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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 08 March, 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.) ...


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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Do the new EU GMO rules comply with its WTO obligations? - ILO (2015)

Do the new EU GMO rules comply with its WTO obligations? - ILO (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

On March 2 2015 the Council of the European Union... adopted new rules with respect to the approval of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that allow member states to ban or restrict the cultivation of GMOs in their territory, even if such cultivation has been approved at EU level. 

The European Union expects that most prohibitions or restrictions under the new rules will be implemented at EU level. However, member states will have the flexibility to adopt national cultivation restrictions on the basis of environmental or agricultural policy objectives or other compelling grounds (eg, town and country planning, land use, socio-economic [e]ffects, coexistence and public policy). Whether the new rules comply with relevant obligations of the European Union and its member states under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) remains an open question.

Before a GMO can be cultivated in the European Union it must undergo an approval process taking into account the direct, indirect, immediate and delayed effects on human health and the environment, in line with rules established in 2001. In addition to this risk assessment, the GMO must also comply with EU requirements on the marketing of seed and plant propagating material.

Under the old rules, a member state could ban or restrict the use of a GMO in its territory if it had evidence that the crop created a risk to human health or the environment. The opposition of certain member states meant that the EU-wide approval process has proved particularly difficult and few GMOs have ever been approved.

In this respect, it is worth recalling that the European Union's approval process for GMOs and certain related member state 'safeguard measures' preventing the marketing and import of GMOs and GMO-containing products were successfully challenged before the WTO by Argentina, Canada and the United States in 2006... the member state 'safeguard measures' violated the SPS Agreement because they were not based on a risk assessment. Since the GMO crops in question had already been approved at EU level – which included individual risk assessments... – the subsequent member state prohibitions could not be justified on the basis of the crops' alleged risks. 

Under the new rules, a member state has the flexibility to restrict or ban GMO cultivation in its territory without affecting the risk assessment for EU-wide authorisations: by seeking to amend the geographical scope of the authorisation during the EU level approval procedure; or after the GMO has been approved at EU level, by seeking to restrict it...

Under the relevant WTO rules, in particular the SPS Agreement, the European Union and its member states have committed to certain obligations in respect of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, which... can be imposed only if they are: necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health; based on scientific principles; and not maintained without sufficient scientific evidence. These measures must also be based on an appropriate assessment of the alleged risks... They cannot be more trade-restrictive than necessary to achieve the appropriate level of protection.

If the European Union's new rules qualify as an SPS measure, they must comply with all of the above WTO obligations. It is questionable whether the non-scientific public policy grounds relating to "town and country planning, land use, socio-economic impacts, coexistence and public policy" are permissible under the WTO rules for justifying a measure taken to prevent the spreading of disease and to protect human, animal or plant life or health. The specific language of the SPS Agreement and the well-established jurisprudence in respect of the need for a scientific justification of SPS measures seems to suggest otherwise.

Although the new GMO rules seek to disconnect the EU-wide approval process from individual member state consent – thereby limiting the risk of delays for implementation in at least some member states – they seem to have replaced one problematic situation with another. In situations where a GMO crop is authorised at EU level, after having passed an individual risk assessment, a member state would nevertheless be allowed to restrict or prohibit cultivation in its territory for reasons unrelated to the protection of human, animal or plant life or health. Allowing member states to ban GMOs from their territory for reasons other than health protection, without scientific evidence or a proper risk assessment, or even in direct contradiction of the risk assessment conducted at EU level demonstrating an absence of risk, appears to be problematic under relevant WTO law.


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Can GMOs Save Chocolate? – National Geographic (2015)

Can GMOs Save Chocolate? – National Geographic (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

GMOs may be able to save chocolate. The bigger question is whether we want them to. Chocolate... is in trouble. The average American eats about 12 pounds of chocolate a year... But all that indulgence may be coming to an end. A chocolate shortage, to the tune of one million metric tons, is predicted to hit within the next five years, the result of climate change, disease, and the demands of rapidly growing populations of chocolate lovers in China and India.

The Nature Conservation Research Center based in Ghana – the world’s second-largest producer of chocolate after the Ivory Coast – predicts glumly that within the next 20 years, chocolate will be as rare and as expensive as caviar.

Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao tree, borne in football-sized pods that sprout directly out of the trunk. Dubbed... “food of the gods,” cacao is just what one might expect from an ancient, double-dealing deity: a delicious and addictive treat paired with a plant that is tricky, if not downright impossible, to grow. Cacao, believed to have originated in the steamy Amazon rainforest, is reluctant to adapt to conditions other than those of home: it now only grows in a belt 20 degrees north or south of the Equator...

Along with its geographical limitations, cacao is stunningly susceptible to disease – notably to witches’ broom, a fungus that wiped out the cacao trees of Ecuador in the 1920s, and devastated the chocolate plantations of Brazil... in a ten-year period... Worldwide today, cacao farmers lose an annual $750 million to disease.

Cacao trees are also painfully slow growers. It can take up to five years for a tree to produce fruit, and as long as ten before it becomes clear that the tree has desirable traits such as disease resistance or ultra-flavorful seeds... The conventional breeding process, given cacao’s tortoise-like growth rate, won’t be easy.

Conventional cacao breeding is also unpredictable. Take, for example, CCN-51... this is the cacao variety now generally acknowledged to be the world’s best bet to stave off chocolate disaster... is sturdy, disease-resistant, and prolific, producing four to ten times the yield of run-of-the-mill cacao trees. The bad news, however, is that its seeds taste lousy... Critics compare it to rusty nails, vinegar, wood shavings, and “acidic dirt.”

Despite the drawbacks, however, some large chocolate manufacturers have come around to CNN-51. About 95 percent of chocolate is made from “bulk beans,” generally inferior stuff which is heavily processed and beefed up with sugar and added flavors, such as vanilla. For such purposes, CNN-51 is just fine; and the belief is that most consumers won’t notice a difference.

For artisanal chocolate makers, however, who depend on delectable flavor beans for their high-end products, it’s a different story. “Artisan chocolate... is like a good bottle of wine,” carefully blended by master chocolatiers to contain just the right bouquet of flavor notes... These people aren’t likely to adopt a bean, no matter how prolific, that smacks of acidic dirt.

It may be time to turn to genetic engineering. The genome of the cacao plant has been sequenced as of 2011... From among chocolate’s approximately 30,000 genes (that is, about 10,000 more than us), scientists have identified gene sequences that govern disease resistance and direct the production of helpful metabolites and flavor components... 

Some researchers point out that creating an ideal GMO chocolate isn’t going to be easy. Chocolate is a mind-bogglingly complex food, containing some 600 different flavor components. (Even red wine boasts a mere 200.) Cobbling together the right mix of flavors – along with disease-resistance, a rapid growth rate, and high productivity – may prove to be an heroic task. Still, given increasing world demand and the cacao tree’s environmentally dicey future, it may be our best chance to save chocolate as we all know and love it.


Zohair Ahmed's curator insight, March 22, 3:54 PM

Chocolate has been enjoyed by many Americans and Europeans, but as more and more chocolate lovers are born (China and India) the delicacy becomes more sparce. Chocolate is in trouble, the cacao trees which produces the cocoa needed for chocolate is a very hard plant to grow, and has many diseases attacking it. The trees are extremely hard to grow, and also bear fruit in 5 years, sometimes even 10! The cocoa conventional cacao tree breading is also unpredictable, and has been criticized as lousy or a nasty taste. This makes many people turn to GMO's as a solution. GMO'S would help make then resistant to the diseases and insects, but there is an overwhelming opposition to the solution of GMO'S. GMO's are a major topic of Unit 5.

Norman Warthmann's curator insight, March 22, 8:52 PM

maybe a chocolate shortage is a good thing ?! however, probably the best bet is to grow the plants outside the native range of the pathogen.

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Vietnam approves commercial crops of GMO corn to cut imports - Thanhnien News (2015)

Vietnam approves commercial crops of GMO corn to cut imports - Thanhnien News (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Vietnamese farmers nationwide are now able to plant three varieties of genetically-modified (GM) corn... according to a new government's rule announced Wednesday. The three varieties... will be supplied to corn farms nationwide with each variety being distributed to specific regions, said the decision from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. NK66 BT in particular will be supplied to regions with European corn borers, NK66 GT for places with strong weeds and the other for farms susceptible to both the borers and weeds... 

“GM corn will be used for animal feed only and thus, it does not require special labeling,” he said. Earlier, the agriculture ministry has approved result of tests for impacts to the environment and biodiversity of NK66 corn. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has also issued certificate for bio-safety for the three GM corn varieties. Last August, the agriculture ministry approved the imports of four corn varieties engineered for food and animal feed processing... 

Those developments and the latest bio-safety certificate for the three GM corn varieties... were in line with a 2006 ambitious plan to develop biotech crops as part of a “major program for the development and application of biotechnology in agriculture and rural development.”
The plan aimed to cultivate Vietnam's first GM crops by 2015 and have 30-50 percent of the country’s farmland covered with genetically modified organisms by 2020. 

An increasing number of Vietnamese officials and scientists have touted the need to grow GM corn to reduce Vietnam’s dependence on imports. Vietnam currently imports 1.5 million tons of corn for feeding animals every year from Brazil, Argentina, and the US, including GM varieties...


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Genetically Manipulating Plants Can Reduce their Water Needs - Wiley (2015)

Genetically Manipulating Plants Can Reduce their Water Needs - Wiley (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Improving the efficiency by which crops use water is a critical priority for regions facing increased drought or diminished groundwater resources. Now researchers have found that this can be achieved by genetically altering plants’ stomata, the tiny openings on the leaf surface through which carbon dioxide is absorbed and water evaporates. “We now have genetic tools to pre-adapt crops to future, drier climates. The goal here is to maintain or improve productivity with less water”...


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Genetically modified people - Economist (2015)

Genetically modified people - Economist (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Opponents of genetically modified crops often complain that moving genes between species is unnatural. Leaving aside the fact that the whole of agriculture is unnatural, this is still an odd worry. It has been known for a while that some genes move from one species to another... in a process called horizontal gene transfer... Only recently, though, has it become clear just how widespread such natural transgenics is. What was once regarded as a peculiarity of lesser organisms has now been found to be true in human beings, too... 

Results... suggest human beings have at least 145 genes picked up from other species by their forebears. Admittedly, that is less than 1% of the 20,000 or so humans have in total. But it might surprise many people that they are even to a small degree part bacterium, part fungus and part alga... 

On average, worms had 173 horizontally transferred genes, flies had 40 and primates had 109. Humans thus had more than the primate mean. Many of the matches are to genes of unknown purpose – for it is still the case, more than a decade after the end of the human genome project, that the jobs of many genes remain obscure. But some human transgenes are surprisingly familiar... 

Altogether, the researchers found two imported genes for amino-acid metabolism, 13 for fat metabolism and 15 which are involved in the post-manufacture modification of large molecules. They also identified five immigrants that generate antioxidants and seven that are part of the immune system.

This is quite a catalogue. If anything similar were inserted by genetic engineers into corn or cattle, there would no doubt be an outcry. In humans, however, they are doing a good job... Nevertheless there was once a moment for all of them when they were just as alien as a bacterial insecticide is in a maize plant or a herbicide-resistance gene is in a soyabean.


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Scotts' GM grass grows free from regulation - Nature Biotechnol (2015)

Scotts' GM grass grows free from regulation - Nature Biotechnol (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Scotts Miracle-Gro is developing a turf grass that has been genetically modified (GM) to grow shorter, thicker and darker green than its conventional counterparts. The enhanced grass... is yet another novel plant to fall outside the purview of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)...

Scotts says the grass... will require less mowing and fewer nutrient inputs and is also glyphosate tolerant. The genetic material that conferred these traits in the new grass comes from various undisclosed plants and is integrated using established biolistics technology. In this technique, a gene gun bombards cells with heavy metal particles coated with plasmid DNA fired at high speed. Because this transformation technique requires no genetic material from bacteria, viruses or other organisms considered plant pests, the resulting enhanced plants are not subject to oversight by the USDA... 

A concern that some researchers and growers have raised about Scotts' tall fescue is that it can cross with non-GM grass species, potentially causing market disruptions for other growers, particularly those who export to countries where GM plants are not permitted. And unlike for grasses that are subject to USDA's oversight, Scotts doesn't have to publicly disclose whether or not it is conducting field trials or the genes it is using to confer the traits – something that must be done for regulated GM plants before commercialization. Without knowing what the transgenic material is, “we don't even know how to test for it,” says Carol Mallory-Smith, a weed scientist... 

The company... says it will insert into the trait construct of its GM grasses a genetic marker and can provide sequence information to interested parties, such as non-GM grass producers, weed scientists and governments, who want to identify the GM cultivars... 

The grass set a precedent... various developers have inquired about at least 20 different biotech plants. In all but three of those cases, the agency has agreed that the plants do not require oversight... For example, the USDA has said it has no authority to oversee a GM loblolly pine with increased wood density made by... Arborgen, and a GM soybean engineered for altered flavonoid profiles made by the University of Georgia...

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

So, for regulatory reasons, for developers it's better to use "established biolistics technology"... 

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Fifteen Years of Bt Cotton in China: The Economic Impact and its Dynamics - Qiao (2015) - World Dev

Fifteen Years of Bt Cotton in China: The Economic Impact and its Dynamics - Qiao (2015) - World Dev | Ag Biotech News |

Even though the economic benefit of Bt cotton adoption in the short-run has been well documented, the dynamics of this benefit remain unclear. In particular, the possibility of pest resistance build-up and secondary pest outbreaks has caused concern regarding the sustainability of this economic benefit in the long run.


Hence, this study analyzes the economic impact of Bt cotton and its dynamics in China. Using nationally representative long panel data for 1997-2012, we show that this economic benefit continues 15 years after the commercialization of Bt cotton.


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Breeding success with DNA analysis - TUM (2015)

Breeding success with DNA analysis - TUM (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

From healthier cattle to corn that is better adapted to climate change, the Synbreed project has made major breakthroughs in animal and plant breeding. The methods used are based on DNA analysis, which allows scientists to identify characteristics in animals and plants that are particularly advantageous for breeding. In contrast to other common processes, genome-based breeding is a much faster – and predictable – route to success.

Agriculture and breeding are inextricably linked. Down through the ages, humans have cross-bred very high-yield or highly resistant fruits and grains or bred animals selectively to ensure that they passed on desirable traits. Conventional breeding is a time-consuming affair, however: while the desirable characteristic – “more milk” for example – may be obvious, not so much is known about the underlying genetics. So it is difficult to assess in advance whether the parent animals or plants will actually pass on the required trait. The success of the process is only apparent when subsequent generations are born or cultivated. It can often take decades for a particular characteristic to become firmly established in a line of animals or plants... 

Tiny differences in DNA are often what determine the strength of an eggshell or a plant’s compatibility with saline soil. As part of the project, the scientists studied the genes of different corn varieties and of cattle and chickens, analyzing thousands of samples. Their objective was to find the gene combinations responsible for desirable characteristics. “The big data approach delivered genome information on different phenotypes over a number of years... For example, we were able to evaluate with high accuracy the breeding value of new strains of corn and determine whether they would consistently perform well in different environmental conditions, from chilly weather in spring to extreme heat in summer...  


Whether a particular characteristic becomes established in corn only becomes apparent after sowing or at harvest time. “With the new technologies available to us, we can assess with much greater accuracy which plants are likely to result in selection gain – and thereby increase our chances of success” ... Genome analysis can also be used to select complex characteristics even outside the growing season, for example in progeny that are cultivated in a greenhouse or in the southern hemisphere in the winter.

Genome analysis has shown that the genetic diversity of corn has also been affected by breeding. Some segments of the genome have lost a great deal of their diversity; others show significant untapped potential for breeding. Classifying and using this potential will be a future task for scientists...


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Uninformed and disinformed society and the GMO market - Twardowski & Małyska (2015) - Trends Biotechnol

The EU has a complicated regulatory framework, and this is slowing down the approval process of new genetically modified crops. Currently, labeling of GM organisms (GMOs) is mandatory in all Member States.


However, the USA, in which GMO labeling is not mandatory, continues to lead the production of biotech crops, biopharmaceuticals, biomaterials, and bioenergy.


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Epistemological Depth in a GM Crops Controversy - Hicks (2015) - PhilSci-Archive

This paper examines the scientific controversy over the yields of genetically modified [GM] crops as a case study in *epistemologically deep* disagreements. Appeals to ''the evidence'' are inadequate to resolve such disagreements; not because the interlocutors have radically different metaphysical views (as in cases of incommensurability), but instead because they assume rival epistemological frameworks and so have incompatible views about what kinds of research methods and claims *count as* evidence.


Specifically, I show that, in the yield debate, proponents and opponents of GM crops cite two different sets of claims as evidence, which correspond to two rival epistemological frameworks, classical experimental epistemology and Nancy Cartwright's evidence for use. I go on to argue that, even if both sides of the debate accepted Cartwright's view, they might still disagree over what counts as evidence, because evidence for use ties standards of evidence to what is sometimes called the ''context of application''... 


GM controversy must be understood in terms of the broader, food systems one. Specifically, I take it that proponents of GM crops generally assume a system of agricultural production with the following features:

(1) land, agricultural inputs, and intellectual property are held and exchanged as private property;

(2) the production and distribution of food is governed by the global food market;

(3) crops are produced primarily as commodities, that is, to be sold into global food markets and in order to return a profit on investment; and

(4) since they are commodities, crops and the practices that produce them are valued primarily anthropocentrically and using economic standards of efficiency and productivity...


By contrast, I take it that opponents of GM crops generally advocate a system of agricultural production with several of the following features:

(1') land, agricultural inputs, and intellectual property are held as common or public property;

(2') the production and distribution of food is governed democratically, especially small-scale systems of participatory democracy;

(3') crops are produced primarily for the sustenance of the local communities that produce them; and

(4') crops and the practices that produce them are valued primarily by integrated anthropocentric and ecocentric or biocentric standards, especially the cultural, ethical, and nutritional standards of the local communities that produce and consume them and the ecosystem function of the local biotic communities.


And so these features characterize the situations in SO, and the contrasts between 1-4 and 1'-4' make for significant contrasts... GM proponents and opponents generally assume or advocate rival FOOD REGIMES: proponents assume the “corporate food regime,” while opponents advocate “food sovereignty”... 


I have argued that proponents and opponents of GM crops work with very different situations of interest. Proponents assume the agricultural systems of the status quo, in which agriculture is embedded in the global market society... Opponents, by contrast, are interested in radically different systems of agricultural production, which are not part of the market society. But, in order to provide evidence... a research method must be relevant to situations of interest. Thus, even if farmer surveys are reliable and relevant for proponents of GM crops, they may not be relevant for opponents of GM crops...


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Study finds climate change may dramatically reduce wheat production - K-State (2015)

Study finds climate change may dramatically reduce wheat production - K-State (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

A recent study... finds that in the coming decades at least one-quarter of the world's wheat traded will be lost to extreme weather from climate change if no adaptive measures are taken... found wheat yields are projected to decrease by 6 percent for each degree Celsius the temperature rises if no measures to adapt to extreme weather fluctuations are taken.

Based on the 2012-2013 wheat harvest of 701 million tons worldwide, the resulting temperature increase would result in 42 million tons less produced wheat per degree of temperature increase. To put this in perspective, the amount is equal to a quarter of the global wheat trade, which reached 147 million tons in 2013. Changes in genetics and crop management can minimize some of these losses. 

"It's pretty severe... The projected effect of climate change on wheat is more than what has been forecast. That's challenging because the world will have to at least double our food supply in the next 30 years if we're going to feed 9.6 billion people"...  

Tesearchers systematically tested 30 wheat crop models against field experiments from around the world that were conducted in areas where the average temperature of the growing season ranged from 15 to 32 degrees Celsius. The models accounted for planting dates, planting rates, temperatures and other crop management factors.

With the models, researchers were able to look at the effects of temperature stresses on wheat and predict future changes based on temperature changes. Researchers found that the effects from climate change and its increasing temperatures on wheat will be more severe... and are happening sooner than expected... 

Using growth chambers and heat tents to quantify the effects of temperature and to identify heat tolerant sources of wheat. The data will help in refining the crop models so that they can be more accurate in predicting wheat responses. Their work will help scientists develop more robust models that can help farmers globally select more weather-tolerant and resilient wheat varieties based on their location. Additionally, farmers can determine the optimal planting date to avoid stress and minimize possible exposure to extreme weather events, such as heat and cold snaps, during the growing season...


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Does Partisanship Shape Attitudes toward Science and Public Policy? The Case for Ideology and Religion - Blank & Shaw (2015) - ANNALS

Despite the apparent partisan divide over issues such as global warming and hydraulic fracturing, little is known about what shapes citizens’ willingness to accept scientific recommendations on political issues. We examine the extent to which Democrats, Republicans, and independents are likely to defer to scientific expertise in matters of policy...


We find that partisan differences exist: our data show that most Americans see science as relevant to policy, but that their willingness to defer to science in policy matters varies considerably across issues. While party, ideology, and religious beliefs clearly influence attitudes toward science, Republicans are not notably skeptical about accepting scientific recommendations. Rather, it seems that Democrats are particularly receptive to the advice and counsel of scientists, when compared to both independents and Republicans...


We then presented respondents with a randomized list of sixteen policy areas including AIDS prevention, mandatory childhood vaccination, regulation of nuclear power, childhood obesity and diet restrictions, birth control education, stem cell research, mandatory background checks for gun permits, fetus viability, global warming/climate change, the regulation of coal production, the production of biotech foods and crops, legalizing drug use, animal testing for medical research, teaching evolution and the origins of humans, mandatory health insurance, and gay adoption... 


Scientific consensus... [on] producing bio-tech food and crops... [is] strong... Direction of consensus... [is] pro-biotech... anticipated objections mainly from... Liberals. 


As expected, willingness to defer to scientific expertise decreases as we encounter issues that touch on matters of religious faith (gay adoption, evolution) or political ideology (mandatory health insurance). The six issues where people are most deferential to scientific advice are AIDS prevention, mandatory vaccines, nuclear power, childhood obesity, birth control, and stem cell research... Conversely, the six

lowest-scoring issues are biotech foods, legalizing drug use, animal testing, evolution, mandatory health insurance, and gay adoption; the final three issues in this set are obviously related to intense political or religious debate... 


As hypothesized, Democrats seem to be relatively proscience even controlling for political ideology and a host of demographic factors. Identifying as a Republican, however, has a small and decidedly mixed effect on deference toward scientific expertise. In fact, the Republican coefficient is positively signed for fourteen of the sixteen models, with the positive impact reaching conventional levels of statistical significance for four issues: biotech foods, nuclear power, animal testing, and mandatory vaccines... 


Across our sixteen different issue areas, biblical literalism is consistently negatively signed, meaning the belief that the Bible is the literal word of God always reduces one’s self-rated deference toward scientific expertise. Moreover, this influence is statistically significant in all but four cases: mandatory background checks, biotech foods, mandatory vaccines, and animal testing... 


We hypothesized that those with a college degree are relatively likely to defer to science because they have been socialized to the scientific method and the benefits of scientific inquiry. As it turns out, those with a college degree are more likely to defer to scientific expertise on fifteen of sixteen issues tested. More importantly, this tendency holds at a statistically significant level for animal testing, evolution, gay adoption, biotech foods, mandatory health insurance, fetal viability, mandatory vaccines, and childhood obesity. The overall effect is positive and highly significant...

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Is the economic benefit of Bt cotton dying away in China - Qiao & Yao (2015) - China Agricultural Economic Review

Is the economic benefit of Bt cotton dying away in China - Qiao & Yao (2015) - China Agricultural Economic Review | Ag Biotech News |

The purpose of this study is trying to empirically answer whether the economic benefit of Bt cotton is dying away in China. [With] the development of the pest resistance and the outbreak of the secondary pest, it was believed that economic benefit of Bt cotton is dying away. And reduction of cotton sown area in recent years had been considered as one of the consequences.


This study empirically estimates the impact of Bt cotton adoption on cotton sown area. This paper uses regression techniques based on provincial level data... This study shows that the adoption of Bt cotton has positive impact on cotton sown area. On the other hand, the increasing labor cost and decreasing cotton price might be the real reasons behind the decrease of cotton sown area...


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New research finds consumers willing to spend more for biotech potato products - Iowa State U (2015)

New research finds consumers willing to spend more for biotech potato products - Iowa State U (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

New research found consumers were willing to spend more for genetically modified potato products with reduced levels of a chemical compound linked to cancer... The findings underscore the importance of efforts to educate consumers on the use of biotechnology in the production of healthful food... 

Acrylamide is a chemical compound that studies have linked to the formation of cancer in animals, and the FDA has encouraged Americans to cut back on foods that contain the substance. It accumulates naturally in starchy foods cooked at high temperatures, such as roasted nuts and coffee beans or the crusts of bread. Potato products like french fries and potato chips make up the biggest source...

Potato growers have tried conventional plant breeding techniques to cut down on the formation of acrylamide, but biotechnology and genetic modification have yielded more promising results...

To gauge consumer attitudes toward experimental genetically modified potato products... the results of the research showed a willingness among consumers to pay more for genetically modified potato products that reduce the formation of acrylamide than for conventional potatoes. That provides evidence that consumers are willing to pay more for enhanced food safety, even when it’s delivered through biotech methods... 


For instance, participants were willing to pay $1.78 more for a five-pound bag of potatoes after they received information from a scientific perspective on hazards associated with acrylamide exposure and a potato industry perspective on dramatically reducing acrylamide in potato products using biotechnology... “There was a really strong effect from the industry and scientific perspectives... Another interesting finding was that social and demographic concerns didn’t seem to matter”...


Sammie Bryant's curator insight, March 22, 9:54 PM

this article relates to our agriculture unit. this article is different because while most of the kids in my class are opposed to genetically modified foods, this shows that there are some people willing to pay more because it IS genetically modified. this shows that maybe, with the advancement of the green revolution, we can make genetically modified foods have benefits: in this case, a potato may reduce the risk of cancer.

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Pesticides Not the Sole Culprit in Honey Bee Colony Declines - U Maryland (2015)

Pesticides Not the Sole Culprit in Honey Bee Colony Declines - U Maryland (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Field-based study shows honey bee colonies are not harmed by realistic levels of exposure to the world’s most common insecticide. 

Colony declines are a major threat to the world’s honey bees, as well as the many wild plants and crops the bees pollinate. Among the lineup of possible culprits – including parasites, disease, climate stress and malnutrition – many have pointed the finger squarely at insecticides as a prime suspect. However, a new study... shows that the world’s most common insecticide does not significantly harm honey bee colonies at real-world dosage levels.


The study... looked at the effects of the insecticide imidacloprid on honey bee colonies over a three-year period. To see significant negative effects, including a sharp decrease in winter survival rates, the researchers had to expose the colonies to at least four times as much insecticide encountered under normal circumstances. At 20 times the normal exposure levels, the colonies experienced more severe consequences. 

The study does not totally absolve imidacloprid of a causative role in honey bee colony declines. Rather, the results indicate that insecticides are but one of many factors causing trouble for the world’s honey bee populations. “Everyone is pointing the finger at these insecticides. If you pull up a search on the Internet, that’s practically all anyone is talking about... This paper says no, it’s not the sole cause. It contributes, but there is a bigger picture.”

Imidacloprid is one of a broad class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, so named because they are chemically derived from nicotine. In tobacco and other related plants, nicotine acts as a deterrent by poisoning would-be herbivores. While nicotine itself was once used as an insecticide, it has fallen out of favor because it is highly toxic to humans and breaks down rapidly in sunlight. Neonicotinoids have been engineered specifically to address these shortcomings.

“Imidacloprid is the most widely used insecticide in the world. It’s not restricted because it is very safe – an order of magnitude safer than organophosphates,” Dively said, drawing a comparison with a class of chemicals known to be highly toxic to nearly all living things.

For the study, Dively and his colleagues fed pollen dosed with imidacloprid to honey bee colonies. The team purposely constructed a worst-case scenario, even at lower exposure levels. For example, they fed the colonies tainted food for up to 12 continuous weeks. This is a much longer exposure than bee colonies would experience in real-world scenarios, because most crops do not bloom for such an extended period of time...

A synergistic combination of many factors is most likely to blame for colony declines. Climate stress could be taking a toll, and malnutrition could be a factor as well. The latter is a particular concern for industrial bee colonies that are rented to large-scale agricultural operations. These bees spend much of their time eating pollen from one or two crops, which throws their diet out of balance...

At the highest dosage levels (20 times the realistic dosage) colonies became more susceptible to Varroa mites, parasites that target honey bee colonies. A mite infestation can cause a whole variety of problems, including viral infections and an increased need for other pesticides to control the mites. “It’s a multifactorial issue, with lots of stress factors”...


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Greater-than-additive management effects key in reducing corn yield gaps - U Illinois (2015)

Greater-than-additive management effects key in reducing corn yield gaps - U Illinois (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

While many recent studies have documented that agricultural producers must significantly increase yields in order to meet the food, feed, and fuel demands of a growing population, few have given practical solutions on how to do this... 

A recent study ... provides the first estimate of the corn yield gap for the U.S. Corn Belt. In order to quantify the corn yield gap, which they define as the difference between a farmer’s actual yield and the potential yield for that field, researchers studied combinations of five different management factors in corn-following-soybean trials to determine their effect on yield, both individually and cumulatively.


By using an intensified management system that included increased plant population, transgenic (Bt trait) insect resistance, strobilurin-containing fungicide, balanced crop nutrition (phosphorus-sulfur-zinc), and supplemental side-dressed nitrogen, the researchers saw a yield increase of 28 percent more corn grain compared to that of a standard management system. This study indicates that corn yields in Illinois can be increased by about 28 percent using commercially available technologies and hybrids.


More important, the study concluded that no single factor or technology accounted for this increase in yields; rather, it was the result of a consistently observed greater-than-additive effect of factors acting together that produced the highest yields. All factors, except for plant population, were necessary for maximizing yield and reducing the yield gap... 


While the yield contribution of each factor was greatest when applied as part of the full complement of advanced-level inputs... the two management factors that were consistently the most influential for increasing yields were the Bt-trait and the strobilurin-containing fungicide. 

When the Bt-traited hybrid was omitted from the high tech system, they saw an 8.7 percent yield decrease and a yield increase of 4.5 percent when the Bt trait was added to the traditional system. “Farmers know that the hybrid trait is critical,” Gentry said. “They pay more for the seed, but this study shows that they are compensated in terms of their yields. And, environmentally, we’re applying less insecticides”... 


“The value of the added yield would not compensate for the cost of the extra inputs, especially when corn prices are low. This study was a first step towards a greater understanding of how we can increase yields in the U.S. Corn Belt to meet increasing demand for corn... 

This principle that there is a ‘synergistic’ or greater-than-additive yield response under more intensively managed systems is new knowledge. Corn yields with today’s hybrids do have the potential to increase with the application of protection chemicals and by making crop nutrients more plant-available”...

The researchers hypothesize that corn yields can be further increased in a sustainable way, even beyond the results demonstrated in this study, with continued crop breeding efforts, advancements in fertilizer formulations and placement technology, and possibly, with the development of effective plant growth promoters...


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Environmental impacts of genetically modified (GM) crop use 1996-2013: impacts on pesticide use and carbon emissions - Brookes & Barfoot (2015) - GM Crops Food

Environmental impacts of genetically modified (GM) crop use 1996-2013: impacts on pesticide use and carbon emissions - Brookes & Barfoot (2015) - GM Crops Food | Ag Biotech News |

This paper updates previous assessments of how crop biotechnology has changed the environmental impact of global agriculture. It focuses on the environmental impacts associated with changes in pesticide use and greenhouse gas emissions arising from the use of GM crops since their first widespread commercial use in the mid 1990s.


The adoption of GM insect resistant and herbicide tolerant technology has reduced pesticide spraying by 553 million kg (-8.6%) and, as a result, decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on these crops (as measured by... the Environmental Impact Quotient) by19.1%. The technology has also facilitated important cuts in fuel use and tillage changes, resulting in a significant reduction in the release of greenhouse gas emissions from the GM cropping area. In 2013, this was equivalent to removing 12.4 million cars from the roads.


Miles Gibson's curator insight, March 18, 12:54 AM

Unit 5 agriculture

This article explains how genetically modified foods have benefited the planet by releasing less green house gases and creating less co2 emission through the less use of pesticides. This is showing the overall benefits of pesticide removal and transition to the gmos.

This article relates to unit 5 because it shows how the agribusinesses and genetically modified foods have had major benefits in society. This shows the common wealth of an evermore expanding business that is now irreversible and so therefore should be expanded since there is no return.

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Global Income and Production Impacts of Using GM Crop Technology 1996-2013 - Brookes & Barfoot (2015) - GM Crops & Food

Global Income and Production Impacts of Using GM Crop Technology 1996-2013 - Brookes & Barfoot (2015) - GM Crops & Food | Ag Biotech News |

This paper provides an economic assessment of the value of using genetically modified (GM) crop technology in agriculture at the farm level. It follows and updates earlier annual studies which examined economic impacts on yields, key costs of production, direct farm income and effects, and impacts on the production base of the four main crops of soybeans, corn, cotton and canola.


The commercialisation of GM crops has continued to occur at a rapid rate since the mid 1990s, with important changes in both the overall level of adoption and impact occurring in 2013. This annual updated analysis shows that there continues to be very significant net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to $20.5 billion in 2013 and $133.4 billion for the eighteen year period (in nominal terms).


These economic gains have been divided roughly 50% each to farmers in developed and developing countries. About 70% of the gains have derived from yield and production gains with the remaining 30% coming from cost savings. The technology have also made important contributions to increasing global production levels of the four main crops, having added 138 million tonnes and 273 million tonnes respectively, to the global production of soybeans and maize since the introduction of the technology in the mid 1990s.


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Transgenic crops with an improved resistance to biotic stresses. A review - Tohidfar & Khosravi (2015) - Base

Transgenic crops with an improved resistance to biotic stresses. A review - Tohidfar & Khosravi (2015) - Base | Ag Biotech News |

Pests, diseases and weeds (biotic stresses) are significant limiting factors for crop yield and production. However, the limitations associated with conventional breeding methods necessitated the development of alternative methods for improving new varieties with higher resistance to biotic stresses.


Molecular techniques have developed applicable methods for genetic transformation of a wide range of plants. Genetic engineering approach has been demonstrated to provide enormous options for the selection of the resistance genes from different sources to introduce them into plants to provide resistance against different biotic stresses.


In this review, we focus on strategies to achieve the above mentioned objectives including expression of insecticidal, antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral resistance and herbicide detoxification for herbicide resistance... 


It is observed that the cultivation area of transgenic crops is growing fast each year and many of them are commercially released and produced. Considering the production trend of these crops, it is expected that the production and commercialization of GM crops resistant to abiotic stresses (drought, salinity, etc.) happens in a near future.

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Genetically modified crops: the truth unveiled - Gruissem (2015) - Ag Food Sec

What has long been suspected is true: genetically modified (GM) crops do have real benefits for the environment and for the economic well-being of farmers. A meta-analysis of peer-reviewed journal articles and other literature... reveals that the adoption of GM crops reduces pesticide input and increases crop yields and farmers’ income. The results confirm earlier and smaller studies and therefore are not unexpected. But they are particularly welcome for significantly informing the public debate on GM crops... 


Large-scale and chemical-intensive monoculture production is also found for non-GM crops, but this is conveniently ignored by GMO opponents in the debate on GM crops. Changing agriculture to sustainable production does not exclude GM crops because insect- and pathogen-resistant GM crops would also be useful and beneficial in integrated and organic agriculture to reduce pesticide inputs. 

The meta-analysis of the impacts of GM crops... confirm and extend earlier and smaller studies that already reported benefits of GM crops based on existing farm-level impact data for GM crops... One can only hope that the collective evidence for the beneficial impacts of GM crops will now enable a more informed and rational debate. Even if opposition and false claims continue to spur public skepticism, farmers must be allowed to choose and grow the crops - GM or non-GM - that improve their economic situation and help them to contribute to global food security.


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Compositional analysis of genetically modified corn events (NK603, MON88017×MON810 and MON89034×MON88017) compared to conventional corn - Rayan & Abbott (2015) - Food Chemistry

Compositional analysis of genetically modified corn events (NK603, MON88017×MON810 and MON89034×MON88017) compared to conventional corn - Rayan & Abbott (2015) - Food Chemistry | Ag Biotech News |

Compositional analysis of genetically modified (GM) crops continues to be an important part of the overall evaluation... The present study was designed to detect the genetic modifications and investigate the compositional analysis of GM corn containing traits of multiple genes (NK603, MON88017 × MON810 and MON89034 ×  MON88017) compared with non-GM corn.


Values for most biochemical components... were similar to those of the non-GM control... increases were observed in protein, fat, fiber and fatty acids of the GM corn samples... may be due to the synergistic effect of new traits introduced into corn varieties... [The] analysis showed high similarity among the protein fractions of the investigated corn samples.


These data indicate that GM corn samples were compositionally equivalent to, and as nutritious as, non-GM corn.


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India's PM bets on GM crops for second green revolution - Reuters (2015)

India's PM bets on GM crops for second green revolution - Reuters (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

On a fenced plot not far from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home, a field of mustard is in full yellow bloom, representing his government's reversal of an effective ban on field trials of genetically modified (GM) food crops. The GM mustard planted in the half-acre field in the grounds of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi is in the final stage of trials before the variety is allowed to be sold commercially, and that could come within two years, scientists associated with the project say.

India placed a moratorium on GM aubergine in 2010 fearing the effect on food safety and biodiversity. Field trials of other GM crops were not formally halted, but the regulatory system was brought to a deadlock. But allowing GM crops is critical to Modi's goal of boosting dismal farm productivity in India, where urbanisation is devouring arable land and population growth will mean there are 1.5 billion mouths to feed by 2030 - more even than China. 

Starting in August last year, his government resumed the field trials for selected crops with little publicity... Modi was a supporter of GM crops when he was chief minister of Gujarat state over a decade ago, the time when GM cotton was introduced in the country and became a huge success. Launched in 2002, Bt cotton... is the country's only GM crop and covers 95 percent of India's cotton cultivation...  From being a net importer, India has become the world's second-largest producer and exporter of the fibre... 

Largely agricultural India became self-sufficient in foodgrains after the launch of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, when it introduced high-yielding seed varieties and the use of fertiliser and irrigation. The challenge now is to replicate that success in edible oils and vegetables... India imports about 60 percent of its edible oil needs at an annual cost of up to $10 billion - its third-biggest import item after crude oil and gold.

The trials of the mustard plant, which provides the highest yield of all oilseeds, are being led by Delhi University researchers... developed a transgenic mustard strain that raises output by up to 30 percent but... trials were halted after the moratorium... Environment ministry official said studies have found no ill effects from GM foods and that local firms should partner with multinationals like Monsanto, which has already licensed its Bt Cotton product to several Indian companies...


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European grain yield stagnation related to climate change - Stanford U (2015)

European grain yield stagnation related to climate change - Stanford U (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

After changes in government policy and farm practices, European grain yields leveled off... climate trends account for 10 percent of that stagnation... 

A new Stanford study has statistically quantified the relative importance of climate in the stagnation of yield of European crops, including wheat. The European Union led the world in wheat production and exports in 2014-15. Yet Europe is also the region where productivity has slowed the most. Yields of major crops have not increased as much as would be expected over the past 20 years, based on past productivity increases and innovations in agriculture.

Finding the causes of that stagnation is key to understanding the trajectory of the global food supply... climate change would affect crops. But in the overall picture of agriculture, it's hard to figure out how much. European farming is a complex venture, and other possible stagnating factors include changes in government policy. For example, farm subsidies are no longer based on productivity and the use of fertilizer is now controlled to reduce runoff into water supplies. Ongoing positive factors include improvements in farm management practices and advances in crop genetics.

Historically, scientists relied on models to estimate the effects of climate change. Now... Moore has for the first time statistically quantified the relative importance of climate in the stagnation of European crops. She found that warming and precipitation trends are affecting European grain harvests... "This study is sobering in that it shows climate drags on some of the crops in this region"... 

"This is a major step in using quantitative analysis to disentangle the effect of climate change in a complicated system... It demonstrates that the signal has become large enough that we may see the effect of climate change in a complicated system like agriculture"...


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AckerbauHalle's curator insight, February 21, 11:38 PM

Interessante Studie zu den Ursachen der Stagnation von Erträgen in Europa. 

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In medio stat virtus: coexistence policies for GM and non-GM production in spatial equilibrium - Moschini (2015) ERAE

In medio stat virtus: coexistence policies for GM and non-GM production in spatial equilibrium - Moschini (2015) ERAE | Ag Biotech News |

This article develops a spatial equilibrium model suitable to analyse the economic impacts of measures (such as isolation distances and buffer zones) meant to ensure coexistence between genetically modified (GM) and non-GM crops.

We show that policies that put the cost of such measures exclusively on GM producers lead to a competitive equilibrium that is biased against GM products (relative to the welfare maximising allocation). Efficient allocation is restored if the cost of implementing coexistence measures is shared equally between adjacent GM and non-GM farms... 

We believe that, more generally, our result suggests that a balanced approach to coexistence policies – one that does not unilaterally privilege pre-existing crop patterns but is instead open to efficiency-enhancing innovations – might be highly desirable.


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Genetic engineering debate: objectivity instead of scaremongering - German media (2015)

[Slightly edited machine translation.] 


The idea that in the course of a free trade agreement with the US GM foods could reach their supermarket shelves horrifies the Germans. According to surveys an overwhelming majority of Germans rejects genetically modified food and feed. You could call this attitude hostile. Environmental groups and politicians have long since jumped on the bandwagon. An objective discussion has become impossible. It is high time to dispel prejudices and to stop the hysteria - because genetic engineering is an emerging technology that offers opportunities.

Since humans started with agriculture and animal husbandry, they changed the genes of animals and plants. Since a long time already performance-optimized cows that produce very much milk are grazing on German pastures and in the stables are pigs that were bred specifically for meat production. This also applies to agricultural crops. They, too, have been adapted to the needs of industrial mass production over time. However, simple cross breeding is no longer the only way to achieve the desired results in plant breeding. Nowadays mutations - we are talking not of genetic engineering - are also achieved through the use of chemicals and radiation. This as nothing to do any longer with rural idyll or production and breeding methods close to nature, but only a few people are bothered by this. On the contrary, consumer are happy to help themselves when meat, milk and bread are cheap. 


Given the currently used high-tech methods, it can hardly be explained rationally whence the paranoia because of one more technical production processes - genetic engineering. Especially not when you consider that there is no single reliable study that classifies the consumption of genetically modified foods to be hazardous to health. They are neither toxic nor do they cause allergic reactions or illnesses. Nevertheless, the fear of genetic engineering is deep in the subconscious of many Germans. Critics nurture their conviction through a latent distrust of business, science, politics and media. Also the in part reckless behavior of corporations has contributed to the negative image of genetic engineering. But its opponents can no longer be reached with arguments. They pretend to care about environmental protection and ecological responsibility - in fact their attitude embodies the contrary. 

Indeed, GM crops are not a panacea. There still remain problems such as the emergence of resistance, but these also exist in non-GM agriculture. Nevertheless, through genetic engineering the use of pesticides - which actually pose significant health risks - could be massively reduced. But despite dying bees and toxic residues in drinking water and food, in this country hardly anyone wants to discuss this option. Another concern is that this poorly deliberated fight against genetic engineering is carried into third world countries - mainly from Western environmentalists. Although green biotechnology could help combat hunger and malnutrition, especially in such states. 

In the debate would now be needed environmental groups and organizations that could assess opportunities and risks independently and give people valuable guidance. But instead, organizations such as Greenpeace resort  to a campaign-like fundamental opposition. This attitude is irresponsible.


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Family sent me this from a regional newspaper somewhere in the German hinterland. There are still glimmers of reason and hope, it seems... 

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