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Advisory Committee Ignores Warning of GM Hazards

Prof. Joe Cummins rebuts decision on allowing the release GM potatoes

Britain’s Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment
(ACRE) has advised the Secretary of State to allow Leeds University to undertake open field releases of genetically modified (GM) potatoes resistant to potato cyst nematodes [1].  ACRE’s response to public comments reflects a disturbing bias towards GM technology and disregard for safety

ACRE considered 103 representations from members of the public but has mostly ignored the safety issues raised [2] (Transgenic Potato Not to be Released, SiS 38). I shall deal with some of them here.

On the presence of the nptII antibiotic resistance marker gene

ACRE is of the opinion that the therapeutic effect of antibiotics that are substrates for NPTII will not be compromised by the presence of the nptII gene in GM plants.

ACRE’s advice on this issue is that (a) the likelihood of transfer of a functional gene from plant material to bacteria is extremely low; (b) bacteria with resistance to these antibiotics are widespread in the environment; and (c) acquisition of an intact gene is only one of the possible mechanisms for bacteria to develop resistance. These points also apply to the specific case of the proposed trial of GM potato cyst nematode (PCN) repellent potatoes.”

The nptII gene is for resistance to the antibiotic neomycin, a member of the aminoglycoside family. Thus resistance to neomycin may be cross-resistant to other members of the aminoglycoside family including kanamycin, streptomycin, gentamycin and tobramycin all of which are used to treat humans or domestic animals [3] (Kanamycin Still Used and Cross-Reacts with New Antibiotics, ISIS News9/10). We have also prepared an extensive review which showed that horizontal transfer of transgenic DNA has indeed occurred, and that it has been greatly underestimated [4] (Horizontal Gene Transfer from GMOs Does Happen, SiS 38); hence, “There is little doubt that environmental antibiotic resistance will be significantly enhanced by planting crops modified with antibiotic resistance genes.”

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