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[SANET-MG] PR posing as science
http://www.i-sis.org.uk/HPRPASICB.phpISIS Press Release 25/01/05
PR Posing as Science in Crop Biotechnology
Prof. Joe Cummins and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho expose the corruption of
traditional standards in science reporting of GM crops
The emergence of genetically modified (GM) foods and crops has
profoundly impacted scientific reporting not only in the popular media
but also in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Public relations (pr)
statements, once confined to the promotion of commercial products, now
frequent the pages of scientific journals.
Science was built on the foundations of full and truthful reporting of
observations and findings; not anymore. If anything, scientific reports
that expose the propaganda of corporations, government and academic
promoters of GM crops are either rejected for publication outright, or
gratuitously attacked when they appear in print; and the scientist(s)
involved mercilessly prosecuted and victimized, as in the case of Dr.
Arpad Pusztai and his co-workers in the UK, who lost their jobs in 1998
or soon after; and Prof. Ignacio Chapela, researcher from the University
of Berkeley, California, currently fighting to regain his tenure
In contrast, GM proponents are given free license to make pr statements
posing as science.
No Bt resistance?
In the January issue of Nature Biotechnology, Sarah Bates and coworkers
observe that transgenic plants expressing insecticidal proteins from the
bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) were first commercialized in 1996
"amid concern from some scientists, regulators and environmentalists
that the widespread use of Bt crops would inevitably lead to resistance
and the loss of a ‘public good,’ specifically, the susceptibility of
insect pests to Bt proteins." But, they continue with apparent
self-satisfaction, "Eight years later, Bt corn and cotton have been
grown on a cumulative area >80 million ha worldwide. Despite dire
predictions to the contrary, resistance to a Bt crop has yet to be
documented, suggesting that resistance management strategies have been
effective thus far."
The resistance management strategies include planting non-GM acreage as
refuge to slow down the evolution of resistant insect pests and the use
of high toxin dosage along with pyramiding more than one toxin genes in
In reality, however, the main reason that insect resistance has not been
detected in the United States - not mentioned in the article - is that
the US Environment Protection Agency has allowed the GM crop and refuge
to be sprayed with chemical insecticides (see "No Bt resistance?" ISIS
Report, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/nobtresistance.php). Spraying with
chemical insecticides protects the crops from pest damage in the refuge,
and also kills off any insects resistant to the GM crops.
The authors also failed to mention other factors that might affect the
evolution of resistance - the use of synthetic toxin genes that differ
in amino acid sequence from the natural toxin in commercial GM crops,
and the variation in toxin production among different GM crops -
although these factors are probably not as significant as spraying
chemical insecticides in the refuge. Nevertheless, they could lead to
underestimating the evolution of resistance by failing to detect
resistant insects. Tests for insect resistance are frequently carried
out using the toxin proteins isolated from bacteria and not the actual
toxin produced in the GM crop.
In Canada, chemical insecticides have not been allowed in the refuge of
Bt crops until the upcoming growing season, but there does not appear to
have been any effort to screen for resistance in that country.
That paper is just the latest in a string of misleading reports that
have been deliberately selective and incomplete in order to serve pr
PR by misrepresentation, permissive substitution and surrogate testing
Advocates have persistently maintained that GM crops are a simple
extension of plant breeding and selection carried on for thousands of
years. That fiction ignores the basic fact that GM crops are produced in
the laboratory by illegitimate recombination – a process whereby pieces
of foreign DNA break the host genome to insert themselves at
unpredictable places - while traditional plant breeding and selection
depending largely on homologous (legitimate) recombination during
What is seldom stated is that GM crops are produced using synthetic
approximations of natural bacterial genes, whether it is in conferring
resistance to herbicides or to insect pests.
The synthetic approximations of natural genes are used because the
bacterial genes function poorly in plants, which use different codes for
the same amino acids. Hence, synthetic genes could be 60% homologous
with the bacterial genes in DNA sequence and yet produce proteins that
have the same amino acid sequence as the bacterial proteins. But amino
acid sequences are also frequently altered in the GM plants to increase
solubility. C-terminal amino acids (at the end of the protein chain),
too, have been changed on the assumption, without any proof, that the
changes do not affect biological activity.
Also concealed from the public is that "safety" assessment of GM crops
has been performed using protein products and genes from the bacteria
rather than the crops. The regulators have apparently agreed that the
expense of purifying the products from GM crops need not be incurred as
the products can be recovered at little expense from liquid bacterial
cultures. So none of the safety tests have been done with the proteins
and genes in GM crops!
The regulators argued that so long as the crop proteins had active sites
and epitopes characteristic of the bacterial protein, they must be
"equivalent". In this way, they have allowed millions of human being to
be exposed to products that are untested and unknown with regard to
safety. As the GM foods are not labeled, there is no way that their
health impacts on the population can be identified after they are released.
The regulators seem to presume that the synthetic DNA and RNA produced
are biologically inactive except for making the protein. That is a
specious belief. It is well known, for instance, that DNA with excess of
CpG activates innate immunity and induces inflammation. Similarly, the
regulatory role of small RNA species is becoming increasingly evident
(see "RNA subverting the genetic text" SiS 24
http://www.i-sis.org.uk/isisnews.php). There are numerous examples of
DNA and RNA sequences that have major regulatory roles apart from coding
for proteins. Even freshman students would recognize the importance of
testing the actual synthetic genes and proteins present in GM crops
rather than the surrogates produced in bacteria.
Finally, the synthetic genes and gene products that have been assessed
as "safe" purely by bureaucracy are new to our food chain and the
ecosystem and to the entire evolutionary history of the earth.
The scientific journals that should have played the leading role in
safeguarding the traditional standards of good science and the public
good have been co-opted into performing the most insidious kind of pr
for unscrupulous corporations and scientists pushing the corporate
agenda. They are no longer to be trusted.
Bates SL, Zhao JZ, Roush RT & Shelton AM. Insect resistance management
in GM crops: past, present and future. Nature Biotechnology 2005, 23,
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