View from the fence

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

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Flavr Savr: that isn’t fish in your tomato

The first GM food to reach the market was the Flavr Savr tomato, the brain child of Calgene, a small company in Davis, California. The tomatoes had been genetically-modified for a longer shelf-life, and their launch was announced in 1994.

The gene for an enzyme that breaks down pectin was flipped in Flavr Savr. The enzyme causes the fruit to soften and rot, so the flipped gene meant Flavr Savr tomatoes lasted longer than their counterparts. Continue reading

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July news round-up

New book launched (It’s mine…)

Exciting news! My first popular science book ‘Is that Fish in your Tomato?‘ was released on 6 July 2017, exploring the fact and fiction of GM foods. Thank you in advance to all of my readers.

Australia approves GM field trial

The wheat and barley tested has been genetically modified for yield enhancement and tolerance to abiotic stresses.

Reviewing the US GMO regulations

In January 2017 proposals were made for change, and comments since have applauded the move yet raised concerns such as a failure to consult with international markets.

In defence of meat production

An Edinburgh University professor argues that meat production is likely to continue to play an important role in feeding the world. Given that many places are ideal for growing grass rather than crops, and that animals often eat industry byproducts. He suggests animal protein might make up an optimum of about 12% of our diets, though no doubt this varies by region.

New research released on the effect of neonicotinoids on bees

A new paper has presents complex data on the impact of neonic pesticides on three species of bee. The debate, however, doesn’t seem to have moved forward. Reaction from the people who already believed that neonics were bad: ‘this confirms we were right’. Reaction from industry: ‘this proves nothing’.


Is that Fish in your Tomato? My book has been published!

Is that Fish in your Tomato? Rebecca Nesbit's book on genetically-modified foodsIt’s been an exciting month for me, starting with the release of my first popular science book. Is that Fish in your Tomato? explores the fact and fiction of GM foods, and is available in print or as an ebook. If you’re interested, please do head to Amazon or order it in your local bookshop.

It was fascinating to write, and I learnt a huge amount about our food system as a whole. It also gave me a glimpse into personal stories and motivations. The stories in there range from plant scientists modifying BB guns to fire DNA into onions, to live animals being used in early (failed) attempts at skin grafts.

It was made possible through the support of family and friends, and the many people who I interviewed whilst writing it. That support continues, so thank you to everyone who reads the book. You can see reviews on my website, and if you fancy adding a review to Amazon that would be much appreciated.


Fun facts, and what they remind us

Alcoholic beverages make up a greater proportion of the UK food supply than fruit does.

We talk a lot about cutting down on food waste, but what about things we consume that we don’t really need? Growing sugar cane for fizzy drinks has all the environmental impacts of farming foods of nutritional importance, yet simply makes people less healthy. Maybe it’s time we all considered a flexitarian approach to drinks as well as animal products. I’m not planning to completely give up alcohol, though I will definitely keep it below my fruit consumption and remember it is a luxury. Adding the effect of packaging into the equation makes the impact of many drinks even higher, so I personally have a near total ban on drinks in cans.

Scientists in Taiwan are introducing genes from wild relatives into domestic tomato.

They’re doing this through conventional breeding, which is slower than genetic engineering but more acceptable to consumers. Interesting that using wild relatives in breeding programmes is very palatable to most people, yet using genetic engineering to introduce these genes from another species is often not.

The wild relatives used by the Taiwanese scientists are from the Galapagos – a reminder of what we are set to lose if such unique ecosystems are destroyed. Save the Galapagos!


Now we have a name for people like me: flexitarian

Since I wrote about the arguments for being an ethical omnivore, I’ve discovered that someone has made a word for what I was trying to say: flexitarian. Flexitarians commit to reducing their meat consumption without cutting it out completely.

It seems to be popular – 2017 YouGov research found that 44% of people in Britain were willing or already committed to cutting down on or cutting out meat eating. Continue reading

Cows - India food security

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News roundup: April 2017

The best piece of advice I heard this month came from Professor Jessica Fanzo. Her tip for anyone concerned about corporate control of the food system was to give up fizzy drinks. These are generally produced by some of the largest companies who promote very unhealthy products. You can watch the video of her thoughts on this any many other food topics.

And in the headlines we have:  Continue reading

Indian mango juice - agri-tech branding

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Attitudes to technology – cultural differences revealed by my mango juice

On my recent trip to India I was told, quite rightly, that the mango juice was delicious. The bottle also turned out to be enlightening, and revealed a difference in attitude across the continents.

I was disappointed, though not surprised, to see that the juice was a product of Coca-Cola – the global power of soft drinks companies is clear to see. What did surprise me was the note about new technologies increasing yield: Continue reading