Calling for a Moratorium on GM Crops and Ban on Patents

First Update of Concerns

 We the undersigned scientists call upon our Governments to:

  1. Impose an immediate moratorium on further environmental releases of transgenic crops, food and animal-feed products for at least 5 years.
  2. Ban patents on living organisms, cell lines and genes.
  3. Support a comprehensive, independent public enquiry into the future of agriculture and food security for all, taking account of the full range of scientific findings as well as socioeconomic and ethical implications.

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    1. We are extremely concerned over the continued release and commercialization of transgenic crops, food and animal-feed products in the face of growing scientific evidence of hazards to biodiversity, food safety, human and animal health, while neither the need nor the benefits of genetic engineering agriculture are yet proven.

    1.1 New scientific evidence has convinced us of the need for an immediate moratorium on releases.

    1.1.1. Herbicide-resistant transgenes have spread to wild relatives by cross-pollination in both oilseed rape and sugar beet 1, creating many species of potential superweeds. One study shows that transgenes may be up to 30 times more likely to escape than the plant's own genes 2.

    1.1.2. Bt-toxins engineered into a wide range of transgenic plants already released into the environment may build up in the soil and have devastating impacts on pollinators and other beneficial insects 3.

    1.1.3. Serious doubts over the safety of transgenic foods are raised by new revelations on the results of animal feeding experiments. Potatoes engineered with snowdrop lectin fed to rats caused highly significant reduction in weight of many organs, impairment of immunological responsiveness and signs suggestive of viral infection. 4

    1.1.4. Research from the Netherlands show that antibiotic resistant marker genes from genetically engineered bacteria can be transferred horizontally to indigenous bacteria at a substantial frequency of 10-7 in an artificial gut 5.

    1.1.5. Researchers in the US found widespread horizontal transfer of a yeast genetic parasite to the mitochondrial genome of higher plants 6, raising serious concerns over the uncontrollable horizontal spread of transgenes and marker genes from transgenic plants released into the environment.

    2. The patenting of living organisms, cell lines and genes under the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights agreement are sanctioning acts of piracy of intellectual and genetic resources from Third World nations 7, and at the same time, increasing corporate monopoly on food production and distribution. Small farmers all over the world are being marginalized, threatening long-term food security for all 8.

    3. The Governments of industrialized nations, by voting for patents on organisms, cell lines and genes, including human genes, are in danger of allowing corporations unrestricted exploitation of their citizens and natural resources through the treaties being negotiated in the WTO and the MAI. Environmental standards, food safety standards and even basic human rights will be sacrificed to corporate financial imperatives 9.

    4. Governmental advisory committees lack sufficient representation from independent scientists not linked to the industry. The result is that an untried, inadequately researched technology has been rushed prematurely to the market, while existing scientific evidence of hazards are being downplayed, ignored, and even suppressed 10, and little independent research on risks are being carried out.

    5. The technology is driven by an outmoded, genetic determinist science that supposes organisms are determined simply by constant, unchanging genes that can be arbitrarily manipulated to serve our needs; whereas scientific findings accumulated over the past twenty years have invalidated every assumption of genetic determinism 11.
    The new genetics is compelling us to an ecological, holistic perspective, especially where genes are concerned. The genes are not constant and unchanging, but fluid and dynamic, responding to the physiology of the organism and the external environment, and require a stable, balanced ecology to maintain stability.

    Among the signatories to the World Scientists' Statement are:
    Dr. Michael Antoniou, Molecular Geneticist, Guy's Hospital, UK
    Dr. Daniel Amman, Cell Biologist, Tech., Switzerland
    Dr. Catherine Badley, Biologist, Univ. Michigan, USA
    Dr. Susan Bardocz, Geneticist, Rowett Institute, UK
    Prof. Phil Bereano, Engineer, Council for Responsible Genetics, USA
    Dr. Javier Blasco, Aragonese Ctr. Rural Europ. Inform, Spain
    Dr. Walter Bortz, Physician, Stanford Univ., USA
    Prof. Martha Crouch, Biologist Indiana University, USA
    Prof. Joe Cummins, Geneticist, Univ. Western Ontario, Canada
    Mr. Gordon Daly, Ph.D. student, gene therapy, Kennedy Inst., UK
    Dr. Bruno Dudine, Behavioral Ecologist, Univ. Udine, Italy
    Dr. Tewolde Egziabher, Agronomist, Ministry of the Environment, Ethiopia
    Dr. Ty Fitzmorris, Ecologist, Hampshire College, USA
    Prof. John Garderineer, Biologist, Univ. Michigan, USA
    Mr. Edward Goldsmith, Ecologist, The Ecologist, London, UK
    Prof. Brian Goodwin, Schumacher College, UK
    Dr. John Hammond, Engineer, Highfield, UK
    Prof. Martha Herbert, Pediatric Neurologist, Mass. Gen. Hosp., USA
    Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Geneticist and Biophysicist, Open University, UK
    Mr. Patrick Holden, Organic Agriculturist, The Soil Association, UK
    Dr. Vyvyan Howard, Toxipathologist, Liverpool Univ., UK
    Prof. Ruth Hubbard, Biologist, Harvard Univ. USA
    Prof. Tirn Ingold, Anthropologist, Univ. Manchester, UK
    Ms. Dani Kaye, Scientist for Global Responsibility, London, UK
    Dr. Philip Kilner, Cardiologist, Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS, UK
    Prof. Richard Lacey, Microbiologist, Leeds, UK
    Prof. Ervin Laszlo, Club of Budapest, Hungary
    Mr. Sean Lyman, Science Student, Gettysbury College, USA
    Dr. Timothy Mann, Geographer, Hampshire College, USA
    Dr. Katarina Leppanen, Univ. Sweden, Gothenburg, Sweden
    Vuejuin Mckersen, Natural Resource Manager, Univ. Michigan, USA
    Prof. David Packham, Material Scientist, Univ. Bath, UK
    Chris Picone, Soil Microbiologist, Univ. Michigan, USA
    Dr. Robert Poller, Organic Chemist, Univ. London, UK
    Dr. Arpad Pusztai, Biochemical Immunologist, Rowett Institute, UK
    Dr. Carlos R. Ramirez, Biologist, St. Lawrence Univ., USA
    Dr. Peter M. Rosset, Inst. Food & Develop. Policy, USA
    Ms. Angela Ryan, Molecular Biologist, Institute of Science in Society, UK
    Prof. Peter Saunders, Biomathematician, King's College, London, UK
    Dr. Nancy A. Schultz, Entomologist, Univ. Wisconsin-Madison, USA
    Dr. Brian Schultz, Ecologist, Hampshire College, USA
    Ms. Verena Soldati, Biotechnologist, Basle Appell, Switzerland
    Dr. John Soluri, Historian of Science, Carnegie Mellon Univ. USA
    Dr. Vandana Shiva, Res. Fdn. for Science and Ecology, New Delhi, India
    Prof. Atuhiro Sibatani, Molecular Biologist, Osaka, Japan
    Dr. Gerald Smith, Zoologist, Univ. Michigan, USA
    Dr. Ted Steele, Molecular Immunologist, Univ. Wollongong, Australia
    Prof. Ian Stewart, Biomathematician, Warwick University, UK
    Prof. David Suzuki, Geneticist, Sust. Develop. Res. Ins. U.B.C., Canada
    Prof. Terje Traavik, Institute of Medical Microbiology, Tromso, Norway
    Ms Rosa Vazquez, Biology Student, Ohio State Univ. USA


1 Brookes, M. (1998). Running wild, New Scientist 31 October; Snow, A. and Jorgensen, R. (1998). Costs of transgenic glufosinate resistance introgressed from Brassica napus into weedly Brassica rapa. Abstract, Ecological Society of America, Baltimore, Aug. 6, 1998
2 Bergelson, J., Purrington,C.B. and Wichmann, G. (1998). Promiscuity in transgenic plants. Nature 395, 25.
3 Crecchio, C. and Stotzky, G. (1998). Insecticidal activity and biodegradation of the toxin from Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki bound to humic acids from soil, Soil Biology and Biochemistry 30, 463-70, and references therein.
4 Leake, C. and Fraser, L. (1999). Scientist in Frankenstein food alert is proved right. UK Mail on Sunday, 31 Jan. ;
Goodwin, B.C. (1999). Report on SOAEFD Flexible Fund Project RO818, Jan. 23, 1999.
5 MacKenzie, D. (1999). Gut reaction. New Scientist 30 Jan., p.4.
6 Cho, Y., Qiu, Y.-L., Kuhlman, P. and Palmer, J.D. (1998). Explosive invasion of plant mitochondria by a group I intron. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 95, 14244-9.
7 See Shiva, V. (1998). Biopiracy The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge, Green Books, London; also Latin American
Declaration on Transgenic Organisms, Quito, 22 Jan. 1999.
8 The Corner House (1998), Food? Health? Hope? Genetic Engineering and World Hunger, Briefing 10.
9 See Mander, J. and Goldsmith, E. eds. (1996). The Case against the Global Economy and for a Turn toward the Local,
Sierra Club Books, San Francisco.
10 See note 4.
11 See Ho, M.W. (1998, 1999). Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare? The Brave New World of Bad Science and
Big Business, Gateways Books and Third World Network, Bath and Penang.

First Update of Concerns  - July 15, 1999  

Prepared by: Dr Mae-Wan Ho & Angela Ryan, Open University, UK 

The article on TRIPS is now under review at the WTO. It is an opportunity to exclude the new biotech patents from TRIPS. A scientific briefing was produced for the Third World Network and circulated at WTO, by two of our
signatories, Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Dr. Terje Traavik. The full document can be found on our website: <>. It provides a glossary and detailed analysis of the relevant article in TRIPS as well as
corresponding articles in the EU Directive.  The briefing concludes :

All classes of the new biotech patents should be rejected from inclusion in TRIPS on the following grounds:  

All involve biological processes not under the direct control of the scientist.  They cannot be regarded as inventions but expropriations from life.

The hit or miss technologies associated with many of the inventions are inherently hazardous to health and biodiversity.

There is no scientific basis to support the patenting of genes and genomes, which are discoveries at best.

Many patents are unethical ; they destroy livelihoods, contravene basic human rights, create unnecessary suffering in animals or are otherwise contrary to public order and morality.

Many patents involve acts of plagiarism of indigenous knowledge and biopiracy of plants (and animals) bred and used by local communities for millenia.


1.  Researchers at Cornell University published a study in Nature which found that pollen from GM Bt corn could have lethal effects on the larvae of monarch butterflies if it lands on milkweed, the plant upon which they feed. Forty-four percent of the larvae were killed after 4 days, whereas no mortality occurred in larvae fed nontransgenic pollen. The Cornell University researchers say their results "have potentially profound implications for the conservation of monarch butterflies" and believe more research on the environmental risks of biotechnology in agriculture is essential.
Reference: Losey, J.E. et al (1999). Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae. Nature 399, 214.

2.  A recent study on transgenic rice carried out at the John Innes Institute supports previous evidence that there is a recombination hotspot in the CaMV 35S promoter. Furthermore, most of the recombination events analyzed were 'illegitimate' or nonhomologous and do not require substantial similarity in nucleic acid base sequence. The recombination events were also found to occur independently, in the absence of other viral genes.
Our comment: Transgenic lines containing the CaMV promoter, which includes practically all that have been released, are therefore prone to instability due to rearrangements, and also have the potential to create new viruses or
other invasive genetic elements.  The continued release of such transgenic lines is unwarranted in light of the new findings. Reference; Kohli, A. et al 1999. Molecular characterization of transforming plasmid rearrangement in transgenic rice reveals a recombination hotspot in the CaMV promoter and confirms the predominance of microhomology mediated
recombination. The Plant Journal 17(6), pp 591-601.

3.  A new study reviews 8,200 university-based trials of transgenic soya varieties. It reveals that Roundup Ready Soybeans produce lower yields compared to their non GM counterparts.  The average yield drag in RR
soybeans was 6.7% and in some areas of the midwest the average yield in conventional varieties was 10% higher compared to Roundup Ready varieties. Furthermore the analysis shows that farmers use 2 to 5 times more herbicide
measured in pounds applied per acre on RR soybeans compared with other weed management systems.  RR herbicide use exceeds the levels on many farms using multi-tactic weed management systems by a factor of 10 or more.
Reference: Evidence of the Magnitude and Consequences of the Roundup Ready Soybean Yield Drag from University-Based Varietal Trials in 1998 by U.S. agronomist Dr. Charles Benbrook, author of Pest Management at the Crossroads and former Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture for the US National Academy of Sciences. Ag Biotech Infonet Technical Paper Number 1 July 13 1999. website <>

3.  A recent population-based study conducted in Sweden between 1987-1990 and including follow-up interviews clearly links exposure to Roundup Ready herbicide (glyphosate) to non-Hodgkinís lymphoma and strongly suggests
glyphosate deserves further epidemiological studies.
Reference: Hardell, H. & Eriksson, M. (1999).   A Case-Control Study of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Exposure to Pesticides. Cancer 5, No 6.

4.  A new paper reports chaotic gene silencing in GM plants and reveals that each transformed plant expressed a different and specific instability profile.  Both transcriptional and post-transcriptional gene silencing mechanisms were operating in a chaotic manner and demonstrates that epigenetic (position) effects are responsible for transgene instability in GM plants.  These results indicate that transgene silencing and instability will continue to hinder the economic exploitation of GM plants.
Reference; Dr Neve M et al. (1999)  Gene Silencing results in instability of antibody production in transgenic plants.  Molecular and General Genetics 260:580-592.

5.  Successful transfers of a kanamycin resistance marker gene to the soil bacterium Acinetobacter were obtained using DNA extracted from homogenized plant leaf from a range of transgenic plants: Solanum tuberosum (potato),
Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco), Beta vulgaris (sugar beet), Brassica napus (oil-seed rape) and Lycopersicon esculentum (tomato). It is estimated that about 2500 copies of the kanamycin resistance genes (from the same number of
plant cells) is sufficient to successfully transform one bacterium, despite the fact that there is six million-fold excess of plant DNA present.
Our comment: A single plant with say, 2.5 trillion cells, would be sufficient to transform one billion bacteria.
Reference: De Vries, J. and Wackernagel, W. (1998). Detection of nptII (kanamycin resistance) genes in genomes of transgenic plants by marker-rescue transformation. Mol. Gen. Genet. 257, 606-13.

6.  Horizontal gene transfer between bacteria can occur in the gut at high frequencies. This has been demonstrated in the gut of germ-free mice. The Œgerm-free&sup1; gut-environment can result from taking antibiotics. In one experiment, tetracycline increases the frequency of horizontal gene transfer by 20-fold. And vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium is found to colonise the gut when the mice were treated with antibiotic.
Our comments: Antibiotic resistance marker genes can spread from GMOs to bacteria and between bacteria, including those associated with infectious diseases. Furthermore, the use of antibiotics will make resistance spread more readily.
References: Persson et al (1996). Enetrococcus faecium in ex-germfree mice. Microecology and Therapy, 24, 169-173.
Doucet-Populaire, F. et al (1991). Inducible transfer of conjugative transposon Tn/545 from Enterocococcus faecalis to Listeria monocytogenes in the digestive tracts of gnotobiotic mice. Antimicrob. Agents Chemother., 35, 185-7. Whitman, M.S. et al (1996). Gastrointestinal tract colonization with vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium in an animal model. Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 40, 1526-30.

7.  Pathogenic bacteria capable of invading cells can act as vectors for transferring genes into mammalian cells.
Our comment: Dangerous transgenic DNA can end up in the genome of our cells, with the potential of causing a lot of genetic disturbance including cancer.
Reference: Grillot-Courvalin, et al. (1998). Functional gene transfer from intracellular bacteria to mammalian cells. Nature Biotechnology 16, 1-5.
Mirrored from on 10 Nov 1999, last revised 01 Jan 2000
This partial list of signatories is of 51 scientists.  Original date uncertain --checking later.  21kb  6pp 102  tncnews4.htm  CONTENTS 104