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

[updated 08 September, 2014]  

 

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.

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

[updated 08 September, 2014]  

 

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.
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IPCC AR5 overlooked the potential of unleashing agricultural biotechnology to combat climate change and poverty - Zilberman (2014) - Global Change Biology

IPCC AR5 overlooked the potential of unleashing agricultural biotechnology to combat climate change and poverty - Zilberman (2014) - Global Change Biology | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The role that agricultural biotechnology can play in the mitigation of climate change has been ignored in the new IPCC report. This is unfortunate in light of results seen in a growing body of literature, which show that genetic engineering (GE) has already contributed to the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and indicate that it can play a large role in both the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, especially under less-restrictive regulations.

 

Conversion of non-cropland to cropland is a major contributor to the greenhouse gas increase in the atmosphere. An important way to decrease pressure for land conversion is to increase productivity on land currently used for food and feed crop production. Here, GE has proven benefits and huge untapped potential.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/gcb.12765

 

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Off-Label Prescription of Genetically Modified Organism Medicines in Europe: Emerging Conflicts of Interest? - Schagen &al (2014) - Human Gene Therapy

Off-Label Prescription of Genetically Modified Organism Medicines in Europe: Emerging Conflicts of Interest? - Schagen &al (2014) - Human Gene Therapy | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Recently, the first human medicine containing a genetically modified organism (GMO medicine) was authorized for use in the European market. Just as any medicinal product, the market authorization for a GMO medicine contains a precise description of the therapeutic use for which the medicinal product is intended. Within this use, the application of the GMO medicine is permitted, without the need for the institution to obtain a specific permit. In practice, however, medicinal products are also frequently prescribed for treatment outside the registered therapeutic use, a practice that is referred to as “off-label use.”

 

While off-label use of conventional medicines is permitted and has been very useful, the off-label use of GMO medicines is not covered in the European Union (EU) legislation or guidelines and falls under each member state's national environmental legislation. This implies that in the Netherlands and most other EU member states, an environmental permit will be required for any institution that uses the GMO medicine outside the registered application(s).

 

In the Netherlands, this permit is identical to the permits required for the execution of clinical trials involving nonregistered GMOs. The application procedure for such permit is time-consuming. This process can therefore limit the therapeutic options for medical professionals. As a consequence, desired treatment regimens could be withheld for certain patient (groups). To make future off-label use of GMO medicines permissible in a way that is acceptable for all stakeholders, regulators should adopt a proactive attitude and formulate transparent legislative procedures for this. Only then the field can maintain the public acceptance of GMO medicines, while maintaining the freedom to operate of medical professionals... 

 

Just as with conventional medicines, it is to be expected that GMO medicines can be prescribed outside their registered therapeutic scope. This might place the medical professional in a dilemma with the patient interest on the one hand... the regulations need to be adapted in anticipation of the off-label use of GMO medicinal products. If not, the full potential of particular GMO medicines will probably not be exploited and, even worse, might be exploited without proper notification... In view of the general public perception on GMOs in Europe, the last scenario is risky and may in fact jeopardize the public opinion and acceptance of GMO medicines in general. 


This calls for a solution that is fully supported and acknowledged by the medical professionals and might encompass a simplified and accelerated procedure when the environmental risks have been assessed before. With the authorization of the first GMO medicines to the European market, the off-label prescription of this type of medicines becomes a matter of time. Hopefully, policymakers can be incited to address this issue in a timely manner.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/hum.2014.090

 

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Facing food insecurity in Africa: Why, after 30 years of work in organic agriculture, I am promoting the use of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides in small-scale staple crop production - Lotter (...

Facing food insecurity in Africa: Why, after 30 years of work in organic agriculture, I am promoting the use of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides in small-scale staple crop production - Lotter (... | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Food insecurity and the loss of soil nutrients and productive capacity in Africa are serious problems in light of the rapidly growing African population... currently practiced traditional crop production systems are no longer adaptive. Organic crop production methods alone... are not feasible for these small-scale farmers because of the extra land, skill, resources, and... years needed to benefit from them... Maize, grown by 94 % of farmers, has substantial nitrogen needs.

 

The most practical ways of satisfying maize nutrient needs is via integrated soil fertility management, a combination of organic and Green Revolution methods. Maize has been shown in research to outyield the indigenous crops millet and sorghum in nearly all situations including drought. Conservation Agriculture (CA) in Africa has two main categories—organic and herbicide-mediated. The organic version of CA, despite years of promotion, has had a low rate of adoption.

 

Herbicide-mediated zero tillage CA via backpack sprayer can substantially increase conventional maize yields while at the same time nearly eliminating erosion and increasing rainwater capture up to fivefold. Glyphosate herbicide is a non-proprietary product produced in Africa and approved for small farm use. The systemic nature of glyphosate allows the killing of perennial grasses that would otherwise need deep plowing to kill. The rooted weed residues protect the soil from erosion. The risks of glyphosate use are substantially outweighed by the benefits of increased food security and crop system sustainability.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10460-014-9547-x

 

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A Case for Stronger Protection of Intellectual Property in Agricultural Biotechnology; Comparing the United States, India, and Argentina - Becker (2014) - Drake U

Overall, the agricultural biotechnology industry is a risky and high cost industry, but with the proper investment and protections on that investment, it can be very profitable. The industry can also solve some of the world’s largest problems, including how to feed a growing populations and middle class. Also, with proper intellectual property protection, the industry may try harder to branch out from the current focus to solve other problems that it does not currently focus on. 


There is a current disconnect throughout the world regarding intellectual property rights for agricultural biotechnology. There is much variation starting in the developed countries, which tend to have very strong intellectual property rights, down to the developing and least developed countries... This is seen in the model countries analyzed here, in the United States, India, and Argentina.

 

The United States sees itself as the model for intellectual property rights, and was the driving force in implanting basic minimum intellectual property rights in the TRIPS agreement. India, as a developing country has intellectual property protections for processes of making agricultural products, as well as protections for plant varieties. There are, however, still questions as to whether India is in compliance with the TRIPS agreement, as it does not allow product patents on living organisms. Argentina is on the opposite spectrum of intellectual property rights from the United States.  Argentina does not currently allow patents on biotechnology, with limited protections on plant varieties. Both India and Argentina allow the agricultural biotechnology traits to be used by the farmer in a secondary manner such as reusing the seed, even if there is a contract and a patent on the technology.


These three countries are a perfect tool for analysis, as they represent a broad spectrum of intellectual property rights in this arena; they are three of the largest agriculture markets in the world; and they all allow the use of genetically modified plants in agriculture.

 

Many commentators note that stronger intellectual property rights in agricultural biotechnology will bring large foreign investments into developing countries. This article outlines three major reasons why this should be... First, there is an economical argument, where investment is not possible in situations where corporations are not given protection to their huge investments that are full of risk. Second, there is a scientific argument that this technology has the same inventive process as any other subject matter allowed to be patented in most countries. Third, the allowance of strong intellectual property rights helps countries to invest in resource wealthy nations using regional genetic resources to solve local problems...  

 

http://works.bepress.com/james_becker/1/

 

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Stressed parents, stronger offspring - Lancaster U (2014)

Plants exposed to pests or disease can pass on their immunity to their seedlings, giving them an inherited advantage which can still be seen several generations down the line. This ability was particularly intriguing as the DNA sequence of the plants remained the same, yet a genetic ‘memory’ of how to cope with stressful conditions was passed down from one generation to the next. Researchers concluded a more subtle process was at play, meaning that defensive genes ‘switched on’ or ‘expressed’ in the plant would then remain in a ‘primed’ state, able to more rapidly respond to stress in their offspring. 


A new three-year project led by Lancaster University will further investigate the complex biological mechanisms behind this process, which they believe has an epigenetic basis... The research will also examine the costs and benefits for plants of transgenerational immune priming, giving researchers a better idea of how the mechanism could benefit farmers and growers... 


“This mechanism we are exploring runs alongside genetics as we previously understood it – DNA is less like the static ‘barcode’ we originally thought because we now know environmental factors can cause some of our genes to be expressed more strongly, almost like a volume control, making some of them very loud and others almost imperceptibly quiet”... properly understanding the effects of this ability in plants could lead to new approaches to growing and have immediate environmental benefits.

 

“Different groups of hormones regulate how plants respond to different stresses and, sometimes, these responses can work against each other – for example, the way a plant protects itself against disease could actually make it more vulnerable to insect attack. We will be exposing plants... to a series of different stresses in different combinations and different generations to measure the effect on the plants. Once we have that level of detailed understanding of how this impacts upon plants it will open the door to different approaches to growing – methods which are less dependent on pesticides and potentially less harmful to the environment.”  

 

http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/news/articles/2014/stressed-parents-stronger-offspring/

 

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10 things that would fix the food system faster than GMO-labeling - Grist (2014)

10 things that would fix the food system faster than GMO-labeling - Grist (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

If we want a better food system there are plenty of things that would make a bigger difference than GMO labeling... 

 

10. Ban the advertising of unhealthy foods to kids... 

9. Protect the most fertile lands from being covered in concrete... 

8. Eliminate subsidies for agriculture.

7. Institute measures to improve farm animal welfare.

6. Pay farmers for ecological services...

5. Tax sugar.

4. Eliminate use of medically important antibiotics in agriculture.

3. Guarantee the right to good food...

2. Guarantee farmworkers’ right to make a decent wage... 

1. Tax... greenhouse gases, which could turn agriculture into a climate solution...

 

http://grist.org/food/10-things-that-would-fix-the-food-system-faster-than-gmo-labeling/

 

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Eben Lenderking's curator insight, October 5, 4:20 AM

Great ideas.


Ideas fantasticos

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Ag interests urge science-based standards for EU trade negotiations - AgriPulse (2014)

Ag interests urge science-based standards for EU trade negotiations - AgriPulse (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Several agriculture groups reiterated their priorities for removing trade barriers to U.S. goods in the European Union during the seventh round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) negotiations... Stakeholder groups representing several aspects of the U.S. and EU economies involved in T-TIP presented their concerns and priorities during the Stakeholder Forum on Wednesday. 


Frances Smith, and adjunct fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute... “The EU system uses the precautionary principle, which allows populist beliefs to evade the science-based rules,” Smith said... genetically modified foods, biotechnology and pesticides are some of the top contentious issues in negotiations with the EU, along with chemicals and pharmaceutical devices. Instead of trying to converge regulations in the face of many sensitive issues and varying approaches, Smith suggested the trading parties attempt “mutual recognition,” which would ensure all parties have their own safety procedures in place, but that they come to similar results. 


Croplife America's senior director of human health policy Clare Thorp promoted the adoption of scientific risk assessment for crop chemicals. “We should not base regulatory decisions involving risk on public perception”... Thorp said a “hazard only” approach is a trade barrier, because it results in a zero-tolerance policy for exposure, “which is impossible to meet.” She said a risk assessment is objective and consistent, and “important to dealing with pesticides and food safety” ... 

 

American Meat Institute's vice president of international trade Bill Westman summarized the long list of concerns for the U.S. meat industry... including sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures like EU's ban on U.S. beef raised with growth promoting hormones and restrictions on using chlorine as an anti-microbial treatment in poultry, which is commonly used in the United States. “We have no interest in how the EU establishes domestic policy, just don't restrict trade with unscientific measures” ... 

 

In support of U.S. state GMO labeling laws, Karen Hansen-Kuhn of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said her group is concerned the rules in T-TIP, particularly technical barriers to trade, “could undermine those important programs at the state level” ... 

 

http://www.agri-pulse.com/Ag-urge-science-based-regs-TTIP-10012014.asp

 

 

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Step up to the plate: GM aubergines - Pearce (2014) - New Sci

In Bangladesh and India the battle to grow genetically modified aubergines for food is reaching a crucial point... The humble aubergine... may be about to unlock a food revolution across Asia. It is a revolution that could dramatically raise yields of staple foods while cutting farmers' deaths from pesticide spraying... 

 

Indian scientists... believe their government is preparing to abandon a four-year moratorium on trials of a genetically modified form of one of south Asia's favourite vegetables... If genetically modified aubergines get the green light, they would join a select number of modified plants, including papayas and squashes, that are grown primarily for human consumption. GM soya beans and maize are in the human food chain, but they are mainly grown for animals.

 

The modified aubergine in question is known as Bt brinjal, and contains a gene taken from a common soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis. The gene produces a toxin that kills the vegetable's main pest, the larvae of the fruit and shoot borer moth, and was first promoted by seed giant Monsanto for protecting cotton against bollworm. The company agreed to donate the gene free for brinjal... 

 

An attraction for farmers is that they are permitted to propagate Bt brinjal using their own seeds, which isn't the case with many modified crops... “Bt brinjal has now become a powerful symbol of GM foods” says C. Kameswara Rao... Next to leave the lab will be a potato that is resistant to late blight, a Bt chickpea, drought-tolerant sorghum and “golden rice”, which is enriched to counter vitamin A deficiency... 

 

Brinjal is a staple crop, grown by poor farmers. Fending off the fruit and shoot borer requires almost daily spraying with pesticides that are dangerous and expensive... Tests have shown that the Bt gene is harmless to humans and animals when eaten and is unlikely to threaten wild relatives of brinjal. Its incorporation in Indian cotton cultivation has more than doubled yields... 

 

Various reviews have found little evidence of health risks from GM crops. And while south Asia is the genetic heartland of the aubergine's wild relatives... all wild relatives tested are sexually incompatible with Bt brinjal. On the risk of corporate monopoly, Indian researchers insist that their public research commitment to the needs of farmers will circumvent this. This includes producing non-hybrid crops that farmers can use to grow seeds for the next crop.

 

The challenge... is communicating these messages to the public. The development of Bt brinjal began in 2003 thanks to an alliance between crop scientists... “We looked for crops with problems that couldn't be addressed by conventional breeding,” says Kannan Vijayaraghavan... “Brinjal had an obvious need. It was the second biggest user of pesticides after cotton, and the same Bt gene that addressed the bollworm in cotton could address the fruit and shoot borer” ... 

 

Research in India went smoothly until the GEAC, made up of scientists, decided in 2009 to defer the final decision on field trials to the government. After a series of public consultations – to which anti-GM activists brought weeping farmers to protest... – then environment minister Jairam Ramesh in 2010 imposed a moratorium, pending further tests... GEAC scientists said it would be unethical to kill animals in experiments that could reveal nothing new. Ramesh refused to sign minutes of GEAC meetings, rendering the committee inoperable... 

 

The political tide is now turning. Since Modi came to power, the GEAC has been reactivated, and in July it approved field trials of 15 GM crops... The government now plans to create a new regulatory agency. “We hope the new authority will address the concerns of the public, persuade the Supreme Court that there is a proper regulatory system in place, and help get our products to market,” said one senior university scientist... 

 

But it may not be so simple. While Modi is a pro-science modernist, much of his BJP party is traditionalist... Much may depend on events in Bangladesh, where anti-GM activists have been less successful. But here too there are problems. A trial of Bt brinjal on 20 farms this year proved a PR disaster. A minister's desire to hand over the seeds personally meant they were planted late, so many plants got bacterial wilt in the rainy season... Their case was picked up by activists, who also spread rumours... 


Much of the suspicion about GM food crops in Asia concerns the role of foreign corporations, rather than fear of the crops themselves. But... here, probably more than anywhere else in the world, public-sector scientists are in charge. “Brinjal, chickpeas, groundnuts and the other crops we work on are for poor farmers”... This opposition could mean we miss a real opportunity to give improved crops to the farmers... 


Many Indian crop scientists see themselves in a war against anti-GM activists. Parts of the government seem to think the same... attacked anti-GM campaigners... for damaging the national economy. The government has since tried to ban activists using foreign funds for local campaigns... 

 

Most researchers think home-grown GM crops could transform food prospects in India, where malnutrition is rife... the technology could raise crop yields by a third by controlling pests, diseases and weeds, and giving greater drought tolerance... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0262-4079(14)61841-8

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Key quotes:

"Brinjal is a staple crop, grown by poor farmers. Fending off the fruit and shoot borer requires almost daily spraying with pesticides that are dangerous and expensive." 

 "An attraction for farmers is that they are permitted to propagate Bt brinjal using their own seeds."

"Reviews have found little evidence of health risks from GM crops."

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Evolutionary biology: a new approach to tackle global challenges in food security - EurekAlert (2014)

Evolutionary biology: a new approach to tackle global challenges in food security - EurekAlert (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Solving global challenges in food security, emerging diseases and biodiversity loss requires evolutionary thinking, argues a new study... For the first time, an international team of nine scientists has reviewed progress in addressing a broad set of challenges in agriculture, medicine and environmental management using approaches that consider evolutionary histories and the likelihood of rapid adaptation to human activities... 


Tabashnik and his colleagues... have been at the forefront of research aiming to provide farmers with sustainable control of crop pests that reduces reliance on broad-spectrum insecticide sprays. An important advance in this effort is genetic engineering of cotton and corn to produce proteins derived from the widespread soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. Bt proteins kill certain insect pests but are harmless to most other creatures, including people. These environmentally friendly toxins have been used for decades in sprays by organic growers and since 1996 in engineered Bt crops by mainstream farmers.

 

Integration of Bt cotton plants with other tactics has revived Arizona's cotton industry, which was all but wiped out by invasive pest species. In particular, the refuge strategy based on evolutionary principles is credited with preventing resistance to Bt cotton by pink bollworm in Arizona for more than a decade. Refuges consist of plants that do not have a Bt toxin gene and thus allow survival of insects that are susceptible to the toxin. Farmers plant refuges near Bt crops to produce enough susceptible insects to make it unlikely two resistant insects will mate and produce resistant offspring.

According to Tabashnik, the refuge strategy worked brilliantly against the pink bollworm in Arizona, where the pest had plagued cotton farmers for a century but is now scarce. In India, however, where farmers did not plant refuges, pink bollworm rapidly evolved resistance to Bt cotton. "This particular success in Arizona can spur related evolutionary solutions in other regions and in other sectors" ... 


"Applying evolutionary biology has tremendous potential, because it takes into account how unwanted pests or pathogens may adapt rapidly to our interventions and how highly valued species including humans on the other hand are often very slow to adapt to changing environments through evolution," said study co-author Peter Søgaard Jørgensen... "Not considering such aspects may result in outcomes opposite of those desired, making the pests more resistant to our actions, humans more exposed to diseases and vulnerable species less able to cope with new conditions" ... 

 

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-09/uoa-ebi092714.php

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1245993

 

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Modern rice technologies and productivity in the Philippines: Disentangling technology from managerial gaps - Villano &al (2014) - J Ag Econ

Modern rice technologies and productivity in the Philippines: Disentangling technology from managerial gaps - Villano &al (2014) - J Ag Econ | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Using cross-sectional farm-level data from 3,164 rice-farming households in the Philippines, we measure the impact of modern rice technologies on farm productivity while disentangling technology gaps... from managerial gaps... The analysis shows that the adoption of certified seeds has a significant and positive impact on productivity, efficiency and net income in rice farming.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1477-9552.12081

 

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How real is the concern that seed patents will turn farmers into inadvertent infringers? - Holman (2014) - UC Berkeley [pdf]

Much has been made of the supposed problem of farmers being exposed to liability for patent infringement based on the inadvertent, or even unavoidable, presence of patented genetically modified plants on the farmer’s fields. It has resulted in calls for limitations on the scope and enforceability of patents that would in all likelihood substantially undercut the ability of many innovatorsto obtain effective intellectual property protection for their products. These “reforms”would be especially problematic for agricultural biotechnology companies like Monsanto, but the repercussions could be more widespread, impacting a host of important cutting-edge technologies like synthetic biology and nanotechnology... 


Stories of farmers being sued by Monsanto after their fields where inadvertently contaminated by genetic drift are widely circulated on the Internet and in print, and appear to have been accepted by much of the public... However, it is clear from reading the judicial decisions that the Canadian judges were convinced by overwhelming evidence that Percy Schmeiser was not the victim of drift and inadvertent contamination, but rather a disingenuous and willful patent infringer... To date, inadvertent infringement based upon genetic drift or the presence of trace amounts of contaminating patented seed in a farmer’s field does not appear to have ever resulted in a lawsuit by Monsanto... 


In fact, in every case involving an allegation of patent infringement of a Monsanto seed patent by a farmer that has been addressed at the appellate level... there has invariably been compelling evidence that the infringing farmer intentionally planted infringing seeds and benefited from the patented technology... it certainly appears to be the case that in the vast majority (if not all) of the cases the farmer is at least knowledgeable of the fact that he is infringing, and in most cases there is evidence that the farmer is taking advantage of the patented technology, e.g., spraying his fields with herbicide that would kill his crops in the absence of the patented technology. For its part, Monsanto has publicly committed never “to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of [its] patented seeds or traits are present in a farmer’s field as a result of inadvertent means” ... 

 

A critical difference between Roundup Ready and other traits like insect resistance or drought tolerance is that the value of Roundup Ready only manifests itself when the farmer performs the overt act of spraying his fields with glyphosate, which in the absence of the Roundup Ready trait would kill his crop. It would be irrational for a farmer to spray glyphosate on his field of soybeans unless he knows that at least a substantial percentage of those soybeans bear the Roundup Ready trait, and thus if it can be shown that a farmer has sprayed his crops with glyphosate, it becomes difficult for him to persuasively argue that he was not aware he is infringing, and moreover that infringement was his desired objective. As a consequence, a farmer’s protestations ring hollow when he claims that he is merely following the age-old practice of saving and replanting seeds, or of planting commodity seeds provided by grain elevator... 

 

The situation, however, might become more complicated in the not too distant future as advances in technology and developments in the market render it increasingly likely that lawsuits will be filed in cases where it is more difficult to prove that a farmer has taken overt action unambiguously establishing the intentional use of patented technology, or even knowledge that a patented plant is growing in the farmer’s field.

 

One factor that could contribute to this is the imminent expiration of the patents on the Roundup Ready trait in soybeans and the anticipated development of “generic” Roundup Ready seeds by other seed developers. In effect, for the first time generic versions of a genetically modified crop could become available to farmers. If this happens, farmer will be able to apply glyphosate to his soybeans without necessarily infringing a Monsanto patent. Significantly, no longer will a farmer’s application of glyphosate to his fields serveas evidence of knowledge or intent to infringe a Monsanto patent.


A second factor that could contribute to lawsuits under circumstances where it is difficult to establish knowledge or intent will be the increasing commercialization of patented transgenic traits that do not require a farmer to engage in any overt activity in order to experience the benefit of the technology, such as insect resistance and drought tolerance, thereby rendering it more difficult to prove that a farmer has intentionally used and benefited from the patented technology... 


https://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/Holman_Chris_IPSC_paper_2014.pdf


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Fumonisins in conventional and transgenic, insect-resistant maize intended for fuel ethanol production - Bowers & Munkvold (2014) - Toxins

Fumonisins in conventional and transgenic, insect-resistant maize intended for fuel ethanol production - Bowers & Munkvold (2014) - Toxins | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Mycotoxins in maize grain intended for ethanol production are enriched in co-product dried distiller’s grains and solubles (DDGS) and may be detrimental to yeast in fermentation. This study was conducted to examine the magnitude of fumonisin enrichment in DDGS and to analyze the impacts of insect injury, Fusarium ear rot severity, and fumonisin contamination on final ethanol yield.

 

Samples of naturally-contaminated grain... were fermented and DDGS collected and analyzed for fumonisin content. Ethanol yield... was unaffected by fumonisins... and was not correlated with insect injury or Fusarium ear rot severity. Ethanol production was unaffected in fumonisin B1-spiked grain with concentrations from 0 to 37 mg/kg.

 

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) maize often has reduced fumonisins due to its protection from insect injury and subsequent fungal infection. DDGS derived from Bt and non-Bt maize averaged 2.04 mg/kg and 8.25 mg/kg fumonisins, respectively...

 

Under significant insect pest pressures, DDGS derived from Bt maize hybrids were consistently lower in fumonisins than DDGS derived from non-Bt hybrids.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/toxins6092804

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Fumonisin is a mycotoxin, a group of mould-related toxins that can cause poisoning in livestock and humans. If GM maize reduces mycotoxin levels, this seems to be a clear consumer/health benefit... 

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Breeding Soybeans That Can Tolerate Heat, Drought - SDSU (2014)

Breeding Soybeans That Can Tolerate Heat, Drought - SDSU (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Hot, dry conditions can wreak havoc on a field of soybeans... “drought is the greatest threat to profitability.” Work underway... may change that... Jai Rohila... is uncovering the molecular mechanisms that lead to drought and heat tolerance. This will help breeders develop soybean varieties that can survive heat and drought.

“Ultimately our goal is to help the farmers in the field,” Rohila said.
To do this, he is working with University of Minnesota soybean breeder Jim Orf, who provided Rohila with two varieties of soybeans, one that has greater tolerance to hot, dry conditions, and another that is susceptible... “Drought and heat are very complicated”... because multiple genes affect the plant’s physiological and biochemical response to environmental stressors. “I am going to build a bridge between the physiology and the gene discovery.” 


By comparing the two soybean varieties, Rohila and... Aayudh Das hope to identify the key genes that lead to increased tolerance. Genes regulate the expression of proteins and chemical signaling pathways that determine the plant’s response to heat and lack of water... Das has found 90 proteins that are differentially expressed during drought and heat conditions... These proteins then interact with enzymes that affect the plant’s metabolism... A drought-stressed soybean plant... closes its pores or stomata to prevent water from escaping; however, this action has a cost—it limits the plant’s ability to take in carbon dioxide and ultimately to make the carbohydrates it needs...


In comparing enzyme levels in the two soybean varieties, he identified two enzymes which are up regulated significantly in the variety that performs better under heat stress. “Up regulation of these enzymes also protects other enzymes,” he said, which then helps the plant tolerate heat... the next step will be to see if overexpressing these enzymes can further protect the soybean plant... 

 

http://www.newswise.com/articles/breeding-soybeans-that-can-tolerate-heat-drought

 

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No-till agriculture may not bring hoped-for boost in global crop yields - UC Davis (2014)

No-till agriculture may not bring hoped-for boost in global crop yields - UC Davis (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

No-till farming, a key conservation agriculture strategy that avoids conventional plowing and otherwise disturbing the soil, may not bring a hoped-for boost in crop yields in much of the world, according to an extensive new meta-analysis... 


As the core principle of conservation agriculture, no-till has been promoted worldwide in an effort to sustainably meet global food demand. But after examining results from 610 peer-reviewed studies, the researchers found that no-till often leads to yield declines compared to conventional tillage systems. It still shows promise for yield gains in dryland areas, however... 

“The big challenge for agriculture is that we need to further increase yields but greatly reduce our environmental impacts... The common assumption that no-till is going to play a large role in the sustainable intensification of agriculture doesn’t necessarily hold true, according to our research findings.”

Conservation agriculture is currently practiced on 125 million hectares of land globally, an area nearly as big as the total U.S. cropland. Three key principles guide the concept: minimizing soil disturbance (also called no-till farming), protecting the soil with cover crops or leftover crop residue, and rotating the crops.

The goals of conservation agriculture are to improve long-term productivity, profits and food security, particularly under the threat of climate change. Because conservation agriculture avoids tillage, it is less time-consuming and can be more cost-effective than conventional farming methods... 

After assessing more than 5,000 side-by-side observations, the researchers concluded that on average no-till negatively impacts yields at the global scale, yet several opportunities exist for more closely matching or even exceeding conventional tillage yields.

For example, yield reductions were minimized when the principles of crop rotation and residue retention were also practiced, highlighting the importance of implementing all three conservation agriculture principles as part of an integrated management system rather than no-till alone.

Moreover, when adopted in dry climates in combination with the other two principles of conservation agriculture, no-till farming performed significantly better than conventional tillage, likely due to the higher retention of soil moisture. Dryland ecosystems are home to 38 percent of the world’s population, and millions of acres of land in arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have been identified as suitable for sustainable intensification... 

 

http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=11062

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13809

 

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50 Years of Successful Partnership: The Joint FAO/IAEA Division - IAEA (2014)

Established in 1964, the objective of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture was to use the talents and resources... to broaden cooperation between... countries in applying nuclear technology and related biotechnologies to develop improved strategies for sustainable agricultural development and food security.


From research laboratories to global agrarian systems, nuclear techniques play a vital and distinct role in agricultural research and advancement. They are used in a wide range of applications, from food preservation to crop production and from soil management to animal disease control. The collaborative work of the Joint Division has over the years helped countries solve practical, as well as costly, problems in a variety of areas.


The work addresses the application of isotopes and radiation technology in areas such as soil fertility, irrigation, and crop production; plant breeding and genetics; animal production and health; insect and pest control; the control of food contaminants and other food safety issues; and food preservation.... The joint partnership has witnessed numerous successes, which if not addressed would have had disastrous worldwide implications...


• Global freedom from rinderpest

• The use of mutation induction to develop crop varieties with resistance to the wheat rust disease Ug99

• The eradication of the tsetse fly in Zanzibar Island, Tanzania

• The establishment of the regional analytical laboratory network... 

• Water-saving agriculture in seven African countries


For almost five decades, the activities supported by the Joint FAO/IAEA Division worldwide have contributed prominently to Member States by helping them to sustainably increase agricultural production, food security and food safety. This model of cooperation within the UN system will undoubtedly continue to produce successes in the years to come. 


In English: http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Magazines/Bulletin/Bull552/55206010909.pdf


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Farm tech isn't a war between good and evil – it's a quest for whatever works - Grist (2014)

Farm tech isn't a war between good and evil – it's a quest for whatever works - Grist (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a call for a “paradigm shift towards sustainable agriculture and family farming” ...  What FAO... said was that we should be making agriculture more sustainable by any means that can work: agroecology, climate-smart farming, biotechnology, and, yes, GMOs. “We need to explore these alternatives using an inclusive approach based on science and evidences, not on ideologies” ... 

This may provoke cognitive dissonance in North America, but only because we have a muddled vision of agriculture. We’re used to thinking of two separate and oppositional forms of farming: One that uses technology to suppress nature, and another that works in low-tech harmony with nature. But in reality, it’s not two separate paths – it’s a spectrum. There are farms that use all sorts of high technology to stay in sync with natural cycles, and even the best low-tech organic farmers find themselves fighting nature every year. Poor farmers trying to support their families don’t experience this cognitive dissonance. It only makes sense that they would want the tools and techniques that will give them the best chance of success.

The argument for better agricultural technology often starts by saying that we need to produce more food to feed the world. I think that’s backward. Instead, we need good technology to help small farmers get out of poverty... it’s politics, not lack of agricultural technology, that causes famines... Access to technology as one of the entitlements people need to insure their livelihood. Small farmers need technology to break out of the cycle of poverty. This technology can take the form of agronomic practices, or it can arrive as high-tech, high-yielding seeds. Often it’s both, working hand in hand...

The point is, for most farmers, the choice is not between technology and ecology. Instead, they figure out what combination of technologies and techniques work best for them. “It’s about optimization... There are very few things in this world that work best if they are all one way or all the other.” This does not mean, however, that all technologies go hand in hand with good sustainable agriculture... There is a tendency for the use of one technology to trigger the need for another and another... But that doesn’t mean we have to abandon technology. We can tweak it... Instead of trying to abstain from agricultural technologies, poor farmers are better off if they look for smart ways to integrate the best technologies into ecological practices... 

 

http://grist.org/food/farm-tech-isnt-a-war-between-good-and-evil-its-a-quest-for-whatever-works/

 

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Facilitating transparent and tailored scientific discussion about animal feeding trials as well as in vitro and in silico approaches for the risk assessment of genetically modified plants - Schiema...

Facilitating transparent and tailored scientific discussion about animal feeding trials as well as in vitro and in silico approaches for the risk assessment of genetically modified plants - Schiema... | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The added value of animal feeding trials as well as in vitro and in silico approaches with whole food/feed for the risk assessment of genetically modified plants (GMPs) is a matter of persistent public debate when assessing the environmental and health risks. In the frame of two EU-funded projects (GRACE and G-TwYST) and several projects funded by European Member States (e.g., the French project GMO90+), 

animal feeding trials as well as in vitro and in silico approaches with whole GM food/feed are performed. To explore the added value of close cooperation and to reconsider the design, execution and interpretation of animal feeding trials as well as in vitro and in silico approaches, the above-mentioned projects agreed on exchanging material and data and are performing subchronic, chronic and carcinogenicity studies with two GM events in a highly coordinated manner. Other European research projects to investigate the added value of animal feeding trials for GMP risk assessment are invited to exchange material and data with us too. We, the coordinators of the projects... agreed on a coordinated publication strategy to increase the transparency of our studies and—in addition to the stakeholder involvement activities in our own projects—to invite stakeholders to discuss the data generated by our projects in the frame of a scientific debate in an open-access journal...  http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00204-014-1375-7 ;
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Software tool delivers GM data analysis with a single click - EFSA (2014)

Software tool delivers GM data analysis with a single click - EFSA (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

New software from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) provides stakeholders with a tool for carrying out complex data analysis as part of the risk assessment of genetically modified (GM) plants. The user-friendly program, which can be downloaded free of charge from EFSA’s website, allows stakeholders such as Member States and industry applicants to analyse field trial data with a single mouse click... 

 

The software conducts the simultaneous analysis of the GM plant compared to its control and non-GM reference varieties... An output-file listing all the significant differences and the respective equivalence categories is generated with a single click. The software is flexible and allows stakeholders to change some settings according to the specific needs of the analysis being performed. It also permits the introduction of different factors depending on the unique environmental conditions of individual field trials... 

 

http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/141006.htm

 

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4 problems GMO labeling won't solve - Grist (2014)

4 problems GMO labeling won't solve - Grist (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

This election season, there are initiatives on the ballot in Colorado and Oregon to label foods made with the help of genetic engineering, and there are legislative efforts to do the same in dozens of other states. I like the idea of GMO labeling, though for unorthodox reasons. But I do mourn all of the money, more money, effort, and political bandwidth  that this issue is sponging up.

Most people I know who would like to label GMOs aren’t fixated on the biotechnology. The things they really care about are the amounts of pesticides we’re spraying, or the role of agribusiness in American farming, or some other larger issue that’s not limited to genetic engineering. The problem is that labeling GMOs is an ineffectual way of getting at most of these problems, and could make some of them worse.

Labeling would make it easier for people to opt out of buying GMOs (remember, you can already do that by buying organic), but... all of the debate over GMOs has led seed corporations to turn back to the older technology  of mutagenesis — creating new varieties by altering seeds with radiation or mutagenic chemicals — which is more likely to cause unintended effects than genetic engineering... Focusing exclusively on GE gives riskier technologies a pass.


Herbicide-resistant GMO seeds are responsible for a massive increase in the use of the herbicide glyphosate... GMO plants engineered to ward off insects, however, have had the opposite effect: They’ve led to a big reduction in insecticides sprayed... If we really want to do something about pesticides, a better approach might be to tax them depending on their toxicity and potential for environmental damage... 


A lot of people who vote for GMO labels will really be trying to vote against Big Ag. It won’t work... Even if we completely rejected GMOs, the agribusiness conglomerates would remain intact. And agriculture isn’t the biggest problem out there... Exxon is 10 times bigger than Monsanto. If corporate consolidation is the problem, a solution might be beefing up our anti-trust rules.

 

You can patent GMOs. You can also patent plant varieties  developed through traditional breeding. You can also patent rectangles with rounded corners, as Apple has done. Clearly the patent law is deeply in need of reform. But refusing to buy GMOs will do about as much to achieve that goal as refusing to buy iPhones.

 

I just worry that we are being suckered. I don’t buy the idea that if we throw lots of information — in the form of labels — on our products, we’ll be able to shop our way out of our problems. Rather than banking on this tenuous market solution, we could be addressing these issues directly.

 

http://grist.org/food/here-are-4-problems-that-gmo-labeling-wont-solve/

 

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Eben Lenderking's curator insight, October 5, 4:21 AM

Too true…we often focus too much on the tip of the iceberg rather than focusing on the root cause.

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Variable returns to fertilizer use and its relationship to poverty - Harou &al (2014) - IFPRI

Variable returns to fertilizer use and its relationship to poverty - Harou &al (2014) - IFPRI | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Despite the rise of targeted input subsidy programs in Africa... questions remain as to whether low and variable soil fertility, frequent drought, and high fertilizer prices render fertilizer unprofitable for large subpopulations of African farmers. To examine these questions, we use large-scale, panel experimental data from maize field trials throughout Malawi to estimate the expected physical returns to fertilizer use conditional on a range of agronomic factors and weather conditions.


Using these estimated returns and historical price and weather data, we simulate the expected profitability of fertilizer application over space and time. We find that the fertilizer bundles distributed under Malawi’s subsidy program are almost always profitable... These results are robust to a tripling of fertilizer prices, to a 50 percent decrease in the maize price, and to drought conditions...


http://www.ifpri.org/publication/variable-returns-fertilizer-use-and-its-relationship-poverty


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Construction of a database of pharmaceutical and industrial transgenic plants - Yao &al (2014) - J Food Safety Qual

To construct the database of pharmaceutical and industrial transgenic plants, the research group collected published data related [to] genetically modified (GM) plants as bioreactors...

 

Every GM event contains more than 20 parameters including the expression of exogenous protein, toxicity, allergenicity, clinical data and security level, etc. ... we collected more than 300 published data related with GM plants as bioreactors, compiled 200 GM events approximately and uploaded 108 GM events of the information.

 

The database is characterized by comprehensiveness, speciality, practicability and innovation, providing information resources for new GM plant varieties development and technological support for government to formulate regulations, approve and supervise pharmaceutical and industrial GM plants. 

 

http://www.chinafoodj.com/ch/reader/view_abstract.aspx?file_no=20140721002&flag=1

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

But for the abstract the paper is in Chinese, though... Interesting to get an idea of how much more work there is done on GMOs beyond what is published in English language journals... 

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Plants prepackage beneficial microbes in their seeds - EurekAlert (2014)

Plants have a symbiotic relationship with certain bacteria. These 'commensal' bacteria help the pants extract nutrients and defend against invaders – an important step in preventing pathogens from contaminating fruits and vegetables. Now, scientist have discovered that plants may package their commensal bacteria inside of seeds; thus ensuring that sprouting plants are colonized from the beginning... 

Plants play host to a wide variety of bacteria; the plant microbiome... Most of these bacteria are symbiotic, drawing from and providing for the plant in ways such as nitrogen-fixing and leaf-protection. Pathogenic bacteria may also colonize a plant. Pathogens can include viruses and bacteria that damage the plant itself or bacteria like the Shiga-toxin producing E. coli... Such opportunistic contamination is hard to guard against as most growing takes place in open, outdoor spaces with little opportunity for control.


The hypothesis behind this research is that the best way to defend against pathogenic contamination is with a healthy microbiome colonized by bacteria provide protection from invasive pathogens. Just as with babies, early colonization is crucial to establishing a beneficial microbiome. The researchers... looked inside sterilized mung beans and were able to isolate a unique strain of Bacillus pumilus that provides the bean with enhanced microbial protection... 

Dr. Lee and his colleagues theorize that their findings could have a wide impact, both on our understanding of plants and in creating food-safe antimicrobials. The finding that plant seeds can be pre-colonized may be an important mechanism by which a beneficial plant microbiome is established and sustained...

 

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-09/asfm-ppb092514.php

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Natural seed treatment... 

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Unearthed: Are patents the problem? - WaPo (2014)

Unearthed: Are patents the problem? - WaPo (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

If you’re at... a party populated by agriculture wonks... the issue of patenting living organisms might get more of a rise than either religion or politics... patenting is a hot issue... A 1980 Supreme Court decision that allowed patents to be granted to living things kicked off the controversy.


The basic genetic materials of the things we eat have been around, and have been tinkered with, for millennia, and the idea that a new version of one of them could earn protection that would prevent farmers from saving seed and, perhaps, give the patent holder inordinate control over our food supply has raised a number of concerns. I’m going to tackle the ones that seem to worry people most.

 

The first is that patents allow patent holders to restrict research, and that’s true, although many of the restrictions arise from the contract that farmers sign in order to buy the seed rather than from the patent itself... there is a de facto — not a legal — protection for basic research on patented plants... Monsanto has agreements with more than 100 universities that allow academic scientists to do independent research with no oversight... That’s one reason why, despite what you might have heard, there have been hundreds of independent studies on genetically engineered organisms... 

 

A second concern is that patenting has driven the consolidation of the seed industry, and that is also true... Everyone I spoke to agreed that patents were a factor, although not the only factor, underlying the shift... The real question, though, is whether that’s a bad thing. Specifically, does it restrict farmers’ choices and force them to buy (and pay the higher price for) GM crops when they want non-GM, or seeds with more than one GM trait when they want only one?

 

There’s no definitive research that can tell us the percentage of farmers who can’t get a seed they want... It happened to Todd Leake, who grows soybeans in North Dakota... Leake is the exception. Although the widespread preference for GM seed ensures that there are often more GM choices than non-GM, farmers report a wide variety of both kinds, and an experience similar to that of Brian Scott, a fourth-generation farmer with 2,100 Indiana acres of corn, soy, popcorn and wheat. “I wouldn’t have trouble getting non-GMO seed”... 


The story of Big Ag forcing GMOs down the throats of unsuspecting farmers, ensuring that those farmers not only pay through the nose but also can’t save seed and thus have to pay through the nose again next year, is largely fiction. And it’s a story that lots of farmers find really irritating, because it makes them out to be dupes or patsies. Roundup-Ready corn and soy, which can be sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate (used to kill weeds) and show no ill effects, are widely planted because farmers want them. And Monsanto has made piles of money because it developed plants that the vast majority of farmers wanted to buy.


Had patent protection not existed, those companies might have focused almost exclusively on the one megacrop that farmers can’t save seed for regardless: Corn, a hybrid, doesn’t breed true. Patents ensure that crops like soy, for which farmers can save seed, also get attention... Improving agriculture can be an expensive proposition. Patenting means there’s a way for people and companies that invest time and money to recoup that investment...

 

Farmers who buy patented seed make the same decisions. If the increased seed cost and, in some cases, the inability to save seed outweigh the advantages of patented seed, they buy. If not, they don’t. They’re not dupes or patsies. 

 

And perhaps the single most important thing about patents is that they’re finite. Some of Monsanto’s patents have already expired and entered the public domain, and have enabled smaller companies to jump into the mix... 

 

Patents on life forms certainly changed the agricultural landscape. As with most complex issues, there are advantages and disadvantages to the patenting of the things we eat. On the downside, I think concerns about control of our seed supply by just a few companies are legitimate, and I hope the Department of Justice is keeping a sharp eye out. And the profit motive certainly helps ensure that, at least initially, the widely grown commodity crops will get the most attention, perhaps at the expense of some of the more healthful things we eat.

 

But patenting is standard operating procedure in a capitalist world, and I don’t think food is substantially different from other industries. There will be bad decisions, there will be hamstrung scientists, but there will also be innovation. We’ve got a lot of people to feed, and we need all the innovation we can get.

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/9bd5ca90-4440-11e4-9a15-137aa0153527_story.html

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"The story of Big Ag forcing GMOs down the throats of unsuspecting farmers... lots of farmers find really irritating, because it makes them out to be dupes or patsies. Roundup-Ready corn and soy... are widely planted because farmers want them... 


Had patent protection not existed... companies might have focused... on the one megacrop that farmers can’t save seed for regardless: Corn, a hybrid... Patents ensure that crops like soy, for which farmers can save seed, also get attention... 


Improving agriculture can be an expensive proposition. Patenting means there’s a way for people and companies that invest time and money to recoup that investment..." 


>> True. But for instance public investment in agricultural R&D can also be an option for improving agriculture. And one could also think about the strength of the patent protection that is needed. (How many years is optimal?) Or about compulsory licencing of GM traits for humanitarian purposes (e.g. the improving of "orphan" crops in developing countries in public research projects). In that case public-private partnerships might also be a solution, though, as long as the other legal implications are sorted out, too (e.g. excluding such third party activities excluded from the companies' liability). 
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Regulation of genetically engineered crops in India: Implications of policy uncertainty for social welfare, competition, and innovation - Kolady & Herring (2014) - Canadian Journal of Agricultural ...

Regulation of genetically engineered crops in India: Implications of policy uncertainty for social welfare, competition, and innovation - Kolady & Herring (2014) - Canadian Journal of Agricultural ... | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

India is the regional leader in research and development (R&D) in agricultural biotechnology (agri-biotech) in South Asia. Commercialization of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton – the first and only commercial genetically engineered (GE) crop in India – in 2002 was preceded by illegal cultivation and diffusion of unapproved cultivars, raising serious questions of the state's regulatory capacity.

 

Bt eggplant, the first GE food crop to get approval for environmental release in 2009, has not yet been commercialized. An indefinite moratorium on its commercialization was imposed by the Minister of Environment and Forests in 2010.

 

We examine the regulatory framework in India and use the cases of Bt cotton and Bt eggplant regulation to examine the types and sources of nonmarket failures associated with the regulatory policy. We also analyze the demonstrated and likely effects of regulatory uncertainty on social welfare and development of the agri-biotech industry. We adopt implementation analysis to suggest policy options worth considering to address the nonmarket failures of regulatory policy.

 

Genetic engineering technology has to date mainly succeeded in increasing agricultural productivity by reducing crop loss from biotic stress and increasing farmers’ net income by reducing costs of production. Products in the genetically engineered (GE) research pipeline offer potential to address pressing issues such as nutrient-use efficiency, nutritional improvements through bio-fortification, drought and salinity tolerance, pathogen resistance, and, further out on the horizon, photosynthetic efficiency of crop plants... 

 

Development of a regulatory framework for GE and its products began in 1975 in Asilomar, California, when the scientific community realized the potential benefits and risks of recombinant DNA (rDNA)/GE technology... Regulatory policies are intended to address the potential market failures such as negative externalities in the form of potential adverse effects on biosafety and environment. However, the regulatory uncertainty prevalent in the European Union (EU), the United States, and emerging economies raises the question whether the existing regulatory structure is adequate to assure public safety without discouraging innovation and affecting socially optimal outcomes...

 

There are the two general approaches to regulation of GE crops and products: substantial equivalence (SE) and the precautionary principle (PP). The SE approach measures whether or not GE crops or foods show more variation in measured health and nutritional characteristics as compared to samples of non-GE conventional counterparts. A substantially equivalent product is deemed to be as safe as its conventional counterparts.

 

The PP approach demands that no unanticipated risk will result from approval of a GE crop or product: the assumption is that there are “unknown unknowns” ... PP is a moral and political principle that puts the burden of proof on those advocating for new policies or actions. They must show that there will be no severe or irreversible harm to the public. In this logic, the absence of scientific evidence of potential harm cannot, by itself, be used to justify new technologies... the PP allows arbitrary and capricious decisions about what unanticipated risks should be avoided. PP typically advantages mobilization of concern about change without a comparative treatment of alternatives—that is, the risks of continuing with the status quo... 


Ideally, in terms of a social welfare function, regulation of any technology would reach some threshold of acceptable risk—balanced with benefits—for a whole society... 

 

In a world of uncertainty, risk is of necessity a social construction. Policies toward risk are justified by findings of science—transparent, replicable objective results. But science is not helpful in establishing risk until some procedures establish a hazard and, optimally, a probability distribution of said hazard. Science cannot assess uncertainty, nor determine appropriate risk preferences in the face of uncertainty. At the individual level, these are matters of cognition and personal attitudes toward risk aversion. For a whole society, in technology subject to collective risks and externalities—nuclear power, for example—coding of risk is of necessity a political decision. Some technologies rise to the level of arousing risk perceptions large enough to provoke legislation, surveillance, and control, and others do not. Agri-biotech has aroused a global movement organized around precautionary logic premised on hypothetical risk.

 

For investors and producers contemplating economic decisions, the SE principle offers clear criteria, whereas the PP leaves room for great uncertainty... This is true because “risk” in the case of agri-biotech has
not been established; instead, the sector is characterized by pervasive uncertainty... 

 

Many firms do not consider the direct R&D costs associated with Bt technology to be a significant entry barrier (Pray et al 2005). However, long delays in the regulatory process, high costs associated with regulatory processes, and regulatory uncertainty act as entry barriers for many domestic firms and public sector units to enter the technology market... 

 

Delay in regulatory approval and abandoning of GE product development due to prohibitive regulatory costs can cause social welfare loss in terms of forgone benefits to society. Adoption of Bt eggplant is expected to reduce pesticide expenses by US$343/ha for hybrid growers and US$140 for OPV growers; most of these potential reductions would come from highly toxic chemicals. Given that there are 1.4 million farmers growing eggplant over 0.5 million ha in India, the annual benefits in terms of reduced pesticide expenses alone, assuming 100% adoption of Bt technology by eggplant growers, would have been US$101 million... 

 

Interactions with industry stakeholders suggest that moratorium on commercialization of Bt eggplant is affecting their overall R&D investments and research portfolio... 

 

We have identified the types and sources of nonmarket failures associated with regulatory policy. It is evident from our analysis that a decentralized and ad hoc regulatory system, susceptible to political intervention, can create formidable barriers to the introduction of new technologies, resulting in large social welfare costs... 

 

There is strong evidence demonstrating the positive impacts of Bt cotton technology on cotton yields, farmers’ net income, and rural farm economy in India. Nevertheless, some civil society organizations and some media have claimed rural distress and farmer suicides in connection with GE crops, as well as additional risk to consumers.

 

Risk dominates benefit in regulation of transgenic agricultural crops in India, as in many countries. One result has been the unsettling of established science-based regulation and subsequent institutional instability in the regulatory system. The power of nonmarket determinants of regulatory outcomes became apparent in the rejection of India’s first GE food crop (Bt eggplant)... We have identified the types and sources of nonmarket failures associated with the regulatory policy in India. 


One consequence has been increased uncertainty and enhanced estimates of costs of regulatory compliance on the part of actors potentially interested in bringing biotech crops to market. Our analysis shows that the derived externalities of an uncertain regulatory process are substantial, affecting both growth and pace of innovations in the industry. 


Results from our analysis show that the moratorium imposed on commercialization of Bt eggplant in 2010 is affecting overall R&D efforts in the agri-biotech sector in India, especially by domestic firms and public sector organizations. This uncertainty affects innovation and competition in the industry as a whole, with detrimental effects on smallholder farmers of the kind so clearly demonstrated by the same technology—indeed the same gene—in cotton.

 

The agro-economic success of Bt cotton was widely expected to predict similar results for Bt eggplant. Field trial results and data from nine years of testing the Bt eggplant as mandated by regulatory statutes confirmed this potential. Yet the regulatory structure’s provision of an administrative chokepoint proved more powerful than these findings and projections. The subsequent regulatory delay imposed on Bt eggplant has significant social costs in terms of forgone benefits to the society, including a damper on growth of the sector.

 

Investment decisions in plant-breeding R&D are sufficiently over-determined, and the data too scattered, to allow firm conclusions that parse contribution of different causal factors.... Our analysis demonstrates the need for a science-based, predictable and transparent regulatory framework with credible institutional staying power, stable rules, and measurable criteria of compliance. Some policy options that could reduce nonmarket failures in development of agri-biotech in this way are evident, but the choices are political, and hence themselves highly unpredictable. 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cjag.12055

 

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Weed control changes and genetically modified herbicide tolerant crops in the USA 1996-2012 - Brookes (2014) - GM Crops & Food

Weed control changes and genetically modified herbicide tolerant crops in the USA 1996-2012 - Brookes (2014) - GM Crops & Food | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Crops that have been genetically modified (GM) to be tolerant to herbicides have been widely grown in the USA since 1996. The rapid and widespread adoption of this technology reflects the important economic and environmental benefits that farmers have derived from its use (equal to $21.7 billion additional farm income and a 225 million kg reduction in herbicide active ingredient use 1996-2012).


During this time, weed control practices in these crops relative to the ‘conventional alternative’ have evolved to reflect experience of using the technology, the challenges that have arisen and the increasing focus in recent years on developing sustainable production systems.


This paper examines the evidence on the changing nature of herbicides used with these crops and in particular how farmers addressed the challenge of weed resistance. The evidence shows that use of the technology has resulted in a net reduction in both the amount of herbicide used and the associated environmental impact, as measured by the EIQ [Environmental Impact Quotient] indicator when compared to what can reasonably be expected if the area planted to GM HT crops reverted to conventional production methods.


It also facilitated many farmers being able to derive the economic and environmental benefits associated with switching from a plough-based to a no tillage or conservation tillage production system. In terms of herbicide use, the technology has also contributed to a change the profile of herbicides used. A broad range of, mostly selective herbicides has been replaced by one or two broad-spectrum herbicides (mostly glyphosate) used in conjunction with one or two other (complementary) herbicides.


Since the mid 2000s, the average amount of herbicide applied and the associated environmental load, as measured by the EIQ indicator, have increased on both GM HT and conventional crops. A primary reason for these changes has been increasing incidence of weed species developing populations resistant to herbicides and increased awareness of the consequences of relying on a single or very limited number of herbicides for weed control. As a result, growers of GM HT crops have become much more proactive and diversified in their weed management programmes in line with weed scientist recommendations and now include other herbicides (with different and complementary modes of action) in combination with glyphosate, even where instances of weed resistance to glyphosate have not been found.


The willingness to proactively diversity weed management systems in the GM HT crops is also influenced by a desire to maintain effective weed control and hence continue to enjoy the benefits of no tillage and conservation tillage. Nevertheless, despite the increase in herbicide use in recent years, the use of GM HT technology continues to deliver significant economic and environmental gains to US farmers.

 

https://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/article/958930/

 

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