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.