How glyphosate could be linked to cancer

January 2014
Photo of farm vehicle spraing a field of crops
CC photo of crop spraying in Norfolk - via timparkinson on Flickr
While pro-GM scientists, regulators and industry rally to find reasons to dismiss the science suggesting an increased incidence of tumours in rats fed glyphosate herbicide [1], other studies on the subject are being quietly published.
Scientists at the Indian Institute of Toxicology in Lucknow, have previously reported that glyphosate has tumour-promoting potential in a mouse skin model.  Further investigation, using cultured human skin cells as a 'normal' model, have identified the underlying mechanism.  It seems glyphosate interferes with calcium-ion dependent processes inside the cell.
Calcium plays a pivotal part of the regulation of many key cellular activities including cell development, proliferation, secretion, gene activation, and natural cell death.
While glyphosate as a pure chemical is known to bind to metal ions, any effects inside the cell, where calcium is bound to proteins and may be associated with membranes, are too complex to predict.  However, the Indian team's experiments demonstrated that the herbicide does indeed disrupt calcium function within the cell.

Kicking the science into shape

January 2014
Photo of a gloved hand holding a test tube with biotech lab in background
CC photo of a biotech lab - via Tuur van Balen on Flickr
In 2004, three Canadian Government scientists were dismissed for “insubordination” after publicly expressing serious reservations about the approval of GM products they believed would harm the food chain and, ultimately, threaten the well-being of Canadians.  Since then, the Canadian Government has kept tight control of the situation and successfully pushed GM foods, unlabelled, throughout its domain [1].

How it managed to do this seems, ironically, to have been down to the failure of subsequent government scientists to question the science, or to question the validity of what their employers ordered them to do.

America's GM attitude shift

January 2014

March against Monsanto, Washington DC 2013. CC photo from Flickr

Changes in awareness of, and attitude to, GM foods in the US were very evident during 2013.
An attempt to slip a new biotech-friendly consumer-unfriendly measure into a continuing resolution in Congress led to an unprecedented backlash.
The infamous measure was written in co-operation with Monsanto (therefore dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act), and was designed to tie the federal regulators' hands if new health concerns about GMOs came to light.  
In the event, the measure was killed in the Senate, but the damage to the biotech industry had been done.  Two million people around the world had taken to the streets to 'March Against Monsanto', and ongoing awareness had been set firmly in motion.
GM food labelling initiatives in many States have ended, so far, in total or partial failure.  There are more in the pipeline, each adding it's own layer of consumer disquiet about GM foods.  However, something more subtle is afoot in the US food industry.

Agricultural reality shows no yield benefit for GM

January 2014

Conventional wheat in Hertforshire, England. CC photo from Flickr

During a conference in Zürich in 2010, molecular-biologist, Professor Jack Heinemann heard an off-hand remark from an economics professor which raised his eyebrows.  The comment was that because Europe has shunned GMOs, it had lost productivity compared to the US where most staple commodity crops are now largely GM.
Even at the time, a spot check of corn yields on the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation data-base during the first fifteen years of the GM era indicated that yields for corn were neck and neck on either side of the Atlantic.
This led Heinemann to make a more detailed comparison of 'like-for-like' crops in America and Europe. 

Fighting fire with fire

January 2014

Food and Chemical Toxicology's decision to discredit and obliterate the most in-depth toxicological study of a GM crop and its associated herbicide ever published [1,2], may well prove a turning point in biotech 'science'. 

The reason given for the retraction of Professor Séralini's life-long rat feeding-study was that “no definitive conclusion” could be reached from the data on mortality and tumour incidence due to the number of animals in each group and the strain of rat used.

Torching the science

January 2014

“In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” George Orwell, author of 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'

The frantic damage-limitation exercise launched in response to the publication of Professor Séralini's evidence of long-term harm from a GM maize and its associated herbicide [1] has stepped up an interesting notch. 

After spending over a year listening to the sounds of pro-biotech panic, the editors of Food and  Chemical Toxicology (FCT) journal have decided to retract the paper.  An unnamed FCT panel has recommended that, because “no definitive conclusion” could be reached from the data on mortality or tumour incidence due to the number of animals in each group and the strain of rat used, the science should be written out of scientific history. 

Healthy plants chat

December 2013

The discovery that some plants react to the presence of carnivores in their environment by altering their metabolic rate and increasing their root-system was counter-intuitive [1].  But why should it have been?  After all, where there are carnivores, there will be herbivores for them to eat, and a meat-eater with any sense won't wipe out its entire food supply.  The plants have every reason to brace themselves for being nibbled by herbivores if there are carnivores out there.

Hmmm ... Plants and animals apparently observing, reasoning and acting accordingly? Research in Scotland has uncovered something else, pretty smart, going on in the under-world of plants.

Pesticide regulations with implications

December 2013

... for GM crops and food.

The European Commission (EC) is currently planning to update its regulations controlling chemicals to which the public are exposed. Two aspects critical to these efforts are proving controversial.

The first involves the determination of a 'safe' threshold for a chemical: if none can be determined, industry would have to demonstrate that the socio-economic benefits outweigh human health risks, or, that there are no alternatives.  

The second involves a requirement that endocrine disruptors must be removed from the market.