Summary by Philip Webber, SGR, June 2002
In May 2002, Dr Eva Novotny of SGR gave evidence to the Chardon LL Hearing, held to give the public the right to present views on the genetically modified (GM) forage maize Chardon LL, produced by the biotechnology company Aventis. This maize is resistant to the herbicide Liberty Link (LL), also manufactured by Aventis. This public hearing began in October 2000 under the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) but was interrupted in the following month and was resumed in May 2002. The evidence is to be summarised by the Chairman, Mr Alun Alesbury, a senior barrister, and presented to ministers to assist them in their decision as to whether the maize should be placed on the National List of seeds that may be commercially grown in the United Kingdom. If approved, other GM varieties may be expected to follow more easily onto the National List.
Chardon LL had already been given EU approval, for which supporting documentation had been provided. The manufacturers of this new seed argued that the maize was not harmful and that their evidence showed this. They also offered evidence that pollen transport (which can lead to cross pollination or “contamination” of organic and conventional crops) would not be a problem. Much of the documentation on these and other issues came under scrutiny at the Hearing and was shown to be flawed.
The reports produced by Dr Novotny cover a range of issues and should be of interest to any scientist. Why? As was also found by other witnesses, the reports show that the evidence offered for safety of the maize for cattle consisted of poorly designed experiments with inconclusive results but with trends, if any, showing evidence of harm. Yet the risks of getting the GM experiment wrong — that is, full-scale growing of GM crops only to find too late that adverse effects are occurring — should require adherence to the precautionary principle; and the proponents of a potentially harmful product should be required to demonstrate clearly the absence of harm.
So, what do the reports cover?
- Report I - Non-suitability of Genetically Engineered Feed for Animals re-analyses the professed evidence that Chardon LL will not be harmful to cattle. This is based upon studies of 280 chickens and 40 rats, equally divided in each experiment between 'treated' and control animals. A considerable amount of anecdotal evidence on farm animals and wild animals rejecting GM food is also cited, and additional evidence is given that they prefer organically produced feed over conventionally produced feed. (PDF version [429KB))
- Report II - Hazards Arising from the Use of the CaMV 35S Promoter in Genetic Engineering highlights the points of debate about the use of a fragment of the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) in the genetic package that carries a gene into a foreign host. The report is a point-by-point criticism and rebuttal extracted from the key published papers on this subject. The concern is that this promoter may result in the creation of new, infective viruses and may also lead to cancer. (PDF version [62KB])
- Report III - A Model for Pollen Transport by Wind is a summary of original research on computer modelling of the transport and deposition, and also of fertilisation, of pollination by winds of various strengths and directions with options such as turbulence, side-winds and gusts. Only qualitative results have been produced, for lack of the necessary observational data, but they indicate that patches of higher density of deposited pollen occur at considerable distances beyond the average distance at which the pollen level has become low. (This report will be available shortly)
- Report IV - The Wheel of Health cites evidence that greater fertility of the soil and a superior degree of health of plants and animals, including human beings, is achievable by organic and other ecological farming methods than by chemically-reliant methods. (PDF version [125KB])
- Report V - Concluding Comments points out how farm-scale trials have been poorly designed and how chemically-treated GM crops can adversely affect not only biodiversity but possibly also soil fertility, by damaging vital soil organisms including earthworms. The consequences for food production and all plant growth could be devastating. Impacts on water purity and on global warming (by reducing the ability of the soil to store carbon) could then be foreseen. The report also points to the real beneficiaries of genetic engineering: the companies that produce the GM seeds. (PDF version [310KB])
Overall, it is clear that the companies promoting GM are using bad research to promote bad science in the fields of animal feed and crop modification.
The legal conduct of Aventis at the Chardon Hearing is worthy of note, as is described by Dr Novotny in a brief article. At the pre-Hearing meeting, Aventis declared that it would not present evidence, no doubt to avoid cross-examination. Yet they did present evidence and caused a full day's untangling of the legal problems this caused. They then issued a press release claiming the Chairman had praised their helpfulness! This is very far from an open and honest debate and it seems clear that the GM promoters know that their case is very weak and vulnerable to public scrutiny.