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Fast-growing fish may never wind up on your plate - AP (2012)

Fast-growing fish may never wind up on your plate - AP (2012) | Ag Biotech News |

Salmon that's been genetically modified to grow twice as fast as normal could soon show up on your dinner plate. That is, if the company that makes the fish can stay afloat. After weathering concerns about everything from the safety of humans eating the salmon to their impact on the environment, Aquabounty was poised to become the world's first company to sell fish whose DNA has been altered to speed up growth. The Food and Drug Administration in 2010 concluded that Aquabounty's salmon was as safe to eat as the traditional variety. The agency also said that there's little chance that the salmon could escape and breed with wild fish, which could disrupt the fragile relationships between plants and animals in nature. But more than two years later the FDA has not approved the fish, and Aquabounty is running out of money.

"It's threatening our very survival," says CEO Ron Stotish, chief executive of the Maynard, Mass.-based company. "We only have enough money to survive until January 2013, so we have to raise more. But the unexplained delay has made raising money very difficult" ... 

Aquabounty is the only U.S. company publicly seeking approval for a genetically modified animal that's raised to be eaten by humans. And scientists worry that its experience with the FDA's lengthy review process could discourage other U.S. companies from investing in animal biotechnology, or the science of manipulating animal DNA to produce a desirable trait. That would put the U.S. at a disadvantage at a time when China, India and other foreign governments are pouring millions of dollars each year into the potentially lucrative field that could help reduce food costs and improve food safety... 

"The story of Aquabounty is disappointing because everyone was hoping the company would be a clear signal that genetic modification in animals is now acceptable in the U.S.," said Professor Helen Sang, a geneticist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland who is working to develop genetically modified chickens that are resistant to bird flu... 


The science behind genetic modification is not new. Biotech scientists say that genetic manipulation is a proven way to reduce disease and enrich plants and animals, raising productivity and increasing the global food supply. Genetically modified corn, cotton and soybeans account for more than four-fifths of those crops grown in the U.S. ... Researchers say the centuries-old practice of selective breeding is its own form of genetic engineering, producing the plumper cows, pigs and poultry we eat today.


"You drive a hybrid car because you want the most efficient vehicle you can have. So why wouldn't you want the most efficient agriculture you can have?" asks Alison Van Eenennaam, a professor of animal science at University of California, Davis.
Aquabounty executives say their aim is to make the U.S. fish farming industry, or aquaculture, more efficient, environmentally friendly and profitable. After all, the U.S. imports about 86 percent of its seafood, in part, because it has a relatively small aquaculture industry... In 2010, the U.S. imported more than 200,000 tons of Atlantic salmon, worth over $1.5 billion, from countries like Norway, Canada and Chile... 


Aquabounty spent the next decade conducting more than two dozen studies on everything from the molecular structure of the salmon's DNA to the potential allergic reactions in humans who would eat it. By the time the FDA completed its roadmap for reviewing genetically modified animals in 2009, Aquabounty was the first company to submit its data. After reviewing the company's data, the FDA said in a public hearing in September of 2010 that Aquabounty's salmon is "as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon" ... 

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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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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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Scientists Say Herbicide Resistance Predates Genetically Engineered Crops by 40 Years - WSSA (2016)

Scientists Say Herbicide Resistance Predates Genetically Engineered Crops by 40 Years - WSSA (2016) | Ag Biotech News |

You may think weeds resistant to herbicides are a new phenomenon linked to the overuse of glyphosate in genetically engineered crops, but... nothing could be further from the truth. This year marks only the 20th anniversary of glyphosate-resistant crops, while next year will mark the 60th anniversary of the first reports of herbicide-resistant weeds. The first known report of herbicide-resistance came in 1957 when a spreading dayflower (Commelina diffusa)... was found to be resistant to a synthetic auxin herbicide... That same year wild carrot (Daucus carota)... was found to be resistant to some of the same synthetic auxin herbicides. Since then, 250 species of weeds have evolved resistance to 160 different herbicides that span 23 of the 26 known herbicide mechanisms of action. They are found in 86 crops in 66 countries, making herbicide resistance a truly global problem. 

“Given all the media attention paid to glyphosate, you would think it would have the greatest number of resistant weed species... Though there are currently 35 weed species resistant to the amino acid synthesis inhibitor glyphosate, there are four times as many weed species resistant to ALS inhibitors and three times as many resistant to PS II inhibitors”... what is unique about glyphosate resistance is the severity of selection pressure for resistance development. More than 90 percent of soybean, corn, cotton and sugar beet acres in the U.S. are glyphosate tolerant and receive glyphosate treatments – often multiple times per year. “The sheer size of the crop acreage impacted by glyphosate-resistant weeds has made glyphosate the public face for the pervasive problem of resistance... But resistance issues are far broader than a single herbicide and were around long before glyphosate-resistant, genetically engineered crops were even introduced.” 

Research shows that resistant weeds can evolve whenever a single approach to weed management is used repeatedly to the exclusion of other chemical and cultural controls – making a diverse, integrated approach to weed management the first line of defense. Many growers have had great success fighting resistance by adopting a broader range of controls. One example is found in the experiences of U.S. cotton growers... After years of relying on glyphosate for weed control, resistant Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri) began to overrun crops and caused yields to plummet. Today integrated weed management programs that use a diverse range of controls have become commonplace in cotton, despite the higher cost. Growers are using cover crops, hand-weeding, tillage, weed seed removal and herbicides with different mechanisms of action in order to keep Palmer amaranth at bay. 

There have been tradeoffs. Additional herbicides, labor and fuel have tripled the cost of weed control in cotton. In addition, increased tillage has raised concerns about soil erosion from water and wind. But for now, the crop has been preserved. “Although diversification is critical to crop sustainability, it can be difficult to make a decision to spend more on integrated weed control strategies... As a result, many of the most successful diversification efforts can be found in crops like cotton where change became an imperative”... In addition to costs, another barrier to adoption of integrated weed management is the belief by some that new types of herbicides will be invented to take the place of those no longer effective on resistant weeds. But the HPPD-inhibitors discovered in the late 1980s for use in corn crops are the last new mechanism of action to make its way out of the lab and into the market. “It would be naïve to think we are going to spray our way out of resistance problems... Although herbicides are a critical component for large-scale weed management, it is paramount that we surround these herbicides with diverse weed control methods in order to preserve their usefulness – not sit back and wait for something better to come along.”

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Estimation of Spillover Effects from Large Scale Adoption of Transgenic (Bt) Corn in the Philippines - Brown &al (2016) - AAEA

Large scale adoption of Bt corn has been associated with reduction in pest numbers for all farmers within the area (Hutchison et al 2010). Such area-level adoption may decrease individual incentives to adopt pest control measures. 

We propose an... approach to... estimate this spillover... To estimate average grower response to large scale adoption of transgenic corn in the Philippines. This value represents a measure of the pest suppression spillover on non-adopters of transgenic varieties. 

Significant spillover effect found to be associated with the use of Bt corn in the Philippines. This spillover as pointed out by Hutchison is expected to accrue primarily to non-adopting farmers. This positive externality should be accounted for in cost benefit analyses of the effects of Bt technology as ignoring them likely underestimates the value to farmers...

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Proposed criteria for the evaluation of the scientific quality of mandatory rat and mouse feeding trials with whole food/feed derived from genetically modified plants - Schmidt &al (2016) - Arch To...

Proposed criteria for the evaluation of the scientific quality of mandatory rat and mouse feeding trials with whole food/feed derived from genetically modified plants - Schmidt &al (2016) - Arch To... | Ag Biotech News |

In recent years, animal feeding trials conducted with whole food/feed have been a focal issue in the controversy on the safety assessment of genetically modified (GM) plants and derived food/feed. Within the scientific community and among stakeholders, quite different views have been expressed on how these studies should be conducted, analysed and interpreted, what they might add in terms of information relevant to safety and whether 90-day rodent feeding trials should be mandatory... 

Taken together, nine criteria to evaluate the scientific quality of rat and mouse feeding trials with whole food/feed derived from genetically modified plants are proposed and a number of specific aspects to be taken into account in conjunction with these individual quality criteria are addressed. It is recommended that the quality assessment of a feeding trial in the frame of a regulatory decision process is made on a case-by-case basis considering all relevant quality criteria proposed in this letter. 

It is important to note that a feeding trial does not automatically provide useful information simply because it meets the nine proposed criteria. Only in case a trigger is available from the initial molecular, compositional, phenotypic and/or agronomic analyses and therefore the rationale of the study prior to testing is formulated in form of hypotheses regarding specific endpoints, feeding trials with whole food/feed may provide an added scientific value for the risk assessment of GM crops. 

It is expected that this letter will trigger a broader scientific debate on the quality of rodent feeding trials with whole food/feed, and for this purpose, contributions are welcome in the Discussion Forum established by the scientific coordinators of the European research projects GRACE, G-TwYST and GMO90+ in Archives of Toxicology.

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EU Failing FAO Challenge to Improve Global Food Security - Smyth &al (2016) – Trends Biotechnol

EU Failing FAO Challenge to Improve Global Food Security - Smyth &al (2016) – Trends Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News |
Click here tThe EU has chosen to ignore the food security challenge issued to the world by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)… that agricultural biotechnology has a central role in meeting the food security challenge… The FAO identified necessary agricultural production increases of 70% globally to meet the requirements of a projected 9.6 billion people… Developing countries struggle to feed their current populations, with millions unable to secure sufficient food quantities to provide daily nutritional needs. The FAO and others assert that agricultural biotechnology will be important to meet global nutritional needs in 2050. Many countries have responded to this challenge, allowing agricultural biotechnology innovations to be commercialized as part of their strategic response to the FAO challenge. While Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, and the USA have all approved the production of GM crops, few developing countries have followed suit. 

In addition to agricultural production needing to rise by 70% globally… in most developing countries, production would need to rise by 100%. The FAO reports that annual increases in crop yields of 2% are needed to sustain the existing global population. Current yield increases are below 2% and have slowed considerably. Crop yield increases for the three key staple crops of wheat, maize, and rice have been trending downward since the 1990s, and this decline is most significant for wheat and rice, where annual global increases are less than 1%. Of particular concern is the rate of wheat yield increases in developed countries, which has become negative. With rice being a staple crop for many developing countries, recent rice yield increases of 1% highlights the inefficient application of crop breeding innovations. Innovative agricultural biotechnologies are required to aid the development of new varieties of all three staple crops to assist in raising annual yield increases to meet increasing global demand. Without the ability to adopt agricultural biotechnology, hundreds of millions will remain nutritionally insecure on a daily basis. 

The EU has repeatedly failed to respond to the FAO challenge. While two MS plant small amounts of GM crops… for the most part, GM crops are not welcomed by governments or consumers in the EU. The European Commission agreement in December 2014 allowing MS to domestically ban the production of GM crops once again affirms an unwillingness to credibly respond to global food security through the adoption of advanced technologies. Current EU environmental policy appears to be dictated by objectives that contribute to global food insecurity. This new EU policy is flawed for three reasons: (i) it ignores conventional scientific findings; (ii) it has politicized and mischaracterized risk; and (iii) it deters developing countries from adopting GM crops. 

EU Parliamentarians and politicians routinely ignore the proven safety and environmental benefits of GM crops. GM crops have undergone risk assessments by federal regulatory agencies in over 30 different countries since their first commercialization in Canada and the USA in 1995, and, in 2010, the European Commission produced a review of 130 EU-funded biotechnology research projects that showed that GM-bred crops are as safe as conventionally bred crops. EU politicians appear happy to ignore their own and others’ peer-reviewed science that demonstrates the safety and efficacy of a range of new crops that are widely accepted across world markets. 

The evidence in adopting countries is growing and compelling. A recent meta-analysis of 147 publications detailing GM crop impacts found that chemical pesticide use dropped by 37%, crop yields increased by 22%, and farmer profits increased by 68%. The main impacts are in cotton, maize, soybeans, and canola… Meanwhile, reductions in chemical use have been quantified in both developing and developed countries. Pesticide use on cotton in India dropped by 41%... In Canada, the environmental impact of GM canola resulted in a reduction of 53%... of herbicide… There are also measurable health benefits to smallholder farmers and farm laborers due to reductions in pesticide applications from GM crop adoption. GM cotton in India has lowered the number of reported pesticide poisoning by between 2.4 and 9 million cases annually… 

The risk assessment process in the EU has become politicized and often ignores the results of its science-based risk assessment in its deliberations. The EU has a zero-tolerance threshold for EU-unapproved GM traits that have been approved in other countries, including major trading partners, such as Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and the USA. These GM traits have had risk assessments cumulatively undertaken by over 200 national regulators. Presently, the EU has higher acceptable levels in food products for contaminants such as insect fragments, sticks, and manure, than it does for EU-unapproved GM crops. 

The decision by the EU to allow MS to individually regulate approvals for cultivation of GM crops that have already received EU-wide approval will have wide-ranging effects that, ultimately, will make it more difficult for the most food-insecure countries in the world to achieve their food security goals… This decision to allow individual MS to intervene and make local decisions considerably increases the risks associated with investing in agricultural biotechnology in the EU and beyond… 

First, some are of the opinion that this will allow MS opposed to GM crops to ban them domestically and no longer vote to block them at the EU level, thus returning GM crop approvals to science-based processes. Removing some of the politics of GM crop approvals would theoretically allow those MS supporting the technology to approve and produce GM crops. However, this is not assured because there are no legal obligations within the opt-out for MS to cease blocking GM crops at the EU level. 

Second, science-based regulation seems to have taken a back seat in the EU. Those blocking GM crops approvals are not compelled by science; rather, decisions are based on political calculations. This has stalled most research and investment in the EU, discouraging research and commercialization of new GM traits in other MS due to the difficulty of meeting the increasing array of market access hurdles. Moreover, given that the EU is the single largest food-importing region, this change will undoubtedly discourage developing countries exporting commodities to the EU from adopting GM crops; the cost and uncertainty of having shipments rejected by MS will offset many of the benefits of GM adoption. 

Investment decisions of individual firms are determined, in part, by the size of the potential market for the products of the new technology and the cost of securing entry in those markets. When countries ban new technologies or their products or make their approvals sufficiently risky or uncertain, the size of the potential market shrinks. This reduces the likelihood of a positive investment decision. Meeting the goals of improved global food security will require a range of efforts; most policy-makers see improving agricultural productivity through new breeding techniques as central to achieving the goals. Agricultural biotechnology can greatly contribute to advances in agricultural productivity. Any major increases in the riskiness of investments in research and development will work to reduce investment and the rate at which agricultural productivity increases. 

The effects on food insecure countries… are direct and immediate. The EU prohibits imports of all unapproved GM events. Shipments can be refused when minute traces of GM material are detected, either comingling of GM with non-GM varieties of the same crop or a different crop. Hence, if African countries exporting to the EU adopt productivity-enhancing GM crops, they risk losing their markets in the EU. Given that absolute segregation of GM and non-GM crops is both difficult and expensive to achieve on a commercial basis, African countries eschew the adoption of GM crops, thus forgoing improvements in their agricultural productivity (even developed countries are stressed: the EU closed the border to Canadian exports of flax and American exports of corn, rice, and soybeans recently after detecting trace amounts of traits not approved in the EU). The failure to adopt GM crops in the EU also feeds back into global investment decisions: one result is lower investment into the adaptation of GM crops suited to agronomic conditions in developing countries, especially tropical crops. 

This latest move away from science-based regulation in the EU will have wide-ranging effects beyond the EU itself, effects that will complicate international efforts to achieve global food security. While numerous GM-adopting nations have positively responded to the challenge of the FAO, the EU continues to ignore the impact of their domestic choices on this crucial global issue. The EU has secure food supplies and is ignoring the cost its politically motivated technology choice has on food insecure consumers and countries. The EU has failed in its responsibility to its own citizens and to those in developing countries by ignoring science and evidence… 

A host of new plant breeding techniques and technologies are poised to enter the crop variety development sector. They offer an exciting opportunity to reverse the trend to weaker yield growth. While many of these new technologies and techniques do not involve cross-species manipulations, there is a movement afoot in the EU… to outright reject these technologies. This knee-jerk reaction to a real opportunity to accelerate crop productivity, lower the ecological footprint of food production, and improve the lot of many food-insecure farmers and families around the world is a shame. The burden of increasing global food security cannot be in the hands of the few GM crop-adopting countries, led by Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada and the USA… The commercialization of new, higher yielding crops needs all leading food producers to engage. The EU cannot abrogate its duty to use its wealth and resources on behalf of humanity. 

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How to be Cautious but Open to Learning: Time to Update Biotechnology and GMO Legislation - Hansson (2016) - Risk Analysis

How to be Cautious but Open to Learning: Time to Update Biotechnology and GMO Legislation - Hansson (2016) - Risk Analysis | Ag Biotech News |

Precautionary measures to protect human health and the environment should be science based. This implies that they should be directed at a potential danger for which there is credible scientific evidence (although that evidence need not be conclusive). 

Furthermore, protective measures should be updated as relevant science advances. This means that decisionmakers should be prepared to strengthen the precautionary measures if the danger turns out to be greater than initially suspected, and to reduce or lift them, should the danger prove to be smaller. 

Most current legislation on agricultural biotechnology has not been scientifically updated. Therefore, it reflects outdated criteria for identifying products that can cause problems. Modern knowledge in genetics, plant biology, and ecology has provided us with much better criteria that risk analysts can use to identify the potentially problematic breeding projects at which precautionary measures should be directed. 

Legislation on agricultural biotechnology should be scientifically updated. Furthermore, legislators should learn from this example that regulations based on the current state of science need to have inbuilt mechanisms for revisions and adjustments in response to future developments in science.

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Invasive species could cause billions in damages to agriculture - Penn State University (2016)

Invasive species could cause billions in damages to agriculture - Penn State University (2016) | Ag Biotech News |

Invasive insects and pathogens could be a multi-billion-dollar threat to global agriculture and developing countries may be the biggest target... The United States, China, India and Brazil, all large agricultural producers, would have the highest potential cost from invasive species... 

"China and the U.S. are large and have diverse cropping systems ranging from subtropical to temperate environments and this diversity of cropping systems supports a wide range of potential pest and disease species... Also, China and the U.S. have very active trading relationships with many countries worldwide and these provide potential links for transport of pest and disease organisms"...  

While big agricultural countries, such as the United States and China, may take the biggest monetary hit, smaller developing countries may suffer proportionately higher damage... the most vulnerable countries were located in sub-Saharan Africa. 

"These countries generally do not have diverse economies making them disproportionately more dependent on agriculture... As a result any threat from invasive species can potentially have a greater relative impact on these countries"... 

As trade increases and more connections are made between countries, the researchers suggest that the problems associated with invasive species will mount.

Underlying article:

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
... all natural... 
(But increasing the need for pest control.) 
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‘Chemophobia’ is irrational, harmful – and hard to break - Aeon (2016) 

We all feel a profound connection with the natural world... biophilia: ‘the urge to affiliate with other forms of life’. That sense of connection brings great emotional satisfaction... But lately biophilia has spawned an extreme variant: chemophobia, a reflexive rejection of modern synthetic chemicals... an outgrowth of the modern environmental movement, especially Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (1962)... Carson’s words helped to inspire unleaded gasoline, the US Clean Air Act, the banning of DDT, and other hugely important environmental advances. However, even as much of the world became cleaner, the anti-chemical movement became so polarised that all artificial chemicals are now considered tainted. This false assumption has led to a popular demand for products that are ‘natural’ or even ‘chemical-free’.

In reality, ‘natural’ products are usually more chemically complicated than anything we can create in the lab.... The distinction between natural and synthetic chemicals is not merely ambiguous, it is non-existent. The fact that an ingredient is synthetic does not automatically make it dangerous, and the fact that it is natural doesn’t make it safe. Botulinum, produced by bacteria that grow in honey, is more than 1.3 billion times as toxic as lead... A cup of apple seeds contains enough natural cyanide to kill an adult human. Natural chemicals can be beneficial, neutral or harmful depending on the dosage and on how they are used, just like synthetic chemicals. Whether a chemical is ‘natural’ should never be a factor when assessing its safety.

Misconceptions about natural versus synthetic compounds can have devastating consequences. The anxiety over formaldehyde is a telling example. Formaldehyde occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs and foliage... It is found at levels of around 2 ppm in a healthy human body, where it plays an important role in the production of DNA. Formaldehyde is also used in various industries as a preservative... Unlike the harmless trace quantities of formaldehyde, however, the avoidance of vaccination has caused many preventable deaths, including localised measles outbreaks in California, Germany and Wales in recent years. 

Fighting back against fear is difficult but not impossible. The scientific community describes chemophobia as a ‘non-clinical prejudice’... that is... a learned aversion. That insight suggests a few promising strategies. A lot of the solution begins in schools... Chemistry teachers need to counteract the notion that laboratories are dirty places where contaminated things are created. As one student responded to me: ‘If I can’t eat in a lab due to fear of contamination, how could food made in a lab possibly be safe to eat?’ ... Teachers should talk about industrial quality control and purification techniques to communicate the extremely high standards of purity required before chemical products can be certified safe for human consumption.

Educating consumers that ‘natural’ products are not always safe will encourage smarter healthcare choices. Tighter regulation of marketing terms is also important. The global market for ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ personal care products is projected to reach $16 billion by 2020, even though those products generally have no demonstrated safety advantage over their ‘synthetic’ equivalents. ‘Pure’ should refer to single-ingredient products only. ‘Natural’ products should be sold exactly as they occur in nature, and ‘natural’ should be forbidden as a marketing term for cosmetics and other products. Finally, the use of ‘chemical-free’ – a logical impossibility – on product labels needs to be stopped.

The roots of chemophobia run deep. We are irrationally hard-wired to overestimate the magnitude of risks that are imposed upon us. Americans are 35,000 times as likely to die from heart disease as from terrorism, yet terrorism tops people’s list of worries. It’s only through a better knowledge of chemistry and toxicology that we can begin to assess chemical risks in a more rational, healthier way. Then perhaps we can bend chemophobia back toward biophilia – creating an awareness that humans are chemically connected to all of the world around us.

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Challenges of transgenic crop commercialization in China - Lu (2016) - Nature Plants

Challenges of transgenic crop commercialization in China - Lu (2016) - Nature Plants | Ag Biotech News |

Transgenic biotechnology offers great opportunities for food security. But the potential effects on human health and the environment are a major concern to the public, which hinders the application of the technology. Along with continually implementing rigid biosafety assessment, educating the public is critical for promoting transgenic crops in China. 

Over the past few years, transgenes have become… concerning matters for Chinese civilians. People often get anxious or even angry when speaking of transgenic foods. The focal point of the concerns is whether foods derived from transgenic, or genetically modified (GM), crops are safe for human health and the environment. These public concerns and debates have influenced decision-making in China on the commercialization of GM crops, particularly transgenic staples such as rice. As a result, China dropped to sixth place in the world ranking of GM crop cultivation in 2007 from fourth place in 2002, being overtaken by Brazil and India. In contrast to the situation in China, GM crop commercialization in other countries has benefited greatly from rapidly progressing biotechnology, driven by increased demand for food… 

By the end of 2014, about 18 million farmers across 28 countries worldwide had cultivated over 181 million hectares of GM crops… maize, soybean, cotton, canola, potato, sugar beet, alfalfa, papaya, poplar, tomato, squash and eggplant. GM technology… facilitates crop breeding in an efficient and targeted way, and has led to… a 22% increase in crop yield and a 37% reduction in chemical pesticide use. It can also bring about greener agricultural ecosystems, for example by saving millions of tons of chemical pesticides and approximately 28 billion kg of CO2 discharge. 

Currently, China feeds more than 20% of the world's population using less than 7% of the world's arable land. Moreover, the continued increases in human population, progressive decreases in arable lands and natural resources (for example, water and soil nutrients), and the rapid losses of agricultural labour have posed even greater challenges for sustainable agricultural production and food security in China. As such, China depends heavily on imports; the country imported more than 100 million tons of various crops in 2014, reflecting a great shortage of locally produced food… To increase crop production, the only option is to maximize crop yields per unit area using crop varieties with improved performance. Traditional breeding… has proved very successful in increasing crop performance, as shown by the triumph of the ‘green’ and hybrid rice revolutions. GM technology is superior in its efficiency in modulating plant genetic architecture, opening the opportunity for a ‘transgenic green’ revolution. 

China has played an important role in the research and development (R&D) of GM biotechnology, with a comprehensive R&D platform established during the past 30 years. With strong support from the government, Chinese public research institutions and universities are actively involved in GM biotechnology R&D. So far, more than 50 plant species have been explored, including the 10 most cultivated crops worldwide, and transgenes conveying more than 100 types of diverse agronomic traits have been used in genetic transformation. This has yielded a large number of patents for transgenic lines, many of which have entered different stages of national biosafety assessment. By the end of 2014, more than 2,140 biosafety certificates had been granted by the Biosafety Management Office of the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) of China for a number of crops including cotton, papaya, rice and maize… 

In fact, the R&D history of GM crops in China can be traced back to the 1980s… In 2008, Chinese government launched another huge programme, with an initial plan to invest US$3.5 billion in the GM development of five key crop species (rice, wheat, maize, cotton and soybean)… a clear demonstration of a governmental ambition to secure food supply by developing transgenic biotechnology. In 2009, the MOA granted biosafety certificates to two insect-resistant GM rice lines and one phytase GM maize line after nearly ten years of comprehensive biosafety assessment. The approval of GM rice was marked as an important milestone for genetic engineering of this staple food crop in China… However, seven years after biosafety approval, the GM rice and maize lines have not yet entered commercial production. Although farmers welcomed the insect-resistant rice, strong opposition from the public is one of the major reasons for the delay. The dilemma now is that, on the one hand, the government has invested heavily in GM crop development, but on the other, the ‘end users’ (that is, the public) are not prepared to accept GM products due to safety concerns. 

Safety is users’ primary consideration before accepting any products derived from a new technology… further work needs to be done to address public concerns, as they can still hinder GM crop commercialization even though biosafety assessment has been passed. Better promotion of GM crops depends on both a more receptive public and more reasonable regulations. All GM crops that are officially approved for commercial production have passed rigorous biosafety assessment, but public worries persist partly because the detail of the technology is difficult to understand. People very often do not have access to the correct channels providing science-based and understandable information, and could be easily misled. Nevertheless, the public are the end users, and without their support and consumption, GM products would have no market. Thus, educating the public with the relevant knowledge of transgenic biotechnology, its benefits and potential biosafety issues is critical for promoting the acceptance of GM crop cultivation. 

Besides implementing rigid biosafety assessment, the current biosafety regulations need updating… For example, there is no allowance threshold for low-level adventitious presence of transgenes, which makes GM labelling and detection difficult to implement. Also, the existing regulations have not included proper measures to regulate the GM crops produced by new generations of technologies, such as stacked multiple transgenes and gene silencing. Promoting commercial production of GM crops in China is not an easy task. But, so far, there seems to be no alternative option that can sustain the growing food demand. In the absence of a reasonable replacement, it is time for China to join the rest of the world in appreciating the benefits brought by GM biotechnology.

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How grassroots lobbying push blindsided Monsanto - Politico (2016) 

Big EU capitals get cold feet on approving widely used weedkiller, push Commission to take political hit. 

American agricultural giant Monsanto thought it was on a glide path to EU renewal of its... weedkiller Roundup. It was wrong. Advocacy groups seized on a routine World Health Organization report from last year, which connected the active ingredient... to cancer, to inflame politicians. They generated enough outcry to prompt key players, including Germany and France, to publicly back away from what the industry and the European Commission thought would be a no-hassle vote after food safety officials declared in November that the pesticide is safe to use across Europe, as it has been for decades. 

Those NGOs and their backers are declaring victory this week following a vote on the chemical’s future that ended in a deadlock. The Commission is scrambling to figure out how to keep Europe’s most widely used herbicide on the market to make a June 30 license expiration. It could face a raft of lawsuits from agriculture heavyweights if it fails to pass an extension… The left-leaning groups’ ability to mobilize political opposition to an industrial giant fits a pattern. They are gaining strength in public debates as well as national politics, with their work also evident in the Commission’s flagging effort to secure a mammoth free trade deal with the U.S. The fight underscores a challenge facing big institutions and their ability to adapt quickly to deal with insurgent campaigns fueled by social media and savvy NGOs. 

The Commission could issue the renewal without public support – and wind up bolstering the image of top-down governance that doesn’t consider populist views… Under Commission rules, the majority of member countries representing at least 65 percent of the population need to sign on, a benchmark it failed to reach this week… Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has been pushing countries to be more accountable for EU actions and avoid hiding behind the Commission on politically unpopular decisions. Juncker could override member countries and reauthorize glyphosate without their backing, but thus far that is something he hasn’t wanted to do… Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis told his fellow 27 commissioners... that he had been privately contacted by the governments of France, Germany and Italy ahead of the vote urging the Commission to move forward with the reauthorization without their support… he blamed the three for silently supporting the pesticide but publicly blaming the Commission. 

The Commission’s predicament in large part stems from a March 2015 report from the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, released as the EU was nearing the end of a standard review of the chemical, which happens every 15 years. German authorities had said in January 2014 that the pesticide was safe when used as intended, and the European Food Safety Agency was reviewing those findings to make a recommendation to the Commission… it concluded glyphosate is safe at the level at which Europeans are exposed to it. The agency called for reauthorization and the Commission issued a proposal for a full 15-year renewal. 

Advocacy groups turned to their members to lobby lawmakers in national capitals and Brussels to reject the proposal, arguing that EFSA’s work was too influenced by the industry… Protesters dressed as bottles of Roundup and called for officials in Paris, Berlin and Brussels to ban the chemical at rallies this spring. Avaaz also launched a petition urging the EU to “immediately suspend approval of glyphosate.” More than 2 million people signed on. Their efforts have been effective but inexpensive… consisted mostly of member outreach as well as some advertising… One ad touts the group’s petition and other public opinion surveys on glyphosate, with an image of a skull and crossbones carved into an apple and the catchphrase “We are not lab rats.” “The campaigns did have a lot of influence over left-wing parties who are currently under pressure from populists parties within their countries”… 

The weedkiller has become a victim of its own success. Residues of the chemical are everywhere, in food and rivers, in human blood and breast milk… Meanwhile the industry was quietly lobbying its way with commission officials… Monsanto… called for the Commission to follow the recommendations of the European Food Safety Agency, arguing that “regulatory decisions should be based on the best available science.” When the Commission finally scheduled a vote in late May on a new proposal for a nine-year extension, with recommendations for restrictions on the pesticide’s use in residential areas and public parks, it was confident that Germany would be on board and other countries would fall in line. They didn’t…

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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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The Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition - FAO (2016) 

The Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition - FAO (2016)  | Ag Biotech News |
The objective of the symposium was to explore the application of biotechnologies for the benefit of family farmers in developing sustainable food systems and improving nutrition in the context of unprecedented challenges, including climate change. As underlined by the FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva… “We must count on a broad portfolio of tools and approaches to eradicate hunger, fight every form of malnutrition and achieve sustainable agriculture in the context of climate change”. 

The symposium used a broad definition for biotechnology… and took a multisectoral approach, covering the crop, livestock, forestry and fishery sectors, and the use of microorganisms… It focused on agricultural biotechnologies and products that are currently available and ready for use by small-scale producers and family farmers. It covered low- and high-tech applications, such as microbial fermentation processes, biofertilizers, biopesticides, artificial insemination, tissue culture… ‘marker-assisted selection’… genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 

An external Advisory Panel of 16 internationally recognized experts and stakeholders, including representatives from the private sector and the civil society, provided advice… There were over 400 participants including 230 delegates from 75 member countries and the European Union, as well as representatives of intergovernmental organizations, private sector entities, civil society organizations, academia/research organizations and producer organizations/cooperatives… 

The symposium successfully broadened the discussions beyond the narrow and polarised debate on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which is hindering the development and use of the full range of biotechnologies. Biotechnology is much more than GMOs. Discussion about agricultural biotechnology needs to encompass the full range of low- and high-tech non-GMO biotechnologies that are available or will be in the near future. The symposium highlighted numerous examples of the successful application of agricultural biotechnologies that meet the needs of family farmers in the crop, forestry, fishery and livestock sectors. The enormous potential of new gene editing technologies was acknowledged and the need to follow closely advancements in this area agreed. 

FAO successfully reinforced its role as a neutral forum by bringing together stakeholders from widely diverse backgrounds to engage in a discussion of agricultural biotechnologies in an open and constructive dialogue… While there is controversy because consensus is lacking on some issues in this dialogue… “FAO will not shy away from any issue that is relevant to our mandate of ending hunger and improving nutrition, as well as promoting a shift towards sustainable agriculture development.” Agricultural biotechnologies and agroecology should be seen as complementary approaches to attaining sustainable food systems and improving nutrition. For example, biotechnologies and their products can be used in production systems, based on agroecological principles, to enhance productivity while ensuring sustainability, conservation of genetic resources and use of indigenous knowledge. 

Participants highlighted the important contribution of agricultural biotechnologies to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to meeting challenges such as climate change that may prevent member countries from attaining sustainable food systems and improved nutrition. In working to address these challenges all available approaches and every possible solution, including agroecology and agricultural biotechnologies, should be considered. 

The FAO Director-General recalled… “tools and approaches must be useful and accessible for farmers, in particular family farmers”. Agricultural biotechnologies cannot be considered in isolation, their successful development and application for the benefit of smallholders and family farmers requires well-functioning research institutions, rural advisory services, markets, farmer organizations and other components of the wider agricultural innovation system. 

There are concerns about intellectual property rights and patents related to agricultural biotechnologies and their implications with respect to the development of sustainable food systems and nutrition. 

The importance of building awareness and communication on agricultural biotechnologies was a common theme throughout the symposium as was the view that all stakeholders, including smallholders and family farmers, should be engaged in this process. The engagement of students in the symposium was successful and was considered especially important, as they will be the future farmers and leaders. 

Way forward: Communication and awareness raising efforts on agricultural biotechnologies need to be increased to widely disseminate outcomes and key messages. The technical knowledge exchange and dialogue on agricultural biotechnologies needs to be brought to the regional level. Explore mechanisms and initiatives to strengthen support to member countries in capacity and institutional development and application of agricultural biotechnologies including in such areas as developing regulatory frameworks and enabling policies for the application of biotechnologies.  

Walter Thomas Jr's curator insight, July 22, 6:37 AM
"when you can`t have what you want, then start wanting what you have" userid=53256
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Field Performance of Bt Eggplants in the Philippines: Cry1Ac Expression and Control of the Eggplant Fruit and Shoot Borer - Hautea &al (2016) - PLoS ONE

Plants expressing Cry proteins from the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), have become a major tactic for controlling insect pests in maize and cotton globally. However, there are few Bt vegetable crops. 

Eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a popular vegetable grown throughout Asia that is heavily treated with insecticides to control the eggplant fruit and shoot borer, Leucinodes orbonalis (EFSB). 

Herein we provide the first publicly available data on field performance in Asia of eggplant engineered to produce the Cry1Ac protein. Replicated field trials with five Bt eggplant open-pollinated (OP) lines from transformation event EE-1 and their non-Bt comparators were conducted over three cropping seasons in the Philippines... 

Bt eggplant lines demonstrated excellent control of EFSB. Pairwise analysis of means detected highly significant differences between Bt eggplant lines and their non-Bt comparators for all field efficacy parameters tested. 

Bt eggplant lines demonstrated high levels of control of EFSB shoot damage (98.6-100%) and fruit damage (98.1-99.7%) and reduced EFSB larval infestation (95.8-99.3%) under the most severe pest pressure during trial 2. Moths that emerged from larvae collected from Bt plants in the field and reared in their Bt eggplant hosts did not produce viable eggs or offspring. 

These results demonstrate that Bt eggplant lines containing Cry1Ac event EE-1 provide outstanding control of EFSB and can dramatically reduce the need for conventional insecticides.

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Neonicotinoid pesticides cause harm to honeybees - U Mainz (2016) 

One possible cause of the alarming bee mortality we are witnessing is the use of the very active systemic insecticides called neonicotinoids. A previously unknown and harmful effect of neonicotinoids has been identified by researchers… neonicotinoids in low and field-relevant concentrations reduce the concentration of acetylcholine in the royal jelly/larval food secreted by nurse bees. This signaling molecule is relevant for the development of the honeybee larvae. At higher doses, neonicotinoids also damage the so-called microchannels of the royal jelly gland in which acetylcholine is produced… 

"The European Food Safety Authority published a report concluding that the neonicotinoid class of insecticides represented a risk to bees... The undesirable effect of neonicotinoids now discovered is a further indication that these insecticides represent a clear hazard to bee populations and this is a factor that needs to be taken into account in the forthcoming reassessment of the environmental risks of this substance class... Our research results thus confirm that the neonicotinoids can jeopardize the normal development of honeybee larvae." 

The EU... imposed temporary restrictions on the use of three neonicotinoids... It had already been reported in several scientific publications that high but not lethal doses of various neonicotinoids could be associated with the falls in the populations of wild bees, bumblebees, and queen bees. Also reported were abnormalities in breeding activity and impaired flight orientation in the case of honeybees. However, at the time there were critics of these reports who pointed out... other possible causes of bee mortality...

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
Interesting. The important question, as always, is what the (realistic) alternatives are, though... Using other insecticides may have other (or similar) negative effects, using less insecticides will increase crop losses, which is also a negative... 
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Robust seed systems, emerging technologies, and hybrid crops for Africa - Gaffney &al (2016) - Global Food Sec

Robust seed systems, emerging technologies, and hybrid crops for Africa - Gaffney &al (2016) - Global Food Sec | Ag Biotech News |

Hybrid crops are underutilized in many developing countries. Subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) rely predominantly on outdated hybrids and open-pollinated varieties, which has limited the region's ability to achieve food security and agricultural sustainability goals. 

Key challenges in SSA include lack of access to improved hybrid seed, insufficient infrastructure to support a formal seed system, and limited smallholder farmer access to input and output markets. Implementing improved seed systems and creating greater market access will require engagement from the public and private sector and the governments within Africa. 

This paper reviews the importance of hybrids in agriculture, the challenges associated with creating new hybrids, and the technological advancements that will enable more efficient production of quality hybrids in Africa.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
While not necessarily affecting the validity of the paper, it's perhaps not surprising that the authors chose this topic, given their affiliation... 
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Crop breeding is not keeping pace with climate change - U Leeds (2016) 

Crop breeding is not keeping pace with climate change - U Leeds (2016)  | Ag Biotech News |

Crop yields will fall within the next decade due to climate change unless immediate action is taken to speed up the introduction of new and improved varieties... The research... focusses on maize in Africa but the underlying processes affect crops across the tropics... 

"In Africa, gradually rising temperatures and more droughts and heatwaves caused by climate change will have an impact on maize. We looked in particular at the effect of temperature on crop durations, which is the length of time between planting and harvesting. Higher temperatures mean shorter durations and hence less time to accumulate biomass and yield." 

It takes anywhere between 10 and 30 years to breed a new crop variety and have it adopted by farmers. The rate at which temperatures are increasing across the tropics means that by the time the crop is in the field it is being grown in warmer temperatures than it was developed in. 

By looking at a range of data on farming, regulatory policy, markets and technologies, the researchers developed average, best and worst case scenarios for current crop breeding systems... Only the most optimistic assessment – in which farming, policy, markets and technology all combine to make new varieties in 10 years – showed crops staying matched to temperatures between now and 2050. 

The research team... looked at the options for ensuring that crops can be developed and delivered to the field more quickly. These range from improved biochemical screening techniques to more socially-centred measures, such as improving government policies on breeding trials and farmers' access to markets... 

"Investment in agricultural research to develop and disseminate new seed technologies is one of the best investments we can make for climate adaptation. Climate funds could be used to help the world's farmers stay several steps ahead of climate change, with major benefits for global food security." 

The researchers have also proposed an alternative plan: use global climate models to determine future temperatures, then heat greenhouses to those temperatures and develop new crop varieties there... "The challenge here is in knowing what future emissions will be and ensuring that climate models can produce accurate enough information on future temperatures"...

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New plant engineering method could help fill demand for crucial malaria drug - Max Planck (2016) 

New plant engineering method could help fill demand for crucial malaria drug - Max Planck (2016)  | Ag Biotech News |

A new and inexpensive technique for mass-producing the main ingredient in the most effective treatment for malaria, artemisinin, could help meet global demands for the drug... Artemisinin is produced in low yields by a herb called Artemisia annua (A. annua)... Researchers... discovered a new way to produce artemisinic acid, the molecule from which artemisinin is derived, in high yields. Their method involves transferring its metabolic pathway... into tobacco, a high-biomass crop.

“Malaria is a devastating tropical disease that kills almost half a million people every year... For the foreseeable future, artemisinin will be the most powerful weapon in the battle against malaria but, due to its extraction from low-yielding plants, it is currently too expensive to be widely accessible to patients in poorer countries. Producing artemisinic acid in a crop such as tobacco, which yields large amounts of leafy biomass, could provide a sustainable and inexpensive source of the drug, making it more readily available for those who need it most”...  

Although further increases in these production levels will be needed if global demand for artemisinin is to be met, the study lays the foundation for much cheaper production of this life-saving therapy in a high-biomass crop, in contrast to a single medicinal plant. It also provides a new tool for engineering many other complex pathways, with the potential to increase production of other essential therapeutic ingredients.

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Tobacco is a good target plant: Not a food crop, high yielding, and offering tobacco farmers an alternative source of income than supplying the tobacco industry... 
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Glyphosate and adverse pregnancy outcomes, a systematic review of observational studies - Araujo &al (2016) - BMC Public Health

Glyphosate and adverse pregnancy outcomes, a systematic review of observational studies - Araujo &al (2016) - BMC Public Health | Ag Biotech News |

Concerns on the teratogenic potential of glyphosate-based herbicides... prompted us to conduct a systematic review of the epidemiological studies testing hypotheses of associations between glyphosate exposure and adverse pregnancy outcomes including birth defects.

A systematic and comprehensive literature search was performed... The search found ten studies... Evidence that in South American regions of intensive GM-soy planting incidence of birth defects is high remains elusive... 

Except for a possible association with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder needing confirmation by further studies – data from existing epidemiologic studies do not lend support to the notion that [glyphosate] is a human reproductive and developmental toxicant. 

Nonetheless... human risk assessment would greatly benefit from a set of good quality epidemiologic studies... with quantitative estimations of exposure... before pre-conception and during pregnancy.

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The essential need for GM crops - Pickett (2016) - Nature Plants

The essential need for GM crops - Pickett (2016) - Nature Plants | Ag Biotech News |

The need for GM crops is growing rapidly as a consequence of the overriding priority for the sustainable generation of vastly increased food production. Although demands for energy and raw materials from the bioeconomy remain, they may become eclipsed by the quest for more food. 

Agriculture has long been a driver of technological innovation in the bioeconomy. But any attempt to generate more food with current technologies, all of which require high inputs of energy for soil preparation and production as well as delivery of fertilizers and pesticides, will raise even further the already excessive carbon emissions resulting from agriculture. The highly energy-demanding Haber-Bosch process – an artificial nitrogen fixation process – demonstrates how dramatically we are subsidizing current food production. About 80% of human bodily nitrogen has passed through the Haber-Bosch catalytic fixation of atmospheric nitrogen. In addition to major inputs relating to land preparation, nitrogen fixation and phosphorus acquisition, our efforts to counter inputs in crop resistance to pest diseases and weeds also contributes to the high carbon footprint of agriculture, and reductions in harvests due to these constraints are losses for which the carbon footprint has already been made. Thus… we need to deliver, as rapidly as possible, new traits by seed and other planting materials so as to minimize and even eliminate the need of seasonally applied inputs. Nonetheless, by approaching these objectives, we will raise the opportunity for such sustainable interventions as to allow active reduction in carbon footprint and the sparing of land for ecosystem services. 

Currently, we see no clear approach to solving many of these problems other than by using genetic modification (GM). Complex traits, such as those associated with nitrogen fixation, may also require extensive molecular guided breeding programmes. Nonetheless, GM will be the tool of choice in this dramatically difficult scientific and technological quest. Interim solutions, including improved decision support systems, are essential – but entirely new technology will also be crucial. It seems inevitable that to reduce the intensity of land preparation much arable farming will need to convert from annual to perennial cropping systems. This perennialization will undoubtedly be achieved by sophisticated breeding efforts, but augmented by GM-based traits to overcome the expected problems associated with such new crops. For example, perennialization will aggravate problems of rhizosphere pests and diseases, including nematodes and soil-inhabiting fungi, and so crop varieties will need to be made more resistant to such assaults. Here, the generic term GM includes all the new and emerging techniques of genome editing and synthetic biology. These will be even more important when addressing nitrogen fixation, improving the efficiency of photosynthesis, and transferring other essential traits to crop plants. However, to solve these problems, we face two major challenges: public acceptability and a paucity of relevant genes. 

In the UK, public engagement at all levels and particularly with younger generations, through social media, has fortunately reduced the effectiveness of GM crop destruction as a political statement by those most vehemently ill-disposed towards this technology. This should by no means make scientists in the field complacent, however, and it is essential that a dialogue be maintained with all stakeholders, including the public. With some specific exceptions, such destruction of GM crops continues in Europe, and non-evidence-based criticisms of GM make the widespread development of these technologies difficult, forcing out of Europe such activities by major industrial players… Although there is a belief among many life scientists that GM is the only way forward to deal with problems of food sustainability without damaging the environment, there must not be a return to the levels of arrogance seen in the scientific community during the early, rapid-expansion stages of GM crops. The acceptance of field experiments with GM in the UK (and some other regions in Europe) is not a direct indication that large-scale incorporation of GM products into the food chain will be accepted in the near future. Even where this is already the case, such as in the US and Brazil, there are still substantial and vociferous detractors… 

But we have not yet made sufficient progress in identifying genes that can be engineered to improve efficient nitrogen fixation and effective scavenging of bound phosphorus available within current cropping systems. The range of robust genetics for disease and herbivore resistance is limited, and large resources are still directed at relatively traditional breeding programmes rather than capturing genetics from sources taxonomically distant from the current ‘elite’ cultivars… There are also examples of truly excellent research programmes in crop production, specifically for C4 photosynthesis and biotechnological nitrogen fixation. However, an even greater effort is needed to translate these studies into practice…

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Scientists identify protein which boosts rice yield by fifty percent - John Innes Centre (2016) 

Scientists identify protein which boosts rice yield by fifty percent - John Innes Centre (2016)  | Ag Biotech News |

Developed rice crops with an improved ability to manage their own pH levels, enabling them to take up significantly more nitrogen, iron and phosphorous from soil and increase yield by up to 54 percent. 

Rice is a major crop, feeding almost 50 percent of the world’s population and has retained the ability to survive in changing environmental conditions. The crop is able to thrive in flooded paddy fields - where the soggy, anaerobic conditions favour the availability of ammonium - as well as in much drier, drained soil, where increased oxygen means more nitrate is available. Nitrogen fertilizer is a major cost in growing many cereal crops and its overuse has a negative environmental impact. 

The nitrogen that all plants need to grow is typically available in the form of nitrate or ammonium ions in the soil, which are taken up by the plant roots. For the plant, getting the right balance of nitrate and ammonium is very important: too much ammonium and plant cells become alkaline; too much nitrate and they become acidic. Either way, upsetting the pH balance means the plant’s enzymes do not work as well, affecting plant health and crop yield... 

Rice contains a gene called OsNRT2.3, which creates a protein involved in nitrate transport. This one gene makes two slightly different versions of the protein... OsNRT2.3b is able to switch nitrate transport on or off, depending on the internal pH of the plant cell. When this ‘b’ protein was overexpressed in rice plants they were better able to buffer themselves against pH changes in their environment. This enabled them to take up much more nitrogen, as well as more iron and phosphorus... plants gave a much higher yield of rice grain (up to 54 percent more yield), and their nitrogen use efficiency increased by up to 40 percent... 

“Now that we know this particular protein found in rice plants can greatly increase nitrogen efficiency and yields, we can begin to produce new varieties of rice and other crops. These findings bring us a significant step closer to being able to produce more of the world’s food with a lower environmental impact”...

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