DIY GMO labelling

August 2012

A confluence of protests at the White House
GMO labelling protest in Washington DC, USA. Photo by mar is sea Y on Flickr
Last summer, we described how Americans were waking up to the fact of GM hidden in their food: in major cities across the USA 'guerilla theatre' was educating shoppers and catching the attention of the media, while a rash of state legislature was rolling out (see AWAKENING THE AMERICAN LION - June 2011).

There have been set-backs, but the shift, once started, could only continue.

In March this year, over one million people submitted comments to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on a petition for mandatory labelling of genetically engineered foods. This was more than any other petition in FDA history.

Dead cows under the carpet

August 2012

Swiss biotech giant, Syngenta, is facing charges in the German criminal courts over its failure to report evidence of harm caused by a GM crop.

The crop in question is 'Bt176' maize which generates an insecticidal protein, 'Cry1Ab'. This protein is modelled on one found in the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis.

Bt176 maize is an old GM crop, developed back in 1994. It was grown in America until 2001 and cultivated in Europe from 1997 until 2007.

The safety of Cry1Ab does not ever seem to have been sensibly questioned. Assumptions that the protein would disappear during digestion, and that the man-made analogue Bt protein inside the plant wouldn't be any different from the natural version in bacteria lying on the outside of the plant seem to have been used to dismiss any likelihood of harm.

Regulators in America and South Africa preparing to green-light 2,4-D crops

August 2012

Regulators in America and South Africa have been busy preparing to green-light a new range of herbicide-resistant GM crops. These plants are genetically transformed to be doused with a very old and much-used weed-killer commonly referred to as '2,4-D'.

A component of the infamous 'Agent Orange' defoliant used during the Vietnam war, the toxic potential of 2,4-D seems to have been eclipsed by the horrific, on-going, consequences of the other ingredients and the dioxin by-products. A search for safety data on 2,4-D turns up a torrent of tangential evidence which never manages to pinpoint harm, but is never convincing about safety either.

Keeping control

August 2012
Image by HenriBlock on Flickr
In 2009, Caitlin Smith, a widely published science writer with a Ph.D. in neuroscience, quietly suggested
“Having only recently begun to map genomes of whole organisms, now we need to systematically keep tabs on all the alterations to these original maps - and their intended, and unintended, consequences”. 
If this doesn't happen, 'science' will become impossible because we will no longer have anything natural or safe with which to compare our latest living invention.

Smart breeding tool

August 2012

There's a new breed of DNA-altered plants looming over the horizon.

These contain no foreign DNA, no man-made DNA, and no viral DNA. In fact they're “all-natural, environmentally safe”, and they have not been subject to any radiation nor mutagenic chemicals (Beetham).

Nor, incidentally, have they been subject to any safety-testing.

The new plants have been created using the latest “smart breeding tool, the 'Rapid Trait Development System' (RTDS).

The 'Monsanto Tax'

August 2012

There's a certain satisfaction in seeing a bully being given a taste of his own medicine.

Monsanto has long dealt severe legal sanctions against farmers it claims have “pirated” its seed. However, farmers in Brazil have decided two can play at that game, and the courts have agreed...

XNA - expanding problems

July 2012
DNA double helix Image by By National Human Genome Research Institute (
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Not content with exploring the vast world of DNA and the even more vast world of the RNA molecules produced by DNA, scientists have now taken to engineering their own weird analogues.

The data of the 'genetic code' are enciphered by DNA in sequences of four 'nucleic acid base' molecules. These four bases pair up with each other in specific ways to form the 'rungs' of the famous double-helix DNA 'ladder'. It's the bases which provide the template from which the cell's movers and shakers, the RNA molecules, are reeled off.

Up until now, Biotechnology has busied itself by playing around with the base-pairs to instill its own, commercially useful, features into cells.

Craig Venter's weird world

July 2012
Craig Venter. Photo F3rn4nd0 from en:Wikipedia [GFDL (
or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Craig Venter caught the world's attention in 1998 when his company, Celera Genomics, decided to race the US government to produce the world's first 'map' of all the genes in a single human being. That race ended in 2000 with the production of two maps and the declaration of a politically expedient tie.

Since then Venter has been busy creating weird microscopic organisms whose DNA is entirely artificial. He's also been creating a great deal of concern over what his weird microbes might do to our world.