By Steve Connor
September 28, 2010
An insecticide used in genetically modified (GM) crops grown extensively in the United States and other parts of the world has leached into the water of the surrounding environment.
The insecticide is the product of a bacterial gene inserted into GM maize and other cereal crops to protect them against insects such as the European corn borer beetle. Scientists have detected the insecticide in a significant number of streams draining the great corn belt of the American mid-West.
The researchers detected the bacterial protein in the plant detritus that was washed off the corn fields into streams up to 500 metres away. They are not yet able to determine how significant this is in terms of the risk to either human health or the wider environment.
"Our research adds to the growing body of evidence that corn crop byproducts can be dispersed throughout a stream network, and that the compounds associated with genetically modified crops, such as insecticidal proteins, can enter nearby water bodies," said Emma Rosi-Marshall of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.
GM crops are widely cultivated except in Britain and other parts of Europe. In 2009, more than 85 per cent of American corn crops were genetically modified to either repel pests or to be tolerant to herbicides used to kill weeds in a cultivated field.
The GM maize, or corn as it is called in the US, has a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuriengensis (Bt) inserted into it to repel the corn borer beetle. The Bt gene produces a protein called Cry1Ab which has insectidical properties.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, analysed 217 streams in Indiana. The scientists found 86 per cent of the sites contained corn leaves, husks, stalks or cereal cobs in their channels and 13 per cent contained detectable levels of the insectidical Cry1Ab proteins.
"The tight linkage between corn fields and streams warrants further research into how corn byproducts, including Cry1Ab insecticidal proteins, potentially impact non-target ecosystems, such as streams and wetlands," Dr Rosi-Marshall said.
All of the stream sites with detectable insecticidal proteins were located within 500 metres of a corn field. The ramifications are vast just in Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, where about 90 per cent of the streams and rivers - some 159,000 miles of waterways - are also located within 500 metres of corn fields.
After corn crops are harvested, a common agricultural practice is to leave discarded plant material on the fields. This "no-till" form of agriculture minimises soil erosion, but it then also sets the stage for corn byproducts to enter nearby stream channels.
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
September 27, 2010
Millbrook, NY - In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies aquatic ecologist Dr. Emma J. Rosi-Marshall and colleagues report that streams throughout the Midwestern Corn Belt are receiving insecticidal proteins that originate from adjacent genetically modified crops. The protein enters streams through runoff and when corn leaves, stalks, and plant parts are washed into stream channels.
Genetically-modified plants are a mainstay of large-scale agriculture in the American Midwest, where corn is a dominant crop. In 2009, more than 85% of U.S. corn crops were genetically modified to repel pests and/or resist herbicide exposure. Corn engineered to release an insecticide that wards off the European corn borer, commonly referred to as Bt corn, comprised 63% of crops. The tissue of these plants has been modified to express insecticidal proteins, one of which is commonly known as Cry1Ab.
Following an assessment of 217 stream sites in Indiana, the paper's authors found dissolved Cry1Ab proteins from Bt corn present in stream water at nearly a quarter of the sites, including headwater streams. Eighty-six percent of the sampled sites contained corn leaves, husks, stalks, or cobs in their channels; at 13% of these sites corn byproducts contained detectable Cry1Ab proteins. The study was conducted six months after crop harvest, indicating that the insecticidal proteins in crop byproducts can persist in the landscape.
Using these data, U.S. Department of Agriculture land cover data, and GIS modeling, the authors found that all of the stream sites with detectable Cry1Ab insecticidal proteins were located within 500 meters of a corn field. Furthermore, given current agricultural land use patterns, 91% percent of the streams and rivers throughout Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana - some 159,000 miles of waterways - are also located within 500 meters of corn fields.
Rosi-Marshall comments, "Our research adds to the growing body of evidence that corn crop byproducts can be dispersed throughout a stream network, and that the compounds associated with genetically-modified crops, such as insecticidal proteins, can enter nearby water bodies."
After corn crops are harvested, a common agricultural practice is to leave discarded plant material on the fields. This "no-till" form of agriculture minimizes soil erosion, but it also sets the stage for corn byproducts to enter nearby stream channels.
Rosi-Marshall concludes, "The tight linkage between corn fields and streams warrants further research into how corn byproducts, including Cr1Ab insecticidal proteins, potentially impact non-target ecosystems, such as streams and wetlands." These corn byproducts may alter the health of freshwaters. Ultimately, streams that originate in the Corn Belt drain into the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes.
Widespread planting of maize throughout the agricultural Midwest may result in detritus entering adjacent stream ecosystems, and 63% of the 2009 US maize crop was genetically modified to express insecticidal Cry proteins derived from Bacillus thuringiensis. Six months after harvest, we conducted a synoptic survey of 217 stream sites in Indiana to determine the extent of maize detritus and presence of Cry1Ab protein in the stream network. We found that 86% of stream sites contained maize leaves, cobs, husks, and/or stalks in the active stream channel. We also detected Cry1Ab protein in stream-channel maize at 13% of sites and in the water column at 23% of sites. We found that 82% of stream sites were adjacent to maize fields, and Geographical Information Systems analyses indicated that 100% of sites containing Cry1Ab-positive detritus in the active stream channel had maize planted within 500 m during the previous crop year. Maize detritus likely enters streams throughout the Corn Belt; using US Department of Agriculture land cover data, we estimate that 91% of the 256,446 km of streams/rivers in Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana are located within 500 m of a maize field. Maize detritus is common in low-gradient stream channels in northwestern Indiana, and Cry1Ab proteins persist in maize leaves and can be measured in the water column even 6 mo after harvest. Hence, maize detritus, and associated Cry1Ab proteins, are widely distributed and persistent in the headwater streams of a Corn Belt landscape.
By Mike Lillis
September 29, 2010
Calling the review process flawed, a long list of Democrats from both the House and Senate are calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reject a Massachusetts company's bid to bring a genetically modified salmon to the market.
The lawmakers say the FDA is evaluating the fish as if it were a new drug, not a new animal.
"The FDA approval process is inadequate and sets a dangerous precedent: the environmental review is flawed, and the consumer's right to know is ignored," a group of 20 House Democrats - led by Reps. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and Mike Thompson (Calif.) - wrote Tuesday to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.
"Rather than developing an appropriate evaluation method, the FDA is currently proceeding to approve the [genetically engineered] fish using its process for reviewing a new drug meant for animals."
A similar message is coming from the Senate, where 11 Democrats penned a separate letter to Hamburg Tuesday, arguing that information withheld from the public as proprietary prevents consumers from knowing fully the potential health effects of eating the product.
"Critical information has been kept from the public and consequently, only FDA and [the company] know important details about the approval process," wrote the lawmakers, led by Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska).
The senators have asked Hamburg to "halt all proceedings" related to the approval process.
FDA officials met last week to decide whether AquaBounty Technologies' should be permitted to sell its genetically modified Atlantic salmon, which has been outfitted with a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon and an antifreeze gene from an ocean pout. The genes allow the new creation - dubbed the AquAdvantage salmon - to grow about twice as fast as its natural cousin.
If approved, it would be the first genetically modified animal allowed to be sold as food.
The agency is also weighing whether to force the company to label its salmon as genetically engineered.
The Democrats endorsing the House letter include Reps. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), George Miller (Calif.), Sam Farr (Calif.), John Garamendi (Calif.), Raśl Grijalva (Ariz.), Maurice Hinchey (N.Y.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Betty McCollum (Minn.), Dennis Moore (Kan.), Jim Moran (Va.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Jackie Speier (Calif.), Peter Welch (Vt.), Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), David Wu (Ore.), Madeleine Bordallo (Guam) and Donna Christensen (V.I.).
Lawmakers signing the upper-chamber letter were Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), and Jon Tester (Mont.).
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) also endorsed the letter.
By Helena Bottemiller
Food Safety News
September 30, 2010
As a federal regulatory panel mulls over whether to approve genetically modified salmon for human consumption, a new effort to require labeling for the engineered fish is afoot.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), chairwoman of the House committee that controls the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture budgets, introduced a bill Wednesday that would mandate labeling of genetically modified fish.
According to her office, DeLauro's Consumers Right to Know Food Labeling Act would also require USDA to mandate that products of cloned animals be labeled, if intended for human consumption.
"A recent Food & Water Watch survey revealed that 78 percent of Americans do not want genetically-engineered salmon to be approved and made available in stores and restaurants," said DeLauro in a statement. "It is obvious that the American public wants to be able to make informed decisions when purchasing their food and that they want to be able to differentiate cloned or genetically modified products from natural products."
"Because the FDA is treating these genetically modified salmon not as a food issue but as an animal drug issue, current regulations would leave the consumers unable to discern between these new modified salmon and traditional salmon," she added. "If FDA approves the genetically modified salmon the American public deserves to know the truth about their food, and this legislation will ensure that they are provided with this critical information."
By Carey Gillam
September 29, 2010
KANSAS CITY - A federal court has ruled that U.S. agricultural regulators again appear to have acted illegally in allowing planting of a biotech sugar beet crop tied to Monsanto Co (MON.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz)
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White for the Northern District of California said in his ruling on Tuesday that a group of consumers and environmentalists were likely to prevail on their complaints that the U.S. Agriculture Department was trying to circumvent the law by allowing limited continued planting of seed stock for a biotech beet crop without conducting a required environmental review.
Judge White instructed plaintiffs, led by the Center for Food Safety and EarthJustice, to file proposed remedies by Oct. 4.
"Once again, USDA has bypassed environmental review and public comment to cater to industry preferences," said Paige Tomaselli, staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety, "We cannot allow USDA to abdicate its responsibility to protect public health and the environment."
Judge White ruled last month that the sugarbeets were never properly approved by USDA's Animal, Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) and said the government must conduct a thorough environmental review before approving them.
Opponents claim their commercial use will harm the environment and contaminate conventional beet supplies. They filed suit on Sept. 9 to try to stop the planting or remove recent plantings of genetically altered sugar beet seedlings.
The groups alleged that USDA was flaunting an earlier court ruling that vacated government approval of the beets, genetically altered to withstand Monsanto's Roundup herbicide and make it easier for farmers to treat fields for weeds.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said sugar beet production was important and called the court ruling a "wakeup call."
"Yesterday's court order on Roundup Ready Sugar Beet (RRSB) stecklings represents a wakeup call for all of agriculture, GMO and organic alike," Vilsack said in a statement.
"Farmers and working families depend on production of sugar beets to support their families and communities, and producers need certainty in order to plan properly for the future. Both GMO and organic production need to be able to coexist."
Monsanto, which owns intellectual property rights for the "Roundup Ready" sugar beet technology, sought to intervene in the case, and was granted limited standing.
The company declined to comment on the latest ruling.
The defendants, including Monsanto and other industry players who sought to intervene, said they needed limited planting permits for research and development, basic seed production and to preserve the ability to create genetically engineered commercial seed varieties to meet potential future demand if production is ultimately authorized.
The judge discounted that argument and reiterated that he had vacated the government's approval of the biotech sugarbeets and denied a government request for a delay.
The ruling is the latest in a string of adverse actions against USDA for failing to properly evaluate biotech crops. It also follows internal government reports critical of the agency's actions with biotech crops.
A separate federal court ruling has banned Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa. An alliance of conservation organizations have sued USDA over approval of GMO eucalyptus trees, arguing the approvals ignored expert warnings about potential environmental harm. (Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by David Gregorio)
By Jeffrey M. Smith
September 30, 2010
Has the FDA gone completely mad? Why are they trying to open the flood gates to genetically engineered (GE) salmon - a move that will go down in history as one of the most asinine and dangerous ever made by our government? What's it going to take for them to actually start protecting public health?
Frankenfish can promote disease
The FDA is reviewing data submitted by AquaBounty, the company that spliced a growth hormone gene into Atlantic salmon, forcing it to grow up to five times faster, and reach market size in about 18 months instead of 3 years. But according to the evidence, their buff salmon might have higher levels of a cancer promoting hormone IGF-1, more antibiotics, and more of a potentially life-threatening allergen(s).
The FDA failed to learn their lesson with their idiotic approval of genetically engineered bovine growth hormone. It also has higher levels of IGF-1 and more antibiotics. Now it's condemned by the American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association, banned in most other countries, and has been banished by most US dairies. Even Wal-Mart won't allow the stuff into their milk.
The GE soy and corn on the market, which the FDA continues to pretend is just the same as the natural stuff, also has higher levels of allergens, and has been linked to numerous disorders. Now the American Academy of Environmental Medicine condemned genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and urged all physicians to prescribe non-GMO diets. "GMO-Free" is one of the fastest growing health claims among US brands for the past two years, and a tipping point of consumer rejection of all GE ingredients appears to be just over the horizon.
Then there is the threat of Frankenfish escaping into the wild. Here too, the FDA ignores the lessons from GE crops which, in spite of early assurances to the contrary, have been contaminating non-GE crops and wild relatives all over the world for more than a decade. Their self-propagating genetic pollution is irreversible; it can outlast the effects of global warming and nuclear waste. But somehow escaped GE salmon carry an even greater hazard.
Frankenfish can wipe out natural salmon
According to a Purdue University computer model that tracked the effects of releasing just 60 Frankenfish (not salmon) into a population of 60,000, there was a shocking complete extinction in just 40 fish generations. Apparently their bigger size, which attracted mates more easily, combined with a slight reduction in survival rates, was a killer combination.
Canadian scientists engineered their own set of fast growing salmon and tested their behavior in tanks with other fish. When there was sufficient food, all was fine. When food stocks decreased, the Frankenfish freaked. They became cannibals, attacking and killing other fish - whether GE or natural. Their unexpected behavior resulted in population crashes or complete extinctions in the fish tanks. The study also suggested that if released, these ravenous aggressive salmon would pursue and consume other types of fish.
I'm not sure which scenario is worse: The complete extinction of salmon, or gangs of voracious mutant freaks scouring the ocean, attacking anything that can feed their rapidly-expanding, always-hungry bodies. (Heck, let's just give the fish automatic weapons.)
Never mind that the GE AquAdvantage salmon are supposed to be grown in inland tanks and are supposed to be sterile. In reality, they won't all be sterile; and there are numerous ways that these salmon, whose eggs will regularly be shipped from Prince Edward Island, Canada to growing tanks in Panama, can escape into the ocean. It only takes one!
Corporate interests and politics run the FDA show
US consumers have been clear for years that we don't want Frankenfish, Frankenpigs, Frankenmosquitoes, Frankenanything that walks, flies, slithers, or swims. And most Americans are now uneasy about the Frankencrops already growing in our fields. So who is clamoring for GE salmon? Who's getting the FDA to push open the doors to GE animals against public opinion?
Thank you Union of Concerned Scientists for the answer. Your September 12th survey of 1710 FDA employees explains who is really driving the bus at the agency. One staff member said, "Food safety has succumbed to the higher priority of global corporate profits." In fact, 38 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that "public health has been harmed by agency practices that defer to business interests."
Another employee points to political interference: "I have been here for 26 years and it still amazes me . . . how politics filter down to the lowest levels of government."
So its corporate profits and politics. Anyone surprised? About 1 in 4 surveyed admit that they had personally experienced, either frequently or occasionally, "situations where corporate interests [or members of Congress, or special interests] have forced the withdrawal or significant modification of [an agency] policy or action designed to protect consumers or public health."
If there is one face that best captures the FDA's conflict-of-humanity's-interest, it would be Michael Taylor. Taylor is the US Food Safety Czar. You'd think that if there were significant safety concerns about the GE salmon, our Czar would step in to preserve and protect. Don't count on it.
Back when the first Bush White House had instructed the FDA to promote biotechnology, the agency created a special position for Taylor to be in charge. He had been the outside attorney for biotech giant Monsanto, where he had dreamed up a regulatory facade that would allow GMOs to be brought to market with maximum speed and minimum oversight. Then he took a position with the FDA where he could apparently implement it himself. His GMO policy falsely claimed that the agency was unaware of information showing GM foods to be different. On that basis, no testing or labeling was required. Years later, 44,000 documents made public from a lawsuit revealed that the consensus among FDA's own scientists was that GM foods were unsafe, and should be carefully tested for allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems.
Soon after leaving the FDA, Michael Taylor went to work as Monsanto's vice president.
So the person who lied about GMO safety to push them on the market now sits above the folks that are looking at GE Salmon. Not a comforting thought.
Stacking the deck for approving salmon
How else does corporate influence play out in the current FDA debacle?
Consider Alison L. Van Eenennaam. She too used to work for Monsanto, and now has been added as a temporary voting member on the committee that advises the FDA about the salmon. She also advises the USDA and promotes GE animals on Youtube.
Kevin G. Wells was also added as a temporary voting member for salmon. He works at Revivicor, a company that genetically engineers pigs. Do you suppose there is any conflict of interest for him establishing an easy ride for GE animal approvals? Perhaps.
Gregory Jaffe was also imported into the committee as their supposed consumer advocate. In reality, he is with the pro-GMO Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), an organization that consistently ignores the mounting evidence of adverse health impacts from GE crops. Jaffe even filed a complaint to the FDA in 2001 complaining of companies that label their products as non-GMO. What further qualified Jaffe for his committee position was his published article Questions About Genetically Engineered Animals, where he touts the environmental benefits of AquAdvantage salmon.
The engineered bias of the FDA advisory committee is made even more clear by who is absent. There are no experts on allergies or hormones who can address the possible health damaging effects of the fish, and no fish ecologists who can figure out whether our grandchildren will live in a world without wild salmon.
But even before the committee was picked, the deck was stacked in favor of approvals. In 2008, the Bush administration rolled out a policy in which GE animals would be approved as if they were animal drugs. This latest square peg is part of a continuing effort to regulate GMOs without asking Congress to pass any new laws. So, since 1992, the government has been jerry-rigging inadequate pre-existing laws to handle the unique and complex safety and environmental considerations of genetically engineered organisms.
Even if GE animals weren't infinitely more complex than some drug compound, using the FDA drug approval process shouldn't give us great confidence. Between 1976 and 1985, for example, more than half of their drug approvals turned out to have lethal or serious side effects, forcing withdrawal or added label warnings. Try conducting a recall of GE salmon from the ocean.
Failing grades all around
Even with stacked committee membership, an antiquated approval policy, and an agency that is officially mandated to promote biotechnology, the Frankenfish did not swim past the advisory committee on September 19th and 20th. That's because the committee agreed with safety experts like Dr. Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union (they publish Consumer Reports) that the evidence presented by AquaBounty was abysmal and insufficient. Using a sample size of only 6 fish, employing insensitive detection methods that could easily miss cancer-promoting hormones or allergens, and testing fish that were raised in a completely different climate than what is planned, were among the sloppy science that the FDA had accepted. (See addendum below for examples.)
In fact the only person on the committee who had any experience with fish, Gary Thorgaard, completely disagreed with the FDA's conclusion that the Frankenfish didn't threaten the environment. He called for a full Environmental Impact Statement.
Hansen says, "The data and analysis of food safety risks from the AquAdvantage Salmon are so sloppy and inadequate that, if this were an undergraduate paper, it would get a failing grade. No self-respecting scientist could conclude that these data demonstrate that AquAdvantage salmon are safe to eat."
Thus, in spite of the fact that the company had been submitting data to the FDA for more than ten years, the advisory committee concluded that the evidence was insufficient to conclude that GE salmon was safe for the environment and for human health. They told AquaBounty to go back and to do more testing.
I propose a different recommendation. This little exercise made it perfectly clear that AquaBounty is either completely incompetent to evaluate the safety of their own creation, or they're intentionally hiding evidence. In either case, let's not send the same folks back to do more research, hoping they'll get it right. Instead, tell these jokers that they have proved to the world that they are never ever ever to be trusted with the future of salmon or the safety of the human food supply.
And what about the FDA - the brain cell behind the Don't-ask-don't-tell food safety assessments? They have again demonstrated that they too are not competent to protect the public from the unique unpredictable dangers of genetically engineered foods.
If you want to GE salmon stopped for good, now is the time to raise your voice. Since the FDA has been ignoring US citizens in favor of business interests and politics, please join me in inviting the food industry and Congress to stop in and stop this madness. Go to our action alert pages to sign the petitions today.
Addendum: How Not to Do a Food Safety Assessment
The FDA's evaluation of GE salmon is the first of its kind. Because it will set a precedent for all future GE animal approvals, the bar should be set very high. According to Dr. Michael Hansen, who testified at the FDA advisory committee meeting on behalf of Consumers Union, the FDA set the bar a foot off the ground.
When AquaBounty looked for potentially dangerous growth hormones in the salmon, for example, they used a detection method so insensitive, it couldn't find any hormones in any fish. The FDA therefore concluded that there was no relevant difference in hormone levels in GE salmon. Dr. Hansen told the committee, "This would be like the police using a radar gun that cannot detect speeds below 120 mph and concluding that there is no 'relevant difference' in the speed of cars versus bicycles."
Because the company also used an insensitive test to measure cancer-promoting insulin-like growth hormone factor one (IGF-1), levels were detected in only a few fish. Of these, the GE salmon was 40% higher. Again, insufficient data combined with faulty reasoning allowed the FDA to conclude that IGF-1 from GE salmon is not a problem.
Even then, these test results were not from the type of GE salmon that the company plans to market. Instead, the tests were conducted on the GE salmon variety that will produce the fish eggs in Canada. The DNA of these "egg-layers" have the normal two sets of chromosomes (diploid). The GE salmon to be grown from their eggs in Panama, however, end up with three sets of chromosomes (triploid) - so that most will be sterile. It's the Panama-grown triploid variety that will go onto our dinner table if the FDA has their way. So what was the response by the FDA and AquaBounty when asked for the IGF-1 levels of the actual fish (raised in the actual conditions) that people would actually eat? "Well...er....uhm...we'll get back to you."
The situation with allergies is worse. According to Hansen, the tests conducted by AquaBounty confirmed that "the act of genetic engineering did lead to an increase in allergenic potency." In fact, when the flesh from egg-laying (diploid) fish was exposed to the blood (sera) of people who are allergic to salmon, there was a whopping 52% increase in reaction levels. Furthermore, the specific allergen that had increased in the Frankenfish was not supposed to be affected. It did not come from the inserted gene. Rather, the increase in this potentially life-threatening allergen was just one of the unpredictable side-effects that can result from the process of genetic engineering itself.
The FDA decided this time to ignore this troublesome finding, since it was from the egg-laying diploids. The company did test the allergic reaction to the triploids (the ones we'll eat), but used fish that were raised in Canada, not Panama. This should have disqualified the fish study, according to Hansen, since the composition of GE salmon can obviously be affected by water temperature, and growing conditions. Still, the Canadian raised Frankenfish still elicited an allergic response level that was 20% higher than normal salmon. But the FDA dismissed this figure since it was not statistically significant and concluded that the GE salmon was safe to eat. But of course it wasn't statistically significant. They used just six fish in the sample size! The easiest way to prevent statistical significance is by using a pathetically small number of subjects in your experiment. Hansen said:
"To base a conclusion of no additional risk on exactly six engineered fish, when those data themselves suggest a possible problem, is not responsible science or responsible risk assessment. FDA owes it to the thousands of Americans who are allergic to finfish to demand more data on the allergenicity of these engineered salmon from AquaBounty."
Thank you Dr. Hansen for helping to protect us from the bungling Frankenfish promoters. Let's hope they will listen.