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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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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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Can Technology Get Agriculture Out of its Climate Hole? - Nature Conservancy (2014)

Can Technology Get Agriculture Out of its Climate Hole? - Nature Conservancy (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The projections jump around, but the essential warning they are sending us is the same: agriculture is in a hole and the world needs to double food production over the next generation or Bad Things Will Happen.

How Bad? We’ll be living in a world where climate change bites just as agricultural demand spikes. Yields could level out or fall as climate stress increases, rising seas will salt the fertile river deltas and extreme weather events will wipe out crops. All leading to political tensions and increased pressure on natural resources which in turn will lead to… well, you get the not-so-pretty picture.

Ironically, one of the reasons global agriculture is in its current hole is the success it had in clambering out of its last one... A couple of generations ago, there were similar worries that rising population would outstrip global agricultural production. The Green Revolution was the response, a technological revolution that successfully ramped up production but also bred one perverse consequence: complacency among governments and societies, which came to believe the food supply was a solved problem... 

The collective complacency, though, has had serious consequences: the decline of public funding for agricultural research, and the running down of rural extension services across the world. Farmers are doing just fine, the conventional wisdom says, when it comes to food production. They don’t need as much support. Let market mechanisms take the lead... Well, climate change is finally (and fortunately) breaking that complacency down. All around the world, it is dawning on governments and others that climate change has very direct implications for the world food system.

Climate stress depresses production and yields, unless farmers can manage it successfully. They have managed it in the past... but the projected temperature rises over the next century have no precedent in human history over so short a period. There are clearly risks. Can technology help us mitigate and adapt? 

Maybe. Think about what an agricultural landscape could look like in 2030: 


* Small drones hovering over fields would be a common sight, monitoring and analyzing everything from micro-level soil conditions to pollinator density.

 

* Fertilizer would be applied in precisely measured doses, in carefully chosen places at certain times only — helping produce higher yields than possible today but using half as much fertilizer, with all the attendant environmental benefits of that reduced application.

 

* Automated machinery would plant, till and generally manage crops, ensuring precisely the right distance between plants and delivering the best possible water regime for them.

 

* Seeds planted would be adapted to the micro-conditions of where they were planted to maximize yield, but would also be adapted to cope with climate stresses. Some would be genetically modified to add nutrients and vitamins... 

 

Everything I have described above already exists somewhere, but the elements haven’t (yet) been put together into a single package... The agriculture of the future will be all about alternatives and trade-offs, and technology can now lay those out as never before... It is dangerous to assume this future will happen automatically, however.

Technology has yet to prove it can deliver on its promise and make agriculture climate-smart... And truly climate-smart agriculture will depend on a lot of things besides technology: more diversified crop portfolios, better integration between grazing and cropping, and so forth.

There are also crucial historical differences... The most important is that the Green Revolution was public sector innovation. It was developed in an international research centre... and specifically aimed at Mexican peasants... at Punjabi peasants. There was no food crisis in the 1960s and 1970s because countries like Mexico and Pakistan got the agricultural technologies they needed.

Today, the crucial question in getting to climate-smart agriculture is whether technologies developed in California can be adapted to Kenya. All the technological ingenuity in the world is useless if farmers in Mexico and the Punjab... can’t afford the privately funded technologies... It is in sorting out this complicated public/private, rich world/poor world farming nexus that solutions to managing the impact of climate change on farming will be found.

 

http://blog.nature.org/conservancy/2014/09/25/can-technology-get-agriculture-out-of-its-climate-hole/

 

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The biggest proponents of GMO labeling in Oregon launch their first ads - WaPo (2014)

The biggest proponents of GMO labeling in Oregon launch their first ads - WaPo (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The group that has raised the most money in the fight over labeling genetically modified foods in Oregon launched its first ads... The Yes on 92 campaign, the largest proponent of Oregon’s labeling measure, is behind the pair of ads... So far, the Yes on 92 campaign has raised $1.9 million in total campaign contributions, largely from organic goods industry heavyweights, such Dr. Bronner’s and Mercola.com. All told, groups supporting the measure have raised about $2.6 million. The No on 92 campaign... has raised about $1 million. 

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/09/23/the-biggest-proponents-of-gmo-labeling-in-oregon-launch-their-first-ads/

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Key quote: "organic goods industry heavyweights" >> In a multi-billion food market it's probably a good investment for the organics industry to spend a few million dollars to spread fear of the products of its competitors. Given that these "conventional" products are on the markets since two decades already, have been safety assessed in thousands of studies, and can generally be produced more efficiently (which is good for the environment and consumers' grocery bills), fear tactics might be one of the few options that are left to the organics industry to gain market shares and to boost their own profits... And for this approach to be successful it is secondary if the labeling proposition succeeds or not -- as long as enough consumers are unsettled and buy more organics. (Which might even lead to worse overall nutrition if consumers have less grocery money left to buy e.g. enough fruit and veggies...) 

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Boosting global corn yields depends on improving nutrient balance - Purdue U (2014)

Boosting global corn yields depends on improving nutrient balance - Purdue U (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Ensuring that corn absorbs the right balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium is crucial to increasing global yields... A review of data from more than 150 studies from the U.S. and other regions showed that high yields were linked to production systems in which corn plants took up key nutrients at specific ratios - nitrogen and phosphorus at a ratio of 5-to-1 and nitrogen and potassium at a ratio of 1-to-1. These nutrient uptake ratios were associated with high yields regardless of the region where the corn was grown.

"The agricultural community has put a lot of emphasis on nitrogen as a means of increasing yields, but this study highlights the greater importance of nutrient balance," said Tony Vyn, Purdue professor of agronomy. "We will not be able to continually boost global corn yields and achieve food security without providing adequate and balanced nutrients."

While corn producers in the U.S. have long relied on nitrogen fertilizers to improve yields, they should not overlook other nutrients such as potassium and phosphorus... "Growers need to be as concerned about the amount of potassium available to their plants as they are about nitrogen... Corn's demand for nitrogen and potassium is similar. We need to focus on the nitrogen-potassium balance because that's where we have the greatest deficiency in terms of application"... 

The main obstacles to closing corn yield gaps - that is, reaching the potential yield projected for a particular soil and climate - around the world are the inaccessibility and cost of fertilizers and the inherent nutrient deficiencies of soils in many regions in which corn is grown... "On the global scale, the potential yield response to balanced nutrient applications is big... But growers outside the U.S. should also focus on developing an integrated management program that considers factors such as optimum planting dates, plant densities and pest management"... 

 

Despite the higher nitrogen content of U.S. soils, corn plants in the U.S. were not more efficient at absorbing nitrogen fertilizers from the soil than those in other regions. Nitrogen recovery efficiency, the measure of how much applied nitrogen the above-ground portion of a plant absorbs from the soil, was the same... for the U.S. and other parts of the world... partly because increasing fertilizer application rates can create a "declining return:" The more fertilizer applied, the more difficult it becomes to extract the same percentage of the nutrients in the corn... 

Data collected from 1976 to 2012 also revealed that the efficiency with which individual corn plants absorbed and used nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus stayed relatively consistent despite plants being grown at much higher densities. "On a per-plant basis, corn plants are not taking up more nutrients than they were in the past... They may be taking up less because they are grown closer together, but they are more efficient at producing more grain with the same amount of nutrient uptake"... 

"Growers should not rely too heavily on modern genetics to give them the yields they expect without spending a considerable amount of effort on maintaining nutrient availability throughout the growing season." 

 

http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2014/Q3/boosting-global-corn-yields-depends-on-improving-nutrient-balance.html

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.2134/agronj14.0025

 

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New food from potato somatic hybrid: nutritional equivalence and safety assessment by a feeding study on rats - Nouri-Ellouz &al (2014) - J Sci Food Ag

New food from potato somatic hybrid: nutritional equivalence and safety assessment by a feeding study on rats - Nouri-Ellouz &al (2014) - J Sci Food Ag | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Potato tubers from the STBd somatic hybrid line that exhibited improved tolerance to salinity and resistance to fungal and PVY infections were characterized. They were compared for their chemical composition to the Spunta variety produced by conventional agronomic practices. This study aimed to compare nutritional value and safety by feeding rats with STBd or commercial tubers added to the standard diet... 

 

The analysis... did not reveal any significant differences between the hybrid line and the control... all values were within normal ranges reported in the literature. The feeding study on rats showed that overall health, weight gain, food consumption, morphological aspects and weights of organs were comparable between rat groups fed the STBd hybrid and the Spunta variety... The STBd potato line was therefore considered to be as safe for food utilization as the commercial variety.

   

http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jsfa.6898

 

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‘Fukusensor:’ a genetically engineered plant for reporting DNA damage in response to gamma radiation - Peng &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal

‘Fukusensor:’ a genetically engineered plant for reporting DNA damage in response to gamma radiation - Peng &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Transgenic plants can be designed to be ‘phytosensors’ for detection of environmental contaminants and pathogens... we describe the design and testing of a radiation phytosensor in the form of green fluorescence protein (GFP)-transgenic Arabidopsis plant utilizing a DNA repair deficiency mutant background as a host. 


Mutant lines of Arabidopsis... which are hypersensitive to gamma irradiation, were used... Mutant and nonmutant genetic background transgenic plants were treated with 0, 1, 5, 10 and 100 Gy radiation doses, respectively, using a Co-60 source.


After 1 week, the GFP expression levels were drastically reduced in young leaves of mutant background plants (treated by 10 and 100 Gy), whereas there were scant visible differences in the fluorescence of the nonmutant background plants.


These early results indicate that transgenic plants could serve in a relevant sensor system to report radiation dose and the biological effects to organisms in response to radionuclide contamination.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12247

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Some people mistrust GMOs, some (and probably often the same) mistrust nuclear energy. What an irony to use one of these technologies to better control or protect from the other... 

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Genetic use restriction technologies: a review - Lombardo (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal

Genetic use restriction technologies: a review - Lombardo (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs), developed to secure return on investments through protection of plant varieties, are among the most controversial and opposed genetic engineering biotechnologies as they are perceived as a tool to force farmers to depend on multinational corporations' seed monopolies.

 

In this work, the currently proposed strategies are described and compared with some of the principal techniques implemented for preventing transgene flow and/or seed saving, with a simultaneous analysis of the future perspectives of GURTs taking into account potential benefits, possible impacts on farmers and local plant genetic resources, hypothetical negative environmental issues and ethical concerns related to intellectual property that have led to the ban of this technology.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12242

 

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Field trial of Xanthomonas wilt disease-resistant bananas in East Africa - Tripathi &al (2014) - Nature Biotechnology

Field trial of Xanthomonas wilt disease-resistant bananas in East Africa - Tripathi &al (2014) - Nature Biotechnology | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Banana is a major staple crop in East Africa produced mostly by smallholder subsistence farmers. More bananas are produced and consumed in East Africa than in any region of the world.Uganda is the world's second foremost grower with a total annual production of about 10.5 million tons. The average daily per capita consumption in Uganda ranges... to over 1.6 kg, one of the highest in the world... 


Banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW) disease... is threatening banana production, the livelihoods of the smallholder growers in East and Central Africa, and the stability of food security in the region. The disease has caused estimated economic losses of about $2-8 billion over the past decade and substantial reductions in production have resulted in major price increases... 

 

The disease is very destructive, infecting all banana varieties... The economic impact of the disease is potentially disastrous because it destroys whole plants leading to complete yield loss... There are currently no commercial pesticides, biocontrol agents or resistant cultivars available to control BXW... 

 

Given the rapid spread and devastation of BXW across Africa, the lack of known genetic resistance in banana... and the difficulties associated with conventional breeding of this highly sterile crop, genetic transformation through the use of modern biotech tools offers an effective and viable way to develop resistant varieties... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nbt.3007

 

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Do you really understand modern farming? 10 myths of GMOs and organics - GLP (2014)

Do you really understand modern farming? 10 myths of GMOs and organics - GLP (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

In my quest to learn about genetically modified foods and our food supply, many things have surprised me. Some of them may seem apparent and obvious, but as a city-dweller, I was unaware of numerous aspects of our food. I find comfort in the fact that many individuals that I share these gems with are equally surprised, leading me to believe that you may find some items as interesting as I do.

 

1) The vast majority of fruits and vegetables are not transgenics... Every time I picked up a fruit in the supermarket that was particularly large, I thought to myself “huh… that’s got to be a GMO”. You know those grapes the size of tennis balls that squirt juice everywhere when you bite into them? Every time I ate one, I’d close my eyes and thank the mysterious GMO gods for that sweet delicious nectar. Little did I know that none of these fruits was a GMO...

 

2) Organic food production uses pesticides. I had always believed that by definition, organic food production did not use pesticides. Not only that, but some of the pesticides used are more toxic than those applied in conventional farming. The difference is that the pesticides used in organic farming are not synthetic, yet they are not necessarily better...

 

3) Many plant traits are developed using mutagenesis. And can be labeled “organic”. Mutagenesis is the use of radioactivity or chemicals to create random mutations... More than 2000 foods have been created by mutagenesis, including the durum wheat used to make fine Italian pasta... and even ruby red grapefruits... Imagine that!! The delicious, organic grapefruit from my farmers’ market was developed using radiation to randomly create mutations, and somehow that’s less scary than a GMO. Why the organic food movement isn’t fighting to label the mutant ruby reds seems hypocritical... 

 

4) There’s lot of peer reviewed research on GMOs, both publically and privately funded. I mean a LOT. Searching for the term MON810 in PubMed (a database hosted by the NIH), finds over 150 hits. That’s 150+ studies that have looked into some aspect, such as identification or safety, on a single[!] seed/trait... the most common misconception about GMOs is that there are few independent studies. In an attempt to address this misconception... 

 

5) Types of traits used to generate GMOs are selected to improve farming conditions. There aren’t many GM crops in which the trait introduced was selected because it would make me want to buy it in the grocery store... at the moment, most crops are designed to help consumers indirectly by benefitting farmers, such as Bt crops that cut down on the amount of pesticides sprayed to fight worms, or glyphosate-resistant crops, which help farmers reduce the use of toxic chemicals to fight weeds. We, the consumers, see the benefits of these traits because reduced farming costs equate to savings at the grocery store... 

 

6) The amount of misinformation and the distrust surrounding GMOs is staggering. And depressing. It ranges from the subtle, in which statements are taken out of context or the complete findings of a paper are not discussed, to outright lies... GMO critics often peddle white lies as well as downright deceptive (and dangerous) statements such as claiming that GM insulin poses a health risk... 

 

Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson said it best... “If your objection to GMOs is the morality of selling non-perennial seed stocks, then focus on that. If your objection to GMOs is the monopolistic conduct of agribusiness, then focus on that. But to paint the entire concept of GMO with these particular issues is to blind yourself to the underlying truth of what humans have been doing—and will continue to do—to nature so that it best serves our survival... 

 

I was surprised at how many people distrust GMOs because of their belief that Monsanto is an ‘evil’ company. That’s not a good reason for distrusting a technology with broad applications. It’s like saying that you don’t trust computers because of Microsoft. But conventional and even organic food growers buy Monsanto seeds too, and Monsanto doesn’t have a monopoly on GM technology... 

 

7) Transgenic seeds are not sterile. I was certain that transgenic seeds could not be replanted, even if a farmer wanted to. I was dead wrong... the seed is not sterile or unviable...

 

8) Peer review often may not mean very much. Papers should be evaluated based on their quality...


9) The world’s most reputable scientific organizations have evaluated the data on the safety of GMOs. That’s right, there’s a scientific consensus on the topic of GMO safety... right now it’s very strong and consistent: GMOs are safe...

 

http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/09/04/do-you-really-understand-modern-farming-urbanite-examines-10-myths-of-gmos-and-organics/

 

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Risks and opportunities for the EU agri-food sector in a possible EU-US trade agreement - Bureau &al (2014) - Europarl [pdf]

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is under negotiation. This report provides a detailed overview of EU-US agricultural trade. It analyses current barriers to trade, paying special attention to nontariff measures. This information is then used in a computable general equilibrium model of international trade to assess the potential impact of the TTIP on agri-food exports, imports and value added. This study also includes a general discussion on the opportunities and risks of a TTIP for the EU agricultural sector... 

 

There are several areas in which the regulations impose different costs for producers, and where the playing field might be uneven in the case of a TTIP agreement. GMOs. 


EU farmers fear a situation where they would not have the right to use biotechnology but US products entering the EU market freely would (as is currently the case for goods such as soybeans). In most sectors, GMOs result in lower production costs, through easier control of weeds, labour savings, and in some cases higher yields. The rapid adoption of GMOs in the soybean and corn sectors, where producers have been allowed to use them, suggests that, in any case, there  is a genuine cost advantage for producers.

 

In the TTIP negotiations, easing both approval and trade in GMOs is an important demand made by US farms and businesses. They are backed by US authorities, which complain about the slow and limited approval of genetically modified crops for sale and cultivation in the EU. The US government would also like to see a greater tolerance threshold for traces of genetically modified material in food and feed. It also considers that compulsory labelling of GMOs unfairly discriminates against these products... 

 

US authorities [and scientific bodies the world over] say that genetically modified products have been proven safe by scientific studies and are being excluded based on irrational fears. Finding a common ground on biotechnology issues is likely to be difficult in bilateral discussions.


Disagreements between both sides of the Atlantic refer to genuine differences in citizens’ concerns. As Bureau and Marette (2000[sic!]) have explained, differences in the perception of risks are rooted in fundamental differences in both cultural and institutional frameworks. As a result, consumers see biotechnology (but also nanotechnology) as a major potential hazard in Europe. In contrast, bacterial contamination [which actually kills people] is the number one focus of US consumer organisations...


US authorities tend to see EU biotechnology regulations as a simple non-tariff barrier. The claim of European observers that they are trying to help their own farmers by keeping out American products ignores the fact that regulations stem from consumer and environmentalist pressure. Many Europeans consider that the risk assessments habitually carried out by the US or the European Food Safety Agency are incomplete, if not irrelevant, since they focus on short-term health effects and ignore, for example, risks such as the rise of pesticide-resistant ‘superweeds’ [no they don't].

 

Those Member States that have invested heavily in organic agriculture also fear that their investments might be endangered by possible genetic contamination [which it won't if reasonable thresholds are set, and which doesn't happen in the US where both the cultivation of GM crops and organic agriculture increase]. 

 

Recent development suggests that there is some ground for convergence. While the US has always rejected GMO labelling, including in trade agreements... the US soybean industry has recently appeared more open to such labelling provided that the EU changes its rules from labelling food that contains GMOs to labelling food that does not contain GMOs... 

 

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2014/514007/AGRI_IPOL_STU%282014%29514007_EN.pdf

 

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Safety aspects of genetically modified crops with abiotic stress tolerance - Liang &al (2014) - Trends Food Sci Tech

Safety aspects of genetically modified crops with abiotic stress tolerance - Liang &al (2014) - Trends Food Sci Tech | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Abiotic stress, such as drought, salinity, and temperature extremes, significantly reduce crop yields. Hence, development of abiotic stress-tolerant crops by modern biotechnology may contribute to global food security.

 

Prior to introducing genetically modified crops with abiotic stress tolerance to the market, a food and environmental safety assessment is generally required. Although worldwide harmonised comparative approach is currently provided, risk assessors still face challenges to assess genetically modified crops with abiotic stress-tolerance.

 

Here, we discuss current developments of abiotic stress tolerance as well as issues concerning food and environmental safety assessment of these crops, including current approaches, challenges and future directions...

 

Contrary to similar conventionallybred crops, GM plant varieties, including abiotic stress-tolerant plant varieties, require in most countries an extensive food and environmental safety assessment, prior to market approval. 

 

For the food safety assessment,all aspects of abiotic stress-tolerant GM plant varieties seem to be generally covered by current worldwide harmonized scientific safety assessment approaches. It may, however, be necessary to grow the new GM abiotic stress-tolerant plant both under the conventional environmental conditions, together with the conventional counterpart, as well as under the stressed (dry, saline) environmental conditions for this new crop variety to assess for potential effects that may only show under the abiotic stress conditions. 

 

This specific approach should also be applied for the environmental safety assessment... More specifically, to what extent these transgenes may impart increased fitness under actual field conditions and thus change the population ecology of wild relatives... uncertainty with predicting introgression from crops to wild relatives. Thus, there is a need to develop globally harmonized protocols on how to best assess these effects of abiotic stress-tolerant GM crop varieties... 

 

As abiotic stress-tolerant crop varieties developed by conventional breeding methods are actively being introduced as well, knowledge on these could be used for comparisons. We recommend that international scientific platforms take the lead in the development of harmonized protocols and procedures, at the short term, to ascertain that abiotic stress-tolerant GM crops can be introduced on the basis of an  adequate safety assessment... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tifs.2014.08.005

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"abiotic stress-tolerant crop varieties developed by conventional breeding methods are actively being introduced as well" 

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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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Playing tag with sugars in the cornfield - Max Planck (2014)

Playing tag with sugars in the cornfield - Max Planck (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Armyworms deactivate a maize chemical defense by reattaching a sugar in the opposite configuration. 


Sugars are usually known as energy storage units in plants and the insects that feed on them. But, sugars may also be part of a deadly game of tag between plant and insect... Grasses and crops such as maize attach sugars to chemical defenses called benzoxazinoids to protect themselves from being poisoned by their own protective agents. Then, when an insect starts feeding, a plant enzyme removes the sugar to deploy the active toxin... scientists have now discovered why this defensive strategy fails to work against Spodopteralarvae.


When the researchers examined the frass of these pests − pests that cause enormous crop damage −, they found the toxin with sugar still attached. After the plant removes the sugar, the insect reattaches it but in the opposite stereochemical configuration. In contrast to the original plant compound, the new substance can no longer be cleaved by the plant enzyme to generate the toxin. Attaching the sugar in the opposite configuration turns out to be a very simple but effective detoxification strategy which explains the success of Spodoptera species.

 

Plants usually defend themselves against insect feeding by producing toxins or deterrents. However, many insects have become adapted to plant defenses and can feed on plant tissues containing toxins or deterrents without the expected negative effects. Insects overcome plant defenses by the rapid excretion, sequestration or detoxification of toxic substances. Not only have such adaptations contributed to the vast diversification of insects in the course of evolution, they also support the success of agricultural pests specialized on certain crop plants that jeopardize crop yields every year.


With the abundance of maize grown throughout the world, it is not surprising that the crop has many insect pests, including larvae of the genus Spodoptera. In North and South America, the fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda  is an important maize pest causing considerable damage. Like all cereals and other members of the grass family, maize plants defend themselves with chemistry. Leaves of young maize plants contain large amounts of a benzoxazinoid called (2R)-DIMBOA-glucoside. The plant also produces an enzyme active in caterpillar guts which cleaves DIMBOA-glucoside to release the sugar. The free DIMBOA formed as a result causes many insects to die or cease growing, but not the fall armyworm... 

 

Caterpillars of the fall armyworm and two other Spodopteraspecies deploy a gut enzyme that catalyzes the attachment of a sugar to the toxic free DIMBOA. The sugar group is reattached in a mirror-image orientation (forming a (2S)-DIMBOA-glucoside) so that the plant enzyme cannot remove it a second time... The elegance of such a mechanism comes from its simplicity, yet it saves the insects from being poisoned

 

“If we can better understand how much this gut enzyme has helped the fall armyworm to become such a dangerous pest on maize, we may be able to use this to our advantage by impairing this insect enzyme and restoring the full defensive potential of maize against these pests,” says Daniel Giddings Vassão... 

 

The Max Planck scientists now want to identify the enzymes and the encoding genes that are responsible for the detoxification process in the fall armyworm. They also want to look for equivalent enzymes in related species and compare these. DIMBOA is only one member of the vast variety of toxic benzoxazinoids found in grasses. If the researchers can obtain a more comprehensive picture of how benzoxazinoids are metabolized in pest insects, they may be able to design better strategies to reduce pest damage.

 

http://www.ice.mpg.de/ext/1166.html?&L=0

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/anie.201406643

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Key quote: "plants defend themselves with chemistry"
>> all natural... 

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Plant engineered for more efficient photosynthesis - Cornell Chronicle (2014)

Plant engineered for more efficient photosynthesis - Cornell Chronicle (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

A genetically engineered tobacco plant, developed with two genes from blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), holds promise for improving the yields of many food crops.

Plants photosynthesize – convert carbon dioxide, water and light into oxygen and sucrose, a sugar used for energy and for building new plant tissue ­– but cyanobacteria can perform photosynthesis significantly more quickly than many crops can.

“This is the first time that a plant has been created through genetic engineering to fix all of its carbon by a cyanobacterial enzyme... It is an important first step in creating plants with more efficient photosynthesis”... 

 

Crops with cyanobacteria’s faster carbon fixation would produce more, according to a computer modeling study... Producing more crops on finite arable land is a necessity as the world’s population is projected to pass nine billion by 2050.

Though others have tried and failed, the Cornell and Rothamsted researchers have successfully replaced the gene for a carbon-fixing enzyme called Rubisco in a tobacco plant with two genes for a cyanobacterial version of Rubisco, which works faster than the plant’s original enzyme.

All plants require Rubisco to fix carbon during photosynthesis. Rubisco reacts with both carbon dioxide and oxygen in the air, but when it reacts with oxygen, a plant’s rate of photosynthesis slows down, leading to lower yields.

In many crop plants... Rubisco is less reactive with oxygen, but a trade-off leads to slower carbon fixing and photosynthesis, and thus, smaller yields. The Rubisco in cyanobacteria fixes carbon faster, but it is more reactive with oxygen. As a result, in cyanobacteria, Rubisco is protected in special micro-compartments (called carboxysomes) that keep oxygen out and concentrate carbon dioxide for efficient photosynthesis.

In previous research, Lin, Hanson and colleagues inserted blue-green algae genes in tobacco to create carboxysomes in the plant cells. In future work, the researchers will need to combine genes for cyanobacterial Rubisco with genes for carboxysomes in the tobacco’s chloroplasts, the site in the cell where photosynthesis takes place... 

 

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2014/09/plant-engineered-more-efficient-photosynthesis

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13776

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature.2014.15949

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13749

 

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Model-Based Tolerance Intervals Derived from Cumulative Historical Composition Data: Application for Substantial Equivalence Assessment of a Genetically Modified Crop - Hong &al (2014) - J Ag Chem

Model-Based Tolerance Intervals Derived from Cumulative Historical Composition Data: Application for Substantial Equivalence Assessment of a Genetically Modified Crop - Hong &al (2014) - J Ag Chem | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Compositional analysis is a requisite component of the substantial equivalence framework utilized to assess genetically modified (GM) crop safety. Statistical differences in composition data between GM and non-GM crops require a context in which to determine biological relevance.


This context is provided by surveying the natural variation of key nutrient and anti-nutrient levels within the crop population with a history of safe use. Data accumulated from various genotypes with a history of safe use cultivated in relevant commercial crop-growing environments over multiple seasons are discussed as the appropriate data representative of this natural variation.


A model-based parametric tolerance interval approach, which accounts for the correlated and unbalanced data structure of cumulative historical data collected from multi-site field studies conducted over multiple seasons, is presented... to generate reference ranges for evaluation... of statistical differences identified during substantial equivalence assessment of a GM crop. 


http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf502158q


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Compositional differences between near-isogenic GM and conventional maize hybrids are associated with backcrossing practices in conventional breeding - Venkatesh &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Jo...

Compositional differences between near-isogenic GM and conventional maize hybrids are associated with backcrossing practices in conventional breeding - Venkatesh &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Jo... | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Here, we show that differences between genetically modified (GM) and non-GM comparators cannot be attributed unequivocally to the GM trait, but arise because of minor genomic differences in near-isogenic lines. Specifically, this study contrasted the effect of three GM traits (drought tolerance, MON 87460; herbicide resistance, NK603; insect protection, MON 89034) on maize grain composition relative to the effects of residual genetic variation from backcrossing... 

 

The F1 hybrids of all lines were grown concurrently at three replicated field sites in the United States during the 2012 growing season, and harvested grain was subjected to compositional analysis. Proximates (protein, starch and oil), amino acids, fatty acids, tocopherols and minerals were measured. The number of statistically significant differences (α = 0.05), as well as magnitudes of difference, in mean levels of these components between corresponding GM variants was essentially identical to that between GM and non-GM controls... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12248

 

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On Risk and Regulation: Bt Crops in India - Herring (2014) - GM Crops & Food

On Risk and Regulation: Bt Crops in India - Herring (2014) - GM Crops & Food | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Genetic engineering in agriculture raises contentious politics unknown in other applications of molecular technology. Controversy originated and persists for inter-related reasons; these are not primarily, as frequently assumed, differences over scientific findings, but rather about the relationship of science to ‘risk.’

 

First, there are inevitably differences in how to interpret ‘risk’ in situations in which there are no established findings of specific hazard; ‘Knightian uncertainty’ defines this condition. Science claims no method of resolution in such cases of uncertainty.

 

Second, science has no claim about risk preferences in a normative sense. In genetic engineering, Knightian uncertainty is pervasive; declaring uncertainty to constitute ‘risk’ enables a precautionary politics in which no conceivable evidence from science can confirm absence of risk. This is the logic of the precautionary state.

 

The logic of the developmental state is quite different: uncertainty is treated as an inevitable component of change, and therefore a logic of acceptable uncertainty, parallel to acceptable risk of the sort deployed in cost-benefit analysis in other spheres of behavior, dominates policy.

 

India's official position on agricultural biotechnology has been promotional, as expected from a developmental state, but regulation of Bt crops has rested in a section of the state operating more on precautionary than developmental logic. As a result, notwithstanding the developmental success of Bt cotton, Bt brinjal [eggplant, aubergine] encountered a moratorium on deployment despite approval by the regulatory scientific body designated to assess biosafety.

 

https://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/article/950543/

 

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Enhancing C3 photosynthesis: an outlook on feasible interventions for crop improvement - Singh &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal

Enhancing C3 photosynthesis: an outlook on feasible interventions for crop improvement - Singh &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Despite the declarations and collective measures taken to eradicate hunger at World Food Summits, food security remains one of the biggest issues that we are faced with. The current scenario could worsen due to the alarming increase in world population, further compounded by adverse climatic conditions, such as increase in atmospheric temperature, unforeseen droughts and decreasing soil moisture, which will decrease crop yield even further. Furthermore, the projected increase in yields of C3 crops as a result of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations is much less than anticipated.


Thus, there is an urgent need to increase crop productivity beyond existing yield potentials to address the challenge of food security. One of the domains of plant biology that promises hope in overcoming this problem is study of C3 photosynthesis. In this review, we have examined the potential bottlenecks of C3 photosynthesis and the strategies undertaken to overcome them... 


In addition, other areas which promise scope for improvement of C3 photosynthesis, such as mining natural genetic variations, mathematical modelling for identifying new targets, installing efficient carbon fixation and carbon concentrating mechanisms have been touched upon. Briefly, this review intends to shed light on the recent advances in enhancing C3 photosynthesis for crop improvement.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12246

 

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Prevalence and impacts of genetically engineered feedstuffs on livestock populations - Van Eenennaam & Young (2014) - J Anim Sci

Globally, food-producing animals consume 70 to 90% of genetically engineered (GE) crop biomass. This review briefly summarizes the scientific literature on performance and health of animals consuming feed containing GE ingredients and composition of products derived from them. It also discusses the field experience of feeding GE feed sources to commercial livestock populations and summarizes the suppliers of GE and non-GE animal feed in global trade.


Numerous experimental studies have consistently revealed that the performance and health of GE-fed animals are comparable with those fed isogenic non-GE crop lines. United States animal agriculture produces over 9 billion food-producing animals annually, and more than 95% of these animals consume feed containing GE ingredients. Data on livestock productivity and health were collated from publicly available sources from 1983, before the introduction of GE crops in 1996, and subsequently through 2011, a period with high levels of predominately GE animal feed.


These field data sets representing over 100 billion animals following the introduction of GE crops did not reveal unfavorable or perturbed trends in livestock health and productivity. No study has revealed any differences in the nutritional profile of animal products derived from GE-fed animals. Because DNA and protein are normal components of the diet that are digested, there are no detectable or reliably quantifiable traces of GE components in milk, meat, and eggs following consumption of GE feed...


Countries that are cultivating GE corn and soy are the major livestock feed exporters. Asynchronous regulatory approvals (i.e., cultivation approvals of GE varieties in exporting countries occurring before food and feed approvals in importing countries) have resulted in trade disruptions. This is likely to be increasingly problematic in the future as there are a large number of “second generation” GE crops with altered output traits for improved livestock feed... There is a pressing need for international harmonization of both regulatory frameworks for GE crops and governance of advanced breeding techniques...

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.2527/jas.2014-8124

 

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Sir Paul Nurse criticises those who distort scientific evidence - Guardian (2014)

Sir Paul Nurse criticises those who distort scientific evidence - Guardian (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Senior scientist urges peers to challenge influential figures who misuse science to support preconceived beliefs. 

 

Britain's most senior scientist has launched a fierce attack on influential figures who distort scientific evidence to support their own political, religious or ideological agendas. The president of the Royal Society , Sir Paul Nurse, said scientists must challenge serial offenders from all spheres of life who continually misused science to support their preconceived beliefs... 

 

Nurse urged researchers to call offenders out in the media and challenge them in the strongest way possible. "When they are serial offenders they should be crushed and buried." 

 

The Nobel prize winner... said: "Today we have those who like to mix science up with ideology and politics, where opinion, rhetoric and tradition hold more sway than adherence to evidence and adherence to logical argument." Offenders, he said, ranged from politicians and religious figures to industrial leaders, NGOs and charities.

 

"We have to be aware of, and beware, organisations that masquerade as lobbying groups, which we see a lot in climate change. We have to be aware of politicians that cherry pick scientific views, even ministers who listen to scientists when it's about GM crops and then ignore them when it's about climate change" ... 

 

Nurse's call to arms goes against the stance of some scientists who refuse to debate people who have certain world views... while other scientists are reluctant to become embroiled in debates... because they are so exhausting and time consuming.

 

Nurse said: "It can be terribly time consuming. There is a constant regression to little points that constantly require rebuttal, so it can be very stressful. But once the debate is in the media or on the airwaves or TV we have to be engaged."

 

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/sep/04/sir-paul-nurse-criticises-figures-distort-scientific-evidence

 

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Q&A: GMO cultivation in the EU - Europarl (2014)

Q&A: GMO cultivation in the EU - Europarl (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The EU has one of the toughest genetically modified food regulations in the world and the cultivation of GM crops is only allowed following a thorough risk assessment...  


Is it allowed to grow genetically modified crops in the EU?

 

Yes, but only once they have been authorised at EU level, following a strict risk assessment carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). After authorisation, individual EU countries can only ban [the cultivation of] the GM product on their territory by using the so-called safeguard clause. They have to justify this decision, showing that the GMO may cause harm to... the environment... 

 

Why does the EU want to change the current system for authorising GM products?

 

Some member states asked for more freedom and flexibility to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of [safe and EU-approved] GMOs on their territory [based on political reasons]...

 

When will the new rules take effect?

 

In 2011 MEPs voted in favour of the proposals albeit with several amendments. The Council reached a political agreement on 12 June 2014, which will allow the Parliament and the Council to continue talks in order  to reach agreement on a common text. The proposal is foreseen for final adoption in 2015.

 

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/content/20140902STO57801/html/QA-GMO-cultivation-in-the-EU

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

What's perhaps not really clear from the info provided is that this only concerns the *cultivation* of GM crops, not their use, i.e. EU-approved crops can still be traded and used for food, feed, fibre or fuel... That is, a country can ban a crop that's not cultivated by their farmers anyway, or whose GM trait is of no use in the particular agro-ecological context of that country, and yet the country can still benefit from (the same and other) GM crops by importing them... 

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Recommendations from a Meeting on Health Implications of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) - Amofah (2014) - Ghana Med J

The Ghana Public Health Association organized a scientific seminar to examine the introduction of genetically modified organisms into public use and the health consequences. The seminar was driven by current public debate on the subject. The seminar identified some of the advantages of GMOs and also the health concerns.

 

lt is clear that there is the need to enhance local capacity to research the introduction and use of GMOs; to put in place appropriate regulatory mechanisms including particularly the labeling of GMO products and post-marketing surveillance for possible negative health consequences in the long term. Furthermore the appropriate state agency should put in place advocacy strategies to keep the public informed about GMOs...

 

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"Notwithstanding the advantages and major potential public health benefits, a number of concerns and potential negative health impact were identified: (1) Current efforts are focused primarily on a few crop/trait combinations that have high commercial value and occupy large international markets, hence are primarily profit driven. (2) Public Institutions are resource limited and lack infrastructure and capacity to compete; there is poor access to advanced technology and weak regulatory capacity in country. (3) Potential for unpredictable, unintended mutations in the organism with consequential medico-legal events..." 

 

>> Companies that are operating in a market economy obviously seek to make profits. How can that in itself be an argument against the whole class of products that their products belong to? Also pharmaceutical companies are profit driven (and most do not do research into rare diseases and orphan drugs for poor developing countries' markets). This does not invalidate the usefulness of pharmaceuticals. It's simple: Where the market fails government intervention is necessary -- and there ARE publicly or philanthropically funded R&D projects on GM crops... And if there is less public R&D than would be ideal, is that a reason to be concerned about products that "only" cater to the demand that can be expressed on markets? Or rather about the research and regulatory context that inhibits public R&D? 

 

As to the risk of "unintended mutations", that's what happens in -- conventional -- mutation breeding... 

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