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Nutrient-boosted Golden Rice should be embraced - New Scientist (2012)

Nutrient-boosted Golden Rice should be embraced - New Scientist (2012) | Ag Biotech News |

One of the more unedifying aspects of the fight over genetically modified food has been the unbending opposition of Greenpeace and others to rice that has been modified to help prevent blindness. Golden Rice contains a precursor of vitamin A, deficiency of which blinds an estimated half a million children every year. Opponents of the rice are not oblivious to the tragedy, but argue there are other solutions. They are correct. One has just been found effective in Uganda - a naturally bred, fortified sweet potato. Good news, but no single solution will work everywhere. To eradicate preventable blindness, we need as many options as possible. The sweet success of the potato doesn't mean that GM can or should be taken off the menu. So it is also good news that the latest research into Golden Rice bolsters the case for its adoption (see "Nutrient-boosted foods protect against blindness"). In light of this, opposition to Golden Rice increasingly looks like bullheadedness rooted in a desire to halt GM at any cost. There are reasons to be wary of GM promoted by big business. But tarring a humanitarian project with the same brush is dogmatic - and wrong.

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Bringing light into the discussion about GMOs? – A rather long reading list

[updated July 24, 2016]  


These days I received an apparently easy request: “Do you have any recommendations for reading about the debate on GMOs? I think there is a lot of heat, but too little light in the discussion; I trust you can send me some…” To which I answered carelessly: “Sure, I will look into it, select a few references and post them…” 


I thought I’d have a quick look into my collection of bookmarks and references and post some of the links to satisfy the request. Obviously there would be too many individual studies and crop-specific or country-specific reports, but focusing only (i) on what was published in recent years, (ii) on sources where all this information was already aggregated (literature reviews, meta-analyses, authoritative statements, FAQs, etc.), and (iii) on academic or publicly funded sources should produce a fairly concise list, I thought. 


While not unmanageable, the list has become quite long. To get a rough idea of the current state of knowledge, it may be sufficient to peruse the first 1-2 (starred *) references under each heading, and to have a quick look at the abstracts and summaries of some of the others. (Given the controversy surrounding this topic I did not want to suggest just one or two sources, but show a bit the width of the scientific consensus, and to offer some titbits of related information.) ...


Jennifer Mach's comment, March 30, 2013 9:05 AM
I admit I haven't read this list... but for future reference, I'll definitely have a look.
Karen Ashby's curator insight, April 5, 4:26 AM

Conflicted about how your view on GM ties in with a career in Biotech? Look no further

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Ecosystem impacts of pesticide reductions through Bt cotton adoption - Veettil &al (2016) - AJARE

Ecosystem impacts of pesticide reductions through Bt cotton adoption - Veettil &al (2016) - AJARE | Ag Biotech News |
Ecosystem impacts of transgenic Bt cotton technology resulting from reduced chemical pesticide use… Negative environmental and health effects of pesticide use are quantified with the environmental impact quotient (EIQ), with and without Bt technology… treating the environmental risk of pesticide toxicity as an undesirable output in the production process. Negative externalities are significantly lower in Bt than in conventional cotton. The reduction in EIQ through Bt technology adoption has increased from 39 per cent during 2002-04 to 68 per cent during 2006-08… High-quality Bt seeds are associated with higher environmental efficiency than lower-quality seeds… 

We have provided empirical evidence on the effects of Bt cotton on pesticide-induced environmental and health risks in India… Cotton farmers who adopted Bt technology moved towards more eco-friendly pesticides. Bt adoption has decreased the use of chemical pesticides in general, particularly of those pesticides that are highly hazardous for the environment and human health. Thus, Bt technology contributes to a greener production process. At the same time, yields with Bt cotton are consistently higher than those with conventional varieties… 

A higher level of environmental efficiency is achieved with Bt technology. Levels of environmental efficiency are positively correlated with Bt seed quality. This points at the importance of transparent and competitive seed markets to foster sustainable agricultural growth. While the market for Bt seeds in India was not competitive and heavily restricted in the early years of technology diffusion, the situation has improved over time, although direct government interventions in the seed market are still commonplace… 

Even though Bt adoption has resulted in significant efficiency gains, the overall environmental-economic production still shows ample scope for further improvement. We found a mean technology gap of 13 per cent. Varying Bt seed quality can explain some of this gap, but several other factors are likely to play a role as well. This requires further investigation. In any case, transgenic seeds should be considered as one element of a broader agricultural development strategy, not as a universal remedy that can substitute for other important elements such as improved agronomy, education, markets or agricultural policy.

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Biofortified β-carotene rice improves vitamin A intake and reduces the prevalence of inadequacy among women and young children in a simulated analysis in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines ...

Vitamin A deficiency continues to be a major public health problem affecting developing countries where people eat mostly rice as a staple food. In Asia, rice provides up to 80% of the total daily energy intake. 

We used existing data sets from Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines, where dietary intakes have been quantified at the individual level to 1) determine the rice and vitamin A intake in nonpregnant, nonlactating women of reproductive age and in nonbreastfed children 1-3 y old and 2) simulate the amount of change that could be achieved in the prevalence of inadequate intake of vitamin A if rice biofortified with β-carotene were consumed instead of the rice consumed at present. 

We considered a range of 4-20 parts per million (ppm) of β-carotene content and 10-70% substitution levels for the biofortified rice… the substitution of biofortified rice for white rice in the optimistic scenario (20 ppm and 70% substitution) decreased the prevalence of vitamin A inadequacy from baseline 78% in women and 71% in children in Bangladesh. In Indonesia and the Philippines, the prevalence of inadequacy fell by 55-60% in women and dropped by nearly 30% in children from baseline. 

The results of the simulation analysis were striking in that even low substitution levels and modest increases in the β-carotene of rice produced a meaningful decrease in the prevalence of inadequate intake of vitamin A. Increasing the substitution levels had a greater impact than increasing the β-carotene content by >12 ppm… 

In β-carotene rice, commonly known as golden rice because of its yellow hue, 2 genes naturally involved in carotene biosynthesis were inserted into the rice genome by using transgenics. This insertion restarts the carotenoid biosynthetic pathway that is normally inactive, leading to the production of β-carotene in the grain. The current amount of β-carotene in biofortified b-carotene rice is 35 parts per million (ppm), with an estimated bioconversion rate of 3.8:1 from β-carotene to vitamin A… 

Biofortified β-carotene rice can substantially increase vitamin A intake and consequently reduce the prevalence of inadequacy of this vitamin. Increasing vitamin A intake through biofortified rice at 8-12 ppm of β-carotene, in combination with programs that increase adoption of biofortified rice in a population, can be an effective method at reducing population prevalence of inadequate vitamin A intakes... However... increasing the β-carotene beyond 12 ppm has little added benefit; rather, public health programs will have the most impact by increasing the substitution of white rice by biofortified β-carotene rice.

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Genetically Modified Crops and Agricultural Development - AJAE (2016) 

After nearly two decades of cultivation, genetically modified (GM) crops remain mired in controversy. Protagonists of GM crops maintain that their benefits far outweigh the risks and costs associated with such crops. The opponents remain underwhelmed… That new technologies should face public scrutiny and skepticism about their usefulness is not unusual, especially in the face of uncertainty about their value to consumers and society. When the underlying technology is complex, as is the case with genetic modification, assessing its merits can be doubly difficult. This is particularly true in the initial stages of deployment when there is considerable resistance to their acceptance, primarily due to a lack of sufficient knowledge. With time, as evidence builds to support a particular innovation, the resistance to its adoption would wane and eventually diminish. 

Debates around GM crops, however, have not followed this trajectory, notwithstanding the large body of evidence that often vouches for the considerable benefits and overall safety of genetic modification. If anything, the robustness of evidence has only tended to increase the polarization between those arguing for the adoption and those favoring the rejection, often on rhetorical grounds. In ‘Genetically Modified Crops and Agricultural Development’, Matin Qaim weighs in on the debate and offers a thoughtful and balanced defense of GM crops. As one of the early and most prolific researchers examining the costs and benefits of agricultural biotechnology, his perspective is informed by years of collecting evidence on the economics of GM crops across the developing world. From Bt cotton in lndia to Roundup Ready soybeans in Brazil. Qaim and his collaborators have carried out numerous farm surveys and analyzed the data to estimate farm, environmental, and health impacts of GM crops… The evidence could not be clearer – GM crops have increased welfare and hold great promise if further commercialization is permitted… 

Qaim places GM crops in the context of the goals of agricultural development… Agricultural development should strive to achieve three simultaneous goals-namely, provide food for a growing population, improve the livelihoods of those who farm, and finally do this in ways that are ecologically and environmentally sustainable. Few would argue with these broad objectives, but differences arise on matters of emphasis and nuances. Specifically, the central question whether modern agriculture can be both highly productive and sustainable remains… The high input intensive agriculture such as that during the Green Revolution led to a number of environmental problems. Avoiding the sins of the past will require crops and agricultural practices that are equally, if not more, productive, but do so with lower amounts of chemical inputs. Qaim forcefully argues that a more enhanced role for plant breeding and the adoption of GM crops can help achieve this… 

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Development and Adoption of Bt Cotton - Gandhi & Jain (2016) - Springer

Development and Adoption of Bt Cotton - Gandhi & Jain (2016) - Springer | Ag Biotech News |
Bt cotton gets its name from a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt cotton contains a… gene obtained from Bacillus thuringiensis… This bacterium was first discovered by a Japanese bacteriologist in 1901 and subsequently in 1915 a German scientist isolated crystal toxin… B. thuringiensis was registered as a microbial pest control agent in 1961… in the US. In India, Bt formulations have been registered… 1968. With the advent of biotechnology, the bacterial gene was introduced genetically into the cotton genome , and it protects the plants from bollworms, the major pest of cotton. The worms feeding on the leaves of a Bt cotton plant become lethargic and sleepy, and are finally eliminated… 

Advantages of Bt cotton include agronomic, economic and environmental [benefits]. The major agronomic attributes of Bt cotton are improved pest control and yield advantage compared to conventional cotton varieties. The major economic benefits… reduced use of pesticides and effective yield superiority over non Bt cotton. Major environmental benefits include reduction in… insecticides spray, less insecticide in soils and aquifers, less exposure to pesticides for human beings and animals, and increase in the population of beneficial insects. These issues are reviewed below based on various studies…

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Growing monstrous organisms: the construction of anti-GMO visual rhetoric through digital media - Clancy & Clancy (2016) - 
Critical Studies Media Comm

Growing monstrous organisms: the construction of anti-GMO visual rhetoric through digital media - Clancy & Clancy (2016) - <br/>Critical Studies Media Comm | Ag Biotech News |

In February of 1999, a Greenpeace truck with a sign reading, “Tony don’t swallow Bill’s seed,” dumped four tons of Roundup Ready soy outside of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s residence. Shortly after, Blair bowed to public pressure and put into place a five-year, nationwide moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crops. Buoyed by Greenpeace’s success, image events became an essential part of the globalized movement against GMOs. In this, we argue that the high levels of opposition GM food in both the United States and in Europe can be attributed to the overwhelming success of the visual campaign against genetically modified organisms (GMOs). By exploiting the unique characteristics of the internet to create memetic images that travel freely across linguistic and cultural borders, opponents of the technology have been able to refute rationalist discourses about the safety of GMOs. Pro-GMO discourses, on the one hand, tend to employ scientific narratives in conjunction with rhetoric that renders GMOs “invisible,” and, in doing so, undermine the veracity of visual discourses. Anti-GMO discourse, on the other hand, is essentially visual, using enthymematic images such as Frankenfoods to undermine scientific narratives without directly engaging in rationalistic argumentation… 

Anti-GMO protests were among the most successful protest movements in modern history, strategically fusing notions of the global and the local, synthesizing universally recognizable symbols with local appeals. This is one of the markers of the anti-GMO movement, at once responsible for the success of the movement and for the failure of “sound science” to persuade the public of the safety of GMOs… Proponents of GMOs do not rely on visuality or digital media as a dominant part of their defense of the technology. The framework of scientism or “sound science” is based upon the belief that science is objective enough to guide policy because of its ability to transcend context-bound human values and particularized interests. Scientists exist on the periphery as wise advisors able to “[clear] away the tangle of politics and opinion to reveal the unbiased truth”. Although the discourse of “sound science” offers neutral explanations about the safety of GMOs by presenting itself as a closed, apolitical system of thought, popular challenges emerge on political, economic, and cultural levels that rupture that narrative. 

The anti-GMO image campaigns in different countries are clever and nuanced. They successfully shift the burden of proof in GMO debates to the visual realm. Even as supporters argue that the genetically modified crops are substantially equivalent to conventional food, the discourse reasserts the differences through the use of images such as blue apples and square lemons. The use of imagery is thus a significant, and under-examined, component of the strategy of GMO resistance. The cumulative effect is that GMOs are in a constant state of uncertainty and doubt – precisely the goal of the GMO opposition. The strategy employed by opponents of GMOs is to make GMOs visible while critiquing the process of their production, the product itself, and implications of their introduction to the environment… 

The analysis is based on an original dataset of over 1,000 visual depictions of GMOs from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, and Poland. We use semiotic analysis to analyze the meaning of the images… as containing multiple layers of meaning that must be unpacked. To do so, one identifies the universe of images, then reads the images moving from denotation to connotation to symbolic meaning, interpreting the way in which images construct the symbolic nature of GMOs… Three categories of critique emerged: critiques of the process, the product, and the implication of the technology… offering examples of the visual depictions of these critiques from within the data. For the process, we examine the images of the technology itself; these most often juxtapose scientific or medical and agricultural images. The images that depict the product make visual the physical properties of GM foods. Finally, images that show the implications of genetic engineering imagine the impact of the technology such as bio-hazardous foods, and various forms of environmental catastrophe. Although the “sound science” argument asserts the equivalence of GMOs and non-GMOs, the opposition posits that the product of genetic modification is not food at all, but a toxic creation. Images construct (sur)reality, using a logic of association and synecdochic phrasing to indict the “objective,” naturalist logic of GMO defense, thus offering powerful critiques of the technology… 

Thus, the cultural resistance to GMOs had major political and economic impacts across countries. The ability of images to short-circuit appeals to logic allows anti-GMO advocates to gain a persuasive foothold against GMO advocates even when the “facts” in regard to safety and regulation of GMOs are largely settled. While we may bracket the question of whether the endurance of anti-GMO rhetoric is good or bad, the fact of its resilience testifies to the ability of visual discourse to dislocate scientific or logic-based epistemologies from their hegemonic position. Additionally, because there is something intrinsic to image-based discourse that allows it to circumvent rationalistic paradigms, the centrality of the image within contemporary political debates contributes to a broader shift away from rational, political decision-making. 

The scope of such a shift, moreover, has the potential to affect political discourses on a global scale… visuals transcend language and cultural barriers: “visuals have assumed an important role in international political communication … language barriers still set limits to global textual communication, yet visuals transgress those barriers and evoke different responses in different cultural contexts”. The inverse is true as well – the globalization of images can in fact serve a unifying purpose; there is a least common denominator that conveys an essential message about an object through a visual that unites social movements across linguistic or cultural barriers. The blurring of fact and fiction through visual discourses participates in a rhetorical strategy which manipulates “audiences politically and ideologically in order to influence their habits”. 

The fact that images operate according to logics that circumvent rational argumentation in their appeals to public opinion means that the proliferation of image-based argumentation through global digital technologies may have profound implications for global, political decision making. If the image occupies a privileged position in global discourses, both because it can transcend cultural borders and because the image plays an ever-increasing role in the contemporary discourses in general, the possibility for an imagistic rather than rationalistic paradigm in global politics looms. This is not to argue that rational argumentation ought to comprise the fundamental axis of political communication. However, when non-rational arguments make inroads against public perceptions of statements-of-fact (i.e. convincing the public that GMOs are unsafe), it should be enough to induce anxiety on the part of the critic. Future research ought to consider ways in which scientific discourses may participate in our contemporary conversation of images. If rationalism is to persist as a metric for determining the veracity of claims made on scientific issues, proponents of science must figure out how to engage in the conversation of images. Either that, or science must learn how to combat the hegemony of images in digital political discourses… 

The notion that a political, argumentative culture predicated on the circulation of memetic images raises important concerns for political argumentation, in general, and more specifically about the circulation of visual arguments across cultural boundaries. Much of the previous literature on visual argumentation assumes that this kind of argument possesses an enthymematic argumentative structure. An enthymematic structure relies on the audience to participate in constructing the missing argumentative proposition in a given syllogism, and as such visual argumentation relies on a given visual culture to ensure that the intended persuasive effect is realized. That visual argumentation has… taken on a distinct memetic circulation in contemporary culture, inflecting the culturally specific nature of visual argumentation with new political consequences… 

We have… located visual argumentation as an effective tool for political mobilization, but introduced two main caveats to its rhetorical potentiality: first, the non-rationalistic kernel of visual argument, and, second, the potential for intercultural violence as associated with the memetic, globalized reproduction of arguments that rely on culturally specific understandings. Future research should analyze the operation of visual rhetorics in order to explicate the importance of these caveats in inflecting the use of visual argument as a political tool. The recent proliferation of political cartoons of the 2016 US presidential election… across the globe suggests that visual argumentation may be deployed toward constructing an intercultural understanding of political reality… Memetic circulation of visual argument may not portend only negative implications for intercultural politics. Moreover, the success of Anonymous in deploying visual iconography to unify what, before, was a diffuse group of internet users, suggests that visual argumentation may have unique effects in mobilizing movement groups. Our analysis, then, concludes that visual argumentation presents concrete possibilities for contemporary political mobilizations. Given this utility, and the predominance of the visual in our contemporary period, the ambivalent political implications of visual argumentation mark the rhetorical strategy as a crucial site for continuing scholarship.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
"Because there is something intrinsic to image-based discourse that allows it to circumvent rationalistic paradigms, the centrality of the image within contemporary political debates contributes to a broader shift away from rational, political decision-making." >> A worrying prospect... 
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Organic Food Fights Back Against 'Non-GMO' Rival - NPR (2016) 

Organic Food Fights Back Against 'Non-GMO' Rival - NPR (2016)  | Ag Biotech News |

I did a little experiment the other day. I stood outside a Whole Foods Market… with two cartons of... eggs. One carton had the words "Non-GMO Project Verified" on it, with a little orange butterfly. It also said cage-free. The other carton had a different label; a green and white circle with the words "USDA Organic." One other crucial difference: the organic carton cost 50 cents more. 

I asked shoppers which carton they would buy. "They both sound good… If it's non-GMO, great. If it's USDA organic, great… This one's a little cheaper, I guess I'd go with this one." Most of the shoppers I met made the same choice, and they're joined by millions of shoppers across the country. "We've seen exponential growth since... 2010," says... Executive Director of the Non-GMO Project… "We're currently at about $16 billion in annual sales of products that have the butterfly on them. Just two years ago, we were at $7 billion." 

Organic food sales are growing, too, but not as rapidly. And it's creating some soul-searching among organic companies, some of which actually launched the Non-GMO Project because they wanted to have their products tested for the presence of GMOs. The official organic rules, while they prohibit the use of genetic engineering, do not require organic food companies to test their ingredients for the presence of GMOs. "There's a concern, for sure, that consumers are getting ripped off, or that they're not getting what they think they're getting," says… the organic program manager at Nature's Path Organic Foods. 

The non-GMO label has always had its critics. Some people say it's misleading because it implies that non-GMO foods are better for you. Scientists and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have said repeatedly that this is not true. Now, organic food companies are starting… to voice concerns about the non-GMO label, too. They're worried that shoppers have become so fixated on GMOs that they don't realize how little it actually means, compared to organic… "that product might have been produced with pesticides, antibiotics, and with no regard for animal welfare"… "Non-GMO is agriculture before GMOs were introduced, which is still chemical agriculture"... The only real difference is, he can use a cheaper weedkiller... on the genetically modified soybeans"...

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
$16 billion annual sales of verified non-GMO food (in the US alone) is a higher figure than $15 million (global) revenues of Monsanto... Perhaps people who distrust big money and profits should start to be wary of (the organisations behind) non-GMO labelled food? 

With non-GMO food, representatives of the organic industry are concerned "that consumers are getting ripped off, or that they're not getting what they think they're getting" >> Just as consumers who buy organic think they're paying good money to get food that's healthier, more nutritious or more sustainable... (Whereas none of this is ascertained.) 

Organic food companies are starting to worry that shoppers have become so fixated on GMOs that they don't realize how little it actually means? >> Interesting. 
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People’s reliance on the affect heuristic may result in a biased perception of gene technology - Siegrist & Sütterlin (2016) - Food Qual Pref

People’s reliance on the affect heuristic may result in a biased perception of gene technology - Siegrist & Sütterlin (2016) - Food Qual Pref | Ag Biotech News |
In an experiment, we demonstrated that the same outcome of a new corn variety was evaluated less positively if it was from gene technology (GT) compared with conventional breeding technology (CT). The participants (N = 205) were randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions – GT or CT. In the first step, the participants’ affect associated with GT or CT plants was measured. Then, the participants read a hypothetical scenario about a new genetically modified (GT condition) or conventionally produced (CT condition) corn variety that was more resistant to the corn borer. They were presented with a matrix in which 1976 black (50%) and white (50%) cells were randomly scattered. The participants were informed that each cell represented a test plot and that the corn plants in the white test plots were not damaged by the corn borer. The participants were then asked to estimate the percentage of the plots infested by the corn borer and how effective they perceived the new corn variety was in resisting the pest. 

The results indicated that the participants assigned to the GT condition perceived the new corn variety as significantly less effective compared with the participants assigned to the CT condition. No significant difference was observed for estimated percentages. The results suggest that the difference in perceived effectiveness between genetically modified and conventionally bred corn can be explained by people’s reliance on the affect heuristic… 

Benefits associated with GT strongly influence its acceptance among laypeople. Based on the findings that perceived benefits constitute an important factor influencing GT acceptance, it is tempting to conclude that if genetic modification delivers additional rewards, acceptance of this technology will increase. Past research suggests that laypeople may assess the gains associated with GT in a biased way, however. If a biased perception results in discounting the benefits of GT, additional advantages may not necessarily lead to a higher acceptance of this technology… 

Various factors have been found to influence GT acceptance. Perceived risks and benefits of GT strongly affect its acceptance. It has also been shown that if tangible rewards are associated with a genetically modified (GM) product, the likelihood of purchase is increased. The results of these studies suggest that GT will be accepted only if it provides benefits that are not offered by other technologies. Therefore, it will be crucial that laypeople correctly evaluate GT’s advantages. Public perception of GT differs considerably from the assessment by experts, who observe notably fewer risks associated with GM foods. Thus, it is essential to understand how laypeople perceive GT and whether they assess its benefits in an unbiased way. Otherwise, they may be reluctant to buy GM foods despite additional gains… 

The participants assigned to the GT condition estimated the new corn variety’s effectiveness in resisting the corn borer as lower compared with the participants assigned to the CT condition. These findings were remarkable, given that all participants were shown exactly the same visual display. Unlike most studies about laypeople’s perception of GT, our experiment did not intend to show that the participants differed in their perception of GT but to demonstrate that the same benefit was less positively evaluated in the case of GT than in CT… 

We do not argue whether people should accept or reject GT. However, we think that identical benefits should be interpreted in the same way, regardless of what technology is used. The present study has some limitations, of course. To control for disturbing factors, a hypothetical scenario was used. Furthermore, we focused on benefits for farmers, not for consumers. Future studies should examine whether tangible rewards for consumers are also disregarded if they are derived from GT. 

This experiment’s results have daunting implications. The biotechnology community has recognized that focusing on crops that address consumer and producer needs is crucial for overcoming negative public perception of GT. Nonetheless, our experiment showed the participants’ bias when asked to assess the benefits associated with GT. The same statistical information was interpreted less favorably in the GT condition than in the CT condition. Compared with traditional breeding technologies, GT must deliver substantially more advantages to be acceptable to laypeople. 

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Demystification of GM crop costs: releasing late blight resistant potato varieties as public goods in developing countries - Schiek &al (2016) - IJBT

A few studies have reported some of the costs associated with bringing to market genetically-modified (GM) crops but no comprehensive studies exist on the real cost of the entire process of developing and releasing one GM variety by a not-for-profit institution in a developing country for sustainable agriculture… It is commonly assumed that such an undertaking is cost-prohibitive… 

The present study assesses the costs and the time expenditures to two not-for-profit programs… of developing a late blight resistant potato variety for release in one developing country. CIP's costs run to $1.6 million over eight years, while Cornell's costs amount to $1.4 million over nine years. Exogenous disturbances might result in insignificant increases in cost, but can increase time expenditure significantly. A sensitivity analysis revealed that the total cost is markedly influenced by technical parameters determining the production and identification of the pre-commercial… event… 

While the benefits of GM crops have been widely assessed and documented, development costs have always been considered either as sunk, or have been assessed using secondary data or expert opinions with no direct access to the real costs incurred by the technology developers… 

Only two widely available studies… The first study estimates the cost of deregulation alone at $7-15 million. The second study… commissioned by Crop Life International, puts the whole cost, from discovery to deregulation and release, at USD $136 million, with a standard deviation of $86 million. However, these studies are based on surveys of anonymous experts at private sector corporations, and thus focus on the development of high value trait products such as herbicide-tolerant corn for simultaneous deregulation and release in many developed countries… 

It stands to reason that the costs to not-for-profit institutions pursuing the development of low economic value trait products for deregulation and release in one or two developing countries will be much lower. One study reports, for example, that the deregulation of viral resistant rice in Costa Rica costs $2.25 million; and that the deregulation of Bt eggplant in India costs $53,556. Another study estimated the total cost of developing Bt corn MON810 in the Philippines at $2.6 million using indirect cost methodology… These sums are very small compared to those reported in the private sector studies… 

The present paper provides an answer to this question through a case study of the costs to not-for-profit institutions of developing a specific GM product for deregulation and release as a public good in a specific developing country. The specific GM product considered in this paper is a potato variety with resistance to late blight disease… The two not-for-profit institutions’ cost assessments agree closely in their bottom line: For $1.3-1.5 million, over eight to nine years, one LBr variety can be made available to resource-poor farmers in a developing country… 

Why is the cost of pursuing a GM program so much lower for not-for-profit programs? ... Private sector corporations have much larger budgets… and pursue grand strategies commensurate with those budgets. Their interests might span… several end-uses, and several markets. In pursuit of the development of products with billion dollar market potential, they do not hesitate to pay top dollar for personnel and state-of-the-art technology. 

Not-for-profit institutions… are more surgical in their approach. They pursue highly specific goals for specific populations in specific countries. They do not attempt to sustain the massive in-house capacity of their private sector counterparts, but rather modify their capacity as they go, and as necessary to fulfil the objectives of the specific project at hand… 

Then there are some less obvious, more speculative reasons. It may be that the private corporations do much more testing than is strictly necessary for the regulatory dossier in order to increase public confidence… One might speculate that the corporations participating in the... studies deliberately exaggerated their costs out of a competitive self-interest… 

The cost to not-for-profit institutions of developing a transgenic potato variety with late blight resistance for release in one developing country is well under $2 million USD over eight to nine years. This cost figure is less than the private sector costs by two orders of magnitude. Evidently, costs might vary from one not-for-profit institution to another… and on the country in which the institution is seeking regulatory approval… 

Exogenous disturbances might cause a loss of cropping season(s) or a delay of several years due to moratorium – and hence a great deal of frustration for the implementing institution – but the resulting increase in cost will not be proportional to the frustration… All in all… the cost of developing and bringing to market one transgenic staple crop variety in one developing country is affordable by current not-for-profit institutions engaged in genetic engineering for crop improvement.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
"It may be that the private corporations do much more testing than is strictly necessary for the regulatory dossier in order to increase public confidence" >> Interesting idea... 
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New sorghum varieties released in Nigeria with higher iron, yields and drought resilience - ICRISAT (2016) 

New sorghum varieties released in Nigeria with higher iron, yields and drought resilience - ICRISAT (2016)  | Ag Biotech News |

The release of two new nutritionally high sorghum varieties, one with three times higher iron content, will be a boost for farmers as well as malnourished populations, especially children, in Nigeria. Both varieties have yields that are double the local varieties [and] are also short duration, allowing farmers to adapt better to climate change. 

Naturally biofortified, one of the new varieties has iron content three times higher than typically grown sorghum at 129ppm compared to 40ppm. Both are drought resistant with average yields of 2.4-2.8t/ha, compared to the less than 1tonne per hectare from the local varieties. This means more income for the farmers and better health. 

The improved open pollinated varieties… “can help overcome periods of drought especially terminal drought problems prevalent in the Nigerian (Sudan and Sahel) ecologies because they are early maturing, with 50% flowering in 67 days against the 90 days on average of other varieties… Sorghum has been recommended for infants, the elderly, pregnant and lactating mothers because of its high caloric and nutritional value. There are cases of “hidden hunger”, a deficit of iron and zinc… among low income farmers who [use] most of their production for household consumption”… 

“The variety will ensure that we have food even in years with low rainfall, like in 2015, and we will harvest before there is any damage to the late crops… the Government as a matter of urgency should ensure seed availability for farmers. We are ready to buy.” says Mr Mohammed Madaki, farmer… 

Initial screenings also encouragingly showed that the new varieties had less emergence of the deadly striga weed compared to other varieties in the trial. The registration of the varieties was recently approved by the Nigerian government… The new varieties involved crossing local Nigerian germplasm, or seeds, with improved lines from ICRISAT’s collection in Mali. Further research and testing led to the development of the new sorghum varieties… The new varieties retain traits such as bold and white grains preferred by farmers and markets.

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Position Statement on Insect Resistance Management for Genetically Modified Crops - ESA (2016)

Position Statement on Insect Resistance Management for Genetically Modified Crops - ESA (2016) | Ag Biotech News |
Genetically modified (GM) crops have been grown for two decades, resulting in higher crop yields, a decrease in insecticide use, and an increase in farmer profitability, benefiting farmers, the environment, and society. Insect pest populations that develop resistance to GM crops have the potential to greatly diminish these benefits. Insect resistance management (IRM) programs to delay resistance frequently entail near-term individual and local costs for expected long-term societal benefits and require cooperation among researchers, educators, technology developers, farmers, governments, and other stakeholders…. Current IRM policies have prevented or delayed pest resistance to many GM crops; however… seven cases of resistance in five major insect pest species have been confirmed worldwide. These cases suggest that policies to improve and coordinate the adoption of IRM [insect resistance management] and IPM policies are needed to preserve the sustainable use of GM crops that possess these insect-resistant traits. Research into the economic and sociological implications of these policies is needed to ensure that costs and benefits are shared appropriately across society…  

Recognizing the potential for broad societal benefits from insect-protected GM crops, policies that will reduce the development and impact of insect resistance to the crops should include the following: 

• Cooperation among private developers, public institutions, and regulators… in promoting practical, science-driven IRM practices within IPM programs based on near-term grower needs, and… support the use of GM crop technology for sustaining insect resistance over the long term… Monitoring programs that enable early detection and economically proportionate responses to emerging resistance situations. 

• Education, incentives, and assistance for growers to implement IRM tactics within IPM programs… 

• Predictable and reasonable regulatory requirements and review timelines for new GM crops that possess insect-resistant traits, and associated IRM programs that reduce the risk of resistance and promote sustainable use. 

• Support for cross-disciplinary research into approaches to overcome the economic and sociological barriers to successful IRM and IPM. 

Humans have been managing crops for thousands of years, often selecting plants with mechanisms to protect themselves from pests; in turn, pests evolve resistance mechanisms to overcome these defenses. Agriculturalists and entomologists need to manage crop defenses to counteract the evolution of resistance by insects. Genetically modified crops that possess insect resistant traits have been available to farmers since 1996 and present an opportunity to quickly introduce new plant defense mechanisms. The first generation of GM crops expressed insecticidal genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, which has been the source of a variety of manufactured microbial insecticides for the past 75+ years. 

A recent global meta-analysis found that insect-protection traits resulted in 22% higher crop yields, a 37% decrease in insecticide use, and a 68% increase in farmer profitability. In addition, GM crops have improved worker safety and enhanced simplicity and flexibility of farm management. However, the eventual development of resistance in target pest populations can occur as a consequence of using any pest control tool. After 20 years of commercial use, seven cases of field-relevant resistance to specific Bt crops across five major pest species have been reported in India, South Africa, South America, and the US. In at least one case, the resistance has remained even after withdrawal of the affected crop. 

The potential for future widespread insect resistance development is a major threat to the sustainability of the benefits of GM crops. Resistance management programs are therefore essential to extend and preserve the benefits. Insect resistance management is one of the scientific approaches to long-term pest management to ensure that resistance does not interfere with the ability of all stakeholders to accomplish their goals. By preserving the utility of GM insect protection traits over time, IRM programs for GM crops with these traits should be fully implemented to maintain incentives for technology developers to continue innovation (they improve return on investment), to benefit farmers (they realize cost savings, convenience, yield protection, reduced pesticide handling, and they implement sustainable pest management practices), to protect the environment (through reduced- or better-targeted insecticide applications), and to help consumers (lower pesticide residues, increased food security). 

IRM is part of IPM. IPM is the foundation of modern applied agricultural entomology. IPM emphasizes the integration of multiple tactics (cultural practices, breeding for host plant defenses, biological control using predators and pathogens, and chemical applications when necessary at economic thresholds) to manage pest populations at levels that are economically and socially acceptable. Many entomologists consider GM crops as a type of host plant defense, and thus one of the tactical pillars of IPM. Historically, the primary goal of IPM has been efficient management of a crop at the field level over a single season. Incorporating IRM into IPM broadens the program for area-wide, long-term pest management. Like IPM, IRM uses multiple tactics to achieve its goal of slowing development of resistance in pest populations. 

IRM is based on four approaches: 1) diversification of control tactics, 2) reduction of selection pressure for each control tactic, 3) maintenance of a refuge for development of susceptible individuals and immigration to promote mixing with resistant individuals, and 4) evaluation of any development of resistance through the use of monitoring and models. Summarily, combining multiple IPM tactics, reducing overall pest pressure, preserving beneficial parasitoids and predators, scouting, and applying insecticides at established thresholds reduces the likelihood of resistance developing in GM crops. Employing adequate non-insect-protected crop refuge is the backbone of IRM for GM crops, as it reduces the proportion of the pest population that is under active selection for resistance and, in the case of high-dose products, can greatly delay development of resistance to the GM crop. IPM and IRM add operational and logistical complexities in managing crops and farms because farmers must closely monitor their fields, carefully select and plant crop seeds, and track season-long incidence and management of pests… 

The landscape scale of pest populations and resistant insects can create the impression that the actions of an individual farmer are not important as long as the neighbors are following the IPM and IRM recommendations… While farmers are likely to recognize the threat that resistance poses to pest management, if delaying resistance becomes too burdensome in the short-term from either a time or financial perspective, they will be reluctant to adopt IRM techniques. For example, maintaining a refuge of vulnerable plants for susceptible pests is a foundational strategy, but if the pest population causes significant damage to refuge plants, producers are less likely to comply. Policies and practices exist in other disciplines where short-term objectives and long-term goals need to be balanced. Economists and sociologists can partner with entomologists and regulators to find mechanisms to promote sound IRM strategies and behaviors by conveying the benefits. 

Because of the complexities and trade-offs associated with implementing effective IRM programs, coordination among individuals and across different sectors is needed. Resistance management strategies are only successful at the landscape level because this is where most pest populations exchange genes. Effective IRM thus requires cooperation of all producers in a given area. Pests move across agricultural landscapes, and resistance can affect multiple GM crops and insecticidal proteins at the same time. If some farmers practice IRM and others do not, the non-IRM farmers will benefit from the practices of the IRM farmers in the short-term, while the IRM farmers will not receive all of the benefits from their investments. In the long run, no one benefits because poor IRM hastens technology failure. 

Diverse stakeholder groups – including farmers, crop consultants, grower associations, land-grant university researchers and extension scientists, crop consultants, seed companies, biotechnology companies, landowners, and government agencies – have responsibilities for different aspects of resistance management. This diversity reflects the societal benefits of effective IRM that preserves and promotes the economic, environmental, and food security gains enabled by GM crops. To properly accomplish IRM, stakeholders must coordinate to recognize their different needs, and they should be encouraged to take responsibility for actions that will benefit most, if not all, over the long term. It is critical… [to] create and promote educational programs to teach farmers that IRM is essential to maintain effective insect control and that it is in their economic interests. 

Insect pests cause significant losses in agricultural production. GM crops that are protected from insect damage provide billions of dollars of economic benefit to farmers worldwide, reduce farm input and management costs, and ensure a more secure, environmentally sensitive, and profitable food supply. However, insect pests have a propensity to overcome control tactics, including GM crops. Given the importance of GM crops in meeting the demand for agricultural production, we must develop, implement, and support policies that maintain their efficacy and durability despite pest adaptability. IRM programs require understanding multiple dynamics, including pest and crop biology, economics, social acceptance, and farmer behavior. Effective implementation requires coordination among developers, users, farm advisors, and regulators. Therefore, ESA advocates research that furthers our understanding of pest biology, GM crop efficacy, and the benefits and costs of insect-resistance management, as well as public and private sector education and training programs for end-users of IRM tactics. 

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Success of transgenic cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.): Fiction or reality? - Noman &al (2016) - Cogent Food Ag

Success of transgenic cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.): Fiction or reality? - Noman &al (2016) - Cogent Food Ag | Ag Biotech News |

Cotton being one of the top most cash crop is reckoned as main pillar of textile industry. Cotton cultivation has experienced an outstanding escalation story over the years. The per unit yield and area under cultivation have all incremented to record towering levels. But question is how Bt cotton has contributed and whether it is satisfactory or not. 

At present for finding a conclusion, we need unfathomable analyses and investigations related to multiple aspects of global cotton cultivation. Genetic engineering is considered as an imperative tool in cotton breeding with a role in empowerment of traditional strategies for improvement in net yield and related factors. Among multitude of reasons for massive shifting to Bt cotton cultivation in the world include inadequate germplasm, climatic conditions, irrigated area, usage of fertilizers and pesticides. 

We should consider Bt cotton a miracle solution. Therefore, it is probable that Bt cotton along with newly developed strategies, improved irrigation systems and superior chemical application may enhance the production quality and quantity as well. Our review brings into light the success of cotton genetic engineering over the last two decades and probable future prospects.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
Flowery language could give a welcome respite from dull and dry texts, even if it is perhaps not very academic, but it should at least be intelligible... (And this in a journal of one of the bigger academic publishers.) 
Jennifer Mach's comment, July 23, 2:29 PM
Ironically published in a journal called "Cogent". Wish I had had a crack at editing this-- it's an important subject.
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European incoherence on GMO cultivation versus importation - Tagliabue (2016) - Nature Biotechnol

A double standard has been practiced for many years in the European Union's (EU) regulation of so-called genetically modified organisms (GMOs): cultivation is practically forbidden, whereas importation is allowed. Many member states are taking advantage of a recent amendment of the 2001 Directive to continue the ban on cultivation, whereas an inconvenient proposal by the European Commission (EC) to adjust the rules on importation accordingly has been rejected by the European Parliament. I interpret this to mean that members of the European Parliament simply did not want to discuss the thorny issue, preferring to leave things in limbo, as they have been for many years... 

Despite GMOs not identifying a consistent category, European lawmakers (and those in many other countries and regions of the world) continue to discriminate against these products, treating recombinant DNA cultivars as a separate entity: the consequent rules are botched and necessarily nonsensical. One inconvenience of the regulatory gobbledygook is that for many years the EU has had to apply a clear double standard to GMOs. On the one hand, it has probably the most restrictive regulations in the world in terms of recombinant DNA (rDNA) plant cultivation; on the other, it has continued to allow importation of enormous quantities of rDNA seeds because it needs them for use as animal feed. 

The cultivation of GMOs and the use and/or importation of them is regulated by two distinct legislative instruments, Directive 2001/18 and Regulation 1829/2003, respectively. Last year, the European Parliament introduced a partial change, amending Directive 2001/18... The European Food Safety Agency remains the sole body in charge of the environmental and health assessment of GMOs at the EU level, but member states are allowed to prohibit the cultivation of approved rDNA varieties at a national level based on nonscientific grounds (e.g., “environmental or agricultural policy objectives or other compelling grounds, such as town and country planning, land use, socioeconomic impacts, coexistence and public policy”... 

The EC planned to extend the reform with a similar new regulation to amend Regulation 1829/2003... To carry this out, however, European legislators were suddenly confronted with a problem: EU member states currently import millions of tons of GMOs as animal feed – a fact that is conveniently glossed over by many of the same politicians who thunder against the cultivation of GMOs. Small surprise then that the EC’s proposed reform of the current rules for the use of GMOs as food or feed got short and sharp shrift from EU parliamentarians, irrespective of party lines…. The reason is that… It would be very embarrassing for politicians to have to decide explicitly whether to grant or ban the import of GMO feed and foodstuffs. If they were to authorize importations, they would alienate constituents who mostly oppose these products; if they were to reject authorization, they would anger farmers and create a potentially catastrophic situation in which insufficient soya and corn were available for European livestock (because most of the supply is genetically modified)… 

Thus, it seems that the lack of a desire to amend Regulation 1829/2003 simply reflects the desire to keep the status quo. In Europe, that means ostracizing GMO foods from shop shelves by stigmatizing them with meaningless obligatory labels, while at the same time importing industrial quantities of GMO feed because farmers could not care less about the propaganda from anti-GMO activists and have to feed their livestock… Why did the EC, with its proposal to review the rules on importing GMOs, make waves in the first place? … Maybe the EC… was hoping the proposal would be rejected all along. That way it would highlight the intransigence of the European Parliament and provide good grounds – or if you prefer, a valid alibi – for the arrangement of faster authorization of the numerous future GMOs on which the European Food Safety Agency will, in all likelihood, express a positive opinion in terms of their health and environmental impact…  

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Commercial Crop Yields Reveal Strengths and Weaknesses for Organic Agriculture in the United States - Kniss &al (2016) - PLoS ONE

Commercial Crop Yields Reveal Strengths and Weaknesses for Organic Agriculture in the United States - Kniss &al (2016) - PLoS ONE | Ag Biotech News |

Land area devoted to organic agriculture has increased steadily over the last 20 years in the United States, and elsewhere around the world. A primary criticism of organic agriculture is lower yield compared to non-organic systems. 

Previous analyses documenting the yield deficiency in organic production have relied mostly on data generated under experimental conditions, but these studies do not necessarily reflect the full range of innovation or practical limitations that are part of commercial agriculture. 

The analysis we present here offers a new perspective, based on organic yield data collected from over 10,000 organic farmers... We used publicly available data... to estimate yield differences between organic and conventional production methods for the 2014 production year. 

Similar to previous work, organic crop yields in our analysis were lower than conventional crop yields for most crops. Averaged across all crops, organic yield averaged 80% of conventional yield. 

However, several crops had no significant difference in yields... and organic yields surpassed conventional yields for some hay crops. The organic to conventional yield ratio varied widely among crops, and in some cases, among locations within a crop…

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
“Examination of commonalities and differences between organic and conventional production practices in states with the best and worst yield ratios could be informative.” 
>> True, but while conventional farmers can adopt any practice they find advantageous (and thus at least in principle produce as efficiently and sustainable as possible), organic farmers are constrained by what is permitted under the (arbitrary) rules of organic agriculture, i.e. they will necessarily always be dragging behind…
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A Chat With: U.S. nutritionist Julie Miller Jones speaks out about GE crops - CIMMYT (2016) 

A Chat With: U.S. nutritionist Julie Miller Jones speaks out about GE crops - CIMMYT (2016)  | Ag Biotech News |

Leading nutritionist Julie Miller Jones aims to bust myths about biotechnology by educating the general population on the benefits she believes genetically engineered (GE) crops can play in ending extreme hunger and malnutrition. A shift away from the perception that GE crops are unsafe to the environment and human health is needed if they are to live up to their potential to increase food production and improve nutrition to meet the needs of growing global population… 

Hunger and malnutrition are barriers to sustainable development, because they lead to lowered productivity, diminished health, limit the ability to improve livelihoods… There are nearly 800 million people who suffer from hunger worldwide, the majority in developing countries… A recent report released by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences… said there is no substantiated evidence that foods from GE crops are less safe than foods from non-GE crops… The general public must be educated about how biotechnology can safely improve food crops and contribute to nourishing a global population projected to grow… by 2050 to more than 9.7 billion. 

GE technologies enable the insertion from one species to another of genetic material (DNA) responsible, for example, for the production of vitamin precursors, such as pro-vitamin A carotenoids. Specific genes… can help address vitamin A shortages… Conventional breeding does not have this ability to insert desirable genes from one species to another, and GE technologies can therefore enhance the contribution of plant breeding in addressing significant public health problems… 

Miller Jones is outspoken about the negative consequences of gluten-free diets and has written several research papers that dispel myths generated by claims that the protein found in wheat is unhealthy. She is a certified nutrition specialist who is also a distinguished scholar and professor emeritus of nutrition… Interested in all aspects of nutrition science, she is actively involved in educating consumers against myths about nutrition and food safety… 

Jones… shared some insights on the future of agriculture… I’m interested in nutrition and feeding the world, I taught students about the Green Revolution… in the world food supply section of my class… What hasn’t been communicated effectively, so that the average person can understand and not fear the technology, is the risk of not using GE and other agricultural advancements. It’s ironic to me that those claiming to be interested in the environment often reject technologies that enable the use of fewer inputs and scarce resources… 

As a nutritionist and communicator, I want to work with breeders to ensure that nutrients are one of the aspects that are included in breeding programs. Further, I want to work with others to develop effective strategies to explain advancements in agriculture and plant breeding to reduce consumers’ fears and ease their acceptance and adoption.

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Pesticides used to help bees may actually harm them - Virginia Tech (2016) 

Pesticides used to help bees may actually harm them - Virginia Tech (2016)  | Ag Biotech News |

Pesticides beekeepers are using to improve honeybee health may actually be harming the bees by damaging the bacteria communities in their guts… The discovery… is a concern because alterations can affect the gut’s ability to metabolize sugars and peptides, processes that are vital for honeybee health. 

Beekeepers typically apply pesticides to hives to rid them of harmful parasites such as Varroa mites. “Although helpful for ridding hives of parasites and pathogens, the chemicals in beekeeper-applied pesticides can be harmful to the bees… pesticides could specifically impact the microbes that are crucial to honey bee nutrition and health”.. 

 In Virginia, the approximate rate of hive loss is more than 30 percent per year, and continued losses are expected to drive up the cost for important crops that bees make possible, such as apples, melon and squash.

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The sticky materiality of neo-liberal neonatures: GMOs and the agrarian question - Carroll (2016) - New Political Economy

The sticky materiality of neo-liberal neonatures: GMOs and the agrarian question - Carroll (2016) - New Political Economy | Ag Biotech News |
This article uses Marxist theories of agrarian capitalism to explore the political economy of genetically modified organisms (GMO) agriculture. It argues that the successes and failures of GMO agriculture have been partly circumscribed by the structural requirements of the capitalist system, as well as by the materiality of GMO crops themselves. Successful innovations have been able to mitigate the material barriers to accumulation found in agricultural production, and thus appeal directly to farmers as comparatively profitable capital inputs. In this way, they cohere with David Goodman’s notion of appropriationism, where manufactured capital inputs (such as pesticides, machinery and fertilisers) replace ‘natural’ inputs (such as manure or draft animals), reducing labour time and biological contingency, and thus creating a competitive advantage for those farmers who adopt the new technology (at least temporarily). Conversely, innovations that are geared at consumers rather than farmers have largely failed due to their status as value-added products (whose value is subjective and market-driven) rather than capital goods. The article uses contrasting case studies of herbicide-tolerant soybeans, beta-keratin[sic!]-enhanced rice and slow-ripening tomatoes to demonstrate how and why the structural imperatives of global capitalism have enabled the success of some, and the failure of other innovations. 

The late-twentieth-century rise of biotechnology – and GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in particular – garnered tremendous popular, activist, scholarly and corporate attention. Evaluations of GMO technologies ranged from apocalyptic to utopian, but few doubted that GMOs would significantly transform our food system… However, two decades since the commercial release of the first GMO food… GMOs have been neither a global panacea nor a pandemic. Their modest, if not underwhelming, performance may be what needs accounting. This is not to say there have been no successes, particularly early on in the late 1990s. Two transgenic events – tolerance to herbicides and resistance to pests – have been remarkably implemented, capturing substantial control over some of the world’s most significant crops… From the perspective of… corporations… these innovations have been cash cows, enabling near-monopoly control over not only transgenic seed sales, but also often other agricultural inputs, such as herbicides. But these innovations – among them Roundup Ready soybeans and canola and Bt corn and cotton – are virtually the only commercially successful GMOs. Moreover, all of these innovations were already commercially available in the late 1990s. In the meantime, no further innovations of significance have emerged, while many have faltered, such as Bt potatoes, Roundup Ready wheat and perhaps most notably, beta-keratin[sic!]-enhanced ‘Golden Rice’… 

No single factor accounts for either the early success or subsequent setbacks of the GMO food economy. To understand the contemporary context, we have to examine its juridico-political, economic, biophysical and cultural dimensions. However, this article focuses on the material, in particular the economic, considering from a Marxist perspective how the logic of capital has both enabled and constrained the development of the GMO food economy, and how the biophysicality of GMO crops has been manifested as both an opportunity and a challenge to capital. It locates GMOs within the historical context of agrarian capitalism, linking with earlier debates over the problems that agriculture poses to capital as a site of profitable accumulation, showing how both the successes and failures of GMO agriculture can be understood in the wider context of agrarian capitalism, and the problems (and opportunities) that agriculture’s unique spatial, temporal and biophysical demands pose to capital. 

I argue that technologies that can temporarily overcome or reduce these barriers to accumulation hold the potential to be highly profitable and thus successful, while those that do not directly alter the conditions of production will likely be ignored by industry. This dialectic can, therefore, help explain both the successes and failures of GMO agriculture to date, and demonstrate the extent to which corporate profitability rather than social utility has driven GMO innovation thus far. The trajectory of GMO technological innovation has been heavily structured by the logic of capital, a condition that accounts for the lack of success in innovations not targeted at reducing the temporal, spatial and biophysical constraints to capital within the production process. For example, herbicide tolerance and pest resistance are both innovations that affect production by changing the ways farmers address the problems posed by weeds and pests. Innovations geared at consumers (such as nutrient enhancement or slower ripening), which yield value-added end products but make no difference in the actual production process, have largely failed. 

The article begins with an historical overview of the agrarian question, discussing how Marxists have dealt with the problems agriculture poses to capital accumulation and how capital has sought to overcome these problems. Section II theorises the conditions under which GMO agriculture has been successful, considering how GMOs fit a wider tendency within agricultural capitalism to mitigate spatial, temporal and biophysical barriers to the reduction of labour and production time (and thus to added surplus value) through capital inputs, or what Goodman et al. (1987) have termed ‘appropriationism’. However, at stake in GMO agriculture is not simply the way biophysical inputs are replaced with synthetic industrial inputs, but how property rights are managed throughout the commodity chain with patents and technology use agreements (TUAs), ensuring the extraction of rents for patent holders, a logic of accumulation that Pechlaner (2010) has termed ‘expropriationism’. Through both of these logics, capital is able to subsume elements of the production process, extracting greater surplus value than under an unsubsumed system of production… My analysis builds on these earlier accounts by arguing and demonstrating that the logic of capital works to both enable and constrain the trajectory of GMO development. Appropriationism and expropriationism are thus significant in understanding not only how and why certain innovations have met with success, but also why so many others have failed. This demonstrates that although capitalism’s competitive logic may promote innovation, in biotechnology and elsewhere, it is only certain innovations – and by no means the most socially useful – that can ever be profitably pursued… 

Section III turns to a theorisation of the barriers to accumulation posed by both the logic of capital and the materiality of GMOs. It considers how consumption-oriented innovations have failed to provide an impetus for capital to invest and have thus been ignored, despite great potential benefits to the public. Just as the logic of capital has enabled the development of certain innovations, it has hindered the development of others. The section also considers a separate set of constraints: the ecological and biophysical barriers to accumulation that are in part a consequence of the inherent dynamism and complexity of the life sciences… Ultimately, the argument advanced here is not meant to dismiss GMOs as a failed technology. Their failures are overdetermined by the structural contours of global capitalism, among other factors. Today’s GMO food economy emerged in the context of the particular political economic configuration of neo-liberal globalisation, and its real-world manifestations cannot be detached from this context. However, a different political economic context, driven by motives other than profit and capital accumulation, would enable a different, and perhaps more hopeful, GMO food economy. The story of GMO agriculture is today only a recent iteration of the story of capitalist agriculture. The future of GMO agriculture holds the potential for a wholly different narrative… 

The story of GMOs – their successes and failures – is only the latest chapter in the story of agricultural capitalism. The path of their development has been significantly conditioned by the materiality of agricultural capitalism. GMOs have been successful because they help overcome barriers to accumulation inherent to the biophysicality of agriculture. In this way, their commercial success has paralleled earlier appropriationist technologies, including machinery and chemical inputs. As on-farm labour and production are replaced with off-farm, industrial labour and production, the barriers to accumulation posed by agriculture’s inherent materiality are diminished. However, GMOs, like hybrid seeds before them, differ from other appropriationist technologies. Their liveliness and in particular their reproducibility present both new challenges and new opportunities. There are challenges of maintaining control, not just of the reproductive capacities of the seeds, but of how ownership rights can be preserved for patent holders beyond the first generation of the plants. This challenge has necessitated a stringent IPR regime, which has substantially empowered biotechnology firms, and been termed expropriationism. 

This paper has demonstrated how the dual accumulation strategy of appropriationism and expropriationism has made certain GMOs profitable for capital and inescapable for (most) farmers. The converse of this process has been the failure of numerous innovations that do not cohere with the industrial logic inherent to successful GMOs. Biotechnology multinationals have eschewed innovations that address consumer health, nutrition or aesthetic considerations because of the uncertainty of any success in these innovations. Without any structural impetus for farmers to adopt transgenic crops that do not inherently improve the production process, there is no guarantee that such crops would even be planted, let alone sold for a premium in grocery stores. In this way, the logic of agricultural capitalism has significantly narrowed the spectrum of GMO development. 

However, if the current situation is the result of a particular set of material constraints inherent to the logic of capital, this does not render it inevitable. A categorical rejection of GMOs without consideration of the contingency of their location within capitalist political economies only serves to further entrench and naturalise the hegemony of capitalism. A critical reformulation of the global food economy must start with a decoupling of the biotech baby from the capitalist bathwater. 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
“From the perspective of… corporations… these innovations have been cash cows, enabling near-monopoly control over not only transgenic seed sales, but also often other agricultural inputs, such as herbicides.” >> It’s only a monopoly if a buyer has no other option but to buy from one supplier. However, there is more than just one seed provider (and depending on the country, the global companies can be in competition with local providers, too), and farmers have the option to choose not only between different GM seeds but also to buy non-GM, for which there are even more companies and providers. Moreover, even if GM seeds from one company should dominate a market, it’s only a temporary phenomenon – which only lasts until the patent on the seed technology expires (as it in 2015 e.g. for Monsanto’s first-generation Roundup Ready soybean). Regarding agricultural inputs (herbicides), the patent on Roundup already expired in 2000… 

“corporate profitability rather than social utility has driven GMO innovation thus far” >> The reason that so far only crops that “directly alter the conditions of production” have been successful is to some extent also because social forces (activists) have blocked, hampered and opposed progress of social-utility GMOs… 

“at stake in GMO agriculture is… how property rights are managed… ensuring the extraction of rents for patent holders… termed ‘expropriationism’… Capital is able to subsume elements of the production process, extracting greater surplus value than under an unsubsumed system of production…” >> Studies showed that the gains of cultivating GM crops are shared (even if to varying degrees) by patent holders, farmers and consumers, with everybody being better off… 

“although capitalism’s competitive logic may promote innovation, in biotechnology and elsewhere, it is only certain innovations – and by no means the most socially useful – that can ever be profitably pursued” >> There’s also the (albeit smaller) public and philanthropic sectors that promote (socially useful) innovations – which (as in the case of Golden Rice) are not hampered by capital but amongst others by social forces (such as activists, incl. anti-capitalists) 

“the dual accumulation strategy of appropriationism and expropriationism has made certain GMOs profitable for capital and inescapable for (most) farmers” >> But it made GMOs not only profitable for capital but also for (most) farmers… 

“Biotechnology multinationals have eschewed innovations that address consumer health… because of the uncertainty of any success in these innovations. Without any structural impetus for farmers to adopt transgenic crops that do not inherently improve the production process, there is no guarantee that such crops would even be planted, let alone sold for a premium in grocery stores.” >> This seems far-fetched: Organic farming does not improve the production process (rather the contrary, and it does not even address consumer health etc.) and yet organic food is sold for a premium in grocery stores. Ditto for heirloom varieties or humane eggs… (And some multinationals can make some consumers pay a premium for their products, even if these do not address any issues at all, simply by slapping their logo on it…) The problem here is probably more one of lacking purchasing power (poverty) by those who could benefit from such innovations… 

“A critical reformulation of the global food economy must start with a decoupling of the biotech baby from the capitalist bathwater.” >> Indeed, biotechnology per se is not capitalist and opposing GMOs as such out of related political reasons is misguided and futile.
Jean-Pierre Zryd's curator insight, August 12, 1:57 AM
Excellent analysis of the complicity between capitalism and the anti - biotech crowd in the  (almost) killing of #GMO
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Breeding Crop Plants for Improved Human Nutrition Through Biofortification: Progress and Prospects - Gangashetty &al (2016) - Springer

Breeding Crop Plants for Improved Human Nutrition Through Biofortification: Progress and Prospects - Gangashetty &al (2016) - Springer | Ag Biotech News |

Micronutrients are essential minerals and vitamins required by humans in tiny amounts which play a vital role in human health and development. Over three billion people in the world are malnourished, particularly in the developing countries. Current food systems cannot provide sufficiently balanced micronutrients required to meet daily needs and to sustain the wellbeing of people in developing countries. 

Heavy and monotonous consumption of cereal-based foods which contain limited amounts of micronutrients is one of the major reasons for the significantly high prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies in many of the developing countries. 

The development of crops with enhanced micronutrient concentration is one of the most sustainable and cost-effective approaches to alleviate micronutrient malnutrition globally... We focus on the research to improve mineral element concentration in crops through plant breeding strategies, especially in major cereal crops and a legume which are most widely cultivated and preferred in Africa and Asia. 

Biofortification is an appropriate strategy to increase the bioavailable concentrations of an element in edible portions of crop plants through traditional breeding practices or modern biotechnology to overcome the problem of micronutrient deficiencies... Conventional breeding with modern genetic engineering approaches are important for developing crop cultivars with enhanced micronutrient concentrations to improve human health. 

This chapter reports on biofortification research on rice, pearl millet, sorghum, maize, wheat and common bean... 

There is very compelling global human health and nutritional evidence to convince plant breeders that micronutrient density traits should be primary objectives in their work, and targeted to the developing world... Biofortification is of great importance in enriching seeds with mineral micronutrient. 

Both plant breeding and genetic modification offer good opportunities to increase the micronutrient contents of edible parts of major crops. Anti-nutrient factors should be minimized to maximize micronutrient bioavailability. 

Understanding the genetic basis for breeding crop cultivars with higher grain micronutrient concentration is required. Emerging cost-effective genomics tools should be used to accelerate the breeding process and product development targeting these micronutrients. 

After development of new breeding lines and varieties, dissemination of biofortified breeding lines and hybrid parents to and their utilization by user-research organizations in the public and private sector on a continuing basis will make biofortified cultivar development a routine matter and significantly contribute to improved human nutrition.

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The four legged chair: Benign or detrimental institutional environments for GM crops - de Bakker &al (2016) - Wageningen UR

This paper explores whether GM crops are a feasible option in the light of social conditions that determine a successful and satisfying deployment of such crops. We... structure four main institutions that we consider crucial for the societal acceptance of GM crops. To create broad support and a proper basis for the use of GM, food safety and environmental regulations, intellectual property rights, entrepreneurship and public debate should all be in place. 

These four institutions should be seen as four legs of a chair: they are all related and if one or more leg fails the chair will be very unstable. Too much food safety and environmental regulations may however prevent companies from trying to get new seed varieties approved. Also on the degree of IPR protection a delicate balance needs to be struck to encourage R&D yet avoid an undesirable degree of market concentration. Public debate and participatory engagement are important for increasing consumers' and citizens' trust but very heated debates can lead to a stalemate that blocks further progress… 

Genetically modified (GM) crops have been presented as a technological promise for realizing food and nutrition security, but have also functioned as a lightning rod for visceral debate on questions of ethics, biosafety, biodiversity, intellectual property rights and the position of developing countries… Although a substantial number of experts advocate biotechnology as a chance to solve the world food problem, many others think that it is a peril to this rather than a solution. Therefore, the societal acceptance of GM crops cannot be taken for granted, opportunities and threats must be recognized to assess the chances of biotechnology as part of a solution for food and nutrition security. 

To get a clearer view of the institutional conditions that should be fulfilled for GM crops to make a genuine difference for food and nutrition security, we will use the four level framework of Williamson (2000: 597), a well-known scholar in the field of New Institutional Economics, to structure four main institutions that we consider crucial for the societal acceptance of GM crops. An institutional perspective on this subject is in our view not only helpful but also a priority for understanding the dynamics of the policies and debates concerning GM crops. Institutions are pivotal for the structuring (or shaping) of both the micro-world of individual attitudes and free action and the wider landscape of macro-developments that are often felt as unchangeable historical facts… 

Taking the case of GM crops we identify four main institutions that determine or strongly influence the acceptance of such crops: (i) food safety and environmental regulation; (ii) intellectual property rights; (iii) entrepreneurship; and (iv) public debate. These institutions can be considered as intermediate variables between the levels of individual behaviour and broader societal developments (including the impact of globalization) that are crucial for the acceptance of biotechnology by both farmers and citizens-consumers. The first two can be characterized as legal institutions (the first one more general, the second one of a more specific nature), whereas the third and fourth one as socio-technical and societal institution respectively… 

To create broad support and a proper basis for the use of GM, food safety and environmental regulations, intellectual property rights, entrepreneurship and public debate should all be in place. Too much food safety and environmental regulations may in practice turn out to be a barrier for companies trying to get new seed varieties approved. This may, just like too much IPR protection, lead to market concentration. However, also too little IPR protection can harm progress by discouraging R&D. Public debate and participatory engagement are important for increasing consumers’ and citizens’ trust and increase the legitimacy of related institutions but very heated debates can lead to a stalemate that can block further progress. Without educational and financial infrastructures that enable farmers in developing countries to work with GM crops in an effective manner, all legal efforts to safeguard safety and intellectual property will be of not much avail to stimulate the production of GM crops in these countries. There is a role for governments in creating the right institutions to facilitate innovation without harming competition, as well as there is a role for governments (and scientists) to inform the public in a transparent manner and facilitate public debate about GM…

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Genetic modification for disease resistance: a position paper - Scott &al (2016) - Food Sec

Genetic modification for disease resistance: a position paper - Scott &al (2016) - Food Sec | Ag Biotech News |

This Position Paper was prepared by members of the Task Force on Global Food Security of the International Society for Plant Pathology. An objective approach is proposed to the assessment of the potential of genetic modification (GM) to reduce the impact of crop diseases. 

The addition of GM to the plant breeder’s conventional toolbox facilitates gene-by-gene introduction into breeding programmes of well-defined characters, while also allowing access to genes from a greatly extended range of organisms. The current status of GM crops is outlined. 

GM could make an additional contribution to food security but its potential has been controversial, sometimes because of fixed views that GM is unnatural and risky. These have no factual basis: GM technology, where adopted, is widely regulated and no evidence has been reported of adverse consequences for human health. 

The potential benefits of GM could be particularly valuable for the developing world but there are numerous constraints. These include cost, inadequate seed supply systems, reluctance to adopt unfamiliar technology, concern about markets, inadequacy of local regulatory systems, mismatch between research and growers’ needs, and limited technical resources. 

The lower cost of new gene-editing methods should open the practice of GM beyond multinational corporations. As yet there are few examples of utilization of GM-based resistance to plant diseases. Two cases, papaya ringspot virus and banana xanthomonas wilt, are outlined. 

In the developing world there are many more potential cases whose progress is prevented by the absence of adequate biosafety regulation. It is concluded that there is untapped potential for using GM to introduce disease resistance. An objective approach to mobilizing this potential is recommended, to address the severe impact of plant disease on food security.

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Farmers’ risk preferences and pesticide use decisions: evidence from field experiments in China - Gong &al (2016) - Ag Econ

Farmers’ risk preferences and pesticide use decisions: evidence from field experiments in China - Gong &al (2016) - Ag Econ | Ag Biotech News |

China faces health and environmental problems associated with the use of agricultural chemicals, including pesticides. While previous studies have found that risk aversion affects pesticide use in China, they have focused primarily on commercial cotton farmers. 

In this study, we consider the case of smaller, semisubsistence and subsistence farmers in a poor and landlocked province of China (Yunnan). We use a field experiment to measure risk aversion and collect detailed data on farm production and input use to specifically ask whether risk aversion affects pesticide use, and whether this effect differs for subsistence farmers producing exclusively for home consumption versus semisubsistence farmers who produce both for home and the market. 

We find that risk aversion significantly increases pesticide use, particularly for subsistence farmers and for market plots by semisubsistence farmers. Further, this effect of risk aversion significantly decreases with farm size for subsistence farmers, but not for semisubsistence farmers, implying that pesticide use may be used to ensure sufficient food supply for home consumption... 

This finding implies that risk-mitigation strategies, such as crop insurance, may not target food security concerns of subsistence farmers. Given these different motivations for pesticide use, policymakers may wish to consider effective tools to support rural food security for farmers in the poorer regions of China in order to decrease pesticide use.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
To reduce the risk of crop losses (through pests or weeds), farmers - even small and subsistence farmers - are willing to invest in pesticides (to the extent that they may overuse them). For the same reason - to recude key risks they are facing - farmers are adopting insect-resistant or herbicide-tolerant crops wherever and whenever they become available, in order to control crop losses effectively and efficiently... 
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Status of market, regulation and research of genetically modified crops in Chile - Sánchez & León (2016) - New Biotechnol

Status of market, regulation and research of genetically modified crops in Chile - Sánchez & León (2016) - New Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News |

Agricultural biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) crops are effective tools to substantially increase productivity, quality, and environmental sustainability in agricultural farming. Furthermore, they may contribute to improving the nutritional content of crops, addressing needs related to public health. 

Chile has become one of the most important global players for GM seed production for counter-season markets and research purposes. It has a comprehensive regulatory framework to carry out this activity, while at the same time there are numerous regulations from different agencies addressing several aspects related to GM crops. 

Despite imports of GM food/feed or ingredients for the food industry being allowed without restrictions, Chilean farmers are not using GM seeds for farming purposes because of a lack of clear guidelines. 

Chile is in a rather contradictory situation about GM crops. The country has invested considerable resources to fund research and development on GM crops, but the lack of clarity in the current regulatory situation precludes the use of such research to develop new products for Chilean farmers. 

Meanwhile, a larger scientific capacity regarding GM crop research continues to build up in the country. The present study maps and analyses the current regulatory environment... providing an updated overview of the current status of GM seeds production, research and regulatory issues.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
"the particular situation in Chile where GM crops for local supplies are not grown but GM foods are imported without restrictions" >> Not so particular: Also in other world regions there are countries that import massive amounts of GM crops but have all but banned their cultivation by their own farmers... 
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The Sustainability of the Farm-level Impact of Bt Cotton in China - Qiao &al (2016) - JAE

The Sustainability of the Farm-level Impact of Bt Cotton in China - Qiao &al (2016) - JAE | Ag Biotech News |

The short-run impact of Bt cotton adoption has been well documented; however, the sustainability of the impact remains unclear. In particular, pest resistance build-up and secondary pest outbreaks have caused concern regarding the sustainability of this benefit. 

This paper analyses the effects... of Bt cotton adoption in China. Using... panel data collected between 1999 and 2007, we show that the benefits of Bt cotton continue 10 years after it has been commercialised... Importantly, we also show that the benefit has been shared by both Bt and non-Bt cotton adopters.

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Consumers’ evaluation of biotechnologically modified food products: new evidence from a meta-survey - Hess &al (2016) - Eur Rev Agric Econ

Consumers’ evaluation of biotechnologically modified food products: new evidence from a meta-survey - Hess &al (2016) - Eur Rev Agric Econ | Ag Biotech News |

Biotechnological modification of food products is still controversial, and the conditions in which consumers accept biotechnological modification of food products are not yet well understood. Therefore, 1,713 original questions posed to respondents in 214 different studies were meta-analysed. 

The results showed that questions with positive (negative) connotations about biotechnology tended to be associated with positive (negative) measures of evaluation. Studies in the European Union (EU) asked more often about perceived riskiness than studies in other countries. 

When this was controlled for, EU consumers appeared no more adverse to biotechnological modification than other consumers. Consumer evaluations were largely insensitive to the type of food product. Price discounts, increased production and various perceived risks induced negative evaluation.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
   "Questions with negative connotations about biotechnology tended to be associated with negative measures of evaluation. Studies in the EU asked more often about perceived riskiness..." 
   Overall similar results as in this (qualitative) review: >> When people are not prompted, they do not even mention in surveys that they are concerned about GM food; when they are given (negative) leading questions, they say they are critical about it; when they understand the benefits of certain GM foods, they are increasingly more positive about it; and when they encounter GM food in the market place, they simply buy it... 
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Genetically modified (GM) crops: milestones and new advances in crop improvement - Kamthan &al (2016) - Theor Appl Genet 

Genetically modified (GM) crops: milestones and new advances in crop improvement - Kamthan &al (2016) - Theor Appl Genet  | Ag Biotech News |

Genetically modified (GM) crops can act as powerful complement to the crops produced by laborious and time consuming conventional breeding methods to meet the worldwide demand for quality foods. GM crops can help fight malnutrition due to enhanced yield, nutritional quality and increased resistance to various biotic and abiotic stresses. 

However, several biosafety issues and public concerns are associated with cultivation of GM crops developed by transgenesis, i.e., introduction of genes from distantly related organism. To meet these concerns, researchers have developed alternative concepts of cisgenesis and intragenesis which involve transformation of plants with genetic material derived from the species itself or from closely related species capable of sexual hybridization, respectively. 

Recombinase technology aimed at site-specific integration of transgene can help to overcome limitations of traditional genetic engineering methods based on random integration of multiple copy of transgene into plant genome leading to gene silencing and unpredictable expression pattern. Besides, recently developed technology of genome editing using engineered nucleases, permit the modification or mutation of genes of interest without involving foreign DNA, and as a result, plants developed with this technology might be considered as non-transgenic genetically altered plants... 

This review is an attempt to summarize various past achievements of GM technology in crop improvement, recent progress and new advances in the field to develop improved varieties aimed for better consumer acceptance.

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Genetically improving sorghum for production of biofuel - EurekAlert (2016) 

The bioenergy crop sorghum holds great promise as a raw material for making environmentally friendly fuels and chemicals that offer alternatives to petroleum-based products. Sorghum can potentially yield more energy per area of land than other crops while requiring much less input in terms of fertilizer or chemicals. New research examines how genetic improvement of specific sorghum traits, with an eye toward sustainability, could help maximize the usefulness of sorghum as a bioenergy crop. 

The work was conducted by researchers... They highlight disease resistance, flooding tolerance and cell wall composition as key targets for genetically improving sorghum for sustainable production of renewable fuels and chemicals. Improving disease resistance... would help expand sorghum to low-productivity land... By making the crop more flood resistant, it could be grown on land prone to seasonal flooding that is not typically used for food crops. Finally, making changes in sorghum's cell wall composition could greatly increase the yield of fermentable sugars that can then be converted to fuels such as ethanol. 

The researchers are using multidisciplinary approaches to make genetic modifications linked with all three traits, with the aim of improving sorghum for renewable energy and chemical production.

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