RNAi has been quietly ushered in

September 2019

While all the recent biotech limelight has been on gene editing, especially CRISPR, another older GM crop 'improvement' technique has continued to creep quietly up on us.

RNA interference, 'RNAi', which artificially alters gene expression, is still with us [1]. 
Note. RNA interference is also known as double-stranded RNA, 'dsRNA'.

Although at the time no one actually knew why, the very first commercial, fresh GMO venture, the FlavrSavr tomato, ripened abnormally slowly due to RNA interference.  GM papaya with RNAi-based viral resistance has been on some markets for a long time.  Arctic apples which don't turn brown when sliced thanks to RNAi are working their way into US shops.  GM-Free Scotland readers will be aware of Pandora's Potatoes with RNA interference to stop their bruises showing (even although the damage is still there), to stop them turning brown when fried (even although they taste like cardboard), to stop them producing the carcinogen, acrylamide (even although potatoes don't produce enough acrylamide to cause cancer), and to encourage potato growing in areas with a high risk of late blight (even if other crops could be better grown there) [2].

Many others are under development, but the blockbuster everyone's been waiting for is a commodity crop with its very own RNAi-based insecticide.  This is a radical departure from what's gone before because the artificial RNAi in the GM plant will be designed to silence gene expression in another organism in its environment.

Weeds designed to rove

September 2019

Scientific weed wisdom assured farmers that there would never be a weed able to resist 'Roundup' glyphosate-based herbicide because it required too big a change in a plant's biology.  The humanly-devised Roundup Ready GM crops were thought smarter than weeds could ever be.  Glyphosate-based herbicides became crucial to the productivity of American agriculture.

From this came an entrenched attitude that any Roundup-tolerant weed which chanced to appear in a location would be a one-off: it would have evolved independently and would remain a local problem.

The dramatic increase in both the quantity of Roundup used and the area sprayed after the advent of GM crops was accompanied by a dramatic emergence of glyphosate-tolerant weeds which took everyone by surprise.

Weed scientist wisdom didn't, it seems, factor in the qualities which make a weed a weed.

The cost of not testing

September 2019

President Trump and his administration view environmental regulations as a hindrance to economic productivity.

One US Professor of paediatrics and expert in children's environmental health has pointed out however, that history suggests the opposite.  For example, the phasing out of toxic lead in petrol to protect children's brains, now adds "a $200 billion annual economic stimulus package" to the US.

The true cost of environmental toxins, measured in terms of loss of economic productivity due to cognitive damage, comes to a staggering $20,000 per IQ point over a lifetime.  Add to this the costs of health care and the societal burden (not to mention personal suffering to which a figure can't be attached).

Most insidious among all the environmental toxins are the endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) which cause hormone dysfunction at very low levels of exposure.  Their damaging effects are often permanent and can harm future generations. 

The case for diversity

September 2019

The need for diversity in our food supply has been a hot topic lately [1, 2].

Green Revolution agriculture gave us monocultures of a tiny range of high-calorie crops.  The Gene Revolution of recent decades compounded this with GM versions of the same crops. Commercial GM plants are overwhelmingly designed to be used in conjunction with a single herbicide, and many generate a small range of very similar insecticides.

Paradoxically, the end-products of these staple crops have diversified.  The excuse for developing them may originally have been feeding the hungry, but large quantities of that 'food' are now diverted into biofuel-production, industrial chemicals and animal feed.

Those that do reach the human stomach are highly processed carbohydrates and chemicals (a.k.a. junk food, or food-like substances).  In the dietary desert we now inhabit, our animals' nutritional needs are better met than ours.

A tale of two villages in India

September 2019

Is it just a romantic, anti-science notion to ditch agrichemicals, GMOs, monocultures and patents?  Or, is it a necessity?

This is the story of how small-holders become trapped by addiction to pesticides, and how two villages in India got clean.

Climate change and GM go hand in hand

September 2019

Paul D. Thacker, a journalist with a nose for industry-led corruption of science and regulations, has commented that climate change denial and promotion of GMOs go together like peanut butter and jelly.

At first glance, it's not obvious why: it seems to involve a unique ability to entertain two opposing beliefs at the same time.  Climate change deniers say climate change isn't happening so we don't need to do anything.  GMO promoters say we need GM 'solutions' to feed the world and to save the environment because of climate change. 

However, when there's money involved, some people can believe anything.  Admitting that climate change is a damaging reality and rejecting GM foods are both harmful to big business