Monsanto's expert panels speak

December 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
The news that glyphosate herbicide, now pretty much ubiquitous in agriculture, public spaces and food, is not 'safe as salt' but a 'probable human carcinogen' was very unwelcome.

Amidst a rash of lawsuits by people claiming glyphosate gave them cancer, Monsanto and its agrichemical brethren face billions of dollars in lost revenue. Besides the collapse of their market for glyphosate-based formulations, such as Roundup, all their glyphosate-tolerant GM crops will go down the drain too.

Since GM crops now encompass maize, soya, cotton, oilseed rape, sugar beet and alfalfa grass, which together amount to most staple US agriculture, this is doubly-bad news for Americans.

For the regulators who allowed the whole situation in the first place, it's a political mess with legal and economic implications requiring urgent action.

Predictably, Monsanto and its friends at CropLife* America have launched a full-scale attack at every level they can think of.

Feeding disease

December 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
In 1973, the US Farm Bill was passed to assure a plentiful supply of staple foods at reasonable prices. The 'staples' are corn, soya, wheat, rice and sorghum, all subsidised by the US tax-payer.

Forty years on, US farmers planted maize over an area almost as big as California, and the area growing soya isn't far behind.

Prices for these commodities have been low in recent years, perilously close to their costs of production. Yet, courtesy of the government, they have been the safest bet for the growers of the vast fields of American monocultures.

How these subsidised 'staple food' crops are streamed into the market is a lesson in itself .

Proud to eat GM, or, non-GM

December 2016

Major food and feed-ingredient supplier, Bunge, is "excited" about its newest products.

These "new" offerings consist of verified non-GM corn ingredients and oils, plus ancient grains, rice, gluten-free breadings and puffed snacks. What's exciting is that Bunge is able to offer its major customers non-GM ingredients on a scale that allows them to grow their key non-GM brands with confidence.

What stimulated this exciting move was the market research suggesting:
"40 percent of consumers are actively managing (avoiding/minimising) consumption of GM foods in their daily diet". 
The market trend is towards clean labels, natural and minimally processed.

New GM insecticide

December 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
Scientists at biotech company, DuPont Pioneer, have been busy searching around in the soils of America for an alternative to 'Bt' insecticides. These pest-killing proteins, whose ancestors came from Bacillus thuringiensis soil bacteria, have proved a marvellous money-spinner for two decades. Now, pest resistance to Bt toxins is rising, and even the new generations of GM crops with stacked Bt variants look like having a limited shelf-life.

DuPont has its fingers crossed that it's found a solution. Its scientists have found a previously uncharacterised protein, designated 'IPD072Aa', which just might serve its purpose.

GM creep

December 2016
Photo Creative Commons
Products with GM labels are creeping quietly onto our supermarket shelves.

None of them is likely to appeal to your average real-food locavore. However, it's good to be GM-aware. GM offerings are turning up, not only in budget stores, but in the top-end supermarkets Waitrose, Selfridges and Marks & Spencer.

And, keep on your toes, because a 'suspect' which carries no GM label one day, may appear in novel form when the next batch arrives.

What to look out for?

Well done Waitrose!

December 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
Three years ago, when major supermarkets, such as Tesco, Mark & Spencer, Sainsbury's and the Co-op, collectively moved to allowing GM-fed animal produce on their shelves, whether their customers wanted it or not, Waitrose went out on a limb.

GM mistakes

November 2016
Photo Creative Commons
Seemingly intent on promoting the future of GM crops in Europe, the European Commission (EC) is trying to extend the cultivation of GM maize.

In November, the Commission will vote on proposals to authorise three GM crops: DuPont-Pioneer's Bt insecticidal maize 1507 for the second time (it was dropped in 2014 due to massive opposition), Sygenta's Bt insecticidal maize Bt11, and Monsanto's Bt insecticidal maize MON810 which is already grown in five European countries and now requires re-authorisation.

Keep it real

November 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
'Factory farming' just got a whole new meaning. It used to mean thousands of cows crammed in a muddy pen, or pigs living their lives out stuffed in crates, or tiers of chickens in boxes, all fed GM feed. Now it means farming in a factory. Farming, that is of microbes genetically transformed to produce food-like substances.

Stacked GM allergies

November 2016
Photo Creative Commons
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has many fine words to say about the need for transparency in the science relating to GM safety issues, but it has some difficulty, it seems, in matching the words with action [1].

A recent EFSA Opinion on a multiple-stacked-trait GM for food and feed use was published on 26th August 2016, during the quiet European summer holiday period.

GM enzymes

November 2016
Brewery: Photo Creative Commons
Most of us have direct or indirect experience of allergy. For example: a skin or asthmatic reaction from clothes or bedding washed in certain detergents (no matter how well they've been rinsed); a reaction to perfumes or scented toiletries; digestive upsets from mass-produced breads and baked goods. These three very distinct classes of product have one thing in common: all of them are manufactured with novel industrial enzymes produced by GM microbes.

Ahh transparency

November 2016

Photo Creative Commons
'Transparency' - transmitting rays of light without diffusion ...(Oxford English Dictionary)

'Transparency', Monsanto-style, is interesting.

GM 'solutions' for the phosphate problem

 November 2016
 
Photo Creative Commons
As governments and environmentalists worry about the pollution of our waters by phosphates pouring out of intensive pig and chicken farms, and worry about the dwindling supplies of phosphate needed for fertilizers and feed supplements, and worry about increasing human micronutrient deficiencies, genetic engineers have come with their own 'solutions'.

Duff GM cotton in Burkino Faso

November 2016


Burkino Faso has earned a global reputation for the quality of the cotton it produces. This has given the country a vital competitive advantage in the world cotton market.

Their secret is in their seeds, produced by a decades-long breeding programme which began during the French colonial era. This, coupled to hand-harvesting which keeps the fibres intact and retains their length and sturdiness, gives a high lint-yield per pound of raw cotton.

Cottonseed in Burkino Faso is controlled by three companies (the largest of which s state-owned), each operating in its own exclusive zone. The company provides seed and inputs on credit to farmers at the beginning of the growing season and then buys back the cotton at a fixed price at the end of the season. Farmers are spared the task of extracting seed for replanting, and are paid by weight for the cotton plus seeds.

This doesn't sound like the sort of scenario into which Monsanto's high-tech cotton varieties aimed at mechanised farming, royalties, contracts, and World Bank backing, are going to fit.

Feed me the truth

November 2016
Photo Creative Commons
Most people in the UK don't eat food made from GM ingredients, but supermarkets across the UK are selling products from GM-fed livestock with not a GM label in sight.  

This means that, unwittingly, people are eating eggs, milk, dairy products, poultry, red meat and farmed fish from animals that have been fed GM soya and/or maize.

On the subject of the absent labels, one professor of food marketing told farmers "we find it convenient not to make a big noise about it".

TAKE ACTION

It's time YOU made a big noise whether food marketers find it convenient or not.  

GM Freeze - Feed ME the Truth logo showing blindfolded woman

Check out GM Freeze campaign at www.gmfreeze.org/feedmethetruth/ and demand to be FED THE TRUTH on GM animal feed in your food-chain.

Glyphosate infusion into the world

October 2016
Photo Creative Commons
Glyphosate herbicide usage has got so out of control, it seems to have taken on a life of its own.

Most of the livestock which provide us with our meat, dairy and eggs are fed maize, soya and cotton seed. Most of these three crops are liberally sprayed with glyphosate because they've been genetically transformed to accumulate this weedkiller.

Livestock aren't the only animals eating GM crops. Bees can forage over several miles, and monocultures of GM maize, soya, cotton, and oilseed rape in flower provide a bees' banquet. Hardly surprising then that American honey is ubiquitously contaminated with the herbicide.

GM wheat pollution mark III

October 2016
Wheat field in Oregon, USA: Photo Creative Commons
In 2013, when GM wheat was found growing in Oregon eight years after the last GM wheat field trial there, the Organic Consumers Association asked "How many other unknown instances of contamination have occurred but have yet to be discovered?" [1].

As of August 2016, we can tentatively answer that question: one per year.

D.I.Y. bugs

October 2016
Photo Creative Commons
Ever since CRISPR [1] hopped onto the biotech platform, replacing bits of the living world to suit your individual tastes or whims has suddenly become possible [2]. And you don't have to be a scientist to do it.

Smart plants are for real

October 2016
Ripe barley: Photo Creative Commons
We tend to view plants as having 'characteristics' rather than 'behaviours'. The latter suggests senses, reactions and communication at a level impossible without a nervous system.

Biotech scientists seem to view plants as lego-like structures into which they can slot characteristics of their choice, even animal ones. Belief in their ability to custom-build plant life is such that testing the whole-picture reality of what they've created has never been big on the GM agenda.

Plants, however, aren't simple bystanders in their environment, or passive sugar factories running on solar power. They're far smarter than we think.

Yellow rice - not nice

October 2016
Golden rice. Photo Creative Commons
Here's an interesting bit of information from Ted Greiner, a former Professor of Nutrition, who worked in several countries to introduce "Ultra Rice", a conventional fortified rice-based product (see below).

In Greiner's experience,
"rice-consuming populations were extremely picky about their rice and unwilling to accept even the tiniest changes in its appearance, taste or smell".
There's a good reason for this.

Gene drives or gene bombs

September 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
Earlier this year, the latest and most sinister variant of genetic engineering yet, the gene drive, hit the headlines [1].

When artificial DNA is linked to a gene drive in a plant or animal, it will engineer any DNA it pairs up with and create a genetic change which is passed on to 99 percent of the offspring. The GMO version will rapidly become ubiquitous in the population.

Oxitec business

September 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
From its August beginnings as a commercial spin-off from Oxford University's Innovation management subsidiary, 'Oxitec' self-destruct GM mosquitoes have never quite fulfilled early expectations.

Even the rosy vision of an end to major world killers like malaria, and dengue fever didn't manage to sell Oxitec mozzies.

However, Zika virus with its horrific connections to birth defects, provided a much better PR platform to generate the will to spend cash and annihilate mosquitoes at any cost [1].

In the meantime, the rights to Oxford's GM mozzies have been sold into the tender care of US-based Intrexon Corporation, and continue to be mired in controversy.

Glyphosate damages soil

September 2016

Photo: Creative Commons
When crops are sprayed with glyphosate, a large proportion ends up on the soil. The GM plants themselves exude glyphosate through their roots into the soil. Also, any plant debris which ends up in the soil will come complete with accumulated glyphosate.

The discovery that GM cotton plants which generate 'Bt' insecticide suffer from impaired ability to support the vital associations with soil fungi in their roots wasn't anticipated [1]. Increasingly, these same Bt crops are also being genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate herbicide.

Just how Bt plants adversely influence the fungi in and around their roots is unexplained, but glyphosate's effects are highly predictable: fungi are plants and can be harmed by herbicides such as glyphosate due to the same toxic mechanism which kills the weeds. Indeed, a study by Argentinian scientists on grassland, typically treated with glyphosate in late summer to promote the growth of winter annuals, found reduced fungal spore viability and fungal root-colonisation.

Spotlight on spray drift

September 2016

Photo Creative Commons
While agri-businesses see GMOs as central to their future, the brand-oriented and customer-sensitive ends of the food supply chain do not. Indeed, 79% of Americans voice concerns about GM foods.

Although 51% of Americans express concerns over the number of chemicals and pesticides in their food, all current GM crops are designed to generate or accumulate pesticides, and are firmly embedded in the high-chemical-input monoculture model of agriculture.

Fungi don't like Bt crops

September 2016

Photo Creative Commons
The 'Bt' toxins produced by many commercialised GM crops are based on insecticidal proteins produced by soil bacteria, but have many important differences to the natural substance.

To mention just a few, they're plant proteins with bacterial qualities, or bacterial proteins with plant qualities, depending on your point of view. They're produced in a fully active (toxic) form without the environmental barriers inherent in the natural bacterial versions which need to be exposed to insect gut chemistry to become activated. GM 'Bt' toxins are unnatural in conception, construction, location and action.

Industry marketing has plugged its Bt as an insect-specific toxin which, outside of the pest gut, is just an innocuous protein. Who would have thought it could be harmful to fungi?

Soil fungi are fundamental to soil fertility and plant nutrition. They play key roles in the cycling of nutrients in the soil and supplying them to plants, and in soil water availability.

Such fungi also assist the plant in tolerating pathogens and abiotic stresses.

Most plants have an intimate relationship with specific fungi, which grow around their roots and penetrate into the cells of the root where a mutual exchange of nutrients can proceed.

So what happens when a fungus tries to colonise a GM, Bt-generating, plant?

Healthy soil needs a diversity of life

September 2016

Photo Creative Commons
Today's scientists are cataloguing a staggering number of diverse species living in the soil. Besides the plants, animals, bacteria and fungi there's a host of much smaller microbes and single-cells organisms.

The intriguing picture emerging is of a coherent soil-world in which the diversity of life, especially the microbial forms, prevent, and sometimes cure, diseases. In this subterranean world, pathogens exist but are crowded out by the sheer variety of life around them. Plant roots orchestrate a consortium of friendly microbes around and within themselves. The soil, thus, not only provides a non-specific immune-system for the plants, but also forms an evolving protection against specific pathogens which are remembered in future years if the same pathogen emerges again.

Human efforts to engineer soil immunity by adding 'key' microbes have met with very limited success: the simple, single-pronged attack just isn't stable or comprehensive or intelligent enough.

GMO free Russia

August 2016
Russian market. Photo Creative Commons
Over the past two years, Russia has chosen its path forward.
While America is pouring its agri-energy into feeding the global market, especially with GMOs, and trying to get everyone else to do the same, Russia has set itself some very different goals.
By 2020, it aims to fully meet the Russian demand for locally produced Russian food. 

Bt is self-limiting

August 2016
Warnings about the potential for 'Bt' insecticidal GM crops to trigger rapid pest resistance have been voiced since these novel plants first arrived on the market.

Unlike a chemical spray designed to wipe out all the pests in the treated area, but short-lived, Bt-toxin generated inside a GM plant is there all the time but not necessarily in sufficient quantities to kill: these are perfect conditions for the evolution of resistance.

Moreover, assumptions that Bt-resistance would come with a self-limiting fitness cost to the pest, or that Bt resistance would require a pair of genetic mutations which happened to come together rather than one single dominant mutation, or that all farmers would go to the trouble of planting a non-Bt plot to harbour a supply of normal, susceptible pests, have all proved limited in practice.

The biotech industry answer to pest resistance is, of course, more Bt.

GM-free fed Lidl

August 2016
Photo Creative Commons
If you follow the business news, you'll be aware that the Big Four UK grocers have seen their sales figures go into reverse in the past few months. Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons and Asda are just discovering that, in uncertain times, customers are less interested in choice and brand names than they are in value-for-money.

German 'discounter' Lidl, which offers select bulk-bought staple products at a minimum price, is one of the up-and-coming grocers into which the Big Four's customers are diverting.

Glyphosate links to rheumatoid arthritis

August 2016
Photo Creative Commons
Looking for adverse effects of exposure to glyphosate herbicide in the general population is well-nigh impossible. Glyphosate-based formulations (sold as 'Roundup') have been widely used for decades to control weeds in both rural and urban settings. Since the deployment of glyphosate-accumulating GM crops in the 1990s, the herbicide has been an increasing presence in our food chain, in water, and in the wind [1]. No one knows how much glyphosate they've been exposed to, nor when, nor how long, and there's no unexposed 'control' group for comparison.

And then, you have to figure out what disease(s) or symptom(s) you're looking for in relation to a chemical which has never been clinically tested and may be interacting with a host of other environmental pollutants.

However, an attempt to investigate links between adverse effects on the population and a range of agri-chemicals, including glyphosate, was published recently.

The real golden rice story

August 2016
Photo Creative Commons
Like a bad penny, Golden Rice just keeps on turning up in the media [1].

GM zealots continue to blame environmentalists for the failure of the vitamin-A enhanced GM rice to reach the fields and for the loss of "hundreds of thousands of lives a year" due to vitamin-A deficiency (VAD).

Glyphosate harms the womb

August 2016
Photo Creative Commons
The two words which agrichemical manufacturers least want to hear are "endocrine disruptor". These conjure up the spectres of fertility damage, cancer, no safe level of exposure, and commercial disaster.

Glyphosate-based herbicides, such as 'Roundup' formula, are used for urban and rural seed-clearance, for pre-harvest withering of seed and tubour crops, and are heavily applied to, and accumulated by, most GM crops. Residues of glyphosate-based herbicides are now ubiquitous in our air, water, soil, livestock and bodies [2]. This is not a presence you want to find associated with long-term harm, yet evidence has been mounting for some time that Roundup and its cousins are endocrine disruptors [1].

Due to widespread growing of Roundup Ready soya in Argentina and concerns about the health of the people near Roundup-sprayed areas [3], Argentinian scientists have been particularly busy checking the herbicide out.

The science and politics of GMO labelling

August 2016
Photo Creative Commons
The 2016 Report of the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) titled "Genetically Engineered Crops: Experience and Prospects" dropped the hot potato of GM food labelling by pronouncing it a political issue not a scientific one. But, as agricultural economist Chuck Benbrook* said "It is obviously both". 

Ditch glyphosate now

August 2016
Photo Creative Commons
Unable to agree on whether to re-license glyphosate herbicide or ban it, the European Commission has finally taken a middle path and awarded glyphosate an 18-month reprieve. It has had to balance risking the wrath of America where the chemical is an integral part of major commodity crops, (soya, maize, canola, alfalfa, sugar beet, and cotton) against risks to the health of the people of Europe.

Genes outside of context

July 2016
Photo Creative Commons
A review article by the Rothamsted Research team developing GM plants with fish oil [1] describes the scientific process by which their novel crop was created.

'Omega-3' fish oils are essential dietary requirements for fish and humans. Their sole source in the food chain is tiny, one-cell organisms such as algae and some bacteria which are eaten by fish which are, in turn, eaten by humans. Fish-farming is now wide-spread and provides an effective system for producing animal protein for human consumption. Currently, farmed fish are fed on wild fish stocks and omega-3 oil supplemented feed. The limited supplies of both create a bottleneck in aquaculture production and expansion, and are environmentally damaging. GM fish-oil producing crops offer a promising and more sustainable alternative.

Don't look don't see

July 2016
 

Definitions

 
Mutagenesis
 
This 'breeding technique' involves random wrecking of the genomes of a huge number of cells by exposing them to radiation or chemicals. Any of the survivors which can be coaxed to grow into plants are then tested to see if any useful random properties have emerged from the mess. Note that the technique itself doesn't involve breeding.
 
Genetic modification
 
In this 'breeding technique', artificial DNA constructs are inserted randomly into huge numbers of cells or plant embryos. A tiny proportion of the GM plants generated from these may exhibit the desired trait. Note that the technique itself doesn't involve breeding.
 
History
 
"Continuous methodical research, systematic account of natural phenomena" (Oxford English Dictionary)
 
Classical breeding
 
Plants observed to have desirable characteristics are bred together to produce offspring with more desirable characteristics.

GM-fed butterflies don't fly

July 2016
Camelina: Photo Creative Commons
The UK government continues to promote GM crops as a rising star of industry. This isn't because it's enthralled by the herbicide-accumulating or insecticide-generating GM animal feed crops with which Big Biotech has filled overseas fields.

Westminster has its eye on high-value 'nutritionally-enhanced' GM offerings.

Simply fussy plants

July 2016
Oilseed rape: photo Creative Commons
"Genetically modified organism means an organism's DNA was changed to make it different, often to make it ... contain more usable parts."

One old-timer plant biologist recalls "heady times" when he walked up and down rows of flourishing GM oilseed rape growing side-by-side with its "struggling" conventional counterpart in an experimental low-nutrient soil.

This GM rape had an extra artificial gene, copied from barley, which helped it use nitrogen more efficiently. It promised to be the answer to the world's increasingly degraded and depleted soils.

The 'barley' gene itself doesn't seem too controversial, and has been successfully inserted into wheat and rice, both major staple food crops. Nevertheless, while Big Biotech has been developing fertilizer-frugal GM crops for over a decade, it admits these are still at the 'proof-of-concept' stage and nowhere near the market.

The anti-spray movement

July 2016
Photo Creative Commons

"A spray helicopter ... had its electrical wires, oil and fuel lines cut ... a spray crew bus had its brake lines cut." 

" ... a (herbicide spraying) ground crew was attacked by protesters, beaten, their spray gear destroyed, and their leader forced at knifepoint to sign a statement promising not to spray again in that area." 

"... An armed mob threatened to shoot down spray helicopters." 

"Someone ... punctured ten 550 gallon drums of (2,4-D herbicide)" 

"Activists ... contaminated 500 gallons of herbicides to prevent their use." 

"Mobs of activists routinely trespass in areas scheduled for aerial spraying and prevent thousands of acres ... from being sprayed." 

Non-Violent Resistance training weekends are being run to prepare the "occupation forces" to prevent herbicide spraying. 

Civil disobedience and sabotage have become a routine part of the anti-pesticide movement. So much so that an Intelligence Division has been formed with special spray-programme agents to monitor local resistance to herbicides and the activities of local leaders in the antispray movement. 

"... a spray helicopter ... was completely destroyed by fire" after which two women appeared on television and radio to explain that the burned helicopter was "a message to the companies who profit from spraying poisons indiscriminately with disrespect for human and animal life and Mother Earth." Their reason was the years of ill effects from "herbicide contamination, including miscarriages, birth defects, and cancer ... Our present health and genetic future are at stake."

Is this fiction? Are these real people taking action against the threat of herbicides to humanity? Are these ferocious eco-terrorists and saboteurs characters in a novel?

The illusion of safer substitution

July 2016
Plant biologist, Jonathan Latham, recounts how, as a "very young" scientist, he was busy creating GM plants as research tools, hardly imagining that they would ever come to be grown or eaten. Gradually it became clear, however, that commercial interests had other ideas.

Now much more experienced, Latham appreciates just how much all the knowledge and understanding available to scientists is dwarfed by the complexities of biological and natural systems.
After wide reading of the chemical and GM risk assessments used to 'prove' safety*, he has concluded the assessments provide nothing more than a false certainty, a carefully crafted, complex illusion of protection.

What else would you expect when the assessments themselves are performed by those seeking to profit from finding their product safe? 

GMO mushrooms

June 2016
Photo: button mushrooms. Adam Fagen on Flickr
As if to illustrate how simple the latest technique for gene modification is, it seems likely that Americans will be eating 'CRISPR/Cas9' [1] gene-edited 'anti-browning' mushrooms within a couple of years.

Eugenics - closer than it's ever been before

June 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
Feature

US regulators seem determined not to grasp that any humanly-contrived direct remodelling of DNA is genetic modification no matter what you call it, and that any genetic modification has unpredictable side-effects.

This has worrying implications for our food chain [1].  However, the major focus of the latest gene-changing technique, CRISPR/Cas9 [2], is actually human beings.

Cracks in GMO America

June 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
After over a decade of GM commodity crop growing, the first visible cracks began to appear in the carefully crafted American public's 'acceptance' of their novel diet.

Two years ago, it was clear that a deep scepticism towards the food industry and its use of technology had taken root.

Cancer in the air

June 2016
Photo Creative Commons
Glyphosate is the world's most used herbicide, widely applied in both urban and agricultural locations, and increasingly heavily sprayed on most GM crops.

Just a year ago we reported on science indicating that, while glyphosate enters skin at low levels, repeat doses to damaged skin can increase absorption of the chemical many fold [1].
Links between glyphosate and DNA damage, plus links between glyphosate and impairment of the mechanism for natural cell death, have led to suspicions that our rapidly-dividing skin cells could become cancerous if exposure to the herbicide interfered with their normal transition to the outer, dead, dermal layer.

Since our report, the World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate as a "probable carcinogen" [2].

A key GM question

June 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
Question: do GM crops benefit people?

This isn't a simple question. 

For one thing, 'GM crops' can mean all manner of different types and varieties of crop plant, into which a vast range of artificial bits of DNA has been inserted.

For another thing, 'benefit' can mean all manner of important societal parameters: good for finances, good for health, good for quality of life, or good for future security.

And moreover, 'people' can mean all manner of unique sectors of society: farmers, consumers, traders, corporations, share-holders, individuals, communities, the literate, the illiterate, the young, the old, the healthy, the unhealthy ...

This level of complexity hasn't helped generate any meaningful science nor discussion on GM.  Indeed, a team of Swedish scientists noted that "the fragmented knowledge on the social impacts of genetically modified (GM) crops is contributing to the polarised debate on the matter".

Enlist duo

June 2016

The biotech industry's answer to the huge weed-problem it has inflicted on farms after years of spraying glyphosate weedkiller on biotech seeds, is (predictably) more of the same.  Indeed, packages of dual herbicide formulations plus dual herbicide-tolerant GM seeds are the business now.

Glyphosate weed-killer is still in there, but Dow Chemical has added in '2,4-D' to create ‘Enlist Duo' formulation for spraying its latest generation of GM corn and soya.  '2,4-D' is another decades-old herbicide, and was one of the two major components of the infamous Agent Orange defoliant used to clear the jungle and destroy crops in Vietnam.

GM and tadpoles don't mix

May 2016

'Bt' toxins are a favourite tool of genetic engineers for creating crops which generate their own pesticide to kill whatever is their most troublesome insect pest.

In Nature, such toxins are formed by a variety of strains of Bacillus thuringienses bacteria (hence 'Bt') found in soil and on plants. Organic farmers may use Bacillus thrunigienses fermentations as natural, short-lived insecticide sprays on their crops. Outside of organic agriculture however, Bt-toxin containing formula are used to control specific problematic insects, such as disease-carrying mosquitoes.

GM by injection?

May 2016

Early in the GM game, the public were regaled with rosy images of the therapeutic wonders which GM crops would provide: the world would be rid of hepatitis B and other infectious diseases by a vaccine a single dried GM banana chip; Third World blindness would be banished forever with a bowl of vitamin-A-rich GM rice; unwanted preganacies would be a thing of the past with a little GM contraceptive corn delivering human antibodies to fight off sperm.

These wonders don't seem to have actually materialised yet: vaccines-in-a-banana disappeared below the radar, golden-rice has generated lots of PR but no healthier people [1], and the pregnancy-preventing plants fizzled out in bankruptcy.

However, GM pharmaceuticals are certainly alive and well and generating vast profits for industry.

Glyphosate attitude shift

May 2016

March 2016 could prove a turning point for the fortunes of 'glyphosate', the weed-killer which has provided leverage for the commercial production of 80% of current GM crops, and is worth $5 billion to its major manufacturer.

It seems to have started with a spat in 2015 when the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that the strength of the scientific evidence indicated that glyphosate is a "probable carcinogen" [1].

The IARC conclusion was published just at the same time as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which was preparing to re-licence glyphosate, declared it "unlikely" to be carcinogenic.

To understand how two such authoritative bodies could arrive at such opposing conclusions on the scientific evidence, all you need to do is look at the actual evidence considered by the two.

'Inert' endocrine disruptors

May 2016

Readers of GM-free Scotland will be familiar with warnings that glyphosate-based herbicides, which are heavily used on most GM crops, have added ingredients to help glyphosate penetrate into the plant cells and kill them more efficiently [1].

Glyphosate dissolves well in water, but sprayed on a crop without its 'helpers' it would glide off the waxy outer layer and not much would make it through the fatty membrane around the cells.

As the weeds around glyphosate-tolerant GM crops have evolved to become less and less sensitive to the herbicide, the biotech industry has had to rescue its pet GM technology by producing more aggressive glyphosate-based formulations. Most of these added ingredients are detergents (fat-dissolvers) which disrupt the wax- and fatty- barriers designed by Nature to protect the plant.

Regulators have allowed added ingredients in agricultural pesticide sprays to be declared 'inert' and may be mysterious 'commercially confidential' substances.

GM Africa now

May 2016


Echoing GRAIN's 2014 Report that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's philanthropic endeavours are promoting an industrial, global market- and biotech industry-driven model of agriculture in Africa, while bypassing local social needs and knowledge [1], Global Justice Now released a similar Report in 2016.

It warns:
"the Gates Foundation is in effect preparing the ground for (the biotech industry) to access new profitable markets in hitherto closed-off developing countries, especially in Africa. The Foundation is especially pushing for the adoption of GM in Africa."
Gates has an aggressive corporate strategy and extraordinary influence across governments, academics and the media. It seems that, shielded by its unarguable philanthropic purpose, and by its connections to corporations and international development agencies, or its self-created 'partners' [1], and by the loyalties required to gain and retain its funding and patronage, healthy dissent and criticism have been stifled.

So what's happening on the ground in Gates' GM-Africa?

The 'needs' of agricultural aid in Africa

May 2016

The Gates Foundation is probably the biggest philanthropic venture ever, distributing billions of dollars every year. Its traditional priorities are global health programmes and educational work in the US.

However, during the last 10 years, the Foundation has hugely expanded its funding for agriculture, especially in Africa where 19 out of the 25 most food-insecure countries in the world are (2014 Global Food Security Index).

In 2006, the Foundation set up the 'Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa' (AGRA) as the "face and voice" to fulfil its guiding principles (see below).

Glyphosate fest

April 2016

The world-renowned German beer industry reacted with shocked disbelief to the finding of glyphosate in 14 of its most popular beers.

Hardly surprising according to The German Brewers Association because 
"the herbicide is now found virtually everywhere after decades of use in agriculture".

Organic farmers pay the price of GM

April 2016

While America wakes up and finds itself with a GM alfalfa pollution problem [1], and Spain scrambles to control its GM maize pollution problem [2], the UK has just found itself with a GM oilseed rape which nearly became a pollution problem.

Britain doesn't, of course, grow GM anything commercially.  The offending genes were found during routine trials of seeds seeking new plant variety registration.  DEFRA quickly recalled the seeds, and ensured that all affected plants will be destroyed by the company which supplied them.  Mysteriously, the seed was imported from France which doesn't grow GM oilseed rape either.

A grass going feral and becoming a conduit for gene contamination is predictable [1].  An invasive gene-transmitting weed from the other side of the world in today's globalised market [2] is something we have to start watching out for.  The possible pollution of our entire seed supply is simply stupidity.

The problems caused by GM contamination aren't abstract or ideological threats.