1. GM crops failed to deliver promised benefits
The consistent finding from independent research and on-farm
surveys since 1999 is that GM crops have failed to deliver
the promised benefits of significantly increasing yields
or reducing herbicide and pesticide use.
GM crops have cost the United States an estimated $12 billion
in farm subsidies, lost sales and product recalls due to
transgenic contamination. Massive failures in
Bt cotton of up to 100 percent were reported in India.
Biotech corporations have suffered rapid decline since
2000, and investment advisors forecast no future for the
agricultural sector. Meanwhile worldwide resistance to GM
has reached a climax in 2002 when Zambia refused GM maize
in food aid despite the threat of famine.
2. GM crops posing escalating problems on the farm
The instability of transgenic lines has plagued the industry
from the beginning, and this may be responsible for a string
of major crop failures. A review in 1994 stated, "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 commercialization 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
Triple herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape volunteers that
have combined transgenic and non-transgenic traits are now
widespread in Canada. Similar multiple herbicide-tolerant
volunteers and weeds have emerged in the United States.
In the United States, glyphosate-tolerant weeds are plaguing
GM cotton and soya fields, and atrazine, one of the most
toxic herbicides, has had to be used with glufosinate-tolerant
Bt biopesticide traits are simultaneously threatening to
create superweeds and Bt- resistant pests.
3. Extensive transgenic contamination unavoidable
Extensive transgenic contamination has occurred in maize
landraces growing in remote regions in Mexico despite an
official moratorium that has been in place since 1998. High
levels of contamination have since been found in Canada.
In a test of 33 certified seed stocks, 32 were found contaminated.
New research shows that transgenic pollen, wind-blown and
deposited elsewhere, or fallen directly to the ground, is
a major source of transgenic contamination. Contamination
is generally acknowledged to be unavoidable, hence there
can be no co-existence of transgenic and non-transgenic
4. GM crops not safe
Contrary to the claims of proponents, GM crops have not
been proven safe. The regulatory framework was fatally flawed
from the start. It was based on an anti-precautionary approach
designed to expedite product approval at the expense of
safety considerations. The principle of 'substantial equivalence',
on which risk assessment is based, is intended to be vague
and ill-defined, thereby giving companies complete license
in claiming transgenic products 'substantially equivalent'
to non-transgenic products, and hence 'safe.'
5. GM food raises serious safety concerns
There have been very few credible studies on GM food safety.
Nevertheless, the available findings already give cause
for concern. In the still only systematic investigation
on GM food ever carried out in the world, 'growth factor-like'
effects were found in the stomach and small intestine of
young rats that were not fully accounted for by the transgene
product, and were hence attributable to the transgenic process
or the transgenic construct, and may hence be general to
all GM food. There have been at least two other, more limited,
studies that also raised serious safety concerns.
6. Dangerous gene products are incorporated into crops
Bt proteins, incorporated into 25 percent of all transgenic
crops worldwide, have been found harmful to a range of non-target
insects. Some of them are also potent immunogens and allergens.
A team of scientists have cautioned against releasing Bt
crops for human use.
Food crops are increasingly used to produce pharmaceuticals
and drugs, including cytokines known to suppress the immune
system, induce sickness and central nervous system toxicity;
interferon alpha, reported to cause dementia, neurotoxicity
and mood and cognitive side effects; vaccines; and viral
sequences such as the 'spike' protein gene of the pig coronavirus,
in the same family as the SARS virus linked to the current
epidemic. The glycoprotein gene gp120 of the AIDS virus
HIV-1, incorporated into GM maize as a 'cheap, edible oral
vaccine', serves as yet another biological time-bomb, as
it can interfere with the immune system and recombine with
viruses and bacteria to generate new and unpredictable pathogens.
7. Terminator crops spread male sterility
Crops engineered with 'suicide' genes for male sterility
have been promoted as a means of 'containing', i.e. preventing,
the spread of transgenes. In reality, the hybrid crops sold
to farmers spread both male sterile suicide genes as well
herbicide tolerance genes via pollen.
8. Broad-spectrum herbicides highly toxic to humans and
Glufosinate ammonium and glyphosate are used with the herbicide-tolerant
transgenic crops that currently account for 75 percent of
all transgenic crops worldwide. Both are systemic metabolic
poisons expected to have a wide range of harmful effects,
and these have been confirmed.
Glufosinate ammonium is linked to neurological, respiratory,
gastrointestinal and hematological toxicities, and birth
defects in humans and mammals. It is toxic to butterflies
and a number of beneficial insects, also to the larvae of
clams and oysters, Daphnia and some freshwater fish, especially
the rainbow trout. It inhibits beneficial soil bacteria
and fungi, especially those that fix nitrogen.
Glyphosate is the most frequent cause of complaints and
poisoning in the UK. Disturbances of many body functions
have been reported after exposures at normal use levels.
Glyphosate exposure nearly doubled the risk of late spontaneous
abortion, and children born to users of glyphosate had elevated
neurobehavioral defects. Glyphosate caused retarded development
of the foetal skeleton in laboratory rats. Glyphosate inhibits
the synthesis of steroids, and is genotoxic in mammals,
fish and frogs. Field dose exposure of earthworms caused
at least 50 percent mortality and significant intestinal
damage among surviving worms. Roundup caused cell division
dysfunction that may be linked to human cancers.
The known effects of both glufosinate and glyphosate are
sufficiently serious for all further uses of the herbicides
to be halted.
9. Genetic engineering creates super-viruses
By far the most insidious dangers of genetic engineering
are inherent to the process itself, which greatly enhances
the scope and probability of horizontal gene transfer and
recombination, the main route to creating viruses and bacteria
that cause disease epidemics. This was highlighted in 2001
by the 'accidental' creation of a killer mouse virus in
the course of an apparently innocent genetic engineering
Newer techniques, such as DNA shuffling are allowing geneticists
to 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 for genetic engineering, as much as for the intentional
creation of bio-weapons.
10. Transgenic DNA in food taken up by bacteria in human
There is already experimental evidence that transgenic
DNA from plants has been taken up by bacteria in the soil
and in the gut of human volunteers. Antibiotic resistance
marker genes can spread from transgenic food to pathogenic
bacteria, making infections very difficult to treat.
11. Transgenic DNA and cancer
Transgenic DNA is known to survive digestion in the gut
and to jump into the genome of mammalian cells, raising
the possibility for triggering cancer.
The possibility cannot be excluded that feeding GM products
such as maize to animals also carries risks, not just for
the animals but also for human beings consuming the animal
12. CaMV 35S promoter increases horizontal gene transfer
Evidence suggests that 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.
This promoter is present in most GM crops being grown commercially
13. A history of misrepresentation and suppression of
There has been a history of misrepresentation and suppression
of scientific evidence, especially on horizontal gene transfer.
Key experiments failed to be performed, or were performed
badly and then misrepresented. Many experiments were not
followed up, including investigations on whether the CaMV
35S promoter is responsible for the 'growth-factor-like'
effects observed in young rats fed GM potatoes.
In conclusion, GM crops have failed to deliver the promised
benefits and are posing escalating problems on the farm.
Transgenic contamination is now widely acknowledged to be
unavoidable, and hence there can be no co-existence of GM
and non-GM agriculture. Most important of all, GM crops
have not been proven safe. On the contrary, sufficient evidence
has emerged to raise serious safety concerns, that if ignored
could result in irreversible damage to health and the environment.
GM crops should be firmly rejected now.
1. Higher productivity and yields, especially in the Third
Some 8.98 million farmers have adopted sustainable agriculture
practices on 28.92 million hectares in Asia, Latin America
and Africa. Reliable data from 89 projects show higher productivity
and yields: 50 percent to 100 percent increase in yield
for rain-fed crops, and five percent to 10 percent for irrigated
crops. Top successes include Burkina Faso, which turned
a cereal deficit of 644 kg per year to an annual surplus
of 153 kg; Ethiopia, where 12,500 households enjoyed a 60
percent increase in crop yields; and Honduras and Guatemala,
where 45,000 families increased yields from 400 to 600 kg/ha
to 2,000 to 2,500 kg/ha.
Long-term studies in industrialized countries show yields
for organic comparable to conventional agriculture, and
2. Better soils
Sustainable agricultural practices tend to reduce soil
erosion, as well as improve soil physical structure and
water-holding capacity, which are crucial in averting crop
failures during periods of drought.
Soil fertility is maintained or increased by various sustainable
agriculture practices. Studies show that soil organic matter
and nitrogen levels are higher in organic than in conventional
Biological activity has also been found to be higher in
organic soils. There are more earthworms, arthropods, mycorrhizal
and other fungi, and microorganisms, all of which are beneficial
for nutrient recycling and suppression of disease.
3. Cleaner environment
There is little or no polluting chemical-input with sustainable
agriculture. Moreover, research suggests that less nitrate
and phosphorus are leached to groundwater from organic soils.
Better water infiltration rates are found in organic systems.
Therefore, they are less prone to erosion and less likely
to contribute to water pollution from surface runoff.
4. Reduced pesticides and no increase in pests
Organic farming prohibits routine pesticide application.
Integrated pest management has cut the number of pesticide
sprays in Vietnam 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 showed no increase in crop losses due to pest
damage, despite the withdrawal of synthetic insecticides
in Californian tomato production.
Pest control is achievable without pesticides, reversing
crop losses, as for example, by using 'trap crops' to attract
stem borer, a major pest in East Africa. Other benefits
of avoiding pesticides arise from utilizing the complex
inter-relationships between species in an ecosystem.
5. Supporting biodiversity and using diversity
Sustainable agriculture promotes agricultural biodiversity,
which is crucial for food security and rural livelihoods.
Organic farming can also support much greater biodiversity,
benefiting species that have significantly declined.
Biodiverse systems are more productive than monocultures.
Integrated farming systems in Cuba are 1.45 to 2.82 times
more productive than monocultures. Thousands of Chinese
rice farmers have doubled yields and nearly eliminated the
most devastating disease simply by mixed planting of two
Soil biodiversity is enhanced by organic practices, bringing
beneficial effects such as recovery and rehabilitation of
degraded soils, improved soil structure and water infiltration.
6. Environmentally and economically sustainable
Research on apple production systems ranked the organic
system first in environmental and economic sustainability,
the integrated system second and the conventional system
last. Organic apples were most profitable due to price premiums,
quicker investment return and fast recovery of costs.
A Europe-wide study showed that organic farming performs
better than conventional farming in the majority of environmental
indicators. A review by the Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations (FAO) concluded that well-managed
organic agriculture leads to more favorable conditions at
all environmental levels.
7. Ameliorating climate change by reducing direct &
indirect energy use
Organic agriculture uses energy much more efficiently and
greatly reduces CO2 emissions compared with conventional
agriculture, both with respect to direct energy consumption
in fuel and oil and indirect consumption in synthetic fertilizers
Sustainable agriculture restores soil organic matter content,
increasing carbon sequestration below ground, thereby recovering
an important carbon sink. Organic systems have shown significant
ability to absorb and retain carbon, raising the possibility
that sustainable agriculture practices can help reduce the
impact of global warming.
Organic agriculture is likely to emit less nitrous dioxide
(N2O), another important greenhouse gas and also a cause
of stratospheric ozone depletion.
8. Efficient, profitable production
Any yield reduction in organic agriculture is more than
offset by ecological and efficiency gains. Research has
shown that the organic approach can be commercially viable
in the long-term, producing more food per unit of energy
Data show that smaller farms produce far more per unit
area than the larger farms characteristic of conventional
farming. Though the yield per unit area of one crop may
be lower on a small farm than on a large monoculture, the
total output per unit area, often composed of more than
a dozen crops and various animal products, can be far higher.
Production costs for organic farming are often lower than
for conventional farming, bringing equivalent or higher
net returns even without organic price premiums. When price
premiums are factored in, organic systems are almost always
9. Improved food security and benefits to local communities
A review of sustainable agriculture projects in developing
countries showed that average food production per household
increased by 1.71 tons per year (up 73 percent) for 4.42
million farmers on 3.58 million hectares, bringing food
security and health benefits to local communities.
Increasing agricultural productivity has been shown to
also increase food supplies and raise incomes, thereby reducing
poverty, increasing access to food, reducing malnutrition
and improving health and livelihoods.
Sustainable agricultural approaches draw extensively on
traditional and indigenous knowledge, and place emphasis
on the farmers' experience and innovation. This thereby
utilizes appropriate, low-cost and readily available local
resources as well as improves farmers' status and autonomy,
enhancing social and cultural relations within local communities.
10. Better food quality for health
Organic food is safer as organic farming prohibits routine
pesticide and herbicide use so harmful chemical residues
are rarely found.
Organic production also bans the use of artificial food
additives such as hydrogenated fats, phosphoric acid, aspartame
and monosodium glutamate, which have been linked to health
problems as diverse as heart disease, osteoporosis, migraines
Studies have shown that, on average, organic food has higher
vitamin C, higher mineral levels and higher plant phenolics--plant
compounds that can fight cancer and heart disease, and combat
age-related neurological dysfunctions--and significantly
less nitrates, a toxic compound.
Sustainable agricultural practices have proven beneficial
in all aspects relevant to health and the environment. In
addition, they bring food security and social and cultural
well-being to local communities everywhere. There is an
urgent need for a comprehensive global shift to all forms
of sustainable agriculture.
Science Panel Report June 15, 2003