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Sound Science, Not Silence

An Open Letter to World Leaders, Scientists, Media and other Stakeholders

May 9, 2003

Please send an email to soundscience@agbioworld.org 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 must prevail.

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 perspectives.

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 reality.

Consider the facts that underlie the concerns raised by these groups:

Allegation: Bt corn adversely effects natural enemies and creates new pests.
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 systems.

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 soundscience@agbioworld.org 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
AgBioWorld Foundation


1. "Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants: Science and Regulation," NRC press release, May 2000, http://www4.nationalacademies.org/news.nsf.

2. "Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants: Science and Regulation," NRC press release, 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.

4. Ibid.

5. "GMOs: Are there any risks?" http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/research/press/2001/pr0810en.html.

6. "Summary Statement." http://www.academie-sciences.fr/publications/rapports/pdf/RST13 summary.pdf.

7. http://www.ama-assn.org/apps/pf_online/pf_online?f_n=browse&doc=policyfiles/HOD/H-480.985.HTM.

8. http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/br/btcorn/.

9. "Comparative Environmental Impacts of Biotechnology-derived and Traditional Soybean, Corn, and Cotton Crops.http://www.cast-science.org/cast/biotech/pubs/biotechcropsbenefit.pdf.

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 press).

14. "Influences of Bt cotton planting on population dynamics of cotton aphid, Aphis gossypii Glover, in northern China." Environ. Entomol.( accepted).

15. "No Detection of Cry1Ac Protein in Soil After Multiple Years of Transgenic Bt Cotton (Bollgard) Use." Environ. Entomol. 31(1): 30-36 (2002).

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. 42:1258-1262. (1996).

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: 1225-1230. (2001).

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. 26:446-454. (1997).

23. "Economic, Ecological, Food Safety, and Social Consequences of the Deployment of Bt Transgenic Plants." Annual Rev Entomology. 47: 845-881. (2002).

24. "Evaluation of the US Regulatory Process for Crops Developed Through Biotechnology." Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. (19): 1-14. (2001).

25. "Food Safety Evaluation of Crops Produced through Biotechnology," Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 21, No. 3, 166S-173S, (2002).

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. (2002).

28. "Comparative Environmental Impacts of Biotechnology-derived and Traditional Soybean, Corn, and Cotton Crops.http://www.cast-science.org/cast/biotech/pubs/biotechcropsbenefit.pdf.

29. "Plant Biotechnology: Current and Potential Impact for Improving Pest Management in US Agriculture, An Analysis of 40 Case Studies." http://www.ncfap.org/pubs.htm#Biotechnology.

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: 1-18. (2002).

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.

AgBioWorld Foundation
P. Box 85
Tuskegee Institute, AL 36087-0085, USA
Phone 334 663 1511; Fax 334 727 8067;

AgBioWorld Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization