In Case You Missed It: EPA Quietly Approved Monsanto’s RNAi Genetic Engineering Technology

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently and quietly approved Monsanto’s new genetic engineering technology, known as RNAi. [1]

The insecticide DvSnf7 dsRNA is not sprayed on crops. Instead, instructions for manufacturing it in the DNA of the crop itself must be encoded in crops. The plants’ self-made DvSnf7 dsRNA disrupts a crucial gene in western corn rootworms – a major threat to corn – and kills the pests.

All that’s left after that is RNA interference, or RNAi, and the EPA approved this final step in making corn rootworm-resistant in mid-June 2017. RNAi was the source of both hype and controversy just a few years ago, The Atlantic reports. But the EPA so quietly approved the technology that the media and environmental groups barely noticed.

The first DvSnf7 dsRNA product will be used in SmartStax Pro genetically modified corn seeds made in collaboration between the world’s top agrotech giants, Monsanto and Dow. Monsanto will supply the RNAi technology, and it already has its eye on several RNAi applications. The company expects corn seed with RNAi to be on the market by the end of this decade.

The western corn rootworm is known as the “billion dollar pest” because of the damage it wreaks on cornfields. The insect keeps becoming resistant to the other insecticides that farmers use against it – including the kind you spray on crops and corn genetically modified to product Bt toxin, another technology commercialized by Monsanto.

The SmartStax Pro corn will contain both Bt toxin and DvSnf7 dsRNA.

Read: Monsanto’s GMO Bt Toxins Found in 93% of Pregnant Women

RNAi works by “turning off” 1 specific gene in 1 specific species by leaving other crops unharmed, at least theoretically. In nature, plants and animals use this process to “silence” their own genes. The technology has already been used to create genetically modified apples and potatoes that don’t brown. (The apples, called Arctic Apples, are expected to reach supermarkets in the U.S. by the end of 2017.)

However, with Monsanto and Dow’s GMO corn, the DvSnf7 dsRNA silences a gene in another living organism, in this case the western corn rootworm. It modifies its environment, rather than itself.

Environmental Groups Stunned by Quiet Approval

Groups like the Center for Food Safety, who vocally opposed the RNAi-made apples and potatoes, said they were a bit stunned by the EPA’s approval. The agency only allowed a 15-day comment period, instead of the traditional 30 days, and it did not post its proposed decision in the Federal Register. It’s not the first time the EPA has done that, but Bill Freese, CFS’ science policy analyst, says the unparalleled use of RNAi as insecticide should have warranted more public scrutiny.

Freese – who has received funding from Monsanto to study the western corn rootworm – has reason to be concerned. A scientific paper published in 2011 questions the safety of DvSnf7 dsRNA, after Chinese scientists found that people eating genetically modified rice had naturally occurring RNA molecules in their bloodstream. It should be noted, however, that scientists have struggled to replicate the study’s findings, and the report received much criticism.

Freese told The Atlantic that the real problem goes beyond RNAi itself. He explained:

“There’s faddish interest in the latest technology. It often neglects the basic issues of the unhealthy practices used in planting corn.”

For example, rotating crops versus planting corn multiple years in a row in the same field can make a dent in the western corn rootworm problem.

Freese says planting non-GMO corn is also vitally important, because overplanting of Bt corn led to Bt resistance.

“We need to treat these things carefully because we really can’t just afford to throw them away.”


The Atlantic

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Senate Appropriations Committee OKs Medical Marijuana for Vets

In July 2017, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 24-7 to approve an amendment that would allow vets legal access to medical marijuana as part of the 2018 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. The bill, if met with final approval, would allow physicians at VA hospitals in legal marijuana states to recommend and write medical cannabis prescriptions for veterans. [1]

The amendment is intended “to prohibit the use of funds appropriated or other-wise made available under this Act to interfere with the ability of veterans to participate in medical marijuana programs approved by States or deny services to such veterans.”

VA doctors are currently prohibited from completing the paperwork necessary for their patients to access medical marijuana. The rule has been expired for more than a year, and the VA has yet to author a replacement.

Fortunately, the amendment is now attached to the appropriations bill that pays for VA operations. Hopefully this time it will be a success; in 2016, a similar amendment was pushed through by both the House and Senate, only to be stripped from the appropriations bill by a conference committee.

Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana who sponsored the measure, said the amendment “simply allows the VA patients in states with medical marijuana programs to discuss that option with their VA doctor or physician.” [2]

The American Legion and AMVETS, 2 of the largest and most influential veterans’ groups in the country, have urged the federal government to allow vets access to medical cannabis. The American Legion took the step of sending a letter to President Trump asking for his help in changing the policy.

The letter reads:

“The American Legion respectfully requests a meeting with President Trump as soon as possible and looks forward to partnering with this administration in the fight against narcotics addiction and reducing the veteran suicide rate from the tragic loss of 20 warriors per day, to zero.”

Read: VA Head Comes Out in Support of Marijuana for Vets with PTSD

Trump could support the amendment, or he could veto it or demand that the language once again be yanked from the bill. [3]

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the pro-marijuana organization NORML, said:

“Given the rising level of both public and political support in favor of medical cannabis access, especially for veterans – coupled with the increasing lobbying efforts from veterans’ groups like the American Legion and AMVETS – I would not only anticipate members of the House and Senate to once again approve this reform legislation, but also to do so in greater numbers than last year.

The question that remains, however, is whether high ranking Republicans or the Trump administration will respect this vote, or will they turn their back on the needs of veterans and the will of overwhelming majority of voters.”


[1] Merry Jane

[2] The Fresh Toast

[3] LA Weekly

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Medical Marijuana for Treatment of PTSD Gets Green Light in Colorado

Medical marijuana is now a legal treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Colorado. Governor John Hickenlooper signed SB17-017 on June 5, 2017, officially giving doctors the green light to prescribe cannabis to patients suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Colorado joins at least 20 other states in allowing cannabis-based treatments for the disorder. [1]

Before doctors can prescribe cannabis for PTSD, patients must sit for a consultation and receive a medical background check. Patients approved for medical marijuana will be able to possess 2 ounces of cannabis and no more than 6 plants at a time, and only 3 of those plants can be mature and flowering. However, patients will be able to petition their doctor for more.

For patients under the age of 18, medical marijuana must be approved by 2 physicians, one of whom must be a board-certified pediatrician, a board-certified family doctor, or a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist. Additionally, the patient’s parents or guardians living in Colorado will have to consent in writing to the state health agency. [2]

Military PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The State Board of Health rejected medical marijuana treatment for PTSD in 2015, saying at the time there was not enough scientific research on how marijuana could affect people with the disorder. It was at least the 4th time the board had rejected the measure. [1]

The state department of health has been studying cannabis treatments for PTSD since 2015, setting aside $3.3 million for the research.

Roger Martin, the founder of Grow For Vets, said:

“What it really does, is it doesn’t get rid of the bad memories that you have, but it kind of just allows you to relax to the point that they’re not right up in front of your head.

Thousands of veterans have told me to my face that cannabis is the only thing that’s ever helped them with PTSD and not one drug that the VA has given has ever helped at all.” [3]

Read: VA Head Comes out in Favor of Marijuana for Vets with PTSD

Dr. Larry Wolk, Executive Director of the Colorado Board of Health (which does not support the legislation) said that some doctors have already started recommending medical marijuana for treatment of PTSD.

“At least if a physician is recommending it, and a physician is involved through the medical marijuana program, then that would be presumably better care.”

This is another positive step we’re taking in allowing the population to further utilize a helpful, underrated medicine.


[1] The Denver Channel

[2] Fox 31 Denver

[3] KRDO ABC 13

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