Tuesday, December 22, 2015

GMO DNA in our Blood

Some of you may know that I was recently given notice of my laid off due to a corporate re-org. Luckily, I've had a few good leads and will hopefully start working soon after my last day at my current job. But, needless to say, I find myself with more time on my hands than usual. I've been trying to make the most of it, so you may see an uptick in my number of blog posts and infographics. I also started a Facebook page, which I encourage you to go "Like" and share. I also have a few pieces of brain-candy waiting to be read of the non-science variety. So much to do, so little time!!

This is a cross post from my Facebook page, which I'm broadening here to include links and more information. 

Every few months, anti-GMO websites will publish a meme about the latest paper that has "detected GMO DNA in (insert an organism or fluid that will cause alarm here)". Yes, DNA from GMOs has been detected in goats, humans, blood, organs, colostrum, you name it. But that's not the whole story.

Our DNA is packed away very neatly in the nucleus of our cells and is the "code of life". This cellular DNA is the blueprint for the proteins that are the building blocks of our cells. This is the DNA that gets replicated when our cells divide and is the DNA that gets inherited.

In our blood vessels, there's another type of DNA known as cell-free DNA (cfDNA). It's found in the plasma or the space between cells. It is made up of our DNA from cells that have died, but also foreign DNA including DNA of viruses and bacteria. In pregnant women, there's DNA from cells of the fetus, and this is the material that is used as the basis for non-invasive prenatal screens which allow to test the fetus for Trisomy-21 and other genomic conditions. Finally, there's DNA from the cells of food we've digested. Cell-free DNA is thought to be very short and degraded.

When a GMO feeding test is carried out, it is not uncommon to check to see if the animals fed GMOs have segments of DNA from the food in their blood/tissues. The standard test that is used (PCR) does not distinguish between cellular DNA and cfDNA. This is because the PCR assay requires that you know what to test for, so we can only test whether the transgene is present or not in our sample, whether it's in cellular DNA or cfDNA. To determine if it's integrated into the cell's DNA (i.e horizontal gene transfer), you'd have to know where it's integrated into the genome in the cell's DNA and design the assay with that information in hand. The other option is to look at all the DNA in the cell (i.e. sequence the entire genome) and look to see if DNA from our food has integrated into our genomes.

To date, there's no evidence suggested that DNA from our food gets integrated into cellular DNA. If DNA from our food did integrate into our DNA, then we should see these random DNA snippets in our DNA. However, in the thousands of human genomes that have been sequenced to date, this has never been observed. In the thousands of genomes that we've sequenced, from humans and other species, we have observed that DNA from other species get integrated into cellular DNA (horizontal gene transfer), but it is usually done by a virus or other microorganism. This article outlines how the sweet potato is a "natural GMO" because thousands of years ago, DNA got integrated into its genome using the same method that scientists use today to make GMOs. 

The fact of the matter is that, from a biochemical perspective, DNA from GMOs is identical to DNA from any other organism. It's not toxic, it's not different, it's made up of the same A, T, C, and G, as anything else. Our bodies cannot tell them apart. So DNA from our food has been floating in our plasma since we became a species and ate whatever plants and animals existed back then. I can say with quite a bit of certainty that there is DNA from tangerines currently floating in my bloodstream. I think I've eaten about 5 today.

When the spouse read this post, he commented that "eating Yoda wouldn't increase your midichlorian count and make you a Jedi". I think a more apt analogy is "eating plants and veggies doesn't make you an Ent". 

If you want to learn more about GMO DNA and some of the papers I've reviewed/rebutted on the topic, please see here and here

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Why aren't GMOs tested on humans?

How much corn is enough corn for a feeding study?
From Wikimedia
A very common question or criticism of GMOs is that they are not properly tested, particularly on humans. The spouse and I had a discussion about this a while back and he asked why GMOs weren't tested like drugs since they're regulated by the FDA. I've read comments such as "I won't believe GMOs are safe until they're tested for 5 years on humans and we examine long-term impact", so I thought we should explore this point.

The regulation of GMOs is based on the principle of "substantial equivalence", meaning that the nutritional content of the GE crop and the non-GE crop that it originated from is the same. In the past, I've reviewed papers that have done comparisons between crops generated by transgenesis (the method used to make GMOs) vs crops generated by traditional cross breeding and mutagenesis. The transgenic crops had far fewer unintended consequences than the crops generated by traditional breeding methods. What remains to be demonstrated is that the protein introduced poses no greater risk to human health than non-GE crops, which is why studies on allergenicity and animal feeding studies are performed.

So "why don't we do clinical trials on GMOs the same way we do for drugs?" Drugs are designed to cause a change in the human body: that's the whole point behind them. Since drugs are altering something in humans, it's important to know the side-effects that they may cause and whether or not they're causing the anticipated effect (i.e. is it better than placebo). In contrast, GMOs are designed to be equivalent to their non-GE counterparts: they aren't drugs or nutritional supplements. GE crops which ARE designed to impact human health, such as vitamin-A enriched rice, should be tested in humans to determine if the desired outcome is achieved (i.e that the rice actually delivers vitamin-A to the body). But such studies are not the same as looking for unknown long-term effects.

Another reason why is that there's no plausible mechanism for harm. In the past, I've explained how nothing can truly ever be proven to be 100% safe, whether it's water, a computer or a car. Researchers examine safety when there's a plausible mechanism whereby harm can occur. For example, a cholesterol lowering drug may act by interfering with cholesterol synthesis in the liver, so it may make sense to see if it impacts other metabolic functions in the liver. But when it comes to the traits that are introduced into GE crops, there isn't really a mechanism of harm: for example, the Arctic Apple is engineered to have a gene turned off, and the gene doesn't even exist in humans, so how could that harm us? This is why most scientists wouldn't want to spend years trying to secure grants for a long term feeding study when the likelihood of having an important discovery or contribution to the field is so low. Safety is relative, and there have been many long-term feeding studies in animals which haven't observed any harm, suggesting that follow-up testing of GE crops in humans is unnecessary.

An additional issue is that the experimental design would be incredibly difficult. Unlike animal feeding studies, you cannot control for other dietary factors or for lifestyle of the humans in the study. In animal feeding studies, all the animals are inbred so there's very little genetic variability. All the animals live in the same type of cage, get the same amount of food, sleep, water, etc, but none of this applies to humans. As a mental exercise, let's imagine that we're going to embark on a study examining the long term effects of GM crops. We'll narrow it down to a single GM crop: Bt-Corn. Since corn derivatives are found in many processed foods, we'd have to eliminate other sources of Bt by making all the participants adhere to an organic diet. Most sweet corn in the US is not of the Bt-variety, but since we want to be able to keep track of how much GE corn our participants are ingesting, we'll have to use this type. Then, we have to figure out the duration of our experiment: how long will these people have to eat Bt-corn to get this unknown effect? 1 year? 2 years? 5? 10? Let's keep it simple and say one year (although I seriously doubt that any die-hard anti-GMO activist would be satisfied with 1 year). Then we have to figure out who we will be feeding: will we focus on individuals of a single genetic background to eliminate other variables? Will we include children? Pregnant women? (I mention these specific categories because there's no end to anti-GMO blog posts about the dangers of GMOs for these individuals). Next, we'd have to grow all the corn in the same place: studies have shown that geographic and seasonal variability changes the nutritional content of crops more than whether the crop is a GMO or not (see here and here). Since we want all the participants to get the same corn for the entire duration of the study, we'd have to grow it all in a single place, process it, and all the participants would need a deep freezer to store their 1 year's worth of sweet corn. Then, we have to decide how much corn they'd need to eat in order to observe this unknown effect. One ear a week? A day? Who would sign up for a study eating an ear of corn a day for a year?? And then who is going to pay for this 1 year study on many people of organic food consumption plus GE-corn? If Monsanto or other seed developers pay for it, will anyone trust the data?

There are FDA guidelines for examining the impact of food additives in humans has several important points including this one: "A food or food additive generally will be considered suitable for clinical testing if the substance is unlikely to produce significant toxic effects at the levels to which the subjects of the clinical study will be exposed. This usually is determined from the results of toxicity studies in animals or by examining existing data on population exposure. However, in cases where the type of toxic response associated with the consumption of a food or food additive by experimental animals is judged to be severe, exposure of subjects in clinical studies to the additive may need to be significantly below the level found to produce no toxic effects in an appropriate species." If the individuals who want to do long-term feeding studies in humans are looking for evidence of harm due to "long term toxic effects", then based on the statement above from the FDA, such studies would never be cleared by an ethics panel. Other important points from the document include the fact that such studies should have different dosages and the language used for long-term studies is weeks/months, not years.

This isn't a cop-out. If we're looking for a harmful effect but don't know what it is because we don't have a reasonable mechanism whereby harm may occur, how can you design the experiment? What variables will you measure? As this document from the FDA outlines, clinical trials for drugs go through very specific phases and can be variable in duration and size. However the thing they all have in common is that they're looking for a very specific effect (improvement of the disease or its symptoms in the patient). Doctors know exactly what to measure, and look for any possible side-effects, which end up getting listed in the package insert for the drug, even if they are not causal.

The final point is this: what is exclusive or unique about GMOs that merits such rigorous testing, yet excludes other crop modification techniques? If your argument is that GMOs are made by scientists in a lab and are consequently riskier, so are seedless watermelons. If your argument is that GMOs have genes from other species and are consequently riskier, so do sweet potatoes which have genes from bacteria naturally introduced thousands of years ago. If your argument is that we've had thousands of years to co-evolve with other crops but not to GMOs, then I ask you how it is that I, an individual of Iranian descent, have a passion fruit vine, which is native to South America, growing in my backyard in California? I'm pretty sure that the passion fruit and I didn't co-evolve and adapt to one another throughout our evolutionary history. The passion fruit, the sweet potato, and the seedless watermelon did not undergo any testing, animal or human, yet many continue arguing that all GMOs regardless of trait should undergo animal and human testing.

Well, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season. If you don't subscribe to this blog, please consider doing so or you could also follow me on twitter where I post everything I publish from this blog and Biofortified.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Dear Christie Brinkley: We Aren’t Guinea Pigs

This letter is co-written by Mommy, PhD and BioChica (Dr Alison Bernstein and Dr Layla Katiraee. For more information about the authors, please see the end of the letter). Dear Christie,

We read this week about your new book and watched your interview on FOX Business. As scientists and science communicators, we are concerned that, while your motivations to help people eat healthy diets is honorable, your knowledge of genetic engineering, pesticide toxicity and the agricultural industry is not accurate. We are part of a group of moms (#Moms4GMOs) who also want to make healthy choices for ourselves and our families. We have previously reached out to other celebrities who are using their public platforms to spread misinformation and fear about the food supply in the US.

In our original letter, we addressed many of the concerns that you and others have raised about genetically engineered crops and pesticides. We hope that you will take the time to read the letter and the references we provided. There are a couple of points that were highlighted in your interview that we would like to discuss briefly here.

Colony Collapse Disorder is caused by many things, but GMOs are not one of them.

As you may know, much of our food relies on pollination by bees, so the health of these insects impacts all of us. Colony collapse disorder affecting honey bees is a topic of much controversy. This phenomenon is defined by the USDA as “a dead colony with no adult bees or dead bee bodies but with a live queen and usually honey and immature bees still present”. There are many theories on what may be causing CCD; the primary culprits seem to be parasites like the Varroa mite and flowerless landscapes, together with other factors, including exposure to pesticides and stress due to transportation. However, exposure to GMOs does not rank among the possible reasons underlying CCD.

Attempts to link GMOs to CCD have commonly focused on two factors: glyphosate and worm-resistant traits. Glyphosate, which is an herbicide used with some varieties of GMOs and is commonly used in gardens and parks around the country, has been examined to determine if it impacts honeybee health. A recent study examined the impact of the commercial formulations of 42 common pesticides on honeybees at concentrations actually used in the field. Due to the popularity of glyphosate, this herbicide was also included in the study. The study concluded that, while some pesticides are extremely toxic to bees, glyphosate was not harmful to their health.

Worm-resistant corn (commonly referred to as Bt-corn) is designed to kill the larval stage of many damaging insects, such as caterpillars, as they chew on the corn leaves. These crops have also been studied to determine if they impact honeybee health: a meta-analysis published several years ago concluded that their research “support[s] safety assessments that have not detected any direct negative effects” of the trait on the honeybee.

For more information on the science of CCD, we recommend these articles:

GMOs are the most tested and regulated food items: we are not guinea pigs.

The term “GMO” is commonly used to denote a crop or ingredient that is made using a laboratory technique known as “transgenesis”. But there are many different types of GMOs: non-browning apples, nutrient fortified rice, virus-resistant papayas, herbicide-tolerant soy, and pest-resistant corn. These cannot all be lumped into a single category. To underscore that the process is irrelevant and it is the trait that is important, herbicide-tolerant sunflowers have also been developed using traditional methods by the German chemical producer BASF and Dupont. By current rules, herbicide-resistant crops developed with targeted genetic engineering undergo extensive testing prior to being sold, while herbicide resistant crops developed by traditional breeding require no testing. In fact, genetically engineered food items are the most tested and regulated food in the market. No other foods undergo premarket approval by the EPA, FDA and USDA.

The sheer volume of data and number of studies on different traits used in biotech crops may surprise you. As a simple exercise, searching the NIH’s database of scientific studies for “MON810”, which is the trait that gives corn resistance to worms, identifies over 170 studies that have examined this trait. These range from multi-generational feeding studies to molecular analyses of the protein that makes the corn resist worms. Thousands of scientists around the world are dedicating their efforts to the development and testing of these crops, which defies notions implying that these crops are released into the market without being thoroughly tested.

For information about studies on GMOs and worldwide approvals of genetically engineered crops, check out these two databases.

The US food supply is safe, regardless of the breeding or farming method used.

We read about your adoption of an organic diet over concerns about possible links between GMOs and pesticides to sterility and breast cancer. Pesticides are important tools in agriculture, which farmers use judiciously depending on many factors including the type of pest and the type of crop, among many others. It is important to know that organic food production uses pesticides as well, and that pesticide residues in the US on non-organic produce are far below safety limits, but we have no data to compare it to for residues on organic produce. Furthermore, there’s no conclusive evidence suggesting that adopting an organic diet is significantly healthier (see meta-analyses here and here, and here and here for discussion of this research). Each pesticide has its pros and cons, and not using any pesticide at all can have significant consequences, including lower crop yields.

Despite searching for information, we found little to no credible evidence linking sterility or breast cancer to GMOs. It is a basic concept of scientific research that, when examining a cause-effect relationship between two items, the null hypothesis is what you start with - that there is no connection between the two items. This means that until someone comes up with a study showing that A causes B, then the null hypothesis stands: A does not cause B. Without this important principle, you could propose any hypothesis and people would have to “prove you wrong”. Instead, the burden of proof falls on those proposing a relationship between two items; they must provide evidence for that hypothesis.

Additionally, hypotheses are not invented out of whole cloth; they are based on previous knowledge. In considering how seriously to take a hypothesis, scientists consider plausibility, possible mechanisms, and what we already know about the subject. When a hypothesis has no plausible biological mechanism by which A can cause B, based on everything that we already know about biology, the burden of proof is even higher on those proposing the relationship between A and B and these hypotheses are often dismissed. This requirement for proof underlies the popular phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. In the case of GMOs, breast cancer, and sterility: despite many studies of the health effects of GMOs, there is no evidence for a link to breast cancer or sterility and no plausible mechanism to explain such a link. At a minimum, scientists would need to have seen an increase in these things since the introduction of the first GMO in 1996. However, neither breast cancer rates nor infertility have increased since 1996. Thus, scientists have no evidence that GMOs are in any way associated with breast cancer or sterility and no plausible reason to hypothesize that they are. All the current evidence shows that GMO food is as safe as non-GMO food.

In North America, we have the luxury of having an abundant food supply with many options and choices. This includes the choice of being able to avoid GMOs entirely by adopting an organic diet, which excludes  genetically engineered crops and ingredients derived from them. However, in areas of the world where such abundance does not exist, GMOs can be extremely beneficial. GMOs may not solve world hunger, eliminate global warming, or ward off pests, but these crops will help us as we face these challenges. Disregarding an entire set of tools, based on the fears and privilege of those of us fortunate enough to have these choices, restricts the ability of farmers and scientists around the world to find solutions to real problems in agriculture.

Farmers have written about how they make their choices regarding pesticide use, and we encourage you to check out these resources:

To learn about the benefits of GMOs, see:

Talk to farmers and scientists about genetic engineering

From our original letter:

“Please, don’t co-opt motherhood and wield your fame to oppose beneficial technologies like genetic engineering. Certain celebrities have misled thousands of parents into thinking that vaccines are harmful, and we see the same pattern of misinformation repeating itself here. When GMOs are stigmatized, farmers and consumers aren’t able to benefit from much-needed advancements like plants with increased nutrients, or plants that can adapt to changing environmental stresses.

We, like millions of other Americans, line up to see your movies, and respect your occupation. Though our jobs differ, we share a common goal: to raise healthy, happy, successful kids. As moms we feel it is our responsibility to use the best available information to protect our children’s health, and to let the best science inform the choices we make for our families. We ask you to take the time to learn about how genetic engineering is being used by farmers, and the potential it has to help other moms raise healthy, happy, successful kids.

You have the opportunity to influence millions of people, so please use that influence responsibly, and ensure that your advocacy is supported by facts, not fear.”

We would like to extend the same invitation to you: talk to scientists, talk to farmers, talk to the experts in these fields. Arm yourself with knowledge, not fear, to help you make informed, healthy choices.

Alison and Layla

About the letter writers:


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Better Know a Farmer: No-Till Guru Bill Crabtree

In this issue of “Better Know a Farmer”, I contacted Bill Crabtree to learn about “no-till farming”. If you’re saying to yourself, “No-till? What are you waiting for? Till when? It doesn’t make sense” then you’re not alone. Bill has an awesome website which highlights his expertise in this field (get it?? Field? Because he’s also a farmer? Amazing pun!!). He lives in Western Australia (WA), but he provides consulting services worldwide helping farmers adopt no-till farming. He’s actively engaged in social media using the very apt twitter handle @NoTillBill, so we “met” through Twitter. I learned a lot in this interview and the spouse added a few questions, too. I read it with Bill's Australian accent in my head :)

Q: What’s your background and training? What do you grow on your farm?

A: I grew up on the land, I was doing night shift ploughing our very sandy fragile soils to 3 AM with no cab, no lights, and a modest jacket at the age of 14 on the south coast of WA. I went to University of Western Australia twice - B.Ag.Sci and M.Sci and now enrolled in a PhD in No-Till at same university. Eight years ago after energising the no-till movement for most of my life and helping farmers make lots of money at 47 years old, I realised I needed a retirement plan as $200,000 in assets was not going to go far.  So, with the help of Rabobank, I borrowed very heavily, bought a farm in the driest region of the globe, and have been 100% cropping on the desert’s edge not far from Yalgoo - East of Geraldton in Western Australia.  It was risky but it has paid off. The only profitable crop in this heat and dry is just wheat.  So, in contrast to my agronomic training, I have been growing continuous wheat for 8 years and it has been a huge success with no-till and full stubble retention. I grow a little of canola, triticale and lupins, but 95% wheat [BioChica's Note: if you don't know what triticale and lupins are, you're not alone :) I had to look those up!]

Q: What’s no-till farming? Why is it important?

A: It is seeding with less than 20% topsoil disturbance with narrow metal openers (sharp 12 mm narrow points or discs) and with no soil cultivation after the last crop. [BioChica’s note: I wanted to add a picture of tilling equipment for farming but couldn’t find a freely available image, so you can see one here on the John Deere website]. Tillage, or cultivation, used to be needed to soften the soil enough to be able to evenly place seeds at the right depth in the soil and for mechanical weed control. Neither of these factors are now required due to better mechanical tools and herbicides. Within a few years of no-till the soil softens through organic residue retention that feeds the bugs in the soil which make the soil spongy and ready to rapidly soak up heavy downpours of rain.  This softer/spongy soil can then store more water at depth and mitigate against droughts. Symbiotic plant root relations also form that are otherwise destroyed by tillage, fungi are increased as the decomposition of the organic matter becomes more of a steady release of energy into the soil food web that is very complex and not well understood but well appreciated by farmers. [BioChica’s Note: Bill has a YouTube video on this topic which you can view here.]

No-till has many other immediate farm benefits also, including less fuel use, better timing, higher whole-farm yields and greater economic efficiencies.
Field of wildflowers on Bill's farm

Q: So basically, you harvest the crop from the previous season, you leave all the stems and roots behind, and the next season you plant right on top of that? Does no-till work with only some types of crops? I imagine that it wouldn’t work in regions of the world where they don’t have a winter/rainy season?

A: No-Till works for all crops really, but some horticultural crops, like potatoes, onions, carrots etc, need tillage to harvest these crops. But, perhaps greater than 99% of global cropland could be no-tilled.  Some soils and environments do not necessarily give yield increases to no-tillage, however, all soil in all environments are protected and conserved by no-tillage practices.  In some places it takes longer for no-tillage to give a yield benefit. In most places the whole farm yield benefit can be immediate and significant - like in my state!  One region where no-till struggles to reward farmers is the wet Red River Valley in Manitoba, Canada (and this likely extends into Minnesota as well). The heat units are limited, the season is short, the valley floods to some degree in April/May most years and the minute the snow melts the race is on to get a crop out of cold wet soil before the season is over again in cold September. The land is fertile and the residue that no-till helps to maintain can keep the soil cool and damp when the race is on to get the crop ‘making hay while the sun shines’.

No-till actually works best in regions globally where the rainy seasons are unreliable and spasmodic. The ability of the long-term no-till soil-biology complex to suck up rainfall quickly helps to drought-proof the crops. Additionally, arbuscular mycorrhizae and similar symbiotic bug activity in the rhizosphere (root zone), enable the crops to partner with soil-biology to extract more water than is normally available to crops from the soil. While not miraculous it is not what happens when farmers do tillage and it can result in some very nice and increased water use efficiency by crops over tillage based farming systems.

Q: What do GMOs have to do with no-till farming?

A: GMO’s can have nothing to do with no-till farming, as in South Australia where they are illegal and no-till adoption is about 90% adoption. However, these farmers would love to have GMO crops as they allow them to use less herbicides and manage herbicide resistance better.  In Canada both RoundUp Ready canola and Liberty Link (glufosinate ammonium tolerant) GMO types has ensured their herbicide resistance issues have been better managed than in most countries who have abused them agronomically by over-relying on one type. [BioChica’s note: I’ve written about the RoundUp Ready trait here].

Q: Then why do GMO advocates claim that GM Round-Up Ready crops allow for no-till farming?

A: Because it is technically true. GM Round-Up Ready means that farmers can seed straight into undisturbed soil and control their weeds in-crop with Round-Up, which is no-till.  But ‘easy come, easy go’. It is my experience that when farmers, by default, have no-till happening for them and they do not adopt it thinking about the technique and understanding the benefits that it offers that they can then easily jump back into the tillage habit. Some of these farmers do not learn the long-term benefits of the no-till system. While Round-Up Ready crops sure are of valuable assistance in helping farmers adopt no-till as it can give excellent weed control, but it does not necessarily guarantee high quality no-till.

A clear example of this is in Argentina where, due to government policies, farmers grow soybean continuously season after season. Being a legume the soy fixes lots of nitrogen and effectively this ‘lights a fire’ in the soil of fast microbial activity and this burns up the soil carbon quickly and leaves the soil with very little soil cover. The soil is then readily exposed to soil erosion and there are more nitrates for loss to the environment. The microbes effectively cultivate the soil. So, you could easily argue that a common Argentinian no-till practice is only a small step up from tillage based farming.

Q: Are there any aspects or practices from no-till farming that people could adopt in their backyard gardens or planter-boxes?

A: Sure, just like the mulch on the surface of the soil is magic, it stops evaporation and feeds the soils bugs! No-tillage, and the mulch that it maintains, makes earthworm numbers explode. Earthworms are reported to be on top of the soil food chain and this gives us great comfort that no-till, even with herbicide use, is good for the soil microbial hierarchy. Similarly for no-till farmers, backyard gardeners also need to keep an eye out for crop nutrient deficiency symptoms! Particularly for NPKS - the big four nutrients in soil science. [BioChica’s note: NPKS stands for nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur, and is an abbreviation used for labeling fertilizers]
Field of Wheat on Bill's farm. Or is it a field of dreams?

Q: The  International Agency for Research on Cancer’s recent assessment of glyphosate (the active ingredient in RoundUp) classified the compound as a probable carcinogen? Why are you trying to kill us all by forcing farmers to adopt this compound and how much is Monsanto paying you to do this?

A: The idea that glyphosate is a probable cancer causing agent is fanciful in the context of its registered use pattern.  But, it could probably be right if you are going to inject glyphosate into our cells nucleus or vacuole.  In this context it probably does cause DNA damage - similarly to injecting sodium chloride, detergent or dozens of commonly used household products, into the same place.  So the idea of suggesting that using glyphosate over a crop is the same as injecting glyphosate into our cells is quite misleading and points to activism by those who suggest it.  For the Cancer branch within WHO to come to this conclusion is almost disillusioning.  It suggests to me that someone is being quite mischievous and unscientific and has an agenda and it equates to fearmongering. I have emailed them for clarification and they responded!  I asked them for the specific information lead them to conclude this. They then said I should read the whole 92 page document. I could find nothing that supported the idea that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen. But most concerning is that they have referenced the discredited research by Seralini and indeed they have used 7 of his papers in their study. Seralini is a known anti-GM and and glyphosate activist.

No farmer on the globe is forced to use Monsanto’s technology, they have the choice, if the technology does not benefit the farmer then he walks away from it - well that’s true for most of the farming world anyway! :)  Although in Russia they are banned from using the technology.  Some other countries have followed their lead.

I have not received any funding from Monsanto, ever!  I have visited their facilities, as any person interested or working in agriculture should.  But I have visited John Deere many more times.
Field of Wheat on Bill's farm

Q: As we all know, nothing on the internet is false. I’ve read many times that Round-Up used on wheat is leading to leaky-guts, is increasing gluten allergies, and is killing us all. If there’s no GMO wheat on the market, why is Round-Up used on it?

A: There is no GMO wheat on the market! Although it looks like drought tolerant genetically engineered wheat will be released in 2016 in Argentina. Round-Up is not killing us, despite a concerted campaign to convince people otherwise!  Over-eating and smoking definitely kill people, in contrast glyphosate use in no-tillage has greatly increased food production, lowering the price of food, allowing people to eat more and therefore killing them with obesity - haha :).  But seriously, Round-Up has been safely used on wheat pre-harvest in Canada since the late 1980’s. It is used to control weeds in a 100 day crop growing window and for more information on why and how farmers do it see; http://www.nurselovesfarmer.com/2014/11/the-truth-about-glyphosate-and-wheat/.

Q: It sounds like no-till farming is amazing: builds the topsoil, reduces erosion, environmentally friendlier, etc. It even seems to me like there’s less work involved, because you don’t have to till the land. Why wouldn’t a farmer adopt the method? Are there any drawbacks to no-till farming? Or is no-till farming like puppies, i.e. everyone thinks they’re awesome?

A: No-till was demonised 30 years ago in my state by experts saying that “it did not work before and it will not work now” and “all your nice new no-till machines in two years time will be parked under a big tree, behind a big shed and going rusty”. Indeed, it took a huge effort and a lot of courage by a few to remove those philosophical obstacles. Most of the technical obstacles have been removed and no-till works all over the globe but it is challenging in wet and cold areas that lack heat units. In these areas the soil can get real cold and wet and stay wet and cold for a long time and no-till, with residue retention, slows evaporation and helps to keep the soil wet and cold for longer. This makes it a bit harder for crops to get growing fast. Soil disturbance, or tillage, can blacken the soil and help it absorb heat and get the crop growing faster sooner. For different reasons there are times when tillage is also needed in my hot and dry state on a small portion of the land, and I have blogged on this here: http://seedhawkseeder.com/blog/is-soil-tillage-ever-justifiable-no-till-bill-checks-in

Q: My spouse is from West Texas, where they famously had the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s. Some people think it might come back with Texas’ drought. Do you think no-till farming can help?

A: Sure, and it does, I have farmer friends on Twitter in that region and I have also visited there several times. There are some very good farmers doing a great job of no-till there. Each year no-till farmers congregate at Salina, Kansas and share their knowledge together, indeed I have spoken at this event in the past http://www.notill.org/