July 2013
Non-GM apples. Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA [Public domain]
via Wikimedia Commons
If you've recovered your wits after reading about the latest biotech 'healthy' GM wheat courtesy of its artificial double-stranded RNA seasoning (see FRANKENWHEAT and RNA-MODIFIED FOOD - July 2013), spare a thought for the humble apple.

Non-organic apples already have a stunning array of pesticides in and on them. Forty-two have shown up in US Department of Agriculture tests. These chemicals include endocrine disruptors and suspected neurotoxins linked to ADHD.

A major reason for the application of all these pesticides is the exceptionally narrow gene-base of the modern apple. We rely on a very few choice varieties cloned from a single parent by repeated grafting. Our apples have lost their ability to get along on their own.

As if things weren't bad enough, the latest craze is non-browning GM apples which have artificial dsRNA to add to the mix. This biotech bit blocks the production of the enzyme which causes a damaged apple to turn brown.

It's been pointed out that the browning of an apple's cut surface is an important defense mechanism against the entry of pathogens. The non-browning varieties may therefore need even more chemicals to keep them disease-free.


No one seems to have looked to see what havoc the novel dsRNA might cause in our cells, or in our children.

There's a good case here for for buying old-fashioned apples which have been grown locally, and are organic if at all possible.

  • Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins, Frankenapple: Bad News No Matter How You Slice It, Organic Consumers Association, 17.04.13


July 2013
Wheat close up 4
Wheat. CC photo by Wheat Initiative on Flickr
The latest development in genetic modification isn't inserting genes, it's inserting DNA to induce RNA interference, in particular double-stranded RNA, 'dsRNA' .

As described in RNA-MODIFIED FOOD - July 2013, the technique has a huge potential for side-effects. Reading this, “How can anyone still think it's safe to apply (RNA interference) in genetic modification?” (Institute of Science in Society).

Yet, dsRNA technology is in several pipe-line GM crops, one of which is a major global staple food, wheat.

This GM wheat is being developed in Australia* to have altered starch composition. The intention seems to be to create wheat grain with starch which is less digestible than normal. The hope is this will make it 'healthier' by improving large bowel health and cholesterol levels, and by reducing blood sugar in the same way as oats, rye, lentils and peas do.

A database investigation, however, has revealed a number of side-effects which will not be so healthy.

dsRNA: silencing regulation

July 2013
DNA extraction
Photo from Creative Commons by CIMMYT on Flickr
If you've just read RNA-MODIFIED FOOD - July 2013, you'll be aware that this latest GM development carries some serious new risks.

This latest GM fad doesn't introduce novel genes or proteins but creates much trickier transgenic regulatory RNA elements.

Now, you may be wondering whether our regulators are awake to the problems?

Lip-service is frequently paid to the 'precautionary principle', but rarely backed up by action. The prevailing regulatory culture seems to be one in which marketing of novel materials is encouraged to proceed until some proof of harm emerges. Scientific uncertainty is not used as a reason to delay their launch.

RNA-modified food

July 2013
Image of biotechnology from Creative Commons / United Soybean Board on Flickr
Up until now, all major commercial GM crops have been created by inserting artificial genes. 'Genes' are stretches of DNA (see definitions below) which the cell uses to create specific proteins.

So far, the novel proteins in GM crops have fallen into only two categories: they have either been enzymes which confer tolerance to a weed-killer (such as 'Roundup'), or have been analogues (adapted look-alikes) of bacterial proteins (such as 'Bt') which kill crop pests.

'New' GM crops now entering the market are simply an extension of these older ones: they have been 'stacked' with combinations of the same genes. Typical biotech crops available to farmers have tolerance to more than one herbicide, and produce several different insecticides.

COMMENT This sort of GM tactic will, ultimately, be self-limiting. Accelerated weed-tolerance to the favoured herbicides, accelerated insect-resistance to the novel insecticides, and constitutional constraints on how much foreign protein a plant can be made to churn out while remaining healthy will make it unsustainable.

However, genes, Roundup-resistance and Bt insecticides are old-hat. Biotech science has moved on.

Genetic engineers have turned their attention away from creating genes and novel proteins, to the much more vast field of non-gene DNA.

Trust tested and found wanting

July 2013

No GMO Label
Anti-gm protesters. CC photo by Alan Turner2 on Flickr
As Westminster gears up to 'go it alone' with GM in Europe, do they have the backing of the people they are supposed to represent?

A recent survey commissioned by the Food Standards Agency suggested that two thirds of the public consider it important that GM food, GM food ingredients and food from animals fed GM are labelled. Consumers clearly do not trust GM in their food chain.

A poll commissioned by The Grocer magazine suggested that 72% of the public do not trust retailers to tell the truth about GM food, and 60% do not trust Ministers to be honest about GM.

The answer to the above question appears to be NO.

Westminster rolling out the red carpet for GM

July 2013

Owen Paterson
By US Department of State [Public domain]
via Wikimedia Commons
The Westminster plot to push GM crop development centre-stage in the UK has moved forward once more [1].

In June, Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, gave a speech to the scientists at Rothamsted Research [2] where GM crops are major focus.

The speech was about the Government's policy of “Making the food and farming industry more competitive while protecting the environment”.

To do this, the Minister explained that he wants the UK to become the best place in the world for research into agricultural science and technology, including GM. “The Government wants to roll out the red carpet for potential researchers and developers”. He ended on the need for a “constructive, well informed and evidence-led” discussion to change the public's negative opinions on GM, and invited the scientists to “play their part”, adding “I'll back you all the way”.

Nothing more needs to be said about Paterson's GM pep-talk, because it consisted of over 80 rousing paragraphs in which every possible sound-byte ever issued by the pro-GM lobby over the last 17 years was repeated in some form: not a single original idea or justification was put forward.