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Biotech Industry is in Trouble

Sept. 11, 2002

Good-Bye GMOs
By Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

<www.i-sis.org.uk/Good-byeGMOs.php>
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Forcing GM food aid on famine-stricken southern Africa is a sheer act of
desperation. Behind the aggressive stance and rhetoric, the biotech
corporate empire is crumbling. It is morally, scientifically and financially
bankrupt. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reviews.
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Market plummets, mass layoffs and investment dries up

Biotech shares have fallen below the languishing Dow Jones index for months
now, and show no signs of recovering. More than 1,500 have been laid off
from the genomics sector since the industry peaked in the fall of 2000. Most
companies are still reporting double-digit losses and profitability remains
years away. Venture capital has dried to a tenth of what it was in 2000.

Monsanto is teetering on the brink of collapse as one company after another
has spun off agbiotech and cut investments in research and development
completely to concentrate on biomedical applications.

Third World governments have been seduced into investing heavily in biotech
as the downward slide in Europe and the United States has begun. Singapore
is caught without matching private venture capitol.

Mounting evidence of hazards

The latest to hit the headlines is the finding that GM DNA of soya flour
eaten in hamburger and milk-shake, found its way to bacteria in the human
gut, a possibility that the pro-biotech scientists have been denying for
years. Other predicted hazards have also been confirmed. Multi-herbicide
tolerant volunteers have rapidly evolved from GM canola in US and Canada.
Superweeds, in the form of Roundup-tolerant marestails, are now plaguing GM
soya and cotton fields in the US. Both established commercial seed stocks
and indigenous varieties are now contaminated by GM, with serious
consequences for agricultural biodiversity.

The biomedical sector has been hard hit with increasing evidence that the
hazards associated with gene drugs may be generic. Eprex, made by Johnson &
Johnson and sold only outside the United States, is widely believed to be
responsible for 141 cases of red cell aplasia, in which the body is unable
to produce red blood cells, making some patients dependent on transfusions
to survive. The body treats those proteins as foreign and mount immune
reactions against them, probably because they have been made in GM bacteria
and do not have the correct processing or folding.

In the case of Eprex, a hormone boosting the body to make red blood cells,
the body's own hormone is also destroyed.

Another problem is gene drugs is quality control, which is impossible, as
biological organisms cannot be standardised and controlled in the way that
chemical synthesis can be.

World-wide rejection of GM crops

Long before the high-profile rejection of GM food aid by Zambia, Zimbabwe
and Mozambique, citizens of many other countries especially the UK, have
been fighting to prevent field trials of GM crops. UK food manufacturers
have joined consumers in rejecting GM ingredients.

In August, the State Government of Karnataka in India has decided not to
allow Bt-cotton to be grown as a commercial crop, till experts come up with
a report on the adverse effects of the crop. It was fully vindicated when at
the end of the month, 100% failures of bt-cotton was reported in Madhya
Pradesh in central India, and by September, 70% losses reported in the
neighbouring state of Maharashtra (see "Massive failures of Bt-cotton in
India", this series).

A landmark agreement in Australia in May 2002 allowed the commonwealth to
establish GM-free zones, Tasmania was the first to declare itself GM-free
and other Australian states are set to follow.

New Zealand's new government is adopting a tough stance in banning all GM
imports. It has forced Australian seed giant Pacific Seeds to incinerate 30
tonnes of maize in Auckland, after it emerged that the seed was contaminated
with genetically modified material.

Italy too is cracking down on companies selling GM contaminated seeds. And
US consumers have targeted supermarkets to go GM-free.

Biosafety regulations tighten

More than 35 countries have already legislated for the mandatory labelling
of food containing GM ingredients, or else laws restricting the import of
some gene-foods. These countries comprise more than half the world's
population.

Most significantly, the European Parliament has adopted strict new rules for
traceability and labelling that would effectively ban all imports from the
United States and other major producers, unless they can take measures to
segregate and prevent GM contamination.

The US Department of Agriculture recently said it may create a voluntary
system to verify if shipments of US corn, soya beans and other crops are GM.
This is US' version of Europe's labelling and traceability programme, and
may be a sign that US is caving in to Europe's tough stance over GM imports.

All in all, GMOs are going, going...

GMOs are on the way out. But we should make sure to give them a good send
off!

To see why GMOs are failing so badly, see "What's wrong with GMOs?" and
articles following for in-depth analyses, to appear in coming issue of
Science in Society.

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