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An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research - Nicolia &al (2013) - Critical Rev Biotechnol

An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research - Nicolia &al (2013) - Critical Rev Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The technology to produce genetically engineered (GE) plants is celebrating its 30th anniversary and one of the major achievements has been the development of GE crops. The safety of GE crops is crucial for their adoption and has been the object of intense research work often ignored in the public debate. We have reviewed the scientific literature on GE crop safety during the last 10 years, built a classified and manageable list of scientific papers, and analyzed the distribution and composition of the published literature. We selected original research papers, reviews, relevant opinions and reports addressing all the major issues that emerged in the debate on GE crops, trying to catch the scientific consensus that has matured since GE plants became widely cultivated worldwide.

 

The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of GE crops; however, the debate is still intense. An improvement in the efficacy of scientific communication could have a significant impact on the future of agricultural GE. Our collection of scientific records is available to researchers, communicators and teachers at all levels to help create an informed, balanced public perception on the important issue of GE use in agriculture…

 

The safety of GE crops is crucial for their adoption and has been the object of intense research work. The literature produced over the years on GE crop safety is large (31 848 records up to 2006…) and it started to accumulate even before the introduction of the first GE crop in 1996. The dilution of research reports with a large number of commentary papers, their publication in journals with low impact factor and their multidisciplinary nature have been regarded as negative factors affecting the visibility of GE crop safety research…

 

We built a classified and manageable list of scientific papers on GE crop safety and analyzed the distribution and composition of the literature published from 2002 to October 2012. The online databases PubMed and ISI Web of Science were interrogated to retrieve the pertinent scientific records… We selected original research papers, reviews, relevant opinions and reports addressing all the major issues that emerged in the debate on GE crops. The 1783 scientific records collected are provided in .xls and .ris file formats accessible through the common worksheet programs… Beyond a numerical analysis of the literature, we provide a short explanatory summary of each issue.  

 

The technology to produce GE plants is celebrating its 30th anniversary… but the adoption of GE plants in the agricultural system has raised issues about environmental and food/feed safety. We have reviewed the scientific literature on GE crop safety for the last 10 years that catches the scientific consensus matured since GE plants became widely cultivated worldwide, and we can conclude that the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops… the public opposition to field trials, may have discouraged researchers, at least in the EU.

 

The literature about Biodiversity and the GE food/feed consumption has sometimes resulted in animated debate regarding the suitability of the experimental designs, the choice of the statistical methods or the public accessibility of data. Such debate, even if positive and part of the natural process of review by the scientific community, has frequently been distorted by the media and often used politically and inappropriately in anti-GE crops campaigns… when dealing with ‘‘hot issues’’, researchers should take special care in following rigorous scientific standards, avoiding the publication of data not sufficiently peer reviewed by the scientific community.

 

In the EU, the regulatory burdens for GE crop approval are extremely heavy… de facto excluding the public sector and minor crops from the development of GE technology. As a result, the number of experimental releases of GE crops is rapidly decreasing… and even large companies are abandoning GE… This scenario is the result of the interaction of complex sociological and psychological factors, risk/benefit ratios, political aspects and an unbalanced scientific communication.

 

All these factors have to be considered globally and taken into account in a constructive debate on whether the GE crops represent a strategic resource for the future. An improvement in the efficacy of the scientific communication to stakeholders, as clearly demonstrated in the case of the recent case of GE wheat field trials in the UK… could have a significant impact on the future of agricultural GE.

 

We believe that genetic engineering and GE crops should be considered important options in the efforts toward sustainable agricultural production. Our collection of scientific records is available to researchers, communicators and teachers at all levels to help create an informed and balanced public perception on the hot issue of GE use in agriculture. 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.3109/07388551.2013.823595

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"Declaration of interest: The authors report no conflicts of interest" – and they are from the public sector in rather GMO-cautious Italy.

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

[updated July 24, 2016]  

 

These days I received an apparently easy request: “Do you have any recommendations for reading about the debate on GMOs? I think there is a lot of heat, but too little light in the discussion; I trust you can send me some…” To which I answered carelessly: “Sure, I will look into it, select a few references and post them…” 

 

I thought I’d have a quick look into my collection of bookmarks and references and post some of the links to satisfy the request. Obviously there would be too many individual studies and crop-specific or country-specific reports, but focusing only (i) on what was published in recent years, (ii) on sources where all this information was already aggregated (literature reviews, meta-analyses, authoritative statements, FAQs, etc.), and (iii) on academic or publicly funded sources should produce a fairly concise list, I thought. 

 

While not unmanageable, the list has become quite long. To get a rough idea of the current state of knowledge, it may be sufficient to peruse the first 1-2 (starred *) references under each heading, and to have a quick look at the abstracts and summaries of some of the others. (Given the controversy surrounding this topic I did not want to suggest just one or two sources, but show a bit the width of the scientific consensus, and to offer some titbits of related information.) ... 

 

http://ajstein.tumblr.com/post/40504136918/
 

 

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Jennifer Mach's comment, March 30, 2013 9:05 AM
I admit I haven't read this list... but for future reference, I'll definitely have a look.
Karen Ashby's curator insight, April 5, 2016 4:26 AM

Conflicted about how your view on GM ties in with a career in Biotech? Look no further

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Targeted genome editing, an alternative tool for trait improvement in horticultural crops - Subburaj &al (2016) - Hortic Environ Biotechnol

Targeted genome editing, an alternative tool for trait improvement in horticultural crops - Subburaj &al (2016) - Hortic Environ Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Improving crops through plant breeding, an important approach for sustainable agriculture, has been utilized to increase the yield and quality of foods and other biomaterials for human use. Crops, including cereals, vegetables, ornamental flowers, fruits, and trees, have long been cultivated to produce high-quality products for human consumption. 


Conventional breeding technologies, such as natural cross-hybridization, mutation induction through physical or chemical mutagenesis, and modern transgenic tools are often used to enhance crop production. However, these breeding methods are sometimes laborious and complicated, especially when attempting to improve desired traits without inducing pleiotropic effects. 


Recently, targeted genome editing (TGE) technology using engineered nucleases, including meganucleases, zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), and clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) nucleases, has been used to improve the traits of economically important plants. 


TGE has emerged as a novel plant-breeding tool that represents an alternative approach to classical breeding, but with higher mutagenic efficiency. Here, we briefly describe the basic principles of TGE and the types of engineered nucleases utilized, along with their advantages and disadvantages. We also discuss their potential use to improve the traits of horticultural crops through genome engineering. 


http://doi.org/10.1007/s13580-016-0281-8


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From classical mutagenesis to nuclease‐based breeding – directing natural DNA repair for a natural end‐product - Pacher & Puchta (2016) - Plant J

From classical mutagenesis to nuclease‐based breeding – directing natural DNA repair for a natural end‐product - Pacher & Puchta (2016) - Plant J | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The production of mutants of crop plants by the use of chemical or physical genotoxins has a long tradition. These factors induce the natural DNA repair machinery to repair damages in an error-prone way. In case of radiation, multiple double strand breaks (DSBs) are induced randomly in the genome, leading in very rare cases to a desirable phenotype. 


In recent years the use of synthetic, site directed nucleases (SDNs), also referred to as sequence specific nucleases (SSNs), like the CRISPR/Cas system, enabled scientists to use exactly the same naturally occurring DNA repair mechanisms for the controlled induction of genomic changes at predefined sites in plant genomes. As these changes are not necessarily associated with the permanent integration of foreign DNA, the obtained organisms per se cannot be regarded as genetically modified as there is no way to distinguish it from natural variants. This applies to changes induced by DSBs, as well as single strand breaks (SSBs)...  


The recent development of SDN-based “DNA-free” approaches makes the discrimination between mutagenesis strategies in classical breeding indistinguishable from SDN-derived targeted genome modifications, even in regard to current regulatory rules. With the advent of the new SDN technologies, much faster and more precise genome editing becomes available at reasonable costs and potentially not requiring time consuming deregulation of newly created phenotypes. 


This review will focus on classical mutagenesis breeding and the application of newly developed SDNs in order to emphasize similarities in context of the regulatory situation for genetically modified crop plants... 


Considering the initially discussed process of breeding and mutational breeding, in comparison with the possibilities that arose with the advent of reprogrammable customized SDNs, it has become evident that plant biotechnology has reached a new era. While classical and mutational breeding were time-consuming and potential mutations happened unnoticed elsewhere in the genome, the new technologies allow for fast and highly accurate GE, exploiting the natural DNA repair mechanisms of plants. 


Harnessing the knowledge of those pathways and the availability of the new biotechnological tools, it is now feasible to create precisely predictable genome modifications at affordable costs that are based on much better defined changes than classical breeding induced mutations and are by no means different than naturally occurring varieties. 


Given those new possibilities of editing plant genomes, even without a permanent or even temporary presence of stably integrated DNA, regulatory burdens for commercialization of new agronomically relevant crops should be lowered and hopefully public acceptance enhanced. It is our strong opinion that the currently available tools will significantly boost the potential of plant biotechnology and this way support the increasing nutritional need of a steadily growing world population. 


http://doi.org/10.1111/tpj.13469


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Genetically modified crops, regulatory delays, and international trade - Smyth (2017) - Food Energy Sec

Genetically modified crops, regulatory delays, and international trade - Smyth (2017) - Food Energy Sec | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Genetically modified (GM) crops have been produced in the initial adopting countries for 20 years. Over this period of time, hundreds of articles and reports have been published by academic journals, government regulatory agencies, and national science organizations on the safety aspects of biotechnology and GM crops. In addition to this, there is a growing body of quantified peer reviewed literature on the economic and environmental benefits following the adoption of GM crops in both developed and developing countries. Some estimates place the economic benefits in the billions of dollars a year range. 


In spite of the documentation of these economic and environmental benefits... environmental nongovernmental organizations (eNGOs) are relentless in their campaigns of misinformation about the [alleged] dangers and hazards of GM crops. While eNGOs are unable to quantify their claims and accusations, their political and policy influences continue, particularly in Europe and numerous developing nations. The result of this is regulatory delays for the approval of new GM crops and frequent international commodity trade failures, where shipments have been rejected due to the low-level presence of a GM crop. 


Taken in combination, the regulatory and trade challenges facing GM crops are having a detrimental impact on improving food security. This article quantifies the benefits of GM crops, highlights the regulatory costs of delayed approval, and provides insights into the spillover effects from GM crop trade. 


http://doi.org/10.1002/fes3.100


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GMOs: a scapegoat of the American food system - Medium (2016) 

GMOs: a scapegoat of the American food system - Medium (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Avoid the Non-GMO Project’s label because it does not tell consumers any information regarding the item’s healthfulness, its impact on the environment, or the pesticides used to grow crops. 


Comments we received expressed that although GMOs may indeed be safe, there are socio-economic factors surrounding these crops which give consumers pause. Today, we write... that such socio-economic factors are not unique to GMOs. 


Non-GMO Does Not Mean Free of Patents

The development of any crop can take years, leading companies to patent these new varieties to protect their investments. However, this is done regardless of the method used to modify the crop... Even seeds used in organic food production can be patented and can be developed by large agricultural companies. In contrast, some GMOs are no longer patented, such as Round-Up Ready Soy. 


Most farmers buy new seeds every year and have been doing so since before GMOs were developed. Because crops grown from saved seeds do not necessarily bear all the traits that farmers and consumers desire, most farmers choose to buy their seeds every year whether they grow GMOs or not.

GMO Is Not Synonymous With Monsanto 


Speaking out in favor of genetic engineering automatically gets one labeled a Monsanto defender, even though any party can wield the technology... Business practices of massive corporations can and should be questioned and criticized when unethical, conflating “GMOs” with Monsanto... stifles innovation. This crude narrative... discourages smaller entities from developing and commercializing GE products. At the same time, Monsanto develops... even seeds approved for use under the USDA’s organic label. Consequently, shunning GMOs does not result in boycotting Monsanto’s products... 


Some examples of non-Monsanto genetically engineered crops... are: Bananas resistant to bacterial wilt, a scourge threatening the crop in Uganda and eastern Africa... Gluten-free wheat, developed by public sector scientists in Europe, with the potential to help celiac disease patients. Oranges resistant to citrus greening, a disease that eventually kills the orange tree and is wreaking havoc across several U.S. states. Papaya that is essentially vaccinated against Papaya Ringspot Virus (PRSV), which nearly wiped out the Hawaiian papaya industry... 


GMOs and Monocultures

GMOs are blamed for an increase in monoculture and a decline in seed diversity... However, this is a gross oversimplification...  Depending on how we define monoculture and what our concerns are, we can look at various measures to see how GMOs have affected these issues. On a system-wide level, currently adopted GMOs have led to reduced monoculture and protected biodiversity by protecting 13 million hectares of land from conversion to agriculture... 


Another area of concern is that biotechnology could lead to a reduction of genetic diversity within the crops themselves. However, this is not a problem specific to GMOs, as farmers plant a homogenous batch of seeds no matter what kind of seed they buy. Farmers choose from a very wide variety of seeds, GMO or non-GMO, to fit the needs of their particular farms. In addition, when scientists look at crop diversity, they actually find that many measures of crop diversity have increased over time.... Early seed catalogs had many varieties with different names that actually referred to the same variety. 


Other Myths and Falsehoods... 

Farmers have not been sued for inadvertent cross contamination.

There is no evidence that organic food is healthier, nor is it free of pesticides.

GMO seeds are not sterile.

GMOs are not associated with the suicide of farmers in India.

The concerns that many readers have regarding the strength of multi-billion dollar agricultural conglomerates, the undue power of these companies in our political and regulatory system, and other such factors... are not factors unique to discussions on GMOs or even exclusive to agriculture. These factors impact all of agriculture... using conventional or organic farming practices. 


As tempting as it may be to simplify these complex political and economic problems to a GMO debate in search of silver-bullet fixes, by reducing our scope we are prevented from finding genuine solutions to these issues. 


https://medium.com/@BioChicaGMO/5813eae795fb


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Genetically Modified Food Labeling: A “Right to Know”? - Gostin (2016) - JAMA

Genetically Modified Food Labeling: A “Right to Know”? - Gostin (2016) - JAMA | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

For decades, small organic farmers, environmentalists, and consumer advocates have claimed the “right to know” what is in our food. They have expressed particular dismay that food labels fail to disclose that a product is or contains ingredients from genetically modified organisms... 


What could be wrong with transparency and disclosure? The answer is that there exists a scientific consensus that genetically modified foods are safe for human consumption. Potential benefits of genetically modified crops include development of disease and drought resistance crops, decreased use of pesticides, more nutritious and tastier food, and food with longer shelf life. 


The benefits of GMO products are important in highly developed countries like the United States, but in lower-income countries whose people experience food insecurity... it can be a matter of life or death. Consider “golden rice,” genetically modified to be enriched with vitamin A. This food has the potential to benefit poor African and Southeast Asian communities where rice is a dietary staple, but vitamin A-deficient children suffer from preventable blindness... 

Genetically modified corn, cotton, and soybeans emerged on the US market in 1996. By 2012, GMO crops as a percentage of total crop plantings were about 88% for corn, 94% for cotton, and 93% for soybeans... 


After reviewing nearly 900 studies and other publications, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently found that GMOs were safe and did not harm the environment. Moreover, new techniques such as genome editing, blurred the distinction between genetic engineering and conventional plant breeding, making reliable labeling regulation virtually untenable. The report called for regulation focusing on the attributes of crops rather than how they were created.

Medical, scientific, and public health organizations agree. In 2012, the American Medical Association said, “no scientific justification [exists] for special labeling of bioengineered foods,” and “voluntary labeling is without value” absent intense consumer education... The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) warned, labels could “mislead and falsely alarm consumers.” The World Health Organization found that GMO foods currently on the market “are not likely to present risks for human health”... The USDA has found GMO foods to be just as safe and nutritious as other foods... 

Despite near unanimity among scientists, the public is deeply skeptical... 93% of respondents approved of GMO food labeling... Could GMO labeling stir a new transparency movement? There is a great deal that consumers may wish to know about their food and how it is produced: where the food was grown, whether food animals were treated humanly and without antimicrobial drugs, and whether food workers were underpaid and exploited. 


The big question marks going forward are should consumer demand drive law, the private market, or both? Or should public policy hew to scientific evidence? When scientists and consumers have diametrically opposite views, which should prevail and why? As far as GMO labeling is concerned... would labeling stifle innovation? If we yield to consumer preferences absent scientific evidence, would this really benefit the public’s health and safety?


http://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2016.17476



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In the pink: FDA gives 'all clear' to GM pineapple - The Packer (2016) 

In the pink: FDA gives 'all clear' to GM pineapple - The Packer (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

After winning U.S. Department of Agriculture approval in 2013, the genetically engineered pink pineapple from Del Monte Fresh Produce now has passed muster at the Food and Drug Administration.


The FDA said... that there are no unresolved regulatory or safety questions for the fruit... Del Monte is working with the government of Costa Rica on its production plans, according to the FDA... The pink flesh pineapple is as safe and nutritious as its conventional counterparts, according to the release.

The pineapple has been genetically engineered to produce lower levels of the enzymes already in conventional pineapples that convert the pink pigment lycopene to the yellow pigment beta carotene. Lycopene is the pigment that makes tomatoes red and watermelons pink.

According to the FDA’s release, Del Monte plans to identify it... on tags attached to the crown of the fruit to distinguish the pink-flesh pineapple from Del Monte’s “golden” pineapples... 

Del Monte voluntarily submitted the pink pineapple for FDAs review, which allows marketers to make sure that derived from new plant varieties are safe and comply with the FDA regulations... 


http://www.thepacker.com/news/pink-fda-gives-all-clear-del-monte-pineapple


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
So it seems the world will have pink pineapple (for more colourful fruit salad?) before it has golden rice (to help combat malnutrition). Sounds right... Seems Del Monte is not concerned with crops changing colour, though, but to think they can be sold as a speciality? 
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The Adoption of Genetically Engineered Alfalfa, Canola and Sugarbeets in the United States - Fernandez-Cornejo &al (2016) - USDA

The Adoption of Genetically Engineered Alfalfa, Canola and Sugarbeets in the United States - Fernandez-Cornejo &al (2016) - USDA | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
After their commercial introduction in 1996, genetically engineered (GE), herbicidetolerant (HT) varieties of corn, soybeans, and cotton were rapidly adopted... The success... led to the deregulation that enabled the commercialization of HT canola in 1998 and of HT alfalfa and sugarbeets in 2005. 

Although legal/regulatory issues limited the spread of GE sugarbeets and GE alfalfa during the first decade of the 21st century, adoption rates for these crops have increased rapidly in recent years. 

This report uses data... to analyze the adoption of GE alfalfa, canola, and sugarbeets in the United States. It also discusses legal/regulatory issues associated with the commercialization of these crops, trends in adoption rates, and the economic impacts of adoption. 

Some 95 percent of U.S. canola acres and over 99 percent of sugarbeet acres... were planted with GE seeds containing HT traits. Only 13 percent of U.S. alfalfa acres were planted using GE seeds... but this... is expected because alfalfa is a perennial crop and only about one-seventh of the alfalfa acreage is newly seeded each year.


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Fighting contaminated land with help from the humble fruit fly - Univ York (2016) 

Fighting contaminated land with help from the humble fruit fly - Univ York (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Scientists have discovered that a gene found in the common fruit fly can be successfully expressed in a plant and used to detoxify land contaminated with TNT. The breakthrough could pave the way for millions of hectares of land contaminated by munitions to be cleaned up. 


The study... shows how a gene found in the common fruit fly... can be expressed in Arabidopsis, a member of the cabbage family, to improve TNT removal from contaminated soil. When scientists engineered the plants to express the glutathione transferase gene found in fruit flies, they found that plants expressing the gene were more resistant to TNT and were better able to remove it from contaminated soil...  

The fruit fly has an enzyme which attaches itself to the TNT molecule and is able to modify it and make it less toxic, not only to the plant itself, but the environment... “it converts TNT into a product that could be more amenable to being broken down in the environment... there are sites going back to the Second World War which are still contaminated”... “Areas of land contaminated with explosives are a threat to human health and the environment.”

The team from York has previously worked on a new transgenic grass species that can neutralize and eradicate RDX, an organic compound, which along with TNT, forms the base for many common military explosives... 


http://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2016/research/contaminated-land-tnt-fruit-fly/


Underlying article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/nph.14326


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
... so instead of posing a threat to human health and the environment, as some fear, one more example how specific GMOs might actually improve both... 
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GE Cowpea Seeds to be Available for Nigerian Farmers in 2019 - ISAAA (2016) 

GE Cowpea Seeds to be Available for Nigerian Farmers in 2019 - ISAAA (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Nigeria's National Biotechnology Development Agency... announced that GE cowpea will be commercially available... before 2019. Prof. Lucy Ogbadu, NABDA Director General... said that GE cowpea is currently under field trials and has shown positive results.

"Rules are being followed... Nigerians should be assured that the GM beans and other crops... would be safe for consumption. In 2-3 years' time, cowpea should be ready in commercial quantity"... She also stressed that GM foods are not unhealthy, highlighting the initiative of 100 Nobel Laureates who signed a petition to guarantee the safety of GE crops. 


http://www.isaaa.org/kc/cropbiotechupdate/article/default.asp?ID=14991


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The Interface Between Trade and Technology Policies - Anderson (2016) - Springer

The Interface Between Trade and Technology Policies - Anderson (2016) - Springer | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Concerns that products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be unsafe as food or animal feed, or may harm the environment, have led European countries to procrastinate on approving their production or use despite no evidence of their harm. 


This policy stance, which has discouraged many developing countries from adopting too, is unfortunate because modeling results show that GM crops offer welfare gains that could alleviate poverty and food insecurity directly, substantially, and relatively rapidly in countries willing to allow adoption of this new biotechnology. 


The stakes in this issue are very high because the prospective gains from this new technology will increase as climate change proceeds and requires adaptation by farmers to warming and to increased weather volatility and higher costs of irrigation water.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-46925-0_7


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After A Sour Decade, Florida Citrus May Be Near A Comeback - NPR (2016) 

After A Sour Decade, Florida Citrus May Be Near A Comeback - NPR (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

In Florida, oranges are so important that they're on the state's license plates. But after 11 years of fighting a debilitating disease, Florida's citrus industry is in a sad state. The disease, called citrus greening, is caused by a bacterium that constricts a tree's vascular system, shriveling fruit and eventually killing the tree. The bacterium is spread by a tiny insect called a psyllid.

Florida's signature orange crop is now less than a third of what it was 20 years ago because of this disease... But, at Florida's Citrus Research and Education Center, researchers are now optimistic they'll win the battle to save Florida oranges, thanks in part to recent advances in developing tougher varieties of citrus... 

One tree that stands out. Unlike the others, it's full of fruit and looks healthy. He says, "Our growers wanted to call this variety 'Bingo.'" It's a small mandarin orange variety, seedless and easy-to-peel, that was developed over years using painstaking conventional breeding... It's one of a few varieties of greening-tolerant citrus that are beginning to provide short-term answers for growers while scientists look for a long-term solution... 

One short term solution that's working is physically protecting the plants from the disease vector... The screened enclosure has shown growers a simple and effective way to protect citrus trees from greening. "It's been a hundred percent successful so far of excluding the psyllid and the disease... We expect it to be a long-term protection system that works"... 

He unlocks the door to one of his massive screened greenhouses. We're immediately buffeted by fans. They're part of a system that makes sure bugs, like the disease carrying psyllids don't get in. Inside, the sun filters through the enclosure's fine mesh screens. There are ten acres of mandarin oranges here.

Because it requires a big capital investment, growing under screens is an option just for farmers who raise fruit that's sold fresh in supermarkets and farm stands. That leaves out the majority of Florida growers whose crop goes to orange juice... 

For growers, some of the best news in the battle against citrus greening is coming, not from the groves, but from research labs... Researchers are using cutting edge technology to develop citrus varieties resistant to the disease... making progress with the gene editing system, CRISPR, which allows scientists to tinker with targeted pieces of DNA... that they can manipulate to make trees resistant to greening... 

Already used CRISPR technology to produce plants resistant to another citrus disease... "a genome-modified plant... written against Canker." It's another disease that brought big headaches to citrus growers, but it's effects paled in comparison to the devastation caused by greening... 


Dundee is one of Florida's oldest grower cooperatives... With greening, the co-op has lost growers. Packing houses and juice plants have closed as the size of Florida's crop dropped by two-thirds. But after years of shrinking crops and growing despair... the new developments have returned hope to the citrus industry... 


http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/12/04/503183540/after-a-sour-decade-florida-citrus-may-be-near-a-comeback


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Genetically modified bananas: To mitigate food security concerns - Ghag & Ganapathi (2016) - Sci Hort

Genetically modified bananas: To mitigate food security concerns - Ghag & Ganapathi (2016) - Sci Hort | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Banana and plantains are one of the world’s most important food crops and widely consumed by people of all age groups. Bananas are a rich source of carbohydrates, important vitamins like vitamin B and C and minerals like potassium and phosphorous. 


Banana is an economically important cash crop as it fetch large revenue share in the domestic and international market. However, most of the production is consumed by the domestic population as it serves as the staple food for them. 


Bananas are vulnerable to both biotic and abiotic stress factors which limits their production. Improvement of this crop to enhance the nutrient quality and better adapt to the changing environmental conditions and to produce new disease resistant varieties is essential. 


Genetic engineering of banana is considered a perfect alternative for improvement of sterile cultivars or ones which are not amenable to traditional breeding methods. Several successful attempts have demonstrated the strength of this technology in developing abiotic stress tolerance and disease resistant transgenic banana varieties. 


Only few of the GM bananas have qualified for field studies and some are currently undergoing nutritional human trials. GM bananas aim to increase productivity and nutritional value and so could effectively contribute towards food security in the near future. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scienta.2016.11.023


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GMOs in Russia: Research, Society and Legislation - Korobko &al (2016) - Acta Naturae

Russian legislation lags behind the rapid developments... in genetic engineering. Only a scientifically based and well-substantiated policy on... organisms that are created with the use of genetic engineering technologies and an assessment of the risks associated with them could guarantee that the breakthroughs achieved in modern genetic engineering technologies are effectively put to use in the real economy. A lack of demand for such breakthroughs in the practical field will lead to stagnation in scientific research and to a loss of expertise... 


It is vital to revisit our legal framework and guidelines related to the safety and risk assessment of GMOs... in the Russian Federation. The [concept] suggested herein... enables to conduct an efficient evaluation, while eliminating wasteful studies depending on the specific features of a GMO, the conditions of its intended handling, and the features of the derived GM product. 


The creation of a system that enables a broad involvement of GMOs in the real economy will also provide incentives for research in this dynamic and growing field, where the Russian Federation today has sufficient expertise and potential. However, if the situation with the regulatory system remains unchanged, with a total ban on GM plants and GM animals remaining in place, the existing expertise might be rapidly lost because it won't be needed.


https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5199202/


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From risk perception to information selection… And not the other way round: Selective exposure mechanisms in the field of genetically modified organisms - Bardin &al (2016) - Food Qual Pref

From risk perception to information selection… And not the other way round: Selective exposure mechanisms in the field of genetically modified organisms - Bardin &al (2016) - Food Qual Pref | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Risk perceptions concerning genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are often considered to reflect media coverage. However, it might be said that people seek out information consistent with their attitudes and avoid information which could challenge them. This process refers to the selective exposure principle derived from cognitive dissonance theory. 


Although this principle is now well established, the only two studies carried out to date in the field of GMOs have produced contradictory results. Additionally, no study has considered the link between risk perceptions, threat perceptions and attitudes as possible antecedents of selective exposure in the field of GMOs. The aim of the present research was to fill this gap. 


Results... showed that people did in fact expose themselves selectively in the field of GMOs: The higher the level of general risk perception they reported, the higher the perceived threat, the more negative their attitude towards GMOs and the greater their inclination to expose themselves to information on the harmful effects of GM food. We discuss the consequences of selective exposure and the potential levers which could favor exposure to pros and cons, thereby also favoring informed food choices. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2016.12.015


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Innovations continuously enhance crop breeding and demand new strategic planning - Flavell (2016) - Global Food Pol

Innovations continuously enhance crop breeding and demand new strategic planning - Flavell (2016) - Global Food Pol | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Food security relies on continuous supplies of improved products from plant breeding and their assimilation into agriculture. Extraordinary innovations in the life sciences have brought plant breeding into a new phase of opportunity. These include the means to discover, manage and select better versus poorer versions of genes and the ability to change gene sequences in situ by gene editing. Genomics is also revealing the thousands of different microbes in all plants and the roles that their genomes play in determining crop traits that can be further improved by addition of the right microbes. 


Assimilation of such innovations into breeding strategies can have major impacts on rates of breeding gain but to achieve this will require comprehensive strategic leadership, planning and investments by scientists, leading global agencies and all governments based on appreciation of (i) the continuous streams of innovations underpinning crop improvement and (ii) the necessities for more rapid crop improvements everywhere...  


What increased rates of gain in crop yields are attained from new innovations and what improved traits emerge as deployable will depend on the value of the trait, costs, regulations and consumer acceptance, size of market, profitability, public and market acceptance and export potential. All these are critical and need to be assessed better by public institutions as well as industrial companies. 


However, a failure to embrace today's technologies and anticipate future opportunities to solve food, feed, fiber and fuel problems safely and sustainably by plant biotechnology will surely only increase the probability of human suffering and misery. Today's crop breeding is slow, laborious and complex. It needs to be speeded up. 


There is now perhaps a window of opportunity to work more closely with publics all over the world to enable scientific innovation to continue to serve the world better in the crucial matters of food security and the best use of land. However, strategic planning and leadership at global and local levels are urgent to find and achieve the best ways forward. The links between innovation and food security need to be fully recognized and built into global and local plannings.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2016.10.001


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CRISPR/CAS9 Genome Editing Technology Is A Plant Breeding Dream Comes True - Gal-On (2016) - J Plant Pathol

Crop improvement depends on genetic variation within a population. This variation based on mutations in the genome’s DNA occurring during evolution. The genetic variation can be increased by random mutation of the DNA, by mutagenic chemicals or radiation physical treatment. Such artificial mutagenesis have been widely used in conventional plant breeding for decades as deregulated food products. 


In contrast to random mutations, genome editing technologies allow specific changes in a DNA target gene.... Recently, a new biotechnology system called the CRISPR/Cas9 has been developed for genome editing... This technological revolution is highly efficient, simple and allows DNA editing in all organisms tested to date... Additionally, genome editing can occur without a transgene remaining in the plant, so that edited plants are equivalent to non-transgenic mutants. 


Thus, the CRISPR-Cas9 is a promising technology that can modify genes without rendering corresponding plants as classical Genetic Modified Organism, paving the way to its implementation in agricultural biotechnology. We have utilized this technology to develop novel crops with improved stress-resistance. These include climate-tolerant tomato and virus-resistant cucumber cultivars. 


We believe that this novel technology has the potential for expediting development of disease resistance in many crops without the need for extensive backcrossing and genetic manipulation with wild sources of resistance. 


http://doi.org/10.4454/jpp.v98i4sup.3774


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Researchers model how ‘publication bias’ does – and doesn’t – affect the ‘canonization’ of facts in science - U Washington (2016) 

Researchers model how ‘publication bias’ does – and doesn’t – affect the ‘canonization’ of facts in science - U Washington (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Arguing in a Boston courtroom in 1770, John Adams famously pronounced, “Facts are stubborn things,” which cannot be altered by “our wishes, our inclinations or the dictates of our passion.” But facts, however stubborn, must pass through the trials of human perception before being acknowledged – or “canonized” – as facts... 


Carl Bergstrom believes facts stand a fighting chance, especially if science has their back. A professor of biology... has used mathematical modeling to investigate the practice of science, and how science could be shaped by the biases and incentives inherent to human institutions.

“Science is a process of revealing facts through experimentation,” said Bergstrom. “But science is also a human endeavor, built on human institutions. Scientists seek status and respond to incentives just like anyone else does. So it is worth asking... if, when and how these incentives affect the practice of science”... 

Bergstrom... explores whether “publication bias” – the tendency of journals to publish mostly positive experimental results – influences how scientists canonize facts. Their results offer a warning that sharing positive results comes with the risk that a false claim could be canonized as fact. But their findings also offer hope by suggesting that simple changes to publication practices can minimize the risk...  

Neither Bergstrom nor most of the scientists engaged in these debates are questioning the validity of heavily studied and thoroughly demonstrated scientific truths, such as evolution, anthropogenic climate change or the general safety of vaccination... “Evolution happens, and explains the diversity of life. Climate change is real. But we wanted to model if publication bias increases the risk of false canonization at the lowest levels of fact acquisition”... 


“The net effect of publication bias is that negative results are less likely to be seen, read and processed by scientific peers... Is this misleading the canonization process?” ... The lower the publication rate is for negative results, the higher the risk for false canonization...  “It turns out that requiring more evidence before canonizing a claim as fact did not help... Instead, our model showed that you need to publish more negative results – at least more than we probably are now”... 


“As a community, we tend to say, ‘Damn it, this didn’t work, and I’m not going to write it up... But I’d like scientists to reconsider that tendency, because science is only efficient if we publish a reasonable fraction of our negative findings.”  


http://www.washington.edu/news/2016/12/20/researchers-model-how-publication-bias-does-and-doesnt-affect-the-canonization-of-facts-in-science/


Underlying article: http://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.21451


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Organic Farming Doesn’t Mean Fairer Labor - National Geographic (2016) 

Organic Farming Doesn’t Mean Fairer Labor - National Geographic (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The terms “organic” and “unionized” rarely appear together for a reason. Gaining organic certification and unionizing workers is expensive and time-consuming. To farmers already operating with tight profit margins, the prospect of doing both can be daunting... Washington, D.C., nonprofit Farmworker Justice, estimates that of the roughly 2.5 million farmworkers in America, only around 25,000 are unionized. And only a small percent of those 25,000 work on organic farms... 


Most berry pickers in California are paid based on how much they pick—a system that incentivizes rapid work and favors the young and healthy. While it’s possible for fast pickers to earn a decent hourly rate, employees are usually given only seasonal work, forcing them to move or find other jobs for the rest of the year...


Swanton is one of a small but growing number of farms adopting a new consumer label called Food Justice Certified. The nonprofit Agricultural Justice Project oversees the Food Justice certification of farms by monitoring and advising farms to ensure that they meet dozens of strict standards covering worker safety, compensation, transparency, and fairness. Co-founder Elizabeth Henderson, herself an organic farmer, hopes the label can correct a common misconception: that food labeled organic has also been produced by workers who are treated well and paid a decent wage.

There are currently six Food Justice Certified farms in North America, but more than 25 others are making the improvements and undergoing the inspections necessary to earn the label. “I’ve been doing organic agriculture since 1979,” Henderson says. “It took us 20 years to really get that term recognized. I think that Food Justice is today where organic was in 1979”... 

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/people-and-culture/food/the-plate/2016/12/organic-farming-doesnt-mean-fairer-labor/


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"Organic" does not guarantee that workers are treated well (nor that the food is more healthy, better tasting, more sustainable or anything else -- it's been produced without certain, rather arbitrarily excluded inputs, but that's pretty much about all such a label says.) 
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Stories from the lab, stories from the field: advancing crop biotechnology - Vanderschuren (2016) - Univ Liege

The use of crop biotechnology is steadily increasing in the agrosystems of industrialized countries. Recent advances in genome editing are anticipated to further accentuate this trend. Given its potential for low input agriculture, there is a need to bring the benefits of crop biotechnology to developing and emerging countries. The challenge goes beyond the mere generation of transgenic crops because development and deployment of genetically engineered crops require local capacities and support from the authorities.

In the recent years, we have used biotechnological approaches to improve cassava, the most important root crop in the tropics. Cassava production and processing suffer from several constraints, including viral diseases, drought and post-harvest deterioration. A better understanding of crop responses to biotic and abiotic stresses combined with genetic engineering approaches can be particularly instrumental to generate plants with improved traits... 


Smallholders and industries... need traits such as resistance against cassava mosaic and brown streak diseases, prolonged shelf-life, drought tolerance, modified starch and improved nutritional content. Importantly those technologies should be implemented in local germplasm to secure impact for the local value chains. We actively collaborate with local institutions for technology transfer and assessment of cassava technologies in the field.


http://hdl.handle.net/2268/204070


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Recombinant pharmaceutical protein production in plants: unraveling the therapeutic potential of molecular pharming - Dirisala &al (2016) - APP

Recombinant pharmaceutical protein production in plants: unraveling the therapeutic potential of molecular pharming - Dirisala &al (2016) - APP | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

There is an increasing demand for the generation of recombinant pharmaceutical proteins for a wide array of therapeutic applications. In comparison to bacterial, yeast and animal cells, the production of recombinant proteins in plants with economic and therapeutic importance has only started recently. 


The most important prerequisite of any expression systems is that it should be simple and inexpensive. In this regard, plant-based expression has emerged an as accepted alternative to conventional expression platforms due to economic feasibility, rapid scalability, higher stability of recombinant proteins, safety due to lack of harmful substances... and capability of producing proteins with desired secondary modifications... 


Overview about the current status, various strategies and advantages of pharmaceutical protein production in plant expression systems. We also present a summary of expression of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies, vaccines, clinical trials and the regulatory aspects of plant-based expression. Furthermore, the challenges encountered in plant expression such as costs associated with existing purification strategies are discussed. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11738-016-2315-3


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Gene editing yields tomatoes that flower and ripen weeks earlier - CSHL (2016) 

Gene editing yields tomatoes that flower and ripen weeks earlier - CSHL (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Using a simple and powerful genetic method to tweak genes native to two popular varieties of tomato plants, a team... has devised a rapid method to make them flower and produce ripe fruit more than 2 weeks faster than commercial breeders are currently able to do. This means more plantings per growing season and thus higher yield. In this case, it also means that the plant can be grown in latitudes more northerly than currently possible... 


“Our work is a compelling demonstration of the power of gene editing – CRISPR technology – to rapidly improve yield traits in crop breeding,” says... Lippman, who led the research. Applications can go far beyond the tomato family... to include many major food crops like maize, soybean, and wheat that so much of the world depends upon.

Lippman clarifies that the technique... is about more than simply increasing yield. “It’s really about creating a genetic toolkit that enables growers and breeders in a single generation to tweak the timing of flower production and thus yield, to help adapt our best varieties to grow in parts of the world where they don’t currently thrive.” 

At the heart of the method are insights obtained... about the evolution of the flowering process in many crops and their wild relatives as it relates to the length of the light period in a day... 

A well-known hormonal system regulates flowering time – and hence the time when the plant will generate its first ripe fruit. The hormone florigen and a counteracting “anti-florigen” hormone called SP act together... to, respectively, promote or delay flowering... Lippman and colleagues traced the loss of day-length sensitivity in domesticated tomatoes to mutations in a gene called SP5G...

The team’s principal innovation... arises from the observation that... “there was some residual expression of the anti-florigen SP5G gene”... This led the team to employ the gene-editing tool CRISPR to induce tiny mutations in the SP5G gene. The aim was to inactivate the gene entirely such that it did not generate any anti-florigen protein at all.

When this tweaked version of SP5G was introduced to popular roma and cherry tomato varieties, the plants flowered earlier, and thus made fruits that ripened earlier. Tweaking another anti-florigen gene that makes tomato plants grow in a dense, compact, shrub-like manner made the early-flowering varieties even more compact and early-yielding... 


“What we’ve demonstrated here is fast-forward breeding... Now we have a simple strategy to completely eliminate daylight sensitivity in elite... plants that are already being cultivated. This could enable growers to expand their geographical range of cultivation, simply by using CRISPR to rapidly ‘adapt’ tomato and other crops to more northern latitudes, where summers have very long days and very short growing seasons.” 


http://www.cshl.edu/news-and-features/gene-editing-yields-tomatoes-that-flower-and-ripen-weeks-earlier.html


Underlying article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ng.3733


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Golden Rice: no progress to be seen. Do we still need it? - Wesseler & Zilberman (2016) - Env Develop Econ

Golden Rice: no progress to be seen. Do we still need it? - Wesseler & Zilberman (2016) - Env Develop Econ | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
In the December 2014 issue... we published the article, ‘The economic power of the Golden Rice opposition’... The paper generated substantial interest, not only in academia but also among civil society groups. 

In this note, we address some of the concerns that have been raised... Our main conclusion remains that misguided regulations in the case of Golden Rice have cost millions of healthy life years and billions of dollars... a claim that has recently been supported by more than 100 Nobel Prize Laureates. 



https://doi.org/10.1017/S1355770X16000292



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Genetically Altered Goats May Produce Milk that Causes Fewer Allergic Reactions - Wiley (2016) 

The presence of the allergen β-Lactoglobulin (BLG) in the milk of goats and other ungulates restricts the consumption of goat’s milk by humans. In a new study, researchers bred goats to lack BLG or to express human α-lactalbumin in place of BLG...


Milk from these goats triggered less severe allergic reactions in susceptible mice, suggesting that this technology might be an effective tool to reduce allergic reactions to milk and improve nutrition... 


http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/PressRelease/pressReleaseId-129928.html


Underlying article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/febs.13950


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... so in the end instead of causing allergies, GMOs may well reduce them... 
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Development and field performance of nitrogen use efficient rice lines for Africa - Gomez &al (2016) - Plant Biotechnol J

Development and field performance of nitrogen use efficient rice lines for Africa - Gomez &al (2016) - Plant Biotechnol J | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Nitrogen (N) fertilizers are a major input cost in rice production and its excess application leads to major environmental pollution. Development of rice varieties with improved nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is essential for sustainable agriculture. 


Here, we report the results of field evaluations of marker-free transgenic NERICA4 (New Rice for Africa 4) rice lines over-expressing barley alanine amino transferase (HvAlaAT)... 


Field evaluations over three growing seasons and two rice growing ecologies (lowland and upland) revealed that grain yield... was significantly higher than sibling nulls and wild type controls under different N application rates. 


This genetic modification can significantly increase the dry biomass and grain yield compared to controls under limited N supply. Increased yield... was correlated with increased tiller and panicle number in the field, and evidence of early establishment of a vigorous root system in hydroponic growth... 


Expression of the HvAlaAT gene can improve NUE in rice without causing undesirable growth phenotypes. The NUE technology... has the potential to significantly reduce the need for N fertilizer and simultaneously improve food security, augment farm economics and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from the rice ecosystem. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12675


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Stop buying organic food if you really want to save the planet - New Scientist (2016) 

Stop buying organic food if you really want to save the planet - New Scientist (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Wander around the local supermarket and you will struggle to find any clues to the environmental impact of the food you eat. If you are lucky, some of the seafood might bear the mark of the Marine Stewardship Council, which certifies fish caught in a sustainable way, but that’s about it.

Yet farming is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, only slightly behind heating and electricity. And while it’s relatively easy to cut emissions from electricity by switching to solar, reducing emissions from farming is a tougher nut to crack.

You might think buying local food is always preferable to imported food when it comes to carbon emissions, but even this is not a reliable guide. Food flown thousands of miles can still have a much lower carbon footprint than, say, local produce grown in heated greenhouses.

The one label you’re likely to find on many food items is the “organic” one. But if you care about the environment, don’t buy it (it’s not healthier either, but that’s another story).

For starters, you are not helping wildlife. Yes, organic farms host a greater diversity of wildlife than conventional ones. But because the yields are lower, organic farms require more land, which in the tropics often means cutting down more rainforests.

And organic food also results in higher greenhouse gas emissions than conventional farming.

The trouble is, there is no way to tell whether that basic loaf of bread is better in terms of greenhouse emissions than the organic one sitting next to it on the supermarket shelf.

This divide will become ever greater in the future, because the organisations that set the rather arbitrary standards for what counts as “organic” have firmly rejected the technology showing the greatest promise for reducing farming emissions: genetic modification.

Existing GM crops may already be reducing carbon emissions even though they were not designed to do so. Next up: crops that can capture more of the sun’s energy, require less fertiliser and tolerate drought or salt.

But the organic movement will have none of it. There was a faint hope that some might at least accept gene editing, given that gene-edited crops can be genetically indistinguishable from conventional crops. But no... 

What we really need are climate labels on foods... This isn’t going to be easy. Measuring all the emissions associated with producing food and getting it onto a supermarket shelf is extremely complex... Most schemes so far have foundered. Tesco tried introducing its own carbon labelling in 2007... but eventually abandoned the idea.

And it’s pointless unless the labels are easy to follow. One promising proposal is to describe the greenhouse emissions associated with particular food items in terms of what percentage of a person’s typical daily carbon footprint they represent.

Climate labelling is definitely worth pursuing despite the challenges. The only alternative is to allow consumers to continue being hoodwinked by feel-good mumbo jumbo – and the stakes are far too high to let this happen. 


https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23231022-900-stop-buying-organic-food-if-you-really-want-to-save-the-planet/


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