ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  16 November 2000


Here are 3 responses to the pro-GM letter by Dr Gregory recently, published in the Eastern Daily Press, UK

1.    Arpad Pusztai on the Gregory letter
2.    Jonathan Matthews on the Gregory letter
3.    Nicole Cook on the Gregory letter

Pusztai’s mail brings up the interesting question of the stability of transgenic constructs.  Nicole Cook - Greenpeace 28 defendant - is very good in her letter on the feeding the world issue.
The text of Dr Gregory’s letter, and of Jonathan’s original letter which Gregory was responding to, can both be seen at:

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1.    Arpad Pusztai’s reply to Gregory

From: Arpad Pusztai

Dear Jonathan,

Dr Gregory’s letter would be laughable on account of his ignorance of genetic modification if the consequences of this “well-tried and understood” method were not so serious for us all, including himself.

If he wants to enlighten himself on current research on genetic stability, etc I recommend him to read most of the papers in Plant Molecular Biology, vol. 43, issue 2/3, June 2000.  If he is a proper scientist after reading papers, such as “Epigenetic aspects of somaclonal variation in plants”,  “Transcriptional gene silencing mutants” and all the papers on gene silencing in this issue, or vol 42 of the same journal, pp 251-269, 2000 entitled: “Transposable element contribution to plant gene and genome evolution” and so on, I am sure he would not write the sort of meaningless propaganda and clap-trap as in his letter!

You are quite free to use this response.
Best regards
*  *  *
2.     Jonathan’s reply to Gregory,  published: EDP, 16th November 2000

Dr Sage describes my letter, in which I gave chapter and verse on the failure, as with BSE, to give us the full picture in relation to GM crops, as “invidious”. Yet ironically Dr Sage's letter seems to bear out the very concerns I was raising.

Lord Phillip’s BSE report notes that, “The vast majority of those involved in the response to BSE believed, subjectively, that it was not a threat to human health. This belief was shared by many who could see, objectively, that the potential risk was there.”

As a result, false reassurances were issued which lacked frankness and overstated the amount that was known. Dr Sage, in seeking to reassure us about the safety of GM, refers us to “100 years of plant breeding understanding”, which sounds impressive until we remember that this was, in fact, in conventional plant breeding, not the present use of GM in which genes can end up in entirely novel combinations never previously possible in the history of the planet.

Similarly, when he tells us “GM crops are considered by developing and populous countries as vital to their survival”, we again get only part of the story. Dr Sage fails to tell us who it is in those countries that apparently considers them so “vital”. After all, there's plenty of evidence that many poor farmers and Third World non- governmental organisations not to mention the aid agencies, are highly critical of the likely impact of GMOs.

Dr Sage is hardly more frank in his third paragraph: “Genetic modification, like all technologies, is improving and becoming more manageable with experience and will not go away.” This might, somewhat unkindly, be decoded as “No one, including the scientists, yet knows exactly what they're doing with GM, but whatever it is, they're getting better at it, and if the public don't like it, they'll just have to lump it!”

In fact, not all technologies do become increasingly easier to handle, particularly in a context of poor regulation. Consider Chernobyl , for example, which occurred after decades of experience with nuclear power.

The truth is that one of the problems with both GM crops and BSE has been the willingness of some scientists and others to imply they know far more than they actually do.
Jonathan Matthews
The Street

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3.    Nicole Cook's reply to Gregory, published: EDP, 11th November 2000

Genetic Engineering, we are told, yet again by Dr Gregory (EDP Letters November 9th) is now essential to meet the needs of  a world population that  is increasing by 88 million people every year.  According to his view it is  selfish and shortsighted to suggest otherwise.

Even if GE were able to deliver its promises of high yielding, disease resistant crops it is unlikely that it would benefit the starving because it  fails to address the root causes of hunger, landlessness, debt and war.

Indeed to suggest that this complex problem will be solved by biotechnology allows both governments and industry to distance themselves from their complicity in  the political structures and social inequalities that lead to starvation.

In fact we already produce one and a half times the amount of food needed to provide everyone in the world with adequate and nutritious diet (UN World food program) the problem here is distribution.

We need approaches that will address both the agricultural and political challenges. Ecologically based agriculture ie. local food production, diversity of crops planted, reduction in nutrient loss and improved nutrient recycling.

For example 223,000 farmers in Brazil, using green manures have doubled maize crop yields, 300,000 farmers in India and 200,000 in Kenya, farming dry-land, using water and soil management technologies tripled sorgham and millet yields, and doubled maize yields, respectively.

These agricultural systems provide substantial increases in yields using local resources, and therefore communities become self reliant.  In contrast, multinational corporations, who are in the business of selling seeds,chemicals,and fertilizers, aim to tie farmers to external inputs-which come only from them, at their price.

The assumption that we need to create GE crops, overlooks the wealth of existing varieties. For example in Africa over 2,000 native grains, roots, fruits and other food plants have been feeding people for thousands of years but are given no attention whatever today. We are being deceived, GE crops will not feed the world and we must not be betrayed, by either the industry or the Government, as we have been with the BSE fiasco.

Nicole Cook  St Nicholas St, Diss

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