Transgenic crops producing insecticidal proteins derived from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) have proved effective in controlling bollworm and reducing the need for pesticides in cotton crops in China. This study of Bt crop performance at sites across northern China identifies a decrease in aphid pests and a marked increase in the numbers of ladybirds, lacewings and spiders — natural enemies of insect pests — compared with conventional crops. There is also evidence that these predators thrive in neighbouring non-transgenic maize, soyabean and peanut crops. These results suggest that Bt cotton can promote biological control in agricultural ecosystems by decreasing insecticide use and increasing predator populations.
Posts Tagged 'GM-Food'
Tags: Biodiversity, GM-Food, GMO
Tags: GE-Food, GM-Food, GMO
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The prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and have entered the GMO discussion with a new report entitled “Feeding the Planet in a Warming World.” With the 39th G-8 summit to be held in Northern Ireland June 17-18, the LSE report is quite timely and significant. The agenda for the upcoming meeting established by Prime Minister David Cameron will continue the discussion of global food security started by President Obama last year at Camp David.
The LSE report offers insight and possible solutions to mitigating the rapidly growing challenge of global food security. Therefore, allow me to quote from the Executive Summary at some length:
“Even in the most ideal circumstances, diffusing existing agricultural technologies and practices is not enough to address the challenges we will face in the coming decades. In light of this, we propose several solutions. In particular, we argue that the critical, game changing solutions for building global agricultural resilience will come only from expanding the innovation and adoption of next-generation crops and agricultural practices. We need new and improved crop varieties that use less water, deliver increased yields and improved nutrition, and have built-in means for repelling insect pests, resisting disease, and withstanding extreme heat, cold, rain and drought. Agriculture will need every existing tool in the box, as well as the development of new ones, including the use of demonstrably safe crops improved through modern biotechnology, commonly referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or transgenics…
Governments worldwide should reform GMO regulations. There is no agricultural policy change that could be adopted with more positive impacts and fewer downsides than drastically reducing regulations applied to crops improved through biotechnology. Foods derived from crops or animals improved through biotechnology have been subjected to more extensive scrutiny than any other agricultural product in human history. Humans and livestock have consumed billions upon billions of meals derived wholly or in part from these improved agricultural varieties for nearly two decades, which have sustained a strong record of safety for humans and the environment. Yet these innovative products, which are developed and brought to market with precise, predictable and safe techniques, are subjected to regulatory obstacles that dwarf those faced by older products and obsolete technologies, some with genuinely problematic legacies.”
Tags: Agriculture, GE-Food, GM-Food, GMO
Jonas Kathage has posted a very approachable survey of Bt resistance issues and strategies at Biology Fortified, Inc. Jonas closes with the following discussion of both economics and resistance management strategies:
Meanwhile, entomologists are working on improving their incomplete understanding the complex mechanisms involved in resistance evolution. Recently published research suggests that pyramiding might not work as well in delaying resistance as previously thought. In the laboratory, scientists selected cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa zea) for resistance against Cry1Ac. They exposed the resistant insects and a susceptible control group to Bt cotton expressing Cry1Ac/Cry2Ab and found that the group resistant to Cry1Ac exhibited a much higher survival rate than the control group, violating the assumption of redundant killing that is crucial to this strategy. So far, despite multiple reported instances of resistant insects, large-scale failure of Bt crops due to evolved resistance has not occurred, but it may come sooner than expected.
Should refuge requirements be expanded?
This research finding is bad news because the potential of pyramided Bt crops might be lower than believed. (Actually, some scientists have been positively surprised at the long delays observed in resistance development.) Let’s assume the results also apply to other Bt pyramids and insect species (there is evidence to the contrary). What should be made of such a scenario? Should larger refuge areas be required?
Before answering that question, it must be recognized that the sustainable application of a particular technology is not a primary goal of farming. A much more important goal is efficiency. Efficiency means getting the most output (e.g. food) from a set of scarce inputs (natural resources, labor, capital). The technologies transforming inputs into outputs, be they biological, chemical, or mechanical, are valuable only insofar as they contribute towards efficiency.
When deciding whether to expand refuge requirements, policymakers must take into account that there is a tradeoff between the size of the refuge area and productivity. If refuge area increases, more plants will get damaged by pests and hence reduce effective yield. The crucial question is whether the benefits of delaying resistance outweigh the costs of these yield losses and other potential drawbacks of refuges such as the need for additional land, sprays, separation costs, and sowing and harvest times. Costs of monitoring compliance with refuge requirements must also be considered, while pyramiding will incur more R&D expenditures. (In some developing countries with larger monitoring costs, refuge requirements may be less efficient also because of natural refuge in small-scale cropping systems.) The point here is not to question whether the optimal refuge requirement is 0%, 20% or 40%, but to realize that there are costs that have to be weighed against benefits. It is possible that an arms race based on adding more Bt genes is more efficient than slowing resistance development by expanding mandated refuges.
Besides Bt crops, there is a host of other pest management options including chemical control, biological control and cultural control such as ploughing and crop rotation. Like Bt, they all have their particular drawbacks, be it risk of resistance development, low effectiveness, or environmental and economic cost. The most efficient pest management strategy depends on local context, but will involve multiple instruments. For breeders, genes producing insect toxins, whether introduced using conventional or GM techniques, are not the only route towards pest protection. There are exciting possibilities on the horizon, including transgenic plants that emit volatile organic compounds to repel herbivores or attract their natural enemies. The use of nano-silica that kill pests by purely physical means are just one example of potential applications of nanotechnology in pest management. New approaches will have benefits and costs to be assessed against existing alternatives. As of today, there are no magic bullets protecting crops from pests. But there are excellent reasons that we should keep looking for them. Bt will not be the end of the road.
Tags: Anti-GMO, GM-Food, GMO
…Swiss researchers running recent GM trials spent 78% of their research funds on security.
That is shocking – almost 80% of scarce Swiss research funds are wasted to prevent criminals such as Greenpeace from destroying research that benefits everyone – research which especially benefiits the Bottom Billion. Well, the Swiss government is going implement a more efficient centralized security scheme at the Reckenholz research station near Zurich. The goal is remove the drain of security expenditures from research grants – distributing the cost to all taxpayers. Sadly it won’t eliminate the need for the security in the first place.
(…) GM crops are controversial in Europe, and European law requires scientists to notify the public about the precise locations of the fields where they are running experiments. This has led to protests and sometimes vandalism at more than 100 European trials since 2010. One result is that the number of GM field experiments conducted in the European Union dropped from about 250 per year in the late 1990s to fewer than 50 in 2011, the researchers report. In Switzerland, researchers have submitted just six applications for field experiments with GM plants since the late 1990s; authorities rejected two in 1999 because “the social and environmental impacts compared to any possible economic benefits were clearly too high.”
In a bid to make such experiments easier, the Swiss Federal Council approved spending €600,000 annually from 2014 to 2017 to create a protected field site of approximately three hectares at the Reckenholz research station, 10 kilometers north of Zurich. Researchers will initially use it to test GM wheat with resistance to powdery mildew, a fungal disease, but they could ultimately plant other crops such as potatoes.
Every attack by the masked vandals is a crime against humanity. I wonder if criminal prosecution of Greenpeace in all of the OECD would stop this nonsense? Possibly not – as Greenpeace is so successful with fund-raising based upon blocking evil GMO and evil nuclear power.
Tags: #GMOFAQ, Anti-GMO, GM-Food, GMO
Mark Lynas interviews top geneticist Nina Fedoroff. This is a terrific, authoritative rebuttal of all the main talking points of Mark's critics on the anti-GMO side. Be sure to read the comments section — there are the expected anti-GMO trolls, followed by evidence-bases rebuttals by people who know.
Dr. Nina Fedoroff is a leading geneticist and molecular biologist and a Distinguished Professor of Biosciences at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, where she is establishing a new Centre for Desert Agriculture. She is also an Evan Pugh Professor at Penn State University. She has contributed to the development of modern techniques used to study and genetically modify plants. From August 2007 to July 2010, she served as the Science and Technology Adviser to the US Secretary of State and to the Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Dr. Fedoroff is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the European Academy of Sciences, and is also a 2006 National Medal of Science laureate, the highest scientific honour that can be bestowed by the United States government. She was AAAS President in 2012 and is currently Chair of the AAAS Board of Directors.
Questions (by Mark Lynas):
1. You have read my speech to the Oxford Farming Conference. While it has attracted a lot of worldwide attention and support, it has also been attacked by some who make great play of their scientific credentials but who do not seem to actually be active in the plant science/molecular biology field. Since you are highly distinguished in this area, and indeed one of the pioneers of the field of transgenics, is there anything you think I got wrong which should be highlighted?
“But what about mixing genes between unrelated species? The fish and the tomato? Turns out viruses do that all the time, as do plants and insects and even us – it’s called gene flow.” (Mark Lynas speech to Oxford Farming Conference)
This is a bit of an exaggeration. There is more mixing between species through horizontal transfer (viruses and such) than we used to think happens, but it isn’t all that common. The real answer to the question is that genes are simply instructions for making a protein and they aren’t either “fishy” or “tomatoey.” The rules for making proteins are the same in all organisms, so if you express a gene in another species, it will do the same thing it did in the first place. So the fish gene for a protein that inhibits ice crystal formation would make the tomato a little more resistant to below-freezing temperature, but it won’t make the tomato fishy.
This is a relatively minor point. On balance, you got most of the most important issues and you got them right. I particularly enjoyed your assessment of the organic movement – a huge commercial hoax.
2. As 2012 President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and current Chair of the Board of Directors, you are in a good position to help laypeople understand what the real scientific consensus is on GMOs. For instance, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS – an environmental lobby group) attacked the AAAS board statement on GMO safety and yesterday in a tweet claimed that the AAAS statement was “in opposition” to the National Academy of Sciences, the NRC “etc”.
— Concerned Scientists (@UCSUSA) January 31, 2013
What is the consensus, and what is your take on the UCS critique?
The board statement is pretty careful. It says, as the UCS attack quotes: “Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.” You’ll notice that the AAAS Board statement DOESN’T say that “all plants genetically modified by modern molecular techniques are safe,” nor did it say what he [Doug Gurian-Sherman from UCS] claims it does: “a blanket statement that GE crops are “safe” is misleading.”
There is no evidence that modifying plants by molecular techniques causes problems to the plants, people, or nature. In fact, everything we’ve learned says that plant genomes are much less disturbed and altered when genes are introduced by molecular techniques than when changes are made by genetic crosses, or mutations are made by chemicals or radiation or by putting plant tissues into culture, then regenerating the plants.
Whether a human crop plant causes problems depends on the plant, how it is used and in what context and it matters not at all whether if was modified by modern techniques, old techniques or not modified at all. We have created problems everywhere in the world not just by our agriculture, but by moving plants, animals and insects around. Gypsy moths got out of someone’s back yard. Kudzu was introduced into the US from Asia to control soil erosion (which it did).
However, it is important to keep in mind that agricultural crops are much less likely to cause problems simply because they’ve already been modified over millennia to make them reproduce the way we want them to, make big fruits (sometimes seedless and therefore sterile) and grains that stick to the plants. The problems of agriculture are many: from an ecological perspective, there just isn’t anything as destructive as agriculture. But none of them have to do with the techniques used to modify the plants.
Next the writer of the UCS attack says: “We already have one clear example of a harmful engineered gene (though not commercialized).” Well, my guess is he’s referring to the story about the storage protein from Brazil nuts that was going to be transferred to a crop plant. That was caught in precisely the kind of modern testing, using modern knowledge, that we use now. The gene was expressed and the protein tested for allergenicity because it was a likely candidate and sure enough, it was a good allergen. That stopped the experiments, but the urban myth lives on.
Anyway, you get the picture. He insinuates allergenicity isn’t ever addressed and implies that the AAAS statement says it can’t cause problems. In fact, allergenicity is probably the biggest concern. But we actually know a fair amount about allergenicity and a developer of a transgenic crop has to express the protein or proteins he/she wishes to clone in the genes for and show the FDA that that they are not allergenic. There’s a whole complicated protocol for assessing this (I’m sure it could be improved) and crops have gotten a bad rap for naught because a protein failed one of the crudest tests for allergenicity (remember the Starlink fiasco?), even though it didn’t prove allergenic in subsequent testing. And while he’s technically correct that the FDA doesn’t mandate testing, companies cover themselves prospectively by making sure that they do everything the FDA (and the other agencies) require them to do.
And then there’s the proof of the pudding… there is no evidence that any of the proteins that have been introduced in the most widely grown GM crops have caused allergies.
And yet, there are some major allergens in foods, among the best-known are the wheat glutens and the peanut storage proteins. These are “natural.” GM techniques could be used to eliminate these allergens — and would be — if people weren’t so busy obsessing about some future unspecified danger… and creating regulatory blockades that cost tens of millions of dollars to penetrate on the way to market. Peanut allergies kill!
3. In your AAAS Plenary Lecture, you mentioned GM vitamin A-enriched ‘golden rice’ and the fact that it has been held up by unnecessary regulation. What do you think the effect of anti-GMO activism has been on the deployment of ‘golden rice’ (as opposed to, say, issues with technical development) and what effect if any has this had on people in poorer countries who suffer from Vit A deficiency?
The simple answer to this is that the continued GM activism against “golden rice,” especially the recent efforts to discredit the trials that were being carried in China, is a humanitarian abomination. As everyone knows by now, vitamin A deficiency is a major problem for people who subsist largely on rice, as it contains none of it. In the early days of its development, Greenpeace ridiculed it because they believed that alleviating the vitamin deficiency would require the consumption of unrealistically large amounts of it. As the beta carotene content was improved over the years, they found other reasons to demonize it. Today one reads that it’s a sinister plot of big biotech companies…
But the truth is that it was developed by individuals who were driven by the desire to help the poorest people of the world, not by the profit motive. The intellectual property issues have all been resolved and the “golden rice” is to be made available to farmers free of charge. So frankly, this will be one of the real success stories for development, if it ever makes it out of regulatory purgatory and becomes acceptable (which itself will take some marketing itself in view of the decades of GM demonization).
4. You also mentioned in the lecture the need to massively increase food production in response to population growth and other factors. What is your response to the often-heard objection that we already have enough food, and all the problems are in distribution and wastage or other social and economic factors?
The answer is that it isn’t either/or, it’s all of the above. Yes, today there is enough food if we could just reduce waste and spoilage …. and oh, by the way, solve the poverty problem, so that everyone could buy the food that is available. But it still won’t change the fact that the number of people will continue to grow for some decades and, paradoxically, reducing poverty creates more demand for food of higher nutritional value. As people climb out of poverty, they seek more food and particularly to add more animal protein to their food. This creates an even greater demand for the grain crops we largely feed animals – and which are now increasingly used for producing fuel. The central issue with animal protein is that it simply takes a lot more grain and water – and I mean like 10 times more — to make a pound of hamburger than it takes to make a pound of you if you’re eating the grain yourself.
Much food spoilage is attributable not to people discarding good food, but to insect, fungal and bacterial contaminants, as well as the inability to preserve food long enough to get it to a market, in some places hampered simply by the lack of roads. GM approaches can contribute to the amelioration of the spoilage problem – if the regulatory costs burden could be reduced. Reducing other aspects of spoilage in many less developed nations is about building roads, refrigerated storage facilities, and food processing plants. And finally, changing peoples’ food habits to get them to consume less is a social and sociological problem of significant proportions – we haven’t been especially successful in getting people to eat less of the salt, fat and sugar that gives them heart disease, hypertension and diabetes – but its important to continue and increase these efforts.
5. What developments in plant biotechnology do you think are most promising in terms of improving the sustainability of agriculture in future, particularly given the challenge of climate change?
There are all kinds of things that are either in the pipeline or in development that could improve sustainability – and many, many more that could be if we could dismantle the regulatory thicket that is choking it off. Among the most important are modifications that will increase nitrogen use efficiency and the ability to recover phosphorus. There’s just a plethora of modifications that will reduce loss to pest and pathogens, both during field growth and after harvest and during storage. But the real breakthroughs, if they ever come, will be in the efficiency of photosynthesis, which is not terribly efficient. That’s a very tough nut to crack and there aren’t many scientists directly working on it.
6. So I’ve admitted I was wrong to oppose GMOs. What do you think other current and former anti-GM activists should do under today’s circumstances? What lessons should they learn from the past two decades’ of scientific research?
Well, obviously I think they should do what you did: stop and learn what the science is about, what we’ve learned over the past almost 4 decades of working with molecular techniques in plants and what this can do to make it possible to grow more food for more people on less land with less water and energy. I would ask that they did what I did when I wrote my book “Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist’s View of Genetically Modified Foods.” What I did was to learn as much as I could about, for example, how organic farming developed, whether it’s better for people or the land than what we now call conventionally grown food, about what’s behind and under all of the prevalent scare stories about GM foods, just keep learning and evaluating.
I would also ask that they begin to understand that science is not a set of facts to be harvested from knowledge trees, but a very human process of testing, trying, repeating and only then coming to conclusions. At the heart is a hugely important concept of the “weight” of the evidence. What this means is that any given study can come to very wrong conclusions for a large variety of reasons, including such things that it wasn’t designed well and that the investigator is out to prove something he or she already believes, rather than testing an hypothesis. But if the pile grows and there are 10 studies that come to one conclusion, compared to 1 that comes to the opposite conclusion, and that ratio then grows to 15 to 1 or 50 to 1, then the balance is tipping toward the conclusion come to by the many and not the one.
In the GM field, there have been reports for example, that GM feed makes sickly animal pups, that it poisons rats, or gives them tumors. If you look a bit closer, you often find that these results were leaked to the press (and sometimes never published) or were eventually retracted by the journal in which they were published. But the most important point is, are there 10 or 30 publications that come to similar conclusions, or is the study standing alone against the 10 or 30 that have come to the opposite conclusion? If it keeps on standing alone, then it probably isn’t right…
Tags: Anti-GMO, GM-Food, GMO
The captioned essay is by organic farmer Bry Lynas who happens to be the father of Mark Lynas. Like his son Mark, Bry Lynas was an anti-GM activist:
(…) I have undergone a slow conversion in my thinking over the last 15 years from strongly anti-GM to cautiously pro. Here, I want to explain why.
But as the years have passed and as it has become abundantly clear that people are not dying in droves because of GM, I’ve changed my mind. The famous economist John Maynard Keynes is alleged to have said to a critic who accused him of a U-turn, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” I am a scientist by training and so I constantly question and revise my views according to the evidence available. Sadly, the organic movement and other mainstream ‘green’ organisations remain as intransigent as ever in their views on genetic engineering: they seem to be stuck in a time warp 30 years out of date. Perhaps they, like politicians, don’t wish to be seen performing a U-turn despite good reasons for doing so.
Basically, I don’t understand why certain types of GM crops can’t be approved for use with organic systems. It’s hard enough growing organically as it is without constantly shooting yourself in the foot by refusing to move with the times. Let’s just take one example. Last year, potato blight struck early in the soggy, damp non-summer. The result was that my potato crop was about a quarter of what it normally is. Yet there is a blight resistant GM potato which has been developed in the public domain. If only I could have used that! But I can’t because it’s against the organic regulations and even if I wasn’t organic, I still wouldn’t be able to use it because of all the ‘green’ protests which have made sure that it never sees the light of day; not for organic growers nor for any conventional growers.
What’s so terrible about this potato? Is it Frankenfood? No, it’s just an ordinary potato with one gene inserted from a wild potato which happens to show resistance to the dreaded Phytophthera infestans, the fungal late blight which caused the Irish potato famine in the 1840s when over a million people died of starvation. Alarmingly the fungus has begun to reproduce sexually over recent years which makes it much more virulent. It had previously reproduced itself asexually and was relatively easily controlled by spraying fungicides or growing somewhat resistant potato varieties.
So why not embrace this GM potato? The introduced gene comes from the same genus - Solanum - and so is not even transgenic. Why is this potato ‘bad’ whereas the blight resistant Sárpo potato, bred over many years by conventional means, is good? (I was growing a Sárpo variety and it succumbed to the blight like the others.) Of course, blight resistant GM potatoes, like the Sárpo varieties, will sooner or later be overcome by P. infestans. It’s an arms race and this is where GM potatoes can leap ahead because it only takes a year or two to splice blight resistance into the genome and grow the resulting plant. It took the Sarvari family, who developed the Sárpo potatoes, some 40 years of careful selection of resistance traits to produce truly blight resistant varieties. As Pamela Ronald, Professor of Plant Pathology and Chair of the Plant Genomics Program at the University of California, Davis says: “To meet the appetites of the world’s population without drastically hurting the environment requires a visionary new approach: combining genetic engineering and organic farming”. She and her husband co-authored ‘Tomorrow’s Table’ which, argues Stewart Brand, makes ”a persuasive case that, far from contradictory, the merging of genetic engineering and organic farming offers our best shot at truly sustainable agriculture”.
Tags: Anti-GMO, GM-Food, GMO
(…) consumers who buy overpriced organic foods in order to avoid pesticide exposure are focusing their attention on 0.01% of the pesticides they consume. (…) 99.99 percent (by weight) of the pesticides in the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves.
Physician and molecular biologist Henry I. Miller reviews the furor generated by the recent article by Stanford University researchers that was dismissive of health or nutritional benefits of organic foods. Dr. Miller provides some excellent references to give needed context to the unwarranted fears of pesticide residues — which are presumed to be more harmful in conventionally-farmed produce.
(…) Ironically, the designation ‘organic’ is itself a synthetic construct of bureaucrats that makes little sense. It prohibits the use of synthetic chemical pesticides – although there is a lengthy list of exceptions listed in the Organic Foods Production Act – but permits most ‘natural’ ones (and also allows the application of pathogen-laden animal excreta as fertilizer).
These permitted pesticides can be toxic. As evolutionary biologist Christie Wilcox explained in a September 2012 Scientific American article (‘Are lower pesticide residues a good reason to buy organic? Probably not.’): ‘Organic pesticides pose the same health risks as non-organic ones. No matter what anyone tells you, organic pesticides don’t just disappear. Rotenone is notorious for its lack of degradation, and copper sticks around for a long, long time. Studies have shown that copper sulfate, pyrethrins, and rotenone all can be detected on plants after harvest—for copper sulfate and rotenone, those levels exceeded safe limits. One study found such significant rotenone residues in olives and olive oil to warrant ‘serious doubts…about the safety and healthiness of oils extracted from [fruits] treated with rotenone.’’ (There is a well-known association between rotenone exposure and Parkinson’s Disease.)
There is another important but unobvious point about humans’ ingestion of pesticides: The vast majority of pesticidal substances that we consume occur in our diets ‘naturally,’ and they are present in organic foods as well as conventional ones. In a landmark research article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of California, Berkeley, biochemist Bruce Ames and his colleagues found that ‘99.99 percent (by weight) of the pesticides in the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves. Only 52 natural pesticides have been tested in high-dose animal cancer tests, and about half (27) are rodent carcinogens; these 27 are shown to be present in many common foods.’
The bottom line of Ames’ experiments: ‘Natural and synthetic chemicals are equally likely to be positive in animal cancer tests. We also conclude that at the low doses of most human exposures the comparative hazards of synthetic pesticide residues are insignificant.’
In other words, consumers who buy overpriced organic foods in order to avoid pesticide exposure are focusing their attention on 0.01% of the pesticides they consume.
In an article entitled ‘The Organic Fable,’ New York Times columnist Roger Cohen had some pithy observations stimulated by the Stanford study. ‘Organic has long since become an ideology, the romantic back-to-nature obsession of an upper middle class able to afford it and oblivious, in their affluent narcissism, to the challenge of feeding a planet whose population will surge to 9 billion before the middle of the century and whose poor will get a lot more nutrients from the two regular carrots they can buy for the price of one organic carrot.’
Please read the entire article.
Tags: GE-Food, GM-Food, GMO
Could the drought-resistant crop cassava, grown primarily in the developing world and virtually unknown to U.S. consumers, be Africa’s key to developing a modern agribusiness industry while also reducing poverty?
Some believe the answer is yes, and that cassava, which can be made into everything from flour to tapioca, could create a positive domino effect in Africa with economic empowerment leading to a reduced need for foreign food aid in impoverished areas.
“We hope to see cassava as a means of generating income, as opposed to just a staple crop, and feeding more people. It is a crop that a lot of people prefer and has a lot of advantages to other crops. It provides a lot of food security because the roots can stay in the ground for years,” said Richard Sayre, a professor of plant cellular and molecular biology at Ohio State University.
Sayre oversees the BioCassavaPlus Project, which has received $12 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation since 2005. The project aims to find ways to better the nutritional value of cassava and improve its shelf life to nearly two weeks from the current one to two days.
In Africa, about 70 percent of cassava production is used as food, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization. Cassava is naturally rich in carbohydrates and vitamin C, but low in vitamin A and protein and considered a staple food for roughly 300 million Africans, or nearly 40 percent of the continent.
But there are distinct disadvantages to cassava consumption in its current natural form. Its roots are low in protein and the food is deficient in essential micronutrients such as zinc, vitamin A and iron. After the roots are harvested, particular strains of cassava can produce possibly toxic levels of cyanogens that can create lethal cyanide production.
These toxins can be eradicated from the food once proper processing is completed. Women and young children, the primary processers of cassava, are especially susceptible to such poisoning.
Three years into the project, Sayre’s team has been able to genetically modify cassava to dramatically increase its nutritional value—adding protein, iron, zinc and vitamins A and E—two years ahead of schedule.
With global food prices increasing, Sayre says this is a major development in ensuring complete nutrition to people who wouldn’t likely receive it any other way.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made agribusiness development in the Third World a top priority. Susan Byrnes, deputy director of public affairs for the Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program, says that all aspects of agribusiness deserve serious focus.
“Our approach within the foundation’s Agricultural Development initiative focuses on the entire agricultural value chain—from seeds and soil to farm management and market access. We believe this is the only way to get long-term, sustainable results,” Byrnes said.
Nigerian cassava farmer Olu Adubifa has high hopes for the development of cassava as a cash crop. He says the further development of cassava uses would introduce farming technologies that could transform local farming into large scale farming that could feed people all over Africa, not just one local village.
Adubifa added that it’s the lack of research and technology in tropical crops like cassava that has contributed to poverty. “If it had been the United States who was blessed with this cassava, they would have done so many different things with it,” he said.
The only major objective that scientists have yet to accomplish is to increase the shelf-life of the crop, but scientists are currently pursuing promising leads that could accomplish this objective over the next six months.
“Nobody has ever fixed that in any crop, so it’s something that is definitely challenging. We have identified a way to reduce the free radicals associated with the decaying process,” Sayre stated.
He estimates that an improved cassava plant could be introduced to farmers in as little as two to three years.
“We are very optimistic that it will be a major crop in the future of African agribusiness,” Sayre said.
Tags: GM-Food, GMO
Sadly the fundraisers at Friends of the Earth will probably not read this editorial by Rajesh Kumar:
My last visit to the United States changed the way I farm on the other side of the world.
In 2009, I traveled from India to Des Moines to attend the Global Farmers Roundtable, a project of Truth about Trade and Technology, held in conjunction with the World Food Prize. I met farmers from Iowa as well as Australia, Honduras, South Africa, and elsewhere. We learned about each other’s work, discussed common challenges and opportunities, and enjoyed some of the best sweet corn I’ve ever tasted.
When I returned to India, I worked with a group of local farmers to open a new sweet corn processing factory. The knowledge I gained in the United States made it possible. I’ll always be grateful to Iowa and the people I met at the Global Farmer Roundtable and World Food Prize for pointing us in the right direction.
I hope Indian farmers can imitate Iowa farmers in other ways as well. Most importantly, we must embrace biotechnology–or at least we must be allowed to embrace biotechnology. Right now, large forces and special interests are blocking the way. They must be stopped.
Read the whole thing. And if you have a friend at FOE, then do what you can to get your friend to read and pass it upstairs.