sep 2003 (Iowa State University project examining the distance corn pollen travels to breed neighboring corn surprised researchers).

Dr David King
GM Science Review Panel
Room 472, Office of Science and Technology, 1 Victoria Street, London, SW1H

Prof Christopher Pollock
Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment
ACRE Secretariat, Zone 3/G9, Ashdown House, 123 Victoria Street, London,

Dr Les Firbank
The Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology)
CEH Lancaster, Lancaster Environmental Centre, Library Avenue
Bailrigg, Lancaster, LA1 4AP

Article first published 06/03/04

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