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No-till soybean fields give (even some rare) birds a foothold in Illinois - Univ Illinois (2014)

No-till soybean fields give (even some rare) birds a foothold in Illinois - Univ Illinois (2014) | Ag Biotech News |

Researchers report in a new study that several bird species – some of them relatively rare – are making extensive use of soybean fields in Illinois. The team found significantly more birds and a greater diversity of bird species nesting, roosting and feeding in no-till soybean fields than in tilled fields... 


The team found more bird nests and greater species diversity in the no-till fields than in the tilled soybeans. Nest losses were high, however. About 80 percent of nests in the no-till fields and more than 90 percent in tilled fields failed as a result of predation or the onset of farm operations before eggs hatched or young birds were ready to fly.

High mortality is fairly common in bird nests, however, and while the losses in no-till soybean fields were greater than those seen in pristine grasslands, they were not much worse, the researchers said... “I was surprised to see all the different birds that are using these agricultural fields – especially during spring migration,” said Kelly VanBeek... 

Some of the birds using no-till fields are grassland species that have been in decline across the Midwest for decades, said Michael Ward... 


The study adds to the evidence that agricultural practices can have a broad influence on bird abundance and diversity... “Generally row crops are not good for wildlife,” Brawn said. “They’re just not. But this paper shows that in situ agricultural production – depending on how you do it – can have some benefits for wildlife.” ... 

“If you look at birds in general or wildlife in general, the ones that did occupy grassland habitat are the ones whose populations have tanked the most,” Brawn said. “But birds are very resilient, they’re very resourceful and they’re very flexible, and we can take advantage of that.”

Of the nests that failed, 65.1 percent were raided by predators and 24.4 percent were lost to farm machinery during crop planting. Continuously recording cameras trained on nests showed that coyotes were the primary predators of the ground-level nests – another surprise.

“This just shows that we do have predators in these landscapes, which is a good thing,” VanBeek said. “Several decades ago, we didn’t have coyotes here; we had completely lost those predator species that bring some ecological balance. We may not be in a balanced situation yet, but at least they’re present.”

The study points to a major opportunity for bird conservation, Ward said. Rather than buying up modest tracts of land for wildlife preservation, an approach that is minimally effective, he said, farmers and conservationists could work together to maximize the ecological role that no-till lands are already playing in the Midwest.

If farmers could be convinced to plant their soybeans a few days later in the spring, for example, it would increase the nesting success of several bird species that are out there now, Ward said. A pilot program in Indiana is testing this approach, compensating farmers for losses that stem from the planting delay, he said.

“There’s so much land in agriculture that if only 3 or 4 percent of farmers adopted this approach, it would have a greater effect than all the land that we have in wildlife preserves in Illinois,” he said... “Most people, they drive past corn and soybean fields in Illinois and they say there’s no way there’s value for wildlife in those,” VanBeek said. “But we’ve proved there is. These agricultural fields are not ecological wastelands. There’s some value there.”

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

[updated 04 November, 2014]  


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


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


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


Jennifer Mach's comment, March 30, 2013 9:05 AM
I admit I haven't read this list... but for future reference, I'll definitely have a look.
Mel H's curator insight, November 30, 2014 8:39 AM

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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Next biotech plants: new traits, crops, developers and technologies for addressing global challenges - Ricroch & Hénard (2015) - Critical Rev Biotechnol

Next biotech plants: new traits, crops, developers and technologies for addressing global challenges - Ricroch & Hénard (2015) - Critical Rev Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News |

Most of the genetically modified (GM) plants currently commercialized encompass a handful of crop species (soybean, corn, cotton and canola) with agronomic characters (traits) directed against some biotic stresses (pest resistance, herbicide tolerance or both) and created by multinational companies. The same crops with agronomic traits already on the market today will continue to be commercialized, but there will be also a wider range of species with combined traits.

The timeframe anticipated for market release of the next biotech plants will not only depend on science progress in research and development (R&D) in laboratories and fields, but also primarily on how demanding regulatory requirements are in countries where marketing approvals are pending. Regulatory constraints, including environmental and health impact assessments, have increased significantly in the past decades, delaying approvals and increasing their costs. This has sometimes discouraged public research entities and small and medium size plant breeding companies from using biotechnology and given preference to other technologies, not as stringently regulated.

Nevertheless, R&D programs are flourishing in developing countries, boosted by the necessity to meet the global challenges that are food security of a booming world population while mitigating climate change impacts. Biotechnology is an instrument at the service of these imperatives and a wide variety of plants are currently tested for their high yield despite biotic and abiotic stresses. Many plants with higher water or nitrogen use efficiency, tolerant to cold, salinity or water submergence are being developed.

Food security is not only a question of quantity but also of quality of agricultural and food products, to be available and accessible for the ones who need it the most. Many biotech plants (especially staple food) are therefore being developed with nutritional traits, such as biofortification in vitamins and metals. The main international seed companies... often collaborate in the developing world with public institutions, private entities and philanthropic organizations. These partnerships are particularly present in Africa.

In developed countries, plant biotechnology is also used for non-food purposes, such as the pharmaceutical, biofuel, starch, paper and textile industries. For example, plants are modified to specifically produce molecules with therapeutic uses, or with an improved biomass conversion efficiency, or producing larger volumes of feedstocks for biofuels.

Various plant breeding technologies are now used in the entire spectrum of plant biotechnology: transgenesis producing proteins or RNAi. Cisgenesis... and intragenesis... null segregants are also used. To date, the next generation precision gene editing tools are developed in basic research. They include: clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR), oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis (ODM), transcription activator-like effects nucleases (TALENs) and zinc-finger nuclease (ZFN).


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'Good, bad, and ugly': Anne Glover discusses life as Europe's science adviser - Science (2015)

'Good, bad, and ugly': Anne Glover discusses life as Europe's science adviser - Science (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

In a sometimes tense briefing, Anne Glover spoke to reporters yesterday about the ups and downs of her tenure as first chief science adviser of the European Commission (EC)... Glover was appointed in 2011... She won plaudits for her energy and enthusiasm, but the structure of the position posed severe constraints. Exactly why the next EC president, Jean-Claude Juncker, eliminated the position this past November remains a mystery... She framed her experiences as “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

The ugly first. Glover talked at length about her frustration with the "lack of honesty" among opponents of GM crops. "It is not reasonable to present one-sided arguments," she said. Nongovernmental organizations called for her position to be abolished last year, accusing her of bias – a charge she rejected. But she said: "I can't invent balance" when it’s inconsistent with the scientific evidence.

Glover expressed concerns about “the polarization of argument” with GM organisms (GMOs) and other controversial topics... Glover has disputed claims that her staunch defense of the safety and utility of GMOs led to the elimination of her position. And at the briefing she said the move was never explained to her. "No reason was given to me... I've had no contact with the new presidency or the new team."

Another clear source of frustration for Glover was an accusation that her office was not transparent. Advice to Barroso was kept confidential at his request, she said. Her staff of six published many documents and responded to freedom of information requests as well as it could. In addition, she declared potential conflicts of interest, even though she was not required to... 


An unresolved issue is how science advice should be given to the European Commission. Glover hinted, sharply, that the job description should change... finding a way to provide “a more open and explicit procuring of evidence” to policymakers...

Despite saying she enjoyed the experience overall, Glover repeated a frequent criticism: “I think we need to demand a lot of our politicians and leaders. Sometimes they hide behind evidence or miscall evidence, [saying] that we don't have enough to do something. Climate change, for example: the evidence is compelling, but our response to that needs to be compelling.”

At the same time, Glover declined to comment on how science will fare under Juncker’s presidency, which has proposed to divert €2.7 billion from the European Commission’s main research fund... into an economic stimulus fund... 


Glover also highlighted her accomplishments. She said they included: setting up an informal network of European science advisers... creating a Science and Technology Advisory Council... creating networks among science advisers to various E.U. agencies... building bridges with science academies...


Norman Warthmann's curator insight, February 5, 6:52 PM

yes, fellow scientist, lets "demand a lot" from our politicians!

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China aims to take the lead in GM food race - South China Morning Post (2015)

China aims to take the lead in GM food race - South China Morning Post (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

China... vowed to spearhead research into genetically modified food, with its top agricultural policymaker insisting that imports should not dominate the domestic market... Even though China still trailed developed countries in research into GM organisms... it had international-standard safety measures in place and led the world in the study of GM rice and corn. 

"As a big country, one thing for sure is that China can't let its market for genetically modified organisms be occupied solely by foreign products" Han said... after the party and the central government released the country's policy blueprint for the year. In the blueprint, the so-called No1 Central Document, the authorities ordered that GMO research be improved and the public better educated about the products... 

The latest official support for GM crops comes after the government decided in December to approve imports of a GM corn variety and two GM soybean varieties from three major international seed companies... "to encourage science-based decision-making on modern advances in technology for agricultural productivity and safety".


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Genetically Modified Organisms and Innovation Policy are Key Weapons in Fight against Hunger - Giannakas (2014) - Cornhusker Econ

The introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the food system and the assignment of intellectual property rights (IPRs) for plant genetic resources are among the most notable features of the increasingly industrialized agri-food marketing system of numerous, developed and developing, countries around the world. IPRs have provided innovating firms with incentives to aggressively pursue improvements of crop characteristics... and the agronomic benefits of the GM products have resulted in their embrace by a significant number of agricultural producers around the world... more than half... of those being planted in developing countries... Seventeen million farmers in 28 countries grew GM soybeans... in 2012...

Intriguingly, in the midst of this so-called gene revolution, about 1 billion people worldwide are facing malnutrition and hunger, with the majority of these people living in water-constrained regions of Africa and Asia. With GMOs and IPRs being at the epicenter of innovation activity in the agri-food system, the question that naturally arises is: can GMOs and IPRs help reduce hunger in a water-constrained world? Understanding that hunger can be reduced through access to increased quantities of nutritious food offered at affordable prices, research... has been focusing on the effects of different GM technologies and IPRs’ policies on quantities produced, the quality of production, the prices of food products, and the number of people with access to food in hunger-stricken less developed countries (LDCs)...

Research has identified the potential for significant benefits from the development and adoption of appropriate GM technologies for all participants in the agri-food marketing system. In particular, previous research has shown that properly designed GM technologies... can facilitate production, increase yields, reduce production costs, and enhance the nutritional value of food products. Key input traits of the GMOs needed in the fight against hunger are drought resistance and/or water use efficiency of plants, as water has been a key constraining factor in many hunger-stricken countries...

Important determinants of the effectiveness of these GM technologies in combating hunger are (i) the public attitudes towards GMOs; (ii) the magnitude and distribution of benefits of the GM technology; (iii) the regulatory and labeling regimes governing GMOs; (iv) the structure of the agri-food marketing system; (v) the market power of the innovating companies; and (vi) the strength and enforcement of IPRs in LDCs. Regarding the level of IPRs’ enforcement, it has been shown to affect the welfare of the interest groups involved (i.e., producers, consumers, and innovators), and have important ramifications for the pricing and adoption of the new technology. The weaker is the enforcement of IPRs in a country, the lower the price of the new technology, the greater its adoption by producers, and the greater the number of consumers that have access to this technology.

While GM technologies and certain IPRs’ policies can result in increased quantities of nutritious food in hunger-stricken LDCs, there are some major challenges in the quest to utilize such technologies in the fight against hunger. These challenges include: (i) the limited availability of suitable GM crops/technologies; (ii) the limited capacity for research and development (R&D) in most LDCs; (iii) the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in shaping public attitudes towards GMOs; (iv) the trade relationships of LDCs with countries hostile to GMOs; and (v) the inefficiency of the regulatory system in most LDCs. The role of government agencies (like USAID) and Universities, innovating firms, the World Bank, major foundations, philanthropists and NGOs in overcoming these challenges is critical.


GNG's curator insight, January 31, 9:33 PM

Terrific article about the role of GMOs in fighting world hunger.

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Europe cannot ignore GM and the next green revolution - FT (2015)

Europe cannot ignore GM and the next green revolution - FT (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

The European Parliament voted this month to let member states make their own decisions on whether to ban the growing of genetically modified foods. The measure must now be approved by the EU Council, representing member states, after which it will come into force.


Some see the proposal as an opportunity for pro-GM countries such as England... to go ahead with growing the crops. More likely is that Europe drops out of GM research. Monsanto, the US company, says it is applying for the renewal of its patent on the maize that is the only GM product grown in Europe but will not be seeking any other EU approvals. “We’ve decided there are other places to invest,” the company told me... 


I also have little time for anti-GM campaigners who rip up experimental crops and then say there is little proof these foods provide any benefits. The European debate has been impoverished by the absence of reasoned argument. The Parliament’s decision is evidence of this. Not only does allowing each country to go its own way violate the principle of a single market. It also allows countries to ban GM products even if European safety authorities have decided they pose no danger to human health or the environment.


Do GM crops pose a danger to our health? ... Americans have been eating GM food for a long time. The American Medical Association says: “Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature”... The European Commission says it has since 1982 invested €300m in research into the safety of genetically modified organisms. In the past 25 years, more than 500 independent research groups took part. “According to the projects’ results, there is, of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms”... 


The European parliamentarians reflected the views of their constituents. Can these be changed? That would require more than saying GM foods are safe. Consumers can respond: why take the chance? ... What might help are broader discussions about where our food comes from. With the majority of the world’s population living in cities, few of us have much idea. 

Nor have we given much thought to how we are going to feed a growing world population in a way that doesn’t exacerbate water shortages or tear up more forests for agriculture. GM may not provide all the answers, but it has to be part of the discussion... Thomas Malthus’s vision of a world short of food did not come true. This was because of scientific advances, such as increased use of fertiliser. If we are to carry on feeding the world, we need another revolution.


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Public funded field trials with transgenic plants in Europe: a comparison between Germany and Switzerland - Nausch &al (2016) - Current Opinion in Biotechnol

Public funded field trials with transgenic plants in Europe: a comparison between Germany and Switzerland - Nausch &al (2016) - Current Opinion in Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News |

Field trails are indispensable for the scientific analysis of risks and potential benefits of genetically modified plants. The dramatic reduction of field trials in the European Union (EU) coincides with increasing safety demands, decreases in funding, and changes in the European directives. In parallel, opposition from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has grown, and public acceptance has decreased.


The cultivation of events approved by the EU is still allowed in principle, nevertheless, at least in Germany, there is a de facto moratorium on cultivation. In Switzerland, where development was much more hesitant compared to Germany, field trials are now possible, and a protected site has been established by the government. Public acceptance for scientific trials in Switzerland has risen, despite the continued moratorium on the cultivation based on a referendum.


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Heterogeneity of Property Rights Strategies in A Global Context: The Case of Genetically Modified Soybean Seeds - Monteiro &al (2015) - Global Strategy J

Heterogeneity of Property Rights Strategies in A Global Context: The Case of Genetically Modified Soybean Seeds - Monteiro &al (2015) - Global Strategy J | Ag Biotech News |

The protection of property rights is a pressing strategic issue in the genetically modified soybean seed industry. Because the soybean plant is characterized by self-reproducibility, it is essential for biotechnology firms to establish strategies of property rights appropriation. To obtain new insights into this issue... we analyze three cases of property rights protection with respect to soybean seeds... 

In the U.S., biotechnology firms design strategic mechanisms based on the establishment of technology licensing contracts in addition to using the legal system. To characterize this protection strategy, we first describe the U.S. regulatory framework that governs the protection of biotechnology innovations in agriculture. Then, we examine the collection of royalties on GM soybean seeds... 

In Brazil, biotechnology companies found a way to collect royalties even where the institutional environment is weak. The solution involves the construction of two distinct governance structures: the introduction of contracts in the Southern region of Brazil and the issuance of payment slips in the country's Midwest. In the following, we present a historical analysis of property rights on plants in Brazil and investigate the economic rationale that guides the collection of royalties on GM soybean seeds... 

The fundamental characteristic of the regulatory framework in Argentina is recurring change in the institutional structure. Moreover, from 2000 to 2004... a severe economic crisis... resulted in an abandonment of government oversight over property rights on plants... Such unstable dynamics increase the possibility of abuse of delegated discretion by farmers and hinders the establishment of efforts by firms to protect property rights. Perhaps more importantly, companies that operate in Argentina have difficulties claiming patent protection for new varieties of plants or genetically modified organisms. The weakness of the institutional environment – both in terms of the institutional instability and in terms of the absence of an effective patent system – implies that the misappropriation of property rights on biotechnological innovations tends to be high in Argentina. As a result, firms protect property rights through private efforts. When the private protection is too costly, firms may abandon valuable attributes in the public domain...


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GM rice commercialization and its impact on the global rice economy - Durand-Morat &al (2015) - AgEcon

Genetically-modified (GM) rice is an important technology surrounded with controversy and uncertainty, hence it warrants more in-depth analysis... This study assesses the impacts of GM rice commercialization on the global rice market... Scenarios of adoption, diffusion and acceptance of Bt rice by Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Nigeria, and the Philippines are compared against baseline projections.


The results focus on world trade, world and domestic prices, resource savings, domestic production, consumption, and stocks. Bt rice adoption has the potential to significantly impact the global and national rice economies... the adoption of Bt rice in selected importing countries will generate significant import substitution effects that will ameliorate the substantial expansion in international trade forecasted over the next decade... China might substitute over 85% of its imports by 2023... 


Consumers worldwide are expected to benefit from lower prices as a result of the adoption of Bt rice, primarily those from adopting countries... At the global level, impacts are for the most part marginal except for the international reference price, which is estimated to decrease by 6% a year as a result of the Bt rice adoption rates and yield gains...


Lagging in Bt rice adoption can have significant welfare costs as estimated for the case of Nigeria. This provides the incentive for countries to keep up with the leaders in adopting new


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[Slightly edited machine translation.] 


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

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


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

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

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


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

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

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Improving microalgae for biotechnology: From genetics to synthetic biology - Hlavová &al (2015) - Biotechnol Advances

Microalgae have traditionally been used in many biotechnological applications... In agriculture, breeding of natural variants has been successfully used for centuries to improve production traits in many existing plant and animal species. With the discovery of the concepts of classical genetics, these new ideas have been extensively used in selective breeding. 

However, many biotechnologically relevant algae do not possess the sexual characteristics required for traditional breeding/crossing, although they can be modified by chemical and physical mutagens.The resulting mutants are not considered as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their cultivation is therefore not limited by legislation. On the other hand, mutants prepared by random or specific insertion of foreign DNA are considered to be GMOs...


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Field resistance of transgenic plantain to nematodes has potential for future African food security - Tripathi &al (2015) - Scientific Reports

Field resistance of transgenic plantain to nematodes has potential for future African food security - Tripathi &al (2015) - Scientific Reports | Ag Biotech News |

Plant parasitic nematodes impose losses of up to 70% on plantains and cooking bananas in Africa. Application of nematicides is inappropriate and resistant cultivars are unavailable. Where grown, demand for plantain is more than for other staple crops.


Confined field testing demonstrated that transgenic expression of a biosafe, anti-feedant cysteine proteinase inhibitor and an anti-root invasion, non-lethal synthetic peptide confers resistance to plantain against the key nematode pests...


The best peptide transgenic line showed improved agronomic performance... and provided about 99% nematode resistance... Its yield was about 186% in comparison with the nematode challenged control non-transgenic plants based on larger bunches and diminished plant toppling in storms, due to less root damage.


This is strong evidence for utilizing this resistance to support the future food security of 70 million, mainly poor Africans that depend upon plantain as a staple food... 


The benefits from nematode control on Musa in West Africa are probably similar to estimates for Uganda of >$250 M over 30 years with non-adoption costs of $179-365 M... 


Here we offer an effective, low cost approach to the previously intractable problem of nematode control that could reduce the yield gap to small farmers without altering their cropping choices. We present strong evidence for the uptake of this royalty-free technology in Africa to support the future food security of plantain-dependent Africans...


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An Economic Analysis of Risk, Management and Agricultural Technology - Chavas & Shi (2015) - J Ag Res Econ

An Economic Analysis of Risk, Management and Agricultural Technology - Chavas & Shi (2015) - J Ag Res Econ | Ag Biotech News |

This paper... analyze the effects of genetically modified (GM) seed technology and management on production risk in agriculture, with an application to the distribution of corn yield in Wisconsin. Using the certainty equivalent (CE) as a welfare measure, our analysis decomposes the welfare effects of risk, management, and agricultural technology into two parts: mean effects and risk premium (measuring the cost of risk).


We document how biotechnology and management interact to improve agricultural productivity and reduce farm risk exposure. For corn, we find that GM European Corn Borer (GM-ECB) technology consistently increases CE (the increase ranging from +4.6% to +11.8%) and that a significant part of this increase can come from risk reduction... 


The analysis indicates how biotechnology can contribute to both increasing mean yield and reducing risk exposure. Thus, biotechnology offers good prospects to improve future agricultural productivity under changing climatic conditions. But we also showed that the effects of biotechnology are heterogeneous: they can vary significantly across regions as well as across management schemes...


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Novel oil from glass house grown GM plants can substitute fish oil in fish feeds - Rothamsted (2015)

Novel oil from glass house grown GM plants can substitute fish oil in fish feeds - Rothamsted (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Oil derived from GM Camelina plants that have been modified to produce 20%EPA in their seeds, is entirely suitable for feeding Atlantic salmon. Consumption of omega-3 fish oils... (omega-3 LC-PUFA) through the consumption of oily fish like salmon and mackerel, has been linked with improved cardiovascular health and cognitive development. The primary dietary sources of these fatty acids are marine fish either wild or farmed (aquaculture). Fish, like humans, accumulate the omega-3 fish oils through the consumption of other organisms in the marine food chain or, in farmed fish, through fishmeal and fish oil in feeds.


Currently there is a gap between supply and demand for fish oils and new sources are required for the aquaculture industry and for direct human consumption... Scientists developed genetically modified (GM) plants that can produce up to 20% of... one of the two omega-3 LC PUFA conferring health benefits. The extracted oils from the plants grown in the glass house were used as a replacement for marine fish oil in feeds for Atlantic salmon.


The results of the study demonstrated that growth performance, feed efficiency, fish health and nutritional quality for the human consumer were unaffected when dietary fish oil was substituted with oil from the GM plants... “At the end of the experiment we... found that the oil derived from the GM plants can effectively substitute for fish oil in salmon feeds. This is highly significant because fish oil is a finite and limited resource, very expensive and the increasing demands for it by the fish farming industry will not be met in the future. So we really need to develop effective alternatives like this one”...


The development of these novel plant oils, tailored to human requirements, represent a sustainable way to farm fish with high levels of omega-3 fish oils that maintain their high nutritional value to the human consumer while preserving wild fish stocks” ...


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Biotech crops show continued growth, benefits in 2014, global plantings increase by 6 million hectares - ISAAA (2015)

Biotech crops show continued growth, benefits in 2014, global plantings increase by 6 million hectares - ISAAA (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

In 2014, a record 181.5 million hectares of biotech crops were grown globally, an increase of more than six million hectares from 2013... With the addition of Bangladesh, a total of 28 countries grew biotech crops during the year... represent more than 60 percent of the world’s population... 

Since 1996, more than 10 food and fiber biotech crops have been approved and commercialized around the world. These range from major commodities such as maize, soybean and cotton, to fruits and vegetables like papaya, eggplant and, most recently, potato. The traits of these crops address common issues affecting crop benefits to the consumer and production rates for farmers, including drought tolerance, insect and disease resistance, herbicide tolerance and increased nutrition and food quality. Biotech crops contribute to more sustainable crop production systems and provide resilient responses to the challenges of climate change... 

The report also highlighted key benefits of biotechnology, including alleviation of poverty and hunger by boosting the income of risk-averse small, resource-poor farmers around the world... biotech crops increased production valued at US$133 billion; in the period 1996 to 2012 pesticide use decreased significantly saving approximately 500 million kg of active ingredient. In 2013 alone, crop plantings lowered carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to removing 12.4 million cars from the road for one year.

These findings are consistent with a rigorous meta-analysis, conducted by German economists, Klumper and Qaim (2014), which concluded that GM technology has, on average, reduced chemical pesticide use 37 percent, increased crop yields 22 percent, and increased farmer profits 68 percent during the 20 year period of 1995 to 2014.

Bangladesh approved Bt brinjal/eggplant in October 2013... Bt brinjal/eggplant not only brings financial opportunity to poor farmers in the country, but also drastically decreases farmer exposure to pesticides on the food crop by 70 to 90 percent... The case of Bangladesh in 2014 reconfirms the value and success of public-private partnerships. The Bt biotech trait for brinjal – one of the most nutritious and important vegetables in Bangladesh – was donated by Mahyco, an Indian company.

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) Project is another example of a public-private partnership at work. Beginning in 2017, select African countries are scheduled to receive the first biotech drought tolerant maize, a food staple depended on by more than 300 million poor Africans. The donated biotechnology trait is the same as the DroughtGard™ variety used in the United States, which increased 5.5-fold in planted hectares from 2013 to 2014. This demonstrates strong farmer acceptance of the biotech drought tolerant maize.

In the United States, approval of the Innate™ potato was granted in November 2014. The Innate potato decreases production of acrylamide, a potential carcinogen, when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures. Furthermore, it increases consumer satisfaction while precluding up to 40 percent yield loss as the potato will not discolor when peeled and has fewer bruising spots. These attributes will have meaningful impact on food security as food waste continues as an important factor in the discussion... 

Biotech-based control of the fungal disease late-blight, the most important disease of potatoes in the world, is already being field-tested in Bangladesh, India and Indonesia. Late-blight caused the 1845 Irish famine, which resulted in 1 million deaths. Biotech control of virus diseases and the Colorado beetle, the most important insect pest, are already available, but not deployed... 

According to the report, India cultivated a record 11.6 million hectares of Bt cotton with an adoption rate of 95 percent. British economists Brookes and Barfoot estimate that India enhanced farm income from Bt cotton by US$ 2.1 billion in 2013 alone. Developing countries Vietnam and Indonesia granted approval for commercialization of biotech crops to begin in 2015. This includes several hybrids of biotech maize for importing and planting in Vietnam and drought tolerant sugarcane for planting as a food crop in Indonesia...


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Optimizing pyramided transgenic Bt crops for sustainable pest management - Carrière &al (2015) - Nature Biotechnol

Optimizing pyramided transgenic Bt crops for sustainable pest management - Carrière &al (2015) - Nature Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News |

Transgenic crop pyramids producing two or more Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins that kill the same insect pest have been widely used to delay evolution of pest resistance. To assess the potential of pyramids to achieve this goal, we analyze data from 38 studies that report effects of ten Bt toxins used in transgenic crops against 15 insect pests.


We find that compared with optimal low levels of insect survival, survival on currently used pyramids is often higher for both susceptible insects and insects resistant to one of the toxins in the pyramid. Furthermore, we find that cross-resistance and antagonism between toxins used in pyramids are common, and that these problems are associated with the similarity of the amino acid sequences of domains II and III of the toxins, respectively.


This analysis should assist in future pyramid design and the development of sustainable resistance management strategies.


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Organic and Conventional Milk – Comparing Apples to Apples? - Elsevier (2015)

Organic and Conventional Milk – Comparing Apples to Apples? - Elsevier (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Consumers perceive that organic cow milk differs from conventionally produced milk and that these differences justify the premium price for organic milk... researchers in New Zealand found that the differences between organic and conventional milk are not so straightforward.

Reviewing almost 200 publications, researchers concluded that previously conducted controlled studies... have so far been largely ambiguous... "When comparing organic and conventional milk composition... previous studies have generally compared organic dairying with milk produced from grass-fed cows to conventional dairying with milk produced from concentrate-fed cows. The differences in milk composition observed are actually due to the different diets of the cows (i.e. pasture versus concentrate feeding) rather than organic versus conventional farming systems"... 


The vast majority of differences reported between organic and conventional milk come from what cows are fed and their breed, and is not anything unique to being organic or conventional in itself." Therefore in terms of nutrients in milk, there is nothing distinct about organic milk that makes it unique from conventionally produced milk once the different factors that influence milk production are compared or adjusted for. If animal genetics, health, breed, diet, management, or environment differs, then so will the composition of the milk produced.


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Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"there is nothing distinct about organic milk that makes it unique from conventionally produced milk"

AckerbauHalle's curator insight, January 22, 12:51 AM

Ist der Vergleich zwischen konventionell erzeugter Milch und Bio-Milch eigentlich sinnvoll?

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Biosafety Management and Pesticide Use in China’s Bt Cotton Production - Huang &al (2015) - China Econ Rev

Chinese government has been increasing its efforts in GM crop biosafety management. However, the rapid expansion of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton varieties and less regulated seed industry also resulted in large amount of Bt cotton varieties bypassed China’s biosafety regulations.


This study shows that the Bt cotton varieties without biosafety certificates (BC) have been widely used by farmers in practice... the Bt cotton varieties with BC outperform the varieties without BC in term of pesticides use...


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