All posts by Ken Billings

A fishy return on public investment: The policy collision over genetically modified salmon

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network

Canadians are the first in the world to eat a genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) fish, thanks in part to over $8 million in federal government funding behind its development. The government is set to receive 10% royalties from sales relating to the GM salmon research, as part of a $2.8 million funding agreement in 2009 between the GM fish company AquaBounty and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. 38% of Canadians say they would “definitely not eat” if given the choice, and so the product’s success, arguably, depends on the government maintaining its position against mandatory labelling of GM foods. Published in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives magazine Monitor, Sept/Oct 2018.

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Glyphosate and Dicamba Herbicides Increase Antibiotic Resistance in Bacteria

Oct 13 2018 –  by Sustainable Pulse

A new study has found that some of the world’s most widely used herbicides, Roundup (glyphosate) and Kamba (dicamba), increase the rate of antibiotic resistance development in bacteria by a factor of up to 100,000 times faster than occurs without the herbicide.

Both herbicides are used on GM crops engineered to tolerate them.

The new study adds to a growing body of evidence that herbicides used on a mass industrial scale, but not intended to be antibiotics, can have profound effects on bacteria, with potentially negative implications for medicine’s ability to treat infectious diseases caused by bacteria. University of Canterbury (New Zealand) Professor Jack Heinemann, one of the study’s authors, said, “The combination of chemicals to which bacteria are exposed in the modern environment should be addressed alongside antibiotic use if we are to preserve antibiotics in the long-term.”

An important finding of the new study was that even in cases where the herbicides increase the toxicity of antibiotics they also significantly increased the rate of antibiotic resistance, which the authors say could be contributing to the greater use of antibiotics in both agriculture and medicine.

Previously these researchers found that exposures to the herbicide products Roundup, Kamba and 2,4-D or the active ingredients alone most often increased resistance, but sometimes increased the susceptibility of potential human pathogens such as Salmonella enterica and Escherichia coli, depending on the antibiotic.

Prof Heinemann said, “We are inclined to think that when a drug or other chemical makes antibiotics more potent, that should be a good thing. But it also makes the antibiotic more effective at promoting resistance when the antibiotic is at lower concentrations, as we more often find in the environment. Such combinations can be like trying to put out the raging fire of antibiotic resistance with gasoline.”

The authors concluded that neither reducing the use of antibiotics nor the discovery of new ones may be sufficient strategies to avoid the post-antibiotic era. This is because bacteria may be exposed to other non-antibiotic chemicals that predispose them to evolve resistance to antibiotics more quickly. Herbicides are examples of some of the most common non-antibiotic chemicals in frequent global use. Thus antibiotic resistance may increase even if total antibiotic use is reduced, and new ones are invented, unless other environmental exposures are also controlled.

The new paper, “Agrichemicals and antibiotics in combination increase antibiotic resistance evolution” is published online in the peer-reviewed journal PeerJ on October 12 and can be downloaded without charge from here.

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Scientists Sound Alarm Over Mysterious Gov’t Plan to Spread Viruses Using Bugs

A team of scientists sound the alarm in a new Science Policy Forum report about a mysterious US government program that is developing genetically modified viruses that would be dispersed into the environment using insects. The virus-infected or ‘Frankenstein’ insects are being developed as countermeasures against potential natural and engineered threats to the US food supply. The program is operated by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) could be viewed as an attempt to develop an entirely new class of bioweapons that would prompt other nations to seek similar weapons, they cautioned.

The researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology and the University of Freiburg both in Germany, and the University of Montpellier in France suggest DARPA’s program could likely breach the Biological Weapons Convention, the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning the development, production, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons.

Dubbed the “Insect Allies” program, DARPA began modifying insects in 2017, with the plan to produce more resilient crops to help farmers deal with climate change, drought, frost, floods, salinity, and disease, said Gizmodo. The technology at the center of the program is an entirely new method of genetically modifying crops. Instead of modifying seeds in a lab, farmers would send swarms of insects into their crops, where the genetically modified bugs would infect plants with a virus that passes along the new resilience genes, a process known as horizontal genetic alteration. Hence the technology’s name—Horizontal Environmental Genetic Alteration Agents (HEGAA).

For HEGAA to work, Gizmodo explains that DARPA labs develop a virus that is inserted into the chromosome of a target organism. Scientists would use leafhoppers, whiteflies, and aphids genetically altered in the lab using CRISPR, or a variant of a gene-editing system, to carry the virus into crops. Each plant would then be infected by the insect, triggering the intended effects of protecting crops from natural and or human-made threats.

However, the lead author of the report, Richard Guy Reeves from the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, says DARPA’s Insect Allies program is disturbing and an example of dual-use research in which the US government, in addition to aiding farmers’ crops, is also developing a biological weapon.

Read on…

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Meet Jim Fortier – The Market Gardener

“What we need is food grown with care, by and for people who care.”

Jean-Martin Fortier (JM) is a farmer, educator and best-selling author specializing in organic and biologically intensive vegetable production.  His award-winning book, The Market Gardener, has inspired hundreds of thousands of readers worldwide to reimagine ecological human-scale food systems. His message is one of empowerment in order to educate, encourage and inspire people into pursuing a farming career and lifestyle.

He his the co-founder, with his wife Maude-Hélène Desroches, of Les jardins de la grelinette, an internationally recognized micro-farm in Southern Quebec known for its high productivity and profitability.  Since 2015, he is the farm director at Ferme des Quatre-Temps, an experimental farm in Hemmingford, Quebec. This ambitious project was initiated by a group of philanthropists and practitioners of organic farming with the aim of paving the way towards a more ecological and nourishing food system for Quebec.

As an educator, JM places a strong emphasis on intelligent farm design, appropriate technologies and harnessing the power of soil biology as key components of successful farming. A storyteller who weaves the technical aspects of farming with anecdotes from his farm, he has facilitated hundreds of workshops, seminars and conferences in Canada, Europe, Australia and the United States.  His methods and practices are featured in The Market Gardener’s Toolkit, an educational documentary produced by Possible Media, and in The Market Gardener’s Masterclass, an online course for professional growers.

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Bob’s Red Mill Faces Class Action Lawsuit over Glyphosate Weedkiller Contamination

Sustainable Pulse – Sept. 5th, 2018

Bob’s Red Mill is facing a federal class action, filed in San Francisco Friday, after the world’s most used weedkiller, glyphosate, was discovered in both its organic and non-organic oats.

Citing a recent report by the Environmental Working Group finding traces of the ‘known carcinogen’ glyphosate in Cheerios, Quaker Oats and other oat-based breakfast foods, plaintiffs Tamara Frankel and Natasha Paracha said Friday that Bob’s Red Mill knew its oat products contain or likely contain the chemical, but didn’t disclose it on the label.

Instead, they say, the Oregon-based company labeled the products with phrases such as “gluten free,” “wheat free” and “purity tested,” leading consumers to believe them to be healthy.

“Consumers have a reasonable expectation that material product information, such as the presence of a probable carcinogen like glyphosate, will be provided by a product manufacturer, especially when the manufacturer affirmatively identifies the health-related attributes of its products such as “Gluten Free”, “Whole Grain”, and “Friend of the Heart,” the complaint states, adding that the labeling amounts to “misleading half-truths.”

Frankel and Paracha say Bob’s Red Mill had a duty to disclose the presence of glyphosate in its oats and that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, because consumers don’t have easy access to the information. They want a court order blocking the company from continuing to advertise the products as healthy.

They seek to certify classes of consumers in California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Washington. In the alternative, they seek to certify a California-only class.

Patricia Syverson with Bonnett, Fairbourn, Friedman & Balint in San Diego represents Frankel and Paracha.

In late August, it was also announced that General Mills is facing a potentially damaging class action lawsuit after a Florida woman accused it of engaging in deceptive business practices, by not alerting the public that their Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios cereals contain glyphosate.

A 2016 testing project on glyphosate residues in popular American foods by Sustainable Pulse’s partner The Detox Project and Food Democracy Now! is one of the main pieces of evidence being used in the case, according to the court documents, after it found levels of glyphosate in both Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios as well as many other products.

This wave of class actions against food companies has caused many food brands to start seeking The Detox Project’s Glyphosate Free certification, according to their Director, Henry Rowlands;  “The Detox Project has received a massive rise in enquiries from food brands regarding Glyphosate Residue Free certification, ranging from baby food to honey to supplement brands. So far we have 15 brands from around the world fully certified but over 50 brands have been in touch during the last week.”

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We’re Not Gluten Intolerant, We’re Glyphosate Intolerant

Wine-WaterWatch.org  –  Sept 5, 2018

“Additionally, the number of people diagnosed with gluten intolerance and celiac disease has risen in tandem with the increased use of glyphosate in agriculture, especially with the recent practice of drenching grains in the herbicide right before harvest, which started in the 1980s and became routine in the 1990s.
Glyphosate residues in grain, sugar and other crops are increasing recently likely due to the growing practice of crop desiccation just prior to harvest, the researchers say. The secretive, illegal practice has become routine among conventional farmers since the 1990s.

“Celiac disease, and, more generally, gluten intolerance, is a growing problem worldwide, but especially in North America and Europe, where an estimated 5% of the population now suffers from it,” researchers wrote in a meta-analysis of nearly 300 studies.

“Here, we propose that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide, Roundup®, is the most important causal factor in this epidemic,” they add.

The study, published in the journalInterdisciplinary Toxicology in 2013, was completely ignored by the media except for Mother Earth Newsand The Healthy Home Economist.

Now that glyphosate is getting the attention it deserves, being named as the culprit in a $280 million cancer lawsuit and labeled as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization and the state of California, it may be time to look at the chemical’s role in a related disease:

The symptoms of so-called “gluten intolerance” and celiac disease in are shockingly similar to the symptoms in lab animals exposed to glyphosate, argue the study’s authors Anthony Samsel, an independent scientist who’s served as a consultant to the EPA on arsenic pollution and to the U.S. Coast Guard on chemical hazard response, and Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at MIT.

They point to a recent study on how glyphosate effects the digestive systems of fish. It decreased digestive enzymes and bacteria, disrupted mucosal folds, destroyed microvilli structure in the intestinal wall, and increased secretion of mucin.

“These features are highly reminiscent of celiac disease,” Samsel and Seneff write.

Additionally, the number of people diagnosed with gluten intolerance and celiac disease has risen in tandem with the increased use of glyphosate in agriculture, especially with the recent practice of drenching grains in the herbicide right before harvest, which started in the 1980s and became routine in the 1990s:

While some suggest the recent surge in celiac disease is due simply to better diagnostic tools (which as you can see above happened around 2000), a recent study suggests it’s more than that.

In 2009, researchers looked for gluten antibodies in frozen immune serum obtained between 1948 and 1954 for gluten antibodies, and compared them with samples from people today. They found a 4-fold increase in the incidence of celiac disease in the younger generation.

As further evidence the researchers make the following points:

“Celiac disease is associated with imbalances in gut bacteria that can be fully explained by the known effects of glyphosate on gut bacteria.”

“Celiac disease is associated with the impairment of cytochrome P450 enzymes. Glyphosate is known to inhibit cytochrome P450 enzymes.”

“Deficiencies in iron, cobalt, molybdenum, copper and other rare metals associated with celiac disease can be attributed to glyphosate’s strong ability to chelate these elements.”

“Deficiencies in tryptophan, tyrosine, methionine and selenomethionine associated with celiac disease match glyphosate’s known depletion of these amino acids.”

“Celiac disease patients also have a known increased risk for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which has also been implicated in glyphosate exposure.”

“The incidence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma has increased rapidly in most Western countries over the last few decades. Statistics from the American Cancer Society show an 80% increase since the early 1970’s, when glyphosate was first introduced on the market.”

“Reproductive issues associated with celiac disease, such as infertility, miscarriages, and birth defects, can also be explained by glyphosate.”

Glyphosate residues in grain, sugar and other crops are increasing recently likely due to the growing practice of crop desiccation just prior to harvest, the researchers say. The secretive, illegal practice has become routine among conventional farmers since the 1990s.

Ironically, the practice increases yields by killing the crops. Just before the plants die, they release their seeds in order to propagate the species:

“It goes to seed as it dies. At its last gasp, it releases the seed,” Seneff told The Healthy Home Economist.

Moral of the story? We need to go glyphosate-free, not gluten-free. And that means going organic, especially when it comes to grains and animals who eat those grains. Well, you might need to go gluten-free too for a while, until you’ve healed your gut.

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