Ottawa, May 17, 2017 – Public interest groups the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network and Vigilance OGM, are expressing profound disappointment that Members of Parliament voted down Private Member’s Bill C-291 for mandatory labelling of genetically modified (GM, also called genetically engineered) foods.
Polls over twenty years consistently show that over 75 percent of Canadians want GM foods labelled. Health Canada’s 2016 survey put this number at 78 percent.
“Transparency and traceability are missing in Canada when it comes to GM foods,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. “The continued lack of mandatory labelling is an untenable situation for consumers.”
The University of Saskatchewan and one of its well-known professors are acting like "sock puppets" for agri-business giant Monsanto, says a U.S. researcher.
Gary Ruskin of U.S. Right to Know has obtained thousands of pages documenting North American university ties to corporations involved in genetic engineering.
Ruskin recently shared with CBC News nearly 700 pages of U of S emails and other material. Ruskin said the documents show Monsanto has recruited a team of top academics in a "Machiavellian" effort to sway public opinion.
WIDESPREAD USE OF WORLD’S MOST EXTENSIVELY SOLD PESTICIDE WILL CONTINUE IN CANADA, DESPITE INTERNATIONAL CONCERNS ABOUT HEALTH AND ECOLOGICAL RISKS
Ottawa - April 28, 2017 — Health Canada has dismissed credible evidence in its re-evaluation of the world’s most extensively-used pesticide, glyphosate, in today’s decision to continue its registration in Canada.
Glyphosate is infamous as the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, and is now used in hundreds of other herbicides manufactured by many of the largest agrochemical companies.
“The widespread use of glyphosate is contaminating the environment and the food we eat,” said Louise Hénault-Éthier, science projects manager at the David Suzuki Foundation. “Research shows that glyphosate is persistent and that buffer zones are not necessarily effective in preventing run-off to streams. Furthermore, nearly a third of our food contains glyphosate, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.’’
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In 2016, we found ourselves spending more and more time tracking the overrunning frontiers of synthetic biology, genome editing, gene drives, molecular communication and beyond.
Gene Editing: As predicted, the CRISPR gene editing technique continued to be “a very big thing” through 2016. As science served up gene-edited dinners as PR stunts in both Sweden and New York, it seemed a new nutritious CRISPR product in development was being announced monthly: chickens, mushrooms, corn. The heavyweight patent bust-up of the year over who actually gets to own CRISPR finally hit the courtroom in December, and the licensing battle also got underway. Harvard’s Broad Institute/Editas licensed to Monsanto, while Berkley’s Doudna Lab/Caribou Biosciences licensed to DuPont and Max Planck's Charpentier lab licensed to syn bio leader Evolva. It also became clear that a CRISPR-plus future is waiting in the wings — several similar gene editing techniques with catchy names such as NgAgo and 16sRNA became public this year, Monsanto licensed an additional CRISPR variant (CPF1) and in an interesting twist in the CRISPR patent battle, Cellectis claimed their foundational patents may undercut the whole gene editing field including CRISPR.
Gene Drives: More out of control than a AI Uber car is the rapidly emerging development of gene drives — gene-edited organisms deliberately designed to spread in the wild by sexual reproduction (sex drives?) to take over and crash wild populations and species. In 2016, mega-foundations run by Bill Gates and India’s Tata conglomerate each poured around $70–$75 million apiece into the gene drive race. Investment-wise, the US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is the dark horse, with an unknown amount invested in its ‘safe genes’ project, which ostensibly aims to find ways to recall rogue gene drives back out of the environment. In other contingency plans to re-close Pandora’s Box, in June, alpha gene drive jockey Kevin Esvelt of MIT introduced his safety idea of ‘local gene drives’ with his ‘daisy drive’ proposal. In ETC’s view, daisy drives may perversely accelerate gene drive releases by rendering the field more commercially interesting. Esvelt’s pronouncements on gene drives swing erratically between eagerness and caution. We suspect he was behind the Broad Institute’s intriguing decision to stipulate in Monsanto’s CRISPR licensing agreement that they could not use CRISPR for gene drives or terminator technology. ETC Group is sceptical that withholding a few patent keys will stop corporate, military or other interests from taking joy rides on gene drives.
Culture of Disruption
Interviewed by Tracy Frisch
For 20 years, Jim Thomas has been at the forefront of international policy debates and campaigns on emerging technologies with Greenpeace International and ETC Group. Steward Brand called him “the leading critic of biotech.”
ACRES U.S.A. I had never heard of gene drives until I started preparing for this interview.
THOMAS. ETC Group is probably more concerned about gene drives than almost any other technology. A gene drive is a genetic element that will reliably get passed on from one generation to another. It has been thought that there are natural gene drives where a particular genetic trait is encoded in the genome in such a way that it will more likely or always get passed on to the next generation. With the CRISPR gene drive, which is what we’re interested in, it’s possible to engineer a particular genetic trait into an organism so that it always gets passed onto the next generation. If you engineer a fruit fly with a gene drive that makes it have red eyes, then all its offspring will have red eyes, as will all their offspring, so the entire fruit fly population will have red eyes. In normal Mendelian genetics you could assume that a trait will get passed on 50 percent of the time and 50 percent of the time it won’t. With this gene drive, 100 percent of the time the trait gets passed on. What’s significant about gene drives is their ability to relentlessly spread a genetically engineered trait through a population until ultimately you change or destroy an entire species. A lot of gene drive research aims to render a species of mosquito or parasite extinct.
If given a choice, most consumers would choose to buy a non-GM food item — though most don’t read the labels
Health Canada says the results of a 2016 survey of consumer views on genetically modified foods will help the department communicate to Canadians.
However, opinions remain largely unchanged from previous research that showed consumers are skeptical about, if not completely opposed to, genetically modified foods, the report said.
“The findings from this public opinion research will be used by Health Canada to more effectively communicate to Canadians how food products derived from biotechnology are assessed and regulated under the Food and Drug Regulations, as well as the safety of these products,” said a statement issued after federal health minister Jane Philpott was unavailable for an interview.
A new study (Mesnage et al.), using new molecular profiling method, has found that Monsanto's genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant corn event called NK603 is not "substantially equivalent" to non-GM corn. The concept of substantial equivalence is used by Health Canada as a guide in their safety assessments of GM foods. The GM trait NK603 is used in many corn varieties grown across Canada, and ends up in processed food ingredients and animal feed. Health Canada approved the GM corn event called NK603 in 2001.
The new study is: Mesnage R, Agapito-Tenfen S, Vilperte V, Renney G, Ward M, Séralini GE, Nodari N, Antoniou MN. An integrated multi-omics analysis of the NK603 Roundup-tolerant GM maize reveals metabolism disturbances caused by the transformation process. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6:37855. Open access: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep37855
Gene drives are a new biotechnology development that allow humans the unprecedented capability to profoundly alter or even drive to extinction entire populations or whole species of organisms. Are they a valued tool for conservation? Or are they more likely to fail, make matters worse, and fall into the hands of those who seek profit-making at all cost? Or will they be used for military applications?
This page serves as a platform to gather and share critical perspective on gene drives. Below you will find recent resources and further information on the subject, including videos, briefings and campaigning tools. This page will grow as resistance to gene drive technologies does, so come back regularly! You can also find contact information below for the Civil Society Working Group on Gene Drives, should you wish to get in touch or find out more.
“Genetic engineering is passé. Today, scientists aren’t just mapping genomes and manipulating genes, they’re building life from scratch - and they're doing it in the absence of societal debate and regulatory oversight."
- Pat Mooney, Executive Director of ETC Group, whose mission is to access the consequences and impacts of new technologies.
Our two guests are: Claire Hope Cummings, author of Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds. Her concerns are how gene drives are proposed for use in conservation (Island Conservation’s daughterless mouse) and the whole idea of the eradication of the female (daughterless anything) and anything people need to know about the regulatory issues - most notably that there is no regulatory response to these new developments and the response to GMOs was terribly inadequate and facilitated widespread contamination, among other risks which are still a problem.
Jim Thomas is a Research Programme Manager and Writer at ETC Group, located in Ottawa, Canada. His background is in communications, writing on emerging technologies and international campaigning. For the seven years previous to joining ETC Group Jim was a researcher and campaigner on Genetic Engineering and food issues for Greenpeace International - working in Europe, North America, Australia/New Zealand and South East Asia. He has extensive experience on issues around transgenic crops and nanotechnologies has written articles, chapters and technical reports in the media and online. Trained as a historian to look back at the history of technology, Jim is now busy communicating the future of technology.