Dr Mae-Wan Ho

“I write in support of the petition for a 5 year moratorium on GMOs in Ireland on behalf of the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS), a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to reclaiming science for the public good.

As part of the work of ISIS, and also as a member on the roster of scientific experts of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, I and my colleagues have been monitoring and reviewing extensive scientific literature and empirical evidence on genetically modified (GM) crops and livestock since 1994.

It has been widely recognized since the 1970s that genetic engineering is inherently hazardous because it greatly enhances horizontal gene transfer and recombination, a main route to creating new pathogens in nature. That was why genetic engineering experiments were strictly controlled and contained in the laboratory well into the 1980s.

When genetic modification of crops began, all caution was thrown to the wind. GM crops were released freely into the environment and considered ‘safe’ a priori, whereas they are even less safe than genetic engineering microbes in many respects. Genetic modification of higher plants and animals – as opposed to microbes – is unreliable and uncontrollable, thereby introducing the further risks of unpredictable effects in the GMOs that can impact adversely on health and the environment. In addition, the foreign genes transferred are either biopesticides poisonous to a whole range of non-target organisms, including humans and livestock, or genes making crops tolerant to toxic herbicides that thereby enter our food chain, with disastrous effects. All these hazards have been confirmed in research carried out by scientists independent of the industry: feeding trials have resulted in unexplained deaths, liver and kidney toxicities, infertility, stunting, adverse immune reactions, and birth defects. GM crops now grown in hundreds of millions of hectares worldwide have brought new pests and new diseases in crops and livestock.

Unfortunately, our national and international regulators have persistently ignored and dismissed damning evidence against the safety of GMOs, and worse, colluding with industry to manipulate science to promote GMOs. Worst of all, honest scientists are being victimized, and often by their own academic institutions that should be protecting and defending them.

Academic science is in danger of losing all public trust, and not just in the field of GMOs. The European Assembly, in its 2011 resolution calling for lower exposure limits to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields associated with mobile phones, highlighted the need for “genuine independence” of scientific research and expertise. It noted “clear parallels with other current issues, such as licensing of medication, chemical pesticides, heavy metals or genetically modified organisms.”

Finally, a growing scientific consensus now see the need to replace industrial, fossil-fuel intensive agriculture with organic, agro-ecological farming in order to save the climate and feed the world. This is all the more urgent in view of the current world food crisis that has triggered the riots and political instability in North Africa and the Middle East, and spreading to the rest of Africa, Latin America, and some fear, soon to Europe.

In conclusion, a five-year moratorium on GMOs is the least that any sensible government should be doing, short of an outright ban. Meanwhile a comprehensive shift to organic, non-GM agriculture should be implemented as a matter of urgency.”

Dr Mae-Wan Ho - Biophysicist, founder of Institute of Science in Society. UK
www.i-sis.org.uk

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