1.We can't ignore GM concerns - Pusztai
2.GM is safe and that's a fact - Little and Marantelli
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These exchanges began with Dr Arpad Pusztai's guest editorial in Chemistry & Industry, 'GM fears allayed with transparency' (20 June 2005 - Issue No 12).
EXCERPT from 'GM fears allayed with transparency': "It is... not unreasonable to suggest that it is not only the biotech companies that should carry out the risk or safety assessments of GM crops/foods, but it must also be verified by independent scientists through an open and transparent funding system. The basic rule must be that, because we all eat GM foods, we are all entitled to scrutinise the evidence relating to their safety. Therefore, secrecy is against the public interest and unjustified. Similarly, all ethical concerns raised by GM organisms must be settled inclusively by society."
Bernard Marantelli and Julian Little responded critically to this ('GM is safe and that's a fact' - item 2).
Marantelli works for the PR firm Lexington Communications. He has helped Lexington with its work for the the UK biotechnology-industry lobby group, the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), which Little heads.
The ABC was founded in 2002 by Monsanto along with Bayer CropScience, BASF, Dow Agrosciences, Dupont and Syngenta. Little is employed by Bayer while Marantelli, prior to joining Lexington, worked on PR for Monsanto.
1.We can't ignore GM concerns
Dr Arpad Pusztai
Chemistry & Industry
15 August 2005 - Issue No 16 - Page 15
Arpad Pusztai, a consultant at the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology in Tromso, counters Little and Marantelli's claims of GM's safety and calls for openness to end the controversy
'GM is safe and that's a fact,' say Julian Little and Bernard Marantelli of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council. Categorical statements of safety such as this encapsulate why efforts to have meaningful scientific dialogue between GM enthusiasts and sceptics have failed. Nothing can be said to be absolutely safe and safety for GM (or any other) food cannot be guaranteed by anyone.
The concept of safety is defined in the negative and this is how scientists approach the problem. Accordingly, the 1139 pages of the Monsanto-commissioned rat-feeding study with MON 863 maize-based diets has been a commendable attempt to show the regulators that no negative health impacts occur when this GM maize is fed to a mammalian species, and so support the idea of its safety. If consumers or regulators took it for a fact that this GM maize was safe, Monsanto would have never done this study. It is quite a different business that in the opinion of many, including this author, the results, rather than proving the innocuousness of MON 863, revealed possible health problems in the rats that had eaten this GM maize. Therefore, even if the partisan opinion of Little and Marantelli that 'the number of detrimental health impacts attributed to GM crops has remained”¦ zero' were to be true, the Monsanto study has provided evidence that harm can occur with at least this one GM maize crop.
By restricting access to the full 1139-page document, Monsanto raised suspicions that they were trying to hide any potential health risks of this GM maize from independent scrutiny even though they expected European consumers to eat it. Even more worrying is that some of the 25 member states' regulatory committees only received a 19-page summary instead of the full document. They were not provided with descriptions of the feeding experiments, other essential experimental details or the evaluation methods. Without these, they could not fulfil their lawful duties to scrutinise the results.
Before I could provide the German authorities with a commissioned scientific review of the feeding study, I had to sign a confidentiality contract not to publicly release its contents. Monsanto took the German authorities to court for disclosing the study to persons unauthorised by them. Fortunately, the appeal court took the reasonable view that blood parameters and kidney size etc of rats fed on MON 863 diet cannot be regarded as confidential information and ordered the publication of the document. It is therefore difficult to understand how the GM biotechnology industry can claim to foster openness and inclusiveness.
Little and Marantelli's interpretation of the UK Government-initiated investigation into the growing and commercialisation of GM crops, the Science Review Panel's report, the results of the field trials and Cabinet Office views also appear to be at odds with the facts. When it is asserted that 'the genetically modified element (sic!) of GM crops has no environmental impact, and that the herbicide regime”¦ (is) beneficial to wildlife”¦', this is not only the opposite to the conclusions of the UK investigation, it makes it impossible to have any further discussion.
The biotech industry and their pressure groups must recognise that some of the health and environmental concerns of society are genuine and need to be debated. Rebuffing these attempts by loudly declaring that GM is safe without transparently assessing the risks they represent and ascribing legitimate concerns as NGO-inspired conspiracy is not helpful. The sooner it is realised that openness, transparency and inclusiveness are not only slogans but the best way to solve this GM controversy, the better it will be for us all.
GM is safe and that's a fact
Julian Little and Bernard Marantelli
Chemistry & Industry
04 July 2005 - Issue No 13 - Page 12
It is time to stop the scare-mongering over GM crops after a decade of their safe use and the billionth acre planted globally, argue Julian Little and Bernard Marantelli of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council
The article 'GM fears allayed with transparency' casts a shadow over the crop biotechnology industry by speaking of company secrecy, the character assassination of those that question genetic modification (GM), and a lack of safety evaluations. It even suggested that the production of GM products is dangerous and surpasses our actual knowledge of the process. The article suggested these practices continued unabated despite calls for increased transparency and testing, particularly from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2000.
But then it cited a 1139-page safety evaluation of an individual Monsanto product given to the 25 member states of the European Union (EU) as information to support the application for that product to be approved in the EU. Hardly the actions of a secretive industry. The reality of the situation is that plant biotechnology and the products derived thereof have had unprecedented scrutiny around the world since the first products were commercialised ten years ago.
In 2000, the year of the OECD meeting the article refers to as providing the momentum for scientific transparency, the EU was in its second year of what would become a six-year de facto moratorium on GM crops. This moratorium, led by vocal NGOs, convinced those with political power that the public were violently opposed to GM.
This was also the year that the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) was set up. Our goal, in line with the OECD, was to provide information and education about the use of GM technology in the UK and around the world, based on respect for public interest, opinions and concerns. ABC is the UK umbrella group for the agricultural biotechnology industry including Bayer CropScience, BASF, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta.
Many things have changed since 2000, but most importantly the number of detrimental health impacts attributed to GM crops or foods has remained the same: zero.
Since 2000, the UK Government has undertaken a three-stranded public consultation and debate in which ABC participated fully. The industry also participated in the Government’s Farm Scale Evaluation programme of field trials. There has also been a three-year gene-flow study, not to mention a raft of other studies by the Food Standards Agency looking specifically at safety evaluation to complement the work covered by companies internally. The ABC has participated in every aspect.
In 2003, the Government-appointed Science Review Panel left ‘no stone unturned’ in reviewing 688 peer-reviewed safety studies on GM crops. It did not locate one detrimental human or animal health impact during the course of this review. The number of publicly-accessible safety studies that are available today (still without one detrimental health impact) would almost certainly pass 1000. This is somewhat in contrast to the implication in Pusztai’s article that safety evaluation is lax and studies few and far between.
Likewise, more than 250 field trials in the UK under the Government’s Farm Scale Evaluation programme have demonstrated that the genetically modified element of GM crops has no environmental impact, and that the herbicide regime used in conjunction with them is flexible enough to ensure that they are grown in a manner better or equally beneficial to wildlife as current conventional weed management practices.
And only this week a group of government scientists at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council reported on gene flow involving GM crops in the UK. They have given a clean bill of health and suggested no significant issues exist with gene flow, which is a natural manageable occurrence in agriculture.
Despite the rumour mill and comments about doom and gloom, the facts appear to speak for themselves. In 2004, 8.25 million farmers grew GM crops on 81 million hectares (200 million acres) in 17 countries. And for the first time absolute growth in plantings was greater in developing countries (7.2 million hectares) than in industrial countries (6.1 million hectares).
2005 saw the end of the first decade of commercial planting of GM crops and the billionth individual acre being planted globally. The success of GM crops has grown on the back of farmer and environmental benefits.
Not surprisingly, NGO focus has also changed in the last decade. Between 1998 and 2000 food safety was the issue of NGO driven focus, but as year after year passed without incident, their campaigning migrated towards concerns for the environment in an attempt to reinvigorate opposition.
The vacillating concerns and scaremongering of NGOs are not, however, just historical footnotes; they have serious repercussions. The failure of some in the EU to embrace or even accept GM technology has been in part responsible for many companies moving aspects of their R&D out of the UK with the unfortunate consequence that many gifted science researchers have followed. This will take decades to reverse, inhibits the vision of a technology-based country and severely restricts our chances to compete in the future global economy.