LABB News Archive 2016-2017

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This archive includes some of the more significant news items which have previously appeared on the What's New page. These web-links are not regularly updated now and may well be out of date, so if you find a later link, please let us know. Some items (particularly those marked +) may be described in our Learning Links or Hot Topics pages.
21/1/16  Monsanto files a lawsuit to stop glyphosate* from being included on California's list of cancer-causing chemicals. (*glyphosate is ...) (See also 12/11/15)
26/1/16  Results of research released by Prof Seralini, on health problems in cows fed on Bt176, the first GM maize commercialised for animal feed. The study analyses a four year period of closely monitored feeding, and concludes that this maize is "most probably toxic over the long term". (See also 25/11/15)
1/2/16  Approval is given to edit the genes of human embryos for research purposes in the UK. (See also 22/4/15)
2/2/16  + Ground-breaking paper published, analysing the increasing use of glyphosate* weedkiller both in the US and world-wide over the last 40 years. The data shows agricultural usage worldwide increased by 14.6 times over two decades, after the introduction of GM glyphosate-resistant crops in 1996. Summaries here. (See also 21/1/16)
2/2/16  Briefing published, based on EC documents obtained under freedom of information, that shows huge efforts were made over the past three years by the industry lobby to have the 'new' GM techniques deregulated (avoiding GM regulations). The report and its context are summarised here, and there is an introduction to these "New (Plant) Breeding Techniques" that involve 'gene editing'. (See also 3/12/15 and Hot Topic: Gene Editing / GM 2.0)
17/3/16  GM Freeze submits a detailed objection to DEFRA on behalf of 21 organisations, opposing an application by Rothamsted Research to grow GM camelina (false flax) in an open air trial in Hertfordshire. On a similar basis GM Freeze is also objecting to a trial of GM blight-resistant potatoes at the Norwich Research Park by Sainsbury's Laboratory. Both objections highlight the failure of the applicants to justify the risks of the releases, and in particular the use of an antibiotic resistance gene (in the potato).
21/3/16  Study published suggesting Monarch butterflies will likely become extinct in the US within 20 years. A major factor is the use of herbicide on GM crops, causing the loss of milkweed on which Monarch larvae feed. (See also 27/8/14)
24/3/16  + Synthetic biologist Craig Venter announces the creation of 'Synthia 3.0' an organism with only 473 genes. The function of a third of the genes is still unknown, but they seem to be essential to life. More details here. See also Hot Topic: 'Synthetic Biology'
6/4/16  Imperial College opens the UK's first commercial 'synthetic biology foundry', which uses robotic techniques to generate arbitrary DNA sequences to specification very quickly. As part of a network of related facilities a similar unit is scheduled for Edinburgh University. See also Hot Topic: 'Synthetic Biology'
13/4/16  The European Parliament agrees to approve the use of the weedkiller glyphosate* for 7 more years. (*glyphosate is ...) This follows its re-classification as "a probable carcinogen" (see 12/11/15) and a consequent disagreement between EU states. Otherwise re-approval had been expected to be for 15 years.
18/4/16  George Eustice, UK Minister of State for Farming, Food and Marine Environment, grants permission to Rothamsted Research for an open-air trial of GM camelina ('false flax') at Harpenden. A scientific study however reveals that the omega-3 acids (fish oils) in this crop cause wing deformities in some butterflies. (See 17/3/16, that includes a GM potato trial also now approved)
21/4/16  A joint NGO report cites evidence from FoI disclosures to show that the European Commission shelved a crucial legal opinion on "New Breeding Techniques" following US Government pressure. The legal opinion - to classify the ODM gene-editing technique "as a GM technique" - has now been delayed indefinitely. (See 2/2/16 and Hot Topic: Gene Editing / GM 2.0)
25/5/16  The Royal Society pamphlet "GM plants - questions and answers" draws detailed criticism from the Soil Association and others, accusing the Society of a "pro-GM whitewash". (See also 4/3/15)
6/6/16  The European Commission's latest proposal, to re-authorise glyphosate* herbicide for 18 months, fails to get approval from member states. Subsequently, 31 NGO's call on the Commission to halt any re-authorisation, or be in contempt of EU law. (See 13/4/16)
8/6/16  Study of 'gene drive' is published by US National Academy of Sciences, but omits several key concerns.
20/6/16  + The German NGO Testbiotech publishes its report on the risk assessment of GM food and feed, that highlights many flaws in current EU/EFSA practice. (See also 24/4/15, 9/11/15)
24/6/16  The European Commission extends the authorisation of glyphosate* herbicide for a further 18 months, despite failing to obtain a qualified majority of country votes. (*glyphosate is ...) (See 6/6/16)
24/6/16  The Russian parliament approves a ban on producing GM animals and crops, except for research. (See also 6/4/14)
29/6/16  The Swiss cabinet approves extending their ban on GM in agriculture to 2021. (See also 2/12/14)
4/7/16  Lidl has decided to supply several GM-free dairy products in its German stores. (See also 25/10/10)
22/7/16  Three new varieties of GM soy beans are approved by the European Commission for food and feed. These are MON87708xMON89788 ('Roundup Ready 2 Xtend', glyphosate- and dicamba-tolerant), MON87705xMON89788 ('Vistive Gold', glyphosate-tolerant) and Bayer's FG72 ('Balance GT', glyphosate- and isoxaflutole-tolerant) but their safety has been seriously questioned. Monsanto and DuPont have already signed an agreement for the increased supply of dicamba weedkiller.
28/7/16  Thousands of Oxitec's GM mosquitoes are released in the Cayman Islands, with the aim of destroying most of its mosquitoes, now seen to be a carrier for the Zika virus. (See also 12/1/12)
29/7/16  US President Obama approves first Federal GM labelling Bill (aka "the DARK Act"). Widely condemned since it over-rules individual States' laws while encouraging QR codes and other unhelpful methods of identifying GM food content. (See also 23/4/14)
31/7/16  The German NGO Testbiotech is urging the public to petition the European Commission to halt GM maize cultivation, since the appearance of teosinte (a wild relative) means a regulatory pre-condition is no longer met.
26/8/16  The International Union for the Conservation of Nature votes to adopt a moratorium on supporting research into 'gene drives' until their impacts are fully assessed. A subsequent open letter urges the IUCN not to promote them as conservation tools. (See 8/6/16)
7/9/16  A resolution published by a network of consumer organisations, TACD, calls for regulation and labelling of products derived from new genetic engineering techniques. (See 21/4/16) The resolution includes assessments of the techniques and is available here.[682K]
10/9/16  A member of the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) GMO Panel has issued a minority Opinion questioning the safety of a Syngenta stacked trait GM maize. (See also 9/11/15)
21/9/16  Research confirms previous findings showing that genetically engineered enzymes are potent allergens. GE enzymes are extensively used in the manufacture of food flavourings and perfumes, but few of those occupationally exposed receive regular surveillance. Research paper here.
24/9/16  Leaked documents have revealed that the European Commission is trying to authorise two GM maize varieties for cultivation, 1507 and Bt11, and to re-authorise MON810 (see also 11/11/08, 8/4/15, 31/7/16).
6/10/16  The European Parliament opposes European Commission plans to authorise five GM products: maizes Bt11, 1507 and MON810 (seeds and products), and a glyphosate-resistant cotton (xMON88913). MEPs' concerns include the risks to butterflies and moths, and cross-contamination of a related weed. (See also 24/9/16)
21/10/16  The UK Government says it is considering "possible future arrangements for the regulation of GM organisms", in its preparations for EU exit. This minimal statement gave rise to media speculation that English farmers will then get the go-ahead to grow GM crops.
22/10/16  + GM Freeze launches 'Feed me the Truth' campaign, that ranks supermarkets on their commitment to supporting and developing non-GM-fed animal products. To highlight stores' shortcomings, imaginative on-site actions are suggested. (See also Local Interest and 12/4/13)
1/11/16  + The Waitrose supermarket chain becomes "the first UK retailer to introduce responsibly sourced non-GM soya for animal feed from Europe". (See also 22/10/16)
4/11/16  GM Watch expresses concern that approvals for new GM crops to be grown in Europe may be given surreptitiously in the runup to Christmas, and looks at the problems associated with them. (See also 6/10/16)
24/11/16  A new 90 day study has shown that rats fed GM Bt corn MON810 suffered damage to part of the small intestine, supplementing previous studies on the same corn. (See also 4/11/16)
5/12/16  At the UN Convention on Biodiversity over 160 civil society organisations from six continents call on governments to establish a moratorium on 'gene drives'. (See also 26/8/16)
14/12/16  Over thirty organisations ask DEFRA not to allow Rothamsted Research to release experimental GM wheat in an open-air field trial. (See also 25/6/15, 18/4/16)
15/12/16  The UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority approves the clinical use of '3-parent' IVF technologies for the purpose of avoiding serious mitochondrial disease. This controversial decision raises important social and ethical questions, explored here. (See also 24/2/15)
19/12/16  A new analysis of GM maize NK603 using the latest techniques shows the GM process caused increases in potentially toxic compounds. However the regulator EFSA has declared the maize 'substantially equivalent' to its non-GM version and in 2009 approved NK603 for human and animal consumption. (See also 24/6/14, 26/1/16)
30/12/16  Research in Maryland, USA, shows strong evidence earworms have evolved resistance to multiple (stacked) Bt toxins in GM corn. Read research paper. (See also 10/12/15)
9/1/17  + Research using a new (multiomic) technique reveals liver disease in rats exposed to a very low dose of Roundup™, Monsanto's weedkiller. (See also 24/6/16)
3/2/17  DEFRA opens a consultation on an application by the Sainsbury Laboratory to plant a complex series of GM potatoes in Norwich, involving 'gene-silencing'. GM Freeze has outlined grounds for objection, particularly the open-ended nature of the trials, involving completely new varieties. Members of the public may make their views known, up until 23 March 2017. (See also 17/3/16, 18/4/16.)
9/2/17  The annual US count shows numbers of Monarch butterflies fell by 27 percent from last year, indicating ongoing risk of extinction. Their habitats are threatened with destruction by the increase in herbicides used with GM crops. (See also 21/3/16)
15/2/17  + The European Parliament gives final approval to the EU-Canada trade agreement CETA, despite significant widespread opposition. The agreement hands unprecedented powers to corporations, including the ability to sue governments, weaken regulation and endanger public services.
17/2/17  A leaked report by European Parliament officials suggests that if the UK took a different approach to GMOs after 'Brexit', this would "considerably complicate" its trade with the EU. (See also 21/10/16)
17/2/17  Scientists at Edinburgh's Roslin Institute have created sterile GM chickens, intended to act as surrogates able to lay eggs from any breed. The scientific paper is here.
23/2/17  The Brazil Ministry of Agrarian Development publishes an online book: "Transgenic crops hazards and uncertainties: More than 750 studies disregarded by the GMOs regulatory bodies". It is widely seen as a useful summary of 'hidden' research, generally critical of GM developments. Download English edition free. [1.5M]
6/3/17  GM Freeze reports that Sainsbury's supermarket has dropped its commitment to supplying products from animals not fed on GM feed, even in its 'Taste the Difference' range. So Sainsbury's now joins most of the other major supermarkets, which for some time now have been ignoring the non-GM feed readily available.
5/4/17  In a letter to the EC President, 30 MEPs have called for a ban on glyphosate* and allege that a crucial study was "ghost-written" by the manufacturer. (*glyphosate is ...) (See 20/3/15, 9/1/17)
27/4/17  Despite a huge number of objections, UK government gives consent to complex open-air trial of GM potatoes at the Sainsbury laboratory in Norwich. (See 3/2/17)
2/5/17  'Better Cotton Initiative', a scheme set up by the environmental group WWF, has come under fire for endorsing GM Bt cotton as better for the environment.
5/5/17  Unauthorised GM orange petunia plants and seeds have been found in the UK supply chain. All such materials found are to be destroyed. (See also 30/10/15)
9/5/17  A few hundred farmers in Germany are to take part in a pilot project, selling their GM-free milk at a premium, to produce cheese for German supermarkets 'Ohne Gentechnik'. (See 12/3/13)
16/5/17  US research shows an association between glyphosate application and the decline of Monarch butterflies. (See also 9/2/17)
20/5/17  Two thousand march against Monsanto/Syngenta in Switzerland, calling for "paradigm change in agriculture".
22/5/17  'Beyond GM' publishes results of a survey investigating UK customers' attitudes to GMOs in restaurants. Almost all respondents said outlets should include information about GM ingredients, including GM-fed livestock products.
30/5/17  + A new study shows the new 'gene-editing' technique CRISPR causes unexpected DNA mutations that are not predicted by present computer methods.
8/6/17  GM sugar cane has been approved in Brazil for commercial growing. The Bt variety is intended to resist the cane borer insect, and import approval for the sugar is to be sought for several countries, including US, Canada, China and Japan.
15/6/17  A European Citizens' Initiative, the petition to ban glyphosate* weedkiller passes the level of one million signatures required. (*glyphosate is ...) A cancer expert recently exposed flaws in the safety agencies' analysis. The European Food Safety Authority EFSA is being taken to court to allow access to relevant documents. (See also 5/4/17)
26/6/17  The journal 'Food Chemistry' has published an analysis by European regulators, who found illegal GM bacteria in a vitamin B2 feed additive from China.
13/7/17  A new report by a German toxicologist shows that the EU authorities broke their own rules and ignored evidence that glyphosate is carcinogenic. The European Food Safety Authority is also accused of giving industry undue influence over the assessment process. (See also 15/6/17)
2/8/17  The journal 'Nature' reports that CRISPR-Cas editing has been used on human embryos, in a lab study, to repair a faulty gene associated with heart disease. While there is some enthusiasm over the news, critics have warned of dangers if the technique were to be used for treating patients. (See also 22/4/15)
6/8/17  + The Scottish Rural Economy Secretary has said Scotland's opt-out from growing GM crops must continue after the UK leaves the European Union, and has sought assurances from the UK Secretary, "that the UK government will not attempt to impose the cultivation of GM crops on Scotland against our will". Also, the labelling of GM food and feed products must not be weakened. (See 9/8/15, also 17/2/17)
10/8/17  In the US, two independent research teams publish their work on mutant ants, created using the CRISPR-Cas9 technique to edit their genomes. The papers in 'Cell' are here and here.
23/8/17  The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa calls for a ban on the import into South Africa of a new Monsanto maize, describing it as "untested RNAi technology". The African Centre for Biodiversity has also raised concerns over this maize. (See also 15/6/17)
10/9/17  A decision by the European Union over re-licensing glyphosate* has been postponed until 2017 year end. (*glyphosate is ...) (See also 13/7/17)
21/9/17  Arkansas University Agriculture Division has found that every dicamba herbicide product they tested was volatile; farmers are claiming severe damage to exposed crops not genetically engineered to be resistant. The University's statement is here. (See also 22/7/16)
28/9/17  + In a signed statement, over 60 international scientists say products of the 'new GM techniques' should be subject to existing GM regulations, strictly controlled, because of similar risks. The statement is here. The industry is lobbying strongly against controls. (See also 30/5/17 and Hot Topic: New Techniques)
17/10/17  + Research report published by African Centre for Biodiversity: "GM Cotton in Africa: Battleground between Chinese and US Capital". Download report. [2.9MB] (See also 23/8/17)
24/10/17  India has shelved approval for the commercial cultivation of GM mustard, its first transgenic food crop, due to stiff opposition.
15/11/17  Monsanto and US farm groups sue California state, to prevent it requiring cancer warnings on products containing glyphosate. (See 21/1/16)
4/12/17  Records recently released in response to open records requests show that the US military (DARPA) is the major funder of research on 'gene drives', to the tune of $100 million. Two recent papers have warned gene drives may be too powerful, and dangerous to use, in their present form. (See 5/12/16)
12/12/17  European Commission issues its response to the European Citizens' Initiative carrying over 1 million signatures, saying it had no scientific or legal grounds for a ban on glyphosate. On 27 November a 'qualified majority' of EU states voted to renew the approval of glyphosate for five years. (See 15/6/17, 10/9/17)

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