ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

21 January 2003


2 letters on GM sugar beet research and bird populations - article about the research here:,3604,874803,00.html and below
those an open letter to Defra from Dr Brian John.



by DR MARK AVERY [Royal Society for the Protection of Birds]
The Independent (London)
January 17, 2003, Friday


The suggestion that genetically modified crops help skylarks  (report, 15 January) is not strongly supported by the facts.

This study shows that the currently recommended techniques for growing genetically modified sugar beet actually lead to fewer weeds surviving, and thus potentially less food for skylarks and other farmland birds. As farmers would most likely follow such guidelines, the declines in many once-common farmland birds could be further exacerbated and the conservation work of many in the farming community undermined.

Director of Conservation
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds


Letters Editor, Guardian
119 Farringdon Road

Wednesday, January 15, 2003


I read with complete astonishment Tim Radford's report of the Royal Society's findings suggesting GM crops can be of benefit to the environment (Scientists grow 'bird-friendly' GM sugar beet, January 15). These results fly in the face of scientific and popular opinion and the results of previous tests and studies into the effects of GMOs on biodiversity.

But though the Royal Society's findings beggar belief, they are not entirely surprising. The GM industry is now clearly clutching at straws: having failed to persuade the world's public that GM technology will rid the world of hunger - and hence bring benefits to the poor - the agri-business lobby is now claiming its products are good for the environment.

The fact remains that these latest claims are based on bad science. That the research was part-funded by Monsanto, producer of the seeds concerned, should be enough to destroy its credibility. That its methodology has been roundly criticised for failing to meet accepted scientific standards, its limited scope, unreasonable and inaccurate assumptions and commercial irrelevance, certainly is.

Tim Radford correctly identifies conventional industrial farming practices as a threat to biodiversity. The solution lies in reforming an industry that concentrates power and profit in the hands of the retailers - as the scramble for control of the Safeway chain demonstrates - at the expense of farmers.

If we are to save our farming industry and protect biodiversity we need to tackle the industrialisation of the food industry, the unnecessary and polluting international trade in locally available produce and the transfer of profits and control to the multi-national agri-business sector.  Adopting GM as a weapon in the fight against the crisis facing farmers and the rural environment will have exactly the opposite effect.

Dr Caroline Lucas MEP (Green, South East England)
European Parliament
Rue Wiertz



Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP
Secretary of State for the Environment,
House of Commons,
London SW1A 0AA                     16th January 2003

Dear Minister,

GM Crop Plantings and the Public Interest

While the Government's low-key "GM debate" is going on, largely unnoticed by the public, there are major developments almost every day which lead us to make some very serious observations about the behaviour of the big biotechnology companies and about the extraordinary complacency of the Government.

May we remind you of a few recent events which should have a bearing on the Government's attitude to GM crops?

1.  The disgraceful "burial" by members of your own staff at DEFRA of the GM Oilseed Rape Contamination Report, published on Christmas Eve 2002 and deliberately kept away from the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly until their Draft GM Regulations were approved.

2.  The complete failure of ACRE to recognise the implications of that Report, which are spelled out in our letter dated 11th January to your colleague Michael Meacher.

3.  The Report on GM Crops and Human Health issued by the Health Committee of the Scottish Parliament on 15th January.

4.  The recent submission from the BMA on GM Crops and health.  That organisation, representing 120,000 doctors, has repeated its call for a moratorium on GM crop trials, expressing concerns over the impact of GM foods on long-term health.

5.  The admission by the American FDA that they have done no independent studies of the impact of GM crops and foods on human health, and that they have simply accepted the assurances of the GM multinationals that "there is no problem".  Further, they say that their requests for company research information on health effects have simply been ignored.

6.  The continuing state of denial within the Food Standards Agency of any health effects arising from the consumption of GM foods, in spite of the fact that transgenic DNA, often containing antibiotic resistance genes, can be taken up by bacteria in the human gut, with the potential to make bacterial infections untreatable.

7.  On-going efforts to vilify and marginalise those independent scientists (including Dr Arpad Pusztai and Dr Mae-Wan Ho) who have the courage to express their concerns about the impact of GM crops.

8.  An extraordinary refusal on the part of the key Government agencies to replicate studies that tend to demonstrate the toxicity of GM foods, or to commission serious and statistically significant clinical trials designed to show just what happens to people who eat large quantities of GM foods on a continuing basis.

9.  On-going doubts about the Farm Scale Evaluations of GM crops and about the manner in which many of these trials have been manipulated for the "research convenience" of Aventis and the other seed owners.

10.  Serious problems within the GM / biotechnology industry worldwide, indicating that consumers and shareholders alike are losing confidence in GM crops.

11.  An on-going "fudge" by the Government and its advisory committees on the definition of harm and the placing of liability arising out of the damage done by GM crop plantings.

12.  The arrogant and dismissive attitude of ACRE and ACNFP to the immense volume of sound science and other matters presented by expert witnesses at the Chardon LL Hearing.

It seems to us that the Government's attitude to GM crops thus far has been underpinned by two key assumptions, namely (a) that GM crops are "substantially equivalent" to conventional related varieties; and (b) that health and safety matters were all dealt with a few years ago, and are therefore off the agenda.  These assumptions were questionable in the first place, and are now proven to have been profoundly at fault.  The idea of "substantial equivalence" was recently described by Dr Vyvyan Howard as "a scam", and other senior scientists have also dismissed it as being a piece of scientific nonsense.  And health and safety matters are now assuming huge importance, as shown by the debate in Scotland.  In the light of this emerging consensus, the Government's attitude is increasingly unsupportable; and you will be aware of the strong criticism from the Scottish Health Committee that this Labour Government has placed far too much stress on the environmental side of the GM debate at the expense of consideration of health effects, and that you and your colleagues have demonstrated an inadequate commitment to the precautionary principle which should underpin all Government policy.

May we remind you that you are personally liable for the consequences of GM plantings in the UK?  If (as now seems increasingly likely) the British countryside and British agriculture will be faced in the future with unconstrained contamination by GM varieties and by superweeds, and if (as now seems increasingly likely) damaging health effects are identified in connection with GM crops and GM foods, where will the GM / biotech companies be then?  They will be bankrupt, dead and buried, with no resources to cope with litigation from organic farmers, let alone with those of us suffering from allergic reactions and other health effects.  The UK tax-payer will foot the bill, as he/she did with the shambles surrounding BSE and the other shambles surrounding F/M disease.  And with all due respect, you yourself will have moved on to higher things, leaving behind a dreadful legacy.

May we also remind you that we have given up on ACRE, ACNFP, SSC, FSA and SCIMAC, all of whom have demonstrated tunnel vision and a commitment to the promotion of GM technology which is nothing short of a disgrace. The Royal Society is also involved in the promotion of GM crops and foods.  They all appear to be incapable of joined-up thinking, and incapable of understanding just how sophisticated are the views of the general public on matters to do with GM.   The only compensation arising from the incompetence of these committees is that neither you nor any other Minister are obliged to follow their advice; and we urge you to take the decision NOW, on the basis of the points made above, to announce an immediate moratorium on all further GM crop plantings in the UK pending serious and protracted research on health and other issues.  This means that you should not give consent for the commercialisation of Chardon LL, whatever your advisory committees may be telling you.  And if, as a consequence of your refusal, Aventis threatens to take you to court, so be it!  They will not do it, since a court case would reveal everything.

The biotechnology companies are now fully aware that GM crops are harmful -- why else would they persistently refuse, both in the USA and in Europe, to release their own health and safety research into the public domain? Over and again they hide behind the smokescreen of "commercial confidentiality."   And why do they systematically vilify those who dare to raise health and safety issues, and those who simply report "inconvenient" research findings?  Furthermore, these companies are involved in a concerted and determined attempt, using blackmail through the WTO where necessary, to force their technology and their crops and foods on consumers who do not want it, in this country and abroad.

Our final question is a very interesting one.  For how long can you, as a politician charged with a duty of care, maintain the pretence that you are "unaware" of the concerns of the public and of the dangers associated with GM crop plantings?   We do not believe that you can maintain this pretence any longer, with so much evidence tumbling into the public domain every day. At some point (and we believe that it should be NOW) you must part company from your advisers and your civil servants and invoke the precautionary principle in order to protect the British public.  If you do this, even at this very late stage, you will win huge respect.

In conclusion we remind you that nobody wants GM crops in the British countryside apart from a handful of biotechnology companies and a few scientists working in the GM field.  These crops are not needed;  they have no demonstrable advantages over conventional crops;  there are no "general good" or "public interest" considerations which might support GM plantings; and on any sane cost-benefit analysis the predicted costs (economic, health and environmental) are vastly greater than the predicted benefits.

Please tune in to the instincts of the British public on this and make clear the Government's refusal to sanction further GM crop plantings in the UK. Then we can all get on with our lives instead of having to cope with the tomfoolery of a group of bioscientists  and academics who should be doing better things with their expertise and our money.

We will appreciate a considered reply.  This is an open letter which will be widely read, and very many people will be waiting to hear what you have to say.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Dr Brian John
for GM Free Cymru

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