By Paul Haeder
Mae-Wan Ho, author of "Genetic engineering: dream or nightmare?", Barcelona, Gediasa, 2001, 384 pp. ISBN 84-7432-743-1
Paul Haeder (PH) .- At what point is the debate on GMOs at present?
Mae-Wan Ho (MWH) .- The debate on transgenics is at a critical moment, when we have observed its failure from an agronomic point of view (especially in the United States, where more than 40% of transgenic crops are found worldwide), the serious health problems it causes and the environmental impact, all corroborated by scientific studies, which confirm what farmers have been suffering for years (ISIS Special Report: Ban GMOs Now (1) But all this is being tried to hide thanks to a huge campaign directed by scientific journals, even by journals that had a respectable track record (See (2) Scientific American, Disinformation about GMOs, ISIS 60).
To verify the concern of the proto-transgenics, one only has to know the recent decision of the Director of a journal who retracted the publication of a peer-reviewed article, I am referring to the famous article by Séralini, published a year ago, in which he showed the serious health effects of rats fed GM corn and / or Roundup herbicide, compared to control groups. An open letter has recently been published demanding that the study be maintained in the journal and a call for a boycott of the journal has been issued ( Open Letter on Retraction and Pledge to Boycott Elsevier, SiS 61). The letter has already been signed by people around the world. Please sign the letter and post it for your information. This unprecedented censorship of scientific knowledge and information on a crucial public health issue must end.
PH.- Why have the GMO labeling initiatives in the United States failed?
MWH.- Labeling initiatives have failed in the United States because people are still being told lies and half-truths, pointing out that they are not very different from their non-GMO counterparts. There has been a saturation in the media, not just in the United States, but around the world. Most people are not deceived, so GM crops remain confined to 28 countries, with more than 90% in just 5 countries, taking 20 years of GM consumption to understand the risks of them.
PH.- What is the greatest precaution to be taken against transgenics?
MWH.- GMOs are not only intrinsically unsafe, unsustainable, and above all they are an impediment to the development of non-transgenic organic agriculture, which is making its way in many local communities and countries around the world, as it has been shown to increase the yields, mitigate climate change and are better able to adapt to it (See  Food Futures Now * Organic * Sustainable * Fossil Fuel Free, ISIS Special Report and  Paradigm Shift Urgently Needed In Agriculture). [N. del T .: On the application of different agroecological techniques in different parts of the world, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OX5DB9EgR5w]. I have a recurring nightmare, that of beings who come from another place and find a vacant lot, only occupied by huge cockroaches. This is what could happen if we continue in the line of expansion of transgenic crops.
PH.- Is Science at a crossroads, as you say, in the matter of the retraction of Séralini's article?
MWH.- Yes, I think this sordid business is a symbol. The study carried out by Séralini is not the only study that shows the damages produced by transgenics and herbicides, nor the only recently published document that collects these effects (see  Over 1170 Condemn Retraction and Pledge Elsevier Boycott, SiS 61). I have also been the victim of a similar case, about a document that explained why genetic modification is inherently dangerous (7). The order to withdraw it probably came from the publisher, but the editors stood their ground and kept the study in the journal. What can this mean in the scientific field? A scientist told me: "My veins freeze just thinking about what they have done." But the truth is that the Open Letter (3) has gotten many people to sign it, although the proto-transgenic trolls attacked us by sending many false signatures, so we had to double-check each one of them. Would you trust people who lie and censor the results of an investigation about foods that are not safe to eat?
PH.- What can a citizen do to get involved in the debate on transgenics?
MWH.- Well, explain what Genetic Engineering consists of, point out its lies and half-truths: it is a way of learning Science and it is also fun. Don't be intimidated by the experts. Sign up for seminars on organic farming, get your family involved. Think of imaginative ways to explain these things to others. Scientists are not very good at explaining myself, including myself. I'm still trying to improve.
PH.- Has your conception of Science been changing during these years?
MWH.- I'm still a scientist in love with science. This was what initially motivated me to be a scientist. I am still in awe of the meaning of life, the Universe and all the great questions. Today that capacity for amazement and emotion has been lost. Nobody asks questions, only how to exploit nature instead of living harmoniously with it.
The new genetics is something exciting, completely different from the old and obsolete genetics, which was the one that motivated Genetic Engineering and Genetic Modification (7). It has turned conventional genetics upside down. Instead of a flow of the information contained in the DNA (genetic material) of the traits (biological function) to the environment, what there is in reality is a circular feedback between the environment and the experience of the organisms, pointing out those genes that must be expressed or not, even by changing the genes themselves. I call this a natural genetic modification. It is the intricate molecular dance of life, essential for survival. Natural genetic modification is done delicately and precisely by organisms, without damaging the genome. On the contrary, artificial genetic modification, carried out in the laboratory by Genetic Engineers, is something imprecise, uncontrollable and damages the genome, with totally unpredictable effects in terms of safety. It assumes, of course, an unavoidable interference with the natural genetic modification process, and that is ultimately the reason why artificial genetic modification is inherently dangerous.
I would like to know what is currently being done in relation to the new genetics. Unfortunately, most researchers, postdoctoral theses and graduate students are trapped, locked in mindless genetic modification, when they should be investigating the exciting task of knowing how and under what circumstances natural genetic modification occurs.
PH.- Why prevention on the problems generated by transgenics has become by many scientists and the media in the so-called Anti-Science?
MWH.- There are many misunderstandings about the precautionary principle. It is based on scientific evidence. It is not about Antiquity, far from it. It only shows where there is a danger, but the fact that the evidence is not conclusive does not mean that that danger does not exist. I would say that in many cases it leads to imaginative solutions and creative alternatives. Critics say it is the haven of a weak mentality and a lack of imagination. ISIS Professor Peter Saunders has written what many consider to be the best article on this topic:  Use and Abuse of the Precautionary Principle (ISIS News 6). In a recent article, he responds to critics of the precautionary principle, which is also worth reading:  Caution Needed for the Precautionary Principle (SiS 61).
PH.- The capitalists of Genetic Engineering and GMOs seem to have the upper hand, since they only need to promote their products, which they achieve in all corners of society, and a decade later people accept it as the new normal. Is this true? MWH.- This is a subtle psychological warfare, and some critics play with it. They exaggerate by saying that Genetic Modification technology is one of the greatest inventions, or that the genie has come out of the bottle and has flooded every corner, making it useless to resist it. This makes many people feel powerless and paralyzed, which is exactly what they want. This is one of the reasons why it is necessary to understand science itself.
The new genetics tells us that things can be reversed if we are careful with the environment, building a healthy soil and free of pesticides and other agrochemicals, that we can get rid of pests and diseases, even bad genes, and keep those that are more beneficial .
PH.- What is your job?
MWH.- My research work focuses on the great question What is life ?, as raised by Shrödinger in 1941. I was a pioneer in the interdisciplinary concept of understanding life, which appeared in two books, both best-sellers of the editorial, the first of which has had three editions and multiple reprints (10,11) (The Rainbow and the Worm, The Physics of Organisms and Living H2O the Dancing Rainbow Within). I am very happy to have received the 2014 Prigogine Medal for that work ( ISIS Director Wins Science Award, SiS 61). The title of the inaugural conference will be “Circular Thermodynamics of Sustainable Organisms and Systems” (13), to be delivered in Siena, Italy, at a conference on sustainable cities, because circular thermodynamics is the circular economy of nature. The conference is about living in a sustainable way with nature through integration and construction, inserting ourselves in the circular economy of nature.
PH.- Don't you think there is a great disconnect between nature and industry, technology and the economy?
MWH.- A timely question. That is the way to make Science reductionist. I have spent all my life trying to recover the holistic vision of Science, which would allow us to live in a sustainable way with nature, where knowledge was united, everything, art, music, philosophy, science, immersed within nature. A holistic vision is not only sustainable, it is something that brings joy and permanence. It gives us strength and vitality, as well as beauty and inspiration.
PH.- Climate change is one of the hottest issues nowadays, and it seems to be coming into play within the GMO Industry and Science. Tell us what could be the response of a non-transgenic agriculture to some of the challenges we face due to climate change, that is, increase in average temperature, humidity, irregular climate.
MWH.- There is no doubt that there is a change in the climate. Most of the scientists who warn us of the dangers of GMOs are not climate deniers (those who say that climate change is not happening). Please do not confuse GMOs with climate change. I often tell climate change skeptics that sustainability is good if you don't believe that human action is causing climate change; or if, on the contrary, you believe that climate change is taking place, then we are running out of certain resources. Renewable energies would be part of the circular economy.
Studies show that transgenic crops in the United States are obtaining lower yields  (US Staple Crop System Failing from GM and Monoculture, SiS 59), which is not only due to recent droughts that decimated crops [ 15] (Surviving Global Warming, SiS 60). This is somewhat surprising, since GM crops are industrial monocultures. The many successes of organic farming can no longer be doubted; more yield, more organic matter and carbon absorption by the soil, more fertile soils, greater water retention capacity (therefore greater resistance to drought), promote health, more resistant to floods, a more rational use of the energy, and therefore less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere (4,5). We must not allow GM crops to spoil the chance to survive global warming and the extreme climatic conditions that result from it.
This interview is an extended version of another that first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Paul Haeder has been working in the communications industry and instructor of journalists since 1983. He has been a journalist in Arizona, Texas, Mexico, Central America, Vietnam and now in Washington state. References:
Ho MW and Sirinathsinghji E. Ban GMOs Now, ISIS Special Report, ISIS, London, 2013. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Ban_GMOs_Now_-_Special_ISIS_Report.php