Fake blood oranges

May 2012
Blood Orange Sorbet
Blood oranges. Photo by CLC Photography on Flickr
According to the latest research, 48% of men and 43% of women in the UK will be obese by 2030.

This trend will significantly increase the prevalence of strokes, heart disease, diabetes with its many complications, and multiple types of cancer.

Worse, obesity can start in the womb: expectant mothers who are, themselves, obese or diabetic are at risk of giving birth to big babies who are in turn twice as likely to become overweight adults. Since it's self-reinforcing, this shift towards obesity can only get worse.

Roundup and diabetes

May 2012

Headlines in May announced an important piece of research to come out of Scotland. It seems that low levels of the hormone, testosterone, are a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

While it was previously recognised that low testosterone was linked to obesity, an Edinburgh team of scientists has found that the hormone deficiency link to diabetes is not, in fact, dependent on the amount of fat tissue.

People who keep up with GM affairs may have noticed increasing evidence that glyphosate herbicide, and particularly its commercial formulation, Roundup, are endocrine disruptors (see ROUNDUP ENDOCRINE DISRUPTOR - March 2012). A paper published in 2010 described a study of rats fed environmentally-relevant doses of Roundup over a period of 30 days spanning the onset of puberty. The results showed a reduced testosterone production sufficient to alter testicular cell morphology and to delay the onset of puberty.

United States still struggling with food labels while Turkey leads the way

May 2012
Right 2Know March (GMO Labeling)
GMO Right2Know march in the USA. Photo Daquella manera on Flickr
In 1998, the EU responded to its citizens demands and instituted mandatory labelling of GM foods. At the time, Monsanto's PR department carried out the best damage-limitation exercise it could by claiming to agree that “You have the right to know what you eat, especially when it's better ... We believe that products that come from biotechnology are better and that they should be labelled”.

Europeans' right to know what they eat, however, wasn't extended to the animal products from livestock fed GM feed. The result has been that honest information about the main source of GM in our food chain remains dependent on the integrity of individual food suppliers and is, therefore, patchy.

In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can require labelling of GM foods only if they are considered materially different from their conventional equivalents. What this means in practice is that labelling will only ever happen if the biotech industry comes up with a value-added GM product for which a label will, usefully, broadcast the 'benefits'. Because the FDA has no budget for safety-testing, there's zero possibility of labelling on safety grounds. Neither has the FDA any authority to require labels just because a food has GM ingredients nor because US citizens want them: effectively, Americans have a zero right to demand labelling and zero right to know.

Fungi don't like Bt

May 2012
Corn, Corn, Corn
Corn harvest in Minnesota, USA. Photo by PXLated on Flickr
A major focus for GM crop development has been in 'Bt' crops which generate their own insecticides modeled on similar proteins produced by Bacillus thuringiensis soil bacteria.

Because Bt-protein has been passed off as highly specific in its ability to kill certain insect pests, it has been assumed safe for the wider environment. However, no one's actually been testing this assumption.

In the US in 2011, 88% of the corn cultivated was GM. Most of it was transformed to express a Bt insecticide. Globally, GM corn is grown in at least 16 different countries. Shocking therefore, to realise that scientists have only just begun to look at what Bt crops do to the soil. And, not surprisingly, when scientists began to look, they found problems.

Neat topic. Big word

May 2012

Some definitions...
  • science - systematic or formulated knowledge
  • bio - from the Greek word 'bios' meaning the course of life; modern use extends this to include organic life; hence biology - the science of life
  • technology - the science of the industrial (trade or manufacturing) arts
  • tool - mechanical implement
In 2001, when the biotech industry was beginning to realise it wasn't going to be able to 'educate' sceptical UK adults to want its GM food, it had a go at their children.

The information which the new industry wanted to feed to young minds was presented in a series of attractive, colourful booklets: “Your World - Biotechnology & You - a magazine of biotechnology applications in healthcare, agriculture, the environment and industry”. These were made available to secondary schools. 'Genetically Modified Crops and Foods' was one edition tucked into a stack of other biotech-science-type stuff to make it look like a useful, up-to-date, teaching aid. Lest there be any doubt that the venture was anything but a GM-promotion exercise, the issue of 'Your World' magazine which described the wonders of GM food ended, chillingly
You probably now understand more about these complex issues than most adults. Go educate your elders”.

The demise of the McClones

May 2012

Sign outside Newmeadow farm, Auldearn, Scotland.
Photo W. L. Tarbert (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia CommonsPhoto 
What happened to the McClone clan which came to light in 2010? This clan was a Scottish herd of Holstein milking cows who were apparently the granddaughters of an American cow's ear (see A FEW BUILT-IN PROBLEMS WITH CLONED ANIMALS - GMFS News Archive, November 2010, and McCLONES - July 2011).

The story so far is difficult to piece together from the patchy, and sometimes muddled, information appearing in the press, but it runs something like this...

Danish pig farmer whistleblower

May 2012
Photo by Klaus Höpfner at de.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)
or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons
The Danish pig industry is well-known for combining intensive production with outstanding productivity (almost 30 weaned piglets per sow per year), and exceptionally low antibiotic use (as much as a quarter of what some countries find they have to apply). In fact, antibiotic use in Denmark is strictly controlled by veterinarians and is recorded.

Danish pig farmers might be about to become well-known for something else: they may prove the world's whistle-blowers for problems arising in livestock given GM feed.

Three reviews of GM safety

May 2012
GMO maize testing. Photo by I, Yann [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Three reviews of the published science on the 'safety' or 'health impact' of GM plants appeared in 2011.

One of these was the third periodic examination of the scientific literature by Spanish scientist, José Domingo. His reviews have all focused specifically on the “potential adverse health/toxic effects” of GM food plants.