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Pathogenic plant virus jumps to honeybees, may explain bee population decline - ASM (2014)

Pathogenic plant virus jumps to honeybees, may explain bee population decline - ASM (2014) | Ag Biotech News |

A viral pathogen that typically infects plants has been found in honeybees and could help explain their decline... The routine screening of bees for frequent and rare viruses "resulted in the serendipitous detection of Tobacco Ringspot Virus, or TRSV, and prompted an investigation into whether this plant-infecting virus could also cause systemic infection in the bees," says Yan Ping Chen from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS)... 


"The results of our study provide the first evidence that honeybees exposed to virus-contaminated pollen can also be infected and that the infection becomes widespread in their bodies," says lead author Ji Lian Li, at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science in Beijing. "We already know that honeybees, Apis melllifera, can transmit TRSV when they move from flower to flower, likely spreading the virus from one plant to another," Chen adds.


Notably, about 5% of known plant viruses are pollen-transmitted and thus potential sources of host-jumping viruses... viruses such as TRSV generate a flood of variant copies with differing infective properties... 


Toxic viral cocktails appear to have a strong link with honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a mysterious malady that abruptly wiped out entire hives... When these researchers investigated bee colonies classified as "strong" or "weak," TRSV and other viruses were more common in the weak colonies than they were in the strong ones. Bee populations with high levels of multiple viral infections began failing in late fall and perished before February... In contrast, those in colonies with fewer viral assaults survived the entire cold winter months.


TRSV was also detected inside the bodies of Varroa mites, a "vampire" parasite that transmits viruses between bees while feeding on their blood. However, unlike honeybees, the mite-associated TRSV was restricted to their gastric cecum indicating that the mites likely facilitate the horizontal spread of TRSV within the hive without becoming diseased themselves. The fact that infected queens lay infected eggs convinced these scientists that TRSV could also be transmitted vertically from the queen mother to her offspring.


"The increasing prevalence of TRSV in conjunction with other bee viruses is associated with a gradual decline of host populations and supports the view that viral infections have a significant negative impact on colony survival," these researchers conclude. Thus, they call for increased surveillance of potential host-jumping events as an integrated part of insect pollinator management programs.

Original article:

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

No mentioning of GMOs as a possible cause of CCD... 

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

[updated 16 May, 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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First beef with the goodness of fish - Springer (2015)

First beef with the goodness of fish - Springer (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Scientists have reared beef rich in the beneficial fatty acids associated with fish oils... successfully introduced a gene into foetal cells from Luxi Yellow cattle, a Chinese breed with a high beef yield. The fat1 gene... codes for desaturase enzymes that are involved in the conversion of n-6 to n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. 


A diet rich in long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, also known as omega-3 oils, can help protect against cardiovascular diseases, obesity and neurodegenerative diseases. However, levels of these fatty acids in the human diet have decreased over the years and the levels of shorter chain n-6 fatty acids have increased. Introducing the fat1 gene to cattle increased the levels of beneficial oils by over five times.


“We have provided the first evidence that it is possible to create a new breed of cattle with higher nutritional value in terms of their fatty acid composition”... Other research groups are experimenting with increasing levels of omega-3 oils in farmed fish by creating fishmeal rich in a new plant source. A similar strategy could be used for cattle... but the new study shows that elevated levels can be directly produced in beef... 

“There is much to learn about the best scientific techniques and the best husbandry required to make beef a rich animal source of omega-3 oils for human nutrition, but we have taken the first step”...


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Transgenic plants as a sustainable, terrestrial source of fish oils - Napier &al (2015) - Eur J Lipid Sci Technol

Transgenic plants as a sustainable, terrestrial source of fish oils - Napier &al (2015) - Eur J Lipid Sci Technol | Ag Biotech News |

An alternative, sustainable source of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids is widely recognized as desirable, helping to reduce pressure on current sources (wild capture fisheries) and providing a de novo source of these health beneficial fatty acids.


This review will consider the efforts and progress to develop transgenic plants as terrestrial sources of omega-3 fish oils, focusing on recent developments and the possible explanations for advances in the field. We also consider the utility of such a source for use in aquaculture, since this industry is the major consumer of oceanic supplies of omega-3 fish oils.


Given the importance of the aquaculture industry in meeting global requirements for healthy foodstuffs, an alternative source of omega-3 fish oils represents a potentially significant breakthrough for this production system.


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President Juncker welcomes world-leading scientists, announces new mechanism for scientific advice - EU (2015)

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker today hosts a working lunch for a group of eminent, internationally awarded scientists: Sir Paul Nurse, Jules Hoffmann, Serge Haroche, László Lovász, Jean Tirole and Edvard Ingjald Moser... The exchange of views will focus on how to ensure Europe remains a centre of excellence for science, foster innovative ideas that are brought to market, and ensure that EU policy benefits from the best scientific advice. 

President Juncker said: "The thirst for discovery is what has helped move society from the Stone Ages. The world has changed, but for our society to continue advancing and our economy to grow, we need the highest ambition in pursuing knowledge, breakthroughs, innovations. For that to happen, a formidable brain alone doesn't always suffice. We need additional sources of finance and investment for research and innovation"... 

The meeting will also be an opportunity to discuss how to best institutionalise independent scientific advice in the European Commission. After the mandate of the Chief Scientific Advisor [Anne Glover] came to an end... President Juncker asked Commissioner Moedas to reflect on possible ways to ensure that the Commission draws on the best scientific advice, complementing existing in-house services and external expertise.


While international experience shows that there is no single model for providing such advice, the overall objective is to ensure that scientific advice:
- is independent of institutional or political interests;
- brings together evidence and insights from different disciplines and approaches;
- is transparent.


To meet these objectives, the President this morning endorsed... a mechanism for high quality, timely, independent scientific advice. The future mechanism will draw on the wide range of scientific expertise in Europe through a close relationship with national academies and other bodies, coordinated by a High-Level Group of Independent Scientists... 


Commissioner Moedas said... "The new model for independent scientific advice will contribute to the Commission's continued pursuit of the best possible evidence-based policy" ...


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The estimated ex ante economic impact of Bt cowpea in Niger, Benin and Northern Nigeria - Gbègbèlègbè &al (2015) - Ag Econ

The estimated ex ante economic impact of Bt cowpea in Niger, Benin and Northern Nigeria - Gbègbèlègbè &al (2015) - Ag Econ | Ag Biotech News |

Genetically modified (GM) crops could increase economic growth and enhance living standards in Africa, but political issues have slowed the use of biotechnology. This is the first study that assesses the potential impact of GM crops in Africa while considering the preferences of producers and consumers towards GMOs as well as the income and price risks they face.


The study uses a choice experiment to estimate the ex ante economic impact of a novel technology, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cowpea, on producers and consumers in Benin, Niger and northern Nigeria. The experiment involves the simulation of a market transaction similar to those in open air markets in West Africa. During the market simulation, respondents are informed about the advantages and disadvantages, including health risks, of Bt cowpea.


The results from the study suggest that cowpea growers and consumers in Benin and northern Nigeria prefer Bt to conventional cowpea for health safety reasons. The results estimate that social welfare in Benin, Niger and northern Nigeria would increase by at least US$11.82 per capita annually with Bt cowpea, if seed sectors are operating smoothly. With inefficiencies in seed sectors and the potential for cowpea acreage increase, the estimated social welfare increase in the region would be about US$1.26 per capita annually... 


Rural consumers in the three regions tend to prefer Bt over conventional cowpea. Our results are similar to those of Kikulwe et al. (2011) who found that rural consumers in Uganda were willing to buy GM bananas if the latter shared the same price as non-GM bananas but had additional benefits including reduced pesticide use.

Relative to farmers’ WTP for GM products, our results on the premium of Bt over conventional cowpea seeds for cowpea growers in Nigeria and Benin compare well with those of Krishna and Qaim (2008) who found that eggplant farmers in India would be willing to pay about five times more for Bt eggplant seeds compared to conventional seeds. Just like the farmers in West Africa, those in India have also been exposed to the health hazards caused by insecticide misuse...


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Empirical evidence on the trade impact of asynchronous regulatory approval of new GMO events - Faria & Wieck (2015) - Food Pol

Empirical evidence on the trade impact of asynchronous regulatory approval of new GMO events - Faria & Wieck (2015) - Food Pol | Ag Biotech News |

This paper focuses on the ex-post empirical analysis of the trade impact of asynchronous regulatory approval of new genetically modified organism (GMO) events... We define indices to assess the extent of asynchronicity and the relative strictness of the GMO approval authorizations of 40 countries considering GMO regulatory developments between 2000 and 2012 regarding cotton, maize and soybeans. Second, we... examine the trade impact of asynchronous regulatory approval across countries.


By grouping the countries according to the state of their national regulatory GMO frameworks, we have an even more differentiated view on the trade impact of asynchronous approval that focuses not only on the existence of regulations but also on their restrictiveness. The results... show that asynchronous approval has negatively impacted trade flows... both asynchronous approvals and the restrictiveness of importing countries’ regulations to address the importation of GMO products matter, meaning those countries that have already adopted a comprehensive GMO regulatory framework and have policies to manage the importation of GMO crops tend to feel a higher negative impact on trade flows... 


Considering that... [not] all approved GMO events are currently commercialized [yet] ... the negative impact of asynchronous approval on trade is likely to increase in the near future when developers decide to launch these GMO events in the global market.


Second, it is expected that some less developed and developing countries will be establishing and enforcing their GMO regulatory frameworks in the coming years. These countries face the challenge of reducing the gap between themselves and the leading countries by approving a large number of GMO events. In this context, it is essential that the main importing and exporting countries actively pursue a certain level of coordination... to prevent drastic impacts on trade... to help them develop a rational approval system

that avoids widespread trade disruption.


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Engineering plants to reflect light: strategies for engineering water-efficient plants to adapt to a changing climate - Zamft & Conrado (2015) - Plant Biotechnol J

Engineering plants to reflect light: strategies for engineering water-efficient plants to adapt to a changing climate - Zamft & Conrado (2015) - Plant Biotechnol J | Ag Biotech News |

Population growth and globally increasing standards of living have put a significant strain on the energy-food-water nexus. Limited water availability particularly affects agriculture, as it accounts for over 70% of global freshwater withdrawals.


This study outlines the fundamental nature of plant water consumption and suggests a >50% reduction in renewable freshwater demand is possible by engineering more reflective crops. Furthermore, the decreased radiative forcing resulting from the greater reflectivity of crops would be equivalent to removing 10-50 ppm CO2 from the atmosphere.


Recent advances in engineering optical devices and a greater understanding of the mechanisms of biological reflectance suggest such a strategy may now be viable... While the local benefits may be straightforward, determining the global externalities will require careful modelling efforts and gradually scaled field trials.


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Transgenic soya bean seeds accumulating β-carotene exhibit the collateral enhancements of oleate and protein content traits - Schmidt &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnol J

Transgenic soya bean seeds accumulating β-carotene exhibit the collateral enhancements of oleate and protein content traits - Schmidt &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnol J | Ag Biotech News |

Transgenic soya bean plants overexpressing a seed-specific bacterial phytoene synthase gene... accumulated 845 μg β carotene g−1 dry seed weight with a desirable 12:1 ratio of β to α. The β carotene accumulating seeds exhibited a shift in oil composition increasing oleic acid with a concomitant decrease in linoleic acid and an increase in seed protein content by at least 4% (w/w)... 


The altered seed composition traits seem to be attributed to altered ABA hormone levels varying transcription factor expression. The elevated β-carotene, oleic acid and protein traits in the β-carotene soya beans confer a substantial additive nutritional quality to soya beans.


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More freedom for Member States to decide on the GMOs use for food & feed - EU (2015)

Today the Commission presents the outcome of its review of the decision-making process for the authorisation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) as food and feed... the Commission proposes to amend the legislation to confer upon Member States more freedom to restrict, or prohibit the use of EU-authorised GMOs in food or feed on their territory.


Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said... "Once adopted, today's proposal will, fully in line with the principle of subsidiarity, grant Member States a greater say as regards the use of EU- authorised GMOs in food and feed on their respective territories"...


Since it is crucial that a single risk management system is maintained – as this ensures the same level of protection throughout the EU – the current authorisation system, based on science and the labelling rules ensuring consumer choice, will not be amended. What will change is that once a GMO is authorised for use as food or feed in Europe, Member States will have the possibility to decide on whether to opt out from allowing that particular GMO to be used in their food chain.


Member States will have to justify that their opt-out measures comply with EU law, which includes the principles of the Internal Market, and EU's international obligations of which the EU's WTO obligations are an integral part. Opt-outs shall be based on legitimate reasons other than those assessed at EU level, i.e. risk to human or animal health or the environment... This legislative proposal will now be sent to the European Parliament and the Council to run its ordinary legislative course.


Fact Sheet: Questions and Answers on EU's policies on GMOs...


What are the GMOs that are authorised in the EU for feed and food uses? – Besides cultivation, the placing on the EU market of GMOs and the use of their derived products in the food and feed chain is subject to an EU authorisation, conditional upon the demonstration of an absence of risk for human and animal health and for the environment, following a thorough assessment by the European Food Safety Authority in collaboration with Member States' scientific bodies.


As of today, 58 GMOs are authorised in the EU for food and feed uses (covering maize, cotton, soybean, oilseed rape, sugar beet). 58 application files are pending... The list of authorised GM plants and the precise scope of their authorisation... can be found here:


Is there much GM food and feed on the EU market? – The EU imports substantial quantities of GM feed... Data shows that the Union needs more than 36 million tonnes of equivalent soybean per year to feed its livestock. However, the Union produces only 1.4 million tonnes... The Union livestock sector is therefore highly dependent on third countries' production for its vegetable proteins. In 2013, the Union imported... more than 60% of the Union plant protein needs.


These imports mainly originate from third countries where the cultivation of GMOs is widespread – 90% originate from... countries where... soybean cultivation was GM. As regards food... many food business operators have made the choice of not placing GM food on the shelves. This may be linked to the labelling obligations of the GMO legal framework...


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Almost 60 GMOs authorised in the EU and EU livestock is fed on more than 60% GMOs >> Where it matters most to many people -- keeping the price of meat, milk and eggs down -- GMOs are very popular and an integral part of the EU food chain... 

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Golden Rice to receive 2015 humanitarian award from U.S. government - IRRI (2015)

Golden Rice to receive 2015 humanitarian award from U.S. government - IRRI (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

The Golden Rice Project has won the prestigious 2015 Patents for Humanity award on nutrition. Through this award, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recognizes the vision of Ingo Potrykus, Peter Beyer, and Adrian Dubock for creating the enabling conditions for smallholder farmers to benefit from Golden Rice. Potrykus and Beyer invented Golden Rice as a potential complement to the nutrition toolkit in the fight against vitamin A deficiency that afflicts about 190 million people globally.

Royalty-free access to key technologies used in Golden Rice has enabled IRRI and public institutions to continue research and development of Golden Rice on a not-for-profit basis. Through this royalty-free arrangement and by breeding Golden Rice into already popular inbred varieties, resource-poor farmers can afford and reuse the seeds when they become available.

The USPTO confers the Patents for Humanity award to patent owners working to bring life-saving technologies to the underserved people of the world. Innovations in medicine, sanitation, household energy, living standards, and nutrition aimed at improving global health and living standards for the less fortunate are eligible for the award...


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Genomic breeding for food, environment and livelihoods - Rivers &al (2015) - Food Sec

Genomic breeding for food, environment and livelihoods - Rivers &al (2015) - Food Sec | Ag Biotech News |

Land use management is a central challenge for the 21st century with unprecedented and competing demands to produce food, feed/fodder, fibre, fuel, and essential ecosystem services which sustain life. Global change requires rapid adaptation in current and emerging crops as well as in the foundation species of natural ecosystems.

Revolutions in genomics and high throughput experimentation are transforming breeding so that adaptive traits in new environments can be predicted and selected more directly from germplasm collections of crops and wild species. This genomic breeding is now feasible in almost any species and has promise to help meet the need to feed and nourish over 9 billion people by 2050.

Genomic techniques can accelerate our response to food security challenges of yield, quality and resilience and also address environmental security challenges. To achieve its potential there will need to be widespread and ongoing investments in the human capital to promote genomic breeding... 


Advanced plant science and genomics have revolutionised breeding and crop improvement, and will continue to do so. Innovation in collecting genotypes, phenotypes, and intermediate characteristics, is allowing new crop varieties to be selected faster and more accurately than ever before.

With genomic techniques researchers can help address food security challenges of yield, quality, resilience, and other environmental and social needs. Investing in the human capital to perform genomic breeding is needed to improve food security, environments and livelihoods.


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UK funders demand strong statistics for animal studies - Nature (2015)

UK funders demand strong statistics for animal studies - Nature (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Replace, refine, reduce: the 3 Rs of ethical animal research are widely accepted around the world. But now the message from UK funding agencies is that some experiments use too few animals, a problem that leads to wastage and low-quality results... 

The research councils responsible for channelling government funding to scientists... announced changes to their guidelines for animal experiments. Funding applicants must now show that their work will provide statistically robust results – not just explain how it is justified and set out the ethical implications – or risk having their grant application rejected.

The move aims to improve the quality of medical research, and will help to address widespread concerns that animals – mostly mice and rats – are being squandered in tiny studies that lack statistical power. “If the study is underpowered your results are not going to be reliable... These animals are going to be wasted”...


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The Food and Environmental Safety of Bt Crops - Koch &al (2015) - Plant Biotechnol

Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) microbial pesticides have a 50-year history of safe use in agriculture. Cry proteins are among the active insecticidal ingredients in these pesticides, and genes coding for Cry proteins have been introduced into agricultural crops using modern biotechnology...


Environmental studies are performed and include invertebrates, mammals and avian species... In addition to the [non-target organism] assessment, the environmental assessment includes a comparative assessment between the Bt crop and the appropriate conventional control that is genetically similar but lacks the introduced trait to address unintended effects.


Specific phenotypic, agronomic, and ecological characteristics are measured in the Bt crop and the conventional control to evaluate whether the introduction of the insect resistance has resulted in any changes that might cause ecological harm in terms of altered weed characteristics, susceptibility to pests, or adverse environmental impact.


Additionally, environmental interaction data are collected in field experiments for Bt crop to evaluate potential adverse effects. Further to the agronomic and phenotypic evaluation, potential movement of transgenes from a genetically modified crop plants into wild relatives is assessed for a new pest resistance gene in a new crop.


This review summarizes the evidence for safety of crops containing Cry proteins for humans, livestock, and other non-target organisms... 


Cry Bt proteins, whether in microbial pesticide products or expressed in Bt crops, have been used and consumed safely for decades. The levels of Cry Bt protein in GM crops are very low and are often reduced further by food processing. In addition, extensive testing of Bt proteins... has not revealed any harm to non-target insects and other non-target species, including humans. This environmental safety profile for Bt crops largely reflects the high level of taxonomic specificity that has been achieved with Bt crops currently approved for cultivation.

Use of Bt crops provides benefits beyond insect control, such as significantly reducing small-molecule insecticide use for target pests controlled by Bt proteins, reducing applicator exposure to small-molecule insecticides, reducing greenhouse gases emissions by minimizing field spraying with self-propelled sprayers or other motorized equipment, and by potentially reducing fumonisin levels in maize grain.


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Engineered yeast paves way for home-brew heroin - Nature (2015)

Engineered yeast paves way for home-brew heroin - Nature (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Biotechnology is about to make morphine production as simple as brewing beer. A paper... reports the creation of a yeast strain containing the first half of a biochemical pathway that turns simple sugars into morphine – mimicking the process by which poppies make opiates. Combined with other advances, researchers predict that it will be only a few years – or even months – before a single engineered yeast strain can complete the entire process.

Besides giving biologists the power to tinker with the morphine-production process, the advance could lead to more-effective, less addictive and cheaper painkillers that could be brewed under tight controls in fermentation vats. At the same time, it could enable widespread, localized production of illegal opiates such as heroin, increasing people’s access to such drugs. Recognizing that danger, the synthetic biologists behind the work have already opened a discussion of how to prevent the technology’s misuse without hampering further research.

“It’s easy to point to heroin; that’s a concrete problem... The benefits are less visible. They are going to greatly outweigh the negative, but it’s hard to describe them”... Producing opiates in industrial facilities from yeast could eliminate the need for the tightly controlled legal plant-production chain... 

“I don’t want to undersell how much work there still is to do, but I don’t want to undersell how short that work is”... In theory, once that work is done, anyone who could obtain the engineered yeast strain would be able to make morphine in a process that is no more complicated than home-brewing beer. For that reason, Dueber and his colleagues shared their research before publication with biotechnology-policy specialists... calls for proactive examination of the risks and benefits of engineering organisms to make compounds that are both useful and dangerous. They urge drug and bio­security regulators, law-enforcement agencies, scientists and public-health officials to come together to develop safeguards that minimize risk without quashing research...

The implications for opiate production are one thing, but researchers say that they are most excited by the prospect of taking bits and pieces of plant pathways to create entirely new molecules. “A plant goes from A to Z without stopping at something valuable in between... We’re not restricted to what evolution has restricted to a single plant – we can mix and match.”

That is the real promise of synthetic biology... not just cutting the cost and time it takes to make known plant compounds, but tinkering with the processes that a plant uses to make what he calls “unnatural natural products”. These have the potential to be extremely beneficial, but that value risks being overshadowed by the spectre of illicit yeast-based heroin production. “This work has very interesting and important implications, but there are regulatory gaps... The question is, can regulators be nimble and figure this out before people finish the work?”


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Concerns about Federal GMO Food Legislation - Miller & Kershen (2015) - Regulation

Concerns about Federal GMO Food Legislation - Miller & Kershen (2015) - Regulation | Ag Biotech News |

Proposed federal legislation intended to circumvent differing state mandates on the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs)... We have serious concerns about the bill... The bill has four goals:

* Eliminate confusion and uncertainty from the prospects of a 50-state patchwork of safety and labeling laws for genetically engineered food, by affirming that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the definitive national authority.

* Require the FDA to conduct a safety review of all new genetically engineered traits before they are introduced into commerce.

* Direct the FDA to establish federal standards for companies that want to label their product voluntarily to indicate the absence or presence of food ingredients produced with molecular genetic engineering techniques.

* Direct the FDA to define the term “natural” for use on food and beverage products so that food and beverage companies and consumers have a consistent legal framework that will guide food labels and inform consumer choice.


With respect to the first goal, we agree that Congress should explicitly preempt state and local GMO safety and labeling laws. Such laws are inherently misleading because they wrongly imply that genetically engineered ingredients belong to a “category” of substances that are less safe or nutritious than “natural” substances. The use of genetic engineering does not make the resulting food any less (or more) healthy or safe – unless the GMO was engineered to be so.


As federal regulators have said repeatedly, labeling to identify food derived from plants modified with the newest techniques of genetic engineering would erroneously imply a meaningful difference where none exists... Labeling is appropriate when it conveys “material” information that bears on safety or usage. As the FDA stated at the time, risk-related factors in the context of novel foods could include the presence of a completely new substance in the food supply, an increase in the level of a natural food toxin, significant changes in the level of a macronutrient, or the presence of a potent allergen...


For a quarter-century, genetically engineered crops have been the most scrutinized products in human history, yet there is no scientific justification for such a burden. GMOs are far more precisely and predictably crafted than their “natural” predecessors, and none has caused documented harm to a person or disruption to an ecosystem. Hundreds of risk-assessment experiments as well as innumerable observations of “real-world use” have confirmed the safety of genetic modification technology. In spite of this vast amount of evidence, there has been no reduction or rationalization of the regulatory burden placed on plants made by the newer techniques of genetic engineering. In many cases, regulatory stringency and burdens are actually increasing, sometimes in the naive hope that this will reassure skeptics. This provision of the legislation would represent yet another escalation of regulation without any justification for it... Virtually identical foods made with older, less precise, and less predictable techniques are not routinely subject to review...

We are also concerned about the provision directing the FDA to establish a GMO labeling standard, even if food companies’ use of the labeling would be voluntary. In theory, labeling should be beneficial to consumers by providing them with information they consider useful, and food companies would have economic incentive to provide information they believe consumers would value. But federal law requires that food labels be truthful and not misleading, and labels that imply any sort of warning about GMOs are, by definition, misleading.

The FDA could provide guidance about the use of specific terms such as “GMO free” or “Non-GM verified,” along with specifying the paperwork that is required to document such a claim, just as the agency did years ago for dairy products from cows not treated with the protein bovine somatotropin, better known as rBST... Such involvement would also be helpful because it would preempt state efforts to define those terms, again avoiding a patchwork of arbitrary and possibly inconsistent requirements. If federal regulators exercise their authority to define terms, companies using them appropriately on labels would gain a safe harbor from litigation under state and local food laws. Consumers would benefit from uniform terminology, and companies would gain certainty about which terms are allowable.

That said, we are also skeptical of the provision directing the FDA to define “natural” foods. Such a pursuit would be a red herring. In a world where the genetics of practically every commercially traded organism has been shaped to some extent by the hand of man, could the term “natural” be meaningful? ...

Pompeo and his co-sponsors intend to promote the development of foods made with modern genetic engineering techniques. But they must ensure that, in attempting to single out one technology for relief from harassment, their actions do not perpetuate the myth that genetic engineering is some sort of homogenous “category” amenable to generalizations. It is not, and legislation that treats it as such... would be misguided and subject to a more magisterial influence: the Law of Unintended Consequences.

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Corporate irresponsibility over GMOs / USDA to certify non-GMO foods with new label - WaPo / NPR (2015)

Corporate irresponsibility over GMOs / USDA to certify non-GMO foods with new label - WaPo /  NPR (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

There's been a push for the federal government to step into GMO labeling. Now, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced... that the agency's Agricultural Marketing Service is developing a verification program for food products containing genetically modified ingredients... Companies that want to use the USDA's Non-GMO Label will pay to participate in the Process Verified Program. Companies will submit documents such as desk and onsite audits. And... the USDA will also send auditors on site to verify that the foods are not being produced with any GMO materials. 

As this issue gains traction with consumers, lots of Americans are wary of GMO foods. And more are just flat out confused about what they are, where they are in the food supply and whether they're dangerous. There is no evidence... that eating genetically-modified foods poses a threat to health. But, out of precaution, it seems, more consumers are avoiding them. And retailers and restaurants are responding to customers' evolving expectations.


Pass any Chipotle these days... and you will see signs claiming credit for removing ingredients that contain GMOs... The business press has pronounced it “a savvy move to impress millennials” and a “bet on the younger generations in America.” This milestone in the history of fast-food scruples (and of advertising) is also a noteworthy cultural development: the systematic incorporation of anti-scientific attitudes into corporate branding strategies.

There is no credible evidence that ingesting a plant that has been swiftly genetically modified in a lab has a different health outcome than ingesting a plant that has been slowly genetically modified through selective breeding. The National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the World Health Organization have concluded that GMOs are safe to eat. This scientific consensus is at least as strong as the one on human-caused climate change...


Whole Foods promises “full GMO transparency” by 2018. Its Web site emphasizes “your right to know.” But you will search the site in vain for any explanation of how or why GMOs are harmful, because an actual assertion would not withstand scrutiny. Evidently your right to know does not include serious scientific arguments. Chipotle co-chief executive Steve Ells set out his rationale this way: “They say these ingredients are safe, but I think we all know we’d rather have food that doesn’t contain them.” 


“They” say. “We” know. It brought to mind an argument made by Dan Kahan of Yale... concerning global warming. If you are, say, a Republican in the Deep South, your capacity to confront global climate disruption directly is vanishingly small. And the cost of bucking your neighbors on the issue may be considerable. They are likely to view you as an oddity or a turncoat, and to question your judgment on other matters. So the decision to conform to the views of your cultural group... is not irrational. (The same argument could be made about the team composed of enlightened corporate chief executives.)


“The trouble starts,” says Kahan, “when this communication environment fills up with toxic partisan meanings – ones that effectively announce that ‘if you are one of us, believe this; otherwise, we’ll know you are one of them.’” This use of scientific opinion as a cultural signifier is evident in the vaccination debate. A certain kind of trendy parent believes that everything natural is preferable, forgetting that natural levels of mortality from childhood diseases are high. It is the same ideological impulse – the belief that nature is pure and artifice is unwholesome – that causes corporate leaders to spout pseudoscientific nonsense about GMOs, while employing the issue as a cultural marker.


Although it may be rational for people to conform to the views of their team, the problem comes when those individual decisions are tallied up. As opinions on climate have become a cultural identifier, the prospects of legislative action on the issue have faded. When it comes to vaccines, herd ideology can disrupt herd immunity, leaving kids with dangerous and preventable diseases... 

Chipotle, Whole Foods and those who follow their examples are doing real social harm. They are polluting public discourse on scientific matters. They are legitimizing an approach to science that elevates Internet medical diagnosis, social media technological consensus and discredited studies in obscure journals. They are contributing to a political atmosphere in which people pick their scientific views to fit their ideologies, predispositions and obsessions. And they are undermining public trust in legitimate scientific authority, which undermines the possibility of rational public policy on a range of issues. 

Whatever the intention of those involved, embracing pseudoscience as the centerpiece of an advertising and branding effort is an act of corporate irresponsibility.



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Ex post impacts of improved maize varieties on poverty in rural Ethiopia - Zeng &al (2015) - Ag Econ

Ex post impacts of improved maize varieties on poverty in rural Ethiopia - Zeng &al (2015) - Ag Econ | Ag Biotech News |

Public agricultural research has been conducted in Africa for decades. While many studies have examined its aggregate impacts, few have investigated how it affects the poor. This paper helps... explore the ex post impacts of improved maize varieties on poverty in rural Ethiopia... Poverty impacts are... estimated by exploiting the differences between observed and counterfactual income distributions. Improved maize varieties have led to a 0.8-1.3 percentage drop of poverty headcount ratio and relative reductions of poverty depth and severity... 


The poverty impacts should grow over time with increasing adoption rate, expansion of maize area and increased maize consumption. Also, as most consumer surplus gains go to urban consumers, who are not included in this study, country-wide reductions in poverty should be greater than those estimated here. Our findings indicate that research investments in maize [crop genetic improvement] should be continued and extension efforts be enhanced to promote further adoption if poverty reduction remains a target. 

Improved maize seeds with refined and more diverse traits can be developed to meet specific needs under a greater range of
agroecological and socioeconomic conditions. Also, agricultural
extension and seed sector efficacy should be strengthened
to promote adoption among farmers...


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Markets for non-Genetically Modified, Identity-Preserved soybean in the EU - Tillie & Rodriguez (2015) - JRC

Markets for non-Genetically Modified, Identity-Preserved soybean in the EU - Tillie & Rodriguez (2015) - JRC | Ag Biotech News |

This report... about the functioning of the EU markets for non-Genetically Modified (non-GM), Identity Preserved (IP) soybean and derived products.


Data on volume of imports of non-GM soybean and soybean meal, on the use of those by EU Member States and by the different feed sub-sectors, as well as on prices, were collected... In addition, a survey to 360 operators in the soybean supply chain was conducted...


We estimate that about 8.3% and 11.3% of the soybean and soybean meal imported by a group of 14 EU countries is segregated as non-GM. This represents about 2.7 million tonnes of soybean meal equivalent... The demand for non-GM IP compound feed is driven by the poultry sector, followed by the cattle (for beef and dairy) and the pork sectors... 

Since early 2013, the premium for non-GM IP soybean meal represents between 20 to 30% of the price of non-segregated soybean meal, which, in the current context of high prices for agricultural commodities has generated premiums up to 180 EUR per tonne in some markets such as the UK... The global premium paid yearly by EU importers for non-GM IP soy products will be in the range of the hundreds of millions of Euros.

This rise in the premium for non-GM IP soybean meal has obviously impacted the downstream users, among which the feed manufacturers and the producer of animal food products. The impact for the livestock sector, such as the transmission of the cost along the supply chain, depends on the intensity of the use of the nonGM IP soybean derived products, as well as on the possibility to substitute soybean by another source of protein. This makes the poultry sector the most vulnerable to premium increases, since there are very few alternatives to soybean to feed poultry in industrial production systems.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"premium for non-GM IP soybean meal represents between 20 to 30% of the price of non-segregated soybean meal" >> non-GM is much more expensive... 

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Retraction of a study on genetically modified corn: Expert investigations should speak louder during controversies over safety - Xia &al (2015) - BioSci Trends

Over the past few years, genetically modified organisms (GMO) have gradually become more familiar after... reports cause panic among the population and lead to objections to GMO in various fora. After each incident, the scientific community has delivered its academic appraisal and refuted rumors through slow and cautious investigations and evaluations. Unfortunately, during each event media outlets quickly scare the public about food safety and ignore the ensuing comments from scientists.


Although scientists have investigated each GMO crisis and reached scientific and rational conclusions, they have less ability to disseminate information than the media, so the public is not promptly informed of their rational and objective viewpoints as experts. Thus, scientists need greater ability to disseminate information from scientific investigations and evaluations in order to correct the intemperate reporting by attention-seeking media.


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Golden Rice, open innovation, and sustainable global food security - Kowalski (2015) - Industrial Biotechnol

Golden Rice, open innovation, and sustainable global food security - Kowalski (2015) - Industrial Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News |

Over the past 15 years, the tale of Golden Rice (GR: rice genetically engineered to express carotenoids in grain endosperm) has been told and retold many times... In a recent issue of The Economist, the esteemed Lord Taverne made abundantly clear that “Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have blocked the commercial cultivation of Golden Rice, a food which could have prevented millions of children in Asia going blind from Vitamin A deficiency.” From a humanitarian standpoint, GR broadly exemplifies how advanced agricultural biotechnology (agbiotech) can contribute to sustainable global food security by alleviating chronic hunger, poverty, and malnutrition... Activists against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) portray GR as an apocalyptic menace that will usher in catastrophic global consequences, and use it as a rallying cry to alert the world to the presumed potential dangers and risk to our safety that it and agbiotech products to follow portend. It is therefore not surprising that GR has been analyzed and discussed in the context of regulation of agbiotech crops, with over a decade of scrupulously cautious regulatory delays... have most likely generated a significant cost, both monetary and in human suffering (attributable to preventable VAD blindness).


With regard to technology transfer (tech transfer), intellectual property (IP) and public-private partnerships (PPPs), GR has been analyzed and discussed in the context of patent thickets, freedom-to-operate (FTO), IP management, humanitarian licensing, and creative global access strategies. However, notwithstanding the ongoing and seemingly endless discussions and debates, the legacy of GR still remains to be determined. GR will most likely eventually move to farmers’ fields, consumers’ kitchens, and children’s rice bowls, with agbiotech continuing to advance, global acceptance of GMOs increasing, anti-GMO activists moving onto other causes (possibly dependent on donor fatigue, other more trendy interests, and the various passions of celebrity “authorities”), and the overall realization that agbiotech will be increasingly crucial for managing global challenges of food security.


GR represents an advanced agbiotech innovation with the potential for significant humanitarian and broad societal benefit and impact; however, moving GR from promise to reality has involved challenges. Early amongst these were proprietary concerns. As GR was developed and poised for introgression into rice varieties commonly consumed, potential IP and tangible property (TP) issues related to its research, development, product assembly, FTO, and ultimately global access and distribution were examined. As the GR story illustrates, increasingly complex agbiotech products will most likely have multiple technical subcomponents, for which the IP and TP rights will often be owned by multiple entities. This will necessitate skillful and strategic IP management and assembly to facilitate and accelerate global access, product delivery, and widespread distribution, especially in developing countries where these products will be most beneficial.


Given the history to date of GR, what lessons might we have learned? Perhaps there are two. First, that GR is a seminal case study of open innovation in agbiotech, i.e., strategic assembly of multiple innovation components (owned by multiple entities) via efficient and skilled IP (and TP) management and licensing, to accelerate product development and distribution. Second, that technical fixes alone (even marvelous ones such as GR) are insufficient as sustainable solutions to global food security issues. More is needed, such as an alternative paradigm that stresses systemic improvements in the developing countries towards focused and strategic capacity building in both human capital and institutional infrastructure. This will enable the developing countries to become the drivers of agbiotech access, absorption, assembly, adaptation, and deployment.


In this regard, major funders may need to reconsider priorities and approaches and perhaps recognize that sustainable food security will require fostering networked communities of professionals capable of accelerating agbiotech innovation, development and global access. The lessons that GR teaches are, therefore, not to repeat all that hitherto has been done, but rather to learn from the GR story and to build and strengthen efficient systems for research, development, IP management, and commercialization in order to accelerate the assembly of future, crucial agbiotech innovations for deployment globally in developing countries.


Where does the GR story begin? It is rooted in the longstanding observation that “polished rice does not contain any pro-vitamin A [and that] rice-depending poor populations,which cannot afford a diversified diet, suffer from vitamin A-malnutrition.” For decades this was unresolved, as conventional methods of rice breeding, due to lack of genetic variability in the rice gene pool, could not ameliorate this ubiquitously profound dietary limitation of polished rice diets and the serious consequence: VAD. VAD remains a global public health issue... About 400,000 children are permanently blinded every year in many developing countries due to VAD-related maladies... VAD also depresses immune system function, with a resulting increase in the incidence and severity of infectious diseases and infant mortality rates. Children afflicted by VAD die at 9 times the rate of healthy children... Sadly, VAD stubbornly persists as a “serious public health problem, with worldwide estimates of 100 to 200 million children affected. Between one and three million children die of infections every year, preventable if the children had not been deficient in vitamin A.” Unfortunately, in spite of concerted interventions, such as UNICEF programs to provide vitamin A supplementation, this global health challenge continues...  


As a potential intervention towards sustainable mitigation of VAD in developing countries where rice is a staple crop, GR was conceptualized and developed... leading to the production and accumulation of b-carotene in the grains and, thereby, enhancing b-carotene levels in local rice varieties and, ultimately, in local diets.


 A great deal of technical complexity was embedded in GR. This sophisticated feat of genetic engineering involved multiple inputs, of both methods and materials, potentially covered by process and product patents owned by several entities. An initial determination of potential IP and TP constraints on GR, based on product deconstruction/preliminary FTO analysis tentatively identified a group of patents and patent applications, and TP issues that might be relevant. It was subsequently determined, however, that few, if any, patents pertaining to GR were applicable in developing countries, and the same was true for several TP issues (e.g., material transfer agreements). In terms of future global agbiotech transfer, in general, it is also important to recognize that IP rights (IPRs) might not only be patents; germplasm (e.g., plant variety protection), as well as know-how and show-how possibly protected as trade secrets, can comprise a significant pool of IPRs embedded in any advanced innovation, including agbiotech products. Hence, without understanding that IPR is more than patents, transfer of advances in agbiotech to the needs of developing countries might face FTO challenges and delays, impeding access and distribution.


Obtaining FTO for GR was a straightforward and relatively unencumbered IP management strategy...  A crucial aspect of this innovative IP management and licensing strategy was that inventors of the GR assigned their exclusive rights to the GR technology to Syngenta, which then provided the inventors a humanitarian license with the right to sublicense public research institutions and low-income farmers in developing countries. Licenses to GR have been granted to public sector entities in Bangladesh, the Philippines, China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam... GR continues to be under development for delivery to VAD-afflicted countries, with successful field trials in Louisiana and introgression into rice varieties grown in southern and southeastern Asia; bioavailability trials have also been performed, with very promising results. At the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), introgression of the GR phenotype into suitable Asian indica rice cultivars has also generated promising results...


In the context of FTO and IP management and licensing, the GR narrative offers several lessons. First, in spite of early concerns, IPRs did not significantly delay introduction and adaptation of GR into developing countries wherein VAD is endemic. Instead, safety and regulatory issues have largely driven the delays. Notwithstanding this, the resolution of the potential IP constraints could not be ignored. By strategically assigning their IPR in the GR technologies to Syngenta, the inventors enabled Syngenta, as a key IP manager, to accelerate access to integral technologies, whether owned by Syngenta or other entities, and thereby facilitate the humanitarian licensing, which then served to operationalize GR transfer to public research institutions in developing countries prone to VAD. This example of a PPP among the parties in the GR story is exemplary, indeed illustrating how a PPP’s strategy... enabled global access and delivery of GR. A carefully and professionally executed process reduced the number of patents involved to a requisite minimum, facilitated the drafting of humanitarian licenses, contributed to the establishment of managerial and marketing structures, and likely encouraged the continued development of GR... Furthermore, the FTO review of GR, in particular, illustrates the importance of proactive IP management, which includes access to patent information and the ability to analyze and categorize patent data, in order to facilitate and accelerate the development and delivery of innovations in agbiotech.


GR, as the vanguard for a new class of highly technically sophisticated agbiotech innovation – distinct from single gene, commercial, predominantly agronomic applications such as insect resistant Bt maize, cotton, and potato – is a model case study of the need for IP management to facilitate effective, efficient and equitable distribution to developing countries. The GR narrative is complex and demonstrates how early challenges were quickly overcome by a successfully implemented, dynamic, and creative IP management and licensing strategy.


However, it is notable that the involvement of VAD-afflicted developing countries came predominantly later... Perhaps this is understandable and indeed expected, given that GR is a product that derives from a developed country source. Whereas the accomplishments described are exemplary and noteworthy, the GR story intimates the longer-term limitations of such a strategy, and perhaps provides insights into what should be done to build a system that will sustainably facilitate and accelerate future agbiotech innovations to those who might benefit the most...  


The next wave of agbiotech, of which GR is the harbinger, will move beyond agronomic applications such as insect and pesticide resistance towards pressing issues of global food security... This necessarily implies producing sufficient food and making it accessible on a sustainable basis from year to year, ensuring freedom from hunger and malnutrition, which includes adequate vitamins and minerals, as the case of GR so vividly illustrates. Agbiotech clearly has the potential to play a key role in addressing sustainable global food security issues in this century, provided that it is supported with sound policy and coherent strategic funding.


For developing countries to realize the full potential that agbiotech offers, a paradigm shift is needed that entails moving from being passive recipients of aid and assistance towards becoming active drivers of identification, access, assembly, and adaptation of crucial innovations. This will require investment in building capacity and capability in human capital, global networks, and institutional infrastructure...


Pragmatically, in the context of research, development, access, and global delivery of a complex agbiotech product having broad societal and humanitarian benefits, what might be learned from the GR narrative? In a global market where open innovation will increasingly become the modus operandi, comprehensive IP management will require sophisticated capabilities among developing countries to identify and evaluate agbiotech innovations, including components and subcomponents required for effective assembly and operation. These capabilities must also encompass all of the possible IPR attached, with a concomitant ability to establish research collaborations, MTAs, licenses, and/or PPPs to accelerate research, development, and delivery.


The GR story, albeit a success in many ways, is also a wakeup call to developing countries that reliance on external humanitarian entities to address critical food security issues might not be a sustainable strategy... developed country funding sources (foundations, government agencies, and development banks) should reconsider their approaches and priorities, i.e., greater emphasis on agbiotech as a crucial, indeed indispensable, strategy for advancing global health via enhanced nutrition, and also investment in systemic (such as human capital and institutional infrastructure) capacity building in conjunction with the prevalent focus on technical fixes.


However, with regard to international development assistance agendas, developing countries should not expect significant changes in direction soon. Therefore, capacity building to move developing countries from passive bystanders to active participants in harnessing the full potential of agbiotech must become national priorities. Tech transfer does not automatically happen. The infrastructure, which includes a critical mass of human capital and institutional and global networks, must be built and maintained in order to accelerate access to ever more advanced agbiotech innovations, which support food security, alleviate poverty, and drive knowledge-based economic development.


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Heterogeneous Consumer Preferences for Nanotechnology and Genetic-modification Technology in Food Products - Yue &al (2014) - J Ag Econ

Heterogeneous Consumer Preferences for Nanotechnology and Genetic-modification Technology in Food Products - Yue &al (2014) - J Ag Econ | Ag Biotech News |

This study investigates heterogeneous consumer preferences for nanofood and genetically-modified (GM) food and the associated benefits... We... capture the heterogeneity in consumer preferences by identifying consumer segments. 

Our results show that nano-food evokes fewer negative reactions compared with GM food. We identify four consumer groups: ‘Price Oriented/Technology Adopters’, ‘Technology Averse’, ‘Benefit Oriented’, and ‘New Technology Rejecters’.

Each consumer group has a distinctive demographic background, which generates deeper insights into the diversified public acceptance of nano-food and GM food. Our results have policy implications for the adoption of new food technologies... 


A key conclusion is that a sizeable proportion of people make nuanced choices about technology, and their minds are not made up about all applications of it. They are sceptical about the technologies unless the benefits of technology are worthwhile for the populace whom need or value it the most...  


Our results suggest that the majority of US consumers will not reject these technologies outright, but base their decisions on a complex calculus of benefits, risks, technological comfort and safety. However, we do find a group of people who oppose the application... regardless of price level and corresponding benefits... Wise policy choices and product development strategies might be to... making sure that nano-foods and GM foods provide benefits in safety and nutrition...


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Sweet potato is 'genetically modified' by nature - U Gent (2015)

Sweet potato is 'genetically modified' by nature - U Gent (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Researchers... have discovered that sweet potatoes naturally contain genes from a bacterium. Because of the presence of this 'foreign' DNA, sweet potato can be seen as a 'natural gmo'. 

Sweet potato is one of the most important food crops for human consumption in the world. The researchers discovered the foreign DNA sequences of Agrobacterium while searching the genome... of sweet potato for viral diseases. Instead of contributing this peculiar finding to bacterial contamination of the plant samples, the researchers decided to study these sequences in more detail. 

The sequences appeared to be present in each of the 291 tested sweet potato cultivars and even in some wild related species. Different research methods confirmed the same conclusion: the specific sequences are not due to contamination, but they are part of the sweet potato genome. The genes in the foreign DNA sequences were also shown to be active in sweet potato, which can indicate that they provide a positive characteristic which was selected for by the farmers during domestication.


The natural presence of Agrobacterium demonstrates that genetic modification also happens in nature. In comparison to 'natural' gmos, [which] are beyond our control, human-made gmos have the advantage that we know exactly which characteristic we add to the plant.


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Study finds that maize roots have evolved to be more nitrogen efficient - Penn State (2015)

Study finds that maize roots have evolved to be more nitrogen efficient - Penn State (2015) | Ag Biotech News |

Selective breeding of maize over the last century to create hybrids with desirable shoot characteristics and increased yield may have contributed indirectly to the evolution of root systems that are more efficient in acquiring nutrients, such as nitrogen, from the soil... 

Their results suggest that future breeding efforts that directly select for positive root traits could lead to yield gains needed to help feed a growing world population, while reducing pollution from excess nitrogen and reducing farmers' fertilizer costs. About half of the yield gains in commercial corn hybrids in the last 100 years have come from improved plant genetics... The other half came largely from agronomic practices, such as fertilizer use and higher planting densities...

We all know roots are responsible for the uptake of water and nutrients. However, relatively little is known about how roots do that. If we understand how roots have evolved and which specific root traits increase the plant's efficiency, then we can take the next step in breeding that can help decrease pollution, save farmers money and make more yield... 

Nitrogen is the biggest environmental, economic and energy cost of maize production. Not only can crop varieties with improved root systems increase yields and reduce hunger in impoverished regions of the world with nutrient-poor soils, they also can decrease excess nitrogen where water quality is a critical issue... 


The researchers found that the newest commercial varieties performed better in every agronomic environment. These varieties also had root characteristics known from previous... research to make plants more efficient at acquiring nitrogen from the soil, including fewer nodal roots, longer lateral roots and larger cortical cells... 


More in-depth research is needed on how specific root properties affect nitrogen uptake and on how these traits influence acquisition of other nutrients, such as phosphorous. "In addition, we need to know how the optimal root phenotype will depend on different environments – do we need the same roots in Pennsylvania as in Africa? ... 

Creating more nitrogen- and water-efficient crops is a major goal in a world that will see population reach 10 billion people within 50 years, requiring a 50 percent increase in food production without using more land... We believe roots will be central to meeting this challenge."


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Fatal attraction: the intuitive appeal of GMO opposition - Blancke &al (2015) - Trends Plant Sci

Fatal attraction: the intuitive appeal of GMO opposition - Blancke &al (2015) - Trends Plant Sci | Ag Biotech News |
Highlights: People tend to rely on intuitive reasoning to make a judgment on GMOs. This intuitive reasoning includes folk biology, teleological and intentional intentions and disgust. Anti-GMO activists have exploited intuitions successfully to promote their cause. Intuitive judgments steer people away from sustainable solutions.


Public opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) remains strong. By contrast, studies demonstrate again and again that GM crops make a valuable contribution to the development of a sustainable type of agriculture. The discrepancy between public opinion and the scientific evidence requires an explanation.

We argue that intuitive expectations about the world render the human mind vulnerable to particular misrepresentations of GMOs. We explain how the involvement of particular intuitions accounts for the popularity, persistence, and typical features of GM opposition and tackle possible objections to our approach. To conclude, we discuss the implications for science education, science communication, and the environmental movement... 

Research shows that cultivation of GM crops does not pose any specific health or environmental risks, but instead can bring benefits to local farmers. The reason for the discrepancy between public opinion and scientific evidence needs clarification... 

Even though individual people may not always experience a personal advantage by purchasing and/or consuming GMOs, it will certainly help to inform the public that, for example, (i) Bt corn contains less mycotoxins and is thus healthier than conventional maize; (ii) herbicide-resistant crops require less tilling and, thus, improve the soil quality; (iii) Bt crops enhance insect biodiversity; (iv) biotech crops help reduce poverty in India, and so on... 

People who are genuinely concerned about the environment may intuitively adopt strategies that have the opposite impact on what they set out to achieve. GMOs can be a formidable tool in the realization of a sustainable form of agriculture. By leading people to choose the wrong adversaries and to urge policy makers to take counter-effective measures, negative GMO representations may indeed exert a fatal attraction.


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Cost of Coexistence of GM and Non-GM Products in the Food Supply Chains of Rapeseed Oil and Maize Starch in Germany - Gabriel & Menrad (2015) - Agribusiness

Cost of Coexistence of GM and Non-GM Products in the Food Supply Chains of Rapeseed Oil and Maize Starch in Germany - Gabriel & Menrad (2015) - Agribusiness | Ag Biotech News |

This paper aims to quantify with respect to national and EU regulations the costs of coexistence systems for genetically modified organisms (GMO) in food in Germany from the seed to the food level for rapeseed oil and maize starch intended for human consumption.

The applied model follows the principle of aggregating all the costs of producing, transporting, and processing food crops on the different levels of the supply chains and increasing the non-GM price premium of the final product for each level.

Results indicate that ensuring coexistence results in a price some 7.4% to 13.8% higher for non-GM food products depending on assumed segregation strategies in the two agri-food supply chains analyzed...


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Non-GM food is more expensive -- de facto banning GM food hurts poorer consumers (and limits the choice of all). 

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GM Eucalyptus Is Approved for Commercial Use in Brazil - B3C (2015)

The Brazilian National Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio) today approved the commercial use of... yield enhanced eucalyptus... Field experiments conducted since 2006 at various locations in Brazil have demonstrated an approximate 20% increase in yield compared to its equivalent conventional variety.

This is the first genetically modified (GM) eucalyptus event to be approved worldwide and represents the most significant productivity milestone for the renewable plantation forest industry since the adoption of clonal technology in the early 1990’s. This approval also represents the beginning of a new era for sustainable forest management by enabling the production of more fiber, using less resources...

The yield increase provided by the GM eucalyptus will provide economic, environmental and social benefits.... increased competitiveness for the Brazilian forestry sector... using less land to produce more fiber... greater availability of land for other purposes, such as conservation and food production.

Partners of Suzano Pulp and Paper’s outgrowers program, including small landholders... will have access to the technology... which do not involve the payment of royalties... FuturaGene’s yield-enhanced eucalyptus has been under development since 2001 and has undergone extensive biosafety assessment prior to submission for commercial approval...


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