Is GMO Opposition Immoral?

Evaluation of GMO crops that emphasizes independent science — rather than nonpublic research by pesticide companies — reflects that in 2015, the research arm of the World Health Organization analyzed all published glyphosate studies and determined the pesticide was a probable carcinogen. That finding prompted California to add glyphosate to its list of cancer-causing chemicals.

Escalating use of GMO crops and glyphosate has triggered the growth of glyphosate-resistant superweeds across nearly 100 million acres in 36 states. To combat that, pesticide companies are now pushing the use of the highly toxic, drift-prone pesticide dicamba on a new generation of GMO crops that tolerate both dicamba and glyphosate.

I have long been perplexed that so many people continue to condemn foods made from genetically modified organisms that have been consumed by Americans and others for decades with no deleterious effects.

Mitch Daniels rightly framed as “immoral” the scientifically baseless yet “concerted, deep-pockets campaign” to persuade “a high percentage of Americans and Europeans to avoid GMO products” and “inflict their superstitions” on the world’s poor and hungry.

Apparently, winning market share and lawsuits is more important to some people than feeding a hungry planet.

Read the full article in The Washington Post

Hangover Cures: The World’s Best and Weirdest Remedies

Since the earliest days of civilization, humanity has been trying to work out how to enjoy all the pleasure of drinking alcohol with none of the pain of a hangover.

To combat the symptoms of a big night out, veteran partygoers swear by everything from the hair of the dog to a full English breakfast to alleviate the symptoms of a big night out – but do any of them work?

Alas, the NHS has no words of comfort for the regretful raver. “There is no cure for a hangover,” is their stark ruling on the subject.

So, from a scientific perspective, anything purporting to be a “miracle” hangover cure is probably a load of hokum. But if the thought of getting out of bed is making you quail and you’re willing to give anything a go, here are some of the most unusual remedies from around the world.

Peru

Leche de Tigre, or tiger’s milk, is the Peruvian name for the potent marinade used to make ceviche, the national dish of raw seafood.

The Philippines

Balut is a fertilized duck embryo that is boiled alive and eaten in the shell – beak and all. Although it might turn even the most hardened of stomachs, it is often recommended as the ultimate hangover remedy and is also believed to boost male fertility and libido.

More of this at The Week

Gene Editing Could Rewrite the GMO Debate

Decades of fretting over the safety and virtue of genetically modified organisms have led to a perverse outcome. Plant scientists in academia and startup companies have largely shied away from creating new GM crop varieties because it takes, on average, more than a hundred million dollars and over a decade to get such a plant approved by regulators in the United States, and also because the idea of GMO food has elicited public outrage.

As a result, a few large agricultural and chemical producers like ­Monsanto—or MonSatan, if you prefer—dominate the GM industry, making a killing off herbicide- and insect-resistant corn and soybeans.

New gene-editing tools, either CRISPR or the slightly older TALEN, don’t insert a foreign gene into the plant to create a new trait (as typically happens with conventional GMOs) but, rather, tweak the plant’s existing DNA. The engineered crops thus sidestep the lengthy regulatory process and could avoid the stigmas surrounding GMOs entirely.

Read the full article at MIT Technology Review

Can A GM Banana Solve Uganda’s Hunger Crisis?

Trials for a GM banana variety, which is resistant to wilt and contains vitamin A, have been ongoing since 2004 in an effort to improve production. The law will mean this crop can be released to the public.

“Now that the law has been passed, we’re able to go for open-field trials [of the technologies] before releasing them to the public,” says Priver Namanya Bwesigye, a plant biotechnologist at the National Agricultural Research Organisation. She adds that GM bananas could be released for public use in 2021.

Other GM trials include developing cassava resistant to brown streak, drought-resistant maize, and bollworm-resistant cotton.

Critics say GM crops will make farmers beholden to big agribusiness by having to buy seeds every season. Farmers in Uganda produce between 80% and 85% of their own seeds (pdf), saving some of their harvest as seed for the next planting season.

Scientists say the GM banana will fight vitamin A deficiency. In Uganda, on average, 30% of people do not get enough of this vitamin, Bwesigye says: the World Health Organization classifies the situation as grave if 15% of the population is deficient.

“[Malnutrition] is rampant in communities feeding a lot on staple [crops],” she says. “We are addressing communities feeding on these bananas every day.” She says the culture in Uganda is still for people to feed on staples and little else, rather than having a more varied diet that includes vegetables.

Read more at The Guardian

GMO Expert Voices Concerns About Engineered Foods

The Ecology Action Centre and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network are hosting an international expert in genetically modified organisms at talks in Halifax, Truro and Charlottetown this week to try to answer that question and others.

Lucy Sharratt, a coordinator with the biotechnology network, said genetically engineered salmon is already available to Canadian consumers, and genetically modified apples and potatoes have been approved in Canada but aren’t yet on the market.

“We’re so excited to have Dr. Steinbrecher come and speak because we want to have a discussion about the potential of the science and how, as a society, we should introduce new technology, and that involves public engagement and it involves good government regulation, and if we have new technologies in front of us, let’s look at them together,” she said.“This is the great thing about Dr. Steinbrecher. It is an examination of the science itself behind the technology, but she is able to describe it so that it’s very accessible.”

If that product is sent to market and it’s not labeled, survey data shows people are likely to buy fewer apples to avoid eating a GMO, she said, and that could have an economic impact on growers everywhere, including the Maritimes.

More of this news at Truro Daily News

Is Uganda ready for GMOs?

The Parliament of Uganda recently passed the National Biosafety Act 2017. The law is intended to provide a legal and regulatory framework for the safe development and application of “biotechnology”, not “Biosafety”, in the country.

The advancement of modern biotechnology has been popularised as a powerful tool in alleviating poverty and enhancing food security. Uganda is a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol which mandates parties to ensure an adequate level of protection in the field of safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from biotechnology.

Over the years, Uganda has been progressively promoting the adoption of genetically modified (GM) varieties. A number of confined field trials have been conducted: for example, genetically modified (GM) bananas are being tested for resistance to banana bacterial wilt, black Sigatoka as well as the biofortifying banana with micronutrients with iron and vitamin A.

Uganda’s population is estimated to approach 40 million by 2020, with an estimated 70% below the age of 30. It is argued, therefore, that applying science, technology, and innovation will solve problems of food shortages, unemployment and wealth for the growing population. Biotechnology has been presented as a genetic quick fix that can solve Uganda’s food insecurity problems.

This poses a number of questions: 1) Can Biotechnology overcome problems of food access, food shortages to farmers in Uganda? 2) Can the National “Biosafety” Act regulate GMOs effectively? Answering these questions requires a focused debate on the potential benefits and risks of applying genetic engineering and genetic modification in Uganda’s agriculture sector.

Investing in GMO seed presents a significant financial risk for many small-scale farmers especially with climate change, volatility of markets, access to markets among others. Farmers will be forced to sell all or part of their harvests to cover input costs related to buying seeds – perpetually.

Secondly, the National Biosafety Act that was passed recently is still lacking with regard to biosafety. It is not about “Biosafety” as is known in scientific structures and processes, but mainly GMOs in agriculture. The bill does not take cognizance of the Precautionary Principle as enshrined in the Cartagena Protocol.

Continue Reading at New Vision

The Double-Edged Sword of GMOs

Most of us have heard of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). What first comes to your mind when you hear this acronym? Many think of fluorescent mice or purple-colored carrots, but GMOs also encompass less dramatic examples: plants and animals that have been genetically engineered for disease tolerance or improved quality.

The 21st century has not been tranquil for humankind. From chronic diseases to impoverishment, many of us have been facing the worst of nature over the last few decades. However, this era has also involved great strides in technology, a weapon that can be used to tackle these problems.

GMOs can be beneficial to human health. You might have heard of Golden Rice, a genetically modified (GM) rice variety. This has a greatly enhanced proportion of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in humans.

GMOs are used for more than just battling malnutrition; there is ongoing research on the large-scale cultivation of transgenic plants for the synthesis of plant-derived pharmaceutical proteins (PDPs). PDPs are thought to be able to treat myriad ailments. For example, a GM potato could contain a protein that treats Hepatitis B.

More of this news at University Observer

Could Genetically Modified Pigs Put Leaner Bacon On The Horizon?

It’s a question on many bacon-lovers’ minds: can the pork product be part of a balanced diet? After all, a mere four slices of the stuff contain roughly 40 percent of recommended daily values of saturated fat and sodium.

A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences announced that 12 “healthy,” low-fat pigs were engineered by the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, NPR’s The Salt reports. Their research was aimed at breeding hardier pigs that would be more economical for farmers to raise, especially during colder weather. The resulting swine have about 24 percent less body fat than usual.

According to NPR, fellow researchers deem the development to be important. “It demonstrates a way that you can improve the welfare of animals at the same as also improving the product from those animals — the meat,” R. Michael Roberts, a professor who edited the paper for the journal, reportedly said.

Genetically-modified (GM) food is a contentious topic. According to Eat Right Ontario, approximately 85 GM foods have hit the market in Canada since 1994. GM salmon is one such food, which was approved for sale in Canada in 2016 with no special labeling required. An August 2017 Angus Reid survey showed that while most Canadians have limited awareness of GMOs, they “still want more transparency,” Global News reported.

Continue Reading at National Post

10 Things You Never Knew About GM Foods

Rebecca Nesbit writes a piece for us upon the release of her new book Is That Fish In Your Tomato?

Only one genetically-modified crop can be legally grown in the EU – a maize variety which is resistant to the caterpillars of the European corn borer moth. It is grown mostly in Spain and Portugal and isn’t grown in the UK.

In Europe, any food containing over 0.9% GM material has to be labeled. GMOs are permitted at low levels because of contamination – GM grain gets accidentally mixed in with non-GM grain. Meat from animals fed GM feed doesn’t need to be labeled.

Extensive studies haven’t found any health problems associated with GM foods. New varieties go through thorough testing as part of their regulatory approval, and safety studies have been performed by university scientists around the world. The World Health Organisation is one of the many organizations to issue a statement saying that there have been no effects of GM crops on human health.

The GM crops currently available have new genes inserted into their DNA. These can be from a different species or can be synthetic sequences made in the lab. New lab techniques are springing up which allow scientists to make much smaller changes to a plant’s DNA. It’s not yet clear which of these will be regulated as genetically modified organisms.

More of this news at Female First

Your Next Drug Could Be A Pill Full Of Genetically Modified Bacteria

The latest approach to making new drugs is genetically modifying members of our own microbial ecosystems.

This summer, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech company Synlogic started a clinical trial studying the safety of pills filled with genetically modified Escherichia coli, the MIT Technology Review reports. The US Food and Drug Administration thought these pills were so promising they fast-tracked them from animal to human testing.

In theory, they’d work like probiotics, which are foods or pills that help balance the trillions of bacteria that live in our digestive tract beneficially. Along with this line of thought, we could add custom bacteria strains that provide additional specific benefits.

As your body goes about its business, it rids itself of waste that builds up over time, including ammonia. Normally, we’re able to excrete this chemical in our urine. However, a handful of rare genetic disorders prevent this from happening properly, and the concentration of extra ammonia must be managed through careful dieting.

Read the full article at Quartz Media