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The Tool Kit for Genetic Modification E-mail
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Saturday, 04 March 2006
The Tool Kit for Genetic Modification


The Evening Standard (London, England)

By Anastasia Stephens

The Tool Kit for Genetic Modification is the Same as That for Making Biological Weapons

Q: We have altered and manipulated life for centuries - just look at the dog breeds we have created and the hybrid roses. Is GM any worse?

A: Animal and plant-breeding involves natural reproduction and can only be done within a species or between closely-related species. You can't cross a spider with a goat. Because it bypasses reproduction altogether, genetic modification can do that and more: entirely new genes are made and inserted into the genomes of plants or animals. The process is not precise. It is uncontrollable and unreliable, and ends up damaging and scrambling the host genome, with unpredictable consequences.

Q: Why would governments mislead the public over GM?

A: I have never accused the world's governments of misleading the public over GM. There are good governments who listen, take account of the evidence and respond to public opinion. Then there are bad governments that are not telling the truth about the risks of GM. They are helped by a pro-GM scientific establishment that's bending science to serve the interests of the biotech industry.

Q: How can you prove that the Government is ignoring its own scientific advisers over the hazards of GM?

A: Scientific evidence has gone decisively against GM. But our Government has chosen scientific advisers who tell them what they want to hear. Scientists have lost their jobs speaking out on the hazards. We submit evidence of the risks of GM to the Government's scientific advisory committees, only to be met with denial and dismissal.

Q: Is the anti-GM brigade a bunch of conspiracy theorists?

A: There is no "anti-GM brigade".

There are ordinary citizens who are angry at the lies they've been told, and at the undemocratic way in which GM crops are foisted on them. There are angry farmers who will go out of business because their crops will be contaminated. There are scientists incensed that GM crops are approved that have all the signs of being unsafe.

And there is a distinct pro-GM brigade that has infiltrated the science-media establishment and government, and is using smear tactics to discredit and silence all critics.

Q: The Government's farm scale evaluations of GM maize found it was better for the environment than conventional maize. Why do you refute this evidence?

A: The evaluations on maize were a shameful abuse of science. GM maize appeared to do better because it was compared to conventional plots sprayed with deadly triazine herbicides.

Europe banned these toxic herbicides a week before the results were announced, making the GM maize trial invalid. And they never measured yield, because if they did, they would probably have found that the GM maize did much worse.

Q: Isn't GM development a moral imperative if it helps feed 800 million hungry people worldwide?

A: That is a lie perpetrated by the pro-GM brigade. There are millions of hungry people who are too poor to buy food, but GM is likely to make poverty worse because GM seeds are patented, and cannot be saved for replanting as farmers have done for thousands of years. They need lots of fertilisers and herbicides that the poor can't afford.

Q: If GM can lead to more productive crops, grown on otherwise barren land, and decrease pesticide use, isn't it a breakthrough?

A: We've heard such promises for more than 30 years and they still remain distant potentials. The biotech bubble burst several years ago. All the agribiotech companies have been falling in the stock market and they are no longer investing in GM crops. Instead, they are trying to use GM crops to produce pharmaceuticals in the open field, which will contaminate our food supply with vaccines, immunesuppressive chemicals and worse.

Q: A GM strain of rice that produces Vitamin A helps prevent deficiency-related blindness in South East Asia. Isn't this good news?

A: Yet another lie. This rice produces such a small amount of Vitamin A that a person has to eat some 3.5 kilos per day to get the required dose. Many green-leaf vegetables supply lots more Vitamin A and other nutrients.

Q: One of the first commercially approved GM crops is a soya bean modified to be tolerant of the herbicide glyphosate.

Manufacturers argue that spraying with glyphosate replaces a more toxic regime. Isn't GM here helping the environment?

A: Glyphosate is a herbicide that kills all species of plants indiscriminately and is devastating for the environment. It also destroys nitrogen-fixing bacteria and kills earthworms, both of which are crucial for maintaining soil fertility. New research is linking glyphosate to cancers.

Q: GM could lead to better-flavoured, cheaper food with a longer shelf-life.

Isn't that what we want?

A: Two GM varieties of long shelf-life tomato have come and gone. They were utter failures.

Q: The Institute of Food Science and Technology says that more than 25,000 field trials of GM plants have been carried out without adverse consequences.

Surely this is proof enough?

A: More lies. The most devastating environmental damage has been documented in Argentina, the second largest grower of GM crops after the US.

Argentina has spiralled into despair from planting GM crops, especially GM soya.

Weeds multiplied, as resistance to glyphosate soared, resulting in more frequent herbicide applications in higher concentrations.

Q: Scientists are rearing GM animals to produce drugs or tissue to help cure human diseases. Isn't that a good thing?

A: That's an even more risky enterprise to health, and unjustified in terms of animal welfare. Most of the gene drugs created that way simply don't work, and they are very costly. A lot of hype goes with each new drug marketed, only to be withdrawn years later, when unacceptable side-effects surface.

Q: A few genes straying here and there - is it really that dangerous?

A: A few genes straying here and there" is what makes new viruses and bacteria associated with disease epidemics, like Sars and Aids. If you want to know the truth, the toolkit for GM is precisely the same as that for making biological weapons: fragments of viruses and bacteria are used to "inject" genes into animal and plant cells. This material can mutate and spread.

Q: Could GM increase the risk of diseases like cancer, allergies and other unknown illnesses?

A: Up to 100 villagers in the Philippines living near GM maize plots were reported to have suffered from serious illnesses when the GM maize came into flower last year. Twelve cows died between 2001 and 2002 on a farm in Hesse, Germany, after being fed GM maize and others in the herd had to be slaughtered.

Other diseases are much slower to take effect. Cancer may take years or decades.

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