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Biotech news 2014

New CAST Issue Paper Looks at the Cloudy Debate Regarding GE Food Labeling

CAST Issue Paper 54 Although genetically engineered (GE) products are used around the world, the issue becomes contentious when they are present in our food. A key part of the resulting debate centers on proposals regarding the mandatory labeling of GE food. With some states considering legislation to mandate such labels, this CAST Issue Paper examines arguments for and against labels, the costs involved with labeling, and experiences in countries that use mandatory labeling.

CAST Issue Paper 54 and its companion Ag quickCAST is available to download at www.cast-science.org/publications.

Biotech news 2013

Food For Thought Lecturer on Animal Welfare in the News

Joy Mench Market pressures, not laws, will dictate animal treatment
Capital Press, 14 March 2013

During her recent lecture at Oregon State University, Dr. Joy Mench of the University of California at Davis argued that market pressure from major supermarket and restaurant chains is likely to dictate the future of animal treatment. Although legislation, farm groups, and certification efforts may play a roll, large retailers drive the major changes. This is because they are acting to protect their businesses by being perceived as socially responsible.

Rootworm resistant GMO corn with improved nitrogen use

Rootworm resistant corn Benefits of Bt corn go beyond rootworm resistance
Crop Science Society of America, 21 February 2013

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that corn with a Bt gene for resistance to corn rootworm were able to use nitrogen more efficiently in field trials. Nitrogen is a growing cost for farmers and important source of water pollution. If this result is replicated in other studies, it should enable farmers to reduce nitrogen applications in rootworm-prone areas.

Center for Science in the Public Interest Debunks Pro- and Anti-GMO myths

GMO myths debunked What You Need to Know About Genetically Engineered Food
The Atlantic, 7 February 2013

The Center for Science in the Public Interest debunks myths that GMO food is unsafe, that labeling is beneficial, and also that herbicide tolerant crops are being sustainably managed.

Herbicide-resistant weeds spread

super-weeds-photo-by-roger-smith Nearly Half of All US Farms Now Have Superweeds
Mother Jones, 6 February 2013

The majority of corn, soy, and cotton grown in the US are now genetically modified to withstand glyphosate.  Due to poor weed management herbicide-resistant weeds have spread much faster and further than expected.  The author argues for more diversified management, including crop rotations, rather than reliance on more genes and herbicides to solve the problem.

India's farmer suicide epidemic not due to biotechnology

The myth of India's 'GM genocide' The myth of India’s ‘GM genocide’: Genetically modified cotton blamed for wave of farmer suicides
National Post, 26 January 2013

Research shows that a rising trend of suicides among rural farmers in India predates the introduction of GM crops, and is part of broader political-economic problems.

Environmental author regrets his own anti-GM activism

Mark Lynas lecture to Oxford Farming Conference Lecture to Oxford Farming Conference
3 January 2013

Environmental writer Mark Lynas gave a lecture at the Oxford Farming Conference explaining why he was wrong to oppose genetically modified crop technology in agriculture, including to take part in vandalism against research. After considerable study, he has concluded that much of what he was told, and that motivated his participation in vandalism, was untrue. He believes that GM was wrongly demonized by the environmental movement, foreclosing in many countries an important technological tool for producing food and reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture.

Lynas' views are put into context in The New Yorker, An Environmentalist's Conversation.

Biotech news 2012

Canola raises a tense conflict between producers of organic foods and renewable energy in a state that cherishes both

Fight over canola pits biofuels vs. organics Fight Over Canola Pits Biofuels Vs. Organics
abc NEWS, 27 September 2012

The Willamette Valley of Oregon is one of the best places to grow organic broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, and now there is a push to grow another Brassica crop – Canola. Canola is used for cooking oil and biofuel, but local organic farmers fear that if it is grown in the Willamette valley it could increase crop pests, and due to cross-pollination will destroy their ability to sell into GMO-free (often organic) markets.

Greenpeace’s fear of GMOs may harm kids

Greenpeace's fear of GMOs may harm kids Greenpeace out to sea on GM rice issue, bioethicist says
NBCNEWS, 14 September 2012

Golden rice is genetically modified to have more vitamin A; a critical nutrient lacking in the diets of many. Thousands of children die annually from vitamin A deficiency, but this number could be reduced by replacing white rice with Golden Rice in the diet. Greenpeace accuses the project of exposing children to dangerous foods without their consent, but renowned ethicist Art Kaplan argues that Greenpeace is wrong on this issue—pointing out that the study was neither risky nor lacking in prior ethical review.

Scientist question validity of study claiming GM food caused tumors

Rat study sparks GM furore Rat study sparks GM furore
Nature, 25 September 2012

A well-known anti-GMO scientist has published an alarming study, but the raw data have not been released, and many scientists question the scientific validity and significance of the study.

GE food with health benefits

GE food with health benefits New, healthier choices for oils in our food
COSMOS Magazine, 17 August 2012

DHA Omega-3 oil, better known as fish oil, is essential to brain activity and development and provides protection against some diseases. Fish oil comes from wild ocean fish, but continued reliance on ocean fishing for Omega-3 is not sustainable. Two new approchas to providing sustainable sources of fish oil are explored in this article: genetically engineered cows that produce Omega-3 in their milk, and brewing vats of Omega-3 producing yeasts for feed in fish-farms.

University of California analyzes GMO ballot measure on labeling GM foods

California's Proposition 37: Effects of Mandatory Labeling of GM Food California's Proposition 37: Effects of Mandatory Labeling of GM Food
Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, July/August 2012

If passed, the labels are likely to be confusing to consumers and increase costs.

Why can’t scientists and activists get along when it comes to GMOs?

Genetically Modified Food: 'The Controversy Is Really Curious To Scientists' (VIDEO) 'The Controversy Is Really Curious To Scientists' (VIDEO) - A straight talking scientist talks nerdy to reporter
7 August 2012

Leading scientist Dr. Kevin Folta points out that scientists agree with Anti-GMO activists on issues of the environment, worker safety, feeding the hungry, providing nutritious food, and sustainability, but differ in their ideas of how GE technology can contribute to these issues.

Farmers Excited About Drought-Tolerant Corn

Drought-Tolerant Corn Efforts Show Positive Early Results Drought-Tolerant Corn Efforts Show Positive Early Results
27 July 2012

Midwest farmers are struggling through the worst drought in 50 years, but some are excited about corn that has been genetically engineered and bred for greater drought tolerance. Two agricultural companies are seeing promising results in field tests of corn intended to withstand low water conditions.  However, it is also clear that it is not a panacea.

Labeling opponents outspend supporters

prop37-campaign-finance Who's Funding Prop 37, Labeling for Genetically Engineered Foods?
1 August 2012

The California ballot proposition to require labeling of genetically engineered foods receied more funding from openents than from supporters, and was ultimately defeated. The site identifies donors and their contributions.

Physicians offer expert advice on Food Biotechnology

International Food Information Council Foundation Physicians Answer Questions About Food Biotechnology in IFIC Foundation Videos
29 June 2012

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation has released short videos to help clarify facts about food biotechnology. The videos feature interviews with leading physicians on topics of safety, allergies, benefits, children, and labeling.

Californians vote on the future of GE foods

Daniel Lobo http://www.flickr.com/photos/daquellamanera/6303165954/ How California’s GMO Labeling Law Could Limit Your Food Choices and Hurt the Poor
22 June 2012

In November Californians will vote on a law to mandate labeling of food derived from GE plants. According to the author of Freakonomics Steve Sexton, mandatory labeling is likely only to increase costs associated with GE food production, leading to higher food prices and limiting the economic viablility of a technology that has the potential to help end hunger and malnutrition, lift hundreds of millions from poverty, and reduce the environmental impact of feeding an ever more populous world.

Stop the costly food labeling proposition

Stop the costly food labeling proposition Scientists' Petition Against Mandatory GE Food Labeling
30 May 2012

Scientists have started a petition to oppose the California ballot proposition and other similar measures that would ban the sale of thousands of perfectly safe, common food and beverage products unless they are labeled as “genetically engineered” or reformulated to remove any GE ingredients. Such measures would be enormously disruptive and costly to the food industry and to consumers, without providing any health or safety benefits. If you have a natural sciences education, you can sign the petition here.

Myths about agriculture

Applied Mythology image of farming The Frustrating Lot of the American Sweet Corn Grower
8 May 2012

American sweet corn growers may be unable to utilize a new sweet corn variety that requires fewer pesticide applications due to pressure from activists.

Vandalism costs taxpayers $400,000

GM pine tree trials vandalised GM pine tree trials vandalised – experts respond
Science Media Centre,13 April 2012

Genetically-modified radiata pine trees have been destroyed at a facility in Rotorua, New Zealand, operated by the Crown research institute Scion, in what the research organisation has labelled a “blatant act of vandalism”.

It's time to reconnect with agriculture

Farmers Fight - Stand Up Farmers Fight - Stand Up
11 April 2012

Farmers Fight is a student-led initiative to reconnect American society to the world of agriculture. Beginning with university students, Farmers Fight encourages consumers to ask where their food comes from, and give students, faculty, public officials, farmers, and ranchers an opportunity to become "agvocates" for the agriculture community.

Marshall Matz encourages us to explain green biotechnology better

USDA 150th Birthday USDA’s 150th Birthday: A Teachable Moment
Marshall Matz, 2 April 2012

Marshall Matz asks us to speak out on May 15th to address how scientific advances in agriculture production benefit global sustainability and the environment.

Georgia cotton farmers battle pigweed

Monsanto Bollgard cotton http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/Bollgard-Roundup-Ready-Flex-Stack-Better-Results.aspxFarmers face tough choice on ways to fight new strains of weeds
NPR the salt, 7 March 2012

Cotton farmers in Georgia are battling glyphosate resistant Palmer amaranth, known locally as "pigweed". Stanley Culpepper, weed scientist at the University of Georgia, may have the answer.

The nuclear debate

Image: Takuya Yoshino/AP/PAHow Bad Was Fukushima?
TIME, 2 Mar 2012

Early assessments of the health impacts of the Fukushima nuclear crisis suggest that the treat to the Japanese from radiation is extremely low.

United States still world leader in GM plantings

Corn fieldGenetically modified crops had bumper year in 2011
USA Today, 7 Feb 2012

Worldwide plantings of biotech crops increased by 30 million acres to 395 million acres in 2011. The USA again led the world in area planted, followed by Brazil, Argentina, India and Canada.

Biotech news 2011

Farmers go head-to-head at draft EIS public meeting

Roundup Ready sugar beetsBiotech beet battle heats up in Corvallis
Gazette Times, 19 Nov 2011

Farmers on both sides of the row over the proposed deregulation of Roundup Ready sugar beets got to have their say at a public meeting held in Corvallis on Thursday November 17. The meeting was held to accept public comment on the draft environmental impact statement for Roundup Ready sugar beets, recently conducted by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

More fuel, more herbicides or more red tape

beet field capital pressBeet farmers cope with new requirements
Capital Press, 22 Sep 2011

Based on the uncertainty caused by a federal judge's ban last year on Roundup Ready sugar beets, farmers prepared contingency plans (e.g. buying additional tractors, cultivators, and herbicide tanks, and arranging to hire more labor from Mexico) for this fall's crop, just in case they had to plant conventional beets.

Farmers never had to implement Plan B because the US Department of Agriculture partially deregulated the GMO beets in February, enabling growers outside California and parts of Washington to continue to plant the crop under strict regulations intended to keep GE beet pollen from reaching organic fields.

Counting calories

edamame sitting on a plate from redbubble.comCan the world still feed itself?

The Wall Street Journal, 3 Sep 2011

The chairman of the world's largest food-production company is worried about all the food that the US and Europe are converting into biofuel while the world's poor get hungrier.

"Politicians," Peter Brabeck-Letmathe says, "do not understand that between the food market and the energy market, there is a close link." That link is the calorie.

Op-ed: regulating GMOs

NYT GM FoodEngineering food for all

The New York Times, 18 Aug 2011

New molecular methods that add or modify genes can benignly protect crops from diseases and pests and otherwise improve them in ways that are beyond the capability of older methods. “This is because the gene modifications are crafted based on knowledge of what genes do, in contrast to the shotgun approach of traditional breeding or using chemicals or radiation to induce mutations,” writes former Food for Thought speaker Nina Fedoroff. But the process for approving these crops has become so costly and burdensome that it is choking off innovation.

Greenpeace strikes Down Under

Greenpeace & CSIRO news.com.au

Greenpeace attacks Canberra GM wheat crop

The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Jul 2011

Protesters destroyed a field of genetically engineered wheat being investigated by the CSIRO — the first such incident of vandalism in Australia. "Destroying research that provides answers to important questions affecting our health and safety is counterproductive and insults scientists who undertake their work professionally, with integrity, and without fear or favour," said Anna Maria Arabia, CEO of Science & Technology Australia, which represents 68,000 scientists nationally.

Papaya trees decapitated

papaya vandalism from the.honoluluadvertiser.com

Vandals destroy 10 acres of Big Island papayas

Island Television, 20 Jul 2011

Vandals struck three farms in the Kapoho area on the Big Island, cutting down about 10 acres of genetically engineered papaya trees with machetes. “They were mostly ready to pick. We were going to pick them tomorrow," said farmer Lea Bernardo.

Genetically engineered ringspot-resistant papaya saved Hawaii's papaya crop from decimation in the 1990s. Other than genetic engineering, no viable approach to combating papaya ringspot virus existed then or now.


coexist by michaelatsovg

Can biotech and organic farmers get along?

Science Magazine, 21 Apr 2011

The US Department of Agriculture has been taking a good look at the impact of biotech crops on organic farms. Research is providing tools to help them thrive side by side, but harmony isn’t likely anytime soon; the sides remain split on key issues. Organic groups want more government oversight, and demand that the biotech industry share the cost of preventing gene flow and provide compensation if their crops cannot be sold as organic. The biotech industry, already drowning in regulatory requirements, opposes these goals.

Pregnancy & pesticides

pesticides & pregnancy by CNNPregnant women exposed to pesticides have children with slightly lower IQ, studies show

LA Times, 21 Apr 2011

Three new studies suggest that children may have slightly lower IQ by age 7 if their mothers (in these studies, mostly low-income and mostly Latina and black women), have higher-than-average exposure in pregnancy to organophosphates. Organophosphates are insecticides farmers still sometimes spray on fruits and vegetables — although at far lower rates then a decade ago when these data were collected. The studies tested the mothers' urine for pesticide residues, but did not test to determine what the source(s) of exposure were.

Biotech feed in EU

EU flagEC proposes shift away from zero tolerance on biotech imports

International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development, 7 Mar 2011

The European Commission (EC) has endorsed an end to the zero tolerance policy on genetically modified (GM) material in animal feed imports. If neither the European Parliament nor the Council opposes the move, the threshold for unapproved GM material in imports for animal foodstuffs will increase from 0 to 0.1 percent by summer 2011.

Seedlings saved

beets from howstuffworks.comMonsanto wins reversal of order to destroy sugar beet plants

Bloomberg, 25 Feb 2011

Nearly all of America's sugar beet seeds are grown in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Most have been genetically engineered (GE) to withstand the weed killer, glyphosate.

To alleviate concerns that GE sugar beets will pollinate nearby fields of table beet and silverbeet (potentially reducing profit margins for organic farmers), a federal judge ordered the destruction of GE beet seedlings. Today the USDA won a reversal of that order, since it hasn’t been shown that the seedlings are liable to contaminate non-GE beet crops. Farmers are still banned from planting GE sugar beet seed in future, at least until the USDA completes exhaustive environmental impact studies and the issue can be resolved in court.

Breeding true

Arabidopsis seeds by blitheworld.orgPlants cloned as seeds: hybrids that breed true would be a major advance for crop plants

ScienceDaily, 17 Feb 2011

Plants have been cloned for the first time as seeds. The research, published 18 Feb 2011 in the journal Science, focused on a method for changing plants so that they become self-fertile and capable of producing seeds genetically identical to themselves. This is a major step towards making hybrid crop plants that can keep favorable traits from generation to generation.

Genetic engineering in the classroom

AP biology class by umn.eduTransgenic bacterium sparks row in French schools

Nature News, 31 Jan 2011

An argument has broken out in France over whether high school students should be allowed to create transgenic Escherichia coli bacteria in the classroom. Many teachers around the world, including teachers trained through OSU’s STEPs program, use commercially available transformation kits to give kids the opportunity to truly see the relationship between a gene and a trait. With these kits, proper disposal methods for transformed, nonpathogenic K12 bacteria are straightforward.

Sweet alfalfa

US approves genetically modified alfalfa

New York Times, 27 Jan 2011

The USDA has decided that farmers may grow alfalfa genetically engineered to resist the weed killer glyphosate. Until a federal judge rescinded the approval of roundup ready alfalfa in 2007, most farmers were choosing to grow genetically engineered alfalfa because it yielded better, reduced the number of times they needed to apply herbicides, and resulted in wee-free hay.

About 0.7% of US alfalfa meets organic guidelines, which include a prohibition on the presence of transgenes. For organic growers, the issue is whether small amounts of the GE pollen will make their way into organic alfalfa fields, causing them to lose certification, and decreasing the market value of their crops.

Arguing over alfalfa

Seed of change

The Economist, 6 Jan 2011

Soon the USDA will decide how to regulate alfalfa engineered to resist the weed killer glyphosate. The department may allow the GE alfalfa but, for the first time, set strict rules on the extent to which it may be planted.

This could be the biggest policy change for GE crops since their introduction. The issue is not whether GE alfalfa is safe — the USDA maintains that it is. Rather, the question is how the new regulations might support coexistence.

Biotech news 2010

Farmers find runaway grass

Lee Valley Golf CourseAgencies refused to publicize spread of biotech bentgrass

Capital Press, 11 Nov 2010

The Oregon Department of Agriculture and the USDA refused to alert the public that genetically engineered bentgrass (developed for lawns and golf courses) had spread from a test plot in Western Idaho to irrigation ditches in Eastern Oregon.

Oregon State University weed researcher Carol Mallory-Smith made the discovery last month after she received samples from farmers in Malheur County Oregon.

Because scientists recognized early on that roundup-resistant creeping bentgrass is liable to become weedy, it has not been approved for unrestricted commercial production. Therefore Mallory-Smith asked ODA and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to make the discovery of the escaped grass public. Both refused.

Species barrier

GMOs and Mother Nature? Closer than you think

NYT Freakonomics Blog, 9 Nov 2010

According to Food for Thought speaker Jimmy McWilliams, “scientists have now confirmed what evolutionary geneticists have long suspected — nature does produce GMOs.”

Swedish researchers discovered a gene transferred into sheep’s fescue from a reproductively distinct species of meadow grass. The transfer was probably mediated by a parasite or pathogen about 700,000 years ago.

Walmart leading sustainability charge?

Wal-Mart by metrolic.comWalmart to buy more local produce

New York Times, 14 Oct 2010

The sustainable food movement has spread to the nation’s largest retailer.

Walmart has begun a program that focuses on encouraging sustainable agricultural practices among its suppliers to reduce its overall environmental impact.

Walmart will begin asking agricultural producers questions about water, fertilizer, and chemical use. The eventual goal is to include that information in a sustainability index.

“The index represents a real number that will mean improvement on the ground: improving ecosystem health, soil health and food quality,” said Outreach in Biotechnology Food for Thought lecturer Marty Matlock, which “will move agricultural producers en masse.”

Stop obsessing about arugula

Attention whole foods shoppers: organic, local, and slow is no recipe for saving the world's hungry millions

Foreign Policy, May/June 2010

Food has become an elite preoccupation in the West at the same time that the most effective ways to address hunger in poor countries have fallen out of fashion. Yet over the next decade, the number of hungry people in Africa will increase to 645 million.

"What's so tragic about this is that we know from experience how to fix the problem," writes Food for Thought lecturer Robert Paarlberg. "Wherever the rural poor have gained access to improved roads, modern seeds, less expensive fertilizer, electrical power, and better schools and clinics, their productivity and their income have increased. But recent efforts to deliver such essentials have been undercut by deeply misguided (if sometimes well-meaning) advocacy against agricultural modernization and foreign aid."

Mushroom biotech

greensulateAre mushrooms the new plastic?

Ecology Today, 14 Jan 2011

Eben Bayer explains how his company grinds up seed husks and glues the small pieces together with mushrooms to make a foam-like material for packaging and insulation. This biodegradable material could reduce the production of the eco-enemy, polystyrene.

Organic tail wagging biotech dog

tail wagging dog by Linda SilverstiSack Vilsack!

Forbes, 5 Jan 2011

In a policy reversal, USDA secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that the USDA is considering geographic restrictions, as well as minimum separation distances from other crops, on the cultivation of genetically engineered alfalfa.

In effect, such a shift would allow claims by organic farmers — who produce less than 1% of the nation's farming output — to determine the feasibility of growing genetically engineered crops for other farmers.

Biotech lawsuits

A spoonful of sugar will soon cost more

The Wall Street Journal, 31 Dec 2010

In recent lawsuits, one federal judge revoked the USDA's approval of GE alfalfa (Feb 2007), and another the approval of GE sugar beets (Aug 2010), until full environmental impact statements (EISs) could be completed. In early December the agency published its EIS for alfalfa, and not surprisingly found no environmental harm. The sugar beet EIS will likely not be completed until 2012.

Ironically, seeds that are developed through are essentially exempt from regulation, even though the genetic changes introduced by this practice are often complex and poorly characterized. Only genetically engineered varieties, with changes that are simple and well characterized, are subject to special scrutiny.

Biofuels & grass genes

Gene discovery suggests way to engineer fast-growing plants

ScienceDaily, 11 Nov 2010

Perennial grasses are important biofuel crops that can be grown on degraded, abandoned agricultural lands and harvested repeatedly. But the rate at which newly sown grasses develop root systems is key to crop establishment.

It turns out that taking a single gene away may give perennial grasses more robust roots and speed up the timeline for creating. "These biofuel crops usually can't be harvested until the second or third year," said Philip Benfey, director of the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policies Center for Systems Biology. "A method to improve root growth could have a major role in reducing the time to harvest for warm season grasses."

Moral duty

Coat of Arms of Vatican CityVatican advisers recommend modified crops

United Press International, 30 Nov 2010

The Vatican’s scientific advisers say that the world’s scientists have both the right and a moral duty to genetically engineer crops to help the world's poor.

40 international scientists, including leading members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, have released a statement condemning opposition to genetically engineered crops by rich countries as unjustified.

Halo effect

GE crops bring cash harvest to non-GE varieties

BBC News, 8 Oct 2010

Bt corn is genetically engineered to contain a pesticide specific to the European corn borer, rendering the plants immune to attack, and increasing yields.

Researchers looked at corn grown in five US states, where plants are affected by the borer. They found fewer borers — and higher profits — in GE fields, and in neighboring non-GE fields.

Bt varieties now make up about two thirds of the US corn crop, but regulations require farmers to plant conventional varieties as well, which is intended to stop the borers becoming resistant.

The pesticide in Bt corn is derived from the soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis.


GE salmonSafety of genetically engineered salmon debated

CNN Health, 20 Sep 2010

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has to decide if its safe for people to eat genetically engineered salmon, and if so, how the fish should be labeled.

The fish in question is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon with a gene promoter sequence (on-switch) from the ocean pout, a distant relative of the salmon. The result is a farmed fish that grows year round instead of just during warm weather — reaching full size more quickly. The idea is to produce meat more quickly, saving money and resources.

The developers of the salmon have been working up to the point of approval for a decade.

Rice is nice

Regulation must be revolutionized

Nature, 29 Jul 2010

Golden rice will probably reach the market in 2012. It was ready in the lab by 1999. According to Ingo Potrykus, the father of golden rice, "This lag is because of the regulatory differentiation of genetic engineering from other, traditional methods of crop improvement. The discrimination is scientifically unjustified. It is wasting resources and stopping many potentially transformative crops such as golden rice making the leap from lab to plate."

Golden rice in Bangladesh by 2012

The New Nation (Bangladesh), 9 Aug 2010

Bangladesh is likely to complete all necessary experiments on its golden rice variety, enabling farmers to start cultivation as early as 2012. With the International Rice Research Institute's go-ahead in 2003, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) developed the variety of rice through gene transfer into BR-29, the highest yielding BRRI variety, producing golden rice highly suitable to Bangladeshi growing conditions.


transgenic canola plants cross-pollinating in the wild

Scientific American, 6 Aug 2010

University of Arkansas scientists recently identified transgenic traits in feral canola. "Other than confirmation of something [i.e. cross-pollination between feral canola plants outside of agriculture] that has already been reported, I don't think there's anything that should raise an alarm," stated OSU scientist Carol Mallory. "Being transgenic does not make feral canola unique or more competitive unless someone is trying to control it with [the herbicides] glyphosate or glufosinate, which would negatively impact natural flora, also."

Pond scum power

Exploring algae as fuel

New York Times, 26 Jul 2010

Algae, single-celled phytoplankton, produce half our planet's oxygen and are the fastest-growing green organisms on Earth. A Californian firm, Sapphire Energy, is using the tools of modern biotechnology to engineer algae that are super efficient at converting air and sunlight into lipids that people can then use to make biofuels.

Hundreds of researchers in both industry and academia are working to find ways to optimize biofuel production from algae. Currently, the US Department of Energy plans to invest some $24 million to tackle key hurdles in the commercialization of algae-based biofuels.

Engineered algae have many uses beyond biofuels, including sewage treatment and bioremediation.

Thinking beyond organic

Organic agriculture: a solution to global warming?

NYT Freakonomics Blog, 2 Jun 2010

Organic farming’s use of cover crops and composted manure is a remarkably effective way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But in some cases, these gains in soil carbon come at the expense of elevated emissions of more potent greenhouse gases – specifically methane and nitrous oxide.

According to past Food for Thought lecturer Jimmy McWilliams, “organic agriculture has clear advantages. Most notably, it’s the only codified approach to agriculture that places top priority on soil health. The fact that methane and nitrous oxide emissions complicate the claim that organic agriculture reduces climate change is no reason to dismiss organic agriculture as a whole. Instead, it provides an opportunity to do something that the intensely polarized agricultural world rarely does: think beyond the organic vs. conventional divide.”

Tinkering with plant genes

toolsGenetically engineered distortions

New York Times, 14 May 2010

In this op-ed, Pam Ronald and Jimmy McWilliams (former OrB Food for Thought lecturers) discuss a recent report by the National Research Council that gave ammunition to both sides in the debate over the cultivation of genetically engineered crops. Lost in the media kerfuffle is the potential role this technology could play in the poorest regions of the world — areas that will bear the brunt of climate change and the difficult growing conditions it will bring.

Enzyme cocktail transforms corncobs into ethanol

Are we getting closer to clean ethanol?

Forbes, 10 May 2010

By next fall, a bioengineered protein called GH61 will be in use at a biofuels plant in Iowa, helping to transform corncobs into ethanol for autos, and likely facilitating the first production of cellulosic ethanol at a reasonable price.

Whereas bioethanol is made from the sugars and starches in crops like sugar cane and corn, cellulosic ethanol is made from plant waste or nonfood crops, thus sidestepping the competition between food and fuel.

Genetically engineered pigs, earth-friendly poop

Scientists say Canada's enviropig is eco-friendly and will cut farmer's feed supplement costs

CBS News Tech, 5 April 2010

Canada has approved a genetically engineered, environmentally friendly pig for limited production.

The "enviropig" has been genetically engineered in such a manner that its urine and feces contain nearly 65 percent less phosphorus than usual. That could be good news for lakes, rivers, and ocean deltas, where phosphorous from animal waste can cause algal blooms that deplete water oxygen levels, creating dead zones for fish and other aquatic life.

This technology may also become a boon for farmers: there is no need to supplement the enviropig's diet with mineral phosphate or phytase (an enzyme that helps break down the phosphorous in grain), reducing feed costs.

Aussies grow vitamin-enriched bananas

The Big BananaFirst GE bananas harvested

ABC News (Australia), 18 March 2010

Researchers say the first genetically engineered bananas to be harvested in Australia are showing positive early results. The bananas are enriched for provitamin A carotenoids; later crops will have enhanced levels of iron.

According to the World Health Organization, Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem in more than half of all countries, especially in Africa and South-East Asia, hitting hardest young children and pregnant women in low-income countries.

Peer review pierces controversy

Austria withdraws study on long-term consequences of consuming GE maize

GMO Compass, 16 March 2010

Austria has withdrawn a study on long-term feeding trials with mice that was published without peer-review in November 2008. The study caused quite a stir since some of the mice that were fed with genetically engineered maize gave birth to fewer offspring, inciting public concern that GE food consumption reduced fertility.

Scientists worldwide, including members of the European Food Safety Committee, were quick to point out that the authors' sample sizes were far too small for statistical significance, and that the experimental control itself was flawed.

Fact check

eggplantScientists slam key study behind Bt brinjal ban

Hindustani Times (India), 12 February 2010

France-based Caen University professor Gilles-Eric Séralini and his team recently branded Bt brinjal — India's first genetically engineered food crop — "unsafe."

European academic circles claim Séralini was unduly influenced by the renowned international NGO Greenpeace, which sponsored his study.

"Séralini only gave theoretical comments on publicly available biosafety data on Bt brinjal. He never carried out an independent study. He never had access to the Bt gene of either maize or brinjal," said Marc Van Montagu, inventor of the recombinant DNA technology in plants.

Bt brinjal (eggplant) is genetically engineered to contain a pesticide specific to the Eggplant Fruit and Shoot Borer, a pest that causes devastating crop damage in countries throughout tropical Asia and Africa. Farmers growing Bt brinjal achieve good yields without applying toxic pesticides or harming beneficial insects.

Conglomerate pays for crop contamination

Jury: Bayer must pay $1.5M to AK, MS rice farmers

Corvallis Gazette Times, 7 February 2010

The discovery of traces of unapproved genetically modified Liberty Link Rice in United States exports in 2006 has put the spotlight on biotech company field trials and governmental regulation. The rice variety contains one extra gene, "Liberty Link," that inactivates the herbicide glufosinate (aka Liberty). Liberty Link is the only herbicide tolerant gene other than Roundup Ready on the market.

Biotech news 2009

Food footprints

Organic farming would be better in terms of climate change impact. Right?

Sustainablog, 10 Nov 2009

Past Food for Thought lecturer Steven Savage reviews the scientific literature for major row crops to get a handle on whether or not organic farming, as it is currently defined, is the answer to reducing the carbon footprint of agriculture.

Savage believes the solution lies in broader adoption of progressive methods including no-till, cover crops, and precision farming. These practices are currently best embraced in South America and Australia, but are almost nonexistent in Europe.

Go green, go biotech

Hey Copenhagen, do GE crops threaten human health, diverse ecosystems and climate stability?

Western Producer(Canada), 17 December 2009

Some social activist groups and NGOs are expressing concern that climate negotiators in Copenhagen are embracing flawed technologies as solutions to the world's climate woes. But not according to a recent study of western Canadian farming practices.

“That data we’ve gathered […] certainly suggests that genetically modified crops are probably the most environmentally beneficial crop technology being used in agriculture today,” said Stuart Smyth, a research associate with the University of Saskatchewan’s agriculture college. “This is where it really starts to get important for the environment.”

Ban the beets

Federal judge overturns approval of GE sugar beets

San Francisco Chronicle, 22 September 2009

Nearly all of America's sugar beet seeds are grown in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Most have been genetically engineered (GE) to withstand the weed killer, glyphosate.

To alleviate concerns that GE sugar beet pollen will contaminate nearby fields, a federal judge has ordered the US Department of Agriculture to conduct exhaustive environmental impact studies.

Farmers plant glyphosate-resistant sugar beet because it requires fewer herbicide applications and facilitates no-till agricultural practices, both of which have economic and environmental benefits. The judge's ruling was based on "the potential elimination of a farmer's choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer's choice to eat non-genetically engineered food."  Seed producers were barred from giving evidence or calling expert witnesses.

Eating responsibly: more GMOs, fewer cattle?

Texas author James McWilliams takes on the food fundamentalists. Is he just a shill for agribusiness?

Forbes, 31 August 2009

With the world population headed toward 9 billion by 2050, Texas author James McWilliams supports producing more, healthier food on less land using fewer resources. His new book, "Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly" downplays the importance of shopping locally and is sure to irritate organic food fundamentalists.

"The crops [McWilliams] proposes to replace grains actually have a far higher carbon footprint/acre, cannot be farmed no-till (the most sustainable way) and generate little protein," commented Food for Thought lecturer, in his 9/16/09 response to the Forbes article. "For a meat alternative it would be better to plant lentils or quinoa."


Danforth Center biofortificationThe quest to develop fortified genetically engineered plants has yielded mixed results

The Scientist, September 2009

The UN estimates that one in every six people on this planet is starving, and one in every two is nutrient deficient. People suffering from the "hidden hunger" of micronutrient malnutrition may consume sufficient calories, but not enough nutrients. Scientists have genetically engineered several biofortified food plants to tackle this problem. Because of scientific, social and political hurdles, the crops have yet to be planted on a wide scale, but that may be about to change.

GMO safety reviews

environmental and socioeconomic impacts of GE foods

background, regulation, and safety of GE foods

Annual Review of Plant Biology, June 2009

Peggy Lemaux is a Cooperative Extension Specialist at the University of California Berkley, responsible for statewide outreach and educational programming related to agriculture and foods. She has published these comprehensive, readable reviews of the food and environmental safety records of genetically engineered crops, and is involved in developing ucbiotech.org, a site providing scientifically based information about agricultural biotechnology to educators.


Panelists at GMO forum ask consumers to seek out good information

WillametteLive.com, 10 February 2009

The response from a group of four panelists at a forum held recently at the Salem Public Library on genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) seemed unanimous: Be informed. The panel featured David Harry, associate director of Outreach in Biotechnology; Lisa Weasel, author of "Food Fray: Inside the Controversy over Genetically Modified Food" and associate professor of biology at Portland State University; Terry Witt, executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter; and Rick North, program director for Oregon's Campaign for Safe Foods Program. Dan Hilburn, administrator of the Oregon Department of Agriculture's Plant Division, moderated the forum.

Food security

Technology may be key in solving food crisis caused by climate change and competition for land use

Press Association, 22 January 2009   

According to a recent report by the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institution of Chemical Engineers, both of the UK, the world is heading for a food crisis caused by climate change and competition for land use, and only technology can guarantee global food sustainability. The report calls for the development of genetically engineered pest and drought resistant crops and nutritionally enhanced crops. Regulations, it says, must be "based on an evaluation of the risk, using sound evidence, and not on a socio-political fear of new technology."

Farming food and pharmaceuticals

Genetically engineered rice food crops and tobacco biopharm crops have differing costs and benefits

USDA-CSREES, 21 January 2009 

A recent study of the costs and benefits of agricultural biotechnology determined that pharmaceutical companies and patent holders would benefit from using tobacco crops for biopharming, but the economic outcome for farmers and the public would be limited, and that the developing world would see a benefit of about $2 billion per year from insect-, drought-, and herbicide-resistant genetically modified rice technologies, while the United States would experience a small net loss. The study was funded by the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service and implemented by economists at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Biotech news 2008


In October 2008, a rulemaking hearing took place to establish a review system for federal permit applications to grow biopharmaceutical crops in Oregon 


banana nut breadRethink GMOs as sustainable agriculture 

"Bacterial genes in your banana nut bread may sound like a big yuckorama, but the underlying biological principle that makes that possible is actually quite beautiful: Unity."

Farmer Fred Meister sees environmental benefits

Genetically modified canola plantings reach 90% in Canada

PRWeb, 15 Sep 2008

Nearly 90 percent of Canadian canola farmers are planting 90 percent of their canola fields with seed that has been engineered for herbicide resistance. In a new online video, Canadian farmer Fred Meister discusses his experience with growing GM canola.

Farmers use tillage to control weeds as well as to prepare the soil for planting, but excessive tillage can negatively impact soil fertility and increase soil erosion. Growing GM canola reduces the need for tillage. "So, environmentally, we feel that it is a big help," said Meister.

More and more US farmers growing GE crops

Adoption of genetically engineered crops in the US

USDA-ERS, 2 July 2008

According to a report by the US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (USDA-ERS), the adoption of genetically engineered (GE) crops continues to expand within the US. The report's findings include that the adoption of GE soybeans with herbicide-tolerant traits reached 92 percent of the total soy crop; the adoption of all GE cotton, including varieties with herbicide tolerance and Bt traits, reached 86 percent; and the adoption of GE corn reached 80 percent this year.

Food's footprint

crossroads by www.andrewhalcro.comAgriculture at a crossroads

Science Magazine, 18 April 2008

A recent international assessment indicates that agricultural science and technology (S&T) is not adequately reducing hunger and poverty, improving rural livelihoods, or facilitating equitable sustainable development.

Genetic engineering is one S&T approach that was not rejected in principle; "the assessment found GM crops appropriate in some contexts, unpromising in others, and unproven in many more. The potential of GM crops to serve the needs of the subsistence farmer is recognized, but this potential remains unfulfilled."

Horizontal transfer

Antibiotic-resistant soil bacteria in transgenic plant fields

PNAS, 11 March 2008

No significant differences were observed in bacterial antibiotic-resistance levels between transgenic and nontransgenic corn fields, although the bacterial populations were different.


image by www.banderasnews.comMexican farmers quietly plant banned GM corn

Reuters, 7 March 2008

Many Mexican farmers are planting genetically engineered corn, even though they're not supposed to. It's worth it to them because worms don't eat it, and to raise a good crop they need less water and pesticides. However, the pollen from their corn can be carried for miles by the wind, and opponents fear it will cross-pollinate with native corn species and alter their genetic content.

Can Bt crops hurt benificial insects?

Monarch nectaring on milkweedAssessment of risk of insect-resistant transgenic crops to non-target arthropods

Nature Biotechnology, 7 February 2008

Oregon State University researcher Paul Jepson is participating in an international initiative to evaluate the potential risks to non-target insects (including butterflies) posed by crops that have been genetically engineered to be resistant to insect pests. The results of the initiative will be used as a resource for regulatory agencies worldwide.

Bt toxins

Microbial populations and enzyme activities in soil in situ under transgenic corn expressing cry proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis

Journal of Environmental Quality, 20 February 2008

The soil bacteria B. thuringiensis naturally makes proteins toxic to specific types of insects. The bacterial genes that code for these proteins can be expressed in plants using recombinant DNA technology.

Some transgenic crops expressing Bt toxins release them into the soil. To determine if this impacts the health of the root environment, the soils of Bt and non-Bt corn were compared over a four-year period. No statistically significant differences in the numbers of different groups of soil microorganisms, in the enzymes involved in breaking down dead plant material, or in pH were found.

Safflower oil enriched for omega-6

Arcadia brings first biotech product to market

Checkbiotech Green, 25 February 2008

Oil made from Arcadia's genetically engineered safflower has a 40 percent concentration of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), higher than evening primrose oil, with a 10 percent concentration, and borage oil, with about a 20 percent concentration. GLA is an omega-6 essential fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties. Research suggests that GLA supplements may provide health benefits. Arcadia's safflower oil can be produced easily in large quantities, which is good news for consumers.

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