Ag Biotech News
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Ag Biotech News
Scoops on GMOs, agricultural biotech, innovation, breeding, crop protection, and related info, incl. on science communication. (Scoops are not necessarily endorsements). CLICK on the titles to get to the full, original, and possibly hyperlinked versions!
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What are farmers really planting? Measuring the presence and effectiveness of Bt cotton in Pakistan - Spielman &al (2017) - PLOS One

What are farmers really planting? Measuring the presence and effectiveness of Bt cotton in Pakistan - Spielman &al (2017) - PLOS One | Ag Biotech News |

Genetically modified, insect-resistant Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton is cultivated extensively in Pakistan. Past studies, however, have raised concerns about the prevalence of Bt cotton varieties possessing weak or nonperforming insect-resistance traits... We examine this issue using data drawn from a representative sample of cotton-growing households that were surveyed in six agroclimatic zones spanning 28 districts... as well as measurements of Cry protein levels in cotton tissue samples collected from the sampled households’ main fields. 

The resultant dataset combines information from 593 sampled households with corresponding plant tissue diagnostics... 11 percent of farmers believed they were cultivating Bt cotton when, in fact, the Cry toxin was not present in the tested tissue... 5 percent of farmers believed they were cultivating non-Bt cotton when, in fact, the Cry toxin was present in the tested tissue... 17 percent of all sampled farmers were uncertain whether or not they were cultivating Bt cotton. 

Overall, 33 percent of farmers either did not know or were mistaken in their beliefs about the presence of the cry gene in the cotton they cultivated... Toxic protein levels in the plant tissue samples occurred below threshold levels for lethality in a significant percentage of cases, although these measurements may also be affected by [other] factors... Nonetheless, results strongly suggest wide variability both in farmers’ beliefs and in gene expression. Such variability has implications for policy and regulation...

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Syngenta OKs ChemChina bid - China Daily (2017) 

Syngenta OKs ChemChina bid - China Daily (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

China National Chemical Corp, also known as ChemChina, said... that shareholders of Syngenta AG, the Swiss agrochemical and seed producer, have accepted its $43 billion takeover bid, paving the way for completion of China's biggest international acquisition deal.

Based on preliminary numbers, 81 percent of shares were tendered in favor of the acquisition, higher than the minimum acceptance rate of 67 percent needed for the deal to go through... The first payment settlement is scheduled for May 18. The Chinese company plans to delist Syngenta's shares in Switzerland and the United States at an appropriate time.

"The completion of this deal will help ChemChina become one of the world's largest suppliers of pesticides and other crop-care chemicals"... However... Dow Chemical Co's merger with DuPont Co and Bayer AG's purchase of Monsanto Co... would continue to provide intense market competition with ChemChina, as the top six international suppliers including Syngenta and BASF, have all been vying for market share and financial resources to push research and development of new products...  

China could use Syngenta's deep experience and resources in intellectual property, risk control and environmental management to bring its products to global markets. "On the other hand, Syngenta will have better access than other global companies to sell its products in our domestic [Chinese] markets... China's pesticide industry is riddled with low profitability and only global scale can improve that."

China has been encouraging its companies to use both domestic and global resources to ensure the country's grain and food security in its agricultural policy...  The deal would generate a positive outcome for China to upgrade its abilities in grain and food production, supply chain building and processing.   

Syngenta has 28,000 employees in more than 90 countries... Its sales revenue dropped 1 percent year-on-year to $3.7 billion in the first quarter of 2017. Beijing-headquartered ChemChina possesses production, research and development, and marketing systems in 150 countries and regions. Materials sciences, life sciences, high-end manufacturing and basic chemicals are its main businesses...

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Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016 - ISAAA (2017)

Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016 - ISAAA (2017) | Ag Biotech News |

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications publishes the Annual Global Review of Biotech Crops... For the first time, Nobel Laureates released a statement in support of biotechnology... The G20 countries and other like-minded bodies, guided by 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Agriculture have committed to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in 15 years or less... The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published a review of 900 researches on biotech crops since 1996 and found that genetically modified crops and conventionally-bred crops have no difference in terms of probable risks to human health and the environment. Biotech crops have now had an unblemished record of safe use and consumption for over 20 years. Future generations can benefit more from wide choices of biotech crops with improved traits for high yield and nutrition as well as safe for food use and environment... 

In 2016, the global market value of biotech crops... was US$15.8 billion (up by 3% from US$15.3 billion in 2015); this represents 22% of the US$73.5 billion global crop protection market in 2016, and 35% of the US$45 billion global commercial seed market. The estimated global farm-gate revenues of the harvested commercial “end product” (the biotech grain and other harvested products) are more than ten times greater than the value of the biotech seed alone. 

Biotech crops contributed to food security, sustainability and climate change by:

 • increasing crop productivity: 574 million tons valued at US$168 billion in 1996-2015...  

 • conserving biodiversity in 1996 to 2015 by saving 174 million hectares... 

 • providing a better environment by: saving 620 million kg. active ingredient of pesticides... reducing pesticide applications, saving 8%... reducing Environmental Impact Quotient by 19% in 1996-2015... 

 • reducing CO2 emissions in 2015 by 27 billion kg, equivalent to taking 12 million cars off the road for one year; and 

 • helped alleviate poverty by helping 18 million small farmers, and their families totaling >65 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world... 

Thus, biotech crops can contribute to a “sustainable intensification” strategy favored by many science academies worldwide, which allows productivity/production to be increased only on the current 1.5 billion hectares of global crop land, thereby saving forests and biodiversity. 

Biotech crops are essential but are not a panacea and adherence to good farming practices, such as rotations and resistance management, are a must for biotech crops as they are for conventional crops... 

In 2016, global hectarage of biotech crops increased from 180 million hectares to 185 million hectares, a 3% increase equivalent to 5.4 million hectares.... influenced by several factors. In 2016, these factors were: acceptance and commercialization of new products in the USA, Brazil and Australia; increasing demand for pork and livestock feeds in Brazil; needs for livestock and poultry feeds in Vietnam; favorable weather conditions and improved market price for maize in the Philippines and Honduras; need to address corn borer infestation in Spain and Slovakia; government’s strategic plan to harness biotechnology and improve economy in Canada; the lifting of the GM ban in West Australia; and consumers demand for more of the clean and healthy brinjal in Bangladesh... 

Finally, biotech crops... will continue benefiting the burgeoning population with new biotech crops and traits to cater to the needs of farmers and consumers alike. However, even after 21 years of successful commercialization of biotech crops, some challenges remain including: 

 • First, the regulatory barriers that limit scientific innovation and restricts technology development that would have benefited farmers and consumers. 

 • Second, the growing trade disruptions brought by asynchronous approvals and thresholds on low level presence in GM crop trading countries... Countries allow entry of only approved biotech events, and a threshold for unapproved events. Some countries have stringent or long process of approvals that cause problems if imported products contain unapproved events... There are large volumes of trade worth billions of dollars at risk... 

 • Third, the need for continuous dialogue among all stakeholders for the expeditious understanding and appreciation of biotechnology, emphasizing benefits and safety. Innovative communication modalities using social media and other forms of venues should be tapped... 

That requires a cooperative partnership among the North and the South, East and West, and public and private sector. Only through partnerships can we be assured that nutritious and sufficient food will be readily available on the table, stable supply of feed for our poultry and livestock, and accessible clothing and shelter for everyone.

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Ensuring the safety of genetically engineered and modified organisms for food production - Tutel’yan (2017) - Her Russ Acad Sci

Ensuring the safety of genetically engineered and modified organisms for food production - Tutel’yan (2017) - Her Russ Acad Sci | Ag Biotech News |
Supplying the growing human population with food has become a global problem today. Continuous growth of overall production and diversification of raw materials for the food industry can be reached only using the newest technologies, biotechnology in particular. 

Modern biotechnology, which is on the List of Critical Technologies of the Russian Federation, is one of the most advanced and rapidly developing trends; it rests on basic research and is of high practical importance. It is based on genetic engineering, which makes it possible to obtain valuable biologically active substances (antibiotics, hormones, enzymes, immunomodulators, synthetic vaccines, amino acids, etc.) and to create new plant varieties and animal breeds. 

Among the potential opportunities opened by genetic engineering are new methods of changing the DNA and RNA structure, manipulations with genes, and changes in the genotypes of whole organisms – microorganisms, plants, and animals. While genetically modified (GM) microorganisms, which are widely used in medicine, pharmaceuticals, and the food industry, drew the attention of specialists... the question of the use of GM plants has gone far beyond academic interests and has actively been discussed by society for more than 15 years. This paper mainly focuses on the problem of GM plants that are most widely used in agriculture...

The agricultural production of GM crops was launched in 1996; over 20 years crop acres of GM organisms (GMO) of plant origin increased by more than 100 times and totaled... 12% of the area of worldwide cultivated lands. The main GM crop is soybean... second place belongs to corn; and then follow cotton and rapeseed. Land under GM soybean constitutes more than 85% of the total area... In 2015, GM crops were grown in 28 countries, including five EU countries (Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania). Russia has never grown such crops...

The central link ensuring possible GMO use for food is safety assessment, which guarantees the absence of a negative effect on the health of both the present and subsequent generations. Methods of risk assessment used by various countries relative to foods and feeds derived from GM crops are based on general principles formed from the experience and scientific knowledge accumulated over recent decades... 

In the Russian Federation, GMO safety for food use is ensured by four mutually complementary legislated components of the state regulation system: 
- the presence of a reliable system of GMO safety assessment; 
- an effective system of control over GMO turnover; 
- monitoring the effect of GMOs on humans and the environment; 
- the availability of information about GMO use in food production for consumers. 

The development of the respective legislative, regulatory, and methodological base was begun in the late 1990s; the institutions of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences; the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-Being; the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development; and the Russian Ministry of Education and Science participated in its creation... 

International and domestic experience shows that, in parallel with the development and introduction of new technologies, especially those directly related to food production, it is necessary to prepare society to understand these technologies. An insufficient level of awareness on the part of society gives rise to antagonism to innovative technologies, affects decisions, and artificially slows down the process. In the existing situation, we consider it our main task to work with the mass media, to prepare publications in popular- science publications, and to deliver lectures and seminars, i.e., to form a maximally accessible informational space about this issue... 

One can conclude that Russia has performed much scientific work on ensuring GMO safety; has accumulated significant factual material; and has created a regulatory-methodological base and a significant reserve for further basic and applied scientific studies in the sphere of the creation, safety assessment, and methods of detecting GMOs in food production within the effective legislation. At the same time, trends in the development of biotechnology determine the need for further studies and new methodological approaches based on integration of the efforts of not only scientists in medicine and biology but also specialists in mathematical analysis, informatics, analytical chemistry, and other fields.

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Food processing and breeding strategies for coeliac-safe and healthy wheat products - Jouanin &al (2017) - Food Res Int

Food processing and breeding strategies for coeliac-safe and healthy wheat products - Jouanin &al (2017) - Food Res Int | Ag Biotech News |

A strict gluten-free diet is currently the only treatment for the 1-2% of the world population who suffer from coeliac disease (CD). However, due to the presence of wheat and wheat derivatives in many food products, avoiding gluten consumption is difficult. Gluten-free products, made without wheat, barley or rye, typically require the inclusion of numerous additives, resulting in products that are often less healthy than gluten-based equivalents. 

Here, we summarise and contrast two broad approaches to decrease wheat gluten immunogenicity for CD patients. The first is based on food processing strategies, which aim to remove gliadins or all gluten from edible products. We find that several of the candidate food processing techniques to produce low gluten-immunogenic products from wheat already exist. 

The second approach focuses on wheat breeding strategies to remove immunogenic epitopes from the gluten proteins, while maintaining their food-processing properties. A combination of breeding strategies, including mutation breeding and possibly genome editing, will be necessary to produce coeliac-safe wheat. 

Individuals suffering from CD and people genetically susceptible who may develop CD after prolonged gluten consumption would benefit from reduced CD-immunogenic wheat. Although the production of healthy and less CD-toxic wheat varieties and food products will be challenging, increasing global demand may require these issues to be addressed in the near future by food processing and cereal breeding companies.

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Developing climate-resilient wheat varieties - ASA (2017) 

Developing climate-resilient wheat varieties - ASA (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Increases in climate variability have placed new emphasis on the need for resilient wheat varieties. Alongside demands for increased resiliency, consumer interest in healthier, more functional foods is growing. Therefore, the identification of potential breeding targets to create climate-resilient, nutritionally improved wheat varieties is of particular interest.

Fructans are carbohydrates found in many plants, including wheat, which serve physiological roles in both plants and humans. Within plants, fructans are essential in conferring tolerance to stresses associated with climate variability (i.e., drought, cold temperatures, and salinity). And fructan consumption by humans promotes improved health through modulation of gut health... 

A paper... examines connections between fructans in wheat plants, wheat-based food products, and impacts of fructan consumption on human health. Drawing upon the current state of knowledge about wheat grain fructans and human health, potential breeding methodologies and goals were suggested... for... the development of climate-resilient varieties with increased nutritional value.

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Agriculture Biotechnology - Talukdar &al (2017) - Springer

Agriculture Biotechnology - Talukdar &al (2017) - Springer | Ag Biotech News |

Agricultural biotechnology is the area of biotechnology involving applications to agriculture. Agricultural biotechnology has been practiced for a long time, as people have sought to improve agriculturally important organisms by selection and breeding... 

Breeding became more sophisticated, as the traits that breeders select for include increased yield, disease and pest resistance, drought resistance and enhanced flavor. Traits are passed from one generation to the next through genes, which are made of DNA. Based on an understanding of DNA, scientists have developed solutions to increase agricultural productivity. 

Starting from the ability to identify genes that may confer advantages on certain crops and the ability to work with such characteristics very precisely, biotechnology enhances breeders’ ability to make improvements in crops and livestock... 

Biotechnology clearly holds promise as a solution to some developing country production problem and to solve them in an environmentally friendly manner. Crop improvement can only be complemented by innovative crop management. The relevance of biotechnology is most liable to diminish yield variability but not to increase maximum yield... 

Public sector agricultural research in many developing countries is rigorously underfunded and human capital development may not be satisfactory for the successful improvement of agricultural biotechnology. Agricultural modernization is nowadays progressively carried out by the private sector and public research projects are conducted in a different policy and market environment... this research stands a much greater chance of success if it is not performed but in partnership with scientist of developing countries...

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Top scientific advisers publish explanatory note on new techniques in agricultural biotechnology - European Commission (2017) 

Top scientific advisers publish explanatory note on new techniques in agricultural biotechnology - European Commission (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

The High Level Group of the Commission's Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) has published an independent Explanatory Note on ‘New Techniques in Agricultural Biotechnology’... the scientific advisers provide a detailed scientific description of the full spectrum of agricultural breeding techniques used in plants, animals and microorganisms. Drawing on the best available scientific reviews, expert opinions and reports, the document describes and compares the new techniques with conventional breeding techniques and with established techniques of genetic modification... 

"This comprehensive scientific comparison of the various breeding techniques demonstrates the value of the Scientific Advice Mechanism... Citizens, policy makers, scientists, and a host of other stakeholders will welcome this independent, balanced, and up to date scientific reference work, which will inform future discussions in this area." 

The main observations are:
- The new techniques in agricultural biotechnology (which include genome editing and others) differ significantly from each other, and their grouping together is not optimal from a scientific and technical point of view. 

- Often, the new techniques are used in combination with conventional breeding or with established techniques of genetic modification.
- The new techniques are very versatile and can make a number of types of changes to plants, animals and microorganisms... in a precise and targeted way...  
- This precision and control... is greater than with the use of conventional breeding or established techniques of genetic modification... these new techniques result in fewer unintended effects.
- Assessments... of the organisms... can only be made on a case-by-case basis taking into account... the specific mutation; unintended effects; the species into which the mutation is introduced; the environment in which the end product is used; the agricultural practice applied, and its planned use and exposure.

The Note will be used by the Commissioners to support public debate with stakeholders including a high level conference on modern biotechnologies in agriculture which the Commission is organising in Brussels, 28 September, 2017.

The Explanatory Note draws on a comprehensive review of publicly available scientific literature, in which the High Level Group was assisted by experts nominated by the five European Academy Networks - All European Academies (ALLEA), Academia Europaea, European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), European Council of Academies of Applied Sciences, Technologies and Engineering (Euro-CASE) and Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM).

Conventional breeding techniques include for instance sexual crosses and mutation breeding while established techniques of genetic modification are transformation in plants and microorganisms and transfection in animals. The new techniques covered in the report include: genome editing (oligonucleotide directed mutagenesis and site-directed nucleases), cisgenesis/ intragenesis, agro-infiltration, RNA-dependent DNA methylation, grafting, and reverse breeding...

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Genome edited animals: Learning from GM crops? - Bruce (2017) - Transgenic Res

Genome edited animals: Learning from GM crops? - Bruce (2017) - Transgenic Res | Ag Biotech News |

Genome editing of livestock is poised to become commercial reality, yet questions remain as to appropriate regulation, potential impact on the industry sector and public acceptability of products. This paper looks at how genome editing of livestock has attempted to learn some of the lessons from commercialisation of GM crops, and takes a systemic approach to explore some of the complexity and ambiguity in incorporating genome edited animals in a food production system. 

Current applications of genome editing are considered, viewed from the perspective of past technological applications. The question of what is genome editing, and can it be considered natural is examined. The implications of regulation on development of different sectors of livestock production systems are studied, with a particular focus on the veterinary sector. 

From an EU perspective, regulation of genome edited animals, although not necessarily the same as for GM crops, is advocated from a number of different perspectives. This paper aims to open up new avenues of research on genome edited animals, extending from the current primary focus on science and regulation, to engage with a wider-range of food system actors... 

Genome editing promises the possibility of producing commercial livestock carrying precise genetic changes... Ultimately, the future of these developments will depend on political decisions, regulatory requirements and public acceptability, as well as technological capabilities... 

Early applications of genome editing to livestock have taken into account the need to provide publicly recognised benefits, as a lesson learned from the production-focus of early GM crops applications. Initial applications have mainly focussed on welfare and disease resistance traits, although more profound changes to animal physiology have also been suggested, and may be realised in future...

Applications of genome editing in livestock have also focused on creating gene variants that exist in the same, or similar species, and seeking to avoid crossing species boundaries. Given the tendency among some people to conflate genetic modification with transgenesis, genome editing might be thought to provide an opportunity to avoid the regulatory impasse that in many cases has been a feature of GM animals. 

However, avoiding regulation for genome edited animals on the basis that they do not involve crossing species barriers would restrict applications of genome editing only to those that meet this requirement, and could discourage many other developments. At the other extreme, avoiding any kind of regulation for genome edited animals could also easily result in a public back-lash... 

Genome editing applied to livestock production is not just a technical fix that can be effortlessly adopted without consequences to the wider production system. Stakeholders in the wider industry may react in ways that perturb current practices. These perturbations can be application specific or context specific, and may be difficult to predict without engagement with a range of appropriate stakeholders. In the case of GM crops, regulatory requirements and company strategies led to multinational agrochemical companies being favoured over crop seed producers... It is not clear what impact genome editing will have on... stakeholders, such as smaller breeding organisations or nationally supported breeding co-operatives... 

The wider context of livestock production is also important to consider. Pressure is increasing on the sector to reduce its environmental impact, while maintaining productivity... Public support for genome edited livestock is essential for the promised products to gain wide market penetration. Frivolous, or controversial applications raising public disquiet have the potential to make it very difficult for future genome edited livestock applications to be socially accepted. 

Competition to be the first on the market needs to be tempered by consideration of the wider future of the technology. Focussing on technology and its regulatory implications is important but more attention needs to be paid to interactions among stakeholders to better understand how genome edited animals could impact the broader livestock production sector.

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Toward biotechnology in space: High-throughput instruments for in situ biological research beyond Earth - Karouia &al (2017) - Biotechnol Adv

Toward biotechnology in space: High-throughput instruments for in situ biological research beyond Earth - Karouia &al (2017) - Biotechnol Adv | Ag Biotech News |

Space biotechnology is a nascent field aimed at applying tools of modern biology to advance our goals in space exploration. These advances rely on our ability to exploit in situ high throughput techniques for amplification and sequencing DNA, and measuring levels of RNA transcripts, proteins and metabolites in a cell. 

These techniques, collectively known as “omics” techniques have already revolutionized terrestrial biology. A number of on-going efforts are aimed at developing instruments to carry out “omics” research in space, in particular on board the International Space Station and small satellites... 

Considering that effects of space environments on terrestrial organisms appear to be global, it is argued that high throughput instruments are essential to advance (1) biomedical and physiological studies to control and reduce space-related stressors on living systems, (2) application of biology to life support and in situ resource utilization, (3) planetary protection, and (4) basic research about the limits on life in space...

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Future challenges feeding transgenic plants - Flachowsky & Reuter (2017) - Animal Frontiers

Future challenges feeding transgenic plants - Flachowsky & Reuter (2017) - Animal Frontiers | Ag Biotech News |

Commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) plants has been conducted for more than 20 yr. Over this period of time, studies on the feeding of GM crops to animals were also conducted to evaluate the potential impact... 

Feeding GM crops did not present adverse effects. Genetically modified crops have been shown to have substantially equivalent composition compared with traditional counterparts. Scientific studies have not observed biologically relevant effects on feed intake, digestibility, or animal health or unintended effects on animal performance and fertility or on the composition and quality of food of animal origin. Recombinant DNA and newly expressed proteins of GM crops do not show other chemical/physical properties as native substances in non-GM counterparts.

Looking to the future, conventional as well as novel plant breeding methodologies that contribute to a more resource-efficient production of high and stable yields of available plant biomass should be considered. Public funding in support of plant and animal research may contribute to a better understanding of the physiological, biochemical, and molecular processes and should be considered as an important challenge to meet the future demand for animal and human feed and food.

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Long-term trends in the intensity and relative toxicity of herbicide use - Kniss (2017) - Nature Comm

Long-term trends in the intensity and relative toxicity of herbicide use - Kniss (2017) - Nature Comm | Ag Biotech News |

Herbicide use is among the most criticized aspects of modern farming, especially as it relates to genetically engineered (GE) crops. Many previous analyses have used flawed metrics to evaluate herbicide intensity and toxicity trends. 

Here, I show that herbicide use intensity increased over the last 25 years in maize, cotton, rice and wheat. Although GE crops have been previously implicated in increasing herbicide use, herbicide increases were more rapid in non-GE crops. 

Even as herbicide use increased, chronic toxicity associated with herbicide use decreased in two out of six crops, while acute toxicity decreased in four out of six crops. 

In the final year for which data were available glyphosate accounted for 26% of maize, 43% of soybean and 45% of cotton herbicide applications. However, due to relatively low chronic toxicity, glyphosate contributed only 0.1, 0.3 and 3.5% of the chronic toxicity hazard in those crops, respectively.

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Innovations in genetically modified agricultural technologies in China’s public sector: Successes and challenges - Chai &al (2017) - China Agric Econ Rev

The purpose of this paper is to assess whether China’s public sector can continue to generate advanced genetically modified (GM) technologies that will be competitive in the market... 

Unlike other countries, most GM products in China are developed by public research institutes. There is rising concern on the ability of China’s public sector to continuously generate indigenous GM technology that can compete with multinational companies. 

The study surveyed 197 research institutes and 487 research teams and found that the GM program in China lacks coordination: researchers do not want to share their research materials with others. Due to the lack of coordination, most of the hundreds of research teams often worked independently... Moreover... the lack of coordination may be due to the reason that the interests of researchers are not well protected. 

This paper also provided the recent progress and policy changes of GM program in China, and it found that the efficiency in the later three years improved a lot. In order to establish a competitive national public GM research system, China should continuously consolidate and integrate the upstream, midstream, and downstream activities of the whole GM innovation process. China’s public sector may also need to work more closely with both the domestic and international private sectors...

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Scientists Complete First EPA-Approved Outdoor Field Trial for Genetically Engineered Algae - UCSD (2017) 

Scientists Complete First EPA-Approved Outdoor Field Trial for Genetically Engineered Algae - UCSD (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Experiment pushes toward the promise of algae as a clean, renewable food and fuel source. Scientists... have successfully completed the first outdoor field trial sanctioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for genetically engineered algae.

In a series of experiments... the researchers tested a genetically engineered strain of algae in outdoor ponds under real-world conditions... The researchers conclude that genetically engineered algae can be successfully cultivated outdoors while maintaining engineered traits, and, most importantly, without adversely impacting native algae populations.

“Just as agricultural experts for decades have used targeted genetic engineering to produce robust food crops that provide human food security, this study is the first step to demonstrate that we can do the same with genetically engineered algae”... 

Under the EPA’s purview over a 50-day experiment, the scientists cultured strains of the algae species Acutodesmus dimorphus – genetically engineered with genes for fatty acid biosynthesis... – in parallel with non-engineered algal species. Testing both algae strains in water samples taken from five regional lakes showed strikingly similar levels of growth in the tests, and that the genetic modification did not change the impact of the cultivated strains on native algae communities.

“This study showed the framework for how this type of testing can be done in the future... If we are going to maintain our standard of living in the future we are going to need sustainable food and energy, and ways of making those that do not disrupt the environment. Molecular biology and biotechnology are powerful tools to help us achieve that. Our experiment was a first-step towards an evidence-based evaluation of genetically engineered algae and their benefits and environmental risks.”

“Progress made in the lab means little if you can’t reproduce the phenotype in a production setting”... Future testing will include additional gene types in experiments that run several months, allowing the researchers to further evaluate influences from weather, seasonal shifts and other environmental factors. “Algae biomass can address many needs that are key to a sustainable future... This is the first of many studies testing this technology in field settings.”

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Modified soybeans yield more in future climate conditions - U Illinois (2017) 

Modified soybeans yield more in future climate conditions - U Illinois (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

By 2050, we will need to feed 2 billion more people on less land. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide levels are predicted to hit 600 parts per million – a 50% increase over today’s levels – and 2050 temperatures are expected to frequently match the top 5% hottest days from 1950-1979. In a three-year field study, researchers proved engineered soybeans yield more than conventional soybeans in 2050’s predicted climatic conditions.

“Our climate system and atmosphere are not changing in isolation from other factors – there are actually multiple facets... The effect of carbon dioxide in and of itself seems to be very generalized, but neglects the complexity of adding temperature into the mix. This research is one step in the right direction towards trying to figure out a way of mitigating those temperature-related yield losses that will likely occur even with rising carbon dioxide concentrations”... 

The modified crop yielded more when subjected to both increased temperature and carbon dioxide levels; however, they found little to no difference between the modified and unmodified crops grown in either increased temperature, increased carbon dioxide, or today’s climate conditions... We can harness genetic changes to help offset the detrimental effects of rising temperature...  

“Experiments under controlled conditions are great to understand concepts and underlying mechanisms... But to understand what will happen in a real-world situation, it is crucial to study the responses in a natural setting – and SoyFACE is perfect for this kind of study.”

SoyFACE is an innovative facility that emulates future atmospheric conditions to understand the impact on Midwestern crops. These findings are especially remarkable because the crops... were exposed to the same environmental conditions (i.e. the sun, wind, rain, clouds, etc.) as other Illinois field crops... 

These modified soybeans are just one part of the equation to meet the demands of 2050. This modification can likely be combined with other modifications – a process called “stacking” – to further improve yields. “When we’re trying to meet our food needs for the future, this specific modification is one of the many tools that we’re going to need to rely upon... There is a lot of research across the planet that’s looking at different strategies to make improvements, and many of these are not mutually exclusive.”

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Scientists Say Agriculture Is Good for Honey Bees - Univ Tennessee (2017) 

Scientists Say Agriculture Is Good for Honey Bees - Univ Tennessee (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

While recent media reports have condemned a commonly used agricultural pesticide as detrimental to honey bee health, scientists... found that the overall health of honey bee hives actually improves in the presence of agricultural production.

The study... evaluated the impacts of row-crop agriculture, including the traditional use of pesticides, on honey bee health. Results indicated that hive health was positively correlated to the presence of agriculture. According to the study, colonies in a non-agricultural area struggled to find adequate food resources and produced fewer offspring.

“We’re not saying that pesticides are not a factor in honeybee health. There were a few events during the season where insecticide applications caused the death of some foraging bees... However, our study suggests that the benefits of better nutrition sources and nectar yields found in agricultural areas outweigh the risks of exposure to agricultural pesticides.”

A​ccording to the study, hives located in areas with high to moderate agricultural vegetation grew faster and larger than those in low or non-agricultural areas. Researchers suggest the greater population sizes enabled better colony thermoregulation in these hives, as well.

Meanwhile, bees located in a non-agricultural environment were challenged to find food. Although fewer pesticide contaminants were reported in these areas, the landscape did not provide sustainable forage. In fact, during the observations, two colonies in the non-agricultural areas collapsed due to starvation. Disruptions and fluctuations in brood rearing were also more notable in a non-agricultural environment. 

Interestingly, brood production was highest in the location that exhibited a more evenly distributed mix of agricultural production, forests and urban activity. “One possible explanation for this finding could be the elevated urban activity in this location... Ornamental plantings... are examples of urban activity that increase the diversity of pollen in an area. Greater pollen diversity has been credited with enhancing colony development.”

Researchers also evaluated trapped pollen from each colony for pesticide residues. Low concentrations... were identified, but at levels well below the lethal dose for honey bees. Imidacloprid was the only neonicotinoid detected, also at sub-lethal levels. Agricultural pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, are considered by some to be a key factor in declining honeybee populations. The... study found that higher exposure to pesticides... did not result in measurable impacts on colony productivity...

Underlying study:

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
Interesting take on the net effect of agriculture on bee health. 
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Plant breeding for improving nutrient uptake and utilization efficiency - Ferrante &al (2017) - Springer

Plant breeding for improving nutrient uptake and utilization efficiency - Ferrante &al (2017) - Springer | Ag Biotech News |

Mineral nutrients are essential for plants where they play specific metabolic functions. Macronutrients are required in higher quantities, while micronutrients in smaller amounts. Deprivation or paucity of any macro- or microelement has negative effects on plant development and yield, potentially impairing the plant capability of reaching and completing the reproductive phase. Therefore, the evolution of mechanisms able to maintain the tissue mineral nutrient homeostasis in response to changes in their availability in the growth substrate is a key factor under both the evolutionary (biological) and agricultural (yield performance) points of view. 

The supply/availability/plant intake and assimilation of mineral nutrients are often limited by extrinsic (i.e., environmental) and intrinsic (developmental, biochemical, physiological), plant-related factors. Since all of the latter are under genetic control, use of efficient plant breeding procedures for improving the complex trait of plant nutrient utilization efficiency is of paramount importance. This issue is made more compelling since intensive agriculture, necessary to satisfy the increasing food demand on Earth’s scale, requires, in order to reintroduce into the soil the mineral nutrients removed with plant harvest, the use of large amounts of fertilizers posing serious soil, air and water pollution concerns.

Nitrogen, with phosphorus and potassium, is the macronutrient that more deeply affects crop production. The chapter presents... the main molecular aspects determining the biochemical and physiological bottlenecks that limit Nutrient/Nitrogen Use Efficiency (Nu/NUE) in crop plants, with particular focus on leafy vegetables. The most innovative molecular approaches... based upon the use of novel genome- and transcriptome-based technologies, are reviewed.

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Plant genome editing with TALEN and CRISPR - Malzahn &al (2017) - Cell & Biosci

Plant genome editing with TALEN and CRISPR - Malzahn &al (2017) - Cell & Biosci | Ag Biotech News |

The field of genome editing is experiencing rapid growth as new methods and technologies continue to emerge. Using genome editing to boost agriculture productivity is needed as the world population is expected to grow to 9.6 billion by 2050 while the amount of arable land decreases. Besides potential for boosting crop yields, genome editing is now one of the best tools for carrying out reverse genetics and is emerging as an especially versatile tool for studying basic biology.

Genome edited plants are differentiated from conventional transgenic plants as they may not incorporate foreign DNA. Although genome editing can be used to introduce foreign DNA into the genome, it may simply involve changes of a few base pairs in the plant’s own DNA. This distinction makes genome editing a novel and powerful breeding tool that has promising applications in agriculture, especially when genome edited crops are not regulated as genetically modified (GM).

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Sustainable Environmental Biotechnology - Kaur (2017) - Springer

Sustainable Environmental Biotechnology - Kaur (2017) - Springer | Ag Biotech News |

In today’s era of rapid globalization, sustainability in the environment has become a priority for world leaders; they affirm their intent to pursue broad range of technologies with the potential to reach the goal of sustainability. Human interferences in terms of their increasing anthropogenic activities, destructive behavior, resource exploitation fueled by growing consumption, and swiftly eroding natural ecosystems are driving us toward an environmental precipice. 

Today’s environmentalists remain alarmed at the inefficient use of technologies by mankind. Therefore, to cope up with this alarming situation, the recent advances in “biotechnology” played an important role. 

Some of the defining technologies of modern biotechnology with the probability of attaining the goal of sustainability are included in fields like food production, various industrial and agricultural practices, capturing valuable products from renewable raw materials, energy sources, waste management, and bioremediation... 

The role of genetic engineering programs toward sustainable agricultural development has become an interesting topic for future studies. Crops developed through advanced biotechnological approaches are much more sustainable and better adapted toward our environment. 

Such plants need lesser pesticide applications, use farming techniques with lesser impacts on soil health and water retention capacity, as well as are suitable for less-plowed soils. Biotechnology also enables agriculturist to adopt no- or reduced-till techniques, which result in maintaining the soil texture, health, and quality through reduced erosion and also result in lesser consumption of fuel on farms which in turn leads to higher carbon sequestration... 

Biotechnology prevents loss of crop production and yield by building resistance against various pests and disease... Biotechnology crops undergo vigorous testing over the years before they are put in the farmer’s fields, and also farmers are well trained about the concerns associated with the crops... Regulating agencies ensure that the biotechnological products that are released into the environment do not have any detrimental impacts on the environment. 

The role of biotechnology toward environmental sustainability is a combined effort of various other technologies like biochemistry, environmental molecular biotechnology, environmental engineering, ecology, etc. Taking into consideration the effects of all the technologies, biotechnology acts as a driving force toward environmental protection... Biotechnology is an emerging field that offers new possibilities for developing and building a safe, eco-friendly, and sustainable ecosystem. 

Agricultural biotechnology focuses toward improved agricultural practices and enhanced productivity through newly engineered crops, monitoring bioindicators, reduced greenhouse emissions, thinning the use of pesticides, production of renewable materials and energy, cleaner water and reduced use of fuel, which are the main sectors supporting sustainable development. 

Biotechnological methods redesign processes to replace and minimize harmful impacts of various products released into the environment.

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Subchronic feeding study of high-free-lysine transgenic rice in Sprague-Dawley rats - Yang &al (2017) - Food Chem Toxicol

Subchronic feeding study of high-free-lysine transgenic rice in Sprague-Dawley rats - Yang &al (2017) - Food Chem Toxicol | Ag Biotech News |

Lysine is considered to be the first essential amino acid in rice. An elite High-Free-Lysine transgenic line HFL1 was previously produced by metabolic engineering to regulate lysine metabolism. 

In this study, a 90-day toxicology experiment was undertaken to investigate the potential health effect of feeding different doses of HFL1 rice to Sprague-Dawley rats. During the trial, body weight gain, food consumption and food efficiency were recorded, and no adverse effect was observed in rats fed transgenic (T) rice diets compared with non-transgenic (N) or control diets. 

At both midterm and final assessments, hematological parameters and serum chemistry were measured, and organ weights and histopathology were examined at the end of the trial. There was no diet-related difference in most hematological or serum chemistry parameters or organ weights between rats fed the T diets and those fed the N or control diets. Some parameters were found to differ between T groups and their corresponding N and/or control groups, but no adverse histological effect was observed. 

Taken together, the data from the current trial demonstrates that high lysine transgenic rice led to no adverse effect in Sprague-Dawley rats given a diet containing up to 70% HFL1 rice in 90 days.

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Scientists, Stop Thinking Explaining Science Will Fix Things. It Won’t - Slate (2017) 

Scientists, Stop Thinking Explaining Science Will Fix Things. It Won’t - Slate (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

If you consider yourself to have even a passing familiarity with science, you likely find yourself in a state of disbelief as the president of the United States calls climate scientists “hoaxsters” and pushes conspiracy theories about vaccines. The Trump administration seems practically allergic to evidence. And it’s not just Trump – plenty of people across the political spectrum hold bizarre and inaccurate ideas about science, from climate change and vaccines to guns and genetically modified organisms.

If you are a scientist, this disregard for evidence probably drives you crazy. So what do you do about it? It seems many scientists would take matters into their own hands by learning how to better communicate their subject to the masses... Across the country, science communication and advocacy groups report upticks in interest. Many scientists hope that by doing a better job of explaining science, they can move the needle toward scientific consensus on politically charged issues. As recent studies... found, scientists’ top reason for engaging the public is to inform and defend science from misinformation.

It’s an admirable goal, but almost certainly destined to fail. This is because the way most scientists think about science communication – that just explaining the real science better will help – is plain wrong. In fact, it’s so wrong that it may have the opposite effect of what they’re trying to achieve. Before getting fired up to set the scientific record straight, scientists would do well to first consider the science of science communication. The theory many scientists seem to swear by is technically known as the deficit model, which states that people’s opinions differ from scientific consensus because they lack scientific knowledge. 

In 2010, Dan Kahan, a Yale psychologist, essentially proved this theory wrong. He surveyed over 1,500 Americans, classifying each person’s “cultural worldview” on a scale that roughly correlates with politically liberal or conservative. He then assessed each person’s scientific literacy with questions such as “True or False: Electrons are smaller than atoms.” Finally, he asked them about climate change. If the deficit model were correct, Kahan reasoned, then people with increased scientific literacy, regardless of worldview, should agree with scientists that climate change poses a serious risk to humanity.

That’s not what he found. Instead... conservative-leaning respondents who knew the most about science thought climate change posed the least risk. Scientific literacy, it seemed, increased polarization. In a later study, Kahan... asked respondents what climate scientists believed. Respondents who knew more about science generally, regardless of political leaning, were better able to identify the scientific consensus – in other words, the polarization disappeared. Yet, when... asked for their own opinions about climate change, the polarization returned... Even when people understand the scientific consensus, they may not accept it.

The takeaway is clear: Increasing science literacy alone won’t change minds. In fact, well-meaning attempts by scientists to inform the public might even backfire. Presenting facts that conflict with an individual’s worldview, it turns out, can cause people to dig in further. Psychologists, aptly, dubbed this the “backfire effect.”

If scientists simply want to explain science to a curious audience... this doesn’t matter much. But if scientists are motivated to change minds... they will be sorely disappointed. That’s not to say scientists should return to the bench and keep their mouths shut. They should just realize that closing the “information gap” isn’t the goal. And instead, they need to learn how to communicate science strategically.

There are obvious reasons why science communication is a necessary and worthwhile endeavor, but a huge one is that there’s a politically motivated push to destabilize scientific authority. At a... conference... the Republican chairman of the House science committee told attendees he would now refer to “climate science” as “politically correct science”... This lumps scientists in with the nebulous “left” and... rebrands scientific authority as just another form of elitism. Is it any surprise, then, that lectures from scientists built on the premise that they simply know more (even if it’s true) fail to convince this audience? 

Rather than fill the information deficit by building an arsenal of facts, scientists should instead consider how they deploy their knowledge. They may have more luck communicating if, in addition to presenting facts and figures, they appeal to emotions. This could mean not simply explaining the science of how something works but spending time on why it matters to the author and why it ought to matter to the reader. Research also shows that science communicators can be more effective after they’ve gained the audience’s trust... It may be more worthwhile... to talk about science... through, say, local and community interactions, than it is to try to publish explainers on national news sites. And they might consider writing op-eds for their local papers, focusing on why science matters to their particular communities.

Scientists can also learn to avoid certain pitfalls... A counterintuitive lesson... is that refuting stories that deny climate change by addressing each claim and explaining why it’s wrong is not that productive. In fact, it could be counterproductive: “If you repeat the myth, that’s the part people remember even if you immediately debunk it”... A better approach... is to reframe the issue. Don’t just keep explaining why climate change is real – explain how climate change will hurt public health or the local economy. Communication that appeals to values, not just intellect, research shows, can be far more effective... 

The deficit model, I’ve found, is difficult to unlearn. It’s very logical, and my hunch is that it comes naturally to scientists because most have largely spent their lives in school... and the deficit model perfectly explains how a scientist learns science. But the obstacles faced by science communicators are not epistemological but cultural. The skills required are not those of a university lecturer but a rhetorician.

There’s a certain irony that scientists, of all people, know so little about, well, the science of science communication. There’s also a certain irony that, right here in this article, I’m lecturing scientists about what they might not know – in other words, I’m guilty of following the deficit model myself. So in the spirit of doing better, I’ll not just write this article but also take the time to talk to scientists in person about how to communicate science strategically and to explain why it matters. I hope they end up doing the same.

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Political left, right similarly motivated to avoid rival views - UIC (2017) 

Political left, right similarly motivated to avoid rival views - UIC (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

A new report from social psychologists... suggests people on both sides of the political aisle are similarly motivated to dismiss monetary enticements in order to distance themselves from hearing or reading opposing ideals and information. 

The research... details the findings from five studies involving liberals and conservatives who were presented with statements on issues such as same-sex marriage, U.S. and Canada elections, marijuana, climate change, guns and abortion.

Approximately two-thirds of respondents declined a chance to win extra money in order to avoid reading statements that didn’t support their position... The divide goes beyond political topics. 

Respondents also had a “greater desire to hear from like- versus unlike-minded others on questions such as preferred beverages (Coke vs. Pepsi), seasons (spring vs. autumn), airplane seats (aisle vs. window), and sports leagues (NFL vs. NBA)”... 

The aversion to hearing or learning about the views of their ideological opponents is not a product of people already being or feeling knowledgeable, or attributable to election fatigue in the case of political issues... 

“Rather, people on both sides indicated that they anticipated that hearing from the other side would induce cognitive dissonance,” such that would require effort or cause frustration, and “undermine a sense of shared reality with the person expressing disparate views” that would harm relationships... 

The researchers note the drawback of liberals and conservatives retreating to ideological information bubbles. “What could ultimately be a contest of ideas is being replaced by two, non-interacting monopolies”...

Underlying study:

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
... probably also true for GMOs... 
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(Mis)information and the politicization of food security - Smyth &al (2017) - Animal Frontiers 

(Mis)information and the politicization of food security - Smyth &al (2017) - Animal Frontiers  | Ag Biotech News |

Twenty years of commercial GM crop production has delivered resounding evidence that the technology benefits small landholder farmers, increases farmer profits, and is environmentally sustainable. 

The environmental efforts vested against this have boxed themselves into a corner as after decrying and railing against GM crops, they suddenly cannot now acknowledge that there are benefits created by GM crops. 

In this age of instant communications, any eNGO changing its message would risk instantly losing global credibility, not just on GM crops, foods, and biotechnology, but on their entire environmental portfolio. Trumpeting the dangers and hazards of GM crops is far too lucrative a business for the eNGOs to walk away from... 

To tilt the scales back toward balance, the agriculture and food industry needs to transform how it engages with consumers. If it does not do this, and do this quickly, all of the benefits identified above will be lost as farmers will be forced to return to older technologies that are lower yielding and have higher environmental impacts. The impact for the future of food security of such a radical change in course would simply be devastating.

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Study ranks which production attributes are most important to consumers when buying beef, chicken, milk, and eggs - U Illinois (2017) 

Study ranks which production attributes are most important to consumers when buying beef, chicken, milk, and eggs - U Illinois (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Consumers are increasingly interested in how their food is produced and look for claims such as no growth hormones, no GMOs, no antibiotics, etc. on their food products. Many studies have focused on consumers’ willingness to pay for individual food attributes, but have not ranked which production attributes consumers say are most important to them.

In a... study, the “no growth hormones” attribute was prioritized as most important and “organic” as the least important. For products like poultry, the USDA forbids the use of hormones, meaning consumers may not be well informed about production claims. 

For many consumers, buying a gallon of milk is much more complex than finding the preferred fat content and expiration date. They want to know how the cows were treated, what they were fed, whether they received growth hormones or antibiotics, whether the milk is organic, and so on. A recent... study ranks which of these production attributes are most important to buyers for four different products: beef, chicken, milk, and eggs.

The study determined the importance of seven specific on-farm practices in consumers’ purchasing decisions:
- Animals were not administered growth hormones.
- Genetically modified organisms were not used... (non-GMO). 
- Animals were humanely raised.
- Animals were not administered antibiotics.
- Animals were raised in a free-range (or cage-free) environment.
- Animals were grass-fed (or raised on a vegetarian diet).
- The product is certified organic.

The top three attributes overall were “no growth hormones”, “non-GMO”, and “humanely raised”, though there were differences in importance based on product type. The “organic” attribute was ranked lowest in importance for consumers.

“The biggest surprise in the study is that ‘no growth hormones’ is the number one concern consumers have across the board on all of these products... It’s odd because growth hormones are already prohibited for poultry products. Further, products that are certified organic or humanely-raised also prohibit the use of growth hormones in animals. Ultimately, it means consumers are spending unnecessary time looking for labels that reflect this particular attribute.”

The presence of such labeling claims can determine the sales of one product over another identical product. If one producer labels its packages of chicken as having “no growth hormones” and another producer doesn’t, the latter is at a disadvantage when consumers are selecting for that specific attribute. Even though both brands of chicken are hormone-free, by government mandate, the producer who didn’t pay to add a label may suffer. Products that carry the “no growth hormones” claim must note that these are prohibited by the government on the packaging, but this is usually in the fine print... 

The lack of importance of the “organic” claim was also surprising... “When most people hear the term ‘organic,’ they think of produce, fruits, and vegetables. I don’t think the term translates as well to animals”... The fact that producers keep putting multiple claims on their products... suggests that producers may be skeptical that consumers know the full definition of these labels. “They keep adding more labels to make sure consumers can find all of the things that they want even though one label might do the job.”

Labels also provide a way for consumers to express their opinions by voting with their dollars. They can purchase products labeled with concerns that are important to them. “Choosing to buy milk without traces of hormones or antibiotics may be driven more by concerns for our own health than the health of the animal... But treatment of the animal is also important to people. The results of the study show that consumers place a greater importance on the ‘humanely raised’ attribute for milk and eggs – animals that keep producing, versus those that go to slaughter.”

Underlying study:

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
"The ‘no growth hormones’ attribute was prioritized... for products like poultry, the USDA forbids the use of hormones, meaning consumers may not be well informed about production claims" >> Slapping a "no-this" or "no-that" label on a product clearly is good marketing, irrespective of how much sense it makes...  
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Stacking transgenic event DAS‐Ø15Ø7‐1 alters maize composition less than traditional breeding - Herman &al (2017) - Plant Biotechnol J

Stacking transgenic event DAS‐Ø15Ø7‐1 alters maize composition less than traditional breeding - Herman &al (2017) - Plant Biotechnol J | Ag Biotech News |

The impact of crossing (‘stacking’) genetically modified (GM) events on maize-grain biochemical composition was compared with the impact of generating nonGM hybrids. 

The compositional similarity of seven GM stacks... and their matched nonGM near-isogenic hybrids (iso-hybrids) was compared with the compositional similarity of concurrently grown nonGM hybrids and these same iso-hybrids... 

The composition of GM breeding stacks was more similar to the composition of iso-hybrids than was the composition of nonGM hybrids. NonGM breeding more strongly influenced crop composition than did transgenesis or stacking of GM events. 

These findings call into question the value of uniquely requiring composition studies for GM crops, especially for breeding stacks composed of GM events previously found to be compositionally normal.

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