EU Greens Scientists Slam Biotech Foods
Brussels, 9 March 1998
Greens Hail Successful Gene Tech Conference
Alternative Scientists Expose Genetic Engineering Risks
Over 300 participants at the Green Conference on Genetic Engineering in Brussels last week heard a panel of distinguished scientists pull apart the official line that risks from genetically modified organisms are under control through strict application of the precautionary principle.
Dr Mae-Wan Ho, Professor of Biology at the UK Open University and author of "Genetic Engineering: Dreams or Nightmares?" told the conference "Science is not bad, but there is bad science. Genetic engineering is bad science working with big business for quick profit against the public good"
Kjetil Hindar, Senior Researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research examining the case of transgenic salmon said "To enable us to make accurate predictions about the risks, we need to understand fully the genetic make-up and behaviour of the fish. Today we know almost nothing"
Heikki Hokkanen, Head of the OECD Research Programme on Biological Resource Management and Professor at the University of Helsinki, Finland warned of the dangers of making only short-term risk assessments. Speaking on the commercial use of plants engineered to be toxic to insects he said "If we assume that there are no harmful effects from GMO releases just because they are not obvious at the beginning, we will be repeating the mistakes of the past"
Beatrix Tappeser, Head of the Department of Genetic Engineering and Risk Management at the Oko Institute in Freiburg also highlighted this knowledge gap. "In 1977 we were told that isolated DNA was fully broken down and neutralised in the human gut. In 1994 we were told that this was an unproven assumption"
"95% of the human genome is called ¡junk DNA¢. This is because we don¢t understand what it is there for" commented Jean-Claude Perez, author of "DNA Decoded"
Jean-Marie Pelt, Director of the European Institute of Ecology in Metz, France was also highly critical of the risks we are taking "Because the Titanic was declared to be unsinkable, the risks from icebergs were thought to be negligible. Scientists today are equally compartmentalised in their thinking"In a discussion on genetically modified foodstuffs, Gilles-Eric Seralini Professor at the University of Caen, France demolished the idea that they could be compared to existing foods, stating that "The notion of substantial equivalence has no relevance at the present level of risk" Italian Research scientist Grazielle Picchi told delegates that "GMO foods have low nutritional values compared to naturally grown produce"
Huib de Vriend of the Dutch Consumer and Biotechnology Foundation demonstrated the futility of trying to impose an arbitrary labelling regime for gene foods. "Labelling based on physical detection of GMOs in consumer end-products is not a realistic option" he told the conference, arguing that the only workable scheme was one based on certificates of origin throughout the food chain.
Economist Ulrich Dolata from Bremen, Germany in a concluding speech dissected the idea that the biotechnology industry would become a key source of employment in Europe. "One thing I am sure of--biotechnology is not going to be a job-creating machine. The net effect will be minimal"
The Green Group has drafted a 6 point Declaration drawing on the findings of the Conference which is open for signature by all concerned citizens, whether they are scientists, parliamentarians or consumers. It states:-
1. That uses of genetic engineering in agriculture, animal husbandry and food production pose potentially unacceptable risks for humankind and the environment.
2. That strict liability for damage to human health or to the environment should be imposed on all users of GMOs in field trials and commercial applications in the EU.
3. That an independent and multi-disciplinary scientific tribunal be established to investigate the long-term impact on human health, the environment and biodiversity of the uses of genetic engineering in agriculture, animal husbandry and food production.
4. That no transboundary movements of living modified organisms should be permitted before the implementation of a comprehensive U.N. BioSafety Protocol.
5. That there should be no patents on human, animals or plants or their component parts.
6. That all products derived from genetic engineering techniques should be clearly labelled as such.