It’s a well-known PR tactic to release bad or potentially unpopular news during the Holiday Season. So I always keep my eyes peeled to catch any news releases that might otherwise slip the net. I didn’t have to wait long. On December 21, when most people were focusing on their upcoming festivities, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quietly released its draft environmental assessment on the highly controversial genetically engineered (GE) salmon, created by AquaBounty Technologies Inc.
New peer-reviewed research suggests that eating genetically modified (GM) maize – and drinking water containing permitted levels of RoundUp herbicide – may cause tumors, premature death and other serious health problems. Published in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal, the study is the first to examine the potential long-term effects of exposure to GM food and the world’s best-selling herbicide, RoundUp. Researchers at the University of Caen fed groups of male and female rats a diet of Monsanto’s GM maize and water containing glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide) at levels permitted in the U.S. water supply over a two-year period. The researchers claim that rats fed a GM diet, and exposed to RoundUp in their water, developed tumors and damage to their livers and kidneys and died much earlier than those fed a normal diet. Groups of rats were fed RoundUp resistant GM maize (from 11% in the diet), cultivated with or without Roundup, and Roundup alone (from 0.1 ppb in their water). According to the research, around 50 percent of males and 70 percent of females exposed to GM maize and RoundUp died prematurely, compared with only 30 percent and 20 percent in the control group.
On the heels of a previous report highlighting lack of enforcement and oversight in our food system, the U.S. Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) new report on whether milk marketed as organic actually meets the National Organic Program’s standards is a real wake-up call to the organic community. And so it should be. Consumers pay a significant premium for organic products and rightly expect transparency and oversight. However, the OIG's new report, "Agricultural Marketing Service National Organic Program - Organic Milk," exposes major failings of the National Organic Program’s (NOP) certification and auditing systems. At a time when consumers are turning their backs on industrialized farming systems – and genetically modified (GM) farming in particular – the new report raises real questions about exactly what people are paying for when they buy organic milk.
Monsanto Canada recently reported that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has granted approval for its latest GM offering, the intriguingly named “refuge in a bag” Bt corn. With all the hype surrounding GM crops, it would be easy to dismiss this announcement as just another piece of press puff from the GM giant. But unfortunately this new development is actually something we need to keep a close eye on. As we have come to expect, the government has let the GM community police itself, leaving the companies that are peddling the new technology to regulate its use. First, it is important to understand what a “refuge” is when it comes to GM crops. Despite the fact that Animal Welfare Approved has blogged extensively on the many drawbacks and dangers of GM technology, the concept of “refuge” actually relates to a problem that we haven’t covered in detail before – namely the inevitable development of pest resistance to GM crops.
Watching James Bond films is for some of us a family tradition over the Christmas holiday, mostly because the stories are so big and farfetched. You know, where the bad guys are found to be secretly coercing governments – and even entire countries – to aid and abet corporate global domination, and where good old Felix from the CIA saves the day and helps Mr. Bond defeat the evildoers. But in a bizarre twist to the plot, it now looks like the real-life Felix may have actually been working for Monsanto and the Big Ag lobby all along. An article in The Guardian newspaper this week on the latest batch of diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks reveals that the U.S. embassy in Paris advised Washington in 2007 to start a military-style trade war against any European Union country that opposed genetically modified (GM) crops. It’s exactly the kind of plot that you’d expect to see in a James Bond movie. One of cables is from Craig Stapleton, the U.S. ambassador to France from 2005-2009. In that cable, Stapleton expresses his concern that France might soon pass laws that could hamper the expansion of GM crops in Europe, and calls on Washington to punish the EU – particularly countries not supporting the use of GM crops. “Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits… "
News that an “efficient and environmentally sustainable” genetically modified (GM) salmon may be a step closer to commercial release had me reaching for a large pinch of salt—and not, I might add, to help season the dish. As some of you will know from my previous blogs, I am extremely skeptical about the real benefits that GM technology offers us all. Indeed, I have grave concerns about GM—not only about the potential environmental and health risks associated with the technology, but also the potential control that GM gives “Big Ag” over global food production. These concerns are just as relevant to GM fish production as they are to GM soy, cotton or corn. The difference, of course, is that, with fish, we are dealing with a living creature, where welfare is also an issue. On June 15, 2010, Massachusetts-based biotech company AquaBounty announced that it had moved a step closer to gaining formal U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approval of its AquAdvantage® Salmon. According to the AquaBounty website, the AquaAdvantage Salmon is genetically modified to “include a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon that provides the fish with the potential to grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon.” This enables “shorter production cycles and increased efficiency of production.”