Glyphosate and kidney disease

April 2014
Image of a container of Roundup herbicide with long grass in the background
Glyphosate is marketed as Roundup. Photo Creative Commons
Glyphosate has, for four decades, been hyped as the safest herbicide ever. Its use has increased exponentially world-wide since the 1990s due to the advent of crops genetically transformed to accumulate the chemical while the weeds around them die. 

This reputation for safety is based on facts. In the environment, measurements have shown that glyphosate quickly disappears: it can be degraded by soil microbes and sunlight, washed away, or immobilised in the soil. In animals, it has low toxicity because animals don't have the metabolic pathway that glyphosate interferes with in plants, and the herbicide rapidly passes unchanged through the body to be excreted harmlessly in urine. All true, and all based on science. 
However, there's another side to these facts. 

Backing up the hype

April 2014

When the South African Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) challenged Monsanto to substantiate its broadcast claims of the benefits of GM crops, the best the Company could do was to provide links to its own website (see below).

DNA fibs

April 2014
Photo from Creative Commons
The original, and biggest, fib about GM plants is perpetrated to this day.  It is the wildly inaccurate image of genetic engineers simply 'snipping' a natural gene out of one organism and popping it into another, to create a crop with a precise genetic 'improvement'.

Such genetic improvements popped into the GM plants which have been commercialised to date have been 'snipped' almost exclusively from bacterial genomes.

In the ideal biotech world, DNA is just DNA and is common to all classes of organism.  All classes of organism use the self-same gene-to-protein synthetic mechanism.  Therefore, a bacterial gene snipped out and popped into a plant will generate a bacterial protein just as it did in its native bug.  The details go something like this ...

Roundup harms human cells

April 2014

Image of two containers of Roundup herbicide
Photo from Creative Commons
Several experiments have now indicated direct harm to humans from Roundup herbicide, widely sprayed on GM crops.

For example, risks to blood-, testicular-, umbilical-, embryonic- and placental-cells have been demonstrated.  Effects of Roundup on cells of the liver and kidney (our major organs of detoxification), and endocrine disruption have been indicated.  And the list continues to grow.

Science serving politics

March 2014
A poster with the slogan stop gmo
Photo Creative Commons (by Stephen Melkisethian on Flickr)
The UK Environment Minister, Owen Paterson, was in Brussels recently apparently enacting the latest instalment of the Paterson/Westminster GM soap opera [1,2].

Paterson's mission was to take back GM regulatory powers from Europe in order that the UK can unilaterally approve GM crops, grow them and make us eat them.  He was armed with a report specially commissioned by the Council for Science and Technology (CST), the Government's own science advisers. 

How to create unhealthy apples

March 2014

Picture of different colours and varieties of apples
Image Creative Commons
Ever thought of the humble apple as a staple health-food?  Not in the USA it seems. 

Exports of American apples (and pears) to Europe have dropped 73% over the last five years.  The culprit lies in the high levels of two pesticides added to wax coatings to prevent 'scald'.


'Scald' is a post-harvest storage disorder of apples resulting in discoloured patches on the fruits' skin due to damage and death within the surface layer of cells. The cause seems to be long-term storage, especially under unsuitably humid conditions. Similar-looking post-harvest blemishes may arise due to pesticide treatments, sun, or friction damage in the case of very ripe fruit.
Now, there's another problem looming on the other side of the Atlantic.  Two varieties of GM 'Arctic' apples which don't turn brown when damaged looks set to be approved by the USDA. 

Defining GM regulation

March 2014

Picture of cornmaize
Photo Creative Commons
Biotech giant, Syngenta, sounded miffed when the US National Grain and Feed Association and the North American Export Grain Association asked the Company to suspend the commercial supply of two of its GM maize crops. 

Both of the crops are Bt-insecticide generating crops to combat major corn insect pests:
  • 'Agrisure Viptera' has been around since 2010 and comes in various forms stacked with genes offering “the broadest available spectrum of above-and below-ground insect control ... with a choice of either glyphosate or glufosinate (herbicides) applications” (Syngenta)
  • ''Agrisure Duracade' which will be available for the first time in 2014 and also comes in various forms stacked with genes which feature “a novel mode of action (a Bt look-alike protein never used before) against corn rootworm” This latest GM offering is part of a package designed to combat pest-resistance: “It will only be available stacked with a second corn rootworm trait, and offered as a 5 percent integrated, single-bag refuge product” (Syngenta). 
Neither of these crops has been approved for import into China or the EU, both major buyers of US crops. 

Syngenta's reply to the plea was that it commercialises corn traits in line with industry practices, once it has approval from countries with “functioning regulatory systems”.