Impossible Roundup

June 2017

While the European Commission (EC) maintains that there is "no reason to doubt" the safety of glyphosate (the world's best selling herbicide and key ingredient of Monsanto's 'Roundup'), and that nothing stands in the way of glyphosate's re-approval, Member States are nevertheless steadily eliminating it.

Glyphosate causes crop disease

June 2017

In 2003, during a 5-year study of crop disease, the first alarm was raised that wheat appeared to be worse affected by 'fusarium head blight' in fields where glyphosate herbicide had been applied just before planting. Laboratory studies at the time also indicated that fusarium grows faster when glyphosate-based weedkillers are added to the medium they're growing in.

Fusarium head blight is a devastating fungal disease which destroys a fifth of wheat harvests in Europe alone. This fungus produces 'mycotoxins' (poisons) known to cause cancer of the liver and kidney, disorders of the blood and lung, vomiting, and damage to the immune system. Anything which promotes fusarium is a serious business.

GM lessons, for free, forever

June 2017

Meet Robert. Robert is an on-off-on-off student at Cornell University, New York State, with a "passion for science".

As a freshman, Robert was "deeply unaware of our current GMO agriculture paradigm" and of his university's connection to it (see below).

During an off-student period, Robert participated in three unique seasons of agroecological crop production, and witnessed its "incredible results". Inevitably, this made him aware of the other end of the agricultural spectrum: GM food ruled by giant corporations. He also recognised that GM commodity monocultures fed to factory-farmed animals are one of the most destructive forces to our environment and health that our planet's ever seen.

With this new perspective on 'conventional' agriculture, Robert eagerly sat in on a Cornell University course entitled "The GMO Debate".

Glyphosate-free food labels

June 2017

A US consumer survey in 2013 found that 71% of Americans were worried about pesticides in their food, and almost three out of four would like to eat food with fewer pesticides.

By 2014, a similar survey found pesticides had become a concern for 85% of American consumers, more than any other food-related issue. Pesticides are even higher on the list of concerns than GMOs, even although the two are inextricably bound together [1].

The US GMO non-labelling act

June 2017

For years, the biotech industry has been able to rely on the fact that America remains one of the few industrialised countries whose regulators haven't demanded clear labelling of GM foods.

Big Food has been happy to hide behind this and ignore consumer concerns.

But, as consumer frustration mounts over the denial of their right to know what they're eating, things are starting to change.

GMOs, human rights and the environment

June 2017

The advisory opinion of the International Monsanto Tribunal, referred to in GM-Free Scotland articles earlier this year [1,2], has been published.

Six questions were addressed by the Tribunal, and its opinions were based exclusively on legal considerations, grounded in international human rights and humanitarian laws (see below).

Pesticides' catastrophic impacts

May 2017

In March this year, the United Nation (UN) special rapporteurs on the right to food and on toxics presented a scathing report on pesticides.

It pointed to the "catastrophic impacts (of pesticides) on the environment, human health and society as a whole", including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning alone, plus untold suffering from chronic pesticide exposure now linked to "cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility".

The billion dollar bug

May 2017

In 1868 western corn rootworm (WCR) was observed in Kansas to be a harmless chewing insect from Central America found in low populations on the Western Great Plains.

*Note the naturally low numbers, and the suggestion that these beetles can naturally travel long distances. 

When centre-pivot irrigation with it's quarter mile watering radius (so efficient it's now sucking the plains dry) was introduced in the 1950s, maize monoculture madness gripped American farmers. Across the land, prairies were converted to horizon-scale corn fields.

To the WCR, which fed exclusively on corn and lay their eggs there, this became an 80-million acre banquet-plus-nursery.

Science-free wildlife death traps

May 2017

Documents from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in early 2017 show that almost 100% of GM corn is pre-treated with neonicotinoid insecticides. In addition, although the EPA has concluded that neonicotinoid seed treatments have no economic benefit to soya growers, incomplete data indicate that over 50% of soya beans are also coated with the insecticide.

Neonicotinoids, of which there are several brands and classes on the market, are used as seed coatings. They end up throughout the mature plant, its flowers, pollen and nectar, and 95% of the coatings spread through the wider environment including soil water and dust in the air. UK trials have found that at least one neonictinoid accumulates in the soil with increasing toxicity over several years.

Across America, tens of millions of acres of land are planted with corn or soya (often year about), each producing its own fresh wave of neonicotinoids.

Say stop to gene drives

May 2017

Our regulators are charged with ensuring the safety of an appalling array of invented substances and devices entering the market on a daily basis. These include nanoparticles, GMOs, rare metals, radiation, novel chemicals and all manner of devices.

This presents them with an appalling array of risk-related factors to consider, including exposure (who, when, how much), accidental-, off-label-, illegal-, or malicious-uses, disposal, recall, negative outcomes, diversity of harm, etc. Add to this, the need to monitor and react to any problems arising from new products.

GM and seed coatings - the hidden insecticides

May 2017

In the short-term, 'Bt' crop growers certainly enjoy biotech industry promises: reduced labour and less expense for battling their worst insect pests [1].

Indeed, there have been several studies demonstrating a significant reduction in the amount of chemical insecticides farmers have to spray on GM crops which provide their own Bt insecticide. These findings aren't wrong. But for the consumer, they conceal some inconvenient truths.

Toxins in time

May 2017

Usefully for those companies trying to push their chemicals onto the market, some aspects of routine toxicological assessment seem to be stuck in the 16th Century.

A recent study of one of the shortcomings of modern toxicology starts by pointing out that its central paradigm, "the dose makes the poison", dates back to the revolutionary thinking of Paracelsus (see below). It goes on to demonstrate that the dose sometimes makes the poison, but not always, and in the real-world probably rarely.

The curious case of the useless rice

April 2017

Much has been made of the philanthropic nature of GM 'golden' rice. The idea is that, as a public research project, locally-adapted varieties of the vitamin A enhanced rice will be made available free of charge to subsistence farmers in developing countries as part of a co-ordinated humanitarian effort. In this way, the yellow-coloured self-supplementing rice will be grown sustainably by those who need it most, and the widespread ill-health and blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency (VAD) will be consigned to history.

Bt insecticide risks in the agricultural landscape

April 2017

As the biotech industry and regulators cling to the notion that 'Bt' insecticide is toxic only to the target pests and is easily digested by mammals just like any other protein, science is throwing a few flies in their ointment.

GM crop plants have been created which generate one or several artificial versions of 'Bt' insecticides. These proteins, in their natural forms, are produced by soil bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis.

It's disturbing to read in a recent scientific paper that:
"Bt toxins can be transferred via the food web and accumulate in organisms to different degrees".

Ever expanding miracle grass

April 2017

... the sorcerer's apprentice recited the magic words, and the golf course grew bigger and bigger, engulfing the world with its ever-expanding miracle grass that never dies ... 

Unfortunately, this isn't a fairy-tale. The 'ever-expanding grass' for golf courses is Scotts Miracle-Gro creeping bentgrass genetically transformed never to die when sprayed with glyphosate herbicide; the 'magic words' were what Scotts and its partner, Monsanto, said to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow the GM grass to be field-tested without any environmental impact assessment; and it is, indeed, growing 'bigger and bigger', because although the novel grass never made it to any golf course turf-managers, it is nevertheless rampaging across the Oregon landscape and beyond.

Enogen contamination concerns

April 2017

In 2011, the first GM maize created solely for industrial purposes was approved for cultivation by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

'Enogen' maize has incorporated a bacterial enzyme, 'alpha-amylase', which digests starch to produce sugar. Conveniently, this enzyme can be used at the high temperatures. This makes it useful for the production of ethanolic fuel to make American cars greener.

Up until the introduction of Enogen, the first stage of converting maize to ethanol was to mix in liquid amylase under carefully controlled conditions. Now, as little 15% of Enogen maize in the feed-stock is enough to efficiently decompose all the starch present* without further ado.

Inacta soya concerns

April 2017

EU soya consumers now face the fun prospect of another novel additive in their food. 'Intacta' soya is the first to incorporate a gene for a 'Bt' insecticide in addition to the usual GM ability to accumulate glyphosate herbicide.

The Bt toxin in Intacta is 'Cry1Ac' protein already widely deployed in other commercial GM crops. Besides the existing doubts about the safety assessment of Cry1Ac (such as the use of the bacterial version in tests instead of the structurally, functionally and environmentally different plant-generated version), Intacta presents additional serious concerns.

As all trained kitchen staff know, soya is a recognised human allergen. Cry1Ac is, not only a potential allergen, but is an adjuvant, able to boost immune reactions. Putting two allergens together in one food, or in the dust from animal feed, doesn't sound sensible.

Food safety after Brexit

April 2017

No doubt some GM-Free Scotland readers voted against Brexit due to concerns about the food quality free-for-all it might lead to.

Echoing such doubts, Angus Roberson, Scottish National Party MP for Moray, reminded Parliament that
"The European Union, which we are still part of, has among the highest food safety standards anywhere in the world. The United States on the other hand, is keen to have health systems that are fully open to private competition and it wants to export genetically modified organisms ... ". 
Brexit will remove our current protection from substandard food imports, especially from America.

Noise to drown out the science

March 2017

US law-makers have been urged by one outspoken anti-regulation journal editor to recognise that "a healthy economy with people employed is the cornerstone of a healthy population". That population, however, is "fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health" (Berry).

What the food industry does pay attention to is its own financial health, and any law-makers who try to make food healthier (so as to maintain that healthy population) are not good for its bottom line.

Science is fundamental to food quality, but industry and its lobbyists have worked out all sorts of creative ways to undermine inconvenient facts emerging from the lab.

Creating noise is the favoured tactic.

Fluttering into oblivion

March 2017

In 1995, the population of America's iconic and wonderfully colourful Monarch butterflies reached an all-time high. The following year, GM crops hit US fields with monocultures of GM 'Roundup Ready' plants doused with glyphosate herbicide and monocultures of GM insecticidal plants. These commodities mushroomed within a few years to cover a great deal of the 400 million or so acres of America's cropland.

Apart from the brief rally in the 2010-2011 season, Monarch numbers have declined steadily ever since that peak. Even optimistic estimates put the total loss at more than 80%, and the most recent tally recorded a further drop of 27% from last year's count.

Undefended maize

March 2017

The Green Revolution has been an exercise in creating extremes. We now have extreme uniformity in our staple crops and in our agricultural practices, with an extreme dependence on agrichemicals, and a globalised crop market (you can't get much bigger than that).

This has led to an extreme reduction in our crop gene pool, unstoppable pest problems, and a problem-solving mind-set limited to more-of-the-same single high-tech solutions to 'key' difficulties.

We now have food from crops which have been intensively bred for extreme yield with scant attention to whole nutritional value, taste or pest resistance.

In this one-size-fits-all agricultural system, the answer to poor soil is to add chemicals, and the answer to pests is to kill them with chemicals.

All maize is wormy now

March 2017

If you've been following the GM issue for a while, cast your mind back to 2006. A long-standing, respected British science journal gave its "Outstanding Paper Award for Excellence" to a study which could be better described as a pro-GM PR initiative dressed up as science.

To assess what influenced consumer purchasing decisions, the study offered 'Bt' insecticide-generating GM sweet corn for sale in a Canadian farm shop beside conventional sweet corn. One of the more blatant exercises in propaganda used during this 'study' was the descriptors attached to the two types of sweet corn: the conventional one was labelled 'wormy' followed by a list of the pesticides sprayed on it; the GM one was labelled 'quality' with the 'Bt' (insecticide!) part kept separate.

Fast forward ten years and check out how these two sweet corns would truthfully be labelled today. The wormy one is still wormy and still sprayed with multiple pesticides. And the quality one?

GM plants in the shade

March 2017

Up until now, genetic engineers have successfully provided us with crops full of weedkillers which may be toxic to humans too, and crops full of insecticides which may be toxic to humans too, and crops full of multiple varieties of both which are even more likely to be toxic to humans.  However, the claimed extra GM crop yield needed to feed the world has been elusive.

The basis of all the food supply for all animals (including humans) is the ability of plants to photosynthesise, that is, to use the energy in sunlight to build sugars using carbon dioxide gas from the air and water from the soil.

Biotech scientists trying to boost crop yields have focused on 'improving' photosynthesis, but the biochemical pathways involved are dynamically regulated in the plant and are highly complex, too complex so far for meaningful human intervention.

A new approach aimed at 'improving' photosynthesis indirectly, and funded by the Gates Foundation, has been quick to announce a successful proof-of-concept field-trial in the scientific and popular press.

Ban Glyphosate EU Citizens' Initiative

March 2017


Besides the obvious negative environmental impacts of the world's most widely-used herbicide, readers of GM-free Scotland will probably agree that,"expanding scientific evidence demonstrates that glyphosate is also a serious threat to human health" [1,2,3]. Also, because "EU Regulation 1107/2009 prohibits the use of pesticides when there is sufficient evidence in laboratory animals that these substances can cause cancer, based on IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) criteria ... EU approval for glyphosate must be withdrawn."

Metallic rice

February 2017

Global mapping shows an "unequivocal overlap" of poverty, micronutrient deficiency and rice consumption.

Estimates suggest some 15% of the world's population suffer from iron-deficiency anaemia, and a similar number from zinc-deficiency. These have serious consequences for health and energy, immune- and nervous-system function, gene regulation and child development, and for productivity.

Part of the problem is that rice doesn't have enough iron and zinc in it for people with little else to eat. From the biotech scientist's point of view, this is the rice's fault. The answer is therefore to insert artificial genes which drive an unnatural accumulation of iron and zinc in the rice plants.

Missing the signs of GM disease

February 2017
Indian shepherd. Photo Creative Commons
What would happen if, after 12 years of eating a food in its conventional form, and being in your own estimation quite healthy, you ate the same food in a GM form with added bacterial insecticide for four years, and became sick?

What if you noticed during the following four years that up to 20% of the people around you died or became sick with the same symptoms?

You might expect government health departments to be checking the GM food for possible GM-related toxins and checking out the sick and the dead for possible chronic GM-related reactions. You might expect a focus on the health of the organs which deal with toxins, the liver and kidneys, and effects on the organ most exposed to the questionable food, the gut.

If the response of the Indian government to the plight of shepherds and farmers whose livestock were grazed on 'Bt' insecticidal cotton is anything to go by, you can expect ...

Roundup Ready crops - designed to poison

February 2017
 
Despite the biotech lobby's best efforts to suppress the bad news, adverse findings continue to flow from Gilles-Eric Séralini's life-long study of rats fed Roundup herbicidal formulation (active ingredient glyphosate) and the Roundup-resistant GM maize it's sprayed on [1,2].
 
This study found signs of anatomical pathologies plus blood- and urine-biochemistry indicative of liver and kidney dysfunction after exposure to Roundup.
 
Molecular profiling, the latest thing in tissue analysis, has been applied to the livers of the Roundup-fed rats. The results confirm the evidence of glyphosate-induced liver disease first observed in the 1980s and since backed up by a growing body of evidence.

The Glyphosate dodge

February 2017


OUR QUESTION:

If you're wondering why glyphosate herbicide is still legally present in your food and in GM animal feed when the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has found it "probably carcinogenic to humans", some light was shed on this by the evidence heard during the 'Monsanto Tribunal' held in October 2016 (see below).

The IARC looked at experiments on mice fed glyphosate. In one life-time study, they saw significant increases in kidney tumours, and in another they saw increases in blood vessel cancer. They also noted increases in malignant lymphoma (blood cell cancer) in a further three mouse studies, but these were only mentioned, not included in the final report, because they were non-peer reviewed industry studies whose details couldn't be ascertained.

An IARC classification of 'probably carcinogenic' was unwelcome because it's only one short step away from "presumed carcinogen" which would, under EU law, trigger an automatic ban unless exposure levels were "negligible" (and this doesn't mean 'below permitted levels').

The GM fish oil business

February 2017

Global materials-supply company, Cargill, is entering the GM race. With its existing well-honed expertise in farmer services [1], agricultural commodity and processing, animal feed and nutrition, transportation and logistics (not to mention sustainability consulting, and financial and risk management), the Company is aiming to supply us with farmed fish raised on GM plant-based 'fish' oil in less than five years.

The team assembled to achieve this includes German chemical company BASF which has been working on transforming canola (oilseed rape) with look-alike algal genes for 20 years, plus GM compliant farmers in Montana with whom Cargill has a close relationship, and a newly-purchased Norwegian fish feed company.

The GM Glyphosate game

February 2017

In the last five years, concerns surrounding glyphosate-based herbicides have been the subject of some 90 articles here on GM-Free Scotland, one-fifth of the total.

These herbicidal formulations have been, and continue to be, the lynch-pin of GM crops, the vast majority of which have been engineered to survive spraying with glyphosate. They have, therefore, been central to the profitability of GM and to the biotech industry's control of agriculture.

A recent pest-protection consultant review of the history and future of this herbicide describes the predicament which this particular GM-based agriculture has got us into.

NK603 maize is not equivalent

January 2017
Photo: Creative Commons

It has long been a refrain in GM-free Scotland articles that the 'safety testing' of GM foods is too crude, too limited and too old-fashioned to tell us anything except that eating it won't make anyone drop dead. Science has many more sophisticated and more meaningful testing techniques at its disposal, if only there was the will to develop them for routine use.

At the end of 2016, however, the ball finally got rolling.

Pakistan cotton crisis

January 2017

Photo credit  Håkan Löndahl on Flickr
Pakistan's economy is in trouble, mainly due to a major setback in its agriculture and textile industry. At the heart of the problem is a massive 27.8% drop in cotton production.

A multitude of factors has been implicated this decline.

February 2016 saw international cotton prices touch a six-year low.

GMO MON810 maize gut rot

January 2017
Image © Greenpeace
In the late 1990s, Scotland sparked an anti-GM storm when scientists Arpad Pusztai and Stanley Ewen at Aberdeen University reported adverse effects on laboratory rats fed GM potatoes.

It's not to the credit of scientists that these preliminary, short term (10-day), small-scale (6 animals per treatment) findings were not followed up.  Instead, Pusztai was silenced, and the science of GM safety-testing was effectively stifled for years. 

Florida GM mosquitoes will not be released

January 2017
Photo Creative commons
The first ever mass release of GM mosquitoes in the U.S. will NOT go ahead.

Not wanting to be used as lab rats forced to swallow, breath and be bitten by biotech mozzies in their own homes, the Florida community chosen to be the subjects of this reckless, real-life experiment complained very loudly.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which had fast-tracked approval of the trial release of Oxitec's self-destruct GM mosquitoes, simply hadn't done its homework.  There have been no impact assessments on people, nor on threatened and endangered species, nor on the environment, nor even on the Zika virus and Dengue virus the high-tech decimation of the mosquito population is supposed to achieve [1].

Any future applications for GM mosquito release will require an 'Environmental Assessment' and a 'Finding of No Significant Impact'.

US court notes GMO concerns

January 2017
Photo: Creative Commons
A US court has ruled that Federal law doesn't prevent States and Counties from passing their own local laws to regulate or ban commercial growing of GM crops.

Most importantly, the court acknowledged that growing GM raises "several well-documented concerns", including economic impacts due to gene pollution, and environmental impacts from increased use of pesticides, superweeeds, pest-resistance, and reduced biodiversity.

This is significant because GM crops and life-destroying chemicals are inseparable. 

NFU admits farmers must grow what consumers want

January 2017
Photo: Creative Commons
The Vice President of the National Farmers Union (NFU), who "thinks GM is the way forward" and that science, not "popular appeal", should be directing what farmers can and can't grow, has finally admitted he has to be "mindful of markets". He's noticed that he has to "grow what consumers want to eat" or what he grows won't sell.

Attendees at a meeting of United Oilseeds (co-operative specialist oilseeds merchant) were warned:
"If the UK takes a pro-GM attitude, where are our exports going to go? If we start to develop a different policy to the rest of the EU, those issues (product marketability) will raise their heads and we need to be very, very careful".
Add to this that there is a need for regulators "to recognise that agriculture is not just like any other industry" and that "some level of self sufficiency, some level of food security, is a political objective. Our home agriculture needs to thrive".