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".