Friday, November 20, 2015


Regulators and retailers must stop ‘next generation' GMO imports

Helen Wallace
20th November

A new wave of ‘next generation' GM crops resistant to multiple herbicides, may be approved for import into the European Union, writes Helen Wallace, even though the health impact of the herbicide combinations is unknown. Regulators and retailers must refuse to authorise these GMOs or allow their use in any part of the food chain.

It's not just a matter for regulators. Retailers and consumers also need to know that a new generation of GM crops - containing residues from blanket spraying with multiple herbicides - could be heading for the EU.
The European Commission's Standing Committee on Plants, Animals and Food met this week to consider three applications for import into the EU of genetically engineered soybeans, for use in both human food and animal feeds.
The three varieties are all resistant to the herbicide glyphosate - but each with an extra new twist of its own that adds to the danger they present.
What did the Standing Committee decide? We don't know, and we are unlikely to find out for some months. Its proceedings are conducted in secret. But the results of its deliberations could be crucial for human and animal health across the EU.
Of course we're already familiar with glyphosate-resistant GMO crops like soya and maize. Often known as 'Roundup Ready' after Monsanto's proprietary glyphosate brand, they are widely grown in North and South America, and are imported into Europe in large quantities for use in animal feed.
These 'Roundup Ready' GM crops allow farmers to blanket-spray their fields with glyphosate herbicides right through the growing season - killing weeds but allowing the crop to survive.
According to industry figures, about 85% of the GM crops planted today, by area, are tolerant to glyphosate. The main exception is insect resistant cotton (Bt cotton) planted mainly in the US, India and China.
But there's a growing problem that's undermining the efficacy of Roundup Ready crops: the emergence of glyphosate-resistant 'superweeds', which have evolved under the constant spraying of fields with the herbicide. It's already causing massive problems for farmers in the US - where about half of all farmland is thought to be affected - as well as in Brazil and Argentina.
The industry response to superweeds is to develop new 'stacked' GM crops that are tolerant to even more controversial herbicides. These include 2,4-D, dicamba and isoxaflutole - ignoring the obvious concern that harm to wildlife habitats will be exacerbated and resistance to multiple herbicides will develop in the future.
And yes, these are the 'next generation' GM crops awaiting approval for import to the European Union, which is already heavily dependent on imported RoundUp Ready soya for use in animal feed. They include:
  • Bayer soybeans resistant to glyphosate and isoxaflutole;
  • Monsanto soybeans resistant to both glyphosate and dicamba;
  • and Monsanto soybeans with two separate mechanisms of resistance to glyphosate, allowing them to be sprayed with even higher doses of the herbicide.

From the Standing Committee these applications will go to the Appeals Committee, and then on to the Commission itself.
So what's the problem? Glyphosate, and more ...
The first problem is glyphosate itself, the world's top selling herbicide. Ecologist readers will already be aware of its health risks, and that the World Health Organisation's cancer agency has classified the herbicide as probably carcinogenic to humans.
Research has shown that Roundup Ready GM soya contains high levels of glyphosate - hardly surprising after they have been blanket-sprayed with the herbicide throughout their growing period. 
The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA)'s scientific opinion, which takes the opposite view of IARC and recommends renewal of the licence to use glyphosate across the EU, has already generated considerable controversy.
However, EFSA's opinion on glyphosate is also important for what it does admit: that that there are not enough data available on the application of glyphosate to genetically modified (GM) plants resistant to the herbicide to reach conclusions on safety. As EFSA's opinion states: "In the framework of the renewal, representative uses were proposed for conventional crops only and residue trials on glyphosate tolerant GM crops were not provided."
But that's not all. The active ingredient glyphosate is not used alone in commercial weedkillers, such as Monsanto's Roundup. Instead it's combined with 'co-formulants' like surfactants, that make it stickier, more easily absorbed into the plant through its leaves, and less liable to be washed off by rain.
Some of these additives have repeatedly been shown to significantly increase toxicity. Thus the EFSA opinion states that more investigations are needed in regard to the carcinogenicity of the formulations that are applied commercially:
"In particular, it was considered that the genotoxic potential of formulations should be addressed; furthermore EFSA noted that other endpoints should be clarified, such as long-term toxicity and carcinogenicity, reproductive / developmental toxicity and endocrine disrupting potential of formulations".
And EFSA admits that some ingredients in these formulations, such as POE-tallow amine additives, can significantly increase toxicity. For example, the agency writes: "Compared to glyphosate, a higher toxicity of the POE-tallow amine was observed on all endpoints investigated."
EFSA also warns: "The genotoxicity, long-term toxicity and carcinogenicity, reproductive / developmental toxicity and endocrine disrupting potential of POE-tallow amine should be further clarified. There is no information regarding the residues in plants and livestock. Therefore, the available data are insufficient to perform a risk assessment in the area of human and animal health for the co-formulant POE-tallow amine."
This admission is important because EFSA safety tests for GM crops are usually based on applying the active ingredient glyphosate alone - not the commercial formulations.
'Next generation' GM crops: tolerant to yet more herbicides
What does all this mean for the three soybeans currently being assessed for import into Europe? The IARC has already ruled that glyphosate is a 'probable human carcinogen'. And although the EFSA does not agree with that, it does warn that the other ingredients used in glyphosate herbicides present dangers that have not yet been properly characterised.
These new soybean varieties are now going to add to the problem, by containing either isoxaflutole or dicamba (and their co-formulants) in addition to glyphosate. That, or an extra-heavy dose of glyphosate.
And you guessed it ... the EFSA has not assessed the combinatorial - synergistic or additive - effects of these herbicides and their residues together with those of glyphosate and co-formulants. Remarkably, the EFSA GMO panel did not request any feeding trials of whole soybeans of any of the three varieties up for approval.
That's why GeneWatch UK and Testbiotech have called on the European Commission and Member States to refuse to authorise these imports. They present risks to both human and animal health above and beyond those of the crops currently imported into the EU. And regulators have not got the answers to key health and safety questions.
We must all get involved in this fight
But it's not just a matter for regulators and officials. Retailers and consumers also need to know that a new generation of GM crops - containing residues from blanket spraying with multiple herbicides - could be heading for the EU.
And once imported, they may spread widely in the food chain. Most GM crops are used in animal feed - but meat, milk and eggs produced using GM animal feed are not labelled, so consumers have no way to avoid these products unless they buy organic, or shop carefully in selected stores.
GM food products, which must be labelled as containing GM ingredients, are also starting to creep into high street stores: imported soya cooking oil used in takeaways, some American sweets and sauces, and Domino's 'thin and crispy' pizza bases have all recently been identified as containing GM ingredients.
Of course we don't know the decision reached by the Commission's Standing Committee, nor do we know what view the EFSA will take, or what the Commission will ultimately decide. But given the strong observed institutional bias in favour of GMOs, we must prepare for the worst.
So ultimately it may be up to consumers and campaigners - working with the retailers that supply most of our food - to make sure these 'next-generation' GMOs are kept out of our food chain.

Dr Helen Wallace is Director of GeneWatch UK, a not-for-profit group that monitors developments in genetic technologies from a public interest, human rights, environmental protection and animal welfare perspective. GeneWatch believes people should have a voice in whether or how these technologies are used and campaigns for safeguards for people, animals and the environment. We work on all aspects of genetic technologies - from GM crops and foods to genetic testing of humans.
Open Letter: TestBiotech and GeneWatch UK Open Letter to the European Commission.


Genetically Engineered Salmon Approved for Consumption

New York Times - ‎17 hours ago‎
Federal regulators on Thursday approved a genetically engineered salmon as fit for consumption, making it the first genetically altered animal to be cleared for American supermarkets and dinner tables.

FDA approves first animal genetically engineeredfor food — a fast-growing salmon

LancasterOnline - ‎Nov 19, 2015‎
A fast-growing salmon has become the first genetically engineered animal intended for food to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

What's for dinner? Genetically engineered salmon OK'd by FDA

The Sun Chronicle - ‎13 hours ago‎
In this photo taken Sept. 20, 2010. AquaBounty CEO Ron Stotish, the company that applied with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to market genetically modified salmon, speaks to reporters in Rockville, Md. The FDA on Thursday approved genetically ...

FDA Sued Over Controversial Approval of GMOSalmon

EcoWatch - ‎12 minutes ago‎
Opposition against the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval of the first genetically engineered food animal, AquaBounty's GMO salmon, is fiercely mounting. The Center for Food Safety, an nonprofit organization, announced plans to sue the ...


Unconstitutional Restraints on Publishing and Weak Integrity Protections at Issue
Posted on Nov 19, 2015 | Tags: Scientific Integrity, USDA
Washington, DC — The U.S. Department of Agriculture should stop censoring scientific findings for political reasons and significantly strengthen its Scientific Integrity Policy, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The suit targets official restraints on USDA scientists publishing or speaking about their findings in peer-reviewed journals, before professional societies and in other unofficial settings.
This March, PEER filed a formal rulemaking petition pressing USDA to end censorship policies and to bolster its extremely weak Scientific Integrity Policy adopted in 2013. The petition asked USDA to adopt “best practices” from other federal agencies’ integrity policies and to end politically driven suppression or alteration of studies. In a letter dated June 11, 2015, USDA Chief Scientist Catherine Wotecki wrote that the agency refused to consider the substance of the petition because scientific integrity only affected its “internal personnel rules and practices” and was therefore exempt from the public notice and comment process normally required of agency rules.
“Censorship of public agency science does not affect only scientists – it concerns the public at large as well as every entity relying upon the integrity of USDA science,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is also representing USDA scientists alleging official harassment flowing from scientific work which upsets agribusiness “stakeholders.” “USDA cannot piously pledge its devotion to scientific integrity while at the same time rebuffing any attempts to safeguard it.”
PEER cites instances of USDA scientists ordered to retract studies, water down findings, remove their name from authorship and endure long indefinite delays in approving publication of papers that may be controversial. Media requests for interviews with scientists are either indefinitely delayed or denied. Of particular concern is a gag order barring release of any scientific work reflecting on any federal policy:
“…scientists should refrain from making statements that could be construed as being judgments of or recommendations on USDA or any other federal government policy, either intentionally or inadvertently.”
“USDA may not screen submissions to peer-reviewed journals for their political implications,” added Ruch, pointing out that USDA scientists use their agency affiliation for purposes of identification and the journal articles are not “owned” by the agency. “USDA is not entitled to its own set of facts to alter or suppress at will.”
Ironically last week, USDA announced it is now seeking public comment on how to increase public access to the results of federally-funded agricultural research. PEER is suggesting that the best way to increase public access to USDA-funded research is to stop vetting it for “sensitive” content and to allow its scientists to openly discuss findings without prior permission.
“USDA is raising a bumper crop of hypocrisy this year,” Ruch concluded, noting that Dr. Jonathan Lundgren, a USDA entomologist based in South Dakota, is slated to receive a national award next week in Washington DC for “civic courage” in recognition of his resistance of agency censorship. “Dr. Lundgren’s experience raises doubts about whether groundbreaking science can still be conducted inside USDA free from interference.”
Read the PEER suit
View PEER rulemaking petition
See USDA curt dismissal of PEER petition
Look at USDA scientific censorship in action
Revisit Dr. Lundgren’s case
Attend Dr. Lundgren’s civic courage award ceremony onNovember 30th
Note USDA outreach for ideas on increasing public access to its science