GM contamination déjà vu

June 2013

Wheat field in Oregon. Photo by Gary Halvorson
Oregon State Archives [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
GM Freeze has repeatedly pointed out that the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops without contamination is almost impossible. GM pollen, GM seed and inevitable human error conspire to spread artificial DNA around no matter how rigorous the prescribed containment procedures.

In May 2013, US regulators announced that Roundup(herbicide)-resistant wheat had been found growing on a farm in Oregon: analysis confirmed it contained Monsanto's modified genes.

Edited science

... Edited out of existence.

June 2013

The gold-standard of science is peer-reviewed publication in an academic journal.

This system ensures that only research which has been appropriately designed and correctly executed with valid materials, and which presents conclusions supported by the results, is accepted into the cannon.
 “If it hasn't been published, it doesn't exist” (Robinson and Latham).
However, before it reaches the peer reviewers there's another hurdle: the science has to please the journal editor, who literally has the power of life or death over papers submitted.

Such power provides opportunities for abuse, and it seems this situation is being exploited by industry.

Genetically modified meals from hot air

June 2013

The oft-cited political (but, certainly not scientific) 'proof' of GM food safety is the huge numbers of people eating it over many years without any directly attributable health effect.

Let's see.

One recent use was in self-styled GM 'expert' Mark Lynas' speech at the 2013 Oxford Farming Conference (see WHEN NON-NEWS IS BAD NEWS - April 2013). Where he announced:
“... my conclusion here today: the GM debate is over. It is finished. We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe - over a decade and a half with three trillion GM meals eaten, there has never been a single substantiated case of harm. You are more likely to be hit by an asteroid than get hurt by GM food”.
Investigations by GM Watch trace the origins of this sound-byte back to 2003 when a pro-GM scientist told the Australian press he had “calculated that at least 30 billion meals involving these (GM) crops have been eaten in the last 6 years ... and there is not a single report of adverse health effects.”

Putting this '30 billion meals involving GM crops' into perspective is enlightening.

If you eat GM plants, you will likely have GM toxins inside you

June 2013

A study has been published which blows all assumptions about the safety of 'Bt' insecticidal GM proteins out of the water.

Biotech industry genetic engineers have been getting great mileage out of proteins modelled on those produced by the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis ('Bt'). These transgenic look-alikes come in an infinite variety and can be designed to target specific pests.

Bt proteins' assumed safety is based on their long history of safe use as cultured spore suspensions in foliar sprays. It's taken for granted that their protein chemistry means they will be denatured during digestion, and that their need for activation by specific gut conditions and cell-surface receptors found only in insects will make other animals (including humans) immune to their toxic effects.

Marching orders

June 2013
March against Monsanto rally in San Francisco's Union Square
March against Monsanto rally, San Francisco.
CC Photo by Steve Rhodes on Flickr
Two rather momentous things happened in May 2013.

The first involved Monsanto's decision to discontinue its lobbying for more cultivation of GM crops in Europe.

This announcement in itself wasn't too surprising: other biotech giants such as Bayer CropScience, BASF and Syngenta had already come to similar decisions, and the rising concern about GM foods in America is probably enough to deal with without tackling Europe at the same time. Monsanto is, instead, content to concentrate on supplying GM animal feed which is much bigger business, has largely escaped the dreaded labelling, and whose end-consumers who are a lot less fussy about what they eat than humans are.

The 'momentous' part of Monsanto's decision is the reason given: its spokesman said 
“The reason is, among other things, low demand of the farmers”. 
 It's no longer the environmentalists, greens, Luddites, idealists, middle-classes, excessive regulation etc. previously being blamed: it's the farmers themselves.

Monsanto's announcement came just after the first momentous event. This was a world-wide 'March Against Monsanto' on 25 May.

Bees vs. business

June 2013
Bee on a Thistle
Bee on a thistle. CC photo by James Bowe on Flickr
Europe seems to have taken a first meaningful step in tackling the collapse of its bee population. A two-year, EU-wide, moratorium has been imposed on three 'neonicotinoid' insecticides used on crops visited by bees and other pollinators.

The decision came in the wake of a series of high-profile scientific studies which linked neonicotinoids to huge losses in the number of queen bees produced and big increases in 'disappeared' bees i.e. those that fail to return to the hive after foraging trips. Regulators concluded there was “a strong, substantive and scientific case for the suspension” after identifying a 'high acute' risk' to honey bees and an unknown risk to wild bees. One bee expert whose research found harmful effects from neonicotinoids warned of “... a very substantial body of scientific evidence suggesting that this class of insecticides is impacting on health of wild bees, and perhaps other wildlife too.”

Roundup promotes botulism

June 2013

GM-free Scotland has previously raised concerns about the effects of GM crops and their associated chemicals on the health of the digestive system, in particular, its vast and vital microflora.

For example, in response to Professor Séralini's evidence of harm from eating 'NK603' GM maize and the 'Roundup' herbicide it accumulates [1], we noted that animals eating this maize will 
also be eating Roundup, which is known to be toxic to bacteria at very low levels. The net result can only be a change in gut microbe composition: some will be killed by the Roundup, other may thrive on elements in the transgenic maize, other might not like the NK603 at all, some will disappear because their vital companions are no longer there, and many will multiply due to the absence of the bugs which kept them in check.” [2]
A new study has been published which gives a perfect, concrete example of these suggested dangers.