GMOs are not GMOs in America

September 2018

Unlike the Brits, who easily talked themselves into believing gene-edited plants are somehow 'natural' enough not to need regulation, only to be disabused of that notion by the European Court of Justice [1], the American biotech industry has had no such problems. Never having had any GM regulations in the first place made things much more straightforward*. With no clear legal nor scientific concept of what constitutes artificial manipulation of the genome, or of the nature of the risks, it was easy for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to pronounce gene-edited plants the same as any other.

Keep hidden gene-edited crops out of the food chain

September 2018

Biotech scientists in the UK have successfully fooled themselves and their regulators into believing that artificial mutation is somehow a "natural phenomenon", and that the outcomes of new mutagenesis techniques could somehow happen in nature. Earlier this year, encouraged it seems by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE), our Department of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) was happy to give consent for field trials of GM Camelina*. These experimental crops include two lines produced using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing [1].

Both scientists and regulators were so convinced that the preliminary opinion issued by the European Court of Justice Advocate General in January this year had said that all mutagenesis techniques should be exempt from regulation instead of what it did actually say [2], that they forged ahead with the development of gene-edited crops. The field trials have, therefore, not been subject to any GM-related safeguards.

Court rules: gene editing is genetic modification

September 2018

Concerns that the European Commission was getting itself in such a twist just trying to define new mutagenesis techniques that it would never get its head round how to regulate them [1] seem to have been straightened out by the European Court of Justice.

Gene editing creates a precise mess

September 2018

CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology is causing the jitters. Hailed as "highly precise" and "virtually impossible to detect", CRISPR has become the GM technique which biotech and medical researchers are banking on [1]. The reason, it seems, for CRISPR's "highly precise" reputation is that it's designed (by humans) to latch onto a highly precise location in the genome.

So convinced have scientists been of the mechanistic nature of CRISPR-Cas9's seek-and-chop action, that checks on possible associated mutations have been limited to the immediate vicinity of the target site and to DNA sequences elsewhere with a known similarity to the target.

In fact, confidence is such that correction of faulty human genes using CRISPR has already moved to human trials. This may have been premature, because two studies have now pointed out that the human cells which allow their faulty genes to be sorted have other inherent faults which can lead to cancer [2].

Realistic mixtures of common chemicals are not safe

September 2018

The chemicals we're exposed to are checked by careful scientific experimentation to see what level we can safely consume. Science doesn't allow side issues to muddle the results: the substance being tested isn't contaminated, the animals fed the substance aren't compromised by background ill-health, poor nutrition or old age. This is good, controlled, repeatable science.

To add to the certainty that nothing irrelevant is skewing the result, a key part of the definition of a 'toxin' is that the substance becomes more harmful as exposure to it increases.

In real-life, however, things are different. We're not all young, healthy and well-fed, and in truth we're routinely exposed to a witch's brew of substances plus impurities, albeit on a micro-scale.

Triple stacked GM maize causes leaky stomachs

September 2018
Because partially digested food can be held in the stomach for some hours, the stomach is the part of our body most exposed to the materials in our diet. Yet, tests able to reveal pathological changes and gastric dysfunction, such as measurements of stomach tissue structure or diagnostic staining of stomach cells, are never included in GM safety assessments.

An Australian team of scientists has made a start on filling this gap.