Category Archives: Genetic Engineering

Can I get a cup of genetically modified coffee?

An article on Bloomberg Business Week reveals that scientists have cracked the genetic code for robusta, the coffee plant that provides the java for about one third of the world’s early morning pick-me-ups. According to reporter Caroline Winter, scientists can use this discovery to engineer GMO decaffeinated coffee beans, an easier alternative to extracting the caffeine from the natural beans.

Attempts at GMO coffee in the past have been thwarted by hackers (a group who definitely needs round-the-clock caffeine), not to mention rousing the anger of thousands of hipsters who eat only organic and drink out of mason jars. Coffee isn’t just a beverage; for many it’s a culture.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 10.10.39 PM

Photo: Wikimedia

The most ironic part of the article starts when scientists claim that genetically engineering coffee beans will help the plant survive climate change. Again, with the false solutions. How can one of the very methods that accelerates climate change be considered a solution?

I guess it’s time to really make that switch to tea.

Science Cracks Coffee’s Genetic Code. Up Next: Frankencoffee

by Caroline Winter, Bloomberg Business Week, 9 Sept. 2014

Scientists have managed to sequence the java genome, a breakthrough that brings new insights into the venerated bean while also opening the door to genetic engineering.

A group of more than 60 international researchers painstakingly pinpointed all the genes that make up robusta coffee, according to an article published last week in Science, a plant variety that accounts for roughly one-third of the world’s coffee consumption. Various groups are still working on sequencing the fancier, more delicious arabica strand, which contains about twice as much genetic information.

One surprising discovery: Coffee’s mode of producing caffeine is quite different from that of its cousin, cocoa, indicating that the two plants don’t share a common ancestor. There are several reasons why unrelated plants might evolve to produce the addictive substance we love so much. “Bugs don’t chew on the coffee plant leaves because they don’t like the caffeine, but pollinators like bees do,” Victor Albert, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Buffalo and one of the study’s authors, told the Associated Press. “So pollinators come back for more—just like we do for our cups of coffee.”

Top off your cup and check out the full article here.

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Filed under Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Genetic Engineering

Investigation shows that industry friendly oversight of GMO experiments in California endanger the public and the environment

An investigation by Hearst Newspapers shows that little oversight by agencies in California of experimental field trials of GMO’s hidden along California’s Central Coast is putting the public and the environment  at risk. The company conducting the tests, Applied Biotechnology, is founded and run by John A. Howard, who “previously funded another company that was permanently banned from trials of genetically modified organisms – GMOs – after creating such contaminated messes in the Midwest that a half-million bushels of soybeans and more than 150 acres of corn had to be destroyed.”

Worker Javier Alcantar tends to corn crops at the Monsanto Co. test field in Woodland, California, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 10, 2012. Monsanto Co., an American multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation, is the world's leading producer of the herbicide glyphosate and the largest producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed.  Photo: Noah Berger, Bloomberg

Worker Javier Alcantar tends to corn crops at the Monsanto Co. test field in Woodland, California, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 10, 2012. Monsanto Co., an American multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation, is the world’s leading producer of the herbicide glyphosate and the largest producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed. Photo: Noah Berger, Bloomberg

According to an article published yesterday (September 8, 2014) in the SFGate, the online sister publication of the San Francisco Chronicle:

The advent of GMOs has spawned global debate and protest over issues of consumer safety and the uncertain effects of altered genes on the environment.

Yes it has–and the opposition to the development of unsafe GMO’s is just beginning to build!

GMO experiments receive questionable oversight
By Bill Bill Lambrecht, San Francisco Gate. September 8, 2014.

Washington — At a secret location among the vineyards of California’s Central Coast, a plot of genetically engineered corn is producing proteins for industrial and pharmaceutical uses, including an experimental vaccine for hepatitis B.

The altered corn is growing with federal approval 100 feet from a steelhead stream in San Luis Obispo County, in designated critical habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog. Agriculture Department inspectors have reported two “incidents” at the site, including conventional corn sprouting in a 50-foot fallow zone, but the findings did not rise to the level of a fine or even to a formal notice of noncompliance for the company that planted it, Applied Biotechnology Institute Inc.

Details of Applied Biotechnology’s inspections and hundreds of other field trials with genetically modified plants were obtained by Hearst Newspapers under Freedom of Information laws. The inspection reports and other Agriculture Department records present a picture of vast, swiftly expanding outdoor experimentation and industry-friendly oversight of those experiments.

Read More Here

 

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Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Campaign to STOP GE Trees, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Commodification of Life, Corporate Globalization, False Solutions to Climate Change, Food Sovereignty, Forests, Forests and Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Greenwashing, Industrial agriculture, Uncategorized

Former Google Executive Defends Monsanto

After selling his start-up Climate Corp. to Monsanto last year, former Google Adwords executive David Friedberg has become a vivacious advocate for Big Ag’s biggest player, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

David Friedberg, a former Google executive, sold his tech startup to Monsanto. Now, he defends genetically modified crops. Photo: Jason Henry for The Wall Street Journal

David Friedberg, a former Google executive, sold his tech startup to Monsanto. Now, he defends genetically modified crops. Photo: Jason Henry for The Wall Street Journal

Does Monsanto think this new persona will counteract public demand for GMO labels? Friedberg gives Monsanto a trustworthy face, all while peddling the same propaganda the company always has always used to counter public outcry. What’s his game? According to the article, “Monsanto, Under Attack for GMOs, Has a New Defender,” Friedberg has been talking to organic industry leaders and throwing dinner parties prominent food critics and supporters of GMO labels. (Be sure to give a shout out to Tom Spier, a former executive of the Bear Naked granola and an advocate for GMO labels on foods, who took tour of a Monsanto molecular breeding facility.) 

One of the best quotes in the piece comes from Monsanto’s president, Brett Begemann (and by best we mean absurd, hilarious and ironic):

“For years we had viewed ourselves as a company that helps farmers increase their productivity, and food companies were the ones that took the product to the consumer.”

“We have nothing to hide, we just weren’t talking about it.”

If you don’t have anything to hide, then why do you oppose GMO labels? If you don’t have anything to hide, then why do you need to employ a propaganda persona to repurpose your message? What company doesn’t need to talk about their product? The public wants GMO labels. They have a right to know and to choose what kinds of food they put into their bodies. It doesn’t matter if their choices are based in fact or opinion, they still have the right to know.

Monsanto, Under Attack for GMOs, Has a New Defender
After Selling His Tech Startup to Monsanto, David Friedberg Takes Up the Cause of Modified Crops in Silicon Valley

by Jacob Bunge, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 3, 2014

When Monsanto Co. MON -0.04% purchased Climate Corp. for $930 million last year, it got a San Francisco-based startup that crunches weather data to improve crop yields and design insurance. It also got David Friedberg, the company’s 34-year-old co-founder, who may prove an even more valuable asset.

Mr. Friedberg, a former Google Inc. GOOGL +0.75% executive, now oversees the “precision agriculture” services Monsanto sells to farmers, a major initiative encompassing high-tech planting equipment, soil and seed analysis, and weather modeling.

The lifelong vegetarian has also emerged as an unlikely champion of Monsanto at a time when the company—and the business of genetically engineering crops that it pioneered—face intensifying attacks.

State ballot initiatives have sought to compel companies to label foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs—which the industry fears would be a scarlet letter. Vermont in May became the first state to unilaterally adopt such a measure. Meanwhile, companies like General Mills and Chipotle are stripping GMOs from some foods in response to consumer groups raising health and environmental concerns.

To learn more about Friedberg’s history and his pro-Monsanto agenda, read the full article on the WSJ.

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Filed under False Solutions to Climate Change, Genetic Engineering

Ban GMOs: The Precautionary Principle

post on GM Watch shows how Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a risk engineering professor at New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering, uses the precautionary principle to argue against the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). In a nutshell (an organic one, of course), the precautionary principle states that an innovation should not be released until it is proven to be broadly safe for mankind and the environment. 

The key word here is broad.

Taleb argues, as an example, that a fireworks factory is safe, according to the precautionary principle, because even if it did explode, it would only damage and injure those close to the explosion. So Taleb’s argument is based on the idea that GMOs should be banned because they can cause a chain reaction worldwide. Even if we don’t know what the exact result of that reaction, since it would, undeniably, occur on a global scale, the precautionary principle warns against GMOs. But still and all, why is that bad?

Think of it this way — in the natural world, evolution is a slow process. Just tossing in genetically altered material so quickly sidesteps this process. Do we know what happens when we speed up evolution? No, we don’t. Do we know the long-term effects of putting frost-resistant trees out into the world? Same answer – no. Not only should we be concerned with how they will affect climate change, but also evolution. What will Mother Nature do with these genetically modified plants?

We definitely get the argument, even though there are elements we may not agree with entirely. What do you think? Read on to get the full picture.

Ruin is forever: Why GMOs should be banned on the basis of the precautionary principle
by GM Watch, September 1, 2014

[...]

GMOs, however, offer a classic case of unforeseeable systemic ruin. We will know we are ruined by this untried technology after the ruin happens (perhaps in the form of famine or widespread human health and/or environmental effects). The authors categorically reject the notion that modern genetic engineering of plants is no more dangerous than traditional selective breeding.

This is because traditional methods are tried on a small scale and only achieve large scale acceptance and use over time if they are successful, that is, demonstrate no drastic side-effects or failures. This mimics nature’s bottom-up approach to evolution; the changes affected this way are gradual, not drastic – and, of course, they don’t involve transferring genetic material from completely different species, say, from a fish into a tomato.

Proponents will say that cross-species transfer of genetic material takes place in nature as well. But its scope is limited and its survivability and evolutionary fitness are tested over long periods during which these changes either thrive or disappear.

The top-down approach of the GMO industry introduces GMO crops everywhere across the world in a short period and combines one risk – untested genetic combinations–with another grave risk–monoculture. The long-term product of these two risks is unknown. But it is rightly categorized as systemic. GMO crops are now deployed worldwide and they can and do also contaminate non-GMO crops and wild plants through pollination.

Crops created through selective breeding have long histories of success and toxicities that are well understood and unlikely to change suddenly. As each new GMO crop is deployed, we cannot know ahead of time whether it will lead to systemic health and/or environment problems because there is little testing and, in any case, the amount of experience we have with GMO crops is far, far shorter than for the products of traditional selective breeding.

Read the full article on GM Watch!

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Study links Monsanto’s Roundup to increased cancer rates

Glyphosate, the star player in Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup, has been linked to lymphoma, according to a study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. While we certainly know that Roundup is used in fields and front yards across the world, the toxic effects of this use can be found in one of the most unassuming places – our children’s playgrounds. In her article “Study: New Yorkers Face Cancer Spike From Monsanto’s Roundup in City Parks,” Christina Sarich explains how cancer rates are rising, but the city maintains that its use of Roundup is perfectly safe.

How exactly does this sign convey that this use is safe? Photo: Natural Society

How exactly does this sign convey safety? Photo: Natural Society

Let’s take a moment here to digest – NYC claims that its use of a toxic chemical in and near parks and playgrounds where children play is completely safe. Scientists and environmentalists have argued from day one that the use of Monsanto’s aggressive toxins could be dangerous. We don’t know to what extent, but that should be cause for alarm, not justification for its use. This is the very argument that Monsanto uses to support its continued production of Roundup, which has lately been engineered even stronger in order to combat plants that are building up a resistance (Go Nature!). Not knowing the long-term effects is exactly why these toxins should be banned and especially not used near playgrounds. Like usual, however, officials are only convinced with dollar signs, so instead of listening to scientific evidence, they put children’s lives at serious risk for developing cancer.

Study: New Yorkers Face Cancer Spike From Monsanto’s Roundup in City Parks
by Christina Sarich, Natural Society, August 22, 2014

The Parks Department in New York, which was responsible for spraying pesticides on greenspaces more than 1,300 times last year, is likely leading to more prevalent cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and breast cancer, according to the findings of recent studies. The pesticide they use most often (even where children are at play) in order to eliminate weeds that house rats in New York is Monsanto’s Roundup – full of glyphosate carcinogens.

Even though the city posts warning signs 24-hours prior to spraying, the toxic chemicals in RoundUp linger, and no one really knows for how long. They say they spray in ‘little-used’ areas in the park – but we all know that with a little rain, pesticide runoff travels into the park’s lakes and soil, contaminating larger areas.

Read the full article on Natural Society.

 

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Filed under Genetic Engineering, Industrial agriculture, Youth

Environmentalists up-in-arms: New herbicide for GMOs could cause “superweeds”

When will Big Ag learn? If you have to keep genetically engineering plants to withstand the herbicides you’ve put on the market, then your product is fundamentally flawed. In the article “Environmentalists Rally Against New Herbicide For GE Crops” in Mint Press News, Phil Zahodiakin explains how weeds and other plants are building up a tolerance to many herbicides, but instead of changing the ethics of their farming philosophies, these companies are just creating stronger, more potent and more toxic chemical combinations.

From antibiotics to antibacterial hand soap, Mother Nature has proven time and time again that she can resist the interferences of mankind. Nature always adapts, always evolves. How much more toxic will pesticides and GE crops have to get before Big Ag will listen?

Photo: AP/Audrey McAvoy

Photo: AP/Audrey McAvoy

Environmentalists Rally Against New Herbicide For GE Crops

Citing the inevitability of “superweeds” and calling the product a “life preserver” for fatally flawed technology, environmentalists urge the EPA not to register a new Dow AgroSciences herbicide for GE corn and soybeans.

By Phil Zahodiakin, Mint Press News, August 22, 2014

Environmentalists warn that an herbicide designed to work with new varieties of genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans should not be registered by the Environmental Protection Agency because, like other widely-used herbicides for GE crops, it will gradually promote the emergence of “superweeds” resistant to the new herbicide.

The herbicide at issue is Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist Duo, whose active ingredients are two “old” chemicals: glyphosate (best known by the trade name “Roundup”) and 2,4-D. The herbicide would be applied in fields planted with Enlist Corn and Enlist Soybeans – which Dow has engineered to tolerate the product.

The first commercial applications of 2,4-D date back to the mid-1940s, but the chemical gained notoriety due to its use in a Vietnam War-era defoliant: Agent Orange. Although 2,4-D was not the only herbicide in Agent Orange, the product was contaminated with dioxin — a potent carcinogen — as a byproduct of the production process.

Read the full article on Mint Press News.

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Filed under Campaign to STOP GE Trees, False Solutions to Climate Change, Genetic Engineering, Greenwashing, Industrial agriculture

From Ferguson to Africa: The Tentacles of Institutional Racism

It is not only in Ferguson, MO where state-sanctioned and institutional racism is being exposed.  This new report demonstrates how the majority white UK is trying to convince Africans to grow and eat dangerous genetically engineered crops that have been rejected in Britain and the European Union.

British think tank tells Africans to grow and eat GMOs

by Claire Robinson,

Chatham House, GM and Africa

Chatham House report misleads about GMO risks and promises, writes Claire Robinson

report from the British foreign policy think tank Chatham House on agricultural biotechnology in Africa claims that GM “offers advantages over conventional plant-breeding approaches”.

The report notes, “Accordingly there are a various projects under way to develop new GM varieties for African farmers, ranging from drought-resistant maize to varieties of cassava, banana, sorghum, cowpea and sweet potato with resistance to pests and disease.”

Mercifully the report’s release has been low-key in the UK, where the long-suffering public must be tired of hearing rich white Brits telling Africans that they should grow and eat experimental GM crops on the basis of no evidence that they will be beneficial.

It is, however, being publicised in Africa.

For the entire article, click here

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Africa, Biodiversity, Commodification of Life, Genetic Engineering, Industrial agriculture, Racism

Groups globally mobilize to stop commercial release of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees in Brazil and US

Campaign to STOP GE Trees expands to four continents

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New York - Two unprecedented applications are pending that, if approved, would allow the commercial sale of millions of genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees for development into vast industrial GE tree plantations in the US and Brazil. The Campaign to STOP GE Trees [1] is expanding and mobilizing to stop these and all large-scale releases of GE trees into the environment.

Banner photo (Plantations Are Not Forests) from last Friday's march:  Petermann/GJEP-GFC

Plantations Are Not Forests banner. Photo: Petermann/GJEP-GFC

In the US, ArborGen has a request pending with the Department of Agriculture to commercially sell freeze-tolerant GE eucalyptus trees; in Brazil, Futuragene has requested permission from CTNBio, the Brazilian biosafety regulatory agency, to release GE eucalyptus trees there. CTNBio is planning a public hearing on the Futuragene GE tree application on 4 September. The USDA could release their draft ruling at any time.

“We have tried to ban GE trees globally through various bodies of the United Nations, and now groups are coordinating internationally to stop any and all applications to legalize GE trees,” stated Winfridus Overbeek, Brazil-based Coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement and Steering Committee member for the Campaign. “It’s crucial that these potentially disastrous trees not be commercially released because the health and viability of entire forest ecosystems and the communities who depend on them will be at risk.”

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Forests, Forests and Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Greenwashing, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America-Caribbean, The Greed Economy and the Future of Forests, Uncategorized