The need for natural chunks of DNA

September 2013

An opinion and analysis from the editors of the popular science magazine, Scientific American, implores readers to “Fight the GM Food Scare”.

Public fears, it seems, are based on the misconception that GM foods endanger health.

In support of their assertion that GMOs are just as safe as other foods, the editors describe genetic transformation as a modern tool which inserts a gene here or tweaks a gene there. The reader is asked to compare this with conventional breeding in which “giant chunks” of DNA are swapped between one plant and another. GM, therefore, produces more predictable and precise results, which somehow makes it safer.

Is this argument convincing?

Majority of GM safety studies are irrelevant to humans

September 2013

According to one plant molecular scientist (as he histrionically “sags into his chair and gestures at the air”) there have been “hundreds of millions of genetic experiments involving every type of organism on earth” yet the fears about GM foods persist (Robert Goldberg, University of California at Los Angeles).

This begs a question or two. Amongst these hundreds of millions of genetic experiments, how many were aimed at addressing our fears? How many were relevant the GMOs in our food chain, or to us and our health?

Bt inspired pests

September 2013

Photo of a cotton field in China
Cotton field in China. CC photo by tian yake on Flickr
A long running-debate about the sustainability of 'Bt' insecticide-generating GM crops is that because they kill their single most troublesome pest, no broad-spectrum chemicals are applied and other pests will “go crazy”.

The story of Bt cotton in China supports this concern. More than 90% of Chinese cotton is now genetically transformed to control corn boll-worm (CBW). “Spraying specifically for CBW from 1997 when Bt cotton was introduced until 2010 decreased by a spectacular two-thirds. Total sprayings for all insect pests during this period was reduced by a less spectacular 14%. Spraying for non-CBW pests increased by 60%.” (APHID-FRIENDLY COTTON - July 2012)

Rehashed herbicides in the GM pipeline

September 2013

#Monsanto super weed #MarchAgainstMonsanto  #GMO #MAM25 #MAM #m25 #noGMO
Monsanto superweed protester in San Francisco.
CC photo by Steve Rhodes on Flickr
The ubiquitous over-use of Roundup herbicide on GM crops in America has resulted in Roundup-resistant weeds clogging fields across the land.

Farmers who have been relying on Roundup to keep weeds down for over a decade, are now desperately in need of a new tool to deal with the problem. And, now that they've been trained, to the exclusion of all other techniques, to use a chemical to cure unwanted plant growth, that 'tool' has to be another chemical.

Organic, conventionally grown and GM soya are different

September 2013

Soy beans
Soy beans. CC photo by Kattebelletje on Flickr
Repeated attempts to persuade the public that organic foods are no better than conventionally grown ones, and that GM is both substantially equivalent to and as safe as non-GM, have resulted in our preferences being viewed as a groundless matter of 'choice' or 'belief'.

And indeed, using the decades-old standard compositional analyses to assess the quality of food and feed, detection of any differences between the three is rarely possible.

Shoring up this are the regulators clinging to the concepts that DNA is intrinsically safe to eat, that protein is digested beyond recognition, and that any agri-chemical used is only on the market because it is safe.

All this leaves little space for the exploration of safety concerns.

Is Glyphosate wrecking aquatic life?

September 2013

Water lily.  CC Photo by Mahmood Al-Yousif on Flickr
At least three published reviews have declared glyphosate (active ingredient of Monsanto's 'Roundup') to be an ideal herbicide due to its specificity and acclaimed low toxicity to non-target organisms in the environment.

Indeed, a majority of short-term studies on the aquatic invertebrate, Daphnia magna, a commonly accepted model animal in environmental toxicity studies, has pronounced 'glyphosate' to have 'no adverse effect', to be 'non-toxic' or 'moderately toxic', or to have 'low toxicity'.

However, experiments over the decades since glyphosate was first marketed have demonstrated an unexplained variability in toxicity across several orders of magnitude.

Glyphosate is heavily used in agriculture, forestry, gardening and waterway management, from where it seeps into ground-water and drinking water. With the advent of 'Roundup Ready' GM monocultures, quickly followed by Roundup-resistant super-weeds, the quantity of glyphosate entering the ecosystem has increased exponentially.

Glyphosate and cancer

September 2013

Crop spraying. Photo Oliver Dixon [CC-BY-SA-2.0
(], via Wikimedia Commons
French professor, Gilles-Eric Séralini, has trodden firmly on regulatory and biotech toes on more than one occasion.

In 2007, he mentioned the taboo words 'endocrine disruption' in his re-analysis of the safety data submitted by Monsanto on its MON683 GM maize to the European Commission.

This was followed by a number of publications critical of the superficial nature of existing risk assessments for GM crops, and adding further evidence on endocrine effects.

In 2012, Séralini published experimental results suggesting that GM herbicide-tolerant maize, NK603, and the 'Roundup' herbicide used with it are linked to increased mammary tumours in susceptible animals (see GM MAIZE IS NOT SAFE TO EAT - October 2012).

With the incidence of newly-diagnosed breast cancers running at nearly 50,000 per year in the UK, Séralini's findings have to be taken seriously.