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Blog Posts: Questionable technologies

March 21st, 2014

Higher Education Brought to You By the Biotech Industry. Encore.

Money and BooksBy Tim Schwab

Journalism and agriculture students, watch out.

 Your administrators are laying out the red carpet for corporate press junkets at a campus near you.

 Again.

 Last year, I reported on HungerU and Biotech University, billed as educational opportunities but actually greenwashing campaigns to promote corporate agribusiness. This week we get news that Hunger U is hitting the college circuit again, with a new slogan: “DuPont is Helping us Feed the World.”

 Exactly. DuPont helps us feed the world by selling pesticides and herbicide and GMOs.

Hunger U last year stopped at only a handful of universities, wooing students with a $2,500 grant and embarking on a mission to “educate college students about the significance of modern agriculture.” This year the program is traveling across the country, even stopping in the nation’s capital.

Events like Hunger U and Biotech University are an unfortunate sign of the times at our nation’s public universities, where corporations pour hundreds of millions of dollars into our agricultural colleges, distorting the science and perverting the mission of higher education. Increasingly the message from our universities really is: Dupont is Helping us Feed the World.

You find the names Monsanto, Cargill and Tyson emblazoned on university buildings around the country, and corporate representatives sometimes play key roles in determining the research direction of our agricultural colleges. In its most benign form, industry rolls up on campuses with programs like Hunger U or Biotech University.

Food & Water Watch detailed the ways in which industry is buying influence at our public universities in our report Public Research, Private Gain.

Don’t biotech and pesticide companies already have too much influence over our public universities? Do we really need to greenwash our campuses by inviting Hunger U to spread the gospel of agrochemicals and GMOs?  If you attend one of these schools, call your university administrators and tell them enough is enough.

March 10th, 2014

On the Brink of Irrelevancy: Is the Honeymoon Over for FDA and AquaBounty?

By Tim Schwab

AquaBounty GE Salmon and the FDAIn 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put forward a shockingly favorable regulatory review on AquaBounty Technologies’ genetically engineered salmon, offering preliminary determinations that the fish are healthy, of little threat to the environment and safe to eat.  

The scientific community skewered the agency’s far-reaching, short-sighted determinations, while hundreds of thousands of consumers stated clearly they wouldn’t eat the slow-growing, sickly, escape-prone fish.

Here we are in 2014 and, as the world turns, it increasingly turns against AquaBounty’s GMO salmon. Many of the nation’s largest conventional grocers—including Kroger, Safety, Target, HEB, Aldi, Giant Eagle, Meijer, Marsh, and dozens of others—have said they aren’t planning on selling AquaBounty’s GMO salmon even if the FDA does approve it.   

This means that even if FDA were to approve GMO salmon today, by the time the first fillets hit the stores (AquaBounty says 2016), there very well may not be a single retail outlet willing to stock GMO salmon. And polls show again and again and again that consumers will avoid GMO fish if they can, though that depends on whether FDA requires labeling.  Read the full article…

February 11th, 2014

Intimidation and Bullying: How Industry Steamrolls the Scientific Debate

By Tim Schwab

For anyone who’s ever wondered why the “science-based” rules and regulations coming out of Washington are so consistently industry friendly, Tyrone Hayes’ story recently in the New Yorker, but told first by 100Reporters and Environmental Health News last June, is enlightening.

A biology professor at the University of California, Hayes took research funding from Syngenta to study its herbicide atrazine. When his study found environmental and health problems with the widely used herbicide in the late 1990s, Sygenta balked and stalled his findings. Hayes ended the funding relationship, feeling that his peers may eventually think that he was “part of a plan to bury important data” and that his reputation might be injured. Little did Hayes know. Read the full article…

January 6th, 2014

Syngenta Correctly Predicts Superweeds Infestation: Jolly Well Done!

weeds and tractor steering wheel

By Eve Mitchell

In 2009 Swiss biotech giant Syngenta made a bold prediction that by 2013 a quarter of U.S. cropland would be infested with glyphosate-resistant superweeds. I heartily congratulate Syngenta for its foresight, if not the response to it. By January 2013, 61.2 million acres of U.S. farmland suffered from an increasingly stubborn case of superweeds. So Syngenta was being uncharacteristically modest – around one third of the 185 million acres of U.S. land planted with corn, cotton and soy has weeds that can’t be killed by normal means, adding significantly to the cost and effort of farming.

As 2013 drew to a close, a new Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) policy brief reported that, in fact, “Almost 50 percent of surveyed farms are infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds, and the rate of these weeds’ spread has been increasing.” UCS added:

“Herbicide-resistant weeds are also symptomatic of a bigger problem: an out-dated system of farming that relies on planting huge acreages of the same crop year after year. This system, called monoculture, has provided especially good habitat for weeds and pests and accelerated the development of resistance. In response, Monsanto and its competitors are now proposing to throw more herbicides at resistant weeds, an approach that ignores the underlying biology of agricultural systems and will inevitably lead to more resistance and a further spiraling up of herbicide use.”

The rapid spike in the use of Monsanto’s best-selling weed killer glyphosate in the U.S. is closely linked to the uptake of genetically modified (GM) crops designed to be used with the brand name version of the chemical (Roundup). As widely predicted by both industry and GM skeptics, problematic weeds like Palmer amaranth quickly developed resistance to Roundup and are spreading fast as farmers struggle to kill them with combinations of chemicals in heavier concentrations, or simply resorting to hand weeding hundreds of acres of fields. The problem is so serious in the Southern U.S. that UCS reports, “92 percent of cotton and soybean fields are infested as a result of Roundup Ready crops.” Superweeds are also causing escalating problems in other countries with heavy GM crop use, including in the soy fields of Argentina and Brazil upon which the EU is so reliant to fuel its factory farms. Read the full article…

December 20th, 2013

Clones, the Commission and Ethical Contortionism

By Eve Mitchell

The European Commission’s proposed Directives on clones in the food chain fall woefully short of what citizens want and the Parliament demands.

The draft laws are not all they appear to be at first glance. One draft Directive “provisionally prohibits” cloning farm animals and the sale of farm clones or clone embryos. The other “provisionally prohibits” the sale and import of food from clones. Once enshrined in law the Directives would be reviewed to enable any “improvements” in cloning techniques that reduce animal suffering to be taken into account in future regulation.

Any prohibition of cloning is welcome, based as it is on the acknowledgement that cloning for food is unwanted and unconscionably cruel, but it‘s not enough.

The draft laws do not prohibit the sale of food from the offspring of clones, which renders them next to useless in the real world. The Commission emphasises, “[C]loning is so expensive that its use for food production is not lucrative.” This is a tacit admission that the proposed measures don’t actually tackle the real problem – food from cloned offspring. Read the full article…

November 25th, 2013

You Keep Me Going

By Wenonah Hauter

Thank you for all that you do!

This year has been a whirlwind for me. After finishing my book, Foodopoly, I’ve been spending most of my time on the road, speaking to communities all across the country about the corporate control of our food system. And let me be honest, it’s tiring work.

But whenever it seems like I’m too exhausted to make it on to the next leg, I have a conversation with one of you. You’re the reason I’m doing this work, and I can’t thank you enough for standing with us.

This time of year always gets me thinking about the things that are most important in life — the things that Food & Water Watch is fighting to protect, with your help. Today, we’re thankful for livable communities, clean water and safe, wholesome food — and we believe that these things are for everyone, not just a few. Read the full article…

November 20th, 2013

Americans Deserve a Break (From GE Foods) Today

By Genna Reed

After nearly 20 years of mass-producing mainly herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant crops that have not delivered on their environmental promises, the genetic engineering front has moved toward nutritional and aesthetic improvement of food. Two of these new products up for approval are Okanagan Specialty Fruits Arctic Apple and J.R. Simplot’s Innate Potato.

This week, we are asking consumers to tell USDA not to approve the genetically engineered apple, designed not to brown when exposed to oxygen. In its new Environmental Assessment, the USDA does not address many of the concerns of the nearly 73,000 comments sent in during the previous comment period. USDA is not doing itself any favors by ignoring the public opposition of this GE apple. Already, the biggest food chain in the world, McDonald’s, and one of the most popular baby food brands, Gerber, have affirmed that they have no plans to use these apples once they are commercialized. Read the full article…

November 13th, 2013

It’s Pay-to-Play Science as Usual

Money and BooksBy Tim Schwab

Last week, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) was once again exposed as an industry front group – taking industry money and advocating pro-industry positions while claiming to be an independent, science-based organization. The magazine Mother Jones published a leaked document showing the enormous extent to which the organization is bankrolled by corporations and industry groups, confirming what many environmental and health advocates had always believed about the four-decades-old organization.   

The Council, which claims to be a scientific organization, takes tens of thousands of dollars from big oil and gas interests like Chevron and the American Petroleum Institute and publicly advocates for fracking. It also stridently speaks in favor of genetically engineered (GE) crops, which may have something to do with the money Syngenta and Bayer gives it. Read the full article…

July 16th, 2013

Tomato Irradiation Approval in Australia and New Zealand

By Stephanie Tate

On May 18th, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, better known as FSANZ, approved the use of irradiation on Australian tomatoes and bell peppers to deal with fruit flies. The agency said irradiation is an acceptable way to replace the method of fumigating produce with ozone-depleting chemicals. While that is a worthwhile goal, portraying this as a choice between irradiation and toxic fumigants is too simplistic – neither is acceptable. The effects of irradiated food consumption, especially over the long-term, have not been sufficiently researched, and the continued approval of irradiation for various food items, including meat and shellfish, in both the U.S. and other countries is a worrisome trend. Read the full article…

June 12th, 2013

GE French Fries, Coming to a Fast Food Restaurant Near You

GE potatoBy Genna Reed

The J.R. Simplot Company, giant potato supplier for McDonald’s, has spent years working on the perfect potato. Its new genetically engineered trait (which will be offered in five different varieties of potatoes) up for USDA approval has lower levels of a carbohydrate called acrylamide, which may cause cancer, and also has reduced black spot bruising. These potatoes will be used as frozen fries, potato chips and shoestrings, which make up approximately 50 percent of the potato market in the United States, according to Simplot.

Both of the desired traits are achieved through the reduced expression of enzymes, affecting the amino acid asparagine for the low acrylamide trait and the enzyme polyphenol oxidase (PPO) for reduced bruising (the same way GE apples have been engineered not to brown). The problem is that an alteration in just one enzyme can unintentionally affect other plant characteristics as well as the plant’s health.

These GE potatoes will likely be fried using Monsanto’s new-and-improved omega-3 soybean oil, which will probably be marketed to lead consumers to believe that the bio-engineered combination is “healthy” fried food. A low-acrylamide potato may reduce levels of just one of the harmful chemicals brought out by frying foods but there are other dangerous compounds that are produced when food is heated to very high temperatures, including advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs), which can lead to to “chronic inflammation and oxidative stress,” (also linked to cancer). And of course this new fried “goodness” doesn’t address the high-calorie and low-nutrient content that make fried potatoes unhealthy in the first place.

Historically, GE potatoes have not fared so well in the marketplace. Monsanto’s NewLeaf GE potatoes were approved in 1995, but the company pulled its potatoes from the market in 2001. If approved, these potatoes may face the same fate and never make it into happy meals across America. But these potatoes could also be exported, since Simplot has submitted its petition for approval to Canada, Mexico, Japan and South Korea.

The USDA will be seeking comments until July 2nd and we intend to tell them to further review the potential health effects of these GE potatoes. Sign the petition to tell the USDA to stop the approval of the GE potato here.

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