Novel golden substances

October 2018

Forcing rice to produce GM carotene (vitamin A precursor), a substance with no role in the grains of the plant, has long posed safety questions.

The genes to generate carotene are put into 'Golden Rice' to create a bio-fortified staple food for areas in Africa and Asia where vitamin A deficiency ('VAD') is all too common.

Because of the unpredictable nature of GM plants, and because rice grains aren't adapted to manufacture or store carotene, and because vitamin A-related substances are highly biologically active (see Note), Golden Rice could contain novel harmful elements, especially to the young.

USA missing the main markets

October 2018

America has been gung-ho about declaring gene-edited plants somehow not really GM, paving the way for the new-GM crops now lining up for entry to the US food market [1,2].

The back-drop to this is interesting.

New GM wheat with fibre

October 2018

Wary of negative public reaction and export market collapse, America has never pursued the commercialisation of GM wheat.

However, the recent US Department of Agriculture (USDA) decision that gene-edited crops are somehow not genetically engineered [1], has opened the door to the development of new-GM wheat.

Bt allergic reactions?

October 2018

Food allergy is an important public health problem, affecting some 8% of children and 3% of adults.

Allergic individuals suffer from an immune system disturbance which causes an inflammatory reaction to substances which are normally tolerated. A first exposure to the substance primes the system and subsequent exposures cause a reaction. Sometimes several earlier exposures are needed before the body reacts, especially in the case of food.

Allergic responses are highly complex, involving several different cell types and organ systems. They vary according to the route of exposure, for example, skin, nasal or lungs, digestive tract, or body penetration. To add to the complexity, substances referred to as 'adjuvants' which aren't themselves allergens can induce an allergic reaction to other materials presented at the same time.

Acute, severe allergic reactions can be life-threatening. Chronic allergies can be severely debilitating and indirectly fatal.

GMOs are not GMOs in America

September 2018

Unlike the Brits, who easily talked themselves into believing gene-edited plants are somehow 'natural' enough not to need regulation, only to be disabused of that notion by the European Court of Justice [1], the American biotech industry has had no such problems. Never having had any GM regulations in the first place made things much more straightforward*. With no clear legal nor scientific concept of what constitutes artificial manipulation of the genome, or of the nature of the risks, it was easy for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to pronounce gene-edited plants the same as any other.

Keep hidden gene-edited crops out of the food chain

September 2018

Biotech scientists in the UK have successfully fooled themselves and their regulators into believing that artificial mutation is somehow a "natural phenomenon", and that the outcomes of new mutagenesis techniques could somehow happen in nature. Earlier this year, encouraged it seems by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE), our Department of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) was happy to give consent for field trials of GM Camelina*. These experimental crops include two lines produced using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing [1].

Both scientists and regulators were so convinced that the preliminary opinion issued by the European Court of Justice Advocate General in January this year had said that all mutagenesis techniques should be exempt from regulation instead of what it did actually say [2], that they forged ahead with the development of gene-edited crops. The field trials have, therefore, not been subject to any GM-related safeguards.

Court rules: gene editing is genetic modification

September 2018

Concerns that the European Commission was getting itself in such a twist just trying to define new mutagenesis techniques that it would never get its head round how to regulate them [1] seem to have been straightened out by the European Court of Justice.

Gene editing creates a precise mess

September 2018

CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology is causing the jitters. Hailed as "highly precise" and "virtually impossible to detect", CRISPR has become the GM technique which biotech and medical researchers are banking on [1]. The reason, it seems, for CRISPR's "highly precise" reputation is that it's designed (by humans) to latch onto a highly precise location in the genome.

So convinced have scientists been of the mechanistic nature of CRISPR-Cas9's seek-and-chop action, that checks on possible associated mutations have been limited to the immediate vicinity of the target site and to DNA sequences elsewhere with a known similarity to the target.

In fact, confidence is such that correction of faulty human genes using CRISPR has already moved to human trials. This may have been premature, because two studies have now pointed out that the human cells which allow their faulty genes to be sorted have other inherent faults which can lead to cancer [2].

Realistic mixtures of common chemicals are not safe

September 2018

The chemicals we're exposed to are checked by careful scientific experimentation to see what level we can safely consume. Science doesn't allow side issues to muddle the results: the substance being tested isn't contaminated, the animals fed the substance aren't compromised by background ill-health, poor nutrition or old age. This is good, controlled, repeatable science.

To add to the certainty that nothing irrelevant is skewing the result, a key part of the definition of a 'toxin' is that the substance becomes more harmful as exposure to it increases.

In real-life, however, things are different. We're not all young, healthy and well-fed, and in truth we're routinely exposed to a witch's brew of substances plus impurities, albeit on a micro-scale.

Triple stacked GM maize causes leaky stomachs

September 2018
Because partially digested food can be held in the stomach for some hours, the stomach is the part of our body most exposed to the materials in our diet. Yet, tests able to reveal pathological changes and gastric dysfunction, such as measurements of stomach tissue structure or diagnostic staining of stomach cells, are never included in GM safety assessments.

An Australian team of scientists has made a start on filling this gap.

Creeping grass with creeping toxins

August 2018

Pure creeping bentgrass and nothing but creeping bentgrass is a must-have for golf-courses.

Its fine texture and ability to 'creep', forming a dense, even cover, are prized by groundskeepers. For professional tournaments with big money at stake, weeds are a no-no. Anything other than 100% bentgrass makes any kind of putt on a green unreliable.

Back in 2003, when agribusiness giants Scotts Miracle-Gro and Monsanto trialed RoundupReady bentgrass which needed nothing more than a squirt of Roundup herbicide to keep it pristine, they thought they were onto a winner. In fact, it turned into a giant headache which continues to this day [1].

CRISPR cancer warning

August 2018

An inescapable and potentially catastrophic weakness in all forms of the genomic molecular manipulations currently fashionable in science, is that healthy cells don't tolerate interference.

Biotech scientists have devised a plethora of clever tricks to force unwanted changes on the cell. The tricks range from ballistic missiles, to pathogenic microbes, to viruses, to chemical- or electrical-disruption, to weird nucleic acid* constructs, and are all designed to by-pass the mechanisms which keep a cell whole, functional and viable.

Forward-looking FriendlyTM mozzies to beat malaria

August 2018

Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Paraguay officially free of malaria after zero recorded cases in five years. Algeria, Argentina and Uzbekistan are on track to be declared malaria-free later this year.

As the head of the WHO said, the importance of this success story is that it shows what is possible: "If malaria can be eliminated in one country, it can be eliminated in all countries".

The problem with malaria is that, although it can be eliminated locally by wiping out the mosquitoes which harbour it and treating its victims so they don't pass the disease on, the mozzies and their parasites will always come back. Human beings will visit malarial regions and return with infections, mosquitoes will fly in from neighbouring infected areas, and both the flies and the parasites will evolve resistance to the chemicals designed to kill them. All this means you have to keep on the case.

Holistic gene reality

August 2018

In 2012, entrepreneur Craig Venter was going to save the world with synthetic microbes. In his view life is simply "DNA software" with a "cell there to read it" [1].

He set about creating a cell with the smallest number of genes, "a cell so simple that we can determine the molecular and biological function of every gene". His plan was to identify a core set of genes and synthesise a minimal genome able to produce an independent, replicating cell. The ultimate goal was the construction of a designer cell with whatever properties human beings desired.

By the time he published a paper on his project four years later, Venter had realised the whole life thing is more complex than he'd envisaged: the genes not critical for simply staying alive in a perfect, stress-free environment are nevertheless needed for "robust growth".

Meta analysis shows how different GM really is

August 2018

Domestic breeding has been a 'powerful evolutionary force' on our food plants, to which the introduction of GM plants has added a whole new dimension. Noting this, a Mexican team of scientists took a look at the extent of the changes now present in conventional and GM crops compared to their wild ancestors.

Non-GM maize gems

August 2018

US maize farmers have an arsenal of chemical weapons to fight their enemy No.1. But it isn't winning them the war.

'Western corn rootworm' grubs are munching away underground in maize crops in five US States. The worms are oblivious to the toxins applied to the soil, to the toxins applied to the seeds, and to the Bt toxins generated by GM plants themselves. Adult rootworm moths, which snip at the corn silks and prevent pollination, are equally oblivious to chemical attack.

Root feeding damage leads to reduced uptake of nutrients and water by the plant and instability, especially in adverse weather conditions. Yield losses can be catastrophic: western corn rootworm isn't called the "billion-dollar bug" for nothing [1].

No Bt soya for US farmers

July 2018

After spending more than a decade testing the performance of its GM 'Intacta 2 Xtend' soya in preparation for US commercialisation in 2021, Monsanto has pulled the plug.

The dicamba conundrum

July 2018

Despite the host of problems presented by the expanded use of dicamba herbicide last year [1], the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has cut a deal to allow the chemical's continued application. Monsanto was "very excited" by the EPA's decision.

This excitement isn't surprising because dicamba is vital to the Company's next generation of GM soya. Now that weed resistance to Roundup is rendering Monsanto's Roundup Ready GM soya obsolete, future fortunes are depending on dicamba tolerance technology as a replacement.

The greening of unsold GM papaya?

July 2018

Shoe-horning your agriculture into the modern high-input, energy-hungry globalised system is particularly problematic for remote areas. Even Hawaii - American soil but a long way from the mainland - has realised it has an economic imperative for self-sufficient and sustainable resource management.

Knotty DNA

July 2018

When you think of 'DNA', the odds are you picture the famous double helix: a neat ladder-like structure made of two strings of nucleic acid (NA) molecules each holding hands with its partner on the opposite string, and elegantly twisted like a corkscrew. Extending this ladder with an extra section, chopping out a bit, changing rung or two, or even adding in a whole extra ladder, is proving increasingly easy to engineer.

At the same time, it's becoming increasingly clear that DNA doesn't always sit in the form of a pretty helix.

Living DNA is a highly responsive and dynamic structure [1,2]. The ladder is stable, but to transition to an active form, the two halves come apart. The strings of nucleic acids can then hold hands in all different ways to form hair-pins or even three- or four-stranded pleats, with bulges and loops.

Too much trade is bad for you

July 2018

Once upon a time, trade was a mutual give-and-take which promised lasting prosperity for both partners; and with prosperity would come well-being.

The modern way redefines 'prosperity' in terms of ever-expanding trade whose boundaries are global. Now, 'trade' has winners and losers, and the 'well-being' part is nowhere.

Let there BE labels on genetically modified food

July 2018
'Genetically engineered food' has never sounded like something anyone would rush to eat, and frankly "If you put a label on (it) you might as well put a skull-and-crossbones on it" (Asgrow Seed Company President 1994).
So, how do you sell genetically engineered food to the public?

What glyphosate has achieved in Argentina

June 2018

While the agrichemical and biotech industries insist their products are SAFE when used as directed, and regulators can't seem to figure out whose interests (the people's or industry's) to prioritise, what's happening in the real world where people have to live with the chemicals and the GMOs?

Befuddled bees

June 2018

The two most widely used pesticides in agriculture, especially on GM crops, are neonicotinoid insecticides and glyphosate-based herbicides. These have become the preferred choice due to their effectiveness as they spread systemically through the plant, and to their low toxicity in mammals.

Inevitably, traces of both are likely to be found together in the same plant where our pollinators will be exposed to them.

Indeed, analyses have shown neonicotinoid and glyphosate contamination not only in the nectar and pollen collected by honey bees but in their honey stores inside the hive. This means all bees, at all stages in their life will be exposed to both toxins.

Although neither pesticide causes instant bee death, increasing concerns are focusing on the possibility of more subtle, long-term and indirect effects on bee behaviour which will ultimately lead to the collapse of the colony [1].

Re-thinking the yield obsession

June 2018

"For the last 60 years we have been on a pesticide merry-go-round, where successive generations of pesticides are released, and a decade or two later they are banned when the environmental harm they do emerges. Each time they are replaced by something new, and each new group of chemicals brings new and unanticipated problems. Considering our intelligence, it is remarkable that we humans can keep making the same mistake over and over again" signed by 12 scientists who have spent decades studying the fragile web of insects, the environment, and the crops on which we all depend for survival. 
This merry-go-round is harming both ourselves and our environment: why can't we get off it?

Mega-pest moths

June 2018

A great deal of technical and commercial effort has been devoted to GM crops with soak themselves with their very own, self-generated 'Bt' insecticides.

Particular biotech industry targets for Bt have been cotton bollworm, a widespread pest in Africa and India, and corn earworm, a widespread pest in the Americas.

These 'worms' are actually the larvae of two related species of moth which cause billions of dollars of crop damage every year feasting on monoculture banquets.

Cotton bollworm is a particularly notorious pest, with a fast generation time, an extreme mobility, and an unusually diverse gene pool to draw on. It attacks over 100 crop types and has developed resistance to all pesticides used to try to control it. All in all, a top-class super-pest.

Superfit GM superweeds

June 2018
Protester dressed as a superweed
CC photo by Steve Rhodes on Flickr
World-wide, the big biotech success story is crops which are genetically transformed to survive glyphosate-based herbicides.

Glyphosate interferes with a plant enzyme key to the production of, for example, auxin (a plant growth hormone, also important in reproduction), lignin (woody supportive material), and defensive compounds against pests and disease. All of these are vital and are part of tightly controlled processes in a healthy plant. When glyphosate wipes out that enzyme, the weed or non-GM plant dies.

The magic gene inserted into glyphosate-tolerant crops generates a novel version of the enzyme which isn't inactivated by the herbicide. However, the expression of an artificial gene, isn't controlled. GM glyphosate-tolerant plants will therefore generate an excess of the enzyme, and this suggests that their growth, reproduction, physical robustness, and susceptibility to disease will be altered.

GM maize data mountain

June 2018

A recent article in Forbes Magazine suggested that the "mountains of scientific proof" of "how big the benefit and small the risk is from GMO crops" should "put a categorical end to (the) worries" of the apparently uninformed public in whom "GMO paranoia continues to rage".

A succession of sick pigs?

May 2018

In a re-run of the GM wonder-crop revolution which promised weed-free fields growing pest-free crops, it looks like we're getting a GM wonder-pig revolution of disease-free herds (soon to be followed by flocks of GM wonder-hens and shoals of GM wonder-fish).

Scottish scientists have modified pig genes to "massively increase resistance and resilience to infection". The first targets are 'Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus' (PRRSV) which causes breathing problems and leads to still births and stunted offspring when sows are infected, and African Swine fever.

A beer-like beverage

May 2018

Craft beer brewing is an art form whose products are fast gaining in popularity. Typically, a craft brew is tastier than industrial versions because it uses far more hop flowers whose complex essential oils impart the characteristic beer flavour and aroma.

The variability of hop flowers make them an irritation to big brewers because their market demands uniformity, their factories demand recipes, and art is beyond them. Hops are also expensive. But the other vital beer-ingredient, yeast, is cheap.

Food lesson for the future

May 2018

What's going to happen when the long-term consumption of GM foods takes its toll on our health?

If we're lucky, medics will notice a spike in some chronic disease, and toxicologists will manage to link the problem to GM elements in our diet. And then what? Will the novel culprit be withdrawn from sale?

Real-life infant harm from Glyphosate

May 2018
Glyphosate is the most heavily used herbicide worldwide. Where high-tech monoculture is the agricultural norm, GM glyphosate-tolerant crops account for huge and widespread use of this one herbicide.

In Argentina, for example, 65% of pesticides used are glyphosate-based. In the American mid-west, over 90% of the millions of acres of corn, soya and canola, are GM and glyphosate-tolerant.

After starting its commercial life with a 'safe as salt' ticket [1], long before modern sub-cellular and molecular safety tests had been developed, glyphosate has certainly become "one of the world's most studied chemicals" (President of The Agribusiness Council of Indiana). However, its real-life complexity is only now being recognised by scientists.

Glyphosate and AMPA in the air

May 2018

GM crops are still hanging on to their 'environmentally-friendly' image.

Resistance to glyphosate-based herbicides is a feature of most GM crops. This GM trait enables soil-preserving no-till farming, and provides easy weed control with a single chemical reputed to be toxic only to weeds and to disappear readily from the environment. All this, plus glyphosate's early 'safe-as-salt' tag for humans [1] provided little incentive for scientific study of side-effects of the herbicide during the past decades of increasing use.

However, things are changing since the International Agency for Research on Cancer came to the conclusion that glyphosate is 'probably carcinogenic to humans' [2]. Questions are gradually surfacing about where glyphosate actually goes when it 'disappears' from the environment.

The emerging answers don't paint a comforting picture.

Who's stirring the GMO pot?

May 2018

Would you believe that, after decades of blaming the pesky Greens for stirring up consumer resistance to GM foods, US scientists have worked out that it's really the pesky Reds!

With state funding, the researchers tried to get a better understanding of the GM food controversy, the hope being that they could "put information out there to make people better understand GMOs ... then that fear (of GMOs) might go away". To this end, professors of sociology and agronomy in Iowa State University joined forces to look at how the media portrayed biotechnology to the public.

If this smells like a grand plan to counter the increasing US public scepticism about GM and all things connected to it, read on and decide for yourself.

Court opinion on NBTs

April 2018

Just to add fuel to the fire of how to define 'new breeding techniques' in a way useful to their regulation or non-regulation [1], the European Court of Justice published a preliminary Opinion at the beginning of the year.

The Court was asked to clarify the scope of GMO Directive 2001 which was put in place before the plethora of new breeding techniques had emerged, plus the validity of the Directive's 'mutagensis exemption'. This exemption was designed to exclude from GM regulation the old fashioned random mutagenic techniques such as the use of radiation and toxins to induce DNA damage, probably because it would be a regulatory nightmare to treat the outcomes of old-fashioned random mutagenesis as GMOs after decades of use. Thus, at the time the Directive was drawn up, only those plant and animal breeding methods considered to have a long safety record were exempted. However, now that we have targeted mutagensis (gene editing techniques), the 2001 Directive has become blurry on the subject.

CRISPR has in-built imprecision

April 2018

It seems the 'CRISPR' gene editing tool, hyped as so precise in its action that all previous concerns about GM side-effects could be swept aside, is not all it's cracked up to be [1].

In reality, man-made CRISPR constructs can roam around the genome snipping sections of DNA you really don't want to damage. Such so-called 'off-target' effects can disable a vital gene completely or impair its functioning, and the outcome can be dire.

Wishful biotech industry thinkers built CRISPR constructs with nucleic acid sequences* designed to bind to, and cut, specific bits of DNA. But in reality they can recognise, bind to, and cut bits of DNA which are simply similar. Scientists are beginning to realise that the nucleic acid sequence is only a part of CRISPR's ability to recognise its target.

It turns out that, besides homing in on perfectly matching target DNA, CRISPR can take stock of the nature, number and position of any nucleic acid mis-matches, and conformational changes in the CRISPR molecule are also involved.

A soya model NOT to follow

April 2018

Argentina's 'modelo sojero', once promoted as a shining economic example for others to follow, seems instead to have led straight to the social disaster many predicted.

The 'modelo sojero' [1] is based on a move to high-tech monocultures of a few commodity crops (in this case mainly GM soya, a lot of wheat and GM maize) produced for export markets and for growing the country's GDP. Boosted by extreme free-trade, light-touch regulations and privatisation, the model channels the cash flowing in from far-off lands into state hand-outs to reduce poverty.

Pesticide divorce proceedings

April 2018
Protest against pesticides in Paris 2016
Photo Creative Commons
The EU's biggest grain grower, grain exporter and food producer, France, has been leading the way in healthy food and farming for the last decade.

France was one of the first Member States to 'opt out' of growing GM crops in 2015 (see Note below).

The following year, a ban on pesticide use in public green spaces was announced by the French government, plus a prohibition on over-the-counter sales of pesticides to non-professional gardeners. From 2019, pesticide use will be prohibited in private gardens also.

'Bt' and kidney disease

April 2018

The EU probably has the most detailed, carefully drafted and thought-out GM regulations in the world. All Member States can give their opinion during the GM approval process, and the precautionary principle underlies it.

New biotech crops on the market come stacked with multiple artificial genes*. In such cases, even if the 'parent' single-trait crops have already been accepted, the EU quite rightly considers the crop to be a new GM organism needing its own regulatory approval.

How the EU system works in practice, however, is less impressive.

Scientific dysfunctional advice mechanism

April 2018

The European Commission (EC) is clearly struggling with the wealth of novel genome tweaking techniques streaming out of the laboratory.

Problem No.1 is finding a collective name for what it's trying to regulate. 'New breeding techniques' seems to be favoured despite the notable presence of manufacturing and absence of procreation in the techniques themselves [1]. Some new breeding techniques, such as CRISPR/Cas9 [2], are referred to as gene- or genome-editing giving them an aura of minor and precise correction. Concerned scientists and green organisations have no hesitation in calling them what they are: new GM techniques producing new GMOs which have much the same uncertainties, risks and potential for indirect negative impacts as the old kind.

The world's No. 1 non-weedkiller

March 2018

Monsanto has been insisting for years that glyphosate, the staple weedkiller of the modern world and pillar of GM crops, is safe [1]. Regulators concur.

The latest published, independent science on the subject also agrees: glyphosate is safe. In fact, it's so safe it doesn't even kill plants.

Let's be clear: at recommended agricultural dilutions glyphosate had "no observable adverse effect" on plants nor on human cells.

So, what's killing all those weeds so effectively around the globe when they're treated with glyphosate-based sprays?

The scientists who found glyphosate was a non-weedkiller went on to explore that very question.

Bt bio-burden

March 2018

What would you expect to happen if you forced a plant to produce a large, foreign protein continuously whether or not it served any biological purpose, and no matter what else the plant's physiology was dealing with at the time?

Protein production requires a supply of nitrogen, carbon and water to build the molecule, and a supply of energy to do the building. The plant gets its nitrogen and water from the soil (providing they're there and its roots are healthy), and gets its carbon and energy by photosynthesis in its green leaves (providing they're healthy).

So, what would you expect to happen if the resources needed for a plant's protein production are being siphoned off to make that large, unnecessary, foreign protein?

Clamour for GM safety testing

March 2018

No clinical trials on human health outcomes from eating GM foods have ever been conducted.

Although the need for post-market monitoring seems to appear in GM regulatory approvals, no health surveillance has ever been carried out. You don't have to look far to find the reason.

Innovation chaos

March 2018

America, it seems, created a whole regulatory headache for itself in the pre-dawn days of GM crops when it determined that GMOs weren't different from their natural counterparts "in any meaningful or uniform way".

This decision wasn't based on science but on a perceived need to resist the spread of unnecessary regulation so as to promote America as the world leader in biotechnology. The result has been that GM crops have been shoe-horned into existing US regulations on drugs, pesticides, invasive species, and control of plant disease where they sit very uneasily in different government agencies, or sometimes nowhere at all.

By far the biggest player in this game is the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) which exists to promote farmers' and agricultural interests, but which seems to have evolved into a machine to do the biotech industry's bidding.

Indirect health effects of Roundup

March 2018

Another data set from the ominous life-long feeding study of rats fed Roundup herbicide [1] has been published. The original study caused a biotech industry panic because of the increased tumours observed in the female rats.

This new spin-off was a pilot study carried out towards the end of the experiment. It looked at the digestive tract health in a small number of surviving rats. The results suggest that Roundup, which is sprayed on and accumulated by most GM crops, may cause an unhealthy disturbance of the gut's microbial population, the 'microbiome' (See Note).

Taking on GMO propaganda

March 2018

Remember Robert, and his answer to the Cornell University 'GMO Debate' which wasn't a debate?  His GM LESSONS, FOR FREE, FOREVER (June, 2017) are well worth viewing.

Now, our Robert is planning to make a documentary film about his encounters with Cornell's massive  GM propaganda machine.  If he can raise enough funds, Robert also hopes to go to India and Bangladesh plus Brazil and Argentina to meet the people affected by the GMO-industrial agricultural systems there, and to tell their story.

The film will be called 'Grow More Organic Wholesome Tasty Food': check out the trailer for it at  It's worth viewing the trailer to catch Cornell's promotional material for its GMO Debate which Robert has incorporated into the background. 

You might also like to give a small donation to encourage Robert in his quest to keep us supplied with 100% Monsanto-free information on GM.

·         Please fund GMOWTF's documentary on GM foods and crops, GM Watch, 24.01.18

GM in Mexican maize revisited

February 2018

One of the early embarrassments for the biotech industry was the publication of a study in 2001 which reported GM contamination in Mexican traditionally bred maize varieties (landraces - see Note).

Mexico is the centre of origin of maize and an important reservoir of genetic diversity of the species. To preserve this valuable and irreplaceable resource, the cultivation of GM maize has been banned there since 1998.

The unwelcome finding of contamination was met with a slew of pro-GM publications casting doubt on its validity by criticising its methodology.

RNAi fantasy

February 2018

Some 40% of pollinator species, including butterflies and bees, are facing extinction.

Climate change is, of course, taking its toll as wild animals find their life-cycles out of step with the plants they depend on. More has been made, however, of the toll exacted by neonicotinoid insecticides ('neonics').

Now, the largest ever field study of the effects of neonics on bees has, indeed, confirmed the negative impact. It also revealed the extent of contamination of wild plants. This was backed up by second study published the same day which reported that wildflowers are the bees' main source of exposure to the insecticides.

The gene drive offensive

February 2018

The threat posed by gene drives to our environment, our health, our food supply, our livelihoods and our peace appears to be from the enemy within.

Gene drives are created using a relatively simple and cheap molecular technology, and are designed to cut-and-paste themselves into specific locations in the genome of a target organism. Because of a gene drive's unnatural self-spreading properties, the genetic disruption it causes ends up in all offspring and becomes ubiquitous in the population within a very few generations. If the gene-drive is incompatible with survival or reproduction, it will drive the target population to extinction.

CRISPR muscle man

February 2018

Slaves of the world arise and revolt! You need, no longer, be subject to your cruel gene-masters. CRISPR-man will sell, show you the way to freedom.

This new-found slavery has been laid bare by the biohacker movement.

Herbicides stimulate antibiotic resistance

February 2018

Multi-antibiotic resistance in pathogenic microbes is a serious, and increasingly common, occurrence. It complicates the treatment of infectious diseases, makes health care more expensive, and can be a death-sentence for the patient.

We know that, once a pathogen evolves a mutant gene for antibiotic resistance, this can be passed to other microbes by horizontal gene transfer. Long ago, concerns were raised that the artificial antibiotic resistance genes often added to GM crop plants as markers during their development could fuel the emergence of antibiotic resistant pathogens. No one seems to be tracking whether this is a reality, but bugs can make themselves resistant to toxic medicines by other means, and counter-intuitively these 'other means' can be fuelled by herbicide-tolerant GM crops.

When bacteria are exposed to a toxin, their first line of defence is to switch on their own pumps to rid themselves of it. If this physiological mechanism can kick in fast enough (before the toxin kills it), the bug can make itself resistant to an antibiotic for as long as necessary.

The link to GM crops is that herbicidal chemicals and their spray co-formulants are also toxic to bacteria. Tests on the glyphosate-based herbicide used on most current GM crops, and on dicamba and 2,4-D which are up-and-coming replacements for glyphosate, plus the 'surfactants' added to all three to aid penetration into the weeds, showed they all trigger the toxin-pump mechanism in three commonly pathogenic bacteria. 'Surfactants' are detergents, classed as 'inerts' by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and are ignored in safety assessments. However, the bacteria clearly don't find them 'inert'.

70% of world's population fed by peasant farmers

February 2018

Of all our modern 'conveniences', the invention of the Industrial Food Chain must rank as the most unfit-for-purpose.

The Chain has a beginning, a middle and an end:
  • The beginning is all the resources needed for monoculture of crops: hybrid seed, large tracts of flat land, plentiful water, machines (plus the fossil fuels needed to manufacture and run them), and agrichemicals (plus the fossil fuels needed to manufacture and apply them)
  •  the middle is transport, storage, processing, packaging and retailing, all of which require an infrastructure of facilities and machines (plus the fossil fuels needed to create and maintain them) 
  • The end is the food in your kitchen, profit here and there along the way, and wasted stuff. 
Like all chains, the Industrial Food Chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Unlike all chains, every one of The Chain's links is weak.

Missed molecular scars

January 2018

In October last year, the Wall Street Journal's Global Food Forum provided a platform for the biotech industry to promote its latest GM escapade. This is, of course, 'gene editing' which can be done using a variety of different techniques [1] all of which are fancy versions of GM.

Executives are busy strategising on how to 'sell' edited-GMOs to a suspicious and sceptical public.

The elusive 'GM for yield' question

January 2018

A refreshingly sensible 'Opinion' on the possibility of creating a resilient crop genetically transformed to increase yield has been published. The authors are biotech scientists from Rothamstead Research (Britain's leading GM research facility) and Syngenta (originally a Swiss biotech company, now Chinese).

Juggling with glyphosate

January 2018

Not, perhaps, the best way to start a new year is the announcement that the European Commission has re-approved the use of glyphosate herbicide for five years.

This means that responsibility for the consequences of this highly controversial weedkiller is off-loaded onto Member States: France and Italy immediately announced their intention to phase out glyphosate over the next three years, and Austria is set to join them.

Cosmetic editing

January 2018

Question: What do you do when a meticulously constructed scientific review concludes your bread-and-butter product is a "probable carcinogen"?

Answer: You meticulously construct a whole set of 'scientific' counter-reviews and meticulously cover-up their source.

The link between blood-cell cancer, 'non-Hodgkin lymphoma', and Monsanto's Roundup herbicide used on most GM crops has sparked over 1,000 lawsuits against the weedkiller's manufacturer. Preparation for all these court cases has led to the disclosure of huge numbers of company e-mails which Monsanto would rather have kept to itself.

When the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate, is "probably carcinogenic" with epidemiological links to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Monsanto rushed to commission its own reviews of the scientific evidence which effectively rubbished the IARC findings.