As you walk, it moves and grows. When you step on the earth where it has been
introduced, it is on your feet. It will be in the White House lawn, in the
White House Blue Room, everywhere. Chelsea will take it to Stanford in the
fall. Genetically modified (GMO) Rhizobium bacteria will pollute the world
within 7 years. Genetically modified Rhizobium will profit no one and has the
real potential for disrupting the entire earth eco-system. It is time to halt
and with valid and quality information rethink our future.
As an organic farmer and a citizen, I went to DC two years ago to testify
against the introduction of genetically modified Rhizobium bacteria into the
environment through inoculation of legume planting seed. It is now on the
agenda for spring 1998 planting which starts two weeks from now in Texas.
Rhizobium bacteria take nitrogen out of the atmosphere which is composed of
80% nitrogen. This process is called nitrogen "fixation" among organic
farmers. Rhizobium bacteria, actually growing within the plant root cell
walls in a synergistic relationship, provides nitrogen to surrounding plants.
Nitrogen is the essential and often limiting building block for protein
production in plants, and therefore ultimately other life who consumer the
living or dead plants.
On land, to my knowledge, there are really only two methods for extracting and
converting nitrogen from the atmosphere for plant growth (and ultimately all
other life growth): lightning/precipitation and microbiological action, a
large part of that being legume nitrogen "fixation." All other life, ocean,
plant and animal growth, microbiology, all other forms of life depend on these
two natural occurrences for the ultimate conversion of nitrogen from the
atmosphere. A cow may produce nitrogen rich manure, but it only comes from
eating plants, which receive their nitrogen from a combination of these two
basic conversion processes.
Building on Ms. Suzanne Wuerthele historical understanding, Rhizobium bacteria
have been doing their job since life on earth began. In fact, they may have
been the first life on earth. Rhizobium bacteria were used by humans in
legume based crop rotations for thousands of years in every part of the world.
Legume based crop rotations were perfected by the anti-baptist, present day
Mennonites and Amish, etc. in the fifteenth century and are today the
foundation of organic and all regenerative based farming.
It was only seventy-five years ago the scientific community validated the
primary role of Rhizobium bacteria in providing nitrogen to annual and
succeeding crop growth. Rhizobium bacteria are essential to all life on earth
and a, really the, critical component in world agricultural ecology health.
In the long run, the proposed introduction of this genetically modified
bacteria into the environment would initiate the most unheralded experiment
(we cannot begin to call it scientific) on the earth since the first
interaction of basic elements and electromagnetic impulses that produced the
first bacteria. Corporate/government labs have introduced an extra set of
genes for the enzyme that fixes nitrogen into a natural bacteria. This
genetic modification has the potential for upsetting the environmental balance
beyond anything introduced by humans up to now, including nuclear weapons,
which are much easier to control. Ms. Suzanne Wuerthele well describes the
scientific basis for such introduction--simply none.
Rhizobium bacteria "fixing" of nitrogen is the most basic biological process
used to produce the world's human food and fiber supply. It is regenerative
and controllable by humans. Legume nitrogen fixation, in farming practice,
legume based rotation, makes possible sustainable agriculture. The nitrogen
generated provides food and fiber, trees, the ocean and plants of all kinds
with the building blocks of health-- available nitrogen--to make protein. In
turn, all other life, including microbiology, earthworms, birds, insects,
animals and humans are all dependents on the work of Rhizobium bacteria for
their nitrogen needs. To introduce human modified nitrogen "fixing" bacteria
that "fixes" three times more nitrogen than natural bacteria and that are
resistant to two valuable disease preventing bacteria provides the potential
of disrupting the entire earth eco-system.
Questions asked are:
What happens when increasing amounts of nitrogen over normal amounts are taken
out of the atmosphere, or increased amounts of nitrogen are introduced in the
soil? What happens when the soil ecology is upset by a new race of man-made
bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics used in farming and by humans to
cure or prevent disease? By introducing such bacteria into the soils of our
earth, are we not opening the door to modifying radically the nutrient flow
structure of the earth? What is the effect of synthetically derived
antibiotic resistant bacteria being introduced in the soil ecology? What
happens when the recent discovery that bacteria can exchange genetic material
without reproduction occurs between the genetically modified Rhizobium
bacteria and other types of bacteria? What is the cumulative effect of such
bacteria spreading by footprints throughout the world? What will be the
effect when this mutant bacteria enters the water tables and interacts?
The US Administration through its environmental office, EPA, has decided to
allow the introduction of these genetically modified bacteria into the US
environment. EPA is proposing introduction of a mutated bacteria they are ill
qualified to make judgement on. How did this occur: A business petitioned for
commercial introduction of the genetically modified bacteria. EPA, by law,
had to respond and did publish the proposal for public comment in the Federal
Register, held a public meeting and seems to have thought about introduction
of this bacteria the way they attempt to assess pesticides--without the most
experienced and qualified people providing testimony--experienced farmers,
organic farmers, soil microbiologist, ecologist, bacteriologist, etc. were
never consulted in depth. The consequence is the potential introduction of an
Every step a person takes that contacts such bacteria can and will transfer
the genetically modified bacteria to where the following steps are made - to
the next field, into the house, on the plane and out of the country.
Geometric progression indicates it may only be 7 or less years before the
bacteria is worldwide. Once the progression begins, there is no control
possible without declaring the bacteria a pest and introducing new, at the
present undeveloped, pesticides to control it on a worldwide basis. The
Administration allowing the introduction of these genetically modified
bacteria is unconscionable.
It is time for US citizens to stand in the gap. The gap between governmental
approval of genetically modified Rhizobium bacteria and it's use in the fields
this spring. The use of genetically modified Rhizobium bacteria is
potentially distorting the future soil health for all citizens of the world,
of potentially sending the US and world soil ecology into a whirlpool of
defensive battle between bacteria. Sounds a little extreme? At the bacteria
level, it is for real--there will be a war for survival. The implications to
humans, the environment, are not clear or even diagnosed. The gain to humans
by introducing this genetically modified bacteria is unsubstantial,
unsubstantiated and an extreme risk. We have done well without it for 10,000
years of agriculture and 300,000,000 years of life, why introduce it in the
spring of 1998?
I encourage all of us to seek more information and move to calling, writing,
emailing your Congressional Representative. I believe it is essential to use
every legal means possible to stop the EPA supported, corporate introduction
of synthetically derived, mutant Rhizobium soil bacteria. Congressional
action and investigation plus an injunctive relief should be sought
immediately. Who ever is preparing to market these products to the farming
sector needs to cease and desist. The issue needs to become a national
I stand to be corrected on any of these points, but it appears to me that
Oprah, whoever, publicly needs to discuss this very important issue and about
to happen world event.
Eric Kindberg, organic farmer for 24 years.
Hello, I'm Suzanne Wuerthele, and I am afraid that
my introduction will not bring you any comfort. I
have a B.S. in Biology, a Master of Arts in
Teaching Science, a Ph.D. in Pharmacology seven
years of post-doctoral work and I'm a
Board-certified toxicologist. I've worked in one
of the regional offices of the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency for 13 years, and am considered
a "national expert" in toxicology and risk
assessment. I provide information on the potential
harm to humans from chemicals for EPA's pesticide,
toxics and air programs. I'm also an expert
witness in enforcement cases and have opportunity
from time to time to shape national policy on risk
assessment in EPA.
I was introduced to GE a few years back when I was
shown the "risk assessment" for a GE
nitrogen-fixing bacteria, Rhizobium meliloti. EPA
was reviewing it for environmental release. R.
meliloti had been given an extra set of genes for
the enzyme which fixes nitrogen, genes to help it
produce extra internal energy and a gene
conferring resistance to the antibiotics
streptomycin and spectinomycin. It's supposed to
be coated on alfalfa seed in an effort to boost
yields (farmers have used the wild strain of this
bacteria for about 75 years as "insurance" that
they will get good yields; some people think it's
effects are imaginary).
It was instantly apparent to me that my colleagues
in our HQ office in Washington did not know what a
risk assesment was, as this one was simply a few
pages of speculation that this organism would be
harmless. It didn't address issues like whether
or not this would alter the ecology or fertility
of the soil, or cause increases in
antibiotic-resistant organisms. It contained only
the results of a couple of field trials on
nitrogen fixation which were equivocal. The basis
for approval was that "the parent organism has
been used without ill effect". The staff which
reviewed the application had no idea why I was
concerned; they thought this organism would be
"green" technology because it would presumably
reduce the need for fertilizers.
To make a long story short (for more details,
contact me at email@example.com),
we wrangled over this for a couple of years, and I
learned some very disturbing things about
regulation of GE:
o EPA has an official position of "fostering"
o There is no process - across all U.S. federal
agencies - to evaluate the hazards of GE
organisms (We have such a process for chemicals,
and it works pretty well). For GE, however, no
formal risk assessment methodologies. No
science policies (These are positions you take
on unresolved issues. For example you might
decide to consider a chemical to be carcinogenic
by all routes of exposure if you only know for
sure it causes cancer by inhalation). No
conferences where scientific issues of GE are
debated. No understanding of the full range of
hazards from GE organisms. No discussion of or
consultation with the public to determine what
consititutes "unacceptable risk". No method to
even measure magnitude of risks. Etc, etc.
In the U.S., each risk assessment for GE
organisms is done on an ad hoc basis by different
scientists in different departments of different
agencies. Some of these agencies have
conflicting missions - to promote and to
regulate; to consider "benefits" as well as
risks". There is rarely any formal peer review.
o When peer review panels are put together, they
are not necessarily unbiased. They can be
filled with GE proponents or confined to
questions which avoid the important issues, so
that a predetermined decision can be justified.
These revelations and others have convinced me
that this technology is being promoted, in the
face of concerns by respectable scientists and in
the face of data to the contrary, by the very
agencies which are supposed to be protecting human
health and the environment.
The bottom line in my view, is that we are
confronted with the most powerful technology the
world has ever known, and it is being rapidly
deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its
consequences. In fact, we don't even know yet the
full extent of what it can do to the environment
and to our health. The few scientists in
regulatory agencies who are concerned are ignored
or their concerns are dismissed. Or they are told
to be silent. Good risk assessment and good
science, which if they were used rationally, would
tell us that we're making a big mistake, is not
being used or is being twisted.
Thus, I'm afraid that the only effective control
of GE will be political: groups such as this one
raising public consciousness, especially that of
the economically powerful American public.
In the U.S. there has been little debate over GE,
because there are few popular stories and little
news coverage of the issues. To be sure, we need
scientists to point out the detailed technical
problems with GE, but it is equally important for
the majority of citizens to realize the
implications of GE and to use their collective
power to say no.
Sorry this was a bit long, but I thought you
should know. And the Rhizobium? Based on a much
longer, but equally flawed "risk assessment", it
was approved and will be released into farm fields
all over North America this Spring.
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