News

2018-10-04 |

Mexico’s new science minister is a plant biologist who opposes transgenic crops

MEXICO CITY—In early June, evolutionary developmental biologist Elena Álvarez-Buylla received an out-of-the-blue phone call from the campaign of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, then the front-runner in Mexico's presidential election, with a question. If López Obrador won, would she consider becoming the next director of the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt), the country's science ministry and primary granting agency? "My first reaction was to say, ‘I can't,’" recalls Álvarez-Buylla, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) here. "I have a great passion for scientific research," and she couldn't imagine leaving the laboratory.
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Álvarez-Buylla led a team that confirmed the results of the 2001 study and has continued to hunt for transgenic DNA and any possible effects in Mexican landraces, work that helped her win Mexico's National Science Prize in 2017. She says she has nothing against genetic engineering in itself; her team creates and studies GM plants in the lab, and such experiments should not be prohibited or restricted, she says. "I'm not a Luddite who is scared of technology." But her own experiments have shown introduced genes can have unpredictable effects. "If a transgene is inserted in one part of [a plant's] genome, it can be silenced and have no effect. If it's inserted in another part, it can lead to a tremendous change," she says. That unpredictability makes it too risky to allow GM maize anywhere near Mexico's landraces, she argues. Planting GM maize in Mexico has been prohibited since 2013, pending the outcome of a lawsuit. Álvarez-Buylla has been an outspoken proponent of a permanent ban.

2018-10-03 |

New Study Shows Roundup Kills Bees

Glyphosate targets undesired weeds—as well as honeybees

The most widely sprayed herbicide in the world kills honeybees, according to a new report.

Glyphosate, an herbicide and active ingredient in Monsanto’s (now Bayer’s) Roundup weed killer, targets enzymes long assumed to be found only in plants. The product is advertised as being innocuous to wildlife. But some bacteria also use this enzyme, including a microbiome found in the intestines of most bees. When pollinators come in contact with glyphosate, the chemical reduces this gut bacteria, leaving bees vulnerable to pathogens and premature death.

“The bee itself has no molecular targets from glyphosate,” Nancy Moran, a biologist at the University of Texas at Austin and a coauthor of the study, told Environmental Health News. “But its gut bacteria do have targets.”

Moran and other scientists liken glyphosate exposure to taking too many antibiotics—and upsetting the balance of good bacteria that supports immunity and digestion.

“We all know that glyphosate is an antibiotic. It’s very toxic to bacteria. It’s even patented as an antibiotic,” says Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But very few researchers have actually dived into this issue. The good thing is, that’s starting to change.”

2018-10-02 |

Imported seeds fast replacing local varieties in Pakistan

KARACHI: Agriculture constitutes the largest sector of Pakistan’s economy and the majority of the population depends on it. It contributes about 24 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), accounts for half of the country’s employed labor force, and is the largest source of foreign exchange earnings. It feeds the whole rural and urban populations of Pakistan.

The country has a rich biodiversity and multinational companies have realized this. Thousands of varieties of seeds, medicinal plants and herbs have been developed over hundreds of years by farming communities, who were well-equipped with indigenous knowledge of the local environment, climate and conditions for agricultural production.

But the day is not far off when the entire seed business will be controlled by seed companies, leaving local farmers totally dependent on imported or multinationals’ seeds.

2018-10-01 |

Call to Action 2018: Our Bread, Our Freedom

Food systems are either sources of nourishment forging the foundations of human health and well-being or one of the most substantial health risk factors.

An entire colonization of the earth, agriculture and our bodies has taken place over a century. Food and agriculture systems upon which we all depend have increasingly become industrialized and globalized. Commercial compulsions of current global agricultural and food systems, compounded by high levels of economic inequality are making healthy diets unavailable or unaffordable to large sections of the population in every part of the world.

2018-09-27 |

New GMOs: the European Commission in no hurry to act

The judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union of July 25th does not particularly disturb the European Commission. In its view, it’s up to the Member states to implement the ruling and initiate exchanges on potential difficulties they face. A quite simple analysis but partly deficient. Explanations.

On July 2018 the 25th, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that only GMOs “obtained by means of techniques/methods of mutagenesis which have conventionally been used in a number of applications and have a long safety record” are excluded from the scope of directive 2001/18. The organisms obtained through the use of a new technique of genetic modification giving rise to one or several mutations must therefore be considered and regulated as GMOs. Has this ruling, which is immediately applicable, already been enforced?

Regulating new GMOs like transgenic ones
During the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed which took place on September 11th, the Member states and the European Commission discussed the ruling. Interviewed by Inf’OGM, the European Commission explained that it is “carefully analysing the ruling” and announced other talks would take place in October. But things went a bit further on September 11th. According to a EU source, the Commission told the Member states that it considers it has nothing particular to do for the moment: in the Commission’s opinion, it is now up to Member states to implement the court ruling at all levels and to be more specific on what they expect from the Commission.

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