Vandana Shiva and the fight against GMOs

18 July 2012

Standing up for the small, who feed us all.

Vandana Shiva, a physicist by profession, has taken up the fight against predatory (more parasitic, really) corporations imposing their agendas on the food chain of India – including Coca-cola (who were hoping to privatize the water) and Monsanto (whose policies bankrupted farmers, thousands of whom have committed suicide).

Among her other accomplishments, she created Navdanya, a seed bank for India’s most important crops. It is tragic that it has become necessary for us to protect the very fundamental links in our food chain, such as our water and seeds however, this is the world in which we live, where Monsanto has infiltrated the halls of legislation, and make the most heinous and contemptuous of actions legal. In such a system, we are obliged to resist. Complicity in such behaviour is unacceptable on every level.

156 Days to Dec 21st 2012


GMO myths and truths

9 July 2012

Some facts to address the issue

A report, GMO Myths and Truths was published recently, which was an analysis of claims by Genetic Engineering concerns using scientific evidence (and the list of references is pretty astounding). It’s well worth the read, particularly if you’re interested in the subject, and is uncertain of the arguments of both sides.


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Genetically modified (GM) crops are promoted on the basis of a range of far-reaching claims from the GM crop industry and its supporters. They say that GM crops:

  • Are an extension of natural breeding and do not pose different risks from naturally bred crops
  • Are safe to eat and can be more nutritious than naturally bred crops
  • Are strictly regulated for safety
  • Increase crop yields
  • Reduce pesticide use
  • Benefit farmers and make their lives easier
  • Bring economic benefits
  • Benefit the environment
  • Can help solve problems caused by climate change
  • Reduce energy use
  • Will help feed the world.

 

However, a large and growing body of scientific and other authoritative evidence shows that these claims are not true. On the contrary, evidence presented in this report indicates that GM crops:

  • Are laboratory-made, using technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks from non-GM crops
  • Can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts
  • Are not adequately regulated to ensure safety
  • Do not increase yield potential
  • Do not reduce pesticide use but increase it
  • Create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant “superweeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops
  • Have mixed economic effects
  • Harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity
  • Do not offer effective solutions to climate change
  • Are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops
  • Cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on.

Based on the evidence presented in this report, there is no need to take risks with GM crops when effective, readily available, and sustainable solutions to the problems that GM technology is claimed to address already exist. Conventional plant breeding, in some cases helped by safe modern technologies like gene mapping and marker assisted selection, continues to outperform GM in producing high-yield, drought-tolerant, and pest- and disease-resistant crops that can meet our present and future food needs.

165 Days to Dec 21st 2012


Bt Cotton – Another Biotech Failure

3 July 2012

Refuting Marketing with Facts and Proper Science

I was involved in an online argument (I wouldn’t call it a discussion, debate, or conversation – it was mindless for the mostpart – at least for my part) regarding biotechnology (agricultural, I don’t know enough to weigh in on medical biotech). It seemed that the number of industry supporters (whether paid or incidental) were far more vocal than those who opposed it. Most arguments in favour of biotech were tired, worn out, and long disproven tropes: it’s the same as selective breeding, it’s necessary to feed the world, you fear it because you don’t understand genetics, etc…

I’ve been collecting a number of articles that provide more scientific weight to the argument against biotechnologies. Granted, some articles are better documented than others, and I hesitate to quote anything that is poorly referenced.

but in the end, Biotech, Genetic Modification, Genetic Engineering, despite the amazing feats of scientific accomplishment, are an unnecessary risk to which the majority of us are exposed without agreement. If you eat processed food, you’re eating GMOs. No labels. No questions asked.

My principal argument against GMOs, and introducing them to the food chain so quickly, is that they are ultimately unpredictable. Many studies are private, and the companies that have conducted them keep the results under wraps. At least they assure us that everything’s okay. There’s nothing to worry about. Nothing to see here. It has been about a generation (depending on how you measure these things) since we’ve been exposed to this stuff full steam ahead. There hasn’t been any long term study (how could there be?), nor has there been any safeguarding by political representatives (a perfect combination of a human and a spineless jellyfish).

How safe are these alien species to us and our biosphere?

Mutated pests are quickly adapting to biotech crops in unpredicted and disturbing ways

Genetically modified crops are often designed to repel hungry insects. By having toxins built into the plant itself, farmers can reduce their use of environmentally unfriendly insecticide sprays. But as any first-year evolutionary biology student can tell you, insects are like the Borg in Star Trek: they quickly adapt. And this is precisely what is happening – but in ways that have startled the researchers themselves.

The discovery is a wakeup call to geneticists because it has highlighted the importance of having to closely monitor and counter pest resistance to biotech crops. The development also raises the question of the potential futility of having to change the genetic structure of crops in perpetuity; given that insects are constantly evolving, to what degree will geneticists have to go to ensure crop immunity to pests? And what does that say to the ongoing safety of such crops as far as human consumption is concerned?

Case in point are cotton bollworms. To deal with these pests, genetic scientists have developed an insect-killing cotton plant that produces toxins derived from the Bt bacterium (geneticists say that these toxins are harmless to most other creatures, including humans). But the bollworms are developing a resistance. Scientists have observed that a rare genetic mutation in bollworms makes them immune to Bt – and that the mutation isn’t so rare any more.

One scientist who predicted that these insects would adapt is Bruce Tabashnik, head of the department of entomology at the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and co-author of the study making note of these findings. To stay ahead of the game, Tabashnik studied bollworms in the lab just to see how they would adapt to the toxin. Then, expecting to see the same sorts of adaptations in the real world, he took a look at bollworms in China.

What he found there was a bit disturbing. Yes, he discovered bollworms that exhibited the exact same mutations as the ones in his lab – but the Chinese insects also showed some adaptations that were completely unexpected. Speaking through a University of Arizona release, Tabashnik noted that, “[W]e also found lots of other mutations, most of them in the same gene and one in a completely different gene.”

A particularly big surprise was that the real world mutations will be more challenging to deal with from a genetic perspective. They identified two unrelated, dominant mutations in the field populations – and by dominant they mean that one copy of the genetic variant is enough to confer resistance to Bt toxin. This kind of dominant resistance cannot be readily slowed with refuges, which are specially designed plants that work to dilute the population of susceptible insects (this process makes it difficult for two resistant insects to mate and produce resistant offspring).

That said, Tabashnik acknowledged that his discovery will set the ball in motion to propel the development of new countermeasures.

As far as the real world mutated bollworms are concerned, they’re starting to take off in China. The researchers discovered that resistance-conferring mutations in cotton bollworm were three times more common in northern China than in areas of northwestern China where less Bt cotton has been grown.

In northern China, however, farmers haven’t noticed the emerging resistance yet. According to Tabashnik this is because only about 2% of the cotton bollworms there are resistant.

But he cautions: “As a grower, if you’re killing 98 percent of pests with Bt cotton, you wouldn’t notice anything. But this study tells us there is trouble on the horizon.”

This “trouble on the horizon” indicates that geneticists are in the midst of an arms race with insects. Each measure they enact will likely be countered by the ever-adapting insects. It’s difficult to know at this point just how modified the crops will have to be to withstand these pests, or how these new crops could impact on human health and the very constitution of the insects themselves.

the full study: Asymmetrical cross-resistance between Bacillus thuringiensis toxins Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab in pink bollworm 

What, me adapt?

What’s most disturbing in the following article from the Hindu is how they refer to the rash of suicides by farmers as rather matter-of-fact. This in and of itself if an argument against biotech business practices. Bt Cotton requires more irrigation than natural cotton, and in parts of India where rainfall is unpredictable, shortfalls can be devastating.

Study questions sustainability of Bt cotton in water-starved Vidarbha

Lack of irrigation is one of the major causes leading to cotton farmer suicides in Maharashtra, a new study by the Council of Social Development (CSD) has stated. Titled ‘Socio-economic impact assessment of Bt cotton in India,’ the study has yet again raised the question of whether the marginal land of Vidarbha is suited for Bt cotton at all.

Commissioned by the Bharat Krishak Samaj, the study points out the dependence of Bt cotton farmers on rainfed agriculture, the increasing irrigation costs and the lack of institutional credit.

The study, in which farmers and farm labourers in Jalgaon and Yawatmal districts were interviewed, says, “70 per cent of the farmers stated that irrigation expenditure was more on Bt cotton than on non-Bt cotton.” Though it claims that productivity increased by 4.49 per cent from the pre-Bt to post-Bt period, costs too increased: especially fertilizer costs, which increased from 29 per cent in the pre-Bt period to 71 per cent in the post-Bt period. In all 140 farmers and 40 agricultural labourers were a part of the study.

“Farmers in the central Indian region blamed the suicides mainly on low and erratic nature of rainfall as this was a rainfed region,” it states. This adds to many of the recent indicators that question the sustainability of Bt cotton in Vidarbha.

Vinayak Deshpande, member of the Kelkar Committee, appointed by the Maharashtra government to study the agrarian crisis in Vidarbha region and professor at the RTM Nagpur University said productivity of Bt cotton is closely linked to irrigation. “The region faces the largest irrigation backlog in the State, at 57.3 per cent. In physical terms, the irrigation backlog is at 10,76,000 hectares. The cost of this in 2008 was Rs. 10,767 crore,” Dr. Deshpande told The Hindu on Thursday.

The irrigation against potential in Vidarbha is only 40 per cent, whereas in the rest of Maharashtra it is more than 70 per cent, he added.

Dr. Deshpande said subsidies for fertilizers and pesticides were also given more in irrigated areas. “High yielding varieties of crops like Bt cotton need more water as well, along with fertilizers. In the end, it is all linked to irrigation,” he said.

The government itself has acknowledged that irrigation is mandatory for Bt cotton. Speaking at an event organised by seed giant Monsanto in Pune in March this year, Maharashtra Agricultural Commissioner Umakant Dangat urged farmers to plant Bt cotton only in irrigated areas. “The farmers should use their discretion and plant BT cotton on irrigated land. The amount of water needed is definitely more,” he had said.

In the last few months, the water scarcity situation in the State highlighted issue of irrigation backlog, forcing the State government to announce that a white paper on the costs and expenditure of irrigation projects will soon be brought out. Even as that is awaited, Dr. Deshpande states that the priority will be to take up projects in Vidarbha. “Along with big dams, water conservation projects and drip irrigation must be introduced,” he said. Though the final report of the committee headed by economist Dr. Vijay Kelkar has not been submitted yet, Dr. Deshpande said these would be recommendations.

Another element in the study states that as opposed to farmers in the rest of the country, a majority of whom had heard of Bt cotton from neighbours and relatives who had benefited, in Maharashtra 79 per cent of the farmers had heard of Bt cotton from seed dealers. In Yavatmal’s Hiwra village, this correspondent was told by cotton farmers that non-Bt cotton seeds were not available. “The cotton prices have gone down. There is no water for the Bt cotton needs. We cannot afford planting Bt anymore. But, we cannot buy non-Bt seeds in the market. The dealers tell us that there is no supply,” Sumant Meshram, a farmer said. Pointing at the nearby Pachpahur irrigation project that lies unfinished, another farmer Dharmaji Pendhur says that there is no water for cattle too. “We have to sell our cattle, we cannot afford to keep them anymore,” he said.

Kishore Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) said the government was not serious about clearing the irrigation backlog of the State, even as it continued to affect the farmers. “Only two per cent of irrigated land was added in Vidarbha from 2006 to 2011. Obviously Bt cotton is not sustainable in such a scenario. The farmers themselves have realised that now, after so many years. The distress continues as there is no proactive help from the government,” he states.

Dr. Deshpande suggests that the Maharashtra government draw up a separate policy for the Vidarbha region. “It needs to be discussed whether Bt crops, which have entered into the market, are suitable for a particular region. We have lagged behind in providing these extension services which monitor agriculture at the micro level. The level of social awareness is not matching the movement of the market,” he states. “Is the government able to provide a cushion for its farmers?” he asks.

Monsanto’s Bt Cotton Kills the Soil as Well as Farmers

Brazilian model to nudge Bt cotton out?

171 Days to Dec 21st 2012


First “successfully” Genetically Modified Humans [tm]

29 June 2012

Even a slippery slope can take all the fun out of sex.

I keep expecting to see this in the Onion, and if it is a joke, it is decidedly unfunny. After modifying the genetics of animals and plants, and feeding them to animals and humans, this was the next step. I can’t wait until humans are modified to be tolerant to pesticides and GMOs, so that we never have to revisit the foolhardiness of industrialized agriculture.

In terms of human reproduction, I have wondered why we don’t take infertility as a symptom of a much bigger problem (human bodies full of pesticides, for example), and instead of treating the cause (i.e. cleaning up where we live), we continue to treat the symptoms. If you can’t have babies, it is the surest sign that you shouldn’t have babies.

World’s First GM Babies Born

The world’s first geneticallymodified humans have been created, it was revealed last night.

The disclosure that 30 healthy babies were born after a series of experiments in the United States provoked another furious debate about ethics.

So far, two of the babies have been tested and have been found to contain genes from three ‘parents’.

Fifteen of the children were born in the past three years as a result of one experimental programme at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St Barnabas in New Jersey.

The babies were born to women who had problems conceiving. Extra genes from a female donor were inserted into their eggs before they were fertilised in an attempt to enable them to conceive.

Genetic fingerprint tests on two one-year- old children confirm that they have inherited DNA from three adults –two women and one man.

The fact that the children have inherited the extra genes and incorporated them into their ‘germline’ means that they will, in turn, be able to pass them on to their own offspring.

Altering the human germline – in effect tinkering with the very make-up of our species – is a technique shunned by the vast majority of the world’s scientists.

Geneticists fear that one day this method could be used to create new races of humans with extra, desired characteristics such as strength or high intelligence.

Writing in the journal Human Reproduction, the researchers, led by fertility pioneer Professor Jacques Cohen, say that this ‘is the first case of human germline genetic modification resulting in normal healthy children’.

Some experts severely criticised the experiments. Lord Winston, of the Hammersmith Hospital in West London, told the BBC yesterday: ‘Regarding the treat-ment of the infertile, there is no evidence that this technique is worth doing . . . I am very surprised that it was even carried out at this stage. It would certainly not be allowed in Britain.’

John Smeaton, national director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: ‘One has tremendous sympathy for couples who suffer infertility problems. But this seems to be a further illustration of the fact that the whole process of in vitro fertilisation as a means of conceiving babies leads to babies being regarded as objects on a production line.

‘It is a further and very worrying step down the wrong road for humanity.’ Professor Cohen and his colleagues diagnosed that the women were infertile because they had defects in tiny structures in their egg cells, called mitochondria.

They took eggs from donors and, using a fine needle, sucked some of the internal material – containing ‘healthy’ mitochondria – and injected it into eggs from the women wanting to conceive.

Because mitochondria contain genes, the babies resulting from the treatment have inherited DNA from both women. These genes can now be passed down the germline along the maternal line.

A spokesman for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates ‘assisted reproduction’ technology in Britain, said that it would not license the technique here because it involved altering the germline.

Jacques Cohen is regarded as a brilliant but controversial scientist who has pushed the boundaries of assisted reproduction technologies.

He developed a technique which allows infertile men to have their own children, by injecting sperm DNA straight into the egg in the lab.

Prior to this, only infertile women were able to conceive using IVF. Last year, Professor Cohen said that his expertise would allow him to clone children –a prospect treated with horror by the mainstream scientific community.

‘It would be an afternoon’s work for one of my students,’ he said, adding that he had been approached by ‘at least three’ individuals wishing to create a cloned child, but had turned down their requests.

175 Days to Dec 21st 2012


Agricultural Biotech is an unnecessary Evil

9 June 2012

And so say all of us.

I began my degree in biology the same year my university first offered a stream in biotechnology. I had never heard the word before, and from the descriptions, didn’t quite understand how it was different from biochemistry. A couple of decades later, and I know all too well what it has come to mean. I’m talking about agricultural biotechnology, not medical biotech, which is a gene of a different colour. Plus I know a lot less about it.

My stance is to ban it outright, remove all the biotech seeds and plants from our biosphere, and put the whole sordid experiment into our past as a bad idea gone bad. Several Countries have successfully banned GMOs, desite massive opposition. It is an issue that effects the very foundations of our food system, which in term is the foundation of our individual and public health.

Recenlty there have been articles about an engineered apple awaiting approval. The apple has been altered so that a gene has been turned off such that it doesn’t turn brown when cut. Which is completely ridiculous. Has this been such a soul-wrenching problem that we have been forced to go down to the molecular level to repair it? A very sharp knife will slice so few cells that the enzyme that causes the browning won’t be released in enough quantity to cause the “problem.” Also, acid (like lemon juice) neutralizes the enzyme. These have been solutions to the “problem” (I’ve eaten a number of apples gone brown without any adverse effects – don’t get me started on pesticide residue, however…).

Most likely, it is being developed for commercial/industrial scale use. so that a fast-“food”[tm] restaurant can include apple slices in their “salads”[tm] and not have to worry about unsightly browning.

The largest biotech companies were agri-chemical companies before. Any wonder their “plants”[tm] are being developed to tolerate company pesticides – which is where the real money is. There is a fierce protection of the patent on the seeds, so that farmers who sign on pay for the right to use the seeds, and then buy pesticides (herbicides, fungicides, etc…) out the wazoo.

A lot of false claims have gone along with selling us on biotech. And a lot of misinformation. Not to mention aggressive lobbying to prevent its labelling. Most processed foods contain some engineered ingredients, especially soy, corn, canola.

Here are some links – I can’t say how reliable the material is, as I haven’t combed through all of it – there are emotional, ill-informed articles against biotech that have their hearts in the right place, however, I prefer to seek out something with reputable, peer-reviewed sources. Biotech Companies have been known to publish their own research in their own journals made to appear peer-reviewed. If their product is so wonderful as to stand up on its own merits, why all the shenanigans?

Doctors of Chiropractic Outraged by Monsanto, GMO issue

At first glance, it seemed like an unusual topic for chiropractors to be discussing all over Facebook. No mention of subluxations, rehab, adjustments or even back pain. Yet, seldom has a subject galvanized DCs into such unity of opinion. The topic: Monsanto and its effect on the food, water, air and, ultimately, the health of every person on the planet.

Toxin from GM crops found in human blood

Fresh doubts have arisen about the safety of genetically modified crops, with a new study reporting presence of Bt toxin, used widely in GM crops, in human blood for the first time.

Animals won’t Eat GMOs
Cows, pigs, elk, deer, raccoons, squirrels, rats, and mice all share the same aversion to GMO’s, says Smith.
Failure to Yield – evaulation the performance of Genetically Engineered crops
An Open Letter from an Alberta Grain Farmer

Because the CWB [Canadian Wheat Board, which the Canadian Government has done away with illegally]  is customer oriented it listened to farmers and other people and was instrumental in blocking the introduction of Monsanto’s genetically modified, Roundup Ready wheat.  Monsanto is now preparing another attempt at introduction of genetically modified glyphosate resistant wheat.

This will lead to the selection of super weeds that are also resistant of glyphosate and require even higher applications of more toxic chemicals and combinations of chemicals to control the super weeds.

Studies have been done in some U.S. states and every sample of water from every stream tested positive for traces of glyphosate.  Air samples also showed traces of glyphosate.

What is the long term effects on the environment and human health of this chemical?  Genetically modified wheat would also contaminate and destroy organic production of wheat just as has happened with canola.

How Corporations Like Monsanto have Hijacked Higher Education
Academic research is often dictated by corporations that endow professorships, give money to universities, and put their executives on education boards.
Lab and clinical research shows that toxins from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are absorbed by humans. Pregnant women and their fetuses had detectable levels of the toxins in their blood. Lab research shows toxic effects on human kidney cells.
Human Genes Engineered into Experimental GMO Rice being Grown in Kansas
Unless the rice you buy is certified organic, or comes specifically from a farm that tests its rice crops for genetically modified (GM) traits, you could be eating rice tainted with actual human genes. The only known GMO with inbred human traits in cultivation today, a GM rice product made by biotechnology company Ventria Bioscienceis currently being grown on 3,200 acres in Junction City, Kansas — and possibly elsewhere — and most people have no idea about it.
Genetically Modified Crops’ Results Raise Concerns
Biotechnology’s promise to feed the world did not anticipate “Trojan corn,” “super weeds” and the disappearance of monarch butterflies.But in the Midwest and South – blanketed by more than 170 million acres of genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton – an experiment begun in 1996 with approval of the first commercial genetically modified organisms is producing questionable results.

Controversy Remains over Genetically Modified Food

“The United States Department of Agriculture reports 52 percent of all corn crops, 79 percent of all cotton crops, and 87 percent of all soybean crops grown in the U.S. are genetically modified,” says Ortega.

Harvard Scientist Proves Pesticide causes CCD [bee Colony Collapse]

 “Commonly used pesticides may be a primary driver of the collapsing bee populations, finds two new studies in Science. The studies, one focused on honeybees and the other on bumblebees, found that even small doses of these pesticides, which target insect’s central nervous system, impact bee behavior and, ultimately, their survival. The studies may have far-reaching repercussions for the regulation of agricultural chemicals, known as neonicotinoid insecticides, that have been in use since the 1990s.” — Jeremy Hance

A plant pathologist experienced in protecting against biological warfare recently warned the USDA of a new, self-replicating, micro-fungal virus-sized organism which may be causing spontaneous abortions in livestock, sudden death syndrome in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soy, and wilt in Monsanto’s RR corn.

Booted Out of Germany – the Ignorance that Could Destroy Your Health

BASF withdrawing their biotech division from Germany is a perfect illustration of the power of public opinion, and why we must insist on labeling of genetically engineered foods in the US in order to regain control over our food supply. As long as millions of people are in the dark about what they’re eating, the biotech industry can continue to destroy the food supply of the US

GMO Corn Leading to Pesticide Resistant Bugs

Monsanto Co. corn that is genetically engineered to kill insects may be losing effectiveness against rootworms in four states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.

Rootworms in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska are suspected of developing tolerance of the plants’ insecticide, based on documented cases of severe crop damage and reports from entomologists, the EPA said in a document dated Nov. 22 and posted yesterday on the government website. Monsanto’s program for monitoring suspected cases of resistance is “inadequate,” the EPA said.

Food Fraud – How your food has been hardwired for chemicals

 It is a brilliant use of technology by the chemical industry that has enabled them to sell more of their revenue-generating products, like weedkillers, but it appears to be coming at a cost to farmers, families and our future.

As crops are hardwired to withstand increasing doses of these chemicals and toxic weedkillers, it appears that the weeds have become resistant (not unlike a child might develop an antibiotic resistant should an overuse occur).  And with this weed-resistance, our farmers now confront new problems, never before seen on their farms, problems not encountered by their grandfathers or great grandfathers, called “superweeds”.

Roundup Diluted by 99.8% still destroys human DNA

Monsanto’s New Agent Orange – You are Eating, Breathing, Drinking it

Peru Passes Monumental 10-Year Ban on Genetically Engineered Foods

In a massive blow to multinational agribiz corporations such as  Monsanto, Bayer, and Dow, Peru has officially passed a law banning genetically modified ingredients anywhere within the country for a full decade before coming up for another review.  Peru’s Plenary Session of the Congress made the decision 3 years after the decree was written despite previous governmental pushes for GM legalization due largely to the pressure from farmers that together form the Parque de la Papa in Cusco, a farming community of 6,000 people that represent six communities. They worry the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will compromise the native species of Peru, such as the giant white corn, purple corn and, of course, the famous species of Peruvian potatoes. Anibal Huerta, President of Peru’s Agrarian Commission, said the ban was needed to prevent the ”danger that can arise from the use of biotechnology.”

195 Days to Dec 21st 2012