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We Need G.M.O. Wheat - NYT (2014)

We Need G.M.O. Wheat - NYT (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Thre crops — corn, soybeans and wheat — account for a vast majority of the value of America’s agricultural crop output. But wheat is different in one important respect. While more than 90 percent of the nation’s corn and soybean acres are now planted with seeds genetically engineered to resist insects, herbicides or both, there is not a single acre of genetically engineered wheat being grown commercially in the United States.

 

Wheat farmers have suffered as a result, as have consumers of bread and pasta, who have been paying higher prices than they might have because fewer and fewer acres are planted in wheat. Without the benefits of the newer molecular techniques of genetic engineering, the nation’s wheat industry will continue to struggle against other commodities that have adopted biotechnology, and against the drought conditions out West. All of this is happening as the planet’s population increases and global wheat demand expands in response.

 

Why has wheat lagged behind? One reason is that, back in the mid-1990s, corn and soybean farmers avidly embraced the nascent biotechnology revolution, snatching up new, genetically engineered seed varieties. But wheat farmers balked at the potentially higher prices of these new seeds and feared that anti-genetic engineering views held by some of our trading partners would hurt exports.

 

Today, it’s easy to see why corn and soybean farmers made the switch. Crop yields have increased and farmers have been able to reduce their use of chemical insecticides and shift to less toxic herbicides to control weeds. They’ve also made more money. Over the same period, the amount of land planted in wheat has dropped by about 20 percent... 

 

The scientific consensus is that existing genetically engineered crops are as safe as the non-genetically engineered hybrid plants that are a mainstay of our diet. The government should be encouraging and promoting these technologies... most wheat is consumed by humans as bread or pasta. This is why there were fears that genetically engineered wheat would suffer as an export crop. The European countries and Japan have traditionally imported about 15 percent of our wheat exports. But they have also been antagonistic to genetically engineered crops and food derived from them... 

 

Much of the nation’s wheat crop comes from a section of the central plains that sits atop the Ogallala Aquifer, which is rapidly being depleted... The severe drought that has parched the region over the past few years has accelerated the aquifer’s depletion... New crop varieties that grow under conditions of low moisture or temporary drought could increase yields and lengthen the time farmland is productive. 


In Egypt, for example, researchers showed a decade ago that by transferring a single gene from barley to wheat, plants are able to tolerate reduced watering longer. This variety requires only one-eighth as much irrigation as conventional wheat and can be cultivated with meager rainfall alone. This is what wheat farmers need... 


http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/03/opinion/we-need-gmo-wheat.html

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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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GM Crops are an Appropriate IPM Component Technology - Hillocks (2014) - Outlooks Pest Management

Genetic engineering for enhanced crop performance is now main-stream technology, the first GM crops having been planted in the mid 1990s. More than 175 million ha are now planted worldwide, with the largest areas in the USA, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada and China.


In 25 years of growing GM crops, no consistent scientific evidence has emerged of significant risk to human health or the environment, yet Europe and Africa lag well behind the other continents in adoption of GM crops.


The EU continues to enact legislation to decrease the use of conventional pesticides on European farms, while stringent and expensive regulation hampers the development and deployment of alternative crop protection technologies. One only needs to compare the large number of biopesticides registered in the USA with the few available in Europe.


GM crops now widely grown outside of Europe, are a proven pest management tool and have decreased insecticide use... It is unfortunate that most [NGOs] ... that argue for even stricter regulation of conventional pesticides in European farming... are also opposed to the use of GM crops. European farming is, therefore, deprived of the one technology currently available that could immediately decrease pesticide use without decreasing crop productivity... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1564/v25_jun_07

 

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Vulnerability of African maize yield to climate change and variability during 1961-2010 - Shi & Tao (2014) - Food Sec

Vulnerability of African maize yield to climate change and variability during 1961-2010 - Shi & Tao (2014) - Food Sec | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Because of the necessity of feeding growing populations, there is a critical need to assess the variation and vulnerability of crop yields to potential climate change.


Databases of maize yields and climate variables in the maize growing seasons were used to assess the vulnerability of African maize yields to climate change and variability with different levels of management at country scale between 1961 and 2010... yield deviation and climate variables including temperature (Tmean), precipitation (P) and standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI) were used to analyze the vulnerability of maize yields to climate change and variability for each country in Africa.


Most countries, where soil fertility had been declining owing to low levels of fertilizer use over many years and limited water resources, had decreasing maize yields. The negative impacts of increasing temperature and decreasing precipitation and SPEI on maize yields progressively increased at the whole continent scale over the time period studied.


During the maize growing seasons 1961–2010, each 1°C of Tmean increase resulted in yield losses of over 10% in eight countries and 5-10% in 10 countries, but yields increased by more than 5% in four relatively cool countries. Decreases of 10% average P resulted in more than 5% decreases in yields in 20 countries and each decrease of 0.5 SPEI resulted in over 30% losses of maize yields in 32 countries...


Better irrigation and fertilizer application will be important to sustain higher yields in the future, as will the development of maize varieties with greater heat and drought tolerance.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12571-014-0370-4


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Setting the standards: who regulates Australian GM food? - FoodMag (2014)

Setting the standards: who regulates Australian GM food? - FoodMag (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

In the past, new crops were introduced into the food supply without any formal scientific evaluation. Humans learned by trial and error how to safely prepare foods such as cassava and potato, even though they can be toxic. With the advent of crop genetic engineering in the 1980s, public controversy and intense public scrutiny over genetically modified (GM) foods meant that the trial and error method of discovering whether new GM foods were safe became unacceptable. 


Scientific safety assessment of new GM foods as well as government regulation of their introduction was introduced in many countries.

In Australia... safety assessment of GM foods became the responsibility of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)... 


The presence of thousands of potentially toxic natural substances in plant foods meant that the safety assessment of GM foods had to be done by different procedures than those that had worked well with food additives and synthetic pesticides. Regulators realised that if the hundreds of thousands of natural substances present in plant foods... were subjected to the same standards used with food additives and synthetic pesticides, all food – GM or non-GM – would fail regulatory standards.

 

A solution to this quandary was developed. Relative safety of GM foods is assessed by systematically looking for all the chemical differences that can be found between: (i) a GM food and (ii) an otherwise comparable non-GM food that can be presumed to be already safe because of its history of safe use. If no meaningful differences are detectable in a new crop variety, the GM food can be assumed to be at least as safe as its non-GM counterpart. 


The standards agency FSANZ provides many further details of how safety assessment of GM foods is carried out, before they are allowed to enter the commercial marketplace... Most GM crops are commodities that are extensively traded on world markets, such as maize, soybeans and canola. These have to meet food and regulatory standards in several different jurisdictions (such as in the US, the EU, Japan and China)... 


Genetically modified foods have now been in the marketplace for nearly two decades without any harmful effects identified. The absence of any evidence pointing to the lack of food safety in the recent farmer court case in Western Australia... underlines the overall conclusion that there is no credible evidence of any food safety risk with the GM foods that have been approved so far.

 

More tangible problems of food safety – such as the mould toxins that can ruin staple grains and cause cancer in developing countries should now get more attention.

 

http://www.foodmag.com.au/features/setting-the-standards-who-regulates-australian-gm

 

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Bt Cotton, Pesticide Use and Environmental Efficiency in Pakistan - Abedullah &al (2014) - J Ag Econ

Bt Cotton, Pesticide Use and Environmental Efficiency in Pakistan - Abedullah &al (2014) - J Ag Econ | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

There is a broad literature on the impact of Bt cotton adoption in different countries, but few studies have explicitly looked at environmental and health effects from an economic perspective. We analyse the impact of Bt cotton on environmental efficiency in Pakistan, using farm survey data...


Negative environmental and health effects of chemical pesticide use are quantified with the environmental impact quotient. Bt-adopting farms have higher cotton yields, while using lower pesticide quantities and causing less environmental damage.


Bt farms are both technically and environmentally more efficient than non-Bt farms. Bt adoption increases environmental efficiency by 37%. Achieving the same reduction in negative environmental and health impact without Bt would cost conventional cotton farmers US$ 54 per acre in terms of foregone yields and revenues (7% of total revenues).


Extrapolating this shadow price of the technology's health and environmental benefits to the total Bt cotton area in Pakistan results in an aggregate value of US$ 370 million. These benefits are in addition to the profit gains for Bt-adopting farmers. Our results suggest that Bt technology can contribute to sustainable agricultural development.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1477-9552.12072

 

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The Extent to which Potential Benefits to EU Farmers of Adopting Transgenic Crops are Reduced by Cost of Compliance with Coexistence Regulations - McFarlane &al (2014) - AgBioForum

The Extent to which Potential Benefits to EU Farmers of Adopting Transgenic Crops are Reduced by Cost of Compliance with Coexistence Regulations - McFarlane &al (2014) - AgBioForum | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

This article forecasts the extent to which the potential benefits of adopting transgenic crops may be reduced by costs of compliance with coexistence regulations applicable in various member states of the EU.

 

A dynamic economic model is described and used to calculate the potential yield and gross margin of a set of crops grown in a selection of typical rotation scenarios. The model simulates varying levels of pest, weed, and drought pressures, with associated management strategies regarding pesticide and herbicide application, and irrigation.

 

We report on the initial use of the model to calculate the net reduction in gross margin attributable to coexistence costs for insect-resistant (IR) and herbicide-tolerant (HT) maize grown continuously or in a rotation, HT soya grown in a rotation, HT oilseed rape grown in a rotation, and HT sugarbeet grown in a rotation. Conclusions are drawn about conditions favoring inclusion of a transgenic crop in a crop rotation, having regard to farmers’ attitude toward risk... 

 

Of the established transgenic crops, only insect-resistant (IR) maize is approved for cultivation in the European Union (EU), and that crop is grown mainly in Spain and Portugal. Some of the other established transgenic crops could potentially be profitable for farmers to adopt in some parts of Europe, but it is likely that the improvement in gross margin relative to a conventional crop would be offset by the cost to the farmer of compliance with coexistence regulations... 

 

The way in which the cost of compliance with regulations for coexistence of transgenic crops with conventional crops in EU arable farming falls entirely on the adopter of the transgenic crop presents a significant economic disincentive for transgenic crop adoption... There are numerous crop rotation scenarios where weed and pest pressures are high, in which the aggregate economic outcome could potentially lead to greater profit for the farmer if established transgenic crop varieties replaced conventional equivalent crops.

 

http://agbioforum.org/v17n1/v17n1a05-mcfarlane.htm ;

 

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Scientific Opinion on genetically modified oilseed rape MON 88302 - EFSA (2014)

Scientific Opinion on genetically modified oilseed rape MON 88302 - EFSA (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Oilseed rape MON 88302 was developed... [for] tolerance to glyphosate. The molecular characterisation... did not raise safety issues. Agronomic and phenotypic characteristics of oilseed rape MON 88302 tested under field conditions revealed no biologically relevant differences...

 

No differences in the compositional data requiring further safety assessment were identified. There were no concerns regarding the potential toxicity and allergenicity of the newly expressed... protein, and no evidence that the genetic modification might significantly change the overall allergenicity of oilseed rape MON 88302. The nutritional value of oilseed rape MON 88302 is not expected to differ...


There are no indications of an increased likelihood of spread and establishment of feral oilseed rape MON 88302 plants or hybridising wild relatives, unless these plants are exposed to glyphosate. It is unlikely that the observed difference in days-to-first flowering would lead to any relevant increase in persistence or invasiveness... The post-market environmental monitoring plan is in line with the intended uses...


In conclusion, the EFSA GMO Panel considers that the information available addresses the scientific requirements of the EFSA GMO Panel and the scientific comments raised by the Member States, and that oilseed rape MON 88302, as described in this application, is as safe as its conventional counterpart and non-GM commercial oilseed rape varieties with respect to potential effects on human and animal health and the environment... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.2903/j.efsa.2014.3701

 

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Govt plans to introduce genetically modified cotton - Daily Star (2014)

Govt plans to introduce genetically modified cotton - Daily Star (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The government plans to introduce a genetically modified variety of cotton to scale up production of the key textiles raw material and meet rising demand, the agriculture minister said... “Bangladesh wants to introduce genetically modified Bt cotton within a short time, as it did in the case of Bt brinjals, so the country can double its production and farmers have additional income"... 


The government has already introduced a bio-safety rule for the introduction of genetically modified organic crops... "We are eager to expand production but we will have to find suitable land first, so farmers don't give up rice cultivation for cotton farming"... 

 

Genetically modified cotton, which has already been introduced in China, South Africa and India is said to have strong immunity against pests and herbicide, better productivity and greater fibre elasticity.
Millions of farmers around the cotton producing countries have gained significant socioeconomic and environmental benefits as well as advantages in health protection as a result of growing of Bt cotton.

 

Cotton is the second biggest cash crop after jute in Bangladesh. However, its production has failed to keep pace with growth of the textiles sector. A leading consumer, Bangladesh requires about 4.5 million bales of cotton every year to feed the country's textiles industry. However, the country produces only 150,000 bales of cotton, which is around 3 percent of demand, making local textile industries heavily reliant on imports...

 

Kamal Uddin, executive director of BARC, said Bangladesh would be unable to make its cotton production sustainable without research. The three-day meeting aims to create an opportunity for cotton scientists and experts from the public and private sectors in Asia to share their experience, views and ideas for development of the research network among the cotton growing countries in the continent... 


http://www.thedailystar.net/business/govt-plans-to-introduce-genetically-modified-cotton-29197


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The ‘super’ banana for healthy levels of vitamin A - WaPo (2014)

The ‘super’ banana for healthy levels of vitamin A - WaPo (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

In half of the world’s countries, vitamin A deficiency is a scourge that leaves disease and death in its wake. Every year, it inflicts between 250,000 and 500,000 helpless and malnourished young people with early-life blindness. And in half of those cases, it also brings death... 

 

Scientists are now working to genetically engineer “super” bananas that are fortified with crucial alpha- and beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A... “Good science can make a massive difference here by enriching staple crops such as Ugandan bananas with pro-vitamin A and providing poor and subsistence-farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food.”

 

Some of the genetically modified cooking bananas are being sent to the United States for their first human trial; scientists aim to have them growing in Uganda by 2020... Lab tests in gerbils have been successful... But in order for the crops to be planted in Uganda, the country’s legislature has to approve a bill allowing genetically modified crops. It is currently in the committee phase...

 

“In West Africa farmers grow plantain bananas and the same technology could easily be transferred to that variety as well... This project has the potential to have a huge positive impact on staple food products across much of Africa and in so doing lift the health and well-being of countless millions of people over generations.”


http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/06/17/the-super-banana-that-fights-for-truth-justice-and-healthy-levels-of-vitamin-a/


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

The title of the original article -- "The 'super' banana that fights for truth, justice and healthy levels of vitamin A" -- is yet another example of how journalists' hyperbole can be completely off track and, unfortunately, even do damage to a promising cause: Bananas rich in provitamin A can do a lot to improve levels of vitamin A, but how do they fight for truth and justice? Suggesting so much will only open the door to subsequent accusations that such crops are nothing but empty promises. 

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New rules on genetically modified foods to take effect in 2016 - Focus Taiwan (2014)

The new regulations... extended requirements for labeling of products containing genetically modified substances to unpackaged food and food additives... Labeling will be required for products in which genetically modified substances account for at least 3 percent of the products' total contents...

The new labeling rules will not apply, however, to soy sauce, soy oil, corn syrup and corn starch because they are highly processed items that no longer contain DNA fragments of soybeans or corn needed to determine if the products contain genetically modified substances... 

 

http://focustaiwan.tw/news/asoc/201406200036.aspx

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

A threshold of 3% and product-based labeling. 

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Lab to Farm: Applying Research on Plant Genetics and Genomics to Crop Improvement - Ronald (2014) - PLoS Biol

Over the last 300 years, plant science research has provided important knowledge and technologies for advancing the sustainability of agriculture... potential for current and future contribution of plant genetic improvement technologies to continue to enhance food security and agricultural sustainability.

 

The Earth's human population is expected to increase from the current 6.7 billion to 9 billion by 2050. To feed the growing population, and the 70% increase in the demand for agricultural production that is expected to accompany this increase, a broad range of improvements in the global food supply chain is needed.

 

There are significant opportunities in plant science research. For example, sustainable agricultural intensification will be important because maintaining current per capita food consumption with no increase in yield, and no decrease in post-harvest and food waste, would necessitate a near doubling of the world's cropland area by 2050. However, because most of the Earth's arable land is already in production and what remains is being lost to urbanization, salinization, desertification, and environmental degradation, cropland expansion is not a viable approach to food security.

 

Furthermore, because substantial greenhouse gases are emitted from agricultural systems... the development and deployment of high-yielding crop varieties will make a vital future contribution to sustainable agriculture because it does not rely on expanding cropland.

 

Water systems are also under severe strain across the world... Of the water that is available for use, about 70% is already used for agriculture. Many rivers no longer flow all the way to the sea; 50% of the world's wetlands have disappeared and major groundwater aquifers are being mined unsustainably... Thus, increased food production must largely take place on the same land area while using less water...

 

Compounding the challenges facing agricultural production are the predicted effects of climate change. As the sea level rises and glaciers melt, low lying croplands will be submerged and river systems will experience shorter and more intense seasonal flows. Yields of our most important food, feed, and fiber crops decline precipitously at temperatures much above 30°C, so heat and drought will also increasingly limit crop production.


In addition to these environmental stresses, losses to pests and diseases are also expected to increase. Much of the loss caused by these abiotic and biotic stresses, which already result in 30%–60% yield reductions globally each year, occur after the plants are fully grown; a point at which most or all of the land and water required to grow a crop has been invested. For this reason, a reduction in losses to pests, pathogens, and environmental stresses is equivalent to creating more land and more water.

 

Another important opportunity for increasing food availability is to reduce the amount of food wasted before and after it reaches the consumer (estimated at 30%–50% of total global production)... A reduction in meat consumption would contribute to increasing the food supply, because 1 hectare of land can produce rice or potatoes for 19-22 people per year whereas the same area will produce enough meat for only 1-2 people.

 

Augmentation of the nutritional quality of crops is also critical for global food security... Currently, there are 925 million people who are undernourished... The long-term effects of malnutrition include stunted growth, learning disabilities, poor health, and chronic disease in later life... Discoveries in plant genetic and genomics research can be translated to create new crops and cropping systems that more efficiently use finite resources and that can enhance the quality and quantity of food production...


For 10,000 years, we have altered the genetic makeup of our crops, first through primitive domestication and, in the last 300 years, using more sophisticated approaches... Mutagenesis—the introduction of random mutations by chemical treatment or radiation, and the interbreeding of related species... Today virtually everything we eat is produced from seeds that have been genetically altered in one way or another using these well-established approaches of genetic improvement... 

 

Over the last 20 years, scientists and breeders have used new genetic technologies to develop modern crop varieties. These include marker assisted selection (MAS) and genetic engineering (GE), which have both already led to the development of new crop varieties... 

 

To understand why some farmers have embraced GE crops and how they benefit the environment, consider Bt cotton, which contains a bacterial protein called Bt that kills pests, such as the cotton bollworm, without harming beneficial insects and spiders. Bt is benign to humans, which is why organic farmers have used Bt sprays and other formulations as their primary method of pest control for 50 years. Although Bt insecticides are permitted in organic farming, Bt crops are not, because the National Organic Program standards in the US and other countries prohibit the use of GE crops in organic agriculture.

 

In 2012, 70%–90% of American, Indian, and Chinese farmers grew Bt cotton... Widespread planting of Bt cotton in China drastically reduced the use of synthetic insecticides, increased the abundance of beneficial organisms on farms, and decreased populations of crop-damaging insects. Its cultivation in China has also reduced pesticide poisoning in farmers and their families. US farms that have cultivated Bt cotton have twice the insect biodiversity relative to neighboring conventional farms. In India, farmers growing Bt cotton increased their yields by 24%, their profits by 50%, and raised their living standards by 18%... The economic benefits of planting Bt cotton extend beyond the farm and into the community... 

 

Despite the considerable and continuing breakthroughs in plant genetic and genomic technologies, there has been relatively little global government investment into funding basic plant science and in translating these discoveries into food crops beneficial to farmers in less developed countries. To fill the gap, some foundations and public–private partnerships have launched programs. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting a large program, called Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia... 


The Rockefeller Foundation was instrumental in funding the development of Golden Rice, a genetically engineered rice enriched for provitamin A that is expected to be released soon. Worldwide, over 124 million children are vitamin A-deficient; many go blind or become ill from diarrhea, and nearly 8 million preschool-age children die each year as the result of this deficiency... Eating vitamin A rice could prevent the deaths of thousands of young children each year. The positive effects of Golden Rice are predicted to be most pronounced in the lowest income groups at a fraction of the cost of the current supplementation programs...

 

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project is another important public-private partnership, which aims to develop drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize... The introduction of drought-tolerant maize to Africa, where three-quarters of the world's severe droughts have occurred over the past ten years, is predicted to dramatically increase yields of this staple food crop for local farmers.

 

Another exciting development is... Bt eggplant that is resistant to fruit and shoot borers. Bt eggplant was recently made available on a royalty-free basis to smallholder farmers in Bangladesh. Researchers estimate that farmers growing the new Bt eggplant varieties could obtain yield increases of 30%-45% while reducing insecticide use... 

 

These examples demonstrate the success of non-profit and public–private partnerships in translating basic research discoveries into benefits at the farm. Well-funded, long-term, multinational, multidisciplinary collaborations are vital if we are to continue making significant progress in developing new crop varieties to enhance food security in the developing world... 


Despite the scientific consensus that the genetically engineered crops on the market are safe to eat, have massively reduced the use of sprayed insecticides, and have benefited the environment, they are still viewed with skepticism by some consumers. Without public support for genetic technologies, regulatory costs will continue to climb. The end result may be that only multinational corporations can afford to develop and license such crops. This exclusivity places constraints on broad access to genetic technologies because large corporations have little incentive to develop subsistence (e.g., cassava and banana) and specialty crops (e.g., strawberries, apples, lettuce)—for poor farmers that need them. Costly regulations also hinder the creation of small businesses that wish to translate discoveries in plant genetics into commercially viable enterprises...

 

A related issue, which applies to most seed developed by corporations (conventional or genetically engineered), is that intellectual property rights constrain sharing of genetic resources. Whereas seeds protected by the plant variety protection act include exemptions for farmers to save seed for next year's planting and for breeders to include the variety in breeding programs, certain plant varieties, including GE crops, can be protected by patents, which are much more restrictive and prohibit seed saving by farmers and breeders...

 

Although ~25% of the patented inventions in agricultural biotechnology were made by public sector researchers (e.g., public universities), many of these inventions are exclusively licensed to private companies. Five firms... produce the majority of the world's seeds and control many of the older technologies such as Bt and transformation. Fortunately, the business landscape is changing as many of the earlier patents expire or as alternatives to enabling technologies controlled by corporations emerge in the public sector and as more countries use genetic engineering to create a greater variety of crops...

 

University scientists have also been active in reversing the trend of exclusively licensing genetic technologies... Establish the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA). PIPRA helps universities to retain rights of their technologies for humanitarian purposes and for crops that are vital to small-acreage farmers...

 

Ultimately, the continued translation of basic research into tangible crop improvement will rely not only on the research itself but also in communicating the vital role that agriculture and plant genetics plays in all of our lives. In the developed world where less than 2% of the population are farmers, the challenges of producing food in a sustainable manner is far removed from the average consumer... Plant biologists can promote agricultural literacy through... highlight the social, economic, biological, environmental, and ethical aspects of food production.

 

We can more fully engage with the policy makers, non-governmental organizations, and journalists by providing science-based information in more creative ways... An engaged, informed public will help us to attain an agricultural system that can produce safe food in a secure, sustainable, and equitable manner.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001878

 

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Cultivation of genetically modified organisms - Council of the European Union (2014) (pdf)

The Council reached a political agreement on a draft directive... as regards the possibility for member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their territory. The aim of the proposal... is to provide a sound legal basis... to allow member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation, in all or part of their territory, of GMOs that have been authorised or are under authorisation at EU level... 

 

The text agreed today includes in particular the following elements... a non-exhaustive list of possible grounds that can be used by member states to restrict or prohibit the authorisations was introduced, including, notably, environmental reasons, socioeconomic reasons, land use and town planning, agricultural policy objectives and public policy issues etc. ... 

 

The new directive has no impact on the assessment process for GMOs made by the European Food Safety Agency... Political agreement is to be followed by the formal adoption by Council of its position at first reading. The Italian Presidency is expected to start negotiations (in second reading) with the newly elected European Parliament in early autumn 2014.

 

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/envir/143188.pdf

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

So e.g. Austria can now ban (for any non-exhaustive ground) the cultivation of EU-approved GM crops (such as maize varieties that were developed to address pest problems of Spanish farmers), but e.g. its livestock farmers can still buy feed made from EU-approved GM crops (whether from Spain, the Americas or elsewhere) because trade in approved and safe products cannot be legally stopped...? 

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Stupidity: What makes people do dumb things - New Scientist (2013)

Stupidity: What makes people do dumb things - New Scientist (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Human intelligence varies astonishingly. Why didn't evolution make us all geniuses, and why do even those with high IQ act like fools... It turns out that our usual measures of intelligence – particularly IQ – have very little to do with... irrational, illogical behaviours... You really can be highly intelligent, and at the same time very stupid. Understanding the factors that lead clever people to make bad decisions is beginning to shed light on many of society's biggest catastrophes, including the recent economic crisis. More intriguingly, the latest research may suggest ways to evade a condition that can plague us all.


The idea that intelligence and stupidity are simply opposing ends of a single spectrum is a surprisingly modern one... Modern attempts to study variations in human ability tended to focus on IQ tests that put a single number on someone's mental capacity. They are perhaps best recognised as a measure of abstract reasoning... high IQ is no guarantee that a person will act rationally – think of the brilliant physicists who insist that climate change is a hoax.


What can explain this apparent paradox? ... When we process information... our brain can access two different systems. IQ tests measure only one of these, the deliberative processing that plays a key role in conscious problem-solving. Yet our default position in everyday life is to use our intuition. 


To begin with, these intuitive mechanisms gave us an evolutionary advantage, offering cognitive shortcuts that help deal with information overload. They include cognitive biases such as stereotyping, confirmation bias, and resistance to ambiguity – the temptation to accept the first solution to a problem even if it is obviously not the best. While these evolved biases, called "heuristics", may help our thinking in certain situations, they can derail our judgement if we rely on them uncritically. For this reason, the inability to recognise or resist them is at the root of stupidity... 


Because it has nothing to do with your IQ, to truly understand human stupidity you need a separate test that examines our susceptibility to bias... a rationality quotient (RQ) to assess our ability to transcend cognitive bias. 

 

Consider the following question, which tests the ambiguity effect: Jack is looking at Anne but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person? Possible answers are "yes", "no", or "cannot be determined". The vast majority of people will say it "cannot be determined", simply because it is the first answer that comes to mind – but careful deduction shows the answer is "yes".

 

RQ would also measure risk intelligence, which defines our ability to calibrate the likelihood of certain probabilities. For example, we tend to overestimate our chances of winning the lottery... and underestimate the chance of getting divorced. Poor risk intelligence can cause us to choose badly without any notion that we're doing so.

 

So what determines whether you have naturally high RQ? ... Unlike IQ, RQ isn't down to your genes or nurture factors from your childhood. More than anything, it depends on something called metacognition, which is the ability to assess the validity of your own knowledge. People with high RQ have acquired strategies that boost this self-awareness. One simple approach would be to take your intuitive answer to a problem and consider its opposite before coming to the final decision... This helps you develop keen awareness of what you know and don't know.


Stupidity is most dangerous in people with high IQ – since they are often given greater responsibility: "the more intelligent they are, the more disastrous the results of their stupidity"... 


http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21729101.800

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

An article from last year, but still interesting as an explanation for why also otherwise smart people can act irrationally -- the article gives denial of climate change as an example but also opposition to GMOs probably falls into that category... 

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The Cost of a GMO-Free Market Basket of Food in the US - Goodwin &al (2014) - NCSU (PDF!)

Significant technological progress in agriculture has substantially lowered the relative cost of food production. An important component of this technological change has been the advent of genetically modified (GM) commodities. 


Some consumers remain skeptical about the safety and quality of GM foods. Although much research has addressed the impacts of GM innovations on basic commodity prices, much less is known about the costs associated with adoption of a GMO-free diet.

 

We utilize price, consumption, and expenditure data... to empirically evaluate the cost of a GMO-free diet on the typical US household... Our estimates show that current food and beverage expenditures... could increase significantly as a result of adopting a GMO-free diet... 

 

Even small increases in the costs of GMO-free ingredients in food products translate into significant impacts on the typical US household... A GMO-free certification raises prices by an average of 34%. 

 

If the typical family were to purchase only non-GMO food, their food budget would increase from $9,462 to $12,263 each year, or $2,800 per year. Overall... the cost of a typical US family’s market basket of food would rise from 8-50% annually, depending on the impacts on retail prices from going to a GMO-free diet. 

 

If one considers pricing on a per-ounce basis, the GMO-free certification adds 69% to price...

 

http://www4.ncsu.edu/~bkgoodwi/papers/non_gmo.pdf

 

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Seralini Rat Study Revisited - Wyoming Weed Science (2014)

Seralini Rat Study Revisited - Wyoming Weed Science (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Anyone interested in the GMO debate has probably heard about the Seralini paper that... was eventually retracted by the original journal, and it has now been re-published in a different journal... 

 

The Seralini press release for the re-published article states “The raw data underlying the study’s findings are also published” and this claim has been reprinted by many sources without much scrutiny... After a very brief examination of the data files supplied by Seralini’s team, it is clear that they didn’t actually provide all of their raw data... 


> It turns out that the Séralini group did not release all the raw data from the study. For instance, his team took blood samples at 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, and 24 months but only released the data for month 15. They released the tumor and mortality data for each group of rats, but not for the individual rats — which makes it impossible to test for in-group variation (e.g. are we talking about one rat with seven tumors, or seven rats with one tumor each?). -Nathanael Johnson... 


But because there has now been some data released... Curiosity got the better of me... There are no data provided that support any of the statements or conclusions in the section titled “Anatomopathological observations and liver parameters” so nothing we can evaluate there. But we can look through the mortality and biochemistry data... 


For the male rats, there appears to be no strong evidence that their diet influenced mortality... We get similar results looking at the Female rats... Now if we ignore the overall P-value and focus only on individual treatments (generally a bad idea, but humor me), there are some P-values that indicate there were some treatments that may be different from the control. For female rats, the 22% GMO diet + Roundup has a P-value of 0.043... we could interpret this to mean that the female rats are more likely to die from all the treatments... 


But... it seems only fair that we should do the same for the males... This would indicate that all except 1 treatment reduced the hazard to male rats... I can’t really think of any mechanism by which both GMO feed and Roundup in drinking water would have a negative effect on females but a positive effect on males...


The data Seralini provided simply doesn’t support a link between GMOs or Roundup laced diet and premature death... What this means is that the mortality data provided by Seralini are simply not powerful enough to draw any conclusions one way or the other... 

 

Interestingly, there is a column in the biochemistry data named “BW.15” which does not show up in any of the description files, and is also never referenced in the published article... I have received confirmation from someone at King’s College London School of Medicine that the “BW.15″ column is indeed body weight at 15 months. The only reference to body weight in the republished article is near the beginning of the results section: "There was no rejection by the animals of the diet with or without GM maize, nor any major difference in body weight (data not shown)." ... 


I question the interpretation of no “major difference in body weight.” ... For the female rats, there was a significant difference between treatments with respect to the BW variable. The highest dose of Roundup in drinking water... reduced BW by 19% compared to the control group... For the males, there was a very similar pattern... The high dose of Roundup in the drinking water reduced male BW by 23%.


The high-dose Roundup treatment was significantly different from nearly all of the other treatments, including the control. So my conclusion here would be that drinking a 0.5% Roundup solution every day for 15 months will reduce body weight. I can’t quite figure out why the Seralini article didn’t report this very obvious difference (in fact, they made the opposite claim, that there were no differences)... it does seem very odd.

 

Although the methods section in the paper states that blood samples were taken 10 different times over the course of the study, the paper only presents data from one time point (15 months)... In the paper, Seralini et al. justify presenting only a single time point by saying: "Due to the large quantity of data collected, it cannot all be shown in one report" ... 


Even if true for the actual article, I really don’t see how this restriction would apply to the raw data. It seems like they could have easily added data from the other 9 time points into the same Excel file and provided all the raw data quite easily. But they have not... The easiest way to counter the early accusations of “cherry picking” data would be to release the rest of the data...

 

But we can at least run some more standard statistical tests for some of the variables. In particular... the variables that Seralini’s multivariate analysis suggested were important... The GMO 33% treatment had a serum sodium level about 5.5% lower than the control group (P=0.02). This does seem consistent with Seralini’s results. But what about male rats, which Seralini didn’t present? ... 


There also appears to be a significant difference between the control group and the GMO 33% diet for males (P=0.02). But, the difference is in the opposite direction! The 33% GMO diet that reduced blood sodium levels in females, apparently increased the blood serum sodium levels in males by 8.6%... it seems that both an increase and a decrease in the same ion can’t be indicative of the same problem...

 

Both sexes were also fed the 33% GMO diet that had been treated in the field with Roundup. I would expect that any effect of the GMO that hadn’t been treated with Roundup should still exist if the corn had been sprayed with Roundup. So I compared these treatments... Somehow, spraying Roundup on the GMO corn in the field reversed the blood serum sodium level results. In both sexes. I can think of absolutely no reasonable explanation for this result other than random chance. And analysis of the blood serum chloride shows similarly random results...

 

The variables Seralini et al. found to be most important... seem to be mostly meaningless if you look at more than the two groups they present. I think it is also important to note that Seralini et al. state that the data presented in their article... represents “the most important findings.” So if we can’t make any sense of the most important findings using a reasonable statistical analysis, I really don’t see how there is any real reason why this study, as presented, “deserves to be taken seriously.”

 

http://weedcontrolfreaks.com/2014/07/seralini-rat-study-revisited/

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
For the quantitatively inclined there's much more detail at the original blog...
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Lone Star Crazy: How Right-Wing Extremists Took Over Texas - Rolling Stone (2014)

Lone Star Crazy: How Right-Wing Extremists Took Over Texas - Rolling Stone (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

In today's Texas, which is falling into the hands of gun nuts, border-sealers and talk-radio charlatans, George W. Bush would practically be considered a communist…

 

American Patriots… excited by concerns both real and obviously paranoid – revolving around gun rights, land rights, the surveillance state, genetically modified food and assorted other "liberty issues" – have come to this field to make their voices heard. The two central issues of the rally are guns... and an opposition to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management… When I ask if there have been threats to take his property, he says, "I don't know! That's the problem."

 

I couldn't have put it any better myself. They don't know; that's the problem. After nearly six years of pumping out cynical horror stories involving our nefarious president and a Washington bureaucracy run amok, the right-wing fear machine has managed to reduce its target audience to a quivering state of waking nightmare, jumping at shadows…

 

It's also interesting to report that nearly everyone I met at the rally turned out to be far quirkier, politically, than any caricatured preconceptions might lead you to guess. While journalistic comparisons between the rise of the Tea Party and the rise of Occupy Wall Street – as two ends of the spectrum responding to economic collapse and elite betrayal – feel like clichéd false equivalency… there's an unruly, anarchistic feel to this crowd that reminds me of the time I spent in Zuccotti Park…

 

Take… Andrew Clements, who… [is] carrying a short-barreled 9mm AR-15… Clements describes himself as a fiscal conservative and a Libertarian on social issues… "You're wasting a vote if you vote for Democrats or Republicans. They're both the same party. Look at the NSA spying. My philosophy is about respecting everyone else's thing: all races, sexual preferences, religions. That's what makes us special as Americans. What's the difference if I have a gun, or if that guy is gay?"

 

"We want homosexual people to protect their marijuana plants with firearms!" chimes in Matthew Short … Short is also given to more conspiratorial lines of thought, advising me to check out some YouTube videos he's posted about Syria, Benghazi and the massive fertilizer-plant explosion that took place last year in rural Texas, where he snuck onto the blast scene with some firefighters. He thinks Monsanto might have had something to do with it…

 

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/lone-star-crazy-how-right-wing-extremists-took-over-texas-20140701

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Strange bedfellows: right-wing Texans and lefties the world over are paranoid about GMOs and spin conspiracy theories about the companies that are developing them... 

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The impact of agricultural biotechnology on supply and land-use - Barrows &al (2014) - Env Dev Econ

The impact of agricultural biotechnology on supply and land-use - Barrows &al (2014) - Env Dev Econ | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

We use aggregate data to estimate supply, price, land-use, and greenhouse gas impacts of genetically engineered (GE) seed adoption due both to increased yield per hectare (intensive margin) and increased planted area (extensive margin).

 

An adoption model with profitability and risk considerations distinguishes between the two margins, where the intensive margin results from direct impacts and higher complimentary input use, and the extensive margin reflects the growing range of lands that become profitable with the GE technology.

 

We identify yield increases from cross-country time series variation in GE adoption share within the main GE crops saved lands and greenhouse gases as the difference between observed hectarage per crop and counterfactual hectarage needed to generate the same output without the yield boost from GE.

 

We find that altogether, GE saved 13 million hectares of land from conversion to agriculture in 2010, and averted emissions are equivalent to roughly one-eighth of the annual emissions from automobiles in the US... 

 

Growing demand forfood, feed, fiber and energy means that without new sources of yield gains, new lands must be recruited into production, or else prices must rise to equilibrate the market. Rising prices disproportionally hurt the poor, while clearing lands generates harmful environmental emissions. Agricultural biotechnology can potentiall y increase yields per hectare, thus boosting supply and preserving lands...

 

We find that adoption of GE has significant impact on the price of cotton, corn and soybeans. As corn and soybeans are used extensively in the production of food, these price effects likely translate into lower food prices, benefiting the poor. The analysis suggests that while high adoption rates of GE cotton and soybean has contributed to a significant price reduction in these commodities, bans and other regulations limited the adoption of GE corn to less than 30 per cent of total corn hectarage, reducing its total price effect.

 

If adoption of corn is expanded globally, we expect much larger increases in supply both because of reduction in pest damage as well the complementary input effect, resulting in further corn price reductions. The use of GE is practically banned everywhere for major food grains like wheat and rice, even though existing traits could reduce pest damage in these two crops.

 

Our analysis suggests that developing new GE varieties in these crops has the potential to reduce their prices as well as the environmental side effects fromproducing these crops. 

 

Finally, we find that GE has had significant environmental benefits, even considering just the intensive margin. We estimate that GE technology slowed land-use change and prevented GHG emissions on the order of one-eighth the annual GHG emissions caused by driving in the US. As the poor are expected to suffer the most from climate change, these environmental gains also mean distributional gains for the poor.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1355770X14000400

 

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Successful crossings with early flowering transgenic poplar: interspecific crossings, but not transgenesis, promoted aberrant phenotypes in offspring - Hoenicka &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnol J

Successful crossings with early flowering transgenic poplar: interspecific crossings, but not transgenesis, promoted aberrant phenotypes in offspring - Hoenicka &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnol J | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

In forest tree species, the reproductive phase is reached only after many years or even decades of juvenile growth. Different early flowering systems based on the genetic transfer of heat-shock promoter driven flowering-time genes have been proposed for poplar; however, no fertile flowers were reported until now. Here, we studied flower and pollen development... 

 

A comparison between intra- and interspecific crossings revealed that genetic transformation had no detrimental effects on F1-seedlings. However, interspecific crossings, a broadly accepted breeding method, produced 47% seedlings with an aberrant phenotype.

 

The early flowering system presented in this study opens new possibilities for accelerating breeding of poplar and other forest tree species. Fast breeding and the selection of transgene-free plants, once the breeding process is concluded, can represent an attractive alternative even under very restrictive regulations.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12213

 

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A chasm of misunderstanding - Hunter (2014) - EMBO

A chasm of misunderstanding - Hunter (2014) - EMBO | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The gulf between public perception and scientific consensus seems to be widening in a number of key areas with significant consequences for policy, funding and research. The science of climate change has featured prominently in this context, but profound gaps are also evident in some areas of the life sciences, including genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and risk assessment in medicine.

 

Public acceptance and trust in science has not been helped by several high‐profile cases of fraud, deliberate falsification and the withholding of clinical trial data, some cases of which have had significant public health consequences. These have happened at a time when science is reaching ever more deeply into the lives of citizens with the rapid rise of ‘omics’ technologies, which are changing not only the life sciences, but also public health through personal DNA tests... 

 

A similar factor that can skew the public’s perception of scientific expertise is the suspicion that research is driven by vested interests, which has been a major issue in the debate about GM crops, especially in Europe... The public opposition to GM crops continues, despite the lack of evidence of environmental harm, even in places where GM plants have been grown extensively... [There is] consistent lobbying of government and the public by environmental groups opposed to the research, whose claims are aided by the attitude and approach of the GM industry... 


"The anti-GM movement has operated on a wide front and it has been successful, in part, because... They have targeted industrial agriculture because they see that it has unfortunate side effects... Many of these side effects are real, but GM has failed to present itself as a solution, even though it could be. In the eyes of the anti-GM people, the new technology reinforces the problems”.

 

The anti-GM movement has therefore supported what Baulcombe calls the dysfunctional regulatory process, because it is very effective at suppressing the introduction of new crops. “This strategy has a feedback component because the only organizations able to bear the regulatory cost are the large multinational companies...  [Agricultural policymakers] have failed to find a strategy for diversity in agricultural economy in which there is managed coexistence of ecological and industrial agricultural systems that exploits the best of both”... 

 

"The argument in favour of GM crops will gradually win out, simply because of the benefits... emerging traits are so useful—disease-resistant potato for example. I suspect that GM rice in China is the threshold—it has been developed and tested and will influence global perception when it is introduced”...  


Scientists needto understand their role in communicating research to the public and the consequences of their behaviour, and the public need to be helped to understand that scientific evidence is rarely one hundred per cent conclusive and that policy judgements have to be

made on the basis of probabilities, rather than irrefutable facts.. 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.15252/embr.201439041

 

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Gains to species diversity in organically farmed fields are not propagated at the farm level - Schneider &al (2014) - Nature Communications

Gains to species diversity in organically farmed fields are not propagated at the farm level - Schneider &al (2014) - Nature Communications | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Organic farming is promoted to reduce environmental impacts of agriculture, but surprisingly little is known about its effects at the farm level, the primary unit of decision making. Here we report the effects of organic farming on species diversity at the field, farm and regional levels by sampling plants, earthworms, spiders and bees in 1470 fields of 205 randomly selected organic and nonorganic farms in twelve European and African regions... Average gains are marginal +4.6% at the farm and +3.1% at the regional level, even in intensive arable regions. Additional, targeted measures are therefore needed to fulfil the commitment of organic farming to benefit farmland biodiversity... 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms5151

 

The number of habitats on the land plays an important role alongside the type and intensity of farming practices... The study shows that even organic farms have to actively support biodiversity by, for example, conserving different habitats on their holdings... If types of field boundaries such as grass verges or hedges were included in the comparison, the difference between organic and non-organic decreases... There was little difference in the total number of species on the farms... The occurrence of rare or threatened species did not increase on organic farms... 

 

To increase the number of habitats, the authors of the study recommend adding structural elements, such as woods, grass verges and fallow land, to farms. "Surprisingly, viewed across all regions, we did not find a higher number of natural habitats on organic farms than non-organic farms"... "The results of the study underline the importance of maintaining and expanding natural landscape features"... If these additional habitats are different to the rest of the farm, for example hedges in grassland farms or herbaceous strips in arable farms, they have a huge impact on the biodiversity of a farm.


http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-06/tum-oab062614.php


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

So what matters for biodiversity is not organic vs. conventional but whether or not the farmer cares about it or not; organic certification does not guarantee that the food is produced in a way that increases biodiversity...

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U.S. says science should settle farm debates in trade deal with EU - Reuters (2014)

U.S. says science should settle farm debates in trade deal with EU - Reuters (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

A planned EU/U.S. trade deal should sweep away "non-scientific barriers" to U.S. sales of many genetically modified crops and some chemically treated meats in Europe, the U.S. agriculture secretary said... 

 

The two sides aim to create the world's largest free-trade pact, whose advocates say it could boost their economies by $100 billion a year each. But after a year of talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), agriculture is emerging as one of the most difficult areas. 

 

The European Union has ruled out importing meat from animals injected with hormones and said that it will not simply open the door to GM crops. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said both sides should have the common goal of opening markets and eliminating "non-scientific barriers". "Science is a common language ... We will be working towards making sure that whatever agreements are reached, they are consistent with sound science," he told a media briefing...


In the case of GM crops, the EU has cleared for import some 50 of about 450 commercial strains. The bloc takes in about 30 million tonnes a year for its cattle, pigs and poultry, but EU retailers hardly stock any GM food because of widespread consumer resistance.

Vilsack said it was not acceptable that it took four years or more for GM strains to gain access to European markets after winning clearance from the European Food Safety Authority. That compared with a U.S. norm of about 18 months.

 

The United States is demanding the regulatory process be harmonised... Vilsack said the U.S. government was very concerned about suggestions that GM products posed a safety risk, which he said was not borne out by science. Labelling, suggested by some in Europe, would not be a solution, he said... Insisting on a label indicating a foodstuff contained a GM product risked sending a wrong impression that this was a safety issue... 

 

Vilsack said the European Union should also rethink its current bans on chlorine-washed chicken and beef from cattle raised with growth hormones... the chlorine treatment was a safe way of reducing pathogens... 


http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/17/uk-eu-usa-trade-idUSKBN0ES1G920140617


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Introducing synthetic features to living organisms without genetic modification - Phys.org (2014)

Introducing synthetic features to living organisms without genetic modification - Phys.org (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Genetic engineering is one of the great achievements of modern science, allowing for the insertion or deletion of genes in order to control an organism's characteristics and behaviors. However, genetic engineering has its drawbacks, including the difficulties involved in engineering living systems and the potential long-term consequences of altering ecosystems with engineered organisms.

 

But a new study has shown that controlling organisms on the cellular level does not necessarily require genetic modification... Escherichia coli (E. coli) behavior can be controlled by constructing artificial cells that first sense molecules that E. coli alone cannot sense, and then release different molecules that E. coli can sense. In a way, the artificial cells act as translators by converting unrecognized signals into a chemical language that organisms can understand. The translated signal can then potentially trigger a controllable response in the organism... 

 

"There's more than one way to do synthetic biology... Too often everyone gets excited about one technology or one approach, which sometimes means that solutions to problems get missed because these potential solutions don't depend on prevalent methods. What we've shown is that artificial cells could be used to get around a few of the aspects of living technologies that make people uncomfortable." ... 

 

The researchers highlight several examples of how artificial cells may play a role in controlling cellular behavior. One application is using bacteria to search for and clean up environmental contaminants. Instead of genetically engineering bacteria to do this, artificial cells could be constructed to sense the contaminant molecules and release chemoattractants that lure natural bacteria capable of feeding on the contaminants to the site.

 

Artificial cells could also be used for medical applications, such as to destroy tumors and bacterial infections. For example, rather than spraying engineered bacteria into the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients, artificial cells could be built to detect the presence of specific biofilms, and then release small molecules to disperse the biofilms and thus clear the infection. Similar strategies could also be used to replace engineered probiotics in food and supplements with artificial cells that communicate with gut microbiota to prevent disease.

 

Before these applications can be realized, however, artificial cells will need several improvements. One of the most important limitations is the batch-to-batch variability of the artificial cells, which results in varying degrees of activity. More work also needs to be done to protect against degradation of the artificial cells' membranes, which would result in the release of the encapsulated molecules even in the absence of the environmental molecules. Future work may also include merging non-genetically modified and genetically modified components to tailor specific cellular features... 

 

http://phys.org/news/2014-06-synthetic-features-genetic-modification.html

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms5012

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"Artificial cells could be used to get around a few of the aspects of living technologies that make people uncomfortable." >> Not sure people with subjective reservations against GMOs will accept the use of "artificial cells" ...


"Future work may also include merging non-genetically modified and genetically modified components to tailor specific cellular features." >> So for the writers themselves these are all just different methods that can (and should) be used in plant breeding, simply depending on what makes most sense (and not what's ideologically expedient). 

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Field evaluations of biotech traits in sugarcane - Ag Professional (2014)

Field evaluations of biotech traits in sugarcane - Ag Professional (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Ceres, Inc., an agricultural biotechnology and seed company, will evaluate a number of its biotech traits in sugarcane in South America. Plantings were recently completed and preliminary performance observations will be available by the end of the year. Ceres expects to receive sugar yield results in the second half of 2015 when the first growing cycle is completed... 

 

The pilot-scale field evaluations include... traits for high sugar and drought tolerance. According to the company, these first field evaluations in sugarcane are designed to measure the performance of the traits in leading commercial varieties, with a goal of advancing the best plants for broader evaluation... 


The company’s biotech traits could provide significant benefits to sugarcane production. Higher sugar yields and greater resilience to drought and other stress conditions would not only increase output, but also lower production costs... “Plant breeding is particularly cumbersome in sugarcane. The plants have long growing cycles and common breeding processes are difficult to implement due to limitations in how and when sugarcane plants produce pollen and flowers.” ... 

 

Commercialization timelines will depend primarily on trial results and the regulatory review process in various markets... According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 62 million acres (25 million hectares) of sugarcane were harvested worldwide in 2012, including 27 million acres (11 million hectares) in South America.


http://www.agprofessional.com/news/Ceres-initiates-field-evaluations-of-its-biotech-traits-in-sugarc-262917221.html


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Environmentalists as speculators: Greenpeace employee gambled donor millions - Spiegel Online (2014)

[Slightly edited machine translation]

 

"Slip up" at Greenpeace: A member of the finance department has made millions of losses through foreign exchange speculations, according to SPIEGEL information. The money came from donations. 

 

The environmental organization Greenpeace has been rocked by a financial scandal. An employee in the Greenpeace headquarters in Amsterdam lost a total of 3.8 million Euros (5.1 million USD) in currency transactions. According to SPIEGEL information the money came from donations that financially strong Greenpeace country organizations, such as the German one, had transferred to the headquarters in Holland. 

 

In future trading an employee of the finance department bet on sinking Euro exchange rates. However, things eventually turned out quite differently. The employee had committed a "serious misjudgement", and had been sacked meanwhile, said Mike Townsley of Greenpeace International.

 

Currently further investigation or going on, of how it could come to this loss of millions. As cause also organizational error in the internal control system would have been discovered. But these are now resolved, assured Townsley. At the moment the environmental organization rules out that the financial expert wanted to enrich himself. Also corruption was not part of it.

 

"We can only apologize to our members and hope they understand that our organization and our staff are not free of flaws," the Greenpeace spokesman adds. The loss was serious, but not threatening the organization's existence. The funds were intended for those national organizations that are still being expanded.

 

Current campaigns of the eco-activists are not endangered, says Townsley. In the last published Annual Report of 2012 Greenpeace International reported revenues of around 270 million Euros (366 millon USD), most of which donations of nearly three million supporters.

 

https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=de&tl=en&u=http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/soziales/greenpeace-mitarbeiter-verzockt-spender-millionen-a-975215.html

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

(i) "The loss [of 5.1 million US dollars] was serious, but not threatening the organization's existence." >> Quite impressive that such an amount seems to be little more than petty cash. 

 

(ii) Also quite interesting that seeking profits - moreover on financial markets - is OK if they do it themselves (even if in this case one employee had committed a "misjudgement")... 

 

(iii) "The funds were intended for those national organizations that are still being expanded." >> Such as the one in India? >> There the Indian "Intelligence Bureau has accused Greenpeace... of hurting economic progress by campaigning against power projects, mining and genetically modified food, the most serious charge yet against foreign-funded organisations... 'A significant number of Indian NGOs funded by donors based in US, UK, Germany and Netherlands have been noticed to be using people-centric issues to create an environment, which lends itself to stalling development projects,' the Intelligence Bureau said." 

http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/06/12/uk-india-projects-idINKBN0EN1DL20140612

 

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Genetically modified mosquitoes offer hope in malaria fight - Reuters (2014)

Genetically modified mosquitoes offer hope in malaria fight - Reuters (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Scientists have found a way of genetically modifying mosquitoes to produce sperm that only creates males, offering a potential fresh approach to fighting and eventually eradicating malaria.

 

Researchers... tested a genetic method that distorts the sex ratio of Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, the main transmitters of the malaria parasite, so that the female mosquitoes that bite and pass the disease to humans are no longer produced... the team reported that in the first laboratory tests, the technique created a fully fertile mosquito strain that produced 95 percent male offspring... 

 

"Once modified mosquitoes are introduced, males will start to produce mainly sons, and their sons will do the same, so essentially the mosquitoes carry out the work for us"... The scientists introduced the genetically modified mosquitoes to five caged wild-type mosquito populations. In four of the five cages, this eliminated the entire population within six generations due to the lack of females. The hope is that if this could be replicated in the wild, this would ultimately cause the malaria-carrying mosquito population to crash.

 

"This is super cool work," said Michael Bonsall, a reader in zoology at Britain's University of Oxford. "Reducing mating potential of mosquitoes by modifying sperm is a population suppression technology. It will be very exciting to see how this ... is now taken forward." 

 

Malaria kills some 627,000 people worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organisation, and the vast majority of its victims are babies and children in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria control has been threatened by the spread of insecticide resistant mosquitoes and malaria parasites resistant to drugs, and the WHO says more than 3.4 billion people remain at risk from contracting the disease.

"Malaria is debilitating and often fatal and we need to find new ways of tackling it"... 

 

http://www.trust.org/item/20140610145723-yfzo0

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms4977

 

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More agricultural groups endorse GMO wheat - Capital Press (2014)

More agricultural groups endorse GMO wheat - Capital Press (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
Sixteen agricultural organizations in the U.S., Canada and Australia have publicly endorsed the use of biotechnology in wheat to make the cereal more competitive with other crops. Half of the organizations involved — including the National Association of Wheat Growers, U.S. Wheat Associates and the North American Millers’ Association in the U.S. — had signed a similar pledge five years ago...

 

NAWG spokesman Will Stafford said the nine original participants worked for the better part of a year recruiting new organizations, bringing the coalition to 16 groups, and devising wording they could all support. New U.S. groups include the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union... the pledge also supports science-based regulatory systems, following proper regulatory processes and maintaining customer choice.


“Hopefully, it sends a clear message to investors that our farmers are very willing to accept biotechnology and it spurs even more investment and innovation in wheat, not just in biotechnology but innovation in general,” Stafford said. He said it may take another decade for biotechnology in wheat to be commercialized and hopes more groups will ask to sign the pledge... 


Officials with the American Farmers Union and Farm Bureau said their organizations are generally supportive of biotechnology, even if they hadn’t previously singled out biotech wheat... According to Farm Bureau, the world’s population gets 20 percent of its calories from wheat, and demand could soon outstrip supply as other crops improved with biotechnology are becoming more profitable to raise.

 

“I think wheat growers are recognizing this is an important tool we need development in,” said Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations for American Farm Bureau Federation. “We need all of us in the food supply chain to speak up and be more proactive and bold in our support of the technology” ... the technology will be critical to protect wheat growers from damaging fungi for which few resistant varieties are now available.

 

http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20140610/more-agricultural-groups-endorse-gmo-wheat

 

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AckerbauHalle's curator insight, June 12, 12:49 AM

Die Bewegung zu GVO Weizen bekommt mehr Zustimmung.