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The economic power of the Golden Rice opposition - Wesseler & Zilberman (2014) - Env Develop Econ

The economic power of the Golden Rice opposition - Wesseler & Zilberman (2014) - Env Develop Econ | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Vitamin A enriched rice (Golden Rice) is a cost-efficient solution that can substantially reduce health costs. Despite Golden Rice being available since early 2000, this rice has not been introduced in any country. Governments must perceive additional costs that overcompensate the benefits of the technology to explain the delay in approval.

 

We develop a real option model including irreversibility and uncertainty about perceived costs and arrival of new information to explain a delay in approval. The model has been applied to the case of India. Results show the annual perceived costs have to be at least US$199 million per year... to explain the delay in approval of the technology. This is an indicator of the economic power of the opposition towards Golden Rice resulting in about 1.4 million life years lost over the past decade in India... 

 

Nutritional and economic ex ante assessment studies of a GRS [Golden Rice strategy] have shown that Golden Rice can reduce VAD-related mortalities and diseases at less cost than alternative strategies discussed in the literature. Previous studies for India have shown that about 204,000 life years can be saved annually. 

 

Golden Rice was expected to be introduced in 2002. Golden Rice has not yet been approved in any country, including India. According to our calculations, the delay over the last 10 years has caused losses of at least 1,424,680 life years for India, ignoring indirect health costs of VAD. The differences in net present value from a 10-year delay are about US$707 million... 

 

The size of the perceived costs is substantially larger, 85 times, than the cost of implementing the GRS. Having a better understanding of the political economy behind the perceived costs and how to reduce them seems to be economically much more important than additional investigations into the costs of social marketing and maintenance breeding.


The results further show that it pays for those opposing the GRS to raise concerns about the technology the sooner a decision by regulators is expected. The leverage factor of the perceived costs increases the closer the point of decision making is. This explains why the opposition to the GRS has substantial power and indicates that it will be difficult for those supporting the technology to change the view on perceived costs. In this context it is not so important to provide factual evidence, but to raise uncertainty... 

 

One question that remains to be answered within this debate is: what are the incentives of the opposition to the GRS in India? This has not yet been well investigated empirically... A small industry has developed around the opposition to transgenic crops that survives mainly on donations and has to keep the debate about the risks of the technology alive. This strategy seems to be a successful strategy albeit, as the case of Golden Rice shows, at the cost of the lives of several thousand children.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1355770X1300065X
 

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

[updated 12 June, 2014]  

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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.
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Recommendations from a Meeting on Health Implications of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) - Amofah (2014) - Ghana Med J

The Ghana Public Health Association organized a scientific seminar to examine the introduction of genetically modified organisms into public use and the health consequences. The seminar was driven by current public debate on the subject. The seminar identified some of the advantages of GMOs and also the health concerns.

 

lt is clear that there is the need to enhance local capacity to research the introduction and use of GMOs; to put in place appropriate regulatory mechanisms including particularly the labeling of GMO products and post-marketing surveillance for possible negative health consequences in the long term. Furthermore the appropriate state agency should put in place advocacy strategies to keep the public informed about GMOs...

 

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"Notwithstanding the advantages and major potential public health benefits, a number of concerns and potential negative health impact were identified: (1) Current efforts are focused primarily on a few crop/trait combinations that have high commercial value and occupy large international markets, hence are primarily profit driven. (2) Public Institutions are resource limited and lack infrastructure and capacity to compete; there is poor access to advanced technology and weak regulatory capacity in country. (3) Potential for unpredictable, unintended mutations in the organism with consequential medico-legal events..." 

 

>> Companies that are operating in a market economy obviously seek to make profits. How can that in itself be an argument against the whole class of products that their products belong to? Also pharmaceutical companies are profit driven (and most do not do research into rare diseases and orphan drugs for poor developing countries' markets). This does not invalidate the usefulness of pharmaceuticals. It's simple: Where the market fails government intervention is necessary -- and there ARE publicly or philanthropically funded R&D projects on GM crops... And if there is less public R&D than would be ideal, is that a reason to be concerned about products that "only" cater to the demand that can be expressed on markets? Or rather about the research and regulatory context that inhibits public R&D? 

 

As to the risk of "unintended mutations", that's what happens in -- conventional -- mutation breeding... 

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Farmers’ Interest in Growing GM Crops in the UK, in the Context of a Range of On-farm Coexistence Issues - Jones & Tranter (2014)

Although no GM crops currently are licensed for commercial production in the UK, as opposition to GM crops by consumers softens, this could change quickly. Although past studies have examined attitudes of UK farmers toward GM technologies in general, there has been little work on the impact of possible coexistence measures on their attitudes toward GM crop production. This could be because the UK Government has not engaged in any public dialogue on the coexistence measures that might be applied on farms.

 

Based on a farm survey, this article examines farmers’ attitudes toward GM technologies and planting intentions for three crops (maize, oilseed rape, and sugar beet) based on a GM availability scenario. The article then nuances this analysis with a review of farmer perceptions of the level of constraint associated with a suite of notional farm-level coexistence measures and issues, based on current European Commission guidelines and practice in other EU Member States... 

 

When those surveyed were asked whether they might consider growing GM oilseed rape/maize/sugar beet if it was licensed by the Government for the 2015 planting year, around half those currently growing maize said they would consider it, as did 62% of those growing oilseed rape and 63% of those growing sugar beet... 

 

The potential adopters... had [statistically] significantly fewer years in farming, tended to be younger, had a higher annual farm income, larger farms, more staff numbers, and were more likely to be a member of a Farmers’ Union or Certification Body and to have a university degree than those who said they would not grow GM crops. This finding is consistent with past studies of adoption of other innovations... 

 

Those survey farmers who did not envision adopting GM crops had several reasons for this decision, including that they were worried about whether the GM crop would be ‘difficult to sell,’ that it would be ‘associated with complicated management,’ and that the ‘seed would be too expensive and difficult to buy’ ... 

 

If... stated areas were ‘raised’ to the national level, up to 247,000 ha of GM oilseed rape (38% of all plantings in 2010) might be grown, plus 83,000 ha of GM maize (57% of plantings in 2010) and 45,000 ha of GM sugar beet (38% of plantings in 2010).

 

The possible coexistence measure that was seen as least burdensome to the potential adopters was keeping records of seed purchases and product sales for five years. The most burdensome measure was seen as planning crop sowing in such a way that would not coincide with a neighbor’s planting... Summed together, the costs of the five coexistence measures would increase national production costs for the three crops by £44M...

 

Few studies have investigated farmers’ attitudes towards adoption of GM crops. However, those that have investigated this topic have found that net income gains were important and that non-pecuniary benefits such as flexibility in crop management were also felt important by farmers... 

 

Two recent high-level reports have concluded that the expansion of GM crop growing in Europe would be beneficial to all concerned across the food chain (European Academies Science Advisory Council, 2013). The UK Council for Science and Technology (2014) agreed with this, especially for the UK’s particular position.

 

http://www.agbioforum.org/v17n1/v17n1a02-tranter.htm

 

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What You Need To Know About Genetically Modified Organisms - I Fucking Love Science (2014)

What You Need To Know About Genetically Modified Organisms - I Fucking Love Science (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Genetically modified crops are a topic of intense debate that have sparked a lot of controversy over the years, fuelled largely through a lack of understanding and vast amounts of misinformation. Do we need GM crops? Are they dangerous? This article is going to give a brief overview of this huge topic and also discuss some of the myths and facts of GMOs.

 

What Are GMOs?

Humans have been modifying the genomes of plants and animals for our benefit for thousands of years using a process known as artificial selection, or selective breeding. This involves selecting organisms with desirable traits and breeding them so that certain characteristics are perpetuated. This could be a teacup dog, a cow with improved milk production or a fruit without seeds. However, this is limited to naturally occurring variations, which is where genetic engineering has found a place.

 

Genetic engineering allows us to introduce genes into an organism from a totally unrelated species which is commonly carried out on crops, agricultural animals and bacteria. These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are designed for many reasons, including: pesticide and disease resistance, drought/frost resistance, increased yields, enhanced nutritional content... When most people consider GMOs they think of agriculture, but the medical implications are wide ranging... 

 

Why Do We Need GMOs?

While it is true that a major problem with feeding an over burgeoning global population relates to the distribution of the food that we do produce, if population growth does not slow down then we are going to need to find new ways to meet food demands.... 

 

There are several ways that this could be achieved. We could destroy valuable rainforests to make way for agricultural land... We could stop eating as much meat, given that the crop calories we feed to animals could meet the calorie needs of 4 billion people... Or we could create GM crops.

 

Many things threaten food security, such as crop or animal diseases, pests and climate change. Weather is becoming more unpredictable and extreme weather is becoming commonplace which is taking its toll on farmers worldwide. The idea behind many GMOs is to address these problems.

 

Examples of GM Crops

An excellent example is golden rice. Around 250 million children are vitamin A-deficient in the world, which kills and blinds millions each year. While supplement distribution programs exist, they’re expensive and difficult to sustain. The solution? Golden rice.

 

Researchers added two genes to white rice... which synthesize a precursor of vitamin A called beta-carotene. This pigment makes various foods orange and hence makes the rice appear golden... One bowl of golden rice meets 60% of a child’s daily vitamin A needs... it’s a viable solution to a real world problem. It was also developed by foundation-funded academic researchers and a nonprofit organization, not a big private corporation.

 

You may also be surprised to find out that around 85% of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. Soy is also heavily genetically modified; one particular soybean was engineered to produce high levels of oleic acid because it is thought that this may lower LDL cholesterol, or “bad cholesterol.”

... 

 

There are many controversies surrounding this topic. Some are complete myths, while others raise valid issues.

 

Labeling... 

Some have suggested that labeling would be like putting a skull and crossbones on packaging... Mandatory label laws have come into place in certain countries, but they have not resulted in the anticipated reaction. Instead, they have led to an increased pressure for retailers to stop stocking GM products which has reduced consumer choice and at times raised prices.


It should be stressed that despite decades of testing, there is no evidence that genetically modified foods are intrinsically more dangerous or worse for you than unmodified food. This fear-mongering then, can come across as anti-science. Transparency is a hallmark of good science, but when the public does not fully understand the topic it can fuel fear... 


"GMO" is a fairly meaningless term when applied alone. Genetic modification is just a technique, it is not inherently dangerous. As with all techniques, it's how it's used that matters. Labeling food as "GMO" wouldn't tell you how it was modified, just that it was. A food label with "GMO" written on it really doesn't tell you anything more than "there's science in this food".

 

Risks To Health

While the genes inserted into organisms occur naturally in other species, there are concerns that altering the natural genome... may change the organism’s metabolism or growth rate. There are also concerns that GM foods may expose new allergens to humans or transfer antibiotic-resistant genes to the bacteria naturally found in our gut.

 

A lot of fear was sparked about the safety of GM foods after a scientist named Gilles-Eric Séralini published a study... However, numerous problems with the study came to light which led to its retraction from the journal. First off, Séralini is an outspoken anti-GMO activist. At the time of initial publication he had conflicting interests... For the experiments, Séralini used Sprague-Dawley rats that are prone to developing spontaneous tumors... There is a high probability that the results were due to chance. Furthermore, there have been mounds of better designed studies that have found no health issues... 

 

Terminator Seeds

Research on genetic use restriction techniques (GURT), or more commonly “terminator seeds”... aims to produce sterile seeds/offspring so that if modified plants escape, they cannot propagate in the environment. The idea that companies use these to force farmers into continually buying seeds is a myth. This technology would be useful in the development of “bioreactor” plants, for example those used in the production of pharmaceutical products such as antibodies or drugs to stop unintended gene release.


People don’t realize that sterile plants are already widely used - take a look at seedless bananas or grapes, but have they enslaved farmers? ... 

 

Separating Corporation from Technology

Everyone has heard of Monsanto, and this company is frequently cited as a reason to oppose GMOs. While Monsanto’s business practices may be ethically questionable, Monsanto are not the only company involved in GMO research. Many non-profit organizations and academic institutions are involved in this field. The technology is necessary and disagreeing with Monsanto and having anti-corporation values should not muddy your views on GMOs. If you have a problem with Monsanto, have a problem with Monsanto. Don't extend that to every application of GMOs.

 

GM Crops Result In Superweeds

... it has been argued that these GM crops encourage the evolution of herbicide resistance through liberal use, the fact is: it happens whether we use GM crops or not... Herbicide resistant crops do have their merits, though, and have caused a significant reduction in herbicide usage and an improvement on environmental impact.

 

Unintended Spread Of Genes

There has been concern that genes used in the development of GM crops may unintentionally spread to other organisms... studies have found that the risks are negligible and that transfer rates are exceedingly low... recommendations have been made to avoid using antibiotic resistance genes in creating GMOs.

 

Outcrossing

A final concern with GM crops is that genes may spread from these plants into conventional crops or related species found in nearby areas... This could have ecological consequences, such as an increase in fitness or a decrease in genetic diversity. These risks are recognized and measures have been adopted to minimize them... 

 

Genetic modification is simply a tool. Like all tools, the application is what matters. All new technologies require review and testing, but fears should be based on science and evidence, not a lack of understanding when it comes to new science.


http://www.iflscience.com/environment/myths-and-controversies-gmos-0

 

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Measuring the extent of GMO asynchronous approval using regularity dissimilarity indices: The case of maize and soybean - de Faria & Wieck (2014) - EAAE

The purpose of this paper is to assess the extent of asynchronicity in the authorisations of new genetically modified organism (GMO) events between importing and exporting countries. Based on the literature, we systemise the GMO regulatory framework and use dissimilarity and stringency indices to assess the regulatory differences.

 

The results show an increase in the asynchronous approval across the majority of country pairs. However, focusing only on commercialised events and considering only regulatory differences in which the importers are more stringent than the exporters, the asynchronous approval is considerably lower, and the result indicates that the major trade leaders have synchronised their approval status for GMOs over time... 

 

Despite the observed synchronicity... As there is a diversified GMO events portfolio currently in the “waiting line” and there is no guarantee that the synchronicity between the leading countries will persist in the near future, it is likely that problems of asynchronous approval will become more urgent.

 

http://purl.umn.edu/182796

 

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Brazil considers transgenic trees - Nature (2014)

Brazil considers transgenic trees - Nature (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Viewed from above, Brazil’s orderly eucalyptus plantations offer a stark contrast to the hurly-burly of surrounding native forests. The trees, lined up like regiments of soldiers on 3.5 million hectares around the country, have been bred over decades to grow quickly.

 

On 4 September, a public hearing will consider bringing an even more vigorous recruit into the ranks: genetically engineered eucalyptus that produces around 20% more wood than conventional trees and is ready for harvest in five and a half years instead of seven. Brazilian regulators are evaluating the trees for commercial release; a decision could come as early as the end of this year.

 

Researchers, businesses and activists are watching closely. Eucalyptus... is grown on about 20 million hectares throughout the tropics and subtropics, and approval of the genetically engineered trees in Brazil could encourage their adoption elsewhere... So far, no genetically modified tree from a major commercial species has been deployed on a large scale... 


The trees were developed by FuturaGene, a biotechnology firm in Rehovot, Israel, that was spun out of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1993. The company found that certain proteins accelerate plant growth by facilitating cell-wall expansion. FuturaGene inserted into eucalyptus a gene that encodes one such protein from thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), a common laboratory plant. In 2010, the firm was bought by Suzano Pulp and Paper of São Paulo, Brazil, one of the world’s largest producers of eucalyptus pulp.

 

FuturaGene’s chief executive Stanley Hirsch is quick to point out the environmental benefits of his company’s creation. The tree’s speedy growth boosts absorption of carbon dioxide from the air by about 12%, he says, aiding in the fight to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The genetically modified trees may also require less land to produce the same amount of wood, reducing the conversion of natural forest into plantations.

 

Hirsch says that the company has tried to avoid public-relations mistakes made by agricultural biotechnology companies in the past: rather than shun activists, he has invited them to tour the company’s field-trial sites. “Some of them were so surprised,” he says. “They said, ‘Wow, these look just like normal trees’” ... 

 

Genetically engineered trees do pose some biosafety issues that do not apply to agricultural crops such as maize (corn) or soya... trees tend to disperse pollen further than crops nearer the ground do, raising concerns about gene flow to native relatives. But eucalyptus has no native relatives in Brazil and is not particularly invasive in most areas of the country... 

 

FuturaGene says that it identified no major environmental problems in eight years of field trials that collected data on everything from gene flow to leaf-litter decomposition to the composition of honey made by bees that visit the trees. Myburg, who does not work with FuturaGene but is familiar with the company’s safety data, says that he found the firm’s studies to be well designed and thorough.

 

While FuturaGene tests the waters in Brazil, a US company awaits a regulatory decision regarding its genetically engineered, freeze-tolerant eucalyptus. In 2008, ArborGen of Ridgeville, South Carolina, petitioned the US Department of Agriculture to allow commercialization of the trees in the southeastern United States. Delays of this length are not uncommon in the US regulatory system, says ArborGen’s director of regulatory affairs Leslie Pearson... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/512357a

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

One of the first commercial GM plants (papaya) has been a tree, and also in China GM poplars are grown since years already... 
http://www.gmo-safety.eu/science/woody-plants/1283.genetically-modified-trees.html

http://www.gmo-safety.eu/basic-info/311.abundance-poplars.html
 

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Iron nutrition, biomass production, and plant product quality - Briat &al (2014) - Trends Plant Sci

Iron nutrition, biomass production, and plant product quality - Briat &al (2014) - Trends Plant Sci | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

One of the grand challenges in modern agriculture is increasing biomass production, while improving plant product quality, in a sustainable way. Of the minerals, iron (Fe) plays a major role in this process because it is essential both for plant productivity and for the quality of their products.


Fe homeostasis is an important determinant of photosynthetic efficiency in algae and higher plants, and we review here the impact of Fe limitation or excess on the structure and function of the photosynthetic apparatus. We also discuss the agronomic, plant breeding, and transgenic approaches that are used to remediate Fe deficiency of plants on calcareous soils, and suggest ways to increase the Fe content and bioavailability of the edible parts of crops to improve human diet... 

 

It is well known that Fe uptake through plant rootsresults from complex interactions between plant and soil within the rhizosphere, and does not solely depend on plant genotype. Solid phase modulation of Fe solubility in soils, the chemical speciation of Fe in solution, the importance of redox in the solubilization of Fe, and the role of synthetic and natural chelates in transport processes that occur near roots, are all soil-dependent factors that determine Fe bioavailability. Improvements to Fe nutrition of plants and Fe biofortification are therefore highly dependent on the physicochemical properties of soils, and not only on the plant genotype improvements that can be obtained through breeding or genetic transformation... 


Insights obtained over the past 20 years on Fe homeostasis in plants could lay the foundation for translational research in the field (i) to remediate Fe deficiency of plants on calcareous soils to increase crop productivity, and (ii) to increase the Fe content and bioavailability of the edible parts of crops to improve the diet and to combat human Fe deficiency anemia. Multidisciplinary programs promoting collaborations between molecular plant physiologists, soil scientists, agronomists, breeders, and animal and human nutritionists will be necessary to increase the chances of success in these applications.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tplants.2014.07.005

 

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Improvement of the oil quality of the main oil crops - Baldini &al (2014) - CAB Reviews

The growing demand for vegetable oils will increase even more in the near future because of their fundamental role in human and animal nutrition, increasing interest in their non-food applications as biofuel, lubricants, biopolymers, paints, etc. and the rising price of fossil fuels. The development of alternative vegetable oil feedstocks with modified functionality and at the same time maintaining the nutritional quality has therefore become a priority. In particular, modification of the fatty acid composition of vegetable oils specifically suitable for nutrition and/or industrial and other non-food applications has been one of the major challenges of the last few years.


This review provides a focus on the improvement in oil quality of the main oil crops cultivated in temperate zones, specifically soybean, rapeseed and sunflower, achieved by conventional breeding based on natural or induced genetic variability and by biotechnological approaches, especially adopting transgenic technology for the identification, isolation and transfer of genes and silencing of genes coding for key enzymes involved in the synthesis of fatty acids.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1079/PAVSNNR20149021

 

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The Problem with G.M.O. Labels - The New Yorker (2014)

The Problem with G.M.O. Labels - The New Yorker (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Americans are spending a lot of time worrying about what is in their food. This is understandable, given that so much of it is laden with sugar, highly processed flour, and saturated fat. In polls, an overwhelming majority of respondents say they want foods with genetically engineered ingredients to be labelled, and most people add that they would use those labels to avoid eating such foods... 

 

Who... wants to stand in the way of transparency? ... Yet there is another, equally compelling truth to consider: the overwhelming scientific consensus, based on hundreds of independent studies, demonstrates that foods containing currently available G.M.O.s pose no greater health risk or environmental concern than any other foods.

 

Americans demand labels, at least in part, because they are afraid. And they are afraid because of the kinds of assertions made by [activists who] talk constantly about dangers of G.M.O.s that are not supported by facts. G.M.O. labels may be a political necessity, but they make no scientific sense.


Most of the legislation that has been proposed would require a label that says something like “produced with genetic engineering.” Almost none of the labels would identify any specific G.M.O. ingredient in any particular food... How could that help anyone make a sound decision about his health?

 

All breeding... modifies genomes. There is no other reason to do it. And all the food we eat has been modified in some way... Conventional techniques, often simply a random mixing of genomes, are not necessarily safer than engineering. Nor is mutagenesis, a process in which mutations and variations are induced by radiation or chemicals. 

 

Let’s concede that politics is going to trump science on this issue, and that labelling is inevitable... Warning labels on cigarette packs save lives. What can we expect to get out of such labels on engineered foods? Activists speak loudly about consumer choice, but many of them want, ultimately, to ban the products of agricultural biotechnology...

 

This kind of crop will be necessary to help feed the ten billion people that will inhabit this planet by the end of the century... let me be clear: genetically engineered products are not magic. They will not by themselves feed the poor or heal the sick. But the world needs crops that demand less from the environment and provide more nutrition, using less water, on the same amount of land...

 

http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/problem-g-m-o-labels

 

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The State of Genetically Modified Crop Regulation in Canada - Smyth (2014) - GM Crops & Food

The State of Genetically Modified Crop Regulation in Canada - Smyth (2014) - GM Crops & Food | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Genetically modified (GM) crops were first commercialized in Canada in 1995 and the 2014 crop represents the 20th year of successful production.

 

Prior to the first commercialization of GM crops, Canada reviewed its existing science-based regulatory framework and adapted the existing framework to allow for risk assessments on the new technology to be undertaken in a timely and efficient manner. The result has been the rapid and widespread adoption of GM varieties of canola, corn and soybeans.

 

The first decade of GM crop production precipitated two landmark legal cases relating to patent infringement and economic liability, while the second decade witnessed increased political efforts to have GM crops labelled in Canada as well as significant challenges from the low level comingling of GM crops with non-GM commodities.

 

This article reviews the 20 years of GM crop production in Canada from a social science perspective that includes intellectual property, consumer acceptance and low level presence... 

 

Canada has reaped the benefits of 20 years of GM crop production. Farmers have gained billions in terms of improved production and reduced chemical costs, while the environment has also benefited from the reduced application of pesticides and insecticides. The adoption rates for GM canola and corn can be seen as full market adoption, while 80% of soybean production in Canada is now done using GM varieties. Clearly, farmers are receiving substantial benefits from GM crops, otherwise the adoption rates for GM varieties would be declining rather than continuing to increase or remaining at full adoption.


The commercial production of GM crops in Canada did create some policy issues that required resolution. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld existing intellectual property laws regarding the patenting infringement and ‘use’ of a technology... Canada is struggling to determine a threshold level for LLP in commodity imports. This aspect has stalled Canada’s LLP policy for nearly three years and it is unlikely that this issue is going to be resolved in the near future...

 

https://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/article/947843/

 

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Taking stock of the genetically modified seed sector worldwide: market, stakeholders, and prices - Bonny (2014) - Food Sec

Taking stock of the genetically modified seed sector worldwide: market, stakeholders, and prices - Bonny (2014) - Food Sec | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The seed sector has become a subject of attention, debate, and even controversy with the development of genetically modified (GM) crops. However, this sector is generally rather poorly known. This paper aims to take stock of the economy of transgenic seeds in order to better understand the structure of this seed sector, its size, stakeholders, pricing, and major trends.

 

The global market of the various types of seeds (saved, conventional, and transgenic) is first presented, as well as some aspects of their development, such as the significant consolidation in the past few decades. Next, the economic characteristics of the transgenic seed sector are analysed: actors, research and development expenditures, and the value of technology fees. In the final section, the cost of transgenic seeds is studied at the farm level, notably through the case of soybeans in the United States.

 

The rise in transgenic seed prices over time is analysed as well as some repercussions of the growing trend toward the use of stacked traits. The conclusion highlights some issues related to the use of transgenic seeds from the point of view of seed and food security... 

 

In the last two decades, with the development of GM crops, a number of NGOs, media, citizens, elected officials and some farmers’ associations have expressed concerns about certain trends in the seed sector, including its concentration and the increase in seed prices, which could alter seed availability, affordability, utilisation and resilience for farmers and the public as a whole. Food security depends, inter alia, on seed security... 

 

As shown in the analysis, concentration in the seed sector, and particularly in the GM seed sector, is very high and... reflected not only by the growing part of total seed sales commanded by the biggest seed groups, but also by the weight of these companies in R&D expenditures... also reflected in the high and growing proportion of GM seeds in overall commercial seed sales, which reached almost one-third in 2013... 

 

Another concern is that the concentration of companies may contribute to an increased focus on the most profitable or widely cultivated crops, as major firms centre their activities on the more profitable sectors... crops cultivated on smaller areas would become orphan sectors, with little investment in plant breeding...

 

Diverse species and varieties are needed because of the considerable and evolving diversity of soil and climate conditions, agro-economic situations, and end-user utilisations. Even if they are present in many countries, the few largest seed companies cannot meet the enormous range of agricultural situations and needs that exist. It seems therefore to be important that public research invest in plant breeding once again...

 

The magnitude of future challenges argues for diversity in plant breeding, notably a recovery of public R&D investment in this sector and the maintenance of SMEs... Many other aspects and tools of plant breeding are essential, including widening the genetic diversity of crops, better adaptation to local conditions, genomics and other technologies, as well as all the many other aspects of agricultural production.

 

The analysis presented here has revealed strong heterogeneity in the seed sector... as well as its modest economic size within the overall food chain, especially compared to downstream processing and large-scale retailing. Despite the rapid growth and significant weight of the top agbiotech companies, the influence of downstream sectors on the food chain remains dominant... the economic weight of the seed industry remains small within the food chain. The downstream sectors act powerfully upon the entire food chain, notably through their requirements and their influence on consumption patterns, as well as on agricultural and food prices. 

 

For farmers, the profitability of transgenic crops depends on the type of GM crop, the relative prices between GM seeds and other inputs and outputs, and on certain non-pecuniary effects (saving of time, association with other practices, etc.). GM seeds may be profitable despite their additional costs if the latter are compensated by a decrease in other input costs (such as pesticides) or by a slightly higher gross profit. Herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant crops may allow some reduction in production costs, fewer losses, and higher yields...

 

If today there is consensus on the need for more sustainable agriculture and reinvestment in this sector, there are also strong controversies over the directions the agricultural sector should take. This controversy is especially pronounced in plant breeding: some advocate the use of modern tools of breeding, particularly those derived from biotechnology; others argue for more smallholder farming and participatory breeding, while refusing GM crops. Many people support genetic engineering because of its expected ability to confer some valuable traits more quickly, which may more efficiently address some agricultural, food, and climate issues...

 

To address these many current and future issues, there is no technological panacea. Modern plant breeding methods such as biotech applications should not be opposed to agro-ecological methods, but rather should be combined with them when possible. Rejection of GMOs is often associated with the concerns expressed over the GM seed industry and its concentration. However... the direction, implementation, regulation, and practical use of genetic engineering and biotech applications depend on the governance of the seed sector... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12571-014-0357-1

 

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Allergenicity Assessment of Genetically-modified Tobacco Expressing Salt Tolerance cbl Gene - Kumar &al (2014) - Plant Foods Hum Nutr

Allergenicity Assessment of Genetically-modified Tobacco Expressing Salt Tolerance cbl Gene - Kumar &al (2014) - Plant Foods Hum Nutr | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

It is mandatory to assess the allergenic potential of genetically modified (GM) crops before their commercialization. Recently, a transgene ... has been introduced into tobacco plant to make the crop salt resistance. Therefore, it was felt necessary to assess the allergenic potential of the cbl gene product, which was... compared [with] the allergenic effects with the wild-type (WT) counterpart.


Bioinformatic analysis revealed that there was no significant sequence homology with known allergens. Also, no difference between the protein digestibility profiles of GM and WT tobacco was found. Rapid digestion of CBL protein... by simulated gastric fluid (SGF) indicated reduced chances of this protein to induce allergenicity. In addition, BALB/c mice sensitized by intraperitoneal administration of WT and GM tobacco protein showed comparable levels of clinical score...T


hese findings indicate that insertion of cbl gene in tobacco did not cause any additional allergic risk to consumer and the GM and native tobacco proteins behave similarly in both in vitroand in vivo situations even after genetic modification.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11130-014-0435-8

 

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Reply to Cisgenesis as a golden mean - Schouten (2014) - Nature Biotechnol

Reply to Cisgenesis as a golden mean - Schouten (2014) - Nature Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

[This is a reply to http://www.scoop.it/t/ag-biotech-news/p/4026130298/]

 

I agree with Eriksson et al. that transgenesis potentially provides numerous opportunities for sustainable food production. It opens unprecedented possibilities for improving biobased products and food with higher nutritional value. Eriksson et al. mentioned the availability of the genes across the “entire clade of life.” Actually, the possibilities of transgenesis are even wider, as also intelligently designed constructs can be synthesized...

 

However, cultivation of transgenic crops in the EU is very difficult, even after a painstakingly slow and cumbersome process of approval for commercial cultivation... Only food products from animals that have been fed with imported, transgenic commodities are widely consumed because these animal products are not labeled...


Cisgenic food is substantially better accepted than transgenic food and this is borne out for public perception in the EU... public acceptance is not the main reason for deregulating cisgenesis. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) compared the biosafety of cisgenic plants with the biosafety of transgenic plants and conventionally bred plants and concluded that cisgenic plants are as safe as (or as risky as) conventionally bred plants.


Transgenesis can introduce new traits to plants, and therewith possibly new risks compared with conventional breeding, according to EFSA. Very importantly, the implicit conclusion from this report is that GM technology itself is as safe as conventional breeding. Only foreign genes or synthetic constructs leading to novel traits may lead to risks that go beyond the risks of conventional breeding. The implicit conclusion of the EFSA report that GM technology itself is as safe as conventional breeding deserves a hearty welcome from people who are in favor of transgenesis.


Should cisgenic plants and their derived products be exempted from GMO regulation, this would be a principal and formal recognition of the low risk of GM technology for the environment and for feed and food... Moreover, exemption of cisgenesis from the GMO regulation would be a breakthrough from a technology-based regulation toward a product-based regulation... 


If consumers would buy cisgenic food products, this could lead to a wider acceptance of GM technology itself. This may lead in the long run also to a more balanced and less negative reaction of the general public toward transgenic applications... acceptance of cisgenic crops might lead to a 'foot in the door' for transgenic crops... 


The concept of cisgenesis... is a result of taking the opinions and concerns of consumers seriously. Also it has taken into consideration that insertion of novel genes and novel traits may trigger biosafety concerns, and thus lead to severe regulatory oversight. These biosafety issues can be evaded when using genes from the gene pool of the conventional breeder, which is not under this regulatory oversight... it is important that the technology be accessible for small and medium-sized companies and for niche markets, without the burden of unbearable regulatory oversight... 

 

Unfortunately, transgenic crops have failed to arrive in the EU, despite their potential for providing enhanced traits. This represents a missed opportunity, although in countries outside of the EU, commercial successes have been obtained for several transgenic commodity crops (http://www.isaaa.org/). I hope that cisgenesis will valorize the wealth of genomic information, which transgenesis could not redeem for the EU and other parts of the world, where antitransgenic crop attitudes and regulations prevail.


http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v32/n8/full/nbt.2981.html


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Safety aspects of genetically modified crops with abiotic stress tolerance - Liang &al (2014) - Trends Food Sci Tech

Safety aspects of genetically modified crops with abiotic stress tolerance - Liang &al (2014) - Trends Food Sci Tech | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Abiotic stress, such as drought, salinity, and temperature extremes, significantly reduce crop yields. Hence, development of abiotic stress-tolerant crops by modern biotechnology may contribute to global food security.

 

Prior to introducing genetically modified crops with abiotic stress tolerance to the market, a food and environmental safety assessment is generally required. Although worldwide harmonised comparative approach is currently provided, risk assessors still face challenges to assess genetically modified crops with abiotic stress-tolerance.

 

Here, we discuss current developments of abiotic stress tolerance as well as issues concerning food and environmental safety assessment of these crops, including current approaches, challenges and future directions...

 

Contrary to similar conventionallybred crops, GM plant varieties, including abiotic stress-tolerant plant varieties, require in most countries an extensive food and environmental safety assessment, prior to market approval. 

 

For the food safety assessment,all aspects of abiotic stress-tolerant GM plant varieties seem to be generally covered by current worldwide harmonized scientific safety assessment approaches. It may, however, be necessary to grow the new GM abiotic stress-tolerant plant both under the conventional environmental conditions, together with the conventional counterpart, as well as under the stressed (dry, saline) environmental conditions for this new crop variety to assess for potential effects that may only show under the abiotic stress conditions. 

 

This specific approach should also be applied for the environmental safety assessment... More specifically, to what extent these transgenes may impart increased fitness under actual field conditions and thus change the population ecology of wild relatives... uncertainty with predicting introgression from crops to wild relatives. Thus, there is a need to develop globally harmonized protocols on how to best assess these effects of abiotic stress-tolerant GM crop varieties... 

 

As abiotic stress-tolerant crop varieties developed by conventional breeding methods are actively being introduced as well, knowledge on these could be used for comparisons. We recommend that international scientific platforms take the lead in the development of harmonized protocols and procedures, at the short term, to ascertain that abiotic stress-tolerant GM crops can be introduced on the basis of an  adequate safety assessment... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tifs.2014.08.005

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"abiotic stress-tolerant crop varieties developed by conventional breeding methods are actively being introduced as well" 

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Product Differentiation Choices and Biotechnology Adoption: The U.S. Corn Seed Market - Zhang (2014) - Univ Wisconsin

The advances in agricultural biotechnology have brought opportunities and challenges to the agricultural input industries including the seed sector over the last few decades. The U.S. seed market has experienced major structural adjustments during this period. Since 1996 the rapid adoption of biotechnology in U.S. agriculture has been associated with mergers and acquisitions, leading to a more concentrated seed/biotech industry. It raises questions about the possible exercise of market power in the U.S. biotech seed industry.

 

Will an integrated biotech seed company differ from an independent one in choosing the line of seed products? How do U.S. farmers evaluate different types of corn seeds? And how are the welfare gains from technological improvement distributed among market participants? This dissertation tried to answer these questions by investigating the product line choices of seed companies under imperfect competition and farmers' adoption of conventional and genetically modified (GM) seeds in the U.S. corn seed market during 2000-2007...

 

I examine seed firms' product choices by considering concentration in the upstream biotech market, geographical competition, firm and market characteristics, and technological advancement... market competition has discrepant impacts on the product choices of biotech firms and independent companies. Firms' willingness to carry more varieties also differs by their market shares... farmers' preferences are shifted away from conventional and single traited seeds to newly-introduced multiple traited ones... 

 

I investigate the welfare distribution of biotechnology advances among market participants and the welfare changes when biotech firms specialize in GM seeds and independent firms specialize in conventional seeds. I find that the benefits of biotechnology advances are received mostly by medium-to-large farms and a few biotech companies. Biotech firms also benefit from market segmentation.

 

http://gradworks.umi.com/36/24/3624984.html

 

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How to prevent organic food fraud - ACS (2014)

How to prevent organic food fraud - ACS (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

A growing number of consumers are willing to pay a premium for fruits, vegetables and other foods labelled “organic”, but whether they’re getting what the label claims is another matter. Now scientists studying conventional and organic tomatoes are devising a new way to make sure farms are labelling their produce appropriately. Their report... could help prevent organic food fraud. 

 

Researchers... note that the demand for organic food is growing at a rapid clip. Its global market value nearly tripled between 2002 and 2011, when it reached $62.8 billion. But because organic food can fetch prices often twice as high as conventionally produced food, the risk for fraudulent labelling has grown just as fast. However, figuring out whether a fruit or vegetable was grown under organic conditions is fraught with complications. Currently, the most reliable authentication technique analyzes the stable isotope composition of nitrogen, but it is not fool-proof. Monika Hohmann and her colleagues decided to take a stab at developing a new method. 

They looked to a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which has been used to authenticate foods, including honey and olive oil. They analyzed tomatoes grown in greenhouses and outdoors, with conventional or organic fertilizers. Their data showed a trend toward differentiation of organic and conventional produce. The researchers conclude that the test is a good starting point for the authentication of organically produced tomatoes, and its further refinement could help root out fraudulently labelled foods... 

 

http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2014/acs-presspac-august-27-2014/how-to-prevent-organic-food-fraud.html

 

 

This study describes the approach of 1H NMR profiling for the authentication of organically produced tomatoes... The results of principal component analysis showed a significant trend for the separation between organically and conventionally produced tomatoes... Linear discriminant analysis demonstrated good discrimination between the growing regimens... Further validation studies, however, also disclosed unexpected differences between individual producers, which interfere with the aim of predicting the cultivation method...

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jf502113r

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Perhaps it's a bit ironic that expensive high-tech is used to try protecting the multi-billion dollar market of an industry that lives off its low-tech image. (According to Wikipedia "NMR spectrometers are relatively expensive; universities usually have them, but they are less common in private companies.") Obviously any lesser technologies (let alone people) fail to notice these tiniest of differences within differences between conventional and organic crops... Question is, though, if such expensive university equipment and public researchers' time couldn't be put to better use. 

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Water ‘Thermostat’ Could Help Engineer Drought-Resistant Crops - Duke Univ (2014)

Water ‘Thermostat’ Could Help Engineer Drought-Resistant Crops - Duke Univ (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Researchers have identified a gene that could help scientists engineer drought-resistant crops. The gene, called OSCA1, encodes a protein in the cell membrane of plants that senses changes in water availability and adjusts the plant’s water conservation machinery accordingly. “It’s similar to a thermostat,” said Zhen-Ming Pei... The findings... could make it easier to feed the world’s growing population in the face of climate change.


Drought is the major cause of crop losses worldwide. A dry spell at a crucial stage of the growing season can cut some crop yields in half. Water shortages are expected to become more frequent and severe if climate change makes rainfall patterns increasingly unreliable and farmland in some regions continues to dry up. Coupled with a world population that is expected to increase by two billion to three billion by 2050, researchers worldwide are looking for ways to produce more food with less water.

Some researchers hope that genetic engineering – in addition to improved farming practices and traditional plant breeding – will add to the arsenal of techniques to help crops withstand summer’s swelter. But engineering plants to withstand drought has proven difficult to do, largely because plants use so many strategies to deal with dehydration and hundreds of genes are involved. The problem is confounded by the fact that drought is often accompanied by heat waves and other stresses that require different coping strategies on the part of the plant... 

The findings could lead to new ways to help plants thrive when water is scarce. The team’s next step is to manipulate the activity of the OSCA1 gene and related genes and see how those plants respond to drought –- information that could lead to crops that respond more quickly and efficiently to dehydration. “Plants that enter drought-fighting mode quickly and then switch back to normal growth mode quickly when drought stress is gone should be able to allocate energy more efficiently toward growth” ... 

 

http://today.duke.edu/2014/08/droughttolerance

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13593

 

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Turning yeast into sustainable fish food - Future Food (2014)

Turning yeast into sustainable fish food - Future Food (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Nichols was in charge of DuPont’s business development. It was 2006, and the company had created an innovation around bio-based omega-3 fatty acids... genetically modified yeast could substitute for fish oils and preserve the omega-3 fatty acids. But Nichols knew it was a breakthrough in another area as well. “In the blink of an eye, I realized that we could solve a big problem with salmon aquaculture,” says Nichols, who now directs Verlasso, a joint venture between DuPont and AquaChile... 


Fish oil produced from wild-caught fish supplies critical nutrients that farmed salmon need to grow, but these wild-caught fish are harvested unsustainably. By 2006, salmon aquaculture was consuming some 80 percent of the world’s fish oil and still growing at a rate of 8 to 10 percent per year. Oily fish like anchovies, menhaden and mackerel provide the main source of fish oils, and their harvests are threatened as their populations deplete.

 

“We are looking at a future where there would be no more fish oil to be had... I thought, if we are able to provide the omega-3 to the salmon using... yeast that is rich in omega-3s, and use far fewer wild-caught feeder fish for the diet, it would do a lot of good for the oceans while sustainably supplying farmed salmon with omega-3s.”

 

Verlasso’s method of salmon aquaculture reduces reliance on wild-caught fish by 75 percent. Four pounds of wild-caught feeder fish are typically needed to produce the fish oil to make one pound of salmon. Verlasso, on the other hand, relies on just one pound of wild-caught fish to produce one pound of salmon. “We have lowered the fish in/fish out ratio. One in and one out,” says Nichols.

 

Verlasso has also identified ways to get down to about three-quarters of a pound of wild-caught fish used per one pound of fish produced, and Nichols believes the company will be able to achieve that over time. Although the joint venture’s current focus is on raising Atlantic salmon, the feed could certainly be useful for other salmon species...

 

“Everyone recognizes we can’t continue to harvest forage fish to feed oil to salmon... Some people ask, How do we use these [forage] fish with most efficiency? The proper question is, How do we use them not at all? They need to be food sources themselves” ... 

 

However, Nichols says providing omega-3s to the fish through the yeast is more expensive than using fish oil. “The company formulates the fish diets based on optimal performance rather than least cost, and a number of the ingredients in our feed are more expensive than those used in traditional salmon aquaculture”... The fish grow in the southern Pacific Ocean off of Chile, reaching harvest size in about two years in pens with fewer than four salmon per ton of water, or about 50 percent more room per fish than the industry standard.


While fish farming is Nichols’ business, he says he often thinks of the pressing problems with world agriculture and how enough food will be produced to feed the expanding global population in decades to come. “We’ve got to find ways to do more with less. How do we develop agriculture practices that operate in harmony with the environment and allow us greater intensity? ... I heard a great quote from former NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco: ‘It’s OK to use the oceans, and not OK to use them up’” ... 


“We are not going in the right direction,” says Nichols. “I hope it is axiomatic to say that it is indefensible to harvest a fishery above its sustainable level. A thornier question is how we should respond to roughly half of the world’s fisheries being harvested at the upper limits of sustainability. Operating at the very edge leaves little or no room to accommodate things unforeseen.... There seems to be precious little international enthusiasm to talk about how to reduce pressure on fisheries, but it is surely needed.”

 

If people are going to continue to eat fish, says Nichols, they must be farmed and they must be raised sustainably. “All agricultural production, whether on land or in water, has environmental effects. The key consideration is that we manage those effects so that our practices today do not impinge on our ability to practice in the future”... 

 

http://futurefood2050.com/turning-yeast-into-sustainable-fish-food/

 

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Earth can sustain more terrestrial plant growth than previously thought - EBI (2014)

Earth can sustain more terrestrial plant growth than previously thought - EBI (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

A new analysis suggests the planet can produce much more land-plant biomass – the total material in leaves, stems, roots, fruits, grains and other terrestrial plant parts – than previously thought.The study... recalculates the theoretical limit of terrestrial plant productivity, and finds that it is much higher than many current estimates allow.


“When you try to estimate something over the whole planet, you have to make some simplifying assumptions,” said... professor Evan DeLucia... “And most previous research assumes that the maximum productivity you could get out of a landscape is what the natural ecosystem would have produced. But it turns out that in nature very few plants have evolved to maximize their growth rates” ... 

Estimates derived from satellite images of vegetation and modeling suggest that about 54 gigatons of carbon is converted into terrestrial plant biomass each year... “This value has remained stable for the past several decades, leading to the conclusion that it represents a planetary boundary – an upper limit on global biomass production”...

But these assumptions don’t take into consideration human efforts to boost plant productivity through genetic manipulation, plant breeding and land management, DeLucia said. Such efforts have already yielded some extremely productive plants. 

For example, in Illinois a hybrid grass, Miscanthus x giganteus, without fertilizer or irrigation produced 10 to 16 tons of above-ground biomass per acre, more than double the productivity of native prairie vegetation or corn. And genetically modified no-till corn is more than five times as productive – in terms of total biomass generated per acre – as restored prairie in Wisconsin.

Some non-native species also outcompete native species; this is what makes many of them invasive... In Iceland, for example, an introduced species, the nootka lupine, produces four times as much biomass as the native boreal dwarf birch species it displaces. And in India bamboo plantations produce about 40 percent more biomass than dry, deciduous tropical forests.

Some of these plants would not be desirable additions to native or managed ecosystems... but they represent the untapped potential productivity of plants in general. “We’re saying this is what’s possible” ...


The team used a model of light-use efficiency and the theoretical maximum efficiency with which plant canopies convert solar radiation to biomass to estimate the theoretical limit of net primary production (NPP) on a global scale. This newly calculated limit was “roughly two orders of magnitude higher than the productivity of most current managed or natural ecosystems” ...

“We’re not saying that this is even approachable, but the theory tells us that what is possible on the planet is much, much higher than what current estimates are” ... Taking into account global water limitations reduced this theoretical limit by more than 20 percent in all parts of the terrestrial landscape except the tropics... “But even that... is many times higher than we see in our current agricultural systems.”

DeLucia cautions that scientists and agronomists have a long way to go to boost plant productivity beyond current limits, and the new analysis does not suggest that shortages of food or other plant-based resources will cease to be a problem.

“I don’t want to be the guy that says science is going to save the planet and we shouldn't worry about the environmental consequences of agriculture, we shouldn’t worry about runaway population growth... All I'm saying is that we’re underestimating the productive capacity of plants in managed ecosystems.” 

 

http://www.energybiosciencesinstitute.org/news/study-earth-can-sustain-more-terrestrial-plant-growth-previously-thought

 

Original paper: http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es502348e

 

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New resource shows half of GMO research is independent - GENERA (2014)

New resource shows half of GMO research is independent - GENERA (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Those who follow the issue of genetically engineered crops have heard claims that there is little independent research on their safety for consumption or the environment. A new public database of research tells a different story. The resource is the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas (GENERA)... The results show that independent peer-reviewed research on GMOs is common, conducted worldwide, and makes up half of the total of all research on risks associated with genetic engineering.

 

GENERA is a searchable database of peer-reviewed scientific studies on the relative risks of genetically engineered crops. The database includes important details at-a-glance to help people find and learn about the science of GMOs. GENERA has now entered its beta-testing phase with the first 400 out of over 1,200 studies that have been curated... 

 

Dr. Karl Haro von Mogel... said that people are looking for independent information about GMOs. “People are looking for sources that they can trust that can help them find unbiased information about genetic engineering, but in a politically-charged debate, unbiased sources are difficult to find. We’ve been recognized for our independent expertise on this subject, so it was only natural that we should take a project like this on” ... 

 

Out of the first 400 randomly-selected studies available in the GENERA beta test, half of them are funded entirely by government agencies and independent nonprofit organizations. Before the project began, rough estimates placed them at just a third of the research. And the government-funded research is worldwide in scope – concentrated in Europe and Asia, followed by North America and Australia. These findings should turn the heads of people who thought it was skewed to private, U.S.-based laboratories... 

 

“Systematic reviews have concluded that genetically engineered crops are safe to eat, and when you look at the results collected in GENERA, it agrees with that conclusion” ... 

 

http://genera.biofortified.org/wp/genera-announces-beta-test-launch

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

The statements in the article draw on "only" the first 400 out of over 1,200 studies, but still... It indicates how widespread (funding-wise and geographically) research into the safety of GMOs has been over the last decades. 

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Why Vegetables Get Freakish In The Land Of The Midnight Sun - NPR (2014)

Why Vegetables Get Freakish In The Land Of The Midnight Sun - NPR (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Everything in Alaska is a little bit bigger — even the produce. A 138-pound cabbage, 65-pound cantaloupe and 35-pound broccoli are just a few of the monsters that have sprung forth from Alaska's soil... 


At the annual Alaska State Fair... the public will have the chance to gawk at giants like these as they're weighed for competition. It's "definitely a freak show... Some things [are so big], you can't even recognize what they are"... 

 

It's Alaska's summer sun that gives growers an edge... Basking in as much as 20 hours of sunshine per day, Alaskan crops get a photosynthesis bonus, allowing them to produce more plant material and grow larger... But many of the biggest ones — the real monsters — aren't flukes; they're a product of careful planning.

 

Selecting the right seed varieties is just as important as the time spent in the sunlight... growers... spend years experimenting with different varieties... "Let's face it: You're not going to win the Kentucky Derby with a mule or a Shetland pony... If you don't have the right genetic material, you're never going to achieve that ultimate goal"... 

 

"It really reminds me of Frankenstein's laboratory... If you were to go visit somebody who was growing a giant veggie for this fair, I think the thing that what would impress you is how much science and technology goes into this"... 

 http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/08/20/341884706/why-vegetables-get-freakish-in-the-land-of-the-midnight-sun ;

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

The real frankenfood? -- And all conventional... 

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Plant genetic engineering, climate change and food security - Ortiz &al (2014) - CGIAR [pdf]

This paper exploreswhether crop genetic engineering can contribute to addressing food security, as well as enhancing human nutrition and farming under a changing climate.


The review is based on peer-refereed literature, using results to determine the potential of this gene technology. It also provides a brief summary of issues surrounding this genetic enhancement approach to plant breeding, and the impacts on farming, livelihoods, and the environment achieved so far.


The genetic engineering pipeline looks promising, particularly for adapting more nutritious, input-efficient crops in the development of the world’s farming systems... 


Although the technologies demonstrate potential to reduce crop losses, food waste, and enhance nutritional quality... farmers’ surveys reveal that increased yields are among the benefits for growing transgenic crops. Such a finding results from yield increases because of reduced losses from insect pests and weeds. In most developing countries, crop yields are low and yield gaps are large because of low input use, poor soil health, and pests and diseases.


Genetic engineering has a lot promise in increasing overall adaptive capacity of agriculture but emphasis on good agricultural practices, including maintenance of soil, water, and genetic resources and increasing irrigation and fertilizers remains critical to increasing production...

 

Given that current trends in yield increase are insufficient to double food production by 2050 and keep up with population and shifting consumption patterns, new approaches to the problem are needed. Transgenic cultivars could be a piece of that puzzle, building on success stories such as that of WEMA, but it is crucial that safety concerns are adequately addressed.


Further research should benchmark conventional approaches to crop improvement, compare them with likely yield increases available from transgenic approaches, and explicitly address climate impacts to ascertain the true potential of transgenic technologies in adapting to and mitigating climate change in the long term.

 

https://www.results.waterandfood.org/bitstream/handle/10568/41934/CCAFS%20WP%2072.pdf


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EU organic food might not be truly organic - FoodNav (2014)

EU organic food might not be truly organic - FoodNav (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The Alliance for Natural Health suggests that non-organic inputs may be used in EU organic production... and call the public to action in support of true organic agriculture... 

 

EU has permitted the use of non-organic food in ‘organic’ production... allow the use of various additives in organic production. “We find it shocking that the EU permits so many additives in organic products... and continues to sanction several non-organic agricultural inputs,” said Adam Smith... 

 

http://www.foodnavigator.com/content/view/print/955176

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"true organic agriculture" >> Seems there are parallels with (fundamentalist) ideologies: There's always somebody who's more "true" or pure, who's more extreme or radical... A slippery slope off the middle ground where those who compromise lose. 

 

All these back-doors and loopholes that currently exist seem to indicate that even to be able to offer organic food at the current (already high) prices, the organic industry has to cut many corners -- something its proponents usually accuse modern agriculture of doing... 

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Vandana Shiva’s Crusade Against Genetically Modified Crops - New Yorker (2014)

Vandana Shiva’s Crusade Against Genetically Modified Crops - New Yorker (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Full article at: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/25/seeds-of-doubt

 

Early this spring, the Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva led an unusual pilgrimage across southern Europe. Beginning in Greece, with the international Pan-Hellenic Exchange of Local Seed Varieties Festival... Shiva and an entourage of followers crossed the Adriatic... to Florence, where she spoke at the Seed, Food and Earth Democracy Festival. After a short planning meeting in Genoa, the caravan rolled on to the South of France... to celebrate International Days of the Seed. 

 

Shiva’s fiery opposition to globalization and to the use of genetically modified crops has made her a hero to anti-G.M.O. activists everywhere... At each stop, Shiva delivered a message that she has honed for nearly three decades: by engineering, patenting, and transforming seeds into costly packets of intellectual property, multinational corporations such as Monsanto, with considerable assistance from the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the United States government, and even philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are attempting to impose “food totalitarianism” on the world. She describes the fight against agricultural biotechnology as a global war against a few giant seed companies... Shiva contends that nothing less than the future of humanity rides on the outcome... 

 

The global food supply is indeed in danger. Feeding the expanding population without further harming the Earth presents one of the greatest challenges of our time, perhaps of all time. By the end of the century, the world may well have to accommodate ten billion inhabitants... Sustaining that many people will require farmers to grow more food in the next seventy-five years than has been produced in all of human history... Many scientists are convinced that we can hope to meet those demands only with help from the advanced tools of plant genetics. Shiva disagrees; she looks upon any seed bred in a laboratory as an abomination.

 

The fight has not been easy. Few technologies, not the car, the phone, or even the computer, have been adopted as rapidly and as widely as the products of agricultural biotechnology. Between 1996, when genetically engineered crops were first planted, and last year, the area they cover has increased a hundredfold—from 1.7 million hectares to a hundred and seventy million. Nearly half of the world’s soybeans and a third of its corn are products of biotechnology. Cotton that has been engineered to repel the devastating bollworm dominates the Indian market, as it does almost everywhere it has been introduced.

 

Those statistics have not deterred Shiva. At the age of sixty-one, she is constantly in motion: this year, she has travelled not only across Europe but throughout South Asia, Africa, and Canada, and twice to the United States... Nowhere is Shiva embraced more fully than in the West, where, as Bill Moyers recently noted, she has become a “rock star in the worldwide battle against genetically modified seeds.” ... Shiva... holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Western Ontario... 

 

At least sixty million Indians have starved to death in the past four centuries. In 1943 alone... more than two million people died in the Bengal Famine... Independence, in 1947, brought euphoria but also desperation. Tons of grain were imported each year from the United States; without it, famine would have been inevitable. To become independent in more than name, India also needed to become self-reliant. The Green Revolution—a series of agricultural innovations producing improved varieties of wheat that could respond better to irrigation and benefit from fertilizer—provided that opportunity. In 1966, India imported eleven million tons of grain. Today, it produces more than two hundred million tons, much of it for export...

 

“Without the nitrogen fertilizer to grow crops used to feed our recent ancestors so they could reproduce, many of us probably wouldn’t be here today,” Raoul Adamchack told me... Adamchack runs an organic farm in Northern California, and has served as the president of California Certified Organic Farmers. His wife, Pamela Ronald, is a professor of plant genetics... their book “Tomorrow’s Table” was among the first to demonstrate the ways in which advanced technologies can combine with traditional farming to help feed the world.

 

There is another perspective on the Green Revolution. Shiva believes that it destroyed India’s traditional way of life... She told me that, by shifting the focus of farming from variety to productivity, the Green Revolution actually was responsible for killing Indian farmers. Few people accept that analysis, though, and more than one study has concluded that if India had stuck to its traditional farming methods millions would have starved... 

 

To feed ten billion people, most of whom will live in the developing world, we will need what the Indian agricultural pioneer M. S. Swaminathan has called “an evergreen revolution,” one that combines the most advanced science with a clear focus on sustaining the environment. Until recently, these have seemed like separate goals... Farmers learned how to make better plants and varieties, but it was a process of trial and error until the middle of the nineteenth century, when Gregor Mendel demonstrated that many of the characteristics of a pea plant were passed from one generation to the next according to predictable rules. That created a new science, genetics, which helped make breeding far more precise. Nearly all the plants we cultivate—corn, wheat, rice, roses, Christmas trees—have been genetically modified through breeding to last longer, look better, taste sweeter, or grow more vigorously in arid soil. 

 

Genetic engineering takes the process one step further. By inserting genes from one species into another, plant breeders today can select traits with even greater specificity. Bt cotton, for instance, contains genes from a bacterium,Bacillus thuringiensis, that is found naturally in the soil. The bacterium produces a toxin that targets cotton bollworm, a pest that infests millions of acres each year. Twenty-five per cent of the world’s insecticides have typically been used on cotton, and many of them are carcinogenic. By engineering part of the bacterium’s DNA into a cotton seed, scientists made it possible for the cotton boll to produce its own insecticide. Soon after the pest bites the plant, it dies.

 

Molecular biology transformed medicine, agriculture, and nearly every other scientific discipline. But it has also prompted a rancorous debate over the consequences of that knowledge. Genetically modified products have often been advertised as the best way to slow the impact of climate change, produce greater yields, provide more nutrients in food, and feed the world’s poorest people. Most of the transgenic crops on the market today, however, have been designed to meet the needs of industrial farmers and their customers in the West...

 

Vandana Shiva was born in Dehradun, in the foothills of the Himalayas. A Brahmin, she was raised in prosperity. Her father was a forestry official for the Indian government; her mother worked as a school inspector in Lahore... The first time we spoke, in New York, she explained why she became an environmental activist. “I was busy... for my doctoral work, so I had no idea what was going on with the Green Revolution... In the late eighties, I went to a conference on biotechnology, on the future of food... I realized they want to patent life, and life is not an invention... I decided on the flight back I didn’t want that world.” ... 

 

In contrast to most agricultural ecologists, Shiva remains committed to the idea that organic farming can feed the world. Owing almost wholly to the efforts of Shiva and other activists, India has not approved a single genetically modified food crop for human consumption... Shiva insists that the only acceptable path is to return to the principles and practices of an earlier era... 

 

Navdanya does not report its contributions publicly, but, according to a recent Indian government report, foreign N.G.O.s have contributed significantly in the past decade to help the campaign against adoption of G.M.O.s in India. In June, the government banned most such contributions... Shiva maintains a savvy presence in social media, and her tweets, intense and dramatic, circulate rapidly among tens of thousands of followers across the globe. They also allow her to police the movement and ostracize defectors.

 

The British environmentalist Mark Lynas, for example, stood strongly against the use of biotechnology in agriculture for more than a decade. But last year, after careful study of the scientific data on which his assumptions were based, he reversed his position. In a speech to the annual Oxford Farming Conference, he described as “green urban myths” his former view that genetically modified crops increase reliance on chemicals, pose dangers to the environment, and threaten human health... he said. “I am also sorry that I... assisted in demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.” Lynas now regards the assumption that the world could be fed solely with organic food as “simplistic nonsense.” ... 

 

Perhaps nobody was more incensed by Lynas’s conversion than Shiva, who expressed her anger on Twitter: “#MarkLynas saying farmers shd be free to grow #GMOs which can contaminate #organic farms is like saying #rapists shd have freedom to rape.” The message caused immediate outrage. “Shame on you for comparing GMOs to rape... That is a despicable argument that devalues women, men, and children.” ... Shiva has a flair for incendiary analogies. Recently, she compared what she calls “seed slavery,” inflicted upon the world by the forces of globalization, to human slavery... 

 

Shiva cannot tolerate any group that endorses the use of genetic engineering in agriculture, no matter what else the organization does, or how qualified its support. When I mentioned that Monsanto, in addition to making genetically engineered seeds, has also become one of the world’s largest producers of conventionally bred seeds, she laughed. “That’s just public relations,” she said. She has a similarly low regard for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation... She dismisses the American scientific organizations responsible for regulating genetically modified products, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the United States Department of Agriculture, as little more than tools of the international seed conglomerates.

 

At times, Shiva’s absolutism about G.M.O.s can lead her in strange directions... She mentioned glyphosate, the Monsanto herbicide that is commonly used with modified crops. “If you look at the graph of the growth of G.M.O.s, the growth of application of glyphosate and autism, it’s literally a one-to-one correspondence. And you could make that graph for kidney failure, you could make that graph for diabetes, you could make that graph even for Alzheimer’s.” ... But no relationship between glyphosate and the diseases that Shiva mentioned has been discovered... Shiva had committed a common, but dangerous, fallacy: confusing a correlation with causation. (It turns out, for example, that the growth in sales of organic produce in the past decade matches the rise of autism, almost exactly. For that matter, so does the rise in sales of high-definition televisions, as well as the number of Americans who commute to work every day by bicycle.) 

 

Shiva refers to her scientific credentials in almost every appearance, yet she often dispenses with the conventions of scientific inquiry. She is usually described in interviews and on television as a nuclear physicist, a quantum physicist, or a world-renowned physicist. Most of her book jackets include the following biographical note: “Before becoming an activist, Vandana Shiva was one of India’s leading physicists.” When I asked if she had ever worked as a physicist, she suggested that I search for the answer on Google. I found nothing, and she doesn’t list any such position in her biography... 

 

In fact, glyphosate has become the most popular herbicide in the world, largely because it’s not nearly so toxic as those which it generally replaces. The E.P.A. has labelled water unsafe to drink if it contains three parts per billion of atrazine; the comparable limit for glyphosate is seven hundred parts per billion. By this measure, glyphosate is two hundred and thirty times less toxic than atrazine.

 

For years, people have been afraid that eating genetically modified foods would make them sick, and Shiva’s speeches are filled with terrifying anecdotes that play to that fear. But since 1996, when the crops were first planted, humans have consumed trillions of servings of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients, and have draped themselves in thousands of tons of clothing made from genetically engineered cotton, yet there has not been a single documented case of any person becoming ill as a result. That is one reason that the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization, the U.K.’s Royal Society, the French Academy of Sciences, the European Commission, and dozens of other scientific organizations have all concluded that foods derived from genetically modified crops are as safe to eat as any other food.

 

“It is absolutely remarkable to me how Vandana Shiva is able to get away with saying whatever people want to hear,” Gordon Conway told me recently. Conway is the former president of the Rockefeller Foundation and a professor at London’s Imperial College. His book “One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?” has become an essential text for those who study poverty, agriculture, and development. “Shiva is lionized, particularly in the West, because she presents the romantic view of the farm,” Conway said. “Truth be damned. People in the rich world love to dabble in a past they were lucky enough to avoid—you know, a couple of chickens running around with the children in the back yard. But farming is bloody tough, as anyone who does it knows. It is like those people who romanticize villages in the developing world. Nobody who ever lived in one would do that.” ... 

 

Shiva contends that modified seeds were created almost exclusively to serve large industrial farms, and there is some truth to that. But Bt cotton has been planted by millions of people in the developing world, many of whom maintain lots not much larger than the back yard of a house in the American suburbs. In India, more than seven million farmers, occupying twenty-six million acres, have adopted the technology. That’s nearly ninety per cent of all Indian cotton fields. At first, the new seeds were extremely expensive. Counterfeiters flooded the market with fakes and sold them, as well as fake glyphosate, at reduced prices. The crops failed, and many people suffered. Shiva said last year that Bt-cotton-seed costs had risen by eight thousand per cent in India since 2002.

 

In fact, the prices of modified seeds, which are regulated by the government, have fallen steadily. While they remain higher than those of conventional seeds, in most cases the modified seeds provide greater benefits. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, Bt farmers spend at least fifteen per cent more on crops, but their pesticide costs are fifty per cent lower. Since the seed was introduced, yields have increased by more than a hundred and fifty per cent. Only China grows and sells more cotton.

 

Shiva also says that Monsanto’s patents prevent poor people from saving seeds. That is not the case in India. The Farmers’ Rights Act of 2001 guarantees every person the right to “save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share, or sell” his seeds. Most farmers, though, even those with tiny fields, choose to buy newly bred seeds each year, whether genetically engineered or not, because they insure better yields and bigger profits.

 

In the West, the debate over the value of Bt cotton focusses on two closely related issues: the financial implications of planting the seeds, and whether the costs have driven farmers to suicide. The first thing that the cotton farmers I visited wanted to discuss, though, was their improved health and that of their families. Before Bt genes were inserted into cotton, they would typically spray their crops with powerful chemicals dozens of times each season. Now they spray once a month. Bt is not toxic to humans or to other mammals. Organic farmers, who have strict rules against using synthetic fertilizers or chemicals, have used a spray version of the toxin on their crops for years.

 

Everyone had a story to tell about insecticide poisoning. “Before Bt cotton came in, we used the other seeds,” Rameshwar Mamdev told me when I stopped by his six-acre farm, not far from the main dirt road that leads to the village. He plants corn in addition to cotton. “My wife would spray,” he said. “She would get sick. We would all get sick.” According to a recent study by the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology, there has been a sevenfold reduction in the use of pesticide since the introduction of Bt cotton; the number of cases of pesticide poisoning has fallen by nearly ninety per cent. Similar reductions have occurred in China. The growers, particularly women, by reducing their exposure to insecticide, not only have lowered their risk of serious illness but also are able to spend more time with their children... “Bt cotton is the only positive part of farming... It has changed our lives. Without it, we would have no crops. Nothing.” ... 

 

The World Health Organization has estimated that a hundred and seventy thousand Indians commit suicide each year—nearly five hundred a day. Although many Indian farmers kill themselves, their suicide rate has not risen in a decade... the suicide rate among Indian farmers is lower than for other Indians and is comparable to that among French farmers. Plewis found that “the pattern of changes in suicide rates over the last fifteen years is consistent with a beneficial effect of Bt cotton for India as a whole, albeit perhaps not in every cotton-growing state.” 

 

Most farmers I met in Maharashtra seemed to know at least one person who had killed himself, however, and they all agreed on the reasons: there is almost no affordable credit, no social security, and no meaningful crop-insurance program. The only commercial farmers in the United States without crop insurance are those who have a philosophical objection to government support. In India, if you fail you are on your own. Farmers all need credit, but banks will rarely lend to them... In most cases, there is no choice but to turn to money lenders... The annual interest rate on loans can rise to forty per cent, which few farmers anywhere could hope to pay... “If you revoked the permit to plant Bt cotton tomorrow, would that stop suicides on farms?” she said. “It wouldn’t make much difference. Studies have shown that unbearable credit and a lack of financial support for agriculture is the killer. It’s hardly a secret.” 

 

It would be presumptuous to generalize about the complex financial realities of India’s two hundred and sixty million farmers after having met a dozen of them. But I neither saw nor heard anything that supported Vandana Shiva’s theory that Bt cotton has caused an “epidemic” of suicides... “She is very canny about how she uses her power,” Lynas said. “But on a fundamental level she is a demagogue who opposes the universal values of the Enlightenment.”

 

It long ago became impossible to talk about genetically engineered crops without talking about Monsanto—a company so widely detested that a week rarely passes without at least one protest against its power and its products occurring somewhere in the world. Shiva has repeatedly said that the company should be tried for “ecocide and genocide.” When I asked Monsanto’s chairman, Hugh Grant, how he dealt with such charges, he looked at me and shook his head, slowly. “We are a science-based company,” he said. “I feel very strongly that you need to be grounded in the science or you lose the drift.”

 

It was an unusually hot day in St. Louis, where Monsanto has its headquarters, and Grant was in shirtsleeves, rolled halfway up his arm. “Obviously, I am an optimistic Scotsman,” he said, in an accent that has been softened by many years in the U.S. “Or I would be doing something else for a living.” Grant often stresses the need to develop crops that use less water—and has argued for years that G.M.O.s alone could never feed the world... 

 

“When G.M. technology was in its infancy, many people were concerned,” Anne Glover, the chief scientific adviser to the president of the European Commission, said recently. Glover considers it unethical to ignore G.M. crops if other approaches have failed. “People are still concerned about G.M. ... Most of them are uneasy not with the technology per se but, rather, with the business practices in the agrifood sector, which is dominated by multinational companies.” She said that those companies need to do a much better job of communicating with their customers.

 

Grant concedes the point. “For years, we would have said that we are a biotech company,” he said. “We are so far down the food chain... we always felt that we were divorced from what ends up on the shelf. And we are not.” He noted that, during the past fifty years, the connection between American farmers and their customers had become increasingly tenuous, but that had begun to change. “People may despise us,” he said, “but we are all talking about the same issues now, and that is a change I welcome. Food and agriculture are finally part of the conversation.” ... 

 

The all-encompassing obsession with Monsanto has made rational discussion of the risks and benefits of genetically modified products difficult. Many academic scientists who don’t work for Monsanto or any other large corporation are struggling to develop crops that have added nutrients and others that will tolerate drought, floods, or salty soil—all traits needed desperately by the world’s poorest farmers. Golden Rice—enriched with vitamin A—is the best-known example.

 

More than a hundred and ninety million children under the age of five suffer from vitamin-A deficiency. Every year, as many as half a million will go blind. Rice plants produce beta carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, in the leaves but not in the grain. To make Golden Rice, scientists insert genes in the edible part of the plant, too. Golden Rice would never offer more than a partial solution to micronutrient deficiency, and the intellectual-property rights have long been controlled by the nonprofit International Rice Research Institute, which makes the rights available to researchers at no cost. Still, after more than a decade of opposition, the rice is prohibited everywhere... 

 

The need for more resilient crops has never been so great. “In Africa, the pests and diseases of agriculture are as devastating as human diseases,” Gordon Conway, who is on the board of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, told me. He added that the impact of diseases like the fungus black sigatoka, the parasitic weed striga, and the newly identified syndrome maize lethal necrosis—all of which attack Africa’s most important crops—are “in many instances every bit as deadly as H.I.V. and TB.” For years, in Tanzania, a disease called brown-streak virus has attacked cassava, a critical source of carbohydrates in the region. Researchers have developed a virus-resistant version of the starchy root vegetable, which is now being tested in field trials. But, again, the opposition, led in part by Shiva, who visited this summer, has been strong...

 

Mustard is grown on six million hectares in India. There are parts of the country where farmers raise few other crops. “We have developed a line of mustard oil with a composition that is even better than olive oil,” he said. “It has a lot of omega-3 in it, and that is essential for a vegetarian food”—not a minor consideration in a country with half a billion people who eat no meat. The pungency that most people associate with mustard has been bred out of the oil, which is also low in saturated fats. “It is a beautiful, robust system,” he said, adding that there have been several successful trials of the mustard seed. “All our work was funded by the public. Nobody will see any profits; that was never our intention. It is a safe, nutritious, and important crop.” It also grows well in dry soil. Yet it was made in a laboratory, and, two decades later, the seed remains on the shelf... 

 

Pental struggled to keep the disappointment out of his voice. “White rice is the most ridiculous food that human beings can cultivate,” he said. “It is just a bunch of starch, and we are filling our bellies with it.” He shrugged. “But it’s natural,” he said, placing ironic emphasis on the final word. “So it passes the Luddite test.”

 

In a recent speech, Shiva explained why she rejects studies suggesting that genetically engineered products like Pental’s mustard oil are safe. Monsanto, she said, had simply paid for false stories, and “now they control the entire scientific literature of the world.” Nature, Science, and Scientific American, three widely admired publications, “have just become extensions of their propaganda. There is no independent science left in the world.”

 

Monsanto is certainly rich, but it is simply not that powerful. Exxon Mobil is worth seven times as much as Monsanto, yet it has never been able to alter the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the principal cause of climate change. Tobacco companies spend more money lobbying in Washington each year than Monsanto does, but it’s hard to find scientists who endorse smoking... 

 

The most persistent objection to agricultural biotechnology, and the most common, is that, by cutting DNA from one species and splicing it into another, we have crossed an invisible line and created forms of life unlike anything found in “nature.” That fear is unquestionably sincere. Yet, as a walk through any supermarket would demonstrate, nearly every food we eat has been modified... Corn in its present form wouldn’t exist if humans hadn’t cultivated the crop. The plant doesn’t grow in the wild and would not survive if we suddenly stopped eating it.

 

When it comes to medicine, most Americans couldn’t care less about nature’s boundaries. Surgeons routinely suture pig valves into the hearts of humans; the operation has kept tens of thousands of people alive. Synthetic insulin, the first genetically modified product, is consumed each day by millions of diabetics. To make the drug, scientists insert human proteins into a common bacteria, which is then grown in giant industrial vats. Protesters don’t march to oppose those advances. In fact, consumers demand them, and it doesn’t seem to matter where the replacement parts come from. 

 

When Shiva writes that “Golden Rice will make the malnutrition crisis worse” and that it will kill people, she reinforces the worst fears of her largely Western audience. Much of what she says resonates with the many people who feel that profit-seeking corporations hold too much power over the food they eat. Theirs is an argument well worth making. But her statements are rarely supported by data, and her positions often seem more like those of an end-of-days mystic than like those of a scientist.

 

Genetically modified crops will not solve the problem of the hundreds of millions of people who go to bed hungry every night. It would be far better if the world’s foods contained an adequate supply of vitamins. It would also help the people of many poverty-stricken countries if their governments were less corrupt. Working roads would do more to reduce nutritional deficits than any G.M.O. possibly could, and so would a more equitable distribution of the Earth’s dwindling supply of freshwater. No single crop or approach to farming can possibly feed the world. To prevent billions of people from living in hunger, we will need to use every one of them. 

 

Full article: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/25/seeds-of-doubt

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

“There are two trends... One: a trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy, culture—people celebrating their lives... And the other: monocultures, deadness. Everyone depressed. Everyone on Prozac. More and more young people unemployed.” >> Amazing how she can link monoculture, Prozac and youth unemployment, blame it all on GMOs, and be taken serious... 

 

“In the late eighties, I went to a conference on biotechnology, on the future of food... “These people were talking about having to do genetic engineering in order to take patents... I realized they want to patent life, and life is not an invention... I didn’t want that world.” >> Insights from one conference 25 years ago are good and well, but the world and people didn't stop there and then. Patents on plants do not necessarily depend on them being GMOs, and there are GMOs that are developed in the public domain -- things moved on since the late eighties! If the problem is patents, fight for weaker intellectual property rights regimes, not against a technology... 

 

When Shiva writes that “Golden Rice will make the malnutrition crisis worse” and that it will kill people, she reinforces the worst fears of her largely Western audience. Much of what she says resonates with the many people who feel that profit-seeking corporations hold too much power over the food they eat. Theirs is an argument well worth making. But her statements are rarely supported by data, and her positions often seem more like those of an end-of-days mystic than like those of a scientist. >> Indeed, her arguments on Golden Rice are completely unfounded, as I discussed on pp. 27-30 in the supplementary discussion paper to an article in Nature Biotechnology at http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v24/n10/suppinfo/nbt1006-1200b_S1.html

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Coming soon: Genetically edited fruit? - EurekAlert (2014)

Coming soon: Genetically edited fruit? - EurekAlert (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Recent advances that allow the precise editing of genomes now raise the possibility that fruit and other crops might be genetically improved without the need to introduce foreign genes... 

 

With awareness of what makes these biotechnologies new and different, genetically edited fruits might be met with greater acceptance by society at large than genetically modified organisms (GMOs) so far have been, especially in Europe...

 

"The simple avoidance of introducing foreign genes makes genetically edited crops more 'natural' than transgenic crops obtained by inserting foreign genes"... For instance, changes to the characteristics of fruit might be made via small genetic tweaks designed to increase or decrease the amounts of natural ingredients that their plant cells already make... 

 

So far, editing tools have not been applied to the genetic modification of fruit crops. Most transgenic fruit crop plants have been developed using a plant bacterium to introduce foreign genes, and only papaya has been commercialized...

 

Genetically edited plants, modified through the insertion, deletion, or altering of existing genes of interest, might even be deemed as nongenetically modified... That would open the door to the development of crops with superior qualities and perhaps allow their commercialization even in countries in which GMOs have so far met with... controversy. 


"We would like people to understand that crop breeding through biotechnology is not restricted only to GMOs," he said. "Transfer of foreign genes was the first step to improve our crops, but GEOs will surge as a 'natural' strategy to use biotechnology for a sustainable agricultural future."

 

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-08/cp-csg080614.php

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tibtech.2014.07.003

 

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GM flies 'could save crops' - BBC (2014)

GM flies 'could save crops' - BBC (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

A type of genetically engineered fly which eventually kills itself off could be an effective method of pest control... These... flies have a lethal gene which interrupts female development. They were trialled in a greenhouse resulting in "population collapse". If released into the wild, they could prevent damage to crops in a way that is cheap, and environmentally friendly... 

 

The Mediterranean fruit fly is a global agricultural pest which infests over 300 crops, including wild fruit, vegetables and nuts, causing extensive damage. Currently, techniques for pest control include sterilisation and insecticides. However, sterile flies do not mate as well in the wild as the process to make them sterile weakens them. Insecticide also poses problems as flies can quickly develop immunity.

 

The male GM flies... are only capable of producing male offspring... a female specific gene kills the females before they become adults.

This means that after several generations, the flies die off as the males can no longer find mates... In a local area where you perform this process, the population levels quickly shrink, massively reducing the amount of crop damage... 


http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-28744701

 

Original paper: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2014.1372

 

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