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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

World’s First GM Babies Born


 – APRIL 21, 2013
POSTED IN: GMOSPOPULATION CONTROL

The world’s first genetically modified humans have been created, it was revealed last night.

The disclosure that 30 healthy babies were born after a series of experiments in the United Statesprovoked another furious debate about ethics.

So far, two of the babies have been tested and have been found to contain genes from three ‘parents’.

Fifteen of the children were born in the past three years as a result of one experimental programme at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St Barnabas in New Jersey.

The babies were born to women who had problems conceiving. Extra genes from a female donor were inserted into their eggs before they were fertilised in an attempt to enable them to conceive.

Genetic fingerprint tests on two one-year- old children confirm that they have inherited DNA from three adults –two women and one man.

The fact that the children have inherited the extra genes and incorporated them into their ‘germline’ means that they will, in turn, be able to pass them on to their own offspring.

Altering the human germline – in effect tinkering with the very make-up of our species – is a technique shunned by the vast majority of the world’s scientists.

Geneticists fear that one day this method could be used to create new races of humans with extra, desired characteristics such as strength or high intelligence.

Writing in the journal Human Reproduction, the researchers, led by fertility pioneer Professor Jacques Cohen, say that this ‘is the first case of human germline genetic modification resulting in normal healthy children’.

Some experts severely criticised the experiments. Lord Winston, of the Hammersmith Hospital in West London, told the BBC yesterday: ‘Regarding the treat-ment of the infertile, there is no evidence that this technique is worth doing . . . I am very surprised that it was even carried out at this stage. It would certainly not be allowed in Britain.’

John Smeaton, national director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: ‘One has tremendous sympathy for couples who suffer infertility problems. But this seems to be a further illustration of the fact that the whole process of in vitro fertilisation as a means of conceiving babies leads to babies being regarded as objects on a production line.

‘It is a further and very worrying step down the wrong road for humanity.’ Professor Cohen and his colleagues diagnosed that the women were infertile because they had defects in tiny structures in their egg cells, called mitochondria.

They took eggs from donors and, using a fine needle, sucked some of the internal material – containing ‘healthy’ mitochondria – and injected it into eggs from the women wanting to conceive.

Because mitochondria contain genes, the babies resulting from the treatment have inherited DNA from both women. These genes can now be passed down the germline along the maternal line.

A spokesman for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates ‘assisted reproduction’ technology in Britain, said that it would not license the technique here because it involved altering the germline.

Jacques Cohen is regarded as a brilliant but controversial scientist who has pushed the boundaries of assisted reproduction technologies.

He developed a technique which allows infertile men to have their own children, by injecting sperm DNA straight into the egg in the lab.

Prior to this, only infertile women were able to conceive using IVF. Last year, Professor Cohen said that his expertise would allow him to clone children –a prospect treated with horror by the mainstream scientific community.

‘It would be an afternoon’s work for one of my students,’ he said, adding that he had been approached by ‘at least three’ individuals wishing to create a cloned child, but had turned down their requests.


Monday, April 22, 2013

How to Identify Genetically Modified Food


To assist with pricing and inventory control, all produce is labeled with price look-up codes (also referred to as PLU code, product code, or price code).  PLU codes are  4-digit numbers.  Although the PLU code may be prefixed with a 5th digit to indicate if the item is organic, it is not a a reliable tool to identify genetically modified food since use of the prefix is optional.
PLU Codes
Conventionally raised produce has a 4-digit PLU code.  This indicates that ‘chemical inputs’ were used during production (chemical fertilizer, insecticides, fungicides, etc.).  For instance, conventionally raised honey crisp apples are labeled with a PLU of 3283.  Most produce is conventionally raised.
Organically raised food has a 5-digit PLU code with a 9 prefix.  An organically raised honey crisp has a product number of 93283.  While the 5-digit PLU is commonly used, an easier way to identify organic produce is to look for the organic label; organics are usually clearly labeled.n
The PLU code for genetically modified food is 5 digits with an 8 prefix.  A honey crisp apple that is the product of genetic engineering should have a PLU code of 83283, however since use of the 5th digit is optional, and most consumers say they would avoid GM food, producers typically do not use the GM prefix.
No US labeling of GM produce
Don’t bother looking for labels identifying genetically modified produce.  Unlike Europe, China and 50 other countries, the US doesn’t require labeling of GM food.  Some producers identify that their produce is GM-free, but any labeling on food is voluntary and unlikely to be the result of regulation; several states have passed bills forbidding local GM labeling laws.
There are more reliable ways to avoid non-GM crops:
Avoid certain GM food crops
  • The 8 GM food crops are canola, corn, cottonseed, Hawaiian papaya, soybeans, sugar beets, some yellow squash and zucchini.
  • Non-organic products that list sugar in the ingredients list, (not cane sugar), almost certainly contains sugar from GM sugar beets.
  • Non-organic dairy products may be from cows injected with genetically modified growth hormone.
Look for the Organic label
  • Certified organic produce cannot intentionally include GM ingredients.
  • Look for products labeled “100% organic” or “organic” to avoid genetically engineered ingredients.
Use a printed shopping guide
Use a shopping app
  • Download the free Non-GMO Shopping Guide app to your phone.  It provides the same useful information that is available in the hardcopy guide.
While PLU codes offer producers the opportunity to inform consumers, PLU codes should not be used to reliably identify genetically modified food.  Consumers are better off avoiding specific GM food crops, looking for the organic label, and referring to a shopping guide.
(Image: Chiquita #4401, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Dawn Huczek photostream)
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How Monsanto Went From Selling Aspirin to Controlling Our Food Supply


Sunday, 21 April 2013 09:28By Jill RichardsonAlterNet | Report
Monsanto controls our food, poisons our land, and influences all three branches of government.

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

Forty percent of the crops grown in the United States contain their genes. They produce the world’s top selling herbicide. Several of their factories are now toxic Superfund sites. They spend millions lobbying the government each year. It’s time we take a closer look at who’s controlling our food, poisoning our land, and influencing all three branches of government. To do that, the watchdog group Food and Water Watch recently published a corporate profile of Monsanto.

Patty Lovera, Food and Water Watch assistant director, says they decided to focus on Monsanto because they felt a need to “put together a piece where people can see all of the aspects of this company.”

“It really strikes us when we talk about how clear it is that this is a chemical company that wanted to expand its reach,” she says. “A chemical company that started buying up seed companies.” She feels it’s important “for food activists to understand all of the ties between the seeds and the chemicals.”

Monsanto the Chemical Company

Monsanto was founded as a chemical company in 1901, named for the maiden name of its founder’s wife. Its first product was the artificial sweetener saccharin. The company’s own telling of its history emphasizes its agricultural products, skipping forward from its founding to 1945, when it began manufacturing agrochemicals like the herbicide 2,4-D.

Prior to its entry into the agricultural market, Monsanto produced some harmless – even beneficial! – products like aspirin. It also made plastics, synthetic rubber, caffeine, and vanillin, an artificial vanilla flavoring. On the not-so-harmless side, it began producing toxic PCBs in the 1930s.

According to the new report, a whopping 99 percent of all PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, used in the U.S. were produced at a single Monsanto plant in Sauget, IL. 

The plant churned out toxic PCBs from the 1930s until they were banned in 1976. Used as coolants and lubricants in electronics, PCBs are carcinogenic and harmful to the liver, endocrine system, immune system, reproductive system, developmental system, skin, eye, and brain.

Even after the initial 1982 cleanup of this plant, Sauget is still home to two Superfund sites. (A Superfund site is defined by the EPA as “an uncontrolled or abandoned place where hazardous waste is located, possibly affecting local ecosystems or people.”) This is just one of several Monsanto facilities that became Superfund sites.

Monsanto’s Shift to Agriculture

Despite its modern-day emphasis on agriculture, Monsanto did not even create an agricultural division within the company until 1960. It soon began churning out new pesticides, each colorfully named under a rugged Western theme: Lasso, Roundup, Warrant, Lariat, Bullet, Harness, etc.

Left out of Monsanto’s version of its historical highlights is an herbicide called Agent Orange. The defoliant, a mix of herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, was used extensively during the war in Vietnam. The nearly 19 million gallons sprayed in that country between 1962 and 1971 were contaminated with dioxin, a carcinogen so potent that it is measured and regulated at concentrations of parts per trillion. Dioxin was created as a byproduct of Agent Orange’s manufacturing process, and both American veterans and Vietnamese people suffered health problems from the herbicide’s use.

Monsanto’s fortunes changed forever in 1982, when it genetically engineered a plant cell. The team responsible, led by Ernest Jaworski, consisted of Robb Fraley, Stephen Rogers, and Robert Horsch. Today, Fraley is Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer. Horsch also rose to the level of vice president at Monsanto, but he left after 25 years to join the Gates Foundation. There, he works on increasing crop yields in Sub-Saharan Africa. Together, the team received the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1998.

The company did not shift its focus from chemicals to genetically engineered seeds overnight. In fact, it was another 12 years before it commercialized the first genetically engineered product, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH), a controversial hormone used to make dairy cows produce more milk. And it was not until 1996 that it first brought genetically engineered seeds, Roundup Ready soybeans, onto the market.

By 2000, the company had undergone such a sea change from its founding a century before that it claims it is almost a different company. In Monsanto’s telling of its own history, it emphasizes a split between the “original” Monsanto Company and the Monsanto Company of today. In 2000, the Monsanto Company entered a merger and changed its name to Pharmacia. The newly formed Pharmacia then spun off its agricultural division as an independent company named Monsanto Company.

Do the mergers and spinoffs excuse Monsanto for the sins of the past committed by the company bearing the same name? Lovera does not think so. “I'm sure there's some liability issues they have to deal with – their various production plants that are now superfund sites,” she responds. “So I'm sure there was legal thinking about which balance sheet you put those liabilities on” when the company split. She adds that the notion that today’s Monsanto is not the same as the historical Monsanto that made PCBs is “a nice PR bullet for them.”

But, she adds, “even taking that at face value, that they are an agriculture company now, they are still producing seeds that are made to be used with chemicals they produce.” For example, Roundup herbicide alone made up more than a quarter of their sales in 2011. The proportion of their business devoted to chemicals is by no means insignificant.

Monsanto’s pesticide product line includes a number of chemicals named as Bad Actors by Pesticide Action Network. They include Alachlor (a carcinogen, water contaminant, developmental/reproductive toxin, and a suspected endocrine disruptor), Acetochlor (a carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor), Atrazine (a carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor), Clopyralid (high acute toxicity), Dicamba (developmental/reproductive toxin), and Thiodicarb (a carcinogen and cholinesterase inhibitor).

Roundup: The Benign Herbicide?

Defenders of Monsanto might reply to the charge that Roundup is no Agent Orange. In fact, the herbicide is viewed as so benign and yet effective that its inventor, John E. Franz, won the National Medal of Technology. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, kills everything green and growing, but according to Monsanto, it only affects a metabolic pathway in plants, so it does not harm animals. It’s also said to break down quickly in the soil, leaving few traces on the environment after its done its job.

Asked about the harmlessness of Roundup, Lovera replies, “That’s the PR behind Roundup – how benign it was and you can drink it and there’s nothing to worry about here. There are people who dispute that.” For example there is an accusation that Roundup causes birth defects. “We don’t buy the benign theory,” continues Lovera, “But what’s really interesting is that we aren’t going to be having this conversation pretty soon because Roundup isn’t working anymore.”

Lovera is referring to “Roundup-resistant weeds,” weeds that have evolved in the past decade and a half to survive being sprayed by Roundup. Nearly all soybeans grown in the United States is Monsanto’s genetically engineered Roundup Ready variety, as are 80 percent of cotton and 73 percent of corn. Farmers spray entire fields with Roundup, killing only the weeds while the Roundup Ready crops survive. With such heavy use of Roundup on America’s farmfields, any weed – maybe one in a million – with an ability to survive in that environment would survive and pass on its genes in its seeds.

By 1998, just two years after the introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans, scientists documented the first Roundup-resistant weed. A second was found in 2000, and three more popped up in 2004. To date, there are 24 different weeds that have evolved resistance to Roundup worldwide. And once they invade a farmer’s field, it doesn’t matter if his crops are Roundup-resistant, because Roundup won’t work anymore. 

Either the weeds get to stay, or the farmer needs to find a new chemical, pull the weeds by hand, or find some other way to deal with the problem.

“We’ve wasted Roundup by overusing it,” says Lovera. She and other food activists worry about the harsher chemicals that farmers are switching to, and the genetically engineered crops companies like Monsanto are developing to use with them.

Currently, there are genetically engineered crops waiting for government approval that are made to tolerate the herbicides 2,4-D, Dicamba and Isoxaflutole. (These are not all from Monsanto – some are from their competitors.) None of these chemicals are as “benign” as Roundup. Isoxaflutole is, in fact, a carcinogen. Let’s spray that on our food!

Corporate Control of Seeds

No discussion of Monsanto is complete without a mention of the immense amount of control it exerts on the seed industry.

“What it boils down to is between them buying seed companies outright, their incredible aggressive legal maneuvering, their patenting of everything, and their enforcement of those patents, they really have locked up a huge part of the seed supply,” notes Lovera. “So they just exercise an unprecedented control over the entire seed sector. Monsanto products constitute 40 percent of all crop acres in the country.”

Monsanto began buying seed companies as far back as 1982. (One can see an infographic of seed industry consolidation here.) Some of Monsanto’s most significant purchases were Asgrow (soybeans), Delta and Pine Land (cotton), DeKalb (corn), and Seminis (vegetables). One that deserves special mention is their purchase of Holden’s Foundation Seeds in 1997.

George Naylor, an Iowa farmer who grows corn and soybeans, calls Holden’s “Theindependent source of germplasm for corn.” Small seed companies could buy inbred lines from Holden’s to cross them and produce their own hybrids. Large seed companies like Pioneer did their own breeding, but small operations relied on Holden’s or Iowa State University. But Iowa State got out of the game and Monsanto bought Holden’s.

Monsanto’s tactics for squashing its competition are perhaps unrivaled. They use their power to get seed dealers to not to stock many of their competitors products, for example. When licensing their patented genetically engineered traits to seed companies, they restrict the seed companies’ ability to combine Monsanto’s traits with those of their competitors. And, famously, farmers who plant Monsanto’s patented seeds sign contracts prohibiting them from saving and replanting their seeds. Yet, to date, U.S. antitrust laws have not clamped down on these practices.

With the concentrated control of the seed industry, farmers already complain of lack of options. For example, Naylor says he’s had a hard time finding non-genetically engineered soybean seeds. Most corn seeds are now pre-treated with pesticides, so farmers wishing to find untreated seeds will have a tough time finding any. Once a company or a handful of companies control an entire market, then they can choose what to sell and at what price to sell it.

Furthermore, if our crops are too genetically homogenous, then they are vulnerable to a single disease or pest that can wipe them out. When farmers grow genetically diverse crops, then there is a greater chance that one variety or another will have resistance to new diseases. In that way, growing genetically diverse crops is like having insurance, or like diversifying your risk within your stock portfolio. 

Food and Water Watch Recommendations

At the end of its report, Food and Water Watch lists several recommendations. “There are a lot of ways that government policy could address the Monsanto hold on the food supply,” explains Lovera. “The most important thing is that it’s time to stop approval of genetically engineered crops to stop this arms race of the next crop and the next chemical.”

She also calls Monsanto “the poster child for the need for antitrust enforcement” – something that the Justice Department has yet to successfully deliver up. In fact, last November the government ended a three-year antitrust investigation of Monsanto.

A third recommendation Lovera hopes becomes a reality is mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. “If we had that label and we put that information in consumers’ hands, they could do more to avoid this company in their day-to-day lives,” she says.

In the meantime, all consumers can do to avoid genetically engineered foods is to buy organic for the handful of crops that are genetically engineered: corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, papaya, sugar beets, and alfalfa.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.