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Genetically engineered seeds may be approved - Washington Post (2014)

Genetically engineered seeds may be approved - Washington Post (2014) | Ag Biotech News |

The federal government on Friday proposed eliminating restrictions on corn and soybean seeds genetically engineered to resist a common weedkiller...  


The herbicide known as 2,4-D has had limited use in corn and soybean farming because it is toxic to the plants early in their growth. The new seeds would allow farmers to use the weedkiller throughout the plants’ lives.


Farmers have been eager for a new generation of herbicide-resistant seeds because of the prevalence of weeds that have become immune to Monsanto’s widely used Roundup... Most corn and soybeans grown in the United States are already genetically engineered, largely to resist Roundup, which was introduced in 1976. 

The federal Department of Agriculture’s plant-inspection agency concluded that the greatest risk from the new seeds... was increased use of 2,4-D, which could hasten the evolution of weeds resistant to it. The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a separate review... although it previously found the herbicide safe...

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

I never understood the argument that a pest control approach shouldn't be used if some day it might become ineffective -- with that logic the first scarecrow should never have been errected because the day would come when birds were not scared any longer... This doesn't mean that no measures should be taken to prevent the development of resistant weeds, though. 

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

[updated 20 November, 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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2nd Comment: WTF happened to golden rice? - Mother Jones (2016)

2nd Comment: WTF happened to golden rice? - Mother Jones (2016) | Ag Biotech News |

This is the second comment, following the ones posted previously:



“Following my previous comment [1], another point that Tom might not realise: By praising vitamin A supplementation and fortification he promotes the interests of “big pharma” – because that's where the vitamin A comes from! Covering millions and millions and millions of children with vitamin A supplements, year on year on year. A potential bonanza! Ditto for adding vitamin A to oils, fats, sugar or whatever that millions and millions and millions of people buy day in day out... 


This is not to say that supplementation or fortification are bad. Not at all! They can be very effective and still fairly efficient ways of addressing micronutrient malnutrition, but in the medium-term it might make sense to replace these interventions with other solutions – such as biofortification (and in the long-run dietary diversification). 


Still, there is a history to the market for vitamin A: In the 1990s there was a global vitamin cartel [2,3,4] and companies producing vitamin A (foremost among them Hoffman-La Roche) were charged for collusion and price fixing in the EU, the USA, Canada and Australia [5,6]. And e.g. in India – one of the target countries for Golden Rice – producers of vitamin A supplements are dependent on Hoffman-La Roche as a supplier of intermediate inputs [7,8].


In this context it is curious that the very day that Tom publishes his piece in defence of vitamin A supplementation and fortification, BASF announced that it increases its prices for vitamin A by 20% globally [9].” 


[1] Comment #2499920785 to this article:

[2] Marshall et al. (2005). Cartel Price Announcements: the Vitamins Industry. Remedies and Sanctions in Competition Policy Conference, February 17, Amsterdam.

[3] NYT (1999). Tearing Down The Facade of ‘Vitamins Inc.’, October 10. New York Times, New York.

[4] Kovacic et al. (2005). Lessons for Competition Policy from the Vitamins Cartel. SSRN 818744, Social Science Research Network, Rochester.

[5] EU (2001). Commission Imposes Fines on Vitamin Cartels. Rapid Press Release No. IP/01/1625, European Commission, Brussels.

[6] Guardian (2001). Vitamin Cartel Fined for Price Fixing, November 21. Guardian Unlimited, London.

[7] DSIR (no year). Executive Summary of a report on the synthetic production of Vitamin A. Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Government of India, Delhi.

[8] Stein (2006). Micronutrient Malnutrition and the Impact of Modern Plant Breeding on Public Health in India. Cuvillier, Göttingen; footnote 89.

[9] BASF (2016). BASF Increases Prices for Vitamin A. Trade News, February 3. BASF, Ludwigshafen.






Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Just for clarification: My comment regarding the simultaneous publication of Tom's article and BASF's press release is, of course, tongue-in-cheek. I certainly do not think there is a conspirational link or anything! (Just to show how easy it is to make baseless insinuations – that opponents of GMOs do all the time with their "shill" argument...)  

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Development of a novel-type transgenic cotton plant for control of cotton bollworm - Yue &al (2016) - Plant Biotechnol J

Development of a novel-type transgenic cotton plant for control of cotton bollworm - Yue &al (2016) - Plant Biotechnol J | Ag Biotech News |

Transgenic Bt cotton... has been widely planted throughout the world for the control of cotton budworm (Helicoverpa armigera). However, a shift towards insect tolerance of Bt cotton is now apparent. In this study, the gene encoding neuropeptide F (NPF) was cloned from cotton budworm... The npf gene produces two splicing mRNA variants – npf1 and npf2. These are predicted to form the mature NPF1 and NPF2 peptides, and they were found to regulate feeding behaviour.


Knock down of larval npf with dsNPF in vitro resulted in decreases of food consumption and body weight, and dsNPF also caused a decrease of glycogen and an increase of trehalose... We produced... transgenic cotton plants with stably expressed dsNPF. Results showed that H. armigera larvae fed on these transgenic plants or leaves had lower food consumption, body size and body weight compared to controls. These results indicate that NPF is important in the control of feeding of H. armigera and valuable for production of potential transgenic cotton.


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GMOs for thought - ScienceNews (2016)

GMOs for thought - ScienceNews (2016) | Ag Biotech News |
After plenty of study, safety worries haven’t surfaced, but big promises remain unfulfilled... The term GMO itself is a catchall that encompasses a wide range of products developed through a variety of means, each with its own risks and benefits. There are GMOs that have led to large reductions in the use of pesticides, for example, and there are GMOs that have made herbicide use skyrocket. The broad brush also fails when labeling the developers of GM technology: Commercial giants of the agrochemical pesticide industry have developed GMOs, but so have academic scientists funded by nonprofits or the public sector. “A technology like GM crops is neither good nor bad... Talking about the impact of GMOs is way too broad.”

The diversity of engineering processes and the products that result will probably continue to grow. For example, the relatively new CRISPR technology, which allows for superprecise gene editing, may soon become a GMO tool of choice. But generally speaking, the technologies behind GMOs are decades old. And despite fears of unknown risks, GMOs have been studied extensively. The picture drawn from decades of research is out of sync with many common public perceptions. While unforeseeable health issues are often at the forefront of public concern, foods containing GMOs have been on grocery shelves for more than 20 years. Piles of evidence suggest that eating GMOs is no riskier than eating conventional foods... 

While every new modification presents a new case for scrutiny, so far the GMO health track record is clean. And GMO products have been tested by more than their developers, who have a clear interest in their approval. Independent researchers have looked for red flags in numerous studies. “So far, there is no reason for concern”... Several scientific bodies, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization, have reviewed the existing evidence and concluded that eating GM foods is no riskier than eating conventional foods. Numerous studies, and reviews of those studies, have come to similar conclusions... “In all of the studies published, of all GM crops authorized to be marketed, we have seen no adverse effects... There is no risk to health for humans or animals”...

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

The article also discusses other claims and points about GM crops; perhaps a good starting point for getting an overview of the discussion. 

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Improved harvest for small farms thanks to naturally cloned crops - UZH (2016)

Improved harvest for small farms thanks to naturally cloned crops - UZH (2016) | Ag Biotech News |

As hybrid plants provide a very high agricultural yield for only one generation, new hybrid seeds need to be produced and used every year. However, natural cloning via seeds might enable the efficiency of such plants to be passed on unchanged... Researchers... have now demonstrated that this... idea actually works. This may open up fresh possibilities for both seed producers and small farms in the Third World.


In today’s agriculture, hybrid plants are crucial for the sufficient production of food, feed, fuel and fiber. These crosses between two different varieties are deemed particularly hardy and far more productive than their thoroughbred parent generations. Thanks to hybrid plants, the harvests from types of cereal crop, such as corn, can be more than doubled. However, the positive properties are already lost in the next generation, which is why hybrid seeds need to be reproduced annually. These crosses are costly and time-consuming and farmers are reliant on new seeds every year... 

“Based on hybrid plants that reproduce apomictically, we demonstrated that the offspring also exhibit the desired biological properties... We managed to fix the hybrids’ particular efficiency.” The plants achieve the same size and yield for at least two more generations. This is in stark contrast to the individual plants of the following generation of conventional F1 hybrids used in agriculture, which differ significantly... 


“If this special reproduction method could be used in crops, it would slash the cost of producing F1 hybrid seeds... It’s not just seed producers who stand to benefit, but also subsistence farmers in developing countries.” Nowadays, these small farmers usually use less productive native crops for their own personal use. Apomictic reproduction would offer them more affordable access to more productive and hardy hybrid strains. And they would be able to use the seeds from the current harvest for sowing the following year without affecting the yield...


Original article:


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A proposed regulatory framework for genome-edited crops Huang &al (2016) - Nature Genetics

A proposed regulatory framework for genome-edited crops  Huang &al (2016) - Nature Genetics | Ag Biotech News |

Crop breeding is being revolutionized by rapid progress in DNA sequencing and targeted alteration of DNA sequences by genome editing. Here we propose a regulatory framework for precision breeding with 'genome-edited crops' (GECs) so that society can fully benefit from the latest advances in plant genetics and genomics.


Crops provide food, feed and fiber for humankind... The survival and well-being of our species critically depend on the output of these crops. The growing human population faces a plethora of challenges, from degradation and loss of arable land and climate change to the sensible demand for more sustainable agriculture practices. These are multifaceted problems, but crop breeding surely has an essential role in meeting the goals of agriculture and food production. To address these challenges, it is essential to fully exploit the latest developments in all scientific disciplines.


Genomics is beginning to provide a holistic perspective from which to dissect the organization and regulation of biological circuits, and this knowledge is greatly accelerating crop breeding... Genome sequencing is greatly expanding the potential to identify genes and alleles that control agronomic traits and to understand the interacting mechanisms that weave the genes into functional networks. Together, this and related research serve as the foundation of precise genome editing for crop improvement.


Genome editing begins with the introduction of a targeted DNA double-stranded break at a predetermined locus using a sequence-specific nuclease. Three types of sequence-specific nucleases are in general use... Geneticists have been quick to adopt genome editing as a powerful tool for crop improvement... 


Modern conventional plant breeding, drawing on the insights of Darwin and Mendel, has made enormous contributions to increased global food production. It encompasses a broad range of techniques that go beyond the simple crossfertilization of existing cultivars, involving, for example, wide crosses between related species, in vitro fertilization, induction of polyploidy, protoplast fusion and mutagenesis with chemicals or radiation. Sensibly, the products of sexual crosses, mutagenesis and tissue culture–based plant breeding are free of government regulation other than registration of varieties.


However, conventional breeding is limited by the ability to introduce novel traits not present in the domesticated or wild germplasm; this restriction has been overcome by genetic modification (GM) techniques using transgenes introduced by several different methods. GM methods were initially used to insert DNA sequences from other species, such as selected genes for anti-insect proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis, which were previously in wide use as externally applied pesticides.


There is broad scientific consensus that GM food and feed pose no greater risk to the consumer than conventional products; however, GM crops remain heavily regulated in many countries, including China and several European nations. Similarly, often poorly justified criticism has been leveled against so-called 'cisgenesis', in which genes from the same or a closely related species are introduced by DNA transformation, even though the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that “similar hazards can be associated with cisgenic and conventionally bred plants”.


As discussed above, genome editing offers unique opportunities to improve and increase the success of crop breeding. Humans have been manipulating crop genomes for more than 10,000 years, albeit in a random and non-targeted manner and, for most of this time, using only simple trial-and-error approaches. Conventional breeding changes crop genomes by direct selection of observable traits conditioned by natural variants or induced mutations or by using molecular markers linked to advantageous genes and alleles. Importantly, even with molecular markers and extensive backcrossing, genetic crosses introduce myriads of nucleotide variants, often creating undesirable effects as a result of genotype × genotype interactions.


For two decades, these conventional methods have been complemented by genetic modification using transgenes. Although the insertion of transgenes into the host genome is random, the breeder knows exactly which sequences are introduced, and the effects are therefore much more predictable than in conventional breeding. Genome editing is in many ways even more precise and predictable than transgenesis. It is by nature similar to the use of spontaneous variants or induced mutations in conventional breeding, with the advantage that only the desired change is introduced. We hereby define crops bred by genome editing as genome-edited crops (GECs)... 


Because of the precision of genetic changes introduced in GECs, we strongly advocate product-based rather than technology-based regulation. In Executive Order 13563, President Obama reaffirmed that regulatory agencies shall “propose or adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination that its benefits justify its costs.” In agreement with these principles, we argue that there is no reason to regulate GECs with gene knockouts or nucleotide variants that either have been documented to exist within crop species or closely related wild species or that can reasonably be expected to arise by spontaneous mutation. Because such genetic stocks could in principle... be generated by conventional breeding or random mutagenesis, they should be considered the same as those used in conventional breeding, which are not regulated. Importantly, whole-genome sequencing allows excellent documentation of the variation introduced by genome editing.


We recommend five steps as the primary guiding principles when considering the generation and regulation of GECs.


1. Minimize the risk of escape of GECs from laboratories and fields during the research and development phase.


2. Demonstrate the absence of foreign sequences, if genome engineering proteins were introduced as DNA constructs.


3. Document DNA sequence changes at the target sites. If new sequences were introduced by homologous recombination... may have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.


4. Ensure that the primarily targeted site did not suffer unintended secondary editing events and consider the consequences of potential off-target events...


5. Include documentation of the above four points for cultivar registration. Beyond these four points, GECs should only be subject to rules and regulations that apply to products of conventional breeding before commercial release.


The opportunities that GECs offer for ensuring global food and nutrition security are at least on the same order as those from GM crops and in many cases are more promising than those from conventional breeding. The world cannot afford to miss the opportunity of using the most relevant technologies... The US Department of Agriculture does not consider GECs to be GM organisms as long as GECs do not contain DNA from plant pests. Similarly, German authorities recently confirmed that genome-edited canola generated with an older oligonucleotide method does not constitute a GM organism, as it is not distinguishable from the products of conventional mutagenesis. We urge other countries to follow suit.


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Conspiracies: Too many minions spoil the plot - U Oxford (2016)

Conspiracies: Too many minions spoil the plot - U Oxford (2016) | Ag Biotech News |

If you’re thinking of creating a massive conspiracy, you may be better scaling back your plans... While we can all keep a secret, a study by Dr David Robert Grimes suggests that large groups of people sharing in a conspiracy will very quickly give themselves away... 

Dr Grimes, a physicist working in cancer research, is also a science writer and broadcaster. His profile means that he receives many communications from people who believe in science-related conspiracies. Those messages prompted him to look at whether large-scale collusions were actually tenable.

He explained: 'A number of conspiracy theories revolve around science. While believing the moon landings were faked may not be harmful, believing misinformation about vaccines can be fatal. However, not every belief in a conspiracy is necessarily wrong – for example, the Snowden revelations confirmed some theories about the activities of the US National Security Agency.

'It is common to dismiss conspiracy theories and their proponents out of hand but I wanted to take the opposite approach, to see how these conspiracies might be possible. To do that, I looked at the vital requirement for a viable conspiracy – secrecy.'

Dr Grimes initially created an equation to express the probability of a conspiracy being either deliberately uncovered by a whistle-blower or inadvertently revealed by a bungler. This factors in the number of conspirators, the length of time, and even the effects of conspirators dying, whether of old age or more nefarious means, for those conspiracies that do not require active maintenance.

However, the equation required a realistic estimation of the chances of any one individual revealing a conspiracy. Three genuine conspiracies were used to provide this – including the NSA Prism project revealed by Edward Snowden. In each case, the number of conspirators and the time before the conspiracy was revealed were over-estimated to ensure that the odds of a leak happening were a 'best case scenario' for the conspirators – around a four in one million chance of deliberate or accidental exposure.

Dr Grimes then looked at four alleged plots, estimating the maximum number of people required to be in on the conspiracy, in order to see how viable these conspiracies could be. These include: the theory that the US moon landings were a hoax (411,000 people); that Climate Change is a fraud (405,000 people); that unsafe vaccinations are being covered up (22,000 people assuming that only the World Health Organisation and the US Centers for Disease Control are conspirators... 736,000 people if... pharmaceutical companies were included); that the cure for Cancer is being supressed by the world’s leading pharmaceutical firms (714,000 people)... 

Using the equation, Dr Grimes calculated that hoax moon landings would have been revealed in 3 years 8 months, a climate change fraud in 3 years 9 months, a vaccination conspiracy in 3 years 2 months, and a suppressed Cancer cure in 3 years 3 months. In simple terms, any one of the four conspiracies would have been exposed long before now.

He then looked at the maximum number of people who could take part in an intrigue in order to maintain it. For a plot to last five years, the maximum was 2521 people. To keep a scheme operating undetected for more than a decade, fewer than 1000 people can be involved... Even a straightforward cover-up of a single event, requiring no more complex machinations than everyone keeping their mouth shut, is likely to be blown if more than 650 people are accomplices... 

'This will of course not convince everyone; there’s ample evidence that belief in conspiracy is often ideological rather than rational, and that conspiracy theories thrive in an echo chamber. This makes challenging the more odious narratives much more difficult. If we are to address the multitudinous difficulties facing us as a species, from climate change to geo-politics, then we need to embrace reality over ideologically motivated fictions. To this end, we need to better understand how and why some ideas are entrenched and persistent among certain groups despite the evidence, and how we might counteract this.'


Original paper:


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Obviously he's bought off... 

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Long-term toxicity study on genetically modified corn with cry1Ac gene in a Wuzhishan miniature pig model - Chen &al (2016) - J Sci Food Ag

Long-term toxicity study on genetically modified corn with cry1Ac gene in a Wuzhishan miniature pig model - Chen &al (2016) - J Sci Food Ag | Ag Biotech News |

The objective of the present study was to investigate the chronic effect of transgenic maize lines by the insertion of the cry1Ac gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) on the growth performance, immune response and health using a Wuzhishan miniature pig model through a 196-day feeding study... 

Pigs were randomly assigned one of the diets containing 65% non-transgenic isogenic corn or Bt corn at three stages of growth (day 0~69, 70~134 and 135~196). The potential toxicological effects of transgenic corn on pigs were explored... 

Long-term feeding Bt corn carrying cry1Ac genes to Wuzhishan miniature pigs did not indicate adverse effects on the growth, immune response and health indicators at any stages of growth.


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Weed blasting offers new control method for organic farmers - U Illinois (2016)

Weed blasting offers new control method for organic farmers - U Illinois (2016) | Ag Biotech News |

Weeds are a major scourge for organic growers, who often must invest in multiple control methods to protect crop yields. A relatively new weed control method known as abrasive weeding, or “weed blasting,” could give organic growers another tool... In conjunction with plastic mulch, abrasive weeding reduced final weed biomass by 69 to 97 percent compared to non-weeded control plots... 

Abrasive weeding involves blasting weed seedlings with tiny fragments of organic grit, using an air compressor... walnut shells, granulated maize cob, greensand, and soybean meal. If applied at the right plant growth stage, the force of the abrasive grit severely damages stems and leaves of weed seedlings... 

“When it leaves the nozzle, it’s at least Mach 1 [767 mph]... The stuff comes out so fast, it doesn’t really matter what the shape of the particle is”... Blasted grit does not discriminate between weed and crop seedlings, which makes it important to use this method in transplanted crops that are substantially larger than weed seedlings at the time of grit application.

Although some visible damage occurred on stems and leaves of both tomato and pepper crops, the damage did not affect marketable fruit yield. Studies are ongoing to determine whether abrasions on crop tissues could result in increased susceptibility to disease, but early results show little effect... 

Plots with plastic mulch and one or more blasting treatment achieved the same fruit yields seen in hand-weeded plots, and 33 to 44 percent greater yields than in non-weeded control plots. An additional benefit of weed blasting is the potential for growers to use organic fertilizers, such as soybean meal, as blasting material... but it is still unknown whether the fertilizer would be available for plant uptake within critical windows... 

Early results suggest that the presence of polyethylene mulch or biodegradable plastic mulch strongly enhances the success of weed blasting, as compared with straw mulch and bare soil...


Original article:


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Plastic mulch (instead of "natural" wood or straw mulch) and soybean meal (wastefully diverted from feeding animals and most likely produced in conventional agriculture and containing GMOs) are exactly the things the unaware consumer expects to be used in organic production... 

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Long-Term Monitoring of Field Trial Sites with Genetically Modified Oilseed Rape in Germany. Fifteen Years Persistence but No Spatial Dispersion - Belter (2016) - Genes

Long-Term Monitoring of Field Trial Sites with Genetically Modified Oilseed Rape in Germany. Fifteen Years Persistence but No Spatial Dispersion - Belter (2016) - Genes | Ag Biotech News |

Oilseed rape is known to persist in arable fields because of its ability to develop secondary seed dormancy in certain agronomic and environmental conditions. If conditions change, rapeseeds are able to germinate up to 10 years later to build volunteers in ensuing crops.


Extrapolations of experimental data acted on the assumption of persistence periods for more than 20 years after last harvest of rapeseed. Genetically-modified oilseed rape... is assumed not to differ from its conventional form in this property... 


Experimental data... from official monitoring activities... verify these assumptions. At two former field trial sites... genetically-modified herbicide-resistant oilseed rape volunteers are found up to fifteen years after harvest. Nevertheless, spatial dispersion or establishment of GM plants outside of the field sites was not observed...


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Transgenic glyphosate-resistant canola can persist outside agricultural fields in Australia - Busi & Powles (2016) - Ag Ecosyst Env

Transgenic glyphosate-resistant canola can persist outside agricultural fields in Australia - Busi & Powles (2016) - Ag Ecosyst Env | Ag Biotech News |

In the last two decades the cultivation of transgenic crops has steadily increased worldwide. In Western Australia transgenic glyphosate-resistant canola (GR) has been cultivated since 2009.


This study was conducted to examine the potential for transgene persistence outside agricultural fields after commercialization of GR crops... Plants have been assessed in semi-natural (roadside) and natural environments over consecutive years... 


GR canola has low likelihood to become invasive, as plants are subjected to biological and abiotic stressors likely limiting the fitness. This was particularly evident in a natural environment... In natural areas GR canola populations did not show a positive population turnover and declined overtime... 


On roadsides... GR volunteer canola plants can be controlled by simple mixture of herbicide modes of action different to glyphosate although an integrated management including mechanical control operations would be the optimal strategy.


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Published GMO studies find no evidence of harm when corrected for multiple comparisons - Panchin & Tuzhikov (2016) - Critical Rev Biotech

Published GMO studies find no evidence of harm when corrected for multiple comparisons - Panchin & Tuzhikov (2016) - Critical Rev Biotech | Ag Biotech News |

A number of widely debated research articles claiming possible technology-related health concerns have influenced the public opinion on genetically modified food safety.


We performed a statistical reanalysis and review of experimental data presented in some of these studies and found that quite often in contradiction with the authors’ conclusions the data actually provides weak evidence of harm that cannot be differentiated from chance.


In our opinion the problem of statistically unaccounted multiple comparisons has led to some of the most cited anti-genetically modified organism health claims in history. We hope this analysis puts the original results of these studies into proper context.


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The impact of Bacillus thuringiensis technology on the occurrence of fumonisins and other mycotoxins in maize - Díaz &al (2015) - World Mycotoxin J

The impact of Bacillus thuringiensis technology on the occurrence of fumonisins and other mycotoxins in maize - Díaz &al (2015) - World Mycotoxin J | Ag Biotech News |

In many developing countries maize is both a staple food crop and a widely-used animal feed. However, adventitious colonisation or damage caused by insect pests allows fungi to penetrate the vegetative parts of the plant and the kernels, the latter resulting in mycotoxin contamination. Maize seeds contaminated with fumonisins and other mycotoxins pose a serious threat to both humans and livestock. However, numerous studies have reported a significant reduction in pest damage, disease symptoms and fumonisin levels in maize hybrids expressing the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) gene cry1Ab, particularly in areas where the European corn borer [ECB] is prevalent. When other pests are also present, the... combination of Cry1Ab protein with other Cry proteins (such as Cry1F) or Vip proteins has reduced the incidence of pests and, indirectly, mycotoxin levels. Maize hybrids expressing multiple Bt genes... are less susceptible to damage by insects, but mycotoxin levels are not routinely and consistently compared in these crops.


Bt maize has a greater economic impact on Fusarium toxins than aflatoxins. The main factors that determine the effectiveness of Bt hybrids are the type of pest and the environmental conditions, but the different fungal infection pathways must also be considered. An alternative strategy to reduce mycotoxin levels in crops is the development of transgenic plants expressing genes that protect against fungal infection or reduce mycotoxin levels by in situ detoxification. In this review article, we summarise what is known about the relationship between the cultivation of Bt maize hybrids and contamination levels with different types of mycotoxins...


Several transgenic strategies can be used to reduce mycotoxin contamination in food and feed, but Bt maize hybrids are widely grown and several studies have confirmed the reduction in pest damage, disease symptoms and fumonisin levels, particularly when ECB is the predominant pest. This is because fumonisin levels are reduced in Bt hybrids if the Fusarium population is dominated by species whose colonisation of the plant is promoted by ECB damage... The pest species and its abundance are key determinants of mycotoxin levels... When other pests are present, hybrids expressing Cry1Ab are inefficient and must be combined with further Cry proteins (such as Cry1F) or Vip proteins to increase the level of protection... The impact of Bt maize on the accumulation of aflatoxins, DON and ZEA is inconclusive... Further studies are necessary to determine the interaction between Bt maize and the different fungal species that produce these toxins.


Mycotoxin contamination is frequently linked with drought, heat stress and insects. Drought favours the accumulation of fumonisins more than heat stress... The first commercially available drought-tolerant GM maize variety expresses a bacterial cold shock protein B... which may provide a yield advantage under limited water availability... The combination of Bt and drought-tolerant maize should therefore achieve even higher yields and lower mycotoxin levels because it will be protected against two major environmental stress factors. Studies that considered aflatoxins and fumonisins simultaneously reported variable results... More studies are needed to determine whether aflatoxin resistance traits can be crossed into Bt hybrids.


Aflatoxin-resistant germplasm tends to possess undesirable agronomic traits such as tight husk coverage and late maturity. Breeding programs aiming to achieve the introgression of aflatoxin resistance into Bt hybrids could remove these undesirable characteristics while reducing aflatoxin contamination. Bt maize has a greater economic impact on Fusarium mycotoxins than aflatoxins. Further studies are needed to evaluate the effect of both Bt hybrids expressing multiple genes and Bt hybrids combined with maize lines that are resistant to the accumulation of other mycotoxins, especially aflatoxins.


A potential risk that must be borne in mind comes in the form of mycotoxin derivatives (modified mycotoxins) that escape routine analytical techniques but may be digested by animals triggering toxic effects comparable to free mycotoxins. These derivatives should be included in the total mycotoxin allowances, and future legislation must consider their presence even though this would increase the stringency of testing and rejection, resulting in further economic loss. This highlights the benefits of Bt maize, which would reduce the levels of mycotoxins and potentially their derivatives, although the impact of Bt hybrids on the accumulation of modified mycotoxins needs to be addressed in more detail.


Finally, the development of transgenic plants expressing genes that protect against fungal infection (e.g. the modified Rp13 gene and the AILP transgene) or reduce mycotoxin levels by in situ detoxification (e.g. zhd101 and fumonisin esterase) could provide an additional strategy to control mycotoxins and could be combined with Bt hybrids to provide additive or even synergistic protection against mycotoxin-producing fungal pathogens.


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Another recent publication of interest in this context: 


Measuring rural consumers’ willingness to pay for quality labels using experimental auctions: the case of aflatoxin-free maize in Kenya - De Groote &al (2015) - Ag Econ 

Aflatoxins are a common health hazard in tropical countries, especially in rural areas. New methods to reduce aflatoxin levels in food staples, as well as cheaper test methods, are being developed, but consumers’ willingness to pay (WTP) for these improvements is unknown.

A survey was conducted with a representative sample of rural consumers (1,344 in total, 63% women) in all major maize-production zones of Kenya. The survey included an experimental auction with maize products of different qualities...

Many rural consumers were aware of aflatoxins, but few understood their health risks. Respondents were willing to pay a premium for maize tested for aflatoxins and labeled, but asked a high discount for maize that was visibly contaminated with moldy grain...

Welfare analysis indicates that mandatory testing would result in substantial benefits if the cost of testing can be lowered to below the premium.


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Crop biotechnology: a pivotal moment for global acceptance - Hallerman & Grabau (2016) - Food Energy Sec

Crop biotechnology: a pivotal moment for global acceptance - Hallerman & Grabau (2016) - Food Energy Sec | Ag Biotech News |

The development and judicious use of agricultural biotechnology offers important contributions to food security and sustainability. Key contributions include improved yield, heightened pathogen and herbivore resistance, enhanced nutrient content, improved product quality, reduced spoilage, as well as entirely new traits.

While a first wave of genetically engineered (GE) crop products has been commercialized and contributed to yield, other products – some posing significant benefits to target populations in the developing world – have become mired in controversy. Public misconception about nutritional and ecological risks, fears about multinational corporate dominance, as well as regulatory inaction have delayed the approval and use of GE crops.

With new GE lines ready to pass through regulatory oversight, many of which originate from developing countries, we regard this as a pivotal moment for global acceptance of agricultural biotechnology. However, we note that some countries, international regulators, and even biotechnology companies seem willing to forego useful applications of GE crops.

We conclude that educating and informing the public to combat misperception, and implementing review of regulatory guidelines based on decades of experience can help to realize the benefits of GE for food security, human well-being, and ecological sustainability... 


Current review of GE crops... the original intent was that the safety of the product, rather than the method of generating the product, should be the guiding principle for regulatory oversight. It has been argued that the way forward in realizing benefits to global food security is to revise the regulatory framework based on biosafety record of GE crops for the past 25 years. Rather than testing for the presence of DNA sequences that have been safely used for over 30 years as a trigger for regulatory oversight, issues that should guide review include health and environmental issues.

Current regulatory protocols have delayed or prohibited potentially transformative crops from reaching human populations that would benefit from their cultivation. Revision of the regulatory protocols could guide wise adoption of public-domain varieties where they are most needed. Policy makers in developing countries should resist being affected by the politicized debate in Europe, instead starting with consideration of the food security problem...


Another way in which current regulatory policy impacts global development and adoption of GE crops is the expense required to pass regulatory review. A recent review of the process of developing GE crops cited estimates of US $136 million and 13 years from concept to launch of a new product. This enormous investment excludes most public research institutions from the process and gives multinational companies a de facto monopoly on the technology. Governments should recognize the need for public-interest research in plant genomics, selective breeding, and biotechnology.


Public-private collaboration is needed for the benefits of GE technology to be brought to all of the world's people. Incentives are needed to encourage the private sector to share with the public sector more of their capacity for innovation. Care should be taken so that research and development are not inhibited by overly protective intellectual property regimes. To enhance food security in the developing world, there will be instances where farmers are allowed to save seed for future use. Because broad intellectual property claims can stifle research, development and use of GE plants, agreements must be reached so that the benefits of GE crop research can reach field use in the developing world... 


Regulatory language also contributes to the perception that there is something unnatural or sinister about GE crops, and today we face a major public perception problem. A number of issues such as the scientific complexity, fast transition to utilization, and ethical, legal, and social issues all contribute to politicizing GE crops... Education can, to some extent, abate the appeal of negative representations of GE crops. Although GE crops are at a disadvantage because they have been associated with unnaturalness by opponents, emphasis on benefits would trigger empathy. For example, it would be useful to inform the public that Bt corn contains less mycotoxin than conventional corn, that herbicide resistance crops improve soil quality by reducing tilling, that Bt crops enhance insect biodiversity, and that GE crops can reduce poverty...


Well-conceived research and development, combined with well-chosen adoption of GE crop lines, will result in increased food security, human well-being, and ecological sustainability, whereas flawed research adds to the public concerns and misperceptions... A recent review of several key advances in GE crop improvement describes the fearmongering and fraud often perpetrated by GE opposition groups such as Greenpeace. The public... perceives GE plant-derived foods differently from experts, perceiving less benefit and greater harm to both humans and the environment. Such perceptions affect the adoption of GE crop technology not only in Europe, but also in the developing world where food security is at issue.


The potential environmental effects, both positive and negative, of GE plant technologies should be assessed within the context of specific applications, with effects assessed relative to those of conventional agricultural practices currently in use in places for which the GE crop was developed. Critics of GE crops often presume that most ecological consequences of their cultivation... are likely to prove negative. However, a review... by the European Commission showed the GE crops are not inherently more risky than conventionally bred plants. The application of crop biotechnology has had a number of ecological benefits. Production of Bt crops has reduced the manufacture of pesticides and farmers’ exposure to them. Use of herbicide-tolerant plants has allowed farmers to reduce tilling and weeding, freeing their time for other activities, while reducing erosion and carbon release from the soil... 


The first GE crops to be commercialized on a large scale have targeted herbicide tolerance and pest resistance traits as opposed to consumer benefits. Hence, the rewards of the first generation of GE crops mostly accrued to multinational corporations and large farmers, and were largely irrelevant to addressing world hunger. This mismatch of interests has led to mistrust of multinational chemical and seed companies... Public mistrust of corporations that develop and market GE crops often is equated with the product itself. Traits with clear benefits to the end user, such as those developed in the pharmaceutical industry (e.g., recombinant insulin), might have been viewed more favorably as first-generation candidates in agriculture. Issues such as health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, and food security are much more compelling to the average consumer...


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Comment on: WTF happened to golden rice? - Mother Jones (2016)

Comment on: WTF happened to golden rice? - Mother Jones (2016) | Ag Biotech News |

These comments were written in response to an article by Tom Philpott in Mother Jones, in which he made (i) the eternal argument against Golden Rice that, purportedly, in poor populations’ diets there is not sufficient fat for the vitamin A (beta-carotene) from Golden Rice to be absorbed – and Golden Rice (once released) therefore being ineffective. And in which he suggested that (ii) current successes in the fight against vitamin A deficiency (VAD) would make Golden Rice superfluous anyway: 



“Fairly balanced article (for Mother Jones), except for the eternal argument about the purported lack of sufficient dietary fat: 

(1) Critics of Golden Rice often make the Marie-Antoinesque argument of “let them eat carrots” (or mangoes or amaranth or whatever), but the fat content of most fruit & veggies is even lower than the fat content of rice. Hence these critics have to decide, either eating more fruit & veggies helps, and so can Golden Rice, or neither. (But the problem with fruit & veggies still remains the cost to buy them, or the time and resources needed to grow them oneself – whereas people in the targeted countries already eat rice.) 

(2) There IS sufficient fat in the diets of the target groups: Only 5 grams of fat per day have to be consumed in the food mix for beta-carotene to be properly absorbed. However, According to the calculations based on Indian household survey data, the average fat intake per adult equivalent in the poorest quintile is 35 grams per day. Even if there should be data issues, the margin is probably big enough to safely assume that people that belong to the poorest 20% of the population meet the minimum fat requirements for the absorption of beta-carotene.

(3) Even in populations in Asia in which low fat intake was identified as a more general nutrition problem, e.g. the average fat intake of children aged 1-3 years was still 22 grams/day – i.e. even in diets that are manifestly deficient in fat, the amount of fat consumed is still sufficient to ensure the proper uptake of beta-carotene.

(4) A recently published database with new estimates of the global dietary supply of nutrients (reporting also the intakes of the lowest 5%) could be used to re-verify that fat is indeed not a limiting factor for the uptake of beta-carotene from the diet.


Regarding the successes in fighting VAD, if "vitamin A supplementation, dietary diversification, food fortification and promotion of optimal breastfeeding" have helped reduce VAD, great! However, that’s not necessarily an argument against Golden Rice: 

(1) As soon as supplementation and fortification efforts are stopped, the prevalence of VAD is set to rebound. (This e.g. happened in Guatemala when vitamin A fortification was suspended. 

(2) Golden Rice promises to be much more cost-effective than supplementation or fortification, i.e. when Golden Rice is approved, those relatively more costly (because recurrent) interventions can be phased out and the savings that can be realised can be spent on other public health or nutrition problems, thus helping more people overall. 

(3) It is well possible that the currently used interventions have picked the low-hanging fruits (groups that are sufficiently covered by the public health system to regularly receive supplements, or groups that consume processed fortified food products), whereas those families and children who are still suffering from VAD are those living in remote rural areas – which is where Golden Rice could have a bigger impact. 

(4) This is perhaps a bit far-fetched, but all the discussion that Golden Rice has stirred (e.g. “Time magazine cover”) may have contributed to raising awareness of the problem of micronutrient malnutrition, thereby nudging policy-makers and NGOs to pay more attention to the problem, and animating them to scrutinise/improve ongoing efforts and initiate additional interventions to address VAD. In this sense Golden Rice may be to some extent like a self-defeating prophecy.” 






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Economic impact of the Commission's 'opt-out' proposal on the use of approved GM crops - Hoste &al (2015) - LEI [pdf]

It will be a serious challenge to fulfil the protein demand for animal feed in the medium-term period (3-5 years) if Germany, France, Poland and Hungary choose to prohibit the use of genetically modified feed ingredients, in particular soy, a so-called opt-out policy.


To provide a sufficient quantity of non-GM soybeans for animal feed in these countries, about 70% of the expected worldwide availability of non-GM soybeans would be needed. To be able to fulfil the EU demand for non-GM soybean meal demand used in animal feed, a combination of measures is necessary, i.e. meal... of remaining beans, feed-saving measures and application of protein substitutes. This strategic decision would lead to a fierce tension on the world market for non-GM soybeans, and non-GM soybean meal.


No significant negative effects for the crushing industry in the four opt-out countries are expected, because neither the amounts of soybeans nor those of rape and sunflowers to be processed are expected to decrease.


Non-GM soy is expected to become more expensive. Feed prices are expected to increase by 0.3 to 9.3% by banning GM soy as feed component, depending on the animal category. Poultry feed will see the highest increase. The increasing feed prices will lead to additional production costs for industrially produced compound feed of about €390m to €845m per year in the opt-out countries, which equals about 2.5% of the total feed costs.


France and Germany will experience the highest cost increase of about €140 to €300m each per year. These increased costs are expected to put pressure on the competitive position of the animal production sectors in these countries. However, the extent to which this might happen depends on the extent to which the additional costs can be transmitted to other stakeholders in the supply chain, including consumers... 




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GMOs could help end hunger in Africa: Gates - (2016)

Bill Gates continues to build his case for GMOs. Speaking with the Wall Street Journal at the World Economic Forum in Davos... Bill and Melinda Gates showed support for GMO technology and its potential impacts in some of the world’s most impoverished areas. 

“There’s fantastic technology going on for pest-resistant seeds, for drought-resistant seeds (and) flood-resistant seeds as the rains come at different times” Mrs. Gates said during the interview... As farmers in Africa see neighbors using those products and their results, others may be inclined to use them. She said higher yields provide people with more to eat and more that can be sold on local markets to help the economy. 

Mr. Gates said the technology involved with GMOs can not only help farmers produce more as they battle climate change, but can also help the community be healthier. “I think for Africa this is going to make a huge difference particularly as they face climate change”... It reduces the amount of pesticide you need, raises productivity (and) can help with malnutrition by getting vitamin fortification.”


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

... also a much more sensible headline ("could help") than what other proponents sometimes say or claim... 

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The proof of the plant breeding is in the (digital droplet) PCR - U Illinois

The proof of the plant breeding is in the (digital droplet) PCR - U Illinois | Ag Biotech News |

The first human farmers needed hundreds of years and a lot of good luck to shape the first domesticated crops. Modern plant breeders wait weeks or months, not centuries, to discover what the literal fruits of their labors might be; now, a study... has explored the strengths of a molecular method that reduces this wait time to a few days.

The new study... addresses a central challenge of transgenic plant development: how to reliably evaluate whether genetic material has been successfully introduced. Researchers... compared the traditional method to several new ones that have emerged from advances in genomic technology and identified one that is much faster than the standard approach, yet equally reliable... 

“For plants with long life cycles, such as our food crops, this will greatly speed the time between genetic transformation or DNA editing, and development of pure breeding lines”... To meet the food and fuel needs of an ever-growing global population, researchers benefit from transgenic technologies to develop crops with higher yields and greater resiliency to environmental challenges... Plants and their offspring must be screened to identify those in which gene transfer was successful.

Traditionally, this was done in part by testing successive generations of plants to see if the desired traits are present and breed true over time. In addition, plant scientists can use one of several molecular methods to determine if a gene or genes have actually been successfully introduced into the plant genome. The “tried and true” method, the Southern blot, yields precise data but is slow and unwieldy... 


One method examined by Long’s group, digital drop PCR (ddPCR)... this method first separates each individual fragment of DNA into its own tiny reaction, much like giving each bacterium its own tiny petri dish to grow in. PCR then amplifies each fragment until there are enough copies to be easily detected, and the total number of tiny reactions are counted. Because this method, unlike others, separates the growth-like step from the quantification step, it can be very precise even when the reaction isn’t perfect. Results can be obtained in less than two days, and many samples can be processed simultaneously...


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India needs home-grown GM food to stop starvation - Nature (2016)

India needs home-grown GM food to stop starvation - Nature (2016) | Ag Biotech News |

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a road map to guide India’s science and technology over the next two decades... The plan signalled a cautious approach to techniques such as genetically modified (GM) crops, noting that “some aspects of biotechnology have posed serious legal and ethical problems in recent years”. That is true, but a different and much larger problem looms for India... India will surpass China by early next decade as the most populous country on Earth, with the most mouths to feed. India is already classed as having a ‘serious’ hunger problem... There is a danger that many of these new Indians will not have sufficient food.

Indian researchers have shown that they have the expertise to generate GM plants, most obviously the pest-resistant cotton that is now widely grown in India. But almost all of this work has relied on molecular-biology research done elsewhere – India has in effect borrowed or been given the genes. This leads to complications, usually conflict over intellectual property (IP) rights... 

In response, India is turning to research based on old discoveries, including genes that are in the public domain or no longer protected by patents. The problem here is that insects have already developed resistance to the toxins produced by such genes: the companies that developed first-generation GM crops with these genes are already on second- and even third-generation versions of the same plants...

We need a concerted effort at home to discover and manipulate relevant genes in indigenous organisms and crops (such as chickpea and rice). Indian microbial institutes should take up projects in this direction, because most of the currently used genes for transgenic generation are of microbial origin. That requires a change in direction from an Indian GM-food strategy that has traditionally aimed at quick product development instead of careful assessment of the underlying science... Home-grown GM crops would also reduce reliance on transgenic technology produced by multinational companies, which is expensive and rarely optimized for the conditions of specific regions...


Indian scientists need better training in IP issues... Otherwise, Indian researchers may get the scientific credit for discoveries but fail to claim the right to commercialize the products developed. Indian regulators should exert tighter controls on IP rights. At present, they focus only on the export of physical material, such as seeds and tissue. They need also to monitor, and make claims on, molecular information drawn from this material... India is the largest donor of crop germplasm to the world. Without realizing its importance, we are giving away the rights to exploit one of our most precious assets.

Agrarian India... needs to follow the example of China, which is slowly but steadily building a GM-food market that is based on domestic discoveries. Compared with China, India has three times as much land planted with GM crops, but whereas India’s plants were mostly created with technology bought from abroad, China’s fields contain crops that were developed, tested and commercialized by Chinese scientists. India does not have to reject the expertise of international companies, but it must do more to build knowledge and skills at home.

Mahatma Gandhi only wore clothes that he had woven himself. He gave India the slogan “from swadeshi to swaraj”, which means “be indigenous in order to self-rule”. The Indian government should take this message on board when planning future investment in biotechnology. The theme of this month’s science congress, after all, was “science and technology for indigenous development in India”. Indigenous development needs indigenous research.


breanna mae johnson's curator insight, February 3, 10:06 AM

GM foods will never solve this fundamental problem. Indian or foreign bio-technologists, could develop GM foods, and it still won't solve this problem.  We need another solution to the problem of starvation, rather than bothering or aping the west because of it's technology. We need to other things about starvation.



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The surprising truth about the ‘food movement’ - WaPo (2016)

The surprising truth about the ‘food movement’ - WaPo (2016) | Ag Biotech News |

When it comes to our food supply, what do you care about? Think about it for a second. Make a mental list... Do you care about farmworker exposure to pesticides? ... But was it on your list? I’m betting it wasn’t.

And that difference... is the source of a serious misconception about what we think of as “the food movement.” Ask people whether they care about a particular topic, and they’re likely to tell you... that they do. But ask what people care about without prompting, and the fraction of people citing the issues... – organics, local food, genetically modified organisms, farm subsidies, antibiotics, farmworker conditions, animal welfare – is actually quite small.

Take GMO labeling: Polls routinely show that, when you ask people whether they want GMOs labeled, upwards of 90 percent say yes. Overwhelming support for labeling GMOs! But if, instead, you ask consumers what they’d like to see identified on food labels that isn’t already there, a paltry 7 percent say “GMOs.” Almost no support for labeling GMOs!

That 7 percent study was done by William Hallman, professor... at Rutgers University, who points out that “most of the research that is out there that has tried to gauge how much people care about such things [has] asked people to react to lists of foods that are nasty or nice, and there are certainly social-desirability biases baked into the responses to such questions.”

The Rutgers study asked consumers about information on labels using both methods: first, “What would you like to see on labels?” and second, “Would you like to see X on labels?” The difference between the responses is huge, and it’s at the heart of why the food movement seems so much bigger than it actually is.

When subjects were asked what they would like labels to identify, here were some of the results: 7 percent... said GMOs, 6 percent said where the food was grown or produced; 2 percent said chemicals; 1 percent said pesticides. A survey by the International Food Information Council in 2014 asked a similar question; 4 percent of respondents cited biotechnology and 4 percent cited source or processing information. Those are very small numbers.

But when the Rutgers study asked the question the second way, 80 percent of respondents said it was somewhat, very or extremely important to them that GMO content be on the label. Pesticides? 83 percent. The moral of this story is that it’s easy to make it look like people care a whole lot more than they do. Where does that leave us? How many people really do care? ... 

Take organic foods... still account for only 5 percent of the total market. Local food sales make an even less compelling case. Sales at farmers markets... peaked in 2007 and haven’t grown since... The USDA estimates the total local-foods market to be about $6 billion, or about 1 percent of total food sales... 

What explains the discrepancy between the common perception of a growing “food movement” and the disconcerting data on what people actually buy and eat? ... Food movement leaders... summarized what we think of as “food movement” concerns: cutting pollution and greenhouse gases, improving conditions for farmworkers and livestock, and ensuring that Americans have access to safe, affordable, nutritious, “real” food.

For consumers, on the other hand, environmental, farmworker and animal welfare concerns take a back seat to their overwhelming first priority... They care deeply about the health and safety of themselves and their family... they also care about what’s going on in their communities and are beginning to register concerns about climate and environment, but... “conversations about feeding the world fall very, very flat” ...  

There’s not much evidence that switching from additives that are artificial to those that are natural will be a public health win, but “natural” – a word that the FDA hasn’t defined – seems to be what consumers are looking for... Is it really in the public’s interest that parents feel better about Froot Loops? ... 

The bottom line is that consumers are pushing corporations to eliminate chemicals, preservatives and anything artificial – a[n]... exercise that probably won’t make our food more healthful but could both encourage consumption of the targeted processed foods (because they’re natural!) and, possibly, contribute to food waste (because preservatives do, indeed, preserve)... 

When eliminating preservatives from processed food we shouldn’t be eating anyway is what passes for progress, don’t look to consumer pressure for meaningful improvement. And that’s troubling, because, at the end of the day, we’ll get the food supply we demand.


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"If... you ask consumers what they’d like to see identified on food labels that isn’t already there, a paltry 7 percent say 'GMOs.' Almost no support for labeling GMOs! ... When subjects were asked what they would like labels to identify, here were some of the results: 7 percent... said GMOs, 6 percent said where the food was grown or produced; 2 percent said chemicals; 1 percent said pesticides." 

>> That's similar to the situation in Europe, where e.g. only 2% of respondents in the UK spontaneously mentioned that they looked for GM information on labels, when they were asked a related open question in a study in 2013. And also in a representative EU-wide “Eurobarometer” survey in 2010, only 8% of respondents spontaneously identified GM food as an issue they are concerned about.

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Soybean meal produced in U.S. has greater energy values when fed to pigs than previously estimated - ACES (2016)

Soybean meal produced in U.S. has greater energy values when fed to pigs than previously estimated - ACES (2016) | Ag Biotech News |

Differences in soil type, variety of soybeans, climate, or processing conditions can cause the same crop to have different nutritional value when produced in different locations. However, feed composition tables combine values from crops grown all over the world... Book values for energy in soybean meal underestimate the energy value of soybean meal produced in the United States.

"We have calculated values for digestible and metabolizable energy that were consistently 200 to 400 kcal/kg greater than values in feed composition tables... Most of those experiments have been conducted using soybean meal derived from beans grown in Illinois. So we decided to compare... with soybean meal produced in other states"... 

Results indicate that soybean meal produced in the United States – regardless of growing area – provides more energy to pigs than what is indicated in current feed composition tables, including values published in the most recent tables from the National Research Council... 


If soybean meal produced in other countries has reduced energy value compared with U.S. soybean meal, it lowers the average values published in feed composition tables, but... it is also possible that soybean meal produced from modern genetic material simply contains more digestible energy than soybean meal produced from previous varieties...

"We know that for broiler chickens, soybean meal produced in the United States has greater ME values than soybean meal produced in Argentina"... More studies are needed...


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Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"It is also possible that soybean meal produced from modern genetic material simply contains more digestible energy than soybean meal produced from previous varieties." -- Given that we're talking about the US, this means that these modern varieties are probably all GMO... 

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Fatty acids from GM oilseed crops could replace fish oil - UEA (2016)

Fatty acids from GM oilseed crops could replace fish oil - UEA (2016) | Ag Biotech News |
Oil from genetically modified (GM) oil seed crops could replace fish oil as a primary source of the beneficial Omega 3 fatty acid EPA... 

Researchers studied the effect in mice of consuming feed enriched with oil from... genetically engineered Camelina sativa, developed at the agricultural science centre Rothamsted Research. The goal of the research was to discover whether mammals... can absorb and accumulate EPA from this novel source of omega-3s... The results show that the benefits were similar to those derived from fish oils.


The long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids EPA and DHA are beneficial for cardiovascular and cognitive health, as well as for foetal development in pregnancy. The recommended minimum dietary intake can be achieved by eating one to two portions of oily fish per week. But for everyone in the world to achieve their minimum dietary intake, you would need around 1.3 million metric tonnes of fish oil per year... there is a large deficit between supply and demand. There is a great need to identify alternative and sustainable sources of these beneficial fatty acids... 


The mice were fed with a control diet similar to a Westernised human diet, supplemented with EPA from genetically engineered Camelina sativa or fish oil, for ten weeks – enough time for any beneficial results to be seen. We found that the genetically engineered oil is a bioavailable source of EPA, with comparable benefits for the liver to eating oily fish.


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Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Also good news for vegetarians. 

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FDA approves second generation of Simplot GMO spuds - Capital Press (2016)

FDA approves second generation of Simplot GMO spuds - Capital Press (2016) | Ag Biotech News |

J.R. Simplot Co. ... has obtained federal Food and Drug Administration approval for the second generation of its Innate line of potatoes, developed with biotechnology... Approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency... is expected by December and would represent the final step in the review process... 

Innate lines utilize genes introduced through biotechnology from wild and cultivated potatoes... The first generation of Innate... offered low bruising, non-browning and low acrylamide... The second generation includes the original traits, plus improved cold storage and late blight resistance... 

Field trials were conducted last season in Idaho, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which were all hard hit by late blight, and the second-generation Innate spuds showed “very strong resistance.” ... The potatoes resist all common U.S. strains of late blight. “Growers should expect a significant reduction in sprays”...  

Cole said Simplot has submitted petitions for approval of Innate in foreign markets including Canada, Japan, Mexico, Korea, Taiwan and China... For now, however... Simplot is focused exclusively on the domestic whole-fresh and fresh-cut markets, marketing Innate spuds under the White Russet label... 

The potatoes reduce waste and enable the food service industry to save time by utilizing pre-cut, fresh potatoes that stay white without preservatives... “A product consumers want that’s been shown to have better quality, reduces waste, and... reduces the amount of pesticides being applied”...


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Lower levels acrylamide in the potato, lower amounts of pesticides on the crop, reduced use of preservatives in the processed product, and overall reduced waste of food? If all this turns out to be true for the commercialised lines this seems very promising for the consumers, the farm workers, the farmers, the food industry, and the environment. 

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Can Pyramids and Seed Mixtures Delay Resistance to Bt Crops? - Carrière &al (2016) - Trends in Biotechnology

Can Pyramids and Seed Mixtures Delay Resistance to Bt Crops? - Carrière &al (2016) - Trends in Biotechnology | Ag Biotech News |

The primary strategy for delaying the evolution of pest resistance to transgenic crops that produce insecticidal proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) entails refuges of plants that do not produce Bt toxins and thus allow survival of susceptible pests. Recent advances include using refuges together with Bt crop ‘pyramids’ that make two or more Bt toxins effective against the same pest, and planting seed mixtures yielding random distributions of pyramided Bt and non-Bt corn plants within fields.


We conclude that conditions often deviate from those favoring the success of pyramids and seed mixtures, particularly against pests with low inherent susceptibility to Bt toxins. For these problematic pests, promising approaches include using larger refuges and integrating Bt crops with other pest management tactics.

Conditions in the field often deviate substantially from those promoting success of the refuge strategy for delaying insect pest resistance to pyramided Bt crops, particularly in pests with low inherent susceptibility to Bt toxins... 

The refuge strategy has been successful for delaying resistance to Bt crops in pests with high inherent susceptibility to Bt toxins, but larger refuges are needed and Bt crops must be integrated with other pest management tactics to sustain their efficacy against pests with low inherent susceptibility to Bt toxins.


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The global pipeline of GM crops out to 2020 - Parisi &al (2016) - Nature Biotechnol

The global pipeline of GM crops out to 2020 - Parisi &al (2016) - Nature Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News |

Although a few arable crops and agronomic traits will likely dominate commercial varieties for the foreseeable future, with many being stacked together, more quality traits and specialty crops are being introduced into the pipeline.

The number of countries cultivating genetically modified (GM) crops increased in 2014, with transgenic hectarage reaching 181.5 million. A growing number of companies and research institutes worldwide use genetic engineering to breed new crop varieties, not only for food and feed uses, but also for industrial purposes. Previous studies have documented an increase in innovation in the R&D pipeline for GM crops, but even an active R&D pipeline would not guarantee commercialization. As with any other technology, economic, market and regulatory considerations act as barriers and reduce the number of R&D products that eventually become commercial.

Building long-term projections for commercial GM crops and traits based on the screening of scientific literature is therefore fraught with uncertainty. However, medium-term projections are feasible by screening regulatory pipelines. Given that crop genetic engineering is regulated worldwide, interest in projections for policy makers is high, particularly in terms of raising awareness of potential trade-related issues associated with asynchrony in GM crop authorization globally... 

In 2014, 49 GM events were in commercial cultivation and 53 events were at the precommercial stage, making a total of 102 GM events authorized in at least one country. We identified 43 events at the regulatory stage and at least 77 GM events at the advanced R&D stage... 


We have not been able to identify the current status of more than half of the 2008 advanced R&D events. We assume that several R&D projects were discontinued, as frequently happens, and therefore did not move through the next development stages... Several reasons may in fact explain why some GM events have not reached commercialization since 2008: unfavorable market conditions, GM events at the advanced R&D stage not performing as expected when moving to large-scale cultivation, negative public perception that discouraged developers from continuing toward commercialization or the challenge of unaffordable regulatory costs. Based on the data collected, we observe that the share of GM events developed by SMEs and public institutions is higher in the lowest development stages, before reaching the market. In fact, they might encounter more budgetary constraints related to regulatory requirements than large companies. 


The landscape of GM crop events in commercial cultivation or at the precommercial stage continues to be dominated by four arable crops: maize, cotton, soybeans and oilseed rape, similarly to the 2008 pipeline; fast followers include GM rice and potatoes, which are poised to reach the market soon and boast a dynamic pipeline of new events. A group of 'other crops' shows substantial growth and are reaching commercial cultivation and the precommercial stage. They include commercial herbicide-tolerant alfalfa, insect-resistant eggplant (Bt Brinjal) and a Chinese insect-resistant poplar. A Brazilian virus-resistant bean, Indonesian drought-tolerant sugarcane and Canadian herbicide-tolerant flax are also at the precommercial stage.


Improved agronomic traits still predominate in commercially cultivated GM crops. Herbicide tolerance and insect resistance are still the prevailing input traits, whereas other agronomic traits are emerging, like virus resistance, abiotic stress tolerance (e.g., drought tolerance) and increased yield. The first commercially available GM drought-tolerant crops (maize and sugarcane) are, respectively, at commercial and precommercial stage in 2014. Among the herbicide-tolerant events, the pipeline shows new traits that confer tolerance to herbicides beyond glyphosate and glufosinate... Insect-resistant GM events in the pipeline are still directed at Coleoptera and Lepidoptera, but alternative approaches are being developed through the employment of new Bacillus thuringiensis genes.

Quality traits generally refer to modified crop composition and include 'biofortified' crops with a modified nutritional content for food and feed uses and crops with improved industrial characteristics. Their commercial presence is still minor but is increasing in the GM pipeline... GM quality traits for industrial purposes are driven by the search for better sources of biomass for liquid fuels and industrial products... 

As was the case in 2008, most developers of commercial GM crops are multinational companies, with headquarters in the United States or Europe. However, other private companies and public institutions are gaining ground, especially with regards to products advancing to later regulatory stages... Most new companies emerging in the GM field are based in the United States and in Asia, especially India, whereas public developers of the technology are appearing in India and China, including at the precommercial stage. Crop developers from South America and Africa are also becoming active in GM crop development...

The GM crop pipeline discussed above refers to unique, identified transformation events that are catalogued and regulated. However, a strong commercial interest exists in combining traits produced by GM technologies. Combining different traits allows the production of crops that can adapt to complex farming conditions... Combining transgenes in the same plant can be achieved by conventional breeding or by molecular tools... Of particular note, however, is the increasingly prevalent production of commercial varieties obtained through conventional breeding involving the crossing of two or more plant lines with GM events, which are commonly called hybrid or commercial 'stacks'. The growing number of authorized GM events... provides breeders with an increasing pool of possible combinations to be stacked... Additionally, many technology providers tend to cross-license their GM events and through this activity, many new stacks are brought to the market.

Maize is the crop with most commercial stacks developed, probably due to the strong hybrid tradition in the crop, followed by cotton... Estimating the number and nature of commercial stacks worldwide is difficult compared with specific GM crop events because commercial stacks do not have the same regulatory treatment in all countries or regions... 

GM crops have been adopted quickly in many parts of the world, but large disparities exist in the number of and the extent to which crops have been authorized in different countries. Most of the largest growers of GM crops are in countries that are clearly interested in exporting produce. Disparities in the GM crop authorization processes and the resulting economic impact on international trade have been described previously... This disparity may be (partly) due to a delay in the authorization process of certain countries... It may also be due to different commercialization strategies. Generally, GM crop developers request authorization for their products in those countries where commercial interest exists. In some cases, GM events have been developed only for domestic use and therefore are meant neither to be cultivated elsewhere nor to be traded... This tends to be more often the case for specialty crops, such as those from developing countries like China and India, than for GM events of the main field crops.

Nevertheless, it cannot be ruled out that GM crops could adventitiously end up in commercial food and feed supplies in trace amounts... cases of market disruptions due to the presence of unapproved GM organisms in shipments between trading partners have originated from trace amounts of GM crops from experimental field trials entering the food and feed supply chains. The increasing number of GM events... may result in more cases of asynchronous approval or isolated foreign approvals, especially with the entry of Asian products into the pipeline... the FAO conducted an international survey to analyze... low-level GM crop presence incidents worldwide... 60 cases have been reported in eight years between 2001 and 2009 and 138 between 2009 and 2013. According to the FAO's analysis, the causes can be found in different technical and policy approaches, as well as in the high costs of the compliance measures required to minimize the risk of GM admixture, which may be unaffordable, especially for the developing countries that are gaining ground in GM crop development.


The growth of commercial GM stacks potentially constitutes an additional cause of the low-level presence of GM crops in the EU because nonauthorized stacks, such as those produced in countries where risk assessment is not required, might end up in shipments to countries that regulate them. This risk is growing proportionately with the number of available stacks. To reduce such a risk, applicants tend to submit stack combinations with a large number of GM events to the regulatory system with the aim that their eventual authorization will imply that any lower subcombinations of the same events might also be authorized.

The number of GM events at the commercial cultivation, precommercial or regulatory stages has more than doubled between 2008 and 2014. Although current GM commercial varieties and the outlook for 2020 are still dominated by a few arable crops (usually for feed or industrial use) and certain agronomic traits, there is a nascent growth in quality traits... Also, more specialty crops are being introduced into the pipeline... The tendency of GM developers and breeders to combine several traits by commercial stacking continues... 


New technology developers are also emerging beyond the usual biotech companies, especially in developing countries like India, China, Brazil, and African developers are showing their willingness to enter the commercial field. Developing countries are showing a strong focus on a broader spectrum of crops, which could bring more specialty crops into the overall pipeline. However, so far, most of these crops have been developed mainly for domestic uses (especially in China and India).


The growing number of GM events, together with the increasing asymmetry in the authorization of GM events in different countries is causing an intensification of the low-level presence of GM crops in trade shipments worldwide. Whereas a few years ago this problem was considered a trade issue between developed economies (particularly between North and South America and the EU or Japan), it is now clearly becoming an international concern that has reached the attention of the FAO...


In addition, the number of GM crops that will be developed in the near future will be affected by the expiry of patents of broadly cultivated and exported GM crops, starting with MON810 maize (which expired in November 2014) and soybean 40-3-2 (which expired in March 2015). Although this issue could potentially facilitate GM crop development by SMEs or public institutes, in practice regulatory requirements are likely to limit this possibility. In fact, once GM crop patents expire, patent owners will most likely lose the financial incentives to continue maintaining the authorized status of those crops in the countries in which the renewal authorization is required...


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Scooped by Alexander J. Stein!

The Economic Impacts of Regulatory Delays on Trade and Innovation - Kalaitzandonakes &al (2015) - J World Trade

The Economic Impacts of Regulatory Delays on Trade and Innovation - Kalaitzandonakes &al (2015) - J World Trade | Ag Biotech News |

A nation’s regulatory apparatus and decisions can have effects that reach far beyond its borders. We examine how regulatory decisions and their timing, as transmitted through trade relationships, can affect innovation. 

By changing the temporal path of biotechnology innovations and their adoption, regulatory asynchronies can have profound effects on social welfare. We use a... model of world agricultural markets to examine the trade and welfare effects of delayed adoption of new biotech crop varieties due to the timing of regulatory decisions.

We find that a three-year delay in the adoption of new biotech crop varieties significantly decreases overall welfare in agricultural markets and also results in a substantial redistribution of economic surplus from consumers to producers. We additionally find that consumers in major importing countries, where the regulatory decisions in question characteristically originate, pay a particularly high price in terms of foregone benefits.


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"consumers in major importing countries, where the regulatory decisions... originate, pay a particularly high price" >> At least it's fair that those who cause a welfare loss also pay the highest price for it. However, the question is still how informed consumers are as to the price they pay -- and the question is also whether the regulatory decisions are driven by a majority of the consumers or only by a vociferous minority. And to the extent that the welfare loss they cause also affects third countries whose populations are poorer and cannot afford to pay even a lower "price", this is still a questionable outcome. 

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