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GMWatch Review 387

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33,000 march in Berlin for better food and farming     On 20 January 33,000 people came together to demand a transformation of agriculture. Farmers and citizens marched shoulder to shoulder in sub-zero temperatures, demanding more small-farmer friendly and ecological farming. Opposition to GMOs and dangerous pesticides, like glyphosate and the bee-killing neonicotinoids, were among the protest themes. “Agri-industry kills” was a common refrain, as was “insect Armageddon”, the latter in reference to the recent scientific research which suggested three-quarters of all flying insects in Germany have disappeared in just a few decades.   Glyphosate and GM crops are harming no-till soils     No-Till Farmer is a magazine aimed at farmers who grow GM glyphosate-tolerant corn and soybeans using herbicides instead of ploughing to control weeds. In a revealing sign of the times, the magazine has published an article detailing the serious problems of soil and plant health caused by the application of glyphosate on these GM crops in no-till systems, and even recommends reducing their use to help the soil to recover..   More pesticide runoff from no-till fields than ploughed fields   No-till farming with GM herbicide-tolerant crops is constantly hyped for its supposed environmental benefits – which, however, are dubious at best and completely invalid at worst. Now a new study has found that the concentration and the load of pesticides are greater in runoff from no-till fields compared with ploughed fields. This doesn’t mean there are no benefits to be had from reducing tillage as part of a holistic approach to farming, but this does not appear to be the case when no-till is used in chemically-intensive agriculture.   Glyphosate: European Parliament group presidents endorse Special Committee   Following the glyphosate scandal, the European Parliament will set up a committee to analyse and assess the authorisation procedure for pesticides.   New German government will ban glyphosate herbicides   Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD), the parties that are forming the new coalition government, have agreed on a plan to ban the use of glyphosate herbicides.   New article challenges commentaries linking glyphosate to wide range of diseases     Many experts have concerns about glyphosate. But two authors, Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff, have gone further than most. While they have not published any original experimental research on the toxicity of the herbicide, they have published a series of commentaries linking glyphosate exposure to a wide range of chronic diseases, including cancers, diabetes, autism, obesity, asthma, infections, osteoporosis, infertility, and birth defects. The commentaries have been cited by some campaigners against GMOs and associated pesticides. Now an article has been published that challenges some of the claims made in these commentaries.   Roundup causes changes in gut microbiome of rats   An environmentally relevant concentration of Roundup caused changes in the gut microbiome of rats, according to a new study published by the group of Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen, France. GMWatch comments on a possible mechanism for this finding.   Glyphosate herbicides contain toxic heavy metals, including arsenic   Glyphosate-based herbicides contain toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, chromium and nickel, a new study has found. These are not declared and are normally banned due to their toxicity. They are also known to be endocrine (hormone) disruptors.   GM crops in Brazil have driven up pesticide use     GM crop adoption in Brazil has driven up pesticide use 1.6-fold between the years 2000 and 2012, a new study shows. The cumulative growth in pesticide use was three times higher than the growth in productivity (kg/ha) and 10 times higher than population growth for the same period. Each year, pesticide use per capita increased by 7%, while productivity increased by only 3.5%.   Monsanto looking to sell dicamba-tolerant GM soy seed in Brazil   The Brazilian unit of seed and agrochemicals maker Monsanto on Thursday said it will run field tests with GM dicamba-tolerant soy seed INTACTA2 XTEND in Brazil in the 2019-20 crop, looking to launch the variety commercially the following year.   Modern mutagenesis techniques are genetic engineering and give rise to GMOs     On 18 January, the European Court of Justice published the opinion of its advocate general on the legal status of modern “targeted” mutagenesis, including some of the GMO techniques known as “new breeding techniques”. This opinion confirms what civil society and the Greens/EFA have said from the beginning: these are not “breeding techniques” but GMO techniques. This is a clear victory against a corporate newspeak aimed at creating false public acceptance. However, it isn’t all good news. At the same time, the Greens and some NGOs believe that the advocate general has opened the door for some of these techniques to be exempt from risk assessment, traceability and labelling.   Most genome edited crops fall under GMO food laws according to new legal opinion – expert     In a preliminary legal opinion for the European Court of Justice, advocate general Michal Bobek advised that “organisms obtained by mutagenesis” should not be seen as genetically modified, unless they contained recombinant nucleic acid molecules or other GM organisms. Some NGOs are concerned that the advocate general has opened the door for some of these techniques to be exempt from the risk assessment, traceability and labelling regulations that normally apply to GMOs. However, Dr Michael Antoniou of King's College London believes that the new legal opinion requires that the vast majority of organisms produced by new mutagenesis and genome editing techniques are regulated as GMOs.   Non-GMO yeast can reduce toxic acrylamide in potatoes and other foods   A non-GMO yeast has been found to reduce levels of the amino acid asparagine in potatoes and other foods. Asparagine is of concern because when food containing it is cooked at high temperatures it can form the toxic and carcinogenic substance acrylamide. The company that produced the yeast is deliberately promoting it as non-GMO.   GMO bananas not the answer   Multinationals are working to create a super GM banana containing increased levels of vitamin A, zinc, and iron, and resistant to the most common diseases, for Uganda. The stated aims are to improve nutrition in Africa and avoid economic losses for small farmers. However, the Slow Food response to this new GM “super banana” is that the local food biodiversity already present in Uganda is the key to solving those problems.   Nigeria: Food safety threatened as agency permits experimental GMO cassava   Civil society organisations have condemned the granting of a permit to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and ETHZ Plant Biotechnology Lab in Zurich to carry out Confined Field Trials (CFT) of GM cassava produced with gene-silencing RNAi technology.   How "harmonising" Africa's seed regulations hurts farmers' rights and food sovereignty   A new report from the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) describes efforts by regional economic communities to harmonise seed trade and marketing policy and legislation in East and Southern Africa. The report offers a critique of these frameworks, which firmly embed green revolution approaches in Africa, favouring large-scale agribusiness as the solution to seed insecurity. This approach will have drastic implications for smallholder farmers and their seed systems, who provide the most sustainable supply of seed in the region.   Dicamba is wreaking havoc on US crops – Is Monsanto profiting off the problem?   Dicamba herbicide, drifting from fields of GM dicamba-tolerant soybeans, has damaged some 3.6 million acres of crops. But next year more farmers may buy the dicamba-tolerant seeds, to protect themselves from the damage.   Arkansas lawmakers OK ban on dicamba herbicide   Arkansas lawmakers have approved a ban on dicamba herbicide, but the prohibition still faces a legal challenge from Monsanto, a maker of the weedkiller.   TPP sows fear in Japan’s agriculture industry   Japanese citizens’ groups and farmers are concerned that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement may weaken some of Japan’s laws regarding GMOs, as well as open the country's domestic agriculture sector to competition from large multinational firms.   Bayer-Monsanto merger threatens farmers   A recently released white paper said the proposed merger between Bayer and Monsanto could trigger a widespread debt crisis among US farmers and have a ripple effect throughout rural communities.   AquaBounty hopes to raise $12m in new offering   AquaBounty Technologies, the Massachusetts-based developer of a controversial GM salmon, is hoping to raise $12 million with a new public offering of stock. The company finished the first nine months of 2017 with less than $54,000 in revenue and ended the period with a net loss of nearly $6.6m.   EU Commission uses Christmas period to grant authorisation for imports of GM soybeans   The EU Commission has granted six further authorisations for GM plants, including some controversial GM soybeans with triple herbicide resistance. The decision to grant authorisation was made on the quiet by the EU Commission during the Christmas holiday period. The real risks from consumption of these soybeans were not investigated.   Syngenta fails at the European Patent Office   The European Patent Office (EPO) has rejected an appeal filed by Syngenta. The company wanted the EPO to grant a patent on the breeding of higher-yield maize plants. At the same time, Syngenta also wanted the EPO to abolish existing restrictions in the field of plant and animal breeding that have only recently been put in place. The EPO also rejected this attempt.   European Patent Office revokes Broad Institute's CRISPR patent   The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University is at risk of losing its dominant position over the intellectual property covering CRISPR gene-editing technology in Europe, after the European Patent Office (EPO) ruled that a foundational patent is revoked because the Broad did not meet EPO requirements to establish that its researchers were the first to use CRISPR in eukaryotes.   GM among top ten food safety concerns posed by US-UK trade deal   The Soil Association, a charity which promotes environmentally friendly farming, has listed its top ten food safety concerns if a UK-US trade deal is struck. They include hormone-treated beef, GM crops and chlorinated chicken.   In memoriam: Dr Shiv Chopra, public servant   Dr Shiv Chopra, the former Health Canada scientist whose whistle-blowing actions stopped the Canadian government from approving Monsanto's GM bovine growth hormone BGH, has died.  
LOBBYWATCH   “I’m right, so please stop arguing”     GMO proponent Mark Lynas told the Oxford Farming Conference he wants a peace treaty with anti-GMO campaigners. Pete Shanks takes his seven-point plan apart.   Lynas, lies, and marketing     Jonathan Matthews deconstructs the latest Lynas falsehoods. There are some big ones! For instance, Lynas says no one is claiming GMOs are going to feed the world, while the propaganda outfit he works for puts out headlines such as “GMO crops could help stem famine and future global conflicts”.   UK: The greening of Michael Gove fails to convince   According to his allies, the UK’s environment minister Michael Gove “is greener than Zac Goldsmith and best mates with Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF”. But not all are convinced by the greening of Gove.   Michael Gove's embrace of gene editing prompts “Frankencow” backlash   The National Farmers Union (NFU) has expressed concern about Michael Gove’s embrace of gene editing technology, which he claimed could help livestock farmers remove vulnerabilities to illness and develop more valuable animals. NFU chief livestock advisor John Royle was nervous of consumer reaction to gene-edited meat. GMWatch is quoted in this article in the mainstream farming press.

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