Dr. Elaine Ingham's Testimony (Executive Summary) before the (New Zealand) Royal Commission on Genetic Modification Executive Summary

February 2001

Executive Summary of DR. Ingham's Testimony: Genetically engineered organisms have not been adequately assessed for their environmental or human health effects. It is inadequate to subject ORGANISMS to the tested [sic] required for non-living chemical pesticides, and conclude that there will be no adverse or risky effects from release of those organisms based on that testing.

A graduate student of mine, no longer working in the field of engineered organisms, and I did some research on a particular engineered bacterium that had been approved by the USEPA for field testing. No environmental effects were detected during pesticide or toxicity testing with this organism. However, Michael Holmes discovered that the engineered bacterium, Klebsiella planticola with a additional alcohol gene, killed all the wheat plants in microcosms into which the engineered organisms was added 1 . None of the wheat plants were killed in microcosms into which the not-engineered parent organism or just water were added.

This bacterium was engineered to produce alcohol from plant debris, so alcohol could be produced after raking up grass straw residues instead of burning fields. This organism would have been released to the real world by placing the residue left at the bottom of the fermentation container following grass straw alcohol production on fields as fertilizer. With a single release, we know that bacteria can spread over large distances, probably world-wide.

These bacteria would therefore get into the root systems of all terrestrial plants and begin to produce alcohol. The engineered bacterium produces far beyond the required amount of alcohol per gram soil than required to kill any terrestrial plant. This would result in the death of all terrestrial plants, because the parent bacterium has been found in the root systems of all plants where anyone has looked for its presence. This could have been the single most devastating impact on human beings since we would likely have lost corn, wheat, barley, vegetable crops, trees, bushes, etc, conceivably all terrestrial plants.

It is clear, therefore, that current testing procedures required by US regulatory agencies are completely inadequate in assessing the potential risks involved with genetically engineered organisms. Until such time as adequate testing procedures are instigated and carried out, engineered organisms should not be considered to have acceptable risks.
Holmes, M. and E.R. Ingham. (1999) Ecological effects of genetically engineered Klebsiella planticola released into agricultural soil with varying clay content. Appl. Soil Ecol. 3:394-399.

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Last Updated on 2/6/01
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