GMO-free news from Canada

30.01.2017 |

2016: The Year that Wasn't Normal - ETC Group's Long-Awaited 2016 Year-in-Review

Artificial Biology:

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.

30.01.2017 |

Interview: Researcher, Writer Jim Thomas Discusses Suite of Emerging Synthetic Biology Technologies

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.

05.01.2017 |

Canada: Consumers still opposed to GM food

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.

22.12.2016 |

Human Health Risks: GM corn NK603

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:

03.12.2016 |

Gene Drives: Solution or Problem? Sacred or Synthetic?

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.

30.11.2016 |

Emerging New Technologies: Synthetic Biology and Gene Drives - Should We Be Concerned?


“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.

27.11.2016 |

Canada: GE Crops and Foods (On the Market)

Four GE crops are widely grown in Canada:

1. canola

2. corn

3. soy

4. sugar beet (white sugar beet for sugar processing)

These four crops end up as processed food ingredients and are also widely used for animal feed. They are genetically engineered to be insect resistant and/or herbicide tolerant. For details on where these GM crops are planted, and how much, see CBAN's report "Where in the world are GM crops and foods?"

Canada could also be importing a small amount of:

5. GE papaya (from Hawaii)

6. GE squash - some varieties of yellow crookneck squash (from the US)

7. GE cottonseed oil

8. milk products from the US made with the use of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone

Some other genetically engineered crops have been approved and could be sold in stores soon:

9. The GM non-browning apple was approved in 2015 in the US and Canada but is not on the market in Canada in 2016.

10. There is a GM potato that was approved in March 2016 but none were planted in Canada in 2016.

11. Canada has also approved a GM Atlantic salmon. It is not yet in production anywhere in the world.

12. In Canada, some GM alfalfa was sold in 2016 for the first time. This crop is used for animal feed.

16.09.2016 |

The Monsanto–Bayer tie-up is just one of seven; Mega-Mergers and Big Data Domination Threaten Seeds, Food Security

Policymakers could still block the agribiz mergers; peasants and farmers will continue the fight for seeds and rights

Wednesday’s confirmation that Monsanto and Bayer have agreed to a $66 billion merger is just the latest of four M&A announcements, but at least three more game-changing mergers are in play (and flying under the radar). The acquisition activity is no longer just about seeds and pesticides but about global control of agricultural inputs and world food security. Anti-competition regulators should block these mergers everywhere, and particularly in the emerging markets of the Global South, as the new mega companies will greatly expand their power and outcompete national enterprises. Four of the world’s top 10 agrochemical purchasing countries are in the global South and account for 28% of the world market.[1] If some of these throw up barriers, shareholders will rebel against the deals regardless of decisions in Washington or Brussels.

“These deals are not just about seeds and pesticides, but also about who will control Big Data in agriculture,” says Pat Mooney of ETC Group, an International Civil Society Organization headquartered in Canada that monitors agribusiness and agricultural technologies. “The company that can dominate seed, soil and weather data and crunch new genomics information will inevitably gain control of global agricultural inputs – seeds, pesticides, fertilizers and farm machinery.”

08.09.2016 |

GE Free Zones: City Council in Victoria BC voted unanimously for a GE Free Victoria

Amazing News! City Council in Victoria BC has voted unanimously for a GE-Free Victoria! On August 25, council members all voted to oppose the planting of genetically engineered crops, plants and trees and is now calling on the federal government to label all GE foods and halt any new GE food approvals until "a regime of independent and transparent scientific assessment and GMO management is introduced.” This inspiring outcome is due to the hard work of many local people - you can read all about it here:

31.05.2016 |

The Industrial Food Chain's Recipe for a Box Lunch

Who’s going to eat whose lunch … the Hardware Grunts or the Software Gurus? The Battle for the control of agricultural inputs is just beginning. Time for a “Kickboxer” Campaign?

Submitted on 30 May 2016

Bayer’s $62 billion bid for Monsanto, as of this writing, has been rejected, but both parties say they are continuing to negotiate. That the “Joy of Six” agricultural input companies may soon become a ménage à trois has been a matter of speculation in ETC Group since mid-2014. If (and it is a big “if”) the marriages of Dow with DuPont, ChemChina with Syngenta, and Bayer with Monsanto are consummated, the only wallflower left on the dance floor, BASF, will either have to hook up or give up.

Agriculture is, relatively speaking, small potatoes for the German chemical giant, but, still, it brought home $7.2 billion in crop chemical sales in 2014 and commands a hefty 11.5% of the global pesticide market. Although BASF invests in plant breeding and breeding technologies, it doesn’t directly sell seeds. Instead, the company collaborates on R&D all along the food chain – with Monsanto (developing GMO traits), with Yara (producing ammonia for fertilizers), with synbio company Evolva (developing biosynthetic pesticides), with Cargill (developing oils high in omega-3), with Deere & Co. (selling crop insurance, precision agriculture) – and it has cross-licensing deals with major seed companies including Monsanto, DuPont and Dow.

BASF could give Bayer a run for its money wooing Monsanto, or it may decide its dance card is full enough. Or, the company may choose to spin off its Plant Science business altogether. If so, one of the top three farm machinery companies could be a buyer: Deere & Co., CNH or AGCO (in order of sales).