Fantasy golden rice

October 2019

A major setback in the development of 'golden rice' intended to relieve vitamin A deficiency in people in developing areas has always been that the GM rice just doesn't produce enough of the desired 'pro-vitamin A' carotenoids. 

Despite some two decades of failing to develop a viable 'golden rice', the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and US Agency for International Development (USAID) continue to fund the project. 

Their latest trials involved golden rice event 'GR2E' grown in the Philippines. Analyses of this rice for carotenoids plus a lot of extrapolation, generalisation, guestimates, and calculation led to the conclusion (stated in the Abstract) that "Mean provitamin A concentrations in milled rice of GR2E can contribute up to 89-113% and 57-99% of estimated average requirement for vitamin A for preschool children in Bangladesh and the Philippines respectively". 

A well-known GM promoter ecstatically announced this to be "checkmate" for golden rice's critics, and tweeted the conclusion (more or less as stated in the Abstract). 

Dealing with a climate-changed, salty world

October 2019

Countries across the globe are facing a future of dwindling fresh water and cultivable land, plus the prospect of social unrest if food supplies collapse. 
America's monocultures of herbicide- and insect-resistant GM crops are all heavily dependent on agrichemical inputs and water.  This intensive agriculture is outstripping the water supply, and what water's left is increasingly saline.   

U.S. GM 'answers' are of course what get the press coverage. 

Super fungus bites mozzies

October 2019

The mosquito has a reputation for being "the most dangerous animal in the world" credited with killing "one million people a year" (Bates). 

Actually, it's unlikely any mosquito has ever killed anyone, but several very nasty human pathogens have seized the opportunity of hitching a ride from person to person inside biting mosquitoes.

Mosquito-born disease isn't just a developing world problem. Fifty-two Scots were diagnosed with malaria in 2018 after travelling abroad. One of them died.

Pesticides in the population

October 2019

In 2017, a study was published indicating yet another possible chronic health effect from eating glyphosate, the herbicide sprayed on, and accumulated by, most GM crops.

The biotech industry has tried to claim that the presence of glyphosate excreted in urine proves the weedkiller is safe because the body is able to clear it out. However, tests on cows (not possible on humans) have shown glyphosate is distributed evenly in their organs and urine, suggesting the herbicide is retained in the body.

RNAi doesn't just disappear

October 2019

After ten years of development, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) quietly approved the first 'SmartStax Pro' GM maize with an RNA interference gene to kill a major corn pest, western corn root worm [1].

The artificial RNA produced by this technique, 'RNAi', is designed to match precisely the active RNA produced by a vital gene specific to the pest. By high-jacking the pest's own mechanism for silencing that gene, RNAi destroys the expression of the gene and the pest dies.

*Note. RNAi crop sprays are also in use, but are less effective at killing pests than the GM plant version which the pests consume.
A few months after the EPA ushered in this first GM maize with RNAi, a study was published which raised doubts about the claimed specificity of such insecticides. Using the honey bee as a model, the scientists "identified 101 insecticidal RNAs sharing high sequence similarity with genes in honey bees (indicating a huge scope for off-target gene silencing). "Of concern is that gene groups active during vital honey bee embryo formation and development had a disproportionately high sequence similiarity with all these RNAi pesticides: the scope for defective bees seems very real" [2].