ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
31 January 2003


There's clearly an industry-orchestrated attack underway on the British Medical Association as a result of their submission to the Health Committee of the Scottish Parliament - a submission which, together with other evidence from scientists concerned aboiut the dangers of genetic engineering, the committee clearly found more persuasive than the submissions of the UK Government's advisory committees, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Prof Tony Trewavas FRS etc.

At the time of the BMA submission a letter was written to the press by Dr Peter Lachmann denying broad support within the medical community for the BMA's stance. This was a remarkable claim given that the BMA represents 80% or more of UK doctors. Lachmann is the leading Fellow of the Royal Society who was identified by the editor of the Lancet, Richard Horton, as having tried to get him to stop the Lancet's publication of Pusztai and Ewen's peer-reviewed research by threatening Horton with the loss of his job.

This week pro-GM scientists from Africa, including representatives of the notorious AfricaBio lobby group, have been brought to Europe by the biotech industry to support its cause with the European Union. One of them, Dr Luke Mumba, a molecular biologist at the University of Zambia, appears to have made a statement which has been passed to the aggressively pro-GM journalist Andy Coghlan of the New Scientist as "an exclusive", saying the BMA had been particularly influential in relation to Zambia's decision to reject GM food aid. Coghlan used this to pressurise various BMA spokespeople and his New Scientist piece (item 1) creates the impression that the BMA's position is equivocal and out-dated. It makes no mention of the fact that the BMA has recently and unequivocally restated its official position to the Health Committee of the Scottish Parliament.

The article notes that the BMA will be holding "round table" talks at some point to decide whether its 1999 policy statement on GM foods needs formally updating. This is an entirely routine procedure but this has now been spun to the media in a further disinformation exercise, and today there have been reports on the BBC implying that the BMA is to rethink its position because it is so out of date and is based on now "discredited research"! The source for these claims can only be guessed at although we gather it is unlikely to be from wihin the BMA and the reference to "discredited research" is, of course, highly suggestive.

Meanwhile the Zambian end of the BMA attack may also bear closer inspection. Dr Luke Mumba does not originally appear to have been part of the industry camp. In March of this year it was reported in the Zambian press:

"University of Zambia School of natural sciences Dean Dr Luke Mumba says, unlike chemical or nuclear contamination, gene pollution cannot be cleaned up. He adds, toxic effects of genetic mistakes, will be passed on to all future generations of species. 'Once released, it is virtually impossible to recall genetically engineered organisms back to the laboratory or the field. Genetically engineered products carry more risks than traditional foods,' points out Dr Mumba." The Times of Zambia, March 12, 2002

By the summer, however, he was sounding a very different note, "All of us who consider ourselves to be experts in biotechnology must accept that we have not done enough to guide our policy makers on the subject. Each time we are afforded a forum we are invariably issuing contradictory statements on GM maize and biotechnology in general. Little wonder that our government is to date undecided on whether or not to accept maize aid from the US", Safety of GMOs by Dr. Luke Mumba, The Post, Zambia, July 29, 2002,
This Mumba article was full of reassurances, "Biotechnology companies are under obligation to ensure that all the genetically improved crops they produce comply with all national and international guidelines. Their survival as companies is dependent on complying with regulations and consumer expectations."

The reason for the disappearance of his earlier caution remains unexplained. The second item below presents a very different opinion from Dr Mumba's within the Zambian academic community as to what is going on:
"THE United States is being driven by business motives in their wish to supply genetically modified (GM) maize to Zambia, charged University of  Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU) secretary general Dr.  Timothy Mwanza yesterday... Dr Mwanza said... as a union, they were worried because some experts had allegedly been bought-off to convince the government that GM maize was safe." (item 2)

1.Zambia's GM food fear traced to UK
2.UNZALARU accuses US of being driven by business motivation over GMOs


1.Zambia's GM food fear traced to UK

an exclusive to New Scientist
Andy Coghlan, New Scientist, January 29, 2003
Doubts over the safety of genetically modified foods voiced by the British Medical Association were the main reason behind Zambia's decision to reject food aid in 2002, says a Zambian scientist who visited Europe this week. Famine still threatens 2.4 million people in Zambia today.

The revelation is significant because a trade war is looming between the US and Europe over GM crops. After Zambia refused the World Food Programme's shipments of American maize, on the grounds that they contained traces of GM strains, the US accused European governments and non-governmental organisations of "poisoning" opinion in Africa by exaggerating the risks to health and the environment.

New Scientist has now been told that Zambia was influenced predominantly by negative advice about GM foods from the BMA. The claim comes from Luke Mumba, a senior molecular biologist at the University of Zambia in Lusaka who is attending a summit on farming in Brussels.

In its policy document on GM foods, written in 1999, the BMA says: "We cannot at present know whether there are serious risks to the environment or to human health involved in producing GM crops or consuming GM food products ... and adverse effects are likely to be irreversible."

In particular, the BMA fears antibiotic-resistance genes, which act as "markers" in GM crops, could spread to bacteria, making them resistant to antibiotics. The report also says some GM foods might cause allergies. Neither fear has been substantiated so far.

Mumba says that before the Zambian government made its decision on the American maize it asked a group of prominent scientists to compile a report on the pros and cons of accepting it. And although the scientists interviewed 150 organisations and researchers around the world, they seemed to have been most heavily influenced by the BMA.

"In Zambia, they are always citing the BMA as the reason [for the decision]. They say that the BMA has no confidence in the safety of GM foods." The association is considered an authoritative body because of Zambia's historical links with Britain, Mumba says.

Delegates at the summit from other African nations want Zambia to review its position, saying the BMA is at odds with other bodies. "The American Medical Association backs GM food, as does the Royal Society in Britain, the Third World Academy of Sciences and the Food and Agriculture Organization," says Jocelyn Webster, the South African head of AfricaBio, an organisation promoting African biotechnology.

Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities at the BMA, denies the association has said that GM crops are harmful. "It's a misrepresentation of our policy to say that countries should not use these things," she says. "I don't see any reason why Zambia shouldn't accept the maize, but it's up to them." She says the BMA will be holding "round table" talks to decide whether its policy on GM foods needs updating.


2.UNZALARU accuses US of being driven by business motivation over GMOs

The Post, Zambia, by Webster Malido, August 1, 2002

THE United States is being driven by business motives in their wish to supply genetically modified (GM) maize to Zambia, charged University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU) secretary general Dr. Timothy Mwanza yesterday. Dr. Mwanza accused the US of trying to take advantage of the hunger situation in Southern Africa to maximise profits for its multinational companies producing the GM maize. "We cannot depend on a Republican US government, driven and backed more by business motives than philanthropy, to lecture to us that GM maize is safe for human consumption," Dr Mwanza said. "We need to be extra cautious because we know that here in Zambia, maize is the staple calorie source consumed in larger amounts than in the US."

He said as a union, they were worried because some experts had allegedly been bought-off to convince the government that GM maize was safe. Dr. Mwanza said while the union realises that government has a responsibility to feed its people in times of hunger, any desperation in handling the problem could result in a serious disaster. He said another fear was that the GM maize could contain a terminator gene, an innovation that protects the patents of companies producing GM maize. "If GM maize containing the terminator gene is planted and cross-pollinates with our organic maize, we risk destroying the engine of our food security that is driven by small scale farmers, that depend on storing seed from their own harvest," Dr Mwanza said. "Small scale farmers produce over 80 per cent of maize in Zambia, thus as a union we are against this veiled form of colonisation from the US."

Dr. Mwanza said the GM maize could also contaminate the baby-corn grown by  Zambian commercial farmers which is exported to the European Union where there is a ban on GM foods. He said currently, there was no bio-safety legislation related to the importation and use of GMOs. "In the absence of bio-safety legislation, what will happen if things go seriously wrong?" he asked. Dr. Mwanza said it was also important to undertake a comprehensive environmental risk assessment by local scientists. He said a location specific for assessment was required before making any conclusions on the effects of GM foods on the environment.

Dr. Mwanza said because the government had endorsed the precautionary principle by assenting to the Rio Declaration (Agenda 21) and the Convention for Biological Diversity, it was important that they do not take any risks by accepting GM maize. "We demand that the government should exercise extreme caution and think twice before it acts," Dr Mwanza said. "If you want to test the depth of a river, do not put both legs into the water." He said it was important to follow the EU's approach of rejecting GM foods because, on the basis of current data, it is not possible to assess the dangers to humans and the environment.

The US has maintained that it will only provide GM maize to all hunger-stricken countries in Southern Africa because that is what is in stock. United States Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Andrew Natsios last week said as far as he was concerned, there was nothing wrong with eating genetically modified maize because American citizens have.

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