Science in Society Archive

Independent Scientists Object to Monsanto-Sponsored Documentary

20 August 2005
David Hosley
President and General Manager
KVIE Public Television

Dear Mr. Hosley,

I am writing both in my capacity as Director of the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) and a member of the Independent Science Panel (ISP).

I-SIS is a not-for profit organisation dedicated to providing critical public information on cutting edge science and to promoting social accountability and ecological sustainability in science. We do this through reports posted on our website and circulated to our extensive e-mail list, and quarterly magazine Science in Society, of which I am editor.

The ISP, launched 10 May 2003 at a public conference in London, UK, consists of dozens of prominent scientists from all over the world, spanning the disciplines of agroecology, agronomy, biomathematics, botany, chemical medicine, ecology, epidemiology, histopathology, microbial ecology, molecular genetics, nutritional biochemistry, physiology, plant biotechnology, taxonomy, toxicology and virology (  They share a deep concern over the commercialisation of genetic engineering and other technologies without the due process of thorough scientific assessment, informed public consultation and public consent; and are dedicated to researching and actively promoting science for a sustainable world through education, advocacy and social engagement.

I and my fellow scientists have long held the Public Broadcasting Service in high regard for its role in providing critical and reliable information to the public, and for maintaining the highest standards of balance and independence.

Recently, members of I-SIS residing in the United States have alerted me to the potentially unbalanced coverage of genetic engineering in the forthcoming PBS series, “America’s Heartland”.

According to a letter circulated by the Union of Concerned Scientists in the United States, “America’s Heartland” is “a series on American agriculture that appears to unevenly promote the interests of the series’ main sponsors - Monsanto and the Farm Bureau - two historic proponents of industrial-style food production. Advance materials indicate that the series will portray an entirely positive portrait of U.S. agriculture. Despite an in-depth approach spanning 20 episodes, the series producers appear unwilling to give time to any concerns about agribusiness, from the impact of pesticides on human health, to pollution and foodborne illness caused by industrialized meat production, to the debate over genetically engineered crops.”

I-SIS and ISP would like to add our voice to the concerns expressed. The ISP have reviewed the evidence on the problems and hazards of genetically modified (GM) crops as well as the proven successes of sustainable agriculture and published its report in June 2003 [1]. This report has been republished in the United States in 2004, and translated into five major languages.

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 percent 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.
  • GE 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 US scientists [2].

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 [6] 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 [7], 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” [8]. 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 [9].

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 [16].

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.

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.

The shift to non-GM sustainable agriculture is all the more urgent as industrial monoculture is showing all the signs of collapse under global warming; and water and oil - on which industrial monoculture, and even more so, GM agriculture are heavily dependent - are both rapidly depleting [17].

To respond to these challenges, ISIS and ISP have launched the Sustainable World Global Initiative to make our food system sustainable, to provide food sovereignty, food security and health for all and to mitigate global warming;

We hope the PBS will do its part to inform the public as fully as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
Member of ISP
Director, Institute of Science in Society
PO Box 32097
London NW1 0XR, UK

Article first published 01/09/05


  1. Ho MW, Lim LC et al. The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World, ISP Report, ISIS & TWN, London & Penang, 2003.; republished as GM-Free, Vitalhealth publishing, Ridgeport, Connecticut, 2004; translated into Spanish, Portuguese, French, Chinese and German, Italian and Indonesian on the way.
  2. Freese W and Schubert D. Safety testing and regulation of genetically engineered foods. Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews 2004, 21, 299-324.
  3. 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,
  4. The Service of Biosafety and Biotechnology (SBB) of the Scientific Institute of Public Health (IPH) in Brussels website (
  5. Ho MW. Unstable transgenic lines illegal. ISIS press release 03/12/03; also Science in Society 2004, 21, 23
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. Ho MW, Pusztai A, Bardocz S and Cummins J. Are transgenic proteins allergenic? ISIS report (to appear).
  9. Ho MW and Cummins J. GM food & feed not fit for “man or beast”. ISP Briefing, UK Parliament, 29 April 2004; ISIS Press release 07/05/04
  10. Dutton A, Klein H, Romeis J and Bigler F. “Uptake of Bt-toxin by herbivores feeding on transgenic maize and consequences for the predator Chrysoperia carnea”, Ecological Entomology 2002, 27, 441-7.
  11. Romeis J, Dutton A and Bigler F. “Bacillus thuringiensis toxin (Cry1Ab) has no direct effect on larvae of the green lacewing Chrysoperla carnea (Stephens) (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae)”, Journal of Insect Physiology 2004, in press.
  12. Richard S, Moslemi S, Sipahutar H, Benachour N and Seralini G-E. Differential effects of glyphosate and Roundup on human placental cells and aromatases
  13. Ho MW and Cummins J. Glyphosate toxic and Roundup worse. Science in Society 2005, 26, 12,
  14. Relyea RA. The impact of insecticides and herbicides on the biodiversity and productivity of aquatic communities. Ecological Applications 2005, 15, 618-27.
  15. Ho MW. Roundup kills frogs. Science in Society 2005, 26, 13,
  16. 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:/
  17. Ho MW. Sustainable food systems for sustainable development.; also Science in Society 2005, 27, 33-35,

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