Planet Diversity World Congress on the Future of Food and Agriculture

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12.09.2018 |

CRISPR/Cas9 Found to Cause Extensive Genetic Mutations in Cells

CRISPR/Cas9 is one of the newest genome editing tools. It can alter sections of DNA in cells by cutting at specific points and introducing changes at that location. Scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute carried out a full systematic study in both mouse and human cells and discovered that CRISPR/Cas9 frequently caused extensive mutations, but at a greater distance from the target site.

Published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the study found that CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing can cause greater genetic damage in cells than was previously thought. The researchers found that many of the cells had large genetic rearrangements such as DNA deletions and insertions.

These results create safety implications for gene therapies using CRISPR/Cas9 in the future as the unexpected damage could lead to dangerous changes in some cells. In addition, some of these changes were too far away from the target site to be seen with standard genotyping methods. The researchers stressed that standard tests for detecting DNA changes miss finding this genetic damage, and that caution and specific testing will be required for any potential gene therapies.

07.09.2018 |

GMO Free Regions Conference calls for a moratorium on “Gene Drives”

More than 200 participants from GMO Free Regions throughout Europe, as well as guests from North-America, Asia, New Zealand and Africa (35 nations in total) met in Berlin to discuss new an old challenges of genetic engineering in agriculture as well as the environment at large. They were relieved and reassured by the recent European Court of Justice’ decision that all forms of genetic engineering, including CRISPR-Cas and other forms of so called “gene editing” fall under the European directive on GMOs. This requires risk assessment and specific approval for each GM product, traceability and labelling.

However, participants agreed that the new GM technologies require special attention and debate and additional risk assessment. A new generation of GMO, “Gene drives”, designed to alter the genetic makeup of entire species, including their potential extinction, was of major concern. Such Gene Drive Organisms (GDOs) should not be released into the environment anywhere on the world, participants agreed.

The network of 64 gmo free regional governments, hosting the 2nd day of the Conference, adopted a Berlin Declaration, that calls for a European and global moratorium of Gene Drives and demands that national governments as well as the EU take on this issue at the upcoming meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity. When presenting the declaration, the networks President Dr. Beatrix Tappeser, said: “Let us continue the precautionary approach, and maintain our GMO Free pathway, that has served the European Regions so well over the past decade. There needs to be more public investment in the agriculture people really want.”

Benny Haerlin of “Save Our Seeds”, who organised the NGO-part of the conference, added: “The debate about GMOs, including recent promises of “new” genetic engineering are not just a matter of safety and precaution. The dispute about these technologies is about the kind of agriculture we want for the future: Multinational industry driven techno-innovation versus small farmers driven agroecology.”

28.08.2018 |

BioAfrica Convention: Open for the business of profit; closed to the questions that matter

Media release: Civil society responds to BioAfrica Convention

This week the biotechnology industry meets at the Durban International Convention Centre. Themed “Africa – Open for business” the Convention will explore various ways in which African biodiversity can be exploited for agriculture, industry and health by providing a platform for stakeholders in the biotechnology environment. The Convention is co-hosted by AfricaBio, the Technology Innovation Agency and the South African Department of Science and Technology, with primary sponsorship from DuPont, Syngenta and MSQ Health.1

What is clear from the programme and exorbitant participation fees is that they will not be building the Bio-Economy together with the communities whose resources and knowledge will be exploited. There has been no attempt to open the content or participation to civil society voices that might challenge the neo-colonial agenda, or the neoliberal approach to commodifying and privatising nature and traditional knowledge, an approach which also contravenes the essence of African belief systems which centralise communal ownership and benefit.

23.08.2018 |

Bound to fail – The flawed scientific foundations of genetic engineering

Invitation to the public event on the evening before the 9th GMO Free Europe Conference:

Bound to fail – The flawed scientific foundations of genetic engineering

The Central Dogma is 60 years old - but has it always been the new clothes of the emperor?

Public and press event: Wednesday, September 5th 7 – 9.30 pm

GLS Bank, Schumannstraße 10, 10117 Berlin

With:

• Prof. Ignacio Chapela, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA

• Prof. Jack Heinemann, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

• Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, EcoNexus, Oxford, UK

• Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

• Dr. Sarah Agapito Tenfen, GenØk - Centre for Biosafety, Tromsø, Norway

Organizers:

• European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility

• GLS Gemeinschaftsbank

• Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft

23.08.2018 |

How much a life? Monsanto trial exposes risks of Roundup herbicide

As a Saskatchewan resident for many years, I often heard the phrase "Roundup Ready." It was coined as if it were a harmless jingle for soda pop. The ad still rings in my ears.

All farmers know of Roundup, the most effective weed killer. Most urbanites do as well. The way the corporate giant Monsanto has marketed, promoted, and created an artificial need for Roundup is a true story of profiteering and avarice. Now, finally, even some courts are accepting that it likely kills much more than just weeds and that Monsanto has acted to cover up concerns about the safety of Roundup.

A few years ago, Dewayne Johnson, a courageous man and one who is also dying of cancer, launched a lawsuit against Monsanto. In early August, Johnson had his day in court -- and won. He showed that David can still take down Goliath -- something that some of us had begun to wonder about given all the nasty stories of corporate greed, seed manipulation and cover-ups we have come to know.

22.08.2018 |

Carey Gillam and Nathan Donley: A story behind the Monsanto Cancer Trial — Journal sits on retraction

What "ghostwriting" by Monsanto means, how it has influenced, and still is influencing, material found in peer-reviewed scientific journals

Consumers and journalists around the world were stunned earlier this month when Monsanto, after being forced in a court of law for the first time to defend the safety of its popular weed killer Roundup, was found liable for the terminal cancer of California groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson.

The unanimous 12-member jury found that Mr. Johnson's exposure to Monsanto's weedkiller was a "substantial" contributing factor to his disease and that there was "clear and convincing" evidence that Monsanto acted with "malice or oppression" because the risks were evident and Monsanto failed to warn of those known risks.

Aside from dueling expert testimony on both sides, the jury was provided with internal company emails and work plans indicating that Monsanto had been corrupting the scientific record by ghostwriting literature asserting safety.

22.08.2018 |

Anti-Monsanto Lawyer: 'Monsanto's History Is Full of Lies'

Following a successful lawsuit against Monsanto for concealing the cancer risks of its pesticide Round Up, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the case says the Bayer subsidiary is likely to face many more legal challenges in the future.

On Aug. 10, lawyer Brent Wisner, 34, scored a landmark verdict on behalf of his client, cancer patient Dewayne Johnson. A court in San Francisco ruled that Monsanto was guilty of concealing the potential health risks associated with its weed killer glyphosate, which is sold in the United States under the brand name Round Up. The jury ordered the company to pay $289 million in damages to the plaintiff, who had used Round Up at his job as a janitor for a school district. The court said Monsanto should have labeled the product's possible dangers for consumers. Monsanto, which was recently acquired by German pharmaceuticals giant Bayer, has denied any link between the product and the disease.

Wisner spoke to DER SPIEGEL about the case in an interview.

DER SPIEGEL: Your law firm is widely considered to be on the side of consumers. You have targeted pharmaceutical companies and intractable airlines. When did you start taking a closer look at Monsanto?

Wisner: It's kind of in my blood. Even my father was a bit skeptical of pesticides. He networked with farmers and became an activist against the whole chemical thing. Then, two-and-a-half years ago, I received a call from Teri McCall. She was the widow of a farmer who had died of cancer and who had worked for over 30 years with Monsanto products. That was the impetus for our investigation. This summer, Dewayne Johnson approached us as well.

22.08.2018 |

Too Big to Feed: The Short Report

Mega-mergers and the concentration of power in the agri-food sector

What is corporate concentration, why does it matter for food security, and who are the biggest corporate players in each agrifood sector/"link" in the Industrial Food Chain? This accessible booklet (soon to be available in French and Spanish) answers these questions and more.

The Too Big to Feed: The Short Report was developed by ETC Group, in partnership with IPES-Food. It summarizes the full report Too Big to Feed, published by IPES-Food in October 2017. The full-length report (available here) includes additional data and a more detailed analysis on the impact of the consolidation of the agri-food sector.

22.08.2018 |

In the News: “Gov’t committee’s GMO deregulation proposal too hasty: consumer groups, experts”

Consumers Union of Japan has been active in the debate about regulation of GMOs since the mid 1990 and firmly believe the new technologies, such as gene editing, must be strictly regulated. CUJ’s stance is that any such experiments should be stopped to avoid serious adverse effects on human health and the environment.

August 21, 2018 (Mainichi Japan)

TOKYO — Consumer groups are taking aim at Aug. 20 recommendations by an Environment Ministry expert committee that some genetically modified organisms (GMO) be deregulated.

The expert committee proposed deregulation of organisms edited to remove or deactivate certain genes as opposed to adding new code, but critics are claiming this is “the same as genetic manipulation,” and that it is “strange” to exempt it from government restrictions.

21.08.2018 |

EDITORIAL: Genome editing poses a tricky regulatory challenge

The government has started working on legal and regulatory rules on dealing with genome-edited animals and plants.

In developing a regulatory system to govern genome editing, a new type of genetic engineering that involves changing an organism’s DNA, the government has to adopt an appropriately cautious, safety-first approach to ensure that there will be no harmful effects on biodiversity or human health.

Unlike early, less precise genetic engineering techniques, gene editing is aimed at changing DNA at a specific site in the genome.

The approach employs various techniques. A certain type of protein is used as “scissors” to cut the DNA at the target site to eliminate its specific gene function. Or new useful DNA is inserted into a specific location of the gene.

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