EFSA rejects France’s move to ban GM

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has said the documentation submitted by the French in support of the country's attempt to ban Monsanto's MON810 genetically modified maize in Europe contains no new information or scientific basis to support such a ban. EFSA said that it concentrated its assessment on aspects specific to MON810 and concluded that there was no scienctific evidence that supported the adoption of an emergency measure on the cultivation of maize MON810 under article 34 of Regulation (EC) 1829/2003. France first put a ban in place in 2008 deeming the maize “a serious risk to the environment” - despite several EFSA scientific opinions touting the safety of MON810, their stance hasn’t changed.

Statins saga reveals failure of evidence-based medicine

Jerome Burne has skillfully highlighted the elephant in the room, as the pitched battle over statins concludes in favour of the statin critics: Evidence-based medicine has failed to deliver vital information needed by patients to make properly informed choices.

‘Statin advocate’ Sir Rory Collins had demanded the retraction of two papers in the British Medical Journal, which challenged his claims that “statins were effective in healthy patients and caused very few side effects”, and claimed “questioning his results from randomised controlled trials was killing people by stopping them taking the drugs”. But the authors of the papers, Dr Aseem Malhotra and Dr John Abramson, were concerned that “his conclusions were based on placebo controlled trials of the drugs run by the drugs companies that kept the data they had collected hidden”. Following an investigation into the matter, a report released on the 2nd August “makes several low key but sharp criticisms of the way Sir Rory has been dealing with his data”

The Cholesterol Treatment Trialists (CTT) research centre in Oxford, headed by Collins, “holds the biggest collection of statin data in the world, but no one outside the organisation has been able to study it for 20 years”. The new report made it clear “this was no longer acceptable”, and that this “may contribute to uncertainty about the risks and benefits’ of the drugs”. Touché, Sir Rory Collins!

See also Jerome Burne’s “Why evidence based medicine needs a major upgrade”.

Modified protein to replace fat in food

Scientists have made a modified protein that they claim can mimic the behaviour of fat during the manufacturing of food. They believe that substituting the fat with this protein could help cut calories in food products and help bring a wider variety of low-fat foods to market without compromising either texture or taste. The research so far has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and will now be taken forward by commercial partner, Nandi Proteins. A Dutch company has already licensed it for ice-cream and yoghurts, and Nandi is working with a UK company that is using it in cakes. Dr Lydia Campbell, Chief technology officer at Nandi Proteins, believes that products will be on shelves within 18 months. We have grave concerns about this kind of technological modification of the diet, especially given the rapidly accumulating evidence about the importance of fats (both unsaturated and saturated) for our long-term health.

Poland in trouble over fracking

The European Commission is starting legal proceedings over Poland’s infringement of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive with regards to fracking. In June Brussels warned Poland that is was opening a case after it amended its national laws to allow shale drills at depths of up to 5,000 metres without first having assessed the potential environmental impacts, but Poland has made no changes. Warsaw now has to satisfy the Commission’s concerns by the end of August if a trip to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is to be avoided, and potential fines of a possible €42,000 a day. Joe Hennon, a spokesman for the environment commissioner, Janez Poto?nik, told EurActiv, “studies indicate that this technology creates high risks of groundwater and surface water contamination, as well as risks to air quality and biodiversity… governments planning shale drills needed first to address these essential and relevant criteria under EU law.”  

More TTIP transparency demanded by EU Ombudsman

The European Ombudsman, whose role is to investigate complaints against EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, has "opened two investigations into the EU Council and Commission over lack of transparency around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership" (TTIP). The European Commission (EC) has insisted that the controversial trade talks are the most open ever held (which by the standards of this unelected body, isn’t saying much), and there is actually next to no information given away in what has been published so far. The talks have been highly criticised by MEPs, pressure groups, unions and organisations including ANH-Intl.

The EU Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly is taking this action due to “the significant public interest and the potential impact of TTIP on the lives of citizens", and she “called on both Council and Commission to publish EU negotiating directives related to the EU-US trade deal, and take measures to ensure timely public access to TTIP documents, and stakeholder meetings”. She explained that concerned organisations were accusing negotiators of keeping important documents secret, of delays, and of granting “privileged access to TTIP documents to certain stakeholders” (i.e. big business and corporate lobbyists).

US nurses take a stand against mandatory vaccination

The Nurses Against Mandatory Vaccines (NAMV) is an American organisation set up in response to the mandates across the US for nurses and all healthcare personnel to receive flu shots or else lose their jobs. They found out that rather than forcing these vaccinations as a massive wellness measure, hospitals are being balldozed into it with the threat of losing up to 2% of their funding from Medicare/Medicaid if their flu shot rate among staff drops below 90%.  For those across the pond, this is a worthy organisation to support as flu vaccines are not an effective way to eradicate the disease and this move is a violation of human rights. Thankfully some places offer a face mask as an option for those not wanting to have the injection — but with this comes harassment and ridicule from fellow colleagues who disagree with the decision. In other cases caring and talented nurses are losing their jobs, and therefore their faith in their chosen profession. Anyone wanting to support the cause can take the NAMV’s advise and write to their representatives!

Brazilian farmers not happy with GM corn results

Farmers in Brazil are calling for a reimbursement after caterpillar pests (notably the corn leafworm, Spodoptera frugiperda) have developed resistance to BT corn. The insect pests are supposed to die after eating GM corn, but farmers are now forced to spray up to 3 rounds of insecticides per crop cycle to try to ward them off. The farmers are apparently demanding compensation for the cost of the spraying from 4 BT corn seed suppliers, namely Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer and Dow Agrosciences.

But the GM seed suppliers are blaming the farmers saying they warned them about planting only part of their corn fields. Ricardo Tomczyk, president of Aprosoja farm lobby in Mato Grosso state, says the companies did not give clear instructions. He added, "There are barely any non-GMO seeds available ... it is very uncomfortable that the companies are blaming the farmers."

Monsanto’s climate change inputs and stealth marketing

Last week, a division of Monsanto participated as "part of the focus of a roundtable discussion…. in Washington DC, part of the White House Climate Data Initiative". According to Monsanto's own blog, their collaborative efforts “will contribute to broader understandings and better inform decisions on investments and actions that will be required for the world’s food systems to be more resilient to climate change”. According to AG Professional, President Obama’s science advisor said: “Through his Climate Data Initiative, President Obama is calling for all hands on deck to unleash data and technology in ways that will make businesses and communities more resilient to climate change”. Monsanto is reported to have said they are committed to “sustainable food production”, so are we to assume by that that their innovative solutions won’t be including GMOs? We think not.

In the meantime, it seems Monsanto is increasingly marketing by stealth, reportedly influencing ‘mommy bloggers’ who can then shape public opinion on webpages, social media and Twitter feeds. We are informed that bloggers are being paid $150 to attend “an intimate and interactive panel” and three-hour brunch, and is inviting bloggers to tour Monsanto’s fields and research labs.

Criminal complaint over Gardasil / Pandemrix paper retraction

It’s been recently reported that a criminal complaint has been filed against the makers of Gardasil (cervical cancer vaccine) — Merck-Sanofi Pasteur Laboratories, as well as against Spanish National Health authority and regional health authorities of the La Rioja province. The complaint has been filed on behalf of a Spanish girl and her mother, for “injuries and disabilities” suffered by the girl “after the administration of Gardasil”, the controversial vaccine being marketed widely as ‘protection’ against cancers arising as a result of certain forms of Human Papilloma virus. Among the complaints, Merck-Sanofi Pasteur Laboratories is accused of “manipulating data and marketing Gardasil under false pretences”, while national and local health authorities “showed an absolute disregard for the health and well-being of young Spanish girls”. The complaint is reported to have added “when adverse reactions did occur, those who experienced them were treated with contempt leaving them in a state of helplessness”.

In other vaccine news, the authors of a US paper, which offered an explanation for the link between GlaxoSmithKline’s Pandemrix (Swine) flu vaccine and the sleepiness disorder narcolepsy, have retracted the article. The original research was published in Science Translational Medicine, in December 2013, but, according to the Nature News Blog, the authors “have been unable to repeat a key finding”. However a spokesperson for GlaxoSmithKline is reported to have said: “We continue to believe that the original scientific hypothesis remains a valid one that needs to be further explored”. 


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