GENETIC SCIENTIST WARNS OF RISKS OF GE
28 March 2007 - Seoul -- "Genetic engineering is far from precise",
warns Dr Ricarda Steinbrecher, consultant genetic scientist of
Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific and also director of
EcoNexus, a public-interest research organization based in the UK.
"There are a number of steps in the genetic engineering process and
most of them are subject to various uncertainties. A single gene
mutation can have serious effects . yet genetic engineering is all
about creating mutations the outcome can be tremendous, and totally
unpredictable and unexpected."
Speaking on "Genetically Engineered Food and Crops: Issues and
Concerns from a Scientific Perspective" at the WORA Seminar entitled
"How to Secure the Safety of Rice" in Seoul today, Dr Steinbrecher
expressed her disbelief that agri-business corporations could
guarantee that genetically engineered (GE) food or crops are stable
and safe when there are so many indications to show they are not.
"Besides negative ecological, social and economic effects of the
genetic engineering of crops, from a scientific perspective, there
are health impacts, contamination effects and many scientific
uncertainties associated with genetic engineering," continued Dr
She cited a disturbing development about honey bees in the US.
"Millions of these insects have disappeared over the last half year,
their hives are empty. Bees are used as pollinators for various
crops and the value that they generate in the US is estimated at over
USD14 billion per year". The problem is so severe that it has been
called the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). "Nobody knows why the
bees are dying. There is evidence though that GE crops contribute to
this, in particular insect resistant crops producing the Bt-toxin.
Though healthy bees do not seem to be affected by Bt pollen, a
scientist called Hans-Hinrich Kaatz in Germany has found that bees
infested with parasites and fed with Bt pollen were affected and died
at a high rate. Beekeepers have for years reported that honeybees
suffer from high rates of parasites and diseases. As reported last
week in a German journal [Der Spiegel], this resembles new evidence
that Bt pollen is a contributing factor in the death of the bees.
The areas where the bees have disappeared have a lot of Bt crops
being grown there. We donít think this is a coincidence. No one
would ever have thought that this could have been an outcome of Bt
and yet here we are. Not only do we not know exactly how this
interaction happened, we don't know how to deal with it or stop it or
even if we can."
Dr Steinbrecher also cited experiments with rats and mice fed with a
particular GE tomato and GE potato. Results showed damage to the
musocal cell lining of the gut in both cases and abnormal development
of body organs in the latter case. Other experiments on rats fed
with GE peas that contained a gene from beans showed heightened
allergenicity and immunogenicity.
"Allergic reactions can be anything from rashes, sneezing and asthma
to fatal shocks in some cases," warns Dr Steinbrecher.
Other possible impacts are gene silencing ie the plant that is being
genetically engineered may 'silence' (turn off) that particular gene
permanently. Dr Steinbrecher explains, "In 1992, a study was
published about GE petunias in Germany. One summer, these GE
petunias started to produce white and pink flowers instead of the
characteristic red ones. Investigations revealed that the plant had
somehow shut off the gene producing red flowers. Again, this was a
totally unexpected effect. Gene silencing in GE plants has been
repeatedly observed. We now know that environmental factors as well
as homologies of the GE gene and the plant's own genes can trigger
She goes on to cite another disturbing case in the US. "In the US, a
case reported in 1999, GE soya (resistant to the Roundup herbicide)
was found to have inexplicably produced 20% more lignin. This caused
the stems to become harder than normal. During one exceptionally hot
summer, the stems cracked because they were too brittle and tough to
expand in the heat. Fungus penetrated the cracks and this greatly
affected the yield that summer."
The final word from Dr Steinbrecher is one of extreme caution: "The
moral of all these cases is that from the scientific angle, genetic
engineering of crops is still a technology full of risks. Any number
of totally unexpected things can happen. Worse, once grown, GE crops
can contaminate the food supplies as just seen for two varieties of
herbicide resistant rice (LL601 & LL). Worse still, GE plants can
and will contaminate natural varieties and this contamination is
irrevocable. The only fact we can be sure of is that we simply don't
know enough to risk the consequences."
The delegates at the seminar were relieved to finally get such
evidence of the risks of GE food. Their feelings were well
articulated by Jung Woo Sick from the Buddhist Environment
Association, "Before this, we were aware of a debate over the safety
and stability of GE but we were never really sure. Now that we know
the facts, we can have one clear message for our consumers here: that
GE rice and GE food is a real risk, one that we should not take."
The Week of Rice Action (WORA) 2007 brings together farmers, rural
communities, and other sectors of society to celebrate and protect
rice culture. To be officially launched on March 13 in Bangladesh,
the main WORA events will take place in 13 countries across Asia from
March 29 to April 4. Culminating in India and the Philippines, WORA
will be an unprecedented mobilization of Asians "Celebrating and
Protecting Rice Culture"! A key feature of WORA will be its
one-million signature campaign calling on policy-makers to take
immediate steps to save the rice of Asia.
WORA is organised by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific
(PAN AP) and its partner organisations in thirteen countries in the
region. Anyone interested in being a part of WORA 2007 can log on to
the WORA page at www.panap.net
Contact at PAN AP:
Ms Anne Haslam, PAN AP at [log in to unmask]
PESTICIDE ACTION NETWORK ASIA AND THE PACIFIC (PAN AP), P.O. Box
1170, 10850 Penang, Malaysia. Tel: 604-6570271 or 604-6560381 Fax:
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
Home Page: www.panap.net