Edinburgh ditches Glyphosate

February 2016
What do Barcelona and Edinburgh have in common?
They are two of the most picturesque cities, they both have stunning architecture and an awful lot of tourists, and both can boast lots of green spaces. Also, they each have City Councillors on the ball enough to notice that they are treating their green spaces with a probable carcinogen, to which their citizens and tourists will probably be exposed. Therefore, they've both come to conclusion that it's probably a good idea to ban the offending substance.

US food trends going into 2016

February 2016
It became increasingly obvious during 2015 that eating habits across the USA are changing.
For today's Americans, all those processed, packaged offerings on the grocery shelves are conjuring up images of Michael Pollan's 'food-like substances' stripped of their nutrition, and loaded with chemicals and sugar. Consumers are demanding fresh, local, organic food.
After decades of foisting ever-cheaper, and ever-more-artificial fare on the public using deceptive marketing, corporate-sponsored research and government lobbying, food manufacturers are finding that their erstwhile customers are walking away from the country's most iconic food brands. Big brand names are fast becoming liabilities.

A new GM maize with questions

January 2015

A summary of a scientific opinion on an entirely new GM maize was published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2015. Under scrutiny was Syngenta's Maize 5307 for food and feed use (not cultivation). The maize has two novel genes.

Even in summary form, the EFSA assessment raises some interesting questions.

GMO animals in the pipeline

January 2016
Photo © Greenpeace / Christian Lehsten
With GM salmon looming very close to dinner-plates on the other side of the pond [1], what's likely to be the next gene-tinkered animal flesh in the supermarket?

The odds seem to be on sumo-wrestler-style pigs, cows and sheep.

New Zealand's GM cow disaster

January 2016

Ever since Dolly the cloned sheep was born in Scotland in 1996, biotech scientists have had their sights on GM livestock.

'Cloning' can now refer to several procedures, but generally involves removing a nucleus from the cell of an animal with desired characteristics and inserting it into an egg cell whose own nucleus has been removed.  The restructured egg is then stimulated to divide and form an embryo which is inserted into the womb of a surrogate mother.  If all goes well, the pregnancy goes to full-term and a healthy, fertile offspring ensues. 

For genetic engineers, that brief availability of the cell nucleus of a future animal is a golden opportunity to insert a gene.

The procedure involves at least three animals: the nucleus donor, the egg-cell donor, and the embryo recipient.  Because the success rate is low, it also involves multiple embryos and multiple sets of cell donors and surrogate mothers.  Add to this the veterinary surgeons, drugs, field-station facilities and staff, specialist laboratories and, of course, biotech scientists.  Clearly, cloning doesn't come cheap.

GM salmon approved

January 2016
In November 2015, after nearly two decades in the regulatory pipeline, the biotech creators of GM fast-growing salmon were "delighted and somewhat surprised" when the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) finally approved their novel fish [1].

Labelling requirements have been left vague, limited to draft guidelines on wording for possible voluntary 'GM' or 'non-GM' labelling.

Smart breeding tools, or hidden GM?

January 2016

The major GM issue for 2016 is certainly going to be the 'New Breeding Techniques' (NBTs) now pouring out of labs.  These are designed to impose "deeper and more complex changes in the genetic makeup and metabolic pathways of living organisms" than good, old-fashioned genetic modification [Steinbrecher]. 

'NBT' is a catch-all phrase for a plethora of molecular spanners, nuts and bolts to change life.  They are described by names and abbreviations which wouldn't immediately suggest GM, even the ones which are, in fact, just new versions of the old (see below).