Sign The Petition To Ensure Genetically Modified Organisms Are Regulated in Australia, Back Friends of the Earth.

biohazard sign

At a time when we urgently need stronger laws to regulate GM business, the Australian Government has removed regulations designed to keep us and our food safe. Please sign the Friends of the Earth Petition.

At a time when we urgently need stronger laws to regulate Genetical Engineering businesses, the Australian Government has removed the regulations that were designed to keep us and our food safe. This regulatory change means that from now, many genetically modified (GM) animals, plants and microbes will enter our environment and food chain with no requirement for safety testing or traceability.

On 13th November 2019 the Senate will debate whether to disallow these regulatory changes, and Labor Party support for the disallowance motion will be vital.

Now is the time to act. If you want to know that the food you are eating is GM free, please contact your local MP and senators to demand that all genetically modified organisms are assessed for safety and labelled for consumer choice. Add your voice.

Please sign the petition here by clicking on this link.

A briefing on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s)

I’ve learned to be cautious about what governments, scientists and businesses say about new technologies. My father told me how he laughed when British scientists announced that nuclear power was going to be so cheap, safe and effective that electricity would be supplied free.

Over the past twenty five years I’ve heard much pontificating about the edenic opportunities that genetic engineering (GE) offer Australia. GE will allow us to tailor diseases to exterminate vermin, reduce chemical use, improve crop yields, etc. Smart techniques. Pinpoint accuracy. 100% satisfaction guaranteed. Simple, just trust in our technology, We Can See The Future.

So how accurate a technology is GE? How much thought has gone into the consequences of its use? The history of our previous field experimentation in Australia give us clues as to how these things work. Either the proponents of GE are aware of the dangers and are hiding them, as did the Maralinga nuclear testers, or they are as wilfully ignorant as the introducers of the cane toad.

In the 1950’s and ‘60’s atomic weapons research was the equivalent of GE: cutting edge technology. It was hard to argue for caution without being labelled a commie, a nut, or both. The Maralinga Tjarutja, then not even Australian citizens, were forced from their traditional land to make way for British nuclear tests: safe, controlled field trials of new technology.

Plutonium 239 loses half of its radioactive strength every 24,000 years. The testers knew that for the Maralinga Tjarutja Aboriginal people their homelands would eventually be safe for re-occupation.

There is an almost rustic charm about nuclear pollution and feral vermin, like the cane toad. You know what they are, you know what they do, and you know that their behaviour is governed by natural laws, including the laws of inheritance. This is not true of GE.

A few years ago a German biotechnology company genetically engineered a soil bacterium, Klebsiella planticulata, to decompose organic waste and at the same time generate ethanol for use as fuel. Before field trials began this new GE life form was tested in real, living soil in a laboratory. This was very unusual: normally such tests would be done in sterilised soil.

Every single plant that was grown in soil innoculated with the GE Klebsiella died. The new life form affected all the mycorrhizal fungi present in the soil. These microscopic fungi interact intimately with plant roots assisting plant nutrition and health. This mutualistic relationship has been evolving since plants and soil came into being. 

Critically, had normal tests been completed in sterilised soil no such results would have been seen. Field trials in the natural environment would have followed. A GE life form, capable of making soil inhospitable to plant life, would have been released into the world.

Dust storm and bush fires spread across SE Queensland, 18th November 2005

In October 2002 a large dust storm, apparently visible from space, and carrying millions of tonnes of soil, stretched from northern Queensland to southern NSW and spread soil east as far as New Zealand.

Dust storms carry many things apart from soil: insects, micro-organisms, pollen, seed, eggs, spores and, perhaps, some of them carrying a pinch of Plutonium 239. So had this Klebsiella been trialled in Australia it might have become Australia’s Christmas gift to New Zealand. If two supposedly geographically isolated bioregions can share genetic material so easily, it seems that a ‘controlled field trial’ is more soft terminology than hard science.

In 1999 the first GE Super-weeds – wild turnips, Brassica rapa – were identified in Britain, following the ‘normal laboratory tests’ and ‘controlled field trials’ of a GE crop of canola, Brassica napus. These two plants share a variety of insect pollinators which spread GE pollen from crop to wild plants which then inherited a gene for herbicide resistance which they in turn passed to the next generation.

Until the advent of GE, the scientific definition of a species was a life form with a unique genetic makeup that had developed to survive the environment and ecosystem within which it had evolved over time. Natural laws of inheritance ensured that a species is genetically distinct and tends to avoid hybridising with other species. The more distantly related species are the more unlikely it is that hybridisation will occur between them: so far barramundi have never crossbred with eucalypts.

Genes defining a species were contained within its population to be inherited – vertically – down the generations, from parents to offspring adhering to the laws of natural inheritance.

A common comment by GE advocates is that all crop improvement is genetic engineering. They use this argument to attempt to confuse home gardeners, but it is false. Prior to GM technology, plant breeding used only whole genes. For example, corn (Zea mays, also known as maize) is without doubt a marvellous example of crop improvement by humans using traditional breeding techniques. But prior to GE, all these advances from wild corn to, say, the heirloom ‘Golden Bantam’ corn growing in an organic food garden, have been made by farmers using crop selection and wind pollination over the centuries, not in a laboratory.

Entire genes, not bits of DNA were used to create modern corn and all the breeding had, until GM technology was developed, followed natural laws of inheritance.

The natural world is now a laboratory where a new phenomenon – horizontal gene transfer between species, between genera, phyla and kingdoms – seems both easy and expected. Small wonder public relations companies and researchers are spinning like mad.

Once polluted with GM genes, there is no going back. Mexico is the world centre of wild corn diversity and it is polluted with GM genes. In 1996 the USA began to grow GM corn and in five years it made up 30% of that crop’s national harvest. Mexican scientists and environmentalists expressed concern that this corn might enter Mexico through imports with uncertain consequences for agricultural biodiversity. The government responded the following year by imposing a moratorium on the sowing of genetically modified crops. But the measure was never complied with and maize imports carried on without any regulation at all. No one ever explained to growers in Mexico that those grains could not be used as seed.

Already in 1999, the Mexican branch of Greenpeace had analysed samples of US corn that were entering the country and had shown positive traces of genetic modification. The government then formed the Interdepartmental Commission on Bio-security and Genetically Modified Organisms (CIBIOGEM) to examine the issue. To this day it has done nothing according to civil society groups.

In 2001 it was proven that GM corn had been used as seed and sown by rural families who had no idea what it was. Silvia Ribeiro of the Action group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group) remarks, And that’s not all. You’re talking about contamination in the very centre of origin of a crop with huge importance for world food supply, which means significant effects in other zones since the contamination can spread not just to the native varieties of maize but also to their wild parents.

This genetic flow “contaminates and degrades one of Mexico’s main treasures. In contrast to dispersion and genetic flow between native corn and conventional hybrid varieties, it doesn’t just transfer corn genes but also pieces of genes of bacterias and viruses (that have nothing to do with corn) whose environmental and health effects have not been seriously evaluated.”

“The contamination of our traditional corn attacks the fundamental autonomy of our indigenous and agricultural communities because we are not just talking of our food source; corn is a vital part of our cultural heritage,” declared indigenous leader Aldo Gonzalez, “For us native seeds are an important element of our culture. The pyramids may have disappeared and been destroyed but a handful of corn is a legacy we can leave behind for our children and grandchildren and today they are denying us that possibility.”

Currently, GM technology is about profit and avoiding having to pay for cleaning up your own pollution. Every new technology has a downside that is discovered after its application: atomic energy generates nuclear waste; pesticides give us bioaccumulation of poisons and the death of non-target species, like birds and fish.

With pesticides we invented the word “bioaccumulation” to describe the phenomenon of pesticide residues and pesticide breakdown products accumulating towards the top of the food chain.

So here’s a new term for the movement of pollution from GE – “biodispersal” – for the new phenomenon of modified genes weaving their way unpredictably across the laws of natural inheritance and widely dispersing themselves throughout the web of life on Earth.

I’m all for improving our knowledge on genetics, that’s genuine, ethical, hard science. But GM technology is inherently unpredictable and unnecessary and unethical.

At a time when we urgently need stronger laws to regulate GM business, the Australian Government has removed regulations designed to keep us and our food safe. This means that from now, many genetically modified (GM) animals, plants and microbes will enter our environment and food chain with no requirement for safety testing or traceability.

On 13th November 2019 the Senate will debate whether to disallow these regulatory changes, and Labor Party support for the disallowance motion will be vital.

Now is the time to act. If you want to know that the food you are eating is GM free, please contact your local MP and senators to demand that all genetically modified organisms are assessed for safety and labelled for consumer choice.

Please sign this petition organised by Friends of the Earth, Melbourne by clicking on this link.

Thank you,

Jerry Coleby-Williams
Director, Seed Savers’ Network Inc.
Patron, National Toxics Network Inc.
Patron, Householder’s Options to Protect the Environment Inc.
4th November 2019

References

‘Maralinga: The Fall Out Continues’, produced by Gregg Borschmann, ABC ‘Background Briefing’, April 2000; Transcript at: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/bbing/stories/s120383.htm

‘Naked Ape to Superspecies’, by David Suzuki and Holly Dressel, published by Allen and Unwin, 1999, ISBN 1865081957, The David Suzuki Foundation, Suite 219, 2211 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6K 4S2, Canada;

‘Tainted Genes Hit Web Of Life’, Jerry Coleby-Williams, The Courier Mail, November 2005;