Today in AgBioView, February 7, 2011, www.agbioworld.org
* USDA Issues Partial Deregulation for GM-Sugar Beets
* GM Crops to Be Allowed Into Britain Under Controversial EU Plans
* A Golden Opportunity Choked by Red Tape
* Genetically-Modified Food Safer Than Chemical Ones: Indo-American Oncologist
* Have The Greens Finally Trapped Biotech Crops?
* Can GMOs Feed Our Hungry, Growing World?
* Chefs Stir Up The Heat On GM Food
* Researchers Reach a Breakthrough for Protein Levels in Key Staple Crop
* Is India ready to embrace GM food crops?
USDA Issues Partial Deregulation for GM-Sugar Beets
-David Bennett, Delta Farm Press, Feb. 7, 2011
'USDA partially deregulates Roundup Ready sugar beets while awaiting completion of Environmental Impact Statement.'
On Friday, U.S. producers learned they will be allowed to plant Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beets in 2011. The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection (APHIS) decided to partially deregulate the genetically-modified crop while completing a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Sugar beet producers have adopted Roundup Ready rapidly since the crop's 2007/2008 release. Currently, over 90 percent of the sugar beet crop is estimated to be in extremely popular Roundup Ready varieties.
The USDA decision - which environmentalists fear could be precedent-setting with many genetically modified crops currently in the USDA/APHIS approval pipeline -- means producers will have to follow guidelines setting how and where GM-sugar beets can be grown.
Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee "appreciate(s) that the USDA has made this decision based on sound science after a careful review. Going forward, we need to create more certainty for growers and fewer delays that hinder their ability to make decisions."
Stabenow's constituency includes some 850 sugar beet farmers working 136,000 acres. In 2008, the Michigan crop alone was worth $171 million.
Predictably, the APHIS decision set environmental groups howling with grievances beyond the usual, baseline arguments (including the threat of increasing glyphosate-resistant weed populations and contamination of conventional crops) against all GM crops.
In what can be seen as a swift second kick to environmentalists' teeth, the GM-sugar beet announcement comes just a week after USDA's deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa.
In the lead up to that announcement, USDA officials tried several approaches to placate those advocating for the GM alfalfa and non-GMO/organic forces. None worked and during a late-January House Agriculture Committee hearing, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was roundly criticized for his efforts to find common ground between the sides. Once GM alfalfa was fully deregulated on Jan. 27, farm and commodity groups applauded while environmental groups promised new legal action.
For more on Roundup Ready alfalfa, see GM alfalfa: House struggles with biotechnology
Environmental groups also say APHIS' decision - which claims GM sugar beets can be grown without harming the environment and non-GM/organic crops, at least in the short-term - was issued in defiance of a court order. Last fall, a California federal district court judge found the crop "may cross-pollinate with non-genetically engineered sugar beets and related Swiss chard and table beets." Citing the National Environmental Policy Act, the judge ordered a full EIS be prepared before Roundup Ready sugar beets were allowed to be planted.
Back-and-forth legal actions led to a late-November ruling by the court ordering the Roundup Ready sugar beet seed crop destroyed. An appeal of that order will be heard on Feb. 15.
"USDA has yet again violated the law requiring preparation of an EIS before unleashing this genetically engineered crop," said Paul Achitoff, Earthjustice attorney, following the partial deregulation.
In a press release, Monsanto countered those claiming USDA had overstepped its legal authority: "In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed USDA's authority to issue interim measures to authorize planting of a crop while USDA is completing an EIS (Monsanto v Geertson Seed Farms). When this EIS is completed, it is incumbent on USDA to make a decision whether to authorize planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets without conditions."
Seed was also a major concern for sugar beet growers. If forced to revert to non-GM beets it would have meant relying on conventional seed that has been in storage for several years. To many, the viability and quality of that seed supply was questionable.
Farmers "wonder if the older varieties will produce like the newer, GMO seeds will," said a Mid-South sugar consultant just prior to the partial deregulation. "There's also concern that the germination of the older seed won't be adequate to make the kind of yields the sugar beet growers are used to."
"USDA's decision is a positive step for sugar beet farmers," said Steve Welker, Monsanto's sugar beet commercial lead. "Sugar beet farmers have been busy preparing for spring planting, waiting for USDA's guidance and hoping it would come in time for spring planting."
Regarding the partial deregulation, a coalition of environmental groups has promised immediate legal action.
GM Crops to Be Allowed Into Britain Under Controversial EU Plans
- Jamie Doward, The Observer, February 6, 2011
'UK to back imports of animal feed with traces of GM crops in move to benefit US exporters'
The decision to allow feed containing traces of GM crops into the UK is likely to alarm environmentalists who have long resisted such imports. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Observer
Genetically modified crops will be allowed to enter the UK food chain without the need for regulatory clearance for the first time under controversial plans expected to be approved this week.
The Observer understands that the UK intends to back EU plans permitting the importing of animal feed containing traces of unauthorised GM crops in a move that has alarmed environmental groups.
Importing animal feed containing GM feed must at present be authorised by European regulators. But a vote on Tuesday in favour of the scheme put forward by the EU's standing committee on the food chain and animal health would overturn the EU's "zero tolerance" policy towards the import of unauthorised GM crops.
The move would mark a significant victory for the GM lobby, which has pushed for a relaxation of the blanket ban for years.Environmental groups claim the GM industry wants to use the presence of unauthorised organisms in animal feed as part of a wider strategy to promote its technology.
"The GM industry is pushing this proposal so it can wedge its foot firmly in the door and open up the British and European markets to food no one wants to eat," said Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK, which campaigns against GM food. "Its long-term aim is to contaminate the food chain to such an extent that GM-free food will disappear."
Relaxing the EU's zero-tolerance position would greatly benefit US feed exporters. The push for Europe to drop its zero-tolerance policy began in 2009 after EU authorities found traces of GM maize in soy shipments from the US and refused to allow its entry. Such recalls are expensive and those affected are unlikely to receive compensation.
GM supporters warn that the current zero-tolerance policy could result in a dramatic shortage of feed for livestock. But critics dismiss the claims as scaremongering and say there is no evidence to back up them up.
"This is a solution without a problem, and the price could be very high indeed when unknown genetically modified organisms are let loose in the food chain," said Eve Mitchell, food policy adviser at Food and Water Europe, a campaign group.
"Rather than ignoring EU food safety laws to help the US soy industry cut costs, we should simply buy the stuff from countries that segregate their GM properly. If it hasn't been tested, why eat it?"
Many of the GM crops, notably soy and maize, that have been found in animal feed imported into Europe are resistant to multiple herbicides. Critics blame these new GM crops for the recent rise of "super weeds" across vast tracts of the US farm belt.
Friends of the Earth Europe said it had obtained expert legal advice questioning the legality of the EU's plan. But European regulators believe that allowing the import of animal feed containing no more than 0.1% of GM traces does not jeopardise food security.
A Golden Opportunity Choked by Red Tape
- Henry I. Miller, M.D., Genetic Engineering and Biotech News, Feb 1 2011 Vol. 31, No.3
Henry I. Miller, M.D.
'Widespread Use of Vitamin A Enriched Rice Forestalled by Gratuitous Regulation'
As a scientist and humanitarian, Swiss plant biologist Ingo Potrykus is right up there with Jonas Salk, who introduced the first polio vaccine; Maurice Hilleman, who invented dozens of vaccines, including 8 of the 14 that are currently recommended; and Norman Borlaug, the "Father of the Green Revolution," who saved perhaps a billion lives and improved the health of uncountable others.
Or, more accurately, he would be if wrong-headed government regulation had not stalled his once-in-a-lifetime, life-saving innovation.
Potrykus is the co-creator of Golden Rice, a collection of new rice varieties biofortified or enriched, by the introduction of genes that express beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A. (It is converted in the body, as needed, to the active form.)
Why are these new varieties so important? After all, most physicians in North America and Europe never see a single case of vitamin A deficiency in their professional lifetimes. The situation is very different in poor developing countries, however. Vitamin A deficiency is epidemic among the poor, whose diet is heavily dominated by rice (which contains neither beta-carotene nor vitamin A) or other carbohydrate-rich, vitamin-poor sources of calories.
In developing countries, 200-300 million children of preschool age are at risk of vitamin A deficiency, which can be devastating and even fatal. It increases susceptibility to common childhood infections such as measles and diarrheal diseases and is the single most important cause of childhood blindness in developing countries. Every year, about 500,000 children become blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency, and 70% die within a year of losing their sight.
Why not simply supplement children's diets with vitamin A in capsules or add it to some staple foodstuff, the way that we add iodine to table salt to prevent hypothyroidism and goiter? A good idea in theory, except that neither the resources-hundreds of millions of dollars annually-nor the infrastructure for distribution are available.
Genetic engineering offers a better, cheaper, more feasible solution: Golden Rice, which actually incorporates beta-carotene into the genetically altered rice grains. The concept is simple: Although rice plants do not normally synthesize beta-carotene in the endosperm (seeds) because of the absence of two necessary enzymes of the biosynthetic pathway, they do make it in the green portions of the plant. By using genetic engineering techniques to introduce the two genes that express these enzymes, the pathway is restored and the rice grains accumulate therapeutic amounts of beta-carotene.
Golden Rice is the prototype of second-generation agbiotech products, which provide direct benefits to consumers, as opposed to plants that offer only improvements in agronomic properties that are important to farmers.
Golden Rice offers the potential to make contributions to human health and welfare as monumental as any in history. With wide use, it could save hundreds of thousands of lives a year and enhance the quality of life for millions more.
But one aspect of this shining story is tarnished. Intransigent opposition by antiscience, antitechnology activists-Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and a few other groups-has spurred already risk-averse regulators to adopt an overly precautionary approach that has stalled approvals.
There is absolutely nothing about Golden Rice that should require endless case-by-case reviews and bureaucratic dithering. As the scientific journal Nature editorialized in 1992, a broad scientific consensus holds that "the same physical and biological laws govern the response of organisms modified by modern molecular and cellular methods and those produced by classical methods. ...[Therefore] no conceptual distinction exists between genetic modification of plants and microorganisms by classical methods or by molecular techniques that modify DNA and transfer genes."
Putting it another way, government regulation of field research with plants should focus on the traits that may be related to risk-invasiveness, weediness, toxicity, and so forth-rather than on whether one or another technique of genetic manipulation was used.
In spite of its vast potential to benefit humanity-and negligible likelihood of harm to human health or the environment-Golden Rice remains hung up in regulatory red tape with no end in sight. In a July commentary in Nature, Potrykus pointed out that Golden Rice has been "stalled at the development stages for more than ten years by the working conditions and requirements demanded by regulations."
By contrast, plants constructed with less precise techniques such as hybridization or mutagenesis generally are subject to no government scrutiny or requirements (or opposition from activists) at all. And that applies even to the numerous new plant varieties that during the past half century have resulted from "wide crosses," hybridizations that move genes from one species or genus to another-across what used to be thought of as natural breeding boundaries.
Pulling no punches, Potrykus holds gratuitous regulation "responsible for the death and blindness of thousands of children and young mothers." At the very least, the politicians, activists, and regulators who have insisted on, implemented, and maintained those regulations are guilty of what the legal system calls "reckless disregard for life."
In an editorial in the journal Science, Nina Fedoroff, an eminent plant geneticist and professor at Pennsylvania State University who recently completed a three-year stint as senior scientific adviser to U.S. Secretary of State, wrote: "A new Green Revolution demands a global commitment to creating a modern agricultural infrastructure everywhere, adequate investment in training and modern laboratory facilities, and progress toward simplified regulatory approaches that are responsive to accumulating evidence of safety. Do we have the will and the wisdom to make it happen?"
The Golden Rice story makes it clear that the answer is, not yet.
Genetically-Modified Food Safer Than Chemical Ones: Indo-American Oncologist
- SiliconIndia, February 4 2011,
New Delhi: There are many kinds of 'organic' food flooding the market, but they are actually produced using chemicals, says Indian American oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of a much-talked about book on cancer, adding he would prefer GM food instead.
'I tend to think that genetically-modified food is safer than chemically-modified food. I know it is controversial but GM food is a step ahead of chemically-modified food,' Mukherjee, the author of 'The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer', said during a talk in the national capital Monday.
Several studies from different parts of world suggest that GM food may expose people to greater risk of cancer and have been termed a potential health hazard.
'There are so many food items listed as 'organic' in the market, but when you read the fine print you know it is not organic at all and all kinds of chemicals have been used. However, we have a large number of people to feed and so we cannot go organic all over. Till we live in this imperfect world, I would rather have GM food than chemically modified ones,' he said.
Mukherjee's book which attempts to trace the history of cancer through several stories related to the disease, its diagnosis, and research and discovery of various therapies, was nominated for the reputed National Book Critics Circle Award in the non-fiction category Monday.
Mukherjee, an oncologist and cancer researcher, was born and brought up in Delhi. His one of its kind book has also been shortlisted among the top 10 non fiction books by Time magazine.
'Cancer was there long before the name was coined. Hippocrates first named it 'Karkinos', the Greek name for crab as he imagined the malignant tumour to resemble a crab with the blood veins going out like crab's legs, this is where it got associated with the astrological sign Cancer and came to be known by the name,' Mukherjee said tracing the history of the diseases.
Asked about the inspiration for writing the book, Mukherjee recalled a patient undergoing chemotherapy asking him what she was fighting.
'She had been undergoing chemotherapy for six and a half years, and said that she was willing to go on but wanted to know what was happening. There I felt the need for letting people know what was the history of the diseases, what they were actually fighting,' he said.
He, however, prefers calling the book a 'biography' rather than history of the disease as according to the author, it is more about his experience and research about the disease.
'It is impossible to trace the history of cancer, it started much before the disease was known about. It is rather a biography as it is based on research and experience,' he said.
He added that his voluminous book was reduced to a third of what it was in his manuscript to suit the readers' demands.
'My publishers said no one reads more than 500 pages, so I bargained and got it increased to 600 pages, and made the pages thinner so that it looks lesser,' he quipped.
About 10 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year worldwide, and tobacco use contributes to 25-30 percent of cancer deaths. In India, around one million people are diagnosed with cancer every year.
Have The Greens Finally Trapped Biotech Crops?
- Dennis Avery, Canada Free Press, February 7, 2011
'New technology that promised to raise crop yields, protect our food supply from pests, create a second Green Revolution'
When our new knowledge of DNA permitted genetically modified crops, the environmental movement "flipped out." Here was a new technology that promised to raise crop yields, protect our food supply from pests, and create a second Green Revolution for "over-populated" places such as Africa and India. The activists believed viscerally that more food would mean more people-and they were apparently terrified that more little brown and yellow people would "use up" such resources as copper and antelope.
The Green Movement and others, who firmly believed in the power of "The Population Bomb" to destroy society, wanted to believe that population growth would be stopped by famine-by the implacable limits to food production. The activists have never admitted, even to themselves, that the first Green Revolution not only saved millions of human lives, but also has been humanity's greatest conservation triumph by preventing the plow-down of additional wild-lands equal to the land area of South America. Additionally, the increased global food security led to lower birth rates over most of the world.
Green Movement has finally hit on a winning biotech strategy for America
Today, in Europe, green activists have gotten biotech plantings virtually barred. Europe has been blessed with a food surplus and their public feels no need to feed the rest of the world. Now the Green Movement has finally hit on a winning biotech strategy for America. The Greens tell a federal judge that pollen from biotech crops will "pollute" nearby organic fields with genetically modified DNA. The judge says, "We can't have that," and issues a court order. Both biotech alfalfa and sugar beets have recently run afoul of these court decisions.
Note to judges: the organic standards say nothing about biotech pollen being a pollutant. They regulate the process, not the outcome. If the farmer doesn't use industrial fertilizer or "synthetic chemicals"-and doesn't plant biotech seeds himself-the organic standard says his produce is "organic
Nor do traces of GM pollen significantly affect the crops. The National Academy of Sciences has repeatedly published their conclusion that there's no basis for regulating gene-spliced crops any differently than any other crops. Ditto the America Medical Association, the British Royal Society, and the UN's Food and Agriculture and World `Health Organizations.
Experience is showing that selectively modified seeds, using the new DNA mapping tools, are actually safer than the older plant breeding techniques of bombarding seeds with harsh chemicals or radiation-to induce unknown new DNA mutations.
A few of the advances already achieved by biotech:
· A new potato that's resistant to the dreaded late blight.
· Another new potato with 60 percent more protein.
· Nitrogen-efficient crops that yield a full crop with half the normal dose of nitrogen, making them cheaper to grow and providing protection to streams from runoff.
· Bananas resistant to the Black Sigatoka disease that threatens the food supply of millions in Africa.
· Cotton plants that have their pesticide bred in, so the fields aren't sprayed and Third World farmers aren't walking through their own spray patterns.
Seeds with stacked pest-killing traits to eliminate crop spraying and prevent the development of resistant weeds and insects.
These innovations are already making a difference. China's higher-yielding pest-protected cotton seeds have freed another 600,000 hectares of land for food crops. Millions of tons of chemicals have not been sprayed. A huge amount of soil erosion has not occurred.
In America, organic farms produce only 1 percent of our food. Should that tiny minority threaten the whole world's food production future? How do the green movements of Europe and America influence the governments of the third world? Easy! The EU threatens to boycott their exports.
Solid prediction: The world in 2040 will have perhaps 8 billion people demanding twice as much food and lots of high-quality protein. Either we produce that extra food on the land we already farm, or we watch the most massive loss of wild-lands in all history.
How come the Green Movement isn't worried about that?
Dennis T. Avery, is a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute in Washington. Dennis is the Director for Global Food Issues cgfi.org. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State.
Can GMOs Feed Our Hungry, Growing World?
It's really easy to fall into a pack mentality in supporting a common cause, specifically one as sensitive as genetically modified foods. With the recent total deregulation of genetically modified alfalfa, I had to stop and think, "Is it possible the government knows something I do not?"
I voted for Obama. And his recent push to bring more biotech into our soil was a huge disappointment to me; rather, I'd say a bit of a blow to trust in our government. What does our government seek to gain with using GMO technology? How can they not see the obvious food insecurity issue that comes along with patented, corporate-owned technology in a seed?
The reasons to be against GMOs seem obvious and rhetorical, but somehow all these "really smart" or "successful" people push the technology from the laboratory to the pantry and it might be egregious to assume that these people are the heartless, money-grubbing corporate souls who care only about the bottom line like many people think they are.
Let us suppose for just a moment that GMO technology was not a patented, corporate-owned liability to farmers and examine the possible benefits of genetically modified foods outside of the litigious possibilities and look at it from a different vantage.
Currently, our world population is just under 7 billion; the United States is at just over 300 million, or about 4.5% of the world's population. Genetically modified crops have been in use for at least 15 years (1996), yet, in 2009, approximately three times the population of the United States (925 million) people went hungry in the world, or roughly 15-16%. This number does not take into account the number of obese in the name of malnutrition; simply, this number is for the hungry by whose image we are profoundly familiar through television and magazine advertisements looking for aid.
In 1995, approximately the same time of GMO introduction to industrial farmers, we see a significant decline in the overall world hunger statistics, which is great. But since 1995, we have seen dramatic increases in the hungry, and this would make sense according to anti-GMO rhetoric: GMOs might provide an initial boost in yield, yes, but their maintenance makes them an unsustainable option for continued use. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States, "the number of hungry people is higher in 2010 than before the food and economic crises of 2008-09."
The above video makes many seemingly valid points in the argument for using GMOs to help feed a hungry world, and these claims should be discussed liberally. One claim the video makes that I personally feel should be better extrapolated is the figure that organic farming wastes food and uses considerably more land. While organic farming may yield less harvest on any given year, the consistency by which it yields has always been more steady and predictable, without the abuse of dangerous pesticides and herbicides.
But the discussion should be had between GMO supporters and those against GMO technology so we can have an informed opinion, not just filled with propaganda and rhetoric from either side.
Chefs Stir Up The Heat On GM Food
- Caroline Marcus, The Sunday Telegraph (Australia), February 6, 2011
Debate ... Chef Luke Mangan believes GM technology could help millions. Pic: Rohan Kelly Source: The Sunday Telegraph
THE knives are out and arguments are boiling as the nation's top chefs debate their kitchen rules: should genetically modified food be served in restaurants?
While more than 180 chefs have signed Greenpeace's GM Free Charter since it was launched two years ago, an opposition group has now sprung up, claiming that signatories are "ill-informed" and "grandstanding".
Some of the country's top foodies, including Peter Gilmore of Quay, Neil Perry of Rockpool, Matt Moran of ARIA and Margaret Fulton, are signatories to the treaty, which states they are opposed to the use of GM foods in Australian restaurants.
Gilmore said he was against the principle of genetic engineering and found it unacceptable that current laws meant that food did not have to be labelled as being modified.
"When you start talking about fish genes in strawberries ... it becomes a concern," Gilmore said.
"I don't like the idea of consuming something that has been genetically modified. They have a lot of foreign organisms that are not supposed to be in food.
"At the end of the day, people have a right to be informed. It is really about freedom of information and the right to know."
However, other chefs disagreed, saying the technology was a way to make food production sustainable. Luke Mangan, of glass brasserie, has remained open to the use of GM foods since a blog he wrote in 2008 which said the innovation could "potentially help millions of people around the world".
Mangan said yesterday he had refused to sign the charter because he believed more discussion was required. "More info is required but some benefits sound fantastic - drought resistance, higher levels of production and sustainability in the food supply," he said.
Glenn Austin, founder of X-Treme Chef Consulting and the first Australian to be voted to the World Board of Chefs, criticised chefs who signed the charter. Austin, also the chef for Fonterra Global Executive, a multinational dairy company which supports gene modification, said: "There are a few (chefs) who are trying to have a beat-up about it and they are quite ill-informed. If they went through their own cupboards, they would find that most of what is in there contains genetically modified food."
Former deputy chief and current honorary fellow of the CSIRO Plant Industry, TJ Higgins, wrote to the chefs who signed the charter, asking them to reconsider their position.
"The mainstream chefs don't have any problem with GM if they know a little bit about the science, but there are a lot of 'celebrity chefs' who have a different agenda," Dr Higgins said. "They are catering to a very select clientele who have strong philosophical views about how food is produced and they can afford those views."
He said the technology would drive down costs for both farmers and consumers. Greenpeace's GM campaign leader, Laura Kelly, said the problem was families not having a choice about GM foods. "Parents have a right to choose, particularly when it comes to GM, which has never been proven safe for kids to eat," she said.
Researchers Reach a Breakthrough for Protein Levels in Key Staple Crop
- The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, January 27,
Researchers working at The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center's International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology (ITLAB), have made an another advancement in their efforts to improve the root crop cassava which is a major source of calories to 700 million people worldwide, primarily living in the developing world. A study conducted by Dr. Claude Fauquet, Principal Investigator and Director of ITLAB, established a method to provide more dietary protein in cassava. The results of this research are published in the recent article, "Transgenic biofortification of the starch staple cassava (Manihot esculenta) generates a novel sink for protein," in the PloS One journal
Cassava has many properties that make it an important food source across much of Africa and Asia, it also has many limitations. For example, cassava has poor nutritional content because it is lacking protein among other micronutrients.
Although calorie dense, the starchy, tuberous roots of cassava provide the lowest sources of dietary protein among the major staple food crops. The starchy roots total protein content ranges from 0.7 to 2.5% dry weight compared with 7 to 14% in cereals such as wheat, rice and corn. Insufficient protein intake often leads to protein energy malnutrition (PEM), which is estimated to affect one in four children in Africa. Cassava has the lowest protein to energy ratio (P:E) of any staple food, making resource-poor populations that rely on cassava as their major source of calories at high risk of PEM which can lead to permanent physical and mental disabilities and related pathological disorders.
"The ILTAB lab strives to improve cassava productivity and quality through genetic transformation to help less developed countries and we are a step closer to that reality," Dr. Claude Fauquet, principal investigator and director of ITLAB at The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. "This study will contribute to efforts to end the very real and scary reality that a child dies every six seconds from malnutrition."
The cassava used in the study was genetically modified to express zeolin, a nutritionally balanced storage protein resulting in total protein levels of 12.5% dry weight within the tissue, a fourfold increase as compared to the non-transgenic controls. This breakthrough demonstrates that it is possible to increase the PE ratio for cassava to be close that of cereals, and that it is possible to improve essential amino acid composition to directly benefit children. Initially Fauquet and his team had concern that the modified cassava would have a disrupted physiology and altered phenotype of the transgenic plants. Greenhouse and field studies revealed this not to be the case, with similar levels of protein accumulation recorded across more than three years of testing in three different locations.
A two-year-old child consuming 50% of his/her dietary energy as wild type cassava would receive about 3 g dietary protein, equivalent to 20% of their daily protein requirement. The same child consuming the same amount of modified cassava accumulating storage protein at levels achieved in the study would obtain approximately 16 g of dietary protein, or more than 100% of their daily requirement. This illustrates that genetic modification of cassava has the potential to deliver enhanced nutrition to at-risk populations.
The results prove a concept towards the potential transformation of cassava from a starchy staple, devoid of storage protein, to one capable of supplying inexpensive, plant-based proteins for food, feed and industrial applications.
Is India ready to embrace GM food crops?
- Sajith Kumar, Commodity Online, February 07 2011
Debates and researches are continuing across the world on GM crops and its repercussions on environment and other plants.
Many countries including India remained hesitant even to experiment with the latest technology in agriculture which could feed the millions of people added every year to the food chain.
In India, GM food crops are not allowed to cultivate and only BT cotton is cultivated via this technology, which proved useful to boost output many folds.
The use of BT cotton has fostered Indian yields since the season of 2000-2001. But this doesn't prompt Indian authorities to experiment with a food crop.
India last year rejected requests for BT Brinjal after holding public consultations across several cities and meeting up with farmers, scientists, environment activists and ordinary citizens.
Indian society still sees the technology through suspected eyes and believed that unquestionable benefits in the short term could lead to potential risks to human health and country's agriculture heritage in the long term.
However, many agriculture scientists in the country remained hopeful and of the opinion that exploiting the progress in science and technology was essential to enhance agricultural productivity.
They think opposition to GM seeds was superstitious and application of GM seeds would increase productivity and address the issue of malnutrition.
On the other hand, some argues that Indian farmers aren't' well equipped to deal with the latest technology and without basic knowledge of the system, it could harm other crops and surroundings and eventually their own health.
Indian society as a whole too wasn't prepared for such a technology, they added. Many strikes and protests that may occur will virtually put the whole nation to a standstill even if two or three food crops are allowed to cultivate through this technology.
They pointed out that even in the US, where the USDA recently allowed GM sugar beet cultivation under strict conditions with no threat to the environment and other plants, the opposition remained strong.
The USDA and other authorities there are supporting the technology and the USDA in their part completed an environmental impact study in a hurry to bypass a court ban that halted the planting of GM sugar beets until the completion of USDA study.
Considering the fact that GM sugar beets are planted on more than 1 million acres in 10 states in the US and supply half the nation's sugar, this was a significant move.
However, in India the situation was entirely different and needs more studies before introducing them to the vastly agriculture based economy like India. Genetically modified food should not be allowed as there is inadequate scientific understanding of their impact on environment and human health, argues some others.
They argued that India required following the European Union which has banned the cultivation of GM crops.
Yet others said the opposition to GM foods comes from out of fear of new technology. Recently a senior politician from a prominent Left party publicly supported the use of GM crops by saying opposition to GM crops was superstitious.
It was not right to blindly oppose development in science and technology and authorities must show positive attitudes towards.
It is estimated that there are over 40 plant varieties that have completed all scientific studies for cultivating on a bigger scale.
It might take years for GM crops to make a mark in India, but once in, it will not only play a big role in country's self sufficiency in food sector but also help tremendously to its economic boosting.