GM reality checks

December 2013

Waiting For The Harvest
Soybeans. CC photo by Scott Robinson on Flickr
 2013 may well go down as the year of the GM reality checks. 

Reality Check No.1

GM crops increase the use of toxic chemicals in our food and in our environment. 

In August, the US Department of Agriculture quietly approved the first next-generation GM crop, Bayer's soya which is resistant to 'Balance' herbicide containing 'isoxaflutole' (IFT).   

IFT is classed as a “probable human carcinogen”, and is linked to liver and thyroid tumours and foetal toxicity.  The herbicide is persistent in the environment, including ground-water sources of drinking water. 

Right behind IFT in the GM/pesticide pipeline, a veritable “herbicide Armageddon” with matching GM crops is looming:
  • Dow AgroSciences is awaiting approval of 2,4-D-resistant maize and soya.  This herbicide has been linked to immune-system cancer and adverse reproductive impacts.
  • BASF is preparing an imidazolinone-resistant soya.  One form of this herbicide has been linked to bladder and colon cancer
  • Syngenta has GM soya resistant HPPD inhibitors (related to IFT) which have been linked to toxic effects in the liver.
  • Monsanto has its own GM soya and cotton resistant to Dicamba, a herbicide linked to cancer and developmental toxicity.
If you're really unlucky, you'll find yourself eating these traits stacked with our old friends glyphosate- and glufosinate-resistance, along with a cocktail of all the associated chemicals.  Also, as the grape-growers in Winsconsin have found to their cost, you might get any of these herbicides in any non-GM food grown near a GM field (that is, if your non-GM food has survived the spray-drift).

Genetic damage from 'inert' dsRNA

December 2013

This year, 2013, kicked of with the publication of another alarming GM feeding study.  It involved double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) which can be generated by artificial DNA to control existing genes rather than generate novel proteins (see [1]). 

Research has already established that dsRNA is stable and can transfer from food into the consumer.  Once inside, the long chains of dsRNA are cleaved into an assortment of smaller chains ('siRNA') which can interfere with metabolic processes. 

The reason for the latest feeding study wasn't anything to do with GM foods or crops.  It was to clarify a technical detail in the way laboratory investigations of insect genes are carried out.  When studying gene function, it's common practice to disable the gene using an appropriate siRNA.  As a comparative control in such experiments, scientists have been using a sequence of dsRNA which couldn't arise naturally.  Their assumption has been that the foreign siRNA won't find any DNA in the insect genome to interfere with.  However, unexpected observations of changes in gene expression, pigmentation and developmental timing in control bees (who should have been entirely 'normal') put this assumption in doubt.  Further investigation was clearly warranted.