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".

Ever expanding miracle grass

April 2017

... the sorcerer's apprentice recited the magic words, and the golf course grew bigger and bigger, engulfing the world with its ever-expanding miracle grass that never dies ... 

Unfortunately, this isn't a fairy-tale. The 'ever-expanding grass' for golf courses is Scotts Miracle-Gro creeping bentgrass genetically transformed never to die when sprayed with glyphosate herbicide; the 'magic words' were what Scotts and its partner, Monsanto, said to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow the GM grass to be field-tested without any environmental impact assessment; and it is, indeed, growing 'bigger and bigger', because although the novel grass never made it to any golf course turf-managers, it is nevertheless rampaging across the Oregon landscape and beyond.

Enogen contamination concerns

April 2017

In 2011, the first GM maize created solely for industrial purposes was approved for cultivation by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

'Enogen' maize has incorporated a bacterial enzyme, 'alpha-amylase', which digests starch to produce sugar. Conveniently, this enzyme can be used at the high temperatures. This makes it useful for the production of ethanolic fuel to make American cars greener.

Up until the introduction of Enogen, the first stage of converting maize to ethanol was to mix in liquid amylase under carefully controlled conditions. Now, as little 15% of Enogen maize in the feed-stock is enough to efficiently decompose all the starch present* without further ado.

Inacta soya concerns

April 2017

EU soya consumers now face the fun prospect of another novel additive in their food. 'Intacta' soya is the first to incorporate a gene for a 'Bt' insecticide in addition to the usual GM ability to accumulate glyphosate herbicide.

The Bt toxin in Intacta is 'Cry1Ac' protein already widely deployed in other commercial GM crops. Besides the existing doubts about the safety assessment of Cry1Ac (such as the use of the bacterial version in tests instead of the structurally, functionally and environmentally different plant-generated version), Intacta presents additional serious concerns.

As all trained kitchen staff know, soya is a recognised human allergen. Cry1Ac is, not only a potential allergen, but is an adjuvant, able to boost immune reactions. Putting two allergens together in one food, or in the dust from animal feed, doesn't sound sensible.

Food safety after Brexit

April 2017

No doubt some GM-Free Scotland readers voted against Brexit due to concerns about the food quality free-for-all it might lead to.

Echoing such doubts, Angus Roberson, Scottish National Party MP for Moray, reminded Parliament that
"The European Union, which we are still part of, has among the highest food safety standards anywhere in the world. The United States on the other hand, is keen to have health systems that are fully open to private competition and it wants to export genetically modified organisms ... ". 
Brexit will remove our current protection from substandard food imports, especially from America.

Noise to drown out the science

March 2017

US law-makers have been urged by one outspoken anti-regulation journal editor to recognise that "a healthy economy with people employed is the cornerstone of a healthy population". That population, however, is "fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health" (Berry).

What the food industry does pay attention to is its own financial health, and any law-makers who try to make food healthier (so as to maintain that healthy population) are not good for its bottom line.

Science is fundamental to food quality, but industry and its lobbyists have worked out all sorts of creative ways to undermine inconvenient facts emerging from the lab.

Creating noise is the favoured tactic.

Fluttering into oblivion

March 2017

In 1995, the population of America's iconic and wonderfully colourful Monarch butterflies reached an all-time high. The following year, GM crops hit US fields with monocultures of GM 'Roundup Ready' plants doused with glyphosate herbicide and monocultures of GM insecticidal plants. These commodities mushroomed within a few years to cover a great deal of the 400 million or so acres of America's cropland.

Apart from the brief rally in the 2010-2011 season, Monarch numbers have declined steadily ever since that peak. Even optimistic estimates put the total loss at more than 80%, and the most recent tally recorded a further drop of 27% from last year's count.