Thank you for the opportunity to respond to agro-business’ representative in Belize, Mr. Wilmot Simmons, corn seed salesman of Prosser Fertilizer and Agrotec Co., Ltd., the agent for Monsanto in Belize, the pioneer corn that was imported and destroyed, was developed and the life forms patented by Monsanto who then sold the patents to agri-business’ DuPont’s Pioneer.
Firstly, comparison of the use of Bt as a naturally occurring organic pesticide sprayed on visible pest insects, and Bt as the CRY1Fa2 gene inserted by particle acceleration is worth discussion.
Though often hailed as a precise method, the final stage of placing the new gene is rather crude, lacking precision and predictability, hence the name bio-ballistics. The construct is literally fired with a gene gun at the genetic code of the material it will manipulate.
The new gene can end up anywhere, next to any gene and even within another gene, disturbing its function or regulation, which can actually turn on or turn off other genes in the region, to unknown effects.
An example is salmon, genetically engineered with a growth hormone gene, which grew too big too fast, and also turned green. Other effects have included an increase in the production of toxins by the organisms.
Make no mistake, the genetically Bt corn is a pesticide and should not be compared to organically grown maize sprayed with naturally occurring Bt.
Mr. Simmons’ claims that public statements made in the press were “wild” does not refute the research, studies and other authoritative documents of many scientists and environmentalists who caution against GMOs, the information Mr. Simmons refers to as “junk” science.
Contrary to industry claims, GM foods are not properly tested for human safety before they are released for sale. In the US, the country from whom this recent importation was made, safety assessment of GMOs is voluntary and not required by law. Monsanto should be presenting its research in peer-reviewed journals.
The animal feeding studies conducted by GM crop developers are short in duration and use too few subjects to reliably detect harmful effects. Mr. Simmons would do well to realize that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Studies on humans have not been done, but scientists are reporting a growing number of studies that examine the effect of GM foods on laboratory animals. These studies, which Monsanto goes to great lengths to discredit, are all reported in peer-reviewed scientific journals. They include problems with rats fed GM tomatoes, GM rape oilseed, GM potatoes, GM corn; mice fed GM soya, GM peas, GM corn, GM soya; and rabbits fed GM soya.
Long-term studies in livestock indicate that GM feed does have adverse effects. Liver and pancreas problems are found in sheep fed Bt GM corn over three generations; GM DNA is surviving processing which raises the possibility of antibiotic resistance and horizontal gene transfer.
GM DNA in feed is appearing in the milk and meat that people eat. In spite of these studies, GM crops that caused ill effects in experimental animals have been approved for commercialization.
While the industry conducts less than rigorous studies on its own GM products, it has systematically and persistently interfered with the ability of independent scientists to conduct more rigorous and incisive independent research on GMOs.
Comparative and basic agronomic studies, assessments of safety and composition and assessments of environmental impact have all been restricted and suppressed by the biotechnology industry.
Patent rights are used to restrict access of independent researchers to commercialized GM seed. Permission to study patented GM crops is either withheld or made so difficult to obtain that research is blocked. The industry discredits and or muzzles scientists who do publish research that is critical of GM crops.
Aside from the possible ill effects on health with GMOs, we contend that genetically modified products do harm the environment. Farm scale trials sponsored by the UK government showed that herbicide resistant GM crops can reduce wildlife populations.
The massive conversion to GM soya in Argentina has caused a range of environmental problems, including problems for farmers in the spread of herbicide resistant weeds, soil depletion and increased pests and diseases. There is increasing worry that Bt insecticide producing Gm crops harm non-target populations, including butterflies and beneficial pest predators.
It is documented that Bt in GM crops can be toxic to water life and soil organisms.
While Mr. Simmons touts the benefits of GM products in greater yield, what he fails to acknowledge is the long recognized increase in production because of hybridization, a science which has been used for years. GM products are produced from proven hybrids with a long record of increased production.
What Mr. Simmons fails to tout are the real benefits of soil fertility and the fact that building soil has much longer positive effects on yields than does genetic modification. The USDA itself reports that after 30 years of GM “GE crops available for commercial use do not increase the yield potential of a variety.
In fact, yield may even decrease. Perhaps the biggest issue raised by these results is how to explain the rapid adoption of GE crops when farm financial impacts appear to be mixed or even negative.
At best, GM crops have performed no better than their non-Gm counterparts, with GM soya giving consistently lower yields for over a decade. Field tests of Bt insecticide producing corn hybrids showed they took longer to reach maturity and produced up to 12% lower yields than their non-Gm counterpart.
Bt insecticide-producing GM crops have led to resistance in pests, resulting in rising chemical applications, thus negating the supposed benefits of GM technology. Secondary pests which are on the increase because of the absence of Bt vulnerable pests devastate Bt cotton.
In 2007, the first reports of field resistance by the stem borer to BT corn and by the sugarcane borer were published; however, the increase in resistance to GM crops relates mostly to resistance of weeds to Roundup in GM fields. Common Roundup resistant weeds include pigweed, ryegrass and marestall. Herbicides in the US are on the increase as a result.
Mr. Simmons’ lack of concern for organic, niche, and indigenous farmers over the issue of pollinization prompts a basic lesson in the birds and the bees. Besides those and other animals as nature’s pollinators, man causes contamination during product transportation.
I refer to the recent study of GM canola bordering the highways in Canada and the US where new, unpatented strains of GM canola are showing up as GM canola is mutating and cross-breeding.
A number of years ago a study attempted to use Mexican corn as a control and discovered that more than 1,000 miles away, Mexican corn had been contaminated by US GM corn.
It would be good of Mr. Simmons to acknowledge that the new technology he promotes puts at risk many Belizean farmers, valuable export markets and the health of all of us. He would be fair to admit that this technology has not been widely tested, is not approved in most developed nations and is openly rejected in much of the developing world.
To encourage the importation of a controversial, possibly harmful technology which will certainly impact trade, environment and most probably health, without full, open consultation, and without legal issues resolved is unwise at best, and likely foolish.