16 May 2003

Dear friends and colleagues,

RE: A case for a GM-free world

Having reviewed the scientific and other evidence on genetic engineering over the past decades, members of the newly formed Independent Science Panel (ISP) are convinced that the concerns they have over the safety of genetic engineering, GM crops and food security are warranted. The ISP was launced at a conference in London on 10 May 2003, where the UK Minister of Environment, Michael Meacher, was also present.

Among the evidence and conclusions they have made that support their call for a GM-free world in their report “The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World” are that GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits, GM crops have been increasingly rejected by farmers and consumers worldwide, there are escalating problems on the farm such as the emergence of volunteers, super-weeds, super-pests and crop failures due to transgene instability, extensive transgenic contamination that is unavoidable, and that food safety of GMOs is still unproven.

Meanwhile, the successes and benefits of all forms of sustainable agriculture are undeniable. The evidence, now assembled, makes a strong case for a worldwide ban on the commercial plantings of GM crops to make way for a comprehensive shift to agroecology, sustainable agriculture and organic farming.

The evidence on why GM crops are not a viable option for a sustainable future is presented in the report as well as evidence on the successes and benefits of sustainable agricultural practices.

We reproduce a summary of the report below and the ISP’s mission statement below. The internet link to the full report is

With best wishes,

Lim Li Lin and Chee Yoke Heong

Third World Network

121-S Jalan Utama

10450 Penang




REF: Doc.TWN/Biosafety/2003/B

The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World - A Summary       

(full report is available at

Why GM Free?

1.   GM crops failed to deliver promised benefits

2.   GM crops rejected by farmers and consumers worldwide

3.   Biotech giant corporations in rapid decline, and investment advisors forecast no future

“Money flowing from GE companies to politicians as well as the frequency with which GE company employees take jobs with US regulatory agencies (and vice versa) creates large bias potential and reduces the ability of investors to rely on safety claims made by the US Government. It also helps to clarify why the US Government has not taken a precautionary approach to GE and continues to suppress GE labelling in the face of overwhelming public support for it. With Enron and other financial disasters, the financial community apparently bought into company stories without looking much below the surface.....”  (Report on Monsanto by Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, April 2003)

4.   Escalating problems on the farm: volunteers, super-weeds, super-pests, massive crop failures due to transgene instability

“While there are some examples of plants which show stable expression of a transgene these may prove to be the exceptions to the rule. In an informal survey of over 30 companies involved in the commercialisation of transgenic crop plants....almost all of the respondents indicated that they had observed some level of transgene inaction. Many respondents indicated that most cases of transgene inactivation never reach the literature.”   (Finnegan and McElroy, 1994)

5.   Extensive transgenic contamination unavoidable

Dr. Lyle Friesen,University of Manitoba, tested 33 certified seed stocks and found 32 contaminated. “Some contamination is so high you could raise a crop with it,” he said.

6.   GM food safety unproven

“...very few animal trials of GM human food are available .. in scientific literature. It follows that GM foods have not been shown to be without risk and, indeed, the available scientific experimental results demonstrate cause for concern.”  (Stanley Ewen, 2002)

7.   Bt biopesticides toxic and immunogenic to humans and other animals

“A team of scientists have cautioned against releasing Bt crops for human use. They demonstrated that recombinant Cry1Ac protoxin from Bt is a potent systemic and mucosal immunogen, as potent as cholera toxin.” 

8.   ‘Pharm’ crops with immune-suppressive genes, HIV and other viral genes are ‘biological   time-bombs’

9.   Terminator crops spread male sterility

10. Broad-spectrum herbicides used with 75% of all transgenic crops are toxic to humans and many other species

11. Genetic engineering creates super-viruses

“Disaster in the making: An engineered mouse virus leaves us one step away from the ultimate bioweapon” New Scientist headline, Jan. 2001

“Geneticists can now create in a matter of minutes in the laboratory millions of recombinant viruses that have never existed in billions of years of evolution.”

“Disease-causing viruses and bacteria and their genetic material are the predominant materials and tools of genetic engineering, as much as for the intentional creation of bio-weapons.”

12. Transgenic DNA in food taken up by bacteria in human gut

“the possibility cannot be excluded that feeding GM products such as maize to animals also carries risks”

13. Transgenic DNA and cancer

“The consequences of foreign DNA uptake for mutagenesis [generating mutations] and oncogenesis [causing cancer] have not yet been investigated.” (Döerfler and Schubbert, 1998)

14. CaMV 35S promoter in practically all GM crops commercially grown

“transgenic constructs with the CaMV 35S promoter might be especially unstable and prone to horizontal gene transfer and recombination, with all the attendant hazards: gene mutations due to random insertion, cancer, reactivation of dormant viruses and generation of new viruses”

Why Sustainable Agriculture?

1.   Higher or comparable productivity and yields

“...some 8.98 million farmers have adopted sustainable agriculture practices and technologies on 28.92 million hectares.... Sustainable agriculture can lead to substantial increases in per hectare food production. The proportional yield increases are generally 50-100% for rainfed crops...[and] 5-10% for irrigated crops...” (Pretty and Hine, 2001)

2.   Better soils

The planting of mucuna beans in Latin America has restored soil fertility on depleted soils. Mucuna produces 100 tonnes of organic material per hectare, creating rich, friable soils in just 2-3 years. It also produces its own fertiliser, fixing atmospheric N and storing it in the ground for use by other plants. As the soil improves, yields are doubled, even tripled.

3.   Cleaner environment

The 15-yr trials carried out by the Rodale Institute showed that the conventional system had 60% more nitrate leached into groundwater over a 5-year period than in the organic systems. The better water infiltration rates of the organic systems made them less prone to erosion and less likely to contribute to water pollution from surface runoff.

4.   Reduced pesticides and no increase in pests

In Vietnam, farmers have cut the number of sprays from 3.4 to one per season, in Sri Lanka from 2.9 to 0.5 per season, and in Indonesia from 2.9 to 1.1 per season.

Research on Californian tomato production found that the withdrawal of synthetic insecticides did not lead to increased crop losses as a result of pest damage.

5.   Supporting biodiversity and using diversity

“... the close relationship between the introduction of the organic agricultural system and the maintenance of biodiversity is evident, as is the resulting improvement in the socio-economic conditions of the farmers.” (Scialabba NE-H, Grandi C and Henatsch C, 2002)

Thousands of Chinese rice farmers have doubled yields and nearly eliminated its most devastating disease without using chemicals or spending more, simply by mixed planting of two varieties.

6.   Environmentally and economically sustainable

“Our data indicate that the organic system ranked first in environmental and economic sustainability, the integrated system second and the conventional system last”. (Reganold JP, Glover JD, Andrews PK and Hinman JR, 2001)

7.   Ameliorating climate change by reducing direct & indirect energy use

8.   Efficient, profitable production

9.   Improved food security and benefits to local communities

Average food production per household increased by 1.71 tonnes per year (up 73%) for 4.42 million farmers on 3.58 million hectares.

10. Better food quality, more trace elements, vitamins & cancer-fighting phytochemicals, less pesticide and herbicide residues


Statement of the Independent Science Panel

Launched 10 May 2003, London.

The Independent Science Panel (ISP) is a panel of scientists from many disciplines and committed to the following.

1.   Promoting science for the public good, independent of commercial and other special interests, or of government control

We firmly believe that science should be accountable to civil society, that it should be accessible to all, regardless of gender, age, race, religion or caste, and that all sectors of civil society should participate in making decisions on all issues related to science, from scientific research to policies regarding science and technologies.

We believe that accurate scientific information should be promptly accessible to the public in unbiased and uncensored forms.

2.   Maintaining the highest standards of integrity and impartiality in science

We subscribe to the principles of honesty, openness and pluralism in the practice of science. There should be open peer review for published work, and respect and protection for those whose research challenges the conventional paradigm or majority opinion. Scientific disagreements must be openly and democratically debated.

We are committed to upholding the highest standards of scientific research, and to ensuring that research funding is not skewed or distorted by commercial or political imperatives.

3.   Developing sciences that can help make the world sustainable, equitable, peaceful and life-enhancing for all its inhabitants

We respect the sanctity of human life, seek to minimise harm to any living creature, and protect the environment. We hold that science should contribute to the physical, social and spiritual well being of all in all societies.

We are committed to an ecological perspective that takes proper account of the complexity, diversity and interdependence of all nature. We subscribe to the precautionary principle: when there is reasonable suspicion of serious or irreversible damage, lack of scientific consensus must not be used to postpone preventative action.

We reject scientific endeavours that serve aggressive military ends, promote commercial imperialism or damage social justice across the world.

The Genetic Modification Group of the ISP

The Genetic Modification (GM) Group of the ISP consists of scientists working in genetics, biosciences, toxicology and medicine, and other representatives of civil society who are concerned about the harmful consequences of genetic modifications of plants and animals and related technologies and their rapid commercialisation in agriculture and medicine without due process of public consultation and consent.

We find the following aspects especially regrettable and unacceptable:

·        Lack of critical public information on the science and technology of GM

·        Lack of public accountability in the GM science community

·        Lack of independent, disinterested scientific research into, and assessment of, the hazards of GM

·        Partisan attitude of regulatory and other public information bodies, which appear more intent on spreading corporate propaganda than providing crucial information

·        Pervasive commercial and political conflicts of interests in both research and development and regulation of GM

·        Suppression and vilification of scientists who try to convey research information to the public that is deemed to harm the industry

·        Persistent denial and dismissal of extensive scientific evidence on the hazards of GM to health and the environment by proponents and by supposedly disinterested advisory and regulatory bodies

·        Continuing claims of GM benefits by the biotech corporations, and repetitions of these claims by the scientific establishment, in the face of extensive evidence that GM has failed both in the field and in the laboratory.

·        Reluctance to recognize that the corporate funding of academic research in GM is already in decline, and that the biotechnology multinationals (and their shareholders) as well as investment consultants are now questioning the wisdom of the ‘GM enterprise’

·        Attacks on, and summary dismissal of, extensive evidence pointing to the benefits of various sustainable agricultural approaches for health and the environment, as well as food security for farmers and the social well-being of local communities.


ISP-GM Group Review

We have undertaken an extensive review of evidence indicating that GM crops are neither needed nor wanted and that they have failed to deliver their promises; on the contrary, GM crops are presenting escalating problems for farmers and posing unacceptable risks to health and the environment.

At the same time, the success and manifold benefits of all forms of sustainable agriculture are no longer in doubt. Consequently, we are demanding a ban on the commercial growing of all GM crops, and a comprehensive shift to agroecology, sustainable agriculture and organic farming.

A summary of the deliberations of the Independent Science Panel on GM is presented in, The Case for A GM-Free Sustainable World, Independent Science Panel, ISIS & TWN, 2003.


Independent Science Panel on GM

List of Members

Prof. Miguel Altieri
Professor of Agroecology, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Dr. Michael Antoniou
Senior Lecturer in Molecular Genetics, GKT School of Medicine, King’s College London

Dr. Susan Bardocz
Biochemist; formerly Rowett Research Institute, Scotland

Prof. David Bellamy OBE
Internationally renowned botanist, environmentalist, broadcaster, author and campaigner; recipient of numerous awards; President and Vice President of many conservation and environmental organizations

Dr. Elizabeth Bravo V.
Biologist, researcher and campaigner on biodiversity and GMO issues; co-founder of Acción Ecológica; part-time lecturer at Universidad Politécnica Salesiana, Ecuador

Prof. Joe Cummins
Professor Emeritus of Genetics, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Stanley Ewen
Consultant Histopathologist at Grampian University Hospitals Trust; formerly Senior Lecturer in Pathology, University of Aberdeen; lead histopathologist for the Grampian arm of the Scottish Colorectal Cancer Screening Pilot Project

Edward Goldsmith
Recipient of the Right Livelihood and numerous awards, environmentalist, scholar, author and Founding Editor of The Ecologist

Dr. Brian Goodwin
Scholar in Residence, Schumacher College, England

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
Co-founder and Director of the Institute of Science in Society; Editor of the magazine Science in Society; Science Advisor to the Third World Network and on the Roster of Experts for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety; Visiting Reader, Open University, UK and Visiting Professor of Organic Physics, Catania University, Sicily, Italy

Prof. Malcolm Hooper
Emeritus Professor at the University of Sunderland; previously, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Sunderland Polytechnic; Chief Scientific Advisor to the Gulf War Veterans

Dr. Vyvyan Howard
Medically qualified toxico-pathologist, Developmental Toxico-Pathology Group, Department of Human Anatomy and Cell Biology, The University of Liverpool; member of the UK Government’s Advisory Committee on Pesticides

Dr. Brian John
Geomorphologist and environmental scientist; Founder and long-time Chairman of the West Wales Eco Centre; one of the coordinating group of GM Free Cymru

Prof. Marijan Jošt
Professor of Plant Breeding and Seed Production, Agricultural College Krizevci, Croatia

Lim Li Ching
Researcher, Institute of Science in Society and Third World Network, deputy-editor of Science in Society magazine

Dr. Eva Novotny
Astronomer and campaigner on GM issues for Scientists for Global Responsibility, SGR

Prof. Bob Orskov OBE
Head of the International Feed Resource Unit in Macaulay Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland; Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, FRSE; Fellow of the Polish Academy of Science

Dr Michel Pimbert
Agricultural ecologist and Principal Associate, International Institute for Environment and Development

Dr. Arpad Pusztai
Private consultant; formerly Senior Research Fellow at the Rowett Research Institute, Bucksburn, Aberdeen, Scotland.

David Quist
Microbial ecologist, Ecosystem Sciences Division, Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Dr. Peter Rosset
Agricultural ecologist and rural development specialist; Co-director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First), Oakland, California, USA

Prof. Peter Saunders
Professor of Applied Mathematics at King’s College, London

Dr. Veljko Veljkovic
AIDS virologist, Center for Multidisciplinary Research and Engineering, Institute of Nuclear Sciences VINCA, Belgrade, Yugoslavia

Roberto Verzola
Secretary-General, Philippine Greens; Member of the Board of Trustees, PABINHI (a sustainable agriculture network); Coordinator, SRI-Pilipinas (network of advocates for the System of Rice Intensification)

Prof. Oscar B. Zamora
Professor of Agronomy, Department of Agronomy, University of the Philippines Los Banos-College of Agriculture (UPLB-CA), College, Laguna, The Philippines