Archive for the ‘Genetic modification’ Category

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.

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Jo Goodhew bows out by calling for GM policy to be based on proven science

Retiring National MP Jo Goodhew began her valedictory speech by addressing “the many peoples, all voices, all mountains, all rivers” whom she thanked for coming to support her.

This injection of animist sentiments belied the tribute she played to science.

She recalled her ministerial involvement in the food safety scare in 2014 sparked by a threat to contaminate infant and other formulas with 1080 and in a scare at Christmas 2015 caused by the contamination of imported frozen berries with hepatitis.

Almost every single one of those frozen products was already labelled with its country of origin. It is not so long ago that New Zealand apples were also contaminated by a worker with hepatitis A.

So the answer is health and food safety officials working closely to identify and trace food-borne illnesses fast. Excellent traceability systems on the part of producers are essential and COOLs are only a marketing tool that works when the origin has a great reputation, which is exactly what New Zealand has.

Ms Goodhew also recalled her work on developing the National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry which she said will significantly reduce the numbers of consents required each year.

And she took pride in the Government’s work in tackling allocation, reliability of supply, measuring quality, cleaning up poor-quality fresh water, requiring stock exclusion from waterways, and mapping a path to restore degraded waterways.

But most significantly, she said

“It is high time New Zealanders woke up to the importance of genetically modified organisms and our future in the fields of health, plant, and animal genetics, and, through that, environmental protection.

“Gene editing can help us cure cancers, eradicate wilding pines as well as four-legged pests, develop grasses that assist us to reduce methane emissions, and so much more.

“The debate has to be less about fear of the unknown, and more about safe and proven science.”

Ms Goodhew was first elected to Parliament as MP for Aoraki in 2005 and was elected as MP for Rangitata in 2008, 2011 and 2014.

ArborGen rebuts lobby group’s claims and denies doing research into GE trees in NZ

A GE Free NZ press statement released earlier today was promptly challenged by ArborGen, a company involved in global forestry genetics.

ArborGen says (HERE) the GE Free NZ statement “makes a number of statements that are factually incorrect with regard to ArborGen and its business” and:

“ArborGen does not undertake any research into GE trees in New Zealand. It does not grow GE trees at Te Teko or any of its other New Zealand nurseries. Any research that ArborGen does on GE trees outside New Zealand strictly follows all legal requirements of the particular jurisdiction.”

The statement which provoked this response (HERE) said genetically engineered (GE) tree plantations are a direct threat to the environment, ecosystems, and biodiversity of ecological systems.

GE Free NZ was commenting on the buy out of ArborGen by New Zealand-owned Rubicon (HERE).

It contended this deal “ties New Zealand even more deeply into the biotech tree industry pushing a dangerous and unsustainable programme involving millions of GE trees.”

It further said recent serious biosecurity breaches highlight the fact that the Ministry for Primary Industries is monitoring from its desks and allowing importers and businesses to regulate their own businesses.

“The outcomes of this approach threaten the environment and economy.”

The statement insisted the Environment Protection Agency must demand that all GE tree trials – regardless of whether they are private or public – are transparent, accountable, controlled and contained.

The EPA was urged to immediately enforce controls to ensure secure containment, monitoring, inspection and comprehensive annual reporting at the ArborGen site.

Changes to resource legislation protects crops in GE-free zones

GM-hostile lobby groups have welcomed changes to the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill’s provisions on genetic engineering but are disappointed they do not go further.

The controversial Bill passed the committee stage in Parliament earlier this week and is expected to have its third and final reading today.

One controversial section that has not been removed from the final version of the Bill allows the Minister for the Environment to bypass Parliament and make fundamental changes to the law if he believes council plans duplicate or deal with the same subject matter as central Government laws.  But an exemption – secured by the Maori Party in exchange for its support in having the Bill enacted – prevents the minister from imposing GM crops on regions that want their territories to remain GM Free.

The Soil & Health Association was pleased with some of the changes regarding genetic engineering, but said they did not go far enough.

It is pleased that the Maori Party stood strong on its commitment to oppose changes that would have allowed the Minister to strike out GE-free zones.

Soil & Health chair Marion Thomson said the exemption means the Minister cannot strike out GE-free zones where crops are involved,

“The word ‘crop’ has a wide definition and we understand that the Maori Party secured the amendment on the basis that the term also covers grasses and forestry, while the term ‘growing’ could also cover field trials and releases,” says Thomson.

But the exemption does not apply to animals. This means the Minister could override local authorities on any decisions about GE animals if he chose to.

“Ultimately we are happy with this result, while animals are not covered, GM grasses, forestry, field trials and releases are,” Thomson says.

Earlier in the week, as the Bill was set to enter the committee stage, GE Free New Zealand said that stage was the last opportunity to make changes to the Bill.

“GE Free New Zealand urges that all clauses in the RLA taking away the communities’ democratic right to adopt precautionary land use rules around GMOs be dropped from this seriously flawed and inconsistent legislation,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE-Free NZ.

GE Free Northland today said Whangarei, Far North, and Auckland communities were delighted that the Maori Party had successfully blocked the Government’s attempt to enable the Minister for the Environment to use the RMA to destroy GE Free zones.

“Our councils need to retain their authority and jurisdiction on a wide range of issues, including the right to ban or control any outdoor experimentation or release of transgenic animals,” said GE Free Northland chairperson Zelka Grammer.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill reforms six pieces of legislation including the Resource Management Act.

The bill was stalled for much of year because the Government had lost its parliamentary majority in the Northland by-election in March 2015, making it dependent on two votes from its three support partners, Act, United Future and the Maori Party, to pass legislation.

Act and United Future opposed key parts of the reforms, but the Maori Party used its votes to negotiate enhanced iwi participation arrangements in planning processes and the GM-free crop protection.

Environmentalists critical of Nick Smith over GM policy

Former Green Party MP Steffan Browning has accused Environment Minister Nick Smith of wanting to bully the country into accepting GE plants into New Zealand “using bad law, unproven claims about productivity, and emotional spin on cancer treatment research.”

Browning (see HERE) was prompted to blog on the subject after TVNZ’s Sunday program reported the growers of organic apples and poultry producers were increasingly unhappy with Smith’s GE stance.

He contended:

Smith has been using unproven science on GE rye grass, and misleading claims about GE vaccine research to bolster his argument for radical new ministerial powers. The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, currently in front of Parliament would allow Minister Smith to override Councils who choose to declare GE-free zones for their community’s environmental and economic wellbeing.

AgResearch’s genetically engineered (GE) forages (including ryegrass) program has already wasted millions of taxpayers’ money. If the grass was released into the environment, there’s a strong chance it would wreck New Zealand’s competitive GE Free advantage; and certainly reduce the billions of dollars of export potential in organic conversions. The supposed productivity boost of GE rye grass is not just unproven, but part of a succession of failed research targets and timelines over the last 20 years.

The Soil and Health Association last week expressed concerns too (see HERE)..

The Government seems hell-bent on denying the rights of communities to have GE-free zones, which are under threat from a ‘dictator clause’, says the Soil & Health Association.

“We are continuing to stand by all the communities around New Zealand who, quite rightly, want to have control over what happens with GMOs in their regions,” said Marion Thomson, chair of Soil & Health.

The previous day Parliament had heard the second reading of the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, which contains proposals that would allow the Minister for the Environment  to strip councils of their ability to create GE-Free food producing zones.

Experts discuss what must be done to meet Predator Free NZ pest target

The Science Media Centre has mustered a raft of experts to comment on  the Government’s announcement six months ago that it would aim for a Predator Free New Zealand by 2050.

The experts were asked about the tools needed to pull off the plan and what the hurdles to success might be.

Genetic modification is among the technologies brought into considerations.

The Science Media Centre has just published the questions to and responses from

– Professor Neil Gemmell, University of Otago;

– Assistant Professor Kevin Esvelt, MIT;

– Dr James Russell, University of Auckland;

– Dr Andrea Byrom, Director, Biological Heritage National Science Challenge<;

– Professor Carolyn King, University of Waikato;

– Professor Charles Daugherty, Victoria University of Wellington;

– Professor Phil Seddon, University of Otago.

Dr James Russell, a conservation biologist, said eradicating the eight targeted mammals would not only benefit native species but also would extend to primary industries – where invasive pests are vectors of disease – as well as offer boosts to tourism and public health.

Generally, the economic benefits of eradicating these eight species were predicted to outweigh the costs, “especially when you consider that we already invest millions every year in their control just to stay in a ‘holding pattern’.”

Professor Neil Gemmell, Professor of Reproduction and Genomics, said he suspected genetic technologies would be the key to developing pest control that is species-specific, works at a large scale, and is cheap and persistent.

“Prior work surveying people’s view on issues such as possum control suggests that there is more public support for tools that might impair an animal’s fertility compared with any other form of manipulation or control measure that may cause the animal harm and suffering.”

Professor Phil Seddon, Director of the University of Otago’s Wildlife Management Programme, similarly said:

“I think the general public might be more accepting of GMOs for conservation than some people think – we need to give an informed public a chance to consider the issue.”

The questions to and answers from each of the experts can be found here.

Call for risk assessment methods around GM crops and herbicides to be revisited

Professor Jack Heinemann, writing at Guest Work, draws attention to new studies published by Nature’s journal, Scientific Reports, which question the basis of how to determine the safety of products used in agriculture and at home.

Guest Work is the Sciblogs guest blog which runs submissions from a wide range of contributors.

Professor Heinemann is a lecturer in genetics at the University of Canterbury.

The first of the featured reports to which he draws attention is on the application of ‘omics’ techniques to a long familiar GM maize line called NK603.

The second is on the application of omics to rats that eat Roundup, one of the glyphosate-based herbicides used on NK603.

Professor Heinemann addresses concerns about glyphosate-based herbicides and the typical counter to these with threats that their elimination would cause greater use of more toxic alternatives.

This threat rings hollow, both because excessive use is leading to resistant weeds that is already driving farmers to use other herbicides, and because it is a false choice.

Let’s not swap glyphosate-based herbicides for those that have different toxic effects, he argues. Rather, let’s use science to reduce the use of herbicides and the products of technology that are dependent upon them.