Genetically Engineered Animals: From Lab to Factory Farm

Friends of the Earth – Nov 13, 2019

This report, provides a scientific overview of the concerns with genetically engineered food animal experiments that are underway, and reveals the risks to human health, the environment and animal welfare. It sheds light on the unintended consequences of genetic engineering techniques known as gene editing, and considers the implications for U.S. regulations. The report also highlights the gaps in what scientists know about the effects of editing DNA to confer certain desirable traits.

The report summarizes peer-reviewed research on genetically engineered animals in development, including super-muscly pigs, hornless cows and disease resistant chickens and pigs. Studies show that, far from being “precise,” gene editing can cause genetic errors, even if only a genetic “tweak” is intended. Genetic errors can lead to unexpected effects in gene-edited animals, such as enlarged tongues in rabbits and extra vertebrae in pigs. Studies also suggest that common gene editing traits, such as hornless cows and disease resistance, will perpetuate the poor animal management, such as crowding, often found in animal factory farming. Rather than creating genetically engineered animals to fit into factory farming systems, the report recommends it is critical to develop sustainable and ecological animal agriculture systems that support preservation and restoration of biodiversity, public health and animal welfare. 

The report was co-authored by Dana Perls, senior food and technology campaigner, Friends of the Earth and Dr. Janet Cotter, Logos Environmental.

Press release
Full report
Executive summary
Op-ed

Key Findings:
  • Studies show that, far from being “precise,” gene editing can cause genetic errors, even if only a genetic “tweak” is intended. Genes can be changed at additional locations and gene editing can interfere with gene regulation.
  • Common gene editing traits, such as hornless cows and disease resistance, will perpetuate the poor animal management, such as crowding, often found in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). This will magnify the current ethical, health and welfare concerns for animals housed in CAFOs.
  • Genetic engineering of animals often involves cloning, which leads to birth defects, spontaneous abortions and early postnatal death. Genetic errors can lead to unexpected effects in gene-edited animals, such as enlarged tongues in rabbits and extra vertebrae in pigs. These raise concerns for animal health, welfare and consumer safety.
  • Unexpected effects include the production of abnormal proteins in gene-edited animals. Allergens are proteins, so abnormal proteins could create new food allergies and have significant implications for food safety.
  • There are significant gaps in research about how genetic errors at the cellular level manifest as unexpected effects and how these unexpected effects may impact the animal’s health, interact with complex environmental factors and affect food safety.
  • Although still at the hypothetical stage, gene drive systems could drive a specific trait through a herd or population of farm animals and could accidentally spread to the natural population, potentially affecting biodiversity and even an entire ecosystem.
Recommendations:
  • Rather than creating genetically engineered animals to fit into factory farming systems, it is critical to develop sustainable and ecological animal agriculture systems that support animal welfare, preservation and restoration of biodiversity and public health. 
  • All genetic engineering techniques should fall within the scope of government regulatory oversight of genetic engineering, including gene editing, using the Precautionary Principle to protect human health and the environment.
  • Oversight and regulations for GMOs, including gene-edited animals, should include independent assessment for environmental and food safety and long-term impacts before entering the market or environment. Products of all genetic engineering should be traceable and clearly labeled as GMOs.

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Gut microbiota linked to obesity and mental disorders, 5-year ‘MyNewGut’ project finds

Natural Products – Nov 14, 2019 – Jim Manson

After five years of investigation, the EU project ‘MyNewGut’ – made up of thirty organisations from 15 countries – has released its scientific results on the role played by the gut microbiota on physical and mental health.

On of the group’s key findings is that Western diets rich  rich in saturated fat result not only in obesity, but also in depression-like behaviour. Consequently, the MyNewGut partners says that people with depression or vulnerability to depression should be encouraged to eat plant-based diets with higher levels of grains, fibres and fish. 

The research findings were presented during a project-concluding  conference last month, and is likely play a key role in the future development of more effective interventions targeting the gut — fighting obesity, metabolic syndrome, and behavioural disorders, like eating and emotional disorders.

Key findings include:

  • Bacterial strains in our gut could be the next generation of probiotics
  • Consuming an excess of proteins generates some toxic metabolites
  • Diets rich in fibres are associated with fewer symptoms of depression, help to maintain body weight and reduce the risk of developing chronic metabolic diseases
  • A high fat diet may have a negative impact on the gut microbiota and the brain
  • The gut microbiota influences metabolic health

New gut bacteria may help fight obesity and mental disorders
The MyNewGut project has discovered new bacterial species and strains in healthy people that seem to be effective against obesity, metabolic and mental disorders related to stress and obesity (for example, depression). They do so by influencing the endocrine and immune pathways that have an impact on both our physical and mental health.

The bacterial strain ‘Bacteroides uniformis CECT 7771’ has shown pre-clinical efficacy on metabolic and immune dysfunctions in obesity, for example reducing serum triglyceride levels, glucose intolerance and body weight gain as well as inflammation.

Bifidobacterium pseudocatenulatum CECT 7765 was shown to reduce depressive-like behaviour associated with obesity in pre-clinical trials. A Bifidobacterium longum strain has been demonstrated to have a positive impact on perceived stress, sleep quality and cortisol release in a double-blinded placebo-controlled intervention trial in humans.

These strains could potentially be next generation probiotics that could in the future be used to help tackle obesity and depression.

How diet has an influence on the gut microbiota
Diet appears to be a major factor that influences the composition of the human gut microbiota. MyNewGut experts have conducted several human intervention trials to investigate dietary health effects potentially mediated by the microbiota and they are publishing a range of position papers that will show evidence on how we could inform future dietary recommendations.

MyNewGut partners looked specifically into the role played by proteins, fats and fibres on the gut microbiota. They found that high intake of proteins or a high fat diet may harm the gut microbiota.

They also discovered that high protein consumption, which increases protein fermentation in the large intestine, generates some of the toxic metabolites (products of metabolism) linked to diseases such as colorectal cancer.

A high fat diet, especially when rich in saturated fatty acids may have negative effects on the gut microbiota, characterised by a lower number of microbes and a lower variety of microbial species. High-fat diets rich in omega 3 or omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids do not seem to negatively affect the microbiota, whereas the effects of monounsaturated fatty acids are less consistent.

High fat diets are associated with depression
Studies of the MyNewGut partners showed that Western diets rich in saturated fat resulted not only in obesity, but also in depression-like behaviour. The depression-like behaviour associated with diet-induced obesity depended on the gut microbiome, because the effects were blunted by antibiotic-treatment. In high-fat diet fed mice, using the same mouse model, MyNewGut also reported that a bacterial strain (Bifidobacterium pseudocatenulatum CECT 7765) reduces depressive-like behaviour associated with obesity, acting through the gut-brain axis. The teams stress that results are only a starting point, and new research would have to confirm the findings in humans.

The role of the gut in metabolic health
Studies in animal models conducted by project partners have revealed new mechanisms whereby the microbiota could impact metabolic health.

Here, MyNewGut partners showed that peptidase activity (DPPIV) responsible for the degradation of enteroendocrine hormones produced in the gut, which regulate appetite and glucose homeostasis (like glucagon-like peptide I [GLP-I]), are of bacterial origin.

This means that the presence of specific bacteria producing these new enzymes can adversely influence appetite, food intake and body weight gain.

Gut microbiota: we are all different
The MyNewGut project has also explored innovative interventions, including Faecal Microbiota Transplants (FMT) for restoring dysbiosis-associated disorders. In FMT, the microbiota of a healthy donor is transferred to an individual suffering from some form of dysbiosis.

In MyNewGut studies, the donor’s microbiota was transferred to human subjects with metabolic syndrome. In these studies, the responsiveness to treatment depended on the individual’s gut microbiota profile, suggesting a need for personalised intervention strategies.

This study demonstrates that the individual’s microbiota directly impacts neural systems that could mediate the impact of food intake on metabolic health.

The impact of early life microbial imbalance on health
MyNewGut partners investigated whether effects of environmental factors in early life and childhood also impact health outcomes in later stages of life in humans. For example, they conducted a longitudinal study in children to determine the role of the microbiota, the lifestyle (diet, exercise, etc.) and other individual factors (immune and metabolic profile) in the development of overweight.

The study revealed that specific microbiota configurations were indeed correlated to inflammatory markers and dietary patterns, and subsequently to the development of obesity.

MyNewGut has also discovered that dietary changes which favourably influence the microbiota may have a higher and longer-lasting effect during stages of development, and this emphasises the importance of diet during early life for long-term health in adulthood.

SOURCE

Canadian Lawyers Launch $500M Class-Action Lawsuit against Roundup Makers

CBC – Nov 22 2019

Diamond & Diamond, a national personal injury law firm in Canada, is spearheading a $500 million class-action lawsuit against various Roundup makers, including pharmaceutical company Bayer, the owner of Roundup maker Monsanto, CBC reported Thursday.

Bottles of Monsanto Co. Roundup brand herbicide products are arranged for a photograph in Shelbyville, Kentucky, U.S., on Monday, April 4, 2016. Monsanto is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 6. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Source: CBC.ca

Roundup is a weedkiller that contains glyphosate, a herbicide chemical often used by homeowners to treat their lawns.

There have been many lawsuits filed across North America alleging that glyphosate can cause health problems including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.

In the United States alone, there have been about 42,000 lawsuits filed against the makers of Roundup.

Diamond & Diamond is calling this Canada’s largest class-action lawsuit against Roundup makers. There are currently more than 60 individuals named as plaintiffs, but the firm said they believe thousands may have been affected.

This year, there have already been lawsuits against Roundup manufacturers filed in B.C., Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This one would be the first class action in Canada and follows the likes of class-action lawsuits filed in the U.S.

Darryl Singer, the head of commercial and civil litigation at Diamond & Diamond, said the plaintiffs involved in this class-action lawsuit are looking not only for financial compensation, but also what he calls “behaviour modification” so that the same thing doesn’t happen again in the future with other products in Canada.

“If there’s not these lawsuits that force companies like Monsanto to write these big cheques, they have no incentive to change the way they do business,” Singer said.

Singer said the plaintiffs have also been diagnosed with other forms of cancer, like brain and lung cancer, and some of his clients are acting on behalf of an estate. 

“These are not minor injuries,” he said. “Of the [plaintiffs] that are living, some of them are not likely to see the end of this lawsuit because they will pass away before that.”

Bayer Canada said it will “vigorously defend” its products, according to a statement the company provided to CBC News.

“While we have great sympathy for the plaintiffs, glyphosate-based herbicides are not the cause of their illnesses,” the statement said.

“Glyphosate has been extensively studied globally by scientists and regulators, and results from this research confirm it is not carcinogenic. We firmly stand behind the safety of glyphosate-based products and as a company devoted to life sciences, assure Canadians that their health and the environment are our top priority.”

Source: CBC.ca

Corporate Control

CBAN – May 2019 – Bayer – an introductory flyer

The markets for genetically engineered (also called genetically modified or GM) crops are dominated by four seed and agrochemical companies. The high level of corporate concentration in the seed market has already meant higher prices, limited choices for farmers, a narrowing of genetic diversity in crops, and stagnating innovation.

Corporate Mergers

Between 2017 and 2018, a series of mergers took place between the largest seed and agrochemical companies in the world:

  • Dow and DuPont merged to form a new company called DowDuPont and its agricultural division is called Corteva Agriscience. Corteva is expected to become a stand-alone company in 2019.
  • China National Chemical Corporation (ChemChina) bought Syngenta. Syngenta now exists as a subsidiary of ChemChina.
  • Bayer acquired Monsanto for US$63-billion. Monsanto’s name was dropped, and the joint company is now called Bayer.

More mergers and changes continue. For example, the Chinese chemical company SinoChem is expected to acquire ChemChina, to create the world’s largest chemical company.

Canada and other governments had to approve the mergers before they were finalized:

Corporate Concentration

The markets for genetically engineered (also called genetically modified or GM) crops are dominated by four giant seed and agrochemical companies. Before Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018, Monsanto was the world’s largest seed and biotechnology company, and Bayer was the world’s second-largest agrochemical company. Four companies now control 67% of the global seed market and 70% of the global pesticide market.

  • The two largest seed companies, Bayer and Corteva (DowDuPont), now control 54% of the global commercial seed market.
  • The two largest agrochemical companies, Bayer and Syngenta, now control 47% of the global agrochemical market.
  • Bayer, after buying Monsanto, owns 33% of the seed market and 23% of the agrochemical market.
  • ChemChina-Syngenta now owns the largest market share of agrochemicals at 23.5%.
  • DowDuPont’s new agricultural division, Corteva Agriscience, owns 21.3% of the global seed market and 11.3% of the agrochemical market.
  • BASF now owns 12.4% of the agrochemical market, after buying assets from Bayer that Bayer was required to divest in order to purchase Monsanto. BASF now owns Bayer’s glufosinate-ammonium herbicide (brand name “Liberty”) products and the GM “Liberty Link” seeds that are tolerant to it.
  • The company FMC now owns 4.6% of the agrochemical market, after buying the pesticide assets DuPont had to sell in order to get regulatory approval from the European Union for its merger with Dow.

These companies control most of the genetic engineered seeds planted in Canada and around the world:

Of the 33 GM herbicide-tolerant crops approved for growing in Canada that could be on the market (there is no government tracking of plantings): 22 are owned by Bayer, 6 by Corteva (DowDuPont), and 3 by Syngenta (ChemChina).

In 2007, before the new mergers, the six largest seed and agrochemical companies (Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, Dow, Monsanto, and DuPont) accounted for over 98% of all GE crop acres in the world. Monsanto’s GE traits were approximately 85% of the total GE acreage.

Between 1996, when the first GE seeds were introduced, and 2011, the market share of the world’s three largest seed companies more than doubled, from 22% to 53%. The share of the top three agrochemical companies grew from 33% to 52.5% in the same period.

Several of these companies also regularly “cross-license” or share their patented traits with each other, reinforcing their market power. About half of all commercial GM seeds with stacked traits are the result of cross-licensing between companies.

Source: ETC Group

SOURCE

Bee population recovering due to regenerative farming, producers say

Global News – Aug 14, 2019 – Nathaniel Dove

Paul Kernaleguen says regenerative agriculture has brought bees back to his farm.“With the flowering species [of plants] we have now, you definitely see more,” he said.

Bee population recovering due to regenerative farming, producers say

He’s referring to the mixture of plants in his fields, near Birch Hills, Sask. Along with his partner, Erin Dancey, he now grows flowers like red clover, phacelia and sunflowers, along with barley, oats and peas they grow to feed their dairy cattle.

Dancey and Kernaleguen manage their fields with regenerative agriculture. They said the practice has brought greater profits, efficiency and a higher bee population.

Regenerative agriculture, says Cover Crops Canada spokesperson Kevin Elmy, is designed to replenish “the biology in our soils.”

“We’ve mined our soils and our soil is going in the wrong direction,” he said.

Elmy says the mixture of different crops, which bloom at different times and grow at different rates, replenishes the nutrients and bacteria necessary for the soil to be fertile. And he says that the flowers have encouraged the bees to repopulate.

Kernaleguen said there were lots of bees when he was growing up before they all but disappeared around 10 years ago.“It’s encouraging,” he said. “It kind of lets you know [the bees are] happy with what you got and you’re helping out the ecosystem.

Kernaleguen didn’t switch to regenerative agriculture because he wanted more bees. He did it because, six years ago, he was worried about feeding his cattle.

“We were in some wet years, Kernaleguen said. “What we were growing — barley and oats — kept drowning. [So we] got the idea to try something else.”

He attributes the better water management in the soil now to having more active root systems in the soil, and having cover crops — like alfalfa or clover — that are grown for the enrichment of the soil.

Some cover crops are grown all year.

Dancey, who moved to the farm three years ago, says that mixing the crops in the field has allowed them to harvest the mixed rations they need to feed their cattle. She estimates it now “takes probably a third of the time to get the feed in front of the cows.”

She says the new method has also made the farm more money.

“When you get higher quality feed to the animal then that obviously comes through in the milk side of it,” she said.“We feel our cows are healthier [and that] they breed back better,” Kernaleguen said.

“They produce a lot more butterfat, butter protein and milk protein.”

He said that the cows now produce fewer litres of milk, but that the farm is making more money because Canadian dairy farms are paid for the kilograms of butterfat that they harvest.

He also said producing less milk has been better for the livestock.

“We don’t feel like we’re red-lining them like we used to. We used to push a lot more litres of milk per animal,” he said.“The cows are stronger [and] healthier.”

The new farming system, and increased number of bees, has attracted the attention of General Mills, the maker of Cheerios and Lucky Charms.“This is all-important to rebuild [the] soil health from areas where we source the ingredients,” said Jim Eckberg, a General Mills research agronomist. He said that GM is interested in the regenerative agriculture that Dancey, Kernaleguen and Elmy are using to improve the sustainability in their supply chain.

“Ultimately, to move into the 21st century, to be able to cope with the big challenges we have we need a healthier soil base,” he said, referring to soil depletion and sustainability.

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Food Rescue (Ottawa) Nourish Your Community

FOODRESCUE.CA – Nov 18, 2019

FoodRescue.ca is your neighbourhood connection
for any food business to donate any type of unsold, good food to any organization that feeds people in need.

SMART. SIMPLE. LOCAL.

Not-for-profit organizations can rescue nutritious food directly from local donors.

If you’re a food business with excess food, use our free tool to donate food safely and easily.

We can all learn a few simple ideas to use food more wisely at home.

A NEW WAY TO DONATE EXCESS FOOD.

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