No silver bullet, except GM

December 2011

returning home after a day's work
Rice farmers in Africa. Photo by Martapigs on Flickr
The philanthropic and hugely wealthy Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation acknowledges that its goal of providing solutions to global food problems will not be easy: 
“Having enough nutritious food to feed a growing population is a complex challenge; there's no silver bullet”.
Strange, therefore, that the Foundation puts so much of its attention on quick-fix solutions, and so little attention on the key resources which will generate a lasting food supply.

Top of the Gates' list for promotion is GM: a silver bullet by its very nature.

The risks of 'pharm' rice

December 2011

Different types of rice. Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Scientists in China have developed GM rice which could be used to produce an important human blood protein in the foreseeable future.

The protein is ‘human serum albumin’ (HSA), a major constituent of blood. It has wide, life-saving, clinical applications in treating, for example, burns and blood loss, and is necessary for the cell cultures used to produce vaccines and pharmaceuticals.

GM toxin everywhere

December 2011

Iowa Crops - Polk County
Corn crop in Iowa
Photo by Cwwycoff1 on Flickr
Back in 2007, a young American scientist dared to discover that certain aquatic insects suffered growth-retardation and increased mortality after eating Bt-insecticide-containing debris from GM crops.

News of environmental damage from biotech crops is a very sensitive issue: the researcher was subject to a barrage of professional criticism from the scientific community quite out of proportion with the limited study she had carried out.

Undaunted, however, Rosi-Marshall has continued her line of investigation, and continues to throw up uncomfortable facts about Bt-toxin in the environment. Her latest published offering concerns just where all the Bt generated by GM maize ends up.

Non-GM is beautiful

December 2011

Photo by Matti Matila on Flickr
In October 2011, an article appeared in the US press which had all the hall-marks of the Monsanto PR pen.

The 'news' is that Monsanto is going to bring us fresh produce like we've never seen before. This it will do by “marrying conventional breeding methods with its vast technological resources to bring about changes in fruit and vegetables” and “relying on a strategy similar to the one it tapped to dominate the world of commodity crops: use technology to speed up the breeding process”. All this success is to be achieved using non-GM methods which the anti-GM movement has been asking for for years and which, surprise, surprise, Monsanto is very capable of.

The GMO emperor has no clothes

December 2011
Illustration from The Emperor's New Clothes
From Wikimedia Commons
Remember the fable of the emperor who was so vain he happily allowed himself to be swindled? He eagerly believed two fraudsters when they told him they could weave a 'truly miraculous' cloth: a cloth which people who were not fit for their office or who were unpardonably stupid couldn't see. The emperor sent his most honoured minister to view the cloth as it was being prepared. Since the minister couldn't see it (not because he wasn't fit for his office, but because there was nothing to see), he cunningly asked the fraudsters to describe it to him so that he could go back to the emperor and not sound stupid. The emperor finally paraded in front of his people in clothes made from non-existent cloth. None of his ministers, nor his subjects, nor himself dared admit they couldn't actually see the miracle, except for one lone, innocent voice.

How many miraculous GM crops has the biotech industry cooked up which unpardonably stupid, irrational, emotional, Luddites can't seem to see? How often have we heard scientists or farmers reciting the words of the biotech industry to tell the ignorant masses (who can't seem to see them) of the wonders of GM? How often do politicians or scientists dare not speak out lest they invite the scorn of their colleagues?

Like that lone voice, who spoke out about what his eyes were seeing, a new 'Global Citizens Report on the State of GMOs' has been published. The Report has compiled the experiences of major food and conservation groups (representing millions of people) from all over the world, and has laid bare the illusion of the miraculous GM cloth.

Spin glorious spin

December 2011

Newspaper colour
Photo by NS Newsflash on Flickr

Reporting on GM safety by the media “is often unreliable and unrepresentative of the available scientific evidence” (see GM SAFETY REVIEW: 2011 – October 2011).

By 'unreliable' is meant that, even if the press information comes directly from a Government Research Council, a University, a professor, a body with a respectable-sounding name, and even if you, the tax-payer, funded it, it may still be nothing more than “an elaborate piece of pro-GM propaganda” (GM Free Cymru)

Argentinian doctors report on pesticide effects

December 2011

Cielos y campos de la pampa Argentina 3 / Skies and fields from Argentina's pampa 3
Photo by Claudio. Ar on Flickr
Argentina has moved aggressively down an agricultural path of intensive, agrichemical-dependent, genetically modified monoculture.

In many areas, the main crops are limited to transgenic corn and soya, on which the herbicides glyphosate, 2,4-D and atrazine, and the insecticides cypermethrin, endosulfan and chlorpyrifos, are applied an average of 18 times (sometimes as much as 42 times) between October and March.

Pesticide use has escalated from 35 million litres in 1990 to 300 million litres in 2009, with glyphosate expected to account for 200 million litres in 2010. During aerial spraying, the drift of poisonous substances is uncontrollable and can continue over many hundreds of miles for several days.

Paying for news

November 2011

IN066S04 World Bank
Cotton harvest in India
Photo: © Ray Witlin / World Bank Photo Collection on Flickr
Faced with a major public relations headache in 2008, when the high price attached to GM cotton seeds plus the failure of consecutive GM cotton crops were being blamed for rising farmer suicides in India, Monsanto's PR boys put together some 'news' to pour oil on troubled waters.

Monsanto first arranged an 'educational' trip for a group of journalists to farms of the Yavatmal district where the company has been selling Bt cotton seeds since 2002. This generated a story for the media to tell the world that the “Yavatmal district is known as the Suicide Capital of the state but two villages - Bhrambraja and Antargaon - are an aberration for the better. Not a single person from the two villages has committed suicide”. The positive experiences of these two villages apparently included “the ability of farmers to purchase on cash instead of credit” and to invest back into their farms.

India's GM aubergines become a test case for biopiracy laws

November 2011

Indian brinjals (aubergine). Photo by YL Tan on Flickr
India's Bt brinjal (aubergine), already infamous after being banned on health and safety grounds in February 2010 (see GM AUBERGINES – GMFS News Archive, February 2010), has now become a test-case for the country's biopiracy laws.

A formal complaint was initially lodged by the Environmental Support Group (ESG) in 2010. This claimed that ten local varieties of brinjal had been criminally accessed. Since then, it has taken the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) a full year to investigate the case. The Authority's conclusion has been to recommend legal action in respect of six varieties of GM brinjal.

Beware non-genetic engineering!

November 2011

The Human Genome. Picture from Wikimedia Commons
The foundation of commercial GM technology is the concept that one gene gives rise to one protein. A gene is a precise sequence of DNA which forms a 'blueprint' for the creation of a protein. DNA expresses itself by producing a precise sequence of (chemically-related) RNA. RNA provides the 'blue-print' for the manufacture of the protein after which it is quickly destroyed. From a regulatory point of view, DNA per se can't possibly be harmful unless it expresses itself, RNA per se can't possibly be harmful because it disappears, and the protein can easily be manufactured and safety-tested in isolation.

By ignoring the inconvenient layers of complexity at all levels of DNA expression, the biotech industry has exploited this simplistic model very lucratively. In particular, the industry has exploited ignorance. In a living cell, the genes form only some 2% of the total DNA. Ignorance about the function of all the remaining DNA was dealt with by pronouncing it 'junk'.

The unlikelihood of a cell wasting so much of its resources to create unnecessary 'padding' was simply set aside.

The Great Industrial Dictatorship

November 2011

KGB Burgers; Double Bacon & Cheese Burger with Fries
Photo by Jaryl Cabuco | Fitted Life on Flickr
Isn't there something paradoxical about the American way of doing things?

Health care in America is not for the sick, it's for the healthy. To get health care in America, you need health insurance. To get health insurance, you have to be healthy.

Health care and health insurance are both big business, and they feed off one another. The health care business needs the health insurance business to ensure patients can pay their bills. The health insurance business needs the health care business as a reason to exist at all: the trick is to keep just enough funds flowing into health care to keep it functioning, and to avoid insuring bad risks (sick people).

Weeds are also big business...

China bans GM rice

November 2011

Longji Rice Terraces, China
Longji rice terraces, China
Photo by (Stephan) on Flickr
The Chinese government has taken a “milestone” decision to suspend the commercialisation of GM rice and other staple grain crops, such as wheat, for the next 5 to 10 years.

Since rice is the main staple food of 1.3 billion Chinese people, successful non-GM crop development on the scale needed will likely have world-wide implications.

China has traditionally taken a very precautionary attitude to GM crops. Its biosafety assessment has taken more than five years to complete. Even after a GM product has been granted a safety certificate, it must undergo strict production tests at the local level (there are 28 autonomous provinces in China) before products reach the public.

With the goal of achieving 100% self-sufficiency in rice, wheat and corn (the country's three main staple crops), China is putting in place 'Plan (2011-2020)' to develop a modern agricultural crop seed industry.

Western corn rootworm is toppling GM corn in America

November 2011

Western corn rootworm
Picture from Wikimedia Commons
The fact that western corn rootworm is toppling GM corn in America is bad news because the corn has had a 'Bt'-toxin gene inserted which is supposed to kill this major pest.

Modern corn crops, which cover tens of millions of acres of the American mid-west, look very different from those of a generation back. Now, American corn grows “head high and bristling. The stalks stand should to shoulder like an army without rank, their sharp-edged, sword-like leaves forming a nearly impenetrable wall. A modern corn field would have rebuffed Cary Grant in 'North by Northwest' because there are no rows to speak of, only a dense lattice of intersecting spears.”

There's not much scope in these fields for weeds, wildlife, or old-fashioned agricultural chemical treatment, never mind film-stars.

Natural plants and GM plants are two different things

October 2011

Sunday market in Paris: all organic food
Organic vegetables. Photo by smith on Flickr
What's 'natural'?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'natural' is “constituted by nature, existing in or by nature, not artificial”.

This would seem to preclude anything re-constituted with artificial DNA, or containing or changed by artificial materials.

Monsanto, for one, agrees that GMOs are not natural. The Company's definition of GMOs is “Plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs.” The World Health Organisation concurs that GMOs are “Organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.”

How is it, then, supermarket shelves everywhere abound with processed foods claiming to be “natural, “all-natural”, or ”100%-natural” when they are made from commodity crops universally doused in agrichemicals, and in the US, genetically transformed?

Proof that 'wild' GM plants can quickly become a reality.

October 2011
Wild Mustard. Picture from Wiki Commons
GM crops were rushed into farmers' fields on the back of sweeping generalisations about what their influences in the environment might be, but very little actual science.

An assumption was made that classic Darwinian mechanisms would render GM plants uncompetitive and therefore self-limiting outside of cultivation.

Added to this was a lot of wishful thinking about the effectiveness of man-made protocols to prevent gene 'escape'.

Since then, the rarity of reported GM introgression into the wild has been an additional excuse to dismiss environmental risks.

In many cases, the assumptions and wishful thinking may be true. But there's certainly one major GM crop which doesn't, and never could be expected, to fit the man-made mould.

GM illegal trespass

October 2011

Rapeseed (also known as Canola) field
Canola. Picture by net_effekt on Flickr
At one time, the GM brigade assumed, or at least hoped, that organic farmers would welcome genetically transformed seed as an easy route to avoiding artificial pesticides.

While the US government continues to try to insinuate GM into organics, and the Western Australia agricultural minister, Terry Redman, wants the organic industry to allow GM contamination (see AUSTRALIAN ORGANIC FARMER IN FIRST GM CONTAMINATION LAWSUIT - October 2011), the end users are not so easily persuaded. The fact remains that organic farmers and consumers everywhere want food which has been produced by working with nature at all stages of the process. This has put organics, a lucrative and fast-developing market, on a direct collision course with GM.

Organic agriculture also highlights questions about food quality, safety and sustainability which the biotech industry would rather not visit.

Australian organic farmer in first GM contamination lawsuit

October 2011
Canoloa Fields - Wollogorang NSW
Canola field in Australia
Picture by sachman75 on Flickr
Australia is lagging many years behind America in the GM game, but its government is trying hard to play catch up.

With polls showing a majority of Australians are 'uncomfortable' with GM plants and more so with GM animals, the government seems to be resorting to spin and subterfuge.

In 2010, the Western Australia (WA) agricultural minister, Terry Redman, ended his state's ban on the growing of GM canola. At the time, he declared confidently that the crop could be controlled, and quoted scientific trials which “proved GM and non-GM canola can be segregated and marketed separately. The report on the trials indicated there were 11 minor events (on 18 sites) and all were managed appropriately and segregation from paddock to port was achieved”

Superweed problem won't go away

October 2011

Crop Dusting
Crop dusting in the US
Photo by Roger Smith on Flickr
Habitual GM-critics have been saying for years that crops resistant to Roundup herbicide would lead to an even bigger weed problem in the long-term than the one they were designed to solve in the short-term.

These warnings were largely dismissed as scare-mongering.

However, now even the press in Monsanto's home ground is reporting on what's happening in Roundup Ready fields, and it's not good news.

American fig-leaf 'regulations'

October 2011

Round hay bales of alfalfa in a Montana field, USA
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
America has no regulations with which its authorities can control GM plants. Neither the consuming public, nor the environment, nor farmers are protected from any harmful consequences of the novel plants.

You'll have heard repeated industry claims that its GM crops have been approved. This is true, but they refer to a purely voluntary process described by GM-critics as a “fig-leaf”. The only purpose of the voluntary GM approval system is to give an illusion of regulation: it suggests the government is doing its job, and lets the industry demonstrate how safety-conscious it is. It will also let industry well and truly off the hook when GM goes wrong.

How did the US administration achieve this industry-friendly, every-one-else-unfriendly set up?

GM safety review 2011

October 2011

Maize Gold
Corn kernels
Photo by Ian Hayhurst on Flickr
In 2007, one reviewer of the published science on toxicological and health risks of GM foods, ended his short study with a question: 
“where is the scientific evidence showing that GM plants/food are toxicologically safe, as assumed by the biotechnology companies involved in commercial GM foods?” 
The same author, José Domingo, has now repeated his review process for the subsequent years (2006-2010).

Monarch butterfly in trouble in Mexico

October 2011
Monarch butterfly
Picture from Wikimedia Commons

In 1999, American citizens were briefly alerted to encroaching GM crops, and to the possibility such crops might not be totally benign.

The first warning didn't concern any risks to human health, soil integrity, agricultural sustainability, environmental stability, nor economic and commercial interests. Ironically, it sounded an alarm that their favourite and prettiest butterfly might be under threat.

The importance of early warnings

September 2011

Questions over GM maize.
Photo © Greenpeace / Martin Langer
The 'Precautionary Principle' entails identification of risk, scientific uncertainty and ignorance, and involves transparent and inclusive decision-making processes (Freestone and Hey, 1997).  It is a primarily a tool for policy decision, but must impact on the scientific research agenda.  It is the scientists, not the policy-makers who are in a position to identify risks, to pinpoint uncertainties and unknowns, and to provide the basis for communication.  Thus, it is of key importance that scientists take responsibility for the anticipation of problems.


September 2011

The Government's new e-petitions, which allow the public to create and sign petitions online, got off to an interesting start.

Twenty per cent of the early e-petitions to the House of Commons were calls for a re-instatement of the death penalty in Britain. One such petition got more than 2,000 supporters, while a petition opposing the restoration of capital punishment had over 3,000 signatures.

Unless or until GM foods kill a large number of people, and the biotech bosses are made to take full responsibility, the existence of the death penalty has no bearing on the GM issue.

User-friendly veg

September 2011

... and fruit...

Fruit n Veg
Photo by /charlene on Flickr

Up until now, the biotech industry has been busy inventing GM crops attractive to farmers and the food-processing industries. The end-consumer was expected to eat whatever this trio chose to give them, and health be damned.

Interestingly, there's a sea-change in the offing.

Slip-sliding around responsibility

September 2011

Photo © Greenpeace / Eric De Mildt
Over the years, Monsanto has repeatedly sued farmers alleging they have stolen the company's intellectual property by saving GM seed. The Company has admitted to filing lawsuits against farmers from 1997-2010, settling out of court with 700 others for an undisclosed amount. Because wind, animals and agricultural activity can spread pollen and seed, farmers are vulnerable to genetic pollution, followed by a crippling biotech law suit.

The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) has filed a complaint challenging Monsanto's patents on GM seed, which are the entire basis for its law suits.

Which way is the world swimming?

September 2011

... With or against the tide?

Wir haben es satt  - 39
Anti-GM protest in Berlin
Photo by cephir on Flickr

After decades of using its huge muscles to block GM-food labelling worldwide, the US has suddenly stopped swimming against the international tide (see GM LABELLING MILESTONE IN US – September 2011).

At much the same time, BASF Plant Sciences decided to pull the plug on GM development in the EU. BASF is a major GM seed developer and has been the only company to be successful in recent years in getting EU approval for a new GM crop (see EU TO CULTIVATE HOT POTATO – GMFS News Archive, May 2010). Since GM foods are just too controversial in Europe, BASF forged ahead with GM potatoes for industrial starch supply. One such potato, 'Amflora', is in the ground and another, 'Amadea', is in the pipeline. However, the GM potatoes were immediately banned in several EU Member States. Clearly, BASF has found even non-food GMOs more trouble than they're worth.

GM labelling milestone in US

September 2011

Photo by brdavid on Flickr
“If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.” (Norman Braksick, President of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsanto, quoted in the Kansas City Star, 7.03.94) 
“The Achilles heel of Monsanto and the biotech industry is consumers' right to know.” (Ronnie Cummins, of the Organic Consumers Association, 27.07.11)
Something very major slipped into the global GM-regulatory arena in July 2011.

After two decades of discussion and American intransigence, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has produced guidance on the labelling of GM food. The final text states that “Different approaches regarding labelling of foods derived from modern biotechnology are used”. The words look innocuous, but they mean that any country wishing to adopt GM food labelling may do so.

The common ground between nuclear power and GMOs

Anti-nuclear protests in Japan, April 2011
Picture by VOA news on Wiki Commons
August 2011

As Japan tries to pick up the pieces left behind by the triple disaster, the earthquake, the tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear-plant explosions, which struck in March this year, the long-term implications are becoming evident.

The Japanese Prime Minister said it will take decades to clean up the damage and decommission the plant. The cost will include, not only the rubble-removal, rebuilding and decontamination, but the compensation to people affected, and the knock-on losses to industry and exports.

GM goats

August 2011
“Modern man does not experience himself as part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it. He even talks of a battle with nature, forgetting that, if he won the battle, he would find himself on the losing side.” E. F. Schumacher
If you've been reading about the Scottish scientists who seem unaccountably keen to produce genetically-improved livestock using GM and cloning techniques, you'll be aware of the abysmal survival rate of the experimental animals at all stages of the process (See McCLONES – July 2011).

Mobile phones and cancer

August 2011

Image from Wiki Commons
In May 2011, two land-mark statements were made by globally-influential organisations. One was that mobile 'phones are “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. The second was that lower exposure limits to such devices are necessary on health grounds.

These are 'landmark' statements because they recognise, for the first time, that the accepted measurement of 'harm' which has been applied up until now is, simplistic, wrong and dangerous.

O104:H4 - witch's brew or GM monster

August 2011

2011 O104H4 bacterial outbreak
Source Wikimedia Commons
A new strain of pathogenic E.coli, 'O104:H4', emerged in Germany in 2011. Within six weeks, the bacterium had killed 36 people, made 3,332 people ill, and left 100 with kidneys so badly damaged they face dialysis for the rest of their lives or a transplant.

Investigation quickly revealed that the DNA of O104:H4 is a witch's brew of disease-causing genes. Its genetic armory includes 33 toxins, blood-cell destroying proteins, secretions which bind the bacterium to the gut surface, inflammatory agents, a metabolic pathway which enables it to thrive anywhere (even in the absence of oxygen), and multiple resistance to normally-toxic metals, to name just a few. And added to this, the new bug has resistance to all major classes of antibiotics.


Non-GM super wheat

August 2011

... all across Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa

Photo from Baluchistan on Flickr
If you've already read about GM WHEAT IN THE UK (July 2011) or GM WHEAT IN AUSTRALIA (August 2011), you'll have realised that neither of these GM varieties are necessary: natural aphid-resistant wheat strains already exist but have been by-passed in favour of GM (patentable) versions; roughage in the diet is plentiful if you eat the right things and its presence alone does not prevent cancer, but dietary issues have been by-passed in favour of GM (patentable) versions.

The notion that GM is simpler, quicker and more certain than conventional crop development should finally be laid to rest by the news of the release of the latest conventionally-bred wheat variety. This could and should revolutionise wheat production across Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

GM wheat in Australia

August 2011

Image from Greenpeace Australia Pacific. Click to view a larger version
In March 2011, the Premier of Australia's largest wheat growing state said “We are not contemplating GM wheat”. In particular, he noted the threat such wheat would pose to important export markets because “Japanese consumers would not support GM wheat”.

Only four months later, Greenpeace Australia Pacific were taking non-violent direct action to decontaminate experimental, open air, plots of a GM wheat which had been released across the country (see map above and note below for more info).

The GM wheat being tested is intended to produce an added-value, indigestible, high-amylose-starch aimed at reducing the risk of bowel cancer due to the increased roughage. As Greenpeace point out, no single food can reduce the risk of disease, nor replace a healthy, fresh varied diet and active lifestyle.


July 2011

Photo © Greenpeace / Christian Lehsten
Cloning animals isn't strictly a GM-food issue. However, it does involve removing DNA from its native environment and putting into a new one, with all the same, inevitable, disruption of genomic coherence and compromised health (see Nuclear Transplant (Cloning) below). There's also no doubt that the major incentive for cloning animals is that the procedure enables genetic transformation.

US consumers demand GM labelling

July 2011

Photo by brdavid on Flickr
America is very fond of selling itself around the world: it sells its model agriculture plus chemicals plus GMOs; it sells its model business plus globalisation plus 'voluntary' self-regulation; and especially, it sells its democracy.

Paradoxically, regarding the 'home' agriculture and 'home' market, it seems that US consumers are going in one direction while its administration, hand-in-hand with industry, is going in another.

This sounds a strange sort of a democracy. And, there are signs it's about to crack.

GM wheat in the UK

July 2011

Wheat kernels, Pusk Farm. Balmullo, Fife, Scotland
Non-GM wheat kernels
Photo by David Shand
on Flickr
Genetically transformed wheat of any kind has been decisively rejected throughout the world, including America.

Strangely however, the message never seems to have reached biotech scientists, nor their funders. The development of GM wheat has continued behind lab doors regardless of public or commercial desires. At least two strains of a novel wheat are now ready for field testing in the UK.

The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has received an application from Rothamsted Research to carry out a two-year field trial of aphid-resistant GM wheat, to run during 2012 and 2013.

GM crops in Scotland?

July 2011

Scotland food
Photo from Flickr
American rice growers will give you two practical reasons NOT to grow GM crops.

One, you might contaminate your neighbour's non-GM fields. If you're lucky all you'll have to suffer is guilt and the loss of goodwill of someone it would be better to be friends with. If you're unlucky you'll also have to pay him compensation for his loss of non-GM sales.

Two, the market doesn't want GM, even if it's legal, and the cost of finding yourself with a crop and no market is crippling. US rice growers who suddenly discovered their non-GM seed had become contaminated by a (hastily legalised) GM strain suffered losses in excess of £762 million. This figure isn't an off-the-cuff estimate. It's what the courts have, so far, ordered to be paid by out the biotech company in compensation after it failed to contain its GM rice trials. The final figure may be higher, and there are certainly many more rice growers whose business was damaged but who were unable to bring or prove their case in court.

Scotland has another important reason to avoid GM.

UK Policy on genetic modification

July 2011

Big Ben Tower Clock, London
Photo from Flickr
The Coalition Government in Westminster has released its first policy statement on “Genetic Modification (GM)” (see Below).

Its “overriding priorities” are “the protection of human health and the environment”.

To ensure these priorities are met, the government “will only agree” to the release of GMOs (crops and others) and to the marketing of GM food and feed providing:
  • “a robust risk assessment indicates it is safe”
  • full account has been taken of the scientific evidence
  • clear labelling and suitable information are provided to enable consumer choice
  • in the event of commercial GM crops being grown in England, economic interests of conventional and organic farming are “appropriately protected”.
In addition, GM technology has been relegated to the “longer term challenges”, and developing countries are to be allowed to “make their own informed decisions regarding (GM) use”, while at home the government “will listen to public views about the development and use of the technology”.

Bt is toxic to plants

July 2011

Photo from Flickr
A recently published paper demonstrates the breathtaking assumptions on which commercial GM crops are based.

When genetic transformation of plants was first attempted, it was soon discovered that, while all DNA has a simple four-fold chemical structure which can easily be translated by man into a specific protein, DNA is not just DNA.

Patenting the future

June 2011

groups warn of gmo expansion in the phils (4)
Photo from Flickr
In December 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a landmark decision that the process of conventional plant breeding could not be patented.

Concerns were voiced at the time that the move was window dressing, and that all the products of conventional breeding would still be patentable.

Sure enough, almost immediately, a patent was granted on a conventionally bred tomato with a reduced core. Five months on, melons too became a Monsanto 'invention', complete with patent.

In a blatant case of biopiracy, non-sweet virus-resistant melons from India have been bred with sweet melons from elsewhere to produce disease-resistant strains.

Roundup and birth defects - a new report

June 2011

7 months and counting
Photo from Flickr
'Roundup' herbicide is toxic, and not only to plants. In animals, it causes “endocrine disruption, damage to DNA, reproductive and developmental toxicity, neuro-toxicity, and cancer, as well as birth defects.”

The science has been summarised in a new report, “Roundup and Birth defects”, co-authored by a group of international scientists and researchers.

The Report details the published, peer-reviewed, freely accessible and mounting evidence of harmful effects. Some of the findings are recent, but some go back a far as the 1980s. All of them have been ignored.

Roundup and Birth Defects” also asks “Is the public being kept in the dark?” The question is answered in a blow-by-blow account of how EU regulators have manipulated the information presented to them to promote and preserve the Roundup in your food chain and to protect the interests of the biotech industry.

A true scientist's look at the evidence

June 2011

Fran Murrell, co-founder of Australia's Mothers Are Demystifying Genetic Engineering (MADGE), describes how she became an anti-GM campaigner: 
“I was curious about genetic modification of plants – it struck me as a promising idea – so I went to talks given by various GM proponents. It worried me that they were just talking in generalities, saying it was 'highly unlikely' there was any health risk from GM. That struck me as unscientific; it was like they were presenting the truth from on high to the lesser mortals.”
Like many other campaigners, Murrell noticed that as soon as she scratched the surface of the pro-GM hype, there were plenty of unsupported assumptions underneath, but little scientific substance.

Roundup Ready beet legal saga

June 2011

beet topper
Harvesting sugar beet
Photo from Flickr
The tortuous issue of GM sugar beet, transformed to resist Roundup herbicide, has come to its final conclusion.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been ordered to prepare a full rigorous review of the environmental impacts of the GM beet before re-considering its future commercial use.

All planting of Monsanto's patented beet must stop and all GM beet planted since the initial ruling (now upheld) must be destroyed. As a regulated plant, GM beet is now illegal to grow commercially.

Irresponsible soya by any other name

June 2011

Field of GM soya
Photo © Greenpeace / Alexandra Buxbaum
In 2005, the World Wildlife Fund proposed the creation of the “Roundtable on Responsible Soy” (RTRS).

No doubt formed with the best of intentions, the RTRS is a multi-stakeholder forum which labels soya products 'sustainable' if they fulfill its defined criteria on the protection of wild-life, responsible pesticide use, and workers' rights.

The prime motivation of the supporters of the RTRS is to promote the use of soya food products and soya-based biofuels. Its members include many multinational corporations such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill (grain suppliers), Shell and BP, all of which have an alarming history of human rights and environmental violations. They also have a history of developing and promoting GM crops, and have managed to persuade the world that GM soya is 'responsible'.

Mashing GM potatoes

June 2011

Activists blockade BASF warehouse
© Greenpeace / Christian Åslund
In the north of Sweden, biotech giant, BASF, is trying to plant Amflora, GM potatoes (for background see EU TO CULTIVATE HOT POTATO, GMFS News Archive, May 2010). The Swedes are not known for hot-blooded activism, but nevertheless, have been riled enough to block the entrance to BASF's potato warehouse. (Find out more here.)

They are particularly incensed that their government has has been openly critical of the weaknesses in the current EU GMO regulations and has asked for them to be strengthened, but at the same time has not taken any action to prevent Amflora from being cultivated in Sweden.

The activists are concerned that Amflora has been approved without sufficient independent studies, without an environmental risk assessment, without toxicity studies for animals or humans, and that the presence of an antibiotic resistance marker gene was simply ignored.

Botox apples

June 2011

Apple fruit
Photo from Flickr
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has received its first request for approval of a GM apple.

Currently, sliced apples to be sold fresh are rinsed in acids to prevent browning of the flesh and “maintain freshness” (you can do much the same at home with a little fruit juice).

Gene-silencing technology developed in Australia to prevent potatoes browning when cut has been licensed by a Canadian biotech company and applied to apples, for sale in America. The aim of the ever-white apple is to reduce processing costs and make apples more amenable to producers of ready-meals and children's lunch-boxes.

Awakening the American lion

June 2011

A confluence of protests at the White House
GMO protest. Photo from Flickr
Guerrilla theatre, aimed at educating shoppers about the GM nature of what's being sold to them, is in progress in major cities across the USA. Activists, covered head-to-toe in white HAZMAT suits, have been dramatically busy: they buy well-known health-food brand items with GM-suspect ingredients, put a GM-warning label on them, and ceremoniously dump them in a biohazard bin where people can see them.

The 'GMO Food Dump' campaign has started by targeting one of the main sources of consumer confusion: the large whole-food retailers. Its aim is to stop the shops from misleading their customers by selling GM foods without any label.

Monsanto's make-believe marketing

May 2011

Corn grenade. Image by Greenpeace
Monsanto's marketing antics would be funny, if they didn't have serious implications.

At the beginning of the year, reports were filtering out of America about a nation-wide advertising campaign. In place of the tough and handsome Marlboro-smoking cowboys of yore, billboards and bus-stops are being festooned with with hardy American farmers showing off their Monsanto (GM) crops. It seems the Company is finding it imperative to persuade the US public that it really, really, is working in the best interests of the people and creating jobs on American farms.

Another on-going biotech antic is “astroturfing”. This involves the creating and financing of fake 'grass-roots' organisations to generate a (fake) climate of GM-support.

Action alert on Bt

May 2011

7 months and counting
Photo from Flickr
In April, GM-free Scotland warned that pesticides linked to GM food have been found to end up circulating in the body of the consumer, and can pass into the unborn child. (See GM PESTICIDES INSIDE YOU – April 2011)

GM Freeze are particularly concerned about the finding that Bt protein is clearly not digested as previously assumed.

Elite food?

May 2011

Scotland food
Photo from Flickr
GM-free Scotland could face the same genre of accusations as those aimed at Eric Schlosser (1), Robby Kenner (3) and Michael Pollan (2). All three have been described as 'self-appointed food elitists' (a.k.a. 'food fascists'), and 'hell-bent on misleading consumers'.

We plead guilty to the first charge. Scottish food is among the best, purest and most natural in the world. That's because Scotland has resisted pressure from international forces to join America on the slippery slope its leaders have chosen. America's model food system is not one to be emulated: it is over-centralized, over-industrialised, over-controlled by a handful of companies, over-reliant on monocultures, on pesticides, on chemicals fertilizers, on chemical additives, on factory farms, on government subsidies, on machines and on fossil fuels, with GMOs shoring up all of it. If avoiding standardised, nutrient-depleted, aged, GM food is 'elitist' then we should all be proud to be called so.

But, misleading consumers? Definitely not.

The elusive benefits of Bt

May 2011

Mirid bug (Miridius quadrivirgatus)
Mirid bug. Photo from Flickr
A decade after the introduction of 'Bt' insecticidal GM cotton in China, scientists started to give unequivocal warnings that problems with the management of the crop were increasing, and change was needed before these problems become crippling.

Field data collected in 2004, indicated that during the first six years of Bt-cotton seed planting, the initial benefits (reduced need for pesticides and increased income) had already been eroded by the need to control emerging secondary pests which the Bt toxin didn't kill.  The scientists stated “Failure to find a solution, may lead to the discontinuation of the use of Bt-cotton seed in China and elsewhere”.

GM crops are declining in Europe

May 2011

Wir haben es satt  - 39
Protest in Germany.
Picture Michaela Muegge on Flickr
In February this year, Friends of the Earth Europe prepared a report on the extent of cultivation of GM crops in the EU over the last three years (2008 – 2010).

The trends are interesting.

Spain, which is the only Member State to grow GM crops on any scale, has steadily reduced the area devoted to biotech crops. The 2010 area was 15% smaller than in 2008.

The next biggest GM player, the Czech Republic, has also steadily reduced its GM acreage by 42% over two years.

Progress in Cyprus, Madiera, Sweden, and Scotland

May 2011

No GMO Potatoes in Sweden - Greenpeace
Protest in Sweden. Photo from Flickr
A landmark, unanimous vote by the government of Cyprus has passed a law making it compulsory to display GM foods on separate shelves in supermarkets.

The new bill provides for a prominent sign stating clearly that the food is GM and, also, for labelling in all three languages appropriate to Cypriot culture, Greek, Turkish and English. It stipulates hefty fines for non-compliance.

Under EU legislation, each member state is free to display GM foods as it sees fit. This seems to be the first time anyone has taken the initiative to use this power.

The Cypriot Green party were celebrating because the bill caps their “efforts of nine years”.