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GM crops, developing countries and food security - Areal &al (2012) - World Agriculture

GM crops, developing countries and food security - Areal &al (2012) - World Agriculture | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The agronomic and economic performance of genetically modified (GM) crops relative to their conventional counterparts has been largely investigated worldwide. As a result there is considerable information to conduct a meta-analysis to evaluate the agronomic and economic relative performance of GM crops vs. non GM crops by crop, GM trait, and country’s level of development. Such meta-analysis has been recently conducted showing that overall GM crops outperform non GM crops in both agronomic and economic terms. 

This paper focuses on the agronomic and economic performance of GM crops in developing and developed countries as well as the potential implications for global food security of adoption of GM crops by developing countries. The presumption that technology only benefits the developed world is not supported by the meta-analysis conducted. No evidence that GM technology benefits more developed than developing countries was found. Indeed, the agronomic and economic performance of GM crops vs. conventional crops tends to be better for developing than for developed countries. 

Although it is manifested that the conventional agronomic practices in developing countries are different to those in developed countries, it is also apparent that GM crop adoption in developing countries may help to tackle the growing concerns over the scarcity of food globally...

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

[updated 16 May, 2015]  

 

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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Breeding to Optimize Agriculture in a Changing World - Wang &al (2015) - Crop J

The world is changing! The population continues to grow rapidly, and societal behavior (including consumption habits) is experiencing rapid evolution, particularly in developing countries. Demand for and pressure on resources (mainly land and water) continues to increase... Climate changes pose further and less-predictable challenges... An increase of more than 70% food is needed by 2050 to meet the demands of the increasing population...

 

Crop management and breeding are the pillars of efforts to tackle the present and future challenges of food production. China and the European Union (EU) face common challenges in the changing world. Both are dedicating great R&D efforts to agriculture, food security, and food safety, to increase food production and improve product quality in an environmentally sustainable manner. In view of the common challenges, a three-year EU-China project called “Breeding to Optimize Chinese Agriculture (OPTICHINA)” was launched in June of 2011 as a new strategy that may serve as a model to reinforce systematic cooperation on agricultural research... 


In recent decades, breeding has contributed a greater than 50% increase of the world’s food crop production. However, in a changing world, an urgent issue is to accelerate plant breeding for increased yield potential and better adaptation to drought, heat, and other abiotic stresses together with the surge of new biotic challenges, so as to meet the future demand for agricultural production. The only viable way to solve the issue is to raise the productivity of existing farmland, but it is a great challenge to increase food production and improve product quality in an environmentally sustainable manner. To reach this goal, plant breeding requires intensive and integrated application of a wide range of sciences and technologies.

 

To meet the challenge, we must develop more productive, stable, and nutritious varieties of agricultural crops, which incorporate both high intrinsic yield potential and resilience to climatic and biotic constraints, while improving the efficiency of resource use. To ensure the success of future plant breeding, we must adopt a multidisciplinary approach combining the field expertise of breeders with advanced phenotyping based on a physiological understanding of the crop, molecular tools and approaches (such as MAS, transgenic, TILLING, omics, and genomewide selection) provided by biotechnology, and the support of advanced data analysis and management.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cj.2015.05.001

 

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The Unintended Consequences of Technological Change: Winners and Losers from GM Technologies and the Policy Response in the Organic Food Market - Smyth &al (2015) - Sustainability

The Unintended Consequences of Technological Change: Winners and Losers from GM Technologies and the Policy Response in the Organic Food Market - Smyth &al (2015) - Sustainability | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

It is often said that innovations create winners and losers. All innovations are somewhat disruptive, but some have more distributed effects... Yet, how much do losers actually lose?

 

Organic farmers frequently like to publicly announce that they are the losers following the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) crops, yet consumers in search of non-GM products have helped increase demand for organic products, something that would not have occurred in the absence of GM crops. Are organic farmers really losers?

 

This article lays out the argument that were it not for the commercialization of GM crop varieties in the mid-1990s, organic production and food sectors would not be at the level they enjoy today. That is, the commercialization of GM crops has made the organic industry better off than had GM crops not been commercialized.

 

Theoretical modelling of the organic benefits is complemented by supportive market data. The article concludes that in spite of numerous vocal offerings about the adverse impacts suffered by the organic industry due to GM crop production, the organic industry has gained significantly from that which they vociferously criticize... 

 

These positive benefits should be investigated and included in socio-economic public policy assessments of GM products. It is an area where further applied research is warranted. 

 

While a hot topic in high-income countries, this policy issue has wider application and impact on global food security. The eNGO [environmental NGO] community has lobbied and pressured many developing countries to implement broad socio-economic considerations as part of their domestic biosafety regulatory framework, ostensibly to protect potential losers in those countries.

 

In Mali, for instance, eNGOs encouraged the government to enact regulations that will not allow any negative socio-economic impacts to occur from the commercialization of GM crops. Innovation is not possible within this type of regulatory environment as every new production possibility will inevitably displace older, inefficient technologies, creating losers among those not able or nor willing to adopt, in cross markets and in the input markets.

 

The encouragement of such policy development by eNGOs ultimately fosters increased food insecurity. When small landholder farmers are denied access to innovations, they are forced to maintain existing low-skilled, labour-intensive work that they have undertaken for centuries, while landholders in neighbouring countries are able to reap the benefits of GM crops, including greater yields, increased profits, rising household incomes and enhanced food security.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/su7067667

 

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Strengthening GM risk assessment: new EFSA guidance explained - EFSA (2015)

Strengthening GM risk assessment: new EFSA guidance explained - EFSA (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

New EFSA guidance identifies data that companies need to supply when applying for renewed authorisation to import genetically modified (GM) plants for food and feed into the European Union (EU). The European Commission grants authorisations to place GM food and feed on the European market for a period of ten years. Companies that want to continue importing GM food and feed into the EU need to renew the initial authorisation.

 

The new guidance ensures a sound scientific basis for the risk assessment of GM food and feed in the interest of the European consumer. EFSA’s task is to evaluate the validity of previous risk assessments of these GM products. It needs to verify if any changes, new hazards, modified exposure scenarios or new scientific uncertainties have surfaced. On that basis, EFSA advises the European Commission and Member States who decide whether or not to renew the authorisation...


EFSA has to assess whether the conclusions of the original risk assessment of the respective GM food or feed are still valid. Has anything new come up that would have an impact on the original conclusions? This question needs to be answered. Consequently, the information that companies have to provide for renewal differs from what they had to provide for the original application for authorisation. The new guidance details what kind of information they have to submit in support of their application for renewal authorisation... 


Over the years as scientific research has moved on, more information has become available on the respective GM food or feed. Companies have to search for and provide all relevant new information which has become available during the years of commercialisation. The required information includes new scientific publications and all unpublished information available to them. They also need to provide all post-market monitoring reports including from environmental monitoring, where available... 


GM food and feed listed under Regulation (EC) 1829/2003 are within the scope of this new guidance. These include all those plants that have already been assessed by EFSA – such as maize, oilseed rape, soybean and cotton. It is important to point out that these authorisations are for the import or processing of GM food or feed, not for the cultivation of the GM plant.


EFSA consulted the public and EU Member States on its draft guidance. What did those consultations bring to the process? Consultation with the public and with Member States ensures an open scientific debate on the work of EFSA, in this case on the development of this guidance. We saw opposite opinions expressed at these consultations. On one side we were criticised for requesting too much, on the other we were called on to ask for much more information. But, clearly, we have to remain within the confines of the law. In any case, these consultations helped us to be clearer with the wording in our guidance. We managed to explain several issues better... 

 

The guidance will shape a large part of EFSA’s work in the area of GMOs for many years to come. Many authorisations given over the last ten years will have to be renewed in the coming years.

 

http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/150618a.htm

Guidance: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/4129.htm

 

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Debates on Genetically Modified Crops in the Context of Sustainable Development - Gerasimova (2015) - Sci Eng Ethics

Debates on Genetically Modified Crops in the Context of Sustainable Development - Gerasimova (2015) - Sci Eng Ethics | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The paper discusses conflicts in perceptions of GM crops illustrating the complexities of GM debates and applications of the concept of sustainable development. The concept consists of three discourses that both opponents and supporters of GM crops refer to in their analyses: environmentalism, social and economic development and the two sub-issues of sustainable development – biodiversity loss and food security.

 

This creates a unique situation when both proponents and opponents of GM food use the same framework of sustainable development to support their arguments and do not reach a common ground. This will be illustrated by a review of the arguments brought by these two groups... 

 

Since the 1990s till now there have been continuing debates on the risks and benefits of GM crops... The debates are intense and include a wide range of reactions and evaluations of GM crops from seeing GM as an unethical and dangerous tool of greedy corporations to appraisal of GM as a useful technology to address the issue of food security under new global threats, such as climate change. For an outsider to these discussions this looks complicated and misleading as both the supporters and the opponents refer to the same framework of sustainability... 


Despite the large number of debates, it seems that there is little genuine dialogue between the two sides. They have not been able to find common grounds nor to persuade each other. The few attempts that can be possibly viewed as attempted compromise have not been accepted by the opposite side. For example, Ammann brought up the idea of precision farming which proposes growing GM seeds in an organic manner but it was rejected by the members of anti-GM organisations... 

 

The debates are heavily politicized and two international reputable NGOs, Oxfam and WWF, were forced to recall and review their views on GM in order to maintain their networks of partners and supporters within and beyond their organizations.

 

Another aspect which can be mentioned is about the forms of argumentation in debates. In some cases, the strategy appears to be not by countering the argument of the other side, but by ‘ad hominem’ accusations of biased interests and undermining of the authority of opponents. This can be illustrated by the example of the denial of Open Earth Source’s team to recognise a range of studies suggesting economic benefits derived from GM crops... It stands out that portraying opponents as unethical characters is another technique in attempts to win the debate... 


The use of emotional language and the confrontational, aggressive form of debates may entertain those of the public who watch them but it is not productive in terms of negotiating pragmatic, working solutions for the challenges of agriculture which are particularly severe in developing countries. So, despite the continuing excessive debates on GM crops, there is still the need for more balanced, less biased and emotionally cool debate that assesses the arguments both for and against GM crops... 


Examples of balanced views on risks and benefits of GM crops by science... is the Montpellier Panel Report... which has argued for sustainable intensification in agriculture.


Such intensification aims to produce greater nutritional yields with less pesticides, fertilisers and emissions together with better use of environmental resources. Ecological intensification, such as intercropping and the push-pull system of pest control, conservation farming and genetic intensification which includes conventional breeding, cell and tissue culture, marker-assisted selection and genetic modification, accompanied by socio-economic intensification, are proposed as three possible solutions to farmers’ challenges.


As one can see, the GM technique is not praised by the report as a ‘silver bullet’ for food security nor are its results denied, but it is proposed as one of the many possible strategies to be considered. It is also worth mentioning that the three suggested modes of intensification accord well with the three dimensional model of sustainable development described originally in the 1987 Brundtland report.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11948-015-9656-y

 

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Insect-Resistant GE Rice, Pesticide Use, and Rice Farmers’ Health in China - Huang & Qiao (2015) - ISB [pdf]

The significant and multiple benefits that Genetically Engineered (GE) crops have generated, including increased yield and lower production costs due to reduced insecticide applications, have been well documented in the literature. However, the impact of GE crops on farmers’ health due to the reduction of pesticide use has not been rigorously analyzed. While previous studies have indicated a reduction in acute (visible) pesticide poisoning in farmers because of GE crops, the impact of this reduction on farmers’ invisible health has not been quantitatively analyzed.

 

Our recent study estimated the health impact of pesticide reduction on farmers through the adoption of GE rice. We focused on invisible health effects because they are more common and may ultimately lead to fatal disease... Health examinations included general and blood examinations. In addition to the examinations, a historical record of the visible effects (such as headache, nausea, skin irritation, and digestive discomfort) of pesticide applications was obtained from each farmer. Blood examinations and individual interviews on pesticide application were used to assess the invisible effects of pesticide use. 


Results... 8% of farmers who did not plant GE rice suffered from acute poisoning illnesses related to pesticide use, while none of the farmers reported any poisoning symptoms in their GE rice fields. Statistics from our rice trial plots also showed that pesticide use in GE plots and non-GE plots differed significantly. Farmers sprayed pesticides 1.38 times in their GE plots, and 2.72 times in non-GE rice plots. The amount of pesticide use (or cost of pesticide use) per ha in GE plots is about 1/3 of that in non-GE rice plots. Finally, we also found that the yield of GE plots was slightly higher than that of non-GE plots in villages with GE rice trials.


The significant and new finding is that reduction of pesticide use has important effects on farmers’ health. Health examination results indicated that pesticide use within 24 hours had a significant impact on the magnitude of various health indicators... Commercialization of GE rice may reduce pesticide use by more than two thirds. This translates into a national pesticide reduction of more than 196 thousand tons, or about 6 billion Yuan, annually.


This study provides new evidence on the benefits of GE technology to the health of farmers. About 8% of rice farmers still suffer from acute pesticide-related poisoning. Thus, the estimated 16 million Chinese farmers who suffer acute poisoning illnesses each year can benefit from the use of GE technology and the consequent reduction in pesticide exposure. Hence, the commercialization of GE rice is expected to improve the health of farmers in countries where pesticide application is necessary to mitigate crop loss... This study provides empirical new evidence of the benefits of GE technology to farmers’ health. 


This study shows that GE technologies such as GE rice can significantly improve farmers’ health through avoiding the incidence of not only pesticide-related illness (or visible effect), but also the invisible short time effects on farmers’ neurological system, hematological system, and blood electrolytes. While most of the effects observed in this study are short-term (e.g., invisible effects within 24 hours), farmers spray pesticides many times during the entire crop-growing season. It follows that frequent short-term effects may affect the long-term health of farmers.


http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2015/May/HuangQiao.pdf


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Factors influencing adoption of genetically modified crops in Africa - Mabaya &al (2015) - Dev S Africa

Factors influencing adoption of genetically modified crops in Africa - Mabaya &al (2015) - Dev S Africa | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The debate around genetically modified (GM) crops in Africa continues to grow especially among policy-makers, food manufacturers, farmer organisation and consumer advocacy groups and the general public. While other regions have taken a firm position on biotech crops, Africa remains largely ambivalent, with wide variation in GM policy across countries.

 

The central objective of this paper is to analyse the factors that influence the adoption of GM crops in Africa. First we evaluate the current status of GM crop adoption in Africa. Second we identify the key enablers and hindrances to adoption of GM crops. The main factors include ministerial control of biosafety, peer country influence, stage of seed sector development, advocacy by key political figures, the media, activism, food security and technical capacity.

 

We posit that, for most African countries, GM policy is guided by political rather than technological considerations with media and special interest groups playing a key role. Despite the numerous impediments, slow progress is being made in preparing the requisite enabling environment for biotechnology adoption in Africa...

 

Despite scientific consensus on the safety of GM technology, adoption of GM crops remains steeped in controversy and public debate. Public opinions and government stances on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) differ dramatically regionally across the world. For instance, spirited opposition to GM technology has tended to emanate from Europe, even as the European Food Safety Authority determined that there are no health threats from GM foods... In contrast, the USA has traditionally been favourable towards biotech crops. Over 40 varieties of GM crops have been approved in the USA in the past decade... 


The divergent positions on modern biotechnology between the Americas and Europe seem to send mixed signals to African countries, which would probably explains why African countries appear to pull in opposite directions... 


Despite the potential advantages, adoption of GM crops in Africa has been slow. At present only four African countries – Burkina Faso, Egypt, South Africa and Sudan – have fully commercialised GM crops... Nine African countries currently conduct contained field trials of GM crops: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. Insect-resistant cotton and drought-tolerant maize are being tested in multiple countries. Other GM crops being tested include disease-resistant banana, virus-resistant cassava, nitrogen use-efficient rice and insect-resistant cowpea, maize, and sweet potato... 


Worldwide, the area under GM crops has ‘increased 100 fold from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to over 175 million hectares in 2013’. Despite the rapid adoption, the debate on the safety of this technology is likely to continue into the foreseeable future. While many other countries and regions have made a firm stance, Africa remains largely ambivalent.

 

There is wide variation in GM policy across African countries, largely
driven by factors including governmental ministerial structures, peer country influence, stage of seed sector development, advocacy by key political figures, the media, activism, food security and technical capacity. Opposition has been largely based on caution rather than valid science. Some countries also face limitations because of lack of infrastructure and technology.

 

Despite these deterrents, slow progress is being made in preparing the requisite enabling environment for biotechnology adoption. There are currently nine countries in Africa conducting contained field trails, as well as eight more countries doing preliminary contained research. During the examination of factors that influence adoption of GMOs, some trends and linkages became clear that need to be taken into account in policy and regulation formation. One of these is the link among public opinion, media, politics and policy.

 

In order to progress, countries need to address misconceptions about the technology, both positive and negative, within that cycle. Some possible strategies include the following:
- Public education and awareness strategy to improve public opinion.
- Scientific studies and findings that are incorporated into more popular media pieces.
- Conferences for political leaders and decision-makers to discuss biotechnology issues collaboratively.


There has been a call for unified GM policy and regulations at the regional level. Such regional initiatives can help countries with low scientific capacity use collaborative, advanced biotechnology and frameworks and combine expertise at regional levels. After nine years, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa has produced draft policies and guidelines on biotechnology for eastern and southern Africa. This policy will help to share information, resources and expertise as well as address the handling and trade issues of GM crops. West Africa is still in the early development stage of a regional biotechnology framework. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0376835X.2015.1044078

 

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EU Commissioner addressing meeting of the parliament's committee on the environment, public health and food safety on GMO Proposal - European Commission (2015)

Let's start with safety. GMOs can be authorised and placed on the EU common market only if their safety for health and the environment has been assessed by the European Food Safety Authority based on high scientific standards. This is of paramount importance. The fundamental principle of an EU authorisation system based on sound science must remain intact. We respected the principle of a scientific criteria and evidence-based decision... 

Let us remind ourselves what was the outcome of the authorisation procedure for GMOs and of the situation we were in during past 4 years. Since 2003, none of 67 GM food and feed authorised have succeeded to attract a qualified majority either in favour or against the draft authorisation at the time of voting by the Member States. To put it simply, in four years Member States could not draw the line between yes or no for GMOs, de facto leaving it to the Commission to decide.

This situation reflects the polarised views of Member States as regards GMOs, irrespective of their safety as demontsrated by EFSA, and despite the fact that the EU is dependent on imported protein crops to feed livestock... The EU has to import 32 million tons of soya every year, most of which is GM to feed its livestock. The EU only produces 1,4 million tons of soya which is clearly not enough. Therefore banning GM imports means doing away with our capability of producing food because there is very little non-GM soya on the world market and the little there is, is way more expensive. 


Many of the Member States that abstained or voted against invoke "national political reasons" and the negative perception of their citizens towards GMOs. Consequently, the Commission had to take the responsibility to adopt the Decision of authorisation – to fulfil its legal obligation, without a clear opinion of Member States. I would like to invite everyone to take their responsibilities. The time has come to acknowledge that status quo is not sustainable.

This situation can give way to many interpretations, creates legal uncertainties and last but not least contributes towards a detrimental climate of distrust against the European Union as a whole and its Institutions. We need to find a mechanism that works and to avoid further confrontation. This is why the political guidelines that this House approved enshrined a commitment to review the decision-making process and to give more weight to the views of democratically elected governments.

How should we address this challenge? During the review the Commission has explored various options. The proposal we are here to discuss today is, in the Commission's view, the most proportionate and balanced solution... In essence, Member States would be given the possibility to restrict, or prohibit the use of authorised GMOs in food or feed on their territory on compelling grounds other than health and protection of environment which are already assessed by EFSA.

The proposal provides a legal basis for Member States to ban or not to ban, depending of their particular national circumstances. Member States which decide to ban the GMOs will be responsible for paying particular attention to the impacts of their decisions, particularly on the socio-economic circumstances, jobs creation and growth as well as the situation of their farmers and operators... 

How would the new system work? Firstly, the proposal foresees conditions to apply the “restrictions" in order to ensure their compatibility with the Treaty and international obligations. Measures would be based on compelling grounds, be proportionate and not discriminatory... First of all, the Member States could not base their restrictions or bans on grounds which conflict with the element considered by EFSA during the risk assessment. They could only use “compelling grounds” unrelated to science.

"Other legitimate factors” is a notion already present in the legislation. The Commission can use these in the context of the decision of authorisation, but in practice, due to the divergent views of Member States, the Commission has never been in a position to identify legitimate factors valid at EU-level which could justify refusing an authorisation... 

http://ec.europa.eu/commission/2014-2019/andriukaitis/announcements/commissioner-andriukaitis-addressing-extraordinary-meeting-parliaments-committee-environment-public_en

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"GMOs can be authorised and placed on the EU common market only if their safety for health and the environment has been assessed... based on high scientific standards. This is of paramount importance... We respected the principle of a scientific criteria and evidence-based decision... Member States could not base their restrictions or bans on grounds which conflict with... the risk assessment. They could only use 'compelling grounds' unrelated to science."

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Ex-Greenpeace director denounces 'immoral' groups that campaign against GM foods - Independent (2015)

Ex-Greenpeace director denounces 'immoral' groups that campaign against GM foods - Independent (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Environmental groups that campaign against genetically modified food are taking a “morally unacceptable” position that puts “ideology” ahead of the needs of the poor, a former director of Greenpeace has warned. Stephen Tindale, who led the organisation at the height of its opposition to GM technology, said he had “decided to speak out” because he believed the technology was safe and could help alleviate hunger in the developing world...

Mr Tindale is the second prominent green campaigner in recent years to publicly change his mind about GM. Mark Lynas, an author and activist who spent years destroying GM crops, shocked the environmentalist world in 2013 when he admitted he had been wrong... 


Mr Tindale said it was important to recognise the developing science around GM technology and how it could be used to help develop... plants that had greater resistance to drought and disease that can devastate crops. 

 

“The reason I’ve decided to speak out on GM now is because I think it is necessary for people like me who’ve opposed it to say things have changed... The overwhelming majority of scientists think that it is safe. It is, in my view, morally unacceptable to stand out against these new technologies... I worry for Greenpeace and the other green groups because they could, by taking such a hard line … be seen to be putting ideology before the need for humanitarian action.”

The programme also uncovered further evidence that some public campaigns being waged by Western NGOs against GM in the Third World are using “scare tactics” to mobilise opposition to the technology... Reporters obtained a radio ad produced by ActionAid in Uganda attempting to whip up opposition to a parliamentary bill that would have regulated the cultivation of GM technology in the country.

“Did you know that genetically modified organisms are organisms made in the laboratory by crossing genes from different species?” the ad says, before adding: “Such products pose health risks such as cancer, infertility, etc. This has been brought to you by ActionAid Uganda.” A single study linking GM maize with cancer in rats was discredited by the European Food Safety Authority. A separate study suggesting a link to infertility was withdrawn...

When this newspaper contacted ActionAid UK at the time, the organisation disassociated itself from its Ugandan operation and said that it had been told to stop making health claims about the risks of GM. ActionAid has said the radio ad, which aired in November 2013, should never have gone out. 

Former Greenpeace boss Mr Tindale described the commercial as shocking. “To be scaremongering about health risks, particularly cancer, with no scientific justification… is totally immoral”...

Anne Glover, the former scientific adviser to the European Union, said the evidence was clear that GM was safe. “There has never been a technology which has had so much money spent on it in terms of looking at the safety,” she told the programme.

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/10306370.html

 

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How scary! An analysis of visual communication concerning genetically modifie organisms in Italy - Ventura & Frisio (2015) - Food Syst Dynam

In the economics literature many studies investigate the factors that drive public resistance: ethical concerns, low public trust in regulatory institution, risk misperception, absence of perceived benefits and media bias.


In particular, public attitudes and risk perception about agricultural biotechnology are proved to be influenced by press media communication. This paper aims at gaining insight into the visual communication to which Italian population is exposed about GMOs, in order to investigate if images could have contributed to shape their negative public perception.

 


A set of 500 images collected through Google search for “GMO” in Italy are classified considering fearful attributes (i.e. alteration of color, shape or size of plants or animals, mention to death or war, presence of DNA double helix or syringe) and an index that accounts for the scary impact of these images is built. Then the relationship between the index and a set of variables that refer to the context in which images appear is estimated.


Preliminary results reveal that the order of appearance of images negatively affect index, namely that the first (and most viewed) Google result pages contain the most frightful images. It suggests that Italian population is subject to overstated negative inputs about GMOs. In addition, it emerges that web contents that show positive or neutral GMO attitudes are barely accompanied with objective and balanced visual communication... 


http://centmapress.ilb.uni-bonn.de/ojs/index.php/proceedings/article/view/474

 

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Incidence of Insect Predators and Parasitoids on Transgenic Bt Cotto in Comparison to Non-Bt Cotton Varieties - Arshad &al (2015) - Pakistan J Zool

Incidence of Insect Predators and Parasitoids on Transgenic Bt Cotto in Comparison to Non-Bt Cotton Varieties - Arshad &al (2015) - Pakistan J Zool | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Transgenic Bt cotton genetically modified from and expressing delta-endotoxin protein has been increasingly preferred by Pakistani farmers due to high production potential and targeted control of bollworms.

 

A field study was conducted to evaluate the impact of Bt cotton on insect predators and parasitoids population in comparison to conventional (non Bt) cotton varieties... Population of insect predators and parasitoids were observed from 1st week of July to 2nd week of November.

 

The results revealed that the abundance of insect predators... did not differ significantly on non-Bt and transgenic Bt varieties. Their population almost equally distributed in both types of fields... transgenic Bt cotton have no adverse impact on... insect predators and parasitoids under field conditions.

 

http://zsp.com.pk/vol-47[3].html

 

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Transgenic crops, production risk and agrobiodiversity - Krishna &al (2015) - ERAE

Transgenic crops, production risk and agrobiodiversity - Krishna &al (2015) - ERAE | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Do transgenic crops cause agrobiodiversity erosion? We hypothesise that they increase productivity and reduce production risk and may therefore reduce farmers' demand for on-farm varietal diversity, especially when only a few transgenic varieties are available. We also hypothesise that varietal diversity can be preserved when more transgenic varieties are supplied.

 

These hypotheses are tested and confirmed with panel data for the case of transgenic cotton in India. Cotton varietal diversity in India, with over 90 per cent adoption of transgenic technology, is now at the same level than it was before the introduction of this technology. Some policy implications are discussed... 

 

Some argue that the Green Revolution has contributed to serious ecological and social problems in the small farm sector. There are widespread concerns that the loss of agrobiodiversitymay be further exacerbated through the introduction of new breeding technologies, such as transgenic crops. 

 

Several studies have analysed the impact of transgenic crops on agricultural productivity and income, concluding that farmers can benefit from adopting these crops. This also applies to smallholder farmers in developing countries. Other studies have analysed potential biodiversity impacts occurring through outcrossing of transgenes into wild relatives of domesticated crops... these risks do not differ between transgenic and conventionally bred crops... 

 

During the Green Revolution it was observed that many local crop varieties were replaced with a few high-yielding ones in large parts of the developing world. There are widespread concerns that such agrobiodiversity erosion may continue and be accelerated through transgenic crop technologies. However, transgenic crops differ from HYVs of the Green Revolution and so warrant a closer look. In this study, we have analysed the impact of transgenic crops on varietal diversity...

 

A transgenic technology is not only one new variety; the same genes coding for desirable traits can be introgressed into many varieties that are well adapted to various soil and climate conditions. If many transgenic varieties with the same traits are developed and adopted, agrobiodiversity can be preserved. These hypotheses were confirmed in the empirical analysis.

 

Insect-resistant Bt cotton has significantly increased productivity and reduced production risk for smallholder farmers in India. The panel data also allowed us study developments over time... Farmers that fully adopted Bt cotton... with more Bt varieties available... restored varietal diversity...

 

Overall, cotton varietal diversity in India with a Bt adoption rate of over 95 per cent is now at the same level or even higher than it was before the introduction of this transgenic technology...

 

Transgenic technology can help preserve crop varietal diversity, but the concrete outcome depends on various institutional factors that determine how many transgenic varieties are available in the market... 

 

First, the biosafety regulatory framework matters. In India, the regulatory authorities were slow in the beginning to approve additional transgenic varieties, mainly due to the public debate about possible risks associated with transgenic technology. However, once a transgenic event has been tested and deregulated, introgressing that same event into other varieties cannot reasonably be expected to lead to new risks. Hence, a complex regulatory process for each new transgenic variety jeopardises agrobiodiversity without increasing safety levels.

 

Second, local breeding capacities in a country play an important role. India has a strong public and private breeding sector for cotton. Hence, many companies were technically able to introgress a transgenic trait into their varieties and breeding lines. Such introgression of an available transgenic trait is less complicated than identifying the trait and developing the transformation event, but it still requires some capacity that may not be available in many poorer countries in Africa. Public support through development organisations or international agricultural research centres may be required... Innovative models of public-private partnership may also be an interesting approach in some situations.

 

Third, IPRs may play an important role. Many of the transgenic technologies available so far are not patented in developing countries, so that local organisations can use these technologies for free or with relatively simple licensing agreements for introgression into their own varieties and breeding lines. Stronger IPRs may involve more complex licensing agreements. If many local organisations can obtain a licence from the IPR holder, agrobiodiversity could be preserved. Restricted licenses to only one or a few organisations, however, could contribute to agrobiodiversity erosion. Such institutional aspects should be considered when designing national policies and regulatory frameworks for transgenic technologies.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/erae/jbv012

 

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Feasibility of new breeding techniques for organic farming - Marchman &al (2015) - Trends in Plant Science

Feasibility of new breeding techniques for organic farming - Marchman &al (2015) - Trends in Plant Science | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Organic farming is based on the concept of working ‘with nature’ instead of against it; however, compared with conventional farming, organic farming reportedly has lower productivity. Ideally, the goal should be to narrow this yield gap.


In this review, we specifically discuss the feasibility of new breeding techniques (NBTs) for rewilding, a process involving the reintroduction of properties from the wild relatives of crops, as a method to close the productivity gap. The most efficient methods of rewilding are based on modern biotechnology techniques, which have yet to be embraced by the organic farming movement.


Thus, the question arises of whether the adoption of such methods is feasible, not only from a technological perspective, but also from conceptual, socioeconomic, ethical, and regulatory perspectives... 

 

There seems to be growing recognition among breeders and farmers that valuable natural traits have been lost in both conventional and organic crops. A common understanding of the difference between organic farming and mainstream farming is that the former prohibits the use of soluble mineral inputs as well as synthetic herbicides and pesticides. Some NBTs seem to represent a feasible means of reducing the need for such chemicals.

 

Contrary to transgenesis, where new genes are introduced to an organism, reverse breeding is a technique that brings crops ‘back to nature’ by furnishing them with lost properties that their ancestors once had. Existing examples of organic principles as advocated by IFOAM reject genetic engineering on the premise that it is unpredictable. However, this is not a defining property of genetic engineering, but a changeable empirical matter... successfully rewilded organisms are no more unpredictable or risky than their ancestors... 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tplants.2015.04.011

 

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The End of Plenty The Race to Feed a Crowded World - Steiner (2015) - Science

Confronted with a rapidly increasing global population, sluggish crop yield increases, and uncertainty about the future climate, the agricultural community faces the challenge of doubling crop yields by 2050. However, too often, we focus on increased production per se without adequate consideration of other elements that contribute to food insecurity...

 

Bourne interweaves the legacy of Malthusian demographics – the idea that human populations grow exponentially while food production grows at an arithmetic rate – bringing the “demand” side to the forefront... The root causes of the population explosion – primarily, lack of empowerment of girls and women to determine their own destinies... Investments in education for girls, access to family planning information and contraceptives, and equity in access to agricultural knowledge and land are offered as a far more certain path to feeding future populations than relying solely on investments in technologies to increase production.

 

The “Green Revolution,” the term given to the flurry of advances that increased agricultural production in the mid-20th century, is one of the most honored and influential agricultural achievements in history. Bourne tells the history of the revolution along with heart-rending stories of its unintended consequences... 

 

The often-maligned GMO (genetically modified organism) breeding technologies, which have the potential to provide breakthrough advances with broad social benefits, are also highlighted. These include “scuba rice,” which can tolerate extended submergence under water (a common problem...), and “golden rice” that produces vitamin A. Bourne also discusses the elusive goal of developing nitrogen-fixing grasses, which could render expensive and damaging nitrogen fertilizers obsolete...

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aab1045

 

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Adopting higher-yielding varieties to ensure Chinese food security under climate change in 2050 - Ye &al (2015) - U Gent

Challenges of ensuring food security under climate change require urgent and substantial increase in the focus of research, innovation, transformation of knowledge, and rapid adoption of available technologies.

 

Here we simulate the effects of the adoption of higher-yielding varieties of rice, wheat and maize crops into the food production systems on China's food security index (FSI, or relative food surplus per capita) in 2050, using the CERES crop models, climate change and a range of socio-economic and agronomic scenarios which were developed following two contrasting development pathways in line with the IPCC A2 and B2 emission scenarios, respectively.

 

The... results predict a slightly positive effect of climate change on the FSI, but the magnitude of this positive effect cannot compensate the negative effects of population growth, urbanization rate and the rising affluence on the future... FSI. The outcomes of the adoption of higher-yielding varieties show that a systematic adoption of higher-yielding varieties can raise the average FSI values by a margin of 16 and 27 units under the A2 and B2 scenarios, respectively, during the 2030-2050 period...

 

This suggests that systematic adoption of higher-yield varieties is an effective measure for Chinese agriculture not only to ensure food security but also to build adaptive capacity to climate change in 2050.

 

http://hdl.handle.net/1854/LU-5942026

 

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Fate of the insecticidal Cry1Ab protein of GM crops in two agricultural soils as revealed by 14C-tracer studies - Valldor &al (2015) - Appl Microbiol Biotechnol

Fate of the insecticidal Cry1Ab protein of GM crops in two agricultural soils as revealed by 14C-tracer studies - Valldor &al (2015) - Appl Microbiol Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Insecticidal delta-endotoxins of Bacillus thuringiensis are among the most abundant recombinant proteins released by genetically modified (GM) crops into agricultural soils worldwide. However, there is still controversy about their degradation and accumulation in soils.

 

In this study, 14C-labelled Cry1Ab protein was applied to soil microcosms at two concentrations (14 and 50 μg g−1 soil) to quantify the mineralization of Cry1Ab, its incorporation into the soil microbial biomass, and its persistence in two soils which strongly differed in their texture but not in silt or pH. Furthermore, ELISA was used to quantify Cry1Ab and its potential immunoreactive breakdown products in aqueous soil extracts.

 

In both soils, 14CO2-production was initially very high and then declined during a total monitoring period of up to 135 days. A total of 16 to 23 % of the 14C activity was incorporated after 29 to 37 days into the soil microbial biomass, indicating that Cry1Ab protein was utilized by microorganisms as a growth substrate. Adsorption in the clay-rich soil was the most important factor limiting microbial degradation; as indicated by higher degradation rates in the more sandy soil, extremely low concentrations of immunoreactive Cry1Ab molecules in the soils’ aqueous extracts and a higher amount of 14C activity bound to the soil with more clay.

 

Ecological risk assessments of Bt-crops should therefore consider that the very low concentrations of extractable Cry1Ab do not reflect the actual elimination of the protein from soils but that, on the other hand, desorbed proteins mineralize quickly due to efficient microbial degradation.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00253-015-6655-5

 

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Assessing Ecological and Evolutionary Consequences of Growth-Accelerated Genetically Engineered Fishes - Devlin &al (2015) - BioSci

Assessing Ecological and Evolutionary Consequences of Growth-Accelerated Genetically Engineered Fishes - Devlin &al (2015) - BioSci | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Genetically engineered fish containing growth hormone (GH) transgenes have been synthesized for more than 25 years, now with modifications made in multiple aquacultured species. Despite significant improvements in production characteristics being realized, these fish have not yet entered commercial production.


The very strong enhancement of growth rates that can arise from GH transgenesis in fish has generated public and scientific concern regarding ecological and food safety. Little ecological risk is anticipated from engineered strains kept in fully contained facilities, so the concern is largely directed toward the reliability of containment measures and determining whether robust ecological data, pertinent to nature, can be generated within research facilities to minimize uncertainty and allow reliable risk-assessment predictions.


This article summarizes the growth, life history, and behavioral changes observed in GH-transgenic fish and discusses the environmental and evolutionary factors affecting the adaptation, plasticity, and fitness of transgenic fish and their potential consequences on natural ecosystems... 


Transgenic-fish technology in general holds significant potential for enhancing production efficiency in various socio-economic and environmental settings and has the promise to improve and diversify product quality for the end user. Indeed, the highly efficient growth and metabolism characteristics of some GH-transgenic fish make them attractive options for contained land-based aquaculture, perhaps more so even than existing domesticated strains... 

 

Understanding the fate and actions of transgenic fish in nature is an important consideration and provides a significant challenge for regulators and decisionmakers charged with meeting legislative mandates to protect the environment but without unnecessarily blocking a technology with future potential... 


GH-transgenic strains are expected in theory to have equivalent or reduced fitness when compared with wild type, because the dramatically altered phenotypes they possess are not those that have evolved because of natural selection. Scientifically based ecological risk-assessment processes require empirical information to best estimate fitness components and the consequences on ecosystem members and also must evaluate the uncertainty associated with those data which, to date, have been generated in artificial environments rather than in nature... 

 

We do not assert that generating sufficient risk assessment data is not possible, but rather we recommend that adequate and appropriate empirical data be acquired to well understand the environmental effects on phenotype and the potential for the evolution of GH-transgenic strains... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biv068


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EU Health Commissioner pleads to end “GMO deadlock” - Vieuws (2015)

EU Health Commissioner pleads to end “GMO deadlock” - Vieuws (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

EU Health & Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis slammed recent moves by Environment MEPs to reject proposals to allow Member States prohibit their farmers from using imports of genetically modified (GM) feed for their livestock. He said the move was politically driven with scant regard for the substance of the proposal that was unveiled by the Commission on April 22.

The so-called GMO opt-out clause – allowing national bans on the use of GM food & animal feed on grounds other than environment and health already assessed by the EU’s food safety authority – aims to stimulate a genuine debate on the EU’s divisive attitude to biotech crops and also raise awareness among the public.

 

The current deadlock whereby Member States fail to take a clear position on the approval of GMO events cannot continue, as it leads to uncertainties on the market. The GMO plans provide a “window of opportunity” to allow national capitals to take responsibility, Andriukaitis adds... "Scientific opinion is crystal clear: the product is safe, no doubts" ... 

 

http://www.vieuws.eu/food-agriculture/eu-health-chief-pleads-end-gmo-deadlock/

 

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Communicating Science to the Public: One Scientist's Experience in Writing for the General Public About Genetically Engineered Crops - Shelton (2015) - American Entomol

Communicating Science to the Public: One Scientist's Experience in Writing for the General Public About Genetically Engineered Crops - Shelton (2015) - American Entomol | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

As scientists, we are encouraged to be better communicators, to reach out to the public, to make our science understandable for the taxpayers who often fund it. My experience has been humbling. I wanted to tell the full story of genetically engineered (GE) virus-resistant papaya. Others had told pieces of it. But they didn't tell much about the science of GE crops, the misinformation and hysteria the public has heard, the farmer’s inability to control many pests without using GE crops, and the global challenges that those of us who work in plant protection deal with on a daily basis. I thought the public should hear the bigger story and set out to give it a shot... 

 

I am a biologist, more specifically an entomologist, at Cornell, a land-grant university whose mission is to work for the public good. While some of my work involves more basic areas of research... I explore these areas because they help in my fundamental goal of developing pest management strategies that provide a food supply that is safer for consumers, producers, and the environment. In that sense, I am not unlike thousands of other agricultural scientists globally. Many of them also share my sense of frustration about how to be engaged in a constructive dialogue on genetic engineering in agriculture. Who better to talk about the subject than the people who work on the front lines of agriculture?

 

Long-form journalism is what I was trying to do with my article, “Hawaiian Papaya: Collateral Damage in the Global Debate on Biotechnology.” I wanted to write the end-all-and-be-all story that discussed the science behind GE papaya, the anti-GE movement in Hawaii, and the potential effects on smallholder farmers and food security globally ... Friends and colleagues have suggested starting a blog and being more engaged in social media... the time to inform the public about genetic engineering in agriculture is now. I believe the GE papaya story would help. To avoid further delays (and rejections) and get it off my desk, I created a blog – http://bit.ly/tragicpapaya

...

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ae/tmv019

 

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The rise of Africa’s super vegetables - Nature (2015)

The rise of Africa’s super vegetables - Nature (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

In Nairobi, indigenous vegetables were once sold almost exclusively at hard-to-find specialized markets; and although these plants have been favoured by some rural populations in Africa, they were largely ignored by seed companies and researchers, so they lagged behind commercial crops in terms of productivity and sometimes quality.

Now, indigenous vegetables are in vogue. They fill shelves at large supermarkets even in Nairobi, and seed companies are breeding more of the traditional varieties every year. Kenyan farmers increased the area planted with such greens by 25% between 2011 and 2013. As people throughout East Africa have recognized the vegetables' benefits, demand for the crops has boomed.

This is welcome news for agricultural researchers and nutritional experts, who argue that indigenous vegetables have a host of desirable traits: many of them are richer in protein, vitamins, iron and other nutrients than popular non-native crops such as kale, and they are better able to endure droughts and pests. This makes the traditional varieties a potent weapon against dietary deficiencies. “In Africa, malnutrition is such a problem. We want to see indigenous vegetables play a role”... 

Scientists in Africa and elsewhere are now ramping up studies of indigenous vegetables to tap their health benefits and improve them through breeding experiments. The hope is that such efforts can make traditional varieties even more popular with farmers and consumers. But that carries its own risk: as indigenous vegetables become more widespread, researchers seeking faster-growing crops may inadvertently breed out disease resistance or some of the other beneficial traits that made these plants so desirable in the first place...

Most of the indigenous vegetables being studied in East Africa are leafy greens, almost all deep green in colour and often fairly bitter. Kenyans especially love African nightshade and amaranth leaves... Research... shows that amaranth greens, spider plant and African nightshade pack substantial amounts of protein and iron – in many cases, more than kale and cabbage. These vegetables are generally rich in calcium and folate as well as vitamins A, C and E...

Most of the traditional varieties are ready for harvest much faster than non-native crops, so they could be promising options if the rainy seasons become more erratic – one of the predicted outcomes of global warming... 


Early on, Abukutsa recognized that she needed to do more to convince people to add indigenous vegetables to their diets. Since around 2000, she has led public education campaigns and worked with restaurants and supermarkets around Kenya to find out what they would need to start selling these foods. A simple but significant problem was that people did not know how to cook the vegetables. Unlike larger leafy vegetables such as kale, many of the indigenous varieties have small leaves that must be separated from their stems individually before cooking – a laborious process... much of the region's traditional cooking knowledge has been lost... 

 

A main focus has been basic problems such as difficulties with germination and a lack of information about how best to store seeds. Indigenous vegetables are not up to modern farming standards for characteristics such as uniformity of seeds and yield, so there is a lot of catching up to do.

But efforts to improve indigenous vegetables could come at a cost, say researchers. If breeders focus only on increasing yields, they could accidentally eliminate nutritional benefits. And if farmers seek to drive up production through monocrop agriculture... they risk losing some of the qualities that make these vegetables such a draw. Plots with single crops, for example, face higher risks of being completely wiped out by insects or diseases...

As indigenous vegetables are planted in greater numbers, it will be a challenge to prevent less-common varieties from disappearing... That could threaten the crops' resilience, because different varieties can carry separate genes for resistance to pathogens and pests. Loss of diversity could also limit the vegetables' appeal. In Kenya, for example, coastal communities tend to like giant African nightshade, whereas western communities prefer a variety with smaller leaves that has a much more bitter taste.

Some narrowing of choices has already happened. Simlaw Seeds in Nairobi, a division of Kenya Seed Company, sells only a couple of varieties each of amaranth and African nightshade, chosen because they are the most popular at the national level... The researchers also encourage communities to continue growing the varieties they have traditionally favoured.

Calestous Juma, director... at Harvard University... sees these efforts as crucial. And with advances in genomics, he says, researchers should seek ways to improve indigenous crops – by lengthening their shelf life, for example – and to use them in breeding other plants. “They may have traits that may be useful for other crops”... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/522146a

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"Unlike larger leafy vegetables such as kale, many of the indigenous varieties have small leaves that must be separated from their stems individually before cooking – a laborious process... Indigenous vegetables are not up to modern farming standards for characteristics such as uniformity of seeds and yield." >> Sometimes there are reasons why underutilised species are underutilised... 

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Domestication: Sweet! A naturally transgenic crop - Nature Plants (2015)

Domestication: Sweet! A naturally transgenic crop - Nature Plants (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Strains of bacteria from the genus Agrobacterium have a well-characterized and widely utilized capacity to introduce DNA into plant cells... The bacteria-derived genes perturb plant hormonal balances causing tumour-like galls, and also modify plant metabolism to support bacterial growth, by forcing the plant to produce sugar-amino acid conjugates... that can only be used as nutrients by agrobacteria.

 

Previously... evidence was found for Agrobacterium-derived sequences inherited in the germ lines of Nicotiana glauca and Linaria vulgaris species... But these plants are not important food crops. Now, Kyndt et al. report... that during or prior to domestication, Agrobacterium-derived T-DNA became incorporated into the genome of one of the world's staple crops, the hexaploid sweet potato.

 

From small RNA sequencing of cultivar Huachano, and assembly of these into longer fragments, homology was detected to several known Agrobacterium T-DNA genes. Sequencing of flanking regions revealed that Huachano carries two surprisingly unmodified T-DNAs, one with at least four intact Agrobacterium genes, and another containing five... 


The bacterium that provided the T-DNAs is probably Agrobacterium rhizogenes, a strain that induces hairy root proliferation instead of crown galls... At some point in the past, perhaps around domestication, thousands of years ago in Latin America, it is possible that an Agrobacterium infection resulted in a sweet potato clone that possessed an interesting trait, which was selected by humans, and somatically propagated as a tuber or root, and subsequently by sexual reproduction.

In one sense, this is nothing new. Horizontal gene transfer is well known to provide an evolutionarily significant source of genetic diversity. It occurs rarely, but its results are widespread. For example, nematodes that colonize plant roots carry bacteria-derived genes for cell wall degrading enzymes that help them to exploit plants. Analysis of multiple genomes revealed that scores of genes from bacteria have transferred into the hereditary material of humans and other animals.

Many interesting questions remain. Can the T-DNA delivery event be dated? The bacterial genes are expressed, but are they still functional, and could they complement mutated Agrobacterium strains? Can the process be repeated...? Most importantly, do the Agrobacterium genes on the T-DNAs confer an agronomically useful trait or phenotype, perhaps in storage root yield, shape, taste or nutritional composition, which might have been selected by early plant domesticators? Could sugar-based agrocinopines or other opines contribute to the taste of sweet potato?

 

Some plant biologists have facetiously suggested that scientists should use CRISPR-Cas9 editing methods to engineer a ‘non-transgenic’ sweet potato derivative in which T-DNA1 and T-DNA2 have been deleted, in order to render sweet potato acceptable to organic consumers. This experiment would have the added benefit of enabling tests of whether the T-DNAs confer a useful phenotype.

Where does this leave those anxious about GM crops? Hopefully, less anxious. GM proponents have long referred to Agrobacterium as nature's natural genetic engineer. No clearer example can be imagined for the safety of the Agrobacterium-mediated DNA transfer process than the fact that all cultivated sweet potato genotypes carry an ancient GM event, and that the results of that event have been eaten with impunity for centuries by millions of people. Surely, the time has come for those opposed to GM to desist from criticizing the method of making GM crops, and confine their criticisms to the purposes for which the method is used.

 

While some criticize use of GM to confer glyphosate herbicide tolerance to facilitate weed control, their arguments mostly pertain to the properties (and the vendor) of the herbicide, rather than the GM method itself. Such discussions rarely compare glyphosate with the herbicides it replaced, but rather with some utopian world in which weeds can be controlled without herbicides. Regardless, new genome editing methods that evade GM regulation are already delivering herbicide tolerance.

Plant scientists must always be prepared to debate the purposes, economic mechanisms and actors that deliver GM crops, and also the broader question of how to achieve sustainable and productive agriculture. However, Kyndt and colleagues, by showing that we have been eating the products of genetic engineering for millenia, demonstrate that there is no longer (if there ever was) any rationale for intense safety scrutiny for every crop line that has arisen from use of GM methods.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nplants.2015.77

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"Scientists should... engineer a ‘non-transgenic’ sweet potato derivative in which T-DNA1 and T-DNA2 have been deleted, in order to render sweet potato acceptable to organic consumers."

"Where does this leave those anxious about GM crops? ... No clearer example can be imagined for the safety of the Agrobacterium-mediated DNA transfer process than the fact that all cultivated sweet potato genotypes carry an ancient GM event, and that the results of that event have been eaten with impunity for centuries by millions of people."

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GM in Aquaculture - Fish Site (2015)

Humans have been genetically modifying plants and animals for thousands of years with selective breeding. Since the 1970s we have been able to modify DNA, creating cisgenic (adding recombinant DNA from the same or similar species) and transgenic (adding recombinant DNA from a another species with which the organism can’t naturally breed with) species... The use of GMOs in aquaculture isn’t just of benefit to the industry, but for food security and even with regard to reducing our impacts on the oceans... 

In industrialised aquaculture salmon is the leader in terms of net production. Salmon, like many of the species preferred in western diets, are carnivorous fish. Feeding them requires fish, which tends to come from wild populations. Given concerns surrounding global exploitation on levels of wild marine species and projected growth in aquaculture, this practice is somewhat unsustainable. GM may reduce dependency on wild populations for feed and, with forage fish supplies often forming ‘boom and bust’ cycles, alternate feed sources could bring stability for aquaculturalists... AquAdvantage salmon contains a growth hormone from chinook salmon... to grow year round, not just seasonally. Growth time to marketable size is reduced from around three years to just eighteen months, reducing the amount of feed required. 

Sourcing alternative food sources for carnivorous fish is another option for reducing dependency on wild populations... Stirling University’s Mónica Betancor has created genetically modified camelina plants that can produce eicosapentaenoic acid – one of the two omega-3 nutrients that are of benefit to human health – in their seeds. By adding oil extracted from the plants to fish feed, omega-3 was replenished whilst feed efficiency, growth rates, and fish health remained unaffected. 

As with all forms of intensive farming, disease has been a long-running issue in aquaculture, and one that is largely tackled with vaccines and antibiotics. But their use is not without cost to aquaculturalists, and the overuse of antibiotics in particular is an area of public concern. Research into disease-resistant GM fish may offer a way to reduce antibiotic and vaccination loads. For example, research conducted by Weifeng Mao (Chinese Academy of Sciences) has resulted in a transgenic grass carp with enhanced immunity to Aeromonas hydrophila infection, an opportunistic pathogen that can cause tail/fin rot, ulcers, and haemorrhagic septicaemia... 

A precautionary approach to GMOs in aquaculture is warranted, and indeed possible. For example, to minimise the risk of interbreeding with wild species, one could ensure that GM species are sterile (e.g. triploid)... 

 

http://www.thefishsite.com/articles/2072/gm-in-aquaculture/

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Studies on the foodsafety of GM in aquaculture can e.g. be found here: http://genera.biofortified.org/search_results.php?query=[testorganism=fish]%20|%20[testorganism=salmon]

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Trends in Global Approvals of Biotech Crops in the last 23 years - Aldemita &al (2015) - GM Crops

Trends in Global Approvals of Biotech Crops in the last 23 years - Aldemita &al (2015) - GM Crops | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

With the increasing number of genetically modified (GM) events, traits, and crops that are developed to benefit the global population, approval of these technologies for food, feed, cultivation and import in each country may vary depending on needs, demand and trade interest.


ISAAA established a GMO Approval Database to document global approvals of biotech crops. GM event name, crops, traits, developer, year of approval for cultivation, food/feed, import, and relevant dossiers were sourced from credible government regulatory websites and biosafety clearinghouses.


This paper investigates the trends in GM approvals for food, feed and cultivation based on the number of approving countries, GM crops, events, and traits in the last 23 years (1992-2014), rationale for approval, factors influencing approvals, and their implications in GM crop adoption.


Results show that in 2014, there was an accumulative increase in the number of countries granting approvals at 29 (79% developing countries) for commercial cultivation and 31 (70% developing countries) for food and 19 (80% developing developing) for feed... The paper provided information on the trends on the growth of the GM crop industry in the last 23 years...

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21645698.2015.1056972

 

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Robotics: Shape the debate, don't shy from it - Nature (2015)

Robotics: Shape the debate, don't shy from it - Nature (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Irked by hyped headlines that foster fear or overinflate expectations of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), some researchers have stopped communicating with the media or the public altogether. 


But we must not disengage. The public includes taxpayers, policy-makers, investors and those who could benefit from the technology. They hear a mostly one-sided discussion that leaves them worried that robots will take their jobs, fearful that AI poses an existential threat, and wondering whether laws should be passed to keep hypothetical technology 'under control'. My colleagues and I spend dinner parties explaining that we are not evil but instead have been working for years to develop systems that could help the elderly, improve health care, make jobs safer and more efficient, and allow us to explore space or beneath the oceans.


Experts need to become the messengers. Through social media, researchers have a public platform that they should use to drive a balanced discussion. We can talk about the latest developments and limitations, provide the big picture and demystify the technology. I have used social media to crowd-source designs for swarming nanobots to treat cancer. And I found my first PhD student through his nanomedicine blog. 

The AI and robotics community needs thought leaders who can engage with prominent commentators such as physicist Stephen Hawking and entrepreneur-inventor Elon Musk and set the agenda at international meetings such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Public engagement also drives funding. Crowdfunding for JIBO, a personal robot for the home developed by Cynthia Breazeal, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, raised more than US$2.2 million.

 

There are hurdles. First, many researchers have never tweeted, blogged or made a YouTube video. Second, outreach is 'yet another thing to do', and time is limited. Third, it can take years to build a social-media following that makes the effort worthwhile. And fourth, engagement work is rarely valued in research assessments, or regarded seriously by tenure committees. Training, support and incentives are needed...


We provide crash courses in science communication at major AI and robotics conferences on how to use social media efficiently and effectively. We invite professional science communicators and journalists to help researchers to prepare an article about their work. The communicators explain how to shape messages to make them clear and concise and avoid pitfalls, but we make sure the researcher drives the story and controls the end result. We also bring video cameras and ask researchers... to pitch their work to the public in five minutes. The results are uploaded to YouTube. We have built a portal for disseminating blogs and tweets, amplifying their reach to tens of thousands of followers. 

 

I can list all the benefits of science communication, but the incentive must come from funding agencies and institutes. Citations cannot be the only measure of success for grants and academic progression; we must also value shares, views, comments or likes. MIT robotics researcher Rodney Brooks's classic 1986 paper... gathered nearly 10,000 citations in 30 years. A video of Sawyer, a robot developed by Brooks's company... received more than 60,000 views in one month. Which has had more impact on today's public discourse? 

 

Governments, research institutes, business-development agencies, and research and industry associations do welcome and fund outreach and science-communication efforts. But each project develops its own strategy, resulting in pockets of communication that have little reach. In my view, AI and robotics stakeholders worldwide should pool a small portion of their budgets (say 0.1%) to bring together these disjointed communications and enable the field to speak more loudly... There are few concerted efforts to promote robotics and AI research in the public sphere. This balance is badly needed. 

 

A common communications strategy will empower a new generation of roboticists that is deeply connected to the public and able to hold its own in discussions. This is essential if we are to counter media hype and prevent misconceptions from driving perception, policy and funding decisions.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/521415a#/hauert

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Different field, same (communication) problems... #GMO

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Genetically Modified Mosquito Sparks a Controversy in Florida - Yale e360 (2015)

Genetically Modified Mosquito Sparks a Controversy in Florida - Yale e360 (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Officials in the Florida Keys are seeking to use a GM mosquito that could help prevent a recurrence of dengue fever there. But fears among some residents – which scientists say are unfounded – are slowing the release of mosquitoes whose offspring are genetically programmed to die... 

 

A U.K.-based company, Oxitec, has altered two genes in the Aedes aegypti mosquito so that when modified males breed with wild females, the offspring inherit a lethal gene and die in the larval stage. The state agency that controls mosquitos in the Florida Keys is awaiting approval from the federal government of a trial release... to prevent a recurrence of a dengue fever outbreak... 


Many scientists say... that genetically modifying the Aedes mosquito – and possibly other types of mosquitoes carrying diseases such as malaria – is a more effective and environmentally benign way of controlling mosquito-borne illnesses than spraying pesticides and other measures... Engineered Aedes aegypti has proven itself in other countries, successfully reducing populations of the insect by up to 90 percent in field trials in the Cayman Islands, Brazil, Malaysia, and Panama. Overall, the trials were so successful that Brazil approved the use of the GM mosquitoes last year. 


“Some people don’t want to see GE (genetically engineered) anything,” says entomologist Raymond St. Leger, distinguished university professor at the University of Maryland. “It’s an emotional response. It’s hard to reason people out of a decision they didn’t reason themselves into”... He says that Oxitec’s technology to suppress the Aedes aegypti has relatively little environmental risk and that knocking back the mosquito in the Keys, which experienced a dengue outbreak five years ago, “is a matter of urgency. 


“You don’t want to wait until it’s endemic... The gun is there and cocked and waiting to spread through their mosquitos. The extensive program and spraying with insecticides isn’t working. You need to do something now and not wait until dengue is there. It’s a very dangerous mosquito doing pretty well for itself in Florida.” 

Tom Miller, a retired professor of entomology at the University of California, Riverside, says that the genetically modified mosquitoes Oxitec uses to control dengue should not be regulated at all. “The method only releases males that do not [bite and] take blood meals,” says Miller. “They seek out wild females of the same species and produce offspring with lethal genes, leaving no survivors. In terms of side effects, it is equivalent to dumping dead insects onto the sidewalk.” 

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District first consulted with Oxitec when 28 people in Key West were infected with dengue in 2009 and 2010... Dengue is also known as “breakbone fever” because it causes debilitating bone pain and flu-like symptoms. A severe form of the illness, dengue hemorrhagic fever, can lead to death... Local officials have fought the Aedes aegypti – the primary vector for dengue – using every means possible. They spend $1 million of their $10 million annual budget specifically trying to control this one species... 


The bug contracts diseases like dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever from humans and then transmits it to people through bites. Only female mosquitos bite... The Aedes aegypti was once eliminated through the use of chemicals like DDT, but the species has re-emerged in Florida over time. “From a health standpoint, we don’t want to wait until we are fighting the disease,” says spokesperson Beth Ranson, of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. “We want to prevent it” ... 


Scientists say fears about genetically modifying the Aedes aegypti mosquito are largely unfounded. Since only male GM mosquitoes would be released and only female mosquitos bite, it is virtually impossible that humans would be bitten by a modified female. Even if they were, the health impacts would be no different than being bitten by a non-modified mosquito... And the self-limiting gene in the lab-grown mosquito is only passed on to another organism through sexual reproduction; a bird, for instance, cannot acquire the gene by eating the bug. 

“The anti-GM mosquito, sterile-insect people... have no argument that makes any sense”... The U.S government has approved similar applications for agriculture... The sterile insect technique that Oxitec adapted to dengue control using modern molecular methods was invented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture more than 70 years ago. It has been used successfully to eradicate screwworm flies from North America and most of Central America and now is used to control a large number of crop insects globally... Using insecticides is only 2 to 5 percent efficient and has far more serious environmental consequences than genetically modifying mosquitoes... 


“With insecticide, you are spraying away and you may have insecticide resistance because populations are not going down. You are killing a number of insect species in a targeted area. There’s collateral damage... you are also reducing innocent bystanders and beneficial insects... 


http://e360.yale.edu/feature/genetically_modified_mosquito_sparks_a_controversy_in_florida/2883/

 

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In unusual move, German scientists lobby for GM labeling - Science (2015)

In unusual move, German scientists lobby for GM labeling - Science (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

A group of German scientists... launched a campaign to require labeling of anything that contains or has been produced with the help of GM organisms... they hope the new law will show Germans just how widespread such products already are – whether it’s in food, clothes, drugs, or washing powder – and that there is nothing to be afraid of.

The petition to the German parliament... asks the German government to prepare a law that requires GM labeling for all food, feed, drugs, textiles, chemicals, and other products that have been produced using genetic engineering. The petition also calls on the government to advocate a similar law at the E.U. level.

The text... has the backing of several prominent scientists, including Nobel Prize winner Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, as well as some politicians. If it receives more than 50,000 signatures in the next 4 weeks, the German parliament has to consider the proposal.

Germany already requires GM crops to be labeled as such; the same is true for foods produced directly from them... Yet many products in which genetic modification played an indirect role require no labeling. Pork can be certified GM-free, for instance, if the animals didn’t eat GM feed in the 4 months prior to slaughter. “The current system is inadequate and sometimes even misleading”... 

Greenpeace and several other environmental groups agree that products from animals raised on GM feed require labeling, but not many other products... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aac4616

 

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