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Encouraging lack of enthusiasm for GM technology at China’s national congress

21 Oct

Those who totally oppose all GM adoption in China because of concerns about the damage caused by the herbicides and pesticides used with the crops and a loose coalition of left-wingers, environmentalists and retired officials will be encouraged by the lack of enthusiasm for GM technology at this week’s national congress of China’s Communist Party.

Lucy Hornby in Beijing, writing in the FT, says that Mr Xi has ‘historically fudged’ his position on GM — urging advocates to be “bold in research, careful in promotion”.

Ms Hornby notes that the coalition had written letters to the top leadership last year opposing ChemChina’s purchase of Swiss seeds and agrochemicals group Syngenta. Reuters put the number of signatories at 400.

Currently – despite US Dow Chemicals’ persistent and energetic lobbying – only GM papaya is planted on a small scale in China, due to domestic fears that foreign GM technology poses a security threat. In addition, at present (June 17th report) GM cotton is grown in China and GM animal feed is imported. Very few genetically modified foods are allowed on the market in China and labelling GM foods is strictly enforced there.

The safety of GMOs is widely debated in China through traditional media and the emerging online social media, where the public expresses deep concerns about the safety of GMO foods.

In 2015, there was a report of a conference on “GMOs and National Security” in Beijing, where scholars warned that the issues relating to GMOs were not just about science or technology, but also about food security, ecological security, and even national security.

A study of a GM grain carried out in China in 2012 caused great concern to the public; a US researcher and her team were accused of feeding Chinese children a GM grain, golden rice, and measuring the effects without telling their parents.

Chinese researchers are vying to promote new plant strains they have developed, while not revealing whether they are genetically modified or developed using traditional breeding practices. Many are grown in demonstration fields but have not been commercialised.

Frank Ning is the head of ChemChina’s rival Sinochem, which markets some Monsanto products. He said that the future direction of Chinese agriculture is the gradual improvement of seed quality and more targeted application of fertiliser and pesticides, which are big sources of soil and water pollution in China:

“Sinochem has transformed. We used to be just a sales operation: selling seeds, selling fertiliser. Now we are a modern agricultural platform: service oriented, promoting better seeds and teaching people to use less fertiliser.”

So far, so good.

 

 

 

 

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Valproate: rely on self-regulation?

29 Sep

The advisory European Medicines Agency – which has no legal power – is examining the effectiveness of Valproate warnings

Valproate is an anti-epilepsy drug first licensed in the UK in 1975. Taking the drug during pregnancy had – for some years – been suspected by epilepsy experts to have a strong link with the development of ‘dysmorphic features’ – such as eyes set wider apart and a thinned upper lip – in children born subsequently. They also suspected that valproate use in pregnant mothers might lead to longer term developmental problems – but the evidence for this was anecdotal at the time. More evidence emerged throughout the 1990s. In 2005, UK patient information leaflets included concerns about delayed development in children.

In 2004 the New Scientist reported that a study (BMJ reference: Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry (vol 75, p 1575), led by Dr Naghme Adab from the Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Liverpool, UK, showed that children born to mothers who were on valproate when pregnant were eleven times more likely to have a verbal IQ score of 69 or below, compared with children born in the general population. To read the statistics and percentages click on the link above.

The researchers added that their results could have been partly skewed because only 40% of the mothers contacted for the study actually responded – mothers who cooperated might be more likely to believe their children were harmed by anti-epilepsy drugs. They added, however, that even if it is assumed the other 60% of children all had normal IQs, the children of valproate users would still be twice as likely to have a low IQ (below 79) than the general population.

“Epilepsy is the second most common cause of maternal deaths,” Tim Betts, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of Birmingham UK, told New Scientist. He warns that women should not stop taking prescribed anti-epilepsy drugs during pregnancy without consultation, and adds that safe alternatives are available. “When we see women before pregnancy we invariably try to get them off valproate,” he says.

Instructions for doctors – and, more recently, patient leaflets – say valproate should not be used during pregnancy unless there is no safer alternative and only after a careful discussion of the risks. The medicines regulator said warnings had been updated as more information had become available. Many women whose babies were affected say nobody warned them of the extent of the dangers. Warnings were only added to the outside of valproate pill packets in Britain last year.

Humane French politicians put Britain’s business friendly government to shame

In France, 1,200 families are preparing to sue the drug manufacturer, accusing it of failing to sufficiently inform women of the risks. The French government is supporting the legal action and has put aside about £9m (€10m) to compensate the families.

By contrast in 2010, families in England and Wales had to abandon a court case when their legal aid was withdrawn three weeks before the case was due to begin. They signed letters promising never to sue again, and in return were not billed for Sanofi’s multi-million pound legal costs. They are now calling for a judge-led public enquiry. An article on a BBC website this month adds that about 20,000 babies in the UK alone have been left with disabilities since valproate was introduced in the 1970s.

It also reports that women whose children have been harmed by the epilepsy drug sodium valproate are giving evidence to a European-wide safety review in London. The European Medicines Agency will examine whether warnings about risks to unborn babies are strong enough. Reuters reports that a  final recommendation is expected in December.

 

 

 

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Hawaiian parents and environmentalists campaign against use of harmful sprays

7 Dec

In 2015 an American Academy of Pediatrics’ report, Pesticide Exposure in Children, found “an association between pesticides and adverse birth outcomes, including physical birth defects”. Local schools had been evacuated twice and children sent to hospital because of pesticide drift.

aerial-spray

Years earlier, whilst in America, a friend of the writer, who was in good health at the time, developed emphysema and died prematurely after being exposed to spray drift.

Carla Nelson, a pediatrician, pointed out that doctors need prior disclosure of sprayings: “It’s hard to treat a child when you don’t know which chemical he’s been exposed to.” Read her Guardian coverage here.

In the state legislature in Honolulu, Senator Josh Green, who then chaired the health committee, made his fourth attempt to curb pesticide and herbicide spraying, but ruefully commented that most heads of the agriculture committee have had “a closer relationship with the agro-chemical companies than with the environmental groups”.

A year later, Time magazine reported that there was growing evidence of glyphosate’s potentially dangerous health effects. It was judged a “probable human carcinogen” by the World Health Organization last year but despite this, on the Hawaiian island of Maui and elsewhere, sprayers simply sprayed and moved on; no one monitored the observance of the safety directions of their own product.

spray-hackneyHawaii environmentalists have used a little-known law, FIFRA, short for the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, which requires sprayers to follow the safety instructions on the product’s label down to the letter.

For products containing the herbicide glyphosate, that means keeping people away from the area where the product has been used for four hours after applications for agriculture, or until the product dries when sprayed for non-agricultural purposes. That can be difficult in places like long stretches of roads and highways where extended monitoring to keep people away from recently sprayed areas is virtually impossible.

Parents began to circulate photographs of government employees spraying Round Up, the primary commercial product containing glyphosate. Footage showed authorities spraying on highways, roads and near schools without any visible effort to keep people away.

Finally the uncertainty raised by activists over the labelling issue convinced Stephen Rodgers, who oversees pesticide application on Maui’s state highways to switch to organic pesticides. His department no longer purchases Roundup and will stop using the product entirely – but only when the existing supply has been used.

Significant exposure to glyphosate in farm workers has been linked to increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer. Nature magazine, which is sceptical of the impact on human health, at least reports a study showing a link between glyphosate and cancer in mice. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), ruled last year that the pesticide is a “probable human carcinogen.”

Dr. Philip Landrigan, a Harvard-educated pediatrician and epidemiologist, Dean for Global Health at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, says, “For a long time glyphosate was viewed as an innocuous herbicide. A lot of things have changed”.

His colleague, Chuck Benbrook, an adjunct professor at Washington State University’s crops and soil science department, said “There is growing evidence that glyphosate is geno-toxic and has adverse effects on cells in a number of different ways. It’s time to pull back … on uses of glyphosate that we know are leading to significant human exposures while the science gets sorted out.”

Part 2: studies which conclude that glyphosate does not cause harm.

 

 

 

Will ‘determined opposition from GM agribusiness interests’ over-rule the decisions of governments like Scotland, Wales and Germany?

15 Jan

alison mannAlison Mann in the Scottish Farmer writes about the new Directive on Genetically Modified Organisms approved in the European Parliament this week which will allow member states to block – or accept – cultivation of GM crops on their own territory.

She reports that legal services in the European Parliament and Council are raising concerns over whether member states could implement bans without facing determined opposition from agribusiness interests.

Elsewhere comes news of an assessment from the Bundestag’s Green Party indicating that the GMO ban would be threatened by free trade agreements the EU is planning with Canada (CETA) and the United States (TTIP).

testbiotech cover graphic

Free trade – gateway for agricultural genetic engineering ( in German) is a study conducted by Christoph Then, of the possible consequences of TTIP based on the CETA text. (Graphic from cover above).

SNP MEP Alyn Smith described the new rules as a “toxic guddle”

He is concerned that:

  • the new law would not prevent the free circulation of GM products into Scotland,
  • it does not provide for the adequate labelling of products containing GM materials,
  • there are no provisions on how the rules to prevent contamination would be tackled within a member state.

He explained that the SNP are unable to support the new law: “Although in theory this legislation would give the Scottish government the right to ban the cultivation of GM crops on our territory, we are unable to support it due to its wider flaws.”

Some reported flaws:

  • they produce lower yields,
  • now fetch lower prices,
  • overall use more pesticides
  • face problems with pests becoming resistant to some pesticides
  • face problems with weeds resistant to a wide range of weedkillers
  • currently no GM crops authorised for use in the EU can be grown in England.

DEFRA Minister Paterson: note ill-health & lower life expectancy in GM-consuming America

13 Nov

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration conducts no scientific tests on any GMOs, yet declares them safe

phil bereanoLast week, Philip Bereano, Professor Emeritus in the field of Technology and Public Policy at the University of Washington in Seattle, felt impelled to protest at misleading statements repeated in the Seattle Times. Its editorial had repeated a statement from the Scientific American that “the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tested all the GMOs on the market” to determine safety.

Prof. Bereano described this statement as untrue, because the FDA only receives summary information from the company concerned, “consults” with the company if there is indication of a problem (which there never is — the industry only submits dossiers that appear clean) and then rubberstamps the “application.” The agency itself does no actual assessment. His letter to the editor may be read here.

A day earlier a contributor to the Scientific American, who saw no point in labelling GM foods, declared, “The scientific evidence suggests that genetically engineered foods (at least those currently on the market) are safe for consumption”.

Yes – but the evidence is given to the FDA by the company’s own employees.

Is it a coincidence that ill-health and obesity has increased in America, where the commercial sale of genetically modified foods began in 1994, almost 20 years ago?

US OECD life expectancyThe Economist reports new research by Dr Christopher Murray and his team from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (University of Washington). This was published in Journal of the American Medical Association and presented to government officials at a White House event hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. The research published data showing that both sexes have longer periods of illness in later life and a lower life expectancy than their peers in the OECD – parts of West Virginia and Mississippi faring worse than Bangladesh and Algeria. Alzheimer’s disease, liver cancer, Parkinson’s and kidney cancer were on the upswing, accounting for a significant increase in premature deaths in the U.S.

Has the drive for profits by the GM and junk food corporations contributed to this increase?

Scottish farmer: GMs will totally undermine the integrity of our livestock vegetable and cereal farming

7 Nov

Tom Douglas of Glendearg Farm, Galashiels, writes in the Scottish Farmer this week:

My GM opposition continues for reasons of monopolisation of our life essentials by organisations I would not trust and the weak government control over them.

It is apparent that the UK government and Owen Paterson value Monsanto more than the considerations of the electorate and that of our biggest trading partner the EU.

The golden rice development is an absolute example of this, tricking us into eating insect repellent or other poisons systematically integrated into the structure of our food.

Another problem is that GM labelling is not compulsory

We will not know the genetic make up of our life essentials and the food we are eating or the long term effects it will have on our metabolism or the ecology which surrounds us.

The non labelling allows Tesco and Asda to stock GMs unnoticed by the public . . .

Ultimately, what we will have to do is create a national marketing group for all agricultural produce to defend ourselves and our products in the market and negotiate a realistic sustainable price for a product before production starts and claw our way back to making a respectable income from our production.

 

World Food Prize ? No: “Monsanto should be tried for ecocide”

17 Oct

IANSToday, a reader from Nashik sent a link to this statement from IANS, an NGO offering India’s largest independent news service, New Delhi (Oct 16), published by Yahoo Finance:

Monsanto should be tried for “ecocide and genocide” as its genetically modified cotton seeds are responsible for the poor cotton crop yields, deterioration in soil quality and suicides by farmers in India, said NGO Navdanya slamming the World Food Prize conferred on the US multinational Wednesday.

Monsanto has attracted criticism from activists worldwide for being conferred the top food award.

navdanya

Navdanya, an Indian-based non-governmental organization which promotes biodiversity conservation, biodiversity, organic farming and the rights of farmers, said: “Contrary to what Monsanto proclaims, GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have led to a decline in yields and an increase in pesticide use, soil deterioration and farmer indebtedness and suicides. In India, most of the 284,000 farmers’ suicides are in the cotton belt – Monsanto controls 95 percent of the cotton seeds.”

“In a just world, Monsanto should be tried for ecocide and genocide,” it said in a statement. Yet on Oct 16, with the full support of powers most responsible for the state of hunger in the world, Monsanto is giving itself the World Food Prize!

The GMO emperor has no clothes

“We condemn this self congratulatory accolade – the GMO emperor has no clothes… We will not allow our Seed and Food Democracies to be hijacked by the current outmoded, reductionistic mechanistic paradigm,” it said.

It said the award comes on Oct 16, World Food Day, “a day when people all over the world are reminded of the shameful fact that over one billion people in the world are hungry and another billion are malnourished – this despite the fact that government institutions and multinational seed and food conglomerates have repeatedly over the decades declared to have the solution – one based on industrial agriculture, chemicals, GMOs and monocultures”.

“FAO tells us that more than 70% of food comes from small farms and small farmers. Only 10% of the GMO corn and soya grown by Monsanto is eaten directly. (And this is because that 10% is not labelled and would be 0% if people had labelling and food freedom). The other 90% goes to feed cars and animals,” it said.

“Let us honour all the Real Food Heroes who bring us real food by defending our food freedom- small farmers and gardeners, mothers and chefs, honest and real scientists. Let us celebrate those who save and exchange seed, preserve biodiversity and enrich our soils, and who through their actions are building food security all over the world and in communities everywhere with vibrant alternatives based on seed reform and food freedom.

monsanto demo durban

The most comprehensive coverage of the marches against Monsanto (above, Durban) was found in local American newspapers (use Google search) and Russia Today:

http://rt.com/news/march-against-monsanto-gmo-100/