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The imaginary EU GM-Honey crisis is resolved - EurActive (2012)

The imaginary EU GM-Honey crisis is resolved - EurActive (2012) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The European Commission proposed new rules in September regarding the presence of genetically modified pollen in honey. The new proposals consider that pollen in honey is a 'natural constituent', thereby contradicting a previous ruling by the European Court of Justice from September 2011 that considered it an 'ingredient'... The surprising part of the EJC decision was that GM pollen was considered to be an 'ingredient' of honey, as distinct from a 'component' or an 'unavoidable adventitious presence'. The validity of this ECJ decision has been questioned by legal experts. Under the ECJ decision all honey containing any traces of GM-pollen (with no lower limit) could not be legally put on the market without special authorisation... The ECJ decision would thus imply expensive testing of all honey - GM or not, since one cannot know without testing it - sold in the EU and would effectively remove honey from the EU marketplace and eliminate many small producers. It would also effectively eliminate GM-field trials in the EU since no scientific research organisation could afford the risk of expensive court cases and possible damages. In September 2012 (i.e. after one year of deliberation) the Commission proposed new rules which concluded that the ECJ decision was wrong and that pollen is a 'natural constituent' of honey and not an 'ingredient'. The EC has thus deliberated for one year on the difference between a 'constituent' and an 'ingredient', a debate akin to “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”. Thus all of the catastrophic economic side-effects of the ECJ decision may soon be eliminated and life goes on as previously... 

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

[updated May 1, 2017]  

 

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.) ... 

 

http://ajstein.tumblr.com/post/40504136918/
 

 

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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, 2016 4:26 AM

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

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Agronomic biofortification of cereals with zinc: a review - I. Cakmak & Kutman (2017) - Eur J Soil Sci

Agronomic biofortification of cereals with zinc: a review - I. Cakmak & Kutman (2017) - Eur J Soil Sci | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Zinc (Zn) still represents an important health problem in developing countries, caused mainly by inadequate dietary intake. A large consumption of cereal-based foods with small concentrations and low bioavailability of Zn is the major reason behind this problem. 


Modern cultivars of cereals have inherently very small concentrations of Zn and cannot meet the human need for Zn. Today, up to 50% of wheat-cultivated soil globally is considered poor in bioavailable Zn. 


Agricultural strategies that are used to improve the nutritional value of crop plants are known as biofortification strategies. They include genetic biofortification, which is based on classical plant breeding and genetic engineering for larger nutrient concentrations, and... agronomic biofortification, which is based on optimized fertilizer applications. 


This review focuses on agronomic biofortification with Zn, which has proved to be very effective for wheat and also other cereal crops including rice. 


Molecular and genetic research... are critically important for identifying ‘bottlenecks’ in the biofortification of food crops... Transgenic plants with large Zn concentrations in seeds are often tested under controlled... conditions with sufficient available Zn in the growth medium... However, they might not always show the same performance under ‘real-world’ conditions with limited chemical availability of Zn and various stress factors... 


What purpose can an upgraded transport and storage system serve if the amount of goods to be transported and stored is limited anyway? Given the fact that the Zn concentrations required to achieve a measurable impact on human health are well above those required to avoid any loss of yield from Zn deficiency, providing crop plants with sufficient Zn through... fertilizer... is critically important...


http://doi.org/10.1111/ejss.12437


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Herbicide and insect resistant Bt cotton pollen assessment finds no detrimental effects on adult honey bees - Niu &al (2017) - Env Pollution

One important concern regarding the use of transgenic cotton expressing insecticidal toxins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is its potential detrimental effect on non-target organisms. 


The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the most important pollinator species worldwide and it is directly exposed to transgenic crops by the consumption of genetically modified (GM) pollen... 


We assessed the effects of two Bt cotton varieties... Feeding on pollen from two Bt cotton varieties led to detection of low levels of Cry toxins in the midgut of A. mellifera adults, yet expression of detoxification genes did not change... Binding assays showed no Cry1Ac or Cry2Ab binding to midgut brush border membrane proteins... 


Taken together, these results support minimal risk for potential negative effects on A. mellifera by exposure to Bt cotton.


https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2017.06.094


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QUT develops golden bananas high in pro-vitamin A - QUT (2017) 

QUT develops golden bananas high in pro-vitamin A - QUT (2017)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Research... produced a golden-orange fleshed banana, rich in pro-vitamin A... Cooking bananas are the staple food in rural Uganda. Worldwide 650 000 - 750 000 children die from vitamin A deficiency... The decade-long research... involved extensive laboratory tests... as well as field trials in north Queensland. 


Professor Dale said the genetic modification process had resulted in the identification and selection of banana genes that could be used to enhance pro-vitamin A in banana fruit.

The research... ultimately aims to improve the nutritional content of bananas in Uganda, where the fruit is the major staple food in their daily diet... a significant humanitarian project.

"The East African Highland cooking banana is an excellent source of starch. It is harvested green then chopped and steamed... But it has low levels of micronutrients particularly pro-vitamin A and iron. The consequences of vitamin A deficiency are severe”... 650,000-700,000 children world-wide die from pro-vitamin A deficiency each year with a further several hundred thousand going blind.

“What we’ve done is take a gene from a banana that originated in Papua New Guinea and is naturally very high in pro-vitamin A but has small bunches, and inserted it into a Cavendish banana... Over the years, we’ve been able to develop a banana that has achieved excellent pro-vitamin A levels, hence the golden-orange rather than cream-coloured flesh... A major milestone in our quest to deliver a more nutritional diet to some of the poorest subsistence communities in Africa.

"We tried and tested hundreds of different genetic variations here in our lab and in field trials in Queensland until we got the best results. These elite genes have been sent to Uganda in test tubes where they have been inserted into Ugandan bananas for field trials there”...  

Young Ugandan students, who came to QUT to undertake their studies, had now completed their PhDs and were overseeing the research and field trials in Uganda.


https://www.qut.edu.au/news/news?news-id=119796


Underlying article: http://doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12650


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Genetics may lie at the heart of crop yield limitation - EurekAlert (2017) 

Genetics may lie at the heart of crop yield limitation - EurekAlert (2017)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

You might think that plants grow according to how much nutrition, water and sunlight they are exposed to, but new research... shows that the plant's own genetics may be the real limiting factor.

"This could have potentially big implications for the agricultural industry... Our model plant is in the same family as cabbages, so it's easy to imagine creating giant cabbages or growing them to the desired market size faster than at present."

It was previously assumed that plant growth was generally resource-limited, meaning that plants would only grow as large and fast as they could photosynthesise. However, Dr Pullen and his team present evidence that plant growth is actually "sink-limited", meaning that genetic regulation and cell division rates have a much bigger role in controlling plant growth than previously thought: 


"We are proposing that plant growth is not physically limited by Net Primary Productivity (NPP) or the environment, but instead is limited genetically in response to these signals to ensure they do not become limiting."

By genetically altering the growth repressors in Arabidopsis, Dr Pullen and his team were able to create mutant strains. They identified the metabolic rates of the different plant strains... as well as comparing the size and weight of the plants... also grew the mutant plant strains at different temperatures to see if this changed their results: "When grown at different temperatures we still find a difference in size"...  

The impact of these results is wide-reaching, and... it may even change how we think about global climate data: "Climate models need to incorporate genetic elements because at present most do not, and their predictions would be much improved with a better understanding of plant carbon demand." 


https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-07/sfeb-gml070117.php


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Commission authorises five genetically modified products for food/ feed uses - European Commission (2017) 

The Commission adopted five authorisations for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) for food/feed use. 


These GMOs are as follows: cotton 281-24-236 x 3006-210-23 x MON 88913; cotton GHB 119; maize Bt11 × 59122 × MIR604 × 1507 × GA21; maize DAS-40278-9; and the renewal of maize MON 810. 


The GMOs approved today had gone through a full authorisation procedure, including a favourable scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). 


The authorisation decisions do not cover cultivation. 


These GMOs had received "no opinion" votes from the Member States... and the Commission adopted the pending decisions. 


The authorisations are valid for 10 years, and any products produced from these GMOs will be subject to the EU's strict labelling and traceability rules... 


http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEX-17-1908_en.htm


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Zinc fertilisation increases grain zinc and reduces grain lead and cadmium concentrations more in zinc-biofortified than standard wheat cultivar - Qaswar &al (2017) - Sci Tot Env

Given that plant uptake and transport systems for metals have some similarities, zinc (Zn)-biofortified cultivars may concurrently accumulate non-essential toxic heavy metals in grains. However, Zn-biofortified cultivars have never been tested for heavy metal accumulation in grains. 


In a pot experiment, we compared Zn-biofortified wheat (Zincol-2016) with a standard wheat (Faisalabad-2008) cultivar on heavy-metal-contaminated soils for yield response and grain accumulation of Zn, lead (Pb) and cadmium (Cd), without or with Zn fertilisation (8 mg Zn kg− 1). The soils, collected from agricultural fields in (i) industrial zone and (ii) peri-urban area, had been receiving industrial and city effluents for > 20 years. 


In the two soils, Zn fertilisation significantly (P ≤ 0.05) increased grain yield of both cultivars. Zinc fertilisation increased grain Zn concentration of Zincol-2016 and Faisalabad-2008 by respectively 32 and 18% in industrial-zone soil, and by 15 and 2% in peri-urban soil. 


Averaged across Zn rates, Zincol-2016 accumulated in grains more than double the Zn amount than Faisalabad-2008 in industrial-zone soil. At 0 mg Zn kg− 1, grain Pb and Cd concentrations were respectively 26 and 33% greater in Zincol-2016 than Faisalabad-2008 in industrial-zone soil, and 86 and 50% greater in Zincol-2016 than Faisalabad-2008 in peri-urban soil. 


Zinc fertilisation significantly (P ≤ 0.05) decreased concentration of Pb and Cd in grains of both cultivars. In industrial-zone soil, a toxic level of Pb in grains (0.24 mg kg− 1) was attained at control rate of Zn by Zincol-2016, and was decreased to a safe level (0.07 mg kg− 1) by application of 8 mg Zn kg− 1. 


Therefore, biofortified cultivars should not be grown in contaminated soils, and/or sufficient Zn must be applied, to decrease accumulation of non-essential toxic heavy metals in grains. Moreover, future breeding efforts should be directed toward selection of biofortified cultivars that would selectively accumulate Zn in grains, but not the contaminants. 


https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.06.242


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How to get rid of weeds by crossing them with GM crops - Economist (2017) 

How to get rid of weeds by crossing them with GM crops - Economist (2017)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Introducing genes for herbicide resistance into a crop permits it to be sprayed with weedkiller that really does then kill nothing but weeds. But that works only until the weeds themselves develop resistance to the poison. One way this can happen is through crossbreeding with the crop originally protected – a risk if weed and crop are closely related. That is the case for rice, where weedy, natural varieties are a perennial problem because of the competition they bring to the cultivars farmers actually want to raise... 


Lu Baorong, an ecologist... found a solution. By adding a second transgene to the crop, he can sabotage any weed that crossbreeds with it. Dr Lu’s transgene encodes a genetic “silencer” that shuts down the expression of a natural gene called SH4. In wild grasses SH4 promotes a phenomenon called “seed shattering” that releases seeds from the stalk when they are ripe. 


Domestication selects against seed shattering because farmers want the seeds to stay attached to a plant as it is harvested. The best cereal crops are those which do not release their seeds until they are deliberately threshed. That means adding an SH4 silencer to them will, if anything, make them better crops rather than worse ones... If a silencer-enhanced version does crossbreed with a weedy interloper, though, the offspring will end up carrying the silencer, too. And that... would damage them by stopping their seeds breaking off naturally, and thus preventing those seeds from spreading... 


In a rice-field, the consequence would be that the weedy grains get harvested along with those of the cultivar, removing them from circulation and thus suppressing the weedy population the following season...  Moreover, what works with rice might reasonably be expected to work, too, with other cereals, such as wheat and sorghum, which also have close relatives that behave as weeds. Dr Lu’s subtle approach... could therefore have a big influence on future crop yields.


http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21723818-domesticating-weeds-order-destroy-them-how-get-rid-weeds-crossing


Underlying article: http://doi.org/10.1007/s11248-017-0016-3


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Heterogeneous Yield Impacts from Adoption of Genetically Engineered Corn and the Importance of Controlling for Weather - Lusk &al (2017) - NBER

Concern about declining growth in crop yields has renewed debates about the ability of biotechnology to promote food security. While numerous experimental and farm-level studies have found that adoption of genetically engineered crops has been associated with yield gains, aggregate and cross-country comparisons often seem to show little effect, raising questions about the size and generalizability of the effect. 


This paper attempts to resolve this conundrum using a panel of United States county-level corn yields from 1980 to 2015 in conjunction with data on adoption of genetically engineered crops, weather, and soil characteristics. Our panel data contain just over 28,000 observations spanning roughly 800 counties. 


We show that changing weather patterns confound simple analyses of trend yield, and only after controlling for weather do we find that genetically engineered crops have increased yields above trend. There is marked heterogeneity in the effect of adoption of genetically engineered crops across location partially explained by differential soil characteristics which may be related to insect pressure... 


While adoption of genetically engineered crops has the potential to mitigate downside risks from weeds and insects, we find no effects of adoption on yield variability... Across all counties, we find adoption of GE corn was associated with a 17 percent increase in corn yield.


http://doi.org/10.3386/w23519


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“It’s morally wrong to patent food:” Inconsistent reasoning at its finest - TLOS (2017) 

“It’s morally wrong to patent food:” Inconsistent reasoning at its finest - TLOS (2017)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

This is one of the most common arguments against GMOs... and it is frequently accompanied by claims like, “I am not anti-GMO, but…” In reality, however, this argument is usually nothing more than an excuse designed to protect people’s ideology, misplaced fears, and, yes, denial of science. This argument is so riddled with problems and so completely inconsistent with how people behave on any other topic that it is difficult to accept that it is truly the reason that people oppose GMOs, and... it usually turns out that it is just a symptom of an underlying ideology (generally rooted in appeal to nature/emotion fallacies). 


As I will explain, if you are truly motivated out of ethics and a concern for feeding the hungry, then you should be embracing GMOs, not opposing them (or, at the very least, you should be very selective about which GMOs you oppose). So, if you are someone who frequently uses this argument, then, as always, all that I ask is that you hear me out and rationally consider whether or not you are being logically consistent... 

First, it is vitally important to realize that the ability to patent crops is not unique to GMOs, nor is it a result of them. In the US, the first piece of legislation that made it legal to patent crops was the Plant Patent Act that was passed in 1930, over half a century before the first GMO crop... For example, seedless grapes were patented in 1934, yet I don’t hear anyone complaining about them.

The organic industry (and yes, it is a multi-billion dollar industry) also patents plants. For example, Vermont Organics owns patents on five different plants. So, if you are outraged over Monsanto patenting plants, then you had better be equally outraged over Vermont Organics doing so... 


Further,... patents expire. For example, Round-up read soybeans are no longer protected by patent laws because those patents expired in 2015. Does that mean that anti-GMO activists are going to stop protesting them? I somehow doubt it.

Finally, it is worth making it explicitly clear that GE companies, organic companies, etc. are not “patenting Mother Nature.” They are patenting unique crops that do not occur in nature and that they invested in developing... 


Additionally, it is worth talking about why crops can be patented in the first place. Producing a new crop is very expensive, especially for a GMO. It takes millions or even billions of dollars to research and develop a new product, and that is money that company has to invest up front with the expectation that they will be able to turn a profit later. Thus, patents are a way of allowing companies to get a return on their investment. This is true for all patents, and in most areas, people have no problems with that. No one says that Apple is evil because the patent the technology for each new iPhone rather than giving its technology away freely... So why should GMOs be any different? ... 


Additionally, it is important to realize that a lack of patents would stifle innovation. There are non-profits and independent scientists involved in the development of GMOs but a lot of the breakthroughs come from big companies, and there is a very good reason for that. Namely, research costs money, and big companies are the ones who have money to invest. However, companies are, admittedly, after profit. So they aren’t going to invest millions of dollars into something unless they think that they can turn a profit... If you want agricultural developments (as you should if your goal is really to feed the hungry), then you should allow companies to make a profit, because that is the only way that they are going to invest heavily in researching agricultural advances.

Next it is important to realize that although large companies dominate the development of GMOs, not all GMOs are about money. Golden rice, for example, is being developed entirely for humanitarian purposes. You see, many countries suffer from extreme vitamin A deficiencies, and many of those countries grow primarily rice. Thus, scientists and humanitarians developed golden rice, which is simply rice that produces vitamin A. That way, these countries can grow the same crop that they always have (thus they don’t need to change their agricultural practices) but they will get the vitamin that they so desperately need... 


This is related to the previous point, but it is worth making saying it explicitly: GMOs help to feed the poor. Studies have repeatedly shown that using GMOs increases crop yields and reduces the amount of resources need to grow crops. Consider, for example, this 2014 meta-analysis that found “On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.”

Again, this should be great news if your concern is really feeding the poor. These crops will let impoverished countries greatly increase the amount of food that they can grow, so they are a huge win for fighting world hunger. Really think about this, by opposing GMOs you are trying to force poor countries to grow fewer crops than they could with GMOs. You are literally trying to deny people food. How is that moral?

It is also worth mentioning that GMOs are good for farmers (that is why they have adopted them). Anti-GMO activists often try to paint farmers as the victims of evil “Monsatan,” but the reality is that famers love GMOs, because GMOs allow them to increase their yield and/or decrease the amount of effort/resources that they have to invest. This should be obvious if you just think about it for a second. Why on earth would so many farmers switch to GMOs if they weren’t beneficial? No one is putting a gun to their heads and forcing them to use GMOs. Farmers choose their seeds from catalogues where numerous companies compete for their patronage, and Monsanto doesn’t have a monopoly on the food supply... Further, farmers aren’t stupid. They wouldn’t use GMOs if better, cheaper methods were actually available. Farmers have widely adopted GMOs precisely because they are beneficial...  

In the remainder of this post, I want to deal with some truly awful counter arguments. The most common of which is that Monsanto sues farmers for accidentally using their seeds/cross-pollination. The rebuttal for this one is easy: no they don’t. Monsanto has never sued a farmer for accidentally using their product/cross-pollination.  

Having said that, there have been a few cases where Monsanto sued someone for deliberately violating the patent agreement (e.g. selling seeds). That is, however, an entirely different issue from suing a farmer over accidental contamination. A deliberate violation of the patent agreement is a theft of intellectual property, plain and simple. It is a crime. It is no different from selling bootlegged DVDs or CDs... 


Do you know what group of people I almost never hear make this complaint? Farmers. The reality is that in the modern era, most farmers don’t save the seeds regardless of whether or not their crop is a GMO. One of the key reasons for this is simply that doing so results in a lower quality harvest than you would get from buying new seeds. So, as with so many anti-GMO arguments, this argument is based on a complete lack of understanding about modern agriculture...  

“The real problem is food waste. If first world countries weren’t so wasteful, there would be plenty of food to feed the world.” This is what is known as a “nirvana fallacy.” It proposes an extremely unrealistic ideal situation, then claims that any plans that fall short of that standard shouldn’t be used because they aren’t perfect or don’t address the “real” issue. To be clear, food waste is a problem, and I agree with you 100% that we should be limiting it, but limiting it to the point that we could feed the world is an incredibly difficult (probably impossible) thing that is not going to happen in the near future. Meanwhile, there are people suffering from vitamin A deficiencies who could easily be saved by implementing GMOs. People are literally dying while you sit there demanding that we wait for an unrealistic solution...  

The final argument that I want to discuss is this general aversion to the notion of big, money-loving companies being involved in food production. This is important, because I think it is actually a key motivating factor driving everything that I have talked about. As I have shown, the opposition to patents and Monsanto more generally isn’t actually about facts or logic. In some cases it stems from science denial, but in many, I think it stems from this emotional connection to our food, but that is irrational for several reasons.

First, as I explained previously, GMOs benefit the poor, farmers, etc. so this argument is clearly wrong right from the start. Second, this is, once again, inconsistent with how we treat every other company on the planet. If, for example, a family that owns a farm tries to make a profit off that farm, no one villainizes them. No one says that they are evil for profiting from the production of food. Indeed, we would applaud their industry and hard work. So if it is fine for them to make a profit off of food, when is it wrong for GMO companies to do that?

Now, you might object to that on the basis that Monsanto is a multi-billion dollar company, but that doesn’t help your inconsistencies one bit for two reasons. First, the initial argument was, “it is wrong to profit from food,” but now you are trying to implement some arbitrary threshold of profit at which it becomes immoral.  Second, organic farming is also a massive, multi-billion dollar industry. Indeed, Whole Foods (a large organic store chain) makes nearly as much money as Monsanto, and is profitable enough that Amazon just paid 13.7 billion dollars  for it. So, if making billions of dollars off food makes Monsanto evil, then it must also make Whole Foods evil, but no one thinks that Whole Foods is evil, and many GMO opponents shop there! ... 


Finally, this argument is inconsistent not just with organic food chains, but also with how we view companies more generally. Let me break it down this way, at its core, this argument claims that Monsanto and GMOs are evil because they aren’t feeding the hungry, but we could make that same claim about essentially every massive, for profit company. Apple could spend its vast wealth feeding the hungry, yet no one says that they evil for hoarding their wealth. Why should Monsanto be any different? ... Again, to be clear, I’m not a huge fan of massive companies, and I do think that they should do more to help the poor, but that reasoning has to be applied consistently... 


https://thelogicofscience.com/2017/06/19/its-morally-wrong-to-patent-food-inconsistent-reasoning-at-its-finest/


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Pest scenario and appropriate management for Bt cotton in Belgaum Karnataka - Shashikumar & Biradar (2017) - Int J Plant Protec

Prior to introduction of Bt cotton the Belgaum district had more area under short staple and very less area under extra long staple cotton. After the introduction of Bt cotton in 2003-2004... the area under cotton decreased; however, yield levels increased drastically. 

Bt cotton suppressed bollworms which were major threat but at the same time minor sucking pests... emerged as major pests... The increased length of cropping period for extra long Bt hybrids was the reason for more occurrence for pest and diseases. The unscientific follow up of general recommendations with more number of sprays, lowered the interest of farmers in taking up Bt cotton. 

However, the study area followed scientific and appropriate management practices with minimum dosage and less number of sprays for control of pests. This resulted in acceptance of Bt cotton in and around project area... demonstrated avoidable losses due to important pests and diseases on cotton.

http://doi.org/10.15740/HAS/IJPP/10.1/14-20


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Genetically modified sugarcane developed by CTC in Brazil is approved at CTNBio - Unica (2017) 

The new variety is resistant to sugarcane borer, the main pest that affects the crops in Brazil, generating losses that reach R$ 5 billion per year. 


The ... CTNBio (National Biosafety Technical Commission) has approved the commercial use of the first genetically-modified sugarcane (Bt Sugarcane) developed by the Brazilian sugarcane breeding and technology company... CTC. The Bt Sugarcane variety was submitted to CTNBio, which considered the safety of the biotechnology-derived variety for the environment and human and animal health. This is the first genetically-modified sugarcane approved for marketing in the world.

The new variety, CTC 20 BT, is resistant to crop damage caused by the main sugarcane pest in Brazil, the sugarcane borer. According to a survey carried out by agricultural experts, damage caused by the sugarcane borer results in approximately R$ 5 billion per year, due to losses in sugarcane yield and quality, lower grower insecticide use and costs, and impacts on processors of sugar and ethanol. The helpful Bt gene (Bacillus thuringiensis), found in CTC 20 BT, has been used widely in both Brazilian and global agriculture for over 20 years in biotechnology-derived crops like soybean, maize, cotton, among others. 


“The Bt Sugarcane approval by CTNBio is a great achievement by CTC and the national sugar-ethanol sector”... In the next years, we plan to expand the portfolio of varieties resistant to the borer, adapted to each of the producing regions of Brazil. Further, CTC plans to develop other varieties that are resistant to other insect pests and also tolerant to herbicides... in addition to the economic gains from CTC 20 BT, producers can both simplify their logistics and improve their operation’s environmental management.”

The extensive scientific dossier, which evaluated the genetically-modified sugarcane (GM), was submitted to CTNBio at the end of 2015 for the assessment of health and environmental safety using internationally-accepted standards. Processing studies proved that the sugar and ethanol obtained from the new variety are identical to those products derived from conventional sugarcane. Studies additionally showed that both the Bt gene and protein found in CTC 20 BT sugarcane are completely eliminated from sugarcane derivatives during the manufacturing process. Further, environmental studies did not find any negative effects on soil composition, sugarcane biodegradability, or insect populations, with the exception of the target pests (mainly the borer)... 

CTC will work closely with producers, starting with CTC 20 BT seedling distribution and followed by closely-monitored field planting... “The seedling propagation process will proceed like any conventional new variety introduction, with a planted area growth rate that increases gradually, as new plants are replanted to expand cultivated area and not used in sugar production. This process is aligned with the schedule for obtaining international approvals for the sugar produced from the GM sugarcane”... 


http://english.unica.com.br/news/16900437920334804993/genetically-modified-sugarcane-developed-by-ctc-in-brazil-is-approved-at-ctnbio


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Maize yield response, nitrogen use efficiency and financial returns to fertilizer on smallholder farms in southern Africa - Jama &al (2017) - Food Sec

Maize yield response, nitrogen use efficiency and financial returns to fertilizer on smallholder farms in southern Africa - Jama &al (2017) - Food Sec | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Maize is considered as “life” in southern Africa because it is the staple food crop and the main component of food aid interventions. However, its productivity is very low, partly because of the limited use of external inputs. 


Although maize response to fertilizer has been the focus for many years of studies on research stations, information is scanty on the level of crop response and profitability on smallholder farms in most parts of southern Africa... 


To determine yield responses, nitrogen use efficiency and returns to investment in fertilizer in the unimodal rainfall region of southern Africa. This analysis compared yield responses to various rates of nitrogen (N) fertilizer with maize grown without external inputs... across Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and the southern highlands of Tanzania. 


Across the sites, average yields were 1.6 t/ha in the control, 2.8 t/ha with ≤50% of the recommended N rate and 4 t/ha where 100% or more of the recommended N rate was applied... 


Net present values (NPV) were also positive in over 50% of the cases, indicating that investments in N fertilizer will generate profits over time. In contrast, for maize grown without N fertilizer, NPVs were negative in over 68% of the cases across the four countries... 


Growing maize without N inputs results in loss of land productivity and profitability while application of 50% or more of the recommended N fertilizer ensures substantial increases in yields and profitability.

http://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-017-0674-2


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A single point mutation in Ms44 results in dominant male sterility and improves nitrogen use efficiency in maize - Fox &al (2017) - Plant Biotechnol J

A single point mutation in Ms44 results in dominant male sterility and improves nitrogen use efficiency in maize - Fox &al (2017) - Plant Biotechnol J | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Application of nitrogen fertilizer in the past 50 years has resulted in significant increases in crop yields. However, loss of nitrogen from crop fields has been associated with negative impacts on the environment. 


Developing maize hybrids with improved nitrogen use efficiency is a cost-effective strategy for increasing yield sustainably. We report... a dominant male-sterile mutant Ms44... 


While the total nitrogen (N) content in plants was not changed, Ms44 male-sterile plants reduced tassel growth and improved ear growth by partitioning more nitrogen to the ear, resulting in a 9.6% increase in kernel number. Hybrids carrying the Ms44 allele demonstrated a 4%-8.5% yield advantage when N is limiting, 1.7% yield advantage under drought and 0.9% yield advantage under optimal growth conditions relative to the yield of wild type... 


http://doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12689


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Fifteen Years of Bt Cotton in China: Results from Household Surveys - Qiao &al (2017) - World Dev

The short-run benefit of insect-resistant Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crops has been well documented, but its sustainability in the long run has not been well studied. On the other hand, pest resistance build-up and secondary pest outbreaks have caused concern regarding the sustainability of this benefit. 


Using seven unique waves of panel data collected during 1999-2012, we show that pesticide use against bollworms has not increased significantly over time, indicating that the buildup of pest resistance is still not a concern because of the existence of a large number of nature refuge areas. 


In addition, we show that Bt cotton adoption has not led to outbreaks of secondary pests. Finally, we show that the benefit has been shared by both Bt and non-Bt cotton adopters as the widespread adoption of Bt cotton has successfully suppressed the density of the pest population regionally... 


The benefit of Bt cotton adoption continues 15 years after its introduction, albeit with evidence of a decline in the comparative advantage over non-Bt cotton in late adoption period... This contribution is... relevant because of the long length of our dataset and because we categorize pesticide use into that for controlling bollworms and that for controlling secondary pests.


https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2017.05.006


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Consumer acceptance of food biotechnology based on policy context and upstream acceptance: evidence from an artefactual field experiment - Pakseresht &al (2017) - ERAE

This study examined consumer decision-making for a GM potato variety developed to have health and environmental benefits. The decision-making experiment provided a context by which the decisions taken by consumers, given different policy scenarios and actions taken by upstream actors in the FVC [food value chain], could be explored.

Four main policy implications emerge from the present study:

First, the results suggest that the policy context in itself works to induce resistance to GM food and opposition to application of biotechnology in food production, as typically reported in consumer studies.The highest levels of consumer opposition to the GM product considered in this study were found in the two most restrictive policy scenarios... 


This corroborates previous findings that significant proportions of consumers have non-negative preferences for GM produce... Within Europe, there are reported disparities between member states, with stronger support for GM food and crops in countries where GM crops are grown. Our finding of higher consumer acceptance in the FC [full commercialisation] scenario therefore corroborates previous findings that increased availability of GM foods results in a more positive consumer experience of GM food.

Second, introducing a mandatory labelling scheme for GM foods can be justified. In the FC scenario, this reduced the share of opposition to GM produce by almost 50 per cent and gave a corresponding increase in the share of GM acceptance. This suggests that a non-negligible share of Swedish consumers would most likely purchase the GM potato, especially in a policy context that allows for domestic production under mandatory labelling... a mandatory GM labelling scheme would be more welfare-efficient than a ban on GM foods from the perspective of Swedish consumers.

Third, consumers draw inferences from information about actions taken by upstream FVC actors and adapt their choices to these actions... The support for the GM product increased if the FVC actors consistently supported it, and the rate of rejection increased if the FVC actors did not support it... This means that the chances of successfully introducing GM products could increase if actors coordinate their stances... 

If direct health benefits and indirect environmental benefits for GM potatoes relate to goals and consumer acceptance, this should also be the case for other GM crops. In this regard, the results in this study corroborate findings by Lusk et al. (2015) which suggest that acceptance of GM foods with direct benefits to consumers is not limited to the US public... 


Finally, it is also relevant to consider the extent to which the results have external validity (i.e. extend outside the laboratory environment and/or are specific to the study context)... Our study was designed to test whether changing the policy context causes changes in technology acceptance, and whether technology acceptance was influenced by actions taken by upstream FVC actors... 


https://doi.org/10.1093/erae/jbx016


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Why Facts Don't Convince People (and what you can do about it) - Patreon (2017) 

Why Facts Don't Convince People (and what you can do about it) - Patreon (2017)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

I read through a ton of interesting studies putting this video together... We're not rational creatures and the human brain responds in all sorts of fascinating ways when our worldview is challenged... 


Humans are not the most rational of creatures. We make decisions mostly based on emotion instead of facts, and a lot of times we're guided by tribal instinct... We often respond better to social and tribal dynamics than to intellectual analysis... It's safer to agree with your tribe and stay united ideologically than to disagree and isolate yourself. 


Our brain is constantly protecting our worldview and sense of identity. So when our worldview is challenged, that same part of the brain that processes physical danger gets activated. This is why people sometimes react so aggressively to information that proves them wrong. And this is why it's often so hard to have an intelligent political debate... 


So fighting ignorance with facts is like fighting a grease fire with water. It seems like it should work, but it actually just makes the whole thing worse.


Lastly there's the problem of lack of empathy. Several studies have found that when humans are divided into groups of any kind, we instinctively become less empathetic to members of "other" groups... 


So, what can you do? If you want someone to consider factual information that clashes with their beliefs, first you have to prevent their brain from seeing you as a personal threat. So, look for ways to identify the person as part of your tribe, and you as part of theirs... "Hey, we're both parents"... Anything that communicates that you're part of the same tribe... 


Consider the possibility that you may be wrong. In which case, admitting it will help you model to the other person that it's ok to be wrong... 


None of this is easy or smooth. But if we want to continue to function as a stable society, we have to learn to get past our own natural biases. Only when that happens, we will be able to move forward towards a better future. 


https://www.patreon.com/posts/why-facts-dont-12137931


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
The creator of the video probably didn't have the emotionally and ideologically charged rejection of modern technologies in agriculture in mind, but it's the same mechanism... 
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Sweet sorghum as biofuel feedstock: recent advances and available resources - Mathur &al (2017) - Biotechnol Biofuels

Sweet sorghum as biofuel feedstock: recent advances and available resources - Mathur &al (2017) - Biotechnol Biofuels | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Sweet sorghum is a promising target for biofuel production. It is a C4 crop with low input requirements and accumulates high levels of sugars in its stalks. However, large-scale planting on marginal lands would require improved varieties with optimized biofuel-related traits and tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses... 


Many studies have been carried out to generate genetic and genomic resources for sweet sorghum. In this review, we discuss various attributes of sweet sorghum that make it an ideal candidate for biofuel feedstock, and provide an overview of genetic diversity, tools, and resources available for engineering and/or marker-assisting breeding of sweet sorghum... 


The progress made so far, in identification of genes/quantitative trait loci (QTLs) important for agronomic traits and ongoing molecular breeding efforts to generate improved varieties, has been discussed. 


http://doi.org/10.1186/s13068-017-0834-9


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Nigerian university develops new maize varieties for farmers - Premium Times Nigeria (2017) 

Nigerian university develops new maize varieties for farmers - Premium Times Nigeria (2017)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The Institute for Agricultural Research, IAR... has secured approval to release three new high-yielding nutrient maize varieties for planting in Nigeria...  

The maize was developed by IAR in collaboration with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, IITA... The maize varieties... SAMMAZ 52, SAMMAZ 53 and SAMMAZ 54 were offshoots of extensive “on-station, multi-locational and on-farm’’ evaluations with strong farmer participation...  

The varieties were desirable to many maize farmers, seed companies, and food processing entrepreneurs, agro-allied industries as well as consumers across Nigeria.

“SAMMAZ 52 is an improvement over previously released varieties... This Vitamin A bio-fortified maize variety has yield potential of 6.0 ton/ha, about 24 per cent higher than earlier release varieties in the same category... tolerant to maize streak virus, rust, leaf blight and curvularia leaf spot...  

The varieties were produced to strengthen farmers’ resilience in coping with the changing production environments in which irrigation water and rainfall had become increasingly scarce... The commercialisation and adoption of the varieties was expected to significantly improve food and nutrition security as well as the livelihood of actors along the maize value chain.


http://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/more-news/235934-nigerian-university-develops-new-maize-varieties-farmers.html


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Biotechnology and the bioeconomy: Towards inclusive and sustainable industrial development - Lokko &al (2017) - New Biotechnol 

To transform developing and least developing countries into industrialised ones, biotechnology could be deployed along the value chain, to provide support to the development of the bio-based industries in such a way to ensure sustainability of the sector and to reduce negative environmental impacts that might otherwise occur. 


In agribusiness development, for instance, interventions could start from inputs and agricultural mechanization, modern processing technologies, packaging of perishable products, the promotion of food safety in the processing and regulatory environment; and interventions to improve competitiveness and productivity. 


Worth over USD 300 billion in revenue, the role of the biotechnology goes beyond industrial growth, since it provides opportunities for progress towards many of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs). This paper reviews the status of industrial biotechnology as it relates to inclusive and sustainable industrial development... 


In the energy and chemical sector, biotech innovation is reducing dependence on petroleum and fossil fuels, and has consequently a positive impact on the environment. In the health care sector, biotech drugs, vaccines and diagnostics are contributing to improved health and quality of life. In the agricultural field, biotech innovations are simultaneously increasing food supplies, reducing damage to the environment, conserving natural resources of land, water and nutrients and increasing farm income in economies worldwide. 


Although the uptake of these technologies is routine in industrialized countries, many developing countries however, are lagging behind in adopting some of these modern biotechnologies for the sustainable growth of industry. Furthermore, not all countries are faced with identical challenges and priorities, and each country is at a distinct stage of development, with a wide difference in technological capabilities... 


More effort is needed in promoting these technologies in order to ensure the potential of industrial biotechnology, and this through collaboration and partnerships between technology providers, the private sector and policy makers... 


There is also the need to support such SMEs to improve their production capacities more efficiently. Building capacities for biosafety in developing countries also is crucial to enable them to explore the range of biotechnologies and their derived products to sustainably boost production in agriculture and other bio-industries... Appropriate technology transfer, under adequate in-country conditions, enables capacity building, which in turn contributes to increased competitiveness in domestic and international markets... 


The development biotechnologies into products and resources for human use need to be researched alongside the ethical, environmental, economic, legal and social implications in order to avoid, for example, the negative publicity that characterized the GM crops. Discussions on the potential risk and benefits of these technologies should include plans to support research in this area. 


Middle and low-income countries' activities in the medical/healthcare biotechnology sector are basically relying on existing technologies. While some emerging economies like Brazil, China and India are performing relatively well on the vaccines and diagnostics, they have a difficult entry point to biologic drugs. As the patents on biologics are expiring and a market for follow-on products opens, there are other challenges that need to be met by developing countries so they can develop biosimilars. These challenges include the cost of the technologies, infrastructure requirements, skills and the enabling regulatory requirements. 


Establishing public-private partnerships (PPPs) between government agencies, multilateral development agencies, national and global pharmaceutical companies is likely to facilitate the emergence of a biosimilar industry, as well as drug development services in these countries... As with the biopharma industry, patents on GM crop products and traits are expiring and thus opening the prospect of developing agbiogenerics, as well as bringing a new competitive landscape of GM crops. 


In conclusion, the innovation of biotechnology offers solutions to many development challenges our world faces today, from feeding and fuelling a growing population to addressing a worldwide epidemic of chronic diseases. Through public private partnership in the delivering of technical cooperation programmes, the potential of industrial biotechnology can be harnessed for the inclusive and sustainable industrial development of developing countries. 


Furthermore, biotechnology for inclusive and sustainable industrial development can contribute to our responsibilities towards the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) particularly, Goal 2: to end hunger and achieve food security; Goal 3: to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; Goal 9: to promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation and Goal 12: to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.


https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nbt.2017.06.005


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Genetic engineering tool generates antioxidant-rich purple rice - EurekAlert (2017) 

Genetic engineering tool generates antioxidant-rich purple rice - EurekAlert (2017)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Researchers... developed a genetic engineering approach capable of delivering many genes at once and used it to make rice endosperm – seed tissue that provides nutrients to the developing plant embryo – produce high levels of antioxidant-boosting pigments called anthocyanins. The resulting purple endosperm rice holds potential for decreasing the risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other chronic disorders... 


"We have developed a highly efficient, easy-to-use transgene stacking system called TransGene Stacking II that enables the assembly of a large number of genes in single vectors for plant transformation... this vector system will have many potential applications in this era of synthetic biology and metabolic engineering."

To date, genetic engineering approaches have been used to develop rice enriched in beta-carotene and folate, but not anthocyanins. Although these health-promoting compounds are naturally abundant in some black and red rice varieties, they are absent in polished rice grains because the husk, bran, and germ have been removed, leaving only the endosperm... 

Liu and his colleagues first set out to identify the genes required to engineer anthocyanin production in the rice endosperm. To do so, they analyzed sequences of anthocyanin pathway genes in different rice varieties and pinpointed the defective genes in japonica and indica subspecies that do not produce anthocyanins... 

They developed a transgene stacking strategy for expressing eight anthocyanin pathway genes specifically in the endosperm of the japonica and indica rice varieties. The resulting purple endosperm rice had high anthocyanin levels and antioxidant activity in the endosperm. "This is the first demonstration of engineering such a complex metabolic pathway in plants"... 

The researchers plan to evaluate the safety of purple endosperm rice as biofortified food, and they will also try to engineer the biosynthesis of anthocyanins in other crops to produce more purple endosperm cereals.

"Our research provides a high-efficiency vector system for stacking multiple genes for synthetic biology and makes it potentially feasible for engineering complex biosynthesis pathways in the endosperm of rice and other crop plants such as maize, wheat, and barley"... 


https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-06/cp-get062017.php


Underlying study: http://doi.org/10.1016/j.molp.2017.05.008


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Gene Editing in Polyploid Crops: Wheat, Camelina, Canola, Potato, Cotton, Peanut, Sugar Cane, and Citrus - Weeks (2017) - Progr Mol Biol Transl Sci

Polyploid crops make up a significant portion of the major food and fiber crops of the world and include wheat, potato, cotton, apple, peanut, citrus, and brassica oilseeds such as rape, canola, and Camelina. The presence of... sets of chromosomes... present significant challenges to conventional plant breeding and, potentially, to efficient use of rapidly emerging gene and genome-editing systems such as zinc finger nucleases, single-stranded oligonucleotides, TALE effector nucleases, and CRISPR/Cas9. 


However, recent studies with each of these techniques in several polyploid crops have demonstrated facile editing of some or all of the genes targeted for modification on homeologous chromosomes. These modifications have allowed improvements in food nutrition, seed oil composition, disease resistance, weed protection, plant breeding procedures, and food safety. 


Plants and plant products exhibiting useful new traits created through gene editing but lacking foreign DNA may face reduced regulatory restrictions... Such systems that create precise mutations but leave no transgene footprint hold potential promise for assisting with the elimination or great diminution of regulatory processes that presently burden approvals of conventional transgenic crops.


https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.pmbts.2017.05.002


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China approves imports of new US-developed GM crops - FT (2017) 

China approves imports of new US-developed GM crops - FT (2017)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

China, the world’s largest importer of soyabeans, has made a trade concession to Washington by approving imports of two new varieties of genetically modified crops developed by US companies...  

China has tight limits on the domestic cultivation of genetically modified crops, but allows imports to be used in its vast animal feed industry. 

Beijing... promised to speed up the evaluation of eight varieties of GM crops from the US as part of a “100-day plan” to open up trade... China only approved a single new variety of GM crop for import last year... 

China’s demand for soyabeans has skyrocketed in the past decade because of rising meat consumption, which has fuelled the animal feed industry. 

The country imported more than 80m tonnes of soyabeans last year, mostly from Brazil and the US. China is the biggest export market for US agriculture products, valued at more than $21bn in 2016. 

Beijing has in the past taken a tough line on imports of certain GM products. Chinese authorities rejected a number of US corn shipments in 2013 because they contained a GM corn variety... which was not approved in China. 

The agriculture ministry also renewed approvals for the import of 14 other kinds of GM crop, including... corn... sugar beet and ... rapeseed products. The approvals are valid for three years. 

The approvals come as state-owned ChemChina nears completion of a $44bn deal to purchase major European seed and pesticide company Syngenta, with Beijing trying to gain greater control of the agrichemical market... [and] to “dominate the high points of GMO techniques”. 

Beijing does not permit the cultivation of any GM crops except for cotton and papaya... Imported biotech products take up to seven years to gain approval in China, compared with up to three in other major markets.


https://www.ft.com/content/0260a84c-50e2-11e7-bfb8-997009366969


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Research Progress and Prospects of Genome Editing Pigs - Wen &al (2017) - J Ag Biotechnol

With the development of the new genome editing technology, a large number of genome editing pigs with excellent traits and their products spring up. The analysis of literatures and patents about transgenic pigs and genome editing pigs shows that China is in the leading position in this field. 


This review summarizes research and development status of domestic and foreign genome editing pigs, predicting their development directions in the future. 


According to the safety management regulations of genetically modified organisms and the attitudes for genome editing organisms in different countries, we also offer some suggestions regarding safety management of genome editing animals and their products in order to promote the industrialized application in China.


http://www.jabiotech.org/EN/Y2017/V25/I5/781


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Mother Nature might be lovely, but moral she is not - Aeon (2017) 

Mother Nature might be lovely, but moral she is not - Aeon (2017)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

To live in Vermont is to be smothered by nature’s beauty on a daily basis. Everywhere you look is another peaceful pond, another shimmering lake or emerald hill or misty field graced by a family of grazing deer… Immersed as we are in these exquisite pastoral gifts, Vermonters tend to forget that Mother Nature might be lovely, but moral she is not. She doesn’t love us or want what’s best for us. With one hand she giveth, and with the other she puncheth in the gut. 


I know this only too well, because… nature personally bestowed on me another of her special gifts: systemic lupus… a drag, where your immune system constantly attacks your own body… The result is a mess of pain, inflammation, fevers, fatigue and a never-ending litany of nasty surprises. That’s why I just don’t buy the idea that ‘natural is best’. Your organic, gluten-free, sprouted ancient-grain bread is all-natural? That’s nice. My disease is all-natural too. My chronic pain, pleurisy and angry kidneys are all-natural, and my death would’ve been too, if I didn’t have access to the decidedly unnatural medications that allow me to lead a somewhat normal, comfortable life. 


A few years ago… a chain smoker paused between drags to scold me for drinking a Diet Coke – or as she referred to it, ‘that poison’. I had the temerity to point out that she was smoking a cigarette. ‘They’re natural,’ she replied smugly… Now, I’m aware that Diet Coke is not exactly a health tonic, but blithely calling it poison in a voice cracked with the tar of innumerable organic butts speaks to a certain cognitive bias. The soda was bad purely because it wasn’t natural, and the cigarettes were good purely because they were. I refrained from asking her if she enjoyed lots of other natural things, such as cobra bites, poison ivy, malaria, and diving headlong into 100 per cent organic molten lava. 


It turns out that a certain counter-rationalist mindset isn’t just a condition afflicting Right-wing reactionaries. This fetish for all things au naturel reached a particularly feverish peak… when Vermonters banded together to implement a mandatory labelling law for GMOs (genetically-modified organisms)… Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that GMOs are safe for human consumption, more than three-quarters of Vermonters supported the law, which stated that all food manufacturers had to slap a chunk of text on their packaging if their product contained any ingredients that were produced through genetic engineering. 


Not the Ye Olde Geneticke Engineereing that humans have practised for millennia, mind you, such as the selective breeding, crossbreeding and hybridisation of plants and animals. Rather… the supporters of the bill clearly differentiated between these timeworn agricultural methods and the modern form of genetic engineering that involves scientists isolating and manipulating individual genes to promote desired traits. If companies refused to comply with demands to label their GMOs, their Chewy Pork-Os and Mini Cheese Conundrums would no longer be sold on our pure, artisanal shelves… 


It doesn’t take much for us to mentally spool back in time, through gauzy montages of kooky historical costume changes, until we arrive at some untarnished, primordial Eve, squatting happily in front of her cook-fire, preparing some kale-and-wholegrain crêpes. Her rhythms are the rhythms of nature. She is at one with the natural world, not above or apart from it, and we are all connected to her across time, space and evolutionary leaps through this bio-mystical thread of the double-helix. But wait; is that a rustling in the shrubberies behind her? … 


We tend to romanticise the past and blame every ailment on this crazy, modern lifestyle and scary ‘new’ technologies, forgetting the mortality and brutality we’ve left behind. If Eve was a real person living in the palaeolithic era, her life expectancy would have been only about 30 years, max. As she approached this ripe old age, she would likely have been prone to many of the same ailments that people today don’t typically start to suffer from until their 60s. She would have been fortunate to live that long, considering they obviously didn’t benefit from miraculous modern medical advances such as antibiotics, cancer treatments, obstetrics, surgery and Bioré pore strips. And yes, the abundance of nutritious food that we enjoy today is thanks, in part, to GM technologies. You know what makes my lupus feel better? When I can afford healthy food, all year round… 


As the labelling deadline approached, I’d marvel at the hundreds of scientifically unfounded anti-GMO lies that would be repeated in the comment sections of newspapers and other media outlets… Some of the claims came from the Vermont Right to Know GMOs website, which was the official hub of the bill’s news and activism activity. It contained a number of untrue or misleading claims… I’d be frightened too, if this were my primary source of information… But there are also multiple independent studies performed on patented GMOs all over the world. So it’s not some kind of science-y petri-dish, Wild West situation; GM seeds have been tested at every stage of development and release for 30 years… 


Nature can seem as inspiring, beautiful, strong and nurturing as a mother, but it would be foolish to believe that this ‘mother’ loves us. There’s no reason we can’t celebrate her glorious natural gifts while also appreciating the important ‘unnatural’ improvements our fellow humans have created…  


https://aeon.co/essays/mother-nature-might-be-lovely-but-moral-she-is-not


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Plant genetics, ecologically based farming and the future of food - Prins &al (2017) - Geo Rev

Plant genetics, ecologically based farming and the future of food - Prins &al (2017) - Geo Rev | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

For 10,000 years, we have altered the genetic makeup of our crops. 


Conventional approaches are often quite crude, resulting in new varieties through a combination of trial and error, and without knowledge of the precise function of the genes that are being transferred. Such methods include grafting or forced pollinations between different species, as well as radiation or chemical treatments that induce random mutations in the seed. 


Today, virtually everything we eat is produced from seeds that have been genetically altered in one way or another... 


Although seed is just one component of a sustainable agricultural system, it is an important component. The seed carries the traits that farmers and consumers value: flavor, nutrition, tolerance to pests, diseases, environmental stress, and the like). 


Because planting a new seed variety does not require extra maintenance or additional farming skills, it is scale-neutral technology. This means that farmers of both small and large acreage, including farmers in developing countries, can benefit if the trait is appropriate to their particular geography and farming challenges. 


In the developed world, most farmers, including organic farmers, buy their seed from for-profit seed companies. In less developed countries, the seed is typically developed and distributed by nonprofit institutions... 


The process of genetic engineering has been used for more than forty years to create life saving drugs (for example, insulin), enzymes for cheeses (approximately 90 percent of U.S. cheeses are made with genetically engineered enzymes), and crops resistant to disease. 


After decades of careful study and rigorous peer review by thousands of independent scientists, every major scientific organization in the world has concluded that the genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat and that the process of genetic engineering is no more risky than older methods... These are precisely the same organizations that most of us trust when it comes to other important scientific issues such as global climate change and the safety of vaccines.


Hybridization... genetic engineering of crops launched in 1996 and the genome editing of tomorrow are examples of a continuum of new technologies aimed at helping farmers produce food in a productive and ecologically-based manner... It is important to frame discussions about agriculture in the context of the environmental, economic, and social impacts of agriculture – the three pillars of sustainable agriculture. 


Rather than focusing on how a seed variety was developed, we must ask what most enhances local food security and can provide safe, abundant and nutritious food to consumers. We must ask if rural communities can thrive and if farmers can make a profit. We must be sure that consumers can afford the food. And finally we must minimize environmental degradation. This includes conserving land and water, enhancing farm biodiversity and soil fertility, reducing erosion and minimizing harmful inputs.


http://doi.org/10.1111/gere.12256


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