2018-12-21 |

TOOTHLESS: Even major food companies hate the new US rules for GMO food labeling

Two bottles of soybean oil sit on a grocery store shelf. Both contain genetically modified (GM) soybeans from the same crop. One bottle is labelled as a GM product, the other is not.

Both are in compliance with the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new GM food labeling rules (pdf).

Confused? You’re not alone.

The loophole is so glaring that even a handful of the world’s biggest food companies were taken aback. Danone, Mars, Nestlé, and Unilever released a comment this week through their trade group, the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance, voicing concern that the USDA rule didn’t go far enough. “The standards fall short of consumer expectations, and the practices of leading food companies, particularly when it comes to how we are already disclosing highly-refined ingredients and the threshold for disclosure,” the group said in its statement.

2018-12-20 |

European Court of Justice ruling regarding new genetic engineering methods scientifically justified: a commentary on the biased reporting about the recent ruling

Eva Gelinsky and Angelika HilbeckEmail author
Environmental Sciences Europe201830:52© The Author(s) 2018
Received: 1 October 2018Accepted: 5 December 2018Published: 20 December 2018

In July 2018, the European Court of Justice (Case C-528/16) ruled that organisms obtained by directed mutagenesis techniques are to be regarded as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) within the meaning of Directive 2001/18. The ruling marked the next round of the dispute around agricultural genetic engineering in Europe. Many of the pros and cons presented in this dispute are familiar from the debate around the first generation of genetic engineering techniques. The current wave of enthusiasm for the new genetic engineering methods, with its claim to make good on the failed promises of the previous wave, seems to point more to an admission of failure of the last generation of genetic engineering than to a true change of paradigm. Regulation is being portrayed as a ban on research and use, which is factually incorrect, and the judges of the European Court of Justice are being defamed as espousing “pseudoscience”. Furthermore, this highly polarised position dominates the media reporting of the new techniques and the court’s ruling. Advocates of the new genetic engineering techniques appear to believe that their benefits are so clear that furnishing reliable scientific evidence is unnecessary. Meanwhile, critics who believe that the institution of science is in a serious crisis are on the increase not just due to the cases of obvious documented scientific misconduct by companies and scientists, but also due to the approach of dividing the world into those categorically for or against genetic engineering. In this construct of irreconcilable opposites, differentiations fall by the wayside. This article is a response to this one-sided and biased reporting, which often has the appearance of spin and lacks journalistic ethics that require journalists to report on different positions in a balanced and factual manner instead of taking positions and becoming undeclared advocates themselves.

2018-12-19 |

Gene-drive organisms: Cutting Corners on Consent

A new UN agreement requires organizations seeking to release gene-drive organisms – which will fundamentally change or even eliminate entire populations of that species – to obtain the “free, prior, and informed consent” of potentially affected communities. But what that requirement implies needs to be spelled out – before it's too late.

MONTRÉAL – On November 29, after two weeks of contentious negotiations at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, 196 countries agreed to stringent rules on the use of so-called gene drives. Given the far-reaching consequences of a technology that causes a particular set of genes to propagate throughout a population – fundamentally changing or even eliminating it – such rules are badly needed. But are they enough?
Target Malaria is soon scheduled to begin implementing a plan in West and Central Africa to release genetically modified “male sterile” (non-gene-drive) mosquitoes in the villages of Bana and Sourkoudingan in Burkina Faso, as a first step toward eventually releasing drive-modified mosquitos. The goal is to reduce the population of the species that transmit the parasite that causes malaria.

But it remains far from clear that Target Malaria has acquired anything close to the villages’ “free, prior, and informed consent.” To be sure, Target Malaria has issued videos of local people who support the project and introduced reporters to them. But when I traveled independently of Target Malaria to meet local communities that would be affected, I heard a very different story, which I recount in a short film.

2018-12-19 |

Glyphosate and Bt Proteins Toxic to Stingless Bees

Brazil is the second largest producer of genetically modified (GM) plants in the world. This agricultural practice exposes native pollinators to contact and ingestion of Bacillus thuringiensis proteins (e.g. Cry toxins) from transgenic plants. Furthermore, native bees are also exposed to various herbicides applied to crops, including glyphosate.

Various bee species are suffering large population declines. Stingless bees are important wild pollinators which have a life history which makes them more susceptible to the effects of agrochemicals, compared to other bees.

A study found that the Bt proteins Cry1F and Cry2Aa, and glyphosate were highly toxic to the stingless bee M. quadrifasciata, causing lethal or sublethal effects which can severely impair colony growth and viability, and reduce pollination ability. Glyphosate was very toxic to the bee larvae, killing all of them within only a few days of exposure while bees treated with Cry2Aa and Cry1F proteins were delayed in their development.

This study underscores the need for further research to establish trustworthy methods of assessing the risks of glyphosate and Cry proteins for non-target species.

2018-12-17 |

GMOs raise heckles in Zambia

Lusaka – The import of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) into Zambia has sparked concern among the public with consumer watchdogs calling for government intervention to sustain the country’s quest to accelerate diversification and investment to grow the agricultural sector.

The National Biosafety Authority, a government agency tasked to oversee and regulate agricultural related products - less those inclined with GMOs, has given three distributors permits to import products that might contain GMOs.

Cold Chain, Horizon and Innscor are among the 12 retailers, wholesalers and distributors that applied for new and renewal permits, have been allowed to bring into the country products with GMOs following a risk assessment.
Zimba has since demanded a report from the NBA on how much food containing GMOs or with traces of GMOs has been allowed to land in Zambia and the companies allowed to import them.

He appealed to President Edgar Lungu to clear the matter if the diversification and non-GMO policy have been aborted.

“We are also appealing for the intervention of the Head of State, President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, over the GMO imports that are threatening to destroy our agriculture and our diversification agenda.”

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