Friday, 21 June 2013

GM crops - I am not in favour!

A few days ago I listened to Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, being interviewed on the Today programme. Subsequently I read a transcript of his speech in which he sought to both open and close the debate on GM food.

It’s safe! We just need to reassure the public that it is completely safe. Job done!

This from the man who is from the Nigel Lawson school of thought on climate change! (Last I heard, Nigel Lawson’s anti-climate change think tank was being investigated for peddling misleading information to the public!)

I have been keeping an eye on the GM debate for some time now and I must say that in this context I find Owen Paterson really scary! Some of his facts are just plain wrong, and others are based on very questionable research. And now the EU President’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Prof. Anne Glover, has declared that there is no substantiated case of adverse impact etc etc. David Cameron has also decided he is in favour of introducing us all to GM farming.

The difficulty is that no one has even attempted to substantiate any one of the numerous cases of adverse impact!

Poor old Professor Seralini got into really hot water by finding that a particular GM maize produced massive tumours in rats. Monsanto declared that the research was invalid because he used the wrong species of rat, with too few of them to provide a meaningful statistical sample. With Monsanto money behind the anti Seralini campaign, it isn’t surprising that his research was widely regarded as discredited. So most people didn’t get to hear that Prof. Seralini used the same type and number of rats that Monsanto used in their original tests on the same maize, but he did it for longer (hence the tumours). But it is the same Monsanto test results which the US Food and Drug Agency use when authorising the product for human consumption.

There is a lot of material out there on the internet which would cause the average person to think twice before welcoming GM food into his home. Some of it strongly suggests that the actual GM process itself can cause serious health problems. Some of it indicates the harmful effects of the weed killer used. A lot of it documents the contamination of normal crops by GM crops even at a considerable distance. None of it, of course, is substantiated to the satisfaction of Prof. Anne Glover!

Personally I cannot prove that GM food is bad for you. I haven’t yet heard from anyone who can prove it is not; they would need another decade of tests at least to do that. Meanwhile – watch what you eat! Most supermarkets will no longer guarantee that their poultry products (including eggs) have not been fed on GM feed. They claim that the problem is that non GM feed is too difficult to source! In Europe, something labelled as GM free may have a little bit of GM stuff in it (I can’t remember the permissible threshold). Happily most European countries are saying ‘non’, which I consider to be the first good reason I have heard recently for staying in Europe!

Here is the letter I have sent to my MP Sarah Newton, a devout Tory, Deputy Party Chair, who will toe the party line and do nothing to rock the boat:

21 June 2013

Mrs Sarah Newton MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

Dear Sarah

GM Food
During the past few weeks, culminating in Mr. Owen Paterson’s speech, there has clearly been an orchestrated move towards ‘reassuring’ the public about GM food. I find this deeply worrying and I would be grateful if you could pass my concerns to Mr. Paterson, so that we can be reassured that Mr. Paterson has acquainted himself with all the scientific opinion on the subject, as well as where it is lacking, and not just that promulgated by the industry and the US Food and Drug Agency.

My concerns rest on the following facts.

First; the assumption appears to be that the GM crops being grown in the USA have been adequately tested. But the FDA bases its approval of GM products on tests carried out by the manufacturers of the product, with no independent verification. (There is evidence that these tests are sometimes inadequate and sometimes misrepresented.)

Second; while Prof. Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Adviser to the EU President, has said that there is ‘no substantiated case of adverse impact’ on health (clearly discounting all the numerous health issues which have arisen in the USA during the last ten to fifteen years or so), it is equally true that there is no evidence to show that GM food does NOT do harm. Since GM food does not require to be labelled as such in the US, evidence in either direction would be hard to substantiate.

Third; despite Mr. Paterson’s assurances, I have not been able to discover any evidence that crop yields have been significantly improved over time by the use of GM seed, indeed in some cases rather the opposite. As against that, agroecology, as suggested in 2010 by Olivier de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, has been shown to be capable of improving yields significantly in many different contexts.

Fourth; Mr. Paterson believes that growing GM crops would be good for the environment. Up until now this has been shown to be not the case in several different situations from the US to South America to India. One purpose of GM crops is that they can be grown in large areas of monocrop cultivation. This method of agriculture requires that quantities of weed control chemicals need to be used. Experience in the US has shown that after a few years, in order to control poison-resistant weeds, on Monsanto’s recommendation, extra chemicals need to be mixed in to make a more poisonous cocktail. Thus the land, which has already been stripped of nutrients, is drenched in ever increasing amounts of chemicals. Tests already show that in 18 European countries there is significant Glyphosate in the population’s urine, and there is plenty of evidence that Glyphosate is harmful to humans. This can only have come from food which has been sprayed with the chemical, and growing poison-resistant GM crops in Europe can only aggravate that situation.

In the US it is now clear that contamination of a crop in one area from GM crops in another area can be carried hundreds of miles by wild life or wind, which makes a nonsense of buffer zones. (See farmer interviews in the video clip linked below.)

I was greatly relieved to hear that Mr. Paterson is against the patenting of seed. The possibility that we in Europe might fall into the traps set by Monsanto and their like in the US and India is frightening. I would also hope that should we be in the position of allowing GM produce into our food chain, it would be adequately and prominently labelled as such, so that unlike our American cousins we would be able to choose whether or not to buy.

I know that a significant number of farmers polled in the UK by the Farmers’ Guardian said that they would like to grow GM crops. I hope that they, as well as Mr. Paterson, will watch the video clip (link below) of Michael Hart, a Cornish farmer who went to North America specifically to get first hand advice on GMOs from American farmers. It is interesting that the poll of UK farmers also discovered that only 15% would be prepared to eat the product themselves! It is interesting also that there is a growing movement in the US for food producers, where they can, to label their food ‘Certified Non-GMO’ as a result of pressure from the general public. Unfortunately many of those producers have difficulty in sourcing non-GMO ingredients. Furthermore, it is reported that many patients are being prescribed an organic diet by their doctors, specifically to avoid GMOs.

There are a number of studies which indicate adverse effects both from the process of genetic modification and from the chemicals which go with it. Even if we believe that these publications are not conclusive, they should not be dismissed without further study.

Although I am concerned about the effects of GM food on the nation’s health I am far more concerned, given adequate labelling of food products, about the potential harm to our environment, our biodiversity, our wild life and our pollinating insects. It is already evident in this country that large areas of monocrop farming are having a serious effect. (Ironically, the bee population in conurbations such as London is flourishing away from our chemical based agriculture.) The introduction of GM farming, with its sophisticated chemical controls, would inevitably mean an increased assault on our environment.

Mr. Paterson has suggested that he wishes to reassure the public that GM crops are safe and beneficial. But stating it does not make it so, nor will it reassure us. There needs to be proper independent, substantial and robust peer reviewed research, on the crops, and the chemicals that go with them including the degree of their continued use. This research should include the effect on human health, and particularly on the beneficial gut flora which is within all of us.

You will recall the efforts made by the tobacco industry to discredit the evidence that smoking is harmful to health. Equally I am sure you have been aware of similar tactics (often using the very same 'experts'), used by the oil industry to discredit the proponents of the encroaching climate crisis. It has become clear to me in my reading that the GM industry in America has been taking a similar approach. We need to be more certain than we can be at this time that the introduction of GM crops would be beneficial and safe before allowing it or encouraging it to be grown in our fields, because this is a genie which cannot be put back in the bottle.

Yours faithfully

Tim Thomson

Cc Shadow Environment Secretary

Below are details of only a small selection of the available published material, much of it from neutral and peer reviewed sources.

Link to video by a Cornish farmer, Michael Hart, who went to America to find out farmers’ views on GM farming - ‘GM crops Farmer to Farmer’

Link to UN report on ‘Right to Food’

Influence of soy with the gene EPSPS CP4 on the physiological state and reproductive functions of rats in the first two generations
New Ermakova peer-reviewed paper (2009)
Russian Academy of Natural Sciences "Modern problems of science and education" № 5, 2009 UDC: 612.82, 57.02

The Lancet, Volume 354, Issue 9187, Pages 1353 - 1354, 16 October 1999
Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine
Dr Stanley WB Ewen FRCPath, Arpad Pusztai PhD

Eur J Histochem. 2004 Oct-Dec;48(4):448-54.
Ultrastructural analysis of testes from mice fed on genetically modified soybean.
Vecchio L, Cisterna B, Malatesta M, Martin TE, Biggiogera M.

Holes in the Biotech Safety Net by Doug Gurian-Sherman Ph.D

A month has now gone by and I have not yet had the courtesy of a reply!

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