ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

11 September 2002


The Institute of Science in Society
Science Society Sustainability

General Enquiries
Website/Mailing List
ISIS Director

ISIS report
Good-Bye GMOs
Forcing GM food aid on famine-stricken southern Africa is a sheer act of desperation. Behind the aggressive stance and rhetoric, the biotech corporate empire is crumbling. It is morally, scientifically and financially bankrupt. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reviews.

For a much longer and fully referenced version of this article, see "The biotech debacle in four parts", ISIS Members website [ ].

Market plummets, mass layoffs and investment dries up

Biotech shares have fallen below the languishing Dow Jones index for months now, and show no signs of recovering. More than 1 500 have been laid off from the genomics sector since the industry peaked in the fall of 2000. Most companies are still reporting double-digit losses and profitability remains years away. Venture capital has dried to a tenth of what it was in 2000.

Monsanto is teetering on the brink of collapse as one company after another has spun off agbiotech and cut investments in research and development completely to concentrate on biomedical applications.

Third World governments have been seduced into investing heavily in biotech as the downward slide in Europe and the United States has begun. Singapore is caught without matching private venture capitol.

Mounting evidence of hazards

The latest to hit the headlines is the finding that GM DNA of soya flour eaten in hamburger and milk-shake, found its way to bacteria in the human gut, a possibility that the pro-biotech scientists have been denying for years. Other predicted hazards have also been confirmed. Multi-herbicide tolerant volunteers have rapidly evolved from GM canola in US and Canada. Superweeds, in the form of Roundup-tolerant marestails, are now plaguing GM soya and cotton fields in the US. Both established commercial seed stocks and indigenous varieties are now contaminated by GM, with serious consequences for agricultural biodiversity.

The biomedical sector has been hard hit with increasing evidence that the hazards associated with gene drugs may be generic. Eprex, made by Johnson & Johnson and sold only outside the United States, is widely believed to be responsible for 141 cases of red cell aplasia, in which the body is unable to produce red blood cells, making some patients dependent on transfusions to survive. The body treats those proteins as foreign and mount immune reactions against them, probably because they have been made in GM bacteria and do not have the correct processing or folding.

In the case of Eprex, a hormone boosting the body to make red blood cells, the body‚s own hormone is also destroyed.

Another problem is gene drugs is quality control, which is impossible, as biological organisms cannot be standardised and controlled in the way that chemical synthesis can be.

World-wide rejection of GM crops

Long before the high-profile rejection of GM food aid by Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, citizens of many other countries especially the UK, have been fighting to prevent field trials of GM crops. UK food manufacturers have joined consumers in rejecting GM ingredients.

In August, the State Government of Karnataka in India has decided not to allow Bt-cotton to be grown as a commercial crop, till experts come up with a report on the adverse effects of the crop. It was fully vindicated when at the end of the month, 100% failures of bt-cotton was reported in Madhya Pradesh in central India, and by September, 70% losses reported in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra (see "Massive failures of Bt-cotton in India", this series).

A landmark agreement in Australia in May 2002 allowed the commonwealth to establish GM-free zones, Tasmania was the first to declare itself GM-free and other Australian states are set to follow.

New Zealand‚s new government is adopting a tough stance in banning all GM imports. It has forced Australian seed giant Pacific Seeds to incinerate 30 tonnes of maize in Auckland, after it emerged that the seed was contaminated with genetically modified material.

Italy too is cracking down on companies selling GM contaminated seeds. And US consumers have targeted supermarkets to go GM-free.

Biosafety regulations tighten

More than 35 countries have already legislated for the mandatory labelling of food containing GM ingredients, or else laws restricting the import of some gene-foods. These countries comprise more than half the world s population.

Most significantly, the European Parliament has adopted strict new rules for traceability and labelling that would effectively ban all imports from the United States and other major producers, unless they can take measures to segregate and prevent GM contamination.

The US Department of Agriculture recently said it may create a voluntary system to verify if shipments of US corn, soya beans and other crops are GM. This is US‚ version of Europe‚s labelling and traceability programme, and may be a sign that US is caving in to Europe‚s tough stance over GM imports.

All in all, GMOs are going, going...

GMOs are on the way out. But we should make sure to give them a good send off!

To see why GMOs are failing so badly, see "What‚s wrong with GMOs?" and articles following for in-depth analyses, to appear in coming issue of Science in Society.
This article can be found on the I-SIS website at
If you would prefer to receive future mailings as HTML please let us know.
If you would like to be removed from our mailing list - please reply to with the word unsubscribe in the subject field
If you would like to be added to our mailing list - please send a blank email to with the word subscribe in the subject field
The Institute of Science in Society, PO Box 32097, London NW1 OXR
telephone: [44 20 8731 7714]   [44 20 7383 3376]   [44 20 7272 5636]

General Enquiries
Website/Mailing List
ISIS Director


ngin bulletin archive