GM Free Cymru


Open Letter 30/01/06

Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt MP 
Secretary of State for Health
Department of Health
Richmond House
79 Whitehall

Dear Secretary of State,


You will be aware of the unique hazards posed by Syngenta's Bt10 maize, which 'inadvertently" entered the global food chain on a large scale over a period of at least 4 years, culminating in public disclosure of  the incident in the spring of 2005.

We have seen some of the material released to GM Freeze under the Environmental Information Regulations, and the following points are clear to us:

1. FSA did not initially put out a statement on the Bt10 incident because it did not treat it as a high priority.

2. FSA and DEFRA both accepted (on the basis of evidence that we have not seen) at a very early stage that Bt10 had already been imported into the UK.

3. From the discussions on the wording of responses to my colleague Dr Brian John, it is clear that both FSA and DEFRA accepted that Bt10 could be contained in both the human food chain and the animal feed chain.

4. Both DEFRA and FSA accepted at an early stage that "the presence of Bt10 in Bt11 should not have occurred as it has not been approved for food/feed use, and the company responsible has clearly been negligent."

5. Neither DEFRA nor FSA have disputed the essential facts relating to Bt10, contained in our messages of 24th March and 30th March 2005.  These facts include the presence of an ampicillin antibiotic marker gene, a different promoter from that involved in Bt11, the inclusion of lepidopteran toxin Cry1Ab, and genetic constructs designed to provide resistance to Liberty (glufosinate ammonium) herbicide. In our book, that gives Bt10 a very large potential for doing harm.

6. Neither DEFRA nor FSA has provided any evidence that the (highly inadequate) characterization provided by Syngenta and used for the design of the mysterious GeneScan Bt10 testing protocol was not specifically designed to generate false negatives.

7. Neither of the government bodies concerned here has reacted to  Syngenta's negligent and despicable behaviour from the beginning of this incident, and there has been no mention of legal action or any other attempt at the recovery of costs (which must amount to millions of pounds) from Syngenta.

8. Neither DEFRA nor FSA has sought any evidence from Syngenta that Bt10 has been stable and uniform over ten years (1).

In our dealings with the FSA and DEFRA we have been open, honest, and quite straightforward, in continually communicating our concerns about the unique threat to the human food chain posed by the possible presence of illegal Bt10 maize. When we originally voiced our concerns in March 2005 we were assured in press releases and in statements to the media that the matter was fully under control and that there was no cause for concern.

However, we now have evidence that, rather than acting in a responsible manner regarding the exceptional (and internally recognized)  hazard posed by Bt10, both FSA and DEFRA decided to diminish the  significance of the incident and to craft carefully worded statements in a "public reassurance exercise." We refer here to a wilful  misrepresentation of the facts since FSA indeed believed in March 2005  that Bt10 had been imported, and DEFRA knew this. Additionally, FSA  very belatedly became involved in a public relations exercise, last  autumn, by taking 19 samples throughout the UK which might be tested for Bt10. This was of course far too late for any realistic chance of  picking up Bt10 contamination in food or feed.

We trust that you will now instigate a full investigation into this catalogue of deceptions, manipulations, and evasions of responsibility, prior to the departure, in April, of Dr Jon Bell from his post of Chief Executive of the FSA . These actions (or lack of them) have certainly placed the public at risk, and fall far short of the standards we expect from our civil servants.

As you will see we have copied this letter to the Parliamentary Ombudsman for her infomation.

Yours Sincerely,

Ian Panton
GMFree Cymru

Note: (1) We have frequently reminded FSA, EFSA and DEFRA that Bt10 was developed around 1995 by the Northrup-King Company, and that some American scientists are convinced that it has changed character over the course of ten years. In other words, we claim that it is inherently unstable, and a "failed" variety. This is why it was not "spotted" by Syngenta scientists until it was already well into the food chain. If the Bt10 samples provided to the testing laboratory
were recent ones, and the test designed to pick up traces of this  "modern" Bt10, it follows that "older" versions of Bt10 already in the  food and feed marketplace would not be picked up no matter how much  sampling and testing might be done. If Bt10 maize really is proved to be unstable, that would be a matter of massive scientific and commercial significance, and that explains why the regulatory bodies prefer not to  think about it, let alone protect us from its consequences.