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Fresh produce industry urges caution over gene editing

Grower’s association criticises “disconnect” between GMO-developing scientists and food industry

GMWATCH | May 26, 2022

An article in The Grocer reports criticism of the UK government’s “Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill”, which was introduced into Parliament yesterday.

It notes that both growers and campaigners are cautioning against the rapid adoption of new gene-editing technology.

The article quotes Philip Morley, technical executive officer of the British Tomato Growers’ Association, as saying that there had been a lack of consultation with the food sector on the government’s plans – leading to “a disconnect between the scientists, who are doing the research in their labs, and the growers, retailers and consumers”.

He said, “I know it is interesting and it sounds really sexy but this is a major national conversation we need to have if we are going to be pioneers in that technology, not just for fresh produce.”

Morley added, “This is the beginning, and is the foot in the door, the opening conversation and if we make a mistake now then that is a mistake that we live with forever.”

Morley said, “It is a huge topic, and it will involve every crop, every livestock sector, every human being ultimately when we get into the realm of gene editing humans.”

On the topic of GM tomatoes, a GM vitamin D-containing variety of which was hyped in the government’s publicity around the new bill, Morley stressed there were still many opportunities to look at natural processes in tomato production to boost nutritional values – something many growers were doing, particularly when it came to using light.

He told The Grocer that these natural explorations could potentially deliver far more benefits than any chemical intervention for human health.

Liz O’Neill, director of GM Freeze, is quoted as warning that unregulated gene editing is “a food crisis in the making” as “gene editing is GM with better PR”.

Soil Association policy director Jo Lewis told The Grocer that the decision to prioritise the bill over the food bill meant the government was “casting about for silver bullets”. She said, “We are deeply disappointed to see the government prioritising unpopular technologies rather than focusing on the real issues – unhealthy diets, a lack of crop diversity, farm animal overcrowding, and the steep decline in beneficial insects who can eat pests.

“Instead of trying to change the DNA of highly stressed animals and monoculture crops to make them temporarily immune to disease, we should be investing in solutions that deal with the cause of disease and pests in the first place.”

May 29, 2022 Posted by | Environmentalism, Timeless or most popular | | 2 Comments

Scientists genetically engineer mother hens to kill their own male chicks before they hatch

Transgenic chickens made with CRISPR gene editing are touted as an animal welfare boon – but could result in animal suffering and health and environment risks 

By Claire Robinson and Dr Michael Antoniou | GMWATCH | May 25, 2022

A concept patent has been filed for a method that includes the use of CRISPR/Cas-mediated gene editing to generate transgenic birds so that no male offspring are able to hatch. Israeli scientists led by Dr Yuval Cinnamon (named as an inventor on the patent) are proposing this method to be used in chickens, so that only female chicks will hatch, which will then go on to become laying hens for egg production.

Currently male chicks of egg-laying breeds are killed when young as they are of no use to the egg or chicken meat industries. Even then, hatching the male chicks and keeping them alive until they are killed is viewed by the industry as a waste of energy and other resources.

More seriously, the practice of killing the male chicks is an animal welfare issue. In this light, the transgenic CRISPR-edited chickens are being hyped as a boon for animal welfare, on the grounds (in the BBC’s words) that the technology could “prevent the slaughter of millions of male chickens in the UK, which are culled because they don’t lay eggs”.

But our investigation shows that such claims are disingenuous in the extreme. In fact, the technology forces mother hens to pass on a lethality (killer) gene, which is intended to kill all male embryos before they hatch from the egg.

The genes that are most reliably lethal, and therefore most likely to be used, produce highly toxic proteins. The hen should only produce the toxic protein under the influence of blue light, according to the patent. However, if the technology doesn’t work perfectly, the founder breeder hens and their egg-laying daughters could produce a toxin at low levels in their bodies, leading to health problems in these chickens. The male chick embryos killed successfully with the lethality gene could, depending on the particular gene used, effectively be toxic waste and could not be put into the animal feed supply – the current destination for unwanted male chickens. And the lethality gene could escape into the environment or into bacteria, and again, depending on the gene used, could endanger humans, animals, and wildlife.

Moreover, there appears to be no proof that the technology will work as intended, as there is no evidence in the public domain that a live transgenic breeder hen has actually been produced. The experiments described in the patent are all done on cells in test tubes/flasks (in vitro) or on the egg (in ovo).

In spite of all this, the European Commission has rushed to assure the German regulatory body, the BVL, that the egg-laying hens and their eggs are not GMOs and can therefore be sold without safety checks and GMO labelling.

The method

CRISPR/Cas gene editing is used in an SDN-3 (gene insertion) procedure to target integration of a transgene (a foreign gene, in this case, the lethality gene) into the male sex Z chromosome, with the egg-laying hen passing on that transgene to all male embryos of the next generation of chickens. On exposing the eggs to blue light, the lethality gene is activated and kills the male embryos before they hatch.

Lethality gene is likely to produce highly toxic protein

In order to ensure reliable killing of the male chick embryos at an early stage of their development, the lethality gene that the developers insert will have to be highly toxic. The various lethality-inducing proteins mentioned in the patent that are supposed to work by inhibiting growth/development (paragraphs 0156, 0157) or essential signalling pathways, such as “bone morphogenetic protein antagonist” or “RNA-guided DNA endonuclease enzyme” (paragraphs 0159, 0160), may be too uncertain in their effects.

Therefore the developer will almost certainly choose to use a known highly toxic element – such as genes encoding for diphtheria toxin or ricin toxin, both of which are specifically mentioned in paragraph 0158 as possible candidates for the lethal gene. The fact that the authors illustrate their concept using a diphtheria toxin lethality gene, albeit within the context of in vitro tissue culture cell experiments (Figure 24A), supports this line of thinking.

A gene encoding cholera toxin, another highly toxic poison, could conceivably be used, as the patent does not restrict the lethal gene to certain named types.

This raises the question of how “tight” and foolproof the expression of the lethality gene cassette is – in other words, whether it is completely silent as desired until activation by blue light illumination, or whether there is some low but significant expression prior to blue light illumination. Indeed, evidence of lethality gene expression leakiness is provided in Figure 13 of the patent (upper panels). It is common experience and knowledge that all transgenic systems are leaky – it’s only a question of degree. Thus the optogenic (blue light) activation system linked to the lethality gene cassette will almost certainly be “leaky”. This means that in the female founder breeding hens, even in the absence of blue light, the lethal gene may not be silent. So these female founder breeding hens and their egg-laying female offspring could express the lethality gene at a low level. This would mean that these hens would be producing a lethal toxin inside their bodies. As a result they could suffer health problems.

This possibility (which is far from unlikely) raises welfare questions about the health of the female founder hens and their female offspring. Their health status will depend on the nature of the lethality gene and to what extent it expresses in their bodies. This is a major ethical issue, beginning with the action of genetically engineering a mother hen to pass a killer gene to all her male offspring.

The lethal toxin-generating gene could escape into the environment or into bacteria. If it gets into bacteria, it could transfer from the bacteria into people or animals, with potentially serious consequences to their health.

Any male embryos that are killed using a toxic lethality gene will need to be treated as toxic waste and could not be used, for example, as animal feed, which is the usual destination for rejected male embryos or chicks in the non-GMO egg industry.

Proof-of-concept only

It is important to note that the experimental data presented in the patent application only attempt to demonstrate the feasibility of the various components of the method. They have tested all these components separately, but do not actually demonstrate that they can be brought together to produce a female transgenic founder chicken that can be used for breeding egg-laying hens. A search of scientific databases also failed to identify a transgenic breeding hen of the type that the method aims to generate. Thus based on current publicly available information, a transgenic live breeder chicken of the type described in the patent does not exist.

The patent is a method patent that tries to provide proof-of-concept and only describes in vitro and in ovo experiments. At most, these experiments show that exposure to blue light can activate gene expression as desired in vitro and in ovo. They also show killing of tissue culture cells using the lethality gene system. They show protein synthesis inhibition from expression of the diphtheria gene (but not strictly cell or embryo death) in ovo – but not through activation by blue light. They show killing of tissue culture cells with a diphtheria or caspase (cell death-inducing) genes, but again, not via blue light activation. At best they show that in ovo injection of a growth inhibitor protein (noggin) can arrest embryo development at an early (blastomere) stage. No doubt the idea is that if you can express these toxic proteins from a gene via blue light illumination, then it could work. But there’s no proof that it does.

EU Commission claims the laying hens and their eggs are not GMOs

The EU Commission wrote to the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) in July 2021, stating that the laying hens resulting from this genetic modification process and their eggs are not GMOs and would not fall under the EU’s GMO regulations.

The EU Commission reaches its conclusion based on the supposed absence of the transgene (or fragments thereof) in the female hens. However, and crucially, the EU Commission is grossly misinterpreting the law. The EU definition of a GMO is not an organism that contains transgenes, but an organism “in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination”. The law does not state that transgenes have to be present in order for an organism to be classed as a GMO.

There is no proof that the female hens in question are free from such unnatural genetic alterations, as described in this legal text. Therefore the Commission appears to be acting against the law.

Do the female laying hens contain transgenes?

Let’s suppose for a moment that the EU law was worded completely differently from how it is, and that it does define a GMO as an organism containing transgenes. Even in this imaginary scenario, it is not valid for the Commission to assume that the female hens do not contain unintended transgenes in part or in whole. Scientific evidence in plants and human cells shows that fragments of foreign DNA from the gene-editing tool can inadvertently integrate into the genome during the gene editing process and end up scattered across the genome.

In the case of the transgenic chickens, in order to produce the founder hens, integration of the lethality gene is targeted into the male sex-determining Z chromosome, using the CRISPR/Cas gene-editing tool. But this process may not go as planned. While the lethality gene cassette may end up in the intended location on the Z chromosome, fragments of the lethality gene or the plasmid DNA molecules encoding the CRISPR/Cas tool may also integrate in other regions of the genome – that is, on chromosomes that will be passed down to both male and female chicks. As a result, both the founder hens and their female egg-laying offspring could inadvertently contain fragments of the CRISPR gene-editing tool and/or fragments of transgenes in their genomes.

There appears to be no published evidence showing that this procedure does not give rise to inadvertent transgene fragment integration and that the resulting transgenic founder hens and their female offspring are free from such foreign DNA. Moreover, existing evidence suggests that this is highly likely to happen.

The way to find out if it has happened is to do a genomics (whole genome sequencing) analysis of the founder hens and their female egg-laying offspring. But this basic investigation may not at present be possible if, as appears, the desired transgenic founder hen does not exist in actuality.

So until evidence is provided to the contrary, we can assume that fragments of the CRISPR gene-editing tool and/or fragments of transgenes may have integrated into their genomes. If this is the case, then the founder hens and their offspring, the female egg-laying hens, will be transgenic, as will be the eggs of the laying hens. Therefore even under a hypothetical law that defined a GMO as an organism that contains transgenes, all three would have to be labelled as GM. The Commission would therefore be acting against this hypothetical law – and against its own incorrect interpretation of the law – in stating that the laying hens and their eggs are not GMOs.

Under EU law, the egg-laying hens and their eggs are certainly GMOs, though not because of the possible presence of transgenes. As Testbiotech explains, “In the case of the laying hens, they are the direct female offspring (F1) of the transgenic chickens. They inherit (regardless of whether the transgene works as supposed) genetic material from the mother hens which also will be transferred to the eggs. Thus, there can be no doubt that the laying hens and the eggs produced, are products of GMOs and consist of GMOs. As can be seen with oil, starch or sugar produced from GM plants, it is the production process which is the decisive criterion for the implementation of EU law and not the presence of genetically modified material [e.g. transgenes] in the end product.”

The Commission’s action in sending the BVL a letter stating that these animals are non-GMO shows not only its misinterpretation of EU law, but also that it accepts GMO industry self-declaration of transgene-free status, without requiring any proof.

Unintended genetic changes

The gene-edited founder breeding hens are likely to have unintended changes in their genome, such as insertions, deletions or rearrangements of DNA, at both the intended edit site (on-target) and at other locations in the genome (off-target). This could lead to disturbances in patterns of gene function which could lead to health or welfare issues in the chickens. Even if at the site of insertion of the lethality gene, all is as intended without any unwanted mutations, unintended genetic alterations at off-target sites will be passed on to the egg-laying daughters of the founder breeding hens.

It is not known how carefully the developers will look for such unintended effects – only long-read whole genome sequencing and subsequent “omics” molecular analysis of the chickens will suffice – and how carefully they will try to breed them out. Any unintended effects that are not bred out will be passed down to the egg-laying hens. Without strict regulation requiring such examinations, it is uncertain that they will be undertaken.

What is the Commission actually deregulating?

In sum, there appears to be no available information on how any live GM chickens were generated and indeed if they were generated at all. So the Commission appears to be acting beyond its expertise, as well as beyond its mandate, in its rush to deregulate something that may not work; may not exist in a utilizable form, and if it does, will likely not be as free from transgenic material as the Commission assumes; and may cause serious public health and environmental problems, as well as severe health or welfare issues for the chickens themselves.

Alternatives are available

While unwanted male chick embryos are commonly killed by gassing them or grinding them up alive, more humane alternatives are available. These alternatives seem to be preferable to a potentially dangerous gene editing route using lethality genes.

One such alternative technology is egg screening using the Sellegt method, which enables producers to sex the chick embryos at day nine of incubation and select out the unwanted males. Eggs produced using this method are already being sold by supermarkets under the label “Respeggt”, which promises that the eggs are “free of chick culling”. Other already-available sex determination methods are described on the Wikipedia page on in ovo sexing.

It may be argued that the patent for the gene-edited birds allows male embryos to be killed using exposure to blue light before the nine-day point at which the Sellegt method becomes viable – though this raises the question of whether a nine-day-old embryo is any more sentient than a 1-8 day-old embryo and therefore if there is any moral gain in using the gene editing system because it theoretically allows for earlier killing.

The problem with this argument is that the patent hedges its bets and also claims that the killing point can be any time between one day and the full 21-day egg incubation period. So it cannot be assumed that killing a male embryo with a lethality gene is in any way more humane (on the grounds that it takes place at an earlier stage) than existing alternative non-GMO methods – and the latter do not result in a potentially toxic product.

This patent is under consideration by the European Patent Office but has not yet been granted. In deciding whether to grant patents, patent offices must consider three things: novelty, a non-obvious inventive step, and utility. If the toxic lethality gene is only activated at 10–21 days of incubation, as is provided for in the patent, then the Patent Office would be justified in refusing the application, as the technology described is not an improvement on existing technologies and therefore has no utility.

Dual use chickens: A more humane and sustainable option?

For those who object to any killing of male chick embryos on the grounds of animal welfare or waste, but wish to see chicken meat production continue, another option is available that would enable the raising to maturity of the males. That is dual use chickens, in which the females serve as egg layers and the males as meat. Such chickens are commonly available but are not commonly used in the chicken meat industry because males do not put on weight as quickly as females. So by separating out breeds between egg laying and meat-producing, productivity is arguably being prioritized over animal welfare and sustainability.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this gene editing application appears to be
* Of unknown efficacy in producing the intended gene-edited live chickens.
* Potentially dangerous for the chickens themselves, raising animal welfare concerns.
* Potentially dangerous for humans and other animals, who may be exposed to escaped lethality genes expressing highly potent toxic protein products (e.g., diphtheria, ricin, or cholera), due to the envisaged large scale use of this technology. These toxin-encoding lethality genes and their toxic protein products could also put at risk the environment as a whole.
* Ethically questionable. The developers are genetically engineering a mother hen to pass a killer gene to all her male offspring when there are already-available alternatives, such as egg sexing early in the incubation period.
* Of doubtful utility, since it seems not to provide any more humane or efficient system of preventing the birth of male chicks than is already available via other technologies.

In addition, the egg-laying hens and their eggs are GMOs under EU law. Therefore the European Commission should correct its advice to the German regulator and state that these GM products should be subjected to a risk assessment and GMO labelling.

May 29, 2022 Posted by | Environmentalism, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , | 5 Comments

Coming to your dinner plate soon? Potentially unsafe GM tomatoes

By Claire Robinson – GMWatch – January 10, 2022

Sanatech’s CRISPR gene-edited tomato engineered to contain higher levels of a sedative substance, GABA, is being sold on the open market in Japan.

While GABA is reportedly viewed as a health-promoting substance in Japan, findings in studies are mixed and there are no studies at all showing that eating the gene-edited tomato has health benefits or is even safe.

In an article about the development, the journal Nature Biotechnology quotes Maarten Jongsma, a molecular cell biologist at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, who studies the effects of plant compounds on human nutrition, as saying “There’s no consensus” on the health benefits of consuming GABA.

Nor is there evidence that it can cross the blood-brain barrier and reach the central nervous system, adds Renger Witkamp, a nutrition scientist also at Wageningen.

Nature Biotechnology notes:

“Sanatech has been careful not to claim that its tomatoes therapeutically lower blood pressure and promote relaxation. Instead, the company implies it, by advertising that consuming GABA, generally, can achieve these effects and that its tomatoes contain high levels of GABA. This has raised some eyebrows in the research community, given the paucity of evidence supporting GABA as a health supplement.”

The article also reports on news regarding the purple tomato developed by Cathie Martin at the John Innes Centre in the UK using older-style transgenic GM (genetic modification).

Martin says she expects a regulatory decision from the U.S. Department of Agriculture by the end of February for her purple tomatoes. Martin’s targeting of the U.S. is no surprise, given the weak regulation of GM crops in that country.

Like Sanatech, Martin plans to initially market her GM tomatoes directly to the public. Nature Biotechnology reports that she has not conducted human intervention studies comparing the health effects of high-anthocyanin and conventional tomatoes and does not plan to make health benefit claims.

But this means little, as the John Innes Centre and the media have been hyping the supposedly cancer-fighting qualities of the tomatoes over several years, despite warnings from health organizations that these claims are not supported by evidence.

GMWatch notes that Martin’s tomatoes, like the high-GABA ones, have also not been safety tested in animals or humans.

January 10, 2022 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 1 Comment

Farm to Fork: How the EU and the Davos Cabal Plan to Control Agriculture

By F. William Engdahl – New Eastern Outlook – 29.09.2021

Whenever we hear the word “sustainable” we would be well-advised to take a critical look behind the nice sounding words. In the case of the globalist Agenda 2030 with its 17 sustainable goals by 2030, the one for creating a “sustainable agriculture”, when looked at closely, will destroy a huge part of EU agriculture production and drive already rising global prices for food far higher. The EU Commission calls their Green Deal for food the cute title, “Farm to Fork.” It is being backed by Klaus Schwab’s omnipresent World Economic Forum and their Great Reset.

Keep in mind that sustainable as defined by the UN and Davos World Economic Forum means achieving Zero Carbon emissions by 2050. Yet there is no scientific study independently proving that CO2 is endangering our planet by creating global warming. Only myriads of dubious, well-funded computer models. The harmless gas is essential to all human, animal and all plant life. Now the European Union Commission is pushing a top-down radical agenda on the agriculture heart of the world’s second most important food producer as part of its ill-conceived EU Green Deal. If implemented as is likely, it will cause drastic reduction in crop outputs, a severe reduction in meat protein and, perhaps most dangerous, an overturning of current EU law regulating new gene-edited crops, or GMO.2. That will have global consequences.

Farm to Fork…

In May 2020 the EU Commission released its Farm to Fork Strategy. The official Brussels rhetoric makes it sound like a food nirvana is coming. They state, “The Farm to Fork Strategy is at the heart of the European Green Deal, aiming to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly.” Wow, that sounds super.

They then get to the real agenda: “We need to redesign our food systems which today account for nearly one-third of global GHG (Green House Gas) emissions, consume large amounts of natural resources, result in biodiversity loss and negative health impacts…” This is a clever way of demonizing farmers and our food production as CO2 violators. The solution? “New technologies and scientific discoveries, combined with increasing public awareness and demand for sustainable food, will benefit all stakeholders.” What new technologies will be explained.

How do the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels plan to “redesign our food systems” to eliminate one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050? By forcing farmers to go bankrupt by demanding new costly inputs to production and radical new genetic manipulated patented plants with unproven safety. Above all they plan to lift the current de facto ban on gene-edited plant cultivation. For those who do not know, it is the same unproven risky technology used in the COVID-19 vaccines of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA gene-edited vaccines using CRISPR.

EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, says of the Farm to Fork Green Agenda, “Farmers will need to radically transform their production methods and make the best use of technological, digital, and space-based solutions to usher in the new agricultural transition.” So they plan a radical transformation. Already this sounds ominous.

To raise the share of pesticide-free organic farming to 25% of the EU total at the same time reducing chemical pesticide use by 30% by 2030 sounds great to the uninformed. Like the claims of Monsanto and the GMO industry that their GMO crops reduce need for pesticides, it is a lie. The EU is using this as bait to introduce a radical change in strict current EU rules for allowing approval of gene-edited plants and animals into agriculture. In their May 2020 document on Farm to Fork Green Deal, the EU states that the Commission is “carrying out a study which will look at the potential of new genomic techniques to improve sustainability along the food supply chain.” This means gene-editing, CRISPR/Cas9 genetic modification.

New Genomic Techniques’

In April this year, the EU Commission released that study on New Genomic Techniques (NGTs). NGTs are producing gene-edited plants and even animals. The report claims that NGTs, “techniques to alter the genome of an organism, have the potential to contribute to a more sustainable food system as part of the objectives of the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy.” The report calls for a “public debate” to change the strict EU laws on approval of GMO crops that require extensive testing and labelling of GMO crops.

That law from 2001 has successfully restricted use of GMO across the EU in contrast with the USA where unregulated GMOs are dominant for key crops. In 2018 the European Court of Justice, the EU court, ruled that Gene-edited crops should be subject to the same stringent regulations as first-generation genetically modified (GMO) organisms. The key to the Davos and EU Farm to Fork Agenda is a radical reduction in pesticides to be replaced by gene-edited crops allegedly able to replace pesticides.

The EU Commission, in cahoots with Bayer-Monsanto and others of the GMO agribusiness lobby, are working hard to remove that court restriction. Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, said of their April EU study, “The study we publish today concludes that New Genomic Techniques can promote the sustainability of agricultural production, in line with the objectives of our Farm to Fork Strategy.” New Genomic Techniques is the euphemism for gene-edited crops.

EU Vice President responsible for the Green Deal, Franz Timmermans, has openly admitted the lure of promising huge cuts in pesticides, implying it will come from abolishing restrictions on gene-editing. He told a recent EU Green Week conference that the EU aims to give farmers the tools to adopt precision agriculture and to leverage scientific discoveries to optimize seeds: “That’s how we limit our dependency on pesticides.” Precision agriculture and scientific discoveries to optimize seeds is Brussels doublespeak for massive introduction of unregulated gene-editing. He continued, “Going to ecological farming doesn’t mean we all have to munch on grass and live in caves, we need to use the latest technology to get us there.” That means gene-editing CRISPR.

Translated into plain English, the heart of Farm to Fork is the planned overturning of the 2018 ECJ court ruling that treats CRISPR gene-edited plants or animals under the same strict “precautionary principle” rules for GMO. With no restrictions, gene-editing companies like Bayer-Monsanto will be free to introduce experimental and unproven genetically altered plants and animals into our diet with no labelling.

Such a gene-edit-free regime already exists in the USA where the USDA and regulators allow CRISPR gene-edited soy oil, mushrooms that don’t brown, wheat with more fiber, better-producing tomatoes, herbicide-tolerant canola and rice that doesn’t absorb soil pollution as it growsGene-edited US projects on fish and animals include such dubious ones as cows that only have male calves, using CRISPR; Pigs that don’t need castration; hornless dairy cows and growth-enhanced catfish using CRISPR to develop catfish with more muscle cellsIt makes the mouth water…

CRISPR Risks Huge, Rewards Not

The major lobbying push to remove EU regulations on gene-edited crops or animals is coming from Bayer-Monsanto and the other GMO agribusiness giants including Syngenta, BASF, and DowDupont’s Corteva. In November 2020 Liam Condon, the President of Bayer-Monsanto crop science division told a Bayer Future of Farming conference, that Bayer is lobbying “very strongly” to change the EU’s GMO regulations to exempt gene editing. Condon said, “[We are] promoting very strongly that regulations should catch up with technology and allow this technology to be used, [not only] for the benefit of Europeans, but also for the benefit of others all over the world who look to Europe for regulations.” Condon called gene editing and CRISPR technology an “amazing breakthrough” that would allow agriculture to be more sustainableWhat he omitted was that deregulating gene-edited crops will allow Bayer-Monsanto and other major GMO companies to charge farmers for their patented “sustainable” seeds.

Gene-editing of plants or animals is not at all risk-free as claimed. The technology is not at all precise or controlled and often has unpredicted outcomes such as unintended genetic alteration, even the inadvertent addition of foreign DNA from other species, or even entire foreign genes, into the genome of gene-edited organisms.

This is still a new experimental technology. Its advocates such as Bayer-Monsanto claim that gene editing of plants is precise. Yet investigation finds that far from proven. Dr. Allison K Wilson of The Bioscience Resource Project, states, “plant gene editing methods are also prone to introducing UTs (Unintended Traits or genetic damage)… new evidence from both animals and plants indicates that gene editing itself can result in unintended mutations at or near the target site. These include the insertion of vector, bacterial, and other superfluous DNA, and the unintended introduction of large DNA deletions and rearrangements.”

These are not minor flaws that can be ignored. Wilson concludes, “plant gene editing outcomes are imprecise and unpredictable, and that, depending on the combination of techniques used, gene editing can be highly mutagenic. While in theory it might someday be possible to create a GM crop that meets the broad requirements of sustainable agriculture, in practice this seems highly unlikely to ever happen.”

According to an analysis of the EU Farm to Fork strategy by Global Ag Media, “the effect of these strategies will be an unprecedented reduction of EU production capacity and of its farmers’ income. All sectors show declines in production of 5% to 15%, with the livestock sectors being the most heavily impacted… Meanwhile, whatever the scenario, production prices show a net increase of around 10% with a negative impact for most farmers’ incomes. ” The EU farmers’ union, Copa-Cogeca warns the policy will result in an unprecedented reduction in agriculture capacity. But that’s the real intent of “sustainable agriculture.”

Davos and EU Farm to Fork

The radical EU Farm to Form Green agenda finds its echo in the Davos World Economic Forum which already in 2014 promoted what it called, “Enabling Trade: From Farm to Fork.” A January 2018 WEF report states, “Gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas could provide a way to achieve multi-trait improvements, producing a step change in productivity while improving the drought resistance and nutritional content of food. “ This was done together with McKinsey & Co as part of the WEF Food Security and Agriculture Initiatives and their Great Reset. WEF Forum Partners include Bayer, Syngenta, BASF. According to the WEF website, “The World Economic Forum at its Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2020 brought together leaders from industry and business with Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans to explore how to catalyze the European Green Deal.” Bayer’s Liam Condon was also there as was the head of Syngenta and BASF.

If the EU agriculture sector is brought into the gene-edited GMO regime and its production radically reduced as a consequence, it will drive ever greater food shortages around the world. This is the Davos plan along with their COVID-19 eugenics Great Reset agenda. Calling it Farm to Fork makes it sound harmless. It clearly is not.

September 29, 2021 Posted by | Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , | Leave a comment

There’s Nothing Parochial About the Issue of GMO Food Labeling

By Jonathan Latham, PhD | Independent Science News | January 24, 2017

The GMO labeling issue has quieted down some but there is still plenty to discuss. Just this week the USDA proposed its definition of a GMO for labeling purposes and it includes loopholes for gene editing. However, it is also possible for reasonable people to imagine that GMO labeling is a sideshow to the real business of the food movement. After all, most GMO foods and GMO crops are visually indistinguishable from non-GMOs, and tiny non-GMO labels can look pretty irrelevant on the side of a soda bottle containing whole cupfuls of sugar. Last week, Michael Pollan, Olivier de Schutter, Mark Bittman and Ricardo Salvador made that error, calling GMO labeling “parochial.” Granted, they wrote “important but parochial”, but qualifying the significance of GMO labeling in any way was a mistake.

The first issue is that GMOs are legally distinct from non-GMO crop varieties. They possess an enhanced legal status that has enabled GMOs to become a gushing profit centre for agribusiness. These rights not only allow their owners to steer farmers’ herbicide use, which also increases profits, they can also legally prevent independent research which would otherwise show up their advertising claims. The share price of Monsanto reached $142 in 2008, reflecting the enormous profitability of massively increasing seed prices on the back of GMO introductions.

Monsanto Prop 37

California Proposition 37

Those profits have in turn fuelled a set of key agribusiness activities. One was the acquisition of almost the entire independent global seed business, which now resides in very few hands. The second was a cluster of enhanced PR and lobbying activities that were necessary to defend GMOs. Rather than hide in the shadows agribusiness corporations needed to come out swinging in defence of the indefensible, which necessitated, among other things, a much higher degree of control than previously over teaching content and research at public universities.

Thus their special legal status enabled an unprecedented ability to control both the present and the future of agriculture.

GMOs are also conflated with science and thus progress. They have the intellectual role of presenting agribusiness as the innovative and dynamic frontier of agriculture, in contrast to those people who base their efforts on ecological diversity, local expertise, or deep knowledge. This cutting edge image is key to the agribusiness business model of reaping tax breaks and subsidies (Lima, 2015).

All around the world, taxpayer money supports and subsidises agribusiness without which benefits it would not exist (Capellesso et al., 2016). In the final analysis, however, the GMOs-as-progress argument is circular. Agribusiness is innovative because it uses GMOs and GMOs show how innovative they are. Smoke and mirrors, but politicians fall for it every day, delivering massive transfers of wealth every year from the public to the private sector (Lima, 2015).

The biological truth of GMOs is equally disturbing. At one end of the food chain are the crops in the field. Many people have noticed the virtual disappearance of Monarch butterflies. There are three leading explanations of this disappearance. The loss from farmland of their larval host plants, milkweeds, is one possibility; poisoning of their caterpillar larvae after consuming insecticide-filled pollen from Bt insect-resistant GMOs is a second; and toxicity from the neonicotinoid pesticides used to treat GMO seeds is the third. The first two both stem directly or indirectly from GMO use in agricultural fields since before GMOs, milkweeds could not be eradicated and now they can. Most likely is that all three causes are true and that along with milkweeds GMO agriculture also decimated, or eradicated entirely, many other species too.

Monarchs are lovely, but they are not otherwise special. Their significance is as sentinels. Planting milkweeds and pollinator way stations to specially preserve a sentinel species does not rescue an agricultural ecosystem, but it will mask the symptoms. Agribusiness is right now hoping that no one will notice the difference, and that by bringing back monarchs it can obscure the facts of their killing fields.

Internationally too, GMOs threaten to transform agriculture in places like India where millions of people who make a living by labouring in fields could be displaced by herbicide-tolerant crops such as mustard.

At the human consumption end of the food chain, if you live in the US, no one is protecting you from potential health hazards due to GMOs. Makers of GMO crop varieties don’t even have to notify the FDA of a new product. And if the maker deems the product is not a pesticide they don’t have to notify the EPA either. Trump won’t make it worse because it can’t be worse. It is non-partisan contempt for public health.

What are those potential health hazards? One important example is the famous (or infamous) rat study of NK603 corn by the French research group of professor Gilles-Eric Séralini . It is the only longterm study of the effects of GMOs on a mammal. If you ignore the tumours that most people focused on, the study found major kidney and liver dysfunction in the treated animals (Séralini et al., 2014). This dysfunction was evident from biochemical measurements and was also visually apparent under the microscope. These results are of no interest to US regulators, even in principle, since they fall between jurisdictions.

From this we can conclude that GMOs are often harmful, directly and indirectly, and further, that they are the leading edge of the business model of agribusiness.

The question, however, was labeling. Imagine that organic food was not allowed to be labeled. Would there be such an organised and powerful challenge to industrial food? What labeling does for the agriculture and food system is to allow the public to express its dismay and disagreement with the direction of corporate agriculture and assert their democratic rights to protect themselves. Labeling allows the public to engage with specific policies and products within the vast complexity of the food system and push back in a focused way against corruption and dishonesty, in real time. There aren’t too many chances to do that in America today.

References

Capellesso AJ, Ademir Antonio Cazella, Abdon Luiz Schmitt Filho, Joshua Farley, and Diego Albino Martins (2016) Economic and environmental impacts of production intensification in agriculture: comparing transgenic, conventional, and agroecological maize crops. AGROECOLOGY AND SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS 40: 215–236. Lima T. (2015) Agricultural Subsidies for Non-farm Interests: An Analysis of the US Agro-industrial Complex. Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy 4(1) 54–84o-industrial Complex
Séralini G-E, Emilie Clair, Robin Mesnage, Steeve Gress, Nicolas Defarge, Manuela Malatesta, Didier Hennequin and Joël Spiroux de Vendômois (2014) Republished study: long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerantgenetically modified maize. Environmental Sciences Europe 26:14 DOI: 10.1186/s12302-014-0014-5

January 24, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Environmentalism, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | | 1 Comment

Spearheading the Neo-liberal Plunder of African Agriculture

By Colin Todhunter | CounterPunch | January 22, 2016

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is dangerously and unaccountably distorting the direction of international development, according to a new report by the campaign group Global Justice Now. With assets of $43.5 billion, the BMGF is the largest charitable foundation in the world. It actually distributes more aid for global health than any government. As a result, it has a major influence on issues of global health and agriculture.

Gated Development – Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?’ argues that what BMGF is doing could end up exacerbating global inequality and entrenching corporate power globally. Global Justice Now’s analysis of the BMGF’s programmes shows that the foundation’s senior staff are overwhelmingly drawn from corporate America. As a result, the question is: whose interests are being promoted – those of corporate America or those of ordinary people who seek social and economic justice rather than charity?

According to the report, the foundation’s strategy is intended to deepen the role of multinational companies in global health and agriculture especially, even though these corporations are responsible for much of the poverty and injustice that already plagues the global south. The report concludes that the foundation’s programmes have a specific ideological strategy that promotes neo-liberal economic policies, corporate globalisation, the technology this brings (such as GMOs) and an outdated view of the centrality of aid in ‘helping’ the poor.

The report raises a series criticisms including:

1) The relationship between the foundation and Microsoft’s tax practices. A 2012 report from the US Senate found that Microsoft’s use of offshore subsidiaries enabled it to avoid taxes of $4.5 billion, a sum greater than the BMGF’s annual grant making ($3.6 billion in 2014).

2) The close relationship that BMGF has with many corporations whose role and policies contribute to ongoing poverty. Not only is BMGF profiting from numerous investments in a series of controversial companies which contribute to economic and social injustice, it is also actively supporting a series of those companies, including Monsanto, Dupont and Bayer through a variety of pro-corporate initiatives around the world.

3) The foundation’s promotion of industrial agriculture across Africa, pushing for the adoption of GM, patented seed systems and chemical fertilisers, all of which undermine existing sustainable, small-scale farming that is providing the vast majority of food security across the continent.

4) The foundation’s promotion of projects around the world pushing private healthcare and education. Numerous agencies have raised concerns that such projects exacerbate inequality and undermine the universal provision of such basic human necessities.

5) BMGF’s funding of a series of vaccine programmes that have reportedly lead to illnesses or even deaths with little official or media scrutiny.

Polly Jones the head of campaigns and policy at Global Justice Now says:

“The Gates Foundation has rapidly become the most influential actor in the world of global health and agricultural policies, but there’s no oversight or accountability in how that influence is managed. This concentration of power and influence is even more problematic when you consider that the philanthropic vision of the Gates Foundation seems to be largely based on the values of corporate America. The foundation is relentlessly promoting big business-based initiatives such as industrial agriculture, private health care and education. But these are all potentially exacerbating the problems of poverty and lack of access to basic resources that the foundation is supposed to be alleviating.”

The report states that that Bill Gates has regular access to world leaders and is in effect personally bankrolling hundreds of universities, international organisations, NGOs and media outlets. As the single most influential voice in international development, the foundation’s strategy is a major challenge to progressive development actors and activists around the world who want to see the influence of multinational corporations in global markets reduced or eliminated.

The foundation not only funds projects in which agricultural and pharmaceutical corporations are among the leading beneficiaries, but it often invests in the same companies as it is funding, meaning the foundation has an interest in the ongoing profitability of these corporations. According to the report, this is “a corporate merry-go-round where the BMGF consistently acts in the interests of corporations.”

Uprooting indigenous agriculture for the benefit of global agribusiness

The report notes that the BMGF’s close relationship with seed and chemical giant Monsanto is well known. It previously owned shares in the company and continues to promote several projects in which Monsanto is a beneficiary, not least the wholly inappropriate and fraudulent GMO project which promotes a technical quick-fix ahead of tackling the structural issues that create hunger, poverty and food insecurity   But, as the report notes, the BMGF partners with many other multinational agribusiness corporations.

Many examples where this is the case are highlighted by the report. For instance, the foundation is working with US trader Cargill in an $8 million project to “develop the soya value chain” in southern Africa. Cargill is the biggest global player in the production of and trade in soya with heavy investments in South America where GM soya mono-crops have displaced rural populations and caused great environmental damage. According to Global Justice Now, the BMGF-funded project will likely enable Cargill to capture a hitherto untapped African soya market and eventually introduce GM soya onto the continent. The end markets for this soya are companies with relationships with the fast food outlet, KFC, whose expansion in Africa is being aided by the project.

Specific examples are given which highlight how BMGF is also supporting projects involving other chemicals and seed corporations, including DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta and Bayer.

According to the report, the BMGF is promoting a model of industrial agriculture, the increasing use of chemical fertilisers and expensive, patented seeds, the privatisation of extension services and a very large focus on genetically modified seeds. The foundation bankrolls the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in pushing industrial agriculture.

A key area for AGRA is seed policy. The report notes that currently over 80 per cent of Africa’s seed supply comes from millions of small-scale farmers recycling and exchanging seed from year to year. But AGRA is promoting the commercial production of seed and is thus supporting the introduction of commercial seed systems, which risk enabling a few large companies to control seed research and development, production and distribution.

In order for commercial seed companies to invest in research and development, they first want to protect their ‘intellectual property’. According to the report, this requires a fundamental restructuring of seed laws to allow for certification systems that not only protect certified varieties and royalties derived from them, but which actually criminalise all non-certified seed.

The report notes that over the past two decades a long and slow process of national seed law reviews, sponsored by USAID and the G8 along with the BMGF and others, has opened the door to multinational corporations’ involvement in seed production, including the acquisition of every sizeable seed enterprise on the African continent.

At the same time, AGRA is working to promote costly inputs, notably fertiliser, despite evidence to suggest chemical fertilisers have significant health risks for farm workers, increase soil erosion and can trap small-scale farmers in unsustainable debt. The BMGF, through AGRA, is one of the world’s largest promoters of chemical fertiliser.

Some grants given by the BMGF to AGRA have been specifically intended to “help AGRA build the fertiliser supply chain” in Africa. The report describes how one of the largest of AGRA’s grants, worth $25 million, was used to help establish the African Fertiliser Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) in 2012, whose very goal is to “at least double total fertiliser use” in Africa.  The AFAP project is being pursued in partnership with the International Fertiliser Development Centre, a body which represents the fertiliser industry.

Another of AGRA’s key programmes since its inception has been support to agro-dealer networks – small, private stockists of transnational companies’ chemicals and seeds who sell these to farmers in several African countries. This is increasing the reliance of farmers on chemical inputs and marginalising sustainable agriculture alternatives, thereby undermining any notion that farmers are exercising their ‘free choice’ (as the neo-liberal evangelists are keen to tell everyone) when it comes to adopting certain agricultural practices.

The report concludes that AGRA’s agenda is the biggest direct threat to the growing movement in support of food sovereignty and agroecological farming methods in Africa. This movement opposes reliance on chemicals, expensive seeds and GM and instead promotes an approach which allows communities control over the way food is produced, traded and consumed. It is seeking to create a food system that is designed to help people and the environment rather than make profits for multinational corporations. Priority is given to promoting healthy farming and healthy food by protecting soil, water and climate, and promoting biodiversity.

Recent evidence from Greenpeace and the Oakland Institute shows that in Africa agroecological farming can increase yields significantly (often greater than industrial agriculture), and that it is more profitable for small farmers. In 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (Olivier de Schutter) called on countries to reorient their agriculture policies to promote sustainable systems – not least agroecology – that realise the right to food. Moreover, the International Assessmentof Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) was the work of over 400 scientists and took four years to complete. It was twice peer reviewed and states we must look to smallholder, traditional farming to deliver food security in third world countries through agri-ecological systems which are sustainable.

In a January 2015 piece in The Guardian, Director of Global Justice Now said that ‘development’ was once regarded as a process of breaking with colonial exploitation and transferring power over resources from the ‘first’ to the ‘third world’, involving a revolutionary struggle over the world’s resources. However, the current paradigm is based on the assumption that developing countries need to adopt neo-liberal policies and that public money in the guise of aid should facilitate this.

If this new report shows anything, it is that the notion of ‘development’ has become hijacked by rich corporations and a super-rich ‘philanthrocapitalist’ (whose own corporate practices have been questionable to say the least, as highlighted by the report). In effect, the model of ‘development’ being facilitated is married to the ideology and structurally embedded power relations of an exploitative global capitalism.

The BMGF is spearheading the ambitions of corporate America and the scramble for Africa by global agribusiness.

January 23, 2016 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

Study Linking GMOs and Tumors Vindicated Yet Again… MSM Stays Silent

corbettreport – December 6, 2015

SHOW NOTES: https://www.corbettreport.com/?p=17182

December 6, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Environmentalism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , | Leave a comment

Unmasking the GMO ‘Humanitarian’ Narrative

By Colin Todhunter | CounterPunch | November 13, 2015

Genetically modified (GM) crops are going to feed the world. Not only that, supporters of GM technology say it will produce better yields than non-GM crops, increase farmers’ incomes, lead to less chemical inputs, be better suited to climatic changes, is safe for human consumption and will save the lives of millions. Sections of the pro-GMO lobby are modern-day evangelists who denounce, often with a hefty dose of bigoted zeal, anyone who questions their claims and self-proclaimed humanitarian motives.

But their claims do not stack up. Even if some of their assertions about GMOs (GM organisms) appear to be credible, they are often based on generalisations, selective data or questionable research and thus convey a distorted picture. The claims made about GMOs resemble a house of cards that rest on some very fraudulent foundations indeed (see ‘Altered Genes and Twisted Truth’ by Steven Druker).

The fact that many of the pro-GMO lobby spend a good deal of their time attacking and smearing critics and flagging up the technology’s alleged virtues while ignoring certain important issues says much about their priorities.

If they care about farmers so much, indeed if they value food security, choice and democracy so much – as they frequently claim to – why do they not spend their time and energy highlighting and challenging the practices of some of the corporations that are behind the GM project and which have adversely impacted so many across the world?

For instance, consider the following.

1) There is a massive spike in cancer cases in Argentina which is strongly associated with glyphosate-based herbicides – a massive earner for agribusiness. Not only that but throughout South America smallholders and indigenous peoples are being driven from their lands as a result of a corporate takeover aimed at expanding this type of (GM) chemical-intensive agriculture. The outcome has been described as ecocide and genocide.

2) GM technology has not enhanced the world’s ability to feed itself and has arguably led to greater food insecurity (also see this).

3) Petrochemical, industrialised agriculture is less productively efficient than smallholder agriculture. However, the latter is being squeezed onto less and less land as a result of the expansion of corporate commodity crop farming and the taking over of fertile land by institutional investors and agribusiness concerns. As a result of this, the world is in danger of losing the ability to feed itself. Across the world, not least in Asia, peasant farming is being dismantled in favour of this type of corporate agriculture, which is unsustainable and associated with cancers, water contamination, soil degradation and falling water tables.

4) This is a model that from field to plate is causing obesity, diabetes and various other ailments and diseases. Facilitated and supported by trade agreements like NAFTA, people’s quality of food is being sacrificed and local farming devastated (see this to read about the situation in Mexico).

5) In India, 300,000 farmers have committed suicide over the past 20 years as farming has deliberately been made financially non-viable. The aim is to displace hundreds of millions who rely on agriculture to make a living and free up land for Western agribusiness to reshape farming. As NAFTA has done to Mexico, the agribusiness-backed Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture seems likely to do to India. The aim is to dismantle Indian agriculture for the benefit of corporate agribusiness.

We now witness grass-root responses to what is outlined above on a daily basis: farmer protests on the streets of Delhi and local movements from Ghana to Brazil resisting the corporatization of seeds, land, water, food processing, food retail and decision making/regulatory processes.

We also see the wrecking of traditional, productive rural economies and the attack on indigenous knowledge at the behest of global agribusiness, facilitated by compliant politicians. If corporate aims cannot be achieved via trade agreements or the machinations of international institutions like the WTO (whose rules agribusiness shape), they are sought on the back of war or through strings-attached loans as is the case in Ukraine. Objectives are sought by various means.

The world can feed itself without GMOs. It is current policies and the global system of food production that militate against achieving global food security and which contribute towards hunger and poverty. No amount of gene splicing can rectify this.

How convenient it is for sections of the pro-GMO lobby to ignore, side-line or dismiss all of the above and offer a techno-fix supposed panacea that comes courtesy of the same companies whose practices are helping to undermine food security and which are fuelling much of the devastation in the first place. It betrays an ideological adherence to a pro-corporate neoliberal agenda.

Instead of attempting to dismiss the issues set out here as being based on ‘romantic twaddle’, the ramblings of wicked ideologues or the fads and inventions of some notional ‘green blob’ red in tooth and claw that hates humanity, science and freedom of choice (all of which have been levelled at critics), it would be better to acknowledge the issues described here and work to address them and challenge the practices that fuel them.

The pro-GMO lobby is fond of trying to discredit its critics and engages in pious, emotive rhetoric. They often ask them: ‘What are you doing to save the lives of millions?’

The question for them is: What are you?

November 13, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Science and Pseudo-Science | | Leave a comment

MIT grad challenges Monsanto over ‘nonexistent GMO safety standards’

RT | November 13, 2015

One of the world’s largest GMO producers has been challenged by an MIT graduate who claims there are absolutely no GMO safety assessment standards. He earlier alleged that GMO-engineered plants accumulate high levels of formaldehyde.

Livingston (New Jersey) High School Hall of Fame member, Dr. V A Shiva Ayyadurai threw down the gauntlet to the Monsanto Company, claiming it would be next to impossible for the agro-giant to disprove his claim that safety assessment standards for genetically-modified organisms (GMO) are nonexistent.

“If Monsanto can disprove the fact that there are no safety assessment standards for GMOs, the conclusion of our fourth paper, then I will give them my $10 million building,” Ayyadurai, also a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, told Patch.

Ayyadurai’s argument is based on his alleged discovery that GMO plants accumulate high levels of formaldehyde, a finding Ayyadurai asserted in an article published back in July in an expert opinion for the Agricultural Sciences trade journal.

“This is not a pro- or anti-GMO question,” Ayyadurai wrote in his abstract. “But [rather], are we following the scientific method to ensure the safety of our food supply? Right now, the answer is no. But we need to, and we can if we engage in open, transparent and collaborative scientific discourse, based on a systems approach.”

“Formaldehyde is a known class-one carcinogen,” Dr. Ray Seidler, a former EPA senior scientist, said in a statement on Ayyadurai’s study. “Its elevated presence in soybeans caused by a common genetic engineering event is alarming and deserves immediate attention and action from the FDA and the Obama administration.”

An estimated 94 percent of US-grown soybeans are genetically engineered.

November 13, 2015 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science | , | Leave a comment

Russia Ends Production of Genetically Modified Food

Sputnik — 18.09.2015

Russia’s government has decided against producing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said Friday.

The deputy prime minister underscored the need to draw a “clear distinction” between this decision and science and research projects in fields such as medicine.

“As for genetically modified organisms, we have decided against the use of GMO in food production,” Dvorkovich said.

A law requiring manufacturers to label products whose GMO content is higher than 0.9 percent has been in effect since 2007.

September 18, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism | , | Leave a comment

Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs

By Jonathan R. Latham, PhD | Independent Science News | August 31, 2015

By training, I am a plant biologist. In the early 1990s I was busy making genetically modified plants (often called GMOs for Genetically Modified Organisms) as part of the research that led to my PhD. Into these plants we were putting DNA from various foreign organisms, such as viruses and bacteria.

I was not, at the outset, concerned about the possible effects of GM plants on human health or the environment. One reason for this lack of concern was that I was still a very young scientist, feeling my way in the complex world of biology and of scientific research. Another reason was that we hardly imagined that GMOs like ours would be grown or eaten. So far as I was concerned, all GMOs were for research purposes only.

Gradually, however, it became clear that certain companies thought differently. Some of my older colleagues shared their skepticism with me that commercial interests were running far ahead of scientific knowledge. I listened carefully and I didn’t disagree. Today, over twenty years later, GMO crops, especially soybeans, corn, papaya, canola and cotton, are commercially grown in numerous parts of the world.

Depending on which country you live in, GMOs may be unlabeled and therefore unknowingly abundant in your diet. Processed foods (e.g. chips, breakfast cereals, sodas) are likely to contain ingredients from GMO crops, because they are often made from corn or soy. Most agricultural crops, however, are still non-GMO, including rice, wheat, barley, oats, tomatoes, grapes and beans.

For meat eaters the nature of GMO consumption is different. There are no GMO animals used in farming (although GM salmon has been pending FDA approval since 1993); however, animal feed, especially in factory farms or for fish farming, is likely to be GMO corn and GMO soybeans. In which case the labeling issue, and potential for impacts on your health, are complicated.

I now believe, as a much more experienced scientist, that GMO crops still run far ahead of our understanding of their risks. In broad outline, the reasons for this belief are quite simple. I have become much more appreciative of the complexity of biological organisms and their capacity for benefits and harms. As a scientist I have become much more humble about the capacity of science to do more than scratch the surface in its understanding of the deep complexity and diversity of the natural world. To paraphrase a cliché, I more and more appreciate that as scientists we understand less and less.

The Flawed Processes of GMO Risk Assessment

Some of my concerns with GMOs are “just” practical ones. I have read numerous GMO risk assessment applications. These are the documents that governments rely on to ‘prove’ their safety. Though these documents are quite long and quite complex, their length is misleading in that they primarily ask (and answer) trivial questions. Furthermore, the experiments described within them are often very inadequate and sloppily executed. Scientific controls are often missing, procedures and reagents are badly described, and the results are often ambiguous or uninterpretable. I do not believe that this ambiguity and apparent incompetence is accidental. It is common, for example, for multinational corporations, whose labs have the latest equipment, to use outdated methodologies. When the results show what the applicants want, nothing is said. But when the results are inconvenient, and raise red flags, they blame the limitations of the antiquated method. This bulletproof logic, in which applicants claim safety no matter what the data shows, or how badly the experiment was performed, is routine in formal GMO risk assessment.

To any honest observer, reading these applications is bound to raise profound and disturbing questions: about the trustworthiness of the applicants and equally of the regulators. They are impossible to reconcile with a functional regulatory system capable of protecting the public.

The Dangers of GMOs

Aside from grave doubts about the quality and integrity of risk assessments, I also have specific science-based concerns over GMOs. I emphasise the ones below because they are important but are not on the lists that GMO critics often make.

Many GMO plants are engineered to contain their own insecticides. These GMOs, which include maize, cotton and soybeans, are called Bt plants. Bt plants get their name because they incorporate a transgene that makes a protein-based toxin (usually called the Cry toxin) from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. Many Bt crops are “stacked,” meaning they contain a multiplicity of these Cry toxins. Their makers believe each of these Bt toxins is insect-specific and safe. However, there are multiple reasons to doubt both safety and specificity. One concern is that Bacillus thuringiensis is all but indistinguishable from the well known anthrax bacterium (Bacillus anthracis). Another reason is that Bt insecticides share structural similarities with ricin. Ricin is a famously dangerous plant toxin, a tiny amount of which was used to assassinate the Bulgarian writer and defector Georgi Markov in 1978. A third reason for concern is that the mode of action of Bt proteins is not understood (Vachon et al 2012); yet, it is axiomatic in science that effective risk assessment requires a clear understanding of the mechanism of action of any GMO transgene. This is so that appropriate experiments can be devised to affirm or refute safety. These red flags are doubly troubling because some Cry proteins are known to be toxic towards isolated human cells (Mizuki et al., 1999). Yet we put them in our food crops.

A second concern follows from GMOs being often resistant to herbicides. This resistance is an invitation to farmers to spray large quantities of herbicides, and many do. As research recently showed, commercial soybeans routinely contain quantities of the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) that its maker, Monsanto, once described as “extreme” (Bøhn et al 2014).

Glyphosate has been in the news recently because the World Health Organisation no longer considers it a relatively harmless chemical, but there are other herbicides applied to GMOs which are easily of equal concern. The herbicide Glufosinate (phosphinothricin, made by Bayer) kills plants because it inhibits the important plant enzyme glutamine synthetase. This enzyme is ubiquitous, however, it is found also in fungi, bacteria and animals. Consequently, Glufosinate is toxic to most organisms. Glufosinate is also a neurotoxin of mammals that doesn’t easily break down in the environment (Lantz et al. 2014). Glufosinate is thus a “herbicide” in name only.

Thus, even in conventional agriculture, the use of glufosinate is hazardous; but With GMO plants the situation is worse yet. With GMOs, glufosinate is sprayed on to the crop but its degradation in the plant is blocked by the transgene, which chemically modifies it slightly. This is why the GMO plant is resistant to it; but the other consequence is that when you eat Bayers’ Glufosinate-resistant GMO maize or canola, even weeks or months later, glufosinate, though slightly modified, is probably still there (Droge et al., 1992). Nevertheless, though the health hazard of glufosinate is much greater with GMOs, the implications of this science have been ignored in GMO risk assessments of Glufosinate-tolerant GMO crops.

A yet further reason to be concerned about GMOs is that most of them contain a viral sequence called the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) promoter (or they contain the similar figwort mosaic virus (FMV) promoter). Two years ago, the GMO safety agency of the European Union (EFSA) discovered that both the CaMV promoter and the FMV promoter had wrongly been assumed by them (for almost 20 years) not to encode any proteins. In fact, the two promoters encode a large part of a small multifunctional viral protein that misdirects all normal gene expression and that also turns off a key plant defence against pathogens. EFSA tried to bury their discovery. Unfortunately for them, we spotted their findings in an obscure scientific journal. This revelation forced EFSA and other regulators to explain why they had overlooked the probability that consumers were eating an untested viral protein.

This list of significant scientific concerns about GMOs is by no means exhaustive. For example, there are novel GMOs coming on the market, such as those using double stranded RNAs (dsRNAs), that have the potential for even greater risks (Latham and Wilson 2015).

The True Purpose of GMOs

Science is not the only grounds on which GMOs should be judged. The commercial purpose of GMOs is not to feed the world or improve farming. Rather, they exist to gain intellectual property (i.e. patent rights) over seeds and plant breeding and to drive agriculture in directions that benefit agribusiness. This drive is occurring at the expense of farmers, consumers and the natural world. US Farmers, for example, have seen seed costs nearly quadruple and seed choices greatly narrow since the introduction of GMOs. The fight over GMOs is not of narrow importance. It affects us all.

Nevertheless, specific scientific concerns are crucial to the debate. I left science in large part because it seemed impossible to do research while also providing the unvarnished public scepticism that I believed the public, as ultimate funder and risk-taker of that science, was entitled to.

Criticism of science and technology remains very difficult. Even though many academics benefit from tenure and a large salary, the sceptical process in much of science is largely lacking. This is why risk assessment of GMOs has been short-circuited and public concerns about them are growing. Until the damaged scientific ethos is rectified, both scientists and the public are correct to doubt that GMOs should ever have been let out of any lab.

References

Bøhn, T, Cuhra, M, Traavik, T, Sanden, M, Fagan, J and Primicerio, R (2014) Compositional differences in soybeans on the market: Glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready GM soybeans. Food Chemistry 153: 207-215.

Droge W, Broer I, and Puhler A. (1992) Transgenic plants containing the phosphinothricin-N-acetyltransferase gene metabolize the herbicide L-phosphinothricin (glufosinate) differently from untransformed plants. Planta 187: 142-151.

Lantz S et al., (2014) Glufosinate binds N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors and increases neuronal network activity in vitro. Neurotoxicology 45: 38-47.

Latham JR and Wilson AK (2015) Off -­ target Effects of Plant Transgenic RNAi: Three Mechanisms Lead to Distinct Toxicological and Environmental Hazards.

Mizuki, E, Et Al., (1999) Unique activity associated with non-insecticidal Bacillus thuringiensis parasporal inclusions: in vitro cell- killing action on human cancer cells. J. Appl. Microbiol. 86: 477–486.

Vachon V, Laprade R, Schwartz JL (2012) Current models of the mode of action of Bacillus thuringiensis insecticidal crystal proteins: a critical review. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology 111: 1–12.

September 2, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Science and Pseudo-Science | , , | Leave a comment