Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gordon Brown does a Tony: falls for GM hype

Press Statement

Gordon does a Tony: falls for GM hype

19 June 2008

Fact: GM crops dont increase yields, do have negative health impacts

Against all the evidence and in direct opposition to the recommendations of
his Chief Scientist [1], Gordon Brown, like his predecessor, is being
bamboozled by PR from the Agrobiotech lobby that GM crops can feed the

Contrary to the claims of some government ministers that are there are no
scientific arguments against GM crops, there is a strong body of published
evidence that shows GM crops do not increase yields and also indicating
negative health impacts for livestock eating GM feed and potentially for
humans consuming produce from those animals. This research is set out below.

But the main argument against GM crops is that they reinforce an outdated
model of agriculture that is wholly unsuited for adapting to and contending
with the conditions that climate change and more costly, scarcer oil bring for
global food security. [3]

Patrick Holden, Soil Association director said,
"The GM industry is desperate to prove it offers any benefits beyond the
self-interested, commercial one of locking farmers into dependency on its own
patented seeds and linked inputs of pesticides and fertilisers. The evidence
after decades of claims is that GM crops are no better and often poorer in
terms of yields, and more worryingly that there are real animal and human
health concerns.

"GMs greatest flaw is that it reinforces agricultures inherently
unsustainable reliance on vast inputs of fossil-fuel derived inputs in the
form of fertilisers and pesticides which are becoming economically, as well
environmentally unaffordable. Poor farmers in developing countries cannot
afford expensive chemicals and even big arable producers in the UK question
their viability as fertiliser costs double in price to over #350 a tonne. [4]
GM crops will add to climate change, by requiring the added inputs of the same
old chemical fertilisers that consume half of all the energy used in
agriculture, so giving off vast amounts of damaging greenhouse gases. [5]

"The Prime Minister would do better to listen to his Chief Scientist at Defra,
Professor Bob Watson, who chaired the recent international agricultural
assessment that concluded business as usual is no longer an option and
called for a shift to agroecological food production. The assessment
questioned GMs claims to be the solution to global poverty, hunger or climate
change and in contrast inclined towards organic, causing the GM
representatives to storm out of the process." [6]


For media enquiries please contact Clio Turton, Soil Association senior press
officer, 0117 914 2448 /

Notes to editor:

[1] Professor Bob Watson, Chief Scientist at Defra, chair of the International
Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development
(IAASTD). Previously Chief Scientist at World Bank. Leading expert on climate
change. Discovered the Ozone Hole whilst working at NASA.

[2] Scientific evidence of health impacts of GM crops:
Despite GM industry claims, over a dozen GM feeding trials (12 animal, 1
human) show negative health impacts of GM:

a.. Russian rat trial of GM soya: high mortality and stunted growth in
offspring (Ermakova, 2005)
b.. Italian mice trial of GM soya: metabolic effects on body organs
(Malatesta et al, 2002 and 2003; Vecchio et al, 2004)
c.. FSA-commissioned human trial of GM soya by Newcastle University: GM DNA
transfers out of food into the bodys gut bacteria (Netherwood et al, 2004)
d.. Monsanto rat trial of GM maize: changes in body organs indicating toxic
effects (report by Monsanto, 2002; review by Dr Pusztai, 2004; Siralini et
al, 2007)
e.. Aventis chicken trial of GM maize: mortality doubled and significant
change in composition of meat (reports for the Chardon LL hearing, 2002;
review in Food safety contaminants and toxins, CABI publishing, 2003)
f.. Aventis rat trial of the novel protein of GM maize: reduced body weight
and metabolic effects (same references as for Aventis chicken trial)
g.. UK study on sheep: in a few minutes, the genes in the GM maize move into
the bacteria in the mouth, changing their characteristics (Duggan et al, 2003)
h.. Monsanto rat trials of GM oilseed rape: reduction in body weight and
increased liver weight (significant as the liver is the organ of
detoxification) (US FDA, 2002; Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Genetically
Modified Organisms, 2004)
i.. Australian mice trial of GM peas: allergic reactions, including
inflammation of lungs (Prescott et al, 2005)
j.. Calgene mice trials of GM tomatoes: gut lesions and 7 of 40 died within
two weeks (review in Food safety contaminants and toxins, CABI publishing,
k.. UK Government-commissioned rat trial of GM potatoes by Rowett Research
Institute: gut lesions (Ewen and Pusztai, 1999)

NB: These studies were all designed to identify health impacts; the animal
trials often referred to by the GM companies as showing no negative impacts
are largely irrelevant as proof of safety, because they are mostly studies
carried out for commercial purposes on the efficacy of the feed, rather than
toxicological studies involving tissue analysis.

GM Crop do not increase Yields: the Science

GM crops in general
a.. Firstly, the current generation of GM crops were modified for insect
resistance and weed control), not to increase the intrinsic yield capacity of
the plant.
b.. An April 2006 report from the United States Department of Agriculture
(USDA) states that currently available GM crops do not increase the yield
potential of a hybrid variety. In fact, yield may even decrease if the
varieties used to carry the herbicide tolerant or insect-resistant genes are
not the highest yielding cultivars. (Fernandez-Cornejo, J. and Caswell, 2006)
c.. UN Food and Agriculture Organization 2004 report on agricultural
biotechnology acknowledges that GM crops can have reduced yields (FAO, 2004).
d.. 2003 report published in Science stated that in the United States and
Argentina, average yield effects [of GM crops] are negligible and in some
cases even slightly negative. (Qaim and Zilberman, 2003).
e.. Yields of both GM and conventional varieties vary - sometimes greatly -
depending on growing conditions, such as degree of infestation with insects or
weeds, weather, region of production, etc. (European Commission, 2000)

Roundup Ready (RR) GM soya
Studies from 1999 - 2007 consistently show RR GM soya to yield 4 12% lower
than conventional varieties:

a.. A 2007 study by Kansas State University agronomist Dr. Barney Gordon
suggests that Roundup Ready soya continues to suffer from a yield drag: RR
soya yielded 9% less than a close conventional relative.
b.. A study by University of Nebraska agronomists found that RR soya
varieties yielded 6% less than their closest conventional relatives, and 11%
less than high yielding conventional lines (Elmore et al, 2001). This 6%
yield drag was attributed to genetic modification, and corresponds to a
substantial loss in production of 202 kg/ha.
c.. In 1998 several universities carried out a study demonstrating that, on
average, RR soy varieties were 4% lower in yield than conventional varieties
(Oplinger et al., 1999). These results clearly refuted Monsantos claim to the
contrary (Gianessi, 2000).

Yields of GM soybeans are especially low under drought conditions. Due to
pleiotropic effects (stems splitting under high temperatures and water
stress), GM soybeans suffer 25% higher losses than conventional soybeans(
Altieri and Pengue, 2005)
5 studies between 2001 -2007 show that glyphosate applied to Roundup Ready
soybeans inhibits the uptake of important nutrients essential to plant health
and performance. The resultant mineral deficiencies have been implicated in
various problems, from increased disease susceptibility to inhibition of
photosynthesis. Thus, the same factors implicated in the GM soya yield drag
may also be responsible for increased susceptibility to disease. (Motavalli,
et al., 2004; Neumann et al., 2006; King, et al.,2001; Bernards,M.L, 2005;
Gordon, B., 2007).

The yield drag of RR soya is reflected in flat overall soybean yields from
1995 to 2003, the very years in which GM soya adoption went from nil to 81% of
U.S. soybean acreage. By one estimate, stagnating soybean yields in the U.S.
cost soybean farmers $1.28 billion in lost revenues from1995 to 2003 (Ron
Eliason, 2004).

More recent evidence shows that the kilogram per hectare ratio of soybean has
been in decline since 2002, leading to the conclusion that RR soy does not
have an impact on yield (ABIOVE, 2006a).

Bt Maize
Only GM maize has shown a persistent trend for yield increase, but even here
the rate of increase is no greater than those being achieved by conventional

a.. A US study conducted under controlled conditions demonstrated that Bt
maize yields anywhere from 12% less to the same as highly similar, but
conventional varieties (Ma & Subedi, 2005).

Bt Cotton
Despite the claims, Bt cotton has delivered no significant impacts in real
a.. Average cotton yields have increased 5-fold since 1930, surging from
1980 to the early 1990s. Cotton yields then went flat, and stagnated during
the seven years of GM cottons rise to dominance. The steep yield and
production increases in 2004 and 2005 were chiefly attributable to excellent
weather conditions (Meyer et al., 2007).
b.. Bt cotton, introduced to Australia in 1996, has not offered a boost to
the cotton sector, and since its adoption has not provided improvements in
either yield, or quality (ISAAA, 2006b).
c.. Cotton South Africa show constant yield levels before and after adoption
of Bt cotton (Witt et al 2005, cited in FoEI Who Benefits 2007), in
contradiction to ISAAA claims that Bt has brought about a 24% yield increase
in the region.
d.. Outbreaks of the secondary pests that are not killed by the Bt
insecticide have rendered Bt cotton ineffective in China (Connor, S., July 27,
2006), and are also becoming a problem in North Carolina (Caldwell, D. 2002)
and Georgia (Hollis, P.L., 2006).
e.. An article in Nature Biotechnology notes that the poor performance of Bt
cotton varieties used in India (which were developed for the short U.S.
growing season) is linked to the loss of their insecticidal properties late in
Indias longer growing season, and because Bt cotton insecticide is not
expressed in 25% of the cotton bolls of Indias preferred hybrid cotton
varieties (Jayaraman, K.S., 2005)

[3] Agriculture, like all sectors, must cut its greenhouse gas emissions that
drive climate change by 60-80%. Detailed studies of ten agricultural sectors
by Cranfield University for Defra, and earlier studies of five other
vegetables, show that organic farming uses on average around 26% less energy
per tonne of output than conventional systems

[4] In the UK, the price of nitrogen fertiliser has doubled over the past year
to around #330 per tonne. With oil currently at over $130 a barrel and with
OPEC warning it could reach $200 by the end of the year, it has been suggested
that the price of fertiliser could hit #500 a tonne. At these prices, the
claimed efficiency of fossil-fuel and fertiliser dependent industrial farming
begins to collapse.

[5] The environmental imperative of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 60-80%
across all sectors to curb dangerous climate change already make intensive
agricultures dependence on nitrogen fertiliser unsustainable:

a.. The manufacture of nitrogen fertiliser is the main use of energy in
agriculture, accounting for 37% of total energy use Agriculture in the UK,
b.. Globally agriculture is the single largest source of the powerful
greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide over 310 times more damaging than carbon
c.. For each tonne of fertiliser made 6.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide
equivalent greenhouse gases are emitted
d.. Fertiliser manufacture is also a major user of water, requiring 37
tonnes of water to make 1 tonne of nitrogen fertiliser

Organic farming does not use artificial chemical fertilisers, instead building
soil fertility through crop rotations and particularly the use of clover that
fixes nitrogen naturally from the atmosphere using the Suns energy and
photosynthesis. Clover can fix 200 kg of nitrogen per hectare over a year.
Average applications of N fertiliser across all arable and grassland are 110
kg/ha (arable = 150kg/ha; grassland = 77kg/ha). Fertiliser Statistics, 2005
report, AIC)
6. Representatives of the biotechnology industry, for example, stormed out of
the negotiations earlier this year, arguing that the potential of GM crops to
help poor farmers and comabat global warming was being overlooked and undue
weight given to alternatives such as organic farming, NewScientist feature on
IAASTD report, 5/4/08.

For full references for note [2] above please see the following press release:
'Soil Association report shows GM crops do not yield more - sometimes less '!OpenDocument
For further comment and information contact the Soil Association Press Office
T: 0117 914 2448 E: ISDN: 0117 944 6711

Soil Association, the UK's leading environmental membership charity
campaigning for people and planet-friendly food and farming
South Plaza, Marlborough Street, Bristol BS1 3NX

Clio Turton
senior press officer
0117 914 2448
07795 562 556

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Saints and animals

One of the things that one often comes across in hagiographies (writings about saints) is that the saints often had a special relationship with animals, especially wild animals. The Christian monastic holy men of all ages not only mediated between man and man, and between man and God, but also between human beings and wild animals. They were believed to be able to protect people from harmful animals, and yet also to have a special relationship with animals.

In some ways, this is related to the idea of the demonic forces, which were believed to be able to control wild animals. Poisonous snakes and large carnivores such as lions and leopards were particularly dangerous in Africa before the nineteenth century, and there are many stories of Egyptian and Ethiopian saints preventing dangerous animals from harming people or their homes or crops or cattle. These accounts are very similar to many biblical ones -- Daniel being unharmed in the lion's den, and St Paul being unharmed when bitten by a poisonous snake, for example.

But the relation between the holy men and wild animals was not seen only as one of conflict, but also one of friendliness. There are stories of lions, rhinoceroses and leopards allowing holy men to mount and ride them and even to talk to them. This is not peculiar to Ethiopian monastics. St Seraphim of Sarov made friends with a bear and several other animals (Stefanatos 1992:281), as did St Columbanus in Gaul (Mayr-Harting 1991:92). Theologically, this indicates an understanding that the enmity between human beings and animals brought about through the fall has been done away with. Salvation is not simply an individual affair, between the individual and God, but rather God reconciles the world to himself, and redeems it from bondage to corruption and conflict. The monastic holy man is in a sense the image of the reconciling ministry of Christ on earth, and by growing in holiness monastics seek to live transfigured lives and so transfigure the world (Stefanatos 1992:75).

Christians, as a new creation in Christ, should be able to live in harmony with other human beings, with God, and with nature and their natural environment, and the monastic holy men are examples and models of this (Kaplan 1984:89). Similar stories are told of the monastic holy men who evangelised Ethiopia, England, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Lappland, Georgia, Armenia and Siberia. Whether Eastern or Western, African, European or Asian, the stories are remarkably similar.

St Mark's account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is the shortest in the synoptic gospels, but it contains one detail that is lacking in both Matthew and Luke: "he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts" .And so many of the followers of Jesus throughout the ages, the desert-dwelling monastic holy men, have been driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, and were with the wild beasts.


  • Kaplan, Steven. 1984. The monastic holy man and the Christianization of early Solomonic Ethiopia. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner.
  • Mayr-Harting, Henry. 1991. The coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. London: Batsford.
  • Stefanatos, Joanne. 1992. Animals and man: a state of blessedness. Minneapolis: Light & Life.


This post is part of a synchroblog on Christianity and the environment. A number of bloggers synchronise their blogs by writing on the same basic theme on the same day. Here are links to the other posts:

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Climate Destruction Will Produce Millions of 'Envirogees' | Environment | AlterNet

Climate Destruction Will Produce Millions of 'Envirogees' | Environment | AlterNet: "Chew on this word, jargon lovers. Envirogee.

It carries more 21st century buzz than its semi-official designation climate refugee, which is a displaced individual who has been forced to migrate because of environmental devastation. Maybe the buzzword will catch on faster and shed some much-needed light on what will become a serious problem, probably by the end of this or the next decade. That light is crucial, because so far envirogees haven't been fully recognized by those who certify the civil liberties of Earth's various populations, whether that is the United Nations or local and national governments whose people are increasingly on the move for a whole new set of devastating reasons."

Hat-tip to Culture Matters.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Is Famine Inevitable?

Is Famine Inevitable? | AlterNet:
Much of our current recessionary intrigue has been aided and abetted by market speculation, from the oil and food sector all the way to the White House itself. For the last seven years, the Bush administration has placed climate crisis on the back burner in existential pursuit of resource wars and an 'American way of life' that has turned from a dream of Hummers, housing and bling into a nightmare of price hikes, foreclosures and layoffs. Mission accomplished.

But someone will have to pick up the pieces, which are going viral fast. In that chaos, food has stopped being our other energy problem and become a chief terror of the future. And considering increasing prices, decreasing dollars and a world that will soon house many more people but feed even less of them, we're probably in for a famine or two before all is said and done.

Though that piece was written with North America in mind, I don't think it will be much different in Southern Africa.

From lightning and tempest; from plague, pestilence and famine; from locusts, murrain and drought; from battle and murder, and from dying suddenly and unprepared, Good Lord deliver us

as Anglicans used to pray.

In the last few years there has been good rainfall in Southern Africa, and still food prices have risen. But in our climate droughts are inevitable, and what then?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Rome Food Conference

Institute for Public Accuracy
915 National Press Building, Washington, D.C. 20045
(202) 347-0020 *

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Rome Food Conference

As government leaders from around the world meet at the U.N. food
conference in Rome, nonprofit organizations have also been meeting
there. The following analysts are available for a limited number of
interviews and are in contact with others in Rome from around the world:

Secretary general of FIAN [Food First Information and Action
], an international food rights group, Valente said: "I see very
little good coming from the governmental meeting in Rome. The World Bank
and International Monetary Fund are being turned to as if they will help
solve the problem, but it was largely their policies of structural
adjustment that made poor countries lose their capacity to control their
food policies and helped bring on the current crisis. The U.S.
government -- and to some extent the European Union -- are blocking
desperately needed advances; for example any reference in the final
documents to people having a right to food."

also via Orin Langelle,
Research biologist at the Global Justice Ecology Project, Smolker
said today: "Unfortunately this crisis is being used as an opportunity
to advance GMOs [genetically modified organisms]. The question of land
is emerging as a central issue and business interests are grabbing it up
for biofuels and other purposes. Millions of people were added to the
ranks of the hungry in the last quarter. Meanwhile, the big agribusiness
companies are making huge profits."
Smolker recently wrote the piece "Agrofuels in the belly of the
hungry beast
She also wrote "Go Ahead, Blame Biofuels: A switch from fossil fuels
to ethanol and its kin diverts resources from food production, leading
to hunger and destabilization of farming
" published in Business Week,

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Solartopia - a glimpse of the green future

Solartopia: "Tribune Media reviews SOLARTOPIA!
By Robert C. Koehler
Tribune Media Services

Harvey Wasserman’s newly published “Solartopia!” is a breath of fresh air, blowing — well, whipping, at Great Plains velocity —across the thinking person’s vision of the future. What a gift this book is: an informed, science-savvy vision of tomorrow that isn’t an eco-nightmare.

Rather, it’s an enthusiastically optimistic look at a rational, very green near future. (To order, go to The setting is 2030; the premise is a flight in a hydrogen-fueled airship from Hamburg to Honolulu, with Wasserman serving as tour guide and eco-historian as we watch the world unfold beneath us and gradually learn about the death of King CONG, the joyous global proliferation of rooftop gardens and how all those giant wind turbines wound up off the coast of Holland, among much else.

King CONG, an acronym of Wasserman’s coinage — Coal, Oil, Nukes, Gas — is the fossil-fuel addicted junkie-beast we think of today simply as reality, but to the relaxed narrator of “Solartopia!,” this beast, which in 2007 seemingly runs the world and holds it hostage to its appetites, is nothing more than a historical curiosity."
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