Previously known as Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics PSRGNZ - Charitable Trust
As required under the new 2005 Charities Act, PSGR has reregistered as a charitable trust.

10 June 2014

 

The Members and Management of Federated Farmers

PO Box 715                                                                             

WELLINGTON 6140                                                                 

 

cc Rural Women, NZ Young Farmers,

     All MPs and other relevant recipients

 

Developments with genetically engineered organisms

Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility is a Charitable Trust established to provide independent scientific assessment and advice on matters relating to genetic engineering and other scientific and medical matters.  Following recent reports of interest in allowing genetically engineered crops to be grown in New Zealand, we forward information on developments.

It is essential that members of Federated Farmers be fully aware of the scientific and health issues relating to genetically engineered organisms, especially in the light of recent media publicity coming from proponents of the technology.  We believe the release of this technology into the New Zealand environment represents a threat to the wellbeing and livelihoods of Federated Farmers’ members, to New Zealand consumers and exporters, and to the integrity of our production system and environment.[1]

The following information includes scientific evidence and shows the experience of farmers in the US and Canada where a major percentage of genetically engineered crops are grown.  This is particularly pertinent in that, internationally, authorities are introducing bans on transgenic crops for reasons of environmental and human health safety and export branding.  Key markets want foods free of novel DNA, requirements driven by the demands of well-informed and discerning consumers from China, Japan, Europe, the US and elsewhere. 

The global market for foods and beverages produced without the use of any transgenic ingredients has led many leading international food companies such as Unilever, Nestlé, and Coca-Cola to introduce or be developing non-GE versions of their products to meet the demands of consumers who do not want transgenes in their food.[2]  Global sales of non-GE food and beverage products are predicted to double to US$800 billion by 2017.[3]

US farmers growing transgenic crops say they faced a future of lower corn prices and higher inputs.  The trend is to abandon transgenic seed because non-GE crops are more productive and profitable.  It is essential Federated Farmers’ members be aware of these facts when considering their future decisions.[4]

Are genetically engineered organisms safe for release?

 

The 2014 ‘Hot Debate’ at Lincoln University featured six experts representing those proposing and those against the release of genetically engineered organisms (GEOs) into the environment.  Panel members Dr Jon Hickford and Dr Tony Connor, proponents of the technology, stated transgenic foods were safe to eat.  They were asked (a) if they could they provide 10 human studies to support this statement, and (b) would they also advise where the diagnostic tools are available for health professionals to identify if GE foods in the human diet are contributing or not to illnesses.  Drs Hickford and Conner admitted there are no safety studies nor are there any diagnostic tools for monitoring public health impacts of GE foods.[5] 

In Alliance for Bio-Integrity et al v Shalala (1998) over 44,000 pages of files produced by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at the behest of the Court revealed it had declared genetically engineered foods to be safe despite disagreement from its own experts, and that it falsely claimed a broad scientific consensus supported its stance.  Internal reports and memoranda disclosed agency scientists repeatedly cautioned that foods produced through recombinant DNA technology - that is, genetically engineered organisms - entail different risks than do their conventionally produced counterparts and that this was consistently disregarded when FDA policy was written in treating transgenic foods the same as conventional ones. 

In taking this stance, the agency violated the US Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in allowing genetically engineered foods to be marketed without testing on the premise that they are ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS) by qualified experts.  The consensus of scientists working for the FDA was that transgenic foods were inherently risky, and might create hard-to-detect allergies, poisons, gene transfer to gut bacteria, new diseases, and nutritional problems.1  They urged rigorous long-term tests. 

After almost two decades of commercial transgenic crops being grown the results to the environment and to consumers unknowingly ingesting transgenes are becoming obvious. 

The FDA has admitted it operates under a directive “to foster” the US biotech industry.[6]

Genetically engineered crops, consumers and human health

Consumers in the US have been ingesting foods containing novel DNA since the introduction of transgenic crops on a commercial basis in the mid 1990s.  About 94% of US soybean farmers and 72% of corn farmers use Roundup Ready (glyphosate-resistant) crops.  These go into a substantial range of food products, along with transgenic canola and cottonseed.[7]  In addition, animals fed glyphosate-resistant crops bio-accumulate[8] glyphosate and/or glyphosate metabolites, adding to the human end user intake.   

Monsanto is said to control 85% of the GE seed market and a major percentage of that seed will be glyphosate-resistant.  A 2013 study detected glyphosate in 43.9 percent of human urine samples taken from participants living in urban areas in 18 European countries.[9] [10]  When diets favoured organic produce humans excreted significantly less glyphosate.  The levels in urine of generally healthy humans were significantly lower than levels in a comparative chronically diseased population.

Chronic diseases, as reported in official US figures, have been increasing in step with increased use of glyphosate-tolerant crops.[11]  The negative impacts of glyphosate ingestion on humans manifest slowly over time by damaging cellular systems, playing a part in most common diseases and conditions allied with a Western diet, including gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.[12] 

In the 1970s, glyphosate was identified as a chelator of minerals, a compound that combines with other minerals making them available only under certain conditions.  Recent studies indicate plant uptake systems are susceptible to the chelating effects of glyphosate[13] which will affect the quality of crops and grasses, as well as making them more susceptible to pathogens. 

One study[14] hypothesizes glyphosate mixed with hard water forms a complex with heavy metals like cadmium, resulting in its accumulation in the body.  The study proposed a link between chronic kidney disease and glyphosate.  Chronic kidney disease of unknown origin (CKDu) is increasingly common in poor farming communities in some developing countries.  Identified in the mid-1990s, CKDu is estimated to afflict 15% of working age people in northern Sri Lanka alone:  400,000 patients with an estimated death toll of 20,000.

There remains no official monitoring of effects on the human population and consumers have no official notification of the risks related to commercial transgenic crops.  With US consumers increasingly growing aware of the potential results of ingesting transgenic DNA, the fastest growing sector in its grocery industry is for foods free of transgenes, that sector now estimated to be at close to one third of the market.  This is the result of consumer pressure, and from medical professionals recommending foods free of transgenes with consequent improved health for patients.[15]  New Zealand is still well positioned to help meet that demand for GE-free food.

Transgenic commercial crops

Scientists cannot easily quantify the exact effect/s novel organisms will have when released into the environment; each may differ to the next.  Genes move naturally within a species, by seed dispersal and pollination, a basic biological principle of plant evolution facilitated by insects, wind, animals, humans and other factors.  However, the ecological risks tied to the release of transgenic plants include non-target effects of the crop and the escape of transgenic DNA into wild populations.[16] 

The loss of genetic diversity is acknowledged in commercially important crops.  Despite crops being bred for superior resistance, the current practice of genetic uniformity and monoculture increases the possibility of pests and diseases evolving to overcome a host plant’s resistance. 

With a large proportion of transgenic crops being glyphosate-resistant, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data show glyphosate-based herbicide use increased 6,504% between 1991 and 2010.[17]  In a survey of growers, Farm Chemicals International confirmed[18]:

·         61.2 million US crop acres have glyphosate-resistant weeds, nearly double the 2010 number;

·         49% of growers had glyphosate-resistant weeds on farms in 2012, up from 34% in 2011;

·         92% of growers in Georgia have glyphosate-resistant weeds;

·         from 2011 to 2012 the acres with resistance almost doubled in Nebraska, Iowa and Indiana;

·         total resistant acres increased by 25% in 2011 and 51% in 2012;

·         more farms had at least two resistant species on their farm - in 2010 12%, in 2012 27%.

Herbicide-resistance is not confined to glyphosate-based herbicides.  See the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds site[19] for details on resistant weeds.  One study predicts total herbicide use in the US will rise from around 1.5 kilograms per hectare in 2013 to more than 3.5 kilograms per hectare in 2025 as a direct result of growing transgenic crops, and that the new technologies will also lose their effectiveness.[20]  The increase in herbicide-resistant weeds species has led to the development of GE crops, and weeds, that are resistant to more toxic herbicides such as 2,4-D.  With the increases in vineyards in New Zealand, confining the areas in which hormonal herbicides such as 2,4-D can be used, the development of glyphosate-resistance here would be particularly problematic for growers of transgenic crops.

In August 2012, conventional farmer, Bob Mackley, spoke in New Zealand about transgenic crops and their effects in his native Australia.  He reported that many farmers have suffered significant losses as a result of transgene contamination of their conventional crops, and legislation favours seed companies, not farmers.  Legally without the means to protect his livelihood, Mackley has been forced to time his plantings to avoid contamination from transgenic crops grown by a neighbour.  His is a critical balance between profit or contamination and loss. 

There already exist effective, sustainable solutions to the problems that this novel technology claims to address.  Conventional plant breeding, helped by safe modern technologies like gene mapping and marker assisted selection, continues to outperform genetically engineered crops in producing high-yield, drought-tolerant, and pest- and disease-resistant plants that can meet present and future food needs.[21]

Transgenic pasture grasses

‘The Biology of Lolium multiflorum Lam. (Italian ryegrass), Lolium perenne L. (perennial ryegrass) and Lolium arundinaceum (Schreb.) Darbysh (tall fescue)’, published by the State of Victoria’s Department of Primary Industries[22], gives an overview of baseline biological information relevant to the risk assessment of genetically engineered forms of the species that may be released into the Australian environment. 

Italian ryegrass, perennial ryegrass and tall fescue are “highly outcrossing, wind pollinated species”.  Extensive gene flow can occur of viable and non-viable material, and dispersal of pollen can be “forward, backward and upward”.  Pollen clouds can rise high into the atmosphere, move with weather and be deposited in times of calm weather.  It is conceivable that pollen could move significant distances from the source, and studies have shown that the amount of pollen dispersed/deposited does not always decrease with increasing distance from a source. 

Grass seeds are capable of germination after passing through the digestive systems of grazing animals.  Viable seeds of perennial ryegrass, Italian ryegrass and tall fescue have been recovered from faeces 12-24 hours after feeding.  Seeds of Italian and perennial ryegrass were found transported in sheep wool, the perennial ryegrass seeds still found after 1-2 months.  Viable Italian ryegrass seeds have been found in the faeces of European hares showing wild animals assist in seed dispersal, as do birds, irrigation water and human activity.

Perennial ryegrass seed persists in soil, the length of dormancy varying.  A study in NSW of tall fescue and perennial ryegrass indicated 14 months after seed production that the seed bank contained 14% of perennial ryegrass and 10% of tall fescue seed released.  Under controlled conditions, seeds of tall fescue and Italian ryegrass maintained germinability for at least 12 months, with the percentage dropping off after five years for Italian ryegrass seed.

The researchers found that the likelihood of weediness is increased by the intentional introduction of plants.  Lolium species have many weedy characteristics and are capable of adapting rapidly to their environment, produce large amounts of seed which are easily dispersed.  Italian ryegrass, perennial ryegrass and tall fescue are listed as weeds in native and agricultural ecosystems throughout Australia.

The ryegrasses in general are significant weeds among wheat crops worldwide.  Italian ryegrass can be a difficult-to-control contaminant in turfgrass farms and causes decreased marketability of cool-season sod.  Volunteer tall fescue growing near certified seed production enterprises requires control measures to prevent contamination of the seed.  The ryegrasses and tall fescue occur as typical weed species in riparian zones in rural and urban areas of Australia:  e.g. along waterways and wetlands, on floodplains, roadsides and public areas.

When a weed crossbreeds with a farm-cultivated relative and acquires new genetic traits – including engineered genes that make it hardier – the hybrid weed can pass the traits on to future generations.  The result may be very hardy, hard-to-kill weeds.  Farmers in the US have seen the effect of transgenic DNA outcrossing to weed species.  New Zealand does not need transgenic pasture grasses doing the same.  The foregoing clearly shows why a precautionary approach should be made by not releasing genetically engineered pasture grasses. 

New Zealand exports

One of New Zealand’s export strengths is being able to guarantee products free of genetically engineered organisms.  This assists in increasing exports to markets wanting products free of transgenic DNA and in supplying new markets.  As farmers, members of Federated Farmers will know that meat exported from New Zealand has to comply with the standards applying to cadmium levels in liver or kidney, particularly from animals older than three years.[23]  Because of the known chelating qualities of glyphosate, growing glyphosate-resistant transgenic crops could increase the cadmium presence in feed, for example.  The mineral may currently be present in imported feed, and cadmium levels can affect stock grazed on transgenic crop stubble. 

Currently, transgenic crops are included in the near 200,000 tonnes of animal feed imported into New Zealand annually.  These imported feeds are only tested for non-viability of transgenic crops.  The reported practice is that loads are largely assessed visually rather than tested in a laboratory.  Neither the glyphosate content, nor the other toxic ingredients in glyphosate-based herbicides are tested and MPI confirmed they will not be in the immediate future.  A recent privately tested sample of imported soy meal revealed 3.4 ppm glyphosate and 1.4 ppm AMPA.  That such feed is not adequately tested or labelled undermines the integrity of the New Zealand food system and consequently its export reputation.  Stock fed such feed will ingest any viable transgenes that escape scrutiny, and pesticide residues, and can potentially pass the effects on to humans ingesting their meat.3 

In January this year, Tasmania extended its moratorium on transgenic crops indefinitely.   Monitoring audits have continued to isolate transgenic DNA nearly twenty years after trial planting stopped.[24] [25]  See the audit reports on http://www.dpipwe.tas.gov.au/internnsf/WebPages/CART-6795X9?open.  Following their experience growing transgenic canola, the State early recognised that remaining free of transgenic crops gave them an edge in export markets.  South Australia also has a ban on GE crops.

Russia recently announced it will not allow any seed or food containing transgenes into Russia, that the country has the land to grow its own conventional, organic foods.  The Technical Expert Panel of India’s Supreme Court has also backed an indefinite moratorium on GEOs.  Japan opposes transgenic crops, although canola imported from Canada has led to transgenic volunteers growing wild around Japanese ports and roads leading to major food oil processing companies.  Ireland bans all GE crops.  Austria, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria and Luxembourg have bans on the cultivation and sale of GEOs.  Germany bans the cultivation or sale of GE maize.  In France public demand has successfully kept transgenic crops out of the country.  Madeira has a countrywide ban on GE crops.  Switzerland banned all GE crops, animals, and plants on its fields and farms in a public referendum in 2005, extended to 2013 and the Swiss Farmers’ Association is asking it to be extended to at least 2017.  Californian counties Mendocino, Trinity and Marin have banned GE crops, and a number of US States are working towards at least adequate labelling to give consumers a choice.[26] [27]

Adopting transgenic crops would have negative impacts on New Zealand exports.  New Zealand farmers already achieve premiums for non-transgenic food products.  They will not get them for transgenic crops.

Why New Zealand should remain GE free

In December 2013 a national poll by Colmar Brunton, undertaken for Pure Hawke’s Bay, shows 79% of New Zealanders support Councils being able to use the Resource Management Act (RMA) to protect farmers, exporters and their residents from the long-term unmanaged and unknown risks of genetically engineered organisms.  The risks include exposure to increasingly more toxic chemicals.[28] 

The UN's science-based International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) states mixed approaches to agriculture, not transgenic monocultures, are needed to feed future generations.  Systems should enhance sustainability and maintain productivity in ways that protect the natural resource base and ecological provisioning of agricultural systems.[29] 

Reports from qualified bodies on genetically engineered organisms include New Zealand’s own McGuiness Institute, a privately funded, non-partisan think tank working for New Zealand’s sustainable future, contributing strategic foresight through evidence-based research and policy analysis.[30]  Ten years after the moratorium on genetic engineering ended a McGuiness Institute study suggests it is time for it to be reinstated and time for a strategy to benefit the economy as a producer of food free of transgenic DNA for the world market.  It found that despite huge investment in experiments on transgenic plants and trees, there has been little benefit and significant economic risk incurred.  Protecting the value of New Zealand’s status as a producer of safe, high quality food, is of national strategic importance. 

The ‘United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Review 2013 - Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate’ states[31]:  “Developing and developed countries alike need a paradigm shift in agricultural development:  from a ‘green revolution’ to a ‘truly ecological intensification’ approach.  This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high external-input-dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.  We need to see a move from a linear to a holistic approach in agricultural management, which recognizes that a farmer is not only a producer of agricultural goods, but also a manager of an agro-ecological system that provides quite a number of public goods and services (e.g. water, soil, landscape, energy, biodiversity, and recreation).”

An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of transgenic crops was published in June 2012.[32]  See also PSGR website for Frequently Asked Questions on Genetic Engineering and on Glyphosate.[33]

Plant breeding largely favours varieties determined by researchers and vested interest rather than end users.  Glyphosate-resistant crops represent over 80% of transgenic crops grown worldwide annually.  Important points are that (a) such crops substantially increase the amount of herbicide applied to the crop, (b) the novel DNA giving herbicide-resistance has transferred to an increasing number of major weed species in areas growing transgenic crops, (c) this has made glyphosate ineffectual on those weeds, and (d) weed species now require more toxic chemicals to achieve eradication.35

Glyphosate-resistance has already been identified in several locations in New Zealand, the cause being given as over application.[34]  On the basis of experience overseas, growing transgenic glyphosate-resistant crops would increase that considerably.

Two studies giving further evidence-based reasons for New Zealand farmers taking a precautionary approach and not adopting genetically engineered crops and thus releasing novel DNA into the environment, particularly those crops using glyphosate-based herbicides[35]:

Thirty dairy cows from each of eight Danish dairy farms were investigated and all were found to excrete glyphosate in their urine.  The study demonstrated that glyphosate is toxic to the normal metabolism of dairy cows.[36]  The likely source of the glyphosate would be animal feed containing transgenic food and/or feed crops, and residual glyphosate from spraying.

Glyphosate enhances the growth of aflatoxin-producing fungi, lending an explanation for the substantial increase in fungal toxins now found in corn grown in the US.[37]  In 2012, the USDA indicated 88 percent of US corn/maize grown was transgenic, increasing the potential for large areas of corn crops to be affected.[38]  Aflatoxins affect grains, oilseeds and tree nuts, among other crops.  Contamination of grains by aflatoxins threatens human and livestock health, and international trade.  The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates 25% of the world food crops are affected annually.  Crop loss due to such contamination costs US producers over US$100 million/year on average.[39]  Tate & Lyle, a British maker of sweeteners and starches, has said quality problems with US corn, primarily due to aflatoxin, were forcing changes to the firm's buying programme.[40] 

Thousands of conventional crop varieties have been lost since the introduction of agrichemicals and monoculture practices, which include genetically engineered food crops.[41]  Changes in genetic structure can be long term and affect several generations.  No insurer will cover the complex and long-term risks.  This fact alone is reason for precaution.  If transgenic crops are introduced into New Zealand, many of our farmers trying to grow premium quality crops stand to lose their livelihoods.  There will follow, as it has in other countries, inadvertent contamination of non-transgenic crops/grasses, resulting in extortionist claims from the proprietors of the transgene to be compensated by the farmers for their unwilling and unknowing growing of contaminated crops.  Farmers have no legal or insurance protection against this, and the end result is financial ruin for them.[42] 

Tasmanian Deputy Premier, Bryan Green, said the State’s “island status and our biosecurity system mean that our food and agricultural industries are well placed to take advantage of the State's GE-free status.”[43]  New Zealand’s island status offers the same advantages.

PSGR encourages New Zealand farmers to reject growing transgenic food or feed crops, trees and grasses.  Transgenes released into the environment have the potential to invade and damage the biological infrastructure of New Zealand’s primary industry sectors.  As has been shown overseas, once released into the environment, transgenes will spread and potentially irreversibly contaminate native and domestic gene-stocks alike. 

 

The Trustees and Members of Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility Charitable Trust

 



[6] Alliance for Bio-Integrity http://www.biointegrity.org/list.htm.

[9] ‘Determination of Glyphosate residues in human urine samples from 18 European countries’, carried out by Medical Laboratory Bremen, Germany, http://www.foeeurope.org/sites/default/files/glyphosate_studyresults_june12.pdf.

[12] ‘Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases’, Samsel et al, Entropy 2013, 15(4), 1416-1463; doi:10.3390/e15041416 http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/15/4/1416

[13] Roemheld et al., 2005; Neumann et al., 2006; Eker et al., 2006 

[14] ‘Glyphosate, hard water and nephrotoxic metals: are they the culprits behind the epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology in Sri Lanka?’ Jayasumana C1, Gunatilake S2, Senanayake P3. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Feb 20;11(2):2125-47. doi: 10.3390/ijerph110202125. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24562182

[16] ‘Ecological effects of transgenic crops and the escape of transgenes into wild populations’, Pilson D and Prendeville, H, Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 2004. 35:149–74

http://fbae.org/2009/FBAE/website/images/PDF%20files/Imporatant%20Publication/ecological%20effects%20of%20transgenes.pdf

[17] National Pesticide Information Centre Technical Factsheet on: GLYPHOSATE http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/glyphogen.pdf.  Glyphosate-resistant genetically engineered plants were introduced on a commercial scale in the mid 1990s.

[21] An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops’ (June 2012) Earth Open Source http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/58

[22] #AG1241; 1 May 2008 Version. Australian Government Office of the Gene Technology Regulator http://www.ogtr.gov.au. See also our letter to Federated Farmers’ members 20 February 2013.

[30] http://mcguinnessinstitute.org/Site/Publications/Project_Reports.aspx. ‘An Overview of Genetic Modification in New Zealand 1973-2013:  The first forty years’ published in August 2013.   

[35] The active ingredient in the commonly applied herbicide, Roundup.  Glyphosate-resistant crops are largely RoundupReady.

[36] ‘Field Investigations of Glyphosate in Urine of Danish Dairy Cows’, Krüger et al., J Environ Anal Toxicol 2013, 3:5, http://dx.doi.org/10.4172/2161-0525.1000186

[37] Carla L Barberis, Cecilia S Carranza, Stella M Chiacchiera, Carina E Magnoli. Influence of herbicide glyphosate on growth and aflatoxin B1 production by Aspergillus section Flavi strains isolated from soil on in vitro assay. J Environ Sci Health B. 2013 ;48(12):1070-9. PMID: 24007484

[38] ‘Influence of herbicide glyphosate on growth and aflatoxin B1 production by Aspergillus section Flavi strains isolated from soil on in vitro assay’, Barberis et al, J Environ Sci Health B. 2013; 48(12): 1070-9. doi: 10.1080/03601234.2013.824223; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24007484.

[40]Reuters, ‘Tate & Lyle says aflatoxin in U.S. corn complicates grain sourcing’, 8 November 2012

[41] International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, http://www.ifrc.org/PageFiles/89755/Photos/307000-WDR-2011-FINAL-email-1.pdf.