ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

25 June 2002


1. GM Crop trials undermined by US investigation
2. Bitter Harvest leaves bad taste


1. GM Crop trials undermined by US investigation

Friends of the Earth
Press Release
Embargo: 10.30pm Tues 25th June 2002

The GM crop trial programme in Britain has been thoroughly undermined by a new investigation into the use of weedkillers by US farmers growing GM crops, says Friends of the Earth. The claim follows a BBC "Newsnight" investigation (to be broadcast tonight, Tuesday 25th June). Although the GM trials in Britain involve the exclusive use of glufosinate ammonium  (GA), farmers growing the same crop commercially  in the US have resorted to a mix of GA and the far more damaging weedkiller Atrazine.

In the Newsnight report, agricultural experts reveal that between 75% and 90% of US GM maize growers are using a product called Liberty Atz ­ a mixture of Aventis' weed killer GA and Atrazine, the traditional herbicide used on maize crops [1]. Atrazine has been a problem pesticide for decades [2], and washes readily into rivers and groundwater. It is an EU Red List pesticide and is on the EU Priority List for hormone disrupting effects in animals [3].

During Seed Listing Hearings in the UK (held after an intervention by FOE) Aventis/Bayer have claimed that one of the main benefits of GM maize will be the substitution of atrazine with glufosinate ammonium. Company documents available from FOE state that "glufosinate ammonium has a safer Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) assessment than atrazine" and "is not as mobile in the soil as atrazine and so will not have the same effects on watercourses as atrazine" and "has a significantly better environmental profile than atrazine" [4]

Food and farming campaigner Pete Riley said:
"Aventis' pro GM maize propaganda has been thoroughly undermined by Newsnight's findings.  In the US, farmers were sold GM crops with a promise that atrazine would not be needed. But the reality seems to be very different. Because glufosinate is not as effective as Aventis has claimed, we are threatened with a new regime combining the worst of GM and the worst of the old system. Meanwhile, the credibility of the Government's Farm Scale Trials has been further undermined. The public have been told that the GM crop trials will show how GM crops will be grown in farming practice. But this has now been shown to be nothing more than a con trick".

1 Aventis Liberty Atz Herbicide Materials Safety Data Sheet from Aventis 10% by weight Glufosinate and 31.75% Atrazine.
2.Atrazine has been a problem in rivers, groundwater and public drinking water supply for decades. Its use is restricted in the UK to agriculture only.
3.Atrazine has been a Red List Substance since the 1980s because of its toxicity and has recently been confirmed as a confirmed hormone disrupting chemical.
4. From Aventis Crop Science UK Limited's "Representations in Support of National Listing of Forage maize Hybrid variety Chardon LL (AFP 51/833)" 25th April 2000.


2. Bitter Harvest leaves bad taste

did we notice the name of the John Innes Centre coming up on the credits for programme 2 - if so, it might explain a thing or three. The following letter has been sent to the BBC's Points of View and was copied to ngin.

I am writing to express my deep disappointment with the BBC "documentary", Bitter Harvest, which it seems is merely a propaganda exercise to smooth the way for commercialisation of GM foods. As someone who suffers from serious allergies to certain foods and chemicals, I have  taken the trouble to involve myself in the GM food debate from its inception in 1990. That was when American genetic scientist Dr John Fagan returned a large GM research grant and went public with his doubts about the safety of genetically engineering our food plants.

It took environmental groups several years to catch onto the dangers of this technology. When the environmental groups finally did so and ran with the topic, it was on the basis of scientists sounding the alarm.

From the beginning and continuing into the present, the most alarming voices talking about GM foods have been those of independent scientists who are not in the pay of the GM industry. Why were these voices absent from the BBC documentary? It was presented purely as a battle between well-meaning scientists whose only sin was ignorance of PR spin, and activists who were merely "looking around for another cause" to make a stir about.

Missing from the programme were every single one of the scientific reasons why the environmental lobby is so concerned about GMOs:

* the many scientists who warn about, and some who have proven, that horizontal gene transfer and cross-pollinations with other plants are realities with GM plants--to the extent that the industry is putting forward terminator technology as a partial "eco-friendly" solution to this problem of their own making. See the Institute of Science in Society's website for countless references to papers.

* the US FDA scientists who warned against the unique risks to human health and the environment posed by GM foods; and their unresolved doubts about the GM Flavr Savr tomato after it caused intestinal lesions and  deaths in rats who ate it, while no problems were seen with the control  group. The trials were abandoned without safety issues being resolved and  the tomato was approved by FDA bureaucrats (the chief of which had  recently been hired in from Monsanto, which had bought up the company  that created the Flavr Savr) in the face of the scientists' doubts.  Bitter Harvest portrayed the story of this tomato as a "nothing wrong with the technology, we just misread public mood" incident. Check out the FDA internal memos (now in the public domain in the US) at

* the true facts about the Pusztai research. The design and methodology of Pusztai's experiments as laid before the government's research body BBSRC won a large taxpayer-funded grant over many other submissions; and the experiments were carried out according to this methodology. Why has it not occurred to Bitter Harvest researchers that if the experiments were flawed, the BBSRC should be investigated by the Audit Office for a scandalous waste of public funds? And that the experiments should be repeated in the "correct" manner? The truth just may be that there was nothing wrong with the experiments, but the results were not convenient.

* the still unresolved story of deaths and illnesses resulting from a batch of Showa Denko's l-tryptophan produced with GE bacteria, where no such effects had been noted with the non-GE produced l-tryptophan. The exact cause of the tragedy is still unconfirmed because the company destroyed the suspect bacteria before tests could be carried out. However, the GE bacteria process has not been ruled out by the courts as a cause of the deaths and illnesses.

* the continuing practice of genetically engineering antibiotic resistance genes into food crops--in spite of warnings by scientists including the BMA that this is extremely dangerous to mankind's future.

* The truly terrible health effects in cows caused by Monsanto's GE bovine growth hormone (BGH), including lameness, premature death, mastitis and increased need for antibiotics. These effects are documented in scientific studies and even admitted to on the product labels. Concerns have also been raised about elevated levels of IGF-1 in the milk  of cows treated with BGH. This is an insulin-like substance that is  linked with cancer in humans. Whistleblowing scientists working for  Health Canada went public with their concerns about BGH and it is now  banned in that country, as it is in the EU and every country except America.

* the growing problems of herbicide-resistant superweeds in areas where GM crops are grown, especially Canada, and the growing problem of resistance in pests like the cotton bollworm to the Bt insecticide engineered into GM plants. Again, papers have been written on the subject and there is no excuse for researchers for the programme being ignorant of them.

* the disappointing yields produced by GM crops, documented by independent agronomist Dr Charles Benbrook.

The dangers and flawed assumptions underlying GM are well delineated by science and the BBC owes it to its licence payers to address these scientific problems. While I fully support activists in their work against GM food, it is disingenuous to ignore the scientific facts which underpin their actions. Where the science has a chance to come out, I'm afraid it generally supports the activists' cause. Why did the government stop the first public hearing into the seed listing of Aventis's T25 GE maize? Because groups like FoE pointed out the ridiculously large (and illegal) gaps in the science.

I shall not be watching the final episode of Bitter Harvest as I have no interest in watching yet more biotech industry propaganda paid for by the public in the form of the TV licence fee.

Claire Robinson

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