Archive for November, 2013


Elsevier Announces Article Retraction from Journal Food and Chemical Toxicology

29 November 2013. Source:

Elsevier announces that the article “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize,” by Gilles Eric Séralini et al. has been retracted by the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.

The journal has issued the following retraction statement:

“The journal Food and Chemical Toxicology retracts the article “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize,” which was published in this journal in November 2012. This retraction comes after a thorough and time-consuming analysis of the published article and the data it reports, along with an investigation into the peer-review behind the article…[T]here is a legitimate cause for concern regarding both the number of animals in each study group and the particular strain selected. The low number of animals had been identified as a cause for concern during the initial review process, but the peer-review decision ultimately weighed that the work still had merit despite this limitation. A more in-depth look at the raw data revealed that no definitive conclusions can be reached with this small sample size regarding the role of either NK603 or glyphosate in regards to overall mortality or tumor incidence. Given the known high incidence of tumors in the Sprague-Dawley rat, normal variability cannot be excluded as the cause of the higher mortality and incidence observed in the treated groups.”





Genetically engineered tomatoes could help improve cholesterol levels

14 November 2013


Researchers have reported that small amounts of a specific type of lipid in the small intestine could play a greater role than earlier thought in generating the high cholesterol levels and inflammation that lead to clogged arteries.

The tomatoes, created at UCLA, produce a small peptide called 6F that mimics the action of apoA-1, the chief protein in HDL.

Researchers added 2.2 percent (by weight) of freeze-dried tomato powder from the peptide-enhanced tomatoes to low-fat, low-cholesterol mouse chow that was supplemented with LPAs.

They also added the same dose of the peptide-enhanced tomatoes to the high-fat high- cholesterol diet.

They found that this addition to both diets prevented an increase in the level of LPAs in the small intestine and also stopped increases in “bad” cholesterol, decreases in “good” cholesterol and systemic inflammation. Tomatoes that did not contain the peptide had no effect.

According to senior author Dr. Alan Fogelman, executive chair of the department of medicine and director of the atherosclerosis research unit at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the peptide-enhanced tomatoes may work in large part by reducing the amount of the LPAs in the small intestine.

The study has been published in the Journal of Lipid Research.



17 November, 2013


SPOKANE — It’s still unclear how GM wheat ended up in an Oregon last spring, and industry members aren’t sure when the USDA will provide the answer.

The timeline for USDA’s investigation is still unknown, said Shannon Schlecht, U.S. Wheat Associates. A previous USDA investigation into genetically modified LibertyLink rice took more than a year, he said.

Kristin Schneider, global wheat breeding lead for Monsanto, said the company expected results “soon,” but that she did not have a timeline.

Schlecht and Schneider were part of a panel with Columbia Grain, Inc. senior vice president Kurt Haarmann and Washington State University molecular plant scientist Michael Neff during the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention in Spokane.

Other details offered during the discussion included:

  • Schneider said she does not know whether Monsanto or the USDA know the exact type of wheat that turned up in the Oregon field. DNA can be used to show what something is not, but not to conclusively prove what it is, she said.
  • Neff said there is no credible, reproducible, scientific evidence that GM foods are dangerous because they are GM.
  • Halting GMO research would “slow down what we need to be speeding up, which is learning more about how to grow plants more efficiently and more effectively on fewer acres,” Neff said.
  • Neff would like to see smaller companies and land-grant universities gain access to biotech research patented by Monsanto. It’s available for research purposes, but because of patent restrictions it’s not available to develop products for use by producers, he said.
  • Schneider said GM wheat won’t be available on he market before the next decade.
  • Schlecht said the United States, Canada and Australia are planning to revisit and renew their joint statement to pursue the opportunities that biotech wheat provides.
  • Haarmann said biotech acceptance on the global market will likely come from a nontraditional exporting country other than Canada, Australia or the U.S. A large country, either India or China, will likely move to either export or buy the product. “That will be the tipping point,” he said.
  • Haarmann said the Pacific Northwest emerged a winner from the GM wheat case in that it demonstrated an ability to handle a complicated situation, satisfy its customer base and protect its supplier base by relying on science.




18 November 2013


A UK biotechnology company has applied for permission to carry out the first field trial in Europe of a genetically modified insect.

If it receives approval, the company will carry out a small-scale test of GM olive flies in Spain.

The aim is to combat this olive crop pest by releasing male flies that have a “female-killing gene”.

If the GM flies can outbreed the wild flies, the female offspring will die – reducing the olive fly population.

The technology was invented by the co-founder and chief scientific officer of the biotech firm Oxitec, Dr Luke Alphey.

“Olive fly is the single major pest of olive production,” Dr Alphey explained.

“In a bad year, you can lose of the whole of an olive crop.

“It’s been treated with insecticides, but now there’s a lot of resistance. So there it’s a very hard pest to control.”

According to Oxitec, the olive industry in Greece spends approximately €35 million (£30 million) annually on insecticides to control olive flies – to prevent an estimated loss to the industry of €650 million.

If they receive permission from the Spanish authorities, the researchers will release GM flies around net-covered olive trees, to contain the insects and to prevent the experiment from “being swamped by flies in the environment”.

Killer mosquitoes

In Brazil, Oxitec and its collaborators have progressed much further into their trial of GM mosquitoes.

In the most recent trial in a town called Mandacaru the company reported a 96 per cent reduction in the dengue mosquito population.

“In fact all our trials have shown a 90 per cent reduction [or more],” said Oxitec’s chief executive Hadyn Parry.




EU Commission renews bid to unblock GMO crop approvals

6 November, 2013 Source: Reuters,0,7859830.story

 BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission proposed on Wednesday that governments approve only the third ever genetically modified crop for cultivation in Europe, but took steps to avert an expected backlash from France and other GMO opponents.

The proposal covers an insect-resistant maize developed jointly by DuPont and Dow Chemical which, if approved, would end Monsanto’s current monopoly in Europe’s tiny market for GMO crops.

The Commission said it was “duty bound” to make the proposal after Europe’s second-highest court in September censured the EU executive for lengthy delays in the approval process, first launched back in 2001.

EU governments now have three months to vote on the issue. The plan is likely to face strong opposition from France, as well as Austria, Italy and other countries that have previously banned the growing of GMO crops.

But with Britain, Spain and Sweden expected to back the proposal, there may be little that opponents can do to prevent approval.

Under EU rules applying to the application, the Commission is obliged to approve cultivation unless a weighted majority of governments vote against it.

Seeking to head off criticism from anti-GMO governments and campaigners, the Commission called for the restart of stalled talks on draft EU rules to allow member states to decide individually whether to ban or restrict GMO cultivation.

That would enable countries to prevent farmers from growing GMO crops even if they had been approved for cultivation at EU level, provided they do not use environmental or health reasons to justify the restrictions.

EU health commissioner Tonio Borg said he hoped the draft legislation would be discussed at the next meeting of EU environment ministers in December, but EU officials said the issue was not currently on the meeting agenda.

Borg also hinted that Wednesday’s move would not lead to a rush of similar cultivation approval proposals from the Commission, despite a backlog of six applications currently awaiting a decision.

“I know that this is a controversial subject, and that therefore one does not rush into areas where angels fear to tread,” he told a news briefing in Brussels.


Only two GMO crops are currently approved for cultivation in the European Union. Monsanto’s insect-resistant maize – known as MON810 – is the only one grown commercially, and was sown on around 130,000 hectares in 2012, mostly in Spain.

That compares with about 100 GMO varieties approved elsewhere in the world, with global cultivation estimated to cover some 170 million hectares in 2012.

The maize variety covered by Wednesday’s proposal is known as 1507, and is sold outside Europe under the Herculex brand name. Like MON810, the plant has been modified to produce its own insecticide against the European corn borer.

If the product is approved it is unlikely to lead to an overall expansion in GMO cultivation in Europe but could challenge sales of MON810, particularly in Europe’s biggest market Spain.

Since the cultivation request was first lodged in 2001, the EU’s food safety watchdog EFSA has delivered six positive scientific safety assessments on 1507.

… In a separate decision on Wednesday, the Commission granted import approval for three GMO maize varieties for use in food and feed after EU governments failed to reach a decision.



Most Americans pay little attention to genetically modified foods, survey says

4 November, 2013

Source: – jCp

The survey, released by researchers at Rutgers University, found that more than half (53 per cent) say they know very little or nothing at all about genetically modified (GM) foods, and one in four (25 per cent) say they have never heard of them. Even with the media attention resulting from recent ballot initiatives in California (Proposition 37) and Washington State (Initiative 522) and legislative actions in at least 20 other states that would require labeling of GM foods, the Rutgers study found that only about a quarter (26 per cent) of Americans realize that current regulations do not require GM products to be labeled.

“Americans do care about what’s in their food, and they do read labels,” said William Hallman, professor of human ecology in Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and lead author of the study.

“Eighty-two percent of the respondents told us they sometimes or frequently or always read food labels. But determining what labeling information they value is not a straightforward task. Whether consumers say they want GM food labels depends on how you ask the question, so we asked about it in several ways.”

Before introducing the idea of GM foods, the survey participants were asked simply “What information would you like to see on food labels that is not already on there?” In response, only seven per cent raised GM food labeling on their own. A similar number (six per cent) said they wanted more information about where the food product was grown or processed. In contrast, when asked directly whether GM foods should be required to be labeled, 73 per cent said yes.

The survey asked respondents to rate the importance of various kinds of information on food labels. Fifty-nine per cent said that it was very or extremely important to have information about whether the product contains GM ingredients on a label. This is about the same number who indicated that it was similarly important to have information about whether the product was grown using hormones (63 per cent), pesticides (62 per cent), or antibiotics (61 per cent), whether it was grown or raised in the United States (60 per cent), and whether the product contains allergens (59 per cent).

The respondents were part of a nationally representative Internet-based panel, and the data reported here have been weighted to be nationally representative, with a +/- three per cent margin of error. A summary of the study’s findings is available online at . The study authors are Hallman, Cara L. Cuite, and Xenia K. Morin, all of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.


Genetically modified crops ban to be extended in South Australia

7 November 2013


South Australia will extend a moratorium on genetically modified crops until at least 2019.

SA is the only mainland state maintaining a ban on GM crop production and trials.

Government Minister Leon Bignell said the state’s GM-free status gave primary producers a competitive advantage in key overseas markets, including Japan.

He said a continuing ban would help protect premium food and wine production and allow grain producers to attract higher prices.

“We’ve got a strong reputation not just around Australia but around the world for producing clean, green premium food and we think having a moratorium on the growing of GM crops really helps us in that end,” he said.

“People are paying a $50 a tonne premium and we think there’s a lot more advantages to having the moratorium in place than to lift it.”

The Opposition said it too would ensure there was a ban on genetically modified crops until at least 2019 if it took office next March.

But Opposition agriculture spokesman David Ridgway said a ban needed regular review to ensure restrictions on growing GM crops did not put local farmers at a disadvantage.

“We support a moratorium but it needs to be monitored,” he said.

“The Government claims that we get benefits, more dollars per tonne, it enhances our reputation – it should be continually monitored just to make sure our farmers and our producers are getting the benefits the Government claims that we are getting a market advantage for our quality food and wine.”





The National Committee on Biosafety (NCB) yesterday officially released the country’s first genetically modified (GM) food crop, brinjal, which is infused with pest-resistant gene.

The decision was taken following a two-day meeting of the NCB, the highest regulatory body for GM crop release, held at the environment ministry with its secretary in the chair.
With this decision, Bangladesh becomes the 29th country in the world to grow GM crop. In South Asia, India, Pakistan and Myanmar grow GM crop cotton. With the NCB nod, Bangladesh becomes the first in the region to grow a GM food crop.

Scientists at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (Bari) genetically engineered brinjal, one of the most consumed vegetables in the country, by inserting a crystal protein gene (Cry1Ac) taken from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, otherwise known as Bt. Since then it has been known as Bt Brinjal.
The Bt gene insertion in brinjal gives it resistance against fruit and shoot borer (FSB), considered to be the most widespread and devastating pest in South and Southeast Asia. FSB infestations inflict 50 to 70 percent yearly crop loss in brinjal.





Happy Hour: Why Genetically Engineered Grapes Would Make Great Wine


I am 99.9 per cent sure that there will never be commercial production of genetically engineered wine grapes (“GMO” to use the common misnomer). Even so, I’d like to indulge in imagining what could be if we lived in some parallel universe where rational scientific thinking prevailed.

Wine grapes are an extremely logical crop for genetic engineering because there is no tolerance for changing varieties. For annual crops like grains or vegetables, new varieties are bred on a regular basis to solve pest issues or to improve features like taste or shelf life. Breeding of perennial fruit crops is a much, much slower process, but entirely new varieties are still introduced from time to time (e.g. Jazz or Pink Lady apples). Even what we call “heirloom varieties” of most vegetable or fruit crops are mostly quite young by wine grape standards.


Conventional breeding just isn’t a viable option for wine grapes, not because it couldn’t be done, but because in an industry so focused on quality and tradition, no one would consider it. The wine industry is based on specific varieties which are hundreds of years old and for which no new variety would ever be acceptable. That is true for varieties in their original appellations (e.g. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Burgundy or Cabernet Sauvignon and its blending partners in Bordeaux). It is also true for those same varieties that now make great wines in “New World” (e.g. Malbec in Argentina, Zinfandel in California, or Syrah in Australia).

Therefore, wine grape varieties have been cloned for hundreds of years, specifically to avoid any genetic change (they have always been grown from rooted cuttings or from grafted buds). Grapes make seeds, but the seed won’t grow up to be the same variety as the parent, thus they are never used as a way to grow new vines.

The Downside of Ancient Varieties

Of course, by sticking to very old varieties, wine grape growers must deal with many problems which might otherwise have been solved through breeding. Grape growers have been able to deal with some pests that attack the roots by grafting onto diverse “root stocks” with novel genetics. But rootstocks can only help with a limited number of grape growing challenges.

Why Genetic Engineering Would Be Logical For Grapes

Biotechnology is a perfect solution for wine grape issues because it allows changes to address one specific problem without disrupting any of the characteristics that determine quality. Of course, each variety would have to be individually transformed, but in our imaginary rational universe the regulatory regime would be made easier for multiple uses of the same basic genetic construct.

So, genetic engineering could be a very cool solution for various challenges for grapes. I’ll list a few of the diseases that might be fixable this way.

  • Mildews – Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew
  • Rot Reduction – Botrytis Bunch Rot
  • Viral Diseases – Leafroll Virus
  • Pierce’s Disease – A Potentially Existential Threat

Voluntary “GMO labelling” Would Be Easy for Wine

Because wine grapes can be extremely valuable (e.g. as much as $US10-20,000/acre), and because quality is closely connected with the location where they are grown, “identity preservation” is common in the industry. It would be entirely feasible for grapes which were or were not “GMO” to be kept separate to what ever extent was desired. So, one winery could proudly label their wine as “improved via biotechnology to provide disease resistance,” while the neighbouring winery could confidently claim not to be “non-GMO” if they so desired. Again, remember I’m talking about what could happen in a parallel universe where reason prevails. In our universe reason quickly yielded to the politics of fear and unfounded concerns about “genetic contamination.”

So, there will probably never be commercial “GMO grapes” in our universe, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a cool concept.

Pictures: Shutterstock/William J. Mahnken, Colorado Chardonnay SDSavage, University of Georgia Photo Archive, Wikipedia, Rotting Chardonnay SDSavage, Naotake Murayama, Oklahoma State University



GM virus-resistant citrus trees move to field trials


The most effective method of controlling the devastating citrus greening disease that has ravaged Florida’s orange groves also may be the most controversial.

A report from the National Academy of Sciences says the most powerful long-time management tool for the bacterium that causes the disease and, possibly, for the Asian citrus psyllid that spreads it, may be genetic engineering.

“Genetic engineering, in the form of transgenic citrus or citrus inoculated with a transgene-expressing virus vector, holds the greatest hope for generating citrus cultivars resistant to (the causal bacterium and the psyllid),” the report says.


At the same time, the report warns that groups opposed to genetically modified foods of any kind may try to dissuade the public from turning to genetically engineered orange juice.

Meantime, efforts continue toward finding a solution to citrus greening, also called huanglongbing—or HLB—which now is present in nearly all of Florida’s citrusproducing counties but is most prevalent in the southern areas of the state.

The state’s citrus industry is well worth preserving.

“There would be great repercussions for Florida’s economy if the estimated $9.3 billion annual economic benefit of the citrus industry were to be lost or significantly diminished,” the NAS report says.

T. Erik Mirkov, professor of plant virology at Texas A&M University in College Station, has been at the forefront of the search for a genetic solution to greening disease and appears to be making progress.

“We’ve found some genes in spinach that we’ve transferred into citrus that provide resistance,” he says.

Mirkov has received a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct field testing of trees in Florida.

“We’ve got good results in the greenhouse, and now we’re making sure it holds up in the field,” he says.

Although Mirkov’s work appears promising, he still has a way to go. “We don’t have what I would call immunity quite yet,” he says.



13 Oct 2013

Tasmanian poppy growers say they will consider a legal challenge if the State Government refuses to allow genetically modified poppies.

The Government’s moratorium on genetically modified crops expires next year.

Yesterday, more than 100 protesters marched through Hobart, demanding the Government continue its ban on GM crops.

Despite a Government review underway, the Premier Lara Giddings wants the ban to remain.

“We do not believe that we should have GM products grown here in Tasmania,” she said.

The Deputy Liberal leader Jeremy Rockliff also says his party is yet to be convinced of the need for a change.

The Poppy Growers Association’s Glynn Williams says if the ban is not revoked, poppy growers could mount a legal action.

“We’re very confident that there are good grounds to challenge a refusal of the permit to grow GM poppies in Tasmania,” she said.

Mr Williams says genetically modified poppies would not affect Tasmania’s food or honey production.