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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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Making fuel from bacteria: Genetically-modified cyanobacteria could be more efficient than ethanol - KTH (2013)

Making fuel from bacteria: Genetically-modified cyanobacteria could be more efficient than ethanol - KTH (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

In the search for the fuels of tomorrow... researchers are finding inspiration in the sea. Not in offshore oil wells, but in the water where blue-green algae thrive. The building blocks of blue-green algae – sunlight, carbon dioxide and bacteria – are being used by researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm to produce butanol, a hydrocarbon-like fuel for motor vehicles.

 

The advantage of butanol is that the raw materials are abundant and renewable, and production has the potential to be 20 times more efficient than making ethanol from corn and sugar cane. Using genetically-modified cyanobacteria, the team linked butanol production to the algae’s natural metabolism... 

 

A bacterium that produces cheap fuel by sunlight and carbon dioxide could change the world... “One of the problems with biofuels we have today, that is, corn ethanol, is that the price of corn rises slowly while jumping up and down all the time and it is quite unpredictable... In addition, there is limited arable land and corn ethanol production is also influenced by the price of oil, since corn requires transport. Fuel based on cyanobacteria requires very little ground space to be prepared. And the availability of raw materials - sunlight, carbon dioxide and seawater - is in principle infinite” ... some cyanobacteria also able to extract nitrogen from the air and thus do not need any fertilizer... 

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The beauty of butanol is that the raw materials are abundant and renewable, and production has the potential to be 20 times more efficient than for ethanol

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Bayer CropScience and Syngenta Submit Herbicide-tolerance Soybean Trait for Approval in Various Countries - PRWeb (2013)

Bayer CropScience and Syngenta have submitted applications for the approval of a new herbicide-tolerance soybean trait in various countries. It is now under review by regulatory authorities in the United States and Canada as well as key soybean-importing countries, including the European Union. The launch is expected between 2015 and 2020. The new trait confers tolerance to three herbicide active ingredients: Mesotrione, Glufosinate-ammonium and Isoxaflutole (MGI).

 

This MGI herbicide tolerance trait offers an important new tool for soybean growers faced with challenging weeds such as waterhemp, Palmer pigweed and lambsquarters. The new trait will broaden the herbicide options available to soybean growers by offering tolerance to... the leading HPPD inhibitor products. Further assisting growers in weed resistance management, the new soybean product will also be tolerant to Liberty herbicide, while maintaining soybean yield and agronomic performance... 

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Are media warnings about the adverse health effects of modern life self-fulfilling? - Witthöft & Rubin (2013) - J Psychosomat Res

Medically unsubstantiated ‘intolerances’ to foods, chemicals and environmental toxins are common and are frequently discussed in the media. Idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF) is one such condition and is characterized by symptoms that are attributed to exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF). In this experiment, we tested whether media reports promote the development of this condition.

 

Participants (N = 147) were randomly assigned to watch a television report about the adverse health effects of WiFi (n = 76) or a control film (n = 71). After watching their film, participants received a sham exposure to a WiFi signal (15 min). The principal outcome measure was symptom reports following the sham exposure. Secondary outcomes included worries about the health effects of EMF, attributing symptoms to the sham exposure and increases in perceived sensitivity to EMF. 

 

82 (54%) of the 147 participants reported symptoms which they attributed to the sham exposure. The experimental film increased: EMF related worries... post sham exposure symptoms among participants with high pre-existing anxiety... the likelihood of symptoms being attributed to the sham exposure among people with high anxiety... and the likelihood of people who attributed their symptoms to the sham exposure believing themselves to be sensitive to EMF...

 

Media reports about the adverse effects of supposedly hazardous substances can increase the likelihood of experiencing symptoms following sham exposure and developing an apparent sensitivity to it. Greater engagement between journalists and scientists is required to counter these negative effects.

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No change to GM food policy in US trade talks, EU trade chief - Reuters (2013)

The European Union's regulation on genetically modified food will not change even if Brussels and Washington agree a free-trade agreement, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told an Austrian newspaper...

 

U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU last month following more than a year of preliminary talks between the two sides. Formal negotiations are expected to begin by June. The chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee has warned he will not support a deal unless the EU tears down barriers that have long blocked U.S. farm exports.

 

Asked about European consumers' mistrust of U.S. food, De Gucht said both sides would gain from a deal that would let Europeans sell apples, pears and beef on U.S. markets. However, he cautioned against any optimism that regulation in Europe on genetically modified products might change.

"Currently 49 such genetically modified products have been authorised on the European market... However, there are strict rules in place in Europe to authorise such GMOs, and these rules will not change because of a free-trade agreement."

 

The paper earlier quoted him as saying: "As far as genetically modified products go, they can and will be allowed." ... Washington has long been frustrated by EU restrictions on U.S. farm produce, such as foodstuffs made with genetically modified organisms, poultry treated with chlorine washes and meat from animals fed with the growth stimulant ractopamine... 

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Scientists improve transgenic 'Enviropigs' - Eurekalert (2013)

A research team at the University of Guelph has developed a new line of transgenic "Enviropigs." ... Enviropigs have genetically modified salivary glands, which help them digest phosphorus in feedstuffs and reduce phosphorus pollution in the environment... 

 

Phosphorus is crucial for healthy growth in pigs. Unfortunately, 50 to 70 percent of the phosphorus in grain is in the form of phytic acid, a compound indigestible by pigs. Because of this, many farmers have to supplement pig diets with an enzyme called phytase. Phytase breaks down phytic acid and helps pigs digest more of the nutrient. The phytase enzyme has a hefty price tag for farmers, and the enzyme can be accidentally damaged or destroyed when farmers mix feed.

 

The Enviropig was created to solve this problem. The transgenic pig synthesizes phytase in its salivary glands, eliminating the need for additional supplements or enzymes in the feed. By digesting more phosphorus, the Enviropig also produces less phosphorus in its waste. "The enzyme is secreted in the saliva and functions in a similar fashion to that of phytase included in the diet" ... 

 

Though no studies indicate a food safety risk from genetically modified Enviropig pork, meat from the Enviropig is not yet available for human consumption... Enviropigs could improve food production and the environment... Research on the Cassie line stopped in June 2012, but researchers collected semen from the pigs, and they have the option to breed new Enviropigs. 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.2527/jas.2012-5575 

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China to continue GM soybean imports: official - People's Daily (2013)

China to continue GM soybean imports: official - People's Daily (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

China will continue to import genetically-modified (GM) soybeans in order to cater to domestic demand, a senior agricultural official said Thursday. "It is inevitable for China to import some GM farm produce for quite a long period of time" ... 


China imported 58.38 million tons of GM soybeans last year, mostly from the United States, Brazil and Argentina, because the country produces about 14 million tons of soybeans while the demand exceeds 70 million tons annually.

Soybeans account for most of China's imported GM food, Chen said in response to a question about the future of GM food in China, at a press conference held on the sidelines of the annual parliamentary session. He said the GM crops China plants on a large scale are mostly cotton instead of food...

Chen said imported soybeans are mainly used to extract cooking oil, which does not contain transgenic material. But after the oil extraction the soybeans are used as animal feed which does contain transgenic material.

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Mark Lynas: truth, treachery and GM food - Guardian (2013)

Mark Lynas: truth, treachery and GM food - Guardian (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Mark Lynas spent years destroying genetically modified crops in the name of the environment. Now he's told the world that he was wrong. So why did he change his mind? ... Lynas was a member of an organisation that was "loosely called" Earth First! It told a dramatic story about the world, in which the forces of industrialism were conspiring to bring about "environmental apocalypse. Big corporations and capitalism in general were destroying the earth." Theirs was a plucky struggle against the monstrous machines of profit. "We were the protectors of the land and the inheritors of the natural forces" ... 

 

Everyone thought of themselves as being tolerant and open-minded," he says. "But if you said something critical about them, you'd be in quite serious trouble." Trouble? "I don't think anyone would've attacked you physically. But you'd go back to your worst days at school, just feeling like the child that everyone hated. I don't really thrive in that sort of bully-boy atmosphere." The movement deluded itself about its non-hierarchical nature. It didn't have leaders or elections because, to them, democracy was a lie. "But there were leaders – of which I definitely wasn't one – and everyone else was the sheep, the cannon fodder. The people who could rabble-rouse and were the most radical would rise to the top." The irony of all this was that Earth First! became acutely hierarchical, and in the worst possible way, "because the hierarchy is nontransparent".

 

A critical fracture between Lynas and his movement occurred after London's 2000 May Day riots... At a meeting of key individuals in a north London pub that followed "everyone was saying: 'This is great'," he remembers. "'We've shown the corporate media!'" Lynas, however, didn't agree. "I thought it was a disaster. Everything we'd been trying to achieve was undermined by all the violence and window smashing. It just alienated people. I thought I'd be honest about it. Everyone looked at me in complete horror, shock and contempt." How did that feel? "Deeply hostile, and deeply limiting, actually. Tolerance and open-mindedness were qualities that people paid lip service to but were not really valued. That was one of the last meetings I went to." ... 

 

"I began researching the science. And I fell in love with it. I realised that science offers a window into truth that nothing else can." His embrace of evidence-based knowledge caused a problem. Many of his beliefs about GMOs were predicated on an extravagant dismissal of the scientific consensus. "The whole GM thing had been about criticising scientists, saying they were corrupt, corporate shills," he says. "And we definitely believed all those things. But I realised everything we were doing was deeply reductionist, basically saying: 'Scientists should shut down their labs and go and work in Tesco.' It was a kind of counter-enlightenment. People against a process." ... 

 

In November 2010 he appeared on a Channel 4 documentary, What the Green Movement Got Wrong, and a live debate that followed. In the shows he defended GMOs and nuclear power. Afterwards, he says, a member of Greenpeace "was that close to me, shouting in my face. I literally left the studio with a bag over my head." Close friends felt betrayed. "George Monbiot sent me a really devastating email." He also fell out with the person who'd been best man at his wedding. "We'd been friends for 10 years. We still have no relationship."

 

Lynas also experienced a more subtle realignment in his worldview. He'd been used to seeing the Green movement as the brave, scrappy underdogs. But the more he looked, the more little David began to resemble Goliath. "Just take the numbers," he says. "Greenpeace, the whole international group, is a $150m outfit [in fact, figures provided by Greenpeace show global income in 2011 as $313.4m]. Bigger than the World Trade Organisation, and much more influential in terms of determining how people think." For Lynas, the modern Green movement is one of undeniable force. It's changed the world "sometimes for the better", but not always. "The anti-nuclear movement is partly responsible for global warming," he says. "Everywhere, pretty much, where a nuclear plant was cancelled, a coal plant was built instead, and that's because of the anti-nuclear movement. The environmental movement has been very successful in regulating GM out of existence in some parts of the world." ...

 

 

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How Do You Get People To Eat More Veggies? Genetic Engineering! - Co.Design (2013)

How Do You Get People To Eat More Veggies? Genetic Engineering! - Co.Design (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

We’ve all been served that iceberg lettuce salad that’s decorated with a single, barely red tomato wedge. Even for a hardcore veggie lover, that mealy chunk of flavorless pink cellulose can be a tough sell... 

 

But few of us have ever looked at this lousy salad as a design problem. Because while candy bars and soda have been crafted to be addictive, sugary temptations, our fruits and vegetables have more often been engineered for good old yield... 

 

I imagine the best tomatoes, blueberries, corn, and green beans we’ve ever eaten--picked in summer perfection--lining the shelves of Walmart with mass-produced mundanity. And maybe then, the produce aisle will be as exciting as the candy section.

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Don’t Be Afraid of Genetic Modification - NYT (2013)

Don’t Be Afraid of Genetic Modification - NYT (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

We shouldn’t let political calculations or unfounded fears keep safe genetically modified animals off the market. 

 

If patience is a virtue, then AquaBounty, a Massachusetts biotech company, might be the most virtuous entity on the planet. In 1993, the company approached the Food and Drug Administration about selling a genetically modified salmon that grew faster than normal fish. In 1995, AquaBounty formally applied for approval. Last month, more than 17 years later, the public comment period, one of the last steps in the approval process, was finally supposed to conclude. But the F.D.A. has extended the deadline — members of the public now have until late April to submit their thoughts on the AquAdvantage salmon. It’s just one more delay in a process that’s dragged on far too long... 


If the modified fish is approved, which could still happen later this year, it will be the first transgenic animal to officially enter the human food supply. Appropriately, it has been subjected to rigorous reviews, with scientists all over the country weighing in on whether it is fit for human consumption and what might happen if it was to make its way into the wild. Some environmentalists fear that the modified salmon might wriggle free from fish farms, start reproducing, and ultimately drive wild salmon populations to extinction. But scientists, including the F.D.A.’s experts, have concluded that the fish is just as safe to eat as conventional salmon and that, raised in isolated tanks, it poses little risk to wild populations... 


WE should all be rooting for the agency to do the right thing and approve the AquAdvantage salmon. It’s a healthy and relatively cheap food source that, as global demand for fish increases, can take some pressure off our wild fish stocks. But most important, a rejection will have a chilling effect on biotechnological innovation in this country... 


The F.D.A. must make sure that other promising genetically modified animals don’t come to the same end. Of course every application needs to be painstakingly evaluated, and not every modified animal should be approved. But in cases like AquaBounty’s, where all the available evidence indicates that the animals are safe, we shouldn’t let political calculations or unfounded fears keep these products off the market. If we do that, we’ll be closing the door on innovations that could help us face the public health and environmental threats of the future, saving countless animals — and perhaps ourselves.

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'Politicians must promote GM food' - FoodManufacture (2013)

'Politicians must promote GM food' - FoodManufacture (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Politicians and academics need to do more to promote the benefits of genetically modified (GM) food because the food industry can't be expected to take the lead on such a sensitive subject. That's the view of John Stevenson [UK] MP, chairman of the All-Party Group for Food and Drink Manufacturing. 

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‘Fat worms’ inch scientists toward better biofuel production - MSU (2013)

‘Fat worms’ inch scientists toward better biofuel production - MSU (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Michigan State University have successfully engineered a plant with oily leaves ­– a feat that could enhance biofuel production as well as lead to improved animal feeds. The results, published in... The Plant Cell [http://dx.doi.org/10.1105/tpc.112.105106]... show that researchers could use an algae gene involved in oil production to engineer a plant that stores lipids or vegetable oil in its leaves – an uncommon occurrence for most plants.

 

Traditional biofuel research has focused on improving the oil content of seeds. One reason for this focus is because oil production in seeds occurs naturally. Little research, however, has been done to examine the oil production of leaves and stems, as plants don’t typically store lipids in these tissues.... 

 

“Many researchers are trying to enhance plants’ energy density, and this is another way of approaching it,” Benning said. “It’s a proof-of-concept that could be used to boost plants’ oil production for biofuel use as well as improve the nutrition levels of animal feed.” ... 


“If oil can be extracted from leaves, stems and seeds, the potential energy capacity of plants may double,” he said. “Further, if algae can be engineered to continuously produce high levels of oil, rather than only when they are under stress, they can become a viable alternative to traditional agricultural crops.”

Moreover, algae can be grown on poor agricultural land – a big plus in the food vs. fuel debate... 


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Recent advances and safety issues of transgenic plant-derived vaccines - Guan &al (2013) - Appl Microbiol Biotechnol

Recent advances and safety issues of transgenic plant-derived vaccines - Guan &al (2013) - Appl Microbiol Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Transgenic plant-derived vaccines comprise a new type of bioreactor that combines plant genetic engineering technology with an organism's immunological response. This combination can be considered as a bioreactor that is produced by introducing foreign genes into plants that elicit special immunogenicity when introduced into animals or human beings.


In comparison with traditional vaccines, plant vaccines have some significant advantages, such as low cost, greater safety, and greater effectiveness. In a number of recent studies, antigen-specific proteins have been successfully expressed in various plant tissues and have even been tested in animals and human beings. Therefore, edible vaccines of transgenic plants have a bright future.


This review begins with a discussion of the immune mechanism and expression systems for transgenic plant vaccines. Then, current advances in different transgenic plant vaccines will be analyzed, including vaccines against pathogenic viruses, bacteria, and eukaryotic parasites. In view of the low expression levels for antigens in plants, high-level expression strategies of foreign protein in transgenic plants are recommended. Finally, the existing safety problems in transgenic plant vaccines were put forward will be discussed along with a number of appropriate solutions that will hopefully lead to future clinical application of edible plant vaccines.... 

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The Consequences Of Biotech Rejection - CropLife (2013)

For years, Europeans have opposed the use of biotech crops in their foods – and now, some traditional food staples are paying the price. Despite some recent victories in the court of public opinion, the use of biotech crops is still opposed by a sizable minority. In particular, many of the countries that make up Europe have banned the growing of biotech crops within their borders.

 

To this group, I have only one word to say: Polenta... now, polenta is at the heart of the biotech debate in Italy... one of the speakers was Rick Tolman, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association. He told attendees how Europe’s anti-biotech stance has changed the polenta business in Italy. 

 

“Following the rest of Europe’s lead, Italy has prohibited the growing of biotech corn and taken away the ability for farmers in the country to use many pesticides on the crops they do grow,” said Tolman. “As result, because of the higher quality standards needed to produce corn meal for polenta, Italian farmers can’t produce enough corn to meet demand. Instead, Italy is now importing corn from Spain, where biotech crops are allowed, to keep with its population’s desire to eat polenta.” ... 

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Genetically Modified Goat Milk Benefit: Aids Digestion, Fights Diarrhea - Medical Daily (2013)

Genetically Modified Goat Milk Benefit: Aids Digestion, Fights Diarrhea - Medical Daily (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Genetically modified goat milk containing higher levels of a human antimicrobial protein was effective in treating iarrhea in young pigs- a finding that displays a potential benefit of genetically modified organisms in promoting human digestive health... 

 

Every year, 1.8 million children around the world die of diarrheal diseases, caused mainly by the bacteria E. coli. Millions more who survive are still left with physical and mental impairments... 

 

"These results provide just one example that, through genetic engineering, we can provide agriculturally relevant animals with novel traits targeted at solving some of the health-related problems facing these developing communities." ... 

 

Murray hopes that the genetically modified goat milk's benefits for the pigs used in this study can apply to human children suffering from bacterial diarrhea as well, though it will likely take years before the transgenic milk can be studied sufficiently and approved as safe for human consumption.

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The Real Seeds of Deception - Kloor (2013) - Discover

The Real Seeds of Deception - Kloor (2013) - Discover | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The issue of farmer suicides first gained media attention in 1995 as the southern state of Maharashtra began reporting a significant rise in farmers killing themselves. Other states across the country began noticing an increase in farmer suicides as well.

 

But it wasn’t until seven years later — in 2002 — that the U.S.-based agribusiness Monsanto began selling genetically modified cotton seeds, known as Bt cotton, to Indian farmers. The seeds produce insecticides and led to higher yields, but can be up to 10 times more expensive than regular cotton seeds.

 

Within years, a narrative began to take shape that farmers were getting into debt to pay for the seed and when they couldn’t repay the money were killing themselves. Another version was that the GM crop failed, leading to debt, leading to suicide. It is a narrative that is hard to break... 

 

The truth is that the real causes of farmer suicides in India cannot be pinned on Monsanto, however venal you may regard the company. To discuss those causes you have to wade into a very complex equation that includes institutional, social, and governmental factors in India. Doing this requires a cold objective eye and cultural sensitivity.

 

I’m fairly certain that Vandana Shiva, in her heart, knows well why so many Indian farmers have taken their lives over the last several decades. Just as I’m sure that she knows all about India’s high rate of suicide and the reasons for it. After all, she is a student of inequality and social justice.

 

That Shiva prefers to keep the conversation squarely and inaccurately focused on GMOs and Monsanto reveals to me that she cares more about advancing an ideological agenda than addressing the root causes of suicide in India. That she has succeeded in exploiting real tragedy and distracting conversation away from those true causes is something I find utterly offensive...

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China delays GMO corn, rice to woo the public - Reuters (2013)

China has delayed the introduction of genetically-modified rice and corn as it tries to head off public fears, leading government scientists said on Thursday. The world's largest rice producer and consumer gave safety approvals to Bt rice and phytase corn in 2009, but has not yet begun commercial production, even though it has already spent billions of yuan on research... 

 

"We have not given the public enough knowledge about GMO crops," Peng Yufa, a member of the GM crop biosafety committee under the Ministry of Agriculture, told reporters. "The crops have to be accepted by consumers who are willing to buy and by farmers who are willing to grow," Peng said, adding that the process may take five years...

 

Inevitable that China would import GM crops in the future to meet the supply gap. The large-scale introduction of GMO crops has been seen as a crucial part of China's efforts to feed a fifth of the world's population using less than a tenth of the world's arable land.

 

But although senior officials have acknowledged the challenges of maintaining food security as the country urbanises, it remains unclear if the new government, to be elected during this session of parliament, will push for the large-scale production of GMO crops.

 

China is already the world's biggest buyer of GMO soybeans and also the largest grower of GMO cotton. "We have slowed down, especially since 2009, and that is not normal. It might be fine for Europe to slow down but China can't," Huang Dafang, a researcher with the Biotechnology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told Reuters last week.

"We are hoping to provide our findings (about the efficacy of GM crops) to the new leaders after the NPC." ... 

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Sojitz to Buy Soybeans From Ukraine as Japan Seeks Non-GM Crops - Bloomberg (2013)

Sojitz to Buy Soybeans From Ukraine as Japan Seeks Non-GM Crops - Bloomberg (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Japan’s Sojitz Corp. (2768) said it will import Ukrainian soybeans for the first time as Asia’s second- largest buyer looks outside North America for non-genetically modified produce. Sojitz will deliver a trial “few hundred” metric tons this year and expand that to 5,000 tons within three years...

 

U.S. and Canadian farmers are increasingly raising genetically modified crops, with GM soybeans accounting for 93 percent of the U.S. total last year, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Supply from the U.S. and Canada made up 92 percent of Japan’s imports in 2011... “If we ask ourselves: Will be we able to secure supply of non-GM soybeans in North America year-in year-out? The answer’s no. We need to diversify our geography of supply.”

 

While Japan doesn’t ban GM oilseeds, consumer preferences mean that these are only used in cooking oil and sweeteners, which aren’t required by law to notify buyers about their use. Japan used more than 950,000 tons of soybeans last year for foods such as tofu, miso soup paste and natto, stringy beans eaten for breakfast. Of that, about 80 percent of demand was met with imports, according to the agriculture ministry...

 

Ukraine was forecast to produce as much as 2.33 million tons of soybeans last year, according to Kiev-based ProAgro. The U.S. and Brazil, the world’s largest producers, are forecast by the USDA to produce 83.5 million and 82.1 million tons in the marketing year that began Oct. 1... While producers prefer North American soybeans, cheaper supplies from Ukraine will win market share in Japan... 

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In A Grain Of Golden Rice, A World Of Controversy Over GMO Foods - NPR (2013)

In A Grain Of Golden Rice, A World Of Controversy Over GMO Foods - NPR (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

There's a kind of rice growing in some test plots in the Philippines that's unlike any rice ever seen before. It's yellow... "golden rice." It's been genetically modified so that it contains beta-carotene, the source of vitamin A.

 

Millions of people in Asia and Africa don't get enough of this vital nutrient, so this rice has become the symbol of an idea: that genetically engineered crops can be a tool to improve the lives of the poor...

 

Let's travel back in time to golden rice's origins. It began with a conversation in 1984. The science of biotechnology was in its infancy at this point. There were no genetically engineered crops yet. Scientists were just figuring out how to find genes and move them between different organisms.

 

Some people at the Rockefeller Foundation thought that these techniques might be useful for giving farmers in poor countries a bigger harvest. So they set up a meeting at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in the Philippines, to talk about this... If this technology did actually pan out, he said, and you could put any gene you wanted into rice, which one would you pick? "What's your favorite gene?"

 

They went around the room. Breeders talked about genes for resisting disease or surviving droughts. They came to a breeder named Peter Jennings, a legendary figure in these circles. He'd created perhaps the most famous variety of rice in history, called IR 8, which launched the so-called Green Revolution in rice-growing countries of Asia in the 1960s. "Yellow endosperm," said Jennings. (The endosperm of a grain of rice or wheat is the main part that's eaten.)

 

"That kind of took everybody by surprise... Jennings explained that the color yellow signals the presence of beta-carotene — the source of vitamin A. Yellow kinds of corn or sorghum exist naturally, and for years... he had been looking for similar varieties of rice. Regular white rice doesn't provide this vital nutrient, and it's a big problem.

 

"When children are weaned, they're often weaned on a rice gruel. And if they don't get any beta-carotene or vitamin A during that period, they can be harmed for the rest of their lives" ... Toenniessen was persuaded, and the Rockefeller Foundation started a program aimed at creating, through technology, what Jennings had not been able to find in nature. A global network of scientists at nonprofit research institutes started working on the problem... 

 
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Farmers Deserve Options - Dryden (2013) - Gates Blog

Farmers Deserve Options - Dryden (2013) - Gates Blog | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

It is an exciting time to be working in agricultural science: we are seeing developments in crop research that are transforming farmers’ lives: tools that allow farmers to adapt and survive environmental challenges, and innovations that mean farmers can grow and eat more food so they are healthier and more productive... 

 

Unfortunately, in one area of agricultural science, GMOs, many of the arguments have often steered towards dogma... What is so often missed in the debate about GMOs is choice: the choice for a poor farmer to consider planting a maize crop which could cope with droughts that are becoming ever more frequent; the choice to grow rice that provides the nutrition her child needs to prevent blindness; or put simply, a choice that we in the west take for granted. 

 

Whether the tool being developed is produced by the latest technology or a more traditional approach, giving farmers access to solutions that deliver more productive or more nutritious crops, should be a decision based on scientific debate and research.  


As in medicine, the development of new products should undergo rigorous safety reviews, guided by national regulatory bodies. Instead of arguing about the role of biotechnology in agriculture (interestingly, genetic engineering has produced insulin for diabetics without any alarm or calls for a complete ban), we should concentrate on ensuring that products – whether they are new seeds or new vaccines – are safe and effective. 

 

Once proven (and so far, GMOs have been proven safe and effective), the use of these tools must be a choice for farmers to make. And farmers are choosing GMOs in their millions: GMO crops are the fastest growing technology (in the US, in Brazil, in India, Argentina) – because when farmers have access to more productive, less resource intensive crops, they seize the opportunity... 

 

It is not just GM technology that is delivering positive results, innovations in conventional breeding are also benefitting small holder farmers... the International Rice Research Institute... developed Stress Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia... This new rice can survive up to 20 days underwater so when rains flood their fields, farmers are now getting twice the yield compared to the old rice variety. The impact on farmers’ lives is enormous – in a flood year, they have seen their incomes double... 


By adopting new technologies (whether it is genetic modification, conventional breeding or any other approach) farmers are making a loud statement about the importance of choice to them. However, their voices are rarely heard in this debate...

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GM crops defended - The Land (2013)

GM crops defended - The Land (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Professor Wayne Parrott says those who oppose crop-biotechnology based on anti-science views should spend a day living in impoverished countries and experience first-hand what impact their activism is having on lives.

 

The University of Georgia Crop Science Professor... contributed to the damning, broad analysis of the now discredited Seralini rat-feeding study on GM corn that was released last year... the research was the worst example of an attempt to discredit GMs that he had seen during his plant breeding career... the French study was carefully orchestrated to be “as sensationalist as possible”, with a movie filmed during the experiment, accompanied by a dedicated book and media blitz. Sensationalist photos were also used (of rats used in the experiments), even though they had to violate animal ethics guidelines to get the photos... 

 

US farmers continued to love biotechnology but they were only about one per cent of the population... 

 

Another of the report’s authors, University of Canberra toxicology expert Andrew Bartholomaeus, said research papers like Seralini's and the extremist activism that uses them, leads to disproportionate regulation of GM crops. The former Risk Assessment General Manager at FSANZ said big commercial groups may actually gain an advantage, because they have the resources to comply with the regulatory requirements. But the real victims are the humanitarian crop developers... who have largely given up and moved onto other applications... 

 

Biotechnology crops that have been developed to help the poorest, most vulnerable people in the world, are sitting on shelves, because no one can afford to address the onerous and irrational regulatory requirements... “This is reprehensible... I have spoken with and have provided advice and assistance to scientists working on humanitarian biotechnology initiatives funded by large charitable trusts... These initiatives are developing solutions to address starvation, malnourishment and poor health of the most vulnerable people in the world. Publications such as that of Seralini... undermine the enormous benefits that can come from nutritionally enhanced or pest resistant crops developed specifically for these vulnerable groups.” 

 

Dr Bartholomaeus said the report’s nine authors decided to take action because they were “appalled” at the misinformation presented to the public supporting anti-GM “extremists”. He said they’re also “deeply concerned” at the number of people who would be hurt in the future if GM technology was blocked by “ignorance and groundless fear”... he “cannot begin to understand the motivations or moral compass of such groups”... 

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How Genetically-Modified Crops Can Save Hundreds of Thousands from Malnutrition - Lynas (2013) - Breakthrough

How Genetically-Modified Crops Can Save Hundreds of Thousands from Malnutrition - Lynas (2013) - Breakthrough | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Despite the rapid progress made towards reducing poverty in many developing countries in recent years, high rates of malnutrition persist – and Vitamin A deficiency remains a persistent challenge. One cause for optimism is that new approaches to ‘biofortification’ are beginning to offer hope of improved strategies with the potential to save tens to hundreds of thousands of lives per year... 

 

"Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. In pregnant women VAD causes night blindness and may increase the risk of maternal mortality... An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight." These numbers are striking... this implies an annnual death toll of 125,000 to 250,000 children – a staggering mortality rate for this little-known affliction.

 

WHO promotes an ‘arsenal’ of nutritional weapons, including “a combination of breastfeeding and vitamin A supplementation, coupled with enduring solutions, such as promotion of vitamin A-rich diets and food fortification”. Vitamin A supplements in the form of capsules to young children are highly effective but time-limited – their effects last only 4-6 months, so WHO says “they are only initial steps towards ensuring better overall nutrition and not long-term solutions”.

 

Instead, “food fortification takes over where supplementation leaves off. Food fortification, for example sugar in Guatemala, maintains vitamin A status, especially for high-risk groups and needy families.” Fortification means artificially mixing in vitamin A with foods which people buy and consume, and as the WHO suggests, it can play a major role...


A complementary approach is ‘biofortification’, where the missing nutrients are  bred into staple crops either through conventional selective breeding or – if no genes are availble in related plants – through genetic engineering... 


Biofortification is particularly useful for reaching the rural poor who grow the food they consume, and are therefore largely outside the reach of food fortification programmes, which work best in urban areas where most food is purchased in markets. Unlike supplements, biofortified vitamin A-enriched food and crops will continue to protect children from deficiencies in a sustainable way at little extra cost as they are harvested each year.

 

Although it has been a long time in development, vitamin A-enriched ‘golden rice’ could soon be a breakthrough intervention in south and east Asia, where the largest-scale deficiency problem persists. It has now been scientifically established that golden rice “is an effective source of vitamin A” ... and thereby potentially an effective intervention to save lives in areas where white rice is the staple food...


Even so, continued opposition threatens to derail this progress. Much of this focuses around the idea that other approaches to vitamin A deficiency are more ‘appropriate’ than one involving GMOs and should be tried first. This seems to me to run counter to the WHO’s ‘arsenal’ approach – why not try everything you can in response to a crisis which takes the lives of up to a quarter of a million young children per year? A common variant is the ‘let them eat broccoli’ argument (with apologies to Marie Antoinette) – that promoting a more balanced diet is more appropriate than fortification of staple foods.


No-one disputes that a balanced and nutritionally-adequate diet is the best long-term soluton to vitamin A deficiency and malnutrition in general. But achieving this requires the elimination of poverty (which is why rich countries do not have this problem), something which will take time and decades of economic growth in the developing world. In the meantime, millions of preventable deaths will occur, and many of those children that survive will have their life prospects permanently harmed...


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UK set for GM food push in Europe - FT (2013)

UK set for GM food push in Europe - FT (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Britain is preparing to champion genetically modified crops in Europe in an attempt to overturn en­trenched resistance among many EU members, including Austria and France... ministers from several departments are preparing to launch a new agri-tech strategy this spring that will make a strong case for the science... 


The EU is under pressure to ease its stance amid fears of supply shortages and increased prices because of Europe’s aversion to GM products. British farmers are reported to have written to supermarkets warning them that they will not be able to guarantee that chicken are fed solely on non-GM feed by May... 


“The world is adopting genetic crop science. . . The only question is whether the UK – inside the EU – is going to benefit or not?” Mr Paterson has taken a more aggressive stance on GM than his predecessors, saying recently that the government should not “be afraid of making the case to the public” about its potential benefits... 

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Who’s afraid of the big bad GMO? - McHughen (2013) - C2C

Who’s afraid of the big bad GMO? - McHughen (2013) - C2C | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Just mention “GMO” (genetically modified organism) and some people run scared – why? GMOs are products of technologies developed during the 1970s and 1980s that allow researchers to take DNA (i.e., genetic information) from any plant, animal or microbe and combine it with the DNA of any other plant, animal or microbe. The resulting transgenic organism (e.g., a bacterium with a human insulin gene inserted) remains essentially identical; however, it now expresses insulin per the example or whatever the new trait of the inserted DNA is.


For various reasons, this recombinant DNA technology, rDNA, is scary to some... for moral and ethical reasons... Others base their fear along naturalistic notions, asserting that humans are undermining Mother Nature’s species barrier by moving genes from one species to another. People who hold this view are invariably befuddled when confronted with examples of genetic modification where the perceived species barrier is not violated – e.g., where genes are transferred within the species or where undesirable genes are removed.


Still others fear the apparently uncertain safety record of the GMOs and the idea that this technology may inadvertently introduce safety hazards into foods. Finally, another large segment fears not the technology per se but rather the idea of technology and big multinational corporations dominating the food supply. Leading GMO seed developer Monsanto, for example, is the company many people love to hate.


GMO technologies have been around since the early 1970s and have given us many useful products, from human insulin to safer crops grown with fewer pesticides. Moreover, in over 30 years of experience, according to authoritative sources such as the U.S. National Academies and the American Medical Association, there is not one documented case of harm to humans, animals or the environment from GM products. That is an impressive track record... So why are so many still fearful of this technology? One simple answer is junk science and its carefully crafted use as a weapon of mass fear... 

 

In the peer-review process, the usually anonymous reviewers make suggestions for improvement prior to publication, thus protecting the author from the public embarrassment of publishing a flawed work. But one of the hallmarks of the junk scientist is an unnaturally disquieting lack of shame. When the fatal scientific defects are exposed to the world, the junk scientist is not the least bit embarrassed, responding instead with an ad hominem attack on the whistleblower, accusing him or her of being in league with the devil or, worse, Monsanto... 


Whatever became of credentials? The media have an ethical obligation to present balance – both sides of a story – especially for a controversial topic. When, say, an evolutionary biologist publishes a study opining on when our ancestral humans diverged from Neanderthals, the media typically interview another credentialed scientist with a different interpretation of the findings. This is how science advances – objectively collected evidence is peer reviewed and opened for discussion among experts in the field... 


But when a plant breeder develops a strain of rice that is enhanced to help overcome vitamin A deficiency, rampant in poor tropical countries, the media interview (and give prominence to) pseudoscientific scaremongers... instead of authentic experts in nutrition or agronomy, people who might actually bring legitimate questions and concerns to the discussion... 


So what is a poor interested layperson to do? Even when cognizant of the fact that the bulk of information about GM technology on the Internet is wrong and that each side of a controversial issue like GM food safety garners support from some (apparently) qualified scientists, where does the layperson turn to find accurate and objective information?

 

Fortunately, there are sources. Unfortunately, the sources suffer from relatively low conventional and social media profiles – they tend to appear near the bottom of Internet searches – but rank at the top of scientific credibility. They are mainly the professional scientific and medical associations, groups such as the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society and the American Medical Association. Such groups effectively moderate the extreme individuals who inhabit the fringes of every community. When these groups conduct a study on a given issue, all viewpoints are represented and the final assessment includes due consideration of the whole body of knowledge, pro and con, surrounding the issue... 

 

When it comes to the safety and sustainability of GM technologies in agriculture and food production, the U.S. National Academies of Science have conducted expert reviews of GMO safety going back to 1986. All are feely available online, if one knows where to look. Every single one of these studies has reached the same general conclusion: GMOs are no more hazardous than are other forms of breeding. A major investigation in 2004 into the safety of genetically engineered foods concluded that GM technology is not inherently hazardous and asserted, “To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.” There have been no verified reports of adverse effects subsequently, either.

 

A more recent study, from 2010, investigated the impact of genetically engineered crops on farm sustainability in the United States. This study concluded that genetic engineering technology has produced substantial net environmental and economic benefits compared with the use of non-GM crops. Sensibly, the report does caution that the continuation of GM crop benefits requires diligence and good risk management.

 

Similar studies are also conducted by public scientists in other countries around the world. That includes the last bastion of backward thinking against agricultural GMOs, the European Union. There, anti-science advocacy groups have been successful in scaring much of the public. To support the European political leadership that has sought scientific justification for banning GMOs, the European Commission has been a major sponsor of public research into the safety of GMOs for over 25 years. Unfortunately for the European politicians who’d hoped to reveal some new hazards, all of the EU-funded research to date concludes the same as all other public studies into the safety of GMOs: that GM technology poses no new risks.

 

However, the EU scientific community continues to thwart the EU political agenda. In 2001, the EU scientific community issued a report summarizing its research findings: Eighty-one research projects into GMO safety conducted by 400 teams of public scientists in non-commercial labs at a cost of 70-million euros concluded that GMOs are no more hazardous than are other forms of plant breeding. A follow-up report published in 2010 continued the same theme, documenting 50 additional GMO safety projects funded by EU taxpayers and involving more than 400 public, non-commercial labs at a cost of more than 200-million euros.

 

The conclusion: GMOs are no more hazardous than other forms of breeding are. Is it not strikingly odd that these diverse professional scientific associations all came to the same general conclusion about the safety of GMOs? And is it not equally odd that the junk scientists and their followers rarely cite these peer-reviewed scientific studies?

 

Unfortunately, the junk dealers and anti-technology NGOs use social media skillfully, and they recruit impressionable students each year to help “save the planet.” This domination of the Internet and the free workforce of volunteers overwhelm the efforts of legitimate scientist educators, few of whom actually have public education or outreach in their job descriptions. Overcoming junk science and allowing a truly informed public debate on both the risks and benefits of GMO crops and foods require supporting legitimate research into GMO safety and providing the results to the public in a transparent manner. It also requires credible experts who can help the interested public understand the nuances that are often beyond the ken of the anti-technology activists. Until this occurs, the junk scientists will continue to solicit donations by invoking the Big Bad GMO in order to strike fear into the hearts of the unsuspecting populace. 

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Activists fight FDA approval of AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon - McClatchy (2013)

Activists fight FDA approval of AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon - McClatchy (2013) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Fishermen have been casting a wary eye on Washington, where the Food and Drug Administration is considering whether AquaBounty, a Massachusetts-based company with a lab on Prince Edward Island in Canada and growing facilities in Panama, may sell genetically engineered salmon to consumers in the United States...

 

Fishermen in Alaska fear that the new, faster-growing farmed fish would threaten their livelihood eventually by flooding the market with cheap fish. They’re also pressing for the AquaBounty salmon to be labeled as genetically engineered because they think that their wild-caught, more expensive product is superior. They want no confusion in the marketplace.

 

"In some ways I felt threatened," Hubert said. "The threat may not be immediate, but I think down the line there could be some repercussions. We’ve had a lot of issues with labeling, and the ability (of consumers) to choose and know where the fish come from: what kind of stocks, whether they’re farmed or wild fish." ...

 

The FDA issued a preliminary finding in late December that the fish, known as the AquAdvantage Salmon, is as safe as eating conventional Atlantic salmon and that there’s a reasonable certainty of no harm in consuming it. The agency also issued a draft environmental assessment that there’s little chance of environmental harm from farming the fish...

 

People and animals already consume plenty of genetically modified grains, which aren’t required to be labeled in the U.S. A ballot measure requiring such labeling failed recently in California. But the fish are the first genetically engineered animals being considered for human consumption in the U.S., and the approval process is being closely watched in the biotech field.

 

There’s a huge market for heart-healthy fish: Salmon is the second most popular seafood consumed in the U.S., behind tuna. And an estimated 91 percent of the seafood consumed in this country is imported; about half of that is from aquaculture.

 

Even if the AquaBounty fish is approved, however, supermarkets won’t be flooded with genetically engineered fish anytime soon... AquaBounty would have to reapply to the FDA to expand operations.

 

“They talked about hundreds of tons of salmon a year. We import hundreds of thousands of tons of salmon a year,” Jaffe said. “So maybe it’ll be slightly easier to eat one of these salmon steaks than to win the lottery. But if someone wanted to find one of these salmon steaks out there to eat, it’s going to take a little effort.” ...

 

“Any fish that is labeled as wild-caught, or Alaskan, might see some of its market actually go up,” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist for Consumers Union. “Since this will not be labeled, people would not know whether the regular salmon they’re buying is engineered or not.”

 

AquaBounty says in its press materials that it wants its fish to be labeled “Atlantic salmon.” The company says the nutritional and biological composition of its AquAdvantage Salmon is identical to Atlantic salmon, and therefore doesn’t require additional labeling based on its method of production.

The company notes that it supports voluntary branding by the farmers who grow its salmon, to identify what it calls "the environmentally friendly benefits of this product." ... The FDA since 1992 has considered bioengineered foods to be no different from other foods “in any meaningful or uniform way.” The agency supports voluntary labeling that provides consumers with such information, however.

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Applications of biotechnology in olive - Cançado &al (2013) - Afr J Biotechnol

Many scientific and technological fields make use of biotechnology. Among the most important applications of biotechnology in agriculture are large-scale commercial micropropagation, genetic transformation and the development of transgenic varieties, embryo rescue in plant breeding programs, genotyping based on DNA markers, studies of genetic evolution and diversity, and genome sequencing.

 

These myriad applications of modern biotechnology and molecular biology are being applied to the olive tree, a crop cultivated for thousands of years in many places of the world and whose products are consumed globally. The selection and development of olive cultivars by conventional breeding methods is costly and time consuming, therefore, the application of biotechnology procedures and techniques, such as in vitro cultivation, molecular markers, and genomic and genetic transformation in this species may facilitate the improvement of important traits of this crop, such as biotic and abiotic resistance and tolerance, yield performance and oil quality... 

 

The aim of this review was to present the state of the art of the applications of biotechnology and molecular biology to the olive tree, as the consumption of olive products is growing due to their health benefits and excellent gastronomic and organoleptic qualities. For that reason, the commercial cultivation of olive is being encouraged by agroindustry and organized sectors of agriculture, such as cooperatives and farmer associations, stimulating the introduction and fast expansion of olive orchards in several areas of the world. In Brazil, practically all olive oil and other olive products that are domestically consumed are still being imported from other countries, but this scenario has changed rapidly in recent years.

 

To stimulate an increase in the sustainability and economic efficiency of olive production in countries in which this crop is not traditionally cultivated, ... it is necessary to develop local varieties that are better adapted to specific environments. In addition, economic and environmental efficiency will also be improved by delivering technologies that are suited to each environment and present innovative solutions not only for olive breeding but also for soil and irrigation management, pruning and harvesting methods, plantlet production, and post-harvest and fruit processing, among other issues associated with the cultivation of this crop...

 

Modern biotechnologies, such as in vitro micropropagation, cloning via somatic embryogenesis, molecular marker-assisted selection, functional genomics and genetic transformation, are good examples of how adopting correct technological approaches can benefit the commercial, environmental and social aspects of the growth of plants such as olive trees.

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