Planet Diversity World Congress on the Future of Food and Agriculture

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31.10.2018 |

GMO Potato Now Classified as High-Risk

Non-GMO Project addresses supply chain risks caused by new techniques like CRISPR and RNAi

BELLINGHAM, WA—October 31—The potato has been added to the High-Risk list of the Non-GMO Project Standard because a GMO potato variety is now “widely commercially available” in the United States. To determine when a crop needs to be moved from the Monitored-Risk list to the High-Risk list, the Project uses an established set of criteria related to the likelihood of GMO contamination in the conventional and non-GMO supply chain. As a result of today’s move, products made with potato will now be subject to extra scrutiny before they can become Non-GMO Project Verified.

On the market since 2015, the GMO potato developed by J.R. Simplot has been engineered through a method of gene silencing called RNA interference (RNAi). This genetic engineering technique results in a potato that hides the symptoms of blackspot bruising. Currently, GMO potatoes are being marketed under the Simplot Innate brand, found under the trademark White Russet.

30.10.2018 |

Bad spud: GMO potato creator now fears its impact on human health

New book, Pandora’s Potatoes, describes genetic engineer’s work to develop the Innate genetically modified potato and his misgivings about that work

Of all the genetic engineers who have renounced the technology—Arpad Pusztai, Belinda Martineau, Thierry Vrain, and John Fagan, among others—because of its shortsighted approach and ability to produce unintended and potentially toxic consequences, Caius Rommens’ story may be the most compelling. Rommens was director of research at Simplot Plant Sciences from 2000 to 2013 where he led development of the company’s genetically engineered Innate potato. But over time, Rommens started to have serious doubts about his work and worried about potential health risks from eating the GMO potatoes, which are now sold in 4,000 supermarkets in the U.S.

Rommens’ concerns about the GMO potato led him to write a book, Pandora’s Potatoes, which was recently published. The book is a case study on how a scientist’s initial enthusiasm about genetic engineering turns to doubt and fear as he realizes the hazards the technology can create.

I recently interviewed Caius Rommens about his work developing the GMO potato and the misgivings he now has about it.

26.10.2018 |

Former EFSA GMO Panel member says GM Bt crop toxin allergy study is solid

A former member of the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA's) GMO panel, Jean-Michel Wal, has said that a study suggesting that GM Bt crops could be allergenic has "solid scientifically grounded results", according to a report in EU Food Policy.

The study performed in mice found that the GM Bt toxin Cry1Ac is immunogenic, allergenic, and able to induce anaphylaxis (a severe allergic response that can result in suffocation).

Dr Wal was a member of the GMO panel until July. He issued two minority Opinions during his time at EFSA, arguing that risk assessments of the potential allergenicity of the new proteins expressed in stacked-trait GMOs were inadequate and based on assumptions rather than data.

24.10.2018 |

GMO – Are authorisations of sub-combinations legal?

In the EU, the risk assessment of GMOs is no longer systematically associated with the requirement to provide data. This is how the recent evolution in the field of GMOs could be summarised. After having described this evolution through emblematic applications for commercial authorisation, Inf’OGM focuses on this issue from a legal point of view.

Since 2013, commercial authorisations covering both a GMO with several transformation events (GMO ABC for example, called stacked GMO) and the GMOs combining the transformation events of the stacked GMO (GMOs AB, BC, and AC) have multiplied. However, Regulation 1829/2003 – on which most commercial authorisations are based – is silent on the question whether a single decision can authorise the commercialisation of several GMOs.

In 2013, the entry into force of Regulation 503/2013 put an end to this silence. The Regulation requires that “the applications for genetically modified food and feed from segregating crops [...] include all subcombinations independently of their origin and not yet authorised . This cleared the way for a preferential treatment of sub-combinations and for an exponential growth of the number of GMOs authorised in the European Union.

22.10.2018 |

Will EU Commission allow import of new Baysanto "monster" maize?

GM maize is super-resistant to herbicides and produces six insecticidal toxins

EU Member States will today vote on whether a new GM maize that is super-resistant to the herbicides glyphosate and glufosinate and produces six insecticides can be imported. The maize is produced by crossing five different GM plants. Bayer wants approval for import and use in food and feed. The health impacts resulting from the specific combination of potential toxic substances have not been investigated.

The GM maize was produced by Monsanto, which is now owned by Bayer. The maize is part of a business strategy to market the herbicide and patented seeds as a package: the plants inherit duplicate genes for glyphosate and glufosinate resistance and each of the herbicides can therefore be sprayed at higher dosages. As a result, in addition to the insecticidal proteins produced in the plants, the harvested kernels may have a high load of herbicide residues from spraying.

The potential detrimental effects on health from the consumption of food and feed derived from these maize plants were not tested in any feeding study. The EU Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are of the opinion that in general such combinatorial effects do not require investigation.

18.10.2018 |

GMOs in the Aloha State: Biotech’s Passion for Hawaii

Many images may come to mind when one thinks of Hawaii: tropical beaches, big wave surfing, a fruity beverage underneath palm trees swaying in a light breeze…But what about GMOs? Would it surprise you to know that the Hawaiian Islands have been home to some of the largest GMO experiments in the United States—most of which have nothing to do with the highly celebrated Rainbow Papaya?

Hawaiian Agriculture in a Macadamia Nutshell

Since the arrival of Captain Cook in the 18th century, Hawaiian agriculture has been dominated by foreign interests. Native Hawaiians were increasingly alienated from their land and natural resources as plantation crop agriculture flourished. While remnants of the sugarcane and pineapple industries can still be seen on the islands today, the majority of the plantations have given way to a new type of agriculture: seed crops.

17.10.2018 |

CRISPR causes greater genetic damage than previously thought

Caution required for using CRISPR in potential gene therapies – and food plants

Scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute have discovered that CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing can cause greater genetic damage in cells than was previously thought. 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. Potential consequences could include triggering cancer.

Reported on 16 July 2018 in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the study also revealed 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.

As usual we see far more honesty about the off-target effects of CRISPR from genetic engineers in the field of medical research than we see from the plant genetic engineers. However, the technique as used in plants is the same, as are the mechanisms of DNA repair. These off-target effects in food plants could have possible knock-on effects on food safety, including unexpected toxicity and allergenicity.

16.10.2018 |

New GM ‘eradication’ techniques pose grave threat to ecosystems

Why we need an international moratorium on so-called “gene drive”

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Gene drive allows for modification of entire wild populations

Concerns around the contamination of natural populations seem to have been completely ignored in the development of this new technique, known as gene drive, which if unimpeded will enable humans to modify entire populations of living organisms in just a few generations. Gene drive allows for the bypassing of hereditary laws and the passing of a gene from one parent to almost all its descendants, whatever the genes of the other parent. In this way, it is, for example, possible to pass a female sterility gene through genetically modified males and - in theory - eradicate a whole population.

Proponents of this technique usually present extremely exciting possible uses like a reduction of the number of mosquitoes responsible for the malaria epidemic, or the eradication of an imported rat population that is endangering the ecosystem of New Zealand. These indeed sound great if we forget that the consequences could be dire.

16.10.2018 |

Big Agriculture eyeing genetic tool for pest control

A controversial and unproven gene-editing technology touted as a silver bullet against malaria-bearing mosquitos could wind up being deployed first in commercial agriculture, according to experts and an NGO report published Tuesday.

So-called "gene drives" force evolution's hand, ensuring that an engineered trait is passed down to all or most offspring, and from one generation to the next.

If that trait is being male or female, for example, genetically altered specimens released into the wild could lead to the local extinction of a targeted species within a dozen generations.

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"Gene drive is headed toward agriculture," said Jim Thomas, research director at ETC Group, a Canadian-based NGO that tracks potentially dangerous bio-technologies, and lead author of a report on the technology's inroads into Big Agriculture.

In the United States, at least, it already has a foothold.

16.10.2018 |

Just Say No to Agricultural Gene Drives

By forcing laboratory-made genes on an entire population or species, cutting-edge gene-drive technologies have the power to transform entire ecosystems in one fell swoop. But where leading industrial agriculture firms see dollar signs, farmers in the regions where gene drives could be unleashed see a mortal threat to their livelihoods.

LAGOS – First, the agribusiness giants came to take our land and disrupt our food systems with synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, proprietary seeds, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Now, these firms’ hired hands are upping the ante with “gene drives,” a deliberately invasive technology designed to propagate genetic material across an entire population or species. As a result, Africans are now confronting a new and serious threat to our land, biodiversity, rights, and food supply.

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