Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Intestine of rats fed GM corn, showing erosions, fissures, damaged cells
Findings contradict reassuring reports on GM products, say researchers
Rats fed GM Bt corn MON810 for only 90 days suffered serious damage to the surface mucous membranes of the jejunum (part of the small intestine), according to a new study.[1] 

The type of corn fed to the rats was MON810: Ajeeb YG, a GM version of Ajeeb, a locally adapted variety of corn grown in Egypt. MON810: Ajeeb YG was developed by Monsanto for the Egyptian market. The GM-fed rats ate a diet containing 30% of MON810: Ajeeb YG corn. Control rats were fed the same amount of non-GM corn.

In the GM-fed rats, some areas of the villi – finger-like structures in the intestine that absorb nutrients from food – were damaged. They were distorted and flattened, with some cells joined together. The damage can clearly be seen in the images included in the study. The crypts (mucosal glands) were disrupted and blood vessels were congested. Signs of inflammation – white blood cell infiltration – were seen around areas of damage. In addition, the cells of the intestinal lining were abnormal in structure. 

Other signs of damage included increased shedding of mucosal cells, increased numbers of mucous-secreting goblet cells, and higher rates of division of cells lining the crypts.

The study, conducted by Marwa Ibrahim, MD and Ebtsam Okasha of the Faculty of Medicine at Tanta University, Egypt, was published in the journal Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology (abstract below).

The researchers concluded that “consumption of GM-corn profoundly alters the jejunal histological [microscopic] structure”. They added, “Results from the current study could show that in spite of the assuring reports on GM products, GM corn has profoundly altered the histological structure of the jejunal mucosa at many levels and revealed several alarming signs, as the proliferative and eroded hemorrhagic lesions in addition to several ultrastructural alterations described here for the first time for jejunum under GM corn influence.”

The researchers called for more research to clarify the mechanisms through which the MON810: Ajeeb YG corn exercised this effect. Possible mechanisms include a direct damaging effect on the jejunal mucosa by the Bt toxin (Cry1Ab) present in the GM corn, akin to what takes place in the gut of target pests, or an indirect effect via disruption of the gut bacteria. Either mechanism could lead to the gut mucosa structural changes seen.

What does the study tell us?

The findings of this study are dramatic and significant. However, certain limitations need to be acknowledged. These include the fact that the control corn was not the isogenic non-GM parent variety (Ajeeb), but an unidentified non-GM corn used in formulating standard laboratory diets.[2]

In addition, there was no assessment for the presence of toxic contaminants such as mycotoxins and pesticide residues in the different diets.[2] Both types of contamination could potentially cause ill health effects.

For all these reasons, it is not possible to definitively attribute the harm suffered by the GM-fed rats to the GM process, including the Bt toxin. But the results strongly suggest that this may be the cause. That’s especially the case when this study is placed in the context of previous investigations of toxic effects from the consumption of the same GM MON810: Ajeeb YG corn.

Earlier studies

Two earlier rat feeding studies by Egyptian scientists on the same GM corn, MON810: Ajeeb YG, showed harm in the GM-fed animals. In these cases, the comparator was the appropriate non-GM parent variety Ajeeb, so the ill effects shown in the rats were certainly due to the GM process.

In the first study, rats fed the MON810: Ajeeb YG for 45 and 91 days showed differences in organ and body weights and in blood biochemistry, compared with rats fed the non-GM Ajeeb parent variety grown side-by-side under the same conditions. The authors noted that the changes could indicate “potential adverse health/toxic effects”, which needed further investigation.[3]

In the second study, histopathological (microscopic) investigations by the same group of researchers found toxic effects in multiple organs in the rats fed the GM MON810: Ajeeb YG Bt corn for 91 days. Effects included abnormalities and fatty degeneration of liver cells, congestion of blood vessels in kidneys, and excessive growth and necrosis (death) of the intestinal villi. Examination of the testes revealed necrosis and desquamation (shedding) of the spermatogonial cells that are the foundation of sperm cells and thus of male fertility.[4]

It is significant that the findings of the second study, namely cell abnormalities, congestion of blood vessels, and damage to the intestinal villi were also found in the new study by Ibrahim and Okasha.

Correct comparator

It can be difficult or even impossible for researchers to access the proper materials for an animal feeding study on GM crops: namely the GM crop variety under investigation and the non-GM parent variety grown under the same conditions. This is because GMO developer companies have often not made these materials available to independent researchers.[5] 

However, the fact that the correct comparator was used in the two earlier Egyptian studies suggests that theoretically at least, it should be possible for other researchers to access the non-GM parent variety, Ajeeb, as the comparator for any study of MON810: Ajeeb YG corn.

No obvious ill health in GM-fed rats

Ibrahim and Okasha noted that there were no obvious signs of ill health or altered behaviour in the GM-fed rats. This is perhaps not surprising, given the relatively short 90-day duration of this feeding study. Nonetheless, the animals were sick, as revealed by the histopathological examination of the gut tissues, with the findings clearly suggesting that a long-term feeding study of 2 years or more should be conducted to ascertain if the intestinal mucosa lesions found would eventually lead to overt ill-health. 

Moreover, the results of this study are a clear signal that all animal feeding trials with GM foods used to justify regulatory approvals must include histopathological investigations. Currently this is not required or routinely practised.

EU Commission wants to see MON810 corn grown in Europe

The new study appears at a time when the EU Commission wants to see MON810 corn approved for cultivation in Europe in time for the 2017 growing season. Two other types of insecticidal GM Bt corn, DuPont Pioneer’s 1507 and Syngenta’s Bt11, are also being considered. EU Member States are expected to vote on this issue on 9 December.*

However, the totality of the evidence on MON810 corn shows it should not be grown more widely but on the contrary should be recalled from the market. And all GM crops should be subjected to proper testing before commercialization. That includes detailed “omics” analyses to reveal unintended changes in gene expression, proteins and metabolites, as well as long-term animal feeding trials.

1. Ibrahim MAA, Okasha EF. Effect of genetically modified corn on the jejunal mucosa of adult male albino rat. Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology 2016;68(2016):579–588.
2. Email communication with the authors.
3. Gab-Alla AA, El-Shamei ZS, Shatta AA, Moussa EA, Rayan AM. Morphological and biochemical changes in male rats fed on genetically modified corn (Ajeeb YG). J Am Sci. 2012;8(9):1117–1123.
4. El-Shamei ZS, Gab-Alla AA, Shatta AA, Moussa EA, Rayan AM. Histopathological changes in some organs of male rats fed on genetically modified corn (Ajeeb YG). J Am Sci. 2012;8(10):684–696.
5. Waltz E. Under wraps – Are the crop industry's strong-arm tactics and close-fisted attitude to sharing seeds holding back independent research and undermining public acceptance of transgenic crops? Nature Biotechnology 2009;27(10):880–882.

Report by Claire Robinson

Update 24 Nov 2016, 16:35 hrs GMT: We've just heard that the vote on the three GM corn varieties proposed for cultivation in Europe has been postponed again, to 17 January 2017.
Effect of genetically modified corn on the jejunal mucosa of adult male albino ratMarwa A.A. Ibrahim, MD*, Ebtsam F. Okasha
Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology 68 (2016) 579–588

Genetically modified (GM) plants expressing insecticidal traits offer a new strategy for crop protection. GM-corn contains Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) genes producing delta endotoxins in the whole plant. Diet can influence the characteristics of the gastrointestinal tract altering its function and structure. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of GM-corn on the histological structure of jejunal mucosa of adult male albino rat using different histological, immunohistochemical and morphometrical methods. Twenty adult male albino rats were divided into two equal groups; control and GM-corn fed group administered with 30% GM-corn for 90 days. Specimens from the jejunum were processed for light and electron microscopy. Immunohistochemical study was carried out using antibody against proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA). Different morphometrical parameters were assessed. Specimens from GM corn fed group showed different forms of structural changes. Focal destruction and loss of the villi leaving denuded mucosal surface alternating with stratified areas were observed, while some crypts appeared totally disrupted. Congested blood capillaries and focal infiltration with mononuclear cells were detected. Significant upregulation of PCNA expression, increase in number of goblet cells and a significant increase in both villous height and crypt depth were detected. Marked ultrastructural changes of some enterocytes with focal loss of the microvillous border were observed. Some enterocytes had vacuolated cytoplasm, swollen mitochondria with disrupted cristae and dilated rough endoplasmic reticulum (rER). Some cells had dark irregular nuclei with abnormally clumped chromatin. It could be concluded that consumption of GM-corn profoundly alters the jejunal histological structure.

Monday, November 28, 2016


EPA greenlights two controversial pesticides

Pesticide Action Network's picture
Pesticide containers

Amidst the election turmoil of the last few weeks, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) quietly approved more harmful pesticide products
for use with genetically engineered (GE) seeds.
EPA put Dow's "Enlist Duo" cocktail
glyphosate and 2,4-D back on the market,
after pulling it off just a year ago due to
widespread concern. The agency also gave
a green light to Monsanto's new formulation
of dicamba
, intended for use with the
corporation's latest line of GE soy and
cotton crops. Both approvals mean a dramatic
increase in the use of health-harming herbicides
on farmland across the country.

Enlist Duo coming to a field near you

Dow marketed the Enlist Duo formulation as a
solution to tackle glyphosate-resistant “
that have emerged in the wake of widespread use
of Monsanto's RoundUp.

Both key ingredients in this herbicide concoction are
known to drift from the fields where they're applied to
neighboring homes and farms. 
2,4-D has been linked 
to birth defects and cancer, and is particulalry damaging
to non-target plants. And glyphosate is under increasing
scrutiny since UN scientists determined it to be a 
"probable carcinogen" last year.

In the face of huge public opposition, EPA originally
approved Enlist Duo for use in a limited number of states
in 2014. The 
agency withdrew its approval a year later,
under pressure from a legal petition filed by PAN and
our partners at Center for Food Safety that challenged
the agency's oversight of 
synergistic effects between
the glyphosate and 2,4-D.

But on November 1, EPA re-approved and expanded the
use of Enlist Duo. It is now authorized for use with Dow's
GE corn, soy and cotton in 34 states — up from 15 states
— where the product was previously approved only for
corn and soy.

In the words of Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, PAN senior scientist:

Once again, EPA has failed to protect the health, well-being
and livelihood of America’s farmers and rural communities.
The agency’s decision dramatically increases the risk of
pesticide drift causing severe crop losses and harms to
human health." 
Monsanto's "new" dicamba

Just a week after re-approving Enlist Duo, EPA
pushed another new formulation of an old herbicide
onto the market: dicamba.

Dicamba is notorious for 
drifting onto neighboring fields
and damaging crops, so Monsanto has been pushing for
a "new formulation" that is theoretically less prone to drift.
This past summer, some conventional farmers — desperate
to fight superweeds — bought Monsanto’s new dicamba-
resistant seeds (approved last year) and then illegally
sprayed an old version of dicamba. The result? Neighboring
farms that hadn’t planted dicamba-resistant seeds experienced 
extensive damageto soybeans, as well as other non-target
crops like peaches, tomatoes, rice, cotton and alfalfa.

Monsanto claims its new version of dicamba is less drift-prone,
although farmers, scientists and environmentalists alike are 
deeply concerned about the lack of scientific testing surrounding
this assertion. Aside from this, the older formulation will still be
cheaper. To avoid potential crop damage, many farmers will be
forced to buy dicamba-resistant seeds just to protect themselves
from neighboring drift.

For PAN, Marcia Ishii-Eiteman shares her thoughts, particularly
her concern for farmers:

The biotech industry’s herbicide-promoting GE crops have
brought farmers higher input costs, greater exposure to
hazardous pesticides, an epidemic of superweeds — and
thousands of acres of drift-damaged crops. Yet once again,
EPA appears more willing to shore up Monsanto’s profits
than defend the public interest.

President Obama and his EPA should leave a lasting legacy
for America’s farmers and agricultural communities by taking
these harmful products off the shelf and providing meaningful
solutions in sustainable and ecological pest management,
rather than yet another acceleration of the pesticide treadmill.”

The incoming President is 
showing signs
 that he will put even
more control of our public agencies in the hands of corporations.
But we at Pesticide Action Network remain steadfast in our
commitment to protect the health and well-being of farmers,
workers and rural communities most directly impacted by
harmful pesticides.



The Ecologist

Vital soil fungi damaged by GMO Bt cotton

Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji
24th November 2016

This study is the latest warning that a decisive shift from industrial / GMO practices to sustainable, agroecological methods is needed to undo the damage, and ensure food security and health of people and planet for the future.
A study of GMO cotton varieties shows they disrupt an important beneficial soil fungus, writes Eva Sirinathsinghji, apparently due to the Bt insecticide they are engineered to express. Disruption caused by the transgenic cotton to mycorrhizal fungi, and the wider soil ecosystem, may underlie the low yields and poor pest resistance now endemic among Bt GM crops.

new study finds that transgenic cotton genetically modified to express a Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) insect toxin inhibits the development of the beneficial soil organism Rhizophagus irregularis, a common arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungus.
The study, which examined three separate genetically modified (GM) cotton lines and three non-GM lines, also found that the GM varieties disrupt the ability of the fungus to form a symbiotic association with the GM crop.
The fungus, when grown with GM cotton, displays fewer reproductive spores, fewer associations with GM cotton roots and increased fungal degeneration.
While the specific mechanism requires further study, the statistical analysis carried out in the study demonstrates that the "Bt-trait significantly contributes to the inhibition of pre-symbiotic development and AM fungal colonization, which might be attributed to either Bt toxin toxicity or interference of signal perception between AM fungi and the hosts."
Analysing three commercialised Bt cotton crops grown in China, the investigators found a reduction of fungal colonisation of roots by 44.4%, 25.0% and 51.3% for each line when compared with their isogenic parental controls.
Branching of the AM fungi was also significantly reduced, with shortened hyphae and reduced arbuscule frequency - tuft-like structures that help colonise roots on the Bt lines, which were reduced by up to 68.2% for one of the lines. This was consistent with a significant reduction in shoot biomass (Bt lines having a biomass of 0.34, 0.33 and 0.30 grams for each line) compared to controls (0.27, 0.27 and 0.25 g).
Crucially, the GM cotton plants appeared to suffer from their reduced ability to associate with the mycorrhizal fungus: they showed reduced shoot growth when compared with non-GM parental lines.
This highlights the importance of maintaining a living, healthy soil - which our industrial agricultural practices are destroying.
Unanticipated and wide reaching effects on the health of our soils
It is increasingly apparent that Bt crops are a failing technology, unable to withstand the pests they are designed to ward off. Burkina Faso, the first African nation to cultivate Bt cotton has now pulled it from the market due to the low quality of cotton it produces. India is seeing farmers revert to conventional varieties due to dire failures in Bt cotton yields that have pushed farmers further into debt and suicide.
Admitting Bt crop failures, the GM industry have since marketed crops with multiple Bt toxins in an effort to delay their futility. However, as this latest study, performed by researchers in Huazong Agricultural University under the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture shows, there are many ways in which Bt crops can have unanticipated and wide reaching effects on the health of our soils and wider environment, some of which go beyond the inability of Bt toxins to target pests.
Some problems seen with Bt crops - including the spread of crop disease and rise of secondary pest attacks - may well be exacerbated by the damage to soil biology.
Living soil is essential to life, moderating climate, storing and recycling water and nutrients, biodegrading pollutants, with humans utterly dependent on its survival for food production, and also serves as an important mitigating factor in an era of unpredictable climate change.
The sacred properties of soil have long been recognised by human cultures, but this knowledge has been eroded by the advent of industrial agriculture that has resulted in declining soil health. In the last 40 years, we have lost an estimated third of all arable land to soil infertility, reflected in plateauing and even declining crop yield gains in the last decade, despite continued increases in economic investments.
This study is the latest warning that a decisive shift from industrial / GMO practices to sustainable, agroecological methods is needed to undo the damage, and ensure food security and health of people and planet for the future.
AM fungi act as ‘underground highways' supplying nutrients, information
AM fungi form associations with an estimated 94% of plant species, an ancient mutualism believed to have originated some 450 million years ago that facilitated the colonisation of land by early plants.
They are a vital component of the living soil, supplying plants with key nutrients including phosphate, as well as water, supporting plants' ability to deal with biotic and abiotic stresses such as drought, salinity, disease and pest attacks. In return, plants supply sugars to the fungi.
While mushrooms are familiar to us all, scientists are continuing to reveal the intricacies and complexities of this relationship hidden underground, performed by a vast network of fungal threads, the mycelial network, that make up most of the fungal body. Interacting with many plants, they work as a communication web, or underground 'highway' through which plants can relay information, such as the presence of pests to its plant neighbours.
Recent findings tell of the remarkable ability of AM fungi to relay warnings of aphid pest attacks from one pea plant to its neighbours, allowing them to produce the necessary aphid-deterring chemicals to protect themselves. A 2016 study has introduced the concept that trees are not only in competition with each other for nutrients, but can share them. Carbon is supplied to neighbouring trees, even those of a different species, via AM fungal networks.
Indeed the soil, and mycorrhizae themselves, are important mediators of the wider ecosystem function, with mycorrhizal biodiversity correlating with ecosystem variability, nutrient capture and plant productivity.
Harvesting the potential for AM fungi to improve food production and maintain the health of the environment is an ongoing field of research and has great potential to mitigate some of abiotic and biotic stresses that limit yield.
Examples of recent gains in the field include a study citing a 20% increase in cassava yields in Colombian fields. Low phosphate bioavailability in tropical soils suggests an opportunity for using AM fungi to improve yields in such regions. Fivefold differences in rice growth was obtained when the soils were inoculated with different isolates of one AM fungi species.
Such studies raise questions on the extent population genetic diversity and species diversity in crop growth, and also whether such effects are direct or indirect. Care must also be given in understanding how introduction of AM fungi to soils will affect existing fungal populations as well as the wider ecological soil and plant community.
What is already understood is that any loss to mycorrhizal biodiversity and abundance is a threat to the stability, productivity and sustainability of crop cultivation. Further, effects on climate change cannot be disentangled from the dynamics of the soil; the soil contains more carbon than plants and air combined.
Whole ecosystems - including agro-ecosystems - must be protected in order to nullify this threat, and that includes reversing the roll out of GM crops and their associated pesticides.
AM fungal damage by Bt toxins contributing to yield failures?
The latest evidence that Bt crops damage this symbiotic relationship may provide an explanation for the failure of the GM crops to thrive. They are increasingly failing to yield, to effectively ward of pests as they are designed to do, and to resist plant attacks, drought and other stresses. These problems are afflicting both Bt cotton as well as maize in various regions of the world.
While this study by Chen et al., is the first to show a direct effect of Bt crops on the early stages of the AM fungal life cycle, it builds on previous reports of altered relationships between Bt crops and AM fungi, including reduced colonisation of crop roots by AM fungi, as well as lower density of fungi spores in agricultural plots.
The spread of previously unseen diseases such as root rot in cotton plants in India may well be, at least in part, the result of damaged AM fungal symbiosis. Root rot was not seen until the introduction of Bt cotton in India in 2002-2003, affecting 2-3% of crops in one region of Andhra Pradesh, which spread to 40% by 2008.
Studies in bean plants have shown that AM fungi are able to inhibit disease progression by the same fungal pathogen (Rhizoctonia solani) responsible for root rot in cotton. Bt Bringal (aubergine), piloted in Bangledesh over the last couple of seasons has also been a complete failure according to reports citing a variety of problems afflicting the crop including fungal infections (including root and stem rot, wilt, leaf spot and fruit spot), viruses and pest attacks.
Farmers have therefore had to use additional pesticides, increasing costs and pollution of food and land.
The failure of reductionist approaches
As highlighted in various contexts, the reductionist approach to food production is proviing top be a failure, with the science clouded by short-term fixes and economic incentives.
Even Monsanto now realise that maintaining a healthy soil is key - if only for them to investigate ways in which they can manipulate individual factors in the 'creation' of microbial fertilizers. As ever, the warping of science to suit ideology means that addressing the issue from a holistic point of view is again lost to the pursuit of patentable intellectual property and corporate profit..
We move one step at a time, addressing each crop stress singularly, only for it to have knock on effects on all other interrelated factors. Increasing tolerance to one stress through genetic modification or chemical manipulation will not solve the multiple stressors that likely impact a crop at any one time.
AM fungi and the rest of the soil community, on the other hand, should be harnessed on a 'whole ecosystem' basis for their ability to improve resistance to multiple stresses, from nutrient depletion to climate change, many of which are difficult for us to predict.

The study: 'Evidences of inhibited arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal development and colonization in multiple lines of Bt cotton' is by Xiu-Hua Chen at al and and published by Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment.

Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji is a writer, and scientist and independent consultant working on biosafety concerns of scientific technologies. Her main focus is agricultural sustainability and the protection of human health and the environment at the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS). Recent publications include Banishing Glyphosate.