GM protesters have it wrong, Swiss professor tells Canadian researchers

A Swiss biodiversity expert offered a soothing message to genetic researchers last week at an Ottawa conference organized by Genome Canada.

New crops created from genetic work are the future, former University of Bern professor of biodiversity Klaus Ammann told a Genomics: the Power and the Promise conference Nov. 28.

He finished his presentation with a slide that said, “Genepeace not Greenpeace.”

Ammann said the European resistance to genetically modified crops is based on politics and myths about genetic modification.

Natural crop mutations are as profound as gene manipulation but take centuries longer and are not focused, he said.

European anti-GM campaigners insist that organic crops have better yields than GM crops.


“That is not true, but it is theology and not fact.”

As well, Europeans accept GM crops, including soy livestock feed, when they need it.

“It really is political,” he said.

Ammann argued geneticists and companies that create GM products must understand that the debate in Europe is not rational or based on fact.

“We know the scientific facts, but there is other knowledge in life, traditional knowledge, instinctive knowledge, and we have to recognize it and deal with it through argument and debate and education,” he said.


Ammann said Canada’s regulatory system has some glitches, but it functions better than most.

“The Canadian system works,” he said.

“It has some flaws, but it still works much better than ours. You do a good job. Spread the word about how to make a system work for innovation.”

Ammann said in an interview that European restrictions on imports of GM products are generally political.

“When they need a product, they bring it in and often don’t label it as GM,” he said.


“When they don’t, they call it a safety issue and protect their own market. It is crazy.”

  • Denise Trafford

    Our government does a very poor job of protecting us from the unknown effects of genetically modified crops. Basically they let Monsanto et al. do the testing and the government rubber stamps these limited short term studies.
    It’s one thing to produce hybrids from crossing genes from similar plants and creating new varieties, it’s quite another thing to introduce genes from other organisms and/ or make the likes of herbicide-tolerant seeds.
    If isn’t good for the weeds or the insects then what is it doing to our bodies, especially our childrens’?
    This is a massive experiment and we are the guinea pigs. Our health care costs are already too high. How are we going to pay for all the treatments of diseases like diabetes and weakened immune systems from the excessive use of GM corn, soya, canola and sugar beets?
    And now we have herbicide-tolerant “superweeds”.
    It’s time to back off on the use of herbicides and herbicide tolerant seeds and proceed with the utmost of care.
    People are more important. What’s the hurry?
    We should learn from Europe’s careful and responsible approach.

  • Charles C. Sule M.A.Sc. Env. Science

    Professor Ammann is not correct when he says “[n]atural crop mutations are as profound as gene manipulation […]”. The human manipulation of genetic codes is highly imprecise compared with the natural processes. Nature does not use a “gene gun” to insert trans-specific genetic material, nor the widespread deployment of viral promoters, nor antibiotic resistance markers. In short, anthropogenic genetic engineering is considerably more profound; especially, to quote a recent ignoble philosopher, when we consider “the unknown unknowns”.

    Further, to assert that it is only GM-GE resistors that are engaged in politics is just an obvious, silly bias (since I won’t allege the good Professor is ignorant or being deceitful). The revolving door between the upper management of biotech firms such as Monsanto and the approval bodies of such entities as the USDA is well-documented. The USDA writes the rules that says these companies can test and approve their own products. That is obviously deeply political. Then, our neo-liberal-esque governments here claim that the USDA has done all the science and rubber-stamps what the biotech firms have done. Is this what Professor Ammann means when he says our system “functions better than most”? Because we toe the corporate line without question?

    Anyone who still believes Professor Ammann should ask themselves: if the companies have nothing to fear for the safety of their products, why did biotech firms spend tens of millions of dollars to thwart a California ballot initiative to label GM products?

  • Erin

    One of the benefits of growing GM crops is the ability to use milder chemical products with no carryover. This is better for the crop, the soil and the producer.

  • Klaus Ammann

    sorry to be late, discovered the site today (June 5, 2013). Answer to Charles D. Sule: It is difficult to grasp my exact wording in a lecture: I said: Natural Mutation and Transgenesis are based on exactly the same molecular processes, this is confirmed by some of the best molecular biologists as nobel laureate Werner Arber. For all the rest and what differences exist between conventional and biotech crops read my publication accepted, in typesetting process:

    Ammann Klaus (20130415),
    Genomic Misconception. A fresh look at the biosafety regulation of transgenic and conventional crops: a plea for a process of agnostic regulation, open source, final version, in: New Biotechnology, 29, Ammann K., Neuchatel,

    cheers, Klaus

  • Bernie

    Natural Mutations takes generations for cause and effects, transgenesis can be from one meal to the next. Take a group of pasty asses like yourself Klaus, and go sit in the sun near the equator. See how long it takes you to get skin cancer compared to the locals!!!