Tag Archive | "genetically modified foods"

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GM Mosquitoes May Piggyback the Zika Virus

Posted on 09 April 2016 by Jerry

Genetic modification of a male mosquito whose offspring die before they mature and mate can be used to kill a certain kind of mosquito (Aedes aegypti) that carries dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever and now Zika virus.  Oxitec, a company out of the United Kingdom, produces this mosquito, with an engineered “self destruct” gene.

This company provides only one of three ways to drastically reduce the number of the offending mosquitoes.  The other two ways are using male mosquitoes that have been sterilized by low doses of radiation and/or a mosquito that is infected with the Wolbachia bacteria.  These bacteria do not infect humans but prevents eggs of infected females from hatching.  All of these approaches entail releasing large numbers of male mosquitoes into the environment.

The Oxitec genetically modified mosquito has been tested in Brazil, the Cayman Islands and a trial has been proposed in Florida.  Now the World Health Organization is very interested in the Oxitec mosquito as a viable way of stopping the spread of the Zika virus.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has tentatively agreed that the Oxitec genetically modified mosquito would not have a significant impact on the environment as a result of a trial in Florida.  The FDA report states, “The FDA found that the probability that the release of OX513A male mosquitoes would result in toxic or allergenic effects in humans or other animals is negligible.”  The FDA has to wait for public comment before giving final approval of the trial.  The process will probably take a few months.

Genetically modified insects have been introduced into the environment to protect or enhance crops for a number of years.  This however, will be the first GM insect introduced into the environment to have a direct effect on human beings. 

The problem is that use of this genetically modified mosquito has opened up quite a bit of controversy.  An opponent of the genetically modified mosquito, Jaydee Hanson a senior policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, has been quoted in a Bloomberg news article published on 1/29/2016.  He said “Mosquitoes are food for lots of animals; We would still want to see studies of when birds and bats and amphibians eat these genetically modified animals.  They’re introducing into the ecosystem some genetic constructs that have never been there before.”

The same article quotes the Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry as arguing the opposite position.  He said, “You always get some people who say I don’t like genetic engineering because it’s a bad thing and we’re messing with nature.”  Referring to criticism that his mosquito might die out and another will come to the fore, he has also been quoted as saying, “So in the very worst case, where you find that you eliminated Aedes aegypti in an area and the Aedes albopictus went up, then you would actually be replacing a very dangerous vector with a far less effective one.”

You know that there are two other options that could be used to stop this type of mosquito that do not involve genetic modifications.  There are male mosquitoes of the same species that are exposed to low-grade radiation that sterilizes them and there are males that pass on the Wolbachia bacteria that make it so female eggs do not hatch.  Both of these two methods use males to mate with females to cause an end to successful fertilization and replication.

The question becomes why are we moving to choose the method that requires genetic modification.  The only answer that is probable is that we want to see a genetically altered alternative in the market.  This is a continuation of the government push for genetic engineering.   There have been numerous articles on this blog going back to the June 13, 2012 posting of Genetic Engineering Influence Peddling and Profit (see www.iamaguardian.com/category/protect/genetic-engineering/page/4/ ) that show the government’s bias to push for genetic modification products.

This support is hidden from the average citizen’s view and is the reason we are seeking a genetically engineered alternative.  There are just too many economic interests to be satisfied.  These, as an example, range from educators to scientists to entrepreneurs to established major competitors like Monsanto and to politicians.  The U.S. voter should rise up and call for a hiatus on approval of genetically modified products until there is proof that these products do not represent a threat to our health.

The FDA approved the first genetically modified animal intended to be human food in the AguAdvantage Salmon for sale and consumption in the U.S. sometime after November of last year.  Fortunately members of Congress disagreed.  On page 106 of the 2016 federal spending bill congress people added a requirement for the FDA to not allow the selling of this product in the U.S. until the agency puts in place labeling guidelines and “a program to disclose to consumers” whether a fish has been genetically modified.

We have a very short time to influence this genetic engineering issue.  We should insist that our candidates for president address this issue for us so we know where they stand on genetically engineered foods.  In all cases we should ask for regulation and oversight by a newly established governmental agency that dramatically slows the headlong rush to get these products into the market. 

Use the following links to access more information or read the source documents used to prepare this article.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/02/04/what-it-would-really-take-for-gmo-mosquitoes-to-solve-the-zika-crisis/

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/10/gm-mosquitos-malaria-genetic-modification

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-35585656

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-29/genetically-modified-mosquito-may-become-weapon-against-zika

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/01/Genetically-Modified-Mosquitos-May-Be-Released-in-Florida-Keys/384859/

http://e360.yale.edu/feature/genetically_modified_mosquito_sparks_a_controversy-in-florida/2883/

http://www.dw.com/en/fda-gives-nod-to-genetically-modified-mosquitoes/a-19112519

http://time.com/4258317/fda-genetically-engineered-mosquito/

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Concerns Grow About CRISPR & Gene Editing

Posted on 16 December 2015 by Jerry

International controversy is growing about the potential of the new genetic engineering technologies, especially CRISPR. All sorts of groups are meeting to gain some measure of control over these technologies by setting up agreements on how to evaluate the ethical issues and control the experiments that are done.

These include in 2015 the Hinxton Group, the National Institute of Health, the Welcome Trust and various conferences like one hosted in Washington DC and another in Napa, California. In addition, interested parties are writing editorials that oppose strict limits on or banning alterations of the human germline using CRISPR etc. Most notably Frank Church at Harvard Medical School.

In a previous article on CRISPR (see the August 2015 posting on this web site under Genetic Engineering, “CRISPR”, Breakthrough or Trouble), there is an outline of the technological innovation. The problem is that the development of CRISPR/Cas9 and other technologies have made alteration of DNA too accessible and available even to amateurs playing in their garages. This technology is very accurate and extremely low cost.

As an example, an article in the December 3, 2015 issue of Nature magazine identifies the cost of a widely used genetic plasmid created with the CRISPR-Cas9 technology at $65 or less.  It is ordered online and shipped in the normal mail.  It requires little specialized training to use.

Most scientists say that serious alterations to genetics are still beyond the hobbyist. They say the CRISPR technology and understanding of it are not enough for mastery or major changes. They also claim that most institutions do all of their experiments as a function of government grants that are not given to hobbyists. Even though there is no direct regulation of the area they claim this indirectly regulates experimentation at least for now.

There are many issues but the one that troubles scientists most is the new ability to cheaply and effectively edit the genomes of all sorts of living entities. Particularly troubling are alternations to germline cells (sperm and eggs) in early human embryos. By definition, germline cell alterations can be passed to future offspring of the resulting human. This raises the specter of “designer babies” with their genes altered to reflect the wishes of expectant parents.

Beyond the specter of eugenics, it also recognizes that in theory altering the germline cells of human embryos can change a number of genetic traits. The elimination of babies carrying harmful, disease-ridden genes that inhabit various family trees is an objective most people would favor. Unfortunately, these potential applications remain a way off into the future.

Of course there are also positive possibilities from CRISPR. CRISPR-Cas9 is being used to develop “gene drives” that spread proper genetic changes quickly throughout an entire population. Groups that want to eradicate malaria are testing a couple of methods on mosquitos. One group is using the technology to produce DNA that is not infected by or is immune to the parasite P. falciparum that causes malaria. The drive represents creating two or more strings of the requisite DNA to be passed on to all offspring. Normally, a mutation is spread to only 50% of the offspring. The “gene drive” feature allows the new DNA to be passed to all offspring.

The second alternative is being worked on at the Imperial College London and involves a gene drive that inactivates genes that control egg production in female mosquitos. They believe this would be a way to drastically reduce the overall population of mosquitos.

The concerns raised with these two approaches relate to the use of gene drives and fear that genetic changes would wipe out mosquitos entirely in an area. This would eliminate a species that might fill a significant need in the local food chain. The fear is there would be no way to call back a change that produced unforeseen effects elsewhere in the DNA.

Already the CRISPR technology is being used to alter the genetic code of plants that are subject to some regulation.   This has been identified as a faster and more accurate way of engineering insect resistant strains of crops by disabling specific genes in wheat and rice. Disabling genes is not subject to the same regulation as introducing new genes into an organism i.e. in the European Union.   For this reason, some South Korean scientists see this method as a way to side step normal regulation imposed in the EU and elsewhere.

Genetic engineering is a technology area to be mastered and is a governmental objective in countries that have international ambitions. An article in the November 18, 2015 issue of Nature magazine quotes Minhua Hu, a geneticist at the Guangzhou General Pharmaceutical Research Institute as stating, “It’s a priority area for the Chinese Academy of Sciences.”

The availability and the ease of altering genes have prompted a host of new experiments including those overseas.   For example, the previously cited article discusses the flurry of experiments taking place in China and research papers being written that describe CRISPR-modified mammals such as sheep, goats, pigs, monkeys and dogs.

In addition, there is discussion in the same article about research in China to increase the muscle and hair growth of goats. So far 10 modified goat kids have larger muscles and longer fur than normal goats. The article calls them “designer livestock”.

Lei Qu, a genetic researcher from Yulin, who has implemented CRISPR-Cas9, is quoted as stating, “We believe gene-modified livestock will be commercialized after we demonstrate (that it) is safe.” He predicts it is a simple way to boost the sale of goat meat and cashmere sweaters from his province in China.

The dilemma faced by scientists the world over is that these new genome splicing technologies almost take these experiments out of their hands and put them into the hands of amateurs. This raises alarm bells in most of the scientific community. Most scientists want to rely on peer pressure to limit the behavior of hobbyists. They feel that if enough organizations voice concern and restraint this will cause neophytes to pause before they try major alterations of genetic material. They want self-regulation rather than have the government step in.

A strong case can be made for government regulation to protect the populous and more importantly the genetics of life itself. It would be so easy to alter the DNA of an organism and set it free in the environment that havoc might result. While government control would surely slow down progress and reduce the personal opportunities all these scientists have to make money, it would protect people and the genetics of all living organisms on the planet. The trade-off would be worth it from the perspective of a non-scientist.

Use the following links to obtain additional information or see the original articles used for reference in this article.

http://go.nature.com/enfxjz

http://go.nature.com/fes1wc

http://www.nature.com/news/crispr-a-path-through-the-thicket-1.18748

http://www.nature.com/news/global-summit-reveals-divergent-views-on-human-gene-editing-1.18971

http://www.nature.com/news/splice-of-life-1.17476

http://iamaguardian.com/category/protect/genetic-engineering/

http://www.nature.com/news/biohackers-gear-up-for-genome-editing-1.18236

http://www.nature.com/news/china-s-bold-push-into-genetically-customized-animals-1.18826

http://www.nature.com/news/crispr-tweak-may-help-gene-edited-crops-bypass-biosafety-regulation-1.18590

http://www.nature.com/news/gene-drive-mosquitos-engineered-to-fight-malaria-1.18858

http://www.nature.com/news/human-genome-editing-summit-to-sample-global-attitudes-1.18879

http://www.nature.com/news/caution-urged-over-editing-dna-in-wildlife-intentionally-or-not-1.18123

http://www.nature.com/news/caution-urged-over-editing-dna-in-wildlife-intentionally-or-not-1.18123

http://www.nature.com/news/future-proofing-1.18977

https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=82406

http://www.nature.com/news/crispr-the-disruptor-1.17673

http://www.nature.com/news/scientists-sound-alarm-over-dna-editing-of-human-embryos-1.17110

http://www.nature.com/news/don-t-edit-the-human-germ-line-1.17111

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/348/6230/36.summary?sid=0cb82e64-12bf-4f39-b102-24be88c4e5bc

 

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E.U. Defeat and Study Concerns

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Jerry

After decades of resistance by countries to E.U. directives to accept genetically engineered (GE) crops, a committee of the E.U. has acknowledged the rights of its countries to ban them.  On December 3, 2014 representatives of the E.U. Parliament and E.U. member states reached agreement to allow member countries to ban genetically engineered crops in their own territory.  If the whole Parliament and collective E.U. countries endorse the agreement and it goes into effect in 2015, it represents a major capitulation.

Resistance to GE crops is fueled by periodic studies that suggest they are potentially harmful to the health of either the animals or humans that consume them.   An example is a study completed in 2013 and published in PLOS ONE that stated that complete genes from a GE crop are transferred whole from the human digestive system into the circulation system.

Scientists admit they do not know what the long-term effects on humans are from these genes.  They also admit they do not know the mechanism that allows the genes to pass the blood barrier to enter the human circulation systems.  It is this ignorance that suggests these foods should be put on hold until we know more.  One Canadian scientist, David Suzuki PhD, has said that human beings are part of a “massive genetic experiment”.

Another factor causing the refusal of the E.U. member states to adopt GE crops may be the ethics of moving ahead when there are still outstanding issues to be resolved.  There has been considerable work analyzing the moral issues raised by genetically modified organisms.  These support a slower adoption of these crops.

Of course none of these factors are an issue in the U. S. that produces more than half the GE crops consumed around the world.  GE crops were planted on 169 million acres in the U.S. in 2013.   These crops (mainly corn, cotton and soybeans) are the predominant genetically engineered crops.

The U.S. market leader, Monsanto, has found terrific synergy with its herbicide “Roundup ©.”  GE crops that resist Roundup © have led to a significant increase in the amount of the weed killer (glyphosate) sold as well as the seeds of crops that cannot be killed by Round-up ©.  This is because they are Roundup Ready ©.

The use of Monsanto’s weed killer (Roundup) on crops that resist its influence (Roundup Ready) supposedly leads to less use of the weed killer.  Critics who monitor the sale of the herbicide however see a disproportionate increase in its sales.  This would indicate that farmers are indiscriminate in their use of the herbicide since they are using seeds which produce crops that are unaffected by glyphosate (Roundup ©).

An open recognition of this agreement represents a failure by the E.U. and a major defeat for agricultural and chemical companies that produce and have been sponsoring the GE crops.  Of interest however are the countries in the E.U. that are on each of the respective sides of the issue.

The bigger European countries of France and Germany have actively opposed planting of genetically engineered crops.  They have been joined by Austria, Hungary, Greece, Luxembourg and Bulgaria.

This opposition in Germany is surprising given the companies who headquarter there.  Bayer AG and BASF are German companies that have supported GE crops.  Why do the Germans continue to adamantly oppose planting these crops when their own business leaders recommend them?

Some of the smaller E.U. countries, presumably more susceptible to political pressure, are raising genetically engineered crops that have received approval.  These countries include Spain, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Portugal, Romania and Poland.  They have been joined by the UK that supports GE products.  All of the other countries fall somewhere in between.

Both the E.U. reversal and the recent health studies should give encouragement to those who keep trying to get mandatory labeling passed in the U.S.  They are not alone in their opposition to genetic modification of foodstuffs or in their insistence on mandatory labeling.  While we may have missed the opportunity to ban these crops, there is still time to let the consumer decided what to put in their bodies.  This is what labeling will accomplish.

Use the following links to access more information or the original source documents used for this article.

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/346/6215/1280.summary

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3adoi%2f10.1371%2fjournal.pone.0069805

http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/01/09/confirmed-dna-from-genetically-modified-crops-can-be-transfered-to-humans-who-eat-them-2/

http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err162.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayer

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Genetically Modified Sexual Aptitude

Posted on 02 June 2013 by Jerry

Comparison between genetically modified and natural salmon.

Comparison between genetically modified and natural salmon.

Scientists are afraid of a genetically modified new species that disrupts the natural ecology by crowding out and starving competing species.  One that grows faster than a wild organism, becomes bigger and breeds indiscriminately spreading its aggressive characteristics.

Rather than promoting diversity which science shows is good for evolution, it significantly reduces variety.  It increases ecological dependency on a single species creating greater risk if something were to happen to that newly dominant species.  This is how we have population crashes of a species and the collapse of its ecology.

This risk, the viability of the fishing industry, and human health are major reasons over 59 retailers selling natural fish in over 4660 stores announced they will not sell the genetically modified AquAdvantage® Salmon even if approved by the Federal Drug Administration.  These grocery chains include well-known companies such as Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, H-E-B, Giant Eagle, and Meijer.

These and other retailers are now also reacting to a new Canadian study recently released by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society.  Reporting that AquAdvantage® Salmon easily breed with brown trout and they also show the salmon hybrid’s “competitive dominance” over other, natural, brown trout.  This would indicate that both natural brown trout and Atlantic salmon are at risk of declining stocks due to this aggressive genetically modified hybrid.

While AquaBounty, the company responsible for the GM fish, indicates it will only raise sterile fish even the FDA admits that up to 5% of the fish will be fertile.  When discussing future large-scale production, which AquaBounty hopes represents millions of fish, this 5% will be tens of thousands of fertile fish.

We have been following the AquAdvantage Salmon developments in various posts on this blog for months.  The significance of this salmon is that if the FDA approves it for human consumption and sale, which appears likely, it will be the first genetically modified animal to itself be introduced into the food supply.  All previous genetically modified foods have been largely plants that have been mainly modified to be impervious to various manufacturer’s herbicides or pesticides.

There is high certainty that if this fish is approved, many other genetically modified animals for which FDA approvals will be sought will follow it rapidly.  Besides concerns there is no labeling requirement to identify these GM foods, the FDA unfortunately is in dire need of a significant updating and modernization.  The FDA is today operating under animal drug requirements designed for the testing and regulation of feed additives and animal vaccines.  Their required testing is not designed to study the long-term effects of human consumption or the ecological damage that genetically modified animals can cause.

The present reality of genetically modified foods, plant and animal, must be recognized.  The long-term ramifications to our ecology and health must be studied before further GM organisms are taken out the lab and introduced into our food supply and environment.  The risks are too big and far-reaching to not be studied.  While not popular with businesses, environmental impact assessments in other situations protect the environment and human populations.  A comparable study methodology must be imposed on these newly proposed GM products.

Use the following links to obtain further information:

http://www.foe.org/news/blog/2013-05-no-room-on-our-plates-for-genetically-engineered-sea

http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/blogs/ge-salmon-the-promiscuous-fish-who-knew-not-the-fda/

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/280/1763/20131047.full.pdf+html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/20/major-us-supermarkets-boycott-gm-salmon

http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2013/05/meijer_joins_major_retailers_i.html   

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Businesses Join the GM Labeling Fight

Posted on 06 May 2013 by Jerry

We could be cynical about Whole Foods declaring it will require all its suppliers to label products that contain genetically modified ingredients by 2018.  We could be skeptical, if it weren’t so exciting and part of a larger trend of businesses weighing in to protect their interests.  We could see the Whole Foods announcement, known for its “organic” products, as just moving closer to their customers, who have been lobbying the chain to get involved.  On the contrary however, we see it as potentially a historic turning point in the U.S.

The Food and Drug Administration is rumored to be about to approve genetically modified salmon developed by AquaBounty for sale in U.S. stores (see an earlier post on this blog).  This would be a major milestone since it would constitute approval of the first genetically modified animal to enter the U.S. food supply.

This development threatens the natural salmon fishing industry in Alaska and elsewhere.  It has prompted many more businesses to join the anti-GMO ranks.  Trader Joe’s and other grocery retailers representing more than 2,000 stores have announced they will not carry the GM salmon if it is approved for sale.

The prospect of GM salmon has led to the introduction of federal mandatory labeling legislation, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act.  This unites mandatory labeling forces with the fishing industry to continue the fight.  Sponsors of the legislation include U.S. Senators from California (Barbara Boxer), Alaska, New York, and Vermont and House Representatives from Alaska, Oregon, Maine, New York and Washington.

This is not to say the other side of the labeling debate has not been lobbying for its positions.  Quiet meetings between the FDA and pro-GM forces are reported to have taken place as companies lobby for neutered and watered-down labeling requirements that pre-empt the states.  Companies participating in these meetings are said to include behemoths such as Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Pepsi-Frito Lay, and Mars.

State legislation and ballot measures have not yet been successful other than in Alaska where legislation has passed calling for the mandatory labeling of genetically modified salmon. While state labeling bills are still pending in Connecticut, Missouri, Vermont and Washington state, legislation in New Mexico was allowed to die on the state senate floor.

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream also announced it would commit to sourcing non-GMO ingredients for all of its products everywhere by the end of 2013.  They also stated they would transition packaging so all products will be labeled with respect to GMO by the end of 2014.

While owned by international conglomerate Unilever, the terms of its sale required a measure of ongoing independence of a separate subsidiary board of directors unusual to corporate acquisitions.  In addition, some would argue this is not a big deal because of the small size of the B&J product line, that 80% of its ingredients are already non-GMO, and that mandatory labeling is required in the E.U. and U.K.

The U.S. government defines the use of the word organic on a label.  Amongst other things, it identifies products that do not have GM ingredients.  People concerned about the healthiness of their food have a history of paying more for this organic assurance.  Whole Foods has a net profit margin approaching 4% that is more than twice as big as the less than 2% net margin of average retail/wholesale food grocery stores.

Because labeling is a worldwide issue and complex, the identified links below provide additional information.  At present there are 64 countries identified as having mandatory GMO labeling requirements (see below).

For those people looking for a way to be involved or to impact this labeling issue in the U.S. I suggest you put personal pressure on the businesses with which you do business.  We need to learn from the effectiveness of people who lobbied for a change of policy at Whole Foods.

In addition, you should go to www.justlabelit.org.  While hundreds of organizations have declared support for mandatory labeling, Just Label It has become a focal point for individual involvement and grassroots lobbying of elected officials.  I am convinced they are one of the most effective points of entry today.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/node/199961

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-03-15/business/37731461_1_gmo-organic-ingredients-food

http://news.msn.com/science-technology/whole-foods-others-to-shun-genetically-modified-seafood

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/04/bill-introduced-in-house-and-senate-to-require-labeling-of-ge-foods/

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/448-farm-and-food-policy/15491-why-are-wal-mart-and-big-food-lobbying-the-fda-for-a-gmo-labeling-law

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_27182.cfm

http://www.allaboutfeed.net/process-management/management/2013/2/us-washington-state-to-vote-on-mandatory-gm-labelling-1166691w/

http://www.bizjournals.com/albuquerque/news/2013/02/01/gmo-food-labeling-bill-voted-down.html

 

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