Formaldehyde in food?!

May 2013

Corn growing in Ohio by Graylight (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
via Wikimedia Commons
The results of a unique US agronomic study have been released. Two different commercial maize crops grown in fields with different management histories were tested for composition. One crop was a GM herbicide-tolerant variety in a no-till field treated with glyphosate (Roundup) for the past 10 years. The other was a conventional variety in a field which hadn't been sprayed with Roundup during the previous 5 years. The two fields were separated by a fence. Environmental stresses on the crops were not unusually high that year.

Compositional analysis was by the 'gold standard' technique of chromatographic separation followed by mass spectrometry to identify the components. (Note that such analysis identifies specific substances, not the broad nutrient categories routinely used to assess the animal feeding value of crops.)

As expected, the GM crops had accumulated glyphosate levels equal to the recently set US maximum residue level. Also as expected (because glyphosate is known to bind to certain substances making them unavailable) the GM crop had lower levels of essential mineral nutrients.

Because the two crops were genetically different cultivars, it would be unlikely for their nutrient to be the same. However, the extent of the difference was extreme: with one single exception out of the fourteen minerals measured, the conventional maize had levels six to four-hundred times higher than the GM crop.

Even more unexpected was the discovery of high readings of formaldehyde in the GM maize. None was detected in the conventional one.

Formaldehyde - the missing link?

May 2013

Some of our most serious chronic health problems seem to have their roots in the 1980s. Why?

Commentary


In the 1980s, several things began to feature in our lives which have increased year-on-year ever since:

1. Glyphosate weed-killer entered the market place.
Glyphosate has become ubiquitous in fields, food, water, public areas and our bodies [1,2]. Human exposure to this popular weed-killer has risen dramatically since the introduction of herbicide tolerant 'Roundup Ready' GM crops. Compared with other agri-chemicals, glyphosate has always had a very favourable, and marketable, safety profile.

2. Aspartame artificial sweetener entered the market place.
Aspartame has been the sugar-substitute of choice for decades due to its lack of aftertaste and low cost. There's a perception that it breaks down to natural protein components, making it intrinsically safe.

3. Dementia began its steady climb to emerge as another modern epidemic.
Dementia is a progressive impairment of brain function due to chemical abnormalities in the brain cells. It presents in high proportions of the very elderly, but is now being seen in the middle aged.

4. Obesity and type-2 diabetes incidence began their steady climb to emerge as modern epidemics.
Obesity is an excess of body fat and the condition is no respecter of age.
Type-2 diabetes refers to high blood sugar levels. It's a range of conditions in which some requirement of normal sugar metabolism is impaired. Once upon a time this was a condition of old age, but in now presenting in children.

Is the 1980s date of commencement a coincidence, or is there some factor linking these four together?

Oops! No food!

May 2013

Supermarket
CC Photo by Danny Nicholson on Flickr
For many years, GM lobbyists have been telling us that we need GM because people in other countries aren't getting enough to eat. Then, they tried the threat that people in 2050 won't have enough to eat if we don't grow GM now. Since these haven't been too convincing, agriculture minister David Heath has decided to try bringing the argument into our own backyard.

Britain only produces about 60% of its food, and the proportion is falling. To add to this deficiency we have nothing much stockpiled for a rainy day: our never-empty supermarket shelves are a carefully stage-managed illusion created by a steady stream of just-in-time deliveries and a constant rearrangement of the stocks on display. We are heavily dependent on imports and the global food market.

The blame for this extraordinarily irresponsible food supply system lies, it seems, on what happened “a few years ago when the idea got around” that the UK agri-sector could be laid to rest because “we would be able to buy our way through whatever was necessary to feed the country”

Irritable bowel syndrome link to GM food

May 2013

'MON810' insecticidal maize is the only major GM feed crop permitted for cultivation in Europe.

However, eight European countries have banned it, and recently, Italy has moved this a stage further and asked the European Commission to withdraw its approval for the crop.

The scientific and anecdotal evidence of problems in livestock fed MON810 and other 'Bt' crops is mounting but fragmented and inconsistent. Over a dozen feeding studies measuring various parameters in various animals given various Bt-based feeds have been published. All have found physiological changes in the animals. Some of the results support each other, others do not, and all are short-term. More than anything else, they highlight the gaps: there's an absence of long-term experiments; there's a lack of in-depth physiological studies, especially of intestinal and immune responses. Most of all, it's clear that no one knows what to look for: there's an urgent need to identify key biomarkers for Bt-maize-linked symptoms

The latest feeding study to be published has shed at least some new light on the biomarker question. It involved a very detailed look at salmon fed GM maize for periods of 1 and 3 months.

Farmers don't trust Bt insecticide

May 2013

Corn/maize field in South Dakota. 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
In the upcoming growing season, 92% of US maize growers are expected to sow 'Bt' hybrids targetting corn root-worm (CRW), a major pest.

These varieties have been genetically transformed to suffuse themselves with one or more artificial forms of insecticidal proteins modelled on those found in the soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, 'Bt'.

Bt crops are touted as needing less chemical insecticides: they are, therefore, safer for people and the environment, and are less expensive and more convenient for farmers. Nevertheless, nearly half of farmers who are choosing Bt maize this year are still intending to apply soil insecticides at planting time.

Bt refuge theory unravels

May 2013
Canola field in Washington County. Photo Gary Halvorson,
Oregon State Archives [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
US regulators and the biotech industry realised from day one that, if farmers grew monocultures of GM crops which produce a single insecticide, it was inevitable that pests resistant to the novel toxin would emerge.

To delay this inconvenience, they devised a 'refuge' strategy. Farmers are required to plant areas of conventional plants to harbour a population of susceptible pests. The theory is that two resistant mutant insects must breed together to produce resistant offspring so that breeding with the normal insects from the refuge will dilute the chances of this happening.

GM feed ban dissolves, except at Waitrose

May 2013

Photo by Greenpeace
In early April, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's, the Co-op, and Tesco all announced they will no longer require that farm animals in their supply chain are fed a non-GM diet. This orchestrated action follows on from previous one-man-stands by ASDA (owned by US retail giant Walmart) in 2010 and Morrisons in 2012.

The reason given for this move is that there is a shortage of non-GM soya.

Retailers seem to have been panicked by the action of one large supplier of non-GM soya, which informed them directly that it would no longer be supplying non-GM soya. Its reasons are not fully apparent. That was in December 2012. In February 2013, farmers' representatives (the National Farmers' Union, British Egg Industry Council, British Poultry Council) made a direct appeal to the supermarkets to lift their ban on GM-feed citing shortage and cost.

This 'shortage', however, can't be quite what it seems. Brazil has just had a record harvest of soya, of which about 25% is non-GM. ABRANGE, the Brazilian Association of Non-GM grain producers, has pointed out what's behind this 'shortage' myth.