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Scoops on GMOs, agricultural biotech, innovation, breeding and related info (not necessarily endorsements). CLICK on the titles to get to the full, original and possibly hyperlinked versions!
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University biotech patenting - Nature Biotechnol (2013)

A list of the most active universities for biotech patents shows the University of California system far ahead of the field. Institut Pasteur is the second most active university for European patents, and Duke ranks second for both US biotech patents and total patents, ahead of notable institutions such as Stanford, WARF and MIT. Overall, biotech patenting is on the rise... though the increase is being driven by US patenting. 

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Generation of Rice Mutants by Chemical Mutagenesis - Tai (2013) - Springer

Generation of Rice Mutants by Chemical Mutagenesis - Tai (2013) - Springer | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Chemical mutagenesis of rice has been used extensively to generate useful genetic variation for the purpose of breeding improved varieties. More recently, advances in high-throughput genotyping platforms have enabled the efficient detection of point mutations generated by chemical agents. This in turn has renewed interest in using traditional chemical mutagenesis to generate mutant populations for gene discovery and functional characterization. Targeting of Induced Local Lesions in Genomes (TILLING) is a powerful reverse genetics method which combines chemical mutagenesis with the high-throughput discovery of point mutations. Numerous chemical mutagens have been shown to be effective in generating point mutations and small deletions in rice. This chapter describes the use of a combination of sodium azide (NaN3) and N-nitroso-N-methylurea to generate populations that are suitable for TILLING as well as forward genetics and mutation breeding.

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Impact of increased demand for animal protein products in Asian countries: Implications on global food security - Cao & Li (2013) - Animal Frontier

In Asia, the consumption of animal products has been steadily increasing, thus creating a greater demand for feed crops. As the quality of life progresses, demand for animal protein also increases.

A rapid increase in the demand for animal products, together with the changes in international trade, has led to a great expansion of food industry in China. Livestock production has been growing faster than any other agricultural sub-sector in China in recent decades, mainly due to the substantial growth of pig and poultry industries.

China hosts 20% of the world’s population but occupies only 7% of the land area, and an even smaller percentage, a minimal area of 1.2 million km2, can be used as farmland for agriculture. China is researching the development of a variety of transgenic crops aimed at producing a greater yield of plant feedstuffs such as corn, soybean, rice, and wheat... 

 

In the next 5 to 10 years, even greater challenges will be encountered in meeting an ever increasing demand for animal protein products in developing countries. Therefore, there is an urgent need for new technological innovations in livestock production to ensure global food security and the stability of global economy... 

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ComplexInsight's curator insight, July 1, 2013 2:13 AM

Good insight into the future complexity of food demand and geospatial constraints and driving factors that in increasing demand for animal protien products in developing countries and its relationship to global food security.

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USDA approves voluntary GMO-free label - CNN (2013)

USDA approves voluntary GMO-free label - CNN (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently approved a label for meat and liquid egg products that would inform consumers about whether the product contains genetically modified ingredients. The approval marks the first time the department has approved a non-GMO label from a third party... 

 

Genetically modified foods were approved for human consumption in the United States in 1995, but the FDA never required them to be labeled as such... 

 

“The FDA supports voluntary labeling for food derived from genetic engineering. Currently, food manufacturers may indicate through voluntary labeling whether foods have or have not been developed through genetic engineering provided that such labeling is truthful and not misleading.” ... 

 

Chipotle Mexican Grill became the first fast food chain to voluntarily label menu items that contain GMOs; Whole Foods and Ben & Jerry’s have since followed suit. 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

If there is a market demand for food that complies with specific values of certain groups of society (be it organic, kosher, halal, vegan, non-GM or whatever), obviously this demand can be catered for... (What I wonder, though, is why people who eat fast food or junk food care about this issue - one way to be able to ignore the elephant in the room more easily?) 

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Insufficient data stop EFSA from concluding on safety of GM maize 3272 - EFSA (2013)

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said it cannot reach a conclusion on the safety of genetically modified (GM) maize 3272 [intended to be used for biofuel] after the applicant failed to provide key information to allow a full risk assessment to take place. The Authority was therefore prevented from concluding on the safety of GM maize 3272 with regard to human and animal health as the application did not meet a number of minimum standards set out in EFSA’s guidance documents. EFSA’s Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) found that the comparative assessment of GM maize 3272 performed by the applicant was inadequate due to a lack of data...

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Seems EFSA is not rubber-stamping approvals, as is sometimes suggested... 

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Consumers' Evaluation of Biotechnology in Food Products: New Evidence from a Meta-Survey - Hess &al (2013) - AAEA

This study examines the systematic evidence entailed in existing research on consumers' evaluation of biotechnology in food products. The extant literature related to this topic typically originates from a variety of research disciplines, but shares an underlying focus in dealing with the issue of public acceptance of biotechnology in food and its corresponding behavioural processes.


We develop a meta-study methodology to measure the envelope of an underlying construct that represents consumer evaluation of biotechnology in food products. The analysis combines information from 1673 survey questions out of 214 different studies. Findings from our mixed effects meta-model show that survey questions with positive (negative) connotations about biotechnology tend to be associated with positive (negative) measures of evaluation.


Stated benefits of biotechnologies in food do not produce any significant positive reaction. Price discounts, increased production and various perceived risks generate negative coefficients. The EU dummies appear insignificant, while previous meta-studies found significant negative evaluation among EU consumers. We show that survey questions related e.g. to risk and ethical concerns have been asked more often in EU surveys compared to non-EU countries.


Our study sheds further light on those aspects that appear the most influential ones in directing consumer evaluation of biotechnology in food products. Furthermore, we discuss potential strategies for future research- and policy design in relation to these technologies.. 

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Researchers Find Genetic Diversity Key to Survival of Honey Bee Colonies - NC State U (2013)

Researchers Find Genetic Diversity Key to Survival of Honey Bee Colonies - NC State U (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

When it comes to honey bees, more mates is better. A new study from North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that genetic diversity is key to survival in honey bee colonies – a colony is less likely to survive if its queen has had a limited number of mates.

 “We wanted to determine whether a colony’s genetic diversity has an impact on its survival, and what that impact may be,” says Dr. David Tarpy, an associate professor of entomology at North Carolina State University and lead author of a paper describing the study. “We knew genetic diversity affected survival under controlled conditions, but wanted to see if it held true in the real world. And, if so, how much diversity is needed to significantly improve a colony’s odds of surviving.” ... 

 

The researchers found that colonies where the queen had mated at least seven times were 2.86 times more likely to survive the 10-month working season. Specifically, 48 percent of colonies with queens who had mated at least seven times were still alive at the end of the season. Only 17 percent of the less genetically diverse colonies survived. “ ... “This study confirms that genetic diversity is enormously important in honey bee populations,” Tarpy says. “And it also offers some guidance to beekeepers about breeding strategies that will help their colonies survive.” ... 

 

Original paper: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00114-013-1065-y

 

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AckerbauHalle's curator insight, June 18, 2013 11:46 PM

The difficult story on bees and the death of colonies continues. 

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Teagasc GM potato study to begin second phase in Carlow - Irish Times (2013)

Teagasc GM potato study to begin second phase in Carlow - Irish Times (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Teagasc [the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority] hopes to begin planting out more than 5,000 potato plants in the next two weeks, in the second phase of its study into the environmental impact of blight-resistant genetically modified (GM) potatoes.

 

The agricultural development body began the study last year by planting 48 GM and non-GM potato plants at its Oakpark crops research centre in Carlow. Its senior research officer Dr Ewen Mullins said he hoped planting would get under way later this week if the ground was not too dry. Some 5,274 plants will be planted across two acres. One-third are GM plants, one-third are non-GM and the final third are the organic Sarpo Mira variety. Sarpo Mira is known for its blight resistance, although the eating and processing quality of the plant are not as good as some commercial varieties... 

 

Teagasc has been criticised by some anti-GM campaigners for undertaking the project, which was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency last July. Dr Mullins said the study was being done because of the challenges facing potato growers. Potatoes are sprayed for blight up to 15 times per growing season but increased EU legislation will curtail the amount of crop protection products farmers can use... 

 

Dr Mullins said Teagasc was neither for nor against GM technology and it welcomed public debate on the issue... while it was being claimed the study was putting Ireland’s GM-free status in jeopardy, the State was not GM-free and was already importing almost one million tonnes of GM animal feed every year... 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"the organic Sarpo Mira variety" -- How can a crop variety be organic? A plant can be cultivated following all kinds of practices, and that's what "organic" means, that the crops were grown on a farm that was certified as following a specific sub-set of agricultural practices...

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GM sterilization on the horizon for fruit fly fight - Fresh Fruit Portal (2013)

GM sterilization on the horizon for fruit fly fight - Fresh Fruit Portal (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Pioneered in the 1950s, the sterile insect technique (SIT) has allowed farmers worldwide to reduce populations of pests that prey on their crops and livestock by releasing infertile males into the mix. While the method has been effective in many cases, pests remain a challenge for growers in terms of both orchard management and export market access. To address some of the pitfalls of using traditional SIT, U.K. company Oxitec is using germline transgenic technology, in search of a more efficient and cost-effective process. 

 

Oxitec scientist Neil Morrison says his company’s products could help the industry overcome two common SIT problems – difficulties in guaranteeing male-only insects and competitive impacts from irradiation.

 

Releasing males is key because it is the female pests that lay eggs on fruit or bite people when it comes to human disease, but Morrison says it is hard to naturally develop sexing strains that allow for male-only release... “The irradiation process to sterilize the males is damaging to the fruit flies themselves, and so the insects are of less quality. This means you have to release more males to compensate for that deficit in quality.” ... 

 

Genetically modified sterile insects makes smaller projects more feasible, according to Morrison. Potential buyers could range from individual farmers to co-ops to governments. “We have developed a genetic means of producing large numbers of male-only fruit flies, and also a form of genetic sterility which allows us to avoid the irradiation process. The objective of that is really to produce better quality males,” he says... 

 

For agriculture, the company currently has product strains for Mediterranean fruit fly, Olive fruit fly, Mexican fruit fly, Diamondback moth and Pink bollworm. The scientist emphasizes these insects have been strategically selected due to the years involved in develop each one. “We’ve essentially used the same technology in these species and that really tells us that we can transfer this technology quite readily to new tephritid fruit fly species. “Generating the strains and characterizing them in the lab and doing different performance tests in the lab might take three years or so...” 

 

Morrison says the company’s lead product is the dengue-carrying Aedes Aegypti mosquito, with development trials that have reached the commercial testing phase. “Dengue is the fastest growing insect borne disease in the world as far as I know, so there’s hundreds of millions of cases every year of new deaths. “We have conducted field trials with our genetically sterile mosquito strain in the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean, and also in Brazil. “In both arenas we’ve targeted the mosquito population in small urban areas, and achieved between 80-95% suppression of the wild population.”

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Panama expects benefits from world's first GM salmon - SciDev (2013)

Panama expects benefits from world's first GM salmon - SciDev (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Panama's researchers have played a key role in creating a rapidly growing salmon that may soon become the world's first commercially sold genetically modified (GM) animal. The US's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled the consumption of GM salmon to be as safe as conventional Atlantic salmon, and is now analyzing public comments on its environmental impact as the final part of the approval process. 

 

If the FDA permits the transgenic salmon to be imported for human consumption... the research station in Panama that is studying the GM salmon would switch to growing it for the US market. This would have trickle-down benefits for local firms and ensure further research into GM salmon and how best to grow it, according to Henry Clifford, vice-president of marketing and sales at AquaBounty Technologies, the US biotechnology company that developed the fish, dubbed AquAdvantage salmon, which grows twice as fast as wild salmon.


The project is based in Panama because of the country's long-standing policy support for aquaculture and GM organisms, says Clifford. He adds that all employees at the Panama research site are local researchers and that one of the reasons the company decided to establish its facility there was because of its "large pool of experienced biologists and production managers with many years of successful experience managing aquaculture operations".


The project is already bringing new technologies and knowledge to Panama, the company claims. "Ever since the project began in 2009, R&D professionals from the local Panamanian authorities have been intimately involved in the oversight of our project," says Clifford. "So there is a process in which AquaBounty is transferring technology and know-how to local Panamanian scientists, researchers and other professionals."

 

If the FDA approves the salmon's import, AquaBounty will request Panama's permission to convert the research facility into a production one — but it is likely to continue R&D activities, too. "For example, we might work with the local feed manufacturer to develop better feed formulations for our salmon," says Clifford. The company also expects local firms to benefit. "As aquaculture projects develop in Panama, there are tangible trickle-down economic benefits for ancillary support businesses such as feed mill and packing plants," says Clifford.

 

In a draft environmental assessment published in December 2012, the FDA stated that "food from AquAdvantage salmon is as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon, and that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from consumption of food from [the fish]". It also said there was no significant threat to the environment when the fish are grown in landlocked tanks...

 

Giovanni Lauri, director of the Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama (ARAP), tells SciDev.Net that the FDA's approval could boost investment in the country from firms looking to use transgenic animals for food. "Panama is open to this kind of research as long as companies meet the requirements stated by our laws" regarding food security and environmental impact, he adds. For Lauri, AquaBounty's work also shows that food produced in half the time — as the GM salmon grows twice as fast — could help to tackle hunger and overfishing. 

 

To minimise the risk of potential environmental harm, the GM salmon are all sterile females and are only reared in the company's land-based production facilities... in the highlands of west Panama. And at ARAP's request, all the fish that AquaBounty produces must at present be culled. But there are fears that if the transgenic salmon ever got into natural waterways it could breed with existing fish... Luisa Araúz, a lawyer at the Environmental Advocacy Centre in Panama, an NGO... has been investigating... "We want the authorities to be vigilant," she tells SciDev.Net... 

 Clifford says that FDA approval "would signal to the world, and to other developers and researchers of genetically modified animals, as well as the regulatory authorities charged with overseeing them, that when properly and responsibly implemented and managed to minimise the risks, this technology is safe for the consumer and safe for the environment... 
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Implications of Bt traits on mycotoxin contamination in maize: overview and recent experimental results in southern United States - Abbas &al (2013) - J Ag Food Chem

Implications of Bt traits on mycotoxin contamination in maize: overview and recent experimental results in southern United States - Abbas &al (2013) - J Ag Food Chem | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Mycotoxin contamination levels in maize kernels are controlled by a complex set of factors including insect pressure, fungal inoculum potential and environmental conditions that are difficult to predict. Methods are becoming available to control mycotoxin-producing fungi in pre-harvest crops, including Bt expression, biocontrol and host plant resistance.


Initial reports in the US and other countries have associated Bt expression with reduced fumonisin, DON, and zearalenone contamination, and to a lesser extent reduced aflatoxin contamination in harvested maize kernels. However, subsequent field results have been inconsistent, confirming that fumonisin contamination can be reduced by Bt expression, but the effect on aflatoxin is, at present, inconclusive.


New maize hybrids have been introduced with increased spectra of insect control and higher levels of Bt expression that may provide important tools for mycotoxin reduction and increased yield due to reduced insect feeding, particularly if used together with biocontrol and host plant resistance.

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Theory and application for the promotion of wheat production in China: past, present and future - Xu &al (2013) - J Sci Food Ag

Theory and application for the promotion of wheat production in China: past, present and future - Xu &al (2013) - J Sci Food Ag | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Food security is becoming a crucial concern worldwide. In this study, we focus on wheat – a staple crop in China – as a model to review its history, status quo and future scenarios, with regard to key production technologies and management practices for wheat production and associated food security issues since the new era in China: the post-1949 era.

 

First, the dominant technologies and management practices over the past 60 years are reviewed. Secondly, we outline several key innovative technologies and their theoretical bases over the last decade, including (i) prohibiting excessively early senescence at a later growth stage to maintain viable leaves with higher photosynthetic capacity, (ii) postponing top dressing nitrogen application to balance carbon and nitrogen nutrition, and (iii) achieving both high yield and better grain quality mainly by increasing soil productivity and balancing the ratio of nutrient elements. Finally, concerns such as water shortages and excessive application of chemical fertilizers are presented.

 

Nevertheless, under high negative conditions, including global warming, rapid population growth, decreasing amounts of arable land, increasing competition with cash crops and severe environmental pollution, we conclude that domestic food production will be able to meet Chinese demand in the mid to long term, because increasingly innovative technologies and improved management practices have been and may continue to be applied appropriately.

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The Science is not the problem - Mundo Obrero (2013)

Other management models for transgenic crops than the European one (which allows only the big companies to enter the market) are possible.

 

In general any scientific advance brings a benefit to society that improves the living standards and eliminates social inequalities. Consider for instance the mechanization, which has improved working conditions and lower costs involving access to goods by a greater section of the population, or how the internet and computers have allowed access to all sorts of information or to communicate easily.

 

In Europe we are now in a debate on the use of plant biotechnology, the demonized transgenic plants. The problem is that you cannot set up a debate in conditions when most of the information circulating on the subject is inaccurate or false. For starters, we should remember that transgenic technology – i.e. inserting a piece of DNA from one organism into another – already is part of our lives, since this technology is used  for many drugs, cotton clothing, Euro bills, enzymes that are used in various industries or in detergents. However, when it comes to GM crops and making this technology available to farmers it is when all misgivings arise, sometimes justified and sometimes not.

 

One of the arguments of those who advocate the prohibition of GMOs is that they are in the hands of a few companies and that we lose control of our food. Well, actually most of the seeds used in agriculture are already in the hands of these companies, and they sell GMOs on top of that. The paradox is that by wanting to stop them makes it easier for them to succeed. European anti-GMO policy arbitrarily applies the precautionary principle demanding more controls and tests. This increases both the cost of the product and it eliminates the possibility that a small or public can compete, leaving in the race only large multinationals. However, because the European model does not work does not mean that we cannot see how alternatives have been applied in other parts of the world and recognize that there is debate and it is used each year more because the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

 

Other models of transgenic crop management

 

Argentina is one of the leading producers of genetically modified soybeans. Being outside the international patent system, it was using Monsanto seeds without paying royalties, until they came to an agreement, but still paying much less. Why has it succeeded? Because by lowering production costs, the technology benefitted mainly small and medium producers who have seen increased profitability of their land. What did the government do? Place a rate of 30% on exports to ensure (besides corruption) the distribution of the profit generated. The Indian model is similar for cotton, since the greatest benefit occurs among small and medium producers (the story of suicides because of transgenics is urban legend.)

 

The soy “fever” spread to Brazil in a curious way. Lula da Silva came to power with a manifesto that included a rejection of GMOs. However, during his tenure Brazil became the second largest producer of these crops. What brought the change? Basically farmers in Rio Grande do Sul, who obtained GM seeds from Argentina, planted in Brazil and then smuggled their soybeans into Argentina to sell them. He spoke with them and saw that the best thing for the region was to authorize them. As the strategy was working but was in the hands of foreign companies, he decided to make a strong public commitment for the national agricultural company EMBRAPA to create varieties that solved specific problems and so has been launched a transgenic virus-resistant bean variety. This model has been followed by Cuba, which in 2012 has joined the list of countries planting biotech, along with Sudan, which has developed own GM maize varieties for their farmers, and by Nigeria, which has also developed a pest-resistant bean. The next to follow this path is Indonesia, which has begun field trials with drought-tolerant and herbicide-tolerant sugarcane.

 

So the debate is open and the theme is multifaceted, but total refusal to use this technology only leads to injury to farmers and ultimately society as a whole. We cannot take a stationary position, but have to learn to separate the wheat from the chaff in the debate. Other models of GM crop management than the European (allowing market entry only to big companies) are possible. In these models, the advantages are maximized versus drawbacks. Our country and our citizens have a big stake in this debate.

 

[Slightly edited machine translation from http://www.mundoobrero.es/pl.php?id=2823

 

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AckerbauHalle's curator insight, June 8, 2013 6:40 AM

Es gibt auch andere Modelle zur Nutzung von GVOs - hier das Beispiel Argentinien. 

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Rapid growth of seaweed biotechnology provides opportunities for developing nations - Mazarrasa &al (2013) - Nature Biotechnol

New developments in biology and biotechnology and the diversification of the use of marine biological resources in increasingly sophisticated products are accelerating the domestication of marine biodiversity and the emerging patent market of marine biotechnology. Whereas the rate of discovery of new marine species is slow (0.93% per year), the number if domesticated marine species is growing at about 3% per year... 


Collectively, the steep growth in the use of marine biological resources represents a fundamental change in the way humans derive benefits from the oceans... a focus on marine resources involving low-cost technology requirements, such as seaweed, provides an opportunity for developing countries... Seaweed aquaculture, growing at 7.5% per year, is becoming an important component of marine aquaculture, propelled by a diversification of the demand for seaweed products from traditional uses to bio-energy, cosmetics and biomedicine applications... 

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New EU legislation for risk assessment of GM food: no scientific justification for mandatory animal feeding trials - Kuiper &al (2013) - Plant Biotechnol J

New EU legislation for risk assessment of GM food: no scientific justification for mandatory animal feeding trials - Kuiper &al (2013) - Plant Biotechnol J | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

This commentary focuses on the potential added value of and need for (sub)-chronic testing of whole genetically modified (GM) foods in rodents to assess their safety. Such routine testing should not be required since, due to apparent weaknesses in the approach, it does not add to current risk assessment of GM foods. Moreover, the demand for routine testing using animals is in conflict with the European Union (EU) Commission's efforts to reduce animal experimentation. Regulating agencies in the EU are invited to respect the sound scientific principles applied to the risk assessment of foods derived from GM plants and not to interfere in the risk assessment by introducing extra requirements based on pseudo-scientific or political considerations.

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Tougher climate-resistant crops - Youris (2013)

Tougher climate-resistant crops - Youris (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

When legumes improved thanks to genetic analysis act as a test bench for more resilient plants, susceptible of ultimately reducing EU dependence on food and feed imports. 

 

Might it be possible to make better plants more quickly than we do today? And without the public objection that accompanies genetic manipulation? Climate change means that this is now an urgent question. The EU funded ABSTRESS project is intended to address it. “Climate change means that we don’t know whether next year’s harvest will be affected by floods or by drought. So we need more resilient crops,” project coordinator Adrian Charlton tells youris.com, referring to the need to reduce EU’s dependency on imports.

 

Charlton, who is also team leader for chemical and biochemical profiling at the Food and Environment Research Agency, based in York, UK, adds: “the aim of this project is to respond to climate change by telescoping the plant breeding cycle, from perhaps 8-10 years to the five years of this project from 2012 to 201.” Faster breeding is much needed, experts agree. “Plant breeders agree that climate change is real. So if it takes 12-15 years to breed a new type, the environment it will be used in will not be today’s environment. Water and heat stress are among the most important changes. A crop that grows well in an area today is unlikely to do as well in the same place in 2050,” explains Walter de Jong, associate professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University...

 

But testing is the main reason why plant breeding takes so long, he believes. “You need to see how plants cope in a variety of environments and seasons... and that is even more of a problem when the environment is a moving target.” He adds that there have been many attempts over the past 50 years to speed things up, but improvements so far have been marginal.

 

To achieve its aim, the project is looking at legumes, a key group of crops such as peas that take nitrogen from the atmosphere and add it to the soil. Growing them reduces the need for nitrogenous fertilisers. “Reduced legume growing in the EU means that it now imports up to 90% of the protein it used in animal feed, in the form of soya. If we can get tougher legumes, we can cut that bill.” As an example, he says that if peas plants were tougher, more peas would be grown in Europe as they will not be damaged by the rain. Sheep and cattle find them even tastier than imported soya...

 

De Jong recognises the cutting edge approach of this project. “Nobody else has ever tried to improve these important plant traits on this scale,” he tells youris.com. But he is sceptical about the speed at which any results will appear in the marketplace in the form of hardier crops. He points out that improving “the actual crops we eat” remains a stubbornly slow process. “The fundamental science community always underestimates how long it takes for new discoveries to be applied, because they don’t understand the hurdles to bringing their ideas to fruition,” he adds. He also says that the science has got a lot faster because of new genetic approaches, but the process of implementing discoveries has not.

 

Other observers agree that the priorities of the project are the right ones. “Drought in particular is going to be a growing issue in parts of Europe,” says John Spink, department head at Teagasc, the Irish agriculture and food development authority located near Carlow in Ireland. He says that it can take 50 years to transfer a gene for some desirable property such as insect resistance into a crop from the wild. While genetic manipulation is far faster, it also involves later stages of testing and verification. “[Genetic analysis] removes the need to grow many generations of the crop and can reduce development time by 60-70%,” he notes.

 

But Spink warns that even if a new seed is found with good properties, there are still big hurdles to jump. The real difficulty, he says, is getting from the laboratory to the marketplace, which involves testing the new variety and building up stocks of seeds for sale.

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Hybrid Rice as a Pro-Poor Technology? Evidence from Bangladesh - McFall &al (2013) - AAEA

We examine the use of hybrid rice as a pro-­poor technology for subsistence rice farmers in South Asia. Hybrids, for which seed cannot be saved, is often thought to be ill-­suited for poor farmers. However, poor subsistence farmers may find it advantageous to produce “sticky” hybrid rice instead of generally preferred slender open pollinated varieties, even though there is little market demand for it... 


In this study we presented evidence that despite price penalties for hybrid rice and taste preferences for OPV varieties, producers in the region choose to adopt hybrid rice as a means of obtaining cheap calories offered the technology. In effect, for subsistence households hybrid rice can serve as a pro-poor technology... We find, as expected, that rich households are more likely to adopt hybrid rice.


However, contingent onadoption poor households allocate a higher percentage of their land for the technology. Moreover, we find that hybrid rice consumption constitutes a higher percentage of own-produced rice consumption for poor households than for rich households. These findings support our hypothesis that rice producers in the region adopt hybrid rice as a means of obtaining cheap calories offered the technology.

 

Further adoption of the technology could help promote food security in South Asia... This paper also highlights the importance of consumer demand in hybrid adoption... Studies of technological adoption often focus solely on the advantages of a technology to the producer while mentioning only briefly the effect that the technology may have on consumer demand... This study may provide a justification for increased institutional support for research and development of hybrid varieties well adapted to domestic challenges.


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Zero Tolerance for GM Flax and the Rules of Trade - Viju &al (2013) - World Econ

Zero Tolerance for GM Flax and the Rules of Trade - Viju &al (2013) - World Econ | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Trade in genetically modified products is a longstanding and contentious issue in agricultural trade. One issue has not, as yet, received much attention. This is the mingling of unapproved GM products with conventional products. This issue is likely to gain more prominence in the future as new GM product development accelerates.

 

Until recently, problems with mingling were largely one-off events. Recently, however, an ongoing case of mingling has arisen – the case of Canadian GM flax in the EU. The case led to an embargo of imports from Canada and subsequently the bilateral negotiation of a protocol to allow exports to resume.

 

The case raises a number of important issues pertaining to the objective of zero tolerance policies for GM products, the operationalisation of zero tolerance, the role of the testing industry, the design of testing regimes and the risks associated with the absence of transparency and/or international standardisation...

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Perhaps this issue "has not, as yet, received much attention", but some: Speech of then EU Commissioner for Agriculture : http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-09-474_en.htm; EU press release : http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/jrc/index.cfm?id=2300&obj_id=2470&dt_code=PRL; Nature Biotechnology comment : http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nbt0110-23b; AgBioForum article : http://www.agbioforum.org/v13n2/v13n2a08-cerezo.htm; ICABR Conference paper : http://www.economia.uniroma2.it/icabr/paper_view.php?id=421&p=5

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The Very Thick Line Between Raising Concerns And Denialism - Discover (2013)

The Very Thick Line Between Raising Concerns And Denialism - Discover (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Recently, Kara Moses asked Guardian readers: “Should we wait for conclusive scientific studies before becoming concerned about an issue?” Her personal answer was no; that special interest groups should perform and publicize their own findings. “I believe they should be given a voice,” she concluded, “not dismissed out of hand for lacking the scientific rigour demanded by professional scientists.” ... 

 

It’s one thing to notice a potential danger and raise a few alarm bells to get scientists to investigate an issue — it’s a whole other to publicize and propagandize an unsubstantiated fear despite evidence against it. The former is important, as Kara suggests, and should occur. I have no problem with non-scientists raising honest concerns, if their goal is to have the concerns considered — so long as they’re actually willing to hear what the evidence has to say. The latter, on the other hand, is denialism. You see, once scientists have weighed in, you have to be willing to listen to them.

 

When it was first suggested that vaccines might lead to autism, is was a legitimate question to ask. Kids seemed to develop autism around the same age they got their vaccines — and can you imagine if the vaccines were to blame? ... So, like they should, independent scientists investigated the concerns. They checked and double checked the safety testing. They ran and re-ran results, but they kept getting the same answer: whatever causes autism, it isn’t vaccines. A cumulative sigh of relief was uttered by doctors, nurses, scientists, parents and children around the world.

 

Except that some people didn’t listen to the data. They called foul, saying every scientist that disagreed with them was under the thumb of Big Pharma and lying to the public. They released the results of unscientific, pet studies showing how they are right and everyone else is wrong. These anti-vaxers still won’t give up their beliefs, even though scientists have come to consensus that vaccines are, in no way, related to autism. We see the same refusal to listen when it comes to climate change. It doesn’t matter how many studies show the same thing, or how many consensuses are reached by scientists. They simply don’t want to question their biases. They don’t want to be informed. They stick their fingers in their ears like children, shouting “I can’t hear you!” — and sadly, the same attitude is found throughout the anti-GMO platform... 

 

I’m not sure where Kara stands on the GM issue, but Chris’ clear bias towards one side of the argument shows in the comments. “I don’t need scientists to tell me that GMOs are not a good idea,” he says. There is an astounding level of cognitive dissonance in his statements. Though Chris brings up climate change, he misses his own point. For example, he calls out deniers, saying that “once enough peer-review science had been completed, still maintaining disproven beliefs would not be respectable, like in the case of global warming deniers”, then doesn’t even blink when he says “I would dislike GMOs whether the scientific community agreed they were bad or not. Likewise, I think we should not use Roundup, whether the scientific community agrees that it is dangerous or not.” [emphasis mine]. This is exactly the problem...


As for the use of pesticides like glyphosate… that’s a much more complex and difficult question. It’s not as simple as “is this pesticide toxic” because the answer to that is undoubtedly yes. That’s what makes it a pesticide! If it wasn’t toxic, it wouldn’t kill anything. A better question is how toxic is this pesticide? Is it more or less toxic than another? Is it toxic to other species we’d like to keep around at the levels it’s used, including us? And what are the consequences — in terms of yield and meeting the demand for food and nutrition in an area — if it isn’t used? What are the alternative options?

When it comes to RoundUp, those kinds of studies have been conducted and continue to be conducted. So far, glyphosate has passed the tests, at least as well as any other pesticide...

 

That’s not to say that all future GMOs or pesticides will be perfect, or even that all current GMOs or pesticides are great or the best option for every farmer everywhere. Modified foods and pesticides raise a myriad of concerns outside questions of safety, including those about agricultural politics and environmental impact. These are legitimate questions that still are being answered. Monsanto and their sway over agricultural law and standard practices are definitely worth investigating. Our reliance on chemical pest control when there may be other options is worth investigating.

 

But what keeps happening is that anti-GMO or chemiphobic interest groups choose to attack technology wholesale, claiming a supposed lack of safety and demanding outright bans instead of tackling the real issues. They keep saying things like ‘GM crops are untested’, when they’re not, and they do so while, without a second thought, supporting things like alternative medicines, even though only 1/3 of those have been tested for safety or efficacy and some of those are responsible for serious negative ecological impacts. They make bold statements that all synthetic pesticides are dangerous while blindly believing in natural ones that are just as (if not more) toxic. But of course, if you point out the horrendous double standard, you’re attacked and called an industry shill... 

 

To reply to Kara’s original question: no, you don’t need a body of scientific evidence to raise concerns, if that’s really the goal of what you’re doing. But you do need at least a shred that suggests such concerns are valid before you shout them as facts from the rooftops... And if those scientists weigh in with well-designed studies that don’t agree with your initial concerns, you should feel relieved, not betrayed. If scientists are in consensus on a topic, it’s because the evidence is strong. It’s because they’ve investigated and rigorously tested the possible hypotheses using different methods, and the same conclusions keep stubbornly arising. Scientists don’t come to consensus easily, so when they do, you should listen to them... 

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Ukraine to grow GMO feed crops - AllAboutFeed (2013)

Ukraine to grow GMO feed crops - AllAboutFeed (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Ukraine’s Ministry of Agrarian Policy is to start a pilot project producing forage crops using genetic engineering, according to Mykola Prysyazhnyuk, Minister of Agricultural Policy and Food... However, in the near future Ukraine will only grow and use GMO feed in test mode in order to first evaluate the impact it could have on the environment and livestock. 


"Today we have agreed that after the completion of the necessary legislation we will start the experimental sowing of GMO crops in a closed environment in order to understand the effectiveness and impact of genetic engineering for feed crops, which could be very important for our future agriculture. I would like to understand how the consumer market will respond to it," said Prysiazhnyuk.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Apparently in the Ukraine (as elsewhere) smuggled GM seeds are already grown... 

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Willingness to pay for pesticide reduction in the EU: nothing but organic? - Bazoche &al (2013) - ERAE

Willingness to pay for pesticide reduction in the EU: nothing but organic? - Bazoche &al (2013) - ERAE | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Using experimental auctions carried out on apples in different European countries, this paper contributes to the assessment of consumer willingness to pay for the reduction of pesticides. We study several systems of good agricultural practices, possibly signalled to consumers, ranging from Integrated Pest Management [IPM] certifications to organic [ORG] production methods... 

 

In Europe, market prices of organic products are generally twice as high as prices of their regular counterparts. This gap is larger than the premium consumers are willing to pay, which is the main reason for the small market shares that are observed for organic products in Europe (generally below 5 per cent)... 

 

Contrary to the ORG case, market prices of IPM-certified products are more in line with the WTP we have elicited. Consequently, purchasing IPM-certified products could increase consumers’ surplus and lead more easily to mass consumption...

 

Our results show that in countries where PDO [Protected Denomination of Origin] are familiar to consumers, they are valued for themselves (i.e. for origin rather than for control of pesticide use) and their value for consumers is often close to that of ORG products... 

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Cross-generational feeding of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)-maize to zebrafish (Danio rerio) showed no adverse effects on the parental or offspring generations - Sanden &al (2013) - Brit J Nutr

Cross-generational feeding of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)-maize to zebrafish (Danio rerio) showed no adverse effects on the parental or offspring generations - Sanden &al (2013) - Brit J Nutr | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

In the present study, zebrafish (Danio rerio) were fed casein/gelatin-based diets containing either 19 % Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)-maize or its parental non-Bt (nBt)-maize control for two generations (F0: sixty fish; F1: forty-two to seventy fish per treatment).

 

The study focused on growth and reproductive performance, liver CuZn superoxide dismutase (SOD) enzyme activity, gene transcript levels targeting important cellular pathways in the liver and mid-intestine, histomorphological evaluation of the intestine, differential leucocyte counts, offspring larva swimming activity and global DNA methylation in offspring embryos. No significant effects were observed in the parental generation... 

 

Effects observed on gene biomarkers for oxidative stress and the cell cycle (apoptosis) may be related to the contamination of nBt-maize with fumonisin B1 and aflatoxin B1. In conclusion, it is suggested that Bt-maize is as safe and nutritious as its nBt control when fed to zebrafish for two generations.

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Genetically modified Soybean Seeds In Northern Belize - Guardian (2013)

Genetically modified Soybean Seeds In Northern Belize - Guardian (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) issued a release on Friday, June 7th confirming the discovery of genetically modified soybean seeds in Northern Belize on May 24th... 

 

The Guardian understands that the soy seeds were modified to resist the herbicide, Helosate, which is used locally to control weeds. According to our sources, the seeds were locally produced. This, we understand, took place after some GMO soy was planted in the northern part of the country after seeds were smuggled into Belize and planted without the knowledge of BAHA...  

The milled soybean seeds will be used for the production of animal feed which contains genetically modified soybeans. Belize currently imports animal feeds which contains genetically modified soybeans." 

In a release by the Belize Grain Growers Association issued on May 29th, it states that GM technology should be embraced by Belize and is therefore advocating and working with the Government of Belize to establish necessary policies, protocols and legislation to facilitate research, rapid risk assessment and commercial cultivation of GM crops... 

A vast majority of soy meal imported into the country for use in feed for livestock and the poultry industry is derived from GMO soybeans. Also persons in the agricultural field explain that the risk of cross contamination with local soybeans is virtually non existent since the crop is not widely grown. The production of GMO soybean is also argued to reduce the cost of soymeal production for poultry and livestock industries.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Seems farmers in Belize are going to great lengths to get their hands on the seeds they want to cultivate... 

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Effects of genetically modified T2A-1 rice on the GI health of rats after 90-day supplement - Yuan (2013) - Sci Reports

Effects of genetically modified T2A-1 rice on the GI health of rats after 90-day supplement - Yuan (2013) - Sci Reports | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Bacillus thuringiensis insecticidal toxin (Bt) rice will be commercialized as a main food source. Traditional safety assessments on genetically modified products pay little attention on gastrointestinal (GI) health. More data about GI health of Bt rice must be provided to dispel public' doubts about the potential effects on human health.

 

We constructed an improved safety assessment animal model using a basic subchronic toxicity experiment, measuring a range of parameters... Significant differences were found between rice-fed groups and AIN93G-fed control groups in several parameters, whereas no differences were observed between genetically modified and non-genetically modified groups.

 

No adverse effects were found on GI health resulting from genetically modified T2A-1 rice. In conclusion, this study may offer a systematic safety assessment model for GM material with respect to the effects on GI health.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Study done by university researchers (China Agricultural University) and public officials (Ministry of Agriculture) without competing financial interests. 

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Biotech crops vs. pests: Successes and failures from the first billion acres - EurekAlert (2013)

Biotech crops vs. pests: Successes and failures from the first billion acres - EurekAlert (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Since 1996, farmers worldwide have planted more than a billion acres (400 million hectares) of genetically modified corn and cotton that produce insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt for short. Bt proteins, used for decades in sprays by organic farmers, kill some devastating pests but are considered environmentally friendly and harmless to people. However, some scientists feared that widespread use of these proteins in genetically modified crops would spur rapid evolution of resistance in pests... 

 

"When Bt crops were first introduced, the main question was how quickly would pests adapt and evolve resistance," said Tabashnik, head of the UA department of entomology who led the study. "And no one really knew, we were just guessing. Now, with a billion acres of these crops planted over the past 16 years, and with the data accumulated over that period, we have a better scientific understanding of how fast the insects evolve resistance and why."

 

Analyzing data from 77 studies of 13 pest species in eight countries on five continents, the researchers found well-documented cases of field-evolved resistance to Bt crops in five major pests as of 2010, compared with only one such case in 2005. Three of the five cases are in the United States, where farmers have planted about half of the world's Bt crop acreage. Their report indicates that in the worst cases, resistance evolved in 2 to 3 years; but in the best cases, effectiveness of Bt crops has been sustained more than 15 years.

 

According to the paper, both the best and worst outcomes correspond with predictions from evolutionary principles. "The factors we found to favor sustained efficacy of Bt crops are in line with what we would expect based on evolutionary theory," said Carrière, explaining that conditions are most favorable if resistance genes are initially rare in pest populations; inheritance of resistance is recessive -- meaning insects survive on Bt plants only if have two copies of a resistance gene, one from each parent -- and abundant refuges are present. Refuges consist of standard, non-Bt plants that pests can eat without ingesting Bt toxins...

 

"Perhaps the most compelling evidence that refuges work comes from the pink bollworm, which evolved resistance rapidly to Bt cotton in India, but not in the U.S.," Tabashnik said. "Same pest, same crop, same Bt protein, but very different outcomes." He explained that in the southwestern U.S., scientists from the EPA, academia, industry and the USDA worked with growers to craft and implement an effective refuge strategy. In India, on the other hand, the refuge requirement was similar, but without the collaborative infrastructure, compliance was low... 

 

"These plants have been remarkably useful and in most cases, resistance has evolved slower than expected," Tabashnik said. "I see these crops as an increasingly important part of the future of agriculture. The progress made provides motivation to collect more data and to incorporate it in planning future crop deployments...

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