GM and tadpoles don't mix

May 2016

'Bt' toxins are a favourite tool of genetic engineers for creating crops which generate their own pesticide to kill whatever is their most troublesome insect pest.

In Nature, such toxins are formed by a variety of strains of Bacillus thuringienses bacteria (hence 'Bt') found in soil and on plants. Organic farmers may use Bacillus thrunigienses fermentations as natural, short-lived insecticide sprays on their crops. Outside of organic agriculture however, Bt-toxin containing formula are used to control specific problematic insects, such as disease-carrying mosquitoes.

GM by injection?

May 2016

Early in the GM game, the public were regaled with rosy images of the therapeutic wonders which GM crops would provide: the world would be rid of hepatitis B and other infectious diseases by a vaccine a single dried GM banana chip; Third World blindness would be banished forever with a bowl of vitamin-A-rich GM rice; unwanted preganacies would be a thing of the past with a little GM contraceptive corn delivering human antibodies to fight off sperm.

These wonders don't seem to have actually materialised yet: vaccines-in-a-banana disappeared below the radar, golden-rice has generated lots of PR but no healthier people [1], and the pregnancy-preventing plants fizzled out in bankruptcy.

However, GM pharmaceuticals are certainly alive and well and generating vast profits for industry.

Glyphosate attitude shift

May 2016

March 2016 could prove a turning point for the fortunes of 'glyphosate', the weed-killer which has provided leverage for the commercial production of 80% of current GM crops, and is worth $5 billion to its major manufacturer.

It seems to have started with a spat in 2015 when the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that the strength of the scientific evidence indicated that glyphosate is a "probable carcinogen" [1].

The IARC conclusion was published just at the same time as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which was preparing to re-licence glyphosate, declared it "unlikely" to be carcinogenic.

To understand how two such authoritative bodies could arrive at such opposing conclusions on the scientific evidence, all you need to do is look at the actual evidence considered by the two.

'Inert' endocrine disruptors

May 2016

Readers of GM-free Scotland will be familiar with warnings that glyphosate-based herbicides, which are heavily used on most GM crops, have added ingredients to help glyphosate penetrate into the plant cells and kill them more efficiently [1].

Glyphosate dissolves well in water, but sprayed on a crop without its 'helpers' it would glide off the waxy outer layer and not much would make it through the fatty membrane around the cells.

As the weeds around glyphosate-tolerant GM crops have evolved to become less and less sensitive to the herbicide, the biotech industry has had to rescue its pet GM technology by producing more aggressive glyphosate-based formulations. Most of these added ingredients are detergents (fat-dissolvers) which disrupt the wax- and fatty- barriers designed by Nature to protect the plant.

Regulators have allowed added ingredients in agricultural pesticide sprays to be declared 'inert' and may be mysterious 'commercially confidential' substances.

GM Africa now

May 2016

Echoing GRAIN's 2014 Report that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's philanthropic endeavours are promoting an industrial, global market- and biotech industry-driven model of agriculture in Africa, while bypassing local social needs and knowledge [1], Global Justice Now released a similar Report in 2016.

It warns:
"the Gates Foundation is in effect preparing the ground for (the biotech industry) to access new profitable markets in hitherto closed-off developing countries, especially in Africa. The Foundation is especially pushing for the adoption of GM in Africa."
Gates has an aggressive corporate strategy and extraordinary influence across governments, academics and the media. It seems that, shielded by its unarguable philanthropic purpose, and by its connections to corporations and international development agencies, or its self-created 'partners' [1], and by the loyalties required to gain and retain its funding and patronage, healthy dissent and criticism have been stifled.

So what's happening on the ground in Gates' GM-Africa?

The 'needs' of agricultural aid in Africa

May 2016

The Gates Foundation is probably the biggest philanthropic venture ever, distributing billions of dollars every year. Its traditional priorities are global health programmes and educational work in the US.

However, during the last 10 years, the Foundation has hugely expanded its funding for agriculture, especially in Africa where 19 out of the 25 most food-insecure countries in the world are (2014 Global Food Security Index).

In 2006, the Foundation set up the 'Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa' (AGRA) as the "face and voice" to fulfil its guiding principles (see below).