sábado, octubre 03, 2009

Some of the comments generated by Emily Waltz's Nature article

It was with surprise that I read Emily Waltz 's article "Battlefield". Waltz used the word "attack" four times in the article yet never once put forward evidence of anything other than challenges to the science methodology, interpretation, incomplete citations, over reaching conclusions etc. Attempting to claim victim status is a very successful method used to avoid the real issue, in this case the BAD Science. I was left wondering if the intent of the article was to quiet the scientific criticisms. As far as I can determine the scientific criticisms were right on the mark. It is too bad Emily Waltz and Nature did not appear to understand this point. When poor quality science goes unchallenged we all lose.

Robert Wager
Vancouver Island University
Nanaimo BC


The critics' claim that EU regulation on GMOs is "fuelled by bad science and ideological opposition" betrays the critics' own ideological position and scientific hubris. Quite a few peer-reviewed papers have been publiched in peer-reviewed journals, based on rigorous methodlogy and long-term field data, which unamiguously show adverse impacts of GM crops on biodiversity (for example, Bohan et al. 2005, Proc. Royal Soc. B 272, 463–474). Critics who are so earnest about "good science" are surprisingly silent about such publications. They never write letters to policy makers suggesting immediate ban of herbicide tolerant GM crops in all countries.
Similarly, Saxena's work on the significant larvicidal effect of Bt-root exudates from Bt corn hybrids, representing three transformation events (Bt11, MON810, and 176) and evaluated in both in vitro and field studies (Saxena D., S. Flores, and G. Stotzky 2002, Soil Biology & Biochemistry 34, 133-137) is neither cited nor noticed by these self-righteous critiques. A number of excellent studies (cited in Séralini et al. (2009, Int. J. Biol. Sci. 5: 438-443) are fated to disappear from the view of policy makers and the public through the "conspiracy of silence".
Contrariwise, when a truly bad paper, reporting absurd findings, was published in a reputed journal like Science, the responsibility and righteosuness of these same critiques, like the Pharaoh's horses behind Moses, sank into the deep sea. This particular study (Qaim, M., & Zilberman, D. 2003, Science 299, 900-902) found up to 83% yield increase in Bt cotton, based on farmer interviews and "trial records" supplied by Mahyco-Monsanto – the company who conducted those putative trials, and obviously had stake in such publications. Moreover, the study did not consider the confounding effects of late (by 2 months) sowing of the crop, and of better water supply to the Bt-cotton fields compared to the non-Bt varieties. When GM crops are promoted at the expense of scientific rigor and sensibility, the whistle blowers cannot find their whistles, or else are out of their breath to blow the whistles.
What surprises me most is the critics' evasion of the fact that Bt toxin is a known insecticide, and biotechnologists have chosen this toxin for incorporation into crop plant precisely for that purpose. However, whenever a study shows a toxic effect on non-target insects, it is immediately branded as "bad science". It requires little understanding of insect physiology to surmise that continuous flux of the insecticidal toxin from a Bt-plant source into the soil and run-off water is likely to eliminate at least some non-target insects. One may argue about the exact extent of mortality of this or that species, but the lethal effect of Bt toxin on non-target insects is well established (see Hilbeck, A. and J.E.U. Schmidt 2006, Biopestic. Int. 2 (1): 1-50). The effect is certain when insect predators and parasitoids consume "Bt-susceptible and sublethally-damaged herbivores" (J., M. Meissle & F. Bigler 2006, Nature Biotechnology 24: 63 – 71). Do the critics perceive any policy implication of these findings?

Debal Deb
Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, Barrackpore, India. (Current address: Energy & Resources Group, Uinviersity of California- Berkeley)


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