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.

First, the IARC considered up-to-date evidence. The last comprehensive assessment of glyphosate carried out by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dates back to 1993.

Second, it considered a broad range of independent evidence, including human epidemiology and peer reviewed studies. The EPA relied almost entirely on unpublished industry studies (the same ones which were used by Monsanto to advertise glyphosate as 'safe as salt' [2]). Even the most recent safety assessment in the EU was based on information prepared the the 'Glyphsate Task Force', a consortium of agri-chemical companies (including Monsanto).

Third, where America and Europe go "all regulatory agencies around the globe" usually follow sooner or later.

Clarifying the IARC concern, one of its co-authors said:
"Glyphosate is definitely genotoxic". 
Genotoxic chemicals damage DNA and have a recognised potential to cause cancer.

The safety of glyphosate is, of course, central to most of Monsanto's GM crops which are genetically transformed to tolerate and accumulate it. Besides this, the herbicide is widely used on transport routes and green areas, and on conventional crops (such as wheat) to dry the green matter in preparation for harvest.

Presenting data showing that glyphosate in its commercial formulation, 'Roundup', is a thousand times more toxic than glyphosate alone, Dr Mesnage of Kings College London said:
"Glyphosate is everywhere throughout our food chain - in our food and water." 
Residues of the herbicide are below the previously established safe concentration, but recent data now suggest every molecule may present a risk of cancer: there may be NO safe level of exposure.

In the UK, glyphosate has been found in 30% of bread samples. Europe-wide sampling of city-dwellers found seven out of ten people in the UK had traces of glyphosate in their urine. Tests of breast milk in 16 women from a variety of regions in Germany revealed glyphosate at levels of two to more than four times the maximum allowed level in drinking water.


Who knows how much glyphosate we are getting from milk produced by cows fed GM, glyphosate-accumulating feed.

Cancer may have a lag-time of scores of years. We're only 15 years through this now in the GM era.

As Claire Robinson of GM Watch said, people cannot rely on regulators to protect their health: the battle will be won by consumers pressuring retailers to remove glyphosate from their shelves.

You could start by adding your voice to the the Soil Association's call to UK bread manufacturers and supermarkets to ensure that no British wheat destined for bread-making is sprayed with glyphosate before this year's harvest, and that none of the bread that they sell contains glyphosate weed-killer.



[2] GLYPHOSATE: SAFE AS SALT? - (Doc) GMFS Archive, February 2009

  • World Health Organisation says that glyphosate probably causes cancer, Thin Ice GM Freeze Campaign Newsletter, Issue 35 June 2015
  • Glyphosate damages DNA, says World Health Organisation expert, GM Watch 15.07.15
  • Green warn: German breast milk unsafe, The Local, 26.06.15

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.

Almost all the cotton seed available on the market is now GM but as one seed seller lamented
"... the indigenous varieties the local farmers first ask for have been wiped out". 
In Africa, only three countries so far have commercialised GM cotton, but another four are on the verge and two more are planning to follow suit within a couple of years.

However, after only a few seasons of growing Monsanto's GM cotton, Burkina Faso is phasing out the crop due to disappointing yields and poor fibre quality. In Malawi, which is about to embark on the GM path, the cotton industry is already publicly voicing concerns over inadequate field trials, the high cost of inputs, and the ominously blurred intellectual property arrangements.

Some African governments and cotton producers have high hopes that GM will boost their competitiveness in the dog-eat-dog global cotton market.

How realistic is this?

" ... (Cotton) prices are erratic and distorted by unfair subsidies in the North, institutional support for the activities is often lacking and high input costs are already annihilating profit margins" (Haidee Swanby). During a public consultation, one Malian farmer put his dilemma bluntly "What's the point of encouraging us to increase yields with GMOs when we can't get a decent price for what we already produce?" As The African Centre for Biosafety pointed out "Scrutiny of actual experiences reveals a tragic tale of crippling debt, appalling market prices and a technology prone to failure in the absence of very specific and onerous management techniques, which are not suited to smallholder production ".

What's needed has been spelled out by The African Centre for Biosafety
"It is time that African governments turn their resources to improving the local environments in which cotton producers operate, including institutional and infrastructural support that can bring long-term sustainability to the sector without placing further burdens and vulnerability on some of the most marginalised people in the world."


GM crops are simply not what farmers, the poor or the hungry in developing countries need. Using such vulnerable people as an excuse to push GM food in developing areas is obscene.



  • Haidee Swanby (The African Centre for Biosafety), Opinion: GM cotton a false promise for Africa, IPS News 15.06.15
  • Burkina Faso dumps GM Bt cotton, Jeune Afrique translated by GM Watch, 9.06.15
  • Jamil Shahid, Genetically modified cotton seed 'blights' Pakistan's cash crop, Dawn 22.06.15

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.