ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

10 April 2002


In the second item, a recently published reworking of a piece previously put out on NGIN, Devinder Sharma draws our attention to Tony Blair's (in)famous claim that because he was so sure of the science, he not only happily ate GM foods but fed them to his children. These days, of course, Blair's children include young baby Leo and Blair's Chief Scientific Advisor of the time, Sir Robert May, has gone on to head the UK's Royal Society which has put out a report which, among other things, draws attention to potential risks of GM foods for babies. Doubtless Blair will be adjusting his advice (NOT!)

1. Sharma vs Roush
2. GM and the Royal Society


1. Sharma vs Roush

Pro-GE Oz-based US entomologist, Rick Roush, haunts the lists attacking critics of genetic engineering. Here Devinder Sharma bites back.
I am shocked to hear from Rick when he says "I continue to find it amazing that you would block a technology that can at least reduce the suffering now because it might fail at some point in the future and put us back to where we are now." My God, why do you promote a technology, which takes care of part of the problem today and creates human suffering tomorrow? You know that it is not going to work and still you want to push it? What a shame?

This is exactly what happened when scientists pushed synthetic pyrethroids. This is exactly what they said then. I wish they were publicly tried for what they did earlier, for the thousands of deaths that took place subsequently because of the wrong decision. Bt cotton too is a wrong decision which will force farmers into suicides in the days to come. I know people like you have no concern or remorse for the poor farmers. You are not at all worried at the huge death toll that would result (like it did with synthetic pyrethroids).

Thousands of cotton farmers wouldn't have committed suicide if synthetic pyrethroids were not allowed. Instead, the government should have gone for IPM. The government's own institutes have established the effectiveness of IPM. But these are not being popularised because there is no industry behind it. And since there is no industry behind it, so-called scientists like you are also not supporting it.

Bt cotton will push farmers into another death trap. The only way out to save farmers from this is to stop Bt and go in for IPM systems. Why don't you support that?

To your question that shouldn't it be the right of the farmers to use whatever they want. I agree, in the same yardstick, why is the global community now banning smoking at public places? Why shouldn't it be left to the people who smoke to decided where they want to smoke? And what about another industry (that you probably support because it is an industry) of pornography? Why shouldn't they be controlled? After all, pornography is a big clandestine business. Leave it to people's rights? What an absurd argument.

I like when you say that the Indian government has taken an historic decision in favour of humanity. Time only will tell what happens to this humanitarian decision that is in reality a 'profit security' assurance for the private companies.

You are not for reduction of pesticides, let me make it clear. Your only interest is to see that the industry doesn't suffer. And industry makes it way by bribing governments. They do that in the US, Australia and in India.

We know what happened in case of Enron, which incidentally all those who support biotechnology also supported blindly.

Devinder Sharma

----- Original Message -----
From: Rick Roush <>
To: dsharma <>
Cc: Jonathan Mathews <>; <>
Sent: Tuesday, April 09, 2002 6:04 AM
Subject: Re: more replies to Suman Sahai and Devinder Sharma

And what you do about the deaths that are already occurring? I continue to find it amazing that you would block a technology that can at least reduce the suffering now because it might fail at some point in the future and put us back to where we are now.


2. GM and the Royal Society

Devinder Sharma writes:

Lord Robert McCredie May, President of the Royal Society, London, may like to read this from Down to Earth, New Delhi, April 15, 2002.

And if you want to know more about the dirty politics that the Royal Society plays, wait for my forthcoming book.
Tests on mice prove that GM food might be more suspect than lobbyists would have us believe
food and trade policy analyst

The first genetically modified (GM) food product to hit the market was a brand of tomato called 'Flavr Savr'. Before it was made available commercially in supermarkets, scientists fed it to rodents in the laboratory. The rodents, however, refused to eat the GM tomatoes, which contained an alien gene to make them ripen more slowly. When force-fed, the rodents fell sick.

Flavr Savr was a commercial disaster. Since then, the rich and industrialised Western countries, mainly the US, have brought over a score of GM foods onto the market shelves. Ably backed by the powerful American propaganda machinery, we have been repeatedly told that these 'novel foods' are no different from conventional foods. And joining the deafening chorus is the 'shouting brigade' - agricultural scientists, print and electronic media, bureaucrats and politicians ­ all desperately looking for financial support to survive in the era of fast-shrinking public funding.

Such is the desperation of these finance-seeking sectors of the 'shouting brigade' that any voice that ultimately restricts their source of funding is met with a combined roar. This is exactly what British scientist Arpad Pusztai discovered when he reported harmful effects in rats fed with GM potatoes. His independent research showed damage to the kidney, thymus, spleen and gut of young rats. Pusztai not only lost his job, but also became persona non grata for the entire scientific community. Several other researchers, who ventured to question the veracity of these 'scientific facts', suffered similarly. In fact, any criticism of the biotechnology industry's 'cutting edge' technologies is met with sharp innuendoes and abuse. The basic objective is to run down any opposition that may have a negative impact on the fortunes of the funding agencies.

Albert Einstein had once warned, "We should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organisation of society." Great scientists have always had the foresight and vision to see
where their own community could go wrong. Great scientists do not necessarily have to be educated at Berkeley, Harvard or Cambridge. And great scientists have always stood for 'good science', and not 'sound science' as advocated by the industry. Science is for the good of humanity, and cannot be compromised with for the sake of profits that it could bring for the corporate world.

While the international scientific community spares no effort to brand GM food as 'substantially equivalent' to conventional food, essentially to boost the sagging fortunes of the biotech industry, a 17-year-old Dutch undergraduate has created scientific history with his simple experiments. He conclusively demonstrated that not everything endorsed by Nobel laureates and the so-called distinguished scientific bodies, like Britain's Royal Society, is scientifically correct. Hinze Hogendoorn may not find a place of honour in the pro-GM Royal Society, but has surely put the distinguished scientific body to shame.

Following the current scientific norms, Hinze conducted his experiments on mice. He picked up 30 female six-week old mice from a herpetology centre. These mice were originally bred to feed snakes. And like every net-savvy teenager, he searched the web on how to take care of mice. Based on what was spelled out, he bought some rodent mix and Kellogg's and Quaker's cereals and oatmeal that were specified to be 'GM-free'. This formed the staple diet for the mice. For GM foods, he used maize and soya. Hinze let the mice loose in big cages with two piles of food - GM and non-GM - stacked in four bowls. The mice, obviously unaware of the virtues of genetically modified 'functional foods', gave their verdict overwhelmingly against the GM food!

He conducted a series of other tests to find out what happens when the mice are force-fed with GM foods. Significantly, one mouse, which was fed with GM food, died for unknown reasons. The others, which were fed on a GM diet, initially looked heavy. By the end of the experiment, however, they actually lost weight. The rival group of mice that were on non-GM diet, ate less, gained more weight, and continued to gain weight. Equally worrisome were the behavioural changes that the diet induced in the mice during the experiments. The GM-fed mice 'seemed less active' and 'more nervous and distressed'. "Many were running around the basket, scrabbling desperately in the sawdust, and even frantically jumping up the sides; something I'd never seen before," he was quoted as saying.

In another experiment by a farmer, two stacks of food were left in a barn infested with mice - one containing GM crops and the other non-GM. To his horror, he found that the mice ate up almost the entire stock of the non-GM fodder, but did not so much as touch the GM fodder.

The Royal Society, however, refrains from commenting on Hinze's experiments. To restore its credentials, it released a report - Genetically Modified Plants for Food Use and Human Health - in the first week of February. Under pressure from the British, and European consumers in general, who continue to question scientific claims on GM food safety, the Royal Society has called for tougher regulations before GM food is passed as safe for human consumption. As a face-saving device, it has drawn attention to potential risks for babies, who are more susceptible to changes in the nutritional make-up of the food they eat.

The report is full of contradictions. It states, for example, that consumption of genetically modified deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA) has no effect on human health. Are babies not humans then? It also chooses to ignore evidence that questions the wisdom and safety of GM foods. The report claims, as one of the benefits of GM foods, the decreased use of pesticides and other chemicals. There is, however, evidence that goes to show that GM crops are often susceptible to new kinds of pests and diseases, thus leading to the increased, rather than decreased, use of agricultural chemicals. Evidence to the effect that GM crops tend to show reduced yields with successive generations also finds no mention. Neither does proof of the genetic instability of transgenic crops (tendency of the transgenic DNA to come loose, rearrange, or become lost in part or in whole in successive generations).

I cannot help but wonder what the Royal Society would advise British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has publicly gone on record saying that he finds GM food safe, even for his children. With the Royal Society proving him wrong, Tony Blair may find it worthwhile to invite Hinze Hogendoorn to help his children conduct simple experiments with mice to find out what is safe for them. Until then, he should direct British High Commission offices worldwide to refrain from issuing press releases stating that GM food is safe.#

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