Sound Science, Not Silence
'An Open Letter to World Leaders, Scientists, Media and other
AgBioWorld, www.agbioworld.org; May 9, 2003
Note: Please send an email to with your name
and affiliation if you agree
to be a signatory to the following statements.
Scientists fully engaged in research and examination of the potential
impacts of biotechnology-derived crops have concluded that commercial
biotechnology-derived crops and foodstuffs are as safe as conventional
crops and foodstuffs, and deliver important economic and environmental
benefits to farmers and society at large. Facing constant allegations that
biotech crops are unsafe, anti-biotechnology groups are counting on those
in the scientific community with experience and knowledge of 'genetically
modified' or 'bioengineered' crops to be silent. Sound science not silence
Dozens of scientific and regulatory authorities all over the world have
reviewed and accepted the extensive and growing base of published
scientific information that upholds the safety and benefits of biotech
crops and foods. Despite this, agenda driven scientists and
anti-biotechnology organizations continue to spread unsubstantiated and
misleading information in an effort to further their cause.
Anti-biotechnology groups have a history of lobbing emotionally charged
allegations, but the reality is that none of these groups has actually
provided any credible scientific evidence that would question the safety
of foods derived from biotech crops or the demonstrated benefits to the
environment. Instead, anti-biotechnology groups use their rhetoric and
allegations to advance their agenda, not to provide factual, informed
The reality is that crops developed through plant biotechnology are among
the most well-tested, well-characterized, and well-regulated food and
fiber products ever developed. This is the overwhelming consensus of the
international scientific community, including the Royal Society (1),
National Academy of Sciences (2), the World Health Organization (3), the
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (4), the European
Commission (5), the French Academy of Medicine (6), and the American
Medical Association (7).
Allegations made by anti-biotechnology groups and scientists calling for a
moratorium on the release of biotech crops are unfounded and completely
unsupported by the facts. These groups piece together arguments based on
incomplete information or results isolated from the full context. The
arguments contribute to public anxiety and fears but do not present
Consider the facts that underlie the concerns raised by these groups:
Allegation: Bt corn adversely effects natural enemies and creates new
Fact: Numerous research studies have documented that commercial Bt corn
varieties do not threaten Monarch butterflies, other butterfly species, or
other non-target species (8, 9, 10). Research conducted in China has
demonstrated that Bt cotton does not adversely effect natural enemies or
create new pests but helps to preserve beneficial natural enemy
populations, reduce applicator and environmental exposure to insecticides,
and increase farmer productivity (11, 12, 13, 14).
Allegation: Bt proteins accumulate in the soil and can potentially have
large impacts on soil ecology and fertility.
Fact: There is no evidence that Bt proteins accumulate, nor harm soil
ecology and fertility. In fact, numerous published studies demonstrate Bt
proteins from Bt crops are rapidly degraded in the soil environment
(15,16,17,18,19) and do not negatively impact soil organisms (20, 21, 22).
Allegation: Pests have evolved resistance to Bt crops and are more serious
pests than before.
Fact: There are no documented cases of insect pests developing resistance
to Bt crops in field (23). Management practices, including refuges for
development of pests outside of Bt crops, were instituted with the
introduction of Bt crops to sustain the performance of Bt crops and to
delay pest adaptation. In eight years of use on more than 100 million
acres, there have been no confirmed cases of resistance to Bt crops. The
only cases of field resistance to Bt proteins have occurred with the
extensive and unregulated use of Bt microbial sprays in organic production
Allegation: Bt genes could spread from Bt crops to create weeds.
Fact: Regulatory authorities carefully examine the potential for spread of
genes from Bt crops to weeds before Bt crops are authorized for commercial
use (24). Often cited examples of increased seed production in Bt
sunflower or expression of Bt protein in Bt canola fail to acknowledge
that these university research projects do not involve commercial Bt
crops. Moreover, these studies only point to a potential hazard; they do
not establish that there is a significant risk in an agricultural system.
Allegation: Bt proteins pose a risk to human health and the environment.
Fact: Bt proteins expressed in Bt crops have a history of safe use, are
specific for the targeted crop pests, and pose little or no threat to
other related insects, pest species, animals, or humans. In eight years of
commercial planting on hundreds of millions of acres worldwide, where
biotech crops and foods have been consumed ubiquitously, there have been
no documented adverse effects. Confidence in food and environmental safety
is achieved through rigorous and comprehensive testing programs. The Bt
proteins employed in Bt crops undergo extensive analysis and testing,
including safety to non-target species and food allergy and protein safety
assessment, before Bt crops are authorized for commercial use (25, 26,
27). Studies alleging potential impacts to humans or threats from
bio-terrorism are based on laboratory experimental systems that do not
represent the expression of Bt proteins in commercial crops.
Allegation: Bt corn and other Bt crops do not reduce insecticide use or
provide economic benefits to farmers.
Fact: Bt crops provide protection from targeted insect pests and do not
typically require additional insecticide treatments for targeted pests. As
a result, farmers aware of the health of environmental benefits are
increasingly substituting Bt crops for conventional crops to reduce
unnecessary applicator and environmental exposure to insecticides (28). In
the U.S. in 2001, the use of Bt corn and Bt cotton reduced insecticide use
by 4.6 million pounds, increased farmer profitability by $228 million U.S.
dollars, and increased yield by 3.725 billion pounds (29). Globally, Bt
crops are grown by millions of farmers in 14 countries on over 30 million
acres annually. The rapid adoption of Bt crops is convincing evidence of
the real benefits realized by farmers (30).
Allegation: Bt crops and biotech crops in general have not been adequately
assessed for food, feed, and environmental safety.
Fact: Commercial biotechnology-derived crops have been rigorously assessed
according to well-established, internationally accepted, scientific
standards and guidelines (31). This rigorous safety testing has been
underscored by regulatory review and numerous biotech crop approvals
throughout the world. The consensus of leading scientific bodies with
interest in health and environmental safety is that crops produced through
biotechnology offer many benefits and pose no more risk than crops
produced through traditional crop breeding methods.
The public has a right to know the facts about biotech crops and foods:
1. Biotech crops and foods have been thoroughly assessed for food, feed,
and environmental safety and found to be wholesome, nutritious, and as
safe as conventional crops and foods by scientific and regulatory
authorities throughout the world; and
2. The economic and environmental benefits of biotech crops are
significant and have met the expectations of small and large farmers in
both industrialized and developing countries.
The continued spread of false and misleading information in an effort to
polarize public opinion is irresponsible and does not serve the public
good. Allegations of health and environmental impacts that are not
supported by available published scientific information must be held to
the same standards of scientific review as information provided to support
the safety of biotech crops.
Biotech crops complement conventional agricultural productions systems and
together can help to provide cost-effective and sustainable productivity
gains necessary to help meet the growing food, feed, and fiber demands of
the 21st century.
If you agree, please add your name as a co-signatory to this letter and
acknowledge your support for AgBioWorld's call for responsible,
science-based assessment and factual reporting of information regarding
safety of biotechnology-derived crops.
Please send an email to with your name and
affiliation. We will forward
this statement with all the names of signatories to various global
leaders, science organizations, media and other stakeholders.
We thank you for your cooperation.
C. S. Prakash and Greg Conko
ease, May 2000, www4.nationalacademies.org/news.nsf.
3. Safety Aspects Of Genetically Modified Foods Of Plant Origin. Report of
a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Foods Derived from Biotechnology:
World Health Organization, Headquarters Geneva, Switzerland 29 May - 2
June 2000 :1 - 37.
5. "GMOs: Are there any risks?"
6. "Summary Statement."
9. "Comparative Environmental Impacts of Biotechnology-derived and
Traditional Soybean, Corn, and Cotton
10. "Transgenic Insecticidal Corn - The Agronomic and Ecological Rationale
for its Use." BioScience. 51(11): 900-906. (2001).
11. "Smallholders, Transgenic Varieties, And Production Efficiency. The
Case Of Cotton Farmers In China". Department Of Agricultural And Resource
Economics. University Of California Davis. 2002. 30 Pages.
12. "Five years of Bt cotton in China - the benefits continue." The Plant
Journal 31: 423-430. (2002).
13. "Seasonal abundance of the mirids, Lygus lucorum and Adelphocoris spp.
(Hemiptera: Miridae) on Bt cotton in northern China." Crop Protection (in
14. "Influences of Bt cotton planting on population dynamics of cotton
aphid, Aphis gossypii Glover, in northern China." Environ. Entomol.(
15. "No Detection of Cry1Ac Protein in Soil After Multiple Years of
Transgenic Bt Cotton (Bollgard) Use." Environ. Entomol. 31(1): 30-36
16. In planta distribution and environmental fate of insect resistant
proteins. Plant Physiol. Suppl. 99:80. (1992).
17. "Insect bioassay for determining soil degradation of Bacillus
thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki [CryIAb)] protein in corn tissues." Environ.
Entomol. 25:659-664. (1996).
18. "Quantitation in soil of Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki
delta-endotoxin from transgenic plants." Mol. Ecol. 3:145-151. (1994).
19. "Persistence in soil of transgenic plant produced Bacillus
thuringiensis var. kurstaki delta-endotoxin." Can. J. Microbiol.
20. "Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin released from root exudates and
biomass of Bt corn has no apparent effect on earthworms, nematodes,
protozoa, bacteria, and fungi in soil." Soil Biology & Biochemistry. 33:
21. "Oviposition of European corn borer (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) and
impact of natural enemy populations in transgenic versus isogenic corn."
J. Econ. Entomol. 90:905-909. (1997).
22. "Preimaginal development, survival and field abundance of insect
predators on transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis corn." Environ. Entomol.
23. "Economic, Ecological, Food Safety, and Social Consequences of the
Deployment of Bt Transgenic Plants." Annual Rev Entomology. 47: 845-881.
24. "Evaluation of the US Regulatory Process for Crops Developed Through
Biotechnology." Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. (19):
25. "Food Safety Evaluation of Crops Produced through Biotechnology,"
Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 21, No. 3, 166S-173S,
26. "Safety Assessment of Genetically Modified Foods," Journal of
Nematology. 33(4): 178-182. (2001).
27. "The release of genetically modified crops into the environment. Part
II. Overview of ecological risk assessment." The Plant Journal 33: 19-36.
28. "Comparative Environmental Impacts of Biotechnology-derived and
Traditional Soybean, Corn, and Cotton
29. "Plant Biotechnology: Current and Potential Impact for Improving Pest
Management in US Agriculture, An Analysis of 40 Case Studies."
30. "2002 Global GM Crop Area Continues to Grow for the Sixth Consecutive
Year at a Sustained Rate of More than 10%." http://www.isaaa.org.
31. "The release of genetically modified crops into the environment. Part
1. Overview of the current status and regulations." The Plant Journal 33:
The AgBioWorld Foundation (http://www.agbioworld.org ) is a non-profit
organization based in Auburn, Alabama, that provides information to
teachers, journalists, policymakers, and the general public about
developments in plant science, biotechnology, and sustainable agriculture.
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