Climate change will make it increasingly difficult to feed the world. GMOs could help

MIT Technology Review:

(…) One advantage of using genetic engineering to help crops adapt to these sudden changes is that new varieties can be created quickly. Creating a potato variety through conventional breeding, for example, takes at least 15 years; producing a genetically modified one takes less than six months. Genetic modification also allows plant breeders to make more precise changes and draw from a far greater variety of genes, gleaned from the plants’ wild relatives or from different types of organisms. Plant scientists are careful to note that no magical gene can be inserted into a crop to make it drought tolerant or to increase its yield—even resistance to a disease typically requires multiple genetic changes. But many of them say genetic engineering is a versatile and essential technique.

“It’s an overwhelmingly logical thing to do,” says Jonathan Jones, a scientist at the Sainsbury Laboratory in the U.K. and one of the world’s leading experts on plant diseases. The upcoming pressures on agricultural production, he says, “[are] real and will affect millions of people in poor countries.” He adds that it would be “perverse to spurn using genetic modification as a tool.”

 

EPA’s New Overseer Of ‘Scientific Integrity’: The Blind Leading The Blind

Henry Miller's UCS thumbnail is just perfect:

If you needed to hire a person to head the financial integrity division of the Securities and Exchange Commission, how about someone who had held that position in Bernie Madoff’s investment firm? In effect, that’s what EPA has done by choosing Francesca Grifo as its “scientific integrity official.”

Grifo previously oversaw the scientific integrity program at the Union of Concerned Scientists – an oxymoron if there ever was one. UCS is well known for exploiting every opportunity to distort science to further its radical, anti-technology agendas. In particular, the organization’s “experts” have been consistent, irresponsible and mendacious critics of genetic engineering and nuclear power, among other technologies; and they have been advocates for the kinds of shifts to “renewable energy” that would send energy costs to consumers and companies into the stratosphere.

UCS’ view of genetic engineering applied to agriculture is especially indefensible and hypocritical: “Genetic engineering in agriculture has failed to deliver on many of its promised benefits, and has produced some serious unintended consequences.” The facts argue otherwise. Because of its advantages – higher yields, less spraying of chemical pesticides, and greater food security and an improved bottom line for farmers — genetic engineering has been hugely successful and the most rapidly adopted agricultural technology in history. The major factor preventing the realization of even more of the “promised benefits” is the overregulation and nuisance lawsuits promoted by UCS and similar groups! UCS’s carping about lackluster progress is reminiscent of the story about the man who kills his parents and then begs the court for mercy because he’s an orphan.

More…

 

The tarnishing of Golden Rice

A few ounces would ameliorate the ravages of vitamin A deficiency— Photo credit Getty Images

An editorial in Science magazine, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said it eloquently: “If ever there was a clear-cut cause for outrage, it is the concerted campaign by Greenpeace and other nongovernmental organizations, as well as by individuals, against Golden Rice.”

Gilbert Ross wrote this op-ed for the Financial Post 

Golden Rice is a genetically-modified food (often referred to with the shorthand GMO). Although there is no reason to suspect that this process has any innate risk — quite the contrary in fact — there is a highly vocal activist movement staunchly opposed to GMO foods for various reasons, none of which have any scientific basis. Perhaps the most relentless of these groups is Greenpeace, always in the forefront of anti-science advocacy, using any and all means at their disposal.

GMO crops are grown in nearly every country in the Americas and in Asia. For reasons of consumer preference, there is no GMO wheat, nor — with the exception of Golden Rice — is there bioengineered rice. After billions of servings consumed worldwide there are no valid reports of harm to anyone attributable to the GMO itself.

All this evidence notwithstanding, the anti-technology activist groups, in league with the organic food lobby, have succeeded in scaring most members of the EU away from accepting these products: “Frankenfood, Non!” is their rallying cry.

A few ounces would ameliorate the ravages of vitamin A deficiency

(…snip…)

Golden Rice detractors have managed to convince the media and the public that Golden Rice is some sort of money-maker for agribusiness. On the contrary, the developers of Golden Rice were and are in the public domain, and they have vowed to provide their miracle rice free of charge where it’s needed — pending regulatory approval, if ever that should come.

Make your opinion known to anyone with authority in this area.

Ross is Medical and Executive Director, The American Council on Science and Health.

The Greenpeace anti-humanity campaign will reverse only when and if the leadership calculates there is more money to be raised, and more status to be gained — by supporting GMO crops, by supporting modern agriculture in Africa, and by supporting the elimination of energy poverty (i.e., nuclear energy). Oh — and there is that Climate Change issue isn’t there?

I don’t know whether GMO labeling should be required

 Excerpted from a long essay by Adam Merberg:

That brings me to one reason I’m less than optimistic about the potential of labels to foster consumer acceptance of biotechnology. I think that the public discourse surrounding agricultural biotechnology is broken. Instead of discussing real issues, we talk about bogus health concerns or Indian farmer suicides. Fixing this will require moving beyond sound bites, and I find it hard to believe that dodging an honest conversation about real issues is a good way to start. Will eradicating one anti-GMO talking point really give us a more nuanced conversation?

Source: http://www.inexactchange.org/blog/2013/11/10/i-dont-know-whether-gmo-labeling-should-be-required/

Greenpeace Golden Rice stance baffling

The introductory paragraphs of an op-ed by Patrick Moore, the former head of Greenpeace:

It was 43 years ago when I boarded an old fishing boat named the Phyllis Cormack in Vancouver on the first Greenpeace campaign to stop nuclear testing in Alaska. 


I never dreamed that 43 years later, Greenpeace would be arriving in Vancouver on a $32 million ship, and that this time I would be going down to protest against them.


I’m still proud of the work Green-peace did during the 15 years I was in the leadership. I left because it had drifted from a humanitarian effort to save civilization from all-out nuclear war to an organization that sees humans as the enemies of the Earth. How else could it justify its opposition to Golden Rice?


Two humanitarian scientists, Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer, used their knowledge of genetics to create Golden Rice, a variety of rice that contains beta carotene, the essential nutrient that we make into vitamin A. 


They were aware that two million people, mostly young children, die each year from vitamin A deficiency. Most of them live in urban slums in Asia and Africa and eat little more than a cup of rice each day. 


Conventional rice contains no beta carotene, resulting in 250 million preschool children who have chronic vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A is necessary for eyesight and the immune system. As many as 500,000 children go blind each year, half of whom die within a year of becoming blind, according to the World Health Organization.


Greenpeace has made a concerted effort to block Golden Rice’s introduction since it was announced in 2000. 


The organization has waged a campaign of misinformation, trashed the scientists who are working to bring Golden Rice to the people who need it and supported the violent destruction of Golden Rice field trials at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.


How does Greenpeace justify this heartless behavior? 


(…snip…)

The likely answer to Moore’s question is “Because we can raise more money by opposing than supporting GMO”. The Greenpeace advocacy will reverse when the leadership calculates there is more Greenpeace $$ and growth by supporting GMO (and nuclear, etc.)

Eleven top scientists: Standing Up for GMOs

On 8 August 2013, vandals destroyed a Philippine “Golden Rice” field trial. Officials and staff of the Philippine Department of Agriculture that conduct rice tests for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) had gathered for a peaceful dialogue. They were taken by surprise when protesters invaded the compound, overwhelmed police and village security, and trampled the rice. Billed as an uprising of farmers, the destruction was actually carried out by protesters trucked in overnight in a dozen jeepneys.

The global scientific community has condemned the wanton destruction of these field trials, gathering thousands of supporting signatures in a matter of days.* If ever there was a clear-cut cause for outrage, it is the concerted campaign by Greenpeace and other nongovernmental organizations, as well as by individuals, against Golden Rice.

…snip…

The eleven signatories to this AAAS Science bulletin are at the top of every relevant field and academy: 

Bruce Alberts is President Emeritus of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and former Editor-in-Chief of Science.

Roger Beachy is a Wolf Prize laureate; President Emeritus of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis, MO, USA; and former director of the U.S. National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

David Baulcombe is a Wolf Prize laureate and Royal Society Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences of the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. He receives research funding from Syngenta and is a consultant for Syngenta.

Gunter Blobel is a Nobel laureate and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Professor at the Rockefeller University, New York, NY, USA.

Swapan Datta is Deputy Director General (Crop Science) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, India; the Rash Behari Ghosh Chair Professor at Calcutta University, India; and a former scientist at ETH-Zurich, Switzerland, and at IRRI, Philippines.

Nina Fedoroff is a National Medal of Science laureate; a Distinguished Professor at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Thuwal, Saudi Arabia; an Evan Pugh Professor at Pennylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA; and former President of AAAS.

Donald Kennedy is President Emeritus of Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA, and former Editor-in-Chief of Science.

Gurdev S. Khush is a World Food Prize laureate, Japan Prize laureate, and former scientist at IRRI, Los Baños, Philippines.

Jim Peacock is a former Chief Scientist of Australia and former Chief of the Division of Plant Industry at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Canberra, Australia.

Martin Rees is President Emeritus of the Royal Society, Fellow of Trinity College, and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Phillip Sharp is a Nobel laureate; an Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA; and President of AAAS.

Possibly they have just a bit more standing than Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, et al?

Are GMOs Safe? Global Independent Science Organizations Weigh In

GMOsAreSafe

Jon Entine at  the Genetic Literacy Project has released a very useful infographic on crop biotechnology safety. This is a summary of the unambiguous safety approvals of every national scientific academy on the planet.

This is the second inforgraphic from GLP. The first is also very useful, 10 reasons we need crop biotechnology

 

Mark Lynas: Using the tools of biotechnology to advance Borlaug’s legacy

Don’t miss the recent keynote speech by Mark Lynas to the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative 2013 Technical Workshop, New Delhi. Norman Borlaug would be proud. Excerpts:

We are gathered here today, under the aegis of an international collaboration that bears his name, to continue Borlaug’s lifelong battle with wheat rust. Rust wiped out his family farm’s wheat when he was a boy, and rust was the reason Borlaug initially established the research station in Sonora.

As we all know, he and his colleagues succeeded eventually in defeating wheat stem rust for many decades, until the emergence of the resistant race Ug99 at the very end of the last century.

Although the progress of Ug99 has not been as dramatic as initially feared, susceptible wheat is still being grown all over the world, and forms a mainstay of humanity’s food supply today. A fifth of all our calories come from wheat, and the global harvest is nearly 700 million tonnes per year.

While European wheat growers keep stem rust at bay with liberal applications of fungicide, this is neither ecologically sustainable nor financially desirable over the longer term.

In south and east Asia, meanwhile, both of which produce more wheat than the whole of North America, most growers cannot afford or do not have access to fungicides.

Billions of people therefore depend on susceptible wheat varieties that are sitting ducks, waiting for an epidemic of Ug99 to be blown over on the winds from the Middle East and Africa.

I was given the mandate to talk today about ‘Using the tools of biotechnology to advance Borlaug’s legacy’, and I cannot imagine a more appropriate area where this applies than the question of tackling wheat stem rust.

Borlaug was an unusual revolutionary in that he didn’t want his revolution to stop with him. He was a lifelong advocate of innovation – and a staunch supporter of biotechnology as the promising new frontier for plant breeding.

You can see why. By today’s standards, Borlaug had to work blind, using guesswork, chance and a lengthy process of elimination with thousands upon thousands of wheat crosses to try to get just the right genetic combination.

I cannot imagine a better embodiment of Norman Borlaug’s philosophy than this successful joint effort.

**************

But unfortunately the progress of good science runs up against the hard rock of bad politics. As perhaps the world’s most political food crop, by virtue of its very nature in supplying our daily bread, wheat has so far been locked out of the biotechnology revolution.

Although many new wheats have been developed using recombinant DNA and even tested in field trials, not a single one has ever been made available to farmers – not because there was anything wrong with the new varieties, but solely because of the worldwide cloud of fear and superstition that surrounds the use of genetic engineering.

Thus, the most powerful tools offered by modern molecular biotechnology must seemingly be permanently discarded – not because of any rational assessment of risks and benefits – but because a tide of anti-science activism has drowned scientists and governments around the whole world in a tsunami of lies.

A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA

Here is an unusually well-researched NYT article on the efforts to control citrus greening. The obvious solution is to apply modern plant genetics to develop a commercial orange that is resistant to the bacterium. Southern Gardens Citrus has been funding five labs that are making excellent progress on GM solutions. But the delays in the tortuous regulatory jungle may have less financial impact on growers than the unfounded fears that have been spread by anti-GMO activists. Could the Greenpeace campaign against modern agriculture end up destroying the Florida orange industry?

The call Ricke Kress and every other citrus grower in Florida dreaded came while he was driving.

“It’s here” was all his grove manager needed to say to force him over to the side of the road.

The disease that sours oranges and leaves them half green, already ravaging citrus crops across the world, had reached the state’s storied groves. Mr. Kress, the president of Southern Gardens Citrus, in charge of two and a half million orange trees and a factory that squeezes juice for Tropicana and Florida’s Natural, sat in silence for several long moments.

“O.K.,” he said finally on that fall day in 2005, “let’s make a plan.”

In the years that followed, he and the 8,000 other Florida growers who supply most of the nation’s orange juice poured everything they had into fighting the disease they call citrus greening.

To slow the spread of the bacterium that causes the scourge, they chopped down hundreds of thousands of infected trees and sprayed an expanding array of pesticides on the winged insect that carries it. But the contagion could not be contained.

(…snip…)

In his office is a list of groups to contact when the first G.M.O. fruit in Florida are ready to pick: environmental organizations, consumer advocates and others. Exactly what he would say when he finally contacted them, he did not know. Whether anyone would drink the juice from his genetically modified oranges, he did not know.

But he had decided to move ahead.

Late this summer he will plant several hundred more young trees with the spinach gene, in a new greenhouse. In two years, if he wins regulatory approval, they will be ready to go into the ground. The trees could be the first to produce juice for sale in five years or so.

Whether it is his transgenic tree, or someone else’s, he believed, Florida growers will soon have trees that could produce juice without fear of its being sour, or in short supply.

(…snip…)