The Bt 'pest' refuge that isn't

December 2014


Early scientific wisdom on crops genetically transformed to produce their own insecticides, such as 'Bt' proteins, highlighted a number of fundamental weaknesses.

First, the ubiquitous presence of a single insecticide in a monoculture will result in the rapid evolution of resistant pests.

Second, the presence of a single insecticide throughout the growing season will result in the rapid evolution of resistant pests.

Third, the presence of a single insecticide which isn't at a high enough concentration to kill will result in the rapid evolution of resistant pests.

Russian-led study to address safety concerns over GMOs

December 2014

What's in the GM safety pipeline in 2015?

There are moves afoot to embark on some "highly ambitious" science regarding ongoing concerns about Roundup Ready maize, including the Roundup herbicide it's sprayed with and the active ingredient of Roundup, glyphosate.

GM-free Scotland has already reported Prof. Séralini's plans to extract more data from his controversial life-long rat GM feeding study by analysing the pesticide residues and physiological markers in stored tissue samples (see HOW MUCH DISEASE IS ROUNDUP CAUSING? - December 2014).

Now, it has emerged that an even bigger experiment will be underway soon.

The experiment, conceived by Russian scientists, will be conducted in Russia and Western Europe, and has already raised most the $25 million needed.

How much disease is Roundup causing?

December 2014
Photo of sign which says hazardous pesticides in use
Pesticide warning sign. CC photo by the justified sinner on Flickr
"We have dispersed hundreds of millions of tonnes of (chemical pollutants and GMOs) in the ecosystem. Most are stable and toxic and penetrate every form of life. For instance, results show that there is no human breast milk on the planet that is free from insecticides (such as DDT) and plasticizers. There is no fetus without several hundred pollutants attached to its genes. There is no Member of the European Parliament measured without at least fifty pollutants in his blood." (G. E. Séralini's team)

This toxic mix from our environment and food now includes artificial DNA, analogues of viral DNA such as the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus gene promoter (CaMV), novel proteins, analogue 'Bt' insecticides, and increased levels of agrichemicals associated with GMOs.

Within the last 20 years there has been an alarming increase in serious illnesses in the US, along with a marked decrease in life expectancy. The onset of serious illness is appearing in increasingly younger cohorts.

Following on from the data presented last year by Dr. Nancy Swanson describing disturbingly parallel annual increases of chronic diseases and glyphosate use [1], her investigation has now been expanded and published.

Fast fat GM eucalyptus trees

December 2014
 
Photo of eucalyptus trees
Eucalyptus trees. CC Photo by Victor Camilo on Flickr
An application to plant transgenic eucalyptus trees in Brazil is underway. If successful, this will mean vast monocultures of GM trees spreading across the country. Eucalyptus is not a food, but its products and presence have huge impacts on humans.
 
Details about the artificial DNA construct in the trees are sparse, but the gene is based on one found in a tiny fast-growing weed. The novel enzyme generated by the gene seems to disrupt the cellulose (woody material) around plant cells and induce faster cell division and growth rate. As a result, the GM eucalyptus has a thicker trunk and is big enough to harvest in only five-and-a-half years, instead of the seven years needed for current commercial conventional varieties.
 
The primary purpose of all that extra eucalyptus wood is to produce paper, but other uses are being explored such as bioplastics and renewable fuels; one particular suggestion has been pellets for export to the UK to co-fire with coal in our power stations. 

Elusive GM safety evidence

December 2014

A review of the scientific evidence on the relationship between GM crops and animal health has just been published. This carefully constructed search for a robust body of studies concluded that the task was "impossible" to do "properly" because of the fragmented nature of the approach to testing and the gaps in the presentation of the methodology and data.

The studies had all been peer-reviewed and published. Notably, reports submitted to regulatory authorities were omitted due to insufficient detail.

Fast fat animals

December 2014

A 2014 review of the "Prevalence and impacts of genetically engineered feedstuffs on livestock populations" seems to have come up with an animal version of the trillions of GM meals which 'prove' safety [1].

The stated purpose of the study is three fold.

GM feed 'prevalence' is described in a "summary of the suppliers of GE and non-GE feed in global trade".

Echoing GMO-friendly propaganda

November 2014

CC photo Wiki Commons
 
An interesting revelation on how GM 'solutions' are spun to the public, governments, retailers and industry bodies is worth taking note of.

A spike in commodity food prices in 2007-8 led to a 'food crisis' and hunger-fuelled riots in many areas.

Crises are known to be transformative of perceptions and actions: they can also, it seems, be harnessed to manipulate those perceptions and actions.

German Roundup ban

November 2014

Crop spraying. CC photo by Tim Parkinson on Flickr
In 2014, Germany, as Rapporteur Member State for the introduction of glyphosate herbicide into Europe, carried out a routine re-assessment of the chemical and pronounced it safe.

With global sales of the most-used glyphosate-containing herbicide, Monsanto's 'Roundup', reaching $5.46 billion in 2012 and expected to reach $8.79 billion by 2019, it would take some courage for Europe to declare the chemical unsafe. Add to this that glyphosate-tolerance is the most common GM trait being added into crops of all kinds: removing glyphosate from the GM equation at this stage would spell disaster for agriculture in the Americas and elsewhere. 

Germany is not only being politically correct in pronouncing glyphosate safe: the chemical, in pure form, isn't at all bad as these things go. It's easy to pander to big business and avoid offending the US by generating a positive risk assessment for glyhphosate. 

However, the reality of this cynical political posturing to uphold trade has recently become evident.

Independent scientists have repeatedly warned that the risk assessment of glyphosate has been applied out of context and is, simply, wrong.

America: one vast outdoor GMO experiment

November 2014


Prairie road through canola. CC photo by Jeff Franklin on Flickr
In 2010, a US specialist in plant populations found GM canola thriving widely along North Dakota roadsides. It was genetically transformed to resist proprietary herbicides and had been sprouting for generations. Recently, she gave an update:
“It's still there, and it's always going to be there. When you're driving down the road, and the only thing standing is herbicide-resistant canola, biodiversity has taken a hit.”

Commercial strains of herbicide-resistant canola growing where they shouldn't be are easy to spot. But the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the body responsible for promoting and protecting US agriculture, has approved nearly 20,000 field trial permits covering some 100,000 plantings of experimental GM crops.



Are these crops already joining the roadside GM canola which is "always going to be there"?

US industry-friendly regulation

November 2014


Aerial crop spraying. CC photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service HQ on Flickr
“As man proceeds toward his announced goal of the conquest of nature, he has written a depressing record of destruction, directed not only against the Earth he inhabits but against the life that shares it with him.” (Rachel Carson 1962)
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established, in part, to stem the tide of this destruction.
 
Man-made agri-materials are applied locally but become distributed widely by weather, water-systems, food webs, and living and mechanical vectors. The potential for environmental and human health effects is huge and, in America, is subject to the EPA doing its job responsibly.
 
Over half-a-century after Rachel Carson's chilling warning, a damning critique of the US approach to pesticide risk assessment has been published. The paper uses atrazine, a herbicide used in America but now banned in Europe, as an example, but the points made apply equally to GM crops and their associated chemicals.
 
Four key fundamental concerns are raised:

Bt soya feeds pests

November 2014

Recognising the “critical” need to “improve our knowledge of the bigger picture of 'Bt' crop impacts, a Brazilian team has published a study on what seems to be an increasing problem in biotech crops in their country. 

The latest thing in GM soya is Monsanto's 'Intacta'. This crop generates a 'Bt' insecticidal protein, 'Cry1Ac', which is effective against moths, but doesn't work against 'armyworm', another key pest of soya. 

Here's a TTIP

November 2014

One of the world's best-kept-secret set of trade agreements is gradually filtering its way into the public awareness.

The ''Transatlantic Trade and Partnership' (TTIP) between the US and the EU is being put in place to reduce regulatory barriers to trade, especially for big business.

Meaningless prohibitions

October 2014

Photo of an anti GMO protester wearing a yellow biohazard suit
Anti-GMO protester
So far, America has single-handedly contaminated the world rice market with an experimental GM variety (herbicide-tolerant LL62, illegal at the time but legalised in a hurry by the US administration), permanently contaminated its own commodity maize supply with a GM variety (insect-resistant StarLink, legally grown for a short time and since banned on safety grounds), and is grappling with two inexplicable contamination-incidents involving two different GM wheat varieties (both herbicide-tolerant, one in Oregon and one in Montana, neither legal anywhere).

Are these real-world warnings being taken to heart?
After recurrent contamination problems from experimental trials of GM pharmaceutical plants APHIS* was stirred into action.

*Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture

Biotech company, Prodigene, was fined a modest $3,500 for the infringements, but the Company and its “successors in interest” were also prohibited from carrying out any future GM releases.

Real-world data on Glyphosate

October 2014
picture of a pig looking through a wire fence
A healthy pig. CC photo by thornypup on Flickr.
When new antiviral drugs came on the markets, many governments thought it prudent to stock-pile them in case of any major new viral epidemic.

Accordingly, the UK government forked out £500 million and the US government $1.3 billion largely on the Roche version of antiviral sold as 'Tamiflu'.

The Cochrane Foundation, a global not-for-profit organisation whose aim is “to produce accessible health information free from commercial sponsorship and other commercial interest”, conducted their own review of 46 pharmaceutical company-sponsored Randomised Control Trials* on the effectiveness of Tamiflu. Such Trials are carried out routinely as part of the drug's licensing procedure. Its conclusion was that the benefits of this class of drug had been exaggerated. In short, the money paid to pharmaceutical companies for such flu-treatments had been largely wasted and could have been much better spent on other health measures.

*Randomised Control Trials are considered the gold standard for assessing drug efficacy. They involve a random selection of subjects half of whom are given the test drug and half of whom are given a placebo. Neither the subjects nor the researchers know who has been given what until the data on the drug's effects have been collected.

Roche, governments, health-workers and scientists swiftly responded that Tamiflu is effective in alleviating symptoms and saving lives.

A counter-review was then produced by Roche: this wasn't based on scientific investigation, but on observational evidence from 78 studies of patients admitted to hospital. The Company claims that these “real-world” data are more relevant to judging the efficacy of a drug than Randomised Control Trials.

So, what happens if you apply Roche's emphasis on real-world data to GM?

Enslaved seeds

October 2014

picture of different varieties of rice seed in glass containers
Different varieties of rice seed. CC photo by IRRI photos on Flickr
There is a huge natural genetic diversity in all seeds, which has evolved over millions of years.Only this complex whole has the ability and the reserves to change in harmony with its ever-changing environment.
This is a resource we can't afford to waste, destroy, or compromise.
Without it, we will starve.
Realising our dependence on seed quality, and the profits that can attach to dependency, business has been grabbing control of seeds: wild seeds, commercial seeds, national and global seed markets, and the farmers who use them.

Laws have long been in place in the developed world to ensure that large-scale supplies of seed are of good quality.

However, this system hasn't worked to maintain diversity or farmer choice: it has promoted consolidation of the seed market, dependence on agri-chemicals, and high seed prices.

More inconclusive data on GM safety

October 2014

The French scientists whose long-term GM feeding experiment suggested harm to health, have voiced concerns about another study accepted by the same journal which published, then retracted, their own study [1,2]. This newly-published paper described a short-term GM feeding study carried out by a team of scientists from biotech company, DuPont Pioneer.

Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) withdrew the French paper last year due to the 'inconclusive' nature of some of the data (a novel ground for rejection apparently invented by the journal editors). The French team pointed out that the DuPont Pioneer study used feed compromised by an unassayed GM content which could have masked significant differences between the feeds, and ironically made the results 'inconclusive'.

Controversial crusades

October 2014
Vandana Shiva
A recent, lengthy, article in the New Yorker Magazine described Vandana Shiva's “controversial crusade against GM crops”.

Vandava Shiva is, indeed, well known for her articulate and “fiery opposition to globalization and the use of genetically modified crops”.

Responding to the New Yorker article, Seeds of Doubt, Dr. Shiva has posted how own article, Seeds of Truth, on the Institute of Science in Society website. In it, she calls the New Yorker piece simply “poor journalism” and wonders why the author “a journalist who has been Bureau Chief in Moscow for The New York Times, and bureau Chief in New York for the Washington Post, and clearly an experienced reporter, would submit such a misleading piece. Or why The New Yorker would allow it to be published as honest reporting, with so many fraudulent assertions and deliberate attempts to skew reality.”

Anyone interested can read Seeds of Doubt for themselves. It repeats all the well-known pro-GM mis-information, such as the confusion between conventional breeding and direct artificial manipulation of DNA, and the discredited propaganda that Mark Lynas was a major anti-GM campaigner before he became enlightened [1], and that GM safety has been proved by the trillions of GM meals which have been eaten without a single documented case of anyone becoming ill [2], and that the “prohibition” of GM golden rice everywhere is due to a decade of opposition [3], etc., etc., etc.

However one novel piece of propaganda stood out.

Unstitching the media stitch-up

October 2014
Anti-GM campaigner holds a sign which says the world doesn't want your GMOs
2013 March against Monsanto, Washington DC, USA. CC photo by Stephen Melkisethlan
The GM-media stitch-up which became evident when our previous Environment Minister was strutting his stuff on the pro-GM stage [1,2] seems to be part of an orchestrated, world-wide GM-good-news-only drive (see below for examples).

Given what has been reaching the news lately, you might be getting the impression that 'the GM debate is over' and that GM-concern campaigning is dead in the water.

No so.

Genetically edited

October 2014
CC photo by Antoine.Couturier on Flickr
The first use of 20th century technology to re-jig living organisms to conform to human specifications was mutagenesis. 
 
Mutagenesis involves a scatter-gun induction of random DNA modification using chemicals or radiation. Survivors of the onslaught are screened for commercially useful new characteristics. The desired mutation is purified of the collateral genomic wreckage around it by repeated breeding with healthy mates.
 
It seems that mutagenesis was considered no more than an accelerated version of natural Darwinian random mutation followed by selection of a human-defined 'fittest'. No one told consumers what was being done to their food, and no safety-testing was ever considered (See below).
 
The second wave of organism-fixing technology stemmed from the discovery of how to engineer DNA and insert it into living cells.

Synthetic biology coming soon. Is it 'natural'?

October 2014
'Synbio' vanillin could soon be in ice cream and cakes.
CC photo by St0rmz on Flickr
When 'Synthia' first popped into the headlines, it referred to cells containing entire, simplified, man-made chromosomes [1].
 
Since then, “synthetic biology” has been used to mean so many different technical tricks, it “defies easy definition”. The only common factor seems to be the use of “a tool-box of well-defined genetic parts to build new functions” to create a novel organism. 'Synthetic biology' seems to cover anything from good old-fashioned insertion of chunks of DNA, to the products of any genome re-configuration, to whole genome assembly, and anything else which makes the end-genome different.
 
'Synthia' has popped into the headlines again because a new version of it could creep into our food chain if we don't watch out.
 
A Swiss company, describing itself as a “pioneer and global leader in sustainable, fermentation-based approaches to ingredients for health, wellness and nutrition” is busy “address(ing) an increasing consumer demand for high-quality, trustworthy and affordable products that are considered 'natural'”.
 
What could possibly be ominous about this?

Bt GM crops aren't very insect reststant

September 2014


Photo of aubergines in a basket with protest sign behind - no to BT brinjal
Bt brinjal (aubergine) protest. CC photo Joe Athialy on Flickr
Is the biotechnology industry vision of perfect GM crops, untouched by pests, falling apart?

Is the grand US vision of its GM technology saving farmers in developing countries getting shaky?

Reports coming from around the world in suggest the dreams are not all they're cracked up to be.

Supertoxic remedies for superweeds

September 2014


Photo of pigweed
Common pigweed. CC photo from Wiki Commons
American farmers have a problem: their crops are drowning in a sea of weeds and their machines are choking to death.
 
In desperation, Texas cotton growers recently petitioned the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to allow 'emergency' use of propazine, a weed-killer widely banned because it causes birth defects, is an endocrine disruptor, a possible carcinogen, ends up in waterways and takes years to breakdown. Fortunately for the public and the environment, the petition was denied. But how did we come to such a pass?

Germany demands GM-free animal feed

September 2014


Photo of people dressed as chickens protest GM animal feed
Photo by Greenpeace
In April 2013, four major UK supermarkets announced, in concert, that their poultry products would no longer come from livestock fed GM-free feed [1].

The move followed a direct approach to supermarkets from one large soya supplier which had decided to discontinue its non-GM soya line. This was shortly followed by an appeal to retailers from major farmers' representatives for a lifting of the ban on GM feed. The reasons given were cost and a shortage of supplies.

The 'GM helps climate change' myth unravels

September 2014


Photo of tractor applying fertiliser to an untilled field
Fertiliser applied to no-till field in US.
CC photo By Lynn Betts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In contrast with the traditional ploughing-under of weeds before the sowing of seeds, no-till agriculture involves destruction of weeds on the surface then planting of seeds in grooves or holes with minimal disturbance to the soil.

There are several recognised benefits of no-till. In particular, valuable soil structure is preserved, reducing erosion and increasing important biological activity, plus the retained plant-matter holds more water. For the farmer, no-till means reduced labour and fuel costs.

Also, because breaking up the soil by ploughing triggers a loss of the carbon locked up by soil organisms, no-till has become part of the solution to climate change (see below).

Fit as a weed

September 2014
 
Photo of green wild rice growing in a field
Wild rice. CC photo by Denrdoica cerulea on Flickr
The vast majority of GM crops now being grown commercially have had a gene inserted to make them resistant to glyphosate herbicide.
 
After spraying with glyphosate, the yield of the GM crop is protected because the weeds competing for nutrients are killed.
 
Gene escape from glyphosate-tolerant crops into wild relatives has never been considered an important problem because unless the wild GM derivatives are sprayed with the herbicide, they will have no special fitness advantage and no reason to run riot. But, this 'wisdom' has been challenged by a team of Chinese scientists.
 
Glyphosate kills plants by inactivating an enzyme, 'EPSPS'*. EPSPS is vital to a number of key metabolic processes because it's responsible for generating a class of essential amino acids (the building block of proteins). These amino acids are vital to the formation of, for example, the plant's supportive material (lignin), plant growth hormone, and a huge range of immune-system substances, which together can account for as much as 35% of a plant's biomass. 

GM mosquito tricks get cleverer

September 2014

Close up of a mosquito on human flesh
Aedes aegypti mosquito. CC photo by Sanofi Pasteur on Flickr
Mosquitoes aren't human food. But humans are food for mosquitoes.
 
As mosquitoes feed off you, they inject saliva into you to keep their food (your blood) flowing out. During this, they can also transmit diseases such a malaria and dengue, and the latest thing in GM mozzies can also give you a dose of destructive DNA. 
 
Natural mosquitoes are part of a serious health problem. GM mozzies could be much worse.

Risk avoidance made easy

September 2014
Crop spraying. CC photo by Tamina Miller on Flickr

Risk-assessment of a substance is carried out by examining all the inherent dangers posed by it, and factoring in how likely it is that anyone will actually be exposed to these dangers.
 

A risk-assessment obviously can't be done without looking at the real-life context in which the substance is used.
 

Glyphosate herbicide, widely used on GM crops, is very safe as these things go, providing you're not a plant or a micro-organism.
 

This fact seems to have been exploited by German assessors when they recommended the re-approval and increased 'Acceptable Daily Intake' of the herbicide earlier this year [1].

A preposterous approval

September 2014

Photo of crop spraying
Crop spraying. CC photo by CropShot on Flickr
Glyphosate herbicide (see below) has just been re-approved for use in the EU along with a 67% increase in its 'acceptable daily intake' (ADI).   


The report submitted to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommending re-approval and upping the ADI was prepared by Germany, the rapporteur Member State for this herbicide.
 
Germany's overall findings were that the herbicide poses no unacceptable risks.  Specifically, glyphosate is not metabolised (chemically changed by the body) nor accumulated in the body.  It's not toxic to genes, nor carcinogenic, nor endocrine disrupting, and has no reproductive toxicity.  The only human health risks noted were that glyphosate is a severe eye irritant. 
 
Issues that could not be finalised included the relevance of impurities and microbial effects. 
 
The Institute of Science in Society described these conclusions as 'preposterous'. 

Bees do what?

August 2014


The positive risk assessments of GM grain crops  have been based on the premise that, because they are  adapted for wind pollination and largely self-pollinating, there is little concern about gene-flow from them into other crops.
Grain crop have a flower structure which aids wind-pollination, and their pollen is not well adapted for carriage by insects.  Tests have shown that the amounts of pollen carried by wind  decrease exponentially with distance from the crop, reaching zero within a few meters.  Also, pollen is short-lived.  The risk of gene pollution arising from GM grain crops has, therefore, been considered effectively zero.
However, a recently published study has challenged this view.

Protecting confused Americans?


August 2014
Nine ... Million ... Dollars ... In three months

That's how much US lobbyists spent in the first quarter of 2014 to keep Americans in the dark about the GMOs in their food (Organic Consumers' Association).

The excuse?
A Congressional Panel on Biotechology has backed industry efforts to avoid GM labelling by explaining it would “frighten” and “confuse” consumers.

Golden rice going bananas

August 2014
Photo of hands holding golden rice in fron ot plant stems.
Golden Rice. CC photo by IRRI photos on Flickr
Academics seem to be going bananas over the crimes against humanity perpetrated by all those green NGOs and individuals who keep voicing their concerns about GM food.

Last year, some eminent international scientists got together to write a letter to a top science magazine. Their aim was to broadcast the role of the green movement in delaying the development of 'golden rice'. They claim this wondrous, philanthropic rice has been genetically transformed to produce vitamin-A to save the poor in countries where many suffer from malnourishment.

This year, a group of academics at the University of California prepared a report for their university's bi-monthly publication. Their aim was to expose the presence of 'powerful forces that hide behind environmentalism' and which are blocking the development of golden rice.

The refrain has, of course, been eagerly picked up by others in the pro-GM lobby [1].

Roundup harms farm-worker fertility

August 2014

Gilles-Eric Séralini. CC photo by Alberto Novl on Flickr
French Professor, Gilles-Eric Séralini, has been been a major thorn in biotech industry flesh for some time.

He has pointed out that the 'proof' of safety of GM crops and their associated herbicide, 'Roundup' has been manipulated to skirt evidence of harm: key test materials have been excluded, exposure times have been curtailed, and the parameters measured have been limitated. When differences have been too obvious to ignore, they have been dismissed as “not biologically meaningful” (Séralini, republished). His suggestions that there were signs of endocrine disruption were met with an orchestrated attempt to discredit him [1,2].

However, Prof Séralini is a scientist, and has no time for PR stunts. His reaction to his critics has been to do the science, to set about carrying out the experiments which should have been done at the dawn of GM.

Unfortunately for the biotech industry, each experiment published is more damning than the one before.

Quiet GM exit

August 2014

Photo of maize plants in a field
Maize crop. CC photo by Manu on Flickr
While a major damage limitation exercise swung into motion in response to science which flagged up harmful effects from a GM 'Roundup Ready' maize and its associated herbicide, 'Roundup', [1,2,3], other meaningful action was going on behind the scenes.

During the year after the publication of the offending study, Monsanto and US biotech firm Pioneer quietly withdrew their EU applications for the cultivation of four GM crops. All of them were Roundup-tolerant: two of them were hybrids of maize 'NK603', the strain in which harmful effects were identified.

We are left with any amount of GM Roundup-contaminated animal feed imported from overseas in our food chain.

Also, there are still EU applications pending to import and cultivate two Syngenta glyphosate-tolerant maize crops and one Bayer glyphosate-tolerant cotton crop. Note that by-products of cotton production feature very heavily in our food chain in the form of animal feed and 'vegetable' oil.

OUR COMMENT


Biotech companies may be taking the recent negative science about GM safety more seriously than they claim.

However, while the focus has been on the biggest US offender, it seems that Syngenta (Swiss) and Bayer (German) have been somewhat under the radar. See what you can do to make them as aware of the problems as everyone else seems to be. The media and your MEP are good places to start.

Background:
[1] GM MAIZE ISNOT SAFE TO EAT - October 2012
[2] TORCHING THE SCIENCE - December 2013
[3] FOLLOW-UP OR COVER-UP? - News, August 2014

SOURCE:
  • Monsanto and Pioneer withdraw another four applications for the cultivation of genetically engineered crops in the EU, www.testbiotech.org, 1.07.14

Follow up or cover up?

August 2014

French maize. CC photo by Craig McGinty on Flickr
The scientific, and rational, response to a feeding experiment which indicates toxic, tumour-promoting and endocrine effects from a novel food is to repeat it for confirmation.

When Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini's study on a GM maize and its associated herbicide, 'Roundup', flagged up just these problems [1], the European Union announced a two-year carcinogenicity study on the maize, and the French Government announced that it would allocate Є3.7 million (more than the original project) to follow up the findings.

After the decades-long history of failure to follow up on adverse findings relating to GM food, this was good news indeed.

However, hopes of a credible confirmation of Séralini's experiment have been dashed.

Problem GMO feeding study republished

August 2014

Photo of French scientist Giles-Eric Séralini
Giles-Eric Séralini.
CC photo by Alberto Novl on Flickr
Just seven months after a ground-breaking, but biotech-unfriendly, long-term GM feeding study was withdrawn by the editor of the journal which had published it, the paper has been re-published in another scientific journal [1,2] .

The study, carried out by a French team led by Professor Giles-Eric Séralini, recorded health-effects in rats fed 'Roundup' herbicide and the GM 'Roundup Ready' GM maize, NK603, which accumulates the herbicide. Its data showed adverse effects on kidney and liver function, hormone disruption, reduced life-span, and a promotion of tumour development. This proved deeply unpopular with the pro-biotech lobby which launched a 'vicious' attack against the science and the researchers. After a lengthy deliberation the journal editor was moved to withdraw the paper.

However, the re-published study presents exactly the same results as before, and reaches exactly the same conclusions as before.

Westminster's new Environment Secretary

August 2014

Owen Paterson. Photo Wiki Commons
The Westminster/Owen Paterson plot to kick-start GM crop development in the UK [1,2,3] seems to have reached the end of its first leg.

Courtesy of (former) Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, the EU Council was persuaded to break the deadlock on GM crops by allowing those pesky GM-resisting members to opt-out [4]. This appears to open the door wide for GM development in the UK.

However, Owen Paterson has been fired from his post.

The reason for Paterson's removal isn't clear. He seems to have been very active and effective on GM, and it seems unlikely the Prime Minister noticed anything amiss with his grasp of science.

Another GM soya data fraud?

July 2014

Soybeans. CC photo by USDAgov on Flickr
In the 1990s as the first GM 'Roundup Ready' soyabeans were entering the market, Monsanto reassured the public that its “Roundup Ready soybeans are just like any other soybeans in safety, nutrition, composition and the way they process into high-protein animal feed ...”
 
A team of Japanese scientists has now pointed out that Monsanto's own data show this to be untrue.
 
The evidence they examined was submitted by Japan-Monsanto to the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare for approval of the GM soya for importation. Their findings received no response from the Ministry.

GM salmon don't swim safely

July 2014
Wild salmon. Photo Wikimedia Commons
In trying to introduce the first GM animal into the food chain, the US Food and Drug Federation (FDA) seems to be running up against some rather EU-type obstacles.  
 
The GM animal waiting to be marketed is AquaBounty's Atlantic Salmon with Ocean Pout growth-hormone genes.
 
FDA advisory scientists differ in their opinions of the GM fish, but are united in voicing several specific concerns, most notably that there is not enough science to demonstrate safety.

Horizontal gene transfer is widespread

July 2014

Photo from Creative Commons
From GM day-1, there's been a culture of denial over the possibility of artificial genes moving between organisms (horizontal gene transfer).
 
Some lip-service has been paid to the danger of anti-biotic-resistance marker genes (ARMs)* moving from GM crops to bacteria in the environment to create untreatable diseases. Europe even decided to ban GM crops containing such genes, but somehow it never seems to have happened.

Natural GM

July 2014
 
Leaf detail. CC photo by Lylir Horton on Flickr
At the same time as genetic engineers have been having fun building chains of nucleic acid (NA) molecules into artificial DNA sequences and using them to infect cells, scientists have been piecing together the story of natural genetic engineering.

Living cells have to adapt very quickly to changes in their environment. If they didn't, there wouldn't be much life on earth. Waiting for an appropriate Darwinian 'random genetic mutation' to crop up would be too slow. Since cells are intelligent enough to correct, as a matter of routine, between 99.9% and 99.99% of DNA errors, and if all else fails have the wisdom to self-destruct instead of reproducing the mistake, random genetic mutations are too rare to rely on for something as important as survival. 

Big data, patents and GMOs

July 2014

Photo of a vortex of ones and zeros
CC photo by Infocux Technologies on Flickr
The vast majority of the world's food producers are traditional farmers. Building upon the wisdom of their ancestors, they have added a life-time of further learning about their own soil and crops. Sharing with the local community consolidates this wisdom. This is a knowledge which moves with the ever-changing needs and conditions.
 
In modern high-tech, industry-led farming, the consolidation of seed- and agri-chemical suppliers with their associated technical-know-how, all geared for world markets, has created a global juggernaut to supply food to the developed world. These ships are floating in a GM-driven current, and are moving forward relentlessly, no matter how stark those ice-bergs are on the horizon.
 
The farmers riding these juggernauts can't get off: there's total dependence on the biotech industry for seed choice and use, and the chemicals to cure all ills.  
 
And things are about to get worse. Meet Big Data...

GM crops in Europe - game on

July 2014
Photo credit "Épône - récolte du maïs01" by Spedona - Own work
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%C3%89p%C3%B4ne_-_r%C3%A9colte_du_ma%C3%AFs01.jpg#mediaviewer/File:%C3%89p%C3%B4ne_-_r%C3%A9colte_du_ma%C3%AFs01.jpg
The Westminster GM plot, hatched in 2012 and nurtured along by former UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, seems to be reaching fruition [1].
 
EU ministers have been persuaded to agree to the planting of two new GM maize crops. This has been made possible by a concurrent decision to allow Member States with on-going concerns to opt out of growing GM, rather than blocking their approval. The proposal also includes a clause on liability for damage caused by the biotech crops, and a clause which makes it compulsory for Member States to implement rules for the prevention of contamination.
 
Around half of EU Member States have indicated a wish to opt out. But will it be that easy?

Modifying regulation

July 2014
US rally to support GMO food labelling.
CC photo by CT State Democrats on FLickr
If you've been following the news on GM foods in America, you'll have realised that an overwhelming majority of the people wants GM to be labelled. American democracy being what it is, vast sums of money are being spent by pro-labelling public-interest groups on the one hand, and a good deal more by anti-labelling industry giants on the other hand. The main result has been a tug-of-war which has served to raise awareness of the issue but resolved nothing.
 
Given the current level of information on food packages, which includes nutrients, trace nutrients, weird processed stuff, calorific values, sweeteners, and strings of additives, it's not obvious why it should be so difficult to add in the words “genetically modified”, and the industry claim that it would increase food prices is ludicrous.
 
A look at how US food regulations were bent into shape to approve one of the earliest GM offerings, 'New Leaf' potatoes, might give you an inkling of where the problem lies.  

Pests create pests

July 2014
Brinjal, or Aubergine, is an important crop in Bangladesh (see article)
CC photo by Joe Athialy on Flickr
In 1978, US entomologist and champion of biological pest control, Professor Robert Van den Bosch, looked at the data and pointed out that pesticides create pests.
 
Chemical pesticides are a disaster for all mankind except, of course, those who sell them.
 
Then, as now, truths inconvenient to industry addressed the evidence by shooting the messenger. Poor Prof. Van den Bosch.
 
The problem, already obvious four decades ago, was industrial agriculture. Since then, all the most harmful aspects of this chemical-based agri-infrastructure have been made worse by GM.

Vermont's GM labelling first

June 2014


Demonstrators hold placards aloft which read label GM food
March against Monsanto in Washington US, May 2014.
CC photo by Stephem Melkisethain on Flickr
On 8 May, the Governor of the US State of Vermont signed into existence a State Law which will require all GM ingredients to be labelled from July 2016. Foods so labelled will no longer be able to be called 'natural'.
 
Marking the importance of this first-of-its-kind law*, the occasion merited an outdoor signing ceremony.

*Unlike the bills passed last year in Maine and Connecticut, which require four or five other states to pass GMO labelling laws before they can be enacted, Vermont's law contains no "trigger" clauses.
 
Certainly no one in the US Government, biotech companies, nor food industry is underestimating the significance of this event.

Addressing the wrong questions

June 2014

Two demonstrators hold a placard which says real food not fake, save the bee, protect, not profit
March against Monsanto Washington, US October 2013.
CC photo: Stephen Melkisethian on Flickr
In 2008, US food writer, Michael Pollan, produced an “Eater's Manifesto” whose short answer to the question of healthy eating was: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
He says now “The fact that it was even noteworthy is what's noteworthy about it. It's a measure of how perplexed we've become about food as a result of what the food industry has done. You have to be pretty lost for that to come as news.”

How did Americans become so lost that they don't know what food is, nor know when their bodies have had enough of it? (And the rest of the world seems to be fast following them down that path.)

Pest and pesticide problems

June 2014
CC photo by Roger Smith on Flickr
A recent report on GM crop-growing in America since 1996 prepared by the US Department of Agriculture made specific mention of the burgeoning problem of weeds resistant to glyphosate herbicide which is used on most GM crops (see THE GM DEBATE: 'OVER', OR BARELY STARTED? - June 2014).
 
The report came just too late to include the latest study on what may be the next big problem with GM crops: emerging pest-resistance to the 'Bt' insecticides generated by GM maize.
 
Pest-resistance has previously been found in laboratory studies, but these have been shrugged off as too artificial to extrapolate to what would actually happen in the field.

The GM debate - 'over', or barely started?

June 2014 
 
European Chief Scientific Officer, Anne Glover, and Mark Lynas, the 'voice' of Owen Paterson, our Environment Secretary, may be happy to announce that the GM debate is over, but the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) would give them an argument.
 
A review of GM crop-growing in America since 1996 has been prepared by the USDA economic Research Center (ERC).
 
The ERC noted that uptake of the three main GM crops (commodities soya, maize,and cotton) has been rapid, and that, as of 2013, nearly 8,000 field trials (mainly by biotech companies) were approved by the USDA. Reduction of the workload for farmers was identified as the key advantage of these crops.
 
Also observed was that “questions persist” in four major areas.

RNAi in GM food crops - risks supressed

June 2014
Photo from Creative Commons
In something of a re-run of the orchestrated defamation of Arpad Pusztai in Scotland in 1998, a respected American professor with 30 years experience to her credit has found herself unable to get funding for her latest biotech-unfriendly research, nor get it published.

She also found Monsanto breathing down her neck in a very unpleasant way.

Glyphosate links to blood cell cancer

June 2014

Picture of tractor spraying crops in a field
Photo from Creative Commons
Modern science has filled our environment with the fruits of chemical- and genetic-engineering. Modern farmers are exposed to more than their fair share of both.

Although farmers experience a low overall mortality, they are subject to a high rate of some types of cancer.

During the last 30 years, as chemical use escalated, there has been a striking increase in a diverse group of lymph-node and associated blood cell cancers referred to non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).  In the UK, NHL ranks 10th most common cancer (3% of the total in 2008) and forms 41% of blood cancers.  Some 60 subtypes have been identified.

Because of the huge range of potentially damaging materials (including pesticides and fertilizers, besides viruses, and microbial toxins) to which farmers are routinely exposed, disentangling the effects of all such possible factors is “challenging”, and indeed expensive.

A valiant attempt to make a start with such a study was published in April.

GM potatoes no one needs

June 2014
Picture of hands full of potatoes
Photo from Creative Commons
In America, 'acceptance' of GM foods has been guaranteed  by blindfolding the public.  Attempts to reveal the GM food in their shopping baskets with labelling have, so far, been brushed aside with cash.  The deep coffers of the biotech industry have enabled top-notch PR, lobbying and clever marketing to keep American consumers compliant.

With the exception of animal feed (where farmers are allowed to know what they are feeding their livestock but the end-consumer isn't), GM foods are labelled in Europe and acceptance is effectively zero.  However, the UK Government in league with ambitious scientists has found other ways of using cash to shoe-horn GM down our throats.

Using Government money (your taxes) scientists at the Sainsbury Laboratory are developing GM potatoes.

Glyphosate in breast milk

June 2014

Photo from Creative Commons
Awareness is rising that we are subject to an exponential exposure to herbicide, glyphosate. Besides widespread use in landscaping and conventional agriculture, many GM crops are designed to accumulate this herbicide and they have become ubiquitous in our food chain, adding hugely to the burden.

Experiments on rats suggest 35-40% of ingested glyphosate enters the body.  Because glyphosate is highly soluble in water, it would be expected to disperse throughout body fluids.

Indeed, studies have confirmed that glyphosate is circulating in human blood and is excreted in urine [1,2].  Testing of cows fed GM glyphosate-tolerant GM feed  indicates an even dispersion of glyphosate in the intestine, liver, muscles, spleen, kidneys and urine, and the levels of the herbicide there are correlated with dietary presence.

A senior Monsanto scientist has asserted that “If ingested, glyphosate is excreted rapidly, does not accumulate in body fat or tissues, and does not undergo metabolism in humans.  Rather, it is excreted unchanged in urine”.

Regulators seem happy to accept this view.

However, is glyphosate really doing nothing as it passes through our bodies, as Monsanto says?

Russia's GM moratorium

May 2014

Picture of a wheat field with Russian Orthodox church in background
Picture from Creative Commons
An expectation that Russia would begin planting GM crops this summer as part of its accession to the World Trade Organisation seems to have been derailed by scepticism.

Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, has now announced a three-year extension to this previous GM start-date.

In addition, the agri-sector will be widely monitored for products and seeds which have already infiltrated there, despite existing strict restrictions.

Frankly bizarre

May 2014

As awareness of the issues surrounding GM crops and food escalates in the US, and the myth of 'acceptance' in the homeland of GM wears thin, the quirkiest GM-promotion yet has been launched.

'Mr. Foode', or 'Frank' to his friends, is a cuddly, myopic, aged corn-cob genetically engineered to be male and to grow eyes.

GM crops in decline

May 2014

Picture of a field of cotton with blue sky and clouds
Field of cotton in Canada. CC photo by Mike Beauregard on Flickr
The total area planted with GM crops in industrialised nations has fallen for the first time since the technology was commercialised in 1996. Last year, GM plantings in those countries fell by about two percent.
 
These figures don't come from any "wicked", "environmentalist", "Luddite", "GM crop-trashing vandals" trying to say "I told you so". They come from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA).  

US consumers want GM-free food

May 2014

Woman holds a banner which says the world does not want your gmos
2013 March against Monsanto, Washington DC, United States
CC photo by Stephen Melkisethian on Flickr
To paraphrase GM Watch ... As the Westminster Government prepares to drag us kicking and screaming down the GM route, sectors of the US industry are trying hard to get out of GM.

The latest US food company to back-peddle is Colorado-based 'Smart Balance': the company has stopped using GM ingredients in its fifteen lines of buttery spreads. Smart Balance CEO, Stephen Hughes, said “I think we're the first mainstream brand to make this conversion” (see below).

Smart Balance accounts for a very significant 13-14 percent of the US buttery spread market, selling 22-23 million units a year. It is anticipated that, by the end of May, the entire product replacement will be complete.

The reason?

Hughes tells us
“Two years ago, non-GMO would not be mentioned by consumers. Today, 40 percent of our consumers want a GMO-free Smart Balance spread.”
Smart Balance is responding to consumer demand...

Limitations of epidemiology

May 2014

Photo from Creative Commons
 In the absence of any prior clinical testing, nor controlled release into the food chain with labelling and monitoring, the last resort for GM safety 'testing' is epidemiology. This means looking at entire populations (which in America means 300 million people) to see if an undefined and undefinable adverse reaction is emerging. Looking for an unknown object in a haystack has little chance of success.

Recent concerns have been raised regarding the potential for Roundup herbicide or its active ingredient, glyphosate, to cause cancer [1,2]. However, a review of US epidemiological studies of glyphosate and cancer carried out in 2011 and published in 2012 reported “no consistent pattern of positive associations indicating a causal relationship between total cancer (in adults or children) or any site-specific cancer and exposure to glyphosate.” (Mink)

Famine amidst plenty

May 2014

Image of people sorting food on a conveyor belt
Volunteers at the Greater Boston Food Bank in the US.
Comment
 
The UK Chief Scientific Adviser is supporting the Westminster Government and Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, as they push for GM crop development in Britain [1].
 
He explained that, at present, “our supermarket shelves are groaning with food” but that in future “If we don't use GM the risk is people going unfed”. This seems to be a faithful repetition of the biotech industry line that only GM can provide the increased yields and crop adaptation to climate change needed to feed the future human population.
 
Interestingly, this reasoning was reported just days after the UK media had picked up on the shocking news that 'business' in our food banks is booming as never before.
 
In Newcastle alone, one food bank which was providing emergency food to 30 people a week less than a year ago is now supply 1,600 desperate people. The bank even has special packs for those unable to afford to use a cooker.
 
The reason?
 
Not lack of food, the supermarket shelves continue to groan: poverty.

Same Roundup, different harm

May 2014
Image from Creative Commons
There's a huge swathe of data showing that the herbicide, glyphosate, has no adverse effects on animals at agricultural concentrations.  
 
Sitting alongside these is an increasing body of evidence indicating more subtle harm from glyphosate and long-term problems and unexpected environmental interactions with 'Roundup'* [1,2].

*Roundup formula contains glyphosate as the active herbicidal ingredient plus a variety of other ingredients which help glyphosate kill plants more efficiently.
 
Such evidence of harm is unsystematic and fragmented. It comes largely from underfunded, independent researchers, and appears to yield inconsistent results. This isn't really surprising given the vast scope for varying the materials and conditions in any experiments on glyphosate or Roundup effects.

Roundup and declining fertility

May 2014
Photo from Creative Commons
Male infertility has been rising in industrialised countries worldwide for four to five decades.
 
One in five healthy men between the ages of 18 and 25 produce abnormal sperm counts. In men without fertility problems, the average sperm count has halved, 20 percent of young European men have sperm counts at a level likely to result in infertility, and a further 40 percent have sperm counts likely to result in delayed pregnancy (Word Health Organisation). Demands for assisted reproductive technology (ART) are growing; in Denmark, for example, more than seven percent of all children born in 2007 were conceived using ART.
 
In parallel with the decline in semen quality, there has been a rise in testicular germ cell cancer. This type of cancer is initiated during foetal development, and, in many countries, is the commonest cancer in young men (15 to 35 years of age). Testicular germ cell cancer is associated with impaired fertility even prior to cancer development.