Soil and Health seeks community support for a GE-free New Plymouth

The Soil & Health Association is encouraging the New Plymouth District Council to adopt precautionary provisions in the New Plymouth District Plan for any genetically engineered (genetically modified) organisms that may be trialled or used commercially.

The Proposed Draft New Plymouth District Plan, which is open for public feedback, makes no mention of GMOs.

Soil & Health is calling on New Plymouth district residents to make submissions by 5pm Friday 16 March.

“We want to ensure that the Council adequately protects the district from the significant adverse effects posed by GMO use by including strong precautionary or prohibitive GMO policies and rules into its District Plan,” says Soil & Health National Council member Marion Thomson.

“We call on the New Plymouth District Council to follow the lead of the other councils around New Zealand that have already adopted precautionary provisions and banned the outdoor release of GMOs via their local policy statements and plans.”

Auckland Council, Far North District Council and Whangarei District Council have prohibited the outdoor release of GMOs and made field trials a discretionary activity with performance standards regarding liability and the posting of bonds.

Ms Thomson claims GMOs threaten the economic sustainability of a wide range of agricultural activities that benefit from having GE-free status, including dairy, honey, forestry and horticulture.

“No matter how carefully conditions are crafted, there inevitably remains a risk that they may be breached by poor management, human error, natural events such as severe storms or even sabotage,” says Ms Thomson.

Current laws are inadequate to properly protect communities from the potential adverse effects of GE, she said, citing the lack of provision under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act for financial liability for GMO contamination resulting from the release of an approved GMO. This means those people or companies responsible for causing harm may not be held liable.

But under the Resource Management Act, requirements for bonds for remediation and to cover the costs of contamination can be included in district plans if local councils choose to implement them.

Submissions can be made to by 5pm Friday 16 March.

Soil & Health’s submission can be viewed HERE. 

Source: Soil and Health Association.




Regulator seeks advice on how to deal with food editing by new genetic techniques

The food safety regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), is calling for suggestions on  how it should consider applications for foods that have been made using new genetic techniques that aren’t currently covered by the laws which govern it.

The current code only covers food produced by genetic techniques that add DNA into a genome. This excludes newer gene editing techniques like CRISPR/Cas9, which knock out genes or proteins, or others that don’t change the DNA of the final food product.

FSANZ is asking for submissions on how these newer techniques should be assessed before they go to market.

According to the Science Media Centre (HERE), the options range from treating them like conventional breeding techniques – given a green light once a technique has been proved safe – or to be treated like current genetically modified organisms which would mean that each application requires a rigorous safety assessment.

The consultation report won’t change the current regulations or labelling requirements, but it will inform how they move forward on this issue.

The Science Media Centre asked genetics and food safety experts to comment on the consultation report.

It has received this response –

  • Professor Peter K Dearden, Genomics Aotearoa and University of Otago, comments:

“In the past few years a range of novel technologies, many based on a technology called CRISPR/cas9 gene editing, have been developed. Many of these technologies challenge the only way we have thought about transgenic organisms (GM organisms), because they can change the DNA of an organism, rather than inserting a new piece of DNA.

“This technology mirrors somewhat mutagenesis, a technology that produced all of the plants of the ‘green revolution’, for example. Mutagenesis involves making lots of mutation in an organism’s DNA and then selecting those that have a useful outcome. Gene editing is less scattergun, but a reasonably precise way to make the mutation that you want.

“This falls between the old technologies of mutagenesis, and the newer ones (though now outdated) of transgenesis. These technologies do use a lab manipulation to change the DNA, but they don’t involve the insertion of a piece of DNA from another organism.

“FSANZ are investigating what people think about the outcomes of these new technologies, and a few more specific ones that have similar effects. This is incredibly timely, as products made with gene editing are already being developed overseas, and detecting gene edited organism is much harder than detecting a transgenic one.

“These new technologies have enormous potential but getting their regulation wrong may, on one hand stifle innovation, and on the other cause disquiet about risk. I applaud FSANZ for asking questions about these technologies, and am impressed by the thoughtful, knowledgeable and effective ways they have presented the information.”

Yes, we do have tomatoes – but not GM ones – says riled bio-blogger


Dr Alison Campbell, writing on BioBlog, has been alerted to – and challenged – an article purporting to tell consumers how to distinguish between GM and “regular” tomatoes.

An article headed “We’re Eating A Poison! Here’s How To Identify GMO Tomatoes In Two Simple Steps!” was  published at babiesdaily in 2016. This year variations of the article have been reproduced HERE and – the version at Foodatory drawn to Dr Campbell’s attention – HERE.

Dr Campbell, Associate Dean (Teaching & Learning)and Senior Lecturer (Biological Sciences) at Waikato University, thunders the claim is wrong, wrong, wrong.

There aren’t any genetically-engineered tomatoes on the market, she points out.

There used to be one, the “Flavr Savr”, which came out with much fanfare in 1994. It had been modified to enhance its shelf life, but apparently was not a commercial success and was withdrawn in 1997. To date, nothing has replaced it, although there’s apparently quite a bit of research still going on into e.g. delayed ripening and resistance to pests and environmental stressors.

Dr Campbell then notes that the tomatoes we grow (or buy) and eat are themselves the result of centuries of modification by conventional selective breeding – and also techniques such as mutagenesis, which are not exactly “natural”.

Nor are they subject to the same controls and rigorous testing required of any GM organism or product, even though mutagenesis creates much larger genetic changes than today’s precise techniques for genetic engineering (think CRISPR she suggests).

And yet conventional breeding methods can also cause problems: they led to the withdrawal of some potato varieties in the US & Sweden, because the spuds thus produced contained dangerously high levels of the poisonous compound alpha-solanine.

Then there’s the misleading image (above).

They’d obviously like us to think that one – perhaps the lushly rich red one to the left? – is natural/organic, and the other, a GMOA. Especially when they ask, “can you tell the difference between a regular tomato and a genetically modified one?” But, as we know, all commercially-available tomatoes are produced by conventional means. Still, I guess they feel that an image speaks a thousand words. (I wouldn’t want that rich red one in my sandwich though – it looks like a quick route to sogginess.)

Dr Campbell then turns to the supposed “mounting evidence that links [GE foods] to toxic and allergic reactions, sick, sterile and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals”.

There are no links or citations to support such as sweeping statement.

But on the livestock front, there are now 22 years’ worth of data available on stock fed mostly on GMO foods.

Back in 2014 Steven NovellaB wrote about a very extensive review study that looked at the first 19 years of information.

The animals covered by the various studies reviewed in the paper Novella discussed number in the billions (that is not a typo). It did not identify any problems of the sort listed in the OP that I’m discussing here. (The split between industry-funded and independent research projects into GMOs is roughly 50:50.)

On allergies – apparently the great majority of food-related allergic reactions in the US are caused by antigens from 8 foods: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, shellfish, and fish. only GM soybeans are commercially available. There are a number of fairly stringent tests required of those applying to market foods with a GE component, and in New Zealand the results of these tests have to be reviewed by Food Safety Australia NZ.

Dr Campbell spells out the objectives of these tests:

The goal of the safety assessment is not to establish the absolute safety of the GM food but rather to consider whether the GM food is comparable to the conventional counterpart food, i.e., that the GM food has all the benefits and risks normally associated with the conventional food.

So far no food derived from GMOs has been found to cause new allergies.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a revised version of the originally posted story, correcting Dr Campbell’s name and incorporating the link to the article at Foodatory, published on February 2, which is the version drawn to her attention.


Royal Society encourages participation in gene editing workshops

Royal Society Te Apārangi is running workshops on how gene editing may impact on healthcare and pest management for those involved with these sectors.

The society is convening a multi-disciplinary panel to consider the potential uses and implications of gene editing in this country.

The first two discussion papers were released late last year.

The society says a valuable part of the process is receiving critical feedback from stakeholders on the two issues.

Anyone interested in attending one or both of the workshops in either Wellington, Christchurch or Auckland, are invited to contact Marc Rands, from the society’s Expert Advice team, to register:

Participation is encouraged because of the significance of the social, ethical, cultural, legal, scientific and economic challenges of gene editing technology for New Zealand.

Wellington – Royal Society Te Apārangi, Aronui Lecture Theatre
Tuesday 13 March
9:30-11:30am: Gene Editing in Healthcare
12:30-2:30pm: Gene Editing in Pest Control

Christchurch – Tait Technology Centre, Kauri Room
Wednesday 21 March
9:30-11:30am: Gene Editing in Healthcare
12:30-2:30pm: Gene Editing in Pest Control

Auckland – NIWA Auckland, Seminar Room
Wednesday 11 April
9:30-11:30am: Gene Editing in Healthcare
12:30-2:30pm: Gene Editing in Pest Control

Australian regulatory curbs on genetic modification to be eased

Australia is set to reform how it regulates new genetic engineering techniques, which experts say will help to dramatically speed up health and agriculture research.

According to a report from the ABC, the changes are expected to enable agricultural scientists to breed higher yielding crops faster and cheaper, or ones resistant to drought and disease.

Australia’s gene technology regulator Raj Bhula has proposed reducing regulations around gene editing techniques such as CRISPR, following a 12 month technical review into the current regulations.

The most radical change put forward by the regulator is that some of the more efficient and newer genetic technologies, known as gene editing, would not be considered “genetic modification”.

“With gene editing you don’t always have to use genetic material from another organism, it is just editing the [existing] material within the organism,” Dr Bhula said.

“All of our regulatory frameworks and laws have been established based on people putting unrelated genetic material into another organism.

“Whereas this process is just manipulation within the organism and not introducing anything foreign.”

Under current Australian legislation, a genetically modified organism (GMO) is broadly defined as an organism that has been modified by gene technology, and is subject to heavy regulation.

Genetically modified crops have been available for decades and some are already widely used in Australian agriculture, particularly cotton and canola.

Scimex  reports expert reaction HERE. 

Soil and Health Assn claims a win for clean, green, GE-free New Zealand

There has been no announcement from Federated Farmers – at least, not that we can find.

But the Soil & Health Association says it is celebrating the decision by Federated Farmers to abandon its appeal against the right of councils to control the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their territories.

Federated Farmers filed its latest appeal earlier this year in the Court of Appeal, after its appeals to the Environment Court and High Court had been dismissed.

“We congratulate Federated Farmers on this pragmatic and sensible decision,” said Soil & Health Chair Graham Clarke.

“Both the High Court and Environment Court have ruled that regional councils have jurisdiction under the Resource Management Act (RMA) to regulate the use of GMOs through regional policy statements or plans. The recent RMA amendments further entrench the legal rights of councils to do so. Challenging these decisions would only have cost both us, the other parties involved and Federated Farmers themselves a lot of unnecessary time and money.”

Federated Farmers had argued the Environmental Protection Authority had sole responsibility for the regulation of GMOs under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO).

The Soil & Health Association says the federation’s decision to withdraw its appeal comes after recent amendments were made to the RMA, which confirmed the High Court ruling, leading Federated Farmers to believe that they “are likely to have materially reduced the prospects of the appeal being prosecuted successfully.”

The RMA changes, which passed in April this year via the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, included a controversial section which allows the Minister for the Environment to bypass parliament and make fundamental changes to the law if it is deemed that council plans duplicate or deal with the same subject matter as central Government laws.

This would have allowed the Minister to strip councils of their ability to create GE-free food producing zones.

The National Government at the time needed the Maori Party votes to pass the changes. But the Maori Party stated in December last year that it would not support changes to the RMA if they extended to allowing the Minister to overrule planning provisions controlling the use of GMOs.

Before the final reading of the Bill, an exemption was introduced under section 360D specifically for GE crops, effectively preventing the minister from permitting GMO crops in regions that had elected to remain GMO free or impose controls on the use of GMOs.

“We are so grateful to Maori Party for their determination to ensure that appropriate clauses in the RMA were included to protect regions from uncontrolled GMO use. Had they not stood firm against the changes, then we might not have had this decision from Federated Farmers to withdraw their appeal,” says Soil & Health National Council member Marion Thomson.

“The RMA amendment further confirms the ability of all local councils to determine GMO policies in their regions. Local communities can now have confidence that their values and concerns about the use of GMOs in their regions can be considered when drafting policy statements and plans.”

The economic sustainability of a wide range of agricultural export activities reliant on GMO-free status is also protected by this ruling. The global non-GMO food market is currently valued at US$250 billion, and trends show this is only going to grow. New Zealand producers benefit from access to this huge non-GMO market.

Soil & Health maintains it has found no economic, health or environmental case for GMOs. There are huge uncertainties around the adverse effects of GMOs on natural resources and ecosystems. The risks are large and consequences irreversible.


GM soybean oil causes less obesity and insulin resistance – but harmful to liver function

Researchers have tested a genetically-modified soybean oil used in restaurants and found it induces less obesity and insulin resistance than conventional soybean oil. But its effects on diabetes and fatty liver are similar to those of conventional soybean oil, the major vegetable cooking oil used in the United States, with popularity on the increase worldwide.

Soybean oil is the major vegetable cooking oil used in the United States, and its popularity is on the increase worldwide. Rich in unsaturated fats, especially linoleic acid, soybean oil induces obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, and fatty liver in mice.

University of California Riverside researchers tested Plenish®, a genetically-modified soybean oil released by DuPont in 2014. Plenish is engineered to have low linoleic acid, resulting in an oil similar in composition to olive oil, the basis of the Mediterranean diet and considered to be healthful.

The study, published this week in Nature Scientific Reports, is the first to compare the long-term metabolic effects of conventional soybean oil to those of Plenish.

The study also compares both conventional soybean oil and Plenish to coconut oil, which is rich in saturated fatty acids and causes the least amount of weight gain among all the high-fat diets tested.

“We found all three oils raised the cholesterol levels in the liver and blood, dispelling the popular myth that soybean oil reduces cholesterol levels,” said Frances Sladek, a professor of cell biology, who led the research project.

Next, the researchers compared Plenish to olive oil. Both oils have high oleic acid, a fatty acid believed to reduce blood pressure and help with weight loss.

“In our mouse experiments, olive oil produced essentially identical effects as Plenish — more obesity than coconut oil, although less than conventional soybean oil — and very fatty livers, which was surprising as olive oil is typically considered to be the healthiest of all the vegetable oils,” said Poonamjot Deol, an assistant project scientist working in Sladek’s lab and the co-first author of the research paper.

“Plenish, which has a fatty acid composition similar to olive oil, induced hepatomegaly, or enlarged livers, and liver dysfunction, just like olive oil.”

Sladek explained that some of the negative metabolic effects of animal fat that researchers often see in rodents could actually be due to high levels of linoleic acid, given that most U.S. farm animals are fed soybean meal.

“This could be why our experiments are showing that a high-fat diet enriched in conventional soybean oil has nearly identical effects to a diet based on lard,” she said.

The researchers further speculate that the increased consumption of soybean oil in the US since the 1970s could be a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35 per cent of adults are obese. In some ethnic groups, such as Hispanics and African-Americans, between 42 percent and 48 percent of the population is obese.

Obesity, officially designated by the American Medical Association in 2013 as a disease, is linked to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

“Our findings do not necessarily relate to other soybean products like soy sauce, tofu, or soy milk — products that are largely from the water-soluble compartment of the soybean; oil, on the other hand, is from the fat-soluble compartment,” Sladek said. “More research into the amounts of linoleic acid in these products and others is needed.”

Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid. All humans and animals must obtain it from their diet.

“But just because it is essential does not necessarily mean it is good to have more of it in your diet,” Deol said. “Our bodies need just 1-to-2 percent linoleic acid from our diet, but Americans, on average, have 8-to-10 percent linoleic acid in their diets.”

Deol and Sladek recommend avoiding conventional soybean oil as much as possible.

“This might be difficult as conventional soybean oil is used in most restaurant cooking and found in most processed foods,” Deol said.

One advantage of Plenish is that it generates fewer transfats than conventional soybean oil.

“But with its effects on the liver, Plenish would still not be my first choice of an oil,” Sladek said.

“Indeed, I used to use exclusively olive oil in my home, but now I substitute some of it for coconut oil. Of all the oils we have tested thus far, coconut oil produces the fewest negative metabolic effects, even though it consists nearly entirely of saturated fats. Coconut oil does increase cholesterol levels, but no more than conventional soybean oil or Plenish.”

The researchers have not examined the cardiovascular effects of coconut oil.

“As a result, we do not know if the elevated cholesterol coconut oil induces is detrimental,” Sladek said.

“The take-home message is that it is best not to depend on just one oil source. Different dietary oils have far reaching and complex effects on metabolism that require additional investigation.”

The study builds on an earlier study by the researchers that compared soybean oil to a high fructose diet and found soybean oil causes more obesity and diabetes than coconut oil.

The researchers, who found a positive correlation between oxylipins (oxidised fatty acids) in linoleic acid and obesity, plan to determine whether the oxylipins cause obesity, and, if so, by what mechanism. They will also study the effects of conventional and GM soybean oil on intestinal health.