apologies for any cross posting
Following the GM 'special' in its December 1st issue, Farmers Weekly have published a couple of interesting letters in response (see below). These highlight the lack of science and accountability in relation to the UK farm scale trials. Farmers and others who are concerned about these issues may like to contact John Turner (not to be confused with Dr Roger Turner referred to in the first letter) in Lincolnshire - see second letter. These criticisms come at a time when government scientists in the US have just demonstrated in a major scientific journal ('Science' Vol 290, 15 December) that GM crops have been commercialised without even basic scientific questions about their impact having been addressed in advance.
According to a report in the New York Times "the crucial studies have not yet been done". http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/14/science/14BIOT.html
Although not speaking on behalf of the US government (they were funded for the purposes of this work by the American Association for the Advancement of Science) the scientists say: "A review of existing scientific literature reveals that key experiments on both the environmental risks and benefits are lacking....Our inability to accurately predict ecological consequences, especially longterm, higher order interactions, increases the uncertainty associated with a risk assessment and may require modifications in our risk management strategies". It does, indeed, seem extraordinary that such radical technology should be promoted by governments in the abscence of proper risk-benefit analysis - extraordinary that is, until you understand the relationship between government and industry (see: www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/compliance.htm ).
"Next time you hear a scientist asserting that gene splicing is safe, remind yourself that there is no scientific evidence for that statement. We are profoundly ignorant about what we are doing to the code that generates all life. And unfortunately some scientists, including those entrusted with public safety, are willing to lie". Donella H. Meadows, adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College. (More scientific opinion of this kind at: http://www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/gmoquote.htm ).
Impartiality under spotlight
Letters, Farmers Weekly 15 December, 2000
Roger Turner of the British Society of Plant Breeders claims the government's farm scale trials will prove GM crops offer real benefits (Arable, Dec 1). Dr Turner cites an earlier study by IACR which he claims proves benefits to wildlife. In fact, the study only hypothesises such benefits because it acknowledges that its sampling procedures were not designed to estimate the numbers of beneficial insects that might be influenced by such a change in weed management. This is therefore hardly proof.
Dr Turner also makes no reference to overseas scientific evidence that herbicide resistant GM crops often need to be used in conjunction with other herbicides (such as atrazine in maize) in order to provide the level of weed control farmers seek from their weed management regimes. One three year study, completed by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on Aventis's own GM maize, concluded that: "The results of field experiments showed that a weed management strategy with glufosinate must include multiple applications, residual herbicides or mechanical control." That scenario is not being taken into account in the UK farm scale trials. The consequence is the data obtained is unlikely to reflect the actual impact of the technology once in commercial use.
Given that Aventis is the principal participant in the farm scale trials, and given that the Government itself records Dr Turner as the beneficiary of a pension from one of Aventis's subsidiaries (Rhone Poulenc), it is questionable whether he is best placed to give an impartial scientific opinion on these matters.
Mark Griffiths Environment Spokesman, Natural Law Party UK, Roydon Hall, East Peckham, Tonbridge, Kent. ...........................................................................
Danger of being GM guinea pigs
Your special feature on GM crops (Arable, Dec 1) gave farmers a glimpse of what can theoretically be achieved by the developments in biotechnology. What it didn't cover were some of the reasons why there are concerns about the pace at which the crops are being pushed towards commercial growing.
Like many others, I would probably have been reassured if the trials were being conducted by a truly independent body of scientists rather than the same company who is likely to eventually benefit from the sale of the seed and spray.
It was refreshing to read the views from Jonathan Latham (Letters, Dec 1) about some of the side effects. Rather than use British farming and the public as guinea pigs, we should acknowledge that this is not a perfect science and tackle the potential problems for what they are. Farmers and the public alike are expecting the trials to address any harmful effects, rather than relying on the argument that a GM crop is no different to conventional crops inorder to avoid the need for investigation.
I can speak only from personal experience, but promises made by Aventis to come and discuss problems caused to us by the trials being conducted nearby have failed to materialise. It is becoming clear that they have no interest in maintaining a GM-free element of the market and inadequate buffer zones mean that mistakes will be impossible to isolate. Although the decision passed in the Lord Melchett trial caused concern, I can understand the frustrations caused by the arrogance with which the trials were sanctioned. In our case there was no prior consultation with either villagers or neighbouring farmers, and the usual opportunity to argue the case for affected businesses through the planning procedure, has been taken away. In a local (and well-informed) public meeting more than 90% of the people attending were opposed to the trial, and yet all democratic means of addressing these concerns have been denied. It is possible that ours is the only community affected in this way, but if anybody else has a similar experience, I would like to hear from them. I hope to pass on any comments to the government's Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, which is looking into the impact of the trials, and hopefully a less confrontational approach can be found to address the problems.
The Grange, Little Bytham, Grantham, Lincs.