News in May 2011
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General - global
- Robert Finger et al. Sustainability 2011, 3, 743-762; doi:10.3390/su3050743

Abstract: This paper reviews the evidence on the socio-economic impacts of GM crops and analyzes whether there are patterns across space and time. To this end, we investigate the effect of GM crops on farm-level costs and benefits using global data from more than one decade of field trials and surveys. More specifically, we analyze the effects of GM-crops on crop yields, seed costs, pesticide costs, and management and labor costs and finally gross margins. Based on collected data from studies on Bt cotton and Bt maize, statistical analyses are conducted to estimate the effect of GM crop adoption on these parameters.

Our results show that, compared to conventional crops, GM crops can lead to yield increases and can lead to reductions in the costs of pesticide application, whereas seed costs are usually substantially higher. Thus, the results presented here do support the contention that the adoption of GM crops leads on average to a higher economic performance, which is also underlined by the high adoption rates for GM crops in a number of countries. However, the kind and magnitude of benefits from GM crops are very heterogeneous between countries and regions, particularly due to differences in pest pressure and pest management practices. Countries with poor pest management practices benefited most from a reduction in yield losses, whereas other countries benefited from cost reductions.

However, our study also reveals limitations for meta-analyses on farm-level costs and benefits of GM crops. In particular, published data are skewed towards some countries and the employed individual studies rely on different assumptions, purposes and methodologies (e.g., surveys and field trials). Furthermore, a summary of several (often) short-term individual studies may not necessarily capture long-term effects of GM crop adoption.

Impact of GM crops on biodiversity
Janet E. Carpenter
GM Crops 2:1, 1-17; January/February/March 2011; © 2011 Landes Bioscience

The potential impact of genetically modified (GM) crops on biodiversity has been a topic of general interest as well as specifically in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Agricultural biodiversity has been defined at levels from genes to ecosystems that are involved or impacted by agricultural production. After fifteen years of commercial cultivation, a substantial body of literature now exists addressing the potential impacts of GM crops on the environment. This review takes a biodiversity lens to this literature, considering the impacts at three levels: the crop, farm and landscape scales. Within that framework, this review covers potential impacts of the introduction of genetically engineered crops on: crop diversity, non-target soil organisms, weeds, land use, non-target above-ground organisms and area-wide pest suppression. The emphasis of the review is on peer-reviewed literature that presents direct measures of impacts on biodiversity. In addition, possible impacts of changes in management practices such as tillage and pesticide use are also discussed to complement the literature on direct measures. The focus of the review is on technologies that have been commercialized somewhere in the world, while results may emanate from non-adopting countries and regions. Overall, the review finds that currently commercialized GM crops have reduced the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity, through enhanced adoption of conservation tillage practices, reduction of insecticide use and use of more environmentally benign herbicides and increasing yields to alleviate pressure to convert additional land into agricultural use.

Hillary Clinton on Food Security
- Food and Agriculture Organization; Rome, Italy, May 6, 2011

Global food prices are once again on the rise. The FAO Food Price Index reached an all-time high in February. Yesterdays update showed little decrease. The World Bank estimates that 44 million people have been pushed into poverty since just last June because of rising food prices. I know that you have been working very hard around the world as a voice for market-based approaches to managing the impact of rising food prices. And the recent FAO-organized regional meetings have had a very positive effect.

But we know what the consequences are, because during the last major rise in food prices in 2007 and 2008, they were grave. For hundreds of millions of people, the staples of life, like rice, wheat, or corn, were suddenly out of reach. People who were already vulnerable fell into an even greater danger zone. Anger and frustration over food prices sparked riots in dozens of countries.

We can adopt a smart, strategic approach. We can increase agricultural productivity, decrease poverty, drive economic growth, and reduce under-nutrition that will enable millions of children to be on a better path toward the future. Through Feed The Future, we aim to lift incomes of 18 million vulnerable men, women, and children. We aim to prevent stunting and child mortality for 7 million children. We aim to generate $2.8 billion in agricultural GDP in the target regions that we have chosen through research and development activities. And we aim to leverage 70 million more dollars in private investments that improve sustainable market opportunities for small-holder farmers.

The cause and cure for high food prices - excessive regulation and biotech crops - Catholic Economist
- Benjamin Mann, May 7, 2011 / 07:51 am (EWTN News)

According to a leading Catholic economist, excessive government regulations are to blame for the rise in prices.

A complex combination of factors - including natural disasters and higher oil prices, as well as a rising standard of living in countries like China, India and Brazil - have made food less affordable in recent months.

The United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization has warned that the "food price shock" could have devastating effects upon the world's poorest people.

At meetings in Cape Town, South Africa this week, African leaders discussed a "road map" to help the continent cope with rising prices through market-based approaches that would encourage local agriculture.

Some factors behind higher food prices, such as natural disasters, cannot be controlled. But Dr. Samuel Gregg, an economist at Michigan-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, said other factors - especially agricultural subsidies and the manipulation of oil supplies - were preventing poorer countries from bringing their productive capacities to bear in the global market.

The result, he told EWTN News on May 6, is an under-supply of food, and higher prices. "All the subsidies that go into agriculture - through things like import taxes and tariffs, as well as direct subsidies - have the paradoxical effect of reducing the incentive for investment in agriculture in developing countries," Gregg observed.

Without the ability to sell their products at competitive prices on the global market, these countries end up producing less food, and attracting fewer investors. "They end up saying, 'We can't compete because of subsidies in the European Union and the United States.' Consequently, the supply of food starts to be reduced, because there isn't the incentive for agricultural investment."

Another obstacle to meeting rising demand for food may come from ideological opposition to genetically-modified crops. "There are all sorts of restrictions in place around the world, upon the development of genetically modified food," Gregg noted. Genetic modification is highly controversial, and sceptics worry such crops could harm local ecosystems or human health. But Gregg said that these concerns had to be weighed against the world's urgent food needs, given that genetic modification could enable crops to be grown "in conditions where they might not otherwise be able to be produced."

Many of these crops are also designed to resist natural occurrences - such as droughts, floods, and disease - that destabilize food prices. "There's no question that if more countries were enabled by law to engage in genetically modified agriculture, the supply of food would go up, and prices would come down," he observed.

Gregg's advocacy of what he called a "true free market in agriculture," geared toward attracting investment in the developing world, reflects priorities that Pope Benedict XVI outlined in his 2008 encyclical "Caritas in Veritate."

In that encyclical, the Pope said that "the problem of food insecurity" had to be addressed by "eliminating the structural causes that give rise to it, and promoting the agricultural development of poorer countries. This can be done," the Pope wrote, "by investing in rural infrastructures, irrigation systems, transport, organization of markets, and in the development and dissemination of agricultural technology."

Pope Benedict stated said the developing world's most urgent need in this area was "a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food."

Books & Articles

Sustainability of current genetically modified crop cultivation


28 - 30 June 2011, Paris, France

The International Conference on Agricultural, Biosystems, Biotechnology and Biological Engineering aims to bring together academic scientists, leading engineers, industry researchers and scholar students to exchange and share their experiences and research results about all aspects of Agricultural, Biosystems, Biotechnology and Biological Engineering.

Europe - EU

Pocket guide to GM Crops and policies in Europe

Agriculture faces serious challenges in the szyears ahead — from a rapidly growing global population that will put increasing strain on the world’s food supply, to climate change and its effect on water availability and arable land, to concerns about the environment and biodiversity.

Europe can help the world face these challenges. How? By using less water, increasing our land’s productivity to help fight global food insecurity, exploiting less land in other countries for our food needs, and addressing the effects of climate change.

But this can happen only if policymakers give farmers the tools they need to compete and survive in a changing world. The technologies offered by crop science and genetic engineering have a long history of improving agriculture and play a critical role in addressing the challenges of today and tomorrow. GM crops are not the only answer, but their environmental benefits and higher yields make them an option that farmers should have the freedom to choose.

For 15 years GM crops have been increasingly cultivated and consumed all over the world. Concerns about possible negative effects on health and the environment have proven to be unfounded. Around the world, 15.4 million farmers are planting GM crops on 148 million hectares. But Europe has been slow to embrace the technology. This guide aims to provide fact-based information to policymakers, journalists and the wider public, and to show why European farmers should have the freedom of choice that their counterparts in other countries are already exercising.

Time and technology are moving on – is Europe ready to move with them?


Exploring bioethics – Nuffield Council

The Council is seeking views on the ethical issues posed by emerging biotechnologies. Your views will be valuable in shaping and informing the deliberations of a Working Party that was recently set up to consider this topic.

The Working Party is interested in the way society and policy makers respond to new biotechnologies and how benefits from these technologies can be secured in an ethically appropriate manner. This issue will be considered in light of both current examples of emerging biotechnologies, such as synthetic biology and nanotechnology, and older cases, such as genetically modified crops and assisted reproduction technologies.

The deadline for responses is 15 June 2011. Tom Finnegan Email:


Howard G. Buffett Foundation Teams with DuPont and The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to Deliver Nutritionally Enhanced Sorghum to Africa
Grant Funds Next Phase in Bringing Healthier Sorghum Closer to Underserved Communities
ST. LOUIS and DES MOINES, Iowa, May 4, 2011

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and DuPont today announced a $4 million grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to bring healthier sorghum to underserved communities in Africa.

The project focuses on increased zinc and iron bioavailability through phytate reduction, improved protein digestibility and increased pro-vitamin A levels. These key nutrients and micronutrients aid in child development, and reduce rates of diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, lower respiratory tract infections and curb Vitamin A deficiency, which is the leading cause of acquired blindness in children in the developing world.

Improving the nutrition of this staple crop has the potential to change the lives of more than 300 million Africans, said Howard G. Buffett, president of the Foundation.


Let farmers decide whether to adopt biotechnology
Rudy A. Fernandez, The Philippine Star, May 22, 2011
LOS BAŃOS, Laguna, Philippines - Let farmers decide whether to adopt biotechnology or genetically modified (GM) crops.

"Withholding biotech from among their options would be an injustice to them as food producers and members of the food-consuming society," stressed Director Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. of the Los Bańos-based, government-hosted Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization-Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEAMEO SEARCA). His forum was the annual seminar on "Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops" held recently at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City.

SEARCA is one of the 20 "centers of excellence" of SEAMEO, an intergovernment treaty organization founded in 1965 to foster cooperation among Southeast Asian nations in the fields of education, science, and culture. NAST is the country's highest advisory and recognition body on S&T.


The cost of precaution
Steve Savage, BioF ortified, 21 May 2011

Change (%) in major row crop production in the US 2008 to 2010:
Winter wheat - 98
Sprong wheat – 105
Triticum durum - 111
Corn – 158
Soybeans - 147

The data above show the relative production of these major US row crops comparing the years 1993-1995 (just prior to the introduction of biotechnology enhanced crops) and 2008-10 (the most recent available data which covers a a span which comes 12-15 years after biotech. Soybean production has expanded 47% in this time-frame while corn is up 58% (far more than the quantity now being diverted for biofuel). Both of those crops are predominantly planted to "GMO" varieties, while the various segments of the wheat crop remain non-GMO. Until 2004 it looked as if North American growers would also get to plant biotech wheat, but a vigorous campaign led by Greenpeace succeeded in blocking the technology. Many major European and Japanese grain buyers were concerned about potential consumer push-back (based on Greenpeace efforts), so they made a coordinated threat to boycott all North American wheat exports if any commercial GMO wheat was planted in the US or Canada. This was based on the "precautionary principle."

Monsanto puts modified wheat back on the market
- GEORGINA GUSTIN , St. Louis Post Dispatch, May 8, 2011

Monsanto had been working to commercialize a genetically modified wheat, but in 2004, facing industry rejection, the company pulled back. "A couple of things led us to stop," Gardner said. "The industry probably wasn't ready for it."

Half of the country's wheat is exported - and some of those export markets adopted a zero-tolerance stance on the presence of genetically modified grain, meaning even one genetically modified seed could prompt a wholesale rejection of a shipment.

So much of the wheat crop goes into the export market - more so than corn and soybeans," said Ann McKendry, a wheat breeder with the University of Missouri. "And the world didn't want GM."

Now many wheat growers, who initially balked at genetically modified wheat, say they welcome it. In 2008, the National Association of Wheat Growers conducted a survey of its members to see if they wanted to support biotechnology, and 80 percent said yes.

We realized we're behind and we need access to the technology," said Jane DeMarchi, the association's director of government affairs for research and technology.


David Leyonhjelm, Business Spectator (Australia), 9 May 2011

Productivity growth in Australian agriculture is a problem. Globally it has slowed, but in Australia it has slowed even more.

The private sector would invest far more in R&D but doesn't because of the risk that it will not be permitted to commercialise its innovations. When it comes to farming, especially food production, the community tends to view new technology with suspicion and sometimes outright opposition.

Probably the best example of this is genetically modified (GM) crops. Despite 15 years of event-free cultivation and no scientific grounds for apprehension, regulatory barriers remain high and political, with bureaucratic and media disapproval significant. Moreover, the relatively few companies that continue to invest in the technology are vilified. Monsanto, for example, probably has the worst public image of any major corporation in the developed world.

The price paid for this is declining international competitiveness. Productivity growth in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, India and China, and also parts of the US and Canada, is higher than in Australia. One of the main contributors is that those countries have embraced new technology in the form of genetically modified crops, primarily canola, maize, cotton and soybeans.

Globally, yields for wheat and rice, which are not genetically modified, are in decline. Maize, canola, soybean and cotton yields are either steady or rising.

Whether agriculture returns to its productive growth path and can feed a relatively prosperous population of nine billion people by 2050 will depend more on how well society accepts new technology than whether the technology is invented in the first place.

It is our own fault that productivity growth is in decline, and it will be own fault if it does not recover.

David Leyonhjelm works in the agribusiness and veterinary markets as principal of Baron Strategic Services and Baron Senior Placements.

News in Science

Banana problem
Eluniverso, May 3, 2011

The banana, a plant which is threatened by the Black Sigatoka, will be extinguished within about ten years, if a genetically modified hybrid is not created to combat this fungus that endangers plantations worldwide, according to Emile Frison, researcher of the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain (INIBAP).

Juan Fuentes, manager of bananas at Farmagro in Ecuador, said that in recent years the entire value chain connected to the banana industry has needed to be very efficient to compete in this industry. The efforts to lower production costs for a box of bananas have been reflected in new developments to increase productivity, including programs to manage the Black Sigatoka.

According to the technician, control of this fungus in the country requires not only the application of protectant and systemic fungicides, but the development of contingency strategies to control it efficiently, maintaining the performance of fungicides and avoiding the presence of a resistance phenomenon which complicates the implementation of control methods and increases production costs.

Eucalyptus tree genome deciphered
Published: Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Last Updated: Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Chemical profiles of GM tomato compared to traditional varieties
Published: Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Last Updated: Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Genetically modified (GM) tomatoes look much the same as traditional varieties (Fig. 1). But are they? By comparing the chemical diversity of strains of GM tomatoes with a control strain and traditional reference cultivars, a research team in Japan has developed a way to distinguish between them.

Geneticists Bid to Build a Better Bee
Honeybee genome offers clues for fighting diseases.
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