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September 30, 2011


Why Women Farmers Love GM?; Risk from Lobbyists; Road to Extinction; In the Beginning


GM brings benefits to women cotton farmers in Colombia

GM food solutions at risk from lobbyists, research suggests

Pesticides, soil, all count in GM crops’ effectiveness, finds study

Anti-biotech crowd convinced GMO food is road to extinction

GM take-away: How to genetically modify a tomato, and other things we eat

In the Beginning

Transgenic bean developed by Embrapa is approved in Brazil

Cantaloupe Outbreak: 13 Dead, 18 States, More To Come


GM brings benefits to women cotton farmers in Colombia

- Lisbeth Fog, Scidev.net, 28 September

[BOGOTÁ] The reasons for adopting genetically modified (GM) crops differ for men and women, as do levels of access to information on GM farming, and understanding these differences may benefit women and their families, a study of cotton farmers in Colombia has found.

Women farmers said adopting GM cotton saved them time and money — on weeding and on hiring male labour to spray insecticides, respectively. They also said that GM varieties were easier to manage, freeing up their time for other activities, according to the study, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute this month.

The GM technology empowers women and gives them more say in household decisions, said Jorge Maldonado, one of the study authors, and an associate professor of economics at the University of the Andes, in Bogotá.

But he said the report identified a "difficult issue" of lack of information on managing the crops that multinational companies, which sell the GM seed to farmers, provide to farmers.

Women had limited access to information on farming GM cotton, which they cited as the biggest problem the technology brings, ahead even of the higher costs of seeds. So they were more likely than men to rely on occasional visits by technical assistants, and to follow their advice.

Both male and female farmers wanted better, more frequently available information in different types of media from private seed companies, associations, and technology owners, the report said.

It concluded that there is ample scope for more research on the role women play in GM cotton farming.

Patricia Zambrano, a senior research analyst from the Environment and Production Technology division of IFPRI, and lead author of the study, said a further, quantitative study is needed to "support the perceptions gathered in this study".

María Andrea Uscátegui, executive director of Agrobio, a non-profit association of multinational companies that produce GM plants, said that the study was original in its focus on gender and that it would be interesting to see if the same conclusions hold for other GM crops, such as maize.

Jonathan Gressel, a plant sciences professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Israel, said that GM cotton should also be available to women in Africa, China and India, where some may spend up to 60 per cent of their waking hours weeding.

"The best way to empower developing world women is to get them out of weeding and into mainstream life — including schooling and commerce. The added value of [GM] is that it provides the women farmers even less dependence upon others," he said.

Colombia has been growing GM cotton commercially since 2003, when it had just over 6,000 hectares planted. This rose to more than 37,000 hectares in 2010, all for use within the country.

Link to full study


GM food solutions at risk from lobbyists, research suggests

Powerful lobby groups opposed to genetically modified food are threatening public acceptance of the technology in Europe, research suggests

Powerful lobby groups opposed to genetically modified (GM) food are threatening public acceptance of the technology in Europe, research suggests.

They are also hampering Europe's response to the global challenge of securing food supplies for current and future generations, researchers claim.
Drawing upon a decade of evidence, researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Warwick University say that Europe's regulation of GM crops has become less democratic and less evidence-based since the 1980s.

Anti-GM groups such as organic food lobbyists and environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) dominate the decision making process, they claim, resulting in greater restriction of plant biotechnology research and development in Europe compared with most other parts of the world.
Some developing countries resist GM crops, even though they might benefit from the reduced crop losses and increased yields of GM technology, because they would not be able to sell their produce in Europe, the researchers found.

Professor Joyce Tait of the University of Edinburgh's ESRC Innogen Centre, who took part in the research, said: "At a time when an increasing number of people are living in hunger and climate change threatens crops, the system that regulates GM food sources ought to become more based on evidence and less subject to the influence of politically motivated NGOs."

The findings, published in EMBO Reports, were funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.


Pesticides, soil, all count in GM crops’ effectiveness, finds study

- Jacob P. Koshy, Live Mint (India), Sept 28, 2011

The finding could significantly increase the amount of money farmers spend in buying and spraying pesticides

New Delhi: Genetically modified (GM) pest-resistant crops may not be the panacea they are made out to be, a new study shows, with specific reference to Bt cotton.

The field trial by scientists in Nagpur shows that the soil the plants are grown in matters almost as much as insect-killing genes and pesticide sprays.

The finding could significantly increase the amount of money farmers spend in buying and spraying pesticides. It could also mean lower yields than those promised by manufacturers of GM seeds.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Current Science, says that the quantity of toxin exuded within a Bt cotton plant sowed in deep soil was nearly three times as much as that of shallow soil and there was marked reduction in the amount of toxin (which combats pests) that was present in the plant during the months of October and November, when most of the cotton is matured and most vulnerable to pest attacks.

On the ground: A Bt cotton field. The study says that the quantity of toxin exuded within a Bt cotton plant sowed in deep soil was nearly three times as much as that of shallow soil.

The study also found that the extent of soil moisture, which can vary between extremes in a season, was a crucial factor in regulating the amount of toxin that was measured within the plant. “...This decline coincided with the peak boll formation stage. At this stage, the toxin concentration was 0.48–2.40 μg/g. The toxin concentrations were, in general, less than the critical concentration of 1.90 μg/g...” wrote the authors D. Blaise and K.R. Kranthi of the Indian Institute of Soil Science, Bhopal, and Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur, respectively. The tests were performed over the monsoon of 2006 and 2007 over 21 test plots in the Nagpur institute’s cotton fields.

At least 60% of India’s agricultural land is rain-fed, the extent of moisture in the plant swings between extremes, and according to the study, exposes cotton to pest attacks at a level much greater than previously imagined.

“There is no doubt that we need Bt cotton. But in regions like Vidarbha which is rain-fed and has a lot of shallow soil, Bt cotton wouldn’t work as well as in other parts of the country. The study just points out that you need different kinds of cotton in different regions. A one-size-fits-all approach can’t work,” said Kranthi.

Bt cotton now accounts for over 90% of the country’s cotton acreage and has been credited with tripling the yield since 2006 and making India a net exporter as well as world’s second largest producer of the commodity.

It’s largely due to the success of Bt cotton and its acceptance among farmers that several companies and agricultural research institutes have been trying to integrate the Bt gene into food crops in India.

India’s major cotton producing states are Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Punjab which all have varying soil topographies and varying exposure to monsoon rainfall.

Genetically modified cotton today uses one or more genes from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis that trigger an insecticidal protein.

These toxins are usually fatal only to a bug called the American bollworm, considered the chief cotton pest and, as a result, the target of most sprays.

Though Bt cotton seeds are costlier than their non-Bt counterparts, its proponents claim that seeds engineered in this way dramatically reduce the sprays—and, hence, costs—in protecting cotton crop. It is estimated that pests cause losses worth $120 billion (Rs. 5.9 trillion today), of which losses worth Rs. 60,000 crore take place in India.

Pesticides worth $8 billion are used every year in India, with cotton accounting for nearly $3.8 billion of this. GM technology is expected to reduce at least 50% of the expenditure on pesticides.

Last year, Kranthi had pointed out several “unforeseen” consequences of the widespread adoption of Bt cotton. In a report, he said 90% of the current GM cotton hybrids appear susceptible to mealy bugs and whiteflies (also considered a minor cotton pest) and that insecticide use in cotton, as measured by value, appears to have increased from Rs. 640 crore in 2006 to Rs. 800 crore in 2008.


Anti-biotech crowd convinced GMO food is road to extinction

- Harry Cline, Farm Press Blog, Sep. 28, 2011

Anti-biotech crowd reacts to comparison of conventional, biotech plant breeding. Wait until they discover biotech widely used in advancing conventional breeding.

My last commentary/blog about tackling the GMO food labeling issue head-on in a ballot initiative apparently touched a few nerves in the anti-biotech crowd. Most did not like the notion that genetically modified covers traditional as well as biotech plant breeding and should be included on any ballot initiative discussing the labeling of some food as genetically modified. It’s all genetically modified in my book.

Here are a few of the comments appearing in the commentary/blog: “I read 5 outright lies before I got to the fifth paragraph. This is biotech propaganda.” “Many Americans are fed endless amounts of GM food that barely satisfies them and makes them sicker than all other people in the world, despite more money being spent on health care in the U.S. than in any other place in the world. There is a short term "pre-extinction" gain by GMO agri-business, naturally ending. The End. Who wants to feed Dinosaurs?”
“GMO is in our food supply in huge quantities and is poisoning our farmland and the American people. We should label it so NO ONE BUYS this poison.”

“Your lies will catch up with you, Are you feeding your families foods that have had E. Coli put in them so will not fight off the GM inserts? Hmmm. If a plant refuses to accept Genetic Modification and you have to put a food borne illness in it to confuse its immune system and you say it is not harmful. Stop the Lies. It is all about you folks being so greedy that the people of the world have to suffer.”
"Liars. Liars.”

“Thank you Harry, for your calming words. I think Harry Cline is an idiot, but his ranting lies made me want to cry. Hopefully the majority have more sense.”
“The author is either grossly disinformed (sp?) or a shill for the biotech industry. Either way this diatribe amounts to a severely distorted piece of propaganda intended solely to further the biotech industry's objectives by attempting to blur the line between conventional genetic breeding and the completely unnatural and severely disruptive biotech gene insertion methods.”

“This author obviously works for Monsanto or has drank their GE Kool Aid. Our world's hunger is not for lack of the ability to grow enough food, (we have food surpluses worldwide) it is about getting the food that we have into the mouths of those who need it....it is about tyrannical governments withholding food from their poor to exert control over them.”

“What a total outrage. There is a huge difference between breeding plants and animals and GE. IE you will never find a rat breeding with a tomato and producing a viable offspring. Yet you would have people believe that splicing rat DNA into a tomato is no different than mixing different variates (sp?) of tomatoes.” I love this last one. I can see GMO tomatoes running after tomato harvesters on rat legs squeaking “Wait for me!”

Many took me to task for comparing conventional breeding with biotech-enhanced breeding of GMO crops saying the former is “natural” and the other frankenfood that is killing off society. These folks are really going to flip when they learn that the technology used to develop so-called GMO crops is widely used to enhance conventional or as they call it “naturalized” breeding.
According to an Iowa State University study consumers are willing to pay extra for healthier genetically modified foods using this biotechnology.

This science is called “intragenic modification” and refers to plants that are genetically modified with genes from other plants within their own species.
Genetic markers in plants act like chemical flags indicating a particular generic trait is in a plant. Using genomic information called Marker-Assisted Selection (MAS) like that used in transgenic breeding, plant breeders can dramatically speed classic breeding efforts, according to Dr. Peggy Lemaux, University of California, Berkeley, cooperative Extension biotechnology specialist.
MAS allows plant breeders to screen large populations of plants quickly to select plants with a high likelihood of having a specific trait, even if that trait cannot be easily seen in the plant in the field, like malting quality or disease resistance when the actual pathogen is not present. This is particularly useful because some plants are difficult to traditionally crossbreed for a variety of reasons. For example, there are thousands of types of potatoes, for instance, each having some unique genetic traits. But since they reproduce by using an internal seed or eye of the potato, improving them through crossbreeding with other potatoes is difficult.

This biotechnology is used to identify specific desirable plant DNA without the introduction of infected plants in a traditional breeding program. For no other reason, this biotechnology tool can prevent the unintended spread of plant diseases.
Finding markers without genomic/DNA information is like looking through an encyclopedia that is not alphabetized and has no index.

This element of biotechnology could mean the difference between an undeveloped country feeding its population or millions starving because of grain diseases. Anything that reduces the time it takes to develop new food crops is an incredible scientific advancement, and it has come out of the same technology that has given the world GMO crops.
The difference between intragenic and transgenic is that the former is used to breed like species and the latter is used to transfer genes between different species. I see no difference in using the same technology to develop healthier, higher yielding and more healthy food, regardless of where the positive traits are extracted. The whole issue of breeding rats with tomatoes is simply too bizarre and implausible to even debate.

"What we found was when genes for enhancing the amount of antioxidants and vitamin C in fresh produce were transferred by intragenic methods, consumers are willing to pay 25 percent more than for the plain product (with no enhancements). That is a sizable increase," said Wallace Huffman, Iowa State distinguished professor of economics.
Consumers' acceptance of genetically modified plants is a real turnaround from previous research, according to Huffman.
In 2001, Huffman first researched consumers' willingness to pay for transgenic foods. At that time, he showed that consumers would pay 15 percent less for foods made from or containing farmer traits introduced by transgenic methods, compared with produce that was not genetically modified at all.

It does seem that buying foods made healthier for people through intragenics does not make consumers uneasy, he said.
However, consumers were not willing to pay more if those enhancements were introduced through transgenic methods, he added.

That is the ludicrous, since the technology used for intragenic and transgenic plants are the same. It is absurd because the only reason consumers believe that way is the blatant lies and false information spewed from the anti-biotech thugs.
In an open voter initiative debate over labeling food one way or the other, it seems the time is ripe to take on the anti-biotech crowd on their own terms and truly inform the public about how society has benefited from biotech. This initiative must be labeled for what it is; an attack on one company, Monsanto, and corporate America. It has nothing to do with food safety. They think by labeling certain foods as GMO, they will stop the advancement of biotech. It is far too late for that.
Splitting hairs between the sources of positive traits in plants is a fight the anti-biotech crowd would lose.
It would be an ugly fight, but one where reason and science could prevail. It seems things start in California. It is time the anti-biotech movement is stopped here.

(To read Harry Cline's initial GMO column, please see: Time to take on anti-biotech crowd over GMO labeling)


GM take-away: How to genetically modify a tomato, and other things we eat

- John Innes Center (UK), Sept. 8, 2011

GM take-away: How to genetically modify a tomato, and other things we eat

A take-away photographic exhibition, being launched at the British Science Festival in Bradford on Saturday 10th September, is aiming to demystify the process of genetic modification, to try to make the debate about this controversial subject more informed.

The exhibition has been put together by Murray Ballard, a Brighton-based photographer, who has always had a keen interest in the environment and agriculture. It will be available for visitors to take away as a broadsheet newspaper.

The cultivation of GM crops is a subject that has divided opinion. The technology can reduce the need for protective spraying with pesticides and could improve yields, reducing the impact agriculture has on the environment. Opponents claim the technology could damage the environment or have adverse effects on health.

Within the media and on the internet, claims that GM will help solve world hunger vie with claims that it will devastate the planet, but for Murray, there was a lack of any accessible information on what genetic modification was. A recent survey showed that just 7% of people could accurately define what GM foods were. Over half of consumers neither support nor reject GM foods, and are yet to form an opinion.

With this in mind, Murray approached the John Innes Centre, one of Europe’s leading independent centres for plant research and genetics, which is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The centre, and the adjacent Sainsbury Laboratory on the Norwich Research Park, allowed Murray unlimited access to their laboratories to photograph the scientific processes involved in genetically modifying plants and to interview the researchers involved.

For the scientists, this is part of an ongoing effort to engage with anyone interested in GM – via public events, debate, the media and YouTube.

“When I started this project I was always thinking about who it was aimed at, and then I realised it was for me, and for people like me, who wanted to go in to these research centres and find out more,” said Murray.

During the course of his research, Murray came across a pop-up art exhibition in newspaper format. He realised that something similar would be ideal for this project. “I wanted to produce something that could be picked up and read in depth on the bus or at home,” said Murray.

He worked with designer Elliott Hammer of Birch Studio Ltd in London, to produce the exhibition so that the full display can be taken away and read as a broadsheet newspaper.

The exhibition, entitled “How to genetically modify a tomato, and other things we eat”, will be open from Saturday 10th September to Friday 15th September at the Impressions Gallery, Centenary Square in Bradford. On Tuesday 13th September (13.30-15.00), Murray and some of the scientists involved in the project will be on hand to talk about their work and answer any questions.

“How to genetically modify a tomato, and other things we eat” details the processes scientists at the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory are using to genetically modify plants. Three studies were followed that are producing drought-tolerant barley, blight-resistant versions of the most popular potato varieties, and healthier tomatoes. Murray recorded the different stages, showing how genes are introduced, how the plants containing this gene are checked, and then how the performance of this gene is tested.


In the Beginning

- ABC (Australia), Sept 28, 2011. Listen to the audio at

Genetically Modified food is a perplexing issue. Most of what we eat is genetically changed in some way - even organic food. Maryanne Demasi explores the history of various conventional techniques of modifying plant DNA, including cross-breeding, mutational breeding and embryo rescue. It's Genetic Engineering techniques that provide the fastest route to crop diversity - and the techniques that generate the most fear amongst consumers.

Rarely has there been a new technology which has generated more acrimonious disagreement than genetic modification.

Professor Peter Langridge - I've heard some people suggest that climate change has been due to GM crops, that the rising cancer rates in the community are due to GM. Claims and suggestions that have no relationship with reality at all.

Dr Maryanne Demasi - There seems to be a lot of confusion when it comes to genetic modification. A little-known fact is that virtually everything we eat has been genetically modified in some way, even organic food. So what's all the fuss about?

Well apparently, it's all in the definition. Professor Peter Langridge was an advisor to the Legislative Committee that defined genetically modified food.

Professor Peter Langridge - Well it is actually quite difficult to define, and that causes the confusion. But generally we talk about genetically modified food as food that's derived from organisms that have been genetically engineered.

Dr Maryanne Demasi - So genetic engineering is one way of modifying the genetic material in food, are there other ways?

Professor Peter Langridge - Yes, there are many methods and we've been using them for hundreds of years to try and improve the crop plants and the food that we eat.

Dr Maryanne Demasi - But they're not as controversial as genetic engineering.

Professor Peter Langridge
No, I think they're largely accepted. They've been used for a very long period of time, they've given us the diversity and the quality of food that we now enjoy, but genetic engineering has been the technology that people are very worried about.

Modifying the genetic material in food is not new. For centuries, plant breeders have been introducing new genes into their crops by cross-breeding, to create hybrids.

Professor Peter Langridge
In order to make a cross between two different plants, what we first need to do is get the ah, flower, before the pollen is mature, that's removed, in other words the flower is emasculated. And we go and we get some fresh pollen from another source, like here, see? And we take these anthers and we drop these into the, ah, the flower, and that will then affect the cross-pollination.

The variety in shape and colour of tomatoes we see today are all a result of cross-breeding. In the early 1900s, plant breeders began to get more imaginative with their techniques. They started crossing species that would never normally cross, like a wild wheat with a modern variety.

Professor Peter Langridge
It's a little bit like crossing a Chihuahua with a Great Dane. It's possible but it creates pretty serious problems for the ah, the organisms involved. And it's the same thing with, with wheat. So that even though you often will get fertilisation occurring, the, the seeds may not be normal. So what we need to do is rescue the embryo. And so there's our, there's our seed, and the embryo sits at the top here. To get the embryo out, we cut in at the top. There's the embryo.

Dr Maryanne Demasi - Right.

Professor Peter Langridge - Okay, so we take that embryo, and we can put it into culture, onto medium, and it will, it will grow and develop into a normal plant.

Dr Maryanne Demasi - Because the plant wouldn't grow normally without help, the extra nourishment is provided by these cultures. And this technique is the basis of all our modern wheat varieties. These techniques bring about genetic diversity which is important for the survival and adaptability of a species. So by changing the combination of genes in a plant, you can make them more resilient to environmental stressors.

Without genetic diversity, we'd be vulnerable to mass crop extinction. Originally from South America, the potato was introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century. It became the staple food in Ireland until the disaster of the Great Potato Famine.

Professor Peter Langridge - Only a few varieties had been grown in Ireland. At some point a disease got across. The disease was called Late Blight, and virtually wiped out the potato crop. The result was massive famine in Ireland with hundreds of thousands of people dying, and many more being forced to migrate.

In the 1950s plant breeders used chemicals or ionising radiation to deliberately cause mutations in the DNA of seeds. Once planted, they looked for new varieties. Today, this type of mutational breeding is an unregulated way of modifying the genetic material in food. Seedless mandarins resulted from this type of breeding.

Dr Maryanne Demasi - You've just seen ways in which the food you eat today, including organic food, can be genetically modified by techniques used for hundreds of years. What I'm about to show you is how to genetically modify a plant using genetic engineering. And it's this technique that the anti-GM movement want stopped.

Scientists isolate a gene or even engineer one in the lab.

Dr Andrew Jacobs - The technology would certainly allow us to take genes from any source and put them into plants. But most of the work that we do is taking genes that are already in the plant, and modifying their expression, or alternatively, genes from closely related species.

The new gene, attached to a circular piece of DNA called a plasmid is inserted into a bacterium called agrobacterium, which naturally infects plants. Once its harmful properties are disarmed, the agrobacterium smuggles the new gene into the host plant.

Dr Andrew Jacobs - What I've got is some Arabidopsis plants here, um, and these have got immature flowers. And all I'm going to do is invert the plant into the solution … about ten seconds or so. And that is essentially it. There'll be a transfer of DNA from the agrobacterium into the female germ line of the plant, and the DNA will be transferred.

Dr Maryanne Demasi - So why don't we just stick to conventional methods for modifying DNA? Why do we need genetic engineering?

Dr Andrew Jacobs - Well the advantage of this technology is that you're able to transfer a single gene, rather than a whole lot of other genes that come through when you do a conventional cross.

Rules regulating this type of technology began in the mid-seventies, and gradually became more stringent.

Professor Peter Langridge
Most recently, in 2001, the Federal Government brought in the Gene Technology Act, which went from an advisory system to a regulatory system, where there were penalties that could be imposed if someone disobeyed the um, the rules and guidelines.

But it's these laws that some scientists say makes this new technology safe.

Dr Andrew Jacobs - If I produce a product today through conventional breeding, um, there's no requirement for me to have any food testing done, ah, or human trials or anything like that. If I use an alternate technology such as genetic engineering, then I'm required to prove that that food is safe.

Professor Peter Langridge - Our brief is to try and develop and deliver the best technologies possible to the Australian community. But we are concerned I think that there's now mistrust for, for scientists and decisions that scientists are making.


Transgenic bean developed by Embrapa is approved in Brazil

- Crop Biotech Update, Sept 19, 2011

This is the first transgenic plant that is totally produced by public institutions

September 15, 2011 - The National Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio) approved today the genetically modified (GM) bean resistant to the golden mosaic virus, the worst enemy of this crop in Brazil and in South America.

Developed by Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária – Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural and Livestock Research Company), this bean event is the first transgenic plant that is entirely produced by public research institutions. Nearly 10 years were needed for the research in a partnership between Embrapa Recursos Genéticos e Biotecnologia – Cenargen (Embrapa Genetic Resources and Biotechnology) and Embrapa Arroz e Feijão (Embrapa Rice and Beans).

“In the field trials performed, even with the massive presence of the whitefly, the insect that transmits the mosaic virus, the transgenic plant was not affected by the disease”, says Francisco Aragão, Cenargen researcher and one of the people in charge of the project.

Social, environmental and economic importance

Beans are a type of crop that is extremely important especially in Latin American and African societies, and it is the most important legume in the eating habits of over 500 million people. In Brazil, it is the main vegetable source of protein and iron, and when associated to rice, it results in an even more nutritional mix.

The world production of beans corresponds to over 12 million tons. Brazil is the second country in this rank and the plant is produced especially by small farmers, with nearly 80% of the production and cultivated area in properties smaller than 100 hectares. When the golden mosaic virus attacks the plantation at its initial phase, it can cause damage to 100% of the production. Embrapa Arroz e Feijão estimates that the loss caused by the disease would be enough to feed up to 5-10 million people.

The transgenic bean presents economic and environmental advantages, such as reduced waste, guaranteed harvest and reduced agrochemicals applications. With the approval, the transgenic seeds will be multiplied and must reach the market in two or three years.

“All the biosafety analyses have been carried out and the genetically modified bean is as safe as or even safer than the conventional varieties, both for human consumption and for the environment”, Aragão highlighted.

New technology

mbrapa Recursos Genéticos e Biotecnologia researcher, Franscisco Aragão, and Embrapa Arroz e Feijão researcher, Josias Faria, used four genetic transformation strategies.

In general terms, they genetically modified the plant so that it could produce small fragments of RNA, responsible for the activation of its defense mechanism against the golden mosaic virus, devastating to the crop.

“We have mimicked the natural system”, says Franscisco Aragão, explaining that the great advantage of such technology is that there is no production of new protein in the plants, and consequently, there are no allergenicity and toxicity risks. Furthermore, the RNA fragments can cause resistance to several variations of the same virus.


• Cantaloupe Outbreak: 13 Dead, 18 States, More To Come

• - Maryn McKenna , Wired, September 28, 2011 |

I’ve been away at a couple of very interesting conferences — more on those soon — so I’m late to this story; on the other hand, the story hasn’t even peaked yet, and thus there’s plenty of time for us to catch up.

So: An outbreak of foodborne illness that appears to be spread by fresh cantaloupes has sickened 72 people so far, in 18 states, and 13 have died. According to investigators, the source of the contamination has not yet been found. And also, according to a media briefing today, the contaminated cantaloupes were also shipped overseas, to countries that investigators would not identify. And, as an extra bonus, the tally of cases and deaths is likely to keep rising, because the particular illness in this outbreak has an incubation period of up to two months.
That’s the highlight reel: Dead from eating melon. Now, the details:

The outbreak, which has been building for several weeks, involves melons from a single grower in Granada, Colo. called Jensen Farms. The first cases occurred at the beginning of August and authorities began to be concerned when the outbreak crossed state lines in early September. On Sept. 14, the growers did the right thing and launched a recall of all the whole cantaloupes they shipped between July 29 and Sept. 10. To their knowledge, they had sold cantaloupes to wholesalers and distributors in 17 25 states.

At this point, I can practically hear foodborne-disease geeks — as well as almost anyone who has taken a tropical vacation — thinking to themselves: “Wait. Weren’t we told it’s safe to eat fruit if it has a rind and you don’t eat the rind? You don’t eat cantaloupe rind. What gives?” And that’s correct, generally. The advice you get, if you want to eat anything raw that might have been contaminated, is to choose something with a peel, wash it, and then peel it yourself. But there’s an aspect of melon that makes this problematic: Unlike a banana, you don’t peel a melon with your fingers. You slice it, and the knife blade can carry any organisms on the outside of the melon into the flesh. Take a look at the image of cantaloupe skin at the top of this post. It has lots of nooks and crannies; even if you scrubbed it — and who scrubs a melon? — you would be unlikely to get it clean.

There’s a further complication in this outbreak. The organism that is causing the illnesses and deaths isListeria monocytogenes. It’s uncommon in produce; in fact, this is the first time the bacterium has been found in cantaloupe. And in the annual toll of foodborne illness, Listeria is a bit player. It causes perhaps 1,600 cases per year in the United States, compared to more than 1 million cases annually ofSalmonella. But pretty much alone among the foodborne organisms, Listeria possesses a unique adaptation to modern life: It reproduces very well in the cold. So anything that is contaminated with it and then is refrigerated — fruit in this outbreak, and deli meats, fresh cheeses and milk in past ones — will come out of the refrigerator bearing a bigger burden of bacteria than when it went in.

Read on at