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Blind faith in GM without scientific evidence is dangerously ‘misguided’

The promotion of GM has been politically and commercially motivated rather than based on scientific evidence and the United States example is warning as to where this approach can lead – claims Helena Paul

On January 7, the United Kingdom Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told the Oxford Farming Conference that “Europe risks becoming the museum of world farming as innovative companies make decisions to invest and develop new technologies in other markets”. Speaking of an upcoming vote at the European Union on genetically modified maize, he said of EU decisions on GMOs: “Delays and blockages have been politically-motivated rather than based on evidence.”

Many environment groups would say that Paterson has precisely reversed the truth; the promotion of GM has been politically and commercially motivated rather than based on evidence. The European Environment Committee has called for the European Parliament to veto GM crop Pioneer1507 maize, pointing out that there may be negative effects that have not been properly examined. Discussion of the crop has not proceeded through the correct channels and the European Commission now appears to be calling for a written procedure without these essential discussions – in order basically to try and force it through.

Environmental groups are also concerned that there has not been a proper examination of this crop but instead the attempt to push it through without such discussion. We are not surprised but they are concerned that Paterson supports this position especially since, as he admits, this is not a crop of interest to British farmers. Furthermore, he should remember that both the Scottish and Welsh Governments oppose GM cultivation. In our view, this constant emphasis on the value of GM crops is not based on evidence. In the United States, we can see clearly what the results have been to date.

Herbicide use increased in America by an estimated 239 million kilograms between 1996 and 2011 with herbicide resistant soybeans accounting for 70 per cent of the total increase across the three HR crops – soya, maize, oilseed rape and canola. There was a rising reliance on glyphosate accounted for most of this increase. Gradually during this time, news of the appearance of several different kinds of weed resistant to glyphosate started to emerge, increasing year on year until now some 25 million hectares may be affected. The response has been to use older and more toxic herbicides such as 2,4-D in tank mixes of agrotoxics and to develop new ‘stacked’ GM seeds with several traits for resistance to different herbicides.

In the US, Pioneer 1507 is marketed as a glufosinate tolerant crop and we are concerned that, if approved in the EU, farmers might be tempted to spray glufosinate – even though blanket spraying of this herbicide has not been approved in the EU. It would be nice to know who would monitor this? All of us would greatly welcome good scientific studies on issues such as the serious state of our soils and how to regenerate and rebuild them, research into agroecological approaches to agriculture and solutions to the real issues faced by farmers; that is to say, centred on their concerns and not imposed on them.

Helena Paul is interim director of campaign organisation GM Freeze and co-director of research group EcoNexus

  1. The EU will need to re-evaluuate its position on these GM crop events. During 2013 I evaluated an isogenic line of GM corn which contained the 1507 events of the Herculex Bt Cry 1F and glufosinate herbicide tolerant traits, here in New Hampshire, USA. The findings will be published in a peer reviewed journal later in 2014.

    I found the entire isogenic line to be disruptive of soil microbiology eliminating total bacteria community counts by as much as 30 to 80 per cent depending on traits stacked in the line. This is very significant, as it now shows that these proteins are disruptive of commensal bacteria that would be damaging to the microbiome of both humans and animals. And 80 per cent of our immune system is contained in our alimentary tract and disruption and imbalance of that homeostasis leads to a wide array of human and animal illness and disease.

    Additionally, I found the entire isogenic line to consistently produce formaldehyde a known carcinogen. The criteria used for evaluation of safety based on potential protein allergens of these GM crops, is ludicrous to say the least. These crops must be evaluated based on their effects to the human and animal microbiome. The experiments are continuing this year on other GM crops, the results of which together will be published in a peer reviewed journal.

    Comment by Anthony Samsel on January 12, 2014 at 5:10 pm
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