Ban GMOs Now!

ISIS Press Release 04/06/08

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho warns that further indulgence in GMOs will severely damage our chances of surviving the food crisis and global warming; organic agriculture and localised food systems are the way forward

Invited lecture at conference on TRADITIONAL SEEDS OUR NATIONAL TREASURE AND HERITAGE -Traditional and Organic Agriculture instead of GMO, 17 May 2008, Bewelder, Warsaw, Poland

The Brave New World of GM Science

In 1994, I met some of the most remarkable leaders in the Third World: Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher (Institute of Sustainable Development, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), Martin Khor (Third World Network, Penang, Malaysia), and Vandana Shiva (Navdanya, New Delhi, India), who persuaded me to look into genetically modified organisms (GMOs), especially GM crops, which they rightly saw as a special threat to small family farmers. The biotech industry was promising miracle GM crops that would boost yield to feed the world, improve nutrition, and clean up and protect the environment. Monsanto’s Flavr Savr tomato, the first GM crop, had just been commercialised, though it turned out to be a complete flop, and was withdrawn several years later..

The biotech industry’s aggressive campaign of disinformation and manipulation of science did nothing to obscure the signs that the dream would soon turn into nightmare; and I said so in my book first published in 1997/1998 [1] Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare, the Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business, which became an international bestseller, translated into many languages, and recently reprinted with an extended introduction to coincide with its translation into Indonesian. Everything predicted in that book has happened. It also explained why the science behind GM is obsolete; a story elaborated further in Living with the Fluid Genome [2] published in 2003.

Genetic modification based on an obsolete theory and hence ineffective and dangerous

Genetic engineering of plants and animals began in the mid 1970s in the belief that the genome (the totality of all the genetic material of a species) is constant and static, and that the characteristics of organism are simply hardwired in their genome. But geneticists soon discovered that the genome is remarkably dynamic and ‘fluid’, and constantly in conversation with the environment. This determines which genes are turned on, when, where, by how much and for how long. Moreover, the genetic material itself could also be marked or changed according to experience, and the influence passed on to the next generation.

The best thing about the human genome project is to finally explode the myth of genetic determinism, revealing the layers of molecular complexity that transmit, interpret and rewrite the genetic texts [3] (Life Beyond the Central Dogma series, SiS 24). These processes are precisely orchestrated and finely tuned by the organism as a whole, in a highly coordinated molecular ‘dance of life’ that’s necessary for survival.

In contrast, genetic engineering in the laboratory is crude, imprecise and invasive. The rogue genes inserted into a genome to make a GMO could land anywhere; typically in a rearranged or defective form, scrambling and mutating the host genome, and have the tendency to move or rearrange further once inserted, basically because they do not know the dance of life. That’s ultimately why genetic modification doesn’t work and is also dangerous.

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