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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 |

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 04 November, 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.) ...


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.
Mel H's curator insight, November 30, 8:39 AM

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Will the Public Ever Accept Genetically Engineered Plants? - Broer (2014) - Springer

Will the Public Ever Accept Genetically Engineered Plants? - Broer (2014) - Springer | Ag Biotech News |

Compared to transgenic herbicide- or insect-resistant plants, pathogen-resistant ones are rarely found in the field. There are several economic reasons for this, but an additional cause is the scientific and public debate about potential risks and a low attractiveness for consumers to buy these plants and their products.


This paper gives a short overview of traits theoretically available or already on the market and describes the concerns raised that reduce their market opportunity. Finally it proposes solutions on how to proceed in the future to allow a rational dealing with the technology...


There seem to be several reasons for the minimal use of transgenic pathogen resistant plants in the world. In many countries, economic concerns might be of most importance. In Europe, political and public concerns are dominant while scientific concerns seem to matter less...

Public acceptance is a prerequisite for the cultivation. This seems only achievable when there is an advantage for the consumer that is directly obvious, which unfortunately seems to be not the case for ecological advantages...


It is unrealistic to think that there will be transgenic pathogen resistant plants on the market in Europe in 10 or even 20 years. Here, scientists should prepare for the time when cultivation of transgenic plants will be needed and possible too, since it takes more than 20 years from the first idea to a safety assessed transgenic variety ready for the market. This is only possible if field trials can be conducted...


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Sustainable replacement of South American soybean meal by European protein proves difficult - Wageningen UR (2014)

Sustainable replacement of South American soybean meal by European protein proves difficult - Wageningen UR (2014) | Ag Biotech News |

Replacement of soybean meal of South-American origin in a starter pig diet by European protein sources currently in most cases does not decrease the Carbon Footprint (CFP). Innovations are required to reduce the CFP of European proteins. This is concluded by a sustainability analysis performed by Wageningen UR... in cooperation with ... a Dutch NGO... the Dutch feed industry... and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.


Imported soybean meal from South-America currently is one of the most important protein sources in animal feed. There is an increasing demand for protein sources of European origin. The sustainability of the alternative protein sources, in comparison to the current situation based on imported soybean meal, is an important question for the feed industry. To investigate this, a study was performed to determine the sustainability of a number of European protein sources... 


For this study, the following ingredients are selected: soybean meal cultivated in The Netherlands and in Ukraine, sunflowerseed meal, poultry meat meal, DDGS (Distillers Dried Grains with Solubles), meal worms, algae protein, and single cell proteins. Based on data... the nutritional value and CFP of the ingredients is determined. The ingredients are involved in the feed optimization of a starter pig diet, thereby maintaining the nutritional values of the diet. Subsequently, the CFP of the starter diet is calculated, with and without the contribution of “land use and land use change” (Luluc).


The CFP of the starter diet containing South-American soybean meal is considered as reference value. The different scenarios were calculated according to the principles of the called ‘attributional LCA’ approach, which does not take the displacement effects into account. Additional, three scenarios are worked out according to the principles of a ‘consequential LCA’, in which displacement effects are considered.


The most important conclusions... Only two options... are able to replace soybean meal from South-American origin... without increasing the CFP of the diet... all other scenarios result in an increase of the CFP of the diet.


Innovations are required to reduce the CFP of European proteins... aquatic proteins, e.g. seaweed and algae, lay a limited claim on consisting farmland, and therefore, the development of these cultivations can contribute to the increase of the European protein production. Insects are able to convert low value protein into higher value protein, and therefore insects can have a valuable contribution to the European protein supply. The conversion of low valuable proteins to insect protein, however, means an additional link in the food chain. This means the occurrence of inevitable losses, thereby increasing the CFP.


For further reducing the carbon footprint of EU protein sources, it is required that these crops will be produced more efficiently. Therefore, more attention should be given to breeding and improving of management conditions, resulting in a higher yield per hectare. The development of more efficient drying techniques is required, resulting in reduction of the carbon footprint of products that originates from wet processes (e.g. DDGS and aquatic proteins).


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Why Did Vitamins Disappear From Non-GMO Breakfast Cereal? - NPR (2014)

Why Did Vitamins Disappear From Non-GMO Breakfast Cereal? - NPR (2014) | Ag Biotech News |

Remember when Cheerios and Grape-Nuts went GMO-free? That was about a year ago, when their corporate creators announced that these products would no longer contain ingredients made from genetically modified organisms like common types of corn, soybeans or sugar beets.


When they actually arrived on supermarket shelves, though, there was a mysterious change in their list of ingredients. Four vitamins that previously had been added to Grape-Nuts – Vitamins A, D, B-12 and B-2 (also known as riboflavin) – were gone. Riboflavin vanished from Cheerios. Wayne Parrott, a professor of crop science... criticized General Mills and Post Foods for marketing their non-GMO cereals as especially wholesome. "The new version [of Cheerios] is certainly less nutritious"... 


Recently... as we interviewed scientists who are using genetically altered yeast and bacteria to make nutrients and flavors, we recalled the strange case of the vanishing vitamins. We wondered: Do GMO microbes make vitamins, too? Is that why they can't be used in non-GMO cereals? The companies directly involved weren't terribly helpful... 


We dug further and discovered that vitamins may fail the non-GMO test for a variety of reasons. Some companies are most likely making vitamin B-12 and riboflavin using genetically modified microbes; they have, at least, published scientific papers showing how this can be done. On the other hand, these vitamins don't necessarily come from GMO microbes. There are strains of bacteria that produce these vitamins naturally. Yet even such microbes may not qualify for non-GMO status, because... vitamin-makers have to show that their microbes consumed feed... that came from non-GMO sources. 


There's a further complication. Some vitamins have to be mixed with other substances, such as cornstarch, to handle them easily. Can't prove that the cornstarch was free of genetic modification? Sorry, no non-GMO certification from the Non GMO Project, an independent organization... It is still possible to find non-GMO vitamins, she says. Increasingly, you can get them from China. But it requires additional time and attention. Big cereal manufacturers... may find it easier just to drop vitamins from the recipe... 


That leaves one method of vitamin production that's cheap, industrial-scale, and reliably non-GMO: synthetic chemistry. Vitamins are commonly manufactured from scratch in chemical factories, using ingredients that cannot be linked to any genes or biological process at all. That technology may not inspire great affection, but it does, at least, qualify as non-GMO.

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The Yield of Plant Variety Protection - Thomson (2014) - AJAE

The prospects for plant variety protection to deliver improved varieties of self-pollinating crops is assessed using the experience of the Australian wheat breeding sector as a natural experiment. The analysis is based on detailed new data on the agronomic performance of all wheat varieties released by Australian breeders between 1976 and 2011.

The results indicate that plant variety protection, and associated reforms, led to a substantial fall in breeder output. Qualitative evidence indicates that this was caused by a combination of fewer research spillovers, lower release standards, and a possible fall in total investment in breeding.


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Limits of the current EU regulatory framework on GMOs: risk of not authorized GM event-traces in imports - Roiz (2014) - OCL

Limits of the current EU regulatory framework on GMOs: risk of not authorized GM event-traces in imports - Roiz (2014) - OCL | Ag Biotech News |

Since their first commercialization in the 1990’s, the number of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) cultivated around the world has steadily increased. This development has been accompanied by the development of regulatory and policy environments which vary from one country to another.

Today, the European food and feed sectors are faced with the increasing risk of finding traces of not authorized GMOs in imports. Under the EU zero tolerance for unapproved GMOs, this situation may lead to trade disruptions with important cost implications. A regulatory environment which minimizes the risk of such disruption is therefore indispensable.

To address this issue, the EU has adopted the “technical solution” but this remains insufficient to provide the necessary legal certainty which is needed to operate in such context... 

Incidents related to traces of not authorized GM material into imports have occurred in the past. So far, the EU food and feed business operators have been trying to secure their supplies by minimizing the risks involved with the trading of commodities. But with the increased planting and harvesting of GMOs around the world, the probability of having a non-authorized event showing up in supplies is going to intensify, despite the precautions taken.


In this context, the current EU regulatory framework does not provide the legal certainty which is necessary for the EU food and feed sectors to operate. The absence of technical solution for food leaves the food operators increasingly exposed to face enormous financial losses due to non compliant shipments.


While countries around the world discuss and consider how to address low level presence of unapproved GMOs with practical solution in a view to maintain sourcing of raw materials, the political sensitivity of the GM issue in the EU is preventing non-emotional analysis and search for solution to anticipate trade disruptions.


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Using modern plant breeding to improve the nutritional and technological qualities of oil crops - Murphy (2014) - OCL

Using modern plant breeding to improve the nutritional and technological qualities of oil crops - Murphy (2014) - OCL | Ag Biotech News |

The last few decades have seen huge advances in our understanding of plant biology and in the development of new technologies for the manipulation of crop plants. 

The application of relatively straightforward breeding and selection methods made possible the “Green Revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s that effectively doubled or trebled cereal production in much of the world and averted mass famine in Asia. 

During the 2000s, much attention has been focused on genomic approaches to plant breeding with the deployment of a new generation of technologies, such as marker-assisted selection, next-generation sequencing, transgenesis (genetic engineering or GM) and automatic mutagenesis/selection (TILLING, TargetIng Local Lesions IN Genomes). 

These methods are now being applied to a wide range of crops and have particularly good potential for oil crop improvement in terms of both overall food and non-food yield and nutritional and technical quality of the oils. 

Key targets include increasing overall oil yield and stability... and very high oleic acid content in seed and fruit oils for both premium edible and oleochemical applications. Other more specialised targets include oils enriched in nutritionally desirable “fish oil”-like fatty acids... or increased levels of lipidic vitamins such as carotenoids, tocopherols and tocotrienes.

Progress in producing such oils in commercial crops has been good in recent years with several varieties being released or at advanced stages of development.


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To certify or not to certify? Separating the organic production and certification decisions - Veldstra &al (2014) - Food Pol

This article separates the decision to be certified organic into the decision to use organic practices and the subsequent decision to certify those practices, using data from a survey of US fruit and vegetable producers. We document that many producers are using organic practices but choosing not to certify. Philosophical beliefs and perceived risk of losses due to disease, weeds, and insects have the largest impact on the decision to use organic practices. Producers who use organic practices and direct market are less likely to certify. Moreover, we find that the certification _process_ discourages certification.


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"Philosophical beliefs and perceived risk" mean the decision to go organic is apparently less driven by evidence... 

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Plant find could cut fertiliser use - Edinburgh U (2014)

Plant find could cut fertiliser use - Edinburgh U (2014) | Ag Biotech News |

Insights on how plants regulate absorption of a key nutrient could help avoid pollution caused by excess fertiliser use. The findings could lead to the development of crop varieties that need less of the primary nutrient - nitrogen - than conventional crops.

It could also inform how much nitrogen should be added to plant feed.
This would allow optimum plant growth without producing excess nitrogen in run-off from fields, which is a major source of water pollution.


Agricultural fertilisers typically contain high levels of nitrogen that boost plant growth and yield even on poor soils. This helps plants avoid the typical characteristics of nitrogen deficiency - stunted growth and pale or yellow leaves... 

When nitrogen is absorbed, plant cells produce nitric oxide, which acts as a signalling molecule. This nitric oxide fine-tunes how much nitrogen is used for growth, by signalling to the plant’s cells when to limit its uptake.


The scientists say that because nitric oxide plays important roles in shaping the development of plants, and how plants respond to environmental stress, these insights highlight key considerations of how nitrogen-based fertilisers should be used in agriculture.


Original article:


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Response: Ninety-day oral toxicity studies on two genetically modified maize MON810 varieties in Wistar Han RCC rats - GRACE FP7 (2014)

Response: Ninety-day oral toxicity studies on two genetically modified maize MON810 varieties in Wistar Han RCC rats - GRACE FP7 (2014) | Ag Biotech News |

This letter is sent... in response to the report and press release... issued by [Testbiotech] on its website. In these documents, [Testbiotech] criticize the scientific content of a recently published scientific article on 90-day feeding studies with diets containing genetically modified MON810-maize varieties and their comparators performed within the EU-funded GRACE project.


In the annex below, the arguments raised against the scientific content of the publication are discussed in more detail... In brief, it is concluded that:

- Testbiotech’s comments fail to distinguish between statistical significance and biological relevance.

- No differences were found that had not been detected by GRACE, while the comments fail to acknowledge the context provided by the additional statistical comparisons...


The research within GRACE is carried out according to established scientific standards and under conditions of well-documented quality control and good practices... The GRACE consortium attaches great value to dialogue and transparency... by involving stakeholders during various stages of the research design, execution, and result interpretation... Data obtained during the experiments have been made publicly available...


We would also like to draw your attention to the fact that... the scientific journal in which the above mentioned article was published, offers a platform for scientific discussion of the GRACE results... We hope that our communications in future can be held in the spirit of dialogue and transparency fostered by the GRACE project.


Original study:


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Impact of Herbicide Tolerant Crops on Soil Health and Sustainable Agriculture Crop Production - Lee & al (2014) - Springer

Impact of Herbicide Tolerant Crops on Soil Health and Sustainable Agriculture Crop Production - Lee & al (2014) - Springer | Ag Biotech News |

Genetically modified (GM) crops and conservation tillage adoption can have individual, combined, and synergistic impacts on agricultural systems. The objective of this chapter is to evaluate the impacts of these technologies on the environment and economic returns.


Worldwide, GM crop adoption is increasing because these crops help simplify farm management, reduce production costs, and improve pest control. A review and meta-analysis of the scientific literature indicated: (1) that even though current herbicide tolerant and non-GM isolines have similar yields, profitability for farmers increased when herbicide tolerant isolines were used and (2) conservation tillage and GM crop adoption are linked.


The combined adoption of both technologies reduced agricultural impacts on the environment and often improved soil and water quality. Soil quality improvements have been associated with reduced tillage, decreased erosion, and increased carbon sequestration, whereas water quality improvements are associated with greater post-emergent herbicide use that limit soil exposure and subsequent runoff.


Additional benefits from using GM crops may include increased food production and soil resilience. Challenges associated with growing GM crops include the development of resistant pests, which can be minimized by following best management practices.


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The Role of Biotechnology in Sustainable Agriculture of the Twenty-First Century: The Commercial Introduction of Bollgard II in Burkina Faso - Vitale & Greenplate (2014) - Springer

The Role of Biotechnology in Sustainable Agriculture of the Twenty-First Century: The Commercial Introduction of Bollgard II in Burkina Faso - Vitale & Greenplate (2014) - Springer | Ag Biotech News |

In the broader context of West African cotton production, we present empirical evidence of how Bt cotton has impacted the Burkina Faso cotton industry based on household surveys that encompass the first 3 years of commercial production, 2009 through 2011. The surveys document the impact of Bt cotton on household income, production costs, pesticide use, and associated health issues.

Briefly, over 3 years, a mean yield increase of 22 % was observed with Bt cotton over conventional cotton with a reduction of insect sprays by at least two-thirds, resulting in significantly reduced human pesticide exposure. Roughly equivalent production costs enabled growers to retain the value of the extra yields, which led to mean income benefits of about $65 per ha and contributed heavily to a national level economic benefit of approximately $53 million over the 3 years surveyed...


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Turning the GM Battleship: The Tide of Popular Opinion and the Future of Genetically Modified Foods - McWilliams (2014) - Springer

Turning the GM Battleship: The Tide of Popular Opinion and the Future of Genetically Modified Foods - McWilliams (2014) - Springer | Ag Biotech News |

GMOs have had a bad run in the popular media... The persistently negative portrayals are unfortunate... because the transgenic technology has the potential to accomplish a number of critical humanitarian and environmental objectives, often ones espoused by those who oppose GMOs.


This essay explores the deeper nature of the popular media’s and general public’s failure to grasp and present the benefits of GMOs with scientific accuracy and a sense of objectivity that both the media and public claim to seek... It then examines the matter of how corporations and scientists might better convey their message, exploring the potential of third-party verifiers and labeling initiatives to alleviate much of the public’s mistrust of transgenic technology... the “problem” with GMOs does not inhere in the medium but the message.


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Diversification practices [do not] reduce organic to conventional yield gap - Ponisio &al (2014) - RSPB

Diversification practices [do not] reduce organic to conventional yield gap - Ponisio &al (2014) - RSPB | Ag Biotech News |

[Also see comment at the end...] 


Agriculture today places great strains on biodiversity, soils, water and the atmosphere, and these strains will be exacerbated if current trends in population growth, meat and energy consumption, and food waste continue. Thus, farming systems that are both highly productive and minimize environmental harms are critically needed.


How organic agriculture may contribute to world food production has been subject to vigorous debate over the past decade. Here, we revisit this topic comparing organic and conventional yields with a new meta-dataset three times larger than previously used (115 studies containing more than 1000 observations) and a new hierarchical analytical framework that can better account for the heterogeneity and structure in the data.


We find organic yields are only 19.2% (±3.7%) lower than conventional yields, a smaller yield gap than previous estimates. More importantly, we find entirely different effects of crop types and management practices on the yield gap compared with previous studies. For example, we found no significant differences in yields for leguminous versus non-leguminous crops, perennials versus annuals or developed versus developing countries. Instead, we found the novel result that two agricultural diversification practices, multi-cropping and crop rotations, substantially reduce the yield gap (to 9 ± 4% and 8 ± 5%, respectively) when the methods were applied in only organic systems...


The yield gap between organic polycultures and conventional monocultures (9± 4%) was significantly smaller than when both treatments were monocultures (17± 3%) or both polycultures (21± 6%). We found a similar result with crop rotations. The yield gap was smaller when the organic system had more rotations (8± 5%) compared with when both treatments had a similar number of rotations (20± 2%) or did not have crop rotations at all (16± 5%). These results also suggest that polyculture and crop rotations increase yields in both organic and conventional cropping systems... 


Given that there is such a diversity of management practices used in both organic and conventional farming, a broad-scale comparison of organic and conventional production may not provide the most useful insights for improving management of organic systems. Instead, it might be more productive to investigate explicitly and systematically how specific management practices (e.g. intercrop combinations, crop rotation sequences, composting, biological control, etc.) could be altered in different cropping systems...


Historically, research and development of organic cropping systems has been extensively underfunded relative to conventional systems; thus, research priorities would need to shift to provide for this needed work...


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

This study finds that organic yields are about 20% lower than conventional yields. (While previous studies found a difference of about 25%.) The authors may have a different frame of reference, but IMHO 20% is still a lot. (I wonder whether the authors would accept a cut of "only 19.2%" in their salaries, if this is such a negligible percentage...) 


Also, the authors compare the organic yields achieved with recommended practices (such as crop rotation) versus conventional yields without these practices -- and find that organic yields are (still) about 10% lower. However, such a comparison between best practices here and muddling through there seems a bit disingenuous, a comparison of apples with oranges.


And indeed, as the authors report hidden in the text, when both systems follow the same practices, the yield gap is twice as high and conventional farming yields 15-20% more than organic agriculture...


The authors imply that organic farming per se is more sustainable ("Although the terms 'organic' and 'sustainable' agriculture are not equivalent, studies of organic agriculture have revealed better performance than conventional systems on some (but not all) sustainability metrics"), without addressing e.g. the question how the much higher land requirements of organic agriculture affects the sustainability of this system? (If yields are 20% lower, then 20% more land is needed to produce the same amount -- or even more land is needed, given that the yield gap for cereal crops, which are cultivated on large areas, is even greater.)


The authors suggest that organic farming is lagging behind conventional agriculture because more research has been done for the former. This is an interesting point: 100 years ago most farming was "organic" by default, then research brought synthetic fertiliser, hybrid seeds, and much more -- and conventional agriculture split from "organic" production. So now the suggestion is for researchers to go back to square one (where conventional agriculture was 100 years ago), to help organic agriculture catch up with where conventional agriculture is now?


Wouldn't it make more sense to drop the label "organic" and instead promote (research into) more sustainable practices and technologies in "conventional" agriculture? The more so because organic agriculture takes place on only 0.9% of agricultural lands, and it is really only the result of certification based on random criteria (which allows producers to demand a price premium in a niche market) and not, as also the authors acknowledge, an equivalent to sustainable agriculture.


Finally, it is unclear how "The Limits of Organic Food Production" should be overcome, i.e. how organic agriculture can maintain its yields if nutrient-rich fertiliser (manure) can no longer be imported from conventional agriculture into organic production (Box 2,


Added: For a related comment also see


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Perceptions of Non-Europeans of Biotechnology in Europe: Bridging the Knowledge Gap - Moualhi &al (2014) - ABDR

Perceptions of Non-Europeans of Biotechnology in Europe: Bridging the Knowledge Gap - Moualhi &al (2014) - ABDR | Ag Biotech News |

Countries around the world are utilising the new tools of modern biotechnology in their national agricultural research and development programmes to enhance food and nutritional security and foster economic growth. While the...debate and controversy on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Europe is widely known, this article sets out to understand to what extent the stakeholders globally are aware of the actual involvement of Europe in GM activity ... surveyed 107 stakeholders from 43 countries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

While there is some awareness among global stakeholders on the public acceptance and perception of GMOs in Europe, the survey results indicate that the global stakeholders have limited information and knowledge on R&D programmes, public and private sector engagement, commercial cultivation and management of GMOs in Europe. Bridging this knowledge gap and creating greater awareness among global stakeholders on GMO issues in Europe is critical to reduce the misinformation, misperception and misguided policy implications in the developing world. 

Not only can countries that are considering the utilisation of GM technology learn from decades of experience, successes and mistakes of Europe and the US, but their awareness of European GM policy is also important in relation to international trade. Evidence-based outreach and educational initiatives can play an important role in bridging this knowledge gap and can also help raise trust and confidence of policymakers to make evidence-based informed decisions on the use of GM technology to benefit society... 

There is considerable lack of awareness amongst the stakeholders surveyed on the availability and use of biotechnology products in Europe as well as on the existence of a regulatory body and a commercial sector in Europe. For example, about 40 per cent of the stakeholders indicated that they did not know whether or not European countries grow GMO’s or conducted research field trials, while 10 per cent wrongly assumed that Europe does not grow genetically engineered crops at all... Globally, of the 28 countries that planted GM crops in 2012, five were in Europe...


There is a similar knowledge and information gap concerning the consumption of GM food products. Europe is a major importer of GM soybean and GM maize products that provide an important source of protein and feed particularly for livestock... all European countries consume GMOs or products derived from them to some extent...


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What are the socio-economic impacts of genetically modified crops worldwide? A systematic map protocol - Garcia-Yi &al (2014) - Env Evidence

Genetically modified (GM) crops have generated a great deal of controversy. Since commercially introduced to farmers in 1996, the global area cultivated with GM crops has increased 94-fold. The rapid adoption of GM technology has had substantial socio-economic impacts which a vast amount of... literature has addressed in the last two decades... Extensive and transparent reviews concerning this contentious and complex issue could help promote evidence-based dialogue among the diverse parties involved. 


This protocol specifies the methodology for identifying, evaluating, and mapping evidence related to the main review question: what are the socio-economic impacts of genetically modified crops worldwide? This question has been subdivided into the following topics: (a) farm-level impacts; (b) impacts of coexistence regulations; (c) impacts along the supply chain; (d) consumer-level impacts; (e) impacts on food security; and (f) environmental economic impacts.

The search strategy includes the identification of primary studies from general scientific databases; global, regional, and national specialist databases; an on-line search engine; institutional websites; journal websites; subject experts/researchers; and serendipity. Searches will be conducted in six languages... Identified studies will be screened for inclusion/exclusion criteria by a group of multi-language reviewers.

Finally, pre-defined data from the studies will be extracted, mapped, and presented in a report. Potential research gaps will be identified and discussed, and the review process will be documented in an open-access database...


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Can Synthetic Biology Sidestep the G.M.O. Backlash? - New Yorker (2014)

Can Synthetic Biology Sidestep the G.M.O. Backlash? - New Yorker (2014) | Ag Biotech News |

On a cold weekend last month, more than two thousand undergraduate scientists took over two levels of Boston’s Hynes Convention Center. Some wore full-body banana costumes, many wore coördinated team sweatshirts, and all appeared sleep-deprived... The occasion was the 2014 iGEM Giant Jamboree, a global contest to design and build novel forms of life. (GEM stands for “genetically engineered machine.”) At the core of the Jamboree was a discipline called synthetic biology.

Whereas developers of genetically modified organisms – herbicide-resistant soybeans, carotene-enriched rice, faster-growing salmon – tweak a plant or an animal’s DNA with genes borrowed from elsewhere in nature, synthetic biologists assemble new gene sequences from scratch. The science has attracted a good deal less press than G.M.O.s, but it has already moved beyond the lab. The Swiss company Evolva, which has designed a strain of yeast that turns sugar into vanillin (rather than the usual mix of alcohol and carbon dioxide), recently partnered with a flavor-and-fragrance multinational to bring the product to market... 


At this year’s Jamboree, more than two hundred teams, from universities as far afield as Bandung, Indonesia, and Manaus, Brazil, competed alongside repeat winners such as Heidelberg University and Imperial College London. (The banana-clad team, it turned out, came from Wageningen University, in the Netherlands, and were the creators of Banana Guard, a soil bacteria that excretes antifungals in the presence of the banana pathogen Fusarium oxysporum... 

What will the public make of this new technology? As voters in Colorado and Oregon considered ballot initiatives to require labelling of G.M.O. foods – the Colorado proposal failed, and Oregon’s has just gone to a recount – the hundred and fifteen iGEM judges seemed acutely aware of synthetic biology’s potential image problem. Would the ability to turn hamburger grease into hemp oil be enough to persuade most eaters to release lab-designed flora into their own intestines? 


I asked Randy Rettberg, iGEM’s president, about the challenge of getting a skeptical public to embrace new technology. “We used to say we just needed to educate people about the science,” he told me. “We said that if they understood it, they would accept it.” This is a familiar refrain, echoed mournfully by G.M.O. supporters and genetic engineers alike. But, Rettberg continued, as tempting as it is to imagine that simply telling people what’s good for them will change their minds, it doesn’t work. Instead, he explained, “to create an environment where these students can live this future, what we really need to do is involve people.”


In practical terms, this meant that the 2014 Jamboree, iGEM’s tenth, was the first to allow entries from so-called community labs – projects run by citizen biologists with no institutional affiliation – and to place an increased emphasis on risk assessments, feasibility studies, and user surveys. It was also the first to incorporate an art-and-design category... Design offered scientists and engineers a different framework through which to think about their work – “to ask disruptive questions and to speculate about possible futures”... By going through the design and production process... teams had been able not only to anticipate problems with their proposed methods but also to consult non-scientists – air-traffic regulators, municipal water-treatment engineers, farmers, and plumbers – and discuss with them how the products might work in practice... 

Randy Rettberg called this year’s experiment with art and design a success. “This competition is a structure to seed the values you want to see in the field,” he said – to develop thoughtful solutions that solve substantive problems with community participation. In other words, the Jamboree, an undergraduate contest to design new biological systems, is itself a method for prototyping the ways in which life will be designed in the future. And, if the organizers get it right, the synthetic life-forms that some of these students create in their professional careers will live up to iGEM’s lofty goals...


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25 years of public research programmes on biosafety: Environmental impacts of genetically modified plants - Federal Ministry of Education and Research (2014)

25 years of public research programmes on biosafety: Environmental impacts of genetically modified plants - Federal Ministry of Education and Research (2014) | Ag Biotech News |

English summary from p. 9 onwards:


Agricultural cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops and their use in food and feed has been a controversial subject of political and public debate for years... Besides ethical aspects, the public debate has focused on the impacts of plant genetic engineering on humans, animals and the environment.


In 1987... in order to bring more objectivity to the GM crops debate and place it on a scientific footing, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) set up a funding programme for biosafety research in the area of GM crops. The aim was to increase our knowledge about the safety aspects of using GM plants... The German government hoped this would create the conditions necessary for the government and the public to assess the opportunities and risks associated with plant genetic engineering impartially and on the basis of scientific facts.


Some of the biosafety research projects focused on scientifically plausible objections and fears that have emerged in the public debate about plant genetic engineering. In order to maximise transparency, the ministry organised a fact-based, constructive dialogue process to accompany the research, involving the key stakeholder groups and interested members of the public... the dialogue process succeeded in improving the factual basis and information available, and helped shape public opinion.


The results of 25 years of biosafety research show no higher risk to the environment from the cultivation of GM crops than from conventionally bred plants.


In view of climate change and population growth and the urgent challenge of providing sufficient food and renewable raw materials for manufacturing and power generation, developing a sustainable, productive agricultural sector is an important government objective. Future BMBF funding programmes will therefore support projects that assess the social, economic and ecological impacts of plant-breeding innovations within specific cultivation systems (e.g. organic or conventional farming), regardless of the breeding method used. This improved knowledge base can be used to develop fact-based decision-making aids for farmers – tools that can help farmers evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of modern plant-breeding methods (including genetic engineering) for the cultivation system in question.


To date, the BMBF has invested over 100 million euros in more than 300 projects relating to biological safety research. Of these, more than 140 projects concerned risk assessments of GM plants... The projects selected for BMBF funding were chosen by independent, national and international experts. More than 60 universities and other research institutes took part in the research projects. Besides laboratory experiments, numerous field trials were conducted as part of the funded research projects. Field trials are essential for biosafety research because laboratory and greenhouse experiments cannot fully simulate natural environmental conditions... 


The selected plants were developed for agricultural purposes and were intended for use in e.g. food or feed. As such, they do not present any specific negative impacts for the environment compared with conventionally bred plants... So far, the projects have not found any scientific evidence that GM plants per se present a higher risk than conventionally bred crop plants... 


English summary from p. 9 onwards:


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School masters about their canteens: "I often think I wouldn't eat that" - Spiegel (2014)

[Machine translated and only slightly edited.]

Too much sausage and chips, too few vegetables: school cafeterias could offer better food, says Minister Schmidt – and at the same price. Is that right? Schools and caterers tell how it really is. On average, primary schools receive from the students' parents 2.83 € per meal, in secondary schools it is 3 Euros...

Rainer Bothe, 51, caterer from Hamburg: "I do not make a cent profit... I would only do that if I saved on the food. But that I do not want to do. I use 60 percent organic products, everything is freshly prepared, without ready-made sauces. For a meal I get 3.50 EUR, 2.94 EUR after taxes remain with me. Of this I have to pay not only the ingredients, but also my staff... the rent for my three kitchens... and the cost of 20 vehicles for delivering. For the food itself remain only 1.20 Euro" ...


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

So there's not enough money to provide school kids with a proper, healthy and nutritious meal – and what do caterers spend the money on?! On 60% organic food!


If they wouldn't spend the little money they get on overpriced organic ingredients (that do not have any added health or nutritive value), the money would stretch a little further – and perhaps help give the kids food that's really healthy and nutrition, like more fruit & veggies...


As it is, the lifestyle choices of an affluent minority and the marketing efforts of a high-margin niche industry cause our kids to be poorly fed.

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Fear and food security - Coffman (2014) - Food Energy Sec

Fear and food security - Coffman (2014) - Food Energy Sec | Ag Biotech News |

The current debate about the adoption of biotech crops is reminiscent of similar concerns expressed about the modern wheat varieties that were introduced to Asia in the 1960s during what is now called the “Green Revolution.” Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, the recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, led the Green Revolution... People were suspicious of the new varieties because they were shorter in stature and seemed “unnatural.” But the new, improved varieties resulted in dramatically higher yields and saved the South Asia region from famine. For more than 40 years, South Asia has relied on these new varieties and modern agricultural technology to sustain its people, doubling wheat production and moving from wheat importers to wheat exporters. 


Today, scientists face a tremendous communications challenge concerning the use of agricultural biotechnologies. Dr. Borlaug would be dismayed and disgusted with the current anti-GMO movement and the worldwide cloud of fear and superstition that surrounds the use of biotech crops. He would abhor the antiscience activists and their followers who have no regard for empirical evidence and are denying farmers the right to make choices about the varieties of crops they wish to grow. Most of all, he would not want science to bypass resource-poor smallholder farmers in developing countries for whom modern agricultural technologies can mean the difference between food and famine... 

If he were alive today, Borlaug would tell us that in the next century, the world will be challenged by more mouths to feed, new pathogens, climate change, constrained resources, and nutritionally deficient children who go to bed hungry. He would proudly defend those technologies that we all know can make a difference – from Bt maize to Bt eggplant... Virus-resistant papaya, Golden Rice, Late Blight Resistant potato, drought- and salinity-tolerant maize... and crops that are still in the pipelines... he would tell us it is our moral imperative to speak up and protect the world's right to science-based innovation... If we do otherwise, we risk setting the world back 50 years.

Dr. Borlaug truly despised the “constant pessimism and scare-mongering” that was as common then as it is now... Borlaug told it like it was (and still is), “We need more investments in agriculture and we must stop looking at agriculture as a donkey's profession.” He pleaded with African leaders to embrace modern technology. “The so-called GMOs can play a very vital role in peoples' lives. However, this must be accompanied by political goodwill because technology alone cannot survive without decisive support.” 

Borlaug has been called a practical humanitarian. He realized that what he and his colleagues had achieved was, “a temporary success in man's war against hunger and deprivation.” He understood the challenge of the “population monster,” but he was not discouraged by it. As we are challenged by the social ills of today's world, as we experience the pressure of climate change, let us face the reality that while our science is sound, it sounds suspicious to many of its potential beneficiaries. We can and we must do a better job of communicating...


In August... Cornell University launched a new initiative – called the Cornell Alliance for Science – to help address this communication challenge. The Alliance supports a global agricultural communications platform to improve understanding of science-based agricultural technologies. The goal is to help inform decision-makers and consumers alike through an online information portal, and through training programs designed to help empower new communications champions for improving access to agricultural technology...


GNG's curator insight, December 4, 3:35 PM

Great discussion of role of communication and marketing in feeding the world.

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Helping Wheat Defend Itself Against Damaging Viruses - K State (2014)

Helping Wheat Defend Itself Against Damaging Viruses - K State (2014) | Ag Biotech News |

Wheat diseases caused by a host of viruses that might include wheat streak mosaic, triticum mosaic, soil-borne mosaic and barley yellow dwarf could cost producers 5 to 10 percent or more in yield reductions per crop, but a major advance in developing broad disease-resistant wheat is on the horizon... 

Genetic engineering technology... builds resistance to certain viruses in the wheat plant itself. And although genetically engineered wheat is not an option in the market today, their research is building this resistance in non-genetically engineered wheat lines as well... Wheat streak mosaic virus is one of the most devastating viruses... In addition to that, we have several other diseases, triticum mosaic virus and soil-borne mosaic virus, that are serious diseases... 

Now [researchers] have developed transgenic wheat lines that contain small pieces of wheat streak mosaic virus and triticum mosaic virus RNA... “What happens is the plant recognizes this RNA isn’t right, so it clips a piece of it and chops it up, but then it keeps a copy for itself. Then we have a resistance element.” Fellers compared the process to the old days of viewing most wanted posters on the post office wall. The piece of foreign RNA from the virus, which is a parasite, is one of those most wanted posters. Because the virus is a parasite, it has to seize or hijack part of the plant system to make proteins that it needs to replicate. When the virus comes into the plant, the plant holds up that poster from the post office wall, recognizes the virus, and doesn’t allow the virus to replicate and go through its lifecycle.


Trick said it wasn’t difficult to incorporate the RNA into the wheat, as it involved a standard transformation process where the DNA encoding the RNA was introduced into plant cells, plants were regenerated from these transformed cells, and then the transgenic plants underwent testing for disease resistance. “The problem with this technology is the most wanted poster is only for one individual... If we were trying to target multiple genes, we’d have to make another vector for a second virus, then create that transgenic, which we have done... 

“We’re now able to target barley yellow dwarf and soil-borne mosaic viruses... We’ve also done mixed infection tests with wheat streak mosaic and triticum mosaic (viruses), and our initial results now are that they’re all resistant. We’re very cautious, but our initial indications show we have come up with something that provides broad resistance to these four viruses. We thought it was important enough to file for a patent.” 

Fellers said this work is a proof of concept... The fact that the process uses genetic engineering would mean that getting broad-resistance wheat would take some time considering the public and industry would have to accept it first. However... they are now pursuing a non-genetically engineered method that involves turning off specific plant genes using mutations. With this method, the researchers could develop the technology and incorporate it into the K-State breeding program without regulations. “We would hope the turn around time would be quick, but it’s still classical breeding,” Fellers said of using mutations...


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Juncker still mulling scientific advice after Glover's position axed - EurActiv (2014)

Juncker still mulling scientific advice after Glover's position axed - EurActiv (2014) | Ag Biotech News |

The function of Chief Scientific Adviser to the European Commission "has ceased to exist", Anne Glover confirmed... but that does not mean the position will not be re-established by the new Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker... European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has not yet decided whether to replace the role of former chief scientific adviser (CSA) Anne Glover when she leaves the EU executive next year. 


“President Juncker believes in independent scientific advice," said Commission spokesman Mina Andreeva. "He has not yet decided how to institutionalise this independent scientific advice”... 


The role of the scientific adviser was created by then Commission President José Manuel Barroso in 2012 to provide independent expert advice on any aspect of science, technology and innovation requested by him, usually in relation to major policy proposals being submitted to the EU executive. The job was created in response to repeated calls to strengthen scientific advice and evidence-based policy in Europe...


In scientific circles... Glover has attracted more praise than criticism, and 40 scientific institutions sent a letter supporting her role to Juncker over the summer. As previously reported... Glover has argued for an “evidence centre” to be established at the European Commission that would disconnect the EU’s evidence gathering processes from the “political imperative” that drives policy proposals...


MEPs reacted angrily to  the news of Glover's departure, claiming that Juncker had assured them that the post would be preserved in his new administration. "I am deeply disappointed by this news. I wait to hear the details but on the face of it this looks like a complete volte face by Mr Juncker. I believe that in a leaner, less bureaucratic, growth-focused Europe, the role of science should be augmented not diminished," said Conservative environment spokesman Julie Girling... "We need more scientific input, not less. That's how we keep flaky legislation off the statute books”..


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Other news: "In a letter to the President of the European Parliament and to the Italian Presidency... Juncker proposes a better coordinated working program of EU institutions and fleshes out the 10 priorities he has identified... specifying what he thinks could be achievable already in 2015... 


10.) A Union of democratic change: 

- Review of legislation for the authorisation of GMOs

- ...


Juncker further tells Schulz and to Renzi that his services are ready in the coming weeks to exchange views on these issues with the institutions they represent..."


>> Democratic change -- does this mean should people vote on what safe practices other people are allowed to follow?

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Yield and economic performance of the use of GM cotton worldwide over time: Yield and economic performance of the use of GM cotton worldwide over time - Witjaksono &al (2014) - China Ag Econ Rev

Yield and economic performance of the use of GM cotton worldwide over time: Yield and economic performance of the use of GM cotton worldwide over time - Witjaksono &al (2014) - China Ag Econ Rev | Ag Biotech News |
The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the current state of knowledge on the economic performance of genetically modified (GM) cotton worldwide based on a wide range of data and source from available literature, and second to assess yield gain and economic performance...  This paper depicts positive impact of commercialized GM cotton in terms of net revenue, and the benefits, especially in terms of increased yields, are greatest for the mostly farmers in developing countries who have benefitted from the spill over of technology targeted at farmers in industrialized countries...  The paper clearly indicates that China is the highest cotton yield of GM cotton, the lowest cost of GM seed and the lowest cost of chemical spray compare to any other countries. Therefore, this is the fact that the adoption of GM cotton has been widely spread among the farmers across the regions in China...  Peer-reviewed surveys and field trials indicate positive impacts of commercialized GM cotton in terms of net revenue with few exceptions, that GM cotton have benefitted farmers in developing countries. The benefits, especially in terms of increased yields, are greatest for the mostly farmers in developing countries who have benefitted from the spillover of technology targeted at farmers in industrialized countries.
The results of yield indicates that farmers in developing countries are achieving greater yield increases than farmers in developed countries. The largest yield increase found in this review (country-specific analysis) are reported for GM cotton in China. Authors generally concur that Chinese consumers are more accepting of biotech cotton than are consumers in other countries...


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Sustainable Agriculture and Soybean Breeding: Contribution of Soybean Yield Increase to Sustainable Agriculture - Stojsin &al (2014) - Springer

Sustainable Agriculture and Soybean Breeding: Contribution of Soybean Yield Increase to Sustainable Agriculture - Stojsin &al (2014) - Springer | Ag Biotech News |

Soybean production has increased steadily in the USA since the beginning of twentieth century due to increases in yield... and total area for soybean production... This chapter discusses factors that influenced the increase in soybean production and its association with yield as an important contributor to sustainable agriculture.


Four distinct eras for soybean production have been identified. The first era (prior to 1942) was characterized by adaptation of soybean land races introduced to the USA. The second era (1943-1977) was defined by cultivars that resulted from public breeding programs, followed by predominantly private sector breeding effort during the third era (1978-1998). The fourth era (1999-now) is defined by introduction of biotechnology traits.


Yield increase was observed throughout this 87-year period, with the greatest rate of increase... associated with the biotechnology trait era. Soybean yield improvements were generally due to breeding effort, optimization of agronomic practices, increased investment in research, and advances in biotechnology. Farmland used for soybean production increased during the first two eras, showed fluctuations during the third era, and stayed generally flat for the fourth era.

Greater yield allowed for less farmland required for soybean production. It has been estimated that if US farmers were to grow low yielding soybean cultivars from 1924, they would need to plant almost four times as many hectares to achieve 2010 soybean production. In that respect, the continual effort of modern agriculture towards increasing soybean yield is one of the most important contributors to sustainable agriculture.


GNG's curator insight, November 13, 10:02 AM

Great resource on the benefits of biotechnology in growing soybean production for sustainability.

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The Water Efficient Maize for Africa Project as an Example of a Public-Private Partnership - Oikeh &al (2014) - Springer

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa Project as an Example of a Public-Private Partnership - Oikeh &al (2014) - Springer | Ag Biotech News |

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project was started in 2008 with the main objective of developing drought tolerant white hybrid maize for smallholder farmers of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) that yields at least 20 % more under drought conditions compared to commercial check hybrids. To achieve this, a combination of breeding and biotech approaches are followed to introduce drought tolerance in African maize varieties. To protect the yield benefit, the insect protection trait (Bt) was added in the year 2011.


This work is conducted through a public–private partnership led by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation based in Kenya with collaborating partners that include the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Monsanto Company, and five National Agricultural Research Systems for Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda, and the Republic of South Africa.


Among the key achievements for the first 5 years of the project (Phase 1) include the successful running of confined field trials for transgenic maize varieties in Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa and the submission of conventional drought tolerant maize hybrids into the national performance trials in Kenya. The next Phase 2 of the program (2013–2017) involves the deployment of the WEMA products. The first WEMA conventional drought tolerant maize hybrids are scheduled to be released to farmers in the year 2013. These are WEMA hybrids that outperformed some of the best local check hybrids on the market.


Next for release in 2016/2017, subject to receiving appropriate regulatory approvals, will be the transgenic products of WEMA which will carry two biotech traits, Bt insect protection trait and the drought tolerance trait from the cold shock protein B (cspB). The overall impact of WEMA project will be the availability of both transgenic and non-transgenic drought tolerant maize hybrids for use by smallholder farmers in SSA.


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Who Owns the Intellectual Property Rights to Chinese Genetically Modified Rice? Evidence from Patent Portfolio Analysis - Lijun & Cong (2014) - Biotech Law Report

Who Owns the Intellectual Property Rights to Chinese Genetically Modified Rice? Evidence from Patent Portfolio Analysis - Lijun & Cong (2014) - Biotech Law Report | Ag Biotech News |

Concerns about the IPRs of the Chinese GM rice were first raised by Greenpeace, the international environmental protection non-governmental organization (NGO), which largely opposes biotechnology activities. Around the time the biosafety certificates were granted to the GM rice varieties of Bt Shanyou 63 and Huahui 1, Greenpeace issued two major reports, claiming that the Chinese-developed GM rice may fall into the ‘‘foreign patent trap,’’ as these rice varieties may have used patents owned by foreign entities. In particular, in the first report, Greenpeace declared that at least 11 to 12 patented or proprietary methods and materials associated with three varieties of Chinese GM rice may belong to major international agribusiness companies... 


Our analysis indicates that R&D of Bt Shanyou 63 is potentially covered by approximately five foreign-patented components and technology, which is, however, fewer than the Greenpeace estimate of a dozen foreign patents. Furthermore, it must be clearly stated that because all of these foreign patents have not earned protection in China until now, if there is no relevant material transfer agreements or other contracts signed between the Chinese developer and the foreign patent owners, there will not be any IP risks associated with the commercial activities in China. Therefore, Greenpeace’s argument is not valid, and Chinese farmers do not have to pay royalties to foreign companies and organizations for growing the Bt rice on Chinese land. 


However, it is premature to conclude that there would be no challenges facing China in commercialization of GM rice in the international market. Particularly if the seeds or other living organism generated from the Bt Shanyou 63 flow into the U.S., EU, Japan, or Australia between now and 2018, while some of the above-described technologies are under patent protection in these countries, the Chinese developer could be sued by the relevant patent holders. Moreover, given that no clear legal and internationally accepted rules on whether nonliving products are subject to biotechnological patent protection, the trade on food and feedstuff produced by the Chinese GM rice may also face lawsuits in these countries.


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