The Trouble with GM
Author, researcher, blogger and academic, Dr Oliver Moore, considers the GM debate as Teagasc announces plans to trial GM potatoes in Ireland
In recent decades, it has become possible to significantly alter the genetic make up of crops. While there has always been slow, selective breeding regimes involving changes in plants, more recently, it has become possible to horizontally transfer genes – that’s transfer genes across the species barrier.
Many people worry about the long term implications of doing this genetic modification (GM): worries have been expressed that horizontal transfer of genes may have unknown, unintended consequences that may cause future problems for food production and for nature more generally.
Europe rejects GM
In fact, European citizens have, it seems, rejected the use of this technology in food production. “There is still a lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe – [by] the majority of consumers, farmers and politicians.” That’s according to someone with a vested interest in saying the exact opposite: the head of the plant science division of an agri-food giant BASF. Stefan Marcinowski made this rather candid statement while announcing that BASF were moving their entire plant science wing out of Europe because of this “lack of acceptance.”
The lack of consumer acceptance is fairly clear. According to a special EU Commission (Euboromoter) report from October 2010, “The key findings of this survey are that Europeans…: do not see benefits of genetically modified food, consider genetically modified foods to be probably unsafe or even harmful and are not in favour of development of genetically modified food”.
Another agri-food company, Monsanto, have also retracted their GM operations in France, where they announced that they would not sell the GM crop they developed there. In any case, they would have found it difficult to, again because of the lack of farmer, politician and consumer acceptance.
In terms of GM crop cultivation, Europe differs from many other parts of the world, most notably the Americas, North and South, and also the ‘far east’ (south east Asia and China). These are the regions where most GM crops are grown globally. Within Europe, only two crops (maize/wheat MON 810, and the potato Amflora) have been approved to be grown. The latter was approved in 2010, the former 12 years previously.
Hardly any Amflora potatoes have been grown since approval: in 2010, 118 hectares were grown, and in 2011 just 18 hectares hectares were. Of this, 16 hectares were grown in Sweden and 2 in Germany. Indeed, an error by BASF in their trials in Sweden, whereby an illegal, or unapproved (Amadea) and legal/approved (Amflora) GM potato crop cross-contaminated each other meant that the 16 hectares were destroyed. The Maize/wheat, MON810, has been more popular as a crop in Europe: just over 114,000 hectares were grown in 2011. The majority of this was in Spain – over 97,000 hectares, with far smaller amounts grown in 5 other European countries. However this is about 0.1% of the arable land of Europe, which totals about 110,000 million hectares. In fact globally, 90% of arable land is not under GM cultivation. The size of this is important to take into account for a couple of reasons. GM proponents often paint a picture of the inevitability of GM, of the fact that it is everywhere and unstoppable – a bell that has already been rang as it were.
Irish authorities consider GM
On the other hand, in both Ireland and the UK, non commercial GM trials are either beginning (UK, wheat) or proposed (potatoes, Ireland). Non commercial, in this context, means not run by or for specific companies. In the Irish situation, the Department of Agriculture’s research wing, Teagasc, have made the application.
Very few European countries grow GM crops: just nine in total grew any last year: 7 grew maize/wheat and 2 potatoes. This move by Teagasc, were it to be successful, would mean Ireland would lose its ‘GM-Virginity’: GM crops have never been grown successfully outdoors in Ireland. Campaigners opposed to the use of GM in food have expressed concerns over the risk of outdoor trials, as it involves “releasing a plant (by its very nature capable of reproducing itself and therefore ‘uncontrollable’ in nature) into a field.”
Teagasc, for their part, cite the need to develop late season blight resistance in potatoes and the “fact of life in the crop sector that there is increasing resistance to conventional fungicides”, whereas the organic sector and others have pointed to the recent development of potato varieties that are already resistant to blight, and to the threat to Ireland’s clean green farming and food image the development of GM foods could present. A decision will be made by the on the Teagasc application by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in May.
Organic food rules do not allow GM
Surprisingly, a higher percentage of European land is under organic cultivation than under GM crop cultivation: 4% vs 0.1% respectively.
If you buy organic food, you buy into a system that disallows GM as a core ingredient or even as a feed component. Irish conventional meat and milk – that’s the standard meat and milk available in the shops – is exceptionally grass fed, when compared to what’s produced in most other countries. Winter feed for livestock in Ireland usually has some GM crops in it. So GM crops, such as soya, are part of the feed livestock (cattle, sheep, pigs chickens) consumes in Ireland – unless the livestock is certified organic.
Is GM damaging the environment, food production and human health?
Is there enough evidence about GM crops to say whether they are damaging to the environment? According to a recent FAO report: “The scienti%uFB01c evidence concerning the environmental and health impacts of GMOs is still emerging, but so far there is no conclusive information on the de%uFB01nitive negative impacts of GMOs on health or the environment”. Reports also link GM to increases in yield and various other increased efficiencies in production (e.g. Nath 2008 in the journal Nature 458: 40).
And yet, Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food for the UN since 2008, favours a moratorium, or freeze, on trials of GM crops, as well as broader more socio-economically appropriate policies to alleviate poverty, such as the refocusing of public agricultural expenditure towards the poor.
“GM maize can fly to native maize areas and…contamination is difficult to avoid. It might or might not lead to the gradual disappearance of native varieties” he said in reference to GM crop growing in Mexico. De Schutter, like many others, is concerned about the functioning of GM in combination with already existing problems with poverty, social exclusion, corporate power and weak regulations.
GM Soya and sustainability
The aforementioned Soya presents an interesting case. Uptake of GM Soya has been far stronger globally than for most other crops: 65.8% of global Soya crops were GM in 2008. A 2010 report on GM Soya, authored by 9 senior scientists, including experts in biosciences, molecular embryology and ecology, concluded that “The weight of evidence from scientific studies, documented reports, and on-farm monitoring shows that both GM RR (Roundup Ready) soy and the glyphosate herbicide it is engineered to tolerate are destructive to agricultural systems, farm communities, ecosystems, and animal and human health. The conclusion is that GM RR soy cannot be termed sustainable or responsible.”
The prevalence of GM Soya has led, the report’s authors claim, to: the emergence of superweeds; increased herbicide use; land abandonment; lower yields; higher costs; reduced nutrient uptake; increased pests and diseases and increased use of fossil fuels in the production of such Soy crops. (Superweeds emerge when the resistance genetically added to a crop moves over to the weed). GM Soya is a part of much animal feed, even in Ireland: If you want to avoid buying into the production of GM Soya, choosing organic food is a sensible option.
As a society, we end up asking ourselves about priorities: do we forge ahead with possible magic bullet solutions like GM, or do we engage in the hard slog of fundamentally changing and improving the production, distribution and consumption of food? And if the magic bullets don’t work, or have unintended side-effects, where will the collateral damage be?
Bayer AG is a massive German based chemicals and pharmaceuticals manufacturer. It has operations in most countries worldwide and had global sales for 2000 of nearly $30 billion. Its operations are divided into four sectors: Health, Agriculture, Polymers (plastics, synthetic rubber) and Chemicals. It has recently acquired Aventis’ controversial cropscience business, making it a key player in the development, commercialisation and sale of GM crops. As a major player in 4 controversial sectors for over 125 years Bayer has a distinguished history of corporate crimes ranging from the manufacture and sale of controversial drugs (Heroin, Ciproxin and Baycol), the development of chemical warfare agents and poisons (Chlorine Gas, Zyklon B and VX), the use of forced labour during WW2, and numerous cases of poisoning, side-effects and environmental pollution connected to its chemical and pharmaceutical products. In December 2001, Multinational Monitor rated Bayer AG as one of their Top Ten Worst Companies of the year.
1.3. History 
For over 125 years Bayer has been a major player in 4 of the most controversial business areas that capitalism has so far produced. They have a long and particularly nasty history of corporate crime (see also Corporate Crime section below internal link).
The first incarnation of what is currently Bayer AG was born out of the rush by European industrialists to develop and manufacture synthetic dyes in the second half of the 19th century. Friedrich Bayer and Johann Friedrich Weskott opened a dye factory in 1863 in Wuppertal, Germany. The company Farbenfabriken vorm. Friedr. Bayer & Co. was launched in 1883. Bayer quickly diversified their activities into other areas of chemical manufacture, including photography and pharmaceuticals. Bayer also established operations throughout Europe and the US. Early Bayer discoveries included Antinonin (synthetic pesticide, 1892), Aspirin (1897), Heroin (1898) and Buna (synthetic rubber 1915). During WWI Bayer, along with other chemical manufacturers (both Allied and German), turned their attention to the manufacture of chemical weapons  including chlorine gas used to horrendous effect in the trenches.
During WWI Bayer had formed a close association with other German chemical companies including BASF and Hoechst. This relationship was formalised in 1925 with merger of these companies as well as AGFA, and others, to form the IG Farben Trust.
IG Farben continued to grow during the inter-war period as one of the most powerful chemical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. Products included polyurethanes and the first ‘sulpha’ drugs.
It is during Nazi-era Germany and WW2 that IG Farben (Bayer) entered its most sinister phase. IG Farben as the leading chemical company in Nazi Germany took over chemical plants across Nazi occupied Europe, used slave-labour in their factories (including operating their own concentration camp), conducted medical experiments on those held in the concentration camps and manufactured the poison gas used to kill thousands. At the end of the war the 1945 Potsdam Agreement called for the break up of IG Farben into its constituent companies. Twelve IG Farben employees and directors were jailed for war crimes at the Nuremburg Trials.
Bayer was re-established as Farbenfabriken Bayer AG in 1951, changing its name to the current Bayer AG in 1972. Although the post-WW2 Bayer is a different legal entity to the Bayer that pre-existed IG Farben, and that which formed part of IG Farben, a direct line of continuity can be traced between the personnel, infrastructure and technology of these 3 incarnations. Bayer has a very murky past that should be remembered.
For Bayer’s rose-tinted, and very selective, version of its own history have a look at their Bayer Tapestry http://www.bayer.co.uk/tapestry/
Controversies from Wikipedia
It has been documented that aspirin compounds were successfully synthesized by various other scientists or groups between 1848–1869, long before Bayer’s claims. This fact led to various patent litigations in the early 20th century.
Arthur Eichengrün, a Bayer chemist, claimed to be the first to discover an aspirin formulation which did not have the unpleasant side effects of nausea and gastric pain. Eichengrün also claimed he invented the name aspirin and was the first person to use the new formulation to test its safety and efficacy. Bayer contends aspirin was discovered by Felix Hoffman to alleviate the sufferings of his father, who had arthritis. Various sources support the conflicting claims.
In 1956 Fritz ter Meer became chairman of Bayer’s supervisory board. He was convicted at the Nuremberg trials for his part in carrying out experiments on human subjects at Auschwitz. He was found “guilty of count two, plunder and spoliation, and count three, slavery and mass murder” and sentenced to seven years imprisonment and served five years.
HIV infected blood products
Main article: Contaminated haemophilia blood products
A cite from http://www.haemophilia-litigation.com/, access date 31 May 2006:
“After 1978, there were four major companies in the United States engaged in the manufacture, production and sale of Factor VIII and IX: Armour Pharmaceutical Company, Bayer Corporation and its Cutter Biological division, Baxter Healthcare and its Hyland Pharmaceutical division and Alpha Therapeutic Corporation, which have been or are defendants in certain lawsuits.
The plaintiffs allege that the companies manufactured and sold blood factor products as beneficial “medicines” that were, in fact of likely to be contaminated with HIV and/or HCV. This resulted in the mass infection and/or deaths of thousands of haemophiliacs worldwide.
It is believed that three of these companies, Alpha, Baxter, and Cutter, recruited and paid donors from high risk populations, including prisoners (i.e. prison-based collections), intravenous drug users, and plasma centers with predominantly homosexual donors, esp. in cities with large populations thereof, to obtain blood plasma used for the production of Factor VIII and IX. Plaintiffs allege that these companies failed to exclude donors, as mandated by federal law, with a history of viral hepatitis. Such testing could have substantially reduced the likelihood of plasma containing HIV and/ or HCV entering plasma pools.”
After 52 deaths were blamed on an alleged side effect of Bayer’s anticholesterol drug Baycol, its manufacture and sale were discontinued in 2001. The side effect was rhabdomyolysis, causing renal failure, which occurred with a tenfold greater frequency in patients treated with Baycol in comparison to those prescribed alternate medications of the statin class.
In January 2001, Bayer agreed to pay $14 million to the United States and 45 states to settle allegations under the federal False Claims Act that the company caused physicians and other health care providers to submit fraudulently inflated reimbursement claims to Medicaid.
Methyl parathion poisoning case
In October 2001, Bayer was taken to court after 24 children in the remote Andean village of Tauccamarca, Peru were killed and 18 severely poisoned when they drank a powdered milk substitute contaminated with the insecticide methyl parathion. A Peruvian Congressional Subcommittee found significant evidence of criminal responsibility by Bayer and the Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture.
Liberty Link rice
In August 2006, it became apparent that the United States rice crop had been contaminated with unapproved genetically engineered Bayer CropScience rice.
More specifically, the genetically engineered rice has an herbicide-resistance trait. These forms of rice are commonly referred to among US rice growers as, Liberty Link rice 601 or LL 601. Approximately 100 varieties of rice are produced primarily in the following six states: Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and California.
2006 Trasylol safety advisory
In September 2006, Bayer was faulted by the FDA for not revealing during testimony the existence of a commissioned retrospective study of 67,000 patients, 30,000 of whom received Trasylol and the rest other antifibrinolytics. The study concluded Trasylol carried greater risks. The FDA was alerted to the study by one of the researchers involved. Although the FDA issued a statement of concern, they did not change their recommendation that the drug may benefit certain patients. In a Public Health Advisory Update dated 3 October 2006, the FDA recommended “physicians consider limiting Trasylol use to those situations in which the clinical benefit of reduced blood loss is necessary to medical management and outweighs the potential risks” and carefully monitor patients. The FDA took Trasylol off the market on 5 November 2007.
Prostate cancer claims
In October 2009, the Center for Science in the Public Interest sued Bayer for “falsely claiming that the selenium in Men’s One-A-Day multivitamins might reduce the risk of prostate cancer.”
In December 2010, a leaked memo from the EPA’s Environmental Fate and Effects Division asserted “Clothianidin’s (Bayer’s neonicotinoid pesticide) major risk concern is to non-target insects (that is, honey bees). Exposure through contaminated pollen and nectar and potential toxic effects therefore remain an uncertainty for pollinators.” In January 2011, Avaaz.org launched an online petition to ban neonicotinoid pesticides.
Main article: Imidacloprid effects on bee population
French and Nova Scotian beekeepers claim Bayer’s seed treatment imidacloprid kills honeybees. France has since issued a provisional ban on the use of imidacloprid for corn seed treatment pending further action. A consortium of U.S. beekeepers filed a civil suit against Bayer CropScience for alleged losses.
On 28 August 2008, an explosion occurred at the Bayer CropScience facility at Institute, West Virginia. A runaway reaction ruptured a tank and the resulting explosion killed two employees. The ruptured tank was close to a methyl isocyanate tank which was undamaged by the explosion.
via Bayer AG : Overview.
via Bayer AG : Overview.