A new strain of rice produces more and larger grains and reduces methane emissions from rice farming, perhaps the largest human-based source of the greenhouse gas. But it's genetically modified, which could lead to a backlash.
The debate on whether Kenya should adopt modern agricultural biotechnology continues to receive mixed reactions with anti-GMOs group calling for rejection of biotech products until the safety of such crops is proven. This controversy has given some politicians and anti-GM technology alike, a platform to spread propaganda with allegations that consumption of GMOs will have unknown health impacts on consumers.
Like their counterparts in the rest of the world, Kenyan scientists including biotech experts, continuously avoid plunging into the treacherous world of politics where lies and truth are the “same.”
In Kenya, the debate on agricultural biotechnology, which include unfounded statements that the country has inadequate capacity to appropriately handle GMOs, is the clearest indicator that some policymakers need to be encouraged to make informed opinions or decisions by visiting universities, research centres and regulatory institutions to familiarise themselves with progress that the country is making in the field of modern biotechnology.
Trends in Global Approvals of Biotech Crops (1992–2014): With the increasing number of genetically modified (GM) crops, approval of these technologies may vary depending on the needs, demand, and trade inter...
Gilles-Éric Séralini is a French scientist who has been a professor of molecular biology at the University of Caen since 1991. Known for his research concluding that genetically modified food is unsafe for human consumption, his latest publication, released in PLOS ONE on July 2, 2015–“Laboratory Rodent Diets Contain Toxic Levels of Environmental Contaminants: Implications for Regulatory Tests”–maintains that all safety studies of pesticides and genetically modified foods are ‘invalid’ because, the researchers claim, the dried feeds used as control diets for lab animals are “contaminated” by GMOs, pesticides, heavy metals and other substances.
Funding for PLOS ONE Study and other Séralini Research
Funding for this study and much of Séralini’s previous research comes directly from one of the US organic industry’s leading figures, Anthony Rodale–chairman emeritus of Rodale’s Organic and founder of theRodale Institute, a 501c3 that bills itself as “advocating for policies that support farmers, and educating consumers about how going organic is the healthiest option for people and the planet.” Rodale works closely with former Patrick Holden, former director of the UK Soil Association, which calls itself a “charity campaigning for planet-friendly organic practices” and “healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use.”
They two provide money via a U.S. NGO known as the Sustainable Food Alliance (SFA) to overseas organic and anti-GMO groups, including scientists such as Séralini, without having to make the grants public. About US$2 million appears to have gone from this NGO to research for “herbicide” and “toxic evaluations” between 2011-2013. Seralini’s research group acknowledged support from SFA in the PLOS ONE article. Séralini has previously received funding from Greenpeace, which financed a 2007 study that claimed that GM corn caused health problems in rats. The study was reviewed by the European Food Safety Authority, which concluded that all of the statistical anomalies cited by the study group were attributable to “normal biological variation.”
Sources of funding listed for his current study:
CRIIGENJMG Foundation (formerly the Goldsmith Foundation, led by ecology environmental activist Ben Goldsmith)Lea Nature, an organic and natural products companyFoundations Charles Léopold Mayer for the Progress of HumankindNature Vivante, an ecological trade associationMalongo, a fair trade, organic coffee companyDenis Gouchard, a natural living foundationThe Sustainable Food Alliance,a non-profit organization run by Rodale Organic’s Anthony Rodale whose mission is “To educate the public about the positive health and environmental benefits of organic food and farming.” Board members include: Patrick Holden, Owsley Brown, Clair Peters and Ed Baldrige.
Bt rice (mfb-MH86) produces cry1Ab protein to reduce feeding damage of pests including Asiatic pink stem borer (Sesamia inferens), Asiatic rice borer (Chilo suppressalis), yellow stem borer (Tryporyza incertulas) and rice leafroller (Cnaphalocrocis medinalis). Huan Song of China Agricultural University and colleagues used rice flour from Bt rice and its non-biotech counterpart (MH86) for 90-days feeding test of Sprague-Dawley rats. The researchers separately formulated rodent diets at concentrations of 17.5, 35 and 70 % (w/w).
Overall health, body weight and food consumption were comparable between groups fed diets containing mfb-MH86 and MH86. Differences in haematological and biochemical parameters of the blood samples were noted, but still within the normal range of values for the size and gender of the rats, thus not considered as effect of the treatment. Macroscopic and tissue examinations were conducted, but no significant differences were found.
Based on the results, Bt rice mfb-MH86 is as safe and nutritious as non-GM rice.
These days I received an apparently easy request: “Do you have any recommendations for reading about the debate on GMOs? I think there is a lot of heat, but too little light in the discussion; I trust you can send me some…” To which I answered carelessly: “Sure, I will look into it, select a few references and post them…”
I thought I’d have a quick look into my collection of bookmarks and references and post some of the links to satisfy the request. Obviously there would be too many individual studies and crop-specific or country-specific reports, but focusing only (i) on what was published in recent years, (ii) on sources where all this information was already aggregated (literature reviews, meta-analyses, authoritative statements, FAQs, etc.), and (iii) on academic or publicly funded sources should produce a fairly concise list, I thought.
While not unmanageable, the list has become quite long. To get a rough idea of the current state of knowledge, it may be sufficient to peruse the first 1-2 (starred *) references under each heading, and to have a quick look at the abstracts and summaries of some of the others. (Given the controversy surrounding this topic I did not want to suggest just one or two sources, but show a bit the width of the scientific consensus, and to offer some titbits of related information.) ...
Biotechnology is the application of scientific techniques to modify and improve plants, animals, and microor ganisms to enhance their value. Agricultural biotech nology is the area of biotechnology involving applica tions to agriculture. Agricultural biotechnology has been practiced for a long time, as people have sought to im prove agriculturally important organisms by selection and breeding. An example of traditional agricultural bio technology is the development of disease-resistant wheat varieties by cross-breeding different wheat types until the desired disease resistance was present in a resulting new variety. In the 1970s, advances in the field of molecular biol ogy provided scientists with the ability to manipulate DNA—the chemical building blocks that specify the char acteristics of living organisms—at the molecular level. This technology is called genetic engineering. It also al lows transfer of DNA between more distantly related or ganisms than was possible with traditional breeding tech niques. Today, this technology has reached a stage where scientists can take one or more specific genes from nearly any organism, including plants, animals, bacteria, or vi ruses, and introduce those genes into another organism. An organism that has been transformed using genetic engineering techniques is referred to as a transgenic or ganism, or a genetically engineered organism. Many other terms are in popular use to describe these aspects of today’s biotechnology. The term “genetically modified organism” or “GMO” is widely used, although genetic modification has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years, since deliberate crosses of one variety or breed with another result in offspring that are genetically modified compared to the parents. Similarly, foods derived from transgenic plants have been called “GMO foods,” “GMPs” (genetically modified products), and “biotech foods.” While some refer to foods devel oped from genetic engineering technology as “biotech nology-enhanced foods,” others call them “frankenfoods.” For the reasons discussed later in this publication, controversy affects various issues related to the growing of genetically engineered organisms.
What are the benefits of genetic engineering in agriculture? Everything in life has its benefits and risks, and genetic engineering is no exception. Much has been said about potential risks of genetic engineering technology, but so far there is little evidence from scientific studies that these risks are real. Transgenic organisms can offer a range of benefits above and beyond those that emerged from innovations in traditional agricultural biotechnol ogy. Following are a few examples of benefits resulting from applying currently available genetic engineering techniques to agricultural biotechnology. Increased crop productivity Biotechnology has helped to increase crop productivity by introducing such qualities as disease resistance and increased drought tolerance to the crops. Now, research ers can select genes for disease resistance from other species and transfer them to important crops. For ex ample, researchers from the University of Hawaii and Cornell University developed two varieties of papaya resistant to papaya ringspot virus by transferring one of the virus’ genes to papaya to create resistance in the plants. Seeds of the two varieties, named ‘SunUp’ and ‘Rainbow’, have been distributed under licensing agree ments to papaya growers since 1998. Further examples come from dry climates, where crops must use water as efficiently as possible. Genes from naturally drought-resistant plants can be used to increase drought tolerance in many crop varieties. Enhanced crop protection Farmers use crop-protection technologies because they provide cost-effective solutions to pest problems which, if left uncontrolled, would severely lower yields. As mentioned above, crops such as corn, cotton, and potato have been successfully transformed through genetic engineering to make a protein that kills certain insects when they feed on the plants. The protein is from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which has been used for decades as the active ingredient of some “natu ral” insecticides. In some cases, an effective transgenic crop-protec tion technology can control pests better and more cheaply than existing technologies. For example, with Bt engi neered into a corn crop, the entire crop is resistant to
certain pests, not just the part of the plant to which Bt insecticide has been applied. In these cases, yields in crease as the new technology provides more effective control. In other cases, a new technology is adopted be cause it is less expensive than a current technology with equivalent control. There are cases in which new technology is not adopted because for one reason or another it is not com petitive with the existing technology. For example, or ganic farmers apply Bt as an insecticide to control in sect pests in their crops, yet they may consider transgenic Bt crops to be unacceptable. Improvements in food processing The first food product resulting from genetic engineer ing technology to receive regulatory approval, in 1990, was chymosin, an enzyme produced by genetically en gineered bacteria. It replaces calf rennet in cheese-mak ing and is now used in 60 percent of all cheese manu factured. Its benefits include increased purity, a reliable supply, a 50 percent cost reduction, and high cheese yield efficiency. Improved nutritional value Genetic engineering has allowed new options for im proving the nutritional value, flavor, and texture of foods. Transgenic crops in development include soybeans with higher protein content, potatoes with more nutritionally available starch and an improved amino acid content, beans with more essential amino acids, and rice with the ability produce beta-carotene, a precursor of vita min A, to help prevent blindness in people who have nutritionally inadequate diets. Better flavor Flavor can be altered by enhancing the activity of plant enzymes that transform aroma precursors into flavoring compounds. Transgenic peppers and melons with im proved flavor are currently in field trials. Fresher produce Genetic engineering can result in improved keeping properties to make transport of fresh produce easier, giv ing consumers access to nutritionally valuable whole foods and preventing decay, damage, and loss of nutri ents. Transgenic tomatoes with delayed softening can be vine-ripened and still be shipped without bruising. Research is under way to make similar modifications to broccoli, celery, carrots, melons, and raspberry. The shelf life of some processed foods such as peanuts has also been improved by using ingredients that have had their fatty acid profile modified. Environmental benefits When genetic engineering results in reduced pesticide dependence, we have less pesticide residues on foods, we reduce pesticide leaching into groundwater, and we minimize farm worker exposure to hazardous products. With Bt cotton’s resistance to three major pests, the transgenic variety now represents half of the U.S. cot ton crop and has thereby reduced total world insecticide use by 15 percent! Also, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “increases in adoption of herbicide-tolerant soybeans were associated with small increases in yields and variable profits but significant decreases in herbicide use” (our italics). Benefits for developing countries Genetic engineering technologies can help to improve health conditions in less developed countries. Research ers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology’s In stitute for Plant Sciences inserted genes from a daffodil and a bacterium into rice plants to produce “golden rice,” which has sufficient beta-carotene to meet total vitamin A requirements in developing countries with rice-based diets. This crop has potential to significantly improve vitamin uptake in poverty-stricken areas where vitamin supplements are costly and difficult to distribute and vitamin A deficiency leads to blindness in children.
Mark Lynas, the environmental activist stunned the world in January when he announced his support for Genetically Modified Organisms.
Kwame Ogero's insight:
Mark Lynas, the environmental activist stunned the world in January when he announced his support for Genetically Modified Organisms, which he said was influenced by a wide array of scientific research.
He recently visited Kenya and Tanzania and spoke to STEVE MBOGO and ISAAC KHISA
Currently, many African countries do not allow the growing of genetically modified crops apart from South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt and now Sudan. What needs to be done to hasten the adoption of GM crops in all African countries?
Two things need to happen. One is that regulatory frameworks need to be established, like the Biosafety Bill now being considered by Uganda’s parliament.
This would give scientists the legal context they need to proceed with their work.
The second thing that needs to happen is for the general public to be better informed about the technology.
People need to understand that these crops are identical to others except for the single genetic change, which scientists are aiming for, such as resistance to diseases or drought.
Do GM and non-GM crops differ in appearance or taste?
I recently visited the National Crops Resources Research Institute in Namulonge, where they are carrying out field trials on GMO cassava and it looks identical to non-GMO cassava.
On taste, I ate some GMO papaya recently in the US and it was the nicest I have ever had — even better than the pawpaw here in Uganda!
What are the likely consequences for developing countries if they do not grow GM crops?
Clearly GM crops are not the single solution. They may not even be the most important — farmers need to have irrigation, fertilisers and better roads so that they can take their surplus produce to the market.
But if GM banana and cassava are prohibited, for example, then it is likely these crops will be lost from much of East and Central Africa because of the bacterial and viral diseases that are affecting them.
There are currently no naturally resistant banana varieties to the bacterial wilt disease.
You were a renowned anti-GM activist, an environmental writer, who even went ahead to form a movement against GM crops. Why did you change your views?
My change of heart came about because I wanted to be a better science communicator and a better environmentalist — and you do not achieve that by fighting scientific facts.
Based on your research and having been involved in GM issues for awhile, do you think GM crops are the solution to food shortages experienced in sub-Saharan Africa?
It would be too simplistic to say that GM crops are the solution, but all other things remaining equal, if you are in a drought and you have a drought-tolerant GM maize then you will likely get a better harvest.
If you are in an area badly affected by cassava brown streak virus and you want to grow this crop, you will be better off with a GM variety that is resistant to the disease.
The anti-GM activists, including yourself, before you changed your mind, have argued that GM crops pose both health as well as environmental risks. What is your take on this?
The experts say it is completely safe; all the major relevant scientific institutions in the world have issued statements to that effect.
Even so, you have to look at these things on a case by case basis — different techniques are used in different plants, which could have different effects. That is why GM crops are extensively tested in field trials before being released.
Could you comment on the idea that growing GM crops will enslave farmers in developing countries as they will be forced to buy seeds every planting season, hence creating markets for multinational companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta.
That is nonsense. The GM cassava that is being developed will be propagated like any other natural crop, as will the banana.
Once farmers have it, it will remain in their control. All this language about ‘farmer enslavement’ comes from activists who do not want farmers to access modern technology and romanticise ‘traditional’ agriculture, which is currently failing to feed people.
Now that you are a supporter of GM crops, what is your view on those against them?
I am not pro-GM crops, I am pro-choice.
All the farmers I have met say they would like to decide for themselves what to grow, and not be dictated to by foreign-sponsored activists. If they want to stay with the traditional seeds, then farmers have that right.
No-one is going to come to their farms and stop them from saving their own seed. But the truth is they will then continue to have very low yields and remain food insecure.
With improved seeds (I am thinking even of hybrids, not necessarily GMOs), yields can increase by four times what you get from traditional varieties.
AgBiome, a leading agricultural research firm, and Genective, a top developer of biotechnology crops, said on Wednesday that the two companies have established a strategic partnership that will speed their development of insect-resistant innovation...
In the economics literature many studies investigate the factors that drive public resistance: ethical concerns, low public trust in regulatory institution, risk misperception, absence of perceived benefits and media bias.
In particular, public attitudes and risk perception about agricultural biotechnology are proved to be influenced by press media communication. This paper aims at gaining insight into the visual communication to which Italian population is exposed about GMOs, in order to investigate if images could have contributed to shape their negative public perception.
A set of 500 images collected through Google search for “GMO” in Italy are classified considering fearful attributes (i.e. alteration of color, shape or size of plants or animals, mention to death or war, presence of DNA double helix or syringe) and an index that accounts for the scary impact of these images is built. Then the relationship between the index and a set of variables that refer to the context in which images appear is estimated.
Preliminary results reveal that the order of appearance of images negatively affect index, namely that the first (and most viewed) Google result pages contain the most frightful images. It suggests that Italian population is subject to overstated negative inputs about GMOs. In addition, it emerges that web contents that show positive or neutral GMO attitudes are barely accompanied with objective and balanced visual communication...
Hornless cattle, described by GLP’s Jon Entine here last year, have lumbered onto the GMO scene once more. This time they appear as an example in Antonio Regalado’s speculations at Technology Review about the future of GMO regulation, especially animal biotechnology.
Because the cattle are made using gene editing techniques and no genes from other species, the hope by some is that regulators will accept them more readily than they have GM animals produced in other ways. The hornless cattle are the brainchild of molecular geneticist Scott Fahrenkrug, who used to be at the University of Minnesota but left to form his animal GMO startup, Recombinetics. He wants to breed GM pigs as model animals for human disease research as well as cattle without horns.
Hornless cattle are desirable because they are less dangerous to people and to each other. Some breeds are hornless naturally, but dairy cattle breeds usually have horns that are burned or sliced off, a horribly painful process. A Recombinetics investor who took part in dehorning in his youth told Regalado that it was a bloody mess. “You wouldn’t want to show that on TV.”
Fahrenkrug, whose company is using a gene editing method called TALENs, is not the only scientist hoping that gene editing will pass muster with regulators. A few weeks ago I wrote here at GLP about a gene deletion, using a different gene editing technique called CRISPR, which helps wheat resist powdery mildew. The hope is that because the work did not involve gene transfer it will not arouse opposition.
The so-called Innate potato, which produces less of a cancer-causing chemical when it is fried, was developed by a major McDonald’s supplier.
Kwame Ogero's insight:
A potato genetically engineered to reduce the amounts of a potentially harmful ingredient in French fries and potato chips has been approved for commercial planting, the Department of Agriculture announced on Friday.
The potato’s DNA has been altered so that less of a chemical called acrylamide, which is suspected of causing cancer in people, is produced when the potato is fried.
The new potato also resists bruising, a characteristic long sought by potato growers and processors for financial reasons. Potatoes bruised during harvesting, shipping or storage can lose value or become unusable.
The biotech tubers were developed by the J. R. Simplot Company, a privately held company based in Boise, Idaho, which was the initial supplier of frozen French fries to McDonald’s in the 1960s and is still a major supplier.
Continue reading the main storyThe potato is one of a new wave of genetically modified crops that aim to provide benefits to consumers, not just to farmers as the widely grown biotech crops like herbicide-tolerant soybeans and corn do. The nonbruising aspect of the potato is similar to that of genetically engineered nonbrowning apples, developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which are awaiting regulatory approval.
It is unfortunate that despite well-documented benefits of modern agricultural biotechnology towards improving food security, alleviating poverty, and enhancing socio-economic development, anti-biotechnology lobbyists have refused to abandon their ill-intended propaganda campaign against this useful technology.
A case in point is the recent article by Kamau Kaniaru in The Standard’s edition of September 3, 2013. Mr Kaniaru’s assertions were not only erroneous but also very cleverly disguised to mislead the public policy-making process and discourse.
The article makes a wild claim that the Cabinet decision to ban importation of genetically modified (GMO) foods was justified because the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had retracted their previous criticisms of the controversial study by Gilles-Eric Séralini of the University of Caen in France. This could not be further from the truth.
To begin with, the recent EFSA report does not, at any one time, mention Séralini or his unscrupulous study, nor does it endorse any study suggesting that GMOs may be unsafe.
Secondly, Mr Kaniaru again makes an unsubstantiated claim that a recently published scientific report by EFSA adopts the Séralini study as a standard for long-term studies. This again is a blatant lie because in this report, EFSA further reaffirms its earlier position that Séralini did not follow the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development internationally accepted guidelines and protocols for food toxicity studies. The findings were, therefore, merely scare tactics commonly used by anti-GM lobbyists.
A quick look at EFSA’s frequently asked questions on their website last updated in February 2013 clearly states, “EFSA’s final review reaffirmed its initial findings that the authors’ conclusions cannot be regarded as scientifically sound because of inadequacies in the design, reporting and analysis of the study.”
According to EFSA, it remains impossible to draw valid conclusions about the occurrence of tumours in the rats tested. This begs the question; where did Mr Kaniaru get the impression that EFSA validated the Séralini study?
The simplest and most concrete demonstration that EFSA and European Union member states were not perturbed by Séralini’s well-orchestrated fear-mongering efforts can be seen in the uninterrupted approval of GM food imports in Europe to date. As a matter of fact, the GM maize line used in the Séralini study known as NK603 was approved for food, feed, import and processing by the European Commission for a period of 10 years, starting 2010.
Russia’s government quickly reversed a decision to ban the GM maize NK603 after realising that Séralini’s findings were a hoax. This is a decision that the Kenyan government should emulate, especially considering that it has world-class scientists and able regulatory authorities like the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) within our borders.
Another wild claim by Mr Kaniaru is that EFSA was harshly reprimanded by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) for its biased review of the Séralini study.
It is important that we separate facts from fiction. For starters, the audit fieldwork was finalised in October 2011, making it impossible for it to have referred to an EFSA review published in 2012. Secondly, the requirements or characteristics analysed within the ECA report relating to the quality of EFSA’s scientific opinion had positive feedback. In view of his unsubstantiated claim, one cannot help but wonder where the author got his citation.
The recurrent question of whether or not GMOs are safe for human health and the environment is easily explained by the upward and consistent adoption trends seen over the last 17 years.
For Kenya to reap the benefits of modern agricultural biotechnology, our policy makers need to listen to scientifically sound advice from our expert institutions on the subject, like the NBA and the numerous world-class scientists conducting first-class research at institutes like the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.
In his recent speech at the Uwezo Fund launch, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the government places stakeholder consultation at the heart of its administration. In light of this, it is high time the relevant authorities started dialogue with experts to find a practical and lasting solution to the food insecurity that has endlessly plagued this country.
The writer is the Communications Officer at the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum
IRRI and PhilRice officials visit the Golden Rice field site that was vandalized... A crowd of 300 had stormed the Department of Agriculture (DA) Regional Field Unit 5's (RFU5) Bicol Experiment Station, overwhelming the police and guards, and vandalizing the research plots of Golden Rice...
Regional Executive Diretor Bragas said that they were taken by surprise. They had assembled DA officials and staff in the office, waiting for the group to come in and sit down for a peaceful dialogue. Instead, the militants poured into the compound, overwhelmed the police and village security, broke down a section of the fence surrounding the research area, and entered, uprooted, and trampled the crop.
The officials shared that there were farmers in the group, but they just watched and stayed on the sidelines. Local customs and traditions dictate that the destruction of a living field brings bad fortune – Bicolanos refer to it as "Bosung". Those who entered the field to vandalize were mostly young men and some covered their faces.
The local officials and the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) recounted that the rallyists had been assembled in Legazpi City the day before, and brought overnight to Naga City in a convoy of about a dozen jeepneys. In Naga City they had been housed in local hotels. It was reported that the group included foreigners.
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