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December 15, 2011


Increasing Crop Yield; Long Term Study of Health Impact; Brave New Wheat; Problem or Paranoia? Honey-Free Europe


Biotechnology Could Contribute to Field Crop Yield Trends

Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review

Brave New Wheat

Genetically modified food: Problem or paranoia?

Africa needs non-GM green revolution to boost food

Honey-free Europe

Pesticide manufacturers opposing Bt brinjal, says expert


Biotechnology Could Contribute to Field Crop Yield Trends


- Corn and Soybean Digest, Dec. 13, 2011 4:04pm

While not entirely explaining increased yields for corn and soybeans over the past 15 years, one Ohio State University agricultural economist said statistical evidence on linear yield trends shows biotechnology could play a role.

Carl Zulauf, a professor with the Department of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Economics and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, studied yield trends for corn, soybeans and upland cotton, three crops most widely associated with the adoption of biotechnology. He then compared yield trends for those crops with 11 other crops for which adoption of biotech seed is virtually nonexistent.

"Biotechnology varieties first became available for commercial use in the U.S. in 1996," Zulauf explains. "By 2011, they accounted for 88%, 90% and 94% of the acres planted to corn, upland cotton and soybeans, respectively."

With 15 years of yield data to analyze, Zulauf chose to compare trends from the biotech-influenced era with yield data from years 1940 through 1995, noting that 1940 marked the year when the average yield of most U.S. crops began increasing, due in part to traditional breeding methods.

In evaluating the data, he discovered that only seven of the 14 crops exhibited a higher estimated yield trend during the 1996-2011 period than the comparison years of 1940-1995. The seven crops are barley, corn, cotton, peanuts, rice, soybeans and sugar beets. In other words, of the non-biotech-influenced crops, only four of 11 exhibited a higher yield trend in the more recent of the two data sets.

"This analysis finds that, while the yield trend increased for all three biotech crops after 1996, the yield trend increased for less than half of the crops for which biotech varieties are of limited importance," Zulauf says. "This finding does not prove that biotechnology is the reason for the higher yield trend for corn, cotton and soybeans. It only reveals that the evidence on linear yield trends is not inconsistent with such a conclusion."

He observed that over 10 years, the higher yield trend translated into a harvested yield that was 1.6 bu., 0.6 bu. and 69.1 lbs. higher for corn, soybeans and cotton, respectively. The addition to yield is 1%, 1.4% and 7.9% of the highest harvest yield observed for corn, soybeans and cotton.

"So, for corn and soybeans, the increase in yield trend since 1995 is not large," Zulauf remarks. "The implications, of course, are subject to change with more years of data."

Zulauf's full report, including information on the statistical methodology used in his analysis, is available online. A companion paper, studying the common observation that biotechnology has also reduced variation in U.S. crop yields, is also available.


Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review


- Snell Chelseaa et al. , Food and Chemical Toxicology, In Press, doi:10.1016/j.fct.2011.11.048

The aim of this systematic review was to collect data concerning the effects of diets containing GM maize, potato, soybean, rice, or triticale on animal health. We examined 12 long-term studies (of more than 90 days, up to 2 years in duration) and 12 multigenerational studies (from 2 to 5 generations). We referenced the 90-day studies on GM feed for which long-term or multigenerational study data were available. Many parameters have been examined using biochemical analyses, histological examination of specific organs, hematology and the detection of transgenic DNA. The statistical findings and methods have been considered from each study. Results from all the 24 studies do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed. However, some small differences were observed, though these fell within the normal variation range of the considered parameter and thus had no biological or toxicological significance. If required, a 90-day feeding study performed in rodents, according to the OECD Test Guideline, is generally considered sufficient in order to evaluate the health effects of GM feed. The studies reviewed present evidence to show that GM plants are nutritionally equivalent to their non-GM counterparts and can be safely used in food and feed.

► The health impact of GM diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding studies were reviewed in a literature survey. ► No significant differences in analyzed parameters have been found in long-term studies. ► No significant differences in analyzed parameters have been found in multigenerational studies. ► The 90-day OECD Test Guideline seems adequate and sufficient for evaluating health effects of GM plant diets. ► The benefits of harmonizing experimental protocols in fundamental research to raise the quality of such studies are discussed.


Brave New Wheat


- Elizabeth Finkel, Cosmos, October 2011, Issue 41
LIKE A BIBLICAL pestilence, it spread unchecked across India and China, turning golden oceans of wheat into blackened wastelands. Then, blown by the winds, the great red cloud swept across the Indian Ocean to continue its easterly creep across Australia.

Yet the fields stayed golden. The only evidence of the passing rust plague was the occasional shrivelled roadside specimen of old varieties escaped from the paddock. It's 2050, and Australia's bounteous wheat harvest has been saved. The hundred dollar notes printed that year bore the images of Jeff Ellis, Evans Lagudah, Wolfgang Spielmeyer, Peter Dodds, and Mick Ayliffe, the CSIRO scientists whose teams had genetically modified wheat to resist the rust plague.

The only farfetched aspect of this scenario is that it probably won't be India and China that miss out on these protective crops. It will be Australia - that's if the enemies of genetically modified crops have their way.

Groups like Greenpeace, committed to a struggle against GM foods, are keeping the rage alive. In fact, they're becoming more adamant even as the evidence goes the other way and public acceptance grows. Twenty-five years after the first GM crop was sown and 15 years after their introduction into the human food chain, anti-GM activists decry genetic modification of foodstuffs as the arch-enemy of human health and the environment. Their thinking goes something like this: GM foods are unnatural, inadequately tested, unsafe and a tool for the corporations of the world to control our food supply and get rich.

So what's the evidence for this? Mostly, the opinion of a minority of scientists, who are lionised and feted by anti-GM campaigners. At the same time, the opinion of thousands of scientists, the evidence of hundreds of reports and 25 years of studies concluding GM food is as safe as conventional food - are ignored.

Sound familiar? It mirrors the heated battle over climate change, with a minority of expert opinion (and many not-so-expert) confusing the issues and waylaying good policy.

And it's the kind of thing we've seen before: Peter Duesberg, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley - famed for being the first to isolate a cancer gene - has long maintained that AIDS isn't caused by the HIV virus: a review of his evidence in the respected journals Nature and Science found his citations selective and his argument "lacking credibility". Then there's former British surgeon Andrew Wakefield, who helped ignite anti-vaccination hysteria by claiming in a paper that autism was linked to the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine; a claim refuted by many studies since. His theory led the British Medical Journal, following an investigation, to call his original paper "an elaborate fraud", and eventually led to Wakefield being deregistered as a physician in Britain.

Greenpeace doesn't champion fringe scientists when talking about climate change. But when it comes to GM food, it does. Of course, just because you're in the minority doesn't mean you're wrong: in the 1980s, Australian physician Barry Marshall claimed bacteria caused stomach ulcers - and nobody believed him. But he and colleague Robin Warren developed a strong body of evidence and, eventually, proved it - and both collected a Nobel Prize.

In science, fringe players who back their claims with good scientific evidence, eventually win out. And when they can't, they stay in the fringe; while the mainstream view, rightly, holds sway.
But that's not how Greenpeace sees it.

In the wee hours of 14 July 2011, three women clad in hazmat suits took whipper-snippers to a plot of the Australian science organisation, the CSIRO's, GM wheat, growing in Ginninderra, Canberra. They damaged hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money and set the scientists' work back by a year. One of them, brandishing her motherhood in a choreographed interview, told us: "GM wheat is not safe, and if the government can't protect the safety of my family, then I will."

So what was this monster wheat that led the Greenpeace mum to don a hazmat suit and break the law? It wasn't rust-resistant wheat she destroyed - that wheat is still years away from testing. The breeds she destroyed may not save the world's wheat in one dramatic stroke, but they could make a big contribution to growing enough food to feed nine billion people - the world's estimated population by 2050 - while also improving their health, and doing it more sustainably.

Let me tell you a tale of three wheats.

OF COURSE, there's a flaw in the logic here. You can only test for what you know. What if the plant makes something weird and unexpected? It's possible. But that same possibility applies to all newly bred plant varieties. We've accepted that hazard for 10,000 years.

Besides compositional analysis, GM crops have been subject to feeding trials in rats, something that non-GM new varieties (like the Lenape potato) don't automatically require. Some studies have famously suggested that rats fed GM food suffered harmful effects. Arpad Pusztai, then at Britain's Rowett Research Institute, published a controversial study in The Lancet in 1999 showing rats fed insect-resistant GM potatoes showed changes to their intestines and immune system. Gilles-Eric Seralini, molecular biologist, found changes in the organs of rats fed herbicide-resistant GM corn.

The signatories to the CSIRO letter also raised these rat-feeding studies as a concern. And this was a warning light. Because these studies have been roundly rejected by mainstream science: Pusztai's work was reviewed by a specially convened panel of experts, the Royal Society and food safety experts around the world, and rejected. As for Seralini's claims, Chassy commented "EFSA [the European Food Safety Authority] has reviewed every claim he has made, and concluded that they are without scientific merit … Expert histologists, physiologists and toxicologists have looked at the data, and concluded that there were no meaningful differences. In short, Seralini is playing games with differences in numbers that mean nothing."

Towards the end of 2010, the European Commission released a mammoth study into the safety of GM foods, summarising 50 studies carried out between 2001 and 2010 and involving more than 400 independent research groups. Their previous report spanned 15 years. So after a total of 25 years of research involving 500 independent research groups and costing €300 million, their conclusion is "that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than [for example] conventional plant breeding technologies."

IT'S UNSETTLING WHEN scientists disagree. But it's not uncommon. When they do, the prudent choice is to take the view espoused by the majority of the experts in the field. As a 2002 letter in Nature Biotechnology by Chassy, Parrott and 16 other food toxicology experts and plant breeders, put it, "Good scientists go astray when they leave their area of expertise to offer an opinion when they have not studied the literature, when they selectively ignore information, or when they let their politics and beliefs interfere with the objectivity of their science."

Will the anti-GM fringe players derail the development of technologies that could one day save a global wheat harvest, that could dent the rise of colorectal cancer, raise flattened yields, make plants guzzle less nitrogen and be more drought and salt tolerant?


A recent trip to my local Coles supermarket was not very heartening. I went to the shelf trying to buy some GM canola oil, something that Australian farmers could at last plant after a moratorium in four Australian states was lifted in 2008.

I searched in vain. All the bottles proudly proclaimed 'GM-free'.

GM recipe
Wheat is a complex beast with six copies of most of its genes. That makes it difficult to reduce the activity of any one gene, which CSIRO researchers had to do to raise amylose levels. Lowering the levels of a gene that makes 'starch branching enzyme' would flick a switch and cause the wheat to make amylose rather than its sister starch amylopectin. They dialled down the activity of the gene for this enzyme using a technique called RNA interference. A piece of lab-synthesised DNA was transferred into the DNA of the wheat cells, where it produced a strand of 'interfering RNA'. This interrupted the activity of the gene.

(from CSP - Please read this superb original full piece at )


Labeling of Biotech Foods Is Unnecessary and Unconstitutional


- Henry Miller and Gregory Conko, Forbes, Dec 8, 2011

Should the government require that labels on cans of marinara sauce contain information about whether the tomatoes in it were hand- or machine-picked? No way! Ridiculous and irrelevant, you’d say. Right on all counts. But that label makes as little sense as the demands of food activist and Forbes contributor Michelle Maisto.

Maisto’s latest Forbes article calls for compulsory, government-mandated labels to indicate foods that have been genetically improved. Yet the foods that Maisto wants to target are those manipulated with the most modern and precise gene-splicing techniques — and only those techniques. Such labels would not only put groundless fears ahead of science — promoting ignorance and hysteria among consumers — they would also be unconstitutional.

Product labeling that conveys essential information is important, but mandatory labeling of gene-spliced foods is a bad idea. First, it implies risks for which there is no evidence. Second, it flies in the face of worldwide scientific consensus about the appropriate basis of regulation, which focuses palpable risks, not the use of certain techniques. Third, it would push the costs of product development into the stratosphere. Finally, the requirement would constitute a punitive tax on a superior technology.

Maisto is misinformed in so many ways.

Let’s begin with her assertion that there’s “a lot of debate about whether or not it’s safe to eat GM [genetically modified] foods.” In the parlance of Maisto and other radical food activists, “GM” refers to products that come from plants, animals or microorganisms crafted with sophisticated gene-splicing techniques, in which genes are moved around precisely and predictably. Without any scientific basis, the term implies that gene-splicing is a meaningful “category” and that its use somehow gives rise to products the risks of which are higher or more uncertain than other techniques for genetic modification. However, a broad and decades-long scientific consensus holds that modern techniques of genetic modification are an extension, or refinement – that is, an improvement – on the kinds of genetic modification that have long been used to enhance plants, microorganisms, and animals for food.

One has to wonder whether Maisto knows that with the exception of wild game, wild berries, wild mushrooms and fish and shellfish, all the plant- and animal-derived foods in our diets – even the overpriced organic stuff at Whole Foods – have resulted from genetic modification that employs techniques that are far less precise and predictable than the ones that concern her. Likewise, is she aware that every major scientific and public health organization that has studied gene-splicing – from the American Medical Association to the National Academy of Sciences and dozens more – has concluded that gene-spliced foods are at least as safe, and probably safer, than conventional ones?

The safety record of gene-spliced plants and foods derived from them is extraordinary. After the cultivation of more than 3 billion acres (cumulatively) of gene-spliced crops worldwide and the consumption of more than 3 trillion servings of food and food ingredients from such crops by inhabitants of North America alone, there has not been a single ecosystem disrupted or a single confirmed adverse reaction.


Genetically modified food: Problem or paranoia?


- Kara Welch, Hampstead - Baltimore Sun, (Letters), November 30, 2011

In October, protesters against genetically modified foods marched through Baltimore on their way to Washington. Their goal is to make Congress require that all genetically modified foods be labeled as such, but the effect will to spread superstition rather than increase awareness about these products.

The witch hunt against genetically modified foods has been gaining traction. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 93 percent of the soybeans and 86 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. in 2009 were genetically modified crops. And despite all the misinformation concerning such foods, they are rapidly being assimilated into the American diet.

The lack of reporting in the media about the positive implications of genetically modified foods is unfortunate. Without crops that produce higher yields at less cost, we will be unable to feed the next generation. How many more times do such foods need to be proven safe before they can begin to avert a coming crisis?


Africa needs non-GM green revolution to boost food


- Svetlana Kovalyova, Reuters Africa, Dec 1, 2011

Africa will rely on non-transgenic crop breeding to boost food output to feed its rapidly growing population in the coming decades but will also need genetically modified products (GM), the head of a pan-African farm think tank said on Wednesday.

The world needs to boost cereals output by 1 billion tonnes and produce 200 million extra tonnes of livestock products a year by 2050 to feed a population projected to rise to 9 billion from about 7 billion now, the United Nations estimates.

Africa's population is expected to double to about 2 billion people by 2050 and the continent would need to double its food output by that time with some countries having to triple food production, Monty Jones, executive director of Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), told Reuters.

"Our future growth is through conventional breeding approach and through the use of biotechnologies which come up with high yields but are not transgenic," Jones said in an interview on the sidelines of an international food and nutrition forum.

"What we need in Africa is our own, unique "green revolution" calling for interventions in several areas, in crops and livestock. We must learn from mistakes of India," he said.

The so-called green revolution in the 1960s and 1970s in India and other developing countries boosted farm production yields through intensive practices and new seed varieties drawing praise for helping reduce the number of hungry people and criticism for making farmers dependent on GM seeds.

African countries should use the best results of conventional breeding and "modest", or non-transgenic, biotechnologies to boost crop yields and make plants resistant to increasing heat and dryness as climate changes, Jones said.

Nerica (New Rice for Africa) rice, a non-GM cross between a high-yielding Asian variety and a hardy African variety has higher yields, shorter growth cycle and more protein content than its parents.

Farmers cultivating Nerica in western and eastern Africa in the past 10 years have doubled and even trippled their yields to up to 4 tonnes per hectare (ha), depending on efficiency of their farms, Jones said.


Jones, who has worked in international agricultural research for the past 24 years, has stopped short of ruling out GM organisms (GMOs) as means to resolve Africa's hunger and said their use would rise slightly in the coming decades there.

"I don't think we should exclude genetically modified products. If they help to increase yields, have stable yields, why not? ... You cannot say "No, I don't want GMOs" while your people are dying," he said.

Even if developing countries double food output by 2050, one person in 20, or about 370 million people, would still risk being undernourished, most of whom would be in Africa and Asia, the U.N's Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates.

GM crops are widely used in major agricultural producers, such as the United States and Brazil, but face staunch opposition in Europe where they are largely seen as potentially risky for human health and environment.

Africans also worry about health problems that GM crops could trigger but so far there has been no evidence of such problems, Jones said.

The spread of GM products in Africa would remain limited in the near term because only six countries on the continent have passed regulations to allow their use and just three of them, Egypt, South Africa and Burkina Faso, commercialise GM crops, Jones said. The global seed leader Monsanto is the main supplier of GM seeds to those countries but other biotech companies are also active there, he said.


Honey-free Europe


- John Davison, Director of Research (retired) INRA Versailles

On the 6th of September the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) made a judgement concerning the presence of pollen from the genetically modified Monsanto maize MON810 in honey.

The ECJ decision classified pollen, in honey, as an ingredient, rather than as an ‘adventitious and technically unavoidable presence’ as under Regulation 1829/2003. This has grave implications for continued honey production in the EU. Separate authorizations would be necessary for each GM-crop cultivated in the EU. Neither of the two GMOs cultivated in Europe (MON810 maize or Amflora potato) have such authorizations at the present time.

Consequently, any honey containing GM-pollen must be withdrawn from the market while awaiting authorization, and all honey must be subjected to the considerable costs of GMO quantification, which will be particularly high due to the zero tolerance imposed by the ECJ. Thus will drive up the price of honey and cause most small amateur bee-keepers to go out of business. The situation for imported honey is similar, or worse, since most source countries USA, Canada, South America and China also grow GM-crops many of which do not have EC authorizations.

Finally, the ECJ decision will likely put an end to GMO field trials in Europe, which are necessary for food and feed security in the EU.


Pesticide manufacturers opposing Bt brinjal, says expert


- Rajiv Mani, Times of India, Nov 30, 2011, 08.08AM IST

ALLAHABAD: Opposition to introduction of Bt brinjal in the country is not backed by technical reasons. Rather it is due to the interest of chemical pesticide manufacturers, who apprehend monetary losses in the event of introduction of this genetically engineered crop, says a pioneer in the field of genetically engineered crops, Alex K Gaponenko, from the Koltzov Institute of Developmental Biology, RAS, Moscow.

Professor Gaponenko, who is in the city to attend the ongoing Science Conclave at IIIT-A, told TOI that genetically engineered crop is the only viable alternative to feed the ever increasing population of the world, which traditional seeds cannot cater. "Population is increasing fast and availability of arable land as well as its fertility is decreasing. As such, crop failures owing to natural reasons like drought and water scarcity or attack of pests etc are only going to increase the problem. Genetically engineered crops are a good solution for this as these can deal with the problem and remain more or less unaffected as far as the produce is concerned," Gaponenko added.

It is a known fact that brinjal is prone to insects and pests attacks and diseases. The most common is the fruit and shoot bore (FSB), for which resistance has not been identified. It causes losses between 45 and 50 per cent in commercial plants and in certain cases even more. Bt brinjal is a transgenic one, created by inserting genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringlensis into brinjal. The transformation was carried out using genetic engineering techniques.