Runaway Environmental Impacts from GMOs Need Investigation

An English Agricultural Research Station called Rothamsted Research is preparing to harvest some Genetically Modified Wheat seeds in Spring 2012.

A food protection group (Take the Flour Back) is planning a rally for natural food on May 27th.

John A. Pickett is the spokesman for Rothamsted Research who penned a letter in NewScientist appealing to Food Protection activists not to harm his GMO project.

The Food protection group has appealed to the researchers not to harm our planet’s food system.

Here’s my response letter to Mr. Pickett :

Prof. John A. Pickett, CBE, DSc, FRS
Rothamsted Research

“Leadership is when one is willing to do the right thing, in spite of tremendous pressure to do the easy thing.”

Dear John,

I just learned of your project in reading your letter in NewScientist from here in California.

I hope your words are sincere and my impression is correct that you genuinely care about doing no harm to the health of our greater ecosystem; that onion skin thin layer that contains everything we need for life.

While I’m not one of the folks your letter is directed to, I am somewhat expert in Environmental Impacts having compiled perhaps the world’s largest collection of the best available science of significant man-made impacts to our environment. (1)

Since your group’s video claims you are all “environmentalists” (2) let me respectfully appeal to you to seriously pause before you continue the GM experiments.

Unfortunately, my decades of research has shown that project proponents are almost fully myopic regarding the potential harms of their own projects; particularly those conducting a “ground breaking” project.

Rarely has any advocate for a project (no matter how well meaning) anticipated the magnitude and diverse environmental harms from the activity they want to conduct.

This is likely a cognitive bias called “Bias blind spot.”

I say “rarely”, but as I cannot name a single example of a significant project in the thousands I have evaluated — the truth is darn close to “never.”

As you know history overflows with millions of documented examples of deadly harm by man-made chemicals polluting our breathing air, our drinking water and our very food – each of these pollution types has killed millions of humans.

In general there are three types of Environmental Impacts :

1. (Reversible) Those with serious impacts which are generally


but their harm generally diminishes with distance, such as pollution of air, land and water.

2. (Irreversible) Serious impacts which are


, but also generally diminish with distance, such as how one species has increased the rate of extinction of all the other 5+ million species by at least a magnitude.

3. An extraordinary kind of harm I call Run-away Environmental Impacts.

Runaway Environmental Impacts are the worst of all as they are irreversible, reach beyond the local area of the project and their

    harm increases with distance

such as escaped invasive plants and animals that eliminate local species. A handful of English rabbits released in Australia grew to a population of 500 million, devastating many ecosystems, causing the extinction of many plants species and the wholesale loss of topsoils.

As I am sure you would agree – your work is leading edge with many unknowns.

If you consider it carefully I think you would also agree GMOs can act remarkably similarly to an escaped species that has potential to affect ecosystems worldwide.

I am not alone in my acute concern that your GMOs have potential for Run-away Environmental Impacts.

Science Research Can Cause Harm

What disappoints me is your public relations campaign implies that Scientific research is somehow incapable of causing Environmental Impacts and should be exempt from analysis and precautions.

That idea itself harms the credibility of other Scientific research by pretending science research can never do harm. (As an alarming example perhaps you are not aware that the world’s oldest tree was cut down by a thoughtless scientist with a National Science Foundation grant who wanted to measure how old it was.)

None of us are perfect, we all make mistakes. Because of that scientists working in a field with potential runaway environmental or health impacts have the grave responsibility to make sure the mistakes made are limited and fully reversible.

More than 160 Countries now require some form of Environmental Impact Analysis, yet I understand your project has not yet provided the public or decision makers with any such analysis.

In the same “spirit of openness” and cooperation that you and your colleagues requested of Food Protection advocates . . .

Please let me respectfully appeal to your conscience that you seriously consider conducting a genuine Environmental Impact Analysis before you continue this GMO experiment. (3)

Then I would urge you to adjust the experiment by meaningfully incorporating the Precautionary Principle, (4) so that all potentially Runaway impacts are avoided or eliminated, not merely “mitigated.”

If your team is sincere about doing no harm to our environment, then you can reasonably pause the experiment to prepare and provide a legitimate Environmental Impact Analysis.

This would allow you to present the project to your strongest opponents with informed confidence your experiment will

“Do No Harm.”

with my best wishes,

Notes :
1. David Dilworth is the author and editor of the largest database of environmental impacts providing the best available science on over 1,000 different kinds of environmental harms, mitigations, and thoughtful, reasonable alternatives to avoid those harms.

2. “Environmentalist” is not a title I claim

3. I realize Environmental Impact Analysis is not yet required by English law – but this is an appeal to your conscience and ethics.

Just because government permission has been granted does not mean necessary responsible precautions are in place.

You may not know that many have complained to the European Commission about the UK Government’s failure to fully require Environmental Impact Analysis for all potentially harmful actions.

4. Precautionary Principle

Professor Pickett’s Appeal letter

Response Letter from Take the Flour Back


Update 2014:
1. Rothamstead’s Pickett never responded to this letter.

2. Take the flour back! held a rally but did not trespass or harm any plants.

3. Take the flour back! wrote to Rothamstead’s Pickett asking for a public debate with no limits.

4. Rothamstead’s Pickett wrote back to “Take the flour back!” and offered to have a public debate, but demanded they unconditionally accept within 24 hours – or the deal was off. (The series of letters are available by clicking here. I note that Rothamstead’s Pickett dodges every question put to him by Take the flour back! See what you think.)

Update 2014: Here are two jaw-dropping resources illuminating how Genetic Engineering money is corrupting scientific findings, research and publication – as well as public media about Genetic Engineering. Why haven’t we read about these facts?

1. European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility

Press Releases include:

10 Dec 2013 -“297 scientists and experts agree GMOs not proven safe“,
21 Oct 2013 – “No scientific consensus on GMO Safety“, and
17 Dec 2013 – “End double standards in evaluating GMO safety studies – say scientists

2. Fighting for Genetic Engineering, Pamela Ronald’s Lab had two papers retracted. “Can the Scientific Reputation of Pamela Ronald, Public Face of GMOs, Be Salvaged?”

dd: Pamela Ronald’s a mean one. Her public columns use name calling logical fallacies (ad hominem) attacks on those who oppose her pro-industry opinions with facts.

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One Response to Runaway Environmental Impacts from GMOs Need Investigation

  1. Pingback: Did Michael Eisen set a New World Record by committing Six Logical Fallacies with a Single Sentence? | Deep Politics: Environment, Democracy, Health & Beyond

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