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Monsanto’s SmartStax maize ‘to be approved for growth in October’ in EU

A controversial, genetically modified super-maize from Monsanto is set to be approved for cultivation across the European Union by late October despite safety concerns, German media reports.

Despite EU regulators last month thwarting the expansion of the world’s largest seed corporation, it appears Germany won’t escape new GMO crops.

“The decision rests with the European Commission, which will agree with the import in September or October,” a spokesperson for the EU Consumer Protection Commissioner, Tonio Borg, told Germany’s Zeit Online. The spokesperson said the decision would come after a “rigorous, scientific evaluation process.”

SmartStax GM maize was developed in the US by Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences. It combines the genes of two already genetically modified maize varieties. SmartStax is resistant to two types of herbicides and poisons against six different species of insects, such as the European corn borer. The seed includes eight artificially added genes – previously, the biggest number of such genes added to a single plant was three.

Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences have been lobbying for SmartStax in Europe for the last five years, having first applied for EU marketing approval in 2008.

In 2010, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that SmartStax was “as safe as conventionally bred maize and commercial versions in regard [to the] potential impact on the health of humans, animals and on the environment.”

A study completed the next year also came to the same conclusion – that SmartStax was safe.

But GM-critical German consulting company Testbiotech has repeatedly criticized EFSA for serious gaps in its safety assessment of SmartStax maize. The original GM varieties of maize that SmartStax was engineered from were tested in a 90-day trial of GM plants being fed to humans. Reportedly, SmartStax has never been scientifically tested on animals in Europe and therefore “the risk assessment performed by the EFSA is actually not adequate to sufficiently exclude adverse effects on humans, animals and the environment,” Testbiotech says on its website.

Independent European experts say that the cultivation of SmartStax is extremely controversial, because long-term tests of the new maize have not been conducted.

“This case shows that decisions made by the Commission on permitting genetically engineered plants in food and feed are not sufficiently based on science but on economic pressure. Just because US companies want unrestricted import of these types of maize into Europe, the EU Commission is continuing the authorization process and refusing to acknowledge the actual risks,” said Christoph Then, a representative of Testbiotech.

“This is a serious threat to consumers and the protection of health and the environment,” said Then, who also is Greenpeace Germany’s expert on agriculture genetic engineering. “No other already approved plant contains so many genetically modified ingredients. It is completely unclear how they interact and what consequences this has long-term.”

In June, Testbiotech wrote to the European Commission, about for their risk assessment of SmartStax maize.

In the commission’s reply, officials insisted that SmartStax maize had been thoroughly tested and had received a “favorable opinion” from the EFSA as safe to be sold on the European market.

Testbiotech blasted the EU Commissioner’s reply as “misleading,” and voiced concerns that the risk assessment of SmartStax showed that there was “no thorough examination in this case” as the EFSA did not initiate an independent study for the market authorization of the corn.

Monsanto refused to comment on the upcoming authorization to Zeit Online, but stated that its products had been “assessed by various international authorities as safe” and the safety of Monsanto’s products would be “occupied by a huge amount of data and a variety of studies.”

The biotech giant said that the European approval of its seeds would be “in the interests of general world trade, and also for imports into the EU.”

While Monsanto look likely to win this round, the corporation has dropped its bid to get more genetically modified crops onto the European market, due to “widespread popular opposition.”

If the SmartStax gets the green light, it will be in line with France’s decision to re-open the door to Monsanto products. In early August, one of the country’s top administrative courts reversed a ban on genetically modified MON810 corn, which had been in place since March 2012. The court explained that the EU moratorium on the GMO corn lacked a legal basis.

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Underworld

Havana Syndrome again? CIA officers are mowed down by a mysterious disease

A CIA officer in Moscow experienced symptoms of the so-called “Havana syndrome” in 2017. This became known to The New York Times with reference to sources in diplomatic circles.

CIA officer Mark Polimepulos, who helped lead covert operations in Russia and Europe, complained about the manifestation of mysterious symptoms. According to the newspaper, in December 2017, he felt severe dizziness, which later developed into a prolonged migraine, forcing him to retire. At that time, Polymerpoulos was 48 years old.

It is noted that such a case was not the only one. Similar symptoms were experienced by the staff of the American ambassadors in Cuba and China in 2016-2018. However, the exact number of cases and the place where this happened is not named. It is alleged that the US diplomats have tried to influence in a similar way around the world.

At the same time, the US State Department was unable to establish an unambiguous reason that caused the “Havana syndrome.” Among other things, it was assumed that the diplomats may have been exposed to an unidentified sound effect.

In 2017, it was reported that, beginning in late 2016, American diplomatic officials and their relatives in Cuba began to complain of symptoms such as hearing loss, nausea, headaches and balance disorder. 

The Associated Press received audio footage of the attack and described the harassing sounds as “the high-pitched sound of crickets combined with fingernails scratching on a board.” Then the American government suggested that Russia or China could be the culprit.

Many victims are still undergoing rehabilitation. Specialists from the University of Pennsylvania performed magnetic resonance imaging and revealed visible changes in the structure of the brain in the diplomatic missions.

Differences were found in 23 men and 17 women who complained of health problems while on diplomatic duties in Havana. Scientists have yet to figure out what causes the unusual symptoms.

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Underworld

How Russia and the United States nearly started a nuclear war in 1995

The Norwegian meteorological rocket incident remains the only time in history that the Russian president has activated his nuclear briefcase.

On January 25, 1995, Doomsday could have come in the world: the Russian Federation was preparing to launch a nuclear strike on the United States. How did it come about that the states that left the confrontation of the Cold War in the past and had just normalized relations with each other found themselves on the verge of mutual destruction?

The beginning of the war?

The cause of the crisis was an ordinary Norwegian meteorological rocket. Its launch from the small island of Anneia at 7 am local time (10 am Moscow time) towards Spitsbergen caused a stir in Russia. 

Black Brant XII.

Black Brant XII. Legion Media / ZUMA Press

Equipped with scientific equipment to study the aurora borealis, the Black Brant XII was similar in size to the nuclear-powered American Trident D-5 ballistic missile, intended for launch from submarines. In addition, it flew along a trajectory along which, as the Russian Defense Ministry believed, American missiles would fly in the event of a nuclear war. 

In December 1994, Norway informed 28 states, including Russia, about the planned launch, but did not give a specific date, limiting itself to specifying the period: from January 15 to February 10 of the next year. Due to bureaucratic delays, this information did not reach the Russian Missile Warning System, which sounded the alarm.

Decisive minutes

An emergency meeting with the country’s top political and military leadership was convened in the Kremlin. Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Chief of the General Staff Mikhail Kolesnikov and President of the Russian Federation (as Supreme Commander-in-Chief) Boris Yeltsin had three strategic missile forces control terminals activated – the so-called nuclear suitcases.

Vladimir Sayapin / TASS

The military believed the lone missile could have been fired to create an electromagnetic pulse that knocked out Russian radars and communications systems. Following it, a massive blow could be expected.

For several tense minutes, as leaders watched it flight, it was decided whether Russia would launch a nuclear strike against the United States. 

“Little is known today about what Yeltsin said at the time, given that it could have been some of the most dangerous moments in the entire history of the nuclear era,” The Washington Post journalist, David Hoffman wrote three years after the incident : “They make it clear that the Cold War nuclear readiness system continues to operate, and how catastrophic its consequences could be, despite the fact that the feud between the great powers is already over.”   

The situation was discharged only when it became clear that the rocket had gone towards Spitsbergen (not far from which it fell into the ocean). The nuclear cases have been deactivated. Russian President Boris Yeltsin (center) and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev (right).

Russian President Boris Yeltsin (center) and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev (right). Igor Mikhalev / Sputnik

The incident with bringing Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces to combat readiness, soon became the property of the world community. When, four years later, the Norwegians were about to repeat their launch of Black Brant XII and reported this to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the US additionally warned all key Russian military departments about it through their channels. As a result, this time there were no unpleasant surprises. 

Source: rbth.com

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Underworld

Germany conducted exercises in case of nuclear war

Bundeswehr / Birthe Brechters

The Bundeswehr with partners in the North Atlantic Alliance ( NATO) trained in operations in a nuclear war.

The German army, together with Italian, Belgian and Dutch colleagues, conducted exercises in the event of a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons.

The location of the exercise “Steadfest Noon” was chosen airbase “Nörfenich”, where the tactical squadron of the Luftwaffe 31 “Boelcke” is located. Together with the Luftwaffe of the Bundeswehr, the air forces of other NATO countries, in particular, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium, took part in the exercises.

According to a report by Bild, the exercise scenario involved training procedures for safely removing nuclear weapons from storage, delivering ammunition and installing them on aircraft. The training flights took place without nuclear weapons, and in parallel with the aviation exercises at the Büchel airbase, where the tactical squadron of the Luftwaffe 51 Immelman is located, the Resilient Guard air defense systems were trained to protect the airfield from air attacks.

The training sites for the Luftwaffe of the Bundeswehr were not chosen by chance, since the Nörfenich airbase is a reserve storage site for the B61, a hydrogen bomb that forms the basis of nuclear weapons of the US strategic nuclear forces. 

Some of this ammunition is stationed at NATO bases in Europe. The exact number of hydrogen bombs that are stored at European sites and which ones are not reported. In Europe, the B61 is carried by Panavia Tornado fighter-bombers (pictured) and General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters.

Recall that the B61 thermonuclear bomb is the main weapon of the US strategic nuclear forces, although it entered service in 1968. Since 2012, a new guided version of the B61-12 has been under development, which will replace all B61 and B83 bombs that have been in service since 1983. It can be used both on strategic bombers and tactical aircraft. About two billion dollars were spent on the development of the 12th modification of the aerial bomb.

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