09.07.2019 |

The EU must not de-regulate gene-edited crops and foods

Some members of the outgoing EU Commission and the agbiotech lobby want the regulations governing genetically modified crops and foods relaxed or scrapped to open markets for gene-edited products. But this goes against the science underpinning the technology and could put the public and environment at risk, writes Dr Michael Antoniou.

Dr Michael Antoniou is molecular geneticist at King’s College London

Some members of the outgoing European Commission want to change the EU legislation on genetically modified (GM) foods and crops to accommodate the products of new gene-editing techniques, often called “new plant breeding techniques” or NBTs.

Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said DG SANTE “has already prepared the ground for a new initiative on gene editing to overhaul the current GMO legislation”. The “initiative” will be taken up by the new Commission after this year’s elections.

28.06.2019 |

EFSA gene drive working group fails independence test

Gene drive, a new genetic engineering technique potentially as powerful as it is controversial, is undergoing regulatory evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). But as a majority of experts tasked to assess the technology’s potential risks have financial links with organisations developing the technology, the assessment is mired in conflicts of interest. Time for the EU Parliament to increase the pressure on the agency to tighten its independence policy.

Obvious and serious conflicts of interest are still not in the past for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA): a look at the agency’s working group on the risks associated to the gene drive technology makes this quite clear. Two-thirds of its members have financial links with organisations developing this technology. For instance, two of the appointed experts are receiving funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which in turn funds lobby work in favour of the technology. Even according to EFSA’s own, rather weak, independence policy, one of these appointments should not have been made due to obvious conflicts of interest.

So why did EFSA put together such a problematic expert panel on an issue that is this sensitive? The agency has defended its choices, stating that the appointments are compliant with its independence rules – a claim which is in one case is simply incorrect. Apart from showing that EFSA does not therefore seem to properly implement its own rules, the fact that several other grave conflicts of interest did not even trigger the policy demonstrates that there are still severe loopholes.

After so many years of EFSA’s poor implementation and partial disregard of repeated EU Parliament requests to fix its independence policy, wouldn’t it be time for Parliamentarians to step up the pressure on this EU agency?

17.06.2019 |

New GMOs: Coming to your dinner plate soon?

Did you think GM crops and foods had pretty much gone away in Europe? Now they’re set to return.

If lobbyists get their way, new genetically modified (GM) crops, foods, and farm animals will appear in our fields and on our dinner plates – with few or no safety checks and no labelling.

These new GM crops and foods are produced with so-called gene-editing techniques. Gene-edited organisms already developed include super-muscled pigs (similar to the one in the image above), a non-browning mushroom, and a soybean that produces altered fats.

GMO companies are also planning to market a new generation of gene-edited herbicide-tolerant crops, including wheat. These plants are engineered to survive being sprayed with large amounts of toxic herbicides, such as those based on glyphosate.

Gene-editing techniques are often called “New Breeding Techniques” (NBTs). But they are not breeding techniques. They are artificial laboratory GM techniques that result in the production of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

12.06.2019 |

Patent applications covering ‘seeds to meat’ and from ‘maize to milk’

Patent on salmon and trout is not just an isolated case

12 June 2019 / The patent granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) covering salmon and trout reared on specific plants (EP1965658) could now become a precedent for many other patent applications. Recent research shows several similar European patent applications are already pending, claiming food products, such as meat and milk, derived from animals fed with selected plants.

The patent on salmon and trout was granted in October 2018 and recently brought to public attention by “No Patents on Seeds!”. The patent monopoly covers the rearing and feeding of the fish, along with the fish itself. After learning of this case, No Patents on Seeds! researched similar patent applications. This research came to an alarming conclusion: there are several other European patent applications recently filed at the World Patent Institute (WIPO), all following a similar strategy. Starting with plants and feed, also the food products derived from farm animals are claimed as inventions.

For example, Syngenta not only claims genetically engineered maize as its ‘invention’ but also the production of milk and meat from animals fed with such plants: In patent WO2018204245, “a harvested cattle carcass” is part of the invention; and patent WO2019075028 claims a “method of increasing the amount of milk produced by a dairy animal”. While these patents rely on transgenic maize, others such as the patent on salmon also claim usage of conventionally bred plants.

11.06.2019 |

First Canadian case of insect resistance to GM Bt corn discovered

Farmers in Nova Scotia have found that the European corn borer has developed resistance to the GM trait designed to kill it

In Nova Scotia, corn farmers are observing that the European corn borer, an insect pest, has developed resistance to the genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) trait designed to kill it.

This is the first report in the world of the European corn borer (ECB) developing resistance to a genetically engineered trait used to confer insect resistance. It is also the first report in Canada of any insect pest developing resistance to a genetically engineered trait. The development of resistance in other insect pests targeted by Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) traits in corn has been observed in the US, South Africa and Brazil. Additionally, in the US and other countries, some cotton pests have also developed resistance to Bt cotton traits.

“This is an important reminder that nature can adapt to and overcome genetically engineered traits,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

The Canadian Corn Pest Coalition reported that some ECB populations have developed resistance to the Cry1F protein, which is one of at least eight genetically engineered Bt proteins used in Canada in genetically engineered insect-resistant corn.

11.06.2019 |

In Greece, a rebel organic farm goes against the grain

The Antonopoulos brothers are leading a farming revolution in Greece, which has Europe's highest plant biodiversity.

Dilofo, Thessaly - On the Greek government's list of certified organic farmers, Antonis Antonopoulos has the serial number one.

What makes Antonis and his brother Yiorgos a phenomenon, is not that their model farm pioneered organic methods in Greece; it's that they were among the first to realise that organically grown, local varieties of wheat and barley other farmers had cast aside could be a commercial hit.

They have branded and shipped their organic flours made from indigenous grains to speciality shops and bakeries for years.

08.06.2019 |

USDA investigates unapproved GMO wheat found in Washington state

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed the discovery of unapproved, genetically modified (GM) wheat plants growing in an un-planted agricultural field in Washington state.

There was no evidence the wheat had entered the food supply, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said in a statement on Friday. The wheat is resistant to glyphosate, a widely used herbicide commonly referred to as Roundup.

“USDA is collaborating with our state, industry and trading partners, and we are committed to providing all our partners with timely and transparent information about our findings,” the statement said.

There are currently no commercially approved genetically modified wheat varieties, and incidences of rogue plants are rare. However, unapproved plants were found in 2018 in Alberta, Canada, in 2016 in Washington state, in 2014 in Montana and in 2013 in Oregon.

07.06.2019 |

Save Our Food. Free the Seed.

Not long ago I was sitting in a combine tractor on a 24,000-acre farm in Dazey, N.D. The expanse of the landscape — endless rows of corn and soybeans as precise as a Soviet military parade — was difficult to ignore. So were the skyscraper-tall storage silos and the phalanx of 18-wheeled trucks ready to transport the grain. And yet what held my attention were the couple of dozen seeds in my palm — the same seeds cultivated all around me.

(.....)

More than 90 percent of the 178 million acres of corn and soybeans planted last year in the United States were sown with genetically engineered seeds. It’s a vision as dispiriting as it is unappetizing.

Vegetables have been spared some of this genetic tinkering but are increasingly victim to the same aggressive corporate seed environment. Last year the pharmaceutical company Bayer acquired the world’s largest vegetable seed company, Monsanto.

For these megacompanies, capturing a large share of the vegetable seed market means capturing patentable genetics. Since 2001, the scope of utility patents has expanded to include novel plant traits. (Before this, you could own a variety, but not its traits, in the same way that you can own a beachfront property but not the particles of sand.)

31.05.2019 |

Are New Genetically Modified Techniques the Future of Food and Farming?

I first met Jim Thomas, Co-Director of the ETC Group, at a Sustainable Ag and Food Systems Funders conference. Jim had been tracking emerging technologies and their intersection with food and agriculture for some time. When I first heard him speak, in his lilting almost playful cadence, about something called “synthetic biology,” my ears perked up.

He was talking about a new form of genetic engineering that can alter genetics on a worldwide scale – one with little or no government oversight.

(.....)

What are these next generation of GMO’s?

Biosynthesized Ingredients or “Synthetic Biology” modifies algae, yeast or bacteria to produce high-value products such as flavors, fragrances or dietary supplements. Once modified, the yeast or algae is fed starch or sugar (usually GMO corn or sugar), and the “natural” process of fermentation begins.

(.....)

Gene Drives is a controversial technology that changes an organism so that it will ALWAYS pass on those genetically engineered traits to all future generations. Future generations, in turn, will pass it on until it changes the entire population forever.

Imagine the power to change the genetics of entire populations – we now have that power.

With gene drives, we can change or even eradicate entire species from the planet.

31.05.2019 |

Are New Genetically Modified Techniques the Future of Food and Farming?

I first met Jim Thomas, Co-Director of the ETC Group, at a Sustainable Ag and Food Systems Funders conference. Jim had been tracking emerging technologies and their intersection with food and agriculture for some time. When I first heard him speak, in his lilting almost playful cadence, about something called “synthetic biology,” my ears perked up.

He was talking about a new form of genetic engineering that can alter genetics on a worldwide scale – one with little or no government oversight.

(.....)

Gene Drives is a controversial technology that changes an organism so that it will ALWAYS pass on those genetically engineered traits to all future generations. Future generations, in turn, will pass it on until it changes the entire population forever.

Imagine the power to change the genetics of entire populations – we now have that power.

With gene drives, we can change or even eradicate entire species from the planet.

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