OPEN LETTER 2nd February 2010
Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Nobel House Smith Square LONDON SW1P 3JR PS.Hilary.Benn@defra.gsi.gov.uk
2nd February 2010
Dear Mr Benn
Your false statements about GM safety
We are increasingly concerned about the increasing tendency for Ministers (including yourself) and DEFRA staff to repeat the nonsense that "there is no evidence that GM foods are not safe to eat." For example, you are quoted in a recent Report (1) as saying that the Government was responsible for addressing this question: “.....is food produced by GM safe to eat?" In response, you are directly quoted as saying: "I know of no evidence that it is not." (198) (Q567 -- Hilary Benn)
May we point out to you that this is a lie, since you and your officials have had abundant evidence from peer-reviewed scientific papers brought to your attention over and again over the last few years by concerned parties including ourselves? (2) We cannot accept that you have simply been badly briefed here, by the civil servants in DEFRA who have a long history of promoting GM crops and foods, and we remind you that you carry ultimate personal responsibility for UK decisions in the GM approvals process, and for the framing of UK policy in this field. We are fully aware that your scientific advisers on GM matters, namely FSA, ACRE and ACNFP, which are supposedly independent, have been operating a "don't look, don't find" policy on GM food safety over the last decade -- but their assurances on GM food safety to you and to the media look increasingly disingenuous and dishonest, given the accumulating evidence in the literature. And may we respectfully remind you that you are not BOUND to accept all the advice given to you by your scientific committees, and that it is incumbent upon you to consider the balance of scientific evidence that comes to you from all sources?
If we were to outline all the evidence of harm associated with GM crops and foods, this would become a very long letter. We will just give you a few statements from practicing scientists who have looked at the accumulated recent evidence:
The American Academy of Environmental Sciences issued a paper containing the following comment: “several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signalling, and protein formation,and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system”. They concluded that: “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation …........”
Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini: "... our data strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of hepatorenal [liver-kidney] toxicity.... possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn. These substances have never before been an integral part of the ... diet and therefore their health consequences for those who consume them, especially over long time periods, are currently unknown."
Dr Michael Antoniou: "Gene transformation is highly mutagenic. This leads to multi-organ toxicity affecting liver, kidney, gut, blood biochemistry and immune system. Acute signs of ageing and decreased fertility in animals fed with GM crops have also been reported." He also said: "If the kind of detrimental effects seen in animals fed GM food were observed in a clinical setting, the use of the product would have been halted and further research instigated to determine the cause and find possible solutions. However, what we find repeatedly in the case of GM food is that both governments and industry plough on ahead with the development, endorsement and marketing GM foods despite the warnings of potential ill health from animal feeding studies, as if nothing has happened."
Dr Jose L Domingo: " ...........most investigations correspond to short-term studies, mainly nutritional studies, with very limited toxicological information. Where are long-term toxicological studies that should guarantee the safety of the transgenic plants for animal and human consumption? Because of the importance that the consumption of GM foods has acquired, as well as its enormous potential in the near future, the performance of a complete case-by-case study seems would be advisable. Long-term studies are clearly necessary. This review can be concluded raising the following question: where is the scientific evidence showing that GM plants/food are toxicologically safe, as assumed by the biotechnology companies involved in commercial GM foods? ......... I suggest to biotechnology companies that they publish results of studies on the safety of GM foods in international peer-reviewed journals. The general population and the scientific community cannot be expected to take it on faith that the results of such studies are favorable. Informed decisions are made on the basis of experimental data, not faith."
Dr Arpad Pusztai: "The capacity of various A-B toxin-lectins, including Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Cry1Ac protoxin to stimulate and modulate both the systemic and mucosal immune systems is now firmly established. The MON 863 study revealed that rats fed on transgenically expressed Bt toxin in maize caused kidney and liver problems in addition to interfering with the normal growth of young rats. Bt toxin expressed in potatoes caused major changes in the small intestine of mice. Fine structural changes in the ileum of mice fed on delta-endotoxin-treated potatoes and transgenic potatoes. The evidence for the survival of the Bt toxins in the digestive tract and internal organs is clear-cut".
Dr David Schubert: "There are at least four mechanisms by which the introduction of the Bt toxin gene into the Brinjal genome can cause harm. These include (1) the random insertion of the Bt gene into the plant DNA and the resulting unintended consequences1, (2) alterations in crop metabolism by the Bt protein that results in new, equally unintended and potentially toxic products, (3) the direct toxicity of the Bt protein, and (4) an immune response elicited by the Bt protein. There are scientifically documented examples of all four toxic mechanisms for Bt crops."
Prof Jack Heinemann: "There is compelling evidence that animals provided with feed containing GM ingredients can react in a way that is unique to an exposure to GM plants. This is revealed through metabolic, physiological or immunological responses in exposed animals."
Dr A. Dona and Dr I.S. Arvanitoyannis: "The results of most of the rather few studies conducted with GM foods indicate that they may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive effects and may alter hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters the significance of which remains unknown. The above results indicate that many GM food have some common toxic effects. Therefore, further studies should be conducted in order to elucidate the mechanism dominating this action."
Dr Eva Novotny: "As a scientist who has been closely following developments concerning genetic modification for 12 years, I find it incomprehensible that the Government has ignored all the evidence that is continually mounting from independent feeding trials showing harm to health of animals and other sources."
Prof. Joseph Cummins: "There is a lack of will on the part of governmental regulatory agencies dealing with GM foods to communicate with those researchers who have observed detrimental impacts on laboratory animals fed genetically modified foods. Regulators focus almost exclusively on research showing only positive benefits of consuming food and feed derived from GM crops, while thay ignore those studies which show that the modified foods may be toxic. I have a list of recent peer reviewed publications which have revealed significant toxic effects of consuming GM foods or feeds. It should be mentioned that the long time consumption of genetically modified food in the North American population, and in farm animals, because GM foods and feed have been unlabelled, renders meaningful epidemiological studies impossible to undertake. The papers raise significant concerns over the consumption of genetically modified foods and feeds and they should not have been ignored by those charged with evaluating the safety of these materials."
We will give you a full reference for each one of these statements if you wish. We have many others on file. We are aware that your civil servants at DEFRA, and staff at FSA, have looked at assorted scientific papers (some of which are listed on our web site as "Pivotal papers" at http://www.gmfreecymru.org/) and have decided that they cannot assess the significance of the research findings and therefore see no reason to change their advice about GM foods being, on balance, "not harmful". Because they look at only one paper at a time, they seem to be incapable, or unwilling, to undertake a rigorous scientific synthesis or review, and to look for the common themes that are obvious to those scientists from whom we have quoted above.
Even your own committees do not appear to be saying "there is no evidence", as you appear to be doing. And since you maintain the pretence that the Government's position on GM food safety is driven by "the science", may we ask you to accept that there ARE research findings in the literature that demonstrate harmful effects, and to show due respect to those scientists who describe them?
We suggest that if you wish to be honest in this matter, you should henceforth say something like this: "On the matter of GM food safety, the literature does contain evidence of harmful effects in some circumstances. However, the significance of this evidence is currently under debate, and needs to be tested through further research."
We look forward to hearing from you, and for confirmation that you and your colleagues will abandon forthwith the nonsensical mantra that "there is no scientific evidence of GM harm."
Dr Brian John GM-Free Cymru
(1) Securing food supplies up to 2050: the challenges faced by the UK House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Fourth Report of Session 2008–09 Volume I: Report, together with formal minutes, 13 July 2009 www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200809/.../213/213i.pdf
(2) http://www.soilassociation.org/Web/SA/saweb.nsf/ cfff6730b881e40e80256a6a002a765c/62b3b08dfb6cdaea80256a9500473789/ $FILE/gm_health_effects.pdf http://www.responsibletechnology.org
(Fifteen "crucial papers" are listed on our site, which when taken together clearly demonstrate GM toxic effects.)
PS. Copied: recent correspondence with Sandy Lawrie of the FSA, who provides services to ACNFP. This material is available on request.