Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Nontarget Effects of Genetic Manipulation

A Project of The Nature Institute
Project Director: Craig Holdrege
Email: nontarget@natureinstitute.org

Introduction to This Site

Much of the public debate concerning genetically modified organisms, their widespread use in animal and human food, and their impact upon the environment could be raised to an entirely new and more productive level if certain undisputed facts were more widely known. The facts at issue have to do with the unintended and systemic consequences of genetic manipulations, as revealed in one research report after another.

Putting the matter plainly: when foreign genes are introduced into an organism, creating a transgenic organism (commonly called a genetically modified or genetically engineered organism), the results for the organism and its environment are almost always unpredictable. The intended result may or may not be achieved in any given case, but the one almost sure thing is that unintended results - nontarget effects - will also be achieved.

These facts have been, and are being, widely reported in the scientific literature. While they are correcting our understanding in important ways, they are not at all controversial. And they bear directly upon the wisdom of virtually all the current genetic engineering practices. If there has been limited reportage of nontarget effects in the popular press, it may be because the facts are often buried in technical scientific articles. And within genetic engineering research itself, scientists are mainly concerned with achieving targeted effects and not with investigating beyond the range of their own intentions and reporting unexpected effects. But when they do investigate, there is usually plenty to see.

It is the purpose of this project to make evidence about the wide-ranging and never wholly predictable effects of genetic engineering readily accessible to concerned citizens, policy makers, and scientists. We have collected examples from the scientific literature, primarily from peer-reviewed journals, and written short reports on each example. These are ordered according to different categories and include effects on the manipulated organisms themselves as well as broader environmental ripple effects. Currently we have included only studies related to nontarget effects associated with genetically modified plants. Our compilation of reports is by no means exhaustive and will be expanded over time. The technical literature we have not yet touched remains extensive.

Search Nontarget Effects

Click Here to browse and search our reports on the nontarget effects of genetic manipulations.

"Nontarget Effects of Genetic Manipulation - An Introduction"

This article by Craig Holdrege provides essential background information about nontarget effects. What do we mean by nontarget effects? How are nontarget effects detected? What are the different categories of nontarget effects? We encourage readers to consult this article in connection with searching the individual reports.

Genetics and Biotechnology

Here is a collection of articles on the broader issues of genetics and genetic engineering written by Nature Institute members Craig Holdrege and Steve Talbott, and others.

And here is a list of online resources relating to genetically engineered organisms—particularly their risks, regulation, and use.

Acknowledgments

The work of The Nature Institute is funded through grants from foundations, individual gifts and program income. We would like to thank our "Friends of The Nature Institute" as well as the following organizations for their support of our project on the nontarget effects of genetic manipulation: Cornerstone Campaign, Educational Foundation of America, Evidenzgesellschaft, GLS Treuhand, Mahle-Stiftung, RSF Shared Gifting Group, Rudolf Steiner-Fonds fuer wissenschaftliche Forschung, and the Software-AG Stiftung. We are especially grateful to the European foundations for recognizing the global nature of this issue and for supporting an organization in the United States.

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Copyright 2008 The Nature Institute

Much High Fructose Corn Syrup Contaminated With Mercury, New Study Finds

  • Press Release
    Brand-Name Food Products Also Discovered to Contain Mercury
    Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), Jan 26, 2009
    Straight to the Source

Minneapolis - Mercury was found in nearly 50 percent of tested samples of commercial high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), according to a new article published today in the scientific journal, Environmental Health. A separate study by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) detected mercury in nearly one-third of 55 popular brandname food and beverage products where HFCS is the first or second highest labeled ingredient-including products by Quaker, Hershey's, Kraft and Smucker's.

HFCS use has skyrocketed in recent decades as the sweetener has replaced sugar in many processed foods. HFCS is found in sweetened beverages, breads, cereals, breakfast bars, lunch meats, yogurts, soups and condiments. On average, Americans consume about 12 teaspoons per day of HFCS. Consumption by teenagers and other high consumers can be up to 80 percent above average levels.

"Mercury is toxic in all its forms," said IATP's David Wallinga, M.D., and a co-author in both studies. "Given how much high fructose corn syrup is consumed by children, it could be a significant additional source of mercury never before considered. We are calling for immediate changes by industry and the FDA to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply."

In the Environmental Health article, Dufault et al. found detectable levels of mercury in nine of 20 samples of commercial HFCS. Dufault was working at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration when the tests were done in 2005. She and co-authors conclude that possible mercury contamination of food chemicals like HFCS was not common knowledge within the food industry that frequently uses the sweetener. While the FDA had evidence that commercial HFCS was contaminated with mercury four years ago, the agency did not inform consumers, help change industry practice or conduct additional testing.

For its report "Not So Sweet: Missing Mercury and High Fructose Corn Syrup," IATP sent 55 brand-name foods and beverages containing HFCS as the first or second ingredient to a commercial laboratory to be tested for total mercury. Nearly one in three products tested contained detectable mercury. Mercury was most prevalent in HFCScontaining dairy products, followed by dressings and condiments. Attached is the summary list of the 55 products and their total mercury content.

In making HFCS, caustic soda is used, among other things, to separate corn starch from the corn kernel. For decades, HFCS has been made using mercury-grade caustic soda produced in industrial chlorine (chlor-alkali) plants. The use of mercury cells to produce caustic soda can contaminate caustic soda, and ultimately HFCS, with mercury.

"The bad news is that nobody knows whether or not their soda or snack food contains HFCS made from ingredients like caustic soda contaminated with mercury," said Dr. Wallinga. "The good news is that mercury-free HFCS ingredients exist. Food companies just need a good push to only use those ingredients."

While most chlorine plants around the world have switched to newer, cleaner technologies, many still rely on the use of mercury cells. In 2005, 90 percent of chlorine production was mercury-free, but just 40 percent of European production was mercury-free. Four U.S. chlor-alkali plants still rely on mercury cell technology. In 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama introduced legislation to force the remaining chlor-alkali plants to phase out mercury cell technology by 2012.

The Environmental Health article by Dufault et al. can be found at: www.ehjournal.net.

"Not So Sweet: Missing Mercury and High Fructose Corn Syrup," by David Wallinga, M.D., Janelle Sorensen, Pooja Mottl and Brian Yablon, M.D., can be found at: www.iatp.org.

IATP works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems. www.iatp.org

Monday, January 26, 2009

The new weapons of genetic engineering

GRAIN

Over the last few years biotech laboratories and industry have developed two new techniques – artificial minichromosomes and transformed organelles – which, the industry claims, will allow it to overcome the problems it has faced until now with GMOs, especially their low efficiency and genetic contamination. But basic biology and maths indicate that, contrary to what the industry claims, the new technology will not prevent genetic contamination in plants. In fact, as the two technologies converge, the frightening possibility arises that contamination will reach a new level of toxicity, and occur not only within organisms of the same species but also between species as different from each other as plants and bacteria, or plants and fungi.

From its very beginning, genetic engineering has faced two tremendous barriers. First, there is the undeniable fact that the theory that each gene is responsible for a single characteristic (one gene–one trait), if it is true at all, holds true for only some genes. The more that is learnt about the functioning of cells and organisms, the more flexible and multiple the links between gene and function are found to be. [1] Second, there is the complex and powerful self-regulating capacity of chromosomes and genomes, which leads them to expel, delete or “silence” genetic material which is not part of their normal make-up. Mutations occur very often in nature, and most of the time the genetic material itself triggers mechanisms that “correct” or delete these mutations. The result is an amazing and stubborn stability of form and function. [2]

Three major practical effects derive from this: multiple and unexpected side-effects from genetic engineering; a very low rate of successful, stable expression of the engineered traits; and an overwhelming difficulty in genetically engineering traits that involve several genes. The biotech industry has addressed the first problem by not releasing engineered organisms with obviously harmful side-effects and by denying side-effects when they have occurred in the field or lab, or in animals and human beings. Industry has also been very careful to avoid acknowledging that fewer than one per cent of their attempts at genetic engineering are successful in any way. They are also reluctant to admit that none of the attractive initial promises of biotechnology – that it would make all plants capable of fixing nitrogen and acquiring phosphorus, that it would produce plants tolerant of drought, salt and heavy metals, and that it would manufacture new vaccines – has been delivered. A key factor in explaining this is that all these characteristics or products involve gene complexes; by contrast, almost all current biotech products are based upon single genes (plants that are tolerant of herbicide and plants that contain Bt toxin are two good examples).

As well as harming their public image, these failures have serious practical consequences for the companies, as they reduce their efficiency and limit their potential profits. Not surprisingly, the industry has long sought new approaches to overcome these limitations. Biotechnologists and the biotech industry are now saying that a major breakthrough has taken place: they are now able to build small artificial chromosomes that carry multiple genes and become fully functional once inserted into a cell. Due to their small size, these artificial chromosomes are called “minichromosomes”. It is claimed that they will make the engineering of complex traits possible and that they will dramatically reduce side-effects, as they will not disrupt the native genetic material of the engineered organisms. [3]

A second important development has also taken place, with much less media coverage: the genetic engineering of cell organelles, such as chloroplasts and mitochondria. Because there may be multiple organelles (up to hundreds) per cell, this technique would allow a much stronger expression of the engineered traits. As GE organelles are not transferred through pollen, the industry also claims that genetic contamination of plants would be prevented.

There is still much that is unknown. New research is uncovering a remarkable level of complexity in the web of interactions between genetic material, whole organisms and the environment, which raises questions about how efficient the new technologies will be. Looked at from a commercial point of view, however, it is certainly true that, even if it works only partially, the technology will open up for the industry a whole new world of biotech products and patents. This is because it extends the range of patentable “inventions” beyond genes and traits to chromosomes and complete physiological processes. [4]

What are artificial minichromosomes?

Artificial minichromosomes are small chromosomes built by incorporating genes into a DNA molecule that initially contains only the units that regulate the replication of chromosomes (called telomeres); those that initiate the replication, and those that ensure the right distribution of chromosomes in new cells (called crentromeres). [5] Multiple genes can be added to these two basic units and, to render them functional, there is no need to include the regulating DNA that makes up more than 90 per cent of most natural chromosomes. The biggest artificial minichromosomes built so far carry between a dozen and 20 genes but, in theory, there is no limit to the number of genes that can be included in one single artificial chromosome. Artificial minichromosomes can be built and inserted into all kind of species, from yeast and bacteria, to higher plants, insects, mammals and humans. In fact, in the early years bigger advances were made in developing artificial chromosome technology for animals and humans than for other species, but more recently the technology for plants, yeasts and bacteria has been catching up. [6]

There are natural minichromosomes too, and they are encountered widely among different species and kingdoms. They may be present in the nucleus, as well as in the cell “organelles” that are responsible for photosynthesis, energy processing and other fundamental processes of life. They characteristically lack regulating DNA and may exist in highly variable numbers of copies in the same cell. The role and functioning of natural minichromosomes is little understood, but they may be important in the process of adjusting to very different or changing habitats and conditions.

One characteristic of natural and artificial minichromosomes that has attracted the attention of biotechnologists is that they seem to be more “independent” from the rest of the genetic material than larger nucleus chromosomes. That is, their expression seems not to be determined by – and seems to have little influence on – the behaviour of other chromosomes. When foreign genes are inserted, the genetic material of the artificial minichromosomes is not “silenced” or “deleted”, as often happens with genes inserted into existing chromosomes. Once inserted into the cell, artificial minichromosomes also remain physically independent from other chromosomes and genetic material; they are not incorporated into the native DNA and therefore do not cause mutations in the native DNA. Industry and labs developing and using the technology thus claim that minichromosomes will avoid the side-effects of genetic engineering because there will be no disruption of genetic material. [7]

What are transformed organelles?

Organelles – also called plastids – are tiny structures that exist within animal and plant cells. They are the sites where fundamental processes take place, such as photosynthesis and cell respiration. They include chloroplasts, ribosomes and mitochondria. There are multiple copies per cell, each with their own DNA. If a foreign gene or an artificial chromosome is inserted into an organelle, the cell will multiply it, producing new cells with multiple copies of the inserted gene. Under certain conditions that can be induced, plant cells also increase the number of copies of their organelles. This way GE organelles have the potential to secure multiple copies of the inserted DNA and hence a very high level of expression of the engineered genes, in theory much higher than the improved level that can be reached through minichromosomes. [8]

Although efforts to transform organelles – especially chloroplasts – have been going on for the last decade, they have succeeded in only a few plant species. It is still done “the old way”, inserting foreign genes in the organelle DNA, and hence it still faces many of the serious limitations of that approach. [9]

The main corporate players

The development of artificial minichromosomes and transformed organelles has followed the same pattern as earlier biotech developments: from publicly funded basic research to fully private application and use, with growing concentration in the hands of a few corporations. Two labs have led the way in research into artificial minichromosomes: one headed by Dr Daphne Preuss at the University of Chicago, the other headed by Dr James Birchler at the University of Missouri.

Dr Preuss, who joined the University of Chicago in 1995, worked with her team in the development of methods to build artificial chromosomes. In 2000 she founded Chromatin Inc. as a way of marketing minichromosomes. In 2004 Unilever became the first major corporation to invest in the new firm. In 2007 Chromatin granted Monsanto a non-exclusive licence for the use of minichromosomes and, just four months later, did the same with Syngenta. Both agreements include funds for research, but the amounts involved and the terms of the agreements have been kept secret. All along, Chromatin has continued to receive public funding. Chromatin lists on its web page twelve patents as its own. Six of those patents, however, were actually granted to the University of Chicago (1) and four others are shared with the University. Neither party has disclosed whether the University of Chicago has transferred its rights to Chromatin Inc.

Dr Birchler has long been a professor and researcher at the University of Missouri. His work on artificial chromosomes has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture, and Monsanto. (2) He recently strengthened his links with Monsanto by becoming scientific adviser to Evogene, a biotech company based in Israel that specialises in computer-assisted identification of commercially promising genes. Monsanto currently owns 13.6 per cent of Evogene and will have a 20 per cent stake within 3 years. (3) Evogene will grant Monsanto exclusive licences over identified genes. Monsanto will, in turn, use the technology developed by Birchler or Preuss to engineer those genes into plant varieties.

Transformed organelles have been developed by several University labs, and the privatisation processes have been similar. One of the leading labs, headed by Dr Pal Maliga of Rutgers University, is currently funded by public sources as well as by Monsanto. Another prominent laboratory is headed by Dr Henry Daniell at the University of Central Florida. Dr Daniell has raised record amounts of public money, and the work of his lab is “protected” by over 90 patents. In 2002 Dr Daniell set up a private firm, Chlorogen, to commercialise transformed chloroplasts.( 4) In 2005 Chlorogen signed a major agreement with Dow AgroSciences to produce veterinary drugs in plant cells. (5) The company closed in September 2007, selling its technology to undisclosed parties. (6)

Monsanto and Bayer seem to be the corporations to have done most to develop fully commercial applications for both technologies. Monsanto has been very active: it has co-funded, invested, reached research agreements and licensed applications from a variety of university research groups and has also carried out in-house research. It has been busy signing agreements and obtaining licences from biotech firms, including Chromatin, Evogen, Asgrow and BASF. It is already testing gene stacking through minichromosomes, and it expects to release commercially what it calls its SmartStax “platform” in 2010. On its web page for investors, Monsanto has highlighted the potential use of the technology to lower environmental requirements.(7)

Bayer is focusing its action in the field through Icon Genetics Inc. Founded by two University professors in 1999, Icon Genetics focuses on producing pharmaceuticals through plants. Throughout its life, it has managed to obtain important public grants and has displayed a highly diversified portfolio of agreements with pharmaceutical companies. It was bought by Bayer in 2006. Its products are mostly based on chloroplast engineering, but the company is also working on the engineering of other organelles. It holds at least one patent over a method to produce minichromosomes. It recently opened a new factory in Germany to produce biotech drugs in tobacco plants. (8)

Syngenta has licensed minichromosome technology from Chromatin Inc., and it has already stacked tolerance to glyphosate, rootworm resistance and European corn borer resistance in maize. (9) It holds at least one patent over a method to engineer organelles. Biofuels is one of its main areas of interest. Novartis, Calgene (owned by Monsanto), Pioneer Hi-Bred, and Assgrow are also using the new technologies.


1 - They are US Patents 6156953, 6900012, 6972197, 7015372, 7119250, 7132240.
2 - University of Missouri College of Arts and Sciences press release, 29 September 2005.
http://rcp.missouri.edu/articles/birchler_chromosome.html
3 - Evogene–Investor Conference, September 2008. http://www.evogene.com/investors_presentations.asp
4 - “About Dr. Henry Daniell”, Daniell Lab for Molecular Biotechnology Research, University of Central Florida College of Medicine, 2008. http://daniell.ucf.edu/people/daniell
5 - “Dow AgroSciences, Chlorogen to co-develop chloroplast transformation technology for plant cell culture and crop improvements”, Dow AgroSciences press release, 16 September 2005.
http://www.dowagro.com/newsroom/corporatenews/2005/20050916a.htm
6 - “Biotech Startup Chlorogen Shuts Down, Starts Selling Off Its Technology”, BioSpace, 12 September 2007.
http://www.biospace.com/news_story.aspx?NewsEntityId=69496
7 - See http://www.monsanto.com/pdf/investors/2008/12-09-08.pdf
8 - “Pilot plant for future-oriented technology opens in Halle”, Icon Genetics press release, 16 June 2008.
http://www.icongenetics.com/html/5948.htm
9 - See Syngenta’s Research & Development front page on its website.
http://www.syngenta.com/en/about_syngenta/researchanddevelopment.html

What can be done with these technologies?

The biotech industry expects to solve some of its major hurdles by using minichromosomes. First, they will be able to insert several genes in a cell and thereby expect to make complex traits a feasible target for genetic engineering (although the actual feasibility is still to be seen: complex traits are exactly that and the presence of multiple genes does not guarantee the expression of a complex trait). Minichromosomes will also make “gene stacking” possible: several of the current single genes present in GM crops could be accumulated in one variety, providing a new opportunity to reap profits out of them. “Gene stacking” is currently possible, and is being done by companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta, but the time and work it requires make it far less profitable. Second, artificial minichromosomes should make genetic engineering more efficient by decreasing the type of side-effects that make so many engineered organisms unviable. Third, they will be by-passing many genetic control mechanisms so that the engineered genes will obtain higher and more stable levels of expression.

If the industry is to be believed, artificial minichromosomes will make the engineering of complex traits possible, which means that it will possible to produce almost any substance through genetic modification. What does this mean for the future of genetic engineering? The industry puts forward two versions. When it is being careful about its public image, it presents this new technique as an effective and safe technology for – yet again – saving the world from hunger and environmental problems. Daphne Preuss, a leading scientist from the University of Chicago, who is now the president of Chromatin Inc., has made presentations for the Gates Foundation and the United Nations on how this technology could herald a breakthrough for African agriculture. [10] However, when discussing the possible applications of the new technology in patent applications, the biotech industry deals with the genetic engineering of crops for food production as only a secondary target, the main goal being pharming (the production of drugs and chemicals through engineered crops). Companies want to create GE plants that will produce drugs, human and animal proteins, and biofuels, as well as specific industrial raw materials, including toxins. Other possible uses include “the production of nutraceuticals, food additives, carbohydrates, RNAs, lipids, fuels, dyes, pigments, vitamins, scents, flavours, vaccines, antibodies, hormones, and the like.” [11]

The idea of using crops to produce drugs is an interesting one for industry for two reasons: crops can be employed more efficiently in this process than animals or bacteria, with a larger output achieved with fewer resources; and it is easier for the drugs produced to be delivered orally to people and animals. [12] Other types of organisms have not been discarded, however. Bacteria remain an important target, because they are easier to engineer and they can be more easily used to produce high-value molecules in small quantities; they may, however, face important regulatory problems. Other species being transformed and tested as possible drug factories are insect larvae and moss.

The application of minichromosomes does not end there. As well as promising higher yields, nitrogen fixation and resistance to salt, drought, heavy metals, viruses, insects, diseases and changes in climate – or any combination thereof – companies are consistently claiming in their patent applications to have the ability to alter plant architecture and physiology, including the process of photosynthesis. In the words of WIPO patent 2007/030510, it may be possible to obtain “resistance or tolerance to drought, heat, chilling, freezing, excessive moisture, salt stress, mechanical stress, extreme acidity, alkalinity, toxins, UV light, ionising radiation or oxidative stress; increased yields, whether in quantity or quality; enhanced or altered nutrient acquisition and enhanced or altered metabolic efficiency; enhanced or altered nutritional content and makeup of plant tissues used for food, feed, fiber or processing; physical appearance; male sterility; drydown; standability; prolificacy; starch quantity and quality; oil quantity and quality; protein quality and quantity; amino acid composition; modified chemical production; altered pharmaceutical or nutraceutical properties; altered bioremediation properties; increased biomass; altered growth rate; altered fitness; altered biodegradability; altered CO2 fixation; presence of bioindicator activity; altered digestibility by humans or animals; altered allergenicity; altered mating characteristics; altered pollen dispersal; improved environmental impact; altered nitrogen fixation capability”. [13] There is, it would seem, a huge range of biologically possible alterations, and industry will establish its targets by seeing which GE modifications are most profitable.

The genetic engineering of organelles offers another set of rewards for the biotech industry, especially through the engineering of plant chloroplasts. The most important of these is much higher levels of productivity of whatever substance the engineered plant will make. If, for example, each cell holds tens of chloroplasts and each chloroplast holds over 200 copies of the foreign DNA, the potential production of the engineered substance will, in theory at least, be many times more than it is with the use of current techniques. And tests have, indeed, shown “hyperexpression” of the transgenes.

A second important promise for industry is the stable passing on to the next generation of the foreign DNA. Organelles are transferred through the so-called “maternal inheritance” as identical copies. A female animal will transfer identical copies to all its offspring and a plant to all the seeds it produces, without changes from one generation to the next. Industry claims that this will ensure the stability of the GE traits from generation to generation. They also claim that, as pollen grains and semen cells do not carry GM organelles, there is no possibility of them being accidentally transferred to other organisms. In other words, GM organelles will be a powerful biosafety tool for preventing genetic contamination, they say. [14]

An obvious powerful development would be to put these two techniques together. The different research groups that have been developing the new techniques do not seem to be talking much to each other, but some of the big biotech companies are working hard to combine the techniques and to use them together, mostly in plants. Bayer has been very active through Icon Genetics Inc. They already claim widespread success in engineering plastids, and have at least one patent related to minichromosomes. Monsanto, which was the first company to engineer chloroplasts, has funded research on minichromosomes at the University of Missouri and has signed a licence agreement with Chromatin Inc., one of the leading players in the new field, for the use of its minichromosome technology. Syngenta is also working with both technologies, although it seems less actively involved than Bayer and Monsanto.

What can be expected from all this?

Artificial minichromosomes and GE plastids are advancing fast, especially for plant species, and some of their field applications are already available. Their impact – independently or working together – may well be huge. The production of all types of molecules and chemicals is now within reach and economically promising, and for various biotech companies the opportunity is too attractive to let pass. It seems inevitable that in the not too distant future we will have multiple GE crops producing toxic substances. Due to their possible application in biofuels and industrial inputs, such toxic crops will eventually cover large areas. Because biotech companies claim that engineered organelles will contain genetic contamination, they will probably manage to introduce the new crops into the field without proper tests or regulation.

The new technologies are, however, far from safe. It may well be true that engineered plastids will not be transferred through pollen in 99 per cent of cases but, given the huge number of pollen grains that any plant can produce, one per cent transfer is enough to produce widespread contamination. Toxic genes will be disseminated at a lower speed than is the case with current transgenes, but they will still be disseminated. [15]

There is another route for genetic contamination by artificial chromosomes: widespread transfer through bacteria. Bacteria are readily able to acquire DNA from other bacteria [16] and to transfer it to other bacteria and micro-organisms, and to plants. The pathogen Agrobacterium tumefaciens is used in the genetic engineering of plants because it is particularly effective at doing this, but all bacteria have the potential to do the same. Artificial minichromosomes share important characteristics with bacterial DNA, and it is to be expected that bacteria will be able to incorporate some of their genes and transfer them to other bacteria, micro-organisms and plants. So artificial minichromosomes will create new forms of contamination, between species and, more alarmingly still, between kingdoms.

Industry acknowledges other dangers too. Icon Genetics, which is owned by Bayer, indicates in one of its patent applications that not only will the transgenes in chloroplasts lead to the production of different drugs and chemicals, but the hyperproduction of those substances can be highly toxic for the plants, to the point of endangering their development and survival. Instead of seeing this as a good reason for stopping the development of the technology, Icon Genetics is using this as a justification for developing different forms of Terminator-type technology. They are developing plants with genes that will control the expression of other genes at almost any point of development. The control can be switched on and off by externally applying substances as diverse as DNA, RNA, lactose, tetracycline, arabinose, ethanol, steroids, copper ions and so on. [17] Once this technology is accepted, nothing will stop industry from using it to produce Terminator seeds.

It must not be forgotten also that both new technologies will significantly broaden the scope of patentable “inventions”. Gene patenting will be expanded to the patenting of chromosomes, organelles and entire physiological processes. Given the wide and diverse potential applications of minichromosomes and transformed plastids, patents and patent claims will multiply quickly and aggressively. The web pages for the laboratory of Dr H. Daniell at the University of Central Florida states that “Dr Daniell’s chloroplast genetic engineering technology is protected by more than 90 US and international patents”. [18] Industry is not lagging behind. In a list of patents published at MolecularFarming.com, two thirds of those related to pharming to have been filed or granted since 2001 are in the hands of major biotech companies. [19]

We urgently need to monitor these new developments closely and to strengthen social opposition to these and other forms of genetic engineering. Far from solving the many problems caused so far by genetic engineering, artificial chromosomes and transformed organelles create new dangers, exacerbate industrial concentration and corporate control, and open the way for serious and perhaps irreparable damage to all forms of life on our planet.


1 - See, for example: “Now: The Rest of the Genome”, New York Times, 11 November, 2008.

2 - Rachel Shulman, “New gene-silencing pathway found in plants”, American Association for the Advancement of Science: Eurekalert, 17 November 2008, http://tinyurl.com/6q3fqv

3 - University of Missouri College of Arts and Sciences press release, 17 December 2007, http://tinyurl.com/a32fpp;
entry in Yenra online encyclopaedia, 24 September 2003, http://tinyurl.com/ay2r9v

4 - Weichang Yu and James A. Birchler, “Minichromosomes: the next generation technology for plant genetic engineering”, University of Missouri, Division of Biological Sciences, August 2007, http://tinyurl.com/7k26mn

5 - See, for example patent WO 2007137114 20071129 at http://tinyurl.com/8bxone

6 - Arnaud Ronceret, Christopher G. Bozza and Wojciech P. Pawlowski, “Naughty Behavior of Maize Minichromosomes in Meiosis”, The Plant Cell, American Society of Plant Biologists, 2007, http://tinyurl.com/9vhxup

7 - “Transplastomics: a convergence of biotechnology and evolution”, WordPress.com blog, posted 16 November 2008, http://tinyurl.com/82rs2d

8 - Melinda Mulesky, Karen K. Oishi, David Williams, “Chloroplasts: transforming biopharmaceutical manufacturing”, Biopharm international, 1 September 2004, http://tinyurl.com/8em3je

9 - See Patent Storm, US patent 7235711, 26 June 2007, http://tinyurl.com/9de8y3

10 - See http://tinyurl.com/7hafo7

11 - WIPO Patent N°.2007/030510, http://tinyurl.com/a9crbb

12 - Melinda Mulesky, Karen K. Oishi, David Williams, “Chloroplasts: transforming biopharmaceutical manufacturing”, Biopharm international, 1 September 2004, http://tinyurl.com/8em3je

13 - WIPO Patent N°.2007/030510, http://tinyurl.com/a9crbb

14 - Bao-Rong Lu “Transgene escape from GM crops and potential biosafety consequences: an environmental perspective”, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Collection of Biosafety Reviews, Vol. 4, 2008: 66–141, http://tinyurl.com/7nn3h7

15 - “Transplastomics: a convergence of biotechnology and evolution”, WordPress.com blog, posted 16 November 2008.
http://tinyurl.com/82rs2d; “Researchers attach genes to minichromosomes in maize”, Biology News Net, 14 May 2007.
http://tinyurl.com/92xlsk

16 - Entry giving definition of “plasmid” at Answers.com, http://tinyurl.com/7yn9tb

17 - Icon Genetics and Stefan Mühlbauer, WIPO patent application (WO/2005/054481) “Controlling gene expression in plastids”, 16 June 2005, http://tinyurl.com/a5nzcc

18 - “About Dr. Henry Daniell”, Daniell Lab for Molecular Biotechnology Research, University of Central Florida College of Medicine, 2008, http://tinyurl.com/7mn99a

19 - “Molecular farming and plant pharming/biopharming – Chloroplast transformation method and Chloroplast engineering patents”, MolecularFarming.com, http://tinyurl.com/7fbobc

Ref: seedling|seed-09-01-02

Friday, January 16, 2009

Extensive GM contamination of honey

NOTE: A German magazine has had honey tested and found extensive GM contamination.

This is a summary in English of the most relevant parts of the article reporting their findings.

The original article in German is here
http://www.oekotest.de/cgi/ot/otgs.cgi?doc=92008

Thanks to the GMWatch translators for this
http://web.archive.org/web/20071225180614rn_1/www.gmwatch.org/p1temp.asp?pid=2&page=1
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In 2008, media reports showcased the various impacts of environmental contamination on bees and beekeepers: in the Germany's Baden-Württemberg state, 500 million bees died in Spring due to the insecticidal seed treatment agent clothianidin. Another example is the case of a Swabian beekeeper, who destroyed his whole honey harvest because it contained pollen of the GM corn MON810, after the administrative court declared the honey as 'non marketable'. The judgement is not yet absolute.

In its January edition, the German eco- magazine Öko-Test published an article on the analysis of 24 honeys, including 6 canola honeys, for GM and pesticide contamination, as well as other quality criteria.

Only 3 products were rated "very good" while six either got an "inadequate" rating or "failed". A whopping eleven samples (almost half of the samples) - mainly from South America - were contaminated with GM pollen, predominantly of GM Roundup Ready soy. Although the oil plant supplies little nectar and therefore is not a honey plant, the bees apparently still take the pollen. Latin American countries - where aplenty GM soy is grown - are at the same time suppliers of a bigger part of the world honey production.

At least, honey from German beekeepers as well as those from Southeastern Europe and fair trade honey were unpolluted. For the latter, the reason might be that small-scale beekeepers often produce their honey in less contaminated regions than big apiaries.
Among the canola honeys, the lab found GM in the Canadian Canola-Clover Honey - unsurprisingly, as Canada mostly grows GM canola.

Pesticides appeared virtually exclusively in German products, mostly the insecticide thiacloprid - found in honeys with a high proportion of canola. Unfortunately, even the the supposedly organic canola honey by Allos contained increased residues.

Reacting to the test results, the company Breitsamer wrote that beekeepers are victims of genetic engineering; they themselves are not using GM, do not grow GM crops, and do not have any interest in herbicide resistant crops. Furthermore, the bees could not be controlled as they search for nectar within an area of 50 square kilometre.
By way of contrast, the discounter Lidl commented that the entry of GM soy pollen is completely accidental, and could vary widely within one charge; moreover, the quantities are very small.

The article concludes that while nobody wants GM in their honey, the findings show that coexistence of conventional and GM agriculture is impossible. Therefore, the ratings reflect a political reality rather than being due to lack of due diligence by the honey producers. Furthermore, the legal position does not support the honey as the GM pollen are not GMOs as such - the legislation explicitly deals with GMOs. Thus, the GM content in honey neither has to be approved nor labelled. On the other hand, judgements such as the one from the administrative court regarding the GM maize MON810 show that there are other legal conceptions. The background: at present MON810 is not clearly approved for human consumption.

Sometimes the level of 0.9 percent is used - as honey only contains only around 0.1 to 0.5 percent pollen, labelling then would not be compulsory. In any case, transparency for the consumer falls by the wayside.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

USDA unable to weed out unapproved modified foods

By Jasmin Melvin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. food supply is at risk of being invaded by unapproved imports of genetically modified crops and livestock, a USDA internal audit report released Wednesday said.

The report, released by the U.S. Agriculture Department's Office of Inspector General, said the USDA does not have an import control policy to regulate imported GMO animals.

Its policy for GMO crops, though adequate now, could become outdated as other nations boost production of their own GMO crops, the report added.

The Office of Inspector General recommended the department develop an overall control policy for all GMO imports and implement a strategy to monitor GMO crop and livestock development in foreign nations.

The audit found that the USDA needs to develop screening measures to weed out undeclared GMO crops and livestock. The department currently has no measures in place to identify a shipment of unapproved GMO imports unknown to the U.S. regulatory system, the report said.

The United States has been a forerunner in developing GMO plants and animals since the 1990s, but other countries are beginning to invest more in biotechnology.

The report noted that China has pledged $500 million toward biotechnology by 2010 and has developed a new form of GMO rice.

Although the implications associated with Americans consuming unapproved GMO food are unknown, the health and environmental concerns that it poses could threaten commerce.

The USDA's lack of policies and monitoring capability on the matter reflect the United States' dominance over the global market concerning genetic modification.

"Department officials stated that they have not needed such a strategy because most transgenic plants were first developed within the U.S. regulatory system, and it was unlikely that anything unfamiliar would be imported," the report said.

"And transgenic animals have not been commercialized," the report also said of officials' reasoning behind being slow to develop regulations.

The USDA, for the most part, agreed with the report's recommendations.

In a letter to the Office of Inspector General, the USDA said it would create a plan for monitoring GMO plant and animal developments worldwide by November 30. But further action on policy would require approval from the incoming administration.

(Editing by Christian Wiessner)

Reuters

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

USDA Proposes First-Ever Industrial GE Crop

USDA is poised to deregulate the world’s first genetically engineered (GE) industrial crop. Similar to GE pharma crops that use corn for producing drugs, Syngenta’s “Event 3272” is genetically engineered to use corn for energy (ethanol) production and not for food. This unprecedented, industrial application of a GE technology poses a variety of environmental, health, and economic risks that must be carefully evaluated to determine whether the widespread use of this GE industrial corn crop should be allowed on farms across our nation.

In a “business as usual” move, USDA has fast-tracked the commercialization of this GE industrial corn and has forgone conducting a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS), as required by law. Instead, USDA is basing its decision to approve the industrial GE corn upon a cursory and incomplete Environmental Assessment (EA) that falls woefully short of the thorough review the public expects before a new GE crop is approved. Moreover, USDA has failed to acknowledge that this GE technology requires even greater scrutiny since it transforms a ubiquitous food crop —corn— into an industrial crop — ethanol— making it no longer fit for human consumption.

The Obama Administration’s USDA must complete a full EIS to address these concerns. The agency is accepting public comments only until January 20, 2009.

Event 3272 corn:

  • Raises serious environmental and human health concerns. It contains an exotic enzyme derived from “thermophilic” (heat-loving) microorganisms living near deep sea hydrothermal vents. This enzyme might be capable of causing food allergies in people who inadvertently consume this corn. Humans have never been exposed to this form of alpha amylase before (no history of safe use).
  • While meant for fuel and not food, this corn will enter the food supply. USDA admits that if Event 3272 corn is intentionally or accidentally diverted into the food supply, it could negatively impact food quality. But instead of reviewing the foreseeable negative impacts of biological contamination to organic and conventional corn from this unprecedented new industrial crop, USDA has improperly relied on Syngenta, the creator of the GE corn, to protect non-industrial corn from contamination. If we learned anything from the StarLink episode, it is that voluntary, industry-led agreements to curtail contamination do not work in the real world.
  • Is not needed “to help the U.S. meet its goals for ethanol production” as USDA has erroneously suggested. Ethanol production from corn surpassed the 2012 target (7.5 billion gallons) in 2007 (8.2 billion gallons)! And with 10 billion gallons of ethanol produced in 2008, we’re well on the way to achieving the mandate for 2022 without the introduction of Event 3272 corn.
  • Is engineered for fuel, not food. The dramatic worldwide surge in food prices last year – which has already pushed 100 million more of the world’s poor into hunger and poverty – has caused a radical rethinking of how biofuels are produced, especially the use of corn for ethanol. Food experts from academia to the World Bank have decried the massive diversion of corn from food to fuel, blaming it for at least part of the steep price increases in food staples like corn, wheat and rice. Event 3272 corn will only exacerbate this situation.

Tell USDA to halt this approval until a full EIS has been completed that addresses the human health, environmental, and economic impacts this industrial corn presents. USDA is accepting public comments until January 20th—Send your comment today!

Take Action Here: http://ga3.org/campaign/EthanolCorn

Epigenetic Inheritance - “What Genes Remember”

Epigenetic inheritance of acquired characters more powerful than inheritance of genes

The experience of one generation can modify genes passed on to the next via a variety of mechanisms that blur the distinction between epigenetic and genetic Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

USE THIS LINK TO READ THIS FASCINATING ARTICLE:

http://www.i-sis.org.uk/epigeneticInheritance.php

Top 11 Compounds in US Drinking Water

A comprehensive survey of the drinking water for more than 28 million Americans has detected the widespread but low-level presence of pharmaceuticals and hormonally active chemicals.

Little was known about people's exposure to such compounds from drinking water, so Shane Snyder and colleagues at the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas screened tap water from 19 US water utilities for 51 different compounds. The surveys were carried out between 2006 and 2007.

The 11 most frequently detected compounds - all found at extremely low concentrations - were:

• Atenolol, a beta-blocker used to treat cardiovascular disease

• Atrazine, an organic herbicide banned in the European Union, but still used in the US, which has been implicated in the decline of fish stocks and in changes in animal behaviour

• Carbamazepine, a mood-stabilising drug used to treat bipolar disorder, amongst other things

• Estrone, an oestrogen hormone secreted by the ovaries and blamed for causing gender-bending changes in fish

• Gemfibrozil, an anti-cholesterol drug

• Meprobamate, a tranquiliser widely used in psychiatric treatment

• Naproxen, a painkiller and anti-inflammatory linked to increases in asthma incidence

• Phenytoin, an anticonvulsant that has been used to treat epilepsy

• Sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic used against the Streptococcus bacteria, which is responsible for tonsillitis and other diseases

• TCEP, a reducing agent used in molecular biology

• Trimethoprim, another antibiotic

Full Story: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16397-top-11-compou...

Cheese Is Grosser Than Thought

By Amelia Tomas, LiveScience Staff

posted: 13 January 2009 11:07 am ET

Cheese makes some foodies jump up and down like little kids, but behind that heavenly taste and texture lies bacteria, mammal stomach lining, pesticides and pure fat.

To ripen cheese and add flavor, bacterial strains are freely injected and smeared into the substance. But not all have been accounted for, a new study finds.

Researchers at Newcastle University in England have now identified eight previously undiscovered microbes on the French, brie-like cheese called Reblochon. The potential benefits of these new microbes are still unknown.

The study is detailed in the December issue of the journal International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

Flourishing microbes are consumed with every bite of cheese (though the cooling temperatures in refrigerators do slow down bacterial growth, they do not kill them in cheese or in any other food). Bacteria (either naturally swimming around the milk or manually injected) and enzymes derived from the inner stomach linings of any slaughtered milk-producing mammal (called rennet) are added to coagulate the milk into curds.

Two proteins arise from curdled milk and manufacturers capitalize on them: The first is whey, which is essentially leftover liquid from curdled milk (and is increasingly being used as an ingredient in producing other foods). The second is casein, which makes up the bulk of the solid part of cheese, along with fat.

Fat is what gives cheese its taste, and 70 to 80 percent of the calories in cheese come from pure fat.

Factories are adding more bacterial groups into cheese to achieve enhanced flavors, meanwhile disinfecting their products at the same time with high levels of pesticides while remaining under government standards.

"Virtually 100 percent of the cheese products produced and sold in the U.S. has detectable pesticide residues," according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Cheese might be a hot commodity, but like other dairy products, it can have some unhealthy aspects. Other ways to get your calcium fix include eating the following foods: fortified grains, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, cabbage, kelp, seaweed, watercress, chickpeas, broccoli, red beans, soybeans, tofu, seeds and raw nuts. With all that variety, there's hope for any cheese addict. Only it won't taste, or smell, the same.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Buzzing Bees Protect Plants from Voracious Caterpillars

Honeybees protect plants from caterpillars by telling the pesky leaf eaters to buzz off, scientists from the Biozentrum University in Bavaria, Germany, discovered. Caterpillars are equipped with sensory hairs that enable them to detect air vibrations such as the sound of an approaching predator. Indeed a caterpillar’s life is not an easy one. Birds love caterpillars and so do carnivorous wasps. Several wasp species even use caterpillars as hosts for their young. Caterpillars therefore evolved features, such as the sensory hairs, to protect them from their enemies.

Jurgen Tautz and colleagues realized that these sensory hairs are not fine-tuned and caterpillars cannot distinguish between hunting wasps and harmless bees. If a flying object approaches, generating air vibrations in the proper range, caterpillars stop moving or drop from the plant. Fruiting trees, heavily laden with blossoms, get frequent visits from foraging honeybees. And caterpillars, stressed with the bees’ buzzing eat a lot less, Tautz explained.

The scientists conducted an experiment in which bell pepper plants were placed in tents with beet armyworm caterpillars and bees. They found that plants protected by buzzing bees suffered 60 to 70 percent less damage in their leaves. The discovery might have some practical application for sustainable agriculture. Surrounding crop plants with ornamentals sporting attractive flowers may help increase crop yield in areas infested with caterpillar pests.

The paper published in the recent issue of Current Biology is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2008.10.038.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Biotech industry tags ‘GE-free’ labels as misleading

SAN ANTONIO – The biotechnology industry remains firmly opposed to the labeling of food products as “biotech-free” or “genetically engineered-free.” Such labels wrongly plant the idea with consumers that biotech food products are inferior or pose a health threat, Bill Olson, director of federal government affairs for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, told Farm Bureau members at an issues conference at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 90th annual meeting.

“A non-GE label leads consumers to believe there is a difference between GE products and those produced by traditional methods. There is no difference,” Olson emphasized. All biotech food products on the market have gone through a rigorous regulatory process that ensures they are safe for humans, animals and the environment.

The Food and Drug Administration requires that nutrition information appear on most foods, and any claims on food products must be truthful and not misleading. Special labels are not required for biotech products. Labels identifying food as biotech- or GE-free are allowed, which frustrates BIO because the group believes such labels are misleading.

“The labeling debate last year focused on biotech and cloned animals – two distinct things,” Olson said. None of the bills introduced in Congress or state legislatures in 2008 became law, and while the new Congress and incoming administration have other priorities, Olson expects the issue to resurface.

He said the biotech industry is optimistic that as consumers more fully grasp the benefits of biotechnology, such as producing drought- and cold-tolerant crops and minimizing the environmental impact of farming, they will embrace the technology. Ultimately, it will come down to what must be done to feed, clothe and fuel a booming global population. The number of people in the world is increasing, but the amount of crop and grazing land is not.

“The food labeling debate will continue, but we believe science is on our side and American agriculture must continue to meet the needs of an ever-expanding population,” Olson said. “Food security will come through scientific and technological advances.”

He also noted that studies have shown that while consumers may say they prefer food to be labeled according to whether it was produced with biotechnology or not, that does not translate into action at the retail level.

Contacts:
Tracy Taylor Grondine
(202) 316-6377
tracyg@fb.org

Mace Thornton
(540) 846-0263
macet@fb.org
Source: American Farm Bureau Federation

Sunday, January 11, 2009

U.S. advisers back 1st drug from DNA-altered animals

By Susan Heavey

ROCKVILLE, Maryland (Reuters) - The first drug made using genetically engineered animals to near U.S. approval won key support on Friday from an advisory panel that judged it safe and effective despite concerns from groups worried about the genetic tinkering.

GTC Biotherapeutics Inc's experimental anticlotting therapy, called Atryn, is made using a human protein gathered from female goats bred to produce it in their milk.

GTC is seeking approval to sell the intravenous therapy to prevent excessive blood clots in patients with an inherited disorder.

Company data showed the drug was safe and effective, a majority of the Food and Drug Administration's 19-member panel voted. The FDA will consider the advice in making its decision, expected by February 7.

"This will... set a precedent for what will happen in the future," said Dr. Richard Colvin, the panel's consumer representative and a clinical assistant in medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

But some genetic-safety and animal advocates at the meeting expressed concern about the use of so-called transgenic animals despite the drug's benefits, saying more information is needed from the agency about genetically engineered animals.

The FDA issued preliminary guidelines in September about how it would regulate animals whose DNA has been altered and called for public comment, but it has not yet issued final details.

Approving Atryn "would be a back door way to approve transgenic animals," said Jaydee Hanson, a policy analyst for the nonprofit group Center for Food Safety.

Still, FDA officials said they were seeking advice on the specific product, not the larger issue of generically-altered animals. They added that the final regulations on such animals would be released soon.

Several patients and family members at the advisory meeting urged the FDA's approval of Atryn regardless of the transgenic issue.

Karen Janes, whose daughter died after a 7-inch-long clot, said it could help her remaining daughter live longer and have children. "I don't care how it's made," the New Mexico resident told the panel.

Between 60,000 and 600,000 people in the United States have the excessive clotting disorder, known as hereditary antithrombin deficiency, according to GTC.

GTC has estimated Atryn could generate up to $40 million to $50 million in U.S. annual sales in its first five years on the market. Shares of the company were halted Friday for news pending.

The goats used to make Atryn are bred using cells injected with human DNA. The company has a herd of about 200 at its Massachusetts facility, which are otherwise normal and screened for viruses, GTC said.

In a statement, company officials said the panel's vote helps get their key product closer to market. The drug is the biotech company's first therapy to reach the FDA for review.

Plasma derived products are also an option, but those are often in short supply and difficult for doctors to obtain for a variety of reasons, including the need for human plasma, the company and the FDA said.

"To me this is actually quite an exciting possibility that we actually can make much higher quantities ... that are easily accessible," panelist Colvin said.

The drug is licensed to Ovation Pharmaceuticals Inc in the United States.

(Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Monsanto's Roundup Residues in GM Food Cause Cell Damage

COMMENT, Dr Brian John: This new article from CRIIGEN shows that Roundup residues found in GM food and feed can cause cell damage and even death -- even at very low levels. The authors say that their research "... points to undesirable effects which are currently masked or hidden from scientific scrutiny."

Yet another example of harm associated with GM crops which are currently on the market. In this case the harm is "indirect" -- but it is nonetheless inescapable since all RR crops used for feed and food purposes will contain RR residues at or above the studied level.

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Glyphosate Formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic, and Placental Cells

by Nora Benachour and Gilles-Eric Séralini*

E-mail: criigen@unicaen.fr

Chem. Res. Toxicol., Article DOI: 10.1021/tx800218n

Publication Date (Web): December 23, 2008

Copyright © 2008 American Chemical Society

Abstract

We have evaluated the toxicity of four glyphosate (G)-based herbicides in Roundup (R) formulations, from 105 times dilutions, on three different human cell types. This dilution level is far below agricultural recommendations and corresponds to low levels of residues in food or feed. The formulations have been compared to G alone and with its main metabolite AMPA or with one known adjuvant of R formulations, POEA. HUVEC primary neonate umbilical cord vein cells have been tested with 293 embryonic kidney and JEG3 placental cell lines. All R formulations cause total cell death within 24 h, through an inhibition of the mitochondrial succinate dehydrogenase activity, and necrosis, by release of cytosolic adenylate kinase measuring membrane damage. They also induce apoptosis via activation of enzymatic caspases 3/7 activity. This is confirmed by characteristic DNA fragmentation, nuclear shrinkage (pyknosis), and nuclear fragmentation (karyorrhexis), which is demonstrated by DA PI in apoptotic round cells. G provokes only apoptosis, and HUVEC are 100 times more sensitive overall at this level. The deleterious effects are not proportional to G concentrations but rather depend on the nature of the adjuvants. AMPA and POEA separately and synergistically damage cell membranes like R but at different concentrations. Their mixtures are generally even more harmful with G. In conclusion, the R adjuvants like POEA change human cell permeability and amplify toxicity induced already by G, through apoptosis and necrosis. The real threshold of G toxicity must take into account the presence of adjuvants but also G metabolism and time-amplified effects or bioaccumulation. This should be discussed when analyzing the in vivo toxic actions of R. This work clearly confirms that the adjuvants in Roundup formulations are not inert. Moreover, the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death around residual levels to be expected, especia lly in food and feed derived from R formulation-treated crops.

Press Release: CRIIGEN - January 2009

DIFFERENT ROUNDUP FORMULATIONS LEAD TO EMBRYONIC, UMBILICAL CORD AND PLACENTAL CELL DEATH AND ARE POORLY ASSESSED

For the first time, the toxicity mechanisms of four different Roundup formulations were studied in human cells. They act at doses where they are not herbicides anymore. The cells were neonatal cells freshly isolated from the umbilical cord, or less sensitive cell lines specially used to measure pollutant toxicity. The various components of these major herbicides were tested because they are among the most common in the world. Their residues are among the major pollutants, and moreover they are authorized as residues contaminating GM foods and feed at the tested levels.

As a matter of fact, Roundup formulations are the most common herbicides used with cultivated GMOs. Roundup Ready soya, the main GMO imported in Europe for food and feed, contains Roundup residues. In this research, the formulations were diluted at minimal doses (up to 100,000 times or more) and they programmed cell death in a few hours in a cumulative manner. We also noted membrane and DNA damages, and found that the formulations inhibit cell respiration. In addition, it was shown that the mixture of the components used as Roundup adjuvants amplified the action of the active principle called glyphosate; one of its metabolites may be even more toxic. These effects are greatly underestimated by the legislation, which does not take these phenomena into account, but instead simply sets arbitrary contaminant thresholds in food or feed. The rules apply to glyphosate whatever its formulation may be, this is wrong.

The authorizations for using these Roundup herbicides must now clearly be revised, since their toxic effects depend on, and are multiplied by, other compounds used in the mixtures placed on the market; and glyphosate is only one of them. The detailed blood analyses of each mammal which has received this herbicide during regulatory tests before commercial release must be published immediately, since our research points to undesirable effects which are currently masked or hidden from scientific scrutiny.

This independent work was performed by Nora Benachour and Prof. Gilles-Eric Séralini in the University of Caen in France. It is published in the Scientific American journal Chemical Research in Toxicology. It was supported by CRIIGEN and the Regional Council of Basse Normandie. The support of the Human Earth Foundation and Denis Guichard Foundation is also acknowledged.

Contact in France: Pr Gilles-Eric Séralini, Biochemistry, Institute of Biology, University of Caen, Esplanade de la Paix, 14032 Caen, France.

Tel: 33(0) 2-31-56-56-84. Fax: 33(0)2-31-56-53-20.
Corinne Lepage
President of CRIIGEN
criigen@unicaen.fr

"Glyphosate Formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic and Placental Cells" by Nora Benachour and Gilles-Eric Séralini. (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/tx800218n)

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Full text: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/tx800218n

Monday, January 5, 2009

Labeling of Bug-Based Food Colorings Will Help Some Consumers

Statement of CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson

After a decade-long gestation period, the Food and Drug Administration has finally ordered that food and cosmetics manufacturers that color their products with carmine and cochineal list them by name in ingredient lists. Until now, these colorings, extracted from the dried bodies of the tiny cochineal bug, have been hidden under the terms "artificial colors" or "color added." Naming those ingredients on labels will help people who suffered allergic reactions determine if the colors were the culprits.


The bodies of the cochineal bug are extracted
to color foods using the name carmine or cochineal.

That's useful progress. But, ideally, FDA should have exterminated these critter-based colorings altogether. The only way people can determine that they are sensitive to them is to suffer repeated reactions, including potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. Also, the FDA should have required labels to disclose that carmine and cochineal are extracted from insects, which many consumers—including vegetarians, Jews, and Muslims—would be interested to know.

CSPI petitioned the FDA in 1998 to require labeling after a study by a University of Michigan allergy expert who discovered that carmine was the cause of an allergic reaction in one of his patients. Subsequently, CSPI received adverse-reaction reports from several dozen consumers. Yet carmine and cochineal extract remain in dozens of reddish-colored foods and beverages, including fruit drinks, ice creams, yogurts, and candies.