Syngenta found guilty of murder

December 2015

Swiss biotech giant, Syngenta, has been found  guilty of murder and attempted murder by a Brazilian court.

The judge described the incident, which was a direct result of a bad outsourcing choice of security services by Syngenta, as a "massacre".

Long-term followers of GM-free Scotland may remember the original shocking report of deaths and serious injury to peasant GM-protesters in Brazil (MURDER IN BRAZIL - December 2007).

The violence erupted in a Syngenta-owned GM experimental field centre, which had been the scene of anti-GM activism for over a year, and which the State Governor had unsuccessfully tried to turn into an agro-ecological research centre to benefit poor farmers.

Cultivating PR

December 2015

A BBC documentary aired on 8th June 2015, covered the initiative to introduce GM brinjal (aubergine) into Bangladesh.  Viewers were told that "After a false start last year, this season more than 90%of the GM trial plots have been successful".  The source of the '90%' claim for the 'Bt' insecticidal brinjal which flashed on the screen  was "Cornell University".

Also featured on the programme was pro-GM crusader, Mark Lynas [1], showcasing one brinjal farmer's GM crop which, it was claimed, reduced insecticide sprays and pesticide poisoning of farm-workers. Interestingly, two months earlier, Lynas had published an article in the New York Times about the same farmer.  In this it was claimed that Bt brinjal had nearly doubled productivity, that the crop had been sold with an insecticide-free label, and  that it would lift the farmer's family out of poverty.

A request to the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) for the data underlying the '90%' claim elicited the confirmation that "Performance of Bt brinjal during 2015 ... are quite good and satisfactory.  Farmers got a good yield and also a handsome profit by selling their product", plus some photographs of brinjal.

However, journalist for the United News of Bangladesh, Faisal Rahman, and GM Watch smelled a rat in the GM brinjal, and made a few enquiries.

RNAi - lite GM bug busters

December 2015

By 2020, Monsanto plans to have the first two 'RNAi' insecticidal products on the market: one is an 'RNAi' spray to  kill potato beetles, the other is an 'RNAi'-enhanced corn to kill corn rootworm.

RNA is produced by DNA and has chemical similarities.  It's role is to regulate all aspects of gene function and protein formation.  The 'i' in RNAi stands for 'interference, because the synthetic RNA molecules being developed by Monsanto  are designed to prevent the creation of proteins.  In pests, Monsanto's RNAi kills by interfering with the activity of one of the target pest's vital genes.  RNAi is also referred to as 'dsRNA' where 'ds' means 'double-stranded' and is a biotech trick used to confer stability on the normally short-lived, single-stranded RNA.  All such RNA is collectively referred to as regulatory RNA.

Monsanto's RNAi spray will be formulated to enable the pesticide to penetrate into the plant tissue, while RNAi-enhanced GM maize will produce its own RNAi pesticide.  Either way, the bugs will eat the plant plus the toxic RNAi, and get killed.

RNAi - Lite GM superweed control?

December 2015

In 2013, Monsanto succeeded in taking out a patent for the next trend in biotechnology.  This is based on interfering with gene expression rather than trying to put artificial genes into the plant.

The prime focus of the patent is a clever method for undoing all the problems caused Monsanto's herbicide-tolerant GM crops  in the first place.

Germany shows the way to GM-free soya

December 2015

We're at last beginning to face up to the reality that the world's natural resources are finite and that we're choking to death in waste of our own creation. The buzz-word du jour is 'sustainability', because without it, we're doomed.

Sustainability of our food crop production is of course a multi-dimensional issue.

The US corn addiction

November 2015

Corn growing in Illinois, USA. Photo Creative Commons
According to the US Center for Biological Diversity, world usage of the herbicide, glyphosate, is at an all-time high tied to the proliferation of GM crops. Glyphosate-tolerant GM plants (that is 94% of all soyabean monocultures and 89% of maize) can accumulate the herbicide and be planted in glyphosate-treated soil without harm while the weeds around them perish.

One of the weeds which is perishing on a grand scale in and near GM fields is milkweed.

Milkweed is the sole food for the iconic 'Monarch' butterfly caterpillars. Monarchs are famous for their long-distance multi-generation migrations across the US, but to do this there needs to be a patch of milkweed at regular intervals on the flightpath to feed the caterpillars in preparation for the next leg of the journey.

With all that glyphosate around in the environment, there's just not enough milkweed, few caterpillars, and very few Monarch butterflies left: their numbers are reckoned to have declined 80% in the last 20 years.

But, while we're all fretting over a very beautiful and unique insect, one US farmer is telling us:
"we've missed the entire point about GMO food".

Americans are just about as dependent on corn and soya, now largely laced with glyphosate, as the Monarch's are on milkweed. Consider that nine out of every ten bites of US food are created courtesy of GM ingredients: from all manner of livestock reared on GM feed, to tortilla chips, to the corn syrup in every kind of processed snack, drinks and 'healthy choices'. One inquisitive scientist determined that 69% of the average American's body carbon is derived solely from corn, 89% of which is GM. And that's not counting in the carbon from GM soya.

This is indeed a serious dependency problem, but it too is missing the point about GMO food.

Google Map photos of the State of Illinois, a major grain-growing State, just before the planting season, tell all. What you see is brown. Brown is bare earth, sprayed with glyphosate ready for the spring planting.

In order for maize and soya to grow, requires death on a massive scale. Death on a scale so massive you can see it from outer space.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, more than 170 million acres of corn and soya are in production in the US. At a conservative estimate of 10 gallons of glyphosate per acre, this translates into 2 billion gallons of the herbicide poured onto American soil this year alone. We're talking about an area the size of California and Montana combined, which we're killing dead each year to grow mainly GM crops, mainly contaminated with glyphosate.


OUR COMMENT


The next phase of the Google Map photo is, of course, an ocean of GM corn and GM soya, waiting to slake the American addiction.

Nothing much can swim in that ocean, and Americans are drowning themselves in it.

Let's not go there.


SOURCES

  • Sam Levin, California EPA moves to label Monsanto's Roundup "carcinogenic", East Bay Express, 5.09.15
  • We've Missed the Entire Point About GM food - A Farmer Explains Why, www.huffingtonpost.com, 22.09.15
  • Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U. S.: Recent Trends in GE Adoption, www.ers.usda.gov, data 2000-2015

Who knows what scientists don't know

November 2015

Photo Creative Commons
Writing in the Huffington Post, one US farmer quoted a poll earlier this year which found that 93 percent of Americans believe that GMO food should be labelled. He commented "Consider this statistic a moment: 93 percent of Americans actually agrees on something. This from a society where 26 percent of respondents still believe the sun orbits around the earth."

Patents on every bite

November 2015
Photo Creative Commons
The GM mindset which has successfully manipulated common-sense to allow living organisms to be 'invented' has been expanded to allow something even more unholy.

Swiss biotech giant, Syngenta, has been granted a patent on some novel tomatoes, including the plants themselves, their seeds and their fruit.

The novelty value of these tomatoes is their particularly high levels of 'flavonols' which are micronutrients recognised as being healthful for the heart besides having anti-oxidant, anti-cancer, anti-viral, anti-allergic, and anti-inflammatory  properties.

Despite the patent, the tomatoes are not GM, but have been 'invented' by crossing flavonol-rich wild tomatoes with domestic varieties.  Extensive (expensive) genetic science was, of course, employed to find the appropriate wild strains and to guide the breeding process, but why the fancy tomatoes should command more than old-fashioned breeders' rights isn't clear.  Moreover, European patent law prohibits patents on plant varieties and on methods of classical breeding.

Watchdog organisation, No Patent on Seeds, has pointed out that the European Patent Office (EPO) exists to promote innovation in business, and is controlled only by a single Administrative Council.  EPO revenue is increased by granting patents. There seems to be little or no incentive to refuse a patent.

For the European public, this patent on conventional tomatoes opens the door to ownership of all our food by big corporations: all they need to do is find a gene in a wild relative to 'enhance' your food with.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Back in 2012, the European Parliament demanded the EPO stop granting such patents on conventionally-bred plants. If the Parliament is powerless, we need networking amongst governments to put a stop any more such patents. 

Safeguard your future food: demand a STOP to patents on life.

SOURCES

  • Yao LH, et al., 2004, Flavonoids in food and their health benefits, Plant Foods and Human Nutrition 59(3)
  • Sally Robertson, What are Flavonoids? www.news-medical.net
  • New patent granted on tomatoes derived from classical breeding, No Patents on Seeds, 25.08.15

Maize - MON 810 harmful to aquatic life

November 2015



GM maize, 'MON 810', has the third highest number of regulatory approvals globally.  The transgenic plants generate a look-alike bacterial protein, 'Cry1Ab', one of the 'Bt' insecticides, which targets specific pests.  Cry1Ab was the first GM insecticide to be commercialised and is approved for cultivation in the EU, although it has been prohibited in several Member States due to concerns of a risk to biodiversity.

Bt crops - a dead-end street?

November 2015


There's no escaping the fact that farming creates pests.  Nature's monocultures, such as the carpet of bluebells in the woods, choose a time and a place where they don't coincide with anything that might eat them, and can make themselves quite impalatable to passing diners.  Cultivated plants aren't so lucky: they have to grow where and when a human being dictates, and becoming a bugs' banquet is an occupational hazard they're not properly equipped to deal with. 

In the mid-1900s, synthetic pesticides revolutionised agriculture and crop fields got bigger and bigger.  Farmers' joy was short-lived: pests with resistance to the chemicals weren't long in arriving.  By the 1980s, completely susceptible pests had become uncommon, and new pesticides were thin on the ground. 

Then came another revolution in pest control: pesticidal plants which infused themselves from fruit to root with 'Bt' toxin to kill the pests stone dead. 

GM-free Scotland, and getting closer

November 2015


Photo Creative Commons
On August 9th 2015, GM-free Scotland moved a step closer to reality.

Taking a "very brave step ... given the political power of the GM-crop proponents"* Scotland will not grow GM Crops.

How this became possible arose due to an unprecedented, and total, lack of consensus by EU Member States: they have never reached the required qualified majority either in favour or against any draft GM authorisation proposed by the Commission.

This recurrent "no opinion" limbo has meant all 67 GM food and feed authorisations have been granted by default.

COWDUNG

October 2015
 
Professor Gilles-Éric Séralini
Photo Creative Commons
COWDUNG is an acronym for 'conventional wisdom of the dominant group'. It was coined by the geneticist who introduced the idea of 'epigenetic' effects (events connected to genes which change their expression) to a dominant group whose wisdom was entrenched in a mechanistic one-gene-one-protein dogma.

Scientists who dare to think outside the prevailing consensus of their colleagues have traditionally been condemned or ignored and suffered years of opposition. But, scientists who have cast doubt on the integrity of GM crops have been vilified beyond any possible scientific justification.

When Professor Séralini and his team published results of a life-long rat feeding-study reporting that Roundup herbicide and Roundup Resistant GM maize each contributed to chronic disease and early formation of tumours, there was immediate and widespread criticism and press coverage [1,2,3]. Indeed, the speed of the response itself was such as to raise doubts about whether they could possibility represent a disinterested scientific exchange.

Roundup's conceptual gaps

October 2015

Commentary


As one of its very limited number of GM success stories, the biotech industry has moved whole-sale into herbicide-tolerant crops. Most successful of these has been 'Roundup Ready' staple crops with a novel gene allowing them to survive and accumulate glyphosate, active ingredient of Roundup.

However, it's becoming clear that underpinning Roundup Ready crops, is a number of conceptual aberrations.

Glyphosate plus a wealth of contaminants

October 2015

Photo Creative Commons
Glyphosate herbicide is sprayed on, and accumulated by, most GM crops.  Despite the fact that it's always used in formulations such as 'Roundup', "There is an unexpressed, widely believed assumption that the active principle against plant metabolism (glyphosate) is the most toxic compound of glyphosate-based herbicide formulations on non-target species." (Mesnage et al.)

These 'non-target species' include wildlife, livestock, pets and humans.

How valid is this 'widely believed' assumption?

Noise about cancer

October 2015


Photo Creative Commons
The manufacturer of glyphosate-based herbicides and glyphosate-tolerant GM crops was quick to 'disagree' with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassification of its prize agrichemical as a 'probable carcinogen' [1].

Besides the usual disparaging remarks about the IARC, the gist of Monsanto's disagreement was one we've heard repeatedly. Since the industries' own (unpublished) studies have successfully persuaded regulators (who didn't have anything much else to go on) that glyphosate is safe, it is therefore proven safe.

Monsanto also made a good attempt to fudge the issue. It suggested that no link had been established between glyphosate and cancer incidence in humans. This needs to be put in perspective.

Roundup damage at the molecular level

October 2015

When Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini published his controversial life-long study on rats fed a GM maize and Roundup herbicide (active ingredient 'glyphosate'), he promised there was a lot more data to come [1].

Suspicions that the promised data might be even more damning than the observations of accelerated tumour-development in the first paper have been confirmed.

Roundup impairs adrenal function

October 2015

Several studies have identified glyphosate herbicide, used as 'Roundup' formula on most GM crops, as an endocrine disruptor. Experiments have indicated, for example, health-damaging changes of testosterone (male sex hormone) in rats and of oestrogen (female sex hormone) in human cells. A new study has examined the effects of Roundup on adrenal gland function (see note below). 

Rats were administered Roundup for 14 days at a dose found to produce no overt signs of toxicity, weight-change, nor altered food consumption. At this level of exposure, routine tests would declare Roundup 'safe'.

Toxic regulation

September 2015
Water pollution in United States. Photo Creative Commons
In a US radio show this year, former President Jimmy Carter described the US presidential elections as degenerated into nothing more than an "oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery".

Cynical financial control of US regulators and regulations is nowhere more obvious than in GM matters.

Since 2013, food and biotech companies and their trade bodies have spent £143 million in lobbying against GM labelling laws: they spent £51.6 million in the first half of 2015 alone.

The 275 members of Congress who voted for an Act designed to pre-empt implementation of GM labelling laws at State level*, accepted $29.9 million from Big Ag and Big Food in 2014.

*This Act has been dubbed the 'DARK' (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act.

Bees with dementia

September 2015

Photo Creative Commons
The possibility that neurotoxic effects of glyphosate herbicide (used on most GM crops) could be one of many contributing factors to bee die-off was suggested earlier this year [1].

The following month, a paper was published describing effects of glyphosate on honeybees' ability to navigate back to their hive.

Oops, no worms!

September 2015

Photo Creative Commons
Earlier this year, we reported an Argentinean experiment in which a commonly-tested earthworm species was annihilated by a single spray of glyphosate herbicide [1]. Now an Austrian team have added data on two other earthworm species which fully support the self-same disaster-scenario.

Earthworms are vital to sustainable soil fertility. Up to 1000 individuals in each square meter of land act as ecosystem engineers: they shred plant litter and process it in their gut making nutrients available to plants; their burrowing aerates the soil and enhances water- and root-penetration.

Chemicals which harm the worms in soil are bad news.

Although it's heavily used on GM crops because most have been transformed to tolerate it, the very idea that glyphosate herbicide (active ingredient of 'Roundup') could be detrimental to earthworms has barely been entertained. After all, this chemical interferes with a biochemical pathway found only in plants, and the plant litter generated by the dying weeds will provide extra food for the worms. Glyphosate is obviously safe for animals, and obviously has benefits for nature.

Or does it?

Science says otherwise.

Systems biology predicts formaldeyhde in GM

September 2015

The latest approach to studying life-processes is 'systems biology'. This provides a means to create a holistic model by integrating all the existing data describing individual parts of biochemical pathways.

Systems biology involves using a computer-generated simulation of biochemical networks. Because it can be used to predict the harmful effects which might arise from perturbations, it can be used to give an indication of future experimental requirements. Such a guide is especially useful when the substance in question is difficult to measure.

Ombudsman rules universities biased

September 2015

Photo Creative Commons
NGOs, MEPs, and journalists who do their homework have been raising concerns for some years that 'independent' advisers to government are failing to use independent sources to inform themselves.

For example, when Germany reviewed glyphosate herbicide for re-authorisation in the EU, it based its recommendation on a report prepared by the 'Glyphosate Task Force'; this is an organisation set up by agrichemical companies specifically to promote the re-registration of glyphosate, a chemical central to their GM crops and profits.

In the latter case there was a blatant conflict of interest, but it isn't always so obvious.

GM crops compromise science

September 2015

Photo Creative Commons
The recent analysis of rodent chow used by laboratories and breeders which found multiple toxic contamination in all samples tested from all over the world has cast doubt on an awful lot of science [1].

If both test and control (comparator) animals in an experiment are consuming a back-ground level of toxins, any additional effect arising from the test-substance (a GM food or a pesticide, for example) will have to be massive to stand out above the noise.

The upshot is that regulators can wrongly conclude a substance under test is safe because the 'science' shows there's no significant difference between the exposed animals and the unexposed controls ... because they're both sick.

Ancient industry evidence won't do

August 2015
Photo Creative Commons
In response to the World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) re-classification of glyphosate herbicide as a "probable carcinogen" [1], Monsanto said "We don't know how IARC could reach a conclusion that is such a dramatic departure from the conclusion reached by all regulatory agencies around the globe".

Well, here's how.

GM cotton threat to Pakistan and Africa

August 2015
Photo Creative Commons
The situation resulting from inappropriate deployment of GM cotton in India [1] is, it seems, being played over elsewhere in the world.

Rumblings in Pakistan suggest Bt insecticidal cotton has been introduced without the necessary checks on quality. Critics allege that the first GM seed brought to Pakistan in 2005 was intended for research but instead was immediately introduced into farms. An expert from the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) recalls how, in 2005, the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering put seed on the market which it had made with stolen GM seed crossed / mixed with indigenous cotton varieties. In 2008, a Bt cotton expert and ex-employee of Monsanto pointed out that Bt cotton was irrelevant in Pakistan: the biggest threat to its indigenous cotton was cotton leaf virus, while insect pests were of little concern. In 2009-10, PARC imported and planted Bt cotton from China in violation of quarantine law.

As in India, new Bt-resistant pests are arising on cotton in Pakistan. And there doesn't seem to be any sign of the promised increase in yields over the record harvest of 2004 before Bt cotton was introduced.

African GM maize reality check

August 2015
Photo Creative Commons
Maize is the dominant staple crop in Africa, typically eaten several times daily.

A significant insect pest problem to many maize-growing smallholders is 'stem-borer'.

So far, South Africa is the only African country to introduce GM maize such as 'Bt' insecticidal maize to combat stem-borer. There is, however, considerable pressure being applied to African nations to adopt GM agriculture.

Bt cotton is driving farmer suicides

August 2015
Photo Creative Commons
Indian farmers have been growing cotton for some 5,000 years. They made India the centre of world cotton innovation, and, during the industrial revolution, a major player in the textile industry. Pink bollworm was their key pest, but it clearly didn't hold them back.

The green revolution in the 1970s brought hybrid cottons and insecticides to control pink bollworm. Unfortunately, the insecticides also eliminated natural predators resulting in a surge of previously minor pests which proved more difficult to control than the bollworm.

Inevitable evolution of pests (including pink bollworm) to resist chemical pesticides made a bad situation worse. By 2002, 75% of insecticide used on cotton was for bollworm. That same year, GM 'Bt' cotton which generates its own insecticide was introduced to India to 'solve' the problem.

Poisoned lab rats are normal

August 2015
Photo from Creative Commons
Concerns have been raised before that the outcome of routine experiments supposed to investigate effects of GM feed are unreliable. This is because, for example, too-low levels of GM in test feeds, or the use of control feeds with unknown levels of GM ingredients or unknown agrichemicals may have compromised the results [1].

A study has just been published which explores, for the first time, the true extent of contaminants in rodent chow.

TTIP is about GM

August 2015
Photo from Creative Commons
Disquiet about the 'Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership' (TTIP) continues to grow [1].

The goal of these secretive negotiations is to open up trade between America and Europe. Since the discrepancy between US administration’s 'light-touch' voluntary attitude to GM produce and rigorous GMO regulation in the EU is irreconcilable, there is real concern the TTIP will be used to circumvent vital European GM controls.

Techno fixing domestic crops

August 2015
Photo from Creative Commons
A paper has been published proposing that biotech tools for 'precision mutagenesis' [1] could be used to improve the genetic diversity of our crops by 're-wilding' them.

The idea is that the genes for drought-, pest-, and disease-resistance present in the wild ancestors of our crop plants, but mutated to ineffective forms accidentally perpetuated during domestication, could be identified and edited back to their 'wild' form.

What the paper examines, in a totally theoretical way, is whether this idea is legally, socially, economically and ethically feasible.

Frogs rule, OK!

August 2015


Photo from Creative Commons
Under legal pressure, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to analyse the impacts on endangered plants and animals of some of the most commonly-used pesticides.

This could be the first step in limiting the use of atrazine- and glyphosate-based herbicides.

Sweet naturally GM potatoes

July 2015
Sweet potatoes. Photo Creative Commons
A newly published study has shed a fascinating new light on the effect of crop domestication on the evolution of crop plants.

Analysis of the genome of the sweet potato revealed stable incorporation of functional DNA from a possibly ancestral species of bacterial plant pathogen, Agrobacterium rhizogenes. No such horizontal gene transfer was detected in wild relatives.

Sweet potato is one of the oldest domesticated crops and has been found in archaeological remains dating back 8,000-10,000 years.

The culture of neatly simple science

July 2015

A book has just been published which describes the whole, sorry, history of "How the Venture to Genetic Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public".

Lawyer, Steve Druker, has cast a critical, analytical eye over the handling of GM by regulators, corporations, the media, prestigious institutions, and respected scientists, and has produced a very disturbing account.

In the conclusion of his investigation he asks the question who was ultimately responsible for the delinquencies and associated problems of the whole GM enterprise. His surprising answer is scientists.

Back in the 1970s, the public were already voicing concerns about the safety of GMOs. Anticipating that their research would become tied up in red tape, scientists convened three conferences ostensibly to evaluate the safety of GM. These meetings have since been used as proof of how responsible scientists are, and as a reassurance that scientists can safely be left to regulate themselves.

However, transcripts and interviews with participants of these meetings reveal a careful control over who attended them, how issues were discussed, and what information was disseminated. The focus was on how to persuade the "guys out there" that "there is nothing to worry about". Safety issues "tended to be factored out of consideration rather than confronted".

Suicide-bomber organisms

Image Creative Commons
July 2015

In 2000, 193 governments signed up to a moratorium created at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity which specified that Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTS) would not be field tested nor commercialised.

GURTS, also known as 'terminator technologies', span any genetic trick used to prevent reproduction of GMOs.

The first GURTS were used to produce GM plants with sterile seed which farmers couldn't 'steal' to grow the next year's crop, and which provided very cost-effective in-built protection for industry patent rights. Concerns were raised, and never resolved, that the artificial fertility-damaging genes could spread into conventional crops and cripple yields.

Things went quiet for a while, but then terminator trees loomed over the horizon and, this year, the Brazilian government began to wrestle with idea of embracing crops with GURTS.

It's also emerging that some very fancy genetic systems for self-destruction are under development.

An impressively vulnerable crop

July 2015
Maize. Photo Creative Commons
The United States has ambitions for maize.

It expects, not only to maintain its global command of the supply of maize, but that the US share of the world trade in this commodity will grow to a massive 55%.

America also plans to continue to make maize indispensable to the modern life-style.

To understand the significance of this, consider that maize is now used extensively in personal care products such as deodorants, in pharmaceuticals such as aspirin and antibiotics, in adhesives, textiles and dyes, in chemicals such as solvents and acids, in agrichemicals, cardboard, fibreglass and the humble plastic carrier bag. All this is over and above its use as food and food additives (that means 25% of products in US grocery stores), as animal feed, and the 40% of the US maize crop mandated to ethanolic fuel production.

Despite such ambitions, the US agricultural system does not produce exceptional yields [1], nor is it conservative of environmental impact, nor apparently, is it sustainable. In fact, US maize in the field is "impressively vulnerable" to epidemic disease.

Genes know no boundaries

July 2015
GMO protest. Photo Creative Commons
How many random GM plants are kicking around in the food chain?

We've already had two indications of just how bad things might be. 'Starlink' Bt-insecticidal maize which was approved for animal feed only was found to be widespread in maize for human consumption after only two growing seasons, and later turned up in seven countries. Ten years after the first contamination alert, Starlink was found in Saudi Arabia. Two strains of experimental GM rice (one in China, one in America) which were grown in short trials over a very limited area nevertheless succeeded in contaminating global rice supplies.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals on the menu

July 2015
Photo Creative Commons
As human fertility plummets, and cancer, diabetes and obesity soar relentlessly upwards, attention is on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) as a possible major player.

EDCs can mimic, block or alter the level of hormones. Hormones are, of course, vital to many processes in the body. Their disturbance is harmful to health, and can cause irreversible damage at key stages of development.

Exposure to EDCs comes from their wide use in the manufacture of plastics, cosmetics, carpets, computers and construction materials. A special concern, however, is pesticides. Pesticidal chemicals are intimately present in our food, water and air, but despite this they've never been tested for endocrine-disrupting effects.

Bio-P potatoes

July 2015
Non-GM potatoes. Photo Creative Commons
The latest UK Government GM venture has been announced: GM potatoes designed to satisfy consumers, farmers and food processors.

First off the planned production line in a few short years will be potatoes containing a stack of novel genes: three to combat late fungal blight, two to ward off nematode soil pests, two to switch off the production of sugars and an amino acid which together have a nasty habit of producing a toxic derivative when heated, and one to switch off the enzyme which turns raw potatoes black when they're bashed.

Future GM potatoes are planned which will have increased nutrients and which don't sprout in storage. Also under investigation are weird potatoes for industrial starch production and vaccines-in-a-spud.

Novel potatoes for biofuel production are not to be developed as these would compete for food-growing land and are not considered the socially-preferred option.

Roundup for breakfast?

July 2015
Photo Creative Commons
Despite the World Health Organisation's conclusion that Roundup herbicide (active ingredient glyphosate) is a "probable carcinogen" [1], American's largest oat supplier, which supplies oats to General Mills, Kraft, Kelloggs etc., has announced it will continue to supply oats which have been sprayed with Roundup just prior to harvest.

The practice of 'drying down' a crop with Roundup makes harvesting quicker and easier.  It's also guaranteed to leave glyphosate residues absorbed into the crop.

General Mills fanfare over its 'non-GM' oat-based, breakfast cereal, Cheerios, [2] suddenly rings hollow: the sugar in Cheerios is now non-GM, but there's no such thing as GM oats and those we have are chock-full of a "probable carcinogen".

WHAT YOU CAN DO: start your day the organic way.

Background:

[2]  CHEERIO GM CHEERIOS - February 2014

A constant supply of GMO contamination

June 2015
Photo Creative Commons
Switzerland has never allowed the cultivation nor import of GM oilseed rape. Despite this, in 2011 and 2012, GM rape was found to be growing wild along railway lines near the freight station and in port areas in Basel.

The following year, further more detailed sampling was carried out to investigate how this has come about.

Answer to bee die-off?

June 2015
Photo Creative Commons
Bee die-off is soaring alarmingly in America. US government figures show that honeybee mortality has risen to 42% in the past year. While hives will shrink over the winter, losses in excess of 15% are deemed unsustainable.

A whole range of factors has been blamed for the bee deaths, including virus-bearing mites, winter food insufficiency, trucking the hives around the country to rent-a-bee at sites where mass crop pollination is needed, and non-target effects of applied and systemic insecticides.

Hives which are already too small and weak at the start of the winter, simply won't survive.

Herbicides may promote superbugs

June 2015
Photo Creative Commons
Evidence of another insidiously harmful effect of Roundup herbicide has been published. Scientists in New Zealand presented findings which extend to Roundup and two other common commercial herbicides (Dicamba and 2,4-D) which, like Roundup, are sprayed on crops genetically transformed to tolerate them and are used in parks, roadways and gardens.

It seems antibiotics and herbicides don't mix.

GM soya harms aquatic life

June 2015
Photo Creative Commons
At the beginning of the year, a GM feeding-study was published which investigated important life-history parameters not previously recorded.

The experiment involved Daphnia, a tiny shrimp-like freshwater animal which has been extensively studied and is used as an eco-indicator for environmental problems because of its importance in many food webs.

The US race to become GM-free

June 2015
Photo Creative Commons
Labelling of GM food in America came "one giant step closer" in April when a federal court affirmed that Vermont's new law requiring GM disclosure was constitutional.
 
The plaintiffs in this case were representatives of America's largest food manufacturers the Grocery Manufacturer's Association (GMA), Snack Food Association and others. These huge and powerful organisations have been pouring tens of millions of dollars into anti-labelling campaigns across the States. Just why the GMA is fighting so hard to prevent something its members' customers have said they want isn't clear, especially since the larger food manufacturers already sell labelled GM foods all over the world.
 
Ironically, Vermont is one of the smallest States in America and would seem to have the least resources to fight Big Food, and yet it has achieved a ruling on the rights of its citizens which will have repercussions throughout the land.

Genetic firewalls

June 2015
Photo Creative Commons
Proteins are made up from chains of standard building blocks termed 'amino-acids'. Amino acids can react with each other to form a chain, and have a side-arm which can be any one of some 24 specific molecules each having its own particular properties. The important properties of the amino-acid side-arms include, for example, size, shape, reactivity, bonding capacity and electrical charges. It's the specific sequence of amino-acid side-chains which dictate the properties of the protein they make up, for example, how it folds into a 3-dimensional shape, what chemicals or chemical groups it can react with or bind to, how easily it can be digested, and its toxicity.
 
Chemical engineers can create an almost infinite variety of artificial amino-acids by attaching novel side-arms. Unnatural amino-acids aren't any use to natural living organisms, but biotech scientists have hit on them as a basis for terminator technology for their genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The principle is that an essential enzyme (see below) is cleverly redesigned to incorporate a novel amino-acid while still preserving its enzymic function. 

Four generations to snail Armageddon

June 2015

Photo Creative Commons
A recent publication has just blown yet another hole in the 'Roundup is safe for animals' myth.

In Egypt, the equivalent product to Roundup is 'Herfosate'. Herfosate is made up of 48% glyphosate herbicide and 52% 'inert' ingredients needed to allow the glyphosate to penetrate plant cells. 

Such glyphosate-based herbicides are widely used to control weeds in fields of GM glyphosate-resistant crops as well as for pre-planting field-clearance, pre-harvest dry-down, waterway clearance, and weed-control in urban public areas and private gardens. A proportion of the spray ends up in surrounding areas, in the soil and in drainage water.

Sign the petition to ban glyphosate

June 2015

An important message from Greenpeace

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Monsanto's super-popular weed killer, Roundup, a probably cause of cancer due to its active ingredient, glyphosate. 

This herbicide is used on millions of acres of farmland (especially on GM crops), gardens and thoroughfares. Glyphosate has been detected contaminating our food, water, air, rain, and our bodies. Concerns that Roundup is toxic to humans has been mounting for two decades now, but there's been little action.

Because Roundup is Monsanto's biggest profit-earner, and other agri-industries are now making a lot of money from glyphosate-based herbicides, they have every reason to deny, suppress, discredit and obfuscate the facts behind the WHO conclusion.

Greenpeace says:
 "... governments take WHO assessments very seriously, and are now scrambling what to do next. If we come together now, we have a real chance to suspend the use of Monsanto's Roundup ... "
Please sign Greenpeace Petition.  It says:

"As concerned citizens, we urge you to apply the precautionary principle and suspend the use of glyphosate where it results in the greatest public exposure, either directly or through residues in our food.

Meanwhile a thorough re-assessment of glyphosate needs to be carried out, taking into account the WHO decision and other independent studies. Ultimately a plan must be devised to phase-out not just glyphosate but all chemical pesticides, and move towards ecological farming. "

Roundup untested in drinking water

May 2015
Photo Creative Commons
The biotech industry's 'dream' weedkiller (the one which is "safe-as-salt", sold for use on most GM crops, and has become a global best-seller) seems to be turning into a nightmare. This year has seen a flurry of scientific publications on the safety aspects of glyphosate and glyphosate-based formulations (commonly marketed as 'Roundup'). Following up concerns that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor, Australian scientists carried out experiments on the herbicide's effects on progesterone production.

Disobedient cells

May 2015

Twenty years of commercial use seems a very long time to profit from something that only works sometimes.

Genetic engineers are very good at cobbling together DNA. Once they've built a gene, attached a DNA 'on-switch' to it and popped it into a plant, the switch can't help but drive the gene, the gene can't help but send out messages to the cell to make a novel protein and the cell can't help but do what it's told. If the gene codes for a 'Bt' insecticidal protein, the GM plant can't help but douse itself with insecticide and make a lot of money for the biotech industry.

What could possibly go wrong?

No testing for glyphosate

May 2015
Pesticide spraying. CC photo by Will Fuller on Flickr
Just when the world's most-used weedkiller, glyphosate (which used to be "safe-as-salt") has been reclassified as a 'probable carcinogen' [1], the UK government has decided to wash its hands of testing for pesticide residues in food.

Food and Chemical Toxicology's new board

May 2015

In January this year, science journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) quietly re-organised its editorial board.

This wouldn't be remarkable except for the reputation the journal has earned itself for manipulating the rules of scientific publication: including losing its grip on the peer-review process, bowing to the industry, unethical treatment of its authors, inventing spurious criteria for 'acceptable' science, and creating a special-purpose novel position on its editorial board to achieve the latter (see below).

FCT's new editor is José Domingo who has published a series of very balanced reviews of the scientific evidence on GM food safety.

America creating agri-problems for itself

May 2015
Corn rootworm. Photo from Wiki Commons
In the cold light of the GM day, American farmers and regulators are being forced to recognise they've created a couple of problems for themselves.

Corn rootworm ranks amongst the most expensive threats to US maize farmers. The invention of a GM crop which generates its own 'Bt' insecticide against the rootworm has been a great boon.

However, bolstered by biotech enthusiasm to sell as much as possible of its product, farmers' enthusiasm for reduced post-planting workload and costs, government enthusiasm for incentives to grow maize, and limited availability of alternative seeds, US agriculture has been channelled into planting the same Bt crop year-on-year.

And the rootworm have, inevitably, evolved resistance to that Bt toxin.

Aromatase assumptions

May 2015


An oft-quoted justification for the 'self-evident' safety of glyphosate herbicide is that it interferes with a plant-specific enzyme and therefore won't have any effects on humans.

Glyphosate is widely sprayed on GM crops, most of which have been designed to survive and accumulate it. The weeds around them die because 'aromatase', an enzyme vital to plant protein production, is blocked by the herbicide.

Aromatase enzyme induces 'aromatisation' which means a ring of carbon atoms is formed to produce a new biochemical.

In plants, aromatase acts on amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) to form a class of 'aromatic' amino acids only produced by plants. Animals need aromatic amino acids to build proteins too, but must consume plants (or other animals which have consumed plants) to get them.

The human body, however, also has enzymes with aromatase action (they form a carbon ring). Human aromatase is nothing to do with amino acids or proteins, but acts on the male sex hormone, androgen, to convert it to the female sex hormone, oestrogen. Because our tissues need a precise androgen:oestrogen balance at just the right time for healthy development, most human tissues generate their own specific variant of aromatase.

Glyphosate carcinogen reactions

May 2015
 
The reclassification of glyphosate herbicide* as a "probable carcinogen" by the World Health Organisation Cancer Agency (IARC) predictably kick-started a well-oiled damage-limitation machine.

*Glyphosate is the active ingredient of herbicidal formulations such as 'Roundup' which is sprayed on, and accumulated by, most GM crops. It is a contaminant of animal feed and has been found in many foods.

An immediate statement was issued by the 'glyphosate Task Force' (GTF) making disparaging comments about the IARC and repeating five times in eight short paragraphs that years of reviews by regulatory authorities have found no problems with the herbicide. The GTF is a consortium of companies specifically formed "to renew the European glyphosate registration". Its member companies include Monsanto, DowAgrichemicals and Syngenta, whose business and reputation could be catastrophically damaged if the glyphosate loses it's 'safe-as-salt' image.

Three days later, Monsanto, the major manufacturer of Roundup and producer of Roundup-resistant GM crops, issued a similar statement, pouring scorn on the IARC and repeating eight times in twelve short paragraphs that regulatory reviews around the world have found no problems with the herbicide.

Glyphosate is a probable carcinogen

May 2015


As part of its remit to re-evaluate the carcinogenic potential of agri-chemicals, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has just produced its report on glyphosate herbicide.

The outcome is that gyphosate is now classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) body as "probably carcinogenic to humans". This is one step short of "carcinogenic", a category to which very few chemicals as assigned.

Accepted scientific conclusions require that several different lines of evidence are investigated, all of which support the conclusion drawn. Accordingly, the IARC routinely examines data from three types of study:

Glyphosate disrupts oestrogen-linked genes

April 2015

The bases for claims that glyphosate herbicide is safe in food are that it acts on a biological process that is only present in plants, not animals, and that any glyphosate absorbed during digestion passes through the body unchanged.


Both of these are true.


However, the present-day, massive, volumes of glyphosate sprayed on, and absorbed by, most GM commodity crops has focused attention on whether the assumptions about glyphosate's 'inert' nature in animals tell the whole story.

Glyphosate and kidney disease - emerging details

April 2015

The suspicion that glyphosate herbicide is a critical contributor to the epidemic of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Aetiology (CKDu), in certain agricultural areas in the world [1] has now been further investigated and the findings published.

Natural food is simple

April 2015

Dr. Kellogg's corn flakes, patented in 1896, were probably the original, very simple, health food (even if no one would eat them until they were transformed into complex junk).

More recently, 'corn' has become associated with stuff that's definitely not in the healthy-choice section. For example: the number one staple junk food is corn syrup, then there's GM corn chock-full of its very own insecticide and specially accumulated weed-killer; and meat from intensively-reared livestock fast-fattened with GM corn to get them to market before their health buckles, washed down with milk from intensively reared dairy herds producing more milk than their bodies can handle (assisted by GM growth-hormone injections for good measure).

Milking (pardon the pun) the rising consumer concern about the cruelty involved in this routine extreme exploitation of cows to give them their daily pinta, scientists have invented Muufri (a worse pun).

GM safety testing needs today's science

April 2015
It was thought-provoking to read about a Monsanto-sponsored review of glyphosate safety studies. 

The review wasn't published in an open-access journal, meaning that only the abstract is available. However a response by scientists, whose conclusions of harm caused by the herbicide had been dismissed in the review because their end-points (markers of toxicity) had not previously been used revealed the biotech industry's view of 'safety studies'. It seems the industry position is that glyphosate (used on and accumulated by most GM crops) is unquestionably safe because historically-recognised end-points have proven it so, and that any further science is therefore wrong.

There are a number of problems with this logic.

Roundup harms the liver

April 2015

Safety regulation of 'Roundup' herbicide is based solely on its active, weed-killing, ingredient, 'glyphosate'*. Roundup formulations have a variety of added substances needed for glyphosate to be effective, but these are considered inert, and thus irrelevant, to safety. 

*Note. Most GM crops are 'Roundup Ready', having been genetically transformed to tolerate glyphosate and accumulate it.
The result has been that glyphosate, and by implication Roundup, has a reputation for being the safest herbicide on the market. Indeed, acute exposure to pure chemical glyphosate has to be at a very high dosage before it becomes toxic, and this is true for both plants and animals.

However, sceptical scientists are questioning the validity of current 'safety' tests based on glyphosate alone. Their problem is that glyphosate is always used in a formula combined with adjuvants because otherwise it doesn't penetrate the cells and doesn't kill the weed.

GM soya harms new-born goats

April 2015
GM-free Scotland has regularly voiced concerns about the lack of GM-food safety studies focused on the most vulnerable populations, especially the very young. Routine feeding tests use healthy, post-weaning laboratory rats fed standard laboratory chow with optimised nutrition: they won't identify problems in infancy.

During the first hours after birth, before the mothers' milk as we know it is produced, suckling mammals receive 'colostrum'.

Colostrum is a clear fluid of concentrated nutrients. It's packed with essential fats and proteins including immune system and growth promoters, protective antibodies and tissue maturation factors. These antibiotic properties of colostrum plus its role in intestinal cell development are thought to be responsible for the formation of a healthy digestive system and gut microbial flora.

In other words, colostrum is what the vulnerable newly-born need to protect themselves from disease and to form the healthy organs and tissues vital for their future growth.

So, what happens to the mother's colostrum when she eats GM food?

Glyphosate through your skin

April 2015
Your skin is the largest organ of your body. It consists of an underlying layer of living 'dermal' cells which grow continuously, and at the same time undergo a special form of programmed death. This proliferation and die-off is carefully orchestrated to produce, and continuously maintain, the protective outer 'epidermis'. The epidermis is waterproof, elastic, and provides a barrier to biological, physical and chemical damage.

Skin function is vital to health. Its function depends on the integrity of its structure. And its structure depends on the integrity of the living dermal cell physiology.

In the modern world, our skin is exposed to a host of potentially harmful chemicals.

One such chemical is glyphosate herbicide, widely used in rural and urban weed control, and heavily sprayed on GM crops, most of which have been genetically transformed to survive it.

Take action to stop GMOs!


April 2015


A MESSAGE FROM FOOD AND WATER WATCH

 

Why Don't Our Supermarkets Sell GM Food? Because We Don't Eat It!

We have some of the best, most wholesome food in the world. Act to protect it from the GM crop experiment.

Why action now is critical: Two BIG reasons: GM corn and newly granted powers.

With recent rule changes, we can now ban crops one by one. We need to act quickly. DuPont could even foist a new GM corn on us by 2016! More are sure to follow.

Why action matters: Our good, nutritious non-GM food and farming need our protection from government mismanagement.

The government seems confused about the reality of growing GM crops. A few weeks ago, the UK Food and Farming Minister said she wants UK farmers to have access to GM crops to fight disease and raise farm yields, but no GM crop actually does this. The Minister wants decisions on GM to be made on scientific evidence, but scientific field trials conducted in the UK showed that GM harmed the threatened wildlife which we should be protecting.

What's the truth behind the push for GM crops? 
It's really about trade.

Our government is spending our money on GM research to sell the results here and overseas because it claims that it will help our economy. That's just not true. GM could cost us dearly instead. Contamination happens wherever GM is grown, so growing GM crops will jeopardise the reputation of our agriculture, which employs 3.5 million people and makes up 7% of our economy. UK food exports alone are worth nearly £19 billion per year, so betting the farm on GM crops is a bad plan.

Write now to keep GM crops out of our fields and our food. You don't have to live in the UK to care about what happens in the UK fields

 

TAKE ACTION HERE

Hostage to gene pollution

March 2015


Back in the 1990s, an early fear of anti-GM campaigners was that the biotech industry would purposely create so much gene pollution in the fields and food chain that no matter how unwilling the public and regulators were to accept the novel technology, they would be forced to do so or starve.

Nearly 20 years on, the same concerns seem to be back in the limelight. But this time round, they're being raised by lawyers, with documentary proof to back them up.

Knowledge is never frootless

March 2015


America's in a mess: a GM mess.

US paediatrician, Michelle Perro, tells us: "Digestive health is rapidly declining in children. If children eat conventionally grown food, they will potentially be eating glyphosate, pesticide ingredients and GMOs ... The bioaccumulation effects of gyphosate have not been addressed in children and the standards of safety are arbitrary and not based on any clinical evidence."

Another neurotoxin to add to the mix

March 2015


The possibility that neonicotinoid-type insecticides are contributing to the decline of insect pollinators is hotly contested by the agri-industry.

However, experimental evidence has just emerged form a Scottish laboratory demonstrating serious harm to bumble bees from neonicotinoids.

When bumble bees were fed the insecticide at low levels, as found in the nectar and pollen of the plants they forage on, there were clear signs of brain dysfunction. The poisoned bees exhibited learning difficulties and disruption to their ability to forage, accompanied by a decline in healthy brood cells and decimation (57%) of the total bee mass in the nest.

Glyphosate and Parkinson's disease

March 2015


Monsanto's safety testing of GM maize does not include neurobehavioural assessments. Apparently, these are "not considered appropriate for test articles like corn grain that has no history of producing neurotoxicological effects".. Presumably this reasoning would apply to most food crops.

However, the vast majority of GM crops are designed to accumulate glyphosate herbicide, and questions are emerging on the neurotoxicity of this chemical.