Cosmetic editing

January 2018

Question: What do you do when a meticulously constructed scientific review concludes your bread-and-butter product is a "probable carcinogen"?

Answer: You meticulously construct a whole set of 'scientific' counter-reviews and meticulously cover-up their source.

The link between blood-cell cancer, 'non-Hodgkin lymphoma', and Monsanto's Roundup herbicide used on most GM crops has sparked over 1,000 lawsuits against the weedkiller's manufacturer. Preparation for all these court cases has led to the disclosure of huge numbers of company e-mails which Monsanto would rather have kept to itself.

When the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate, is "probably carcinogenic" with epidemiological links to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Monsanto rushed to commission its own reviews of the scientific evidence which effectively rubbished the IARC findings.

Knowledge is power

January 2018

Your second New Year's resolution (after you've joined the GM Freeze campaign on 'Brexit and GM' [1]) is to support the providers-extraordinaire of information on all things GM, GM Watch.

Like GM-free Scotland, GM Watch formed in the mid-1990s at the dawn of GM, and its principle is that KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.

Brexit, imports and GMOs

January 2018

The big issue for Scotland in 2018 is going to be Brexit, especially the associated risk that it could usher in GM crops to our fields and to our food.

Without the carefully crafted EU Directives controlling the cultivation, import and sale of GMOs in force, major safeguards will disappear. Gone will be the precautionary principle, the recognition of the irrevocable nature of any harm caused to the environment, the right not to grow GM crops, the respect for ethical concerns, traceability and labelling.

Our biggest threat is from uncontrolled imports of GMOs from America.

Environmentally-friendly, but dead

December 2017

In 1999, biotech boffins in Canada invented the 'Enviropig' genetically transformed to digest grain-based feedstuffs which pigs don't naturally eat, but which are now part-and-parcel of modern intensive pig-rearing [1].

This piggy-wonder was touted as being cheaper and greener to produce because, thanks to its novel digestive system, it wouldn't excrete huge amounts of polluting phosphates, and wouldn't smell. 'Environmentally-friendly' is always a good PR hand to play.

A hopeful herd of Enviropigs was maintained for 17 years, waiting for the market to want to eat them.

The pigs are all dead now. Total disaster. No customers. All cost and no return.

Fake news machine

December 2017

'Fake news' - false, often sensational information disseminated under the guise of news reporting. - Collins 'Word of the Year' 2017


Cornell University's 'Alliance for Science' has announced a further contribution to its work from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Originally endowed with $5.6 million in 2014, this new grant brings the total Gates' contribution to $12 million.

The mission is to promote GM in agriculture by "depolarising" the global debate and training the uninformed in "evidence based decision making". One of the Alliance's major initiatives has been to teach "strategic communications" to local advocates so they can spread the word, and train others in developing countries where GMOs are contentious.

Five times removed from natural

December 2017
© Greenpeace / Statchett
A huge focus of GM development has been on crops which can generate their own insecticides against key pests. Such crops have added genes copied from the, seemingly ubiquitous, soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis ('Bt') which enable the plants to produce 'Bt' toxic proteins targeting specific insects.

'Bt' crops are promoted by industry and regulators as environmentally-friendly, farmer-friendly and consumer-friendly. After all, they target specific pests only, they breakdown quickly in the soil, they are designed to reduce the need for expensive chemical insecticide applications in the field and on our food. B. thuringiensis is a "naturally occurring" bacterium, producing natural protein toxins which will be naturally digested in the human gut and are, therefore, naturally safe to eat. Moreover, so the story goes, approved commercial Bt preparations have been "extensively" and safely used for "over half a century" in organic farming and in forestry, decades before the GM crop era.

This 'naturalness' and 'history of safe use' have been used by industry and regulators to justify the minimisation of actual testing.

Roundup impairs soil fungi

December 2017

Modern farmers are proud to grow crop plants in isolated splendour; they make sure nothing much ever gets a chance to live alongside them in the fields. Their yields are impressive, and the drain on soil health even more so.

Soil is a living material. It generates the nutrients plants need, and its resilience comes from a vast living, interacting biodiversity of bacteria, fungi, single-cell organisms, plants and animals. Agrichemicals designed to kill change all that.

Scientific methods are, of course, used to check out the effects of agrichemicals on select representative soil life-forms. For example, tests of key features of the well-characterised soil fungus, Aspergillus nidulans, include growth rate, spore germination and germination delay, pigmentation and organisation of the fungal strands. If no effects are detected at some measured level of exposure to a pesticide, the chemical is pronounced safe for the soil at any lower concentrations.

However, science has moved on a long way from looking at gross changes under a microscope such as the above. And, none of the chemicals tested in isolation in the laboratory is ever present in isolation in the field.

A recently published study based on state-of-the-art 'proteomic' analyses revealed subtle biochemical disturbances in A. nidulans exposed to glyphosate. This raises a number of concerns.