Nasty GM surprises

March 2020

Farmers' knowledge about the cycles of nature, their land, their crops and livestock, their soil, and all the life that shares their estates seem to have been swept aside by reductionist 'solutions' sold to them by corporations with $-lined technological tunnel vision.

Simple, GM 'solutions' have a habit of leading to complex outcomes and nasty surprises.

Herbicide headache II

March 2020

"...we used to sit next to the neighbours in church on Sunday. We don't even want to be in the same congregation with them anymore" (Ruff). This is what the latest GM soya is doing to the US farming community.
Just as biotech giant, Bayer, is coming to grips with the glyphosate lawsuits it acquired when it bought Monsanto in 2018 [1], it's finding itself with another herbicide headache.

The first of several suits against BASF (makers of older brands of dicamba herbicide) and against Bayer (makers of dicamba-tolerant GM soya seed and the dicamba formulations to go with them) came to court in January [2].  Compensation sought is $20.9 million plus punitive damages.

Blaming the activists

March 2020

Once upon a time (actually 2012), the Westminster Government launched a GM spin offensive on the UK public. The tactic was to make GM a 'hot topic' which kept popping up in the news, despite nothing having actually happened. Part of this strategy seems to have employed the talents of writer and speaker Mark Lynas [1].

Lynas' qualifications are in history and politics, but he writes and speaks about science. He seems to be a man who needs the glamour and theatre of a cause to champion, and in his youth was happy to join anti-GM crop activists in 'decontaminating' GM field trials (or one at least, by his own account). He has even been, in his own words "accused of having been the global founder of the anti-GMO movement".

However, creeping around the countryside dressed in black on a dark night isn't glamorous or theatrical. Nor is unlawful activity lucrative for someone who earns his living from writing. (It's also been suggested Lynas' comrade crop-trashers didn't like him very much.) There's much more mileage for a talented writer in declaiming the excesses of biotech industry PR, and sharing in the bounty of its deep pockets. So, he swapped sides and devoted himself "pretty much full time to the GMO issue".

CRISPR knock-out or knock-on?

March 2020

Having fixated on the notion that the DNA sequence which forms a gene will be expressed as a specific protein, biotech scientists were then convinced that, if they disrupted a tiny part of that DNA sequence, the cell's ability to generate the protein would be lost.

Enter 'CRISPR', a molecular device which can be engineered to latch onto a very specific section of the genome and induce a small localised disruption in the DNA [1]. This provided scientists with a simple means to 'knock out' a gene. 

However, a year ago, a paper was published which reported that, while CRISPR did, indeed, knock out the planned gene, the damaged DNA could still code for a protein in 50% of the cells analysed, albeit a different one [2].

Since then, another team has taken a closer look at what was actually emerging from knocked out genes. 

Glyphosate on the plate

March 2020

Food-related uses of glyphosate-based herbicides in a nutshell:

The vast majority of commercial GM food crops - including maize, soya, canola, sugar-beet and cotton (consumed as cotton-seed oil) - are glyphosate tolerant and therefore sprayed with glyphosate-based herbicides. Applications of the herbicide on these crops have been stepped up year-on-year due to evolving weed resistance.

Besides GM crops, glyphosate-based herbicides are used as a pre-harvest desiccant on wheat, barley, oats (and other grains), sugar cane, lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas, sunflower, mints, potatoes and cantaloupe.

Glyphosate on the road

March 2020

After the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded there's enough robust scientific evidence to consider glyphosate herbicide "probably carcinogenic to humans" [1], Edinburgh and Barcelona City Councils announced their intention to take action [2].

Edinburgh commissioned a report on the options and costs of alternative weed control methods such as special blow-torches, hoeing and hot water.  Barcelona was looking at a ban on the herbicide in favour of a sustainable, ecological style of management for its gardens.

Four years later, where have these flagship initiatives led?