Take back the Earth!

April 2013
Photo of cucumbers by Muu-karhu (Own work) [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-2.0 
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)] via Wikimedia Commons
The idea that lab-made DNA concoctions are patentable 'inventions' is just about plausible. After all, Nature would never be so stupid as to put bacterial genes into food plants to make them toxic or able to accumulate chemicals.

However, the logic behind allowing patents on artificial genes has been extended in many questionable directions: rights can now be conferred not only on lab-made DNA 'inventions' but on any whole organism incorporating the novel DNA, and on any material derived from such organisms, including their future generations. With successive waves of patented genes, a bit of GM pollen in the air, GM seed spillage, and hybridisation, there's a risk much of the living world might soon belong to the biotech industry, if they have their way.

And it just got worse.

The biotech industry has found ways to bend European law to get exclusive rights over just about any seed it cares to own. A dangerous precedent is now underway to allow patents on conventional varieties of our everyday vegetables and fruits, such as cucumber, broccoli and melon.

When non-news is bad news

April 2013

The Westminster plot to get GM crops and food in to our fields and on to our dining tables continues to unfold.

It seems to have been hatched in the summer of 2012 with a low-key consultation about new “agri-tech” measures for our farms. The execution of the plot was placed in the capable hands of the newly-appointed, and very pro-GM, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson. [2]

The strategy is becoming increasingly apparent: create “GM the brand”, GM the 'hot topic', GM the 'obvious solution' to all our key problems, GM desired by anyone with 'any sense'. So that, somehow, GM keeps hitting the headlines for no reason.

As already reported by GM-free Scotland, Paterson is backed in this venture by an army of government and non-government organisations moving in step to the beat of a PR company drum. [2] There are also signs of back-up actions performed by other enlisted guerrillas.

Target number one is the UK public although Scotland has received extra special attention.

US food companies lobby for GMO food labelling!?

April 2013

http://www.right2knowmarch.org/
Photo by MillionsAgainstMonsanto on Flickr
It seems secret meetings have been taking place between the food industry and the US Food and Drug Administration on the subject of GM labelling.

The word is that 20 major food companies, including giants like Wal-Mart, Pepsi-Frito Lay, Mars, Coca-Cola, General Mills and others, are lobbying for mandatory federal GMO labelling.

Put into another perspective, up until November 2012 these companies were throwing money at defeating a labelling bill in the State of California: so much money in fact that the bill was defeated (see NO GM LABELLING FOR AMERICA... YET - November 2012). By 11 January 2013, the same crowd were pleading for labelling.

What's changed their minds?

New GM testing rules for EU

April 2013
Photo by Carnotdigital (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
In February 2013, new EU regulations for the risk assessment of GM food and feed were voted into law. These represent a major shift in thinking.

Notably:
  • They require a 90-day feeding trial.
  • The results of this feeding trial must satisfy defined statistical criteria.
  • Proof that a GM material is equivalent to the non-GM parent variety apart from the introduced trait must be provided by industry (GM Watch has been told that current GMOs on the market or in the pipeline would be unlikely to pass this test).

How pests control pests

April 2013
Cotton Harvest
Cotton field in Texas. Photo by kimberlykv on Flickr
A collaboration of Swiss, British and American scientists have been investigating why increased pest problems are emerging in GM cotton crops designed to kill pests.

After the tortuous logic we've been following in examples of commercial research published as 'science' (see TURNING A GM YIELD LOSS INTO A GAIN and MORE MAYBE GM YIELD GAINS - April 2013), here's some refreshing real science.

One of the most commonly used GM cotton varieties is Bollgard II which has two insecticide-producing 'Bt' genes. The genes work in tandem to deal with cotton's most common pests, the cotton boll-worm, bud-worm and army-worm.

In fields where the boll-worm is being controlled by a Bt crop, a range of other troublesome pests are appearing, such as aphids, leafhoppers, mirid bugs, and stink bugs.

EFSA trying to get transparent

April 2013

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) seemed very determined not to hear the GM safety wake-up call in Professor Séralini's long-term feeding study (see GM MAIZE NOT SAFE TO EAT - October 2012).

After requesting a 'new' opinion on the study, the Authority has persisted in rejecting its conclusions.

However, how 'new' this opinion was has been questioned: it was written by the same scientists who gave the GM maize the go-ahead in the first place, and consisted of nothing more than a compilation of all the critiques from pro-GM bodies.

More maybe GM yield gains

April 2013

Maize/corn field in USA. Photo by Lars Plougmann (originally posted to Flickr as In the corn field)
[CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Arpad Pusztai has suggested we distinguish between 'science' (the search for truth through like-for-like comparisons) and 'commercial research' (the search for profit). A recent example in the published literature illustrated this nicely (see TURNING A GM YIELD LOSS INTO A GAIN - April 2013).

Here's another one...

Turning a GM yield loss into a gain

April 2013

Arpad Pusztai has voiced his frustration that the kind of 'science' promoted by the biotech industry and its lobbyists is called 'science' at all:
“Science does not 'advocate' anything but seeks the truth and science cannot be 'junk' because then it is no longer science. Why don't we just use the term such as commerce research or something similar.”
His point is illustrated by an item published recently in a top science journal.