The secret viral gene in most GM crops

March 2013
Electron micrograph of CaMV virions
Image By Patou2602 (Own work)
[CC-BY-SA-3.0 (]
via Wikimedia Commons
Fourteen years ago, the Institute of Science in Society (ISiS) issued a warning. It pointed out that the artificial genes in most GM crops are activated by a very problematic stretch of viral DNA copied and adapted from a plant pathogen, the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV).

This activator DNA, commonly referred to as the 'CaMV 35S promoter', is able to switch on genes in most, if not all, life-forms: it also has an inherent tendency to fragment and recombine with other DNA. Outside its viral-particle origins, the potential for these characteristics to promote horizontal gene transfer, create new pathogens or drive inappropriate gene expression must exist. Moreover, synthetic versions of CaMV 35S have been rejigged to boost gene expression: this increases the risk of all the above properties of the promoter.

Natural foods lead the way to GM labelling

March 2013

More photos from yesterday's Yes on Prop 37 rally at LA City Hall #prop37 #labelgmos
GMO labelling protest in California. Photo by cheeseslave on Flickr
America's march towards labelling of GM foods continues its steady pace. At least 20 US states have bills in progress to require some form of GM labelling. The latest one, introduced in February in Illinois, would require a label on any product containing more than 1 percent GM ingredients.

(Note. If you haven't been following the US GM food labelling saga, check out

A new phase in the awareness game is now evident as natural food retailers have now entered the arena.

On 19th March, the US-based Natural Products Association (NPA) announced it is calling for national standard for GMO labelling of all foods. The NPA is the biggest association of its kind, representing 1,900 members from the retail, distribution, wholesale and manufacture sides of the natural products sector.

Earlier in the month, Whole Foods Market (WFM) announced that by 2018 all products in its North American and Canadian stores will be required to carry a label indicating if they contain GM ingredients.

Food industry: anything left to trust?

March 2013

Horse-meat-sold-as-beef generated a lot of very predictable responses (see THE CURIOUS TALE OF A HORSE THAT BECAME A COW - March 2013).

The public response to finding it was eating horse was to take evasive action. Plastic-enshrouded 'beef' in supermarkets was spurned in favour of the traditional skills of the local butcher. Shoppers diverted away from frozen ready meals to prepare their own from scratch. In other words, the oft-stated consumer demand for cheap food (the justification for our current mass-produced, over-processed food supply) was shown to be a myth. And the claim that only the middle classes worry about what's on their plate, has also been blown out of the water. Customers across the board were very quick to stop buying cheap food when that 'food' was revealed to be untrustworthy.

Other healthy outcomes to have emerged from the horse-meat fiasco include consumer demand for transparency, for shorter supply chains, for traceability, and for labelling accurate enough to allow them to choose British.

Roundup is not safe to eat

March 2013

The first ever life-long study of rats fed a GM maize and the Roundup herbicide it accumulates raised serious safety questions about the presence of either and both in our food (see GM MAIZE IS NOT SAFE TO EAT - October 2012).

French scientists have now published another first-ever study on the subject. This time, they were looking specifically at the individual components of Roundup.

The curious tale of the horse that became a cow

March 2013

As the horse-meat-sold-as-beef scandal runs and runs, one thing is clear. The gap between what we understand as 'food' and what we're actually being sold is uncontrolled and uncontrollable.

The tale started as a mad maze of international intermediaries shuffling papers to which a lump of meat was loosely attached. ...

UK could 'go it alone' on GM crops

March 2013

Owen Paterson. Photo
from Creative Commons
The next stage of Westminster's grand plan to push GM crops into British fields and down British throats has unfolded (see Part 1 in A FAIRY TALE FOR CHRISTMAS - December 2012, and Part 2 in WESTMINSTER'S PRO- GM PUSH - January 2013).

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has now begun talks with the EU health and consumer policy Commissioner to pave the way for the UK to “go it alone” on GM technology. His aim is to convince the EU that the route out of the current GM-approvals gridlock is to allow individual Member States to make their own decisions on whether to adopt GM crops. Not surprisingly, the coalition cabinet is overwhelmingly supportive of his move.

The reason, in Owen Paterson's own words, is “We can't hang around for two years before the election. Every year we delay, Argentina, Brazil and Canada are getting further ahead of us. We are mad not to seriously look at this technology.”

Cotton on

March 2013

MG007S18 World Bank
Women harvesting cotton. Madagascar. Photo: © Yosef Hadar / World Bank on Flickr
For farmers who have escaped the GM cotton debt trap and yield failures, there are other more pressing concerns than the corruption of wild cotton at its centre of origin in Mexico (see GM COTTON - HERE THERE... NOWHERE), or the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Chinese rivers (see A RECIPE FOR MRSA - March 2013).

The Soil Association highlighted recently that conventional cotton is a 'toxic crop'. In developing countries, cotton is thought to account for 50% of total pesticides use. More toxic chemicals are used to grow cotton than any other crop. Acute poisoning from pesticides is commonplace in cotton production, with up to 77 million cotton workers suffering poisoning every year. “These are the killing fields”.

A recipe for MRSA

March 2013

Hooked up to milk machines
Milk production. Photo by Farm Sanctuary on Flickr
At the end of 2012, the media reported that MRSA 'ST398' had been found in British milk for the first time.

This antibiotic-resistant 'superbug' has been a problem in many countries for some years and is now spreading through UK farms too.

In milk, the bacteria will, of course, be destroyed during routine pasteurisation before sale to the public. However in the animals, such bugs will still be transmitted by dairy-hands, vets, abattoir staff and meat.