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Human DNA SequenceThere is widespread concern about genetic engineering, and now the new generation CRISPR gene editing. People are becoming worried that labelling of food containing modified genes for human consumption may be removed and food standards lowered after Brexit. If the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified, the UK must abide by EU rules until December 2020, which states food containing GMO’s must be labelled. If the UK leaves without a deal, the relevant regulations will temporarily pass into UK law from 1st November 2019. However, these rules will then be open to immediate amendments with potentially far-reaching effects.

What is CRISPR?

CRISPR-Cas 9, or CRISPR for short, stands for Clustered Regularly Interspace Short Palindromic Repeats. It is an idea that genetic engineers have copied from bacterial communities defending themselves against viruses and foreign DNA. Cas 9 is a protein, that with the help of guide RNA, recognises and 'cuts and pastes' the sequence of DNA to be edited.

Just like the previous generation of genetic engineering uses a viral promoter to add itself to a DNA sequence, gene editing can change more than the target genes. The possibility of recombinant DNA producing changes to a large number of genes and making unwanted edits to other sequences is very high using this technology.

Read more: GM Human and Animal Farm?

No-GM-Broccoli5th August 2019

New developments in GM can sometimes seem very remote to those of us living in the UK, In part that is because we have been protected by strict EU laws about the cultivation and sale of genetically modified crops and foods.

Over the past twenty years or so commercial GM crops like the golden rice in Africa which was supposed to improve eyesight, but didn’t work, or rainbow papayas in Hawaii that contaminated 50% of non-GM papaya or flavr-savr tomatoes designed to not over-ripen but rejected by consumers worldwide, seemed too far away to be worrisome.

But this year, field trials of GM crops including potato, broccoli, brassicas and a false flax plant engineered to produce Omega-3 fish oil in its seeds have just moved much closer to home.

A fresh round of GM field trials, taking place until 2023, has recently gained approval from DEFRA - a signal that, post-Brexit, the UK is gearing up, once again to become a GMO nation.

Fish Oil in Flax

Rothamsted Research is growing Camelina sativa, a  member of the brassica family commonly known as false flax, in Hertfordshire and Suffolk. The plant, which is similar in appearance to its cousin, the yellow-flowered oilseed rape, will be subjected to a “pick and mix” approach to re-engineering with over 100 different elements that could be inserted in to the trial crops in multiple different combinations.

The oil pressed form the seeds is intended as feed for farmed salmon.

Fish farming is big business, netting some £600 million a year in exports for Scotland’s fishing industry alone. But salmon are top predators and their natural diet is smaller fish which are rich in a particular type of omega-3 oil known as DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid. Fish farms consume roughly 80% of all fish oil harvested from the oceans as fish, well beyond sustainable limits.

Read more: GMOs in The UK - Where Are We Now?

22nd December 2016

At the Tribunal Against Monsanto in the Hague in October, lawyers, witnesses and civil society gave evidence of global harm from Roundup, Monsanto's over-the-counter weedkiller, containing a probable human carcinogen.

 

Monsanto Ecocide Banner 1smThis landmark Tribunal, desgined to enact the procedures of an International Court of Justice and to hold the defendant accountable, comes at a time when transnational companies are failing to adhere to basic codes of conduct, have failed to clean up after themselves and are creating a dirty planet with poisonous sprays, the result of which has wiped out the monarch butterfly and is on the brink of destroying the bees. The imminent merger between Big Pharma Bayer and agri-giant Monsanto, faciliated to make greater profits from pushing the world's bestselling herbicide Roundup, presented a timely opportunity for a panel of five international judges to hear the testimony of some of Roundup's victims.

Monsanto would have us believe that Roundup is non-toxic and say it is as 'safe as table salt.' In 2016 there is no labelling to explain any health risks or precautions, yet just two days' exposure may double or triple the risk of harm. Roundup contains glyphosate, a probable human carcinogen, which is often combined with a compound in Monsanto's Agent Orange, a defoliant sprayed by the US military during the Vietnam War, to destroy crops and jungle cover. Bayer supplied the nerve gas, Zyklon B, used in the extermination camps during World War II.

Read more: Corporation Taken to Tribunal

On the 25th May 2013 around two million members of global civil society gathered in over 400 cities in 52 countries to protest against the giant corporation Monsanto. It’s been more than fifteen years since the whistle was blown on the safety of GM foods, so why are we still marching against them?

Fancy a glass of Agent OrangeHere are four good reasons:

  1. GM crops do not feed the poor. The fact that all GM seeds are patented means that Monsanto and not the farmer is profiting hand over fist from royalties on those patents.  Small farmers used to being able to save and swap heritage seeds are often left worse off as they spiral into debt to buy more seed and pesticide spray packages for each growing season [1] [2].
  2. GM crops consistently under-perform and have failed to live up to the hype that they would increase yields. Instead, these crops have significantly increased the use of herbicides and pesticides [3]. And newer strains have pesticides built into the seeds. This means that the poison is systemic throughout the plant and can be taken up by the soil and leach into groundwater.
  3. Uncontrollable super-weeds or hybrid plants containing genes for herbicide resistance are produced by accidental crossing of GM crops with wild plants. This has necessitated the use of Monsanto’s older chemicals such as DDT and Agent Orange in combination with their newer and even more toxic herbicide Roundup. Usage on mutant cultivars has increased 25% each year since 2001.
  4. Soils have been degraded by the accumulative effects of chemicals which kill the beneficial microbes and switch off the plants ability to take up key nutrients [4].  Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup causing unprecedented environmental and human health problems throughout South America where the majority of glyphosate tolerant GM soya is grown. An up to date MIT review of all the independent studies suggests that glyphosate is far from harmless. It states that the suppression of enzymes and amino acids in the gut is a pathway for gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, heart disease, depression, autism, Alzheimers and cancer [5].

Read more: March Against Monsanto

November 28th 2012

Sam Burcher met Paraguay’s Oscar Rivas, who described a recent GM-driven, political coup there

oscar rivas by sam burcherOscar Rivas is now Paraguay’s ex-environment minister because in June a de facto coup took place which ousted him and President Fernando Lugo, who were working to reform the takeover of agriculture by the multi-national corporations. Some 2,000 government workers sympathetic to the reforms were also sacked, while the vice-President Frederico Franco was quickly sworn in.

There is massive conflict over land ownership and land invasion in Paraguay where, one week before the coup, the attempted eviction of campesinos, or peasant farmers, on a farm in Caraguatay in the south, sparked a shoot-out between police and peasants resulting in 17 deaths.
 
The campesinos were protesting about lands that they say were illegally handed over to private ownership by President Lugo’s predecessor, General Alfredo Stroessner. Lugo had promised to return land to 87,000 landless peasants before he was elected in 2008.

An alliance between Friends of the Earth in Paraguay and the UK helped Oscar Rivas make a fleeting visit to Britain to explain his country’s economic situation and his concerns about the effects of the corporations on people and planet. In November he addressed the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology, which was well attended by a number of cross-party MPs and food and farm organizations.

He stated that sustainable development has been hijacked by the oligopolies, which are dividing the land in South America into three main monocultures: trees for paper, sugar for bioethanol fuel and GM soya for factory farm animal feed. Some 40% of all exports are GM soya, owned by the corporations.

Read more: GM Soy Wars Rage in Paraguay

Rudolf Kirst was an extraordinary man who cared for and helped many people in his lifetime. Firstly, as a music and German teacher at the Rudolf Steiner school in Leeds, and then as Headmaster of Whittlesea School in Harrow, for kids with multiple learning difficulties.

dad bellsRudolf was the son of two musicians and Anthroposophists. As a teenager growing up in Cologne during World War II , he was called up by the Youth Division. He refused saying, “Hitler is an evil man and I will not volunteer.”

Standing up for what he believed in became a hallmark of Rudolf's life.  He expressed his opinions as clearly as the bells he is holding.  Rudolf always stood up for the underdog, and in his later years, campaigned against the genetic modification of food, the mass medication of drinking water with fluoride, and for the care and treatment of the elderly; starting with good food and good sleep in hospitals. The bells also represent the 'small' person against the big corporations.

Rudolf’s strong convictions and determination meant that he never gave up on people or causes.  He thanked everyone that he came into contact with and remembered everyone in his greetings and thoughts.

We became great friends and had some wonderful discussions on our trips to the EU Parliament and as members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology.  Rudolf was also a member of the All Party Environment Group, a Friend of the Earth, and part of the GM Freeze campaign.  He supported the Camphill movement and was a keen biodynamic gardener. In 2002, he successfully launched the Ways to Quality symposia in the UK, which is now a recognised course.

Rudolf was an early proponent of the DIY culture, getting things done in the face of apathetic governance, and was an advocate of life-long learning. He is greatly missed.

On the 1st November 2011, Professor Don Huber, an eminent American plant pathologist,  who has raised the alarm about a new pathogen caused by GM feed and a broad spectrum pesticide called glyphosate, addressed an invited audience in Committe Room One at the House of Commons

don huber for cadDon Huber explained that glyphosate, also known as Roundup, changes soil biology and the organisms that normally provide natural biological control or disease suppressive activity are very susceptible to damage by glyphosate causing an increase in crop disease.  He warned that in the US entire groups of organisms do not exist in the soil anymore. This renders glyphosate useless because “you can’t kill off plants in sterile soil”.  And, could explain why pesticide application rates have trebled in the US in the last few years, and why the FDA has increased the level of glyphosate permitted in foods.

Glyphosate also has a devastating affect on micro-nutrients.  Manganese and zinc levels in the US have gone from excess manganese in crops, feed and food fifteen years ago to a defecit today. The levels of micro-nutrients are dropping even more dramatically in GM crops.  Don Huber reported a third less manganese available in GM alfalfa animal feed and severe deficiencies in zinc compared to non-GM alfalfa. Human inflammatory bowel disease,which is strongly linked to GM feed, has increased 40-fold since 1992 in the US.American vets say they universally find managese deficiency as a cause of disease in swine and cattle, which is forcing producers out of business.

Glyphosate has now been linked to human birth defects. This has prompted the recent Earth Open Source report, Roundup and Birth Defects, Are The Public Being Kept in the Dark?  EU offficials have delayed a 2012 review on glyphosate until 2015. Even more worryingly, the Livestock of America Cattlemans Association gave testimony before the US Senate Agricultural  Commmitte in 2002.  They were concerned that cattle fed GM feed were prematurely ageing.  Their stomach linings were yellow, which is characteristic of an allergy response, compared with the cattle fed non-GMO (pictured, Carmen et al, 2010). Their guts were leaking and high numbers of animals were experiencing reproductive failure.  A virus-like pathogen was discovered by vets, which has so far not been named.

Read more: Top Scientist Warns Against GM And Glyphosate

30 June 2011

'Agroecology' offers real solutions to world hunger after decades of GM hype 

logo via campesina La Via Campesina (the Peasant's Way) is emerging as a potentially powerful international movement (www.viacampesina.org), mobilizing resistance against the GM corporations, which have consolidated their agro-chemical companies into just five major global players; Monsanto, Bayer, BASF, Syngenta and Dupont.

A recent report by the Friends of the Earth [1] has highlighted the struggle between the two forces for control of the seeds. On one side are the 1.5 million members of the Via Campesina, who are demanding food sovereignty or the right to grow healthy food from local, time-honoured seeds. Opposing them are the mega-corporations, which have gained so much power through patents on GM crops, seeds and pesticides.

Spain is the last bastion of GM crops in Europe. Monsanto has cause for concern that even Spain is back-tracking as the Basque and Catalonia regions prepare to go GM-free, along with the neighbouring Canary Islands. Monsanto has urged Spanish Embassy officials to step up pressure on Brussels, ‘Because if Spain falls the rest of Europe will follow.’[1]

Europe has already spoken on GM crops with 61% of the population against them and 23% less GM crops grown in the past two years. Monsanto’s MON810 maize is banned in France, Germany, Austria, Greece, Luxembourg and Bulgaria, where there is a total GM ban. Switzerland has a GM moratorium until 2013.

Read more: Who really benefits from GM crops?

Percy Schmeiser is a real life hero who played David to Monsanto’s Goliath, and like David, he won.

Governments approve Monsanto’s GM crops

Percy Field4Percy Schmeiser and his wife Louise are third generation farmers from the prairies of Western Canada in the province of Saskatchewan near the city of Saskatoon.  They feel really blessed not only that his grandparents moved there, but by the fact that in Central Saskatchewan so many types of grain crops can be grown; pulses, oil seeds, in what the locals call God’s Country.

The Schmeisers, like hundreds of thousands of farmers all over the world, were using their canola (oilseed rape) seed from year to year and developing new varieties suitable for climatic soil conditions on the prairies.  Percy had also been the Mayor of his town for over thirty years, a member of the provincial Parliament and an active member of agricultural committees representing his province on new agricultural policy, law and regulations for the benefit of farmers.

In 1996, the Canadian Federal Government and the US Government gave regulatory approval to four GM crops: soya, corn or maize, cotton and canola. At the time not all GM crops in Canada were herbicide tolerant except for Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola and soya, both resistant to the company’s herbicide Roundup. The US Government had also approved Bt cotton and Bt corn that has the added GM toxin from Bacillus thuringenisis (Bt). The Canadian government were fully complicit in allowing Monsanto to develop GM crops on Government test plots and research stations in return for a royalty on every bushel of GM crops sold.

Read more: Who Owns Life, Not Monsanto?

The Cabinet minister betrays his true colours in a head to head with Vandana Shiva and other proponents of organic agriculture as evidence piles up against the safety of GM food and feed

hilary-benn-MPHilary Benn had failed to respond to an open letter from Dr Eva Novotny cautioning him on the safety of GM crops and food (see Letter to Hilary Benn MP on GMOs.), and was then conspicuously absent from a recent major organic food and agriculture conference he was billed to speak at, choosing instead to address the participants via telephone-link. The following is a transcript of how he responded to questions from Gundula Azeez, former Policy Manager of the Soil Association and Dr Vandana Shiva of Navdanya, New Delhi who were present at the Bristol conference. The questions were moderated by organic gardener Monty Don, who started off by inviting Hilary Benn to talk about the recently approved application for controlled trials of GM crops in the UK, and what the benefits of GM crops might be.

Read more: Who is Anti-Science? Hilary Benn & Other GM Supporters

Ten years on, and the ‘growth’ in GM crops area is exposed to be more hype than substance as opposition heightens

PR masquerading as fact

world gm cropsThe biotech industry’s mouthpiece, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agrobiotechnology Applications (ISAAA), has been exposed for grossly inflating the figures of GM crops grown globally. Its latest report lists countries growing GM crops that do not grow them, or that have banned them. For example, Iran is down as having grown tens of thousands of hectares of commercial GM rice in 2006, despite the fact Iran has never approved or grown GM rice on any commercial scale.

Bob Phelps of Gene Ethics Network criticizes the report for making these unsupported claims and ignoring the negative impacts of GM crops: “The report emphasizes that 10.3 million farmers grew GM crops in 2006, but this is just 0.7 percent of farmers world-wide. And just 600 000 farmers grew 85 percent of all GM crops on industrial farms in North and South America. Small Third World farmers are misused as fodder in the ISAAA’s PR war.”

India’s bid to ban all GM field trials

The ISAAA launched the report in India, where the Supreme Court has recently banned any new GM crop trials until further notice. However, the exception to the ban, GM mustard developed at Delhi University, involves a genetic engineering “Terminator” technique called a GURT (Genetic Use Restriction Technology) that renders the seeds from the plant sterile. (See Chronicle of An Ecological Disaster Foretold, SiS 16). The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) group, which instigated the ban on GM crops in India, are now pursuing a ban even on GM mustard because the University failed to reveal the full scientific facts to the Court.

Read more: Global GM Crops Area Exaggerated