How gene pollution happens

January 2011

Gene flow is a headache. Engineered DNA in plants where it's not meant to be is a management headache for the biotech farmers and companies because the genes which have gone walkabout are patented. It's also a financial headache for non-GM farmers because the resulting pollution reduces the market value of their crops. At present it's a headache for regulators because pest-resistant GM plants popping up in conventional 'refuge' crops upset their their carefully dictated pest-resistance management strategies. The possibility that it could cause something more than just a headache if the roving man-made genes generate drugs, industrial chemicals, allergens or other toxins in unexpected places is being studiously ignored.

Vatican take-over bid, round II

January 2011

Just in case you didn't read it at the time ...

In April 2010, GM-free Scotland told the curious tale of how pro-GM agencies were HIJACKING THE VATICAN.

For some years the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a body which debates scientific subjects so as to inform the Vatican on current science, seems to have been infiltrated by pushy individuals with a vested interest in promoting GM. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to manipulate the debate, some particularly pro-GM members of the Academy arranged a 'study week', entitled “Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development' which took place in May 2009 in Rome. The attendees invited to the study week were limited to well-known biotech promoters who could be counted on to reach the right conclusions. According to the organisers, the 'study' week was “not standard science” nor “a balanced meeting ... (seeking) some kind of idiotic consensus”.

Hijacking the Vatican

April 2010

In its continual quest for market acceptance of its GM products, the biotech industry seems to have contrived to claim the Vatican as its ally.

Support from this particular quarter would certainly be useful: the Pope's word is a global power in shaping public attitudes, and the influence of Catholic missionary orders in the same developing countries where the biotech industry is planning to reap profits is considerable.

The problem is how do you persuade a supreme leader of spirituality to think like a commercial salesman for a very unnatural crop?

The answer is you can't.

However, if you're as adept at manipulating the truth as the biotech industry seems to be, it's quite possible to turn 'NO GM' into an apparent blessing on all GM crops.

The first attempt to use the influence of the Church was very direct. Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, asked the Vatican to silence the Jesuits who were inciting Zambia to refuse GM food-aid which America was trying to offload on the country. The reply Powell got made it very clear at that there was not a lot of sympathy in Rome for the GM cause.

The biotech industry then seems to have searched out less direct ways to try to get its own way.

The previous Archbishop of St. Louis (home of Monsanto) was persuaded to recommend one Peter Raven to join the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The latter is the Vatican's official scientific body, which serves to debate scientific subjects so as to provide up-to-date knowledge on current scientific progress. The Academy has no role whatsoever in setting Church teaching.

Peter Raven is the director of the Botanical Garden of Saint Louis which has received significant funds from Monsanto. Raven describes himself as having a Catholic background, but is on his fourth marriage having divorced his third wife who was a public relations director for Monsanto.

When the Archbishop passed away, his successor was pressurised by Raven to change his anti-GM views, and lodged an objection to Raven's appointment to the Pontifical Academy. It seems, however, that Raven is still firmly in position there.

The Academy has another GM advocate in the form of Ingo Potrykus, originator of vitamin-A-enhanced 'golden rice'. His GM rice has never been generally accepted as a solution to the nutritional problems of the poor (see GOLDEN RICE: GOLDEN DISTRACTION – 2009). When he finally resorted to a multimillion-dollar information campaign to convert the public, Potrykus even asked the Vatican for money. His request was declined, but he was invited to joint the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

As one journalist for the Guardian has commented, the chancellor the the Pontifical Academy
“appears to have no idea how far his organisation has been hijacked by the genetic modification companies and their chums” (Vidal).
Perhaps predictably, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences seems to have adopted a new role, and has been running GM-promotional events.

The first of these was a one-day conference in 2004 in the US Pontifical Gregorian University. It was entitled “Feeding a Hungry World: The Moral Imperative of Biotechnology”.

This event was advertised as an examination of “how biotechnology can contribute to protecting human life and promoting human dignity”. However, despite couching its purpose in Vatican-friendly terms, it attracted outspoken criticism from a number of Catholic rural support bodies which attended it. The outcome was that, despite Raven's best attempts to convince the gathering that raising questions about technologies such as 'terminator' was “emotional and irrational”, the 'moral imperative' of biotechnology was turned firmly on its head.

A second major event took place five years later in Rome, and was in the form of a study week entitled “Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development”. It was organised by Ingo Potrykus.

Learning from their previous mistake, this event was a gathering of pro-GM speakers only, oddly described as “an objective” group of experts. More than half of the panel were from the USA, and a large proportion were prominent in the fields of economics and legal regulation rather than science. One professor had worked for both the World Trade Association and the World Bank, one participant was a Monsanto employee, and another an adviser to Monsanto's CEO, while several other worked for companies heavily backed by the Company. The Church members who had previously voiced their concerns were absent.

Potrykus himself admitted that the week was not standard science. In fact, the event doesn't seem to have been anything to do with science at all, because he stated bluntly that “changing societal attitudes, including the regulatory process involved is extremely important if we are to save biotechnology”. One well-known GM promoter, Bruce Chassy, who was presumably also involved in the organisation of the event, said 
“We didn't invite a bunch of naysayers to the table ... This is not a 'balanced' meeting, in the sense that you bring every point of view to the table and seek some kind of idiotic consensus”.
The study-week obviously involved very little study, no scientific discussion and seems to have been contradictory to the remit of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as a debating body.

However, whereas the conference in 2004 couldn't be twisted into a statement of support for GM, the 2009 event, with its contrived absence of debate and forgone conclusions, was successfully fed to the media as Vatican support for GM. Even the prestigious journal, Nature Biotechnology, carried an article headline “Vatican cheers GM” and a supporting, misleading, quote from Potrykus saying that he “would hope the moral high ground of the Vatican is relevant at least in Catholic countries”.

Although the Catholic press was very clear that “The charter of every biotech company demands that its first task is to make a profit”, and commented that “the aim of the academy's week-long event seemed less to conduct an objective appraisal of GMOs than to mobilize public support”, there were enough misleading statements made in less knowledgeable circles of the media to turn the non-debate into a GM lever.

Just how much of a lever this was can be judged from a report prepared by the US Department of Agriculture attaché in Rome in January 2010. This report duly advised that because the Vatican is a “vocal advocate” of GM crops as a way of easing hunger in Africa, Italy was a “good place to start” a campaign to “educate” Europeans about GM crops.

By this time, you may be asking yourself 'What is the official Vatican position on GM?'

Well, here are some examples:

  • In 2000, the Pope John Paul II stressed that biotechnology “cannot be evaluated solely on the basis of immediate economic interests ...(but) must be submitted beforehand to rigorous scientific and ethical examination, to prevent them from becoming disastrous for human health and the future of the earth”.
  • In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI released a 62-page 'instrumentum laboris'. This clearly condemns the multinational corporations which continue to “systematically invade the (African) continent in search of natural resources ... (and) ... continue to pose a threat to peace, justice and reconciliation.” On globalization, he mentions the risk of a world economy which disregards what is truly a part of the human person “such as the spiritual, moral and cultural values and gifts of local African traditions and religious faith”. He describes how “A process organized to destroy the African identity seems to be taking place under the pretext of modernity”. A strong warning is given against thinking genetically modified crops would solve Africa's food crises and that “Using GM crops risks “ruining small landholders, abolishing traditional methods of seeding and making farmers dependent on the production companies (selling genetically modified seeds)”. The document said no one should overlook the real agricultural problems on the continent, which include a lack of cultivatable land, water, energy, credit, local markets and infrastructure for transporting products.
  • In 2010 Pope Benedict reiterated his support of “suitable strategies for rural development centred on small farmers and their families”.
  • In response to the study week, L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's semi-official newspaper, explained “There has been talk of an explicit 'yes' to the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture, confusing once again personal commentaries of ecclesiastics with 'official' statements attributed to the Holy See or the Church'. It went on to quote Pope Benedict XVI's 'Caritas in Veritate' that the “Church does not have technical solutions to offer” but does “have a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation.” The Holy Father is also quoted as asserting that world hunger is “not so much dependent on lack of material things as on shortage of social resources, the most important of which are institutional”.
  • In the same edition, the editor of L'Osservatore Roman observed that “it is no accident that precisely in 2009 , a year in which in the developing countries GMOs have grown by 13%, and opposed to a world average of 7%, covering almost half of the cultivated surface of the planet with transgenic plants, the number of hungry in the world for the first time exceeds one billion”.
  • The new head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace told the Catholic News Service in March 2010 that he would urge an attitude of caution and further study of the possible negative effects of genetically engineered organisms. He said the biotech companies have a right to want to make a profit from their work, but that the issue becomes problematic when a company that controls the use of GM seeds is motivated more by profit than by “the declared desire to want to help feed humanity”.
Do these words add up to the Vatican being a “vocal advocate” of GM crops in Africa?

OUR COMMENT

You would expect an American attaché in Rome to have done her homework and know how the Vatican functions and be clear on its position on GM crops.

In support of her advice, the attaché quoted 65% of Italians as supporting biotechnology. In a country where 16 out of 20 Regional Governments (together with 41 provinces and 2,446 municipalities) have declared themselves GM-free zones this level of support seems unlikely.

Her report also suggested that it was “fringe groups” not representative of the general public who were generating a misperception of opinion on GM. These anti-GM “fringe groups” include the Italian Government, Italy's main farming union, and the country's biggest food retailer.

Did the attaché's fanciful report really emerge from ignorance? Or, had she done her homework perfectly well but decided (or been instructed) to adjust her findings so that they could be fed into the media to bolster the required misinformation on Vatican 'support'?

It tells a sorry tale when a major scientific journal carries an article for which the most basic background research hasn't been done: let's hope the science it publishes is of a better quality.

If you see any further misuse of the Vatican's esteemed influence suggesting GM is OK and will feed the starving, set the record straight. Editors should know when their journalists aren't doing their homework and their articles have untruths in them.

SOURCES

David Andrew, The Pontifical Academy of Sciences continues Foolhardy Biotechnology Advocacy, www.columban.com, 29.01.09
Fr. Seán McDonagh, Bishop Sanchez's Position on GMO Untenable, www.imu.ie, 25.03.09
Anna Meldolesi, Vatican cheers GM, Nature Biotechnology 27, 2009
Carol Glatz, Synod working document seeks ways to promote justice, peace in Africa, Catholic News Service 19.03.09
Vatican: No Official OK for Genetically Modified Potato, www.catholic.net
John Vidal, GM hijacks Vatican in unholy alliance, Guardian Environment Blog 19.05.09
Vatican Academy to help save GM Foods, Columbian Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Australia, 4.02.09
Vatican study endorses GMOs for food security, National Catholic Reporter, May 2009
Peter Raven profile, www.lobbywatch.org, 09.04.09
Martin Enserink, Tough lessons from golden rice, Science 320 25.04.08
Italy is 'weak point' of EU's anti-GM defenses, www.agrimoney.com, 18.01.10
Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the Celebration of the World Day of Peach, 1.01.10, www.vatican.va
Feeding a Hungry World: The Moral Imperative of Biotechnology, Conference Advertisement, The Pontifical Gregorian University, 24.09.04
Carol Glatz, Vatican official cautions against genetically modified organisms, Catholic News Service, www.archindy.org, 10.03.10

Tiny labels

Just so you know what to look out for on labels ...

Here's a copy from a Hershey's Nutrageous peanut and chocolate bar (yes, all the information below is crammed onto the back of the wrapper of every 51-gram bar along with a pile of other information).

The block capitals are exactly as printed on the product, except at several times the print-size so you won't get eye-strain reading it:

INGREDIENTS:

CHOCOLATE FLAVOURED COATING:
SUGAR*
VEGETABLE OIL (COCOA BUTTER, PALM, SHEA, SUNFLOWER AND /OR
SAFFLOWER OIL)
COCOA MASS
SKIM MILK POWDER
WHEY POWDER
MILK FAT
EMUSLIFIER(typo is theirs not ours) (SOYA LECITHIN (E322*)
SALT
VANILLIN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOUR

PEANUTS:

PEANUT BUTTER:
PEANUTS
SUGAR*
DEXTROSE* (glucose)
SALT
CORN SYRUP*
ANTIOXIDANTS – PROPYL GALLATE E310
CITRIC ACID E330
ASCORBYL PALMITATE E304
CARAMEL:
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP*
HIGH MALTOSE CORN SYRUP*
SORBITOL*
SUGAR*
PALM KERNEL OIL
WHEY POWDER
WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE
CASEINATE
SALT
ARTIFICIAL VANILLA FLAVOUR
COLOUR (CARAMEL)
MONO- AND DI-GLYCERIDES (E471)*contains genetically modified sugar, soya, and corn (printed as shown i.e. attached to the final ingredient and in lower-case, therefore smaller, print size)

Hershey's candy bars

... be very careful of any Hershey or Reese's candy bar. Here's why.

Hershey, maker of America's only home-spun chocolate, has been giving very mixed message on its use of GM ingredients.

In 2007, just when GM sugar-beet was heading towards US fields for the 2008 harvest, Hershey was urging farmers not to plant it. The indications were that the Company had noted consumer resistance and had announced it would not use GM sugar in its products.

Hershey has not traditionally been a big exporter to Europe. However, in 2009, Hershey's 'Nutrageous' and other peanut candy bars started to appear on most supermarket shelves.

Most of these were true American candy bars complete with GM ingredients. However, non-GM versions of Nutrageous were available in some outlets. The Company had, clearly, retained the capacity to produce non-GM candy. Why it chose to flood a GM-unfriendly market with GM candy isn't known, but the testing of the water in cahoots with UK supermarkets seems the most likely explanation.

Another question raised by the GM candy is why Hershey was expressing so much early concern about GM sugar. Nutrageous contains nine ingredients derived from GM plants: three of these are sugar; four are artificial sugars; one is lecithin; and one is an oil derivative. Is it reasonable to worry about the sugar when there's so much GM corn and soya in there anyway?

Perhaps Hershey already had its sights on the European market back in 2008, and realised the GM-jitters there warranted a dose of PR to brand itself as 'the good guy'. Indeed in 2010, the Company established a new European subsidiary in London.

The story has just taken an interesting new twist.

ASDA has struck an “exclusive” deal with Hershey to sell its products from February 2011. The deal is dependent on the products being reformulated to use non-GM ingredients, while items which can't be reformulated will be excluded. Twenty-one lines, from solid bars to Reese's and Hershey Kisses will be stocked.

Besides the reformulation, the transportation and storage of the ingredients have been confirmed GM-free or are cleaned before use with non-GM products.

The reason given by ASDA for demanding non-GM candy is that customers in the UK do not currently wish to see GM ingredients in these products.

If this is true, it suggests the Nutrageous bars on just about every supermarket sweet shelf aren't selling too well.

Alternatively, it could be just the PR stunt ASDA needs at the moment.

Be aware that, in May 2010, in a Hershey-style shift of position on GM, ASDA very quietly dropped its non-GM animal feed policy on poultry and eggs. Such a sudden, hush-hush change in policy could happen again at any time.

P.S. Don't swallow the scaremongerers who are trying to tell you GM feed is running out and that going GM-free will cause food prices to escalate. In 2011, the world's biggest multiple retailer, Carrefour of France, found GM-free feed to be in sufficient supply for it to label its animal products 'raised with GM'. Higher costs of GM feed arise at present largely because the cost of segration falls, ironically, on the non-GM supply chain: even with this extra burden, the prices differential is not huge (at worst, a couple of pence on a dozen eggs).

SOURCES:
  • Sean Poulter, Supermarkets urged to follow in the French footsteps and label food that isn't GM, Daily Mail, 12.11.10
  • Jonathan Birchall, Hershey targets UK and Europe, Financial Times, 7.12.10
  • Urgent action: keep our poultry GM-feed-free, GM Freeze Release 3.01.11
  • Asda Hershey deal to supply non-GMO products, message from Peter Melchett and the Soil Association, 22.12.10
  • LOOKING FORWARD TO 2008 – GM-free Scotland News, December 2007
  • BEAT THE BEET – GM-free Scotland News, March 2009
  • OUTRAGEOUS NUTRAGEOUS – GM-free Scotland News, March 2009
  • ASDA DROPS GM-FREE FEED POLICY - GM-free Scotland News, May 2010

Bulk GM vegetable oil

As at February 2011...


Go into any any cash-and-carry and you'll see huge drums of 'vegetable oil' for sale. The cheapest ones will probably be 'KTC' brand, and, if you turn them around, you'll find “*produced from genetically modified oilseeds” in very small print on the back label.

WARNING:
Bulk GM 'vegetable oil' is also on sale in larger supermarkets, probably in direct competition with local cash-and-carries. For example, 15 litre metal drums of KTC GM cooking oil have been seen in Tesco, and 5 litre plastic bottles have been spotted in Somerfield.

Any caterer using this oil is required by law to inform his customers at the point of sale. Failure to do so carries a penalty of up to a £5,000 fine or 6 months in jail.

Clearly, caterers are using GM oil or the cash-and-carries wouldn't stock it and the supermarkets certainly wouldn't be competing with them to sell it, but have you ever seen a notice saying “contains GM ingredients” on any menu, menu board, or counter display?

Trading Standards surveys in various regions in England revealed that 25 – 42 % of caterers were using GM oil without declaring it. Take note that all of the outlets decided to change to a non-GM brand rather than put up information signs about GM use on the premises.

TAKE ACTION

You don't need to accept GM oil in any food you buy from a catering outlet:
  1. Ask the catering establishment you frequent to confirm it doesn't use GM oil. Since it may well not realise it's using a GM make, ask what brand it's using and ask to see the container. If you suspect a cover-up, your local Trading Standards Office will be pleased to check it out (see Note below).
  2. Keep an eye on the catering refuse left out in the street for uplift: the appearance of GM oil drums outside in the absence of GM notices inside should be reported to your local Trading Standards Office which will be happy to investigate (see Note below).
  3. Ask catering outlets you use to display a “No GM ingredients” or “No GM cooking oil” window sign (available from www.gmfreeze.org/page.asp?ID=453)

Above all, remember that you, the customer, always holds the winning hand because caterers can't survive without your trust.

Note. Don't worry about unfairly harming a local small business: an offending caterer will not be subject to any penalty providing he or she immediately complies with Trading Standards Office advice.

EU label laws

Will the label tell me if the food is GM?

Any intentional use of GM ingredients at any level must be labelled.
“In the EU, if a food contains or consists of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or contains ingredients produced from GMOs, this must be indicated on the label. For GM products sold 'loose', information must be displayed immediately next to the food to indicate that it is GM.” (Food Standards Agency)
EU regulation 1830/2003 which came into force in April 2004 requires that ANY GM content in food and feed carry a GM label. This is regardless of whether the ingredients have been processed to eliminate GM protein or DNA, such as in the case of oil, lecithin, sugar syrups or starch.

Exceptions to this are:
  • products produced with GM processing aids, such as cheese made with enzymes from GM microbes, do not have to be labelled
  • products such as milk, meat and eggs from animals fed on GM animal feed do not have to be labelled
  • accidental presence of GM at a level of less than 0.9% of an approved GM ingredient need not be labelled.
So, up to 0.9% of accidental GM is routinely present and unlabelled in my food?

No.

The intentional use of GM ingredients at any level must be labelled.

Manufacturers can't just dilute an ingredient down to below 0.9% to avoid labelling, nor can they decide not to label just because there's not much GM there. They are required to demonstrate due diligence using a clear paper trail, to show that they know what is in the ingredients they are using, have proof of what is in the ingredients they are using, and tell their customers.

Products may be exempt from labelling requirements only IF the supplier can demonstrate by means of analysis and paper records that the GM presence is below 0.9% AND that the presence is adventitious or technically unavoidable.

The conditions under which a product whose GM content is under 0.9% can be legally exempted from labelling are rarely likely to be fulfilled.

There is zero tolerance for any GM variety that has not been approved, and these cannot be imported into the EU.

(Note. EU labelling rules on GM are routinely misrepresented by the media, by politicians and by industry. The impression given is that the EU has a threshold of 0.9% below which GM content need not be labelled. This has lead to a belief that the law allows GM to circulate freely at low levels.)

SOURCES:
  • GM Freeze, December 2009
  • GM food and feed, and traceability and labelling of GMOs: Guidance notes on the regulations, Food Standards Agency, 2.08.07, www.food.gov.uk
  • Will the label tell me if the food is GM? www.eatwell.gov.uk

P-free pigs in the pipeline

January 2011

For over a decade, scientists have been trying to create an environmentally friendly pig, using genetic transformation.

The problem with pigs is that their manure contains high levels of phosphorus (P), some of which inevitably makes its way into waterways.  Once there, it causes rampant algal growth, or 'blooms', which use up all the oxygen, choke out all other life, and create lifeless 'dead' zones around them.   The phosphorous must also be cleaned out of our own water supply, at a price.  And, pigs excreting lots of P smell.

In other words, if you like equations:

PIGS = FOOD + PROFIT + P

but,

P = ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE + CLEAN-UP COSTS + SMELL

Tracking the problem back a stage, scientists pin-pointed the P problem as lying in the pigs' digestive system.

Ruminants, such as cows and sheep, eat grains and legumes.  The digestive system of these animals is designed to encourage the enzyme activity needed to break down these types of feed; in particular, the enzyme 'phytase' digests the abundance of phosphorous-rich substances there.  Pigs, on the other hand, root around and eat just about everything, except grains and legumes.  In doing this they are sensible because pigs can’t generate phytase, and can't digest them.

Our intensively-reared pigs are now fed on intensively-grown high-protein crops, such as GM maize and GM soya.  To digest such materials, the animals need phytase.

Although farmers often add a phytase supplement to pig-feed to make up for the natural lack, the strategy is of limited success.  What we end up with, therefore, are pigs which have an awful lot of undigested phosphorous-rich material in their manure, which leads us to environmental damage, plus clean-up costs, plus smell.

Genetic engineers have homed-in on solving this problem at its digestive source.  They have created a GM pig which produces its own phytase.  (Nothing like a cow.)  The phytase-generating gene is copied from an E.coli bacterium, and because bacterial genes don't work too well in pigs, they’ve been attached to mouse DNA to switch them on.

The prototype P-free pigs are now running around and grunting in Canadian laboratories, and are reported to be excreting less P.  According to their creators, the GM pigs look, sound, behave and taste (so presumably someone's been eating them) like a 'normal' pig.

Although it will be many years before the novel pigs are considered for approval to enter our food chain, the PR is already on the trot to prepare the ground: the pigs have been dubbed “Enviropigs” and are touted as being cheaper and greener to produce.

A win:win GM product?

Well, take a step back and look at the 'problem' again: pigs can't digest phosphorous-rich plant material.
Do pigs really have a deficient digestive system?  Have these poor inadequate beasts been polluting our planet with half-digested excreta for ever?

The answers, of course, are no and no.

Pigs have a traditional role in many cultures because their digestive systems thrive on human scraps.  One pig in the yard doesn't cause algal blooms, nor unpotable water, nor stench.  Non-traditional pig-rearing now feeds them a restricted diet of high-phosphorous commodity crops such as (GM) soya and maize, and packs the pigs together in a restricted space, in their thousands.

Enviropigs seem nothing more than a clever trick to redesign an animal to shore up an unsustainable, intensive farming system.

The GM pigs are also diverting decades of scientific attention and resources into a product with little more than finger-crossing that consumers will ever buy it.

OUR COMMENT
We seem to be clever enough to put genes into a pig to radically transform its gut physiology, purely so that we can feed it GM plants from the other side of the world.

At the same time, one-half of American and European food, most of it very acceptable to the porcine palate, goes to landfill, right beside all those pigs jammed in their styes.

How clever is that?

Also, bear in mind that E. coli. genes in our pork pose an unknown (but suspected) risk of promoting pathogen evolution in both pigs and human gut microbes, while mouse DNA in our children's chipolatas pose an unknown (but suspected) link between pig-, mouse- and human-pathogens.

Modern scientists are clever enough to provide a GM fix for a pile of problems we created in the first place.  Would this cleverness not be better directed at removing the problem?

This little P-free pig is a long way from market and may never get there, but a lot of time and money is being spent on it nevertheless.  NOW is the time to ask for sensible use of funding for food-based research.
SOURCES:
  • David Derbyshire, Frankenswine, the less pungent pig, Daily Mail 5.01.11
  • Phytase, Genetika Scientific Center of Russian Federation, January 2011
  • Anne Minard, Move over bacon.  Here comes something greener, National Geographic News, 30.03.10
  • Tristram Stuart, 2009, Waste – uncovering the global food scandal, ISBN 978-0-141-03634-2
  • Knowlton et al., June 2005, Exogenous Phytase Plus Cellulase and Phosphorus Excretion in Lactating Dairy Cows,  Professional Animal Scients

Hershey - using GM or not?

January 2011

America's only home-spun maker of chocolate, the legendary Hershey, has been giving very mixed message on its use of GM ingredients.

In 2007, just when GM sugar-beet was heading towards US fields for the 2008 harvest, Hershey was urging farmers not to plant it.  The indications were that the Company had noted consumer resistance and had announced it would not use GM sugar in its products (see BEAT THE BEET - WHAT'S WRONG WITH ROUNDUP READY SUGAR BEET – News, March 2009).

Hershey has not traditionally been a big exporter to Europe.  However, in 2009, Hershey's 'Nutrageous' and other peanut candy bars started to appear on most supermarket shelves (see HERSHEY'S NUTRAGEOUS CHOCOLATE BARS - WHAT'S IN THEM?– News, March 2009).

Most of these were true American candy bars complete with GM ingredients.  However, non-GM versions of Nutrageous were available in some outlets.  The Company had, clearly, retained the capacity to produce non-GM candy.  Why it chose to flood a GM-unfriendly market with GM candy isn't known, but the most likely explanation seems to be the testing of the water in cahoots with UK supermarkets.

Another question raised by the GM candy is why Hershey was expressed so much early concern about GM sugar.  Nutrageous contains nine ingredients derived from GM plants: three of these are sugar; four are artificial sugars; one is lecithin; and one is an oil derivative.  Is it reasonable to worry about the sugar when there's so much GM corn and soya in there anyway?

Perhaps back in 2008 Hershey already had its sights on the European market, and realised the GM-jitters there warranted a dose of timely PR to brand itself as 'the good guy'.  Indeed in 2010, the Company established a new European subsidiary in London.

The story has just taken an interesting new twist.

ASDA has struck an “exclusive” deal with Hershey to sell its products from February 2011.  The deal is dependent on the candy being reformulated to contain non-GM ingredients, while items which can't be reformulated will be excluded.  Twenty-one lines, from solid bars to Reese's and Hershey Kisses will be stocked.

Besides reformulation, the transportation and storage of the ingredients will have been confirmed GM-free or cleaned before use with non-GM products.

The reason given by ASDA for demanding non-GM Hershey’s is that customers in the UK do not currently wish to see GM ingredients in these products.

If this is true, it suggests that the Nutrageous bars on supermarket sweet shelves aren't selling too well.

Alternatively, it could be just a PR stunt which ASDA deems politically useful at the moment.

In May 2010, in a Hershey-style shift of position on GM, ASDA very quietly dropped its non-GM animal feed policy on poultry and eggs (see News, May 2010).

OUR COMMENT

ASDA's move to ditch non-GM chicken feed had to be kept hush-hush because, to paraphrase Joanna Blythman, British consumers refuse to swallow GM and will lose trust in retailers that stock it.  Ms. Blythman also suggests that in 2011, we must remind supermarkets of this loudly and often.  (See below for how to contact supermarkets.)


P.S.  Don't swallow the scaremongerers trying to tell you GM feed is running out and that going GM-free will cause food prices to escalate.  The world's biggest multiple retailer, Carrefour of France, has found GM-free feed to be guaranteed plentiful enough for it to label its animal products 'raised without GM'.  Higher costs of GM feed arise at present largely because the cost of segregation which falls, ironically, on the non-GM supply chain: even with this extra burden, the prices differential is not huge (at worst, a couple of pence on a dozen eggs).


How to contact supermarkets
Please do take action and also pass this information on to others.
Many thanks!

SOURCES
  • Sean Poulter, Supermarkets urged to follow in the French footsteps and label food that isn't GM, Daily Mail, 12.11.10
  • Urgent action: keep our poultry GM-feed-free, GM Freeze Release 3.01.11
  • Asda Hershey deal to supply non-GMO products, message from Peter Melchett and the Soil Association, 22.12.10
  • Jonathan Birchall, Hershey targets UK and Europe,  Financial Times, 7.12.10
  • Joanna Blythman, The Food Revolution, Sunday Herald, 2.01.11

Hershey's Nutrageous Chocolate Bars - what's in them?

So take Hershey's Nutrageous. These consist of “Crunchy Peanuts, Peanut butter, Creamy Caramel and Chocolate Flavoured Coating”. There's lots of protein-rich, energising peanuts there, and milk. Plenty to justify the wickedness of a little coating of chocolate.

 
Or, is there?

 
The chocolate may be the last item tacked onto its description of itself, but it's the first item in the ingredients. That's because the bars are 40% chocolate 'coating'. This chocolate flavoured stuff seems to be a radical departure from the traditional confectionary made from sugar, milk, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, lecithin and vanilla. The Nutrageous version boasts three or four cheap oils which never came from a cocoa bean, three milk derivatives, salt and artificial flavouring. The sugar and lecithin in it are both derived from GM crops.

 
The peanut butter which traditionally is just ground peanuts but may have salt and some oil added, has acquired three different forms of sugar (all derived from GM crops) plus three antioxidants to preserve it.

 
And the caramel? Surely that's just milk heated gently for a long time under pressure, like we used to make by simmering tins of evapourated milk for hours? Wrong again. Hershey's 'caramel' does have three milk derivatives, but to these have been added four different kinds of sugar (all derived from GM crops) plus oil, salt, artificial flavouring (presumably because it's not actually caramel) and caramel colouring (presumably because it's not actually caramel).

 
Apart from the peanuts, which seem to be just peanuts, the three other components of Nutrageous all contain sugar, and salt. In all there are nine GM ingredients in every bar. If you want to know all the gory details about this thoroughly unnatural 'food', they're spelled out in the Notes below, along with an interesting comparison between the ingredients in a Nutrageous bar and their conventional equivalents. You might conclude from this comparison that, apart from peanuts, anything between 50 and 91 per cent of the ingredients in Hershey's products are quality-disguising substitutes or chemicals.

 
Two other points to ponder:

 
You could make yourself a home-made Nutrageous bar from commonly available ingredients at one-third of the price, and containing 24 fewer highly processed or chemical food-substitutes (or even an 83% organic version for the same price).

 
Outside of supermarkets, Nutrageous is available in a non-GM version. This is presumably specially formulated for the European market where consumers have repeatedly made it clear they don't want GM. The non-GM version may also be aimed at the Brazilian market where it seems Hershey has agreed not to use GM ingredients.

 
OUR COMMENT

 
You might consider asking Sainsbury's and Tesco why they are choosing to stock GM confectionary, against their customers' wishes, when an equivalent non-GM version is available.

 
Tesco customer service is customer.service@tesco.co.uk

 
If you don't get a sensible reply, write to the Chief Executive, Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco, New Tesco House, Delamare Road, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire EN8 9SL.

 
Sainsbury's customer service 'careline' is 0800 636 262.

 
If you don't get a sensible reply, write to the Chief Executive, Justin King, Sainsbury's, 33 Holborn, London EC1N 2HT

 
Note

 
How does Nutrageous compare with conventional products?

 
First, here's a comparison of the total number of ingredients:

 
Conventional vs. Hershey's
  • Chocolate 6-7 vs. 12-13
  • Peanut butter 1-5 vs. 8
  • Caramel 1 vs. 8
  • Total ingredients 8-12 vs. 31-32

 

Here's what goes into conventional ingredients equivalent to those used to make Nutrageous:

 
Milk Chocolate:
  • Green & Blacks organic and Montezuma – sugar, milk, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, lecithin, vanilla
  • Cadbury's - sugar, milk, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, glycerine E442, esters of castor oil fatty acids E476, flavourings
Peanut butter:
  • Meridian organic – peanuts
  • Suma organic – peanuts, salt
  • Whole Earth organic – peanuts, salt, palm oil
  • Sun-Pat – peanuts, sugar, peanut oil, salt, E471
Caramel:
  • Old-fashioned caramel you can make yourself at home - condensed milk, patience
And here's what goes into Nutageous in block capitals exactly as they appear on the wrapper, except at several times the print-size so you won't get eye-strain reading them:

 

 
INGREDIENTS:

 
CHOCOLATE FLAVOURED COATING:

 
SUGAR*

 
VEGETABLE OIL (COCOA BUTTER, PALM, SHEA, SUNFLOWER AND /OR SAFFLOWER OIL)

 
COCOA MASS

 
SKIM MILK POWDER

 
WHEY POWDER

 
MILK FAT

 
EMUSLIFIER (typo is theirs not ours) (SOYA LECITHIN (E322*)

 
SALT

 
VANILLIN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOUR

 

 
PEANUTS

 

 
PEANUT BUTTER:

 
PEANUTS

 
SUGAR*

 
DEXTROSE* (glucose)

 
SALT

 
CORN SYRUP*

 
ANTIOXIDANTS – PROPYL GALLATE E310 CITRIC ACID E330 ASCORBYL PALMITATE E304

 

 
CARAMEL:

 
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP*

 
HIGH MALTOSE CORN SYRUP*

 
SORBITOL*

 
SUGAR*

 
PALM KERNEL OIL

 
WHEY POWDER

 
WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE

 
CASEINATE

 
SALT

 
ARTIFICIAL VANILLA FLAVOUR

 
COLOUR (CARAMEL)

 
MONO- AND DI-GLYCERIDES (E471)*contains genetically modified sugar, soya, and corn (printed as shown i.e. attached to the final ingredient and in lower-case, therefore smaller, print size)

 

 
SOURCES
  • Sainsbury's and Tesco, March 2009
  • Tell Hershey's to Kiss GM Sugar Goodbye! Institute for Responsible Technology, and True Food Now!, 2.09.08

Beat the beat - what's wrong with Roundup Ready sugar beet

News archive - March 2009. Please note links may no longer be active.

 
... GM alert

 
Herbicide-tolerant GM sugar beet was one of the GM crops being considered for commercialisation back in the 1990s. That was until the UK Farm Scale Evaluations proved the herbicide-based farming system it was designed for wasn't environmentally friendly.

 
Around the same time, Hershey's and Mars sensed their US customers wouldn't welcome GM candy-bars, and announced they would not use GM beet sugar. However, both companies have been notably silent on the issue ever since. And now we know why.

 
Last year, 2008, farmers in the US planted their first season of Monsanto's Roundup Ready (RR) sugar beet. Over half the sugar in processed foods comes from sugar beet and the rest from sugar cane. The two are routinely mixed together, but food-labels don't give details of the type of sugars present. Besides candies, GM sugar in the US will now be included, unlabelled, in staple cereals, bread and baby foods.

 
One problem, of course is that GM beet hasn't been proven safe to eat. Since sugar beet is wind-pollinated and closely related to common vegetables such as chard and table beets, contamination of the food chain with unapproved GM hybrids is likely.

 
A second problem, just coming to light, concerns the safety of the Roundup herbicide residues in RR foods. Herbicide-tolerant plants actively absorb Roundup through their leaves and then transport it to other parts, such as the root, where it accumulates. In 1999, Monsanto realised that its GM beet far exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's allowable residues of glyphosate and requested these be increased to make its GM crop legal. The result has been that the maximum 'safe' levels of glyphosate were re-set at 10 parts per million (a 50-fold increase) in fresh beet and at 25 parts per million (a 125-fold increase) in dried beet pulp which is fed to livestock. Inexplicably, regulation of the residues of other, secret and more toxic, components of the various Roundup formulations seem to be simply lumped in with glyphosate. What toxic cocktail ends up in the sugar beet harvested is unknown. What toxic cocktail is extracted and refined into processed sugar is unknown. What toxic cocktail ends up in the meat and milk of cattle fed GM beet is unknown. What science has discovered is that Roundup at only 1 parts per million can be harmful to human cells.

 
If America seems far away, remember Hershey and Mars sell their products here too, the difference being that in Europe they must be labelled as containing GM.

 
Hershey's “Reese's Nutrageous” bars with GM soya, GM corn and GM sugar listed on the label have been spotted in Sainsbury's in Scotland and they are rumoured to be in Tesco's too.

 
During the last two years, GM 'KTC' cooking oil has been on sale in Tesco, and GM 'Pride' cooking oil has been on sale in Tesco, the Co-op, and Sainsbury's. Schwartz 'Seasoned Salad Topping' with soya 'bacon-flavoured bits' containing three GM soya and one GM maize ingredients has been on sale in Sainsbury's and beyond for some time.

 
Be vigilant. If you spot any GM labels in your supermarket, please tell GM Freeze by e-mailing eva@gmfreeze.org (eva@gmfreeze.org) with details of:
  • the name of the product
  • the GM ingredient(s) concerned
  • the name and address of the shop where you saw the item for sale
  •  if at all possible, a photograph of the label stating the GM content
  •  and, if you have made a complaint to the management, what response you got.

Alas, it seems time to go back to the same old letters we were writing in the 1990s asking supermarkets for lists of products on their shelves which contain GM, and pointing out we can shop elsewhere if we can't trust the food they offer. Start with Tesco and Sainsbury's:

 
Tesco customer service is customer.service@tesco.co.uk (customer.service@tesco.co.uk)

 
If you don't get a sensible reply, write to the Chief Executive, Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco, New Tesco House, Delamare Road, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire EN8 9SL

 
Sainsbury's customer service 'careline' is 0800 636 262.

 
If you don't get a sensible reply, write to the Chief Executive, Justin King, Sainsbury's, 33 Holborn, London EC1N 2HT

 
Friends or relatives in America might like to know about the Center for Food Safety's recently launched 'Non-Genetically-Modified Beet Sugar Registry '. Companies signing on to the Registry pledge not to support the introduction of GM sugar beet, to avoid using it in their products and to ask the sugar beet industry to ditch GM.

 
SOURCES
  • Benachour and Seralini, Glyphosate Formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic, and Placental Cells, Chemical research in Toxicology, 22:1 2009
  • GM Sugar Beets Being Planted, Center For Food Safety Fact Sheet, June 2008
  • Tell Mars and Hershey's to sign the Non-GM Beet Sugar Registry, GM Freeze Press Release, 13.02.09
  • Products containing GM in the UK, GM Freeze, 20.02.09, www.gmfreeze.org
  • Friends of the Earth Real Food News www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/food_and_biotechnology, 13.02.09.
  • GM Animal Feed – The hidden GM in your trolley, GM Freeze leaflet, 2009.

Green tea lesson

January 2011

British researchers studying the legendary health-effects of green tea have concluded that the legends are true. The ancient Chinese prescription for a long and healthy life does, indeed, protect against the deterioration of brain cells and the growth of cancerous cells.

This is a particularly exciting finding because green tea is popular, inexpensive and, unlike the current drugs on the market to combat age-related nerve degeneration and cancer, has no side-effects.

Intelligent food

December 2010

You are what you eat. How could it be any other way?

The statement sounds simple and obvious, but think of the implications.

Food is living matter, formed under the guidance of the intelligence of Nature. The soil from which our food grows is made by a vast array of living organisms, organised by Nature's intelligence to work in concert. Our bodies, too, are living matter and are a unique product of the intelligence of Nature. You are what you eat: to maintain the intelligence in your body, you need to eat intelligent food grown in intelligent soil.

What glyphosate does to plants

December 2010

Weed-killers kill weeds. Just how they kill the weeds doesn't matter too much, so long as they do it efficiently.

During the many years that glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup brand weed-killer) could only be used to clear fields before planting began, or for paths and roadsides, little research was carried out to find out what it actually did to the weeds, besides kill them.

When GM Roundup Ready plants resistant to glyphosate appeared on the scene, we were presented with a clever technological trick which seemed to be based on the science of how the weed-killer worked. Glyphosate, we were told, kills by reacting with and inactivating an enzyme vital for the manufacture of many essential proteins in plants. The GM plants get round this by generating their own novel version of this enzyme which can't be knocked out by glyphosate. So we have weeding made easy: the GM seedlings survive spraying with Roundup while the weeds around them die.

But, are the life-processes really so simple?

Roundup causes birth defects

October 2010

Reports from South America of congenital malformations in babies of women exposed during pregnancy to the herbicides sprayed on nearby fields, have at last received the serious attention they deserve.

The main herbicide in question is 'glyphosate', the active ingredient of 'Roundup' which most GM crops, especially soya, have been engineered to withstand.

GM in 2010

January 2011

What were the major GM events of 2010?

There were plenty of WAVES OF GENE POLLUTION (News, January 2011).

There were also plenty of waves of uncomfortable data about 'Roundup', the herbicide widely use with GM crops. These included a GM TRAIN WRECK (News, September 2010) caused by super-weeds, the scientific proof that ROUNDUP CAUSES BIRTH-DEFECTS (News, October 2010), and the unwelcome finding that Roundup give us crops of CHRONICALLY SICK PLANTS (News, December 2010).

GM pollution - who's liable?

March 2010

After biotech industry pleas that “Realistic thresholds must urgently be established at Community level for the unintended presence of GMOs in non-GM material (be it in seeds or in commodities) including in organic crops”, the European Commission finally caved in. On 1 January 2009, EU regulation No. 023/2007 came into force, effectively setting the threshold in accordance with the wishes of industry. The regulation allows for the marketing of food as organic and unlabelled providing any GM contamination is below 0.9% and “adventitious or technically unavoidable”. “By doing so, it rides roughshod over the wishes of consumers and the burgeoning organic food industry.” (Collins)

Minefield of rice

Archive news - March 2008 (Please note links may no longer be active)

In 2006, a flurry of contamination scares started when nearly 20% of long-grain rice from America was found to be contaminated with an illegal GM strain. Before the dust had settled on the first one, more GM rice contamination was discovered in US and Chinese rice.

The biggest culprit was LL601, an experimental rice genetically transformed to be resistant to 'Liberty' weedkiller. US regulators moved quickly to limit the damage to their internal rice market, and the contaminant became their first approved GM rice.

The day of the Triffid flax

Archive news - November 2009 (Please note links may no longer be active)

Triffid genes have been found contaminating imported flax in Europe, where they risk contaminating cereal, bakery goods, bread and omega-3 fatty acid supplements.

On September 8, 2009, the EU issued a Rapid Action Alert closely followed by four others when a German food processing company detected GM genes in its products. Contaminated shipments may have been distributed to 10 EU countries and 28 countries world-wide.

Waves of gene pollution

January 2011

A land-mark federal court case in the US in 2010 has, at last, formally recognised the existence of real dangers from gene pollution, and at the same time highlighted the irresponsible attitude of regulators and industry.

NFU Scotland and the GM train wreck

September 2010

In March 2009, the President and the Chief Executive of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland (NFUS) described the US experience of GM crops as a “train wreck”.

One year on, the same farmers' union was calling for a faster approval system for GM imports and cultivation in the EU.

What is the NFUS basing its advice on? Is it hearing nothing beyond some short-term GM success stories and the continuing biotech company promises of farming-made-simple? Has something deafened it to the reports coming directly from today's GM farmers after several years' experience with the biotech crops?

So, no one has been harmed by GM food?

January 2011

There's no doubt that GM foods have been part of the typical American diet for many years. This is hardly surprising when an estimated 70% of all foods on US supermarket shelves contain genetically modified ingredients, including most things bulked up with starches, sugar syrups, vegetable oils, 'protein' in various guises, imitation meat, and a host of additives. Over and above this 70% of processed food, the majority of animal products come from livestock given GM feed.

US consumers, we are told have a high degree of faith in the food-safety oversight carried out by their regulatory agencies (the FDA, EPA,and USDA), and are happy to accept GM, even if most of them don't know they're eating it. The oft-repeated basis for this confidence is “We can't argue with the record: no one has been made ill from eating genetically modified foods”.

Biofuels: simple, neat and wrong

ARCHIVE NEWS - JULY 2008. Please note - links may not be working)

Why are we finding ourselves short of oil, short of affordable food and pulled every-which-way by a shifting debate on biofuels and GM food? We have, after all, had plenty of time to prepare. Our dependence on oil for food must have been self-evident to all the agricultural supplies industries and governments for generations. The time-scale on which easily-accessed oil would dwindle was worked out years ago. The short history of biofuels is tightly bound to that of GM crops, and both seem to consist of warning after warning.

Urgent action on biofuels

ARCHIVE NEWS (September 2007). Please note: links may not be active.

Science watchdog, Econexus, has prepared a petition calling for a moratorium on all EU promotion of agrofuels.

Biofuels: A Sustainable Sham

(ARCHIVE NEWS - MAY 2007. Please note links may not be working)

Anyone who has opened a newspaper or magazine this year will have read a great deal of hype about biofuels. America is determined to reduce its petrol consumption by 20 percent within a decade by producing 35 billion gallons of biofuel a year. the EU Biofuels Directive requires that all member states have a blend of 5.7 percent biofuel in their road transport fuels by 2010. Biofuels are the clean, green, sustainable, oil-saving, pollution-free, climate-friendly saviours of mankind especially in the Developing Worlds.

Biofuels: the Sums Don't Add up

(ARCHIVE NEWS - MAY 2007. Please note links may not be working)

Biofuels are shaping up to become a 'GM success story' of the sustainable, economical, clean, safe, environmentally friendly, solution to our energy problems and global warming (see BIOFUELS: A SUSTAINABLE SHAM)

But, what does the bottom line actually look like?

Making things happen

... just by thinking about them?

“If evil minds combine, good minds have to co-operate and combat them.”
(APJ Abdul Kalam, Former President of India, 2.12.2008)
When people share intentions and emotions, their coherent thoughts spread ripples of coherence through the environment.

This isn't sorcery, it's science. Such effects have been measured repeatedly.

A long-term, on-going experiment has shown that when major events draw the world's attention to the same point, the shared thoughts are powerful enough to make patterns emerge in random number generators (1).

When people practice transcendental meditation, the activity of the nerves in their brains (as measured by EEG) becomes coherent, showing hyper-synchrony and rhythmicity(2). This brain coherence during meditation has been linked to field-effects in the environment. When large groups get together to practice transcendental meditation, increased positivity in their surroundings has been measured in several experiments. Positivity means less crime, fewer road accidents, reduced alcohol and cigarette use, rising employment, and lower pollution levels(3).

It is within our power to make essential, healthy changes in the great systems that dominate our world. We can free our lives of the threat from food diseased by foreign DNA. All we need to do is put our shared attention on a GM-free Scotland, and keep it there.

Don't think your one tiny mind is too small to matter.

(1)Global Consciousness Project (on-going)

(2)Jean-Paul Banquet (1972) Electroencephaly and Clinical Neurophysiology 33

(3)Dillbeck M.C. et al. (1987) Journal of Mind and Behaviour 8

A special message from Dr. Pusztai

Dr. Arpad Pusztai
 “When all scientists who dare to live up to their noble profession's highest standards and tell the truth have been eliminated ... it will be too late to act.”
These are the words of the first scientist who found evidence of harm from GM and who tried to warn the world about it. Since then, many more honest scientists have suffered the same fate, but we have a democratic right to demand the truth.

Scotland and all her citizens deserve better than what is meted out to us all by a non-caring and undemocratic political and economical establishment. I came to Britain in 1956 fleeing from a tyrannical Soviet system because at that time this country was a shining beacon of freedom where people could freely express their ideas and wishes and the politicians did actually willingly listen to these and eventually accepted most of them. Unfortunately, this is so no longer. We are made by our masters to go down a road, which will very likely lead to disastrous consequences from which there is no return to normality.

Remember what happened to Percy Schmeiser in Canada! When you will be sued by a biotech company for finding their gene in your crop regardless whether you planted it or not because it came there against your will by genetic pollution from a neighbouring farm which grew such GM crop it will be too late for you to do something about it. When the whole countryside will be quiet and sterile because everything not ''productive'', the weeds (including your non-GM crop), the insects and the birds have been eliminated for good, it will be too late for taking correcting action. When all scientists who dare to live up to their noble profession's highest standards and tell the truth have been eliminated and only those who sell their conscience to Mammon are left, it will be too late to act.

Seek out and cherish those who try their best to represent your real interests and find those politicians who will stand up for you ... Support them because none of the others will support you!

Arpad Pusztai

Biofuels: bad science, bad maths, bad policy, bad ethics

The dilemma
 
The dilemma is that we have developed a global infrastructure based on oil, which has allowed us to live in the most luxurious civilisation ever known. In our modern world 95 percent of transportation, 95 percent of goods in our shops, and 95 percent of our food products depend on oil. Oil allows us to maintain an available food supply of barely more than two days by just-in-time deliveries from all over the world. To farm a single cow and deliver it to market requires six barrels of oil.

Our oil consumption has been rising steadily for decades. The International Energy Agency forecasts that our oil use will rise from its present 84 million barrels a day to 116 million barrels by 2030. But, Geologists (mainly working in the heart of the oil industry) tell us our oil is running out. They foresee oil supplies diminishing at 3 percent every year, with a cumulative impact adding up to a 50 percent reduction by 2030 (the same year as our consumption is forecast to have risen by 38 percent).

 
The biotech solution

 
The biotech industry solution is, of course, GM. Realising that there could be a multi-billion dollar-a-year biofuel industry out there in the fields which could be hyped to provide up to 25 percent of the world's energy within 20 years, the GM crops which were going to feed hungry people became destined to feed hungry vehicles. And of course, fuel from crops which are genetically modified, can effectively be patented.

 
Apparently overnight, Biofuels became a 'GM success story' of sustainable, economical, clean, safe, environmentally friendly alternative to oil, providing the solution to our energy problems and global warming.

 
The EU and US response was to introduce incentives for agri-fuels, including mandatory targets, publicly funded subsidies, and tax breaks. Billions of dollars are being invested in agri-fuel plantations, refineries and the extensive associated infrastructure. The implementation has forged ahead at breakneck speed, without any proof that biofuels will actually supply our energy needs, nor that they can ever mitigate global warming, nor with any due consideration of the potential damage to the environment and the people.

 
NOTE
The meaning of the term 'biofuel'. 'Biofuels' refer to several technologies which produce alternative fuels from a variety of sources.
First generation biofuels are available now:
  • BIOETHANOL is an alcohol-based fuel produced from fermented sugar or starch. Sugar-cane and maize are the most prominent crops used, but sugar beet, wheat and barley are current options. Bioethanol can be blended with petrol.
  • BIODIESEL is manufactured from vegetable, animal, or waste oil. The most prominent source is palm oil. Biodiesel is usually blended with conventional diesel.
  • BIOGAS is derived from bacterial digestion of waste or other organic material.

Second generation biofuels are under development:
  • LIGNO-CELLULOSIC ETHANOL is produced by digestion and fermentation of grass-crops or wood pulp.
  • COAL-BASED DIESEL is what it sounds like, diesel produced from coal.

 
The Reality of the Biotech Solution

 
What the biotech industry doesn't want to know is the uncomfortable conclusions scientists have come to about biofuels.

 
A study by the University of Minnesota published in 2006 concluded that bioethanol from maize offered a modest net energy gain of 25% over oil, suggesting a release of 12% less greenhouse gases, while biodiesel from soya offered a more promising 93% net energy gain with 41% reduction in greenhouse gases. Their calculations took into account the direct agricultural, processing and transport expenses and useful by-products, but not the environmental damage nor increased demand on land and water. When viewing the bigger picture, it concluded that, if America's entire maize and entire soya crops were used to make biofuel, they would contribute less than 3% of current gasoline and diesel usage. This would put a serious strain on food supplies and prices.

 
A second study by Cornell University published in 2005 came to very unpromising conclusions.

 
Regarding bioethanol from the various sources:
  • maize requires an input of 29% more fossil-fuel energy than the net energy it can produce
  • switchgrass fermentation requires an input of 45% more fossil-fuel energy than the net energy it can produce
  • wood fermentation requires 57% more fossil fuel energy than the net energy it can produce.

Regarding biodiesel from various sources:
  • soya requires 27% more fossil fuel energy than the net energy it can produce
  • sunflower requires 118% more fossil fuel energy than the net energy it can produce.

Again, all direct costs were factored in, but environmental damage was not, so the bigger picture is much than their figures suggest.

 
The global reality of biofuel arithmetic was spelled out by the National Farmers Union of Canada at the beginning of the 2007:
  • if the world's entire supply of oilseeds were turned to biodiesel production, it would provide one sixth of the diesel fuel we currently consume
  • if the world's entire supply of corn and wheat were turned to bioethanol production it would supply less than one third of our gasoline needs
  • if a more realistic 10% of land was turned to fuel production, it would yield, at best, 2-3% of our liquid fuel needs
  • in our current situation where in six of the last seven years we have consumed more grains and oil seeds than we produced and during the last decade the world's crop land area has been static or declining while our population grows, using land and water to feed cars will starve people.

 
The World Wildlife Fund pointed out the fundamental flaw in the use of biofuels to tackle global warming: change of land use. Brazil is the world's model for successful conversion to bioethanol. Using sugarcane, it is possible to produce eight times as much fuel energy as it costs to grow and process. However, the major source (80%) of greenhouse gases comes not from petrol but from the carbon released by deforestation. Destroying a hectare of forest which can absorb 20 tons of CO2 and replanting it will sugar-cane to save 13 tons of CO2 does not add up to a reduction in greenhouse gases.

 
Ecologist reporter, Mark Anslow, pointed out the many flaws in industry's optimistic calculations of biofuel energy advantages. For example:
  • because oil is a super-concentrated form of energy, adding ethanol dilutes it. This means a larger volume of fuel is needed for the same energy output
  • hot weather will reduce bioethanol efficiency because the fuel will evaporate; cold weather will reduce biodiesel efficiency because it will have to be pre-heated before use
  • bioethanol and biodiesel are solvents and will result in faster wear and tear of equipment
  • useful by-products like glycerin which is used by the cosmetic industry and CO2 which is used by the soft drinks industry will easily saturate the market and become an expensive waste problem
  • the animal feed generated as a by-product is not good quality
  • it will take 14 years (the life-expectancy of a car) for our present petrol-fueled cars to be replaced by ethanol-fueled models; this is far too long
  • there are multiple sources of pollution inherent in biofuel production: pesticides and fertilisers from intensive crop monoculture; the refinement of ethanol produces nitrous oxides (a greenhouse gas three hundred time more potent than CO2 ), carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs, these are ozone precursors and damage human health) and methane.

 
Friends of the Earth point out the additional danger that marginal land, which is susceptible to erosion, will be put back into intensive crop production, and washed away. It also has concerns over the increased cultivation of maize which uses more fertiliser than soya, and over the increasing use of pesticides necessary after continuous maize crop cultivation. An endless succession of GM crop varieties containing increasingly stacked genes for toxins, and genetic pollution of our food is inevitable.

 
The only winners in the biofuel game were described by the author of the Cornell University study:
“The (US) government spends more than $3 billion a year to subsidize ethanol production ... the vast majority of the subsidies do not go to farmers but to large ethanol-producing corporations”.
The goal of biofuel production seems to be to allow Americans to continue to live their petrol-dependent lifestyle and to drive their SUVs, but since the amount of grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol could feed one person for a year, this is clearly unnecessary, wasteful and unethical.”

 
The National Farmers Union of Canada summed up biofuel production as “publicly subsidized vaporization of food stocks” which are (temporarily) good for farmers, but “bad physics, bad biology and bad policy”.

 
In 2007, the United Nations acknowledged the impossibility of using agricultural land and water for fuel without risking mass starvation. Its report questioned the global effects of large-scale biofuel crop production, highlighting the inevitable forest clearance and ensuing climate, environmental and social damage, plus the loss of precious farm-land and implications for water supplies. The new drive to pour our staple food and feed crops into cars became revealed as a recipe for disaster. Finally, the UN recommended a five-year moratorium on biofuel production, to allow time for appropriate technologies to be devised and protective regulatory structures to be put in place.

 
By 2008, rocketing food-prices and mounting evidence that the drive for biofuels will only push food prices higher, are opening our eyes to the true implications of this 'infinitely' replaceable source of energy. Although America continues, predictably, to claim that the contribution of biofuels to food price inflation has been a minimal 3%, this has been widely derided: the International Monetary Fund estimates their impact as 20-30%, while a leading World Bank economist tried to conceal his estimate of a whopping 75% in a bid to avoid confrontation with the US.  
The non-biotech Solution

 
As Friends of The Earth pointed out “what is being lost amid the ethanol hype is a real debate about how to use energy more efficiently”. Technology and life-style choices which will reduce our energy consumption and our carbon footprint are a first step. The second step is to pour money, expertise and political will into developing a meaningful self-sufficient infrastructure of diverse, sustainable alternatives for our food and energy needs. 
SOURCES
Original material derived from GM-free Scotland News articles.

Golden distraction

In 2009, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) predicted that the first approval for a commercial release of GM 'Golden Rice' would be in the Philippines, possibly as early as 2012.

This is the final proof that Golden Rice is, and has always been, nothing more than a PR exercise to brand GM as a saviour of the Third World, and make it a Trojan Horse to get GM into the global food chain. If this conclusion seems far-fetched, have a look at the history.

Back in the days when the biotech industry was first planning to flood the world with GM food and already realised there would be opposition, its PR gurus advised it that, to engineer acceptance, it must “create positive perceptions”. Good advice, because positive perceptions distract attention from the safety issues.

Conveniently, an idea first floated in 1984 seemed to be coming to fruition 15 years later, just in time to assume the necessary positive role. The concept was a crop designed to help more than a million children who suffer blindness or death each year due to vitamin A deficiency (VAD). And so, with much fanfare, Golden Rice, genetically transformed to generate carotenoid precursors of vitamin A, was presented to the public in 2000.

To help things along, the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board was set up to provide “strategic guidance” to the project and “up-to-date and accurate information on the science, product development, and progress in regulatory approval of Golden Rice to all interested audiences”. The Board takes the position that the crop could “substantially complement (existing efforts to tackle the problem) in the future and make them more sustainable, especially in remote rural areas”. The magic rice has been supported by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the EU Biotechnology Programme, and the wealthy Rockefeller and bill & Melinda Gates Foundations.

However, ten years on, despite the philanthropic incentives plus many years of scientific and PR endeavour, not to mention some $100 million of public money, the Golden Rice 'saviour' hasn't become a reality.

According to Golden Rice's developers and backers, the reasons for this have been the “degenerately immoral” “bunch of cranks” whose “exaggerated criticism” and “fear-mongering” have led to a burdensome and unrealistic regulatory climate. (Dr. Adrian Dubock)

Is this true, or is it crude name-calling to deflect attention away from awkward questions about the safety of the rice?

A review of the science, or more accurately the curious absence of science, in the published literature over the decade during which Golden rice has been under development might offer a clue to the answer.

The initial 'successful' genetic transformation resulted in a rice plant which generated beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A), but not by the metabolic route anticipated. The scientists seem to have shrugged and decided that the rice would do just fine even if they weren't sure why.

The first field trials found beta-carotene production was inexplicably 3-5 times higher than under laboratory conditions (another shrug).

Foodwatch Germany describes how a sample of this first generation Golden Rice was sent to a specialist laboratory for mouse feeding studies. The tests apparently never took place because the researchers discovered the rice contained less than 1% of the expected level of carotenoids.

Greenpeace's early challenge that Golden Rice didn't produce enough pro-vitamin A to benefit its consumers (an average 2-year-old would have to eat 3 kilos of the rice a day to reach the recommended intake) revealed a number of holes in the project. For example, the Humanitarian Board countered by shifting its position from a claim that Golden Rice is needed because “smallholders grow their own rice and little else”, to a claim that it was unrealistic of Greenpeace to assume children had to get all their vitamin A from rice. The rice's creators also illogically suggested that only half the recommended intake needed to prevent malnutrition may prevent malnutrition.

The problem of insufficient generation of carotenoids isn't the only fly in the GM ointment. Beta-carotene is a large molecule with a wide potential for breaking down to derivative substances, especially in the presence of sunlight and enzymes active in the rice grain; in short, it inevitably degenerates during storage. However last April, 2008, US researchers announced some good news for the Golden Rice project. Their “soon-to-be-published” studies of human volunteers indicated that the previously assumed 12 molecules of beta-carotene needed to create a single molecule of vitamin A was wrong. The conversion ratio was only 3 or 4 beta-carotenes per vitamin A. Either our previous knowledge of carotene metabolism was wanting, or possibly the US study was wishful thinking, because 14 months later it still has not been published.

If you've been counting, that's six demonstrations that our knowledge of the real-life biochemical pathways involving in beta-carotene and vitamin A is defective in important areas.

Unwilling to let go of the baby which wasn't as golden as hoped, Syngenta took over development of the rice. The DNA was re-engineered with new versions of the genes, and so Golden Rice Mark II, with 23 times the carotenoid levels of Mark I, was created.

Syngenta also took steps to 'create positive perceptions' and by-pass the influences of the degenerately-immoral cranks (and regulators?) of the developed world by 'donating' its new GM rice to research institutions across China, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam (all places where rice is a staple, and sometimes the only, food, and where GM regulatory control is weak). The Company also worked out a deal so that farmers in developing countries earning less than $10,000 a year could get it free.

So far, so good. But as Golden Rice was being pushed altruistically towards Third World fields, what happened to the the tests for safety?

Field trials asked for by the Chinese regulators were stalled because the Rockefeller Foundation viewed them as “a foolish use of our funds”.

The Golden Rice Humanitarian Board claims that repeatedly breeding a GM plant with a local strain of rice will result in a crop “with the only difference that it is now capable of producing and accumulating beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A).” This is an unproven assumption. It's also scientifically unlikely that an artificial active gene producing a biologically active substance will fail to alter other aspects of whatever plant genome or physiology it is in.

Evidence for safety presented by the Humanitarian Board focuses on beta-carotene only, and moreover on beta-carotene from plant sources other than Golden Rice. This is disingenuous, because beta-carotene belongs to a family of some 600 related substances, at least 60 of which can be precursors to 'retinoids'. Only three retinoids have been closely studied, but all of such substances are likely to cause birth defects. Moreover, some carotenoid derivatives are known to be cumulative in blood and in fat. It's not fanciful to see the danger that unpredictable novel derivatives could emerge from a plant forced to over-produce a novel beta-carotene in grain where the substance isn't naturally present. Such questions are clearly very serious, not only because rice is so often the only food for the poor in developing countries, but because rice out-crosses very readily with weedy relatives. This means that if, or when, a toxic consequences emerges in Golden Rice, it will continue forever within a weedy reservoir in all the developing countries being targeted by the biotech industry.

In March 2009, the Golden Rice Project stated that the rice had gone through “many tests” , specifying nine. There are no animal feeding studies mentioned, but two items are relevant:
  • “8. Tests for beta-carotene bioavailability and bioconversion to retinol ... with deuterium-labelled Golden Rice fed to adults in USA and a small group of children in China have been conducted. The former were highly successful and the latter are being evaluated at present.”
  • “9. Feeding trials with human adults in China were carried out to measure the effect of fate in the diet, on bioconversion and bioavailability.”

Note. The other seven tests listed by the Golden Rice Project relate to:  
  • a biochemical explanation of the golden colour of the rice grains
  • the fact that 10 out of 2000 GM events were selected for further development
  • gene expression profiling
  • allergenic potential
  • artificial digestibility
  • the smallness of the quantity of carbon used by the plant for GM purposes
  • and taste trials.
None of these are tests for safety.

Press reports indicate that the Chinese trials which “have been conducted” on children were, in fact, abandoned when Greenpeace alerted the Chinese authorities of the GM nature of the rice being trialled. The US Clinical Trials website indicates that trials have been run there since 2004, but no data from these “highly successful” studies have been published.

More seriously, these clinical trials seem to be well and truly jumping the safety gun: there have been no data published for levels of GM pro-vitamin A, nor for animal feeding studies, nor for carotenoid-degradation in the rice during storage and cooking, nor for uniformity and stability of the crops, nor for any environmental studies. Add to this that second generation Golden Rice appears not to be one specific GM trait, but a collection of experimental transgenic events without basic molecular characterisation nor data on their biological properties. Regarding the 'tests' described above, there is no indication which of these various GM events (each with its own carotenoid production) was actually given to the human guinea-pigs (including children). If the Golden Rice is to be commercialised in the Philippines by 2012, not even a fraction of the safety-testing needed has been scheduled.

The biotech industry attitude to safety is that as “Golden Rice contains the food colours found everywhere in coloured natural foods and the environment .... There is no possible way the trials (on humans) could do any harm to the participants.” Given the scope for novel retinoids described above, and the danger these could present to future generations, such claims might appear more “degenerately immoral” than those of the “cranks” who keep sounding warnings.

Information for the public from the Humanitarian Board, which pledges to apply the highest safety standards, is that “Golden Rice will be cooked just like any other rice, from using plain water to highly refined sauces and spices, and it will always taste good.” To back this up it gives yummy (and completely irrelevant) recipes for Paella a la Valencia, Jambalaya, Thai Fried Rice and Pilaf Rice with Whole Spices, all of which we can make with yummy Golden Rice. The safety, or even the presence of artificial pro-vitamin A, just doesn't figure. Another distraction or what?

To go back to the Philippine GM effort described above as the 'proof' that Golden Rice is pure PR.

The Philippine project is based on the first generation of Golden Rice, the version discarded because it has too little pro-vitamin A to be any help to those with deficiencies. This begs the question why are the Philippine crop developers using it at all? In fact, the Humanitarian Board has dismissed criticism of its first Golden Rice by writing it off as nothing more than an initial 'proof of concept', suggesting the Philippine project is at a very early stage indeed, and should be many more than three years away from being a golden reality. On the other hand, perhaps the scientists know more about Golden Rice than they're telling: if there's very little of the novel substance present, there's less likelihood of toxic consequences and using the 'proof of concept' instead of the real thing might be a safer option. It's worth noting that the other (truly) useful qualities the Philippine Golden Rice will have, such as disease resistance and yield, are being incorporated by conventional breeding. We are left with a GM crop which will have qualities very acceptable to the farmers growing it and will have the added PR value of pretending to supply vitamin A.

COMMENT

Two other fundamental questions have not been broached above. 

One is the efficacy of adding a single nutrient to a staple food. The problem arises because all nutrients interact during digestion, absorption, transport around the body, and utilisation and storage within the cells. When nutrient levels are low, these interactions can become more important, with one nutrient enhancing the use of another. In other words, for health, people need a fresh and varied diet containing a wide range of trace nutrients. What are the chances that efforts to provide more important resources for sustainable cultivation of nutrient-rich vegetables will be side-lined by Golden Rice?

Second, the Humanitarian Board tactfully describe their rice as a “complement” to existing initiatives to combat VAD. However, what are the chances the existing distribution of supplements will be side-lined by Golden Rice?

Ask your immorally-degenerate conscience very seriously: should you be promoting the highly successful status quo which distributes vitamin A supplements to specific needy children and works to provide the resources for self-sufficiency in nutrient-rich plants? Or, should you promote the abandonment of current endeavours in favour of mass-medication using a thoroughly untested, secrecy-enshrouded GM crop which might not contain enough carotenoids once it reaches them to save their children, and might at the same time produce an entire generation crippled with birth-defects?

SOURCES

Melody M. Aguiba, Fortified with vitamin A: RP may be first to okay 'golden' rice, Manila Bulletin, 15.02.09, http://www.bic.searca.org/
Leaked document on Communications Programmes for Europabio, January 1997, Reclaim The Streets
Ye et al, Engineering the Provitamin A (β-carotene) Biosynthetic Pathway into (Caroneoid-Free) Rice Endosperm, Science 287:5451 14.01.00
The Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, http://www.goldenrice.org/ April 2009
Christopher Then, The campaign for genetically modified rice is at the crossroads: A critical look at Golden Rice after nearly 10 years of development, www.scouting-biotechnology.net, http://www.foodwatch.de/ January 2009
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Joe Cummins, The Golden Rice Scandal Unfolds, Science in Society, Issue 42, Summer 2009 and Press Release 18.03.09
Dr Mae-Wan Ho, Golden Rice and Hazards of GMOs, Lecture, 5th European Conference on 0GMO-Free Regions, Lucerne, 27.04.09
Adrian Dubock, Eco Soundings: Golden Rice bord dubs Gm-0free campaigners 'cranks', Humanitarian Board reply to GM-free Cymru, http://www.guardian.co.uk/ Guardian Environment Blog, April 2009
A critical look at Golden Rice, Food Watch Germany, 07.01.09
Naomie Bisserbe, A new genetically modified rice strain is breeding controversy, http://www.businessworld.in/ 22.08.08
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