Strict GE monitoring a must

AgResearch sacked a senior scientist, Dr Kardailsky, last year for allowing genetically engineered (GE/GM) ryegrass to flower without the use of the controls put in the trial, such as putting bags over any flowers to stop GE pollen spreading. Dr Kardailsky filed for unjustified dismissal as he questioned whether the plants were actually flowering and put the motivation for his dismissal down to staff tensions. However the Employment Relations Authority has found that AgResearch had grounds for his dismissal due to experimental safeguards not being followed.

That strict compliance of GE experiment controls is being enforced at AgResearch is very good news, and may be the way of the future there. If so, then AgResearch will need to reinstate the Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT) monitoring at its GE animal facility at Ruakura, which was to ensure that risky pick up of genetic material from AgResearch’s experiments wasn’t crossing over to soil organisms.

We would like to see all GE field trials closed, as GE does not have a place in our environment.

15 Comments Posted

  1. Libertyscott, I dont have to respond to Lynas to be credible. The guy lied and talked himself up. There are many in the world showing him up. I think GM Watch’s response below has enough to show some of the misinformation that Lynas promoted.

    EXTRACT: Lynas also claimed in the RT TV interview…. that “in the EU these [safety] tests [on each new GM product that reaches the market] are all done independently and they’re done by independent scientists”.

    This is so badly wrong that it’s hard to know how any media outlet could ever again take Lynas seriously as a “scientific” authority.

    Mark Lynas and the safety of GM foods
    Comment by GMWatch

    Mark Lynas in his recent Oxford Farming Conference speech said there is a scientific consensus that GM foods are safe. But as Doug Gurian-Sherman has pointed out:

    “While there is broad consensus on climate science, there is anything but on many aspects of GE science.”

    And this includes safety.

    In his Oxford talk Lynas is actually very light on any specifics about why he feels such confidence in the safety of GM for human health. But in a subsequent interview with RT TV he is pushed on the issue and his answers are revealing.

    Early on in the interview Lynas says, “My change of heart comes from the fact that I’ve spent a long time studying the science on biotechnology.” Lynas goes on to claim yet again that there’s a scientific “consensus” that GM foods are safe, but he also asserts in the interview that tens of millions of dollars’ worth of tests have been done and that there has “never” been any evidence of harm.

    He also makes the claim in the interview that “in the EU these [safety] tests [on each new GM product that reaches the market] are all done independently and they’re done by independent scientists”.

    All of this is untrue. Let’s take the “never” been any evidence of harm first.

    For a lineup of tests on GM foods that found toxic effects, see the long list here:

    A 2009 review by Dona and Arvanitoyannis (2009) found that most studies on the health risks of GM foods indicated that they caused toxic effects including hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive effects, and altered the hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters.
    (Dona, A. and I. S. Arvanitoyannis (2009). “Health risks of genetically modified foods.” Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 49(2): 164ˆ175.)

    A 2011 review of the scientific studies on safety aspects of GM foods found around an equal number of studies that concluded risk and studies that concluded safety.
    (Domingo, J. L. and J. G. Bordonaba (2011). “A literature review on the safety assessment of genetically modified plants.” Environ Int 37: 734ˆ742.)
    However, the review concluded that most of the studies that claimed safety were conducted by biotechnology companies responsible for commercializing these GM plants.

    A review by Snell et al (2011) of the health impacts of GM diets in long-term tests is often cited by GM proponents as showing GM foods are safe but in fact it provides no such proof.
    (Snell, C., et al. (2011). “Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review.” Food and Chemical Toxicology.)
    Some of the studies cited by Snell:
    *do not examine health effects but are nutritional feeding studies of interest to farmers, looking at effects like milk yield and body weight gain
    *are not conducted over the lifetime of the animal and so do not test for the effects of lifetime consumption
    *do in fact find signs of toxicity, which are dismissed either by the authors of the original studies or by Snell et al as not being biologically significant
    *have serious methodological shortcomings that limit the conclusions that can be drawn from them, such as not giving basic information like numbers of animals used; using very small groups of animals that are insufficient to prove safety; or not using the non-GM isogenic (genetically the same) variety as the comparator for the GM crop (biotech companies generally refuse access for independent researchers to the necessary research materials, which are the GM crop variety and the non-GM isogenic variety grown side by side in the same conditions). Snell et al point out these methodological shortcomings in studies that find risk and safety alike. But then, in an example of the double standards that we‚ve come to expect of GM lobbyists, Snell et al accept the findings of safety from these methodologically compromised tests at face value while rejecting the findings of risk!

    A review by Kvakkestad et al (2007) of scientists’ views on the ecological risks of releasing GM crops found no consensus on safety and found that views depended on funding:
    “The GM crop issue is characterised by low consensus among scientists. This study has revealed two distinct and independently coherent perspectives on GM crops. Perspective 1 emphasises that the environmental effects from releasing GM crops are unpredictable, while perspective 2 emphasises that GM crops are useful and present no unique risks. No ecologists are associated with perspective 2, while all the scientists employed in the GM-industry are associated with perspective 2. Publicly funded scientists are likely to hold perspective 1, while scientists that are funded by the GM-industry are very likely to hold perspective 2.”
    (Kvakkestad, V., et al. (2007). “Scientists’ perspectives on the deliberate release of GM crops.” Environmental Values 16(1): 79ˆ104.)

    Lynas also claimed in the RT TV interview, as we’ve noted, that “in the EU these [safety] tests [on each new GM product that reaches the market] are all done independently and they’re done by independent scientists”.

    This is so badly wrong that it’s hard to know how any media outlet could ever again take Lynas seriously as a “scientific” authority.

    GM crops are authorized for commercialisation in the EU on the basis of safety and other tests done by the company that wants to market them. That means Monsanto, Syngenta etc. Sometimes the company will publish a short 90-day toxicological test in a scientific journal, but this is not a prerequisite for commercialisation and often occurs AFTER the GM food has already been commercialised. The quality of these tests has consistently been criticised by NGOs, scientists, and members of the European Parliament. Often, toxic effects are found but are dismissed by industry and/or regulators as not biologically significant – a claim that Seralini’s recent 2012 study showed up for the nonsense it is, since the toxic effects found in Monsanto’s 90-day test on NK603 maize did indeed escalate into serious organ damage, tumours, and premature death in Seralini’s long-term 2-year test.

    In claiming that GM tests are done by independent scientists, Lynas may be thinking of the EU research project on GM foods, published in a report called A Decade of EU-Funded GMO Research (2001ˆ2010). However, this project has nothing to do with pre-market safety testing of GM foods. Some animal feeding studies were, as part of this project, carried out on GM rice, a crop not commercialised in the EU or, as far as we know, anywhere in the world. The findings were not reassuring but gave cause for concern, albeit there were the usual sorry attempts by the Commission and pro-GM lobbyists to spin the project as showing safety:

    Other tests under this project were carried out on commercialised GM corn which has already been in the EU food and feed supply for years, and also found worrying effects:

    Lynas has had as much opportunity as we’ve had to dig out this evidence. Why won’t he engage with it? It seems, as Prof John Vandermeer has said, that he’s determined to end his science education at elementary level.

    Or is it that his idea of scientific consensus is whatever the pro-GM lobby tells him?

  2. Steffan: Good on you for replying, but I’d appreciate you saying more about why Lynas is wrong rather than questioning his motives. Play the ball, not the man.

    Unless you can respond to him substantively, not just throwing around bald statements, then you don’t have credibility.

    What would happen if you found out you had been wrong? Do you think that you’d be able to bring around the thousands of people who have followed the gospel, or do you think you’d get excommunicated? Think for just a moment or so how tolerant your movement is with honestly held dissenting views.

  3. Arana, I finished commercial organics in 2005 but am very keen with NO CONFLICT OF INTEREST to ensure now as I did then that New Zealand follows a genuinely environmental and economically sustainable course that is also socially equitable. Lynas arguments are very inaccurate, so the mind boggles as to his motivation for attempting to discredit the anti-GMO movement which actually wins if genuinely independent science is considered.
    Libertyscott, unfortunately FSANZ and now the FDA who are the decision makers as to what GE food is safe for our shelves do not actually use independent science for their deliberations. Fed Up With FSANZ is what NZers and Australians are beginning to chant for very good reason. Food safety should not be bent by trade imperitives, but clearly is in the current system.

  4. BTW: Does Browning still have a financial interest in the certified organic glasshouse operation specified in his profile?

  5. A cautionary approach does not mean “no risk”. It means the risks should be minimal and the benefits significant. This is clearly the case with GM, as Mark Lynas points out.

    It’s over. The anti-GM crowd were clearly wrong and their position hurt the poor. It is simply evil to maintain that position for the sake of their own egos.

  6. I have seen and noted screeds of sound science on GMO’s which, while advocating for GM urge a cautionary approach.

    It is a fact that GMO’s were rushed onto the market in the early ’90’s and it is not unreasonable to ask whether this was done for private profit or for the genuine benefit of mankind.

    Large scale GM crop failures in USA and India, cross contamination of crops, implications of GM ready crops for CCD or honeybee colony collapse disorder,questions over viral contamination see…

    GMO is not the next Green Revolution, that much is clear and the fact that some degree of healthy scepticism exists is not unreasonable given the billions that have been spent to date by agri-chemical companies in attempting to convince the population that GM is good for us….if only we plebians understood their good intentions.

    I question the business ethics of companies such as Dow-DuPont (Bhopal), Monsanto (Agent Orange and Roundup) and Bayer (Xyclon B) and believe that until truly independent and impartial research is carried out and published (very very little of this exists as of now) a deeply sceptical public of all political persuasions will continue to resist the wholesale manufacture and consumption of GM products.

  7. Rafe: Good for you and I genuinely wish you well. The fear of “collapse of economies” over this seems such a hyperbole, given that GMOs have been out there and people consuming them for some years now.

    There is a brand issue around GMO food, but it is disingenuous to pretend that the people warning about this aren’t responsible for it in the first place.

    The resistance comes from the anti-GMO food lobby engaging in scaremongering, which is what this thread is all about. If any GMO food can be demonstrated to have a serious risk to health, above that of the same non-GMO food, then I wouldn’t expect it to be available for sale.

    However, while it is one thing for those who don’t produce GMO food to happily go about their business (and market accordingly), it is another to spread fabrications and quasi-religious objections to it when this whole field has been shown to create enormous benefits for some producers and consumers.

    The entire Green Party approach to this is to shove its head in the sand and it doesn’t want to know about the positives, it doesn’t want to engage with those who say there are no proven ill effects, it just wants to say “not proven safe”. Well butter and cheese aren’t proven safe, wine certainly isn’t proven safe, broad beans aren’t proven safe, grapefruit aren’t proven safe. It’s just cynical scaremongering politics targeting poorly educated fearful mothers with conspiracy theories that imply that politicians (except the Greens) don’t care about their food, and neither do the people who make a living out of selling it to them.

  8. Where did you glean the idea that I was a devotee of the organic movement? The opposite of GM is not just ‘organic’, but a considered rational application of proven science and knowledge gained from experience over time. As a farmer I practiced sound husbandry, science and knowledge handed down by generations of my farming family. The consequence of a business selling potentially dangerous and unproven goods in this circumstance is not the short term collapse of that business in this case but the potential collapse of economies which rush headlong into adopting shonkey technologies. The furore in recent days over contamination of our so called ‘pure dairy’ by products designed to lower nitrate runoff would pale in comparison to the reaction of markets to the knowledge that the New Zealand dairy industry now routinely feeds GM soy meal sourced from South America to its dairy herds and adulterated dairy foods to its customers. Truth or perception, banging away at what you appear to consider a bunch of looneys and stargazers does not help your case. For one who claims to hold logic reason and science sacred, you are in danger of becoming what you critique.

  9. Rafe: Setting aside the ad hominem (why should Libertarianz apologise for anything?) you make a completely unsubstantiated claim, because your only source is the same club that Lynas belonged to and now repudiates, and it is extraordinarily selective about what it quotes – because of course, is anyone in the sort of quasi-religious social club- which is what these movements are – really going to say “hey everyone, I think we got it wrong”, and be ostracised. The consequences of a business selling a product getting it wrong, is collapse in sales and lawsuits, it can’t evade reality for very long. The anti-GMO movement is sustained by doing so.

    In fact you demonstrate in your response the fundamental anti-scientific nature of your opposition to GMOs. For you it is an anti-capitalist crusade against a straw man that you set up, by saying “to the suggestion that anyone who attempts to question the wisdom of corporations is a ‘Luddite’”.

    Nobody suggests there is unquestioned “wisdom” in corporations, indeed it should always be a fair assumption that all businesses seek to market their goods and services exaggerating their benefits and minimising their costs or disbenefits. The actual point is science and evidence, not a holy crusade.

    The so-called “cautionary approach” is thrown out of the window when it comes to organic foods, because extraordinary claims are made about them. Sometimes they taste great, but they are hardly necessarily safe, as Lynas points out with the German organic beansprout incident:

    “This was a public health catastrophe, with the same number of deaths and injuries as were caused by Chernobyl, because E.-coli probably from animal manure infected organic beansprout seeds imported from Egypt.

    In total 53 people died and 3,500 suffered serious kidney failure. And why were these consumers choosing organic? Because they thought it was safer and healthier”

    Meanwhile, your evangelical environmental anti-scientists wreck GMO technologies that promise to improve the lives of thousands, because the likes of comfortable living, middle class rich country scientific illiterates have decided this is a cause worth agitating about.

    Lynas reports in China “where Greenpeace managed to trigger a national media panic by claiming that two dozen children had been used as human guinea pigs in a trial of GM golden rice. They gave no consideration to the fact that this rice is healthier, and could save thousands of children from vitamin A deficiency-related blindness and death each year.

    What happened was that the three Chinese scientists named in the Greenpeace press release were publicly hounded and have since lost their jobs, and in an autocratic country like China they are at serious personal risk. Internationally because of over-regulation golden rice has already been on the shelf for over a decade, and thanks to the activities of groups like Greenpeace it may never become available to vitamin-deficient poor people.”

    So that’s what you’re doing. You’re riding a shrinking bandwagon of people worse that luddites – for at least the luddites were just angrily lashing out at technology out of self interest – you’re just riding a trend, because you think you’re confronting evil nasty big corporations and helping the little people – when you’re actually hurting and harming the latter.

  10. Why would an apologist for the Liberatarians such as Libertyscott be bothered with pettifogging on this thread? All of his assertions have been categorically shown to be wrong by reputable sources in many countries. Cotton and maize now demand greater not lesser pesticide inputs in fact now that they have developed resistance to glyphosate pesticide manufacturers recommend cocktails of pesticides including those containing dioxin. Higher inputs in both labour and materials are now necessary meaning higher costs to farmers. In terms of safety or what corporations call ‘unintended consequences’ serious questions are being posed.See independent report here…
    And to the suggestion that anyone who attempts to question the wisdom of corporations is a ‘Luddite’ I answer that the original Luddites were not anti progress but were attempting to protect their craft based occupations from what they saw as employer attempts to replace them with low skilled low wage workers “The principal objection of the Luddites was the introduction of new wide-framed automated looms that could be operated by cheaper, relatively low-to-unskilled labour, resulting in unemployment among the skilled textile worker”
    On nearly every count Libertyscott misrepresents the facts on GM and the entire issue of science versus common sense and a cautionary approach.

  11. “We would like to see all GE field trials closed, as GE does not have a place in our environment”

    Based on what exactly, besides a decade and a half of blind luddite like unscientific prejudice?

    No response to Mark Lynas? Who was once on your side on GE, but has said:

    This was also explicitly an anti-science movement. We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life. Hence the Frankenstein food tag – this absolutely was about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. What we didn’t realise at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it.

    I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

    I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

    I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

    I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.

    Your inability to look in the mirror, assess your premises and admit you are wrong is absolutely disgraceful. You will accuse some climate change sceptics of such behaviour, but you are just as bad.

  12. re “GE does not have a place in our environment”

    guess we have to get rid of any roses, sports-field grass and most non-native flora then eh!

  13. Just a suggestion, but can party comms stick to using GM (or even better, rDNA) to describe the process.

    Where GM is international (though unfortunately imprecise) shorthand, GE is an Americanism and confusing.

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