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Scoops on GMOs, agricultural biotech, innovation, breeding, crop protection, and related info (not necessarily endorsements). CLICK on the titles to get to the full, original, and possibly hyperlinked versions!
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U.S. company applies to sell genetically modified salmon in Canada - Vancouver Sun (2014)

U.S. company applies to sell genetically modified salmon in Canada - Vancouver Sun (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

AquaBounty Technologies has applied to the federal government for permission to market genetically engineered farm-grown Atlantic salmon... the company is seeking approval to sell AquAdvantage Salmon for human consumption in Canada.

 

The AquAdvantage Salmon would be the first genetically engineered food animal approved for sale in this country. The fish — which contains a gene from the Chinook salmon — grow twice as fast as conventional Atlantic salmon, promising significant energy and labour savings... 

 

The firm won approval last year to grow genetically modified fish eggs in this country for export to Panama, where the fish would be grown to market size in a land-based aquaculture system. The company is also seeking approval from American authorities... 

 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has declared that the salmon “is indistinguishable from other farmed Atlantic salmon, safe to eat, and does not pose a threat to the environment under the conditions in which it would live and be harvested.” ... Environment Canada has already concluded that AquAdvantage Salmon is not harmful to the environment or human health when produced in contained facilities... 


AquaBounty plans to sell its product in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Chile and China, when regulatory approvals are obtained... 

 

http://www.vancouversun.com/business/technology/9601660/story.html

 

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Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops by U.S. Farmers Has Increased Steadily for Over 15 Years - Fernandez-Cornejo &al (2014) - USDA

Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops by U.S. Farmers Has Increased Steadily for Over 15 Years - Fernandez-Cornejo &al (2014) - USDA | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Genetically engineered (GE) crops with pest management traits first became commercially available for major crops in 1996. More than 15 years later, adoption of these crop varieties by U.S. farmers is widespread (170 million acres planted in 2013), and many products derived from these GE crops—including cornmeal, oils, and sugars—are commonly used in food products.

 

While some GE seeds with traits that affect a crop’s nutritional content and agronomic properties are already being commercialized and many more GE seeds are under development and testing, nearly all the GE seeds marketed to date to U.S. farmers are for pest management (pests here are defined to include insects, weeds, and some other organisms that interfere with the production of crops).

 

Herbicide-tolerant (HT) seeds allow farmers to use certain effective herbicides to control weeds without damaging their crop. Other GE seeds leverage pesticidal proteins, naturally produced by the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), that are toxic to certain insects, protecting the plant over its entire life. U.S. farmers tend to adopt HT seeds more than seeds with insect resistance partly because weeds are a pervasive problem... Insect infestations tend to be more localized than weed infestations... 


While corn, cotton, and soybeans account for the vast majority of GE acreage in the U.S., other GE crops commercially grown include HT canola, HT sugar beets, HT alfalfa, virus-resistant papaya, and virus-resistant squash.

 

Since being commercially introduced, the varieties of GE seeds commercially available with pest management traits have increased in complexity, incorporating resistance to a broader range of insects and tolerance to more herbicides, as well as combining (or “stacking”) both HT and Bt traits.

 

With these innovations, the price of GE seeds increased, both in nominal and real terms. The rapid adoption of GE varieties by farmers is consistent with the belief that GE seeds provide improved performance or other benefits that make their use worthwhile...  


Bt crops are particularly effective at mitigating yield losses. Average Bt corn yields have increased as new insect resistance traits have been incorporated into the seeds... Most experimental field tests and farm surveys show that Bt crops produce higher average yields than conventional crops... 


The market price of seed incorporates the costs associated with seed development, production, marketing, and distribution... The increase in GE seed prices can be attributed in part to increasing price premiums over conventional seeds associated with the rising share of GE seeds with multiple (stacked) traits and /or more than one mode of action for particular target pests Another factor contributing to the increase in seed prices is the improvement in seed genetics (germplasm). 


The profitability of GE seeds for individual farmers depends largely on the value of the yield losses mitigated and the pesticide and seed costs, which vary by crop and technology. Most studies show that adoption of Bt cotton and Bt corn is associated with increased net returns/variable profits... 


The fact that adoption of HT crops has been continuously rising, even though several researchers found no significant differences between the net returns of adopters and non-adopters, suggests that adopters derive other benefits. In particular, weed control for HT soybeans may be simpler and more flexible (e.g., HT seed-based production programs allow growers to use one product to control a wide range of both broadleaf and grass weeds instead of using several herbicides to achieve adequate weed control), freeing up valuable management time for leisure, or to generate enterprise growth or off-farm income.

 

ERS research shows that HT adoption is associated with increased off-farm household income for U.S. soybean farmers, most likely because time savings associated with HT crops were used in off-farm employment. More recently, other researchers confirmed that GE crops led to household labor savings and that farmers adopting GE crops derived value from the convenience, flexibility, and increased worker safety associated with growing HT crops that enable them to use fewer toxic herbicides. 


Studies based on field tests and farm surveys have examined the extent to which GE crop adoption affects pesticide (insecticide and herbicide) use, and most results show a reduction in pesticide use... Generally, Bt adoption is associated with lower levels of insecticide use. In addition, several researchers have shown that areawide suppression of certain insects such as the European corn borer and the pink bollworm are associated with Bt corn and Bt cotton use, respectively. This suggests that Bt seeds have benefited not only adopters but non-adopters as well... 


HT crop adoption has enabled farmers to substitute glyphosate (which many HT crops are designed to tolerate) for more traditional herbicides. Because glyphosate is significantly less toxic and less persistent than traditional herbicides, the net impact of HT crop adoption is an improvement in environmental quality and a reduction in health risks. 


Conservation tillage (including no-till, ridge-till, and mulch-till) is known to provide environmental benefits and is facilitated by use of HT crops. By leaving at least 30 percent of crop residue covering the soil surface after all the tillage and planting operations, conservation tillage reduces soil erosion by wind and water, increases water retention, and reduces soil degradation and water/chemical runoff. In addition, conservation tillage reduces the carbon footprint of agriculture... HT crop adoption facilitates the use of conservation tillage practices.


The acceptance of GE crops by farmers has been due, in large part, to the pest management traits incorporated into GE seeds. Farmers were willing to adopt GE seeds because their benefits exceeded their costs, while domestic consumers were largely indifferent to these traits... 


As with other efforts to control agricultural pests, pests will inevitably develop resistance to the pest management traits incorporated in GE seeds. Prior to the commercial introduction of Bt crops, entomologists and other scientists persuasively argued that mandatory minimum refuge requirements (planting sufficient acres of the non-Bt crop near the Bt crop) were needed to reduce the rate at which targeted insect pests evolved resistance... refuges have indeed helped delay the evolution of Bt resistance... 

 

Likewise, an overreliance on glyphosate and a reduction in the diversity of weed management practices by HT crop producers contributed to the evolution of glyphosate resistance in 14 weed species in the United States... their benefits may erode over time in the absence of further developments affecting HT seeds and their associated herbicides and/or improvements in weed management practices. One such development is the introduction of crops tolerant to the herbicides dicamba and 2, 4-D if used in the context of a diversified approach to weed management.


While relatively few GE traits are currently commercially available, the number of field releases to test GE varieties approved by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service indicates continued GE-related R&D activities since field testing is a critical part of seed development... Field releases approved for GE varieties continue to focus heavily on herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, but other traits are being developed and tested in large numbers as well.
These include traits that provide favorable agronomic properties (resistance to cold/drought/frost/salinity, more efficient use of nitrogen, increased yield); enhanced product quality, such as delayed ripening, flavor and texture (fruits and vegetables); increased protein or carbohydrate content, fatty acid content, or micronutrient content; modified starch, color (cotton, flowers), fiber properties (cotton), or gluten content (wheat); naturally decaffeinated (coffee); and nutraceuticals (added vitamins, iron, antioxidants such as beta-carotene)... 
http://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2014-march/adoption-of-genetically-engineered-crops-by-us-farmers-has-increased-steadily-for-over-15-years.aspx
Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Very nice overview that merits to be read in its entirety. 

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Honey and GM Pollen - Copping (2014) Outlooks Pest Mngmt

Is pollen a constituent of honey or an ingredient? If it is an ingredient and if GM pollen contained in the honey represents more than 0.9% it has to be labelled as containing GM material. The EU ruled that pollen is a constituent of honey, which is a natural substance that has no ingredients, and not an ingredient. So there is no problem with honey containing small amounts of GM pollen.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1564/v25_feb_15

 

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Increased grain yield and micronutrient concentration in transgenic winter wheat - Saalbach &al (2014) - J Cereal Sci

Increased grain yield and micronutrient concentration in transgenic winter wheat - Saalbach &al (2014) - J Cereal Sci | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Optimising assimilate partitioning to spikes is important to increase wheat yield potential. Novel winter wheat lines (HOSUT), ectopically expressing barley sucrose transporter HvSUT1 controlled by the barley Hordein B1 promoter were used to evaluate the potential of improved sucrose uptake capacity on grain yield and quality under field-like conditions. Three independent HOSUT lines were grown over three years in micro-plots. Grain yield per plot was significantly increased by 28 %, together with higher protein yield per plot and higher iron and zinc concentration when compared to the non-transformed control wheat...


HOSUT grains are larger, display increased grain width and to a lesser extent grain length, indicating transgene effects at a stage when grains grow under filial control. Grain number per spike was decreased by 15 % and protein contents by 5 %, on average, especially that of glutenins. Overall, despite some compensating effects... HOSUT lines generate a significant yield advantage. The findings can contribute to understanding determinants of grain size and number and its relationship to grain sink strength and might identify limitations of wheat yield potential.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jcs.2014.01.017


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Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States - Fernandez-Cornejo &al (2014) - USDA

Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States - Fernandez-Cornejo &al (2014) - USDA | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

More than 15 years after their first successful commercial introduction in the United States, genetically engineered (GE) seeds have been widely adopted by U.S. corn, soybean, and cotton farmers. Still, some questions persist regarding the potential benefits and risks of GE crops.

 

The report finds that, although the pace of research and development (measured by the number of USDA approved field tests) peaked in 2002, other measures show that biotech firms continue to develop new GE seed varieties at a rapid pace. Also, U.S. farmers continue to adopt GE seeds at a robust rate, and seed varieties with multiple (stacked) traits have increased at a very rapid rate.

 

Insecticide use has decreased with the adoption of insect-resistant crops, and herbicide-tolerant crops have enabled the substitution of glyphosate for more toxic and persistent herbicides. However, overreliance on glyphosate and a reduction in the diversity of weed management practices have contributed to the evolution of glyphosate resistance in some weed species. 

 

http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err162.aspx

 

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Scientists plan to genetically alter barley in a bid to boost Scotland’s whisky industry - Deadline News (2014)

Scientists plan to genetically alter barley in a bid to boost Scotland’s whisky industry - Deadline News (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Scientists are planning genetically to alter barley in a bid to boost Scotland’s whisky industry. Barley is a key ingredient in the Water of Life – but 10% of the Scottish crop is damaged by a normally benign fungus which can turn on the plant. That means the industry – worth £4.3bn to the Scottish economy – has to rely on barley imports to maintain production.


Scientists at the Scottish Agricultural College (SRUC)  have been given £1m to work out why the fungus attacks and see if they can engineer a solution. Making Scotch whisky with Scottish-only grain will improve the quality of the product... Dr Havis, a plant pathologist, said: “Ramularia is a huge problem for farmers around the world and we want to find out why it suddenly starts attacking the plant. When we know this we can go on to study older, less-favoured strains of barley plants to see if they have any resistance to the toxins. If we find this then we’ll be able to transfer that resistance into the current strands that are used by farmers and it will mean we a far better quality” ... 

 

Dr Havis explained that the fungus dramatically slows down the plant’s light absorption rate meaning it has less energy to produce good grain.

He added: “ We hope this research will help us produce stronger varieties which can withstand Ramularia and so ensure we continue to harvest large amounts of barley every year and might even improve the taste of the products it’s used in” ... 

 

The initial work will be covered by the £1m fund but any future genetic modification would require additional funding, thought to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. Ramularia is still a relatively new disease and little is known about it except that it affects growers in Scotland and the north of England worst... 


Scotland currently produces barley on land that equates to 420,000 football pitches but is losing around 25,000 hectares a year as the fungus makes it unusable. Reports last month revealed that some distilleries were having to import grain grown in England to help meet the demand. A Scotch Whisky Association spokesman said: “As a long-term business, the Scotch Whisky industry is always looking at different aspects of production, including cereals research, to ensure sustainable supply. As a major buyer of Scottish barley, research into ramularia leaf spot is welcome.” 


http://www.deadlinenews.co.uk/?p=62562


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Golden rice should be embraced as a lifesaver - Japan Times (2014)

Golden rice should be embraced as a lifesaver - Japan Times (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Greenpeace... typically leads protests. Last month, it became the target. Patrick Moore... — himself an early Greenpeace member — accused the organization of complicity in the deaths of 2 million children per year. He was referring to deaths resulting from vitamin A deficiency, which is common among children for whom rice is the staple food. 


These deaths could be prevented... by the use of “golden rice,” a form of the grain that has been genetically modified to have a higher beta carotene content [which is converted in the human body into vitamin A] than ordinary rice. Greenpeace, along with other organizations opposed to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), has campaigned against the introduction... 

 

There is no doubting the seriousness of vitamin A deficiency among children, especially in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. According to the World Health Organization, it causes blindness in about 250,000 to 500,000 pre-school children every year, about half of whom die within 12 months. The deficiency also increases susceptibility to diseases like measles, still a significant cause of death in young children... In some countries, lack of vitamin A is also a major factor in high rates of maternal mortality during pregnancy and childbirth.

 

First developed 15 years ago by Swiss scientists, golden rice specifically addresses vitamin A deficiency, and the first field trials were conducted a decade ago. But it is still not available to farmers. Initially there was a need to develop improved varieties that would thrive where they are most needed. Further field trials had to be carried out to meet the strict regulations governing the release of GMOs. That hurdle was raised when activists destroyed fields in the Philippines where trials were being conducted. 


Critics have suggested that golden rice is part of the biotech industry’s plans to dominate agriculture worldwide. But, although the agribusiness giant Syngenta did assist in developing the genetically modified rice, the company has stated that it is not planning to commercialize it. Low-income farmers will own their seeds and be able to retain seed from their harvests. Indeed, Syngenta has given the right to sublicense the rice to a nonprofit organization called the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board. The board, which includes the two co-inventors, has the right to provide the rice to public research institutions and low-income farmers in developing countries for humanitarian use...

 

When genetically modified crops were first developed in the 1980s, there were grounds for caution... In the 1990s, as a Senate candidate for the Australian Greens, I was among those who argued for strong regulations to prevent biotech companies putting our health, or that of the environment, at risk... Genetically modified crops are now grown on about one-tenth of the world’s cropland, and none of the disastrous consequences that we Greens feared have come to pass. There is no reliable scientific evidence that GM foods cause illness, despite the fact that they receive much more intense scrutiny than more “natural” foods. (Natural foods can also pose health risks, as was shown recently by studies establishing that a popular type of cinnamon can cause liver damage.) ... 


Caution is reasonable. What needs to be rethought, however, is blanket opposition to the very idea of GMOs. With any innovation, risks need to be weighed against possible benefits. Where the benefits are minor, even a small risk may not be justified; where those benefits are great, a more significant risk may well be worth taking. 


Regulations should, for instance, be sensitive to the difference between releasing a GM crop that is resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (making it easier for farmers to control weeds) and releasing GM crops that... are suitable for drought-prone regions of low-income countries. Similarly a GM crop that has the potential to prevent blindness in a half-million children would be worth growing... The irony is that glyphosate-resistant crops are grown commercially on millions of hectares of land, whereas golden rice (which has not been shown to pose any risk at all to human health or the environment) still cannot be released. 

 

In some environmental circles, blanket opposition to GMOs is like taking a loyalty oath — dissidents are regarded as traitors in league with the evil biotech industry. It is time to move beyond such a narrowly ideological stance. Some GMOs may have a useful role to play in public health, and others in fighting the challenge of growing food in an era of climate change. We should consider the merits of each genetically modified plant on a case-by-case basis. 

 

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2014/02/21/commentary/golden-rice-should-be-embraced-as-a-lifesaver/

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Bunge says it will refuse GMO corn trait lacking China approval - Ag Professional (2014)

Bunge says it will refuse GMO corn trait lacking China approval - Ag Professional (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

One of the world's top grain traders, signaled last week that it will refuse to handle corn containing a new genetically modified... trait unless it is cleared by China. "We handle crops that have been approved in major markets... That is our stand."

 

Grain merchants must decide whether to buy corn from farmers that contains Syngenta's Agrisure Duracade strain because seed containing the trait is available for planting in the United States for the first time this year. The trait, engineered to fight damaging pests called rootworms, won U.S. approval for planting and cultivation in 2013 but has not yet been approved by China or the European Union... 

 

A debate over the commercialization of Duracade has split the U.S. farm industry since China in November began rejecting U.S. corn containing another unauthorized... trait... Known as MIR 162, the Viptera trait has been awaiting Beijing's acceptance for more than two years... Grain merchants would need to test every load of corn that arrives at their elevators to ensure an unapproved strain did not enter their supply, a time-consuming and costly task... 


Growers need access to new technologies and that importing countries need to align their regulatory processes. Duracade has import approval from major buyers, including Mexico, South Korea and Japan... another major grain trader, last week said it had only suffered a small impact from Chinese rejections of U.S. corn cargoes... "Certainly, it's not business as usual any more" ... 


Syngenta, the world's largest crop chemicals company, has said it commercializes corn traits in line with industry practices, once it has approval from countries with "functioning regulatory systems" ... 


http://www.agprofessional.com/news/Bunge-says-it-will-refuse-GMO-corn-trait-lacking-China-approval-245985321.html?view=all


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Paris wants national permits for GM maize - EurActiv (2014)

Paris wants national permits for GM maize - EurActiv (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

France is trying to modify EU legislation on the authorisation of GMOs, but the process is all but smooth. Paris will do anything it can to counter the impending approval of genetically modified maize in the European Union. The French minister of agriculture, Stéphane Le Foll, filed “a text at European level that is starting to be discussed by all our European partners,” he said in a recent exchange of views in the Senate. The French government is proposing the re-nationalisation of the authorisation procedures for GM crops [AS: must be the authorisation of the cultivation of GM crops on national territory, not their use/import as food/feed], which are currently decided in Brussels... 


The French proposal is not new. In July 2010, the Commission proposed a revision of the European legislation offering more flexibility to member states in the management of permits. The text was then rejected by France and other member states which accused the Commission of not being protective enough of the “anti-GMO” states in the face of possible complaints from GMO exporting countries, such as the United States or Argentina... 

 

At national level, the French government has also tried to take emergency measures to prevent the cultivation of a different type of GM maize, MON 810... but did not get the support of the French senate...  MON 810 is prohibited in France by a governmental moratorium but was canceled last summer by a top court because of its non-compliance with EU law... 

 

The planting season approaches and corn producers expressed their intention to plant GM maize this year again... the agriculture and environment ministries announced the launch of a public consultation on a draft law aimed at prohibiting any genetically modified maize from Monsanto, stating that it would “enter into force before the next planting season” [AS: seriously, a law specifically targeted at all products -- even future ones -- from a clearly identified company, even if they do not pose any risk and there is nothing wrong with them? What about similar products from other companies?]... 

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Researchers reveal that organic agriculture can pollute groundwater - Eurekalert (2014)

New study indicates that liquid fertilizing techniques through drip irrigation result in comparatively lower groundwater pollution rates... 

 

Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), using specialized monitoring technology, have determined that intensive organic agriculture in greenhouses in Israel can cause significant pollution from nitrate leaching into groundwater.  

 

Public demand has led to the rapid development of organic farming in recent years... But... intensive organic matter using composted manure prior to planting resulted in significantly higher groundwater pollution rates compared with [conventional] liquid fertilization techniques. 

 

The study... compare the water quality across the entire unsaturated zone under organic and conventional greenhouses... and allows real time continuous tracking of water in deep sections of the vadose zone, from land surface to groundwater... 

 

While groundwater pollution is usually attributed to a large array of chemicals, high nitrate concentration in aquifer water is the main cause for drinking-water well shutdowns. The down leaching of nitrates under intensive organic farming is due to nutrient release from the compost to the soil during the early stages of the growing season. In this stage, nutrient uptake capacity of the young plants is very low and down leaching of nitrates to the deeper parts of the vadose zone and groundwater is unavoidable... 

 

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-02/aabu-bur021714.php

 

Original article:  http://dx.doi.org/10.5194/hess-18-333-2014

 

It is commonly presumed that organic agriculture causes only minimal environmental pollution. In this study, we measured the quality of percolating water in the vadose zone, underlying both organic and conventional intensive greenhouses... intensive organic agriculture relying on solid organic matter, such as composted manure that is implemented in the soil prior to planting as the sole fertilizer, resulted in significant down-leaching of nitrate... similar intensive agriculture that implemented liquid fertilizer through drip irrigation, as commonly practiced in conventional agriculture, resulted in much lower rates of pollution... 

 

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Vitamin B from genetically modified source considered safe - All About Feed (2014)

Vitamin B from genetically modified source considered safe - All About Feed (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
A vitamin B source made out of genetically modified bacteria is considered safe for the use as feed additive... 
Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2 is an easily absorbed micronutrient with a key role in maintaining animal health... The additive riboflavin (80 %) is produced by fermentation of a genetically modified Bacillus subtilis strain. Neither the production strain nor its recombinant DNA was detected in the final product. Therefore, the final product does not give rise to any safety concern...

Furthermore, the additive is considered safe for the target animals with a wide margin of safety provided that the current use levels for riboflavin are not exceeded and is regarded as an effective source of riboflavin in covering the animal's requirement when administered orally... It was also found that the additive poses no risk to the environment... 

 

http://www.allaboutfeed.net/Nutrition/Feed-Additives/2014/1/Vitamin-B-from-genetically-modified-source-considered-safe-1449628W/

 

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The return of Iran’s agricultural sector - Al-Monitor (2014)

The return of Iran’s agricultural sector - Al-Monitor (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Behzad Ghareyazie was in January reappointed head of the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII)... During Ghareyazie's previous stretch as ABRII’s director, from 1999 to 2005, he tried to create the infrastructure needed for Iran to benefit from modern agricultural biotechnology. This included the production and official commercialization in 2004 of the first genetically modified (GM) insect-resistant rice cultivar in Iran...

 

The achievement was considered a great technological step for Iran, a country where rice is a main food source and a strategic agricultural product. It also put Iran’s name on the map as the first country in the region to produce transgenic rice. This success, however, was short-lived. With Ahmadinejad taking office in 2005, the door was closed to GM rice cultivation.


The Ahmadinejad administration decided against supporting the release of GM crops despite the extensive research and development in the area. More than 120 kilograms... of GM rice was locked up in a warehouse... Ghareyazie, a vocal critic of the government’s agricultural and biotechnology policies, was relieved of all of his governmental posts.

 

He continued his research, however, while serving as head of the Modern Technologies Division of the Center for Strategic Research, a leading Iranian think tank headed by President Hassan Rouhani... Ghareyazie also acted as president of the Biosafety Society of Iran and Agronomy and Plant Breeding Society of Iran, and he was a member of the Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI) steering committee.

 

Ghareyazie earlier attributed the halt to Iran’s transgenic rice cultivation to... the lack of harmonization among different ministries and organizations in Iran (namely, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Organization) and what was said to be the lack of a national biosafety law in the country... Iran’s administration at the time opted to maintain traditional and unsustainable rice cultivation methods practiced throughout the years while importing millions of tons of rice annually from India, Pakistan and Uruguay.

 

The same administration that claimed GM crops lacked the necessary safety standards also began to import huge shipments of GM soy, colza and corn for domestic consumption. According to Iranian agriculture experts, $5 billion worth of transgenic crops were imported last year alone, while the technology for production existed at home.

 

Today, some 170 million hectares... of land around the world are under cultivation with GM crops. Iran, once a forerunner in this field, is clearly lagging behind. But there is hope for change. In his inauguration speech... Ghareyazie said, “Today is the day when we should join hands and make up for the suspension of our country’s progress, a suspension that was caused by technophobia, and regain Iran’s lost status in the field of agricultural engineering.”

 

The past years have seen the necessary groundwork laid, including the adoption of a national biosafety law. Now, Iranian authorities must take further measures to fulfill the country’s long-sought goal of achieving self-sufficiency in food production. The reappointment of Ghareyazie as head of ABRII is a major sign of the Rouhani administration’s priorities. It is not, however, enough. Apart from the incorporation and use of modern technology in the agricultural sector, Iranian producers need much broader support.

 

Billions of dollars will continue to be spent on importing food unless measures are taken to ensure that the cultivation of strategic crops is profitable in Iran. Here, the Rouhani administration’s implementation of the country’s subsidy reform law is set to play a crucial role. The law sets aside a major share of the resources saved via cuts in subsidies to support domestic producers. Under the Ahmadinejad administration, such support had virtually been nil, because most savings were used to fund cash payments to households....

 

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/02/iran-agriculture-revival.html

 

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No, GMOs won't harm your health - Mother Jones (2014)

No, GMOs won't harm your health - Mother Jones (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

With historic drought battering California's produce and climate change expected to jeopardize the global food supply, there are few questions more important than what our agriculture system should look like in the future. And few agricultural issues are more politically charged than the debate over genetically modified organisms. Even as companies like Monsanto are genetically engineering plants to use less water and resist crop-destroying pests, activists are challenging the safety and sustainability of GM foods... 

 

Dr. Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale University... is a prominent voice in the skeptical movement, a scientific movement that, as he describes it, focuses heavily on explaining the truth behind "common myths—things that people believe that aren't true... Almost everything I hear about [industrial agriculture] is a myth... It's such an emotional issue—a highly ideological and politicized issue—that what I find is that most of what people write and say and believe about it just fits into some narrative, some worldview. And it's not very factual or evidence-based." ... 

 

One myth concerns the novelty of GM foods. Many people think that modifying genes in our food is a 21st-century phenomenon, but... humans have been using selective breeding to create more desirable versions of plants and animals for thousands of years... Genetic modification... "is not the panacea, nor is it a menace; it's just one more tool that has to be used intelligently."

 

And there are even more questionable genetic modification practices that aren't subject to anywhere near the same scrutiny as GM foods... "mutation breeding," in which chemicals and radiation are used to increase the rate of plant mutations in order to produce favorable traits. "Over 2,000 plants that are the product of this mutation breeding have been released to the public in the last 100 years" ... 

 

Another important myth surrounding GM foods is that they are somehow unsafe for human consumption... But compared with crossbreeding or mutation breeding... genetic modification is "much more precise"—selecting only one gene or a part of a gene and inserting it into the target food... "To date," says Novella, "the reviews conclude pretty universally that there's just no health risk." Indeed, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the research surrounding GM food is "quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe."


What's more, GM foods are more tightly regulated than crops created with other modification methods and have to overcome more safety tests than their counterparts... "we've been doing this for decades now, and there have been tons of studies looking at the results of genetic modification" ... 


GM opponents often argue that the planting of GM foods is not a sustainable agricultural practice. But... that's the wrong way to look at it. "GM is not agriculture…it is a tool... The real question is how is it being used?" 


Novella points to a commonly used GM crop known as Bt corn, which... produces a pest-killing protein... the success of these GM crops can create perverse incentives to grow one type of plant exclusively. And just like with antibiotics, overuse of pest-resistant crops can lead to the creation of "superpests"—the agricultural counterpart of superbugs. But... the problem here isn't the GM crops themselves, but rather how they are used.

 

"There's nothing inherent to… Bt crops that says you have to use them in the worst possible way" ... Rather, if farmers mix Bt and non-Bt crops, "it becomes one powerful tool in a box of tools" that can help them increase profits in a sustainable way. "If you're just focusing on GM, you're missing the big picture, in that you have to look at farming as a practice, of which genetic modification is just one tool" ... 

 

Genetic modification... "is not the panacea, nor is it a menace; it's just one more tool that has to be used intelligently." So what does Novella think accounts for our distrust of genetic modification? He points to what he calls the "naturalistic fallacy... There's nothing inherently good or virtuous about the way things were in nature... And we've been altering them beyond recognition for thousands of years, anyway."


http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/02/inquiring-minds-steven-novella-gmo


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Transgenic Crops, Production Risk, and Agrobiodiversity - Krishna &al (2014) - ZEF

Do transgenic crops cause agrobiodiversity erosion? We hypothesize that they increase productivity and reduce production risk and may therefore reduce farmer demand for on-farm varietal diversity, especially when only a few transgenic varieties are available. We also hypothesize that varietal diversity can be preserved when more transgenic varieties are supplied. These hypotheses are tested and confirmed with panel data for the case of transgenic cotton in India. Cotton varietal diversity in India, with of over 90% adoption of transgenic technology, is now at the same level than it was before the introduction of this technology... 

 

During the Green Revolution it was observed that many local crop varieties were replaced with a few high-yielding ones in large parts of the developing world. There are widespread concerns that such agrobiodiversity erosion may continue and be accelerated through

transgenic crop technologies. However, transgenic crops differ... 


From the private perspective of farmers, varietal diversity can have productivity-enhancing and risk-reducing effects... transgenic crops can also increase productivity and reduce production risk and may therefore substitute for on-farm varietal diversity. Yet, a transgenic technology is not only one new variety; the same genes coding for desirable traits can be introgressed into many varieties that are well adapted to various soil and climate conditions. If many transgenic varieties with the same traits are developed and adopted, agrobiodiversity can be preserved. These hypotheses were confirmed in the empirical analysis... 

 

In the early phase of Bt technology diffusion, the Indian regulatory authorities had only approved a very small number of Bt varieties, while in later years many more Bt varieties became available in the seed market. indeed, farmers that fully adopted Bt cotton in the early years, reduced their varietal diversity. In later years, with more Bt varieties available, these same technology adopters restored varietal diversity.

 

These results underline that a combination of transgenic technology and high levels of varietal diversity is possible, and is even further increasing productivity and reducing production risk. Overall, cotton varietal diversity in India with a Bt adoption rate of over 90% is now at the same level or even higher than it was before the introduction of this transgenic technology.


Interestingly, even in the early phase of technology diffusion, with only a few Bt varieties available in the market, average diversity did not decline significantly, because many farmers adopted Bt only partially and maintained varietal diversity through growing conventional varieties on the same farm... Yet we have shown that full adoption would have been economically advantageous for many even with only a few Bt varieties available. Hence, we suppose that the observed partial adoption in the early phase was also a reflection of typical smallholder cautiousness... 

 

One general conclusion can be drawn nevertheless: transgenic technology can help to preserve crop varietal diversity, but the concrete outcome depends on various institutional factors that determine how many transgenic varieties are available in the market... 

 

Policy implications. 

 

First, the biosafety regulatory framework matters. In India, the regulatory authorities were slow in the beginning to approve additional transgenic varieties, mainly due to the public debate... However, once a transgenic event has been tested and deregulated, introgressing that same event into other varieties cannot reasonably be expected to lead to new risks. Hence, a complex regulatory process for each new transgenic variety jeopardizes agrobiodiversity without increasing safety levels.

 

Second, local breeding capacities in a country play an important role. India has a strong public and private breeding sector for cotton. Hence, many companies were technically able to introgress a transgenic trait into their varieties and breeding lines. Such introgression of an available transgenic trait is less complicated than identifying the trait and developing the transformation event, but it still requires some capacity that may not be available in many poorer countries in Africa. Public support through development organizations or international agricultural research centers may be required... Innovative models of public-private partnership may also be an interesting approach...

 

Third, IPRs may play an important role. Many of the transgenic technologies available so far are not patented in developing countries, so that local organizations can use these technologies for free or with relatively simple licensing agreements for introgression into their own varieties and breeding lines. Stronger IPRs may involve more complex licensing agreements. If many local organizations can obtain a license from the IPR holder, agrobiodiversity could be preserved. Restricted licenses to only one or a few organizations, however, could contribute to agrobiodiversity erosion. Such institutional aspects should be considered when designing national policies and regulatory frameworks for transgenic technologies.

 

http://www.zef.de/fileadmin/webfiles/downloads/zef_dp/zef_dp_186.pdf

 

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Natural Enemies Delay Insect Resistance to Bt Crops - Liu &al (2014) - PLoS One

Natural Enemies Delay Insect Resistance to Bt Crops - Liu &al (2014) - PLoS One | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

We investigated whether development of resistance to a Bt crop in the presence of a natural enemy would be slower than without the natural enemy and whether biological control, in conjunction with a Bt crop, could effectively suppress the pest population. Additionally, we investigated whether insecticide-sprayed refuges of non-Bt crops would delay or accelerate resistance to the Bt crop... 


This study provides empirical evidence... that natural enemies can delay resistance development to Bt plants, but also demonstrates that it can do so while maintaining a low pest density and low crop damage. Non-Bt refuges are necessary to delay resistance to Bt plants, but spraying refuges could accelerate resistance if sprays reduce the function of important biological control agents of the pest.


We suggest that host-plant resistance with Bt plants and biological control can be fully compatible within an overall integrated pest management (IPM) program. Our results have significant implications for IPM and insect resistance management (IRM) for Bt crops.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0090366

 

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GMO Tobacco Discovery Could Lead To Safer Insecticides - Science 2.0 (2014)

GMO Tobacco Discovery Could Lead To Safer Insecticides - Science 2.0 (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Genetic engineering of tobacco plants so that they produce moth pheromones demonstrates the potential of genetically modified plants to act as factories for the synthesis of insect pheromones... Pheromones are widely used as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional pesticides for trapping insects and the new work presents an opportunity for the cost-effective production of an environmentally safe alternative to insecticides... 

The plant-derived compounds described in the paper are very similar to commercially synthesiaed pheromones, and as effective at trapping moths. Synthetic pheromones are produced in large amounts and this commercial process not only requires the use of hazardous chemicals, but can also generate dangerous waste by-products.

Christer Löfstedt and colleagues pursued an alternate approach and isolated four key genes involved in pheromone production and express these genes in tobacco plants. They found that the resulting fatty alcohol-based products closely mimic the natural sex pheromones produced by two moths... the plant-derived pheromones... match the efficacy of commercially produced pheromones for trapping moths in a field experiment.


That means genetically modified plants can not only directly impact pesticide use, by making themselves more resistant to pests, but also in second order fashion by helping to create insect pheromones to research environmentally safe alternatives to insecticides. 

 

Blog: http://www.science20.com/news_articles/gmo_tobacco_discovery_could_lead_safer_insecticides-130345


Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms4353

 

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Expert opinion vs. empirical evidence: The precautionary principle applied to GM crops - Herman & Raybould (2014) - GM Crops & Food

Expert opinion vs. empirical evidence: The precautionary principle applied to GM crops - Herman & Raybould (2014) - GM Crops & Food | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Expert opinion is often sought by government regulatory agencies when there is insufficient empirical evidence to judge the safety implications of a course of action. However, it can be reckless to continue following expert opinion when a preponderance of evidence is amassed that conflicts with this opinion. Factual evidence should always trump opinion in prioritizing the information that is used to guide regulatory policy... We suggest that scientific evidence should also take priority over expert opinion in the regulation of genetically modified crops (GM). Examples of regulatory data requirements that are not justified based on the mass of evidence are described, and it is suggested that expertise in risk assessment should guide evidence-based regulation of GM crops.


http://dx.doi.org/10.4161/gmcr.28331


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Indian farmer suicides: Is GM cotton to blame? - Plewis (2014) - Significance

Indian farmer suicides: Is GM cotton to blame? - Plewis (2014) - Significance | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Arguments continue to rage about the safety and the costs of genetically engineered or genetically modified (GM) crops, and about their relevance to problems of world food production and the public health in developing countries. Those who promote them claim increased yields, fewer inputs, and economic and ecological benefits. The scientific consensus emphasises their advantages, but does not regard GM as a panacea for all the agricultural problems of the world. Anti-GM campaigners emphasise possible risks…

 

Many of the arguments, for and against, rely on statistical data and are therefore outwardly convincing. But these data are very often not subject to critical assessment and analysis. Closer analysis can tell very different stories. One example is the assertion that the introduction of GM cotton in India has led to a surge in farmer suicides…

 

Our conclusion must be that the data do not support the view that farmer suicides have increased following the introduction of Bt cotton. Indeed, taking all states together, there is evidence to support the hypothesis that the reverse is true: male suicide rates have actually declined since 2005… The picture at the state level is less clear-cut, especially the contrast between Maharashtra and Punjab. In one, farmer suicides have gone down, in the other they have gone up…  And those who would base their opposition to GM upon it must accept also that the opposite holds in Maharashtra – that farmer suicide rates there have decreased in the GM era, as they have for India as a whole.

 

The Indian farmer suicide story has become received wisdom for some anti-GM campaigners. In fact, we find that the suicide rate for male Indian farmers is slightly lower than for non-farmers. And Indian suicide rates as a whole are not notably high in a world context. The pattern of changes in suicide rates over the last 15 years is consistent with a beneficial effect of Bt cotton, albeit not in every cotton-growing state…

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1740-9713.2014.00719.x

 

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Millions in Africa Could Benefit from Additional Nutrients in Locally Grown Staple Food - PRWeb (2014)

Millions in Africa Could Benefit from Additional Nutrients in Locally Grown Staple Food - PRWeb (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

DuPont today announced an important step toward introducing pro-vitamin A (beta carotene) into sorghum, a staple food in Africa which is naturally deficient in key nutrients. Not only has the level of pro-vitamin A been improved to levels that result in delivery of 100 percent of the daily vitamin A requirement in children, but the stability of pro-vitamin A during storage also has been dramatically improved. These research breakthroughs will [hopefully] help improve nutrition for the nearly 300 million people in Africa who depend on sorghum, but who do not have access to [other, more nutritious food] that provides the essential nutrients that sorghum lacks... 


Micronutrient deficiency is often called the “hidden hunger.” It is not obvious until too late — when there is permanent damage that leads to a lifetime of consequences. In Africa, up to half a million children become blind from Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) with increased risk of cognitive impairment, disease and death from severe infections. Furthermore, nearly 600,000 women die from childbirth-related causes, many from complications that could be reduced through more vitamin A in their diet.

 

As a part of the Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) initiative, a consortium of scientists in the United States and Africa have achieved research advancements that will lead to the delivery of a nutritionally enhanced sorghum seed to farmers that can be grown in target Sub-Saharan Africa countries. Those scientists received last year the... Patents for Humanity Award for willingness to share its groundbreaking research to... help improve public health in target African countries.

 

Their achievements include: (i) Improved levels of pro-vitamin A in sorghum never before achieved. (ii) Increased storage stability of beta carotene in sorghum by over 100 percent... This means that beta-carotene levels will remain high enough to make a difference long after harvest. (iii) Enhanced absorption potential of protein and improved protein quality of sorghum after cooking... especially for young children who have the greatest demand for protein precursors during early stages of growth... (iv) Previously, sorghum had been a difficult crop to improve through biotechnology. The ABS scientists have dramatically improved the process of introducing transgenes designed for nutritional enhancement of sorghum... future progress in adding zinc and iron...

 

“The momentum of the African Biofortified Sorghum Initiative underlines the need for broad-based partnerships to address food and nutrition insecurity and improve agricultural systems in Africa and around the world,” said Florence Wambugu, CEO, Africa Harvest... “Apart from the DuPont technology donation and expertise, the private sector’s discipline of turning science into beneficial products has been a critical ingredient of success with ABS Initiative.” While DuPont contributes expertise, as well as monetary, in-kind and capacity building support, organizations such as Africa Harvest play a critical role in this humanitarian effort... 


http://www.prweb.com/releases/dupont-food-security/biofortified-sorghum-abs/prweb11598932.htm


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Achieving food and environmental security: new approaches to close the gap - Poppy &al (2014) - Phil Trans R Soc B

Achieving food and environmental security: new approaches to close the gap - Poppy &al (2014) - Phil Trans R Soc B | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Unless 50% more food, 50% more energy and 30% more freshwater are available by 2030, a ‘perfect storm’ is envisaged where there would be simultaneous shortages of all of these on a global scale. This becomes an even more ‘wicked problem’ when climate change and an expanding global population act in concert…

 

Food security ‘exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’. It is determined by… availability… stability of supplies… access… biological utilization of food… It is estimated that almost one billion people face hunger through lack of macronutrients, and a further one billion lack sufficient micronutrients, leading to both negative health and development outcomes.

 

Millennium development goal (MDG) number 1 (eradicate hunger and poverty) is effectively coupled to many of the other MDGs; it is imperative that we develop mechanisms to meet MDG 1 and other goals that are complementary and which do not oppose one another… Addressing MDGs in isolation can… be at the expense of others, and improved integration of actions is required. We must increase food security sustainably and in a climate change-resilient manner, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions, alleviating poverty and conserving biodiversity...

 

The pursuit of food security through increased agricultural production may include changes in land use, land cover, management practices and agricultural inputs, and it a key driver of landscape change… How do we deliver food security for all, without further exceeding planetary boundaries that have already been breached? Many of these social and just boundaries are linked to the MDGs and will undoubtedly be within the emerging sustainable development goals planned for post-2015. Science must play a central role in providing innovative solutions to these challenges…

 

After a period of decline, agricultural research is now receiving more funds and has climbed up the priority list of governments and funding agencies… convincing evidence of the tremendous return on investment from agricultural research and development… there is an up to 40-fold return on such investment. This should bring confidence to funders, taxpayers and industry, all of which need to respond to the global need for increased investment in agricultural research…

 

Following on from the Royal Society policy statement and reports on the SI of agriculture, papers… were concerned with the development of innovative approaches to agricultural sustainability, by protecting crops from biotic losses while at the same time minimizing seasonal inputs. Increased protection is essential, so that the investment of land preparation, seed, water and the provision of nutrients are not wasted. The ultimate objective is to deliver increased protection and reduced carbon footprint via the seed, while at the same time enhancing improvement of plant performance, molecular breeding, exploiting species diversity by use of companion plants and genetic modification (GM). The overriding objective for this section was to highlight new science in this area that will underpin new global agricultural systems…

 

Jones and co-workers describe the latest in understanding host/pathogen coevolution, which is now showing new ways to breed and develop GM approaches to manage pathogens via the seed. To succeed, pathogens must suppress host defence mechanisms using molecules known as effectors that are usually delivered into host cells. However, plant resistance genes confer activation of defence upon recognition of effectors. This understanding provides new opportunities to deploy resistance genes in a way that could enable durable disease control. Evidence for the value of this type of approach was provided by a GM blight-resistance field trial using… the potato variety Desiree.

 

Similarities between the highly effective currently registered pesticides and plant defence chemistry based on secondary plant metabolites are… a reason to consider exploiting such metabolites in new GM strategies and because genes for natural product biosynthesis are now available. Although more complicated pathways are involved… routes to secondary metabolites can now be seen as promising targets, and some were offered with evidence of laboratory success to date… Taking the delivery of sustainable pest management via the seed to a stage further towards perennial arable crops would require new pest management tools, and sentinel plants that respond more sensitively to the pest, disease or weed development could provide early warning of attack and then release stress-related elicitors to switch on defence in neighbouring intact crop plants, thereby obviating external delivery and promoting non-constitutive defence embedded in the planting material…

 

Delivering food security requires four pillars to be addressed simultaneously, and the sustainable/resilience pillar is often neglected in the rush for short-term solutions, which can lead to a ‘tragedy of the commons’, in which key services may be lost… environmental stability is addressed in a food system context… The debate about whether to extensify or intensify agriculture raises many issues and often draws few conclusions. Phalan's work focuses on biodiversity, using birds as a case study, and explores whether sparing land for nature through intensification is better than the sharing land with nature that would result from extensification practices. This analysis concludes that in most situations, bird biodiversity is best delivered through sparing land, and thus intensifying agriculture, in order to spare land… it is crucial to delivering both food security and environmental stability.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2012.0272

 

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Alexander J. Stein's curator insight, February 22, 2014 5:26 AM

The original article links to the studies that are discussed. 

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There is scientific evidence on GM crops safety: Secretary - ZeeNews (2014)

There is scientific evidence on GM crops safety: Secretary - ZeeNews (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

New Delhi: There is a clear scientific evidence on safety of genetically modified (GM) crops but more debate is needed to address other fears, Biotechnology Secretary Vijay Raghavan said... India is in "ideological turmoil" but scientists must speak "fairly, fearlessly and freely weighing in on the side of scientific evidence rather than the dominant "ideology" of the day. 

"The scientific evidence is very clear that GM crops are safe. ...The reason for the opposition to GM is not because of the Science primarily, but other fears... he suggested, "I think another debate need to be done is not on whether GM is safe or not, but on the big market (of GM) and its role in agriculture... We should address other issues calmly rather than worrying too much on GM and non-GM crops" ... 


Raghavan emphasised the need for scientists to speak based on "evidence" by citing an example of how ideology of Soviet Union's then Agriculture Minister Trofim Lysenko had influenced the farm policy adversely. "His ideology transformed Soviet's agriculture and biology into a disaster zone. The impact of his influence ruined the growth of biology and agriculture in eastern Europe and when adapted in China resulted in the death of millions in famines" ... 


He said that citizens have their own ideology but scientists should speak based on evidence... "If public science is to service public good, scientists in countries such as India must speak up for reason and must dominate the landscape of bringing science to be partner in solving our agricultural and health problems" ... 

At present, government has allowed commercial cultivation of Bt cotton, while there is a moratorium on Bt brinjal amid different opinions over safety and effect of such technology. Last week, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar informed Parliament that there are no "credible scientific reports" to prove that GM crops have adverse impact on environment, human health and livestock... 


http://zeenews.india.com/news/science/there-is-scientific-evidence-on-gm-crops-safety-secretary_912868.html


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Small farmers in developing countries benefiting significantly from genetically modified crops - PhysOrg (2014)

Small farmers in developing countries benefiting significantly from genetically modified crops - PhysOrg (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Despite the proclamations of the so-called "organic" movement and the anti-industry activists, small farmers in developing countries are benefiting significantly from genetically modified crops, according to a large review of the peer-reviewed research literature... they see improvements in health, education, debt repayment, maternal care services and food security. 


The primary research literature tends to focus on the technology itself and the business aspects of the development and deployment of GM crops. However, there is also a substantial number of papers that have detail investigations of the broader set of socio-economic impacts, which has provided... the necessary resources to conclude that, "The results of the available literature show that the impacts of the technology are multi-faceted and ripple through local and national economies" ... 

 

http://phys.org/news/2014-02-small-farmers-countries-benefiting-significantly.html

 

Original article:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1504/IJBT.2013.059248

 

A substantial and growing body of literature now exists on the socio-economic impacts of genetically engineered (GE) crops. While the bulk of literature has focused on the primary impacts of commercialised GE technology, in terms of changes in yields, costs and profitability, researchers have increasingly addressed a range of additional questions such as the distribution of impacts across groups, as well as secondary impacts on labour markets, non-pecuniary factors and social welfare.


This review summarises the results of the literature on this broader set of socio-economic impacts. The primary findings include: adopters receive a substantial share of the benefits; consumers are also shown to benefit from increased production leading to lower prices; small farmers in developing countries are benefiting from GE crop technology; adopters report improvements in health, education, debt repayment, maternal care services and food security... 

 

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Organic Farmer Sues GM Farming Neighbor - Science (2014)

In a landmark case, an organic farmer in Western Australia state is suing his neighbor for allegedly contaminating his crop with a genetically modified organism (GMO), GM canola. This is the first claim anywhere in the world by a “non-GMO farmer against a GMO farmer,” says Joe Lederman of the specialist law firm FoodLegal in Melbourne...

 

The case now being heard in the Western Australia Supreme Court in Perth turns on whether the GM farmer was negligent in the sense of not taking strict enough measures to contain GM material on his property...

 

Steve Marsh states that his organic farm... was contaminated in 2010 by GM canola, which he claims came from Michael Baxter’s farm... Baxter’s lawyers contend that he maintained the required 500-meter buffer zone around his crop and say there was no justification for removing Marsh’s certification. They argue that Marsh should sue NASAA for imposing unrealistic standards. The association has zero tolerance for GM material of any sort. In contrast, the United States allows products with up to 5% GM material to be labeled “organic”... 


The case does not question the science or safety of GM crops that have Australian regulatory approval... 

 

http://news.sciencemag.org/people-events/2014/02/organic-farmer-sues-gm-farming-neighbor

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

'This is the first claim anywhere in the world by a “non-GMO farmer against a GMO farmer”' >> Given that GM crops are already being grown since 18 years all over the world, on a cumulative hectarage of more than1.5 billion hectares, last year alone by 18 million farmers (according to ISAAA), this is quite amazing. If there would be real issues with the cultivation of GM crops, one would expect that there were many, many successful claims against GMO farmers already... 

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Adriene Mannas's curator insight, March 22, 2015 10:20 AM

Unit 5 Agricultural and Rural Land Use

 

This article consists of discussing how disagreeing farmers and people in general are about GMOs. In this article it tells how an organic farmer sued the neighboring farm on accounts of GM seeds grown next door being spread into his land.

 

This shows the disagreements on whether or not GM plants should be grown. These disagreements are a large part of human geography and show that people don't get along on the ways to grow and provide agriculture.    

 

 

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U.S. food companies find going 'non-GMO' no easy feat - Reuters (2014)

U.S. food companies find going 'non-GMO' no easy feat - Reuters (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

U.S. food companies are rushing to offer consumers thousands of products free of genetically modified ingredients but are finding the effort costly and cumbersome in a landscape dominated by the controversial biotech crops.

 

The hurdles are so high that the growing "GMO-free" trend could result in a price spike for consumers, industry experts say. Eighteen years after GMO crops were introduced to help farmers fight weeds and bugs, they are so pervasive in the supply chain that securing large and reliable supplies of non-GMO ingredients is nearly impossible in some cases.

 

Just ask General Mills... when the company announced... that its... Cheerios would be made free of genetically modified ingredients, the effort capped more than a year spent tracking down ingredients that have undergone no genetic modification. Cheerios is primarily made with oats, for which there are no GMO varieties. But even securing small amounts of non-GMO corn and sugar used to sweeten the cereal was a challenge, officials said. 


General Mills said it spent millions of dollars installing new equipment for processing non-GMO ingredients and setting up distinct transportation and handling facilities... General Mills is not raising prices for its non-GMO Cheerios right now. But the company sees labeling the cereal as free of ingredients that many consumers associate with health or environmental risks as helping gain market share... "But it is a sizeable investment. And it wasn't as easy as people think. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to do the same with our other products." ... 


There is no federal standard for non-GMO labeling, so many companies, like Post, are signing up for a third-party verification program known as the Non-GMO Project... started by natural and organic food retailers in 2007... grants manufacturers a license to use a seal signifying their products have been audited... Sales last year of verified products hit $5 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 2011... 

 

More than 90 percent of the corn and soybeans now grown in the United States are GMO strains. This means the pipelines for harvesting, storing, transporting, mixing and purchasing the commodities are awash in the biotech supplies. To supply conventional crops, farmers must plant non-GMO seeds, prevent pollen or other contaminants from drifting in from neighboring fields, and store and transport the grain separately from GMO crops. The separation must be maintained all the way to the finished product. 

 

Partly because of the pipeline headaches, non-GMOs typically come at premium prices. Non-GMO corn, a key ingredient in many packaged foods, is especially scarce because virtually all corn in the United States likely has at least some slight contamination, experts say... even as General Mills labels its Cheerios as "not made with genetically modified ingredients," it adds a disclaimer that "trace amounts" of genetically modified material "may be present." The company would not say how much GMO it allows in the corn and sugar for its non-GMO Cheerios... 


The supply crunch spells a likely spike in prices for consumers... Chipotle officials have already said they are planning to pass along the higher costs they are seeing when switching from GMO soy oil to non-GMO sunflower and rice bran oil by midyear. 


The market moves have caught the eye of some investors. One, San Francisco-based Equilibrium Capital Group, is looking at investment opportunities in grain storage, transportation and converting farmland to non-GMO crop production... 

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/18/us-usa-food-gmo-analysis-idUSBREA1H1G420140218

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Interesting quotes:


"General Mills is not raising prices for its non-GMO Cheerios right now." >> But future price increases can be expected?! 


"The company sees labeling the cereal as free of ingredients that many consumers associate with health or environmental risks as helping gain market share." >> It doesn't say that GMOs indeed come with health or environmental risks (they don't), but it's simply a business decision: people think so and it helps gain market share... 

 

"A third-party verification program known as the Non-GMO Project... started by natural and organic food retailers in 2007... grants manufacturers a license." >> Interesting, a non-GMO certifier can ask its clients to pay for a license (to use its logo), but if a seed company asks its clients/farmers to pay for a license (to use its seeds), there's an uproar among the same people? 


"Chipotle officials have already said they are planning to pass along the higher costs they are seeing when switching from GMO soy oil." >> But those calling for the labelling of GM food claim that this comes at a zero cost. Quite obviously they're wrong. Labelling will increase grocery prices. 


"The market moves have caught the eye of some investors." >> Non-GMO is a business, but people oppose GMOs because they're business-driven... (And some GMOs are not, such as those developed in humanitarian projects or by public entities.) 

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Risky business: psychology can teach us much about why many people fear GM foods - Cosmos (2014)

Risky business: psychology can teach us much about why many people fear GM foods - Cosmos (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Imagine you’re at a coffee shop, and at the next table two people are arguing about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). One, a young man, adamantly opposes them, convinced they pose all sorts of risks to people and the environment. The other person, a man in his 40s, supports GMOs, arguing there is no risk and that genetically modified food offers huge benefits, such as making crops more resistant to disease and pests. Both men sound intelligent and knowledgeable, so you listen in to see if you can learn a bit more about the facts. But pretty quickly you start paying attention to something else.

 

The two men sound angry. Their voices are loud… They’re interrupting each other… And while the person who supports GMOs is talking about how… biotech crops can improve health and save lives, the younger man keeps talking about Monsanto and big corporations, and government, and about his mistrust of anybody who has anything positive to say about the genetic modification of food.

 

You think to yourself, “This argument isn’t going to resolve anything. They’re not listening to each other. They’ve already made up their minds. This isn’t about GMOs. It’s about something way deeper than that”. You start to listen… to see if you can figure out the psychology of what’s going on: why two seemingly intelligent people can have such different and such strongly held views about essentially the same evidence…

 

That argument about GMOs isn’t really about the facts, any more than the argument about whether climate change is real, or whether vaccines cause autism. The facts on all three are pretty clear. The world’s leading science panels agree that the evidence is overwhelming that GMOs pose no known risk to humans, that climate change caused by human activity is real, and that vaccines don’t cause autism. Yet some people… continue to deny all the evidence and fear GMOs. Why? And why are his passions so highly aroused?

 

The feelings are so fierce because it turns out that the way we perceive risk is much more about those feelings than the facts alone… The brain is first and foremost in charge of keeping us alive and it uses everything it can to figure out whether something might pose a risk, including not only conscious reasoning but all the subconscious animal instincts we have evolved to make quick protective judgments… Many of those instincts… help explain why that angry young man in the coffee shop is so afraid of GMOs.

 

One of them is… the “representativeness heuristic”… Here’s how representativeness works. Let’s say that in a couple of minutes a professional athlete will walk into the room and join you. Will that athlete be bigger than you, the same size, or smaller? If you’re like most people, you probably guessed bigger… The pattern is that professional athletes… are big. So, called on to make a choice before you had all the information necessary and without enough time to get more information, you used a mental shortcut… to come up with an answer.

 

So how do such shortcuts influence our young man’s fears of GMOs? Is he completely informed about biotechnology, about how genetically modified food is created, or grown? No. But he does know that some of his food might be produced by Monsanto or DuPont, those evil chemical companies… (insert scary music here). So, in the name of assessing whether GMOs might be a potential risk and trying to keep himself safe, he subconsciously opens the filing cabinets of what he does know and, based on common fear of “chemicals”… GMOs therefore represent something that feels scary.

 

Another heuristic that feeds fear of GMOs is called “loss aversion”. Like all of us, our angry young man gives more emotional significance to loss than to equivalent gain. Even if a risk is small, the potential for harm (loss) carries greater emotional power… Better Safe Than Sorry helps keeps us alive. But loss aversion also makes many risks feel more frightening than the facts warrant. So no matter how much the older guy in the coffee shop claims that GMOs pose no known risks and that they offer huge benefits, if anything about genetically modified food makes it feel like there might be danger (loss), the safest default emotional response will be to see GMOs as a risk…

 

Several specific emotional characteristics also make GMOs feel scary… You can hear them pop up as the young man explains his fears. “It’s just not natural to take the gene from one species and put it in another. It’s just not natural!” Indeed, taking a gene from a soil bacterium… that produces a natural pesticide and injecting that gene into the DNA of a soy plant, is hardly Mother Nature’s way of hybridising plants. But does that have anything to do with whether it’s actually risky? No. Scientifically, whether something is a risk depends on whether it is physically hazardous, in what ways and at what dose, and whether we’re exposed, at what age and how often. A radioactive particle in your lungs can cause cancer whether the particle came from the natural breakdown of uranium in the soil… or from a nuclear power plant accident. But risk perception research has found that natural risks don’t feel as scary as the equivalent man-made risks…

 

Another “fear factor”… is the issue of “uncertainty”… When we face a possible threat but we can’t detect it with our senses, or when it’s complicated and we don’t understand it… We feel powerless, which makes us feel more afraid. GMOs qualify for all three categories of uncertainty. GM food ingredients are undetectable. The science is complex and hard to understand. And some questions remain (which is why field tests are done, of course)…

 

In addition to the already long list of psychological characteristics that make GMOs feel frightening, there is one other factor that may be the biggest of all. Although we may believe we’re making up our own minds about various issues, in fact we tend to choose views that align with those of our friends… That sort of thinking – matching our views to those of our tribe – makes a lot of sense given that the brain’s main job is to keep us safe... Social animals like us depend on our tribe, for our health and safety. So it is protective to agree with our group, because the others in the group will then treat us as a loyal member, worthy of support and protection. And… social unity makes our group stronger in the competition with other groups over who wins elections… and other fundamental aspects of how society works…

 

The theory of “cultural cognition” has found that we fall into four basic groups, defined… by deeper worldviews about the general sort of society we want to live in. One of these groups is known as Egalitarians… They are angry that the wealthy 1% has all the levers of power and aren’t allowing the other 99% fair and equal control over their lives. That’s not the way Egalitarians want the world to work. To Egalitarians, the rich and powerful 1% imposing this unfair world on others include big global corporations, like Monsanto, that make and profit from GMOs. So Egalitarians dislike those companies and the technologies and products from which they profit. This explains why the young man in the coffee shop is so passionate about attacking Monsanto for requiring farmers to buy new seeds each year – which, as it happens, most farmers were already doing, since commercially produced seeds are generally more productive…

 

Your coffee shop combatants finally run out of steam and agree to disagree… And it occurs to you that, as real and powerful as all those competing emotions may be, analysing the risk of a relatively new technology that way  doesn’t make for reasoned debate or informed policy choices. In fact, it seems downright dangerous. You remember reading about those thousands of people who starved to death in Zambia during a 2002 famine when the government was convinced by European anti-GMO advocates to refuse food aid that contained genetically modified corn. And you remember hearing about something called Golden Rice, which carries a gene providing beta carotene, supplying vitamin A that could prevent blindness and death in millions of children and pregnant women. You think, “It seems risky to let our emotions get in the way of the facts like this”.

 

You’re right. When the emotional nature of risk perception causes us to worry too much, or not enough, it creates something that has been called the “risk perception gap”. Just as some deny the evidence of the safety of GMOs, others deny the overwhelming evidence of climate change, a huge threat that grows more and more dangerous the longer doubt causes delay. The “risk perception gap” works both ways. We sometimes worry too much and sometimes too little, and the gap between our fears and the facts can be a huge risk all by itself.

 

This seems dumb and irrational to let our feelings about risk lead us into greater danger. But to treat that young man as though he is irrational and deny the validity of his feelings is not only pointless. It’s counterproductive and will only fuel his passions… His feelings may not match the facts, but they are real and deeply rooted… Challenging his feelings as irrational makes him feel threatened. To defend himself, he hardens his positions… arguing your facts and denying the other person’s feelings is probably not going to get the other person to change his or her mind…

 

The good news is, we can apply all we’ve learned about the emotional nature of risk perception to the challenge of communicating about risk more respectfully, less combatively, framing information in ways that are consistent with rather than threatening to the values and feelings of those we are trying to persuade. We can stop criticising this behaviour as irrational or anti-science, labels sure to inflame more than persuade... 

 

http://alpha.cosmosmagazine.com/society/risky-business

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

An article that merits to be read it its entirety. 

 

I'm not so sure whether splitting the world into egalitarians and individualists is not a bit simplistic, though. Perhaps at least a dimension of progressives vs. conservatives should be added in this case to explain how some egalitarians nevertheless embrace GMOs, while some individualists reject them... 

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