Organic Trust Submission re GM - February 2008 | Organic Trust Ltd

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Organic Trust Submission re GM - February 2008

The Organic Trust Submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Scrutiny in relation to EU proposals regarding genetically modified foods was presented on February 26th 2008. At a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Scrutiny held on February 26th 2008, the organic sector were very ably represented by Kathryn Marsh (who is also the Organic Trust nominee on the EPA GMO Advisory Panel) and the details of her submission are as follows:

Presented by Kathryn Marsh on behalf of the organic sector of Ireland

1. The principles of organic farming
Organic farming is dependent upon the relationship of the farmer with the natural environment. By working with the environment and applying good science the organic farmer can produce crop levels equal to those of other systems and with higher levels of key nutrients .

2. The organic promise
The organic farmer promises the consumer that organic food has been produced in a soil based system without chemical inputs or genetically modified organisms.

3. The credibility of organic farming will be seriously undermined by the adventitious or technically unavoidable presence of GM in organic produce.

Why does organic production forbid the use of GMOs?

4. The Precautionary principle
Cornerstone of science – do no harm – do not do anything that cannot be undone

Once released into the environment genetically modified organisms cannot be recalled.

5. Know what you are doing
Genetic modification is not an exact science. The experimenter cannot know whether the gene they want to transfer has in fact been moved; they cannot know what else has been added to the DNA sequence, nor do they know what has been damaged in that sequence

Initial theory was that promoters will only turn on the gene to which they are attached. Experimentation demonstrates that there is no way to predict which genes will be activated. This can lead to unregulated cell growth – otherwise known as cancer.

6. The concept of substantial equivalence
Biochemical profiles of a new food are deemed to be substantially equivalent to an existing food if they fall within the range of natural variation already exhibited by biochemical profiles of existing foods or crops. This does not mean that they have the same characteristics as existing crops but that they are not more different – the differences may be in previously unknown areas.

Substantial equivalence should be a starting point in the safety evaluation, rather than an endpoint of the assessment .

7. Health
Unlike new drugs, there is no requirement for GM food to be routinely tested on animals or humans so scientists don’t know what the effects are on health. GM food has been available in America since 1996, but no studies have been carried out to assess whether this has led to health problems.

8. Long term studies
There has been more examination of the impact of GMOs on soil biota than on human beings. The view of the FSAI appears to have been over-influenced by the views of the UK Food Safety Authority which have been found to be seriously flawed. 

9. Safety testing
This is dependent on good study design and proper containment. Study design is almost always seriously flawed and inadequate. When the Irish EPA imposed good study design and containment as a condition of allowing field trials of the genetically modified potato in Ireland, the company involved decided to only do trials in countries which imposed less stringent conditions and attacked the EPA.  Because of EU rules, foodstuffs approved in countries with weaker testing regimes are allowed to be grown and sold throughout Europe.

10. Corruption of studies
Studies tend to obtain results which suit those funding them.  166 studies have been done on the safety of aspartame – NutraSweet. Most independent studies have found possible health problems - most industry studies have found no problems.

11. Industry is in charge of safety
The biotechnology industry scrutinizes itself despite its unlimited potential for harm .

12. It would appear that the most common result of genetic modification is surprise side effects
Food related illness in the US doubled between 1994 and 2001. In the last five years allergies have skyrocketed in Russia.

13. Will GM crops reduce world hunger?
There is no evidence that GM crops increase yield in the long term. Indeed some GM crops actually have lower yields than traditionally bred equivalents

14. Gene flow
Gene flow – the transmission of characteristics from not only one variety but one species to another exists in the natural environment.  In countries with high levels of GM introductions, widespread cross-contamination of conventional crops has been recorded through pollination. Gene flow from GMOs through other mechanisms is seen at low levels in the laboratory and is likely to occur in the environment. GM characteristics have spread across species in the brassica family

15. Impact on pesticide and herbicide use
After initial lowering of chemical use it now appears that resistance develops in target organisms and increased use of more powerful pesticides and herbicides is likely to become necessary. Super-weeds are emerging and other pest species fill the environmental gap

16. Expression of inserted characteristics
Inserted characteristics are expressed in all parts of food plants. Thus Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) which has been demonstrated to be toxic to non-target species – including human beings – is not administered to non-eaten parts of plants as it is when Bt is used in agriculture but is engineered so that it appears in all parts of the plant, including those eaten by humans and animals.

17. COM (2007) 336, COM (2007) 813
The reservations of the EPA on the introduction of transgenic potato varieties to Ireland apply in this case. This variety has not been tested under Irish growing conditions and it is assumed that ground-keeper potato tubers are killed by cold in winter!

No adequate long term feeding studies have been done.

There is strong potential for gene flow to non-transgenic crops

18. COM (2007) 814, COM (2007) 815
Parents of these GM maize varieties have been found to be associated with inflammatory reactions

19. The Austrian government is to be congratulated on its unwillingness to expose its people, environment and economy to the dangers associated with the use of GMOs and should be supported by the Government of Ireland

20. Contained use
Fully contained use in which the organism is destroyed poses no threat to humans or the environment. However, the end goal of contained use is normally to produce a substance which will be released into the wider environment – for instance as a drug. It is essential that protocols are improved to make sure that transgenic effects cannot take place. Current testing procedures are grossly inadequate for this.


13% of the 97 foodstuffs tested by the FSAI in 2007 were contaminated with GMOs at levels which did not force the manufacturers to declare their presence on the label.

Only proteins derived from GMOs must be declared on labels. Ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup need not be declared

If consumers see GM ingredients declared on labels they generally don’t buy the product - what does this indicate?

Most of the non-organic milk, dairy products, chicken, beef and pork sold in Ireland is allegedly from animals which have been fed on GMOs although switching to non-GM feed would only add 2 cents to the cost of a pound of steak . Although GM animal feed must be labeled on the bag there is no requirement for its use to be on the food label.

The biotechnology industry spends a great deal of money – the annual advertising budget is over $50 million – on scaremongering over the dangers of not introducing GM organisms (world starvation and disease according to them) and on pressurizing governments around the world to facilitate the introduction of GM varieties. This has taken the form of threats to withdraw employment from nation states, funding of political parties and individual politicians, threats to withdraw and actual withdrawal of funding from university departments where adverse findings are made, smear campaigns against individuals etc

“We didn’t realise what we were getting into. Canada is now a GM country. If we had a choice, we wouldn’t have become a GM nation”. - Terry Boehm,  grain farmer and vice-president of the Canadian Farmers Union

“We don’t need it, we don’t want it and the world would be a better place without GM”– Irish Organic Farmer

Introductory reading

Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods. By Jeffrey M. Smith (Green Books, UK, 2007)

“Transformation-induced mutations in transgenic plants: Analysis and biosafety implications” by Allison K. Wilson, Jonathan R. Latham, and Ricarda A. Steinbrecher, Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews – Vol. 23, December 2006 0264-8725/07/23/209-237:

1 Quality Low-Input Study of the European Union, Professor Carl Leifert, Newcastle University

2 Assessment of the safety of foods derived from genetically modified (GM) crops. Konig A, Cockburn A, Crevel RW, Debruyne E, Grafstroem R, Hammerling U, Kimber I, Knudsen I, Kuiper HA, Peijnenburg AA, Penninks AH, Poulsen M, Schauzu M, Wal JM. Food Chem Toxicol. 2004 Jul;42(7):1047-88. Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, Harvard School of Public Health]

3 Dean Report: Baroness Dean Review of the Food Standards Agency 2005

4 Relationship between Funding Source and Conclusion among Nutrition-Related Scientific Articles, Lesser LI, Ebbeling CB, Goozner M, Wypij D, Ludwig DS
PLoS Medicine Vol. 4, No. 1, e5 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040005.

5 Statement by EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas at the Vienna conference on “co-existence” in April 2006:
“EFSA cannot deliver a sound scientific opinion on GMOs; they only examine short term effects and they do not take into account the opinions of member states; there is [also] the question of whether scientific opinions relied solely on information supplied by companies which produce GMOs.”

6 Food Safety Authority of Ireland, GM Food Survey 2007, published February 2008
7 Based on current extra cost of conventional soya over GM soya of €30 per tonne delivered to Greenore