Fit as a weed

September 2014
 
Photo of green wild rice growing in a field
Wild rice. CC photo by Denrdoica cerulea on Flickr
The vast majority of GM crops now being grown commercially have had a gene inserted to make them resistant to glyphosate herbicide.
 
After spraying with glyphosate, the yield of the GM crop is protected because the weeds competing for nutrients are killed.
 
Gene escape from glyphosate-tolerant crops into wild relatives has never been considered an important problem because unless the wild GM derivatives are sprayed with the herbicide, they will have no special fitness advantage and no reason to run riot. But, this 'wisdom' has been challenged by a team of Chinese scientists.
 
Glyphosate kills plants by inactivating an enzyme, 'EPSPS'*. EPSPS is vital to a number of key metabolic processes because it's responsible for generating a class of essential amino acids (the building block of proteins). These amino acids are vital to the formation of, for example, the plant's supportive material (lignin), plant growth hormone, and a huge range of immune-system substances, which together can account for as much as 35% of a plant's biomass. 

GM mosquito tricks get cleverer

September 2014

Close up of a mosquito on human flesh
Aedes aegypti mosquito. CC photo by Sanofi Pasteur on Flickr
Mosquitoes aren't human food. But humans are food for mosquitoes.
 
As mosquitoes feed off you, they inject saliva into you to keep their food (your blood) flowing out. During this, they can also transmit diseases such a malaria and dengue, and the latest thing in GM mozzies can also give you a dose of destructive DNA. 
 
Natural mosquitoes are part of a serious health problem. GM mozzies could be much worse.

Risk avoidance made easy

September 2014
Crop spraying. CC photo by Tamina Miller on Flickr

Risk-assessment of a substance is carried out by examining all the inherent dangers posed by it, and factoring in how likely it is that anyone will actually be exposed to these dangers.
 

A risk-assessment obviously can't be done without looking at the real-life context in which the substance is used.
 

Glyphosate herbicide, widely used on GM crops, is very safe as these things go, providing you're not a plant or a micro-organism.
 

This fact seems to have been exploited by German assessors when they recommended the re-approval and increased 'Acceptable Daily Intake' of the herbicide earlier this year [1].

A preposterous approval

September 2014

Photo of crop spraying
Crop spraying. CC photo by CropShot on Flickr
Glyphosate herbicide (see below) has just been re-approved for use in the EU along with a 67% increase in its 'acceptable daily intake' (ADI).   


The report submitted to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommending re-approval and upping the ADI was prepared by Germany, the rapporteur Member State for this herbicide.
 
Germany's overall findings were that the herbicide poses no unacceptable risks.  Specifically, glyphosate is not metabolised (chemically changed by the body) nor accumulated in the body.  It's not toxic to genes, nor carcinogenic, nor endocrine disrupting, and has no reproductive toxicity.  The only human health risks noted were that glyphosate is a severe eye irritant. 
 
Issues that could not be finalised included the relevance of impurities and microbial effects. 
 
The Institute of Science in Society described these conclusions as 'preposterous'. 

Bees do what?

August 2014


The positive risk assessments of GM grain crops  have been based on the premise that, because they are  adapted for wind pollination and largely self-pollinating, there is little concern about gene-flow from them into other crops.
Grain crop have a flower structure which aids wind-pollination, and their pollen is not well adapted for carriage by insects.  Tests have shown that the amounts of pollen carried by wind  decrease exponentially with distance from the crop, reaching zero within a few meters.  Also, pollen is short-lived.  The risk of gene pollution arising from GM grain crops has, therefore, been considered effectively zero.
However, a recently published study has challenged this view.

Protecting confused Americans?


August 2014
Nine ... Million ... Dollars ... In three months

That's how much US lobbyists spent in the first quarter of 2014 to keep Americans in the dark about the GMOs in their food (Organic Consumers' Association).

The excuse?
A Congressional Panel on Biotechology has backed industry efforts to avoid GM labelling by explaining it would “frighten” and “confuse” consumers.

Golden rice going bananas

August 2014
Photo of hands holding golden rice in fron ot plant stems.
Golden Rice. CC photo by IRRI photos on Flickr
Academics seem to be going bananas over the crimes against humanity perpetrated by all those green NGOs and individuals who keep voicing their concerns about GM food.

Last year, some eminent international scientists got together to write a letter to a top science magazine. Their aim was to broadcast the role of the green movement in delaying the development of 'golden rice'. They claim this wondrous, philanthropic rice has been genetically transformed to produce vitamin-A to save the poor in countries where many suffer from malnourishment.

This year, a group of academics at the University of California prepared a report for their university's bi-monthly publication. Their aim was to expose the presence of 'powerful forces that hide behind environmentalism' and which are blocking the development of golden rice.

The refrain has, of course, been eagerly picked up by others in the pro-GM lobby [1].