Hostage to gene pollution

March 2015

Back in the 1990s, an early fear of anti-GM campaigners was that the biotech industry would purposely create so much gene pollution in the fields and food chain that no matter how unwilling the public and regulators were to accept the novel technology, they would be forced to do so or starve.

Nearly 20 years on, the same concerns seem to be back in the limelight. But this time round, they're being raised by lawyers, with documentary proof to back them up.

Knowledge is never frootless

March 2015

America's in a mess: a GM mess.

US paediatrician, Michelle Perro, tells us: "Digestive health is rapidly declining in children. If children eat conventionally grown food, they will potentially be eating glyphosate, pesticide ingredients and GMOs ... The bioaccumulation effects of gyphosate have not been addressed in children and the standards of safety are arbitrary and not based on any clinical evidence."

Another neurotoxin to add to the mix

March 2015

The possibility that neonicotinoid-type insecticides are contributing to the decline of insect pollinators is hotly contested by the agri-industry.

However, experimental evidence has just emerged form a Scottish laboratory demonstrating serious harm to bumble bees from neonicotinoids.

When bumble bees were fed the insecticide at low levels, as found in the nectar and pollen of the plants they forage on, there were clear signs of brain dysfunction. The poisoned bees exhibited learning difficulties and disruption to their ability to forage, accompanied by a decline in healthy brood cells and decimation (57%) of the total bee mass in the nest.

Glyphosate and Parkinson's disease

March 2015

Monsanto's safety testing of GM maize does not include neurobehavioural assessments. Apparently, these are "not considered appropriate for test articles like corn grain that has no history of producing neurotoxicological effects".. Presumably this reasoning would apply to most food crops.

However, the vast majority of GM crops are designed to accumulate glyphosate herbicide, and questions are emerging on the neurotoxicity of this chemical.

No science at all

March 2015

Questioning the validity of the "long list of 'scientific' objections" to Séralini's unique life-long GM feeding study, which found evidence of harm [1], South African scientist, Chris Viljoen, took a closer look at the quality of other published feeding studies.

Of the 16 papers on feeding glyphosate-resistant crops to test animals, Viljoen found that only three actually noted that the GM crop had been treated with glyphosate (active ingredient of Roundup herbicide). Of these three, only one noted the amount of the herbicide applied. One study noted that no glyphosate had been used on the test crop.

These are serious omissions.

Keep GMOs out of Scotland

March 2015 

In light of EU moves to enable GM growing through new rules which allow member states to 'opt-out' and which Westminster is clearly not interested in [1], plus the TTIP threat to erode our sovereignty [2], Scotland will need a lot of strength and determination to keep itself GM-free.

Scottish farming minster, Richard Lochhead, said:
"I don't want to see GM cultivation jeopardising Scotland's reputation as a clean, green food country". 

GM carotene-enhanced bananas

March 2015

In August 2014, a touch of déjà vu led GM-free Scotland to comment that "the safety and efficacy questions (of golden GM bananas) are going to be by-passed in favour of ignoring scientific ethics and hyping the product, as it seems to be the case with golden rice" [1].

The excuse for copying a gene from one banana into another is that, apparently, "Residents of Uganda and nearby countries don't favour the type of sweet banana that naturally carries the extra beta-carotene. So researchers put the gene into a less-sweet type of banana that East Africans often use in cooking".

Like golden rice, golden bananas are designed to provide beta-carotene which the body converts to vitamin A. Like golden rice, the GM bananas are planned to target poor, malnourished populations. Like golden rice, the GM bananas have not been safety tested on animals, will not go through clinical trials, and are going to be fed to a small number of well-nourished healthy individuals (this time female American university students) to measure how much vitamin A is produced.

Unlike golden rice, the US researchers are trying to avoid the ethics scandal which broke over the surreptitious feeding of experimental GM rice to Chinese children.

Advice for advisers

March 2015

In 2013, journalist George Monbiot asked "What happens to people when they become government scientific advisers?" because somehow "they soon begin to sound less like scientists than industrial lobbyists".

Monbiot gives examples of how UK chief scientist advice on BSE, badger culling and neonicotinoids read suspiciously like a public sedation exercise: they just happen to support the position of the government, and can be timed to influence government voting procedures.

It might reasonably be expected that a chief scientist will provide an independent account of what the science shows, where its limitations lie, and what gaps in the science need to be filled before the government can implement responsible and effective policies and regulations. Fundamental to the role is, therefore, an understanding of the 'precautionary principle' defined by the Rio Convention as "Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation". It's that potential for 'serious or irreversible damage' and level of 'scientific certainty' which a chief scientists needs to grasp and communicate.