View from the fence

Social, environmental and economic issues surrounding GM foods, and the latest news

News round up – November

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Some interesting links I’ve been collecting over the last month:

GM fly trial

A biotech company, Oxitec, has applied for permission to carry out a small-scale test of GM olive flies in Spain. When GM flies breed with wild flies the female offspring will die, reducing the olive fly pop.ulation which are agricultural pests.

No data for ‘GMO superbug scare’

Retired plant pathologist Don Huber claims to have discovered a microbe caused by agricultural genetic modification which caused everything from plant disease to spontaneous abortions. He claims to have been culturing it in the lab since 2005, however, he has not published anything in a peer-reviewed journal and won’t release the material. A petition on change.org is asking him to release the pathogen for external study.

The dominant story about the future of the world food supply is logical, well known and wrong

Jonathon Foley from the University of Minnesota has written an article that is well worth a read, questioning our view of food security. He cautions that growing more crops is not the only way to get more food on the table, and that GMOs are ‘no silver bullet’.

He highlights the wider changes we need to make in food demand (changing diets, particularly a desire for more meat and dairy are putting pressure on our capacity to produce enough food for the whole population) and supply (food waste is a big issue). He questions whether genetic modification is actually increasing our food supply – we’re mostly feeding it to animals (not an efficient thing to do), and we haven’t fundamentally changed plant growth (see my recent post on drought resistance). We’re generally replacing one form of pest control (pesticides) with a different form (GM) which have “maybe offered some environmental benefits” but “large, sustained yield improvements have not been a major outcome, except for possibly cotton in India”.

He also says: “From my read of the current scientific literature, I do not believe that GMOs pose an obvious health threat (although more research should be done on this), nor do they seem to pose any direct environmental threat.”

‘Alarmist’ 2011 study is challenged

In 2011 Chinese scientists published claims that microRNAs from rice and other commonly eaten plants altered animals’ physiology in ways that could be harmful. New research challenges this.

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Author: Rebecca Nesbit

I am author of a popular science book 'Is that Fish in your Tomato?' exploring the fact and fiction of GM crops. In my work and leisure so far, I have trained bees to detect explosives, used a radar to study butterflies for my PhD, written a novel, taken the train from London to China, organised Biology Week, sold science jewellery on Etsy, and traveled to four continents with Nobel Laureates. Best off all, I've made lots of friends whose support I very much appreciate. Thank you! Please visit my website: http://rebeccanesbit.com/

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