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Alexander J. Stein

Economist interested in agriculture, food, nutrition, health, technology, sustainability, economic development & poverty alleviation worldwide. This is a personal account; posts are not necessarily endorsements. More at
Aug 28 '14

What You Need To Know About Genetically Modified Organisms - I Fucking Love Science (2014)

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Genetically modified crops are a topic of intense debate that have sparked a lot of controversy over the years, fuelled largely through a lack of understanding and vast amounts of misinformation. Do we need GM crops? Are they dangerous? This article is going to give a brief overview of this huge topic and also discuss some of the myths and facts of GMOs.

What Are GMOs?

Humans have been modifying the genomes of plants and animals for our benefit for thousands of years using a process known as artificial selection, or selective breeding. This involves selecting organisms with desirable traits and breeding them so that certain characteristics are perpetuated. This could be a teacup dog, a cow with improved milk production or a fruit without seeds. However, this is limited to naturally occurring variations, which is where genetic engineering has found a place.

Genetic engineering allows us to introduce genes into an organism from a totally unrelated species which is commonly carried out on crops, agricultural animals and bacteria. These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are designed for many reasons, including: pesticide and disease resistance, drought/frost resistance, increased yields, enhanced nutritional content… When most people consider GMOs they think of agriculture, but the medical implications are wide ranging… 

Why Do We Need GMOs?

While it is true that a major problem with feeding an over burgeoning global population relates to the distribution of the food that we do produce, if population growth does not slow down then we are going to need to find new ways to meet food demands…. 

There are several ways that this could be achieved. We could destroy valuable rainforests to make way for agricultural land… We could stop eating as much meat, given that the crop calories we feed to animals could meet the calorie needs of 4 billion people… Or we could create GM crops.

Many things threaten food security, such as crop or animal diseases, pests and climate change. Weather is becoming more unpredictable and extreme weather is becoming commonplace which is taking its toll on farmers worldwide. The idea behind many GMOs is to address these problems.

Examples of GM Crops

An excellent example is golden rice. Around 250 million children are vitamin A-deficient in the world, which kills and blinds millions each year. While supplement distribution programs exist, they’re expensive and difficult to sustain. The solution? Golden rice.

Researchers added two genes to white rice… which synthesize a precursor of vitamin A called beta-carotene. This pigment makes various foods orange and hence makes the rice appear golden… One bowl of golden rice meets 60% of a child’s daily vitamin A needs… it’s a viable solution to a real world problem. It was also developed by foundation-funded academic researchers and a nonprofit organization, not a big private corporation.

You may also be surprised to find out that around 85% of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. Soy is also heavily genetically modified; one particular soybean was engineered to produce high levels of oleic acid because it is thought that this may lower LDL cholesterol, or “bad cholesterol.”


There are many controversies surrounding this topic. Some are complete myths, while others raise valid issues.


Some have suggested that labeling would be like putting a skull and crossbones on packaging… Mandatory label laws have come into place in certain countries, but they have not resulted in the anticipated reaction. Instead, they have led to an increased pressure for retailers to stop stocking GM products which has reduced consumer choice and at times raised prices.

It should be stressed that despite decades of testing, there is no evidence that genetically modified foods are intrinsically more dangerous or worse for you than unmodified food. This fear-mongering then, can come across as anti-science. Transparency is a hallmark of good science, but when the public does not fully understand the topic it can fuel fear… 

"GMO" is a fairly meaningless term when applied alone. Genetic modification is just a technique, it is not inherently dangerous. As with all techniques, it’s how it’s used that matters. Labeling food as "GMO" wouldn’t tell you how it was modified, just that it was. A food label with "GMO" written on it really doesn’t tell you anything more than "there’s science in this food".

Risks To Health

While the genes inserted into organisms occur naturally in other species, there are concerns that altering the natural genome… may change the organism’s metabolism or growth rate. There are also concerns that GM foods may expose new allergens to humans or transfer antibiotic-resistant genes to the bacteria naturally found in our gut.

A lot of fear was sparked about the safety of GM foods after a scientist named Gilles-Eric Séralini published a study… However, numerous problems with the study came to light which led to its retraction from the journal. First off, Séralini is an outspoken anti-GMO activist. At the time of initial publication he had conflicting interests… For the experiments, Séralini used Sprague-Dawley rats that are prone to developing spontaneous tumors… There is a high probability that the results were due to chance. Furthermore, there have been mounds of better designed studies that have found no health issues… 

Terminator Seeds

Research on genetic use restriction techniques (GURT), or more commonly “terminator seeds”… aims to produce sterile seeds/offspring so that if modified plants escape, they cannot propagate in the environment. The idea that companies use these to force farmers into continually buying seeds is a myth. This technology would be useful in the development of “bioreactor” plants, for example those used in the production of pharmaceutical products such as antibodies or drugs to stop unintended gene release.

People don’t realize that sterile plants are already widely used - take a look at seedless bananas or grapes, but have they enslaved farmers? … 

Separating Corporation from Technology

Everyone has heard of Monsanto, and this company is frequently cited as a reason to oppose GMOs. While Monsanto’s business practices may be ethically questionable, Monsanto are not the only company involved in GMO research. Many non-profit organizations and academic institutions are involved in this field. The technology is necessary and disagreeing with Monsanto and having anti-corporation values should not muddy your views on GMOs. If you have a problem with Monsanto, have a problem with Monsanto. Don’t extend that to every application of GMOs.

GM Crops Result In Superweeds

… it has been argued that these GM crops encourage the evolution of herbicide resistance through liberal use, the fact is: it happens whether we use GM crops or not… Herbicide resistant crops do have their merits, though, and have caused a significant reduction in herbicide usage and an improvement on environmental impact.

Unintended Spread Of Genes

There has been concern that genes used in the development of GM crops may unintentionally spread to other organisms… studies have found that the risks are negligible and that transfer rates are exceedingly low… recommendations have been made to avoid using antibiotic resistance genes in creating GMOs.


A final concern with GM crops is that genes may spread from these plants into conventional crops or related species found in nearby areas… This could have ecological consequences, such as an increase in fitness or a decrease in genetic diversity. These risks are recognized and measures have been adopted to minimize them… 

Genetic modification is simply a tool. Like all tools, the application is what matters. All new technologies require review and testing, but fears should be based on science and evidence, not a lack of understanding when it comes to new science.

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Aug 28 '14

A global strategy for road building - Laurance &al (2014) - Nature

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The number and extent of roads will expand dramatically this century. Globally, at least 25 million kilometres of new roads are anticipated by 2050; a 60% increase in the total length of roads over that in 2010. Nine-tenths of all road construction is expected to occur in developing nations, including many regions that sustain exceptional biodiversity and vital ecosystem services.

Roads penetrating into wilderness or frontier areas are a major proximate driver of habitat loss and fragmentation, wildfires, overhunting and other environmental degradation, often with irreversible impacts on ecosystems. Unfortunately, much road proliferation is chaotic or poorly planned, and the rate of expansion is so great that it often overwhelms the capacity of environmental planners and managers.

Here we present a global scheme for prioritizing road building. This large-scale zoning plan seeks to limit the environmental costs of road expansion while maximizing its benefits for human development, by helping to increase agricultural production, which is an urgent priority given that global food demand could double by mid-century.

Our analysis identifies areas with high environmental values where future road building should be avoided if possible, areas where strategic road improvements could promote agricultural development with relatively modest environmental costs… Our plan provides a template for proactively zoning and prioritizing roads during the most explosive era of road expansion in human history.

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Aug 28 '14

Water ‘Thermostat’ Could Help Engineer Drought-Resistant Crops - Duke Univ (2014)

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Researchers have identified a gene that could help scientists engineer drought-resistant crops. The gene, called OSCA1, encodes a protein in the cell membrane of plants that senses changes in water availability and adjusts the plant’s water conservation machinery accordingly. “It’s similar to a thermostat,” said Zhen-Ming Pei… The findings… could make it easier to feed the world’s growing population in the face of climate change.

Drought is the major cause of crop losses worldwide. A dry spell at a crucial stage of the growing season can cut some crop yields in half. Water shortages are expected to become more frequent and severe if climate change makes rainfall patterns increasingly unreliable and farmland in some regions continues to dry up. Coupled with a world population that is expected to increase by two billion to three billion by 2050, researchers worldwide are looking for ways to produce more food with less water.

Some researchers hope that genetic engineering – in addition to improved farming practices and traditional plant breeding – will add to the arsenal of techniques to help crops withstand summer’s swelter. But engineering plants to withstand drought has proven difficult to do, largely because plants use so many strategies to deal with dehydration and hundreds of genes are involved. The problem is confounded by the fact that drought is often accompanied by heat waves and other stresses that require different coping strategies on the part of the plant… 

The findings could lead to new ways to help plants thrive when water is scarce. The team’s next step is to manipulate the activity of the OSCA1 gene and related genes and see how those plants respond to drought –- information that could lead to crops that respond more quickly and efficiently to dehydration. “Plants that enter drought-fighting mode quickly and then switch back to normal growth mode quickly when drought stress is gone should be able to allocate energy more efficiently toward growth” …

Original article:

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Aug 28 '14

Measuring the extent of GMO asynchronous approval using regularity dissimilarity indices: The case of maize and soybean - de Faria & Wieck (2014) - EAAE

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The purpose of this paper is to assess the extent of asynchronicity in the authorisations of new genetically modified organism (GMO) events between importing and exporting countries. Based on the literature, we systemise the GMO regulatory framework and use dissimilarity and stringency indices to assess the regulatory differences.

The results show an increase in the asynchronous approval across the majority of country pairs. However, focusing only on commercialised events and considering only regulatory differences in which the importers are more stringent than the exporters, the asynchronous approval is considerably lower, and the result indicates that the major trade leaders have synchronised their approval status for GMOs over time… 

Despite the observed synchronicity… As there is a diversified GMO events portfolio currently in the “waiting line” and there is no guarantee that the synchronicity between the leading countries will persist in the near future, it is likely that problems of asynchronous approval will become more urgent.

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Aug 27 '14

India’s free school lunch program - NPR (2014)

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India’s free school lunch program is the largest in the world. The program was started in the mid-1990s with two goals: to fight chronic hunger and child malnutrition and to increase school enrollment and attendance.  

As many studies have shown, the program has reached these goals. The “Mid-Day Meal Program” currently feeds about 120 million of India’s poorest children. “Food is cooked in 12 lakh [1.2 million] schools,” says Dipa Sinha, an economist at the Center for Equity Studies in New Delhi.

It is also a program that has made headlines for its missteps, one of which was tragic. In 2013, 23 students at a school in the Chapra district of Bihar died after eating food contaminated with pesticides. Many more fell ill. A government investigation later found that, like most schools in the state, this school had no separate kitchen or storage place for the food items. As a result, ingredients were stored in the principal’s house, right next to pesticides stored for her farm.

Since then, there’s been no tragedy of similar scope… 

The rice and wheat supplied to schools come from government warehouses… The government sends grains to schools every two or three months. And many schools around the country don’t have a separate kitchen or larder to store the grains… Since the 2013 poisoning in Bihar, the government has been building separate kitchens in schools… But thousands more are yet to be built. There’s also a need to better train cooks about best practices in the kitchen… Cooks at schools are often illiterate or poorly educated and aren’t aware of health standards… 

Currently, a teacher is assigned to monitor the program and make sure everything runs smoothly, says Kumar. Teachers do this on top of regular duties and are not paid extra. “One person is overseeing everything… This is the main problem.” The problems can be fixed… the states of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have created a separate position for a “noon meal organizer.” As a result… their school lunch programs have fewer problems than do other areas… 

Meanwhile, despite all these cases of contaminated food, kids haven’t stopped eating the free lunches — a sign of how much they depend on the Mid-Day Meal Program.

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Aug 27 '14

Turning yeast into sustainable fish food - Future Food (2014)

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Nichols was in charge of DuPont’s business development. It was 2006, and the company had created an innovation around bio-based omega-3 fatty acids… genetically modified yeast could substitute for fish oils and preserve the omega-3 fatty acids. But Nichols knew it was a breakthrough in another area as well. “In the blink of an eye, I realized that we could solve a big problem with salmon aquaculture,” says Nichols, who now directs Verlasso, a joint venture between DuPont and AquaChile… 

Fish oil produced from wild-caught fish supplies critical nutrients that farmed salmon need to grow, but these wild-caught fish are harvested unsustainably. By 2006, salmon aquaculture was consuming some 80 percent of the world’s fish oil and still growing at a rate of 8 to 10 percent per year. Oily fish like anchovies, menhaden and mackerel provide the main source of fish oils, and their harvests are threatened as their populations deplete.

“We are looking at a future where there would be no more fish oil to be had… I thought, if we are able to provide the omega-3 to the salmon using… yeast that is rich in omega-3s, and use far fewer wild-caught feeder fish for the diet, it would do a lot of good for the oceans while sustainably supplying farmed salmon with omega-3s.”

Verlasso’s method of salmon aquaculture reduces reliance on wild-caught fish by 75 percent. Four pounds of wild-caught feeder fish are typically needed to produce the fish oil to make one pound of salmon. Verlasso, on the other hand, relies on just one pound of wild-caught fish to produce one pound of salmon. “We have lowered the fish in/fish out ratio. One in and one out,” says Nichols.

Verlasso has also identified ways to get down to about three-quarters of a pound of wild-caught fish used per one pound of fish produced, and Nichols believes the company will be able to achieve that over time. Although the joint venture’s current focus is on raising Atlantic salmon, the feed could certainly be useful for other salmon species…

“Everyone recognizes we can’t continue to harvest forage fish to feed oil to salmon… Some people ask, How do we use these [forage] fish with most efficiency? The proper question is, How do we use them not at all? They need to be food sources themselves” … 

However, Nichols says providing omega-3s to the fish through the yeast is more expensive than using fish oil. “The company formulates the fish diets based on optimal performance rather than least cost, and a number of the ingredients in our feed are more expensive than those used in traditional salmon aquaculture”… The fish grow in the southern Pacific Ocean off of Chile, reaching harvest size in about two years in pens with fewer than four salmon per ton of water, or about 50 percent more room per fish than the industry standard.

While fish farming is Nichols’ business, he says he often thinks of the pressing problems with world agriculture and how enough food will be produced to feed the expanding global population in decades to come. “We’ve got to find ways to do more with less. How do we develop agriculture practices that operate in harmony with the environment and allow us greater intensity? … I heard a great quote from former NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco: ‘It’s OK to use the oceans, and not OK to use them up’” … 

“We are not going in the right direction,” says Nichols. “I hope it is axiomatic to say that it is indefensible to harvest a fishery above its sustainable level. A thornier question is how we should respond to roughly half of the world’s fisheries being harvested at the upper limits of sustainability. Operating at the very edge leaves little or no room to accommodate things unforeseen…. There seems to be precious little international enthusiasm to talk about how to reduce pressure on fisheries, but it is surely needed.”

If people are going to continue to eat fish, says Nichols, they must be farmed and they must be raised sustainably. “All agricultural production, whether on land or in water, has environmental effects. The key consideration is that we manage those effects so that our practices today do not impinge on our ability to practice in the future”…

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Aug 27 '14

Brazil considers transgenic trees - Nature (2014)

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Viewed from above, Brazil’s orderly eucalyptus plantations offer a stark contrast to the hurly-burly of surrounding native forests. The trees, lined up like regiments of soldiers on 3.5 million hectares around the country, have been bred over decades to grow quickly.

On 4 September, a public hearing will consider bringing an even more vigorous recruit into the ranks: genetically engineered eucalyptus that produces around 20% more wood than conventional trees and is ready for harvest in five and a half years instead of seven. Brazilian regulators are evaluating the trees for commercial release; a decision could come as early as the end of this year.

Researchers, businesses and activists are watching closely. Eucalyptus… is grown on about 20 million hectares throughout the tropics and subtropics, and approval of the genetically engineered trees in Brazil could encourage their adoption elsewhere… So far, no genetically modified tree from a major commercial species has been deployed on a large scale… 

The trees were developed by FuturaGene, a biotechnology firm in Rehovot, Israel, that was spun out of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1993. The company found that certain proteins accelerate plant growth by facilitating cell-wall expansion. FuturaGene inserted into eucalyptus a gene that encodes one such protein from thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), a common laboratory plant. In 2010, the firm was bought by Suzano Pulp and Paper of São Paulo, Brazil, one of the world’s largest producers of eucalyptus pulp.

FuturaGene’s chief executive Stanley Hirsch is quick to point out the environmental benefits of his company’s creation. The tree’s speedy growth boosts absorption of carbon dioxide from the air by about 12%, he says, aiding in the fight to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The genetically modified trees may also require less land to produce the same amount of wood, reducing the conversion of natural forest into plantations.

Hirsch says that the company has tried to avoid public-relations mistakes made by agricultural biotechnology companies in the past: rather than shun activists, he has invited them to tour the company’s field-trial sites. “Some of them were so surprised,” he says. “They said, ‘Wow, these look just like normal trees’” … 

Genetically engineered trees do pose some biosafety issues that do not apply to agricultural crops such as maize (corn) or soya… trees tend to disperse pollen further than crops nearer the ground do, raising concerns about gene flow to native relatives. But eucalyptus has no native relatives in Brazil and is not particularly invasive in most areas of the country… 

FuturaGene says that it identified no major environmental problems in eight years of field trials that collected data on everything from gene flow to leaf-litter decomposition to the composition of honey made by bees that visit the trees. Myburg, who does not work with FuturaGene but is familiar with the company’s safety data, says that he found the firm’s studies to be well designed and thorough.

While FuturaGene tests the waters in Brazil, a US company awaits a regulatory decision regarding its genetically engineered, freeze-tolerant eucalyptus. In 2008, ArborGen of Ridgeville, South Carolina, petitioned the US Department of Agriculture to allow commercialization of the trees in the southeastern United States. Delays of this length are not uncommon in the US regulatory system, says ArborGen’s director of regulatory affairs Leslie Pearson…

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

One of the first commercial GM plants (papaya) has been a tree, and also in China GM poplars are grown since years already…

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Aug 27 '14

Earth can sustain more terrestrial plant growth than previously thought - EBI (2014)

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A new analysis suggests the planet can produce much more land-plant biomass – the total material in leaves, stems, roots, fruits, grains and other terrestrial plant parts – than previously thought.The study… recalculates the theoretical limit of terrestrial plant productivity, and finds that it is much higher than many current estimates allow.

“When you try to estimate something over the whole planet, you have to make some simplifying assumptions,” said… professor Evan DeLucia… “And most previous research assumes that the maximum productivity you could get out of a landscape is what the natural ecosystem would have produced. But it turns out that in nature very few plants have evolved to maximize their growth rates” … 

Estimates derived from satellite images of vegetation and modeling suggest that about 54 gigatons of carbon is converted into terrestrial plant biomass each year… “This value has remained stable for the past several decades, leading to the conclusion that it represents a planetary boundary – an upper limit on global biomass production”…

But these assumptions don’t take into consideration human efforts to boost plant productivity through genetic manipulation, plant breeding and land management, DeLucia said. Such efforts have already yielded some extremely productive plants. 

For example, in Illinois a hybrid grass, Miscanthus x giganteus, without fertilizer or irrigation produced 10 to 16 tons of above-ground biomass per acre, more than double the productivity of native prairie vegetation or corn. And genetically modified no-till corn is more than five times as productive – in terms of total biomass generated per acre – as restored prairie in Wisconsin.

Some non-native species also outcompete native species; this is what makes many of them invasive… In Iceland, for example, an introduced species, the nootka lupine, produces four times as much biomass as the native boreal dwarf birch species it displaces. And in India bamboo plantations produce about 40 percent more biomass than dry, deciduous tropical forests.

Some of these plants would not be desirable additions to native or managed ecosystems… but they represent the untapped potential productivity of plants in general. “We’re saying this is what’s possible” …

The team used a model of light-use efficiency and the theoretical maximum efficiency with which plant canopies convert solar radiation to biomass to estimate the theoretical limit of net primary production (NPP) on a global scale. This newly calculated limit was “roughly two orders of magnitude higher than the productivity of most current managed or natural ecosystems” …

“We’re not saying that this is even approachable, but the theory tells us that what is possible on the planet is much, much higher than what current estimates are” … Taking into account global water limitations reduced this theoretical limit by more than 20 percent in all parts of the terrestrial landscape except the tropics… “But even that… is many times higher than we see in our current agricultural systems.”

DeLucia cautions that scientists and agronomists have a long way to go to boost plant productivity beyond current limits, and the new analysis does not suggest that shortages of food or other plant-based resources will cease to be a problem.

“I don’t want to be the guy that says science is going to save the planet and we shouldn’t worry about the environmental consequences of agriculture, we shouldn’t worry about runaway population growth… All I’m saying is that we’re underestimating the productive capacity of plants in managed ecosystems.”

Original paper:

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Aug 26 '14

Iron nutrition, biomass production, and plant product quality - Briat &al (2014) - Trends Plant Sci

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One of the grand challenges in modern agriculture is increasing biomass production, while improving plant product quality, in a sustainable way. Of the minerals, iron (Fe) plays a major role in this process because it is essential both for plant productivity and for the quality of their products.

Fe homeostasis is an important determinant of photosynthetic efficiency in algae and higher plants, and we review here the impact of Fe limitation or excess on the structure and function of the photosynthetic apparatus. We also discuss the agronomic, plant breeding, and transgenic approaches that are used to remediate Fe deficiency of plants on calcareous soils, and suggest ways to increase the Fe content and bioavailability of the edible parts of crops to improve human diet… 

It is well known that Fe uptake through plant rootsresults from complex interactions between plant and soil within the rhizosphere, and does not solely depend on plant genotype. Solid phase modulation of Fe solubility in soils, the chemical speciation of Fe in solution, the importance of redox in the solubilization of Fe, and the role of synthetic and natural chelates in transport processes that occur near roots, are all soil-dependent factors that determine Fe bioavailability. Improvements to Fe nutrition of plants and Fe biofortification are therefore highly dependent on the physicochemical properties of soils, and not only on the plant genotype improvements that can be obtained through breeding or genetic transformation… 

Insights obtained over the past 20 years on Fe homeostasis in plants could lay the foundation for translational research in the field (i) to remediate Fe deficiency of plants on calcareous soils to increase crop productivity, and (ii) to increase the Fe content and bioavailability of the edible parts of crops to improve the diet and to combat human Fe deficiency anemia. Multidisciplinary programs promoting collaborations between molecular plant physiologists, soil scientists, agronomists, breeders, and animal and human nutritionists will be necessary to increase the chances of success in these applications.

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Aug 26 '14

Political reforms and food security - Pieters &al (2014) - EAAE

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In the last decade there has been a renewed interest in food and nutrition security. The food price spikes of 2007-08 and 2010-11 have revived the fight against hunger and malnutrition and has given food security a more prominent place on the international policy agenda.

Despite the growing consensus of reducing hunger and child malnutrition, there is less consensus on the way forward. Food security is a complex and multidimensional problem consisting of many causes at different levels of aggregation (individual, household, national and international). In the past decade a large literature on food security and its drivers and determinants has been developed over time. In the empirical literature, four main determinants of food security can be identified: economic status, health status and environment, education and demographic factors.

Among the various determinants, the impact of political reforms on food security has received less attention. In this paper, we therefore test whether a transition into a democracy systematically affects food security at country level. The median voter model predicts that democracies redistribute from the rich to the poor… a democracy will have a positive effect on food security… There are, however, confounding factors… Autocracies, for example, might care as well about poverty and food security issues as it reduces the incentives of the population to revolt… In this case, a transition into a democracy might not significantly improve food security… 

In this paper we have studied the impact of political reforms on food security using evidence from child mortality rates… only political reforms into a democracy have a positive impact on food security with the magnitude of the effect increasing as democracies remain installed for at least ten years…

In the 32 country case studies investigated, we found a significant and positive effect of democratization for Guatemala, Mexico, Senegal and Philippines, while for the other 28 countries we did not find any effect. The wedge between the results of the two methods can be attributed to the use of the weighted counterfactual…

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Aug 25 '14

New resource shows half of GMO research is independent - GENERA (2014)

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Those who follow the issue of genetically engineered crops have heard claims that there is little independent research on their safety for consumption or the environment. A new public database of research tells a different story. The resource is the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas (GENERA)… The results show that independent peer-reviewed research on GMOs is common, conducted worldwide, and makes up half of the total of all research on risks associated with genetic engineering.

GENERA is a searchable database of peer-reviewed scientific studies on the relative risks of genetically engineered crops. The database includes important details at-a-glance to help people find and learn about the science of GMOs. GENERA has now entered its beta-testing phase with the first 400 out of over 1,200 studies that have been curated… 

Dr. Karl Haro von Mogel… said that people are looking for independent information about GMOs. “People are looking for sources that they can trust that can help them find unbiased information about genetic engineering, but in a politically-charged debate, unbiased sources are difficult to find. We’ve been recognized for our independent expertise on this subject, so it was only natural that we should take a project like this on” … 

Out of the first 400 randomly-selected studies available in the GENERA beta test, half of them are funded entirely by government agencies and independent nonprofit organizations. Before the project began, rough estimates placed them at just a third of the research. And the government-funded research is worldwide in scope – concentrated in Europe and Asia, followed by North America and Australia. These findings should turn the heads of people who thought it was skewed to private, U.S.-based laboratories… 

“Systematic reviews have concluded that genetically engineered crops are safe to eat, and when you look at the results collected in GENERA, it agrees with that conclusion” …

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Aug 23 '14

Improvement of the oil quality of the main oil crops - Baldini &al (2014) - CAB Reviews

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The growing demand for vegetable oils will increase even more in the near future because of their fundamental role in human and animal nutrition, increasing interest in their non-food applications as biofuel, lubricants, biopolymers, paints, etc. and the rising price of fossil fuels. The development of alternative vegetable oil feedstocks with modified functionality and at the same time maintaining the nutritional quality has therefore become a priority. In particular, modification of the fatty acid composition of vegetable oils specifically suitable for nutrition and/or industrial and other non-food applications has been one of the major challenges of the last few years.

This review provides a focus on the improvement in oil quality of the main oil crops cultivated in temperate zones, specifically soybean, rapeseed and sunflower, achieved by conventional breeding based on natural or induced genetic variability and by biotechnological approaches, especially adopting transgenic technology for the identification, isolation and transfer of genes and silencing of genes coding for key enzymes involved in the synthesis of fatty acids.

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Aug 23 '14

Impacts of Global Change on Crop Production and Food Security - Savary &al (2014) - Springer

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Agricultural systems occupy approximately 24 % of Earth’s terrestrial surface. They have been ensuring a vital ecosystem service, since food production kept pace with population growth in the course of the twentieth century. Most of the past balance has been ensured through agricultural intensification. There currently is, however, an obvious mismatch between human population sizes (and thus food demand) and food production among regions of the world. Further, alarming signs indicate that maintaining a balance between the world’s population growth and its food supply in the coming decades will become a major challenge, especially in the context of global, including climate, change.

Agricultural systems involve inflows and outflows, which determine their performances. Outflows include primary, desirable ones (e.g., crop yields) and secondary, often undesirable outflows (e.g., nutrient and pesticide losses to the environment). Inflows include non-substitutable ones, with essential roles for crop growth and plant metabolism (e.g., water, seeds, nutrients), while others are substitutable (e.g., labor, mechanization, pesticides). These inflows contribute to the growth-defining, growth-limiting, and growth-reducing factors, which determine three levels of plant production: potential, attainable, and actual.

Three entry points to enhance the performances of agricultural systems are considered, through increasing (1) potential yields, (2) attainable yields, and (3) actual yields. The latter entry point, which involves improving crop health, has several advantages. One of them is that its likely impact is at least equivalent to increasing potential yields or attainable yields. Another critical advantage of increasing actual yields, especially through the improvement of crop health, is that it allows addressing not only the quantity of harvests but also their quality, thus fulfilling the goals of achieving both global food security and food safety.

We propose that this conclusion applies to all levels of agricultural intensification, in particular intensive agricultural systems, (1) which are potentially more exposed to crop loss risks, (2) whose performances are particularly vulnerable to global change, and (3) which will continue to play a central role in global food security and safety.

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Aug 23 '14

Impacts of Climate Change on Food Utilization - Aberman & Tirado (2014) - Springer

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Climate change, one of the worlds most critical current and future challenges, is increasingly impacting food security, especially for the world’s poor and vulnerable. Food utilization, one of the four dimensions of food security, pertains to the biological processing of food by individuals and is typically measured with nutritional indicators. The pathways through which climate change impacts food utilization can be summarized as diet and health… 

The evidence we do have suggests not only that climate change is exacerbating food insecurity for the world’s poor but also that we must go beyond solutions promoting agricultural yields to addressing the broader health context and the complexities of crop science. And because those who are already vulnerable are least able to cope with or adapt to the impacts of climate change, women and other vulnerable groups must be considered in programs and policies to address the issue.

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Aug 22 '14

Why Vegetables Get Freakish In The Land Of The Midnight Sun - NPR (2014)

See on - Ag Biotech News

Everything in Alaska is a little bit bigger — even the produce. A 138-pound cabbage, 65-pound cantaloupe and 35-pound broccoli are just a few of the monsters that have sprung forth from Alaska’s soil… 

At the annual Alaska State Fair… the public will have the chance to gawk at giants like these as they’re weighed for competition. It’s “definitely a freak show… Some things [are so big], you can’t even recognize what they are”… 

It’s Alaska’s summer sun that gives growers an edge… Basking in as much as 20 hours of sunshine per day, Alaskan crops get a photosynthesis bonus, allowing them to produce more plant material and grow larger… But many of the biggest ones — the real monsters — aren’t flukes; they’re a product of careful planning.

Selecting the right seed varieties is just as important as the time spent in the sunlight… growers… spend years experimenting with different varieties… ”Let’s face it: You’re not going to win the Kentucky Derby with a mule or a Shetland pony… If you don’t have the right genetic material, you’re never going to achieve that ultimate goal”… 

"It really reminds me of Frankenstein’s laboratory… If you were to go visit somebody who was growing a giant veggie for this fair, I think the thing that what would impress you is how much science and technology goes into this"… ;
Alexander J. Stein's insight:

The real frankenfood? — And all conventional… 

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