Monday, 2 August 2010

Letter from Lord Hughes of Woodside and my reply, re GMOs

2 August 2010

Dear Lord Hughes of Woodside,

I am grateful to receive your letter, especially because you have an alternative view to mine.

It is a common misunderstanding that GMOs are considered to be the same as “selective breeding”. When I refer to GMO, I refer to the European Community’s definition of a GMO from Directive 1990/200 which states that an “‘organism’ is any biological entity capable of replication or of transferring genetic material.” And then, “‘Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)’ means an organism in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.”

In her book, The World According to Monsanto, which I recommended in my letter instigated by the news of the GM potato test crops in Norfolk, Marie-Monique Robin describes how genetic manipulation is carried out. A scientist (not a farmer) genetically modifies an organism by making a selected gene enter a target cell by force. One technique is to use a bacterium that causes crown gall disease, which in effect infects the cell, but with the gene that induces tumours being suppressed. The insertion tool most frequently used today though is a “gene gun” which forces the desired DNA to penetrate into the target cells. “It works by attaching genetic constructs to microscopic gold or tungsten bullets and shooting them into a culture of embryonic cells.” (pp 138 – 141)

I am not anti-science. If GMOs were only grown indoors and contained and there were no cases of contamination of non-GM food, I would not have a complaint. However, the pollen from GM crops has been shown to contaminate non-GM crops. Because of GMO contamination, organic farmers have lost their organic status and conventional farmers have been sued by Monsanto under patent law. Also, GMOs have contaminated non-GM foods. Last year, GM Freeze organised a test that found GM Flax seed in an M&S loaf of bread when their policy is non-GMO. In addition, this particular GM flax was deregulated with all stocks supposedly destroyed in 2001. In America, Starlink GM corn that was intended for livestock feed accidentally got mixed in with a human supply which caused many mild to severe allergic reactions in people eating products containing it.

I am also not anti-modern medicine. However, people have been using medicine dubiously at least since the start of the industrial revolution. It was reported in 2000 in the Journal of the American Medical Association that one third of deaths in the United States are caused by medical treatment (and I don’t think things have improved much in the last 10 years or that they differ much in the UK). GMOs are being used in medicine and there are plans for GM plants to be grown with medicinal properties, which at best will only complicate the situation.

American money says “In God We Trust.” But it is not God that is producing GMOs and medicine, but Monsanto and other huge multi-national companies (mostly from America) for money. I do not trust or authorise these companies to tinker with my organic food (or my medicine if one day I required treatment). But because of contamination issues, my rights are denied. And while they are tinkering, they are racing to claim ownership of every gene on the planet with patent law. Neither God nor trust seems to have anything to do with it. It’s a mad dash for the finish line. According Paul Roberts, in his economic analysis of the food industry up to 2008, The End of Food, the finish line is the end of food. And he’s not against transgenic plants and animals as he calls GMOs (he’s American and they don’t have a legal definition for GMO because of the ‘substantially equivalent’ principle).  But he says that the GMO "debate has more or less stalled out on the margins of food policy" (p 313) and does not address the issue directly.  I think GMOs are at the centre of food policy (although maybe covertly) because they are the next step in making a quicker buck regardless of health or environment concerns.

And thank you for letting me know that you received my letter in hard copy. I realise that computers use electricity and the manufacturing process is bad in some ways like any other. But I’m not anti-technology either. I use my computer for a lot and sending a letter does not add much to the total cost.

Paper production, on the other hand, adds to the dilemma we are facing with a freshwater crisis. Not only is half the freshwater in England below standard, but according to the Sunday Times, one kilogram of paper requires 125 litres of water to process, and that excludes the water needed to grow the tree. In addition, I am disheartened to learn from India News (online) that 250,000 GM trees are being test grown starting this year by Aborgen for the paper industry in Southern states in the US. These are non-native eucalyptus trees that grow faster. Other GM trees have been designed that have systemic pesticide (some planned for Europe). All GM trees are an ecological threat and unsustainable.

Maybe the demonstrators in Kent didn’t have the best slogan. But I know that they had their hearts in the right place.

For other information on GMOs and related food issues, please see my new Blog which I post to regularly

Thank you again for sharing your ideas and giving me this opportunity to add to the discussion.

Yours sincerely,

J. Wilson

cc:  Lord Jenkin of Roding
      Baroness Byford DBE
      Lord Henley
      Christopher Hussey, Defra Customer Contact Unit