Update of Concerns - July 1999
Mae-Wan Ho & Angela Ryan
The article on TRIPS is now under review at the WTO. It is an opportunity to exclude the new biotech patents from TRIPS. A scientific briefing was produced for the Third World Network and circulated at WTO, by two of our signatories, Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Dr. Terje Traavik. The full document can be found on our website: www.i-sis.dircon.co.uk. It provides a glossary and detailed analysis of the relevant article in TRIPS as well as corresponding articles in the EU Directive. The briefing concludes: All classes of new biotech patents should be rejected from inclusion in TRIPs on the following grounds:
* All involve biological processes not under the direct control of the scientist. They cannot be regarded as inventions, but expropriations from life.
* The hit or miss technologies associated with many of the 'inventions' are inherently hazardous to health and biodiversity.
* There is no scientific basis to support the patenting of genes and genomes, which are discoveries at best.
* Many patents are unethical; they destroy livelihoods, contravene basic human rights, create unnecessary suffering in animals or are otherwise contrary to public order and morality.
* Many patents involve acts of plagiarism of indigenous knowledge and biopiracy of plants (and animals) bred and used by local communities for millenia.
at Cornell University published a study in Nature which found that pollen
from GM Bt corn could have lethal effects on the larvae of monarch butterflies
if it lands on milkweed, the plant upon which they feed. Forty-four percent
of the larvae were killed after 4 days, whereas no mortality occurred
in larvae fed nontransgenic pollen. The Cornell University researchers
say their results "have potentially profound implications for the conservation
of monarch butterflies" and believe more research on the environmental
risks of biotechnology in agriculture is essential.
2. A recent study on transgenic rice carried out at the John Innes Institute supports previous evidence that there is a recombination hotspot in the CaMV 35S promoter. Furthermore, most of the recombination events analyzed were 'illegitimate' or nonhomologous and do not require substantial similarity in nucleic acid base sequence. The recombination events were also found to occur independently, in the absence of other viral genes.
comment: Transgenic lines containing the CaMV promoter, which includes
practically all that have been released, are therefore prone to instability
due to rearrangements, and also have the potential to create new viruses
or other invasive genetic elements. The continued release of such transgenic
lines is unwarranted in light of the new findings.
new study reviews 8,200 university based trials of transgenic soya varieties.
It reveals that Roundup Ready Soybeans produce lower yields compared to
their non GM counterparts. The average yield drag in RR soybeans was 6.7%
and in some areas of the midwest the yield average was 10% higher in conventional
varieties compared to Roundup Ready varieties. Furthermore the analysis
shows that farmers use 2 to 5 times more herbicide measured in pounds
applied per acre on RR soybeans compared with other weed management systems.
RR herbicide use exceeds the levels on many farms using multi-tactic weed
management systems by a factor of 10 or more.
recent population-based study conducted in Sweden between 1987-1990 and
including follow-up interviews clearly links exposure to Roundup Ready
herbicide (glyphosate) to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and strongly suggests
glyphosate deserves further epidemiological studies.
new paper reports chaotic gene silencing in GM plants and reveals that
each transformed plant expressed a different and specific instability
profile. Both transcriptional and post-transcriptional gene silencing
mechanisms were operating in a chaotic manner and demonstrates that epigenetic
(position) effects are responsible for transgene instability in GM plants.
These results indicate that transgene silencing and instability will continue
to hinder the economic exploitation of GM plants.
transfers of a kanamycin resistance marker gene to the soil bacterium
Acinetobacter were obtained using DNA extracted from homogenized plant
leaf from a range of transgenic plants: Solanum tuberosum (potato), Nicotiana
tabacum (tobacco), Beta vulgaris (sugar beet), Brassica napus (oil-seed
rape) and Lycopersicon esculentum (tomato). It is estimated that about
2500 copies of the kanamycin resistance genes (from the same number of
plant cells) is sufficient to successfully transform one bacterium, despite
the fact that there is six million-fold excess of plant DNA present. Our
comment: A single plant with say, 2.5 trillion cells, would be sufficient
to transform one billion bacteria.
7. Horizontal gene transfer between bacteria can occur in the gut at high frequencies. This has been demonstrated in the gut of germ-free mice. The 'germ-free' gut-environment can result from taking antibiotics. In one experiment, tetracycline increases the frequency of horizontal gene transfer by 20-fold. And vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium is found to colonise the gut when the mice were treated with antibiotic.
comments: Antibiotic resistance marker genes can spread from GMOs to bacteria
and between bacteria, including those associated with infectious diseases.
Furthermore, the use of antibiotics will make resistance spread more readily.
8. Pathogenic bacteria capable of invading cells can act as vectors for transferring genes into mammalian cells.
comment: Dangerous transgenic DNA can end up in the genome of our cells,
with the potential of causing a lot of genetic disturbance including cancer.
C. Other relevant papers on ISIS's website (www.i-sis.dircon.co.uk), including:
Safety Concerns of Transgenic Agriculture and Related Issues Briefing
Paper for Minister of State for the Environment, The Rt Hon Michael Meacher
Institute of Science in Society at www.i-sis.dircon.co.uk. The Institute of Science in Society is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to research and education. Its aims are to develop and promote sustainable science, socially responsible science, science for public good and the integration of science in society.