Environmentally-friendly, but dead

December 2017

In 1999, biotech boffins in Canada invented the 'Enviropig' genetically transformed to digest grain-based feedstuffs which pigs don't naturally eat, but which are now part-and-parcel of modern intensive pig-rearing [1].

This piggy-wonder was touted as being cheaper and greener to produce because, thanks to its novel digestive system, it wouldn't excrete huge amounts of polluting phosphates, and wouldn't smell. 'Environmentally-friendly' is always a good PR hand to play.

A hopeful herd of Enviropigs was maintained for 17 years, waiting for the market to want to eat them.

The pigs are all dead now. Total disaster. No customers. All cost and no return.

Fake news machine

December 2017

'Fake news' - false, often sensational information disseminated under the guise of news reporting. - Collins 'Word of the Year' 2017


Cornell University's 'Alliance for Science' has announced a further contribution to its work from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Originally endowed with $5.6 million in 2014, this new grant brings the total Gates' contribution to $12 million.

The mission is to promote GM in agriculture by "depolarising" the global debate and training the uninformed in "evidence based decision making". One of the Alliance's major initiatives has been to teach "strategic communications" to local advocates so they can spread the word, and train others in developing countries where GMOs are contentious.

Five times removed from natural

December 2017
© Greenpeace / Statchett
A huge focus of GM development has been on crops which can generate their own insecticides against key pests. Such crops have added genes copied from the, seemingly ubiquitous, soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis ('Bt') which enable the plants to produce 'Bt' toxic proteins targeting specific insects.

'Bt' crops are promoted by industry and regulators as environmentally-friendly, farmer-friendly and consumer-friendly. After all, they target specific pests only, they breakdown quickly in the soil, they are designed to reduce the need for expensive chemical insecticide applications in the field and on our food. B. thuringiensis is a "naturally occurring" bacterium, producing natural protein toxins which will be naturally digested in the human gut and are, therefore, naturally safe to eat. Moreover, so the story goes, approved commercial Bt preparations have been "extensively" and safely used for "over half a century" in organic farming and in forestry, decades before the GM crop era.

This 'naturalness' and 'history of safe use' have been used by industry and regulators to justify the minimisation of actual testing.

Roundup impairs soil fungi

December 2017

Modern farmers are proud to grow crop plants in isolated splendour; they make sure nothing much ever gets a chance to live alongside them in the fields. Their yields are impressive, and the drain on soil health even more so.

Soil is a living material. It generates the nutrients plants need, and its resilience comes from a vast living, interacting biodiversity of bacteria, fungi, single-cell organisms, plants and animals. Agrichemicals designed to kill change all that.

Scientific methods are, of course, used to check out the effects of agrichemicals on select representative soil life-forms. For example, tests of key features of the well-characterised soil fungus, Aspergillus nidulans, include growth rate, spore germination and germination delay, pigmentation and organisation of the fungal strands. If no effects are detected at some measured level of exposure to a pesticide, the chemical is pronounced safe for the soil at any lower concentrations.

However, science has moved on a long way from looking at gross changes under a microscope such as the above. And, none of the chemicals tested in isolation in the laboratory is ever present in isolation in the field.

A recently published study based on state-of-the-art 'proteomic' analyses revealed subtle biochemical disturbances in A. nidulans exposed to glyphosate. This raises a number of concerns.

Glyphosate in European soils

December 2017

A snapshot survey of European agricultural soils in 2015 has revealed a worryingly extensive presence of glyphosate herbicide and its break-down product, 'AMPA'*.
*aminomethylphosphoric acid

Glyphosate is widely used on GM herbicide-tolerant crops in the Americas, but in Europe, it's typically applied only once a year to cereal and oilseed crops, or three times a year in orchards and vineyards. This doesn't sound like very much.

Scotching the GM myth

December 2017

'Food security' is a complex problem for which simple solutions have long been tried, and as long have failed. In fact, 'food security' isn't even easy to define.

Prior to the 1980s, the problem seemed straightforward: just add together all the food produced in the area of interest, add net food imported, and divide the total by the number of people living there. If there were enough calories available per person, the area was 'food secure'.

American agricultural suicide

November 2017

A retired Senior Executive of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently described how American agriculture is on a "treadmill to oblivion", blinding itself to the reality of what's happening on the farm and of where that pesticide treadmill isn't going. Add to this, an "unparallelled ability ... to forget what we once know" about how to keep the soil healthy the pests at bay, and the crop yields high without fertilisers and pesticides.

Corporate Communism?

November 2017

Denying local communities the freedom to choose their own agricultural system, not only what they grow but how they grow it, has suddenly become a priority in the USA.

By August this year, 28 States had passed "seed pre-emption laws" never deemed necessary nor desirable before.

The new laws are primarily designed to block counties and cities from banning GMOs, but the language used in some bills could enable them to extend to such things as manures, fertilisers and irrigation (these could be used to promote, for example, agri-chemical corporate interests, agri-chemical dependent GM crops, and futuristic drought-tolerant GM crops).

The testing barrier

November 2017

The chemical industries have long used a demand for ever more proof of harm to keep their unsafe products on the market.

Such 'proof' of harm realistically means testing on animal models. This takes time, while in-depth testing takes a long time, and the life-long studies to gain full evidence on the potential for chronic disease take a very long time. This can be used to keep the sales and the profits rolling indefinitely.

Gene driven mutations

November 2017

Gene drive technology could soon become the much needed "self-sustaining, species-specific and affordable" means of eradicating horrific diseases, such as malaria, by wiping out the insect vector upon which the spread of the pathogen depends [1].

Current research is focusing on wiping out mosquitoes by giving them a gene drive with a 'nuclease' enzyme which will disrupt the function of a key mosquito gene needed for fertility in the females: by creating successive generations plagued by sterile females, the mosquito population and the disease will be decimated.

With a generation time counted in days and little tendency to fly very far during their short lives, the gene drive is predicted to be very rapidly effective in the area where the GM mosquitoes are released.

This sounds like a win-win situation (for humans), but is it that straightforward?

Organic food is a safe choice

November 2017

In the face of growing concerns that our current chemical-dependent food production systems are neither sustainable nor healthy, the European Parliament has commissioned a review of the scientific evidence of the impact of chemical-free, organic food production (see Note below).

The evidence available for review was sparse, lacking in direct human health or long-term studies, limited by reductionist data, and absent mechanistic explanations for results. In particular, the reviewers led by Swedish University of Agriculture scientists, reported that epidemiological surveys have had a very low impact on regulatory assessments despite involving real-life exposure to multiple chemicals and whole human populations.

One important, but side-lined, US population study linked pesticide levels in the mothers' body (assessed from urine levels) with impaired cognitive development in their children.

Errors in CRISPR

November 2017

We don't eat people or mice, but there's a lot to be learned from GM versions of both.

GM people aren't yet a reality, but soon could be. The first clinical trial of a GM technique to correct a faulty gene is already underway in China and another is due to start next year in America.

GM humans have become a realistic goal since the invention of the 'CRISPR/Cas9' system for making precise changes in any genome [1].

CRISPR/Cas9 has been used successfully to restore the sight of blind laboratory mice by correcting a faulty gene. The researchers didn't notice anything wrong with their GM animals. However, the technique is to be applied to humans, and there's an awareness that "every new therapy has some potential side-effects". They therefore decided to check out the possibility of "secondary mutations in (DNA) regions not targeted" by the CRISPR's RNA-homing device which seeks out the DNA sequence destined to be changed.

The dicamba tsunami

October 2017

Much in the agri-news in June were reports from US farmers whose crops had been damaged by their neighbours' use of dicamba herbicide on the latest GM crops [1].

It seems Monsanto was over-eager to sell its new decamba-tolerant soya technology so that the GM seed hit the fields before the technical details for using it had been sufficiently developed. The result has been widespread injury not only to non-dicamba-tolerant soya, but to fruit and nut crops, specialty crops, and home gardens. Damage has been progressing so fast that as soon as the statistics were compiled they were out of date. As at 15th August 2017, complaints had been made in 21 States, affecting 3.1 million acres of soyabeans alone and inciting 2,242 official investigations.

Frankenmoths RIP

October 2017

It's clear from the speed with which Bt-insecticide resistant pests are emerging that the hoped-for delaying tactic of telling farmers to plant non-Bt 'refuges' besides their Bt-generating GM crops to harbour wild-type susceptible pests just isn't working.

Biotech industry attempts to make its Bt crops easier for farmers to use by selling refuge-in-a-bag (RIB) GM seeds mixed with 5% non-GM seeds seems to have made the situation worse by diluting the level of insecticide present in the field [1].

Now, we have a new approach: refuge-in-a-pest (RIP?).

GM plants grow polio vaccines

October 2017

World-wide, polio is now a disease of the past in all but two countries. The battle has been waged with mass vaccination programmes reaching, for example, 95% of infants in Europe. Even in Pakistan and Afghanistan, polio's last stand, the annual incidence has been reducing dramatically year-on-year and is down to a few tens of cases. Indeed, conquering this virus has been one of the great success stories of modern medicine.

It's the bugs not the Bt

October 2017

Several varieties of 'Bt' insecticide are now widely generated by commercial GM crops.

These bacterial proteins are rarely directly toxic, but react with the gut lining of the target pest, creating a lesion in the gut wall. Death of the insect after 2 to 4 days, is a result of gut microbes leaking into the body.

Indeed, experiments have indicated that, for the majority of moth pest species, if their gut microbes have been destroyed by pre-treatment with antibiotics, Bt toxins are no longer able to kill them.

Putting this another way, death-by-Bt happens when the normally beneficial bugs in the healthy pests' gut move into the body where they become pathogenic.

Dicamba and dust

October 2017

The major herbicidal chemicals used by US farmers haven't really changed very much over the decades. Various forms of 'dicamba', first introduced in 1967, and 'glyphosate', first introduced in 1974 , feature in America's agricultural landscape as much today as they did a quarter of a century ago.

Both these herbicides have a low acute toxicity to animals (you'd need to eat an awful lot before you'd drop dead). However, their properties, modes of action and applications are very different.

Dicamba selectively kills broad-leafed weeds, but not grasses. In 1994, 90% of the 27.6 million pounds of dicamba formulation used in US fields was applied to maize.

Glyphosate kills all plant life. Until the late 1990s, glyphosate was used to clear the ground before a crop was planted, and in 1995 27.6 million pounds of glyphosate-based weedkiller was used in US fields. Since then, usage has increased some fifteen-fold due to widespread planting of GM glyphosate-tolerant soya and later several other similarly-engineered major crops.

In a bizarre twist of fate, glyphosate's popularity has led to a "battle between farmers" and even a farmer's murder, caused by dicamba.

Eating well keeps pests well

October 2017

GM crops which generate their own 'Bt' insecticides to kill their own pests are a key area of business expansion for the biotech industry. The biggest threat to these lucrative products is the emergence of Bt resistant pests.

Current wisdom in today's computer-dependent, gene-centric scientific world peopled with DNA-engineers, sees Bt resistant pests emerging due to a mistake in their DNA which accidentally produces a gene which accidentally interferes with the toxic effects of Bt and which they can pass on their offspring.

Based on the notion that pests would need two such 'resistance' genes to cope with Bt, the chance of it happening the field has been presumed slim, and the problem assumed to be a long-term one. Accordingly, biotech wise-guys, regulators and computer modelling came up with an anti-resistance strategy in which farmers plant non-GM 'refuge' crops beside the Bt ones to dilute out any chance mutant pests and their nuisance genes. As GM crops arriving on the market now come stacked with increasing varieties of Bt genes, the size of the 'refuge' crops has been allowed to dwindle.

And, is the wisdom working as it should?

Impossible bleeding burgers

September 2017
'Synbio', a.k.a. synthetic biology or synthia, began to look like becoming a reality in our food in 2014. Natural artificial additives such as stevia, vanilla and saffron look-alikes produced in vats of GM yeast were set to hit our plates [1].

The following year, 'Muufri' cowless milk emerged. Muufri has six key natural artificial cow's milk proteins produced in vats of GM yeast [2].

One year on, 'Soylent' meal alternatives became the must-have for the modern man who doesn't have time to shop, cook or sit down to eat. Soylent is "proudly made with GMOs" and doesn't even pretend to have any natural ingredients [3].

GMM contamination

September 2017

Many food and feed additives, produced once upon a time by chemical synthesis or extraction from natural sources, are now derived from fermentation of GM micro-organisms (GMMs).

EU rules require that such additives in the final product must be pure. This means that the GMM itself (alive or dead) or any artificial DNA inserted into it must have been removed.

Accordingly, no special labelling is required for GMM-derived additives. Also, there is no regulatory control system in place for the products of GMMs. It is assumed the company marketing the additive will verify the absence of the GMM and its novel DNA in the final substance.

Besides use as food processing aids and as a means of conferring artificial qualities on food products, GMM-derived additives include 'health' promoting substances, such as vitamins.

In 2014, EU regulators were notified that a German official enforcement laboratory had detected live GM bacteria in a consignment of 'riboflavin' feed additive from China.

GM pesticides cause more insect damage

September 2017

With such vast monocultures of GM corn being grown in America, most of which now self-infuse with the same or similar 'Bt' insecticides to kill the same or similar moth infestation, you might expect the pests to be reducing in abundance under the biotech-inspired onslaught.

Indeed, although no investigation has been made into the cause, earworm populations in American fields have been declining.  Long-term field monitoring from 1996 when the first Bt crops were entering the US landscape to 2016 found the pest reduced by up to 86%.

This should be good news for farmers, but counter-intuitively, over the same period, tests on sweetcorn sentinel plants [1] indicated an increase or no change in damage to both GM and non-GM plants.

Crop diversity disaster

September 2017

"It is agronomically, ecologically, nutritionally, and economically risky and unsustainable to rely almost exclusively on a handful of major crops to provide food for the world's (future population)" (Dempewolf).

The 'agronomic' problem is the need for crop diversification to achieve adaptation and resilience of our food production systems in the face of climate change.

The 'ecological' problem is that monocultures are an unbalanced hole in the ecosystem which can generate disease and spread toxins.

The 'nutritional' problem is that a diverse and varied diet is vital for our nutrition and health.

The 'economic' problem stems from all of the above.

India's cotton-picking lessons

September 2017
"The mantra is to let 'the market' intervene: a euphemism for letting powerful corporations take control; the same corporations that benefit from massive taxpayer subsidies, manipulate markets, write trade agreements and institute a regime of intellectual property rights thereby indicating that the 'free' market only exists in the warped delusions of those who churn out clich├ęs about letting the market decide" (Tod Hunter)
 After 15 years of growing ‘Bt’ GM cotton in India, there are 'Lessons to Be Learnt' [1].

Scotland's food industry at risk

September 2017
Scotland's renewed vulnerability to GM-by-force has been highlighted by our Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing.

Scottish produce has an excellent reputation around the world.  Food and Drink export is one of the standout success stories in our economy in terms of jobs and growth.  Earlier this year, the Scottish Government launched ‘Ambition 2030': an ambitious plan to target export markets for growth over the next 3 years that, if successful, will more than double the current turnover of our country's food and drink sector.  The outcome will make Scotland a model of responsible, profitable growth.

In 2015, Scotland requested exemption from EU consents for the cultivation of GM crops. This 'opt-out' is extremely important for our £5.5 billion food and drink industry.

After Brexit, Scotland's 'opt-out' will no longer be in force and we'll be at the mercy of whatever GM whim Westminster chooses to impose on us.

GM sugarcane

July 2017

Brazil has been a major supplier of non-GM soya to Europe. While huge tracts are planted with GM soya, the country has a very large land area and is confident it can keep GM and non-GM separate.

Last year, saw reductions in several GM-growing areas around the world: two countries (Romania and Burkino Faso) discontinued GM agriculture, India dropped GM cotton cultivation due to pest problems, one of China's biggest provinces implemented a 5-year ban on growing, processing and selling GM crops, Chinese GM cotton planting dropped 24%, while Argentina moved to crop diversification and away from GM. However, globally, the hectares planted to GM crops continue to edge upwards because the reductions have been offset by continuing increases in North and South America where 90% of GM plantings take place.

In Brazil there has been a rise in GM crop area, most of which will be soya, accompanied by reports of the deforestation of nearly 2 million acres of the Brazilian Amazon, the first in a decade.

This renewed environmental destruction may portend something more ominous than just more GM soya.

Regulators in Brazil have approved the commercial use of GM sugarcane.

A GM cure for toxic maize

July 2017

Each year, some 16 million tons of maize are lost globally to contamination by 'aflatoxins' after infection by some species of Aspergillus fungus.

In the US alone, wastage due to aflatoxins is estimated to cost agriculture $270 million per annum. Added to this is the expense of essential regulation for safety, because some forms of aflatoxin are the most potent toxins on the planet.

The substance produced by Aspergillus isn't, in itself, harmful. Ironically, when it reaches the liver, the main organ of detoxification, aflatoxins are transformed into derivatives which are toxic at levels of very few parts per billion. At very high doses, aflatoxins can cause acute liver damage and death. More usually however, their effects are chronic. They have been linked to birth defects, impaired immune system and, in the young, stunted growth.

Aflatoxins also have the sinister ability to target DNA and, in particular, attack a specific gene which protects against cancer. The result is liver cancer.

GM trees on the march

July 2017

GM trees are coming on in leaps and bounds.  The fruit of the Arctic Apple-tree is making its appearance in American Midwest stores [1], but the big GM tree event is 'short-rotation woody crops'.

Short-rotation woody crops are fast growing trees which can be harvested in just a few years for industrial purposes such as paper and biofuels.  Eucalyptus, which escaped from its native Australia when Captain Cook arrived there, has become one such major crop since the 19th Century.  Because different species are adaptable to many local climates, plantations are now found on every continent.  The next wave, just beginning to gain momentum, is GM eucalyptus.

Convenient GM 'Arctic' apples

July 2017

Consumers in the US Midwest may now be finding a new convenience product in their grocery stores: convenient 10oz packs of conveniently sliced apples which conveniently don't turn brown and are a convenient snack.

The apples carry an inconvenient label consisting of a humanly indecipherable barcode which consumers will inconveniently have to scan with their smartphone to find out what in God's name they're buying.

Stirring the pot

July 2017

People use catering establishments a lot in the UK. A recent survey by Beyond GM found that 87% of respondents frequented table service restaurants, around half used pubs, coffee-shops and take-aways, while a third or so ate food in hotels, from street stalls and home deliveries, and a smaller proportion regularly used workplace or school cafeterias.

Local catering is clearly a booming business and, as one respondent said, this puts them "at the forefront" in setting and maintaining food quality standards.

Let's campaign

July 2017

Now that you have a newly-elected representative in Government, just burning with enthusiasm to serve you, it's a good time to speak out.

The Great Brexit Bungle could have many outcomes damaging to the quality of your food and your long-term health. All the existing EU food laws on GMOs might remain intact. However, it seems more likely we'll find ourselves with the GM products of US light-touch regulation on our plate and not a label in sight. Or, we could end up in a limbo into which any country will be able to dump surplus GM stuff no one else wants.

Impossible Roundup

June 2017

While the European Commission (EC) maintains that there is "no reason to doubt" the safety of glyphosate (the world's best selling herbicide and key ingredient of Monsanto's 'Roundup'), and that nothing stands in the way of glyphosate's re-approval, Member States are nevertheless steadily eliminating it.

Glyphosate causes crop disease

June 2017

In 2003, during a 5-year study of crop disease, the first alarm was raised that wheat appeared to be worse affected by 'fusarium head blight' in fields where glyphosate herbicide had been applied just before planting. Laboratory studies at the time also indicated that fusarium grows faster when glyphosate-based weedkillers are added to the medium they're growing in.

Fusarium head blight is a devastating fungal disease which destroys a fifth of wheat harvests in Europe alone. This fungus produces 'mycotoxins' (poisons) known to cause cancer of the liver and kidney, disorders of the blood and lung, vomiting, and damage to the immune system. Anything which promotes fusarium is a serious business.

GM lessons, for free, forever

June 2017

Meet Robert. Robert is an on-off-on-off student at Cornell University, New York State, with a "passion for science".

As a freshman, Robert was "deeply unaware of our current GMO agriculture paradigm" and of his university's connection to it (see below).

During an off-student period, Robert participated in three unique seasons of agroecological crop production, and witnessed its "incredible results". Inevitably, this made him aware of the other end of the agricultural spectrum: GM food ruled by giant corporations. He also recognised that GM commodity monocultures fed to factory-farmed animals are one of the most destructive forces to our environment and health that our planet's ever seen.

With this new perspective on 'conventional' agriculture, Robert eagerly sat in on a Cornell University course entitled "The GMO Debate".

Glyphosate-free food labels

June 2017

A US consumer survey in 2013 found that 71% of Americans were worried about pesticides in their food, and almost three out of four would like to eat food with fewer pesticides.

By 2014, a similar survey found pesticides had become a concern for 85% of American consumers, more than any other food-related issue. Pesticides are even higher on the list of concerns than GMOs, even although the two are inextricably bound together [1].

The US GMO non-labelling act

June 2017

For years, the biotech industry has been able to rely on the fact that America remains one of the few industrialised countries whose regulators haven't demanded clear labelling of GM foods.

Big Food has been happy to hide behind this and ignore consumer concerns.

But, as consumer frustration mounts over the denial of their right to know what they're eating, things are starting to change.

GMOs, human rights and the environment

June 2017

The advisory opinion of the International Monsanto Tribunal, referred to in GM-Free Scotland articles earlier this year [1,2], has been published.

Six questions were addressed by the Tribunal, and its opinions were based exclusively on legal considerations, grounded in international human rights and humanitarian laws (see below).

Pesticides' catastrophic impacts

May 2017

In March this year, the United Nation (UN) special rapporteurs on the right to food and on toxics presented a scathing report on pesticides.

It pointed to the "catastrophic impacts (of pesticides) on the environment, human health and society as a whole", including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning alone, plus untold suffering from chronic pesticide exposure now linked to "cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility".

The billion dollar bug

May 2017

In 1868 western corn rootworm (WCR) was observed in Kansas to be a harmless chewing insect from Central America found in low populations on the Western Great Plains.

*Note the naturally low numbers, and the suggestion that these beetles can naturally travel long distances. 

When centre-pivot irrigation with it's quarter mile watering radius (so efficient it's now sucking the plains dry) was introduced in the 1950s, maize monoculture madness gripped American farmers. Across the land, prairies were converted to horizon-scale corn fields.

To the WCR, which fed exclusively on corn and lay their eggs there, this became an 80-million acre banquet-plus-nursery.

Science-free wildlife death traps

May 2017

Documents from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in early 2017 show that almost 100% of GM corn is pre-treated with neonicotinoid insecticides. In addition, although the EPA has concluded that neonicotinoid seed treatments have no economic benefit to soya growers, incomplete data indicate that over 50% of soya beans are also coated with the insecticide.

Neonicotinoids, of which there are several brands and classes on the market, are used as seed coatings. They end up throughout the mature plant, its flowers, pollen and nectar, and 95% of the coatings spread through the wider environment including soil water and dust in the air. UK trials have found that at least one neonictinoid accumulates in the soil with increasing toxicity over several years.

Across America, tens of millions of acres of land are planted with corn or soya (often year about), each producing its own fresh wave of neonicotinoids.

Say stop to gene drives

May 2017

Our regulators are charged with ensuring the safety of an appalling array of invented substances and devices entering the market on a daily basis. These include nanoparticles, GMOs, rare metals, radiation, novel chemicals and all manner of devices.

This presents them with an appalling array of risk-related factors to consider, including exposure (who, when, how much), accidental-, off-label-, illegal-, or malicious-uses, disposal, recall, negative outcomes, diversity of harm, etc. Add to this, the need to monitor and react to any problems arising from new products.

GM and seed coatings - the hidden insecticides

May 2017

In the short-term, 'Bt' crop growers certainly enjoy biotech industry promises: reduced labour and less expense for battling their worst insect pests [1].

Indeed, there have been several studies demonstrating a significant reduction in the amount of chemical insecticides farmers have to spray on GM crops which provide their own Bt insecticide. These findings aren't wrong. But for the consumer, they conceal some inconvenient truths.

Toxins in time

May 2017

Usefully for those companies trying to push their chemicals onto the market, some aspects of routine toxicological assessment seem to be stuck in the 16th Century.

A recent study of one of the shortcomings of modern toxicology starts by pointing out that its central paradigm, "the dose makes the poison", dates back to the revolutionary thinking of Paracelsus (see below). It goes on to demonstrate that the dose sometimes makes the poison, but not always, and in the real-world probably rarely.

The curious case of the useless rice

April 2017

Much has been made of the philanthropic nature of GM 'golden' rice. The idea is that, as a public research project, locally-adapted varieties of the vitamin A enhanced rice will be made available free of charge to subsistence farmers in developing countries as part of a co-ordinated humanitarian effort. In this way, the yellow-coloured self-supplementing rice will be grown sustainably by those who need it most, and the widespread ill-health and blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency (VAD) will be consigned to history.

Bt insecticide risks in the agricultural landscape

April 2017

As the biotech industry and regulators cling to the notion that 'Bt' insecticide is toxic only to the target pests and is easily digested by mammals just like any other protein, science is throwing a few flies in their ointment.

GM crop plants have been created which generate one or several artificial versions of 'Bt' insecticides. These proteins, in their natural forms, are produced by soil bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis.

It's disturbing to read in a recent scientific paper that:
"Bt toxins can be transferred via the food web and accumulate in organisms to different degrees".

Ever expanding miracle grass

April 2017

... the sorcerer's apprentice recited the magic words, and the golf course grew bigger and bigger, engulfing the world with its ever-expanding miracle grass that never dies ... 

Unfortunately, this isn't a fairy-tale. The 'ever-expanding grass' for golf courses is Scotts Miracle-Gro creeping bentgrass genetically transformed never to die when sprayed with glyphosate herbicide; the 'magic words' were what Scotts and its partner, Monsanto, said to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow the GM grass to be field-tested without any environmental impact assessment; and it is, indeed, growing 'bigger and bigger', because although the novel grass never made it to any golf course turf-managers, it is nevertheless rampaging across the Oregon landscape and beyond.

Enogen contamination concerns

April 2017

In 2011, the first GM maize created solely for industrial purposes was approved for cultivation by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

'Enogen' maize has incorporated a bacterial enzyme, 'alpha-amylase', which digests starch to produce sugar. Conveniently, this enzyme can be used at the high temperatures. This makes it useful for the production of ethanolic fuel to make American cars greener.

Up until the introduction of Enogen, the first stage of converting maize to ethanol was to mix in liquid amylase under carefully controlled conditions. Now, as little 15% of Enogen maize in the feed-stock is enough to efficiently decompose all the starch present* without further ado.

Inacta soya concerns

April 2017

EU soya consumers now face the fun prospect of another novel additive in their food. 'Intacta' soya is the first to incorporate a gene for a 'Bt' insecticide in addition to the usual GM ability to accumulate glyphosate herbicide.

The Bt toxin in Intacta is 'Cry1Ac' protein already widely deployed in other commercial GM crops. Besides the existing doubts about the safety assessment of Cry1Ac (such as the use of the bacterial version in tests instead of the structurally, functionally and environmentally different plant-generated version), Intacta presents additional serious concerns.

As all trained kitchen staff know, soya is a recognised human allergen. Cry1Ac is, not only a potential allergen, but is an adjuvant, able to boost immune reactions. Putting two allergens together in one food, or in the dust from animal feed, doesn't sound sensible.

Food safety after Brexit

April 2017

No doubt some GM-Free Scotland readers voted against Brexit due to concerns about the food quality free-for-all it might lead to.

Echoing such doubts, Angus Roberson, Scottish National Party MP for Moray, reminded Parliament that
"The European Union, which we are still part of, has among the highest food safety standards anywhere in the world. The United States on the other hand, is keen to have health systems that are fully open to private competition and it wants to export genetically modified organisms ... ". 
Brexit will remove our current protection from substandard food imports, especially from America.

Noise to drown out the science

March 2017

US law-makers have been urged by one outspoken anti-regulation journal editor to recognise that "a healthy economy with people employed is the cornerstone of a healthy population". That population, however, is "fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health" (Berry).

What the food industry does pay attention to is its own financial health, and any law-makers who try to make food healthier (so as to maintain that healthy population) are not good for its bottom line.

Science is fundamental to food quality, but industry and its lobbyists have worked out all sorts of creative ways to undermine inconvenient facts emerging from the lab.

Creating noise is the favoured tactic.

Fluttering into oblivion

March 2017

In 1995, the population of America's iconic and wonderfully colourful Monarch butterflies reached an all-time high. The following year, GM crops hit US fields with monocultures of GM 'Roundup Ready' plants doused with glyphosate herbicide and monocultures of GM insecticidal plants. These commodities mushroomed within a few years to cover a great deal of the 400 million or so acres of America's cropland.

Apart from the brief rally in the 2010-2011 season, Monarch numbers have declined steadily ever since that peak. Even optimistic estimates put the total loss at more than 80%, and the most recent tally recorded a further drop of 27% from last year's count.

Undefended maize

March 2017

The Green Revolution has been an exercise in creating extremes. We now have extreme uniformity in our staple crops and in our agricultural practices, with an extreme dependence on agrichemicals, and a globalised crop market (you can't get much bigger than that).

This has led to an extreme reduction in our crop gene pool, unstoppable pest problems, and a problem-solving mind-set limited to more-of-the-same single high-tech solutions to 'key' difficulties.

We now have food from crops which have been intensively bred for extreme yield with scant attention to whole nutritional value, taste or pest resistance.

In this one-size-fits-all agricultural system, the answer to poor soil is to add chemicals, and the answer to pests is to kill them with chemicals.

All maize is wormy now

March 2017

If you've been following the GM issue for a while, cast your mind back to 2006. A long-standing, respected British science journal gave its "Outstanding Paper Award for Excellence" to a study which could be better described as a pro-GM PR initiative dressed up as science.

To assess what influenced consumer purchasing decisions, the study offered 'Bt' insecticide-generating GM sweet corn for sale in a Canadian farm shop beside conventional sweet corn. One of the more blatant exercises in propaganda used during this 'study' was the descriptors attached to the two types of sweet corn: the conventional one was labelled 'wormy' followed by a list of the pesticides sprayed on it; the GM one was labelled 'quality' with the 'Bt' (insecticide!) part kept separate.

Fast forward ten years and check out how these two sweet corns would truthfully be labelled today. The wormy one is still wormy and still sprayed with multiple pesticides. And the quality one?

GM plants in the shade

March 2017

Up until now, genetic engineers have successfully provided us with crops full of weedkillers which may be toxic to humans too, and crops full of insecticides which may be toxic to humans too, and crops full of multiple varieties of both which are even more likely to be toxic to humans.  However, the claimed extra GM crop yield needed to feed the world has been elusive.

The basis of all the food supply for all animals (including humans) is the ability of plants to photosynthesise, that is, to use the energy in sunlight to build sugars using carbon dioxide gas from the air and water from the soil.

Biotech scientists trying to boost crop yields have focused on 'improving' photosynthesis, but the biochemical pathways involved are dynamically regulated in the plant and are highly complex, too complex so far for meaningful human intervention.

A new approach aimed at 'improving' photosynthesis indirectly, and funded by the Gates Foundation, has been quick to announce a successful proof-of-concept field-trial in the scientific and popular press.

Ban Glyphosate EU Citizens' Initiative

March 2017

Besides the obvious negative environmental impacts of the world's most widely-used herbicide, readers of GM-free Scotland will probably agree that,"expanding scientific evidence demonstrates that glyphosate is also a serious threat to human health" [1,2,3]. Also, because "EU Regulation 1107/2009 prohibits the use of pesticides when there is sufficient evidence in laboratory animals that these substances can cause cancer, based on IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) criteria ... EU approval for glyphosate must be withdrawn."

Metallic rice

February 2017

Global mapping shows an "unequivocal overlap" of poverty, micronutrient deficiency and rice consumption.

Estimates suggest some 15% of the world's population suffer from iron-deficiency anaemia, and a similar number from zinc-deficiency. These have serious consequences for health and energy, immune- and nervous-system function, gene regulation and child development, and for productivity.

Part of the problem is that rice doesn't have enough iron and zinc in it for people with little else to eat. From the biotech scientist's point of view, this is the rice's fault. The answer is therefore to insert artificial genes which drive an unnatural accumulation of iron and zinc in the rice plants.