GM Free Cymru

Scientists slam GM industry's "shoot the messenger" tactics

Two very important new publications.....

Comment from GM-Free Cymru: Independent scientists are getting fed up with the GM industry's tactic of seeking to "shoot the messenger" whenever any research throws up evidence of harm (either to health or the environment) arising from the growing of GM crops. In 2009 a group of Swiss researchers discovered that the BT toxin Cry1Ab was harmful to young ladybird larvae -- demonstrating that harm could be done by BT plants to non-target insects. That should not have been a surprise to anybody -- after all, BT plants have toxins in them, and toxins kill things. But the response of Monsanto and its tame scientists was extraordinary -- they went straight into denial mode, and used the tame journal called "Transgenic Research" in order to attack Angelika Hilbeck and her colleagues, to pretend that their original study was no better than pseudo-science, and in effect to discredit them as scientists. Absolutely typical tactics, as described by Emily Waltz in her "Nature" article in 2009. Nothing changes........

Now Hilbeck, Meier and Trtikova have come out fighting, having repeated their original study with additional tests, with the same results. They demonstrate that the protocols used by the GM industry researchers (see 2 and 3 below) were deeply flawed, since they used laboratory protocols incapable of picking up harmful effects --- the Swiss team are too polite to say so, but we can say it -- the industry tests were corrupt, and were designed carefully so as to find no evidence of harm. How many times have we heard that before? Furthermore, in an additional commentary, the Swiss team pleads for respect, sensible scientific discourse and above all, sound scientific protocols designed to produce robust data. David Gee, Hartmut Meyer and Brian Wynne have also jumped in, and have heavily criticised the deeply flawed protocols and "safety tests" for BT crops such as MON810 maize which are based upon the GM industry's own chosen methodologies.

The real story is a simple one -- BT crops are harmful to non-target organisms, and they harm the environment. On that basis, the consent for MON810 must be revisited, and there mist be no further consents for BT crops in Europe.

Commentary Underlying reasons of the controversy over adverse effects of Bt toxins on lady beetle and lacewing larvae

Angelika Hilbeck, Matthias Meier and Miluse Trtikova

Environmental Sciences Europe 2012, 24:9 doi:10.1186/2190-4715-24-9

Published: 15 February 2012 Open Access: www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/9

Abstract (provisional)

We outline important underlying reasons that fuel the decades-long controversy over adverse effects of Bt toxins expressed in genetically modified plants on beneficial, nontarget organisms. Inconsistent evaluation standards and asymmetrical levels of scrutiny applied to studies reporting significant adverse effects compared to those finding no adverse effects are described using the examples of the green lacewing (Chrysoperla carnea) and the two-spotted lady beetle (Adalia bipunctata). Additionally, the chosen style and concerted nature of the rather confrontational counter study and responses in the lady beetle cases bear striking similarities to other reported examples in the field of biosafety/risk science of genetically modified plants and to other fields of applied industrial techno-science that suggest deeper issues that go well beyond science. We call for a constructive and respectful scientific discourse where moving the frontiers of our collective knowledge forward takes center stage. Reported phenomena based on robust data must not be rejected or delegitimized on their being surprising and lacking an explained mechanism at the time of their discovery. Exploring mechanisms often requires entirely different expertise and methodologies than those of the discoverers. In particular, in biosafety/risk sciences, plurality of arguments and critical research approaches have to be embraced and actively encouraged rather than discredited or even silenced if we are to learn our 'late lessons' from past technology introductions.

LETHAL EFFECTS OF GM BT TOXIN ON LADYBIRD LARVAE Swiss researchers have confirmed earlier findings that the Bt toxin Cry1Ab produced for pesticidal purposes by GM Bt maize increases mortality in the young ladybird larvae in laboratory tests. These ladybird larvae are typical 'non-target' beneficial organisms which are not supposed to be harmed by GM maize.

On February 15, the research team headed by Dr Angelika Hilbeck published the results of additional tests after their first publication in 2009 was strongly criticized by proponents of GM crops in a coordinated attack in the scientific journal "Transgenic Research." Following the well known pattern described by the US science journalist Emily Waltz, the counter-articles tried to discredit the 2009 research as "pseudo-science," and presented their own research aimed at disproving the original work.

The Swiss researchers also investigated why the counter-research could not repeat their first results and arrived at a simple conclusion: the protocols were significantly different and much less likely to detect adverse effects of the toxins. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120227111158.htm

Science News Hilbeck, A et al. 2012. A controversy re-visited: Is the coccinellid Adalia bipunctata adversely affected by Bt toxins? Environmental Sciences Europe 2012, 24:10 doi:10.1186/2190-4715-24-10 Open Access: www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/10

 

Lethal Effects of Genetically Modified Bt Toxin Confirmed On Young Ladybird Larvae

ScienceDaily (Feb. 27, 2012) — http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120227111158.htm

Swiss researchers of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich confirm earlier findings that the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin Cry1Ab produced for pesticidal purposes by genetically modified (GM) Bt maize increases mortality in the young ladybird larvae (Adalia bipunctata L., two-spotted ladybird) in laboratory tests. These ladybird larvae are typical 'non-target' environmental goods which are not supposed to be harmed by the GM maize.(1)

On February 15, the research team headed by Dr. Angelika Hilbeck published the results of additional testsi after their first publication in 2009 (2) was strongly criticized by proponents of GM crops in a coordinated attack in the scientific journal "Transgenic Research." (3) Following the well known pattern described by the U.S. science journalist Waltz(4), the counter-articles tried to discredit the 2009 research as "pseudo-science," and presented their own research aimed at disproving the original work. Trigger for this concerted attack was the policy response by the German government which issued a ban in spring 2009 on the commercial planting of a GM maize that expresses the tested Bt toxin, based -- among many others -- on the results of the earlier 2009 study with A. bipunctata.

The Swiss researchers also investigated why the counter-research could not repeat their first results and arrived at a simple conclusion. „We could show that the protocols applied by Alvarez-Alfageme et al. 2011 were significantly different to our earlier studies and much less likely to detect adverse effects of the toxins than those by Schmidt et al. 2009, and our follow-up studies," explains Dr. Hilbeck.

„When testing the protocols by Alvarez-Alfageme et al. 2011 with Bt-susceptible target organisms, the European corn borer larvae, they were hardly damaged by the Bt toxin -- this clearly disqualifies the method for detecting negative Bt effects on non-target organisms." In an accompanying commentary, the authors noted that the reaction of GM crop promoters to results of risk research is often based on double standards. (5) As long as the results seemingly support the claims of no risk, poor quality science is accepted, and receives very little scrutiny.

For example, no comparable criticism was voiced in cases where the selected test organisms, larvae of the green lacewing, without any doubt were not able to ingest the offered Bt toxin -- thus consistently producing false negative results. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in recent years has acknowledged the unsuitability of the lacewing tests for GM crop risk assessment, they still constitute the basis for GM Bt crop approvals, and for 'sound science', by European authorities. "It is time to move beyond the rather 'dogmatic denial' and 'shooting the messenger' stages of the debate and onto the more mature stage of scientific discourse where a meaningful examination of scientific 'surprises'dominates the discussion," said David Gee, senior adviser on science, policy and emerging issues to the European Environmental Agency.

„It is surprising that the European authorities, after implementing biosafety legislation which is based on the precautionary principle and demands scientifically robust ecological risk research and assessment for two decades, still rely on the systematically flawed protocols and on data developed and promoted by the biotechnology industry and their cooperating scientists," said Professor Brian Wynne, of the UK Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (Cesagen) at Lancaster University. Prof Wynne continued:

"We do not need biosafety research embedded in the visions of the biotechnology industry that supports unsustainable industrialised agriculture. Instead we need independent research like Hilbeck's which assesses the specific environmental effects of genetic engineering, uses sensitive methodologies and helps indicate the potentially damaging effects on biodiversity as well as on agricultural diversity, of the industrial production systems which GM agriculture only intensifies. In addition to the urgently needed support for genuinely independent biosafety research, EU and member-state authorities should be taking seriously the benefits of crop diversity, multifunctional agriculture and agricultural policies which develop productive European food systems under sustainable agro-ecological conditions."

"The unnecessary controversy on the Adalia experiments highlights the need for agreed protocols and environmentally relevant risk research and assessment. We urge the European authorities to overcome their reliance on expertise from one sector only -- industry-embedded -- when setting the standards for approval of GM organisms," Dr. Hartmut Meyer, coordinator of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), concluded. "In addition, a revision of the current approvals for commercial growing of GM plants is necessary."

References:

1) Hilbeck, A et al. 2012. A controversy re-visited: Is the coccinellid Adalia bipunctata adversely affected by Bt toxins? Environmental Sciences Europe 2012, 24:10 doi:10.1186/2190-4715-24-10 Open Access: www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/10

2) Schmidt J E U et al. 2009. Effects of Activated Bt Transgene Products (Cry1Ab, Cry3Bb) on Immature Stages of the Ladybird Adalia bipunctata in Laboratory Ecotoxicity Testing. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 56(2):221-228 www.springerlink.com/content/4317km7733582u32/

3) Ricroch A et al. 2010. Is the German suspension of Mon810 maize cultivation scientifically justified? Transgenic Research 19(1):1-12 Open Access: rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11248-009-9297-5

Rauschen S. 2010. A case of “pseudo science”? A study claiming effects of the Cry1Ab protein on larvae of the twospotted ladybird is reminiscent of the case of the green lacewing. Transgenic Research 19(1):13-16 Open Access: rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11248-009-9301-0

Alvarez-Alfageme F et al. 2011. Laboratory toxicity studies demonstrating no adverse effects of Cry1Ab and Cry3Bb1 to larvae of Adalia bipunctata (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae): the importance of study design. Transgenic Research 20(3):467-479 Open Access: rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11248-010-9430-5

4) Waltz E. 2009. Battlefields. Nature 461:27-32 Open Access: www.nature.com/news/2009/090902/full/461027a.html

5) Hilbeck, A et al. 2012. Underlying reasons of the controversy over adverse effects of Bt toxins on lady beetle and lacewing larvae. Environmental Sciences Europe 24: 9 Open Access: www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/9