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.