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GM purple tomatoes heading for shops - BBC (2014)

GM purple tomatoes heading for shops - BBC (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The prospect of genetically modified purple tomatoes reaching the shelves has come a step closer. Their dark pigment is intended to give tomatoes the same potential health benefits as fruit such as blueberries...

 

The pigment, known as anthocyanin, is an antioxidant which studies on animals show could help fight cancer. Scientists say the new tomatoes could improve the nutritional value of everything from ketchup to pizza topping... 


"With these purple tomatoes you can get the same compounds that are present in blueberries and cranberries that give them their health benefits - but you can apply them to foods that people actually eat in significant amounts and are reasonably affordable," she said. 


The tomatoes are part of a new generation of GM plants designed to appeal to consumers - the first types were aimed specifically at farmers as new tools in agriculture.

 

The purple pigment is the result of the transfer of a gene from a snapdragon plant - the modification triggers a process within the tomato plant allowing the anthocyanin to develop... 

 

Canadian regulations are seen as more supportive of GM and that led to a deal with an Ontario company, New Energy Farms, which is now producing enough purple tomatoes... According to Prof Martin, the Canadian system... look at the trait not the technology... asking if what you're doing is safe and beneficial, not 'Is it GM and therefore we're going to reject it completely'... I hope this will serve as a vanguard product where people can have access to something that is GM but has benefits for them." ... 

 

The aim is to use the juice in research to conduct a wide range of tests including examining whether the anthocyanin has positive effects on humans. Earlier studies show benefits as an anti-inflammatory and in

slowing cancers in mice. 


A key question is whether a GM product that may have health benefits will influence public opinion... Prof Martin hopes that the purple tomato juice will have a good chance of being approved for sale to consumers in North America in as little as two years' time. She and other plant researchers in the UK hope that GM will come to be seen in a more positive light...

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25885756

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

[updated May 19, 2016]  

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Field Performance of Bt Eggplants in the Philippines: Cry1Ac Expression and Control of the Eggplant Fruit and Shoot Borer - Hautea &al (2016) - PLoS ONE

Plants expressing Cry proteins from the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), have become a major tactic for controlling insect pests in maize and cotton globally. However, there are few Bt vegetable crops. 


Eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a popular vegetable grown throughout Asia that is heavily treated with insecticides to control the eggplant fruit and shoot borer, Leucinodes orbonalis (EFSB). 


Herein we provide the first publicly available data on field performance in Asia of eggplant engineered to produce the Cry1Ac protein. Replicated field trials with five Bt eggplant open-pollinated (OP) lines from transformation event EE-1 and their non-Bt comparators were conducted over three cropping seasons in the Philippines... 


Bt eggplant lines demonstrated excellent control of EFSB. Pairwise analysis of means detected highly significant differences between Bt eggplant lines and their non-Bt comparators for all field efficacy parameters tested. 


Bt eggplant lines demonstrated high levels of control of EFSB shoot damage (98.6-100%) and fruit damage (98.1-99.7%) and reduced EFSB larval infestation (95.8-99.3%) under the most severe pest pressure during trial 2. Moths that emerged from larvae collected from Bt plants in the field and reared in their Bt eggplant hosts did not produce viable eggs or offspring. 


These results demonstrate that Bt eggplant lines containing Cry1Ac event EE-1 provide outstanding control of EFSB and can dramatically reduce the need for conventional insecticides.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0157498


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Neonicotinoid pesticides cause harm to honeybees - U Mainz (2016) 

One possible cause of the alarming bee mortality we are witnessing is the use of the very active systemic insecticides called neonicotinoids. A previously unknown and harmful effect of neonicotinoids has been identified by researchers… neonicotinoids in low and field-relevant concentrations reduce the concentration of acetylcholine in the royal jelly/larval food secreted by nurse bees. This signaling molecule is relevant for the development of the honeybee larvae. At higher doses, neonicotinoids also damage the so-called microchannels of the royal jelly gland in which acetylcholine is produced… 

"The European Food Safety Authority published a report concluding that the neonicotinoid class of insecticides represented a risk to bees... The undesirable effect of neonicotinoids now discovered is a further indication that these insecticides represent a clear hazard to bee populations and this is a factor that needs to be taken into account in the forthcoming reassessment of the environmental risks of this substance class... Our research results thus confirm that the neonicotinoids can jeopardize the normal development of honeybee larvae." 

The EU... imposed temporary restrictions on the use of three neonicotinoids... It had already been reported in several scientific publications that high but not lethal doses of various neonicotinoids could be associated with the falls in the populations of wild bees, bumblebees, and queen bees. Also reported were abnormalities in breeding activity and impaired flight orientation in the case of honeybees. However, at the time there were critics of these reports who pointed out... other possible causes of bee mortality...



Alexander J. Stein's insight:
Interesting. The important question, as always, is what the (realistic) alternatives are, though... Using other insecticides may have other (or similar) negative effects, using less insecticides will increase crop losses, which is also a negative... 
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Robust seed systems, emerging technologies, and hybrid crops for Africa - Gaffney &al (2016) - Global Food Sec

Robust seed systems, emerging technologies, and hybrid crops for Africa - Gaffney &al (2016) - Global Food Sec | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Hybrid crops are underutilized in many developing countries. Subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) rely predominantly on outdated hybrids and open-pollinated varieties, which has limited the region's ability to achieve food security and agricultural sustainability goals. 


Key challenges in SSA include lack of access to improved hybrid seed, insufficient infrastructure to support a formal seed system, and limited smallholder farmer access to input and output markets. Implementing improved seed systems and creating greater market access will require engagement from the public and private sector and the governments within Africa. 


This paper reviews the importance of hybrids in agriculture, the challenges associated with creating new hybrids, and the technological advancements that will enable more efficient production of quality hybrids in Africa.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2016.06.001


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
While not necessarily affecting the validity of the paper, it's perhaps not surprising that the authors chose this topic, given their affiliation... 
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Crop breeding is not keeping pace with climate change - U Leeds (2016) 

Crop breeding is not keeping pace with climate change - U Leeds (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Crop yields will fall within the next decade due to climate change unless immediate action is taken to speed up the introduction of new and improved varieties... The research... focusses on maize in Africa but the underlying processes affect crops across the tropics... 


"In Africa, gradually rising temperatures and more droughts and heatwaves caused by climate change will have an impact on maize. We looked in particular at the effect of temperature on crop durations, which is the length of time between planting and harvesting. Higher temperatures mean shorter durations and hence less time to accumulate biomass and yield." 


It takes anywhere between 10 and 30 years to breed a new crop variety and have it adopted by farmers. The rate at which temperatures are increasing across the tropics means that by the time the crop is in the field it is being grown in warmer temperatures than it was developed in. 


By looking at a range of data on farming, regulatory policy, markets and technologies, the researchers developed average, best and worst case scenarios for current crop breeding systems... Only the most optimistic assessment – in which farming, policy, markets and technology all combine to make new varieties in 10 years – showed crops staying matched to temperatures between now and 2050. 


The research team... looked at the options for ensuring that crops can be developed and delivered to the field more quickly. These range from improved biochemical screening techniques to more socially-centred measures, such as improving government policies on breeding trials and farmers' access to markets... 


"Investment in agricultural research to develop and disseminate new seed technologies is one of the best investments we can make for climate adaptation. Climate funds could be used to help the world's farmers stay several steps ahead of climate change, with major benefits for global food security." 


The researchers have also proposed an alternative plan: use global climate models to determine future temperatures, then heat greenhouses to those temperatures and develop new crop varieties there... "The challenge here is in knowing what future emissions will be and ensuring that climate models can produce accurate enough information on future temperatures"... 


https://www.leeds.ac.uk/news/article/3877/crop_breeding_is_not_keeping_pace_with_climate_change


Underlying article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3061


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New plant engineering method could help fill demand for crucial malaria drug - Max Planck (2016) 

New plant engineering method could help fill demand for crucial malaria drug - Max Planck (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

A new and inexpensive technique for mass-producing the main ingredient in the most effective treatment for malaria, artemisinin, could help meet global demands for the drug... Artemisinin is produced in low yields by a herb called Artemisia annua (A. annua)... Researchers... discovered a new way to produce artemisinic acid, the molecule from which artemisinin is derived, in high yields. Their method involves transferring its metabolic pathway... into tobacco, a high-biomass crop.

“Malaria is a devastating tropical disease that kills almost half a million people every year... For the foreseeable future, artemisinin will be the most powerful weapon in the battle against malaria but, due to its extraction from low-yielding plants, it is currently too expensive to be widely accessible to patients in poorer countries. Producing artemisinic acid in a crop such as tobacco, which yields large amounts of leafy biomass, could provide a sustainable and inexpensive source of the drug, making it more readily available for those who need it most”...  

Although further increases in these production levels will be needed if global demand for artemisinin is to be met, the study lays the foundation for much cheaper production of this life-saving therapy in a high-biomass crop, in contrast to a single medicinal plant. It also provides a new tool for engineering many other complex pathways, with the potential to increase production of other essential therapeutic ingredients.


http://www.mpimp-golm.mpg.de/2069723/rbock-malaria-drug-in-tobacco


Underlying article: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.13664


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
Tobacco is a good target plant: Not a food crop, high yielding, and offering tobacco farmers an alternative source of income than supplying the tobacco industry... 
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Glyphosate and adverse pregnancy outcomes, a systematic review of observational studies - Araujo &al (2016) - BMC Public Health

Glyphosate and adverse pregnancy outcomes, a systematic review of observational studies - Araujo &al (2016) - BMC Public Health | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Concerns on the teratogenic potential of glyphosate-based herbicides... prompted us to conduct a systematic review of the epidemiological studies testing hypotheses of associations between glyphosate exposure and adverse pregnancy outcomes including birth defects.

A systematic and comprehensive literature search was performed... The search found ten studies... Evidence that in South American regions of intensive GM-soy planting incidence of birth defects is high remains elusive... 


Except for a possible association with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder needing confirmation by further studies – data from existing epidemiologic studies do not lend support to the notion that [glyphosate] is a human reproductive and developmental toxicant. 


Nonetheless... human risk assessment would greatly benefit from a set of good quality epidemiologic studies... with quantitative estimations of exposure... before pre-conception and during pregnancy.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12889-016-3153-3


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The essential need for GM crops - Pickett (2016) - Nature Plants

The essential need for GM crops - Pickett (2016) - Nature Plants | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The need for GM crops is growing rapidly as a consequence of the overriding priority for the sustainable generation of vastly increased food production. Although demands for energy and raw materials from the bioeconomy remain, they may become eclipsed by the quest for more food. 


Agriculture has long been a driver of technological innovation in the bioeconomy. But any attempt to generate more food with current technologies, all of which require high inputs of energy for soil preparation and production as well as delivery of fertilizers and pesticides, will raise even further the already excessive carbon emissions resulting from agriculture. The highly energy-demanding Haber-Bosch process – an artificial nitrogen fixation process – demonstrates how dramatically we are subsidizing current food production. About 80% of human bodily nitrogen has passed through the Haber-Bosch catalytic fixation of atmospheric nitrogen. In addition to major inputs relating to land preparation, nitrogen fixation and phosphorus acquisition, our efforts to counter inputs in crop resistance to pest diseases and weeds also contributes to the high carbon footprint of agriculture, and reductions in harvests due to these constraints are losses for which the carbon footprint has already been made. Thus… we need to deliver, as rapidly as possible, new traits by seed and other planting materials so as to minimize and even eliminate the need of seasonally applied inputs. Nonetheless, by approaching these objectives, we will raise the opportunity for such sustainable interventions as to allow active reduction in carbon footprint and the sparing of land for ecosystem services. 


Currently, we see no clear approach to solving many of these problems other than by using genetic modification (GM). Complex traits, such as those associated with nitrogen fixation, may also require extensive molecular guided breeding programmes. Nonetheless, GM will be the tool of choice in this dramatically difficult scientific and technological quest. Interim solutions, including improved decision support systems, are essential – but entirely new technology will also be crucial. It seems inevitable that to reduce the intensity of land preparation much arable farming will need to convert from annual to perennial cropping systems. This perennialization will undoubtedly be achieved by sophisticated breeding efforts, but augmented by GM-based traits to overcome the expected problems associated with such new crops. For example, perennialization will aggravate problems of rhizosphere pests and diseases, including nematodes and soil-inhabiting fungi, and so crop varieties will need to be made more resistant to such assaults. Here, the generic term GM includes all the new and emerging techniques of genome editing and synthetic biology. These will be even more important when addressing nitrogen fixation, improving the efficiency of photosynthesis, and transferring other essential traits to crop plants. However, to solve these problems, we face two major challenges: public acceptability and a paucity of relevant genes. 


In the UK, public engagement at all levels and particularly with younger generations, through social media, has fortunately reduced the effectiveness of GM crop destruction as a political statement by those most vehemently ill-disposed towards this technology. This should by no means make scientists in the field complacent, however, and it is essential that a dialogue be maintained with all stakeholders, including the public. With some specific exceptions, such destruction of GM crops continues in Europe, and non-evidence-based criticisms of GM make the widespread development of these technologies difficult, forcing out of Europe such activities by major industrial players… Although there is a belief among many life scientists that GM is the only way forward to deal with problems of food sustainability without damaging the environment, there must not be a return to the levels of arrogance seen in the scientific community during the early, rapid-expansion stages of GM crops. The acceptance of field experiments with GM in the UK (and some other regions in Europe) is not a direct indication that large-scale incorporation of GM products into the food chain will be accepted in the near future. Even where this is already the case, such as in the US and Brazil, there are still substantial and vociferous detractors… 


But we have not yet made sufficient progress in identifying genes that can be engineered to improve efficient nitrogen fixation and effective scavenging of bound phosphorus available within current cropping systems. The range of robust genetics for disease and herbivore resistance is limited, and large resources are still directed at relatively traditional breeding programmes rather than capturing genetics from sources taxonomically distant from the current ‘elite’ cultivars… There are also examples of truly excellent research programmes in crop production, specifically for C4 photosynthesis and biotechnological nitrogen fixation. However, an even greater effort is needed to translate these studies into practice…


http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/NPLANTS.2016.78


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Scientists identify protein which boosts rice yield by fifty percent - John Innes Centre (2016) 

Scientists identify protein which boosts rice yield by fifty percent - John Innes Centre (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Developed rice crops with an improved ability to manage their own pH levels, enabling them to take up significantly more nitrogen, iron and phosphorous from soil and increase yield by up to 54 percent. 

Rice is a major crop, feeding almost 50 percent of the world’s population and has retained the ability to survive in changing environmental conditions. The crop is able to thrive in flooded paddy fields - where the soggy, anaerobic conditions favour the availability of ammonium - as well as in much drier, drained soil, where increased oxygen means more nitrate is available. Nitrogen fertilizer is a major cost in growing many cereal crops and its overuse has a negative environmental impact. 


The nitrogen that all plants need to grow is typically available in the form of nitrate or ammonium ions in the soil, which are taken up by the plant roots. For the plant, getting the right balance of nitrate and ammonium is very important: too much ammonium and plant cells become alkaline; too much nitrate and they become acidic. Either way, upsetting the pH balance means the plant’s enzymes do not work as well, affecting plant health and crop yield... 

Rice contains a gene called OsNRT2.3, which creates a protein involved in nitrate transport. This one gene makes two slightly different versions of the protein... OsNRT2.3b is able to switch nitrate transport on or off, depending on the internal pH of the plant cell. When this ‘b’ protein was overexpressed in rice plants they were better able to buffer themselves against pH changes in their environment. This enabled them to take up much more nitrogen, as well as more iron and phosphorus... plants gave a much higher yield of rice grain (up to 54 percent more yield), and their nitrogen use efficiency increased by up to 40 percent... 


“Now that we know this particular protein found in rice plants can greatly increase nitrogen efficiency and yields, we can begin to produce new varieties of rice and other crops. These findings bring us a significant step closer to being able to produce more of the world’s food with a lower environmental impact”... 


https://www.jic.ac.uk/news/2016/06/john-innes-centre-scientists-identify-protein-which-boosts-rice-yield-fifty-percent/


Underlying article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1525184113


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Commission to seek short-term glyphosate extension - Politico (2016) 

EU member countries will be asked to vote... on a... proposal from the Commission to extend authorization of the weedkiller glyphosate until the European chemicals agency issues a pending study on its safety next year... The proposal also includes prohibitions on the mixing of glyphosate with certain co-formulants, restrictions on where it can be used and call for minimizing pre-harvest use... 


Andriukaitis... the commissioner said the European safety standards for pesticides are the strictest in the world. Decisions on pesticide authorizations “must be based on scientific opinions, not political opinions... Otherwise there will be big problems with distrust”... 


http://www.politico.eu/pro/commission-to-seek-short-term-glyphosate-extension-monday-pesticides/


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Local and/or organic: A study on consumer preferences for organic food and food from different origins - Hempel & Hamm (2016) - Int J Consumer Studies

Local and/or organic: A study on consumer preferences for organic food and food from different origins - Hempel & Hamm (2016) - Int J Consumer Studies | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Consumer preferences for different food products of varying place of origin (i.e. local, Germany, neighboring country, non-EU country) and production practices (i.e. organic vs. non-organic). Consumer surveys combined with choice experiments were conducted with 641 consumers in eight German regions... 


Consumers prefer locally produced food to organic food. However, conclusions... should not be generalized since they vary depending on product type and consumers' place of residence... Consumers living in rural areas... are less willing to pay a premium for organic products than urban consumers... 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ijcs.12288


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
So consumers living in rural areas are less willing to pay a premium for organic products than urban consumers? One of these two groups perhaps has a better understanding of how the food is produced... 
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What consumers don’t know about genetically modified food, and how that affects beliefs - McFadden & Lusk (2016) - FASEB

In the debates surrounding biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) food, data from consumer polls are often presented as evidence for precaution and labeling. But how much do consumers actually know about the issue? New data collected from a nationwide U.S. survey reveal low levels of knowledge and numerous misperceptions about GM food. 


Nearly equal numbers of consumers prefer mandatory labeling of foods containing DNA as do those preferring mandatory labeling of GM foods. When given the option, the majority of consumers prefer that decisions about GM food be taken out of their hands and be made by experts… 


Results suggest that consumers think they know more than they actually do about GM food, and queries about GM facts cause respondents to reassess how much they know. The findings question the usefulness of results from opinion polls as a motivation for creating public policy surrounding GM food. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1096/fj.201600598


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
This is similar to what I concluded in a recent literature review on the acceptance of GM food in Europe, namely that there is “little tangible evidence to support the assumption that Europeans wouldn't buy food that was produced using genetic engineering: The impression of a general rejection of GM crops by Europeans relies largely on the results of more or less rigorous surveys…” (in which consumers were more accepting of GM food the more realistic the scenarios were). http://www.researchgate.net/publication/280578072

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Genetically Engineered Crops: Past Experience and Future Prospects - National Academies of Sciences (2016)

Genetically Engineered Crops: Past Experience and Future Prospects - National Academies of Sciences (2016) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Genetically engineered (GE) crops were first introduced commercially in the 1990s. After two decades of production, some groups and individuals remain critical of the technology based on their concerns about possible adverse effects on human health, the environment, and ethical considerations. At the same time, others are concerned that the technology is not reaching its potential to improve human health and the environment because of stringent regulations and reduced public funding to develop products offering more benefits to society. While the debate about these and other questions related to the genetic engineering techniques of the first 20 years goes on, emerging genetic-engineering technologies are adding new complexities to the conversation. 


“Genetically Engineered Crops” builds on previous… reports… by undertaking a retrospective examination of the purported positive and adverse effects of GE crops and to anticipate what emerging genetic-engineering technologies hold for the future. This report indicates where there are uncertainties about the economic, agronomic, health, safety, or other impacts of GE crops and food, and makes recommendations to fill gaps in safety assessments, increase regulatory clarity, and improve innovations in and access to GE technology.  


http://www.nap.edu/catalog/23395/genetically-engineered-crops-experiences-and-prospects


[And in the following a summary of summaries of the report from the Grist, New York Times, NPR, and National Geographic websites.] 


If you’ve been holding out any hope that there is an objective reality and that evidence of this reality might change minds and shape policy, then the National Academies of Sciences is here for you. Abraham Lincoln set up this organization to provide independent scientific guidance, and it has been the gold standard ever since. So, it’s worth paying attention to its latest report assessing all the science on genetically engineered crops… It’s really good. If you want to know what the deal is with GMO crops – whether you are interested in safety, environmental effects, or social impacts – go read it. It’s clear and accessible… 


You just want to know if GMOs are good or bad? The team of researchers that assembled the report knew you would say that… But instead of drawing sweeping conclusions, the report keeps coming back to the fact that every crop is different. The main generalization we can take from it is that we shouldn’t make generalizations about GMOs… The National Academies wants us to stop obsessing over whether something is a GMO, and ask instead if a given crop makes the world better or worse… Instead of applying special scrutiny to how crops are bred, regulators would focus on which new foods pose the greatest risks. The researchers recommended regulation “that is based not on the breeding process but on considerations of novelty, potential hazard, and exposure as criteria”… 


Are GMOs safe? … The researchers identified “no differences that would implicate a higher risk to human health” from eating GMOs. And they noted that their previous reports have found “no strict dichotomy between genetic engineering and other forms of plant breeding with respect to risk”… Are GMOs hurting ecosystems? Food production is the single biggest cause of environmental degradation… But when researchers tried to find evidence to pin some of these problems on GMOs specifically, they found “no evidence of cause-and-effect relationships between GE crops and environmental problems.” In other words, they’re no more guilty than regular crops. 


Do we need GMOs to feed the world? To feed the world’s growing population, we need to increase food production and decrease food waste. The researchers noted that some GMOs would help with both challenges, but cautioned… “Treating genetic engineering and conventional breeding as competing approaches is a false dichotomy; more progress in crop improvement could be brought about by using both conventional breeding and genetic engineering than by using either alone”…  


https://grist.org/food/heres-where-the-science-on-gmos-stands/


The National Academy of Sciences – probably the country's most prestigious scientific group – has reaffirmed its judgment that GMOs are safe to eat… The report marks an anniversary. Twenty years ago, farmers started growing soybeans that had been genetically… Even before this report came out, an anti-GMO group… accused some members of the committee that prepared the report of… having… ties to the industry… The preemptive attack frustrates Fred Gould… who chaired the committee. Gould has been known in the past as a GMO critic. He has pushed for restrictions on the planting of some GMO crops. "I have not been a darling of the industry. As a matter of fact, they denied me seeds and plants to do my experiments"… Gould says that over the two years that… members of this committee worked on this report, they had one important rule: "If you had an opinion, you had to back it up with data. If you didn't have the data, it didn't go into the report"… 


The most basic conclusion: There's no evidence that GMOs are risky to eat. The committee also found that GMOs… have allowed farmers of some crops to spray less insecticide to protect their crops… Also, there's no evidence that GMOs have reduced the amount of wild plant and insect life on farms… The report urges federal agencies to change the way they regulate GMOs. Up to now, companies have introduced just a small number of different kinds of genetically modified crops. That could change very soon, because there's new technology, called gene editing, that isn't exactly genetic engineering, but it's not traditional plant breeding, either. The report urges regulators to look at all new crops, no matter how they're created, if they "have novelty and the possibility of some kind of risk associated with them"… Many scientists who got their first look at the report Tuesday praised it. Some called it the most comprehensive review of GMOs that anyone… has carried out.  


http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/05/17/478415310/top-scientists-say-gmos-are-safe-but-dont-always-deliver-on-promises


Genetically engineered crops appear to be safe to eat and do not harm the environment, according to a comprehensive new analysis by… the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine… The report also says that new techniques, like a way to make small genetic changes in plants using genome-editing, are blurring the distinction between genetic engineering and conventional plant breeding, making the existing regulatory system untenable. It calls for a new system that pays more attention to the attributes of the crop, as opposed to the way in which it was created… 


This is the latest of several reports on genetically modified crops by the National Academies, which are… set up by Congress to give advice on issues related to science, technology and medicine. A previous report by the groups, released in 2010, found that genetic engineering had provided environmental and economic benefits to American farmers. The new report was written by a committee of 20, almost all of them from academia. There was no one from crop biotechnology companies like Monsanto or DuPont on the committee… The committee examined more than 1,000 studies, heard testimony from 80 witnesses in a series of public meetings and webinars, and analyzed 700 comments submitted by the public… 


The committee concentrated its review on the genetically engineered crops that account for the vast bulk of such plants grown in the United States… The report says that foods made from such crops do not appear to pose health risks… Several other regulatory, scientific and health organizations have previously also concluded that the foods are safe. The committee also looked at the incidence of certain diseases… It said it found no evidence that the crops had contributed to an increase in the incidence of cancer, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, autism, celiac disease or food allergies. 


The document also says the regulatory system should be tiered, with potentially riskier products receiving greater scrutiny before they can be marketed, whether those products are made using genetic engineering or not. Other new products, regardless of how they are made, might need virtually no scrutiny… Regarding environmental effects, the report says there is “no conclusive evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship ship between G.E. crops and environmental problems… The report says use of the insect-resistant crops has clearly led to a decrease in the spraying of chemical insecticides. Conversely, the use of herbicide-resistant crops might have led to an increase in the spraying of chemical weed killers in some cases… However, looking only at the pounds of chemicals sprayed per acre is misleading because different chemicals have different toxicities… 


The committee concludes that the use of crops has generally provided economic benefits for the farmers and can increase their output in certain cases, for instance, by protecting crops from insect damage. Nonetheless… “G.E. crops are pretty much just crops. They are not the panacea that some proponents claim, nor the dreaded monsters that others claim.”


http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/18/business/genetically-engineered-crops-are-safe-analysis-finds.html


Genetically-engineered crops are as safe to eat as their non-GE counterparts, they have no adverse environmental impacts, and they have reduced the use of pesticides. That’s according to a comprehensive report released by the National Academy of Sciences today -- a group founded by the U.S. Congress to provide expert scientifically-based advice on a wide variety of issues… The report acknowledges that beyond safety, other issues need to be addressed, including earning the public’s trust. It recommends a more transparent and inclusive conversation about GE crops going forward… 


The assessment is generally positive, but there are many caveats… here’s the nutshell version… GE crops are safe to eat… They have… helped farmer protect yields from insects and weeds… The report found no adverse affects on biodiversity or danger from interbreeding between GE crops and wild relatives… The economic benefits to farmers have been well-documented… Regulation should be based on the characteristics of the crop, rather than the technique used to develop it, whether GE or non-GE… Both genetic engineering and conventional breeding are important to crop improvement… 


The report sees an important role for genetic engineering, and “the committee expects that its potential use in crop improvement in the coming decades will be substantial.” Increased nutrition, better nutrient use, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, and pathogen resistance are just some of the ways GE crops can improve human and environmental health, farmer well-being, and agriculture’s sustainability… 


http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2016/05/17/scientists-say-gmo-foods-are-safe-public-skepticism-remains/


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Estimation of Spillover Effects from Large Scale Adoption of Transgenic (Bt) Corn in the Philippines - Brown &al (2016) - AAEA

Large scale adoption of Bt corn has been associated with reduction in pest numbers for all farmers within the area (Hutchison et al 2010). Such area-level adoption may decrease individual incentives to adopt pest control measures. 


We propose an... approach to... estimate this spillover... To estimate average grower response to large scale adoption of transgenic corn in the Philippines. This value represents a measure of the pest suppression spillover on non-adopters of transgenic varieties. 


Significant spillover effect found to be associated with the use of Bt corn in the Philippines. This spillover as pointed out by Hutchison is expected to accrue primarily to non-adopting farmers. This positive externality should be accounted for in cost benefit analyses of the effects of Bt technology as ignoring them likely underestimates the value to farmers... 


http://purl.umn.edu/239267


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Proposed criteria for the evaluation of the scientific quality of mandatory rat and mouse feeding trials with whole food/feed derived from genetically modified plants - Schmidt &al (2016) - Arch To...

Proposed criteria for the evaluation of the scientific quality of mandatory rat and mouse feeding trials with whole food/feed derived from genetically modified plants - Schmidt &al (2016) - Arch To... | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

In recent years, animal feeding trials conducted with whole food/feed have been a focal issue in the controversy on the safety assessment of genetically modified (GM) plants and derived food/feed. Within the scientific community and among stakeholders, quite different views have been expressed on how these studies should be conducted, analysed and interpreted, what they might add in terms of information relevant to safety and whether 90-day rodent feeding trials should be mandatory... 


Taken together, nine criteria to evaluate the scientific quality of rat and mouse feeding trials with whole food/feed derived from genetically modified plants are proposed and a number of specific aspects to be taken into account in conjunction with these individual quality criteria are addressed. It is recommended that the quality assessment of a feeding trial in the frame of a regulatory decision process is made on a case-by-case basis considering all relevant quality criteria proposed in this letter. 


It is important to note that a feeding trial does not automatically provide useful information simply because it meets the nine proposed criteria. Only in case a trigger is available from the initial molecular, compositional, phenotypic and/or agronomic analyses and therefore the rationale of the study prior to testing is formulated in form of hypotheses regarding specific endpoints, feeding trials with whole food/feed may provide an added scientific value for the risk assessment of GM crops. 


It is expected that this letter will trigger a broader scientific debate on the quality of rodent feeding trials with whole food/feed, and for this purpose, contributions are welcome in the Discussion Forum established by the scientific coordinators of the European research projects GRACE, G-TwYST and GMO90+ in Archives of Toxicology.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00204-016-1762-3


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EU Failing FAO Challenge to Improve Global Food Security - Smyth &al (2016) – Trends Biotechnol

EU Failing FAO Challenge to Improve Global Food Security - Smyth &al (2016) – Trends Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
Click here tThe EU has chosen to ignore the food security challenge issued to the world by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)… that agricultural biotechnology has a central role in meeting the food security challenge… The FAO identified necessary agricultural production increases of 70% globally to meet the requirements of a projected 9.6 billion people… Developing countries struggle to feed their current populations, with millions unable to secure sufficient food quantities to provide daily nutritional needs. The FAO and others assert that agricultural biotechnology will be important to meet global nutritional needs in 2050. Many countries have responded to this challenge, allowing agricultural biotechnology innovations to be commercialized as part of their strategic response to the FAO challenge. While Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, and the USA have all approved the production of GM crops, few developing countries have followed suit. 

In addition to agricultural production needing to rise by 70% globally… in most developing countries, production would need to rise by 100%. The FAO reports that annual increases in crop yields of 2% are needed to sustain the existing global population. Current yield increases are below 2% and have slowed considerably. Crop yield increases for the three key staple crops of wheat, maize, and rice have been trending downward since the 1990s, and this decline is most significant for wheat and rice, where annual global increases are less than 1%. Of particular concern is the rate of wheat yield increases in developed countries, which has become negative. With rice being a staple crop for many developing countries, recent rice yield increases of 1% highlights the inefficient application of crop breeding innovations. Innovative agricultural biotechnologies are required to aid the development of new varieties of all three staple crops to assist in raising annual yield increases to meet increasing global demand. Without the ability to adopt agricultural biotechnology, hundreds of millions will remain nutritionally insecure on a daily basis. 

The EU has repeatedly failed to respond to the FAO challenge. While two MS plant small amounts of GM crops… for the most part, GM crops are not welcomed by governments or consumers in the EU. The European Commission agreement in December 2014 allowing MS to domestically ban the production of GM crops once again affirms an unwillingness to credibly respond to global food security through the adoption of advanced technologies. Current EU environmental policy appears to be dictated by objectives that contribute to global food insecurity. This new EU policy is flawed for three reasons: (i) it ignores conventional scientific findings; (ii) it has politicized and mischaracterized risk; and (iii) it deters developing countries from adopting GM crops. 

EU Parliamentarians and politicians routinely ignore the proven safety and environmental benefits of GM crops. GM crops have undergone risk assessments by federal regulatory agencies in over 30 different countries since their first commercialization in Canada and the USA in 1995, and, in 2010, the European Commission produced a review of 130 EU-funded biotechnology research projects that showed that GM-bred crops are as safe as conventionally bred crops. EU politicians appear happy to ignore their own and others’ peer-reviewed science that demonstrates the safety and efficacy of a range of new crops that are widely accepted across world markets. 

The evidence in adopting countries is growing and compelling. A recent meta-analysis of 147 publications detailing GM crop impacts found that chemical pesticide use dropped by 37%, crop yields increased by 22%, and farmer profits increased by 68%. The main impacts are in cotton, maize, soybeans, and canola… Meanwhile, reductions in chemical use have been quantified in both developing and developed countries. Pesticide use on cotton in India dropped by 41%... In Canada, the environmental impact of GM canola resulted in a reduction of 53%... of herbicide… There are also measurable health benefits to smallholder farmers and farm laborers due to reductions in pesticide applications from GM crop adoption. GM cotton in India has lowered the number of reported pesticide poisoning by between 2.4 and 9 million cases annually… 

The risk assessment process in the EU has become politicized and often ignores the results of its science-based risk assessment in its deliberations. The EU has a zero-tolerance threshold for EU-unapproved GM traits that have been approved in other countries, including major trading partners, such as Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and the USA. These GM traits have had risk assessments cumulatively undertaken by over 200 national regulators. Presently, the EU has higher acceptable levels in food products for contaminants such as insect fragments, sticks, and manure, than it does for EU-unapproved GM crops. 

The decision by the EU to allow MS to individually regulate approvals for cultivation of GM crops that have already received EU-wide approval will have wide-ranging effects that, ultimately, will make it more difficult for the most food-insecure countries in the world to achieve their food security goals… This decision to allow individual MS to intervene and make local decisions considerably increases the risks associated with investing in agricultural biotechnology in the EU and beyond… 

First, some are of the opinion that this will allow MS opposed to GM crops to ban them domestically and no longer vote to block them at the EU level, thus returning GM crop approvals to science-based processes. Removing some of the politics of GM crop approvals would theoretically allow those MS supporting the technology to approve and produce GM crops. However, this is not assured because there are no legal obligations within the opt-out for MS to cease blocking GM crops at the EU level. 

Second, science-based regulation seems to have taken a back seat in the EU. Those blocking GM crops approvals are not compelled by science; rather, decisions are based on political calculations. This has stalled most research and investment in the EU, discouraging research and commercialization of new GM traits in other MS due to the difficulty of meeting the increasing array of market access hurdles. Moreover, given that the EU is the single largest food-importing region, this change will undoubtedly discourage developing countries exporting commodities to the EU from adopting GM crops; the cost and uncertainty of having shipments rejected by MS will offset many of the benefits of GM adoption. 

Investment decisions of individual firms are determined, in part, by the size of the potential market for the products of the new technology and the cost of securing entry in those markets. When countries ban new technologies or their products or make their approvals sufficiently risky or uncertain, the size of the potential market shrinks. This reduces the likelihood of a positive investment decision. Meeting the goals of improved global food security will require a range of efforts; most policy-makers see improving agricultural productivity through new breeding techniques as central to achieving the goals. Agricultural biotechnology can greatly contribute to advances in agricultural productivity. Any major increases in the riskiness of investments in research and development will work to reduce investment and the rate at which agricultural productivity increases. 

The effects on food insecure countries… are direct and immediate. The EU prohibits imports of all unapproved GM events. Shipments can be refused when minute traces of GM material are detected, either comingling of GM with non-GM varieties of the same crop or a different crop. Hence, if African countries exporting to the EU adopt productivity-enhancing GM crops, they risk losing their markets in the EU. Given that absolute segregation of GM and non-GM crops is both difficult and expensive to achieve on a commercial basis, African countries eschew the adoption of GM crops, thus forgoing improvements in their agricultural productivity (even developed countries are stressed: the EU closed the border to Canadian exports of flax and American exports of corn, rice, and soybeans recently after detecting trace amounts of traits not approved in the EU). The failure to adopt GM crops in the EU also feeds back into global investment decisions: one result is lower investment into the adaptation of GM crops suited to agronomic conditions in developing countries, especially tropical crops. 

This latest move away from science-based regulation in the EU will have wide-ranging effects beyond the EU itself, effects that will complicate international efforts to achieve global food security. While numerous GM-adopting nations have positively responded to the challenge of the FAO, the EU continues to ignore the impact of their domestic choices on this crucial global issue. The EU has secure food supplies and is ignoring the cost its politically motivated technology choice has on food insecure consumers and countries. The EU has failed in its responsibility to its own citizens and to those in developing countries by ignoring science and evidence… 

A host of new plant breeding techniques and technologies are poised to enter the crop variety development sector. They offer an exciting opportunity to reverse the trend to weaker yield growth. While many of these new technologies and techniques do not involve cross-species manipulations, there is a movement afoot in the EU… to outright reject these technologies. This knee-jerk reaction to a real opportunity to accelerate crop productivity, lower the ecological footprint of food production, and improve the lot of many food-insecure farmers and families around the world is a shame. The burden of increasing global food security cannot be in the hands of the few GM crop-adopting countries, led by Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada and the USA… The commercialization of new, higher yielding crops needs all leading food producers to engage. The EU cannot abrogate its duty to use its wealth and resources on behalf of humanity. 


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How to be Cautious but Open to Learning: Time to Update Biotechnology and GMO Legislation - Hansson (2016) - Risk Analysis

How to be Cautious but Open to Learning: Time to Update Biotechnology and GMO Legislation - Hansson (2016) - Risk Analysis | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Precautionary measures to protect human health and the environment should be science based. This implies that they should be directed at a potential danger for which there is credible scientific evidence (although that evidence need not be conclusive). 


Furthermore, protective measures should be updated as relevant science advances. This means that decisionmakers should be prepared to strengthen the precautionary measures if the danger turns out to be greater than initially suspected, and to reduce or lift them, should the danger prove to be smaller. 


Most current legislation on agricultural biotechnology has not been scientifically updated. Therefore, it reflects outdated criteria for identifying products that can cause problems. Modern knowledge in genetics, plant biology, and ecology has provided us with much better criteria that risk analysts can use to identify the potentially problematic breeding projects at which precautionary measures should be directed. 


Legislation on agricultural biotechnology should be scientifically updated. Furthermore, legislators should learn from this example that regulations based on the current state of science need to have inbuilt mechanisms for revisions and adjustments in response to future developments in science.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/risa.12647


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Invasive species could cause billions in damages to agriculture - Penn State University (2016)

Invasive species could cause billions in damages to agriculture - Penn State University (2016) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Invasive insects and pathogens could be a multi-billion-dollar threat to global agriculture and developing countries may be the biggest target... The United States, China, India and Brazil, all large agricultural producers, would have the highest potential cost from invasive species... 

"China and the U.S. are large and have diverse cropping systems ranging from subtropical to temperate environments and this diversity of cropping systems supports a wide range of potential pest and disease species... Also, China and the U.S. have very active trading relationships with many countries worldwide and these provide potential links for transport of pest and disease organisms"...  

While big agricultural countries, such as the United States and China, may take the biggest monetary hit, smaller developing countries may suffer proportionately higher damage... the most vulnerable countries were located in sub-Saharan Africa. 


"These countries generally do not have diverse economies making them disproportionately more dependent on agriculture... As a result any threat from invasive species can potentially have a greater relative impact on these countries"... 

As trade increases and more connections are made between countries, the researchers suggest that the problems associated with invasive species will mount.

http://news.psu.edu/story/415199/2016/06/20/research/invasive-species-could-cause-billions-damages-agriculture


Underlying article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1602205113


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
... all natural... 
(But increasing the need for pest control.) 
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‘Chemophobia’ is irrational, harmful – and hard to break - Aeon (2016) 

We all feel a profound connection with the natural world... biophilia: ‘the urge to affiliate with other forms of life’. That sense of connection brings great emotional satisfaction... But lately biophilia has spawned an extreme variant: chemophobia, a reflexive rejection of modern synthetic chemicals... an outgrowth of the modern environmental movement, especially Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (1962)... Carson’s words helped to inspire unleaded gasoline, the US Clean Air Act, the banning of DDT, and other hugely important environmental advances. However, even as much of the world became cleaner, the anti-chemical movement became so polarised that all artificial chemicals are now considered tainted. This false assumption has led to a popular demand for products that are ‘natural’ or even ‘chemical-free’.

In reality, ‘natural’ products are usually more chemically complicated than anything we can create in the lab.... The distinction between natural and synthetic chemicals is not merely ambiguous, it is non-existent. The fact that an ingredient is synthetic does not automatically make it dangerous, and the fact that it is natural doesn’t make it safe. Botulinum, produced by bacteria that grow in honey, is more than 1.3 billion times as toxic as lead... A cup of apple seeds contains enough natural cyanide to kill an adult human. Natural chemicals can be beneficial, neutral or harmful depending on the dosage and on how they are used, just like synthetic chemicals. Whether a chemical is ‘natural’ should never be a factor when assessing its safety.

Misconceptions about natural versus synthetic compounds can have devastating consequences. The anxiety over formaldehyde is a telling example. Formaldehyde occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs and foliage... It is found at levels of around 2 ppm in a healthy human body, where it plays an important role in the production of DNA. Formaldehyde is also used in various industries as a preservative... Unlike the harmless trace quantities of formaldehyde, however, the avoidance of vaccination has caused many preventable deaths, including localised measles outbreaks in California, Germany and Wales in recent years. 


Fighting back against fear is difficult but not impossible. The scientific community describes chemophobia as a ‘non-clinical prejudice’... that is... a learned aversion. That insight suggests a few promising strategies. A lot of the solution begins in schools... Chemistry teachers need to counteract the notion that laboratories are dirty places where contaminated things are created. As one student responded to me: ‘If I can’t eat in a lab due to fear of contamination, how could food made in a lab possibly be safe to eat?’ ... Teachers should talk about industrial quality control and purification techniques to communicate the extremely high standards of purity required before chemical products can be certified safe for human consumption.

Educating consumers that ‘natural’ products are not always safe will encourage smarter healthcare choices. Tighter regulation of marketing terms is also important. The global market for ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ personal care products is projected to reach $16 billion by 2020, even though those products generally have no demonstrated safety advantage over their ‘synthetic’ equivalents. ‘Pure’ should refer to single-ingredient products only. ‘Natural’ products should be sold exactly as they occur in nature, and ‘natural’ should be forbidden as a marketing term for cosmetics and other products. Finally, the use of ‘chemical-free’ – a logical impossibility – on product labels needs to be stopped.

The roots of chemophobia run deep. We are irrationally hard-wired to overestimate the magnitude of risks that are imposed upon us. Americans are 35,000 times as likely to die from heart disease as from terrorism, yet terrorism tops people’s list of worries. It’s only through a better knowledge of chemistry and toxicology that we can begin to assess chemical risks in a more rational, healthier way. Then perhaps we can bend chemophobia back toward biophilia – creating an awareness that humans are chemically connected to all of the world around us. 


https://aeon.co/ideas/chemophobia-is-irrational-harmful-and-hard-to-break


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Challenges of transgenic crop commercialization in China - Lu (2016) - Nature Plants

Challenges of transgenic crop commercialization in China - Lu (2016) - Nature Plants | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Transgenic biotechnology offers great opportunities for food security. But the potential effects on human health and the environment are a major concern to the public, which hinders the application of the technology. Along with continually implementing rigid biosafety assessment, educating the public is critical for promoting transgenic crops in China. 


Over the past few years, transgenes have become… concerning matters for Chinese civilians. People often get anxious or even angry when speaking of transgenic foods. The focal point of the concerns is whether foods derived from transgenic, or genetically modified (GM), crops are safe for human health and the environment. These public concerns and debates have influenced decision-making in China on the commercialization of GM crops, particularly transgenic staples such as rice. As a result, China dropped to sixth place in the world ranking of GM crop cultivation in 2007 from fourth place in 2002, being overtaken by Brazil and India. In contrast to the situation in China, GM crop commercialization in other countries has benefited greatly from rapidly progressing biotechnology, driven by increased demand for food… 


By the end of 2014, about 18 million farmers across 28 countries worldwide had cultivated over 181 million hectares of GM crops… maize, soybean, cotton, canola, potato, sugar beet, alfalfa, papaya, poplar, tomato, squash and eggplant. GM technology… facilitates crop breeding in an efficient and targeted way, and has led to… a 22% increase in crop yield and a 37% reduction in chemical pesticide use. It can also bring about greener agricultural ecosystems, for example by saving millions of tons of chemical pesticides and approximately 28 billion kg of CO2 discharge. 


Currently, China feeds more than 20% of the world's population using less than 7% of the world's arable land. Moreover, the continued increases in human population, progressive decreases in arable lands and natural resources (for example, water and soil nutrients), and the rapid losses of agricultural labour have posed even greater challenges for sustainable agricultural production and food security in China. As such, China depends heavily on imports; the country imported more than 100 million tons of various crops in 2014, reflecting a great shortage of locally produced food… To increase crop production, the only option is to maximize crop yields per unit area using crop varieties with improved performance. Traditional breeding… has proved very successful in increasing crop performance, as shown by the triumph of the ‘green’ and hybrid rice revolutions. GM technology is superior in its efficiency in modulating plant genetic architecture, opening the opportunity for a ‘transgenic green’ revolution. 


China has played an important role in the research and development (R&D) of GM biotechnology, with a comprehensive R&D platform established during the past 30 years. With strong support from the government, Chinese public research institutions and universities are actively involved in GM biotechnology R&D. So far, more than 50 plant species have been explored, including the 10 most cultivated crops worldwide, and transgenes conveying more than 100 types of diverse agronomic traits have been used in genetic transformation. This has yielded a large number of patents for transgenic lines, many of which have entered different stages of national biosafety assessment. By the end of 2014, more than 2,140 biosafety certificates had been granted by the Biosafety Management Office of the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) of China for a number of crops including cotton, papaya, rice and maize… 


In fact, the R&D history of GM crops in China can be traced back to the 1980s… In 2008, Chinese government launched another huge programme, with an initial plan to invest US$3.5 billion in the GM development of five key crop species (rice, wheat, maize, cotton and soybean)… a clear demonstration of a governmental ambition to secure food supply by developing transgenic biotechnology. In 2009, the MOA granted biosafety certificates to two insect-resistant GM rice lines and one phytase GM maize line after nearly ten years of comprehensive biosafety assessment. The approval of GM rice was marked as an important milestone for genetic engineering of this staple food crop in China… However, seven years after biosafety approval, the GM rice and maize lines have not yet entered commercial production. Although farmers welcomed the insect-resistant rice, strong opposition from the public is one of the major reasons for the delay. The dilemma now is that, on the one hand, the government has invested heavily in GM crop development, but on the other, the ‘end users’ (that is, the public) are not prepared to accept GM products due to safety concerns. 


Safety is users’ primary consideration before accepting any products derived from a new technology… further work needs to be done to address public concerns, as they can still hinder GM crop commercialization even though biosafety assessment has been passed. Better promotion of GM crops depends on both a more receptive public and more reasonable regulations. All GM crops that are officially approved for commercial production have passed rigorous biosafety assessment, but public worries persist partly because the detail of the technology is difficult to understand. People very often do not have access to the correct channels providing science-based and understandable information, and could be easily misled. Nevertheless, the public are the end users, and without their support and consumption, GM products would have no market. Thus, educating the public with the relevant knowledge of transgenic biotechnology, its benefits and potential biosafety issues is critical for promoting the acceptance of GM crop cultivation. 


Besides implementing rigid biosafety assessment, the current biosafety regulations need updating… For example, there is no allowance threshold for low-level adventitious presence of transgenes, which makes GM labelling and detection difficult to implement. Also, the existing regulations have not included proper measures to regulate the GM crops produced by new generations of technologies, such as stacked multiple transgenes and gene silencing. Promoting commercial production of GM crops in China is not an easy task. But, so far, there seems to be no alternative option that can sustain the growing food demand. In the absence of a reasonable replacement, it is time for China to join the rest of the world in appreciating the benefits brought by GM biotechnology. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/NPLANTS.2016.77


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How grassroots lobbying push blindsided Monsanto - Politico (2016) 

Big EU capitals get cold feet on approving widely used weedkiller, push Commission to take political hit. 


American agricultural giant Monsanto thought it was on a glide path to EU renewal of its... weedkiller Roundup. It was wrong. Advocacy groups seized on a routine World Health Organization report from last year, which connected the active ingredient... to cancer, to inflame politicians. They generated enough outcry to prompt key players, including Germany and France, to publicly back away from what the industry and the European Commission thought would be a no-hassle vote after food safety officials declared in November that the pesticide is safe to use across Europe, as it has been for decades. 


Those NGOs and their backers are declaring victory this week following a vote on the chemical’s future that ended in a deadlock. The Commission is scrambling to figure out how to keep Europe’s most widely used herbicide on the market to make a June 30 license expiration. It could face a raft of lawsuits from agriculture heavyweights if it fails to pass an extension… The left-leaning groups’ ability to mobilize political opposition to an industrial giant fits a pattern. They are gaining strength in public debates as well as national politics, with their work also evident in the Commission’s flagging effort to secure a mammoth free trade deal with the U.S. The fight underscores a challenge facing big institutions and their ability to adapt quickly to deal with insurgent campaigns fueled by social media and savvy NGOs. 


The Commission could issue the renewal without public support – and wind up bolstering the image of top-down governance that doesn’t consider populist views… Under Commission rules, the majority of member countries representing at least 65 percent of the population need to sign on, a benchmark it failed to reach this week… Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has been pushing countries to be more accountable for EU actions and avoid hiding behind the Commission on politically unpopular decisions. Juncker could override member countries and reauthorize glyphosate without their backing, but thus far that is something he hasn’t wanted to do… Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis told his fellow 27 commissioners... that he had been privately contacted by the governments of France, Germany and Italy ahead of the vote urging the Commission to move forward with the reauthorization without their support… he blamed the three for silently supporting the pesticide but publicly blaming the Commission. 


The Commission’s predicament in large part stems from a March 2015 report from the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, released as the EU was nearing the end of a standard review of the chemical, which happens every 15 years. German authorities had said in January 2014 that the pesticide was safe when used as intended, and the European Food Safety Agency was reviewing those findings to make a recommendation to the Commission… it concluded glyphosate is safe at the level at which Europeans are exposed to it. The agency called for reauthorization and the Commission issued a proposal for a full 15-year renewal. 


Advocacy groups turned to their members to lobby lawmakers in national capitals and Brussels to reject the proposal, arguing that EFSA’s work was too influenced by the industry… Protesters dressed as bottles of Roundup and called for officials in Paris, Berlin and Brussels to ban the chemical at rallies this spring. Avaaz also launched a petition urging the EU to “immediately suspend approval of glyphosate.” More than 2 million people signed on. Their efforts have been effective but inexpensive… consisted mostly of member outreach as well as some advertising… One ad touts the group’s petition and other public opinion surveys on glyphosate, with an image of a skull and crossbones carved into an apple and the catchphrase “We are not lab rats.” “The campaigns did have a lot of influence over left-wing parties who are currently under pressure from populists parties within their countries”… 


The weedkiller has become a victim of its own success. Residues of the chemical are everywhere, in food and rivers, in human blood and breast milk… Meanwhile the industry was quietly lobbying its way with commission officials… Monsanto… called for the Commission to follow the recommendations of the European Food Safety Agency, arguing that “regulatory decisions should be based on the best available science.” When the Commission finally scheduled a vote in late May on a new proposal for a nine-year extension, with recommendations for restrictions on the pesticide’s use in residential areas and public parks, it was confident that Germany would be on board and other countries would fall in line. They didn’t… 


http://www.politico.eu/pro/europes-weedkiller-wars-glyphosate-roundup-who-european-commission/


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Improving resource-use-efficiency with no-till and crop diversity - Anderson (2016) - Renew Ag Food Syst

Improving resource-use-efficiency with no-till and crop diversity - Anderson (2016) - Renew Ag Food Syst | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

We conducted a case study that showed a no-till, diverse cropping system increasing corn yields in a semiarid climate compared with a tilled, corn-soybean rotation. Further analysis showed that the no-till system improved resource-use-efficiency of corn; inputs were reduced 42% averaged across five resources. The largest reduction with inputs involved nitrogen fertilizer and fuel. Reduced fertilizer input was attributed to greater soil microbial activity. A surprising trend was that cost of weed management in corn was 45% lower in the no-till system, due to resistant weeds being present only in the tilled, corn-soybean system. Crop diversity in the no-till system suppressed development of weed resistance. Integrating a diversity of crops with no-till can improve efficient use of resources. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1742170516000090


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Concern About Hunger May Increase Receptivity to GMOs - Carter &al (2016) - Trends Plant Sci

Concern About Hunger May Increase Receptivity to GMOs - Carter &al (2016) - Trends Plant Sci | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Due to a phenomenon known as the ‘backfire effect’, intuition-based opinions can be inadvertently strengthened by evidence-based counterarguments... Views on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be subject to this effect. We explored the impact of an empathetically accessible topic, world hunger, on receptivity to GMO technology as an alternative to direct evidence-based approaches... 


Informing the public about technologies to which they are already resistant is difficult to do, and potentially counterproductive due to a psychological phenomenon known as the ‘backfire effect’... In the case of GMO resistance, we are most often dealing with the ‘worldview’ type of backfire effect, whereby those who are strongly fixed in their views can become even more committed to their current views when confronted with counterarguments... 


Leading with the topic of GMOs is likely to trigger the backfire effect as cognitive defense mechanisms take over before the rational argument can be heard... With all of this in mind, we predicted that students who are presented with meaningful information about an issue that they can easily empathetically understand, namely hunger, might become more open-minded on related issues to which they may have otherwise been ideologically opposed, such as bioengineered crops and other aspects of modern agriculture... 


There appears to have been a shift in a significant number of students’ attitudes toward GMOs without any direct, explicit instruction on the issue. These results are congruent with the notion that increased awareness of hunger as a human health issue might lead to increased receptiveness to genetic modification technology. This is an important finding as it implies successful navigation of the backfire effect without mentioning GMOs, after which instruction on the safety and benefits of GMOs would almost certainly be more effective. 


This sort of approach to addressing emotions and intuitions before instruction on sensitive subject matter... may be important when teaching about socially controversial topics in general, as research indicates that lack of acceptance of a concept can... prevent students from developing an understanding of the concept. Moreover... helping students reach a position of deferred judgment on such topics is paramount in overcoming cognitive barriers rooted in prior rejection... When countering positions based on emotion and intuition, it is important to appeal to those intuitions before building a rational argument based on evidence.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tplants.2016.05.003


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EU Member States’ Voting for Authorizing Genetically Engineered Crops: a Regulatory Gridlock

- Smart &al (2015) - GJAE

Several authors suggest a gridlock of the European Union’s (EU’s) approval process for genetically engineered (GE) crops. We analyse the voting behaviour of EU Member States (MSs) for voting results from 2003 to 2015 on the approval of GE crops to test for a gridlock; no reliable data are available pre-2003 - a time which included the EU’s moratorium on GE crops. 


After the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has given a favourable opinion on the safety of a GE crop, the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH) votes on the application. If the SCFCAH reaches no decision, the Appeal Committee (AC) (pre the Treaty of Lisbon: the Council) votes... if no decision is reached here, the final decision is left to the European Commission. All EU Member States (MSs) are represented on both committees; decisions are made by a qualified majority (QM) voting system... 


Our data include 50 events; and 61 ballots at the SCFCAH and 57 ballots at the Council / AC. A QM has been achieved once only at the SCFCAH, but never at Council. At Council / AC level, Austria and Croatia have consistently voted against an approval, while The Netherlands has always supported approvals. All other MSs showed differences in their voting decisions at the SCFCAH and Council / AC level at least once. 


MS-fixed-effects are the major factors explaining the voting results supporting the gridlock hypothesis, while crop characteristics and crop use play no apparent role in MSs' voting behaviour. We maintain that a QM is unlikely following the latest directive for MSs to ‘opt-out’ on GE crop cultivation in their territories. 


http://www.gjae-online.de/inhaltsverzeichnisse/pages/protected/show.prl?id=818


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Health Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency approve AquAdvantage Salmon - Canada News Centre (2016) 

Health Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency approve AquAdvantage Salmon - Canada News Centre (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have completed thorough and rigorous scientific reviews of AquAdvantage Salmon (a genetically modified [GM] salmon) for food and livestock feed use and determined that it is as safe and nutritious for humans and livestock as conventional salmon. These were the final Government of Canada scientific assessments required to allow AquAdvantage Salmon to be sold in Canada. The AquAdvantage Salmon is a GM salmon developed… to promote rapid growth during early life. This was achieved by introducing a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon to an Atlantic salmon. 


GM foods are becoming more common every day and are part of the regular diets of Canadians. GM foods… have been consumed in Canada for many years, and are safe and nutritious. Changes to the genes of plants and animals can improve food quality and production – for instance by reducing the need for pesticides, making crops resistant to drought, preventing bruising, or allowing foods to be grown more quickly. 


The AquAdvantage Salmon has undergone separate safety and nutrition assessments by Health Canada for use as food and by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for use as livestock feed. These reviews both found the salmon to be as safe and nutritious as conventional salmon. The assessments complement a regulatory environmental and indirect human health risk assessment… Canada is not the first country to approve this product for use as food and livestock feed. In November 2015, the AquAdvantage Salmon was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration following the Agency’s scientific safety review. 


Health Canada requires labelling for food products, including genetically modified foods, where clear, scientifically established health risks or significant changes to the nutritional qualities of the food have been identified and can be mitigated through labelling. For example, an allergen present in a food must be labelled to alert consumers. In this case, given that no health and safety concerns were identified, there are no special labelling requirements for AquAdvantage Salmon. The Government of Canada uses a stringent evidence-based process for evaluating the safety of genetically modified animals for food and livestock feed use… 


http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=1068309


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Left uncontrolled, weeds would cost billions in economic losses every year - K-State (2016) 

Left uncontrolled, weeds would cost billions in economic losses every year - K-State (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
Imagine that weeds were left to grow uncontrolled in corn and soybean fields... That scenario would cut U.S. and Canadian yields by about 50 percent, resulting in $43 billion in annual economic losses to those two crops alone… The research… spanned seven years from 2007 to 2013… “We were interested in trying to understand just how much impact weeds still have on our crops. Despite the great improvements we have in crop genetics and fertility, we’re still having to manage weeds”… weeds compete with crops for everything from sunlight to moisture to nutrients in the soil… “What we saw in corn is that we’d lose over half of our yield if we didn’t manage those weeds… And in soybeans, almost the same – 49.5 percent total yield loss… The United States leads the world in both soybean and corn production, while Canada ranks 7th and 11th… 

“We wanted to document that weeds were still a significant pest to manage, that we need to maintain all the different weed control practices that we have… that these weeds are still so important and that we need to come up with every option that we can to manage them.” A recent dramatic reduction in research funding for weed management in crops is a trend… scientists find disturbing. 

Weed scientists conduct a number of weed control studies each year… asked them to provide the yield data from corn and soybean trials, specifically the untreated plot yield, and yield from plots with their best weed control methods. The team looked at the yields from both and took the difference to calculate how much yield loss happened… “The idea… was they did everything right to produce their best crop – their best seed, they fertilized it, they irrigated it – whatever they needed to do, but they just didn’t control the weeds in the untreated plots, so we could see what kind of yield loss impact that would have”… The scientists used data from these trials, plus… how many acres were harvested of those crops and the value of the crops over the years studied to determine the total potential impact of weeds on the crops… 

To break weed management into four categories: (i) Chemical weed control – herbicides. (ii) Biological – in some crops, insects will eat certain weeds and in others, livestock grazing helps, but those methods don’t work in row crops. (iii) Cultural – narrow row crop spacing (to limit the area where weeds can develop) or fertilizing just the crop and not the weeds are examples. (iv) Mechanical – Tillage is sometimes used before the crop is planted or after it’s established… 

Use more than one strategy to control them. “Weeds are smart. They keep figuring out how to survive whatever we throw at them… The reason some people ended up with herbicide-resistant weeds is that they often used a really good product over and over again and the weeds weren’t exposed to other control practices. If we change it up, keep the weeds on the defensive, then they potentially won’t become resistant because we’ve controlled those resistant ones with a different technique.” 

The WSSA researchers are planning to release similar reports across winter and spring wheats, grain sorghum, vegetable crops, rice and cotton. 



Alexander J. Stein's insight:
Using data from field trials and applying the difference (loss) between the best and worst results in an experimental setting to the total area of actually harvested crops might be a bit optimistic -- in the real world yields will probably not as high as under ideal field trial conditions, and there would probably always be some minor weed control -- but as the text says, the reported cost represents the "potential impact". 
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