Is Pandora a myth?

December 2018

'Pandora's Potatoes' might seem an odd name for a book examining the scientific reality of the GM potatoes now in American supermarkets. Its author, Caius Rommens, and creator of these very spuds, chose the name because, once he had detached himself from the biotech industry and reviewed his past work and the scientific literature, he identified concerns he simply hadn't been able to see before.

Primarily, he noticed the extent of unintended effects in his novel potatoes [1,2]. He realised his GM creations had hidden issues and, just like the contents of Pandora's Box (which should never have been opened), would unleash sickness, death and lots of unexpected evils in the world.

The second part of the book's title is even more intriguing: 'The Worst GMOs'.

Acrylamide in potatoes

December 2018

One of the hot issues in 2002 was the discovery of 'acrylamide' in food, especially in potatoes.

This wasn't good news because the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies acrylamide as Group 2A, 'probably carcinogenic to humans'. The main evidence for this is that, at high doses and in pure chemical form, acrylamide causes cancer in laboratory animals. It's linked to a whole stack of other toxic effects too, but it's the carcinogenic one that regulators struggle with most because of the difficulty in defining the actual risk and in setting a 'safe' dose.

Stay-white GM spuds

December 2018

When genetic engineer whizz-kid, Caius Rommens put his mind to enhancing the potato-experience for all spud-users from farm to factory to fork, he homed in on the annoying black patches which often sully the whiteness of the perfect potato.

The black areas are caused by the presence of a black pigment made by the potato itself, so the remedy was obvious: pop in a bit of artificial DNA which would switch off one of the genes the potato needed to create the black stuff.

Thus were born, 'Innate' stay-white spuds which don't bruise when harvested from the field, nor when they're trucked to the shops or factories, nor when they're streaming through a processing machine. Users don't have to spend time, energy and money cutting out all those black bits, and there's less waste at every level of the bruising supply chain.

All this sounds like a GM fairy-tale ending, and it might have been except that ...

A brief history of GM potatoes

December 2018

After the damp-squib of the earliest attempt to market a GM vegetable, the 'Flav Savr' tomato, all the signs were that the humble potato was going to be the real cheerleader for fresh, recognisable biotech food.

Glyphosate kills bees by stealth

November 2018

Increasing suspicion is falling on glyphosate herbicides' effects on microbes in the gut of consumers.

The innards of all animals are teeming with bacteria whose quantity and diversity exert multiple influences on health.  Many of these microbes have enzymes in common with plants, and, like plants, can be harmed when glyphosate interferes with them.

Cost-cutting in Brazil

November 2018

In 2016, organic food sales in Brazil were mushrooming by 20 to 30 percent a year.  At the same time, some 70 percent of organic produce was being exported to Europe.  Farmers there recognise that "Growing organics is the future", and the people are increasingly "wanting healthier food free from pesticides".

Were it not for the alliance between the government and Big Agriculture, which is driving the economy, and the supermarkets, which are controlling the food supply system, organics would be a key growth industry.  Instead, it remains a tiny fraction of the whole, swamped by Big Ag's desire for GM crops and their supporting chemicals.  Supermarkets, of course, promote cut-throat competition amongst their suppliers, and the 'winners' are the unrestrained fraudsters passing off conventional pesticide-laden food as 'organic'.

Faced with this scenario, the Brazilian government is busy pushing through two far-reaching pieces of legislation.

GM papaya in China

November 2018

Papaya is a short-lived perennial crop. Under ideal conditions, the trees begin to bear fruit within months of planting and continue profitably for three years.  This provides a valuable non-stop harvest.

The greatest single threat to papaya production globally has long been considered papaya ringspot virus (PRSV).  This rapidly spreading disease devastates yield and fruit quality.  In the absence of any naturally-resistant strains for conventional breeders to tap into, genetic transformation is viewed as "the most effective approach to prevent and control PRSV".  The favoured GM trick is to insert a vital PRSV gene into the papaya which has the effect of silencing that vital gene in the virus.