In a superb and inspiring video that's short enough to watch while the dinner's cooking, the Indian geneticist Suman Sahai explains how the advent of GM technology has subverted the principles of science and led to massive public mistrust of science, technology, and 'experts'. She calls for due respect to be given to indigenous and localised science – the knowledge, for example, of the medicinal plants that grow in a certain area. In contrast, GM technology is narrowly focused on the privatisation and sequestration of knowledge and has divorced itself from local needs and conditions. Sahai says young people are turning away from this model in droves, as they see it as non-transparent, non-sharing, and as fulfilling the purposes of only a few vested interests. It's also an approach that involves the 'expert' talking down to the people on the receiving end of the technology. She contrasts this with the traditional healing sciences, which treat the patient as a major source of expertise on his condition.
Sahai also warns that GM technology has perverted the peer-review process, previously the gold standard of science. She gives the example of a paper by Qaim and Zilberman, which claimed Bt cotton in India yielded over 80% more than non-Bt cotton as a result of Bt technology. The paper was based on data from Monsanto field trials, not actual farmers' fields. Sahai says many scientists wrote to Science, the journal that published the paper, to protest at this "skewed" science – but the journal didn't publish one letter. Sahai says it's unacceptable to have journals of such standing "playing ball" with the GM industry. She calls upon scientists and the public to unite in condemnation of such bad science in order to restore science to its place of honour and trust in society. Watch video
Quote of the week
Alternative Nobel Laureate Professor Raul Montenegro on GM soy in Argentina: "I have pesticide in me. Here we all have pesticide in our bodies because the land is saturated with it. And it is a huge problem. In Argentina biodiversity is diminishing. Even in national parks, because pesticides don't recognise the limit of the park. More than 18 million hectares are covered by this GMO soya but it's not solely a matter of soya because over this plant on this huge surface more than 300 million litres of pesticide are used."
Environment and agriculture organisations have launched a new campaign called "Stop the Crop!" to prevent the further spread of GM crops in Europe. The European Commission is currently considering reviving talks to approve 25 new GM crops for cultivation in Europe – including crops resistant to the pesticide Roundup and insecticide-producing varieties of GM maize, soybean and sugarbeet. The groups claim that such a move would drastically change farming in Europe, leading to a big increase in pesticide use, contamination of conventional and organic crops, and a further industrialisation of the countryside. The campaign launches with a new film documenting GM crop cultivation and extensive pesticide use in Latin America, and the negative environmental and human health issues experienced by local communities. Read more
Bill's excellent African adventure
From 2009 to 2012, Bill Gates's foundation spent around $1 billion to influence African agricultural development. Gates is not an African, not a scholar of Africa, not a farmer, and not a development expert. But he is a very rich man, and he knows how he wants to remake the world, writes Phil Bereano, JD, professor emeritus at the University of Washington and a co-founder of the Council for Responsible Genetics. Gates's support for ag development favours industrial, high-tech, capitalist market approaches. His support for GM crops as a solution for world hunger is of concern to those in Africa and the US who are involved in promoting sustainable, equitable agricultural policies.
His technocratic ideology runs counter to the best informed science. The World Bank and the UN funded 400 scientists over three years to compile the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). Its conclusions in 2009 were diametrically opposed to those espoused by Gates. The IAASTD suggests that rather than pursuing industrial farming models, "agroecological" methods provide the most viable, proven, and reliable means to enhance global food security. This is especially true in light of climate change, as these methods avoid disrupting the natural carbon, nitrogen and water cycles, as conventional agriculture has done. Read more.
Monsanto threatens to sue EFSA for publishing data on GM maize
Monsanto is threatening to sue the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for publishing the data used to render an opinion in favour of authorizing the marketing of its GM maize NK603 – the same maize that Prof GE Seralini's team at the University of Caen found was unsafe in long-term feeding experiments in rats. Liberal Member of the European Parliament Corinne Lepage, former Minister of Ecology, denounced Monsanto's desire to "maintain omerta [Mafia code of silence] on the raw data of GMOs". She said, "This transparency on the raw data is not only legitimate but also perfectly legal, since [a European law] precludes confidentiality of studies relating to the impact on health and the environment of GMOs," she said. "This desire for transparency on the part of EFSA is a step in the right direction and I encourage EFSA and Europe to require that all data and studies [supporting] the placing on the market of GMOs are made public." Read more
Please help Prof Séralini's team to continue their public interest research
Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini's team at CRIIGEN in France urgently need funds to continue their public interest research. Last year the team's landmark study showed that a commercialized GM maize and tiny amounts of Roundup herbicide it's designed to be grown with caused severe organ damage, increased tumours, and premature death in rats over the long term.
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Conflicts of interest at EFSA erode public confidence – study
Industry influence on the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has led to the agency's adoption of weak risk assessment methodologies, which in many cases were designed by industry itself and promoted in EFSA by the industry-funded front group, the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). A case example is the concept of comparative safety assessment for GM crops, which is nothing more than a cynical renaming of the discredited concept of substantial equivalence. This is the verdict of a new peer-reviewed study by authors from Corporate Europe Observatory, Pesticide Action Network Europe, Earth Open Source, and GMWatch. Read more
+ EFSA accused of industry bias by food policy expert. Read more
Brazilian growers face huge losses as Bt cotton eaten by caterpillars
GM Bt cotton is the major factor in the catastrophic failure of the Brazilian cotton crop, according to an article in the Brazilian press. The crop has fallen victim to a plague of caterpillars, leading to expected losses of millions of dollars for producers. Cotton producers are now asking the government to allow the use of a banned class of pesticides to deal with the problem. But as the article shows, chemical pesticides are becoming less effective and farmers are having to use more and more to try to control pests. This latest example of Bt cotton failure should be borne in mind when GM pushers claim Bt crops reduce insecticide use. Read more
Eugenics fear over gene modification
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is considering whether to recommend legalisation of "mitochondrial replacement" techniques designed to avoid the transmission of mitochondrial diseases. A group of eminent scientists has written a letter to The Guardian saying the benefits to a small number of parents are heavily outweighed by the risks to the child and to society. They write, "This would be the first instance of regulatory approval for modification of the human germ line. There is a long-standing international consensus that we should not cross this ethical line, since it is likely to lead to a future of genetically modified 'designer' babies. Such a slide has already been seen with drugs and surgery. The ugly beginnings of a eugenic market are already visible in the US, where Ivy League student donor eggs are priced 10 times higher than those of working-class women… Mitochondrial replacement techniques also create significant epigenetic risks to the prospective child."
Food crisis rhetoric is opportunistic spin for GM crops – study
A surge of media reports and rhetorical claims have depicted GM crops as a solution to the 'global food crisis', even though the useful crops and traits typically invoked have yet to be developed, and despite the fact that real progress has been made using conventional breeding. This is the conclusion of a peer-reviewed paper published in 2011 by development experts Glenn Davis Stone and Dominic Glover – and still highly relevant now. The authors point out that in spite of explicit claims by industry spokespeople, academics, and government officials that GM technology could help to solve the food crisis, virtually none of the claims identified how any specific GM crop or technology was helping or would help to alleviate the crisis. Read more
Study ties GM crops to monarch butterfly losses
GM corn and soybeans are putting the monarch butterfly in peril, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University. Between 1999 and 2010, the same period in which GM crops became the norm for farmers, the number of monarch eggs declined by an estimated 81 percent across the Midwest, the researchers say. That's because milkweed – the host plant for monarch butterfly eggs and caterpillars – has nearly disappeared from farm fields. It is one of the clearest examples yet of unintended consequences from the widespread use of GM seeds, said John Pleasants, a monarch researcher from Iowa State in Ames, Iowa, and one of the study's authors. "When we put something out there, we don't know always what the consequences are," he said. Read more.
US allows Monsanto seed market control to continue unchallenged
Last November the US Dept of Justice quietly closed a three-year antitrust investigation into Monsanto, the biotech giant whose genetic traits are embedded in over 90 percent of America's soybean crop and more than 80 percent of corn. Despite a splash of press coverage when the investigation was initially announced, its termination went mostly unreported. The DOJ released no written public statement. Only a brief press release from Monsanto conveyed the news. The lack of attention belies the significance of the decision, both for food consumers around the world and for US businesses. Read more
US: GMO labeling gets huge new boost
The push for a national GMO labeling standard for foods got a huge boost on 19 March as America’s largest association for natural products retailers, distributors, wholesalers and manufacturers, the Natural Products Association, announced that it was calling for a national standard for GMO labeling of all foods. NPA is the nation’s largest association for natural products, representing over 1,900 members accounting for more than 10,000 locations of retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors of natural products. Read more
Whole Foods Market has announced that by 2018, all products in its North American stores will be required to carry a label indicating if they contain GM ingredients. Read more
Bt cotton kills plant defence systems
A new study from the Swiss National Science Foundation reveals an unintended effect of Bt cotton: the killing of caterpillars favours the proliferation of other pests, such as aphids, because the plant's defence system remains inactive. Read more