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Beneficial Insects, Nematodes not Harmed by GM Crops - ESA (2014)

Beneficial Insects, Nematodes not Harmed by GM Crops - ESA (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

A large body of literature has shown that genetically modified (GM) plants that produce proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to protect themselves from insect pests have little to no effect on a wide range of non-target insects. However, concerns about Bt crops still exist.

 

Now, two new studies using more exacting methods show that Bt crops have no negative effects on two beneficial insect predators or on a beneficial, entomopathogenic nematode... 

 

Researchers used caterpillars that were known to be resistant to Bt proteins and fed them Bt maize and Bt cotton. They then fed the caterpillars to two common, beneficial, predatory insects — insidious flower bugs (Orius insidiosus) and big-eyed bugs (Geocoris punctipes) — for two generations and compared them to another group of predators that consumed caterpillars fed on non-Bt plants.

 

The researchers found that the survival, development, adult mass, fecundity and fertility of the insect predators in both groups were similar, regardless of whether they consumed caterpillars that fed on Bt plants or non-Bt plants.

 

"This research demonstrates that the current Bt proteins used in corn and cotton crops globally do not harm G. punctipes or O. insidious, two important insect predators that help suppress pest populations on corn, cotton and many other crops," said Dr. Anthony Shelton, a professor of entomology at Cornell University... 

 

Shelton and his colleagues used similar methods and found that an important nematode predator was not harmed when it ingested another Bt protein... "Together, these two studies add to the scientific literature demonstrating that Bt plants can control targeted insect pests while not harming important natural enemies that help suppress pest species and maintain biodiversity in agricultural systems," Shelton added... 

 

http://www.entsoc.org/press-releases/beneficial-insects-nematodes-not-harmed-gm-crops

Original articles:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1603/EN13184  &;  http://dx.doi.org/10.1603/EC13310

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

[updated 20 November, 2015]  

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Jennifer Mach's comment, March 30, 2013 1:05 PM
I admit I haven't read this list... but for future reference, I'll definitely have a look.
Karen Ashby's curator insight, April 5, 9:26 AM

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

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New weapons against agricultural pests - Harvard (2016) 

New weapons against agricultural pests - Harvard (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
Scientists have developed molecules that may help to solve one of the most pressing problems in modern agriculture: the rise of insects that are resistant to traits that were engineered to help crops withstand pests. Using phage-assisted continuous evolution (PACE) technology developed by… David Liu… a team of researchers evolved new forms of a natural insecticidal protein called “Bt toxin”… 

“Our goal in this collaboration was ambitious… The key questions were: Can we retarget a Bt toxin to a different insect gut protein by evolving the Bt toxin, and will doing so enable us to kill insects that have become resistant to wild-type Bt toxin? Our hope was to use PACE to help stay ahead of insect resistance.” The Bt toxin work, however, only scratches the surface when it comes to PACE… “In the case of Bt toxin, we evolved new Bt toxins containing dozens of amino acid changes over 500 generations in 22 days of PACE. To do that many generations of protein evolution with traditional stepwise methods… might take a decade”… 

“We have been steadily expanding the types of molecular features we can evolve using PACE, and we recently developed a system that selects for proteins with the ability to bind to a target protein”… That development made it possible to tackle the challenge of evolving new forms of Bt toxin… because a key step in Bt toxin action is binding to a protein in the insect gut… Insects may eventually develop resistance to the evolved Bt toxins… this system provides the capability of generating many new Bt toxins that target different insect proteins. The work also suggests that it may be possible to evolve Bt toxins that target multiple gut proteins at once, making it far more difficult for insects to evolve resistance. 

“The hope is that by applying this strategy, we can overcome what’s considered to be one of the biggest threats to sustaining the yield gains of modern agriculture”… To test the effectiveness of the evolved toxins, Liu and his collaborators fed the newly evolved toxins to colonies of Bt-resistant insects and observed the potency of the evolved toxins. “The resistant insects tolerated about 1,000-fold higher levels of wild-type Bt toxin than normal, sensitive insects… But the evolved Bt toxins kill these resistant insects up to 335-fold more potently than wild-type Bt toxin, thereby restoring almost all of the lost Bt toxin potency”… 

What’s most rewarding about the research is the prospect that its benefits will be felt beyond the laboratory…. This collaboration is a great example of a project that is not aimed at the development of new therapeutics, but instead at another important goal – namely, trying to protect and improve our ability to feed people… 



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Gene-policy transfer: China may relax its almost total ban on growing GM food - Economist (2016) 

Gene-policy transfer: China may relax its almost total ban on growing GM food - Economist (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

After years of fierce debate in China about whether to allow widespread growing of genetically modified (GM) food crops, a strong signal emerged in 2013 that the leadership wanted to push ahead. It was given in a speech on agricultural policy by President Xi Jinping. In it he recounted his own experience of hunger during China’s great famine in the early 1960s. He also recalled lean times later that decade during the Cultural Revolution when he went months without “seeing the tiniest drop of oil” or “knowing the taste of meat”. He said that guaranteeing China’s “food security” was still a serious worry. Hinting at what he saw as a possible remedy, he said China must “occupy the commanding heights of transgenic technology” and not yield that ground to “big foreign firms”. 


Twenty years earlier, visiting European scientists had been flabbergasted at how much progress China appeared to be making… Unlike the Europeans, who had had to beg regulators for permission to experiment with a few hundred square metres of GM plants, their Chinese counterparts were conducting trials across tens of thousands of hectares. Since then, however, Chinese policy had grown much more conservative, for two main reasons. The first is anxiety among some members of the public about the safety of GM foods. The other is a worry that China’s food market might become reliant on foreign GM technology… Concerns about China’s growing dependence on food imports may be causing policymakers to rethink. This year’s Document Number One… said for the first time that China would “carefully promote” GM food crops… China planned to “push forward” commercial cultivation of GM maize over the next five years. 


Worries about foreign domination of GM technology may ease if a $43 billion deal… goes ahead for the takeover of Syngenta… by a Chinese company… The acquisition must still be approved by regulators in several countries, but it could give China control of Syngenta’s valuable GM-seed patents. China’s policymakers may be trying to bring belated order to what is already thought to be the widespread, illegal, growing of GM crops… 93% of samples taken from maize fields… in the north-east tested positive for genetic modification, as did nearly all the seed samples and maize-based foods it gathered at supermarkets in the area. Anti-GM campaigners in China may be too late in trying to close the barn door. 


http://www.economist.com/news/china/21697272-china-may-relax-its-almost-total-ban-growing-gm-food-gene-policy-transfer


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French court hands symbolic win to GMO maize supporters - Reuters (2016) 

French court hands symbolic win to GMO maize supporters - Reuters (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

France's top administrative court overturned a 2014 ban on a type of genetically modified (GMO) maize... The court ruled... that the decree... did not demonstrate serious health or environmental risks, as was required by European Union rules in order to withdraw a GMO crop already approved at EU level.

However, France has since passed legislation banning the growing of any GMO maize, before requesting to opt out of EU-wide GMO approvals under rules adopted last year... 

The French maize seed federation FNPSMS said it and other parties had pursued their court appeal, despite later legislative changes, in order to prove a point.

"It was more a matter of principle that we conduct this appeal to show there was no scientific basis to the ban"... Seed companies and many farmers say the EU is putting itself at a disadvantage to other major agricultural regions... 


http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-gmo-court-idUSKCN0XC1HZ


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The Push for GMO Labeling Isn’t About Facts. It’s a Religious Movement - Slate (2016) 

The Push for GMO Labeling Isn’t About Facts. It’s a Religious Movement - Slate (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
The fight over genetically modified ingredients is almost over. The industry is backing down… For huge companies… the real-life facts about GMOs – ... about their actual effects, or noneffects, on human health and the environment – are secondary. So what if advocates for labeling come off as anti-science zealots or denialists with no more respect for expert consensus than a bunch of climate skeptics? So what if study after study shows that GM foods are safe? The people want what they want. Transparency sells. 

If you’re the kind of person who frets over Americans’ lack of scientific literacy, this accommodationist position may send you into a sputtering rage. A person’s right to know, you might contend, should be in balance with his or her right to avoid unnecessary panic. The mere presence of a label has dire implications. It tells consumers that there is a meaningful distinction to be drawn between GMO and non-GMO ingredients… and one that should be taken seriously. Yet “genetic modification” describes a process, not an end result, and there’s no evidence that this process leads to special risks. Some bioengineered options on the supermarket shelf could be better for your health than other products. Some could be better for independent farmers and their families. And some could be worse. The scarlet GMO blankets all this variation and replaces it with dread. 

But this approach to the debate ignores the movement’s deeper motivations. It posits that the case for labeling GMO ingredients stems from scientific claims and that it can be addressed or argued down on scientific grounds. If you examine what the advocates of labeling are really saying and if you study the legal language they’re promoting, it’s clear that anti-GMO sentiment goes well beyond the facts. “[W]e’re not advocating labeling because we believe GM crops are unsafe,” says Gary Hirshberg, chairman of… the organic industry-backed advocacy group Just Label It… 

The movement Hirshberg represents makes assertions about public health but draws its energy from public values. Like the push for Prohibition or the recent fights to regulate what can be called a “natural“ food, it builds from intuitions rather than observations, from apprehensions rather than data, and from theology rather than epidemiology. Avoidance of genetically modified foods is more religious than rational: It’s a cultural taboo akin to keeping kosher, based on core beliefs about purity and the natural order. As such, its adherents deserve the same respect and deference that we afford to other spiritual communities. 

The pro-labeling movement makes no effort to hide its devotional underpinnings. It even has its own saints and visitations. Pamm Larry, the rural grandma who launched California’s labeling initiative in 2011, told… that the plan came to her in a dream… The Vermont law that goes into effect this summer lists religion among its four cardinal motivations… The anti-GMO movement intersects and overlaps with organized religions… Religious objections to GMOs aren’t limited to esoteric, sectarian debates over pig-ness and eel-ification…. Focus groups expressed more ecumenical concerns that genetic engineering might be an unnatural violation – a way of “playing God” or abusing God’s creation. Even for those who don’t belong to any church, these generic fears about messing with the sanctity of nature define their own, freelanced animism. And familiar claims that GM foods are hazardous to human health or harmful to the planet can be understood as offshoots of an underlying, theological position: One pays a price for sacrilege. 

If opposition to GMOs functions like a religious food taboo, then the limits of that taboo are subject to further sectarian divides. These play out most clearly in the Talmudic debates over the exact meaning of the phrase “genetically engineered.” Consider the case of Chipotle: The company started labeling its genetically modified ingredients in 2013, and it was ahead of the curve when it banned them outright last April. (For the record, Chipotle’s aggressive stance on GMOs has failed to prevent serial outbreaks of burrito-borne E. coli, norovirus, and salmonella.) But in August 2015… Colleen Gallagher filed suit against the company for deceptive business practices. “As Chipotle told consumers it was ‘G-M-Over it,’ the opposite was true,” her lawsuit claimed. Beverages in the restaurant’s soda machines were made with GM corn syrup. Meat in the restaurant’s entrees was cut from animals that had eaten GM feed… 

Like the circled K or U that signifies a food is kosher, a GMO-free label would offer nothing more and nothing less than spiritual reassurance. It hints at something deeper than the chemical makeup of ingredients and something more fundamental than any set of scientific facts… Consumers with kosher or anti-GMO beliefs share a set of common interests. Both hold religious or quasi-religious views about the sanctity of food and demand transparency about agricultural practices and other modes of food production. The two groups also share a common problem: The products they want are indistinguishable, on the supermarket shelf, from the products they shun… 

So why not treat GMO labeling the way we treat kosher designations? Instead of putting out a mandate for GMO labeling – which feels more like an imposition of religion than preservation of its freedom – regulators should spend their time reducing the risk of label fraud. As with kosher regulation, they could ensure that any voluntary scheme for marketing foods as “GMO-free” is honest and consistent. If we want to keep our kitchens clear of genetic engineering – if we choose to worship one specific way of growing plants and animals – then that should be our right. When we buy a GMO-free burrito, we should have faith in what we’re getting. 


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Downwind safety on the farm: Manure application research aims to improve food safety - Agronomy (2016)

Downwind safety on the farm: Manure application research aims to improve food safety - Agronomy (2016) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

High profile recalls of fruits and veggies seem to be a new normal in the American food landscape. The recalls follow outbreaks of foodborne illnesses caused by microbes like E. coli. These outbreaks can send unsuspecting veggie-philes rushing to… the hospital. Some outbreaks can even result in deaths… Outbreaks have major consequences for supermarkets and growers… they must regain public trust or face possible financial ruin. 


Of concern is how nearby farming practices can taint produce with bacteria. This can happen when farmers apply animal manure to fields near fresh produce. Tiny particles, including bacteria, may go airborne and drift to nearby fields. But scientists weren’t sure just how likely microbes can travel from manure application sites to downwind produce… New field research… is providing an answer. Shane Rogers… measured how far common bacteria – including Salmonella and E. coli – are likely to travel downwind from manure application sites… 


The team used field data to understand how these bacteria travel from manure application sites to produce… They took samples at several distances from manure application sites and measured the presence of illness-causing bacteria. The researchers used computer models to expand their understanding… “The models allow us to predict produce contamination over a larger range of probable conditions than our raw measurements would provide.” These include the type of manure, the terrain of the farm, and weather conditions at the time the manure is applied. 


The team also evaluated the risk of illness. This gave the team a better understanding of how likely someone is to get sick from produce when a certain amount of bacteria is present. Combining all that data, the team found that produce fields should be set back from areas of manure application by at least 160 meters. That distance should help lower the risk of foodborne illness to acceptable levels (1 in 10,000). Rogers emphasized that the advice is for a minimum setback… Additional distance and delay between manure application and harvest would provide further protection… 


https://www.agronomy.org/news/media-inquiries/releases/2016/0413/770/


Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.2134/jeq2015.04.0187


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
Manure applications are not exclusive to organic agriculture, but manure is nevertheless an organic fertiliser source. The suggestion that organic farming is a source of contamination is not new (e.g. if weed control is less effective, organic fields can also spread weeds). However, this study confirms that also potentially deadly contamination with microbes can originate in organic fields. And even with a buffer distance equal to 1.5 football fields, the risk of spreading foodborne illnesses to neighbouring fields still is 1 in 10,000. Perhaps this is indeed an "acceptable" risk, but compare this to the "risk" of pollen-flow from fields where GM crops are cultivated, which causes zero illnesses. Or compare this to the zero-risk that proponents of organic farming often demand with regard to "contamination" through material from GM crops... 
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Will Europe toast GM wheat for gluten sufferers? - Laursen (2016) - Nature Biotechnol

Spanish researchers are testing GM low-gliadin wheat for gluten-allergy sufferers. But stifling EU bureaucracy and adoption challenges may mean an uphill struggle to market… A clinical trial of a new type of dough made from genetically modified (GM) wheat. The wheat has been altered to be low in gliadins – the portion of gluten proteins that are toxic to people with celiac disease. If successful, the trial could bolster growing research efforts to engineer wheat to be compatible with the immune systems of the ~1% of the global population with celiac disease and the much larger number of people with gluten allergies. 


Low-gluten wheat could also open a new front in the battle for GM food acceptability in Europe. If Europeans are ever going to accept a GM food, celiac-safe wheat may be a good candidate. European consumers accounted for over €1.1 ($1.21) million of nearly €1.9 million worldwide gluten-free food market… Global gluten-free bakery sales are expected to grow at >7% annually… But because this and other efforts to modify wheat involve inserting genetic elements to silence genes, they are subject to a European regulatory process closely tied to anti-GM politics. And even if such legal barriers to marketing are overcome, marketing such a wheat would require not just farmers, but millers, bakers and consumers to be persuaded that it is worthwhile… 


As more and more foods incorporate this staple cereal, the incidence of celiac disease – a chronic, small-intestinal enteropathy triggered by gluten proteins from wheat (as well as barley and rye) – has been on the rise. Researchers… found that the disorder is more than four times more prevalent today than it was a few generations ago. The simplest way for people with celiac disease to avoid problems is to bypass wheat altogether; indeed, breads made from rice, corn and other grains are ever more common on supermarket shelves. However, in the absence of gluten, the texture, smell and taste of bread are not the same, necessitating the use of additives, enzymes and emulsifiers. Another approach to gluten intolerance is to improve people’s ability to process gluten through pharmaceuticals… 


But what if wheat itself could be modified before it ever reached the mill and was made into flour? At least three groups in the US are attempting to use conventional breeding techniques to produce a celiac-safe wheat. However, this approach is confounded by the fact that the most widespread species of wheat, commonly called bread wheat, is hexaploid. Those six sets of chromosomes make it difficult to breed out the genes that produce the harmful gliadins. Further complicating this approach is the complexity of the gliadin locus itself. Three structural isotypes exist on two wheat chromosomes in complex loci. Altogether, hundreds of copies of gliadin-encoding genes exist in a typical wheat genome. This is why Francisco Barro… has resorted to RNA interference (RNAi)… RNAi allowed Barro and his colleagues to target the gliadin-producing genes on all wheat chromosomes, deactivating the gliadin before it could combine with glutenin proteins and form a gluten. 


The crop they will use in their first human trials is twelfth-generation and Barro says, “We have not seen any decrease in the effectiveness of the gene deletions in the 12 generations of this line of wheat”… Members of the celiac community have… been cheering him and his team along… Contacts with the celiac community helped motivate Barro and his team to make a test batch of bread from their wheat… The team asked a panel of 11 trained tasters to rate the experimental bread and two types of control breads: a bread made from unmodified wheat, and a gluten-free bread made from rice flour… The taste testers gave it average scores of 6.6 out of 9, compared with 7.4 for unmodified bread and 2.4 for the rice bread… 


He is now talking to… America-based multinationals, but he notes that his task is complicated by the fact that the wheat’s GM status makes it subject to additional regulation all the way from the test field and farms to mills, shops and consumer’s larders. “There are not that many players that have the capability to deregulate a GM product,” he says, due to its cost and complexity, and once that’s done, “you need to get the production and retail chains engaged, with a consumer message at the end of it”… There are many reasons why Europe is an unlikely place for GM wheat to take root. European consumers have resisted widespread adoption of GM foods so far. Many national governments continue to insist on opt-out clauses for European Union (EU)-approved GM cultivars and imports. As a result, despite the EU approving dozens of traits for food and feed and importation and processing, only one approved crop is currently cultivated inside the EU. Many of the GM crops Europe does grow and import are used to feed farm animals instead of directly feeding humans. 


Some biotech companies based in Europe have simply decided to uproot operations and move to the US. Spain, however, has taken a more GM-friendly stance; it is the site of ~90% of the GM crops grown in in the EU… Importantly for Barro’s GM wheat, some Spanish celiac organizations have already expressed a willingness to accept GM origins if it means their members can eat wheat bread. If bread made with the experimental wheat passes European approval for sale as a food, says biologist Juan Ignacio Serrano-Vela, manager for research and education at the Madrid Association of Celiacs and the Gluten-Sensitive, the GM aspects do not trouble him. “If it passes all the rules, I’m fine [with it], and I’d tell that to other members,” he says… Still, Barro’s published research has not yet established whether the wheat is edible for celiac people… 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nbt.3533


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Copper sulfate found to be toxic to stingless bees - ESA (2016)

Copper sulfate has been used in agriculture since the 1800s, at least. In the U.S. it is widely used as a fungicide on organic and conventional crops, and it is also found in some fertilizer products. A new study… has found that copper sulfate, when used as a leaf fertilizer, is lethal to the native Brazilian bee known as Friesella schrottkyi. In addition, the study… found that sublethal exposure also affected the bee's behavior. "This could have implications for growers who use copper sulfate as a leaf fertilizer, and as a fungicide"… 


To better understand how copper sulfate applications might affect Friesella schrottkyi, the researchers collected four beehives and observed the activity of adult worker bees. Two commercial leaf fertilizers common to Brazil were tested, including copper sulfate (with 24 percent sulfur), and a micronutrient mix that contained much smaller concentrations of heavy metals. The bioinsecticide spinosad was used as a positive control because it's well known to be lethal to bees. 


The researchers were surprised to find that, under oral exposure, the copper sulfate fertilizer killed all of the test bees within 72 hours, and was more lethal than the spinosad control. Copper sulfate and spinosad also led to the bees eating twice as much food as non-exposed bees, further underscoring the risk of exposure to copper sulfate. Take-off and flight activity was also much higher for workers exposed to copper sulfate. Simple contact with copper sulfate (such as brushing on legs) did not result in such severe effects, but did continue to increase food ingestion. 


Stingless bees are the prevailing wild pollinators in this region and are more efficient than honey bees, which is partially why the researchers chose to study the effects of copper sulfate on Friesella schrottkyi… 


http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-04/esoa-csf041116.php


Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jee/tow044


The ongoing concern about bee decline has largely focused on honey bees and neonicotinoid insecticides, while native pollinators such as Neotropical stingless bees and agrochemicals such as other insecticide groups, pesticides in general, and fertilizers… remain neglected as potential contributors to pollination decline…

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

A pesticide that is used widely in organic farming kills bees... 

-- 
And a related article: 

Combined effects of copper, climate change can be deadly for amphibians, research finds - U Georgia (2016) 

Researchers… warn that the extinction of two amphibian species… may be hastened by the combined effects of climate change and copper-contaminated wetlands… Copper is naturally found in aquatic environments and, to some extent, facilitates physiological processes. However, it is toxic at elevated levels… The results of their study… show that… effects of copper and climate change may increase the risk of population extinction… "It doesn't take much… The amounts of copper that are safe for humans in drinking water can be lethal to amphibians due to a higher sensitivity"… The study has implications for all amphibians… 



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Genetically Modified Maize: Less Drudgery for Her, More Maize for Him? Evidence from Smallholder Maize Farmers in South Africa - Gouse &al (2016) - World Dev

Genetically Modified Maize: Less Drudgery for Her, More Maize for Him? Evidence from Smallholder Maize Farmers in South Africa - Gouse &al (2016) - World Dev | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
Genetically modified (GM) crop technologies have made great strides since [their] first introduction in 1996. Although there is an extensive and growing body of literature on the economic impact of the adoption of GM crops in both developing and developed economies, there is only scant evidence that the technology has had any specific and distinguishable impact among female and male farmers. In economies where female farmers and female household members have a significant and often differentiated role in agriculture production, it is crucial to be able to answer this question. 

This paper presents quantitative and qualitative results from a study of the gender-specific adoption and performance effects of insect resistant (Bt) and herbicide-tolerant (HT) maize produced by smallholder farmers… in South Africa… Higher yields are the main reason behind male adoption, while female farmers tend to favor other aspects like taste, quality, and the ease of farming HT crops. Women farmers (and also children) saved significant time because less weeding is required, an activity that has traditionally been the responsibility of female farmers. The newer stacked varieties were preferred by both male and female farmers and seemed to be in high demand by both groups. However, lack of GM seed availability in the region and poor market access were possible limitations to the adoption and spread of the technology… 

Even though women maize farmers in South Africa appear to be slow in adopting new technologies, they can potentially benefit more from the introduction of GM technologies than their male counterparts due to their specific roles in the smallholder production system… Women farmers seem to value the weed control benefit of herbicide-tolerant HT maize [more] than the borer control benefit of Bt maize. In a community where the majority of farmers are elderly and HIV/AIDS and out-migration constrains household supply of labor, a labor-saving technology (ease of production) of the HT and stacked varieties seem to be preferred by women farmers over gross income or yield increases from Bt varieties… 

While we clearly find that women farmers save in weeding time by cultivating the HT and stacked maize, it was not clear if this was offset due to higher demand for labor during harvesting. The existence of the “working groups” of farmers made calculating actual time spent in harvesting/weeding and planting often difficult. However… the existence of such groups have made accessing labor a little easier for women farmers… 

Researchers studying African agriculture have… identified the labor demand bottleneck during the crucial land preparation, planting and weeding time as a crippling hindrance to crop yield and production expansion. This seasonal labor shortage is exacerbated by more recent out-migration to cities in search of employment and a substantial share of Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural land is lying fallow. A technology that can result in labor-saving during the crucial labor demand period, can result in increased time spent on other food and cash crops and/or expansion of the cropping area. 

It is argued that herbicide tolerance holds substantial potential for African farmers due to the labor-saving impact combined with the yield improvement that can be expected when weeds are controlled effectively. However, adoption of herbicides by African smallholders has been notoriously low due to a number of reasons including issues of affordability, timely and predictable availability and support through training and information dissemination. It can be expected that these same factors will limit the adoption and thus the substantial benefits farmers could have derived from HT crops. Development and sustainment of functioning input and output markets require political will and long-term investment in infrastructure and support services. 


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Biotech breakthrough: Sunlight can be used to produce chemicals and energy - U Copenhagen (2016) 

Biotech breakthrough: Sunlight can be used to produce chemicals and energy - U Copenhagen (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Researchers… discovered a natural process they describe as reverse photosynthesis. In the process, the energy in solar rays breaks down, rather than builds plant material, as is the case with photosynthesis. The sunlight is collected by chlorophyll, the same molecule as used in photosynthesis. Combined with a specific enzyme the energy of sunlight now breaks down plant biomass, with possible uses as chemicals, biofuels or other products, that might otherwise take a long time to produce… 


The petrochemical industry is indispensible for the functioning of society. However, it remains problematic for both environment and climate… “This is a game changer, one that could transform the industrial production of fuels and chemicals, thus serving to reduce pollution significantly… Photosynthesis by way of the sun doesn’t just allow things to grow, the same principles can be applied to break plant matter down, allowing the release of chemical substances. In other words, direct sunlight drives chemical processes. The immense energy in solar light can be used so that processes can take place without additional energy inputs”… 


Monooxygenases, a natural enzymes also used in industrial biofuel production, multiply their effectiveness when exposed to sunlight: "We use the term ‘reverse photosynthesis’ because the enzymes use atmospheric oxygen and the Sun's rays to break down and transform carbon bonds, in plants among other things, instead of building plants and producing oxygen as is typically understood with photosynthesis"… There are many indications that fungi and bacteria use reverse photosynthesis… to access sugars and nutrients in plants. 


"Reverse photosynthesis" has the potential to break down chemical bonds between carbon and hydrogen, a quality that may be developed to convert biogas-plant sourced methane into methanol, a liquid fuel, under ambient conditions. As a raw material, methanol is very attractive, because it can be used by the petrochemicals industry and processed into fuels, materials and chemicals. Additional research and development is required before the discovery can directly benefit society… 


http://www.science.ku.dk/english/press/news/2016/biotech-breakthrough-sunlight-can-be-used-to-produce-chemicals-and-energy/


This light-driven system may find applications in biotechnology and chemical processing. 


Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms11134


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Data Storytelling: The Essential Data Science Skill Everyone Needs - Forbes (2016) 

Data Storytelling: The Essential Data Science Skill Everyone Needs - Forbes (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

For some people, crafting a story around the data may seem like an unnecessary, time-consuming effort. They may feel the insights or facts should be sufficient to stand on their own as long as they’re reported in a clear manner. They may believe the revealed insights alone should influence the right decisions and drive their audience to act. Unfortunately, this point of view is based on the flawed assumption that… decisions are based solely on logic and reason. 


In fact, neuroscientists have confirmed decisions are often based on emotion, not logic… Patients, who had brain damage in an area that helped to process emotions… struggled to make basic decisions when choosing between alternatives. Deciding on where to eat or when to schedule an appointment turned into lengthy cost-benefit debates for these individuals… Emotion actually plays an essential role in helping our brains to navigate the alternatives and arrive at a timely decision. 


When you package up your insights as a data story, you build a bridge for your data to the influential, emotional side of the brain. When neuroscientists observed the effects detailed information had on an audience, brain scans revealed it only activated two areas of the brain associated with language processing… However, when someone is absorbed in a story… it stimulated more areas of the brain. People hear statistics, but they feel stories. This subtle but important difference pays dividends for data storytellers in a few key ways… 


People enter into a trance-like state, where they drop their intellectual guard and are less critical and skeptical. Rather than nitpicking over the details, the audience wants to see where the story leads them… In listening to stories we tend to suspend disbelief in order to be entertained, whereas in evaluating statistics we generally have an opposite inclination to suspend belief in order not to be beguiled…


http://www.forbes.com/sites/brentdykes/2016/03/31/data-storytelling-the-essential-data-science-skill-everyone-needs/


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Opinion: A new paradigm for regulating genetically engineered animals that are used as food - Murray & Maga (2016) - PNAS

Opinion: A new paradigm for regulating genetically engineered animals that are used as food - Murray & Maga (2016) - PNAS | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Over the past 20 years, transgenic or genetically engineered (GE) plants have been routinely approved for human consumption, with close to 80 varieties successfully navigating the regulatory process. This is in stark contrast to GE animals, where only one has been approved for human consumption: the AquAdvantage salmon. 


The different regulatory trajectories... raises the following questions: Why are the two regulatory tracts so different in outcome? Are the differences between GE plants and animals for use as food more significant than the similarities? 


We suggest that the two situations are more similar than different, that their regulatory paths should be harmonized, and that the regulations for genetically modified animals should be altered on multiple fronts. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1602474113


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‘Do Not Privatize the Giant's Shoulders’: Rethinking Patents in Plant Breeding -Bjørnstad (2016) - Trends Biotechnol

‘Do Not Privatize the Giant's Shoulders’: Rethinking Patents in Plant Breeding -Bjørnstad (2016) - Trends Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
Intellectual property rights (IPRs) have increasing impacts on plant breeding. Not only varieties but also germplasm and technologies are protected. Intellectual property has also affected corporate concentration in the seed supply chain. While not very controversial in the USA, it is increasingly controversial in Europe after rulings on plant patents concerning nontransgenic crops in 2015. Both political and industry voices call for new interpretations or legislations. Industry initiatives have opened facilitated patent access systems designated ‘free access, but not access for free’. Although praiseworthy, they are voluntary and so far limited to vegetable crops. This Opinion article suggests a mandatory system of declaring IPR use linked to variety registration. This compulsory licensing system with ‘toll roads, not road blocks’, is likely to reward IPRs without delaying breeding progress… 

What incentives are needed if plant breeding is to provide higher-yielding climate-smart varieties on less area per person? … During the past century this system ‘permitted a virtuous circle of innovation’. Improved plant varieties accounted for, on average, 50% of progress in plant production. The system was astonishingly open. Since the Green Revolution most germplasm in wheat and rice has been freely accessible to breeders and farmers worldwide. Although the global seed sector is <1% of the food value chain (a turnover smaller than that of Coca Cola), improved plant varieties are key resources. Since ‘pharmachemical’ companies entered in the 1980s, the seed market changed dramatically. Key drivers were acquisitions, mergers, new costly technologies, and stronger patents… 


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Crop advances grow with protection - American Society of Agronomy (2016) 

Crop advances grow with protection - American Society of Agronomy (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
Most people are aware of open-source computer programs. These free programs, accessible by anyone, spread technology to distant corners of the world. Cutting-edge innovations, however, come at a price. As a result, many software companies license their work. These same concerns exist within the seed-development arena. Some plant researchers support the free exchange of new varieties of seeds and plants. Doing so, they argue, benefits both plant breeders and farmers. Considering seeds “intellectual property” may seem harmful to this free exchange of information. 

But all coins have two sides. Stephen Smith… examined the impact of intellectual property protection in a new study… The researchers found intellectual property protection benefits both plant breeders and society. Smith’s study linked crop improvements to the improved economic welfare, health, and nutrition of consumers. The study showed that, in general, intellectual property protection benefits both plant breeders and society. “The metric used for measuring success as a result of plant breeding was optimal genetic innovation… which we equated with optimal social welfare… Future generations will rely upon an adaptive, productive, and sustainable agriculture… conducted in a healthy and diverse biological environment.” That diversity demands the development of more crops with improved qualities. 

According to Smith, intellectual property protection is necessary for several reasons. First, it helps researchers attract funding. This funding supports risky research that would not be possible otherwise. This research can lead to better products for farmers. Second, intellectual property protection pushes crop research and development… innovation is vital to meet increasing global challenges. Increased demand for crops, climate change, and attacks from diseases and pests are stark realities. Finally… “Protection is essential to help prevent misappropriation of varieties and counterfeiting of products.” Such practices… can also lead to crop failure if seeds or crop varieties are mislabeled. 

The study considered several factors. It found the “strength and length” of protection is key for agricultural companies when fine-tuning their research program. The costs of purchasing or developing genetic stocks and new technologies were also considered. Without protection… companies would have no incentive to produce new and innovative plant varieties. “Private sector funding would not occur sustainably without the opportunity to obtain some degree of exclusivity on sale and commercial returns”... 



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First Multi-year Study of Honey Bee Parasites and Disease Reveals Troubling Trends - UMD (2016) 

First Multi-year Study of Honey Bee Parasites and Disease Reveals Troubling Trends - UMD (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Varroa mite infestations more severe than previously thought… Honey bee colonies in the United States are in decline, due in part to the ill effects of voracious mites, fungal gut parasites and a wide variety of debilitating viruses. Researchers… completed the first comprehensive, multi-year study of honey bee parasites and disease… The results… provide an important five-year baseline against which to track future trends. Key findings show that the varroa mite, a major honey bee pest, is far more abundant than previous estimates indicated and is closely linked to several damaging viruses. Also, the results show that the previously rare Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus has skyrocketed in prevalence… 


“Poor honey bee health has gained a lot of attention from scientists and the media alike in recent years. However, our study is the first systematic survey to establish disease baselines, so that we can track changes in disease prevalence over time,” said Kirsten Traynor… “It highlights some troubling trends and indicates that parasites strongly influence viral prevalence.” 


The results, based on a survey of beekeepers and samples from bee colonies in 41 states… span five seasons… The study looked at two major parasites that affect honey bees: the varroa mite and nosema, a fungal parasite that disrupts a bee’s digestive system. The study found clear annual trends in the prevalence of both parasites… The study also found notable differences in the prevalence of varroa and nosema between migratory and stationary beehives. Migratory beekeepers… reported lower levels of varroa compared with stationary beekeepers, whose hives stay put year-round. However, the reverse was true for nosema… 


Additionally, more than 50 percent of all beekeeping operations sampled had high levels of varroa infestation at the beginning of winter – a crucial time when colonies are producing long-lived winter bees that must survive on stored pollen and honey. 


“Our biggest surprise was the high level of varroa, especially in fall, and in well-managed colonies cared for by beekeepers who have taken steps to control the mites… We knew that varroa was a problem, but it seems to be an even bigger problem than we first thought. Moreover, varroa’s ability to spread viruses presents a more dire situation than we suspected”… 


“Prior to this national survey, we lacked the epidemiological baselines of disease prevalence in honey bees. Similar information has been available for years for the cattle, pork and chicken industries… I think people who get into beekeeping need to know that it requires maintenance. You wouldn’t get a dog and not take it to the vet, for example. People need to know what is going on with the livestock they’re managing.” 


While parasites and disease are huge factors in declining honey bee health, there are other contributors as well. Pesticides, for example, have been implicated in the decline of bee colonies across the country. “Our next step is to provide a similar baseline assessment for the effects of pesticides… We have multiple years of data and as soon as we’ve finished the analyses, we’ll be ready to tell that part of the story as well.” 


http://cmns.umd.edu/news-events/features/3515


Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13592-016-0431-0


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Biochemists Shed New Light on Global Energy, Food Supply Challenge - Utah State University (2016) 

Biochemists Shed New Light on Global Energy, Food Supply Challenge - Utah State University (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

All living things require nitrogen for survival, but the world depends on only two known processes to break nitrogen’s ultra-strong bonds and allow conversion to a form humans, animals and plants can consume. One is a natural, bacterial process on which farmers have relied since the dawn of agriculture. The other is the century-old Haber-Bösch process, which revolutionized fertilizer production and spurred unprecedented growth of the global food supply. 


“We live in a sea of nitrogen, yet our bodies can’t access it from the air,” says… biochemist Lance Seefeldt. “Instead, we get this life-sustaining compound from protein in our food.” Now, Seefeldt and colleagues announce a light-driven process that could, once again, revolutionize agriculture, while reducing the world food supply’s dependence on fossil fuels and relieving Haber-Bösch’s heavy carbon footprint… 


“Our research demonstrates photochemical energy can replace adenosine triphosphate, which is typically used to convert dinitrogen, the form of nitrogen found in the air, to ammonia, a main ingredient of commercially produced fertilizers… The Haber-Bösch process currently consumes about two percent of the world’s fossil fuel supply… So, the new process, which uses nanomaterials to capture light energy, could be a game-changer.” 


“Using light directly to create a catalyst is much more energy efficient”… Energy-efficient production of ammonia holds promise not only for food production, but also for development of technologies that enable use of environmentally cleaner alternative fuels, including improved fuel cells to store solar energy… 


https://www.usu.edu/today/?id=55773


Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaf2091


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Neonicotinoid seed treatments produce higher soybean yields in the Southern US - Eurekalert (2016) 

Neonicotinoid seed treatments produce higher soybean yields in the Southern US - Eurekalert (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Scientists… found that treating soybean seeds with neonicotinoid pesticides (imidacloprid or thiamethoxam) provides higher yields in southern U.S. states. The results of their study… contrast with a 2014 report from the U.S. Environmnental Protection Agency, which stated that neonicotinoid seed treatments offered no economic benefits… 


The researchers evaluated 170 field trials on soybean fields in four southern states… over 10 years. Neonicotinoid seed treatments resulted in yields that were 203 kg/hectare higher in Louisiana, 165 kg/hectare higher in Mississippi, 112 kg/hectare higher in Arkansas, and 70 kg/hectare higher in Tennessee. "We believe that the neonicotinoid seed treatments did provide a benefit to growers in our area and that the EPA document did not represent our region of the U.S. …" The article notes that other studies (including the EPA's) were somewhat skewed toward farms in... states… which have lower pest pressures than farms in the lower Mississippi Valley. 


In the southern U.S., farmers have begun planting earlier in the year in order to avoid problems with drought conditions. However, by doing so they face problems involving early-season pests… Neonicotinoid treatments help to control these early-season pests, and are valued for their ability to protect against insects that suck sap from plant leaves and stems. In addition to the higher yields… economic returns for neonicotinoid seed treatments were higher in four out of the 10 years studied. 


"Our results demonstrate significant yield and economic increases in some situations resulting from the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments… Because these benefits are likely the result of management of a complex of multiple pest species that usually occur at subthreshold levels individually and because those complexes are difficult to predict at the time of planting, at-planting insecticides (including seed treatments) are broadly recommended for soybean integrated pest management in the Mid-South." 


http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-04/esoa-nst041116.php


Original article http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jee/tow035


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Gene-edited mushroom escapes US government regulation: Fungus engineered with CRISPR-Cas9 technique can be cultivated and sold without further oversight - Nature (2016)

Gene-edited mushroom escapes US government regulation: Fungus engineered with CRISPR-Cas9 technique can be cultivated and sold without further oversight - Nature (2016) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will not regulate a mushroom genetically modified with the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9. The long-awaited decision means the mushroom can be cultivated and sold without passing through the regulatory process – making it the first CRISPR-edited organism to receive a green light from the US government… Yinong Yang, a plant pathologist… engineered the mushroom… to resist browning. The effect is achieved by targeting the family of genes coding for polyphenol oxidase (PPO) – an enzyme that causes browning… The mushroom is one of over 30 genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to sidestep the American regulatory system in the last five years. In each case, the USDA‘s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has said that the organisms… don’t qualify as something the agency must regulate. 


Several of those unregulated plants were made using gene-editing techniques such as the zinc finger nuclease (ZFN) and transcription activator-like effector nuclease (TALEN) systems. But until now, it was not clear whether the USDA would give the same pass to organisms engineered with science’s hottest new tool, CRISPR-Cas9… Yang's mushroom did not trigger US regulatory oversight because it does not contain foreign DNA from 'plant pests' such as viruses or bacteria. Such organisms were common tools for genetically modifying plants in the early days of the biotechnology industry, when the US government developed its framework for regulating GMOs… The United States is revamping its rules for regulating GMOs…


http://www.nature.com/news/1.19754


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Executive Summary: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2015 - ISAAA (2016) 

Executive Summary: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2015 - ISAAA (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
2015 marked the 20th anniversary (1996-2015) of the commercialization of biotech crops, also known as genetically modified (GM) or transgenic crops, now more often called “biotech crops”... An unprecedented cumulative hectarage of 2 billion hectares of biotech crops, equivalent to twice the total land mass of China (956 million hectares) or the United States (937 million hectares), were successfully cultivated globally in the 20-year period 1996 to 2015; farmer benefits for the period 1996 to 2015 were estimated at over US$150 billion... 

The experience of the first 20 years of commercialization... has confirmed that the early promise of crop biotechnology has been fulfilled. Biotech crops have delivered substantial agronomic, environmental, economic, health and social benefits to farmers and, increasingly, to society at large. The rapid adoption of biotech crops, during the initial 20 years of commercialization, 1996 to 2015, reflects the substantial multiple benefits realized by both large and small farmers in industrial and developing countries, which have grown biotech crops commercially... 



Alexander J. Stein's insight:
I never understand why ISAAA and others take 1996 as the start year of the cultivation of GM crops when already in 1994 the Flavr Savr tomato came on the market... 
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BBC dismisses anti-GMO activist complaints over Panorama film's portrayal of Bangladesh Bt brinjal project - Mark Lynas (2016) 

BBC dismisses anti-GMO activist complaints over Panorama film's portrayal of Bangladesh Bt brinjal project - Mark Lynas (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The BBC has dismissed complaints by anti-GMO activists that its Panorama film ‘GM Food: Cultivating Fear‘… was biased and inaccurate. In a lengthy judgement just published, the BBC’s highest complaints body, the Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) of the BBC Trust, found that all the complaints made about the programme were without merit… The ESC’s judgement means that GM Watch’s complaint has been entirely rejected by every level of the BBC’s editorial standards and complaints process. The judgement is worth reading in full because it provides a forensic and lengthy examination of each issue… 


The Bt brinjal project was indeed 90 percent successful on both possible interpretations of this point: there was no evidence… that Bt brinjal failed to combat the main insect pest, the fruit and shoot borer; and at least 90% of the fields planted with Bt brinjal in the early 2015 season were successfully harvested. 


On the issue of resistance to fruit and shoot borer (FSB), Bt brinjal is close to 100% successful in fact… Though there have been claims by anti-GMO activists that they visited Bt brinjal fields and found fruit and shoot borer caterpillars, there is a simple explanation for this: the activists do not know what they are looking at. All the Bt brinjal fields have non-Bt refuge brinjal crops planted around the edge, which are intended to forestall the evolution of resistance in the pest and are frequently infested with FSB. The activists are simply looking at the wrong plants. They should have asked some scientists to accompany them! 


GM Watch and other anti-GMO groups also asserted that a large number of Bt brinjal crops had failed. In the damning ESC judgement, Panorama’s producers make clear that they visited several of the fields of farmers supposedly experiencing failure of the crop and found that the allegations of widespread crop failure were baseless… “More than 94% produced crops that performed very well”… “a total of 12 farmers’ plots out of 108 participating in the trial were affected in different degrees by bacterial wilt and other insect and pest [not FSB].” This hardly constitutes a high degree of failure, and the incidence of bacterial wilt is clearly explained by poor weather and irrigation practices. 


The ESC also rejected GM Watch’s assertion that the BBC Panorama producers had (in the ESC’s words) “visited farms and interviewed farmers where the crop had failed but did not include the interviews in the programme”. Here’s the actual response from the Panorama producer: We were aware of the reports of crop failure and went to some trouble to check them out before and after filming. On the ground we could find no evidence to support these accounts. In some cases they were contradicted on visiting trial sites. As a result they were not mentioned in the programme. Ouch! … 


It’s important also to note that in its complaint GM Watch did not seek to contradict… that applications of potentially toxic pesticides have been dramatically reduced by the cultivation of Bt brinjal… Anti-GMO activists must know and accept that Bt brinjal reduces insecticides by 80-90% or more, yet they continue to oppose it for ideological reasons despite these clear health, environmental and farmer livelihood benefits demonstrated in Bangladesh. In this case anti-GMO really does equal pro-pesticide… 


The ESC report also makes it clear that GM Watch claimed that Bt brinjal was toxic… The Committee noted that the Adviser was not aware of any evidence that the scientist’s paper had been peer reviewed or that it had been published in a recognised scientific journal. Ouch again! More evidence of activists quoting fringe material unearthed from the internet as opposed to that published in peer-reviewed journals. The ESC also says… that… genetic modification was “just a way of protecting a crop against an insect”… 


Bt brinjal… was DONATED… with no royalties payable by Bangladeshi farmers, who are encouraged to save their seeds for subsequent cropping cycles… 


An independent assessment was made of the way Panorama portrayed the Bt brinjal project. It is clear to me in reading the ESC report that it was not Panorama that exhibited bias on the GMO issue – it is GM Watch, a fringe group that remains implacably and ideologically opposed to a pesticide-reducing crop demonstrably improving the livelihoods of small farmers in Bangladesh... Good for the BBC for daring to present an honest and factually-accurate account of the GMO issue despite predictable howls of protest from the anti-science crowd. 


http://www.marklynas.org/2016/04/bbc-dismisses-anti-gmo-activist-complaints-bangladesh-bt-brinjal-project-featured-2015s-panorama-film/


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The supply of fish oil to aquaculture: a role of transgenic oilseed crop - Haslam &al (2016) - World Agriculture

The supply of fish oil to aquaculture: a role of transgenic oilseed crop - Haslam &al (2016) - World Agriculture | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The importance of an alternative and sustainable supply of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC omega-3) has long been established. As these biologically active fatty acids have a role in nutrition and health, there is an ever increasing demand for oils containing LC omega-3 e.g. eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). 


These fatty acids are produced by micoroganisms and enter our diet through the consumption of fish. However, in order that the nutritional requirements of fish in aquaculture are met and sufficient levels are deposited to meet the requirements of human consumers, EPA and DHA must be supplied in excess. Given the importance of the aquaculture industry in delivering healthy foodstuff, the question of how to resource the supply of LC omega-3 then arises; traditional sources of EPA and DHA (fish oil) are challenged, whilst vegetable oils do not contain EPA or DHA. 


Therefore research efforts have focused on the successful reconstitution of LC omega-3 biosynthesis in oilseed crops. The production of EPA and DHA in the seed oil of agricultural crops has the capacity to deliver large volumes of these fatty acids. The expression of optimised combinations of the genes required to produce these fatty acids in the seed of the crop Camelina sativa has been achieved and the utility of this approach demonstrated. This represents a significant breakthrough – the provision of an effective alternative to the use of omega-3 fish oil by the global aquaculture industry. 


http://www.world-agriculture.net/article/82/The-supply-of-fish-oil-to-aquaculture-a-role-of-transgenic-oilseed-crop


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The Twittersphere does listen to the voice of reason, sometimes - U Washington (2016) 

The Twittersphere does listen to the voice of reason, sometimes - U Washington (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

In the maelstrom of information, opinion and conjecture that is Twitter, the voice of truth and reason does occasionally prevail… Tweets from “official accounts” – the government agencies, emergency responders, media or companies at the center of a fast-moving story – can slow the spread of rumors on Twitter and correct misinformation that’s taken on a life of its own… Researchers documented the spread of two online rumors that initially spiked on Twitter… that were successfully quashed by denials from official accounts. 


“A lot of emergency managers are afraid that the voice of the many drowns out the official sources on Twitter, and that even if they are part of the conversation, no one is going to hear them… We disproved that and showed that official sources, at least in the cases we looked at, do have a critical impact.” The case studies also offer lessons for organizations that may have plans in place to deal with an actual crisis, but haven’t considered how to handle online rumors and communicate before they have complete information or know what is true. 


“Oftentimes in a crisis, the person operating a social media account is not the person who makes operational decisions or who even decides what should be said… But that person still needs to be empowered to take action in the moment because if you wait 20 minutes, it may be a very different kind of crisis than if you can stamp out misinformation early on”… The vast majority of the tweets both affirming and denying the two rumors were retweets of a small number of Twitter accounts… a single account can significantly influence how information spreads… 


After that experience, WestJet decided to expand its inventory of precrafted tweet templates that do not require managerial approval and would be tweeted according to a specific protocol depending on how the issue is trending. This allows social media managers to respond to a fast-moving story and issue some type of official statement – even if complete information is lacking – before a situation escalates. 


In today’s information economy, it’s important for emergency response agencies and other organizations to invest in the personnel and have an engaged social media presence before a crisis hits… these two examples of online rumoring behavior demonstrate how that investment can pay off. “Being online is really important, even if you don’t want to be… Avoiding social media channels because you don’t want to be confronted with misinformation is a real danger for an organization. You’re essentially opening up a space for information to be spreading without your voice being a part of it.” 


http://www.washington.edu/news/2016/04/04/the-twittersphere-does-listen-to-the-voice-of-reason-sometimes/


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Decision on new plant breeding techniques further delayed - EurActiv (2016)

Decision on new plant breeding techniques further delayed - EurActiv (2016) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

New breeding techniques (NBTs) focus on developing new seed traits within a given species through genetic engineering. Initially, the Commission’s opinion was due by the end of 2015, but the procedure was postponed… the legal analysis would be completed by the first quarter of 2016… the process was still ongoing... 


“The Commission is currently working on a legal analysis to give guidance on how to interpret the definition of GMOs in relation to organisms produced by new plant breeding techniques”… both the outcome and the timeline “cannot be pre-empted for the time being”… In a joint position paper... environmentalist NGOs stressed that the EU GMO law should be fully applied to the so-called ‘new plant breeding techniques’. 


Reacting to the article, the European Seed Association… ESA added: “Generally speaking, where no foreign DNA is introduced and present in the final plant and where plants cannot be distinguished from others obtained through well-established mutation breeding techniques... a GM classification is inappropriate. This view is shared not only by the Member States experts report but also supported by the vast majority of scientific as well as legal analysis"... 


NBTs… are seen as a promising new field for the agri-food sector and “are even necessary to meet the challenges of global changes such as population growth and climate change”, according to a report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre… NBTs should not be considered as GMOs because no foreign DNA is present in the resulting plants, which might have developed naturally… 


http://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/decision-on-new-plant-breeding-techniques-further-delayed/


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Current Status of Bacillus thuringiensis: Insecticidal Crystal Proteins and Transgenic Crops - Jain &al (2016) - Springer

Current Status of Bacillus thuringiensis: Insecticidal Crystal Proteins and Transgenic Crops - Jain &al (2016) - Springer | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is used to control agriculturally-important pests. It is… toxic to a wide spectrum of insects including the orders Lepidoptera, Coleopteran, Diptera, etc. The Bt insecticide proteins are toxic only after ingestion by the susceptible insects… The first discovery of Bt was in 1901… 


This chapter addresses the classification, the general structure of Cry toxin, its mode of action, strategies to improve the insecticidal activity of Cry proteins, transgenic plants developed using Bt genes, resistance to Bt toxins and resistance management, and an overall brief account of Bt and its insecticidal proteins, from 1901 to the present. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-22518-0_18


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Glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid are not detectable in human milk - McGuire &al (2016) - AJCN

Animal studies have shown that exposure to glyphosate (a commonly used herbicide) does not result in glyphosate bioaccumulation in tissues...  

We sought to determine whether glyphosate and its metabolite aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) could be detected in milk and urine produced by lactating women and, if so, to quantify typical consumption by breastfed infants.

We collected milk and urine samples from healthy lactating women living in... Idaho and... Washington. Milk and urine samples were analyzed for glyphosate and AMPA... detected neither glyphosate nor AMPA in any milk sample... 


No difference was found in urine glyphosate and AMPA concentrations between subjects consuming organic compared with conventionally grown foods or between women living on or near a farm/ranch and those living in an urban or suburban nonfarming area.

Our data provide evidence that glyphosate and AMPA are not detectable in milk... our results therefore suggest that dietary glyphosate exposure is not a health concern for breastfed infants.


http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2016/03/30/ajcn.115.126854


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Economic Impact of Stem Borer-Resistant Genetically Modified Sugarcane in Guangxi and Yunnan Provinces of China - Ye &al (2016) - SugarTech

Economic Impact of Stem Borer-Resistant Genetically Modified Sugarcane in Guangxi and Yunnan Provinces of China - Ye &al (2016) - SugarTech | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
Stem borer incidences in sugarcane result in huge economic losses to sugarcane cultivation worldwide. Genetically modified (GM) sugarcane with stem borer resistance has good prospects for commercialization due to its reduced use of pesticides and increased yield of cane and sugar… To estimate the economic impact of the commercialization of GM sugarcane in… China. 

The results indicated that GM sugarcane has the potential to increase the cane productivity and reduce the use of pesticides, resulting in economic benefits for the producers as well as the consumers… and economic surplus of GM sugarcane… has been estimated… accounting for 24 and 76 % of the total benefits… The commercialization of stem borer-resistant GM sugarcane has more potential in Yunnan due to the higher use of pesticides… 

Stem borer is a major pest of sugarcane that causes tremendous economic losses in sugar production, enterprise revenue and rural income… The average level of stem borer damage, as well as the cost of its management, is considerably high especially when there is less rainfall during the crop season. The borer-affected internodes can exceed 15 % even with sufficient pesticide use, and the annual cost for the control is estimated to be [60-95 US$ per ha]… 

Sugarcane is the primary feedstock for sugar production in China, accounting for 85 % of the total sugar crops acreage and 92 % of the total sugar production. Before release of stem borer-resistant GM sugarcane, various legislative, scientific, technical, economic and social issues have to be taken into consideration. In other words, only when the economic value of stem borer-resistant GM sugarcane is proven, it will be supported by the policy makers, producers and consumers. Till now, the first and only case of GM sugarcane approved commercial cultivation is in Indonesia in 2014… 

In China, at least 3 years are needed for safety assessments in intermediate test, environmental release and production test before GM crops are approved for commercialization. Sugarcane requires trials for two plant crops and one Ratoon crop in different regions before a variety/genotype can be recommended for commercial cultivation. So, it takes at least 4 years for commercial release of any GM sugarcane after the intermediate test has been permitted. No transgenic sugarcane has been commercially released in China till date. 

China being one of the countries with a large area under GM crops and the second largest sugar consumer in the world, it is expected that stem borer-resistant GM sugarcane will be approved for commercial release in China as early as by 2018, especially in the backdrop of the serious damage caused by stem borer incidence. Transgenic research especially with respect to stem borer resistance is very much advanced in China. A series of GM sugarcane lines have been developed with several events at different stages of safety assessment, and these are on the verge of commercialization… 

The study estimates that the cane yield per ha and cost of stem borer-resistant GM sugarcane seed would be higher as compared to conventional sugarcane… with a reduction in pesticide cost incurred in cultivating GM sugarcane. Although the seed cost of GM sugarcane will be higher than that of the conventional one, the growth in production and savings in pesticide cost would outweigh the increase in seed cost, thus creating large profit margins for farmers. The estimated maximum average adoption rates of GM sugarcane in Guangxi and Yunnan will be approximately 55 and 65 %, respectively… The distribution of economic benefits from the GM sugarcane is predicted to be more for the consumers than producers. 


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
One more study suggesting that GMOs can benefit consumers, farmers and (via less pesticide use) the environment... 
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