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.