The damage here in northeast Arkansas and across the Midwest - sickly soybeans, trees and other crops - has become emblematic of a deepening crisis in American agriculture. Farmers are locked in an arms race between ever-stronger weeds and ever-stronger weed killers. The dicamba system, approved for use for the first time this spring, was supposed to break the cycle and guarantee weed control in soybeans and cotton. The herbicide - used in combination with a genetically modified dicamba-resistant soybean - promises better control of unwanted plants such as pigweed, which has become resistant to common weed killers. The problem, farmers and weed scientists say, is that dicamba has drifted from the fields where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of unprotected soybeans and other crops in what some are calling a man-made disaster. Critics contend that the herbicide was approved by federal officials without enough data, particularly on the critical question of whether it could drift off target.
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa has called for an immediate ban on the importation into South Africa of Monsanto’s high-risk second-generation gene-silencing GM maize destined for human consumption. In an open letter to African biosafety regulators, AFSA rejects and condemns US corporation Monsanto’s plan to exploit millions of Africans as unwitting human guinea pigs for their latest genetic engineering experiment.
A new study published in Nature Methods has found that the genome editing technology CRISPR introduced hundreds of unintended mutations into the genome of mice. In the study, the researchers sequenced the entire genome of mice that had undergone CRISPR gene editing to correct a genetic defect. They looked for all mutations, including those that only altered a single nucleotide (DNA base unit). They found that the genomes of two independent gene therapy recipients had sustained more than 1,500 single-nucleotide mutations and more than 100 larger deletions and insertions. None of these DNA mutations were predicted by the computer algorithms (software packages) that are widely used by researchers to screen the genome (the total DNA base unit sequence) of an organism to look for potential off-target effects. While this study was conducted in the arena of gene therapy, it has clear implications for the regulation of food plants and animals derived from CRISPR and other genome editing techniques.
A new ruling is expected to pave the way for genetically modified citrus to enter your local stores—but a loophole allows the food industry to keep you in the dark about the nature of the fruit you’re purchasing. The trees are treated with a genetically modified virus that makes them resistant to citrus greening disease, which has caused major problems for citrus growers in Florida. But according to the government’s definition, neither the trees nor the fruit will be considered genetically modified (an assertion that is patently absurd), so once again consumers will be in the dark about what kind of food they’ll be eating.
Earlier this month, major biotech and agriculture groups sent a letter to key members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee supporting the inclusion of $3 million in the fiscal year 2017 budget to “better inform the public about the application of biotechnology to food and agricultural production.” In plain English, these groups are asking for taxpayer dollars to fund propaganda efforts on behalf of the biotech industry. For those interested in real answers to questions about GMOs, we’ve recently updated and revamped our GMO Fact Check site. We’ve included the most up-to-date information on the safety of GMOs, the facts about GMOs and pesticide use, the epidemic of cross-pollination of GMOs with conventional (and/or organic) crops, the myth that GMOs increase crop yields, and much more. Our information is science-based and fully cited. Since industry has systematically attempted to corrupt so many government agencies, universities, and researchers working in this field, simply having accurate, scientific data is an accomplishment.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a draft report finding that glyphosate—the active ingredient in Monsanto’s popular Roundup weed killer—is not likely to cause cancer in humans. This finding is preliminary, to be followed by the agency’s final review of glyphosate, which has been delayed until spring of 2017. The EPA decided to address the potential cancer-causing effects of glyphosate after the United Nations’ International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced last year that the chemical was a “probable carcinogen.” An “independent” panel of scientists will review the EPA’s report this month. But as our readers know, Monsanto and other biotech giants have so deeply corrupted the science of this issue that finding independent scientists would be a very tough challenge.
When consumers purchase organic produce, they expect to avoid vegetables and fruits that have been genetically modified or sprayed with dangerous pesticides. The unsettling reality, however, is that cross-contamination between GM plants and conventional or organic plants is not only possible—it is already happening. Millions of acres of GM rapeseed, which is used to make canola oil, the most popular cooking oil in North America, are being grown—in Canada and Australia in particular, but also in the US. This GM rapeseed has spread across the world, growing wild in ports, railway beds, along highways, and other areas where it has “escaped” during transport. Not only is it growing wild—it has contaminated another Brassica, the parent of cruciferous vegetables known as Brassica rapa. Organic broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Napa cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and more are now under threat.
Healthy Traditions announced earlier this year that they had added Mexican heirloom corn products to their line of GMO-tested and Glyphosate-tested products. They explained how truly GMO-free corn is almost non-existent in the U.S., as even corn that is USDA certified organic or verified to be GMO free is still contaminated with small amounts of GMO DNA, according to their own laboratory testing. The corn products, which include corn flour, corn meal, grits, and whole kernel corn, are on sale this week. They are thought to be unique to the U.S. corn market.
On Friday, July 29, 2016 President Obama signed into law the GMO Labeling bill recently passed by Congress. This law preempts Vermont’s first-of-its-kind GMO Labeling law, which had just gone into effect on July 1, and authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a mandatory disclosure program for “bioengineered” (aka GMO) foods. Now that the law has been enacted, all eyes are on USDA, which has the primary responsibility of implementing the law. USDA has one year to conduct the QR code feasibility study, and two years to develop the labeling standards and regulations. Both of these processes will also require public input before being finalized. USDA is likely to see thousands upon thousands of comments from stakeholders during these next phases of implementation. By law they are required to consider all comments received, suggesting that a long process is ahead. The agency is also likely to hold public meetings to allow stakeholders the opportunity to submit oral, as well as written, testimony. Given the highly contentious nature of this legislation and the GMO debate in general, we hope to see USDA proceed through this process in as transparent and inclusive a manner as possible. All of these issues point to a lengthy and involved few years before a final disclosure requirement is in place. And regardless, once the regulations have gone through the public rulemaking process, a legal challenge is highly likely, which could further delay implementation.
We’ve been reporting on the Roberts-Stabenow bill for some weeks now. The public is being told it’s a “mandatory labeling” bill. We call it a “liar labeling” bill—a complete sham that is designed to avoid real mandatory labeling. Bad news: the Senate just passed it, 63 to 30. Now the Roberts-Stabenow bill moves to the House of Representatives. Time is running out to kill or amend this legislation. We must at the very least amend it.