Monsanto's make-believe marketing

May 2011

Corn grenade. Image by Greenpeace
Monsanto's marketing antics would be funny, if they didn't have serious implications.

At the beginning of the year, reports were filtering out of America about a nation-wide advertising campaign. In place of the tough and handsome Marlboro-smoking cowboys of yore, billboards and bus-stops are being festooned with with hardy American farmers showing off their Monsanto (GM) crops. It seems the Company is finding it imperative to persuade the US public that it really, really, is working in the best interests of the people and creating jobs on American farms.

Another on-going biotech antic is “astroturfing”. This involves the creating and financing of fake 'grass-roots' organisations to generate a (fake) climate of GM-support.

Action alert on Bt

May 2011

7 months and counting
Photo from Flickr
In April, GM-free Scotland warned that pesticides linked to GM food have been found to end up circulating in the body of the consumer, and can pass into the unborn child. (See GM PESTICIDES INSIDE YOU – April 2011)

GM Freeze are particularly concerned about the finding that Bt protein is clearly not digested as previously assumed.

Elite food?

May 2011

Scotland food
Photo from Flickr
GM-free Scotland could face the same genre of accusations as those aimed at Eric Schlosser (1), Robby Kenner (3) and Michael Pollan (2). All three have been described as 'self-appointed food elitists' (a.k.a. 'food fascists'), and 'hell-bent on misleading consumers'.

We plead guilty to the first charge. Scottish food is among the best, purest and most natural in the world. That's because Scotland has resisted pressure from international forces to join America on the slippery slope its leaders have chosen. America's model food system is not one to be emulated: it is over-centralized, over-industrialised, over-controlled by a handful of companies, over-reliant on monocultures, on pesticides, on chemicals fertilizers, on chemical additives, on factory farms, on government subsidies, on machines and on fossil fuels, with GMOs shoring up all of it. If avoiding standardised, nutrient-depleted, aged, GM food is 'elitist' then we should all be proud to be called so.

But, misleading consumers? Definitely not.

The elusive benefits of Bt

May 2011

Mirid bug (Miridius quadrivirgatus)
Mirid bug. Photo from Flickr
A decade after the introduction of 'Bt' insecticidal GM cotton in China, scientists started to give unequivocal warnings that problems with the management of the crop were increasing, and change was needed before these problems become crippling.

Field data collected in 2004, indicated that during the first six years of Bt-cotton seed planting, the initial benefits (reduced need for pesticides and increased income) had already been eroded by the need to control emerging secondary pests which the Bt toxin didn't kill.  The scientists stated “Failure to find a solution, may lead to the discontinuation of the use of Bt-cotton seed in China and elsewhere”.

GM crops are declining in Europe

May 2011

Wir haben es satt  - 39
Protest in Germany.
Picture Michaela Muegge on Flickr
In February this year, Friends of the Earth Europe prepared a report on the extent of cultivation of GM crops in the EU over the last three years (2008 – 2010).

The trends are interesting.

Spain, which is the only Member State to grow GM crops on any scale, has steadily reduced the area devoted to biotech crops. The 2010 area was 15% smaller than in 2008.

The next biggest GM player, the Czech Republic, has also steadily reduced its GM acreage by 42% over two years.

Progress in Cyprus, Madiera, Sweden, and Scotland

May 2011

No GMO Potatoes in Sweden - Greenpeace
Protest in Sweden. Photo from Flickr
A landmark, unanimous vote by the government of Cyprus has passed a law making it compulsory to display GM foods on separate shelves in supermarkets.

The new bill provides for a prominent sign stating clearly that the food is GM and, also, for labelling in all three languages appropriate to Cypriot culture, Greek, Turkish and English. It stipulates hefty fines for non-compliance.

Under EU legislation, each member state is free to display GM foods as it sees fit. This seems to be the first time anyone has taken the initiative to use this power.

The Cypriot Green party were celebrating because the bill caps their “efforts of nine years”.

Milk from a Hucow

May 2011

Image from Wikimedia Commons
In ancient China, the emperor and empress could drink human milk throughout their lives. This was believed to be the height of opulence.

In modern China, despite the massive economic growth and industrial expansion, the gap between the rich and poor is widening. The answer sought is in biotechnology: the country seems to have set its sights on making human milk available to all, babies, children and adults. The catch is that this 'human' milk will come from a cow.

In March, China held an exhibition to showcase its major technological achievements during the 'Five-Year Plan' of 2005-10. Among the wonders on display were photographs of a herd of more than 200 cows that had been genetically transformed to produce 'humanised' milk.

The actual genes, the techniques used to produce the herd, the health of the herd, and the quality of milk obtained are shrouded in mystery and hype, not helped by the need to translate or interpret all the information from Chinese.

The GM 'higher yields' mantra

May 2011
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Throughout the short history of GM plants, the crops have been promoted for their higher yields. British academics are repeatedly quoted as saying that GM crops allow farmers to attain “high yields” while using less chemicals.

However, at least one Canadian Professor of Plant Agriculture, Ann Clark, has suggested “let's stop with the 'higher yield' mantra and stick with the scientifically defensible evidence”.

Take GM cotton ...

Cotton has been subject to extensive commercial genetic transformation. The first GM cotton, in 1995, was resistant to bromoxynil herbicide, followed quickly by Bt-generating insecticidal and glyphosate herbicide-resistant varieties. After that, the artificial traits began to stack up with other Bt-toxin variants, and different kinds of herbicide-tolerance.