GM conference

Free admission

Saturday 18th November,

10am - 5:30pm

University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London, W1.

"Globalisation and Food Production - Safety, Ethics and Health"


Dr Michael Fox, Senior scholar Bioethics, The Humane Soc. of USA

Dr Ian Gibson MP, Chair Parliamentary office of Science and technology.

Dr Mae-Wan Ho, Senior academic researcher in the open uni.

Liz Hosken, Gaia Foundation

Dr Vyvyan Howard, Head of research; Foetal and infant Toxico-Pathology,
Uni of Liverpool,

Dr Arpad Pusztai, Leading Bio-Chemist in plant lectin chemistry

Bookings: tel/fax: 01344 360033, e-mail:

Sarah Wade
Campaign Assistant
Food and Biotechnology.
Friends of the Earth, 26-28 Underwood Street, London N1 7JQ.

Tel: 020 7566 1715
fax: 020 7566 1640

This was an extremely interesting and informative day - the top people in their field talking on these critical issues. It was a great shame that it wasn't better attended, so I thought I would do a precise.

The main consensus from the panel was

'There are far more questions unanswered about GM etc., than answered, and until more is known on the subject, it is highly dangerous to apply the process so profligately. The scientifically respected procedure of the 'Precautionary Principle' should be applied.'

The day was opened by Dr Mae-Wan Ho (Researcher at the OU) who talked on the 'Reductionist Principle' that is dominating today's scientific thought. This is where only the immediate matter under examination is considered, and in total isolation - any relationship it may have with anything else is generally ignored - as is its possible changes in Time or Space. So in the example of GM the unexamined areas would include -

- how a GM organism may alter when confronted by the viruses in the environment,

- how a GMO might change after several generations

- how a GMO might change when confronted by environmental stress - e.g. relative drought.

- the impact of the GMO on the other species around it.

She said that this 'Reductionist Principle' was developed about 200 years ago and underlies the manner in which our Western Science behaves, and indeed has led to great developments, but, she argued that the continuation of this philosophy was proving increasingly dangerous as it ignored huge aspects which are particularly important when a global spread of GM is the matter in hand.

Mae-Wan Ho argued that because this Reductionist approach had been used with GM, and because GM constructs are basically unstable, that the 'Precautionary Principle' should be applied. This is a basic tenet that should be practised by all scientists in their day-to-day research, which is, that 'if you are not sure of the consequences, do not do it.' Be Cautious. With GM this is particularly important as it has the potential to affect ever living organism in ever corner of the World.

But our Governments are not protecting us as the GM maize recently found in Tortilla chips on our supermarket shelves, is not yet approved for human consumption.

One of the arguments for GM is that without it we will be unable to feed our increasing population. Mae-Wan stated that our population does not seem to be increasing at the huge rate they claim, and anyway, they claimed the same thing for the application of pesticides/fertilisers/herbicides.

Most of this is already printed in her book - 'Genetic Engineering - Dream or Nightmare?' - a copy of which I have, if anyone local to me would like to borrow it.

The second speaker was Helena Paul of the Gaia Foundation who entitled her talk 'Reclaiming Relationships'. This addresses the heart of the matter as we do not respect our relationships whether they are with ourselves, our family and society, or Nature and the Environment. It can be argued that this breakdown is what underlies all our problems - personal and social as well as environmental.

Helena began by quoting Kahil Gibran - 'Bread made without Love, only feeds half the Soul' and saying that we believe that we do not have to abide by the Laws of Natures. (Dr Michael Antoniou later supported this by saying that 'We are violating the Laws the Nature and the more fundamental
the violation, the greater the price we will have to pay').

Helena talked about the need to respect Nature, the need to respect its huge variety and ways of operating, the need to recognise and respect our place in it. She argued that we are not doing this and that if we continue as we going, we are heading for disaster. She gave us many examples in
support of this, for example of nearly 8,000 apple species grown in the US a hundred years ago, over 6,000 are already lost. For pears it was a similar story, even a pear prized for its 'creamy flavour' has disappeared. She cited a US Government Report written a year or two after a serious epidemic of Maize blight in 1970 that caused considerable hardship, saying that the severely limited number of wheat strains available for planting meant that 'the crop was impressively uniform genetically, and so, impressively vulnerable.' Yet the reduction of species has continued and is now being imposed on the Third World. There the individual farmers have, over generations, observed and collected the seeds that thrive best in their particular location with that particular soil, rainfall and temperature.
But all these particular genetic adaptations are being totally ignored and the farmers coerced into using the genetically-uniform seeds sold by the multinationals, with the resultant disasters when these seeds cannot cope with the particular environmental stresses. She also said that many of the standardised imported rice species were found to be less nutritionally sustaining than the indigenous species they were replacing. She followed on by saying that for all of us, our food is increasingly lacking in many minerals as our soil is increasingly deficient in them as a result of it being assaulted, leached and eroded by so many destructive chemicals.

Helena rounded off by saying that 'Whoever is in control of the soil, water and seeds, is in control of the World.' and that we must rebuild our relationship with our food and the environment that produces it, so as to be aware of how we need to change what we are doing so as to be able to survive.

The third speaker was Dr Arpad Pusztai, the highly respected scientist who was sacked in early 1999 for voicing on TV his evidence for his concerns about GM. He showed slides meticulously explaining his now famous experiment concerning rats and GM potatoes. He said that he had three batches of rats, one was fed a high diet of non-GM potatoes; the second was fed a diet of non-GM potatoes with separate lectin added (this lectin was a natural insecticide produced by the snowdrop); and the third group were fed the GM potato which had been genetically altered to include the lectin gene from the snowdrop. By including the lectin in two diets he was trying to see if there was a distinction between eating lectin per se and eating it when it was produced by the Lectin gene incorporated into the DNA of the potatoes. In other words, did genetic modification make any difference. The slides he showed convincingly proved that there was a difference, but he argued that
the experiment raised more questions than it answered. For example

- could the changes in the gut be reversed?

- could they be ameliorated with a mixed diet?

- Did this always happen?

- Did all animals react like this?

And many more queries which he has been unable to address through having no funding. He says that he 'wants more science, not less' and he is being prevented from using science.

Our fourth speaker was Dr Neil Ward, senior lecturer in Analytical and Environmental Chemistry at Surrey University, who spoke on 'Mycorrhiza, the soil Fungi'. He began by saying that much of the initial work was done by John Reeves of Lydbrook, Glos., who drew it to his attention. He showed
many slides illustrating how these fungi develops a symbiotic relationship with plants by growing around the tips of their roots by as much as 7cm - the fungi making minerals available to the plant so that it can absorb them, and receiving sugar in return.

But the fungi are threatened and killed by

- variations in texture and temperature - primarily ploughing and cultivation

- variations in the pH value

- pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers.

Without this fungus the ability of the plant to absorb minerals is drastically reduced, which was graphically shown by plant deficiencies for mineral after mineral.

The addition of mycorrhyza to the soil, which can be done in grain form -

- corrected the mineral deficiency

- increased plant growth

- increased stress resistance

- enhanced disease resistance

- enhanced nutritional content.

So why isn't it used more?

Our fifth speaker was Dr Vyvyan Howard, Head of a research group at the University of Liverpool which is investigating Foetal and Infant Toxico-Pathology. He started by saying that money is the only measure of efficiency recognised by today's society, consequently we are in serious danger. He spoke about various areas of the food system that concerned him.

The impending wide-spread irradiation of food - saying that the average piece of meat will be subjected to the equivalent of 150,000 chest X-rays. This will destroy vitamins and may produce potential toxins. If you would like to know more Tony Webb and Tim Lang wrote 'Food Irradiation - The Facts' (Thorsons, 1987.)

BGH - the GM cattle growth hormone - has an unexpected amino acid substitution. It causes increased production of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), a substance that is often connected with cancer".

Genetic Modification - GM tobacco unexpectedly produced a toxin.

Chemicals - Dr Howard calls pesticides 'unprescribed environmental drugs'. There are 300-500 easily measurable residues in our bodies, the effects of which are unknown. He said that we do not have the ability to metabolise and eject these man-made chemicals as our bodies have not evolved to do so - they are such a new addition to our environment. He said that the PCBs, Dioxins and DDT in a mother's body are passed on in huge quantities to the suckling baby because her fat, in which these chemicals are stored, is metabolised and used. We absorb many of these chemicals from the
environment, incineration of waste being one of the main sources.

He has written a book on this, 'Health Impacts of Waste Management', for those who are particularly interested.

Dr Howard showed a map of Europe marked with a symbol wherever there were 50 species of birds within 50 square kilometres - Eastern Europe was covered with red symbols, (despite the communist economies reckless treatment of the environment), and the Alps, Pyrenees and other sparsely cultivated areas - but most of western Europe had no more than one symbol for each country. The birds had been eradicated by our mechanised agriculture.

He showed slides illustrating the huge increase in occurrence of cancers in the last 50 years.

- 1950s - 1-4 chance of developing cancer in a lifetime

2000 - 1-3 chance of developing cancer in a lifetime (men - 1 in 2)

- 1950s - 1 in 100 chance of developing testicular cancer

2000 - 1 in 50 chance of developing testicular cancer

- 1960s - 1-20 chance of developing breast cancer

2000 - 1-11 chance of developing breast cancer

- 2000 an epidemic of childhood cancers.

None of this is acknowledged - the government only address the cure rates - which is defined as survival of the patient for at least 5 years after treatment - not the rates of occurrence. That would necessitate investigating the possible causes.

Dr Howard rounded off by saying that he didn't know the consequences or solutions - but that there are too many unanswered questions for us to be complacent.

Our final speaker was Dr Michael Fox, an Englishman who is Senior Scholar in Bioethics at the Humane Society of the USA in Washington, DC - Dysfunctional City, as he called it. A vet by training he has now moved into Bioethics and
began his talk by saying that 'Today's Science serves Industry and not Human Society - it is commoditising not healing us'. He sees this as crucial to our problem and therefore we need a new mind-set as Einstein said - 'a problem cannot be solved by the same mindset that caused it.'

He says that we have to wake up to what is happening and be prepared to leave our perceived material 'comfort zone'. He showed a slide of an advert from 1952 - 'DDT is good for mee - ee !'. Now we know that that is totally wrong, but too late - DDT is all around us. The manufacturers said the
same thing about PCBs and CFCs - we now know different; now they are saying the same thing about pesticides, fertilisers, herbicides and genetic engineering. Can we believe them?

The government stated that BSE didn't harm humans - they now have to admit that it does, but not before many multitudes have been infected. Dr Fox believes that this recent example of BSE has sensitised the British to the possibility that the government is probably also wrong over GM and it may well also be unsafe.

He says that we must ask ourselves the question - who are the primary beneficiaries of GM? Because he knows of no need for its development other than financial. He says that we must recognise the cycle that these big companies have created for their own benefit -

1) they create all the herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers and then create a market for them by any means - persuasion, criminalisation or coercion - so that they can make money.

2) these chemicals make people ill - so they create drugs to 'heal' them - again making more money.

3) These chemicals are in such huge quantities that they are increasingly making people SO ill that their organs are irreparably damaged. Now the companies see another market - another opportunity for making money - the creation by genetic modification of human organs for transplant.

None of this need happen.

It was Dr Fox who 15 years ago, first tried to warn the US of the potential dangers of genetic modification, he has written several books, two of which I have for loan to anyone local to me.

'Eating with Conscience - the Bioethics of food'

'Beyond Evolution - The genetically altered future of plants, animals, theEarth and Human.'

Right at the end, Dr Harash Narang, spoke for a few minutes on BSE. It is he who has given evidence to the Government and the various inquiries. He said that he believed BSE and Scrapie to be different viruses, both resident in sheep. Scrapie being the more common and when it is present, it seems to control BSE. He was also saying that scrapie-infected meat seemed to act as an inoculant against BSE. But he was unable to suggest how BSE had crossed the species barrier unless it was because scrapie was less prevalent, due to tighter controls, and so BSE is freer.