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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 www.AJStein.de
Apr 21 '14

Study casts doubt on climate benefit of biofuels from corn residue - U Nebraska-Lincoln (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Food Policy

Using corn crop residue to make ethanol and other biofuels reduces soil carbon and can generate more greenhouse gases than gasoline, according to a study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change. The findings… cast doubt on whether corn residue can be used to meet federal mandates to ramp up ethanol production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 


Corn stover — the stalks, leaves and cobs in cornfields after harvest — has been considered a ready resource for cellulosic ethanol production. The U.S. Department of Energy has provided more than $1 billion in federal funds to support research to develop cellulosic biofuels, including ethanol made from corn stover…


The researchers… used a supercomputer model… to estimate the effect of residue removal on 128 million acres across 12 Corn Belt states. The team found that removing crop residue from cornfields generates an additional 50 to 70 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule of biofuel energy produced… the rate of carbon emissions is constant whether a small amount of stover is removed or nearly all of it is stripped. 


"If less residue is removed, there is less decrease in soil carbon, but it results in a smaller biofuel energy yield," Liska said. To mitigate increased carbon dioxide emissions and reduced soil carbon, the study suggests planting cover crops to fix more carbon in the soil. Cellulosic ethanol producers also could turn to alternative feedstocks, such as perennial grasses or wood residue, or export electricity from biofuel production facilities to offset emissions from coal-fueled power plants… 


The study’s findings likely will not surprise farmers, who have long recognized the importance of retaining crop residue on their fields to protect against erosion and preserve soil quality. Until now, scientists have not been able to fully quantify how much soil carbon is lost to carbon dioxide emissions after removing crop residue… Liska’s study… used carbon dioxide measurements taken from 2001 to 2010 to validate a soil carbon model that was built using data from 36 field studies across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia…

http://newsroom.unl.edu/releases/2014/04/20/Study+casts+doubt+on+climate+benefit+of+biofuels+from+corn+residue

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2187


See on newsroom.unl.edu

Apr 20 '14

Attitudes to vaccination: A critical review - Yaqub &al (2014) - Soc Sci Med

See on Scoop.it - Global Nutrition

This paper provides a consolidated overview of public and healthcare professionals’ attitudes towards vaccination in Europe by bringing together for the first time evidence across various vaccines, countries and populations…

Our synthesis suggests that hesitant attitudes to vaccination are prevalent and may be increasing since the influenza pandemic of 2009. We define hesitancy as an expression of concern or doubt about the value or safety of vaccination. This means that hesitant attitudes are not confined only to those who refuse vaccination or those who encourage others to refuse vaccination.

For many people, vaccination attitudes are shaped not just by healthcare professionals but also by an array of other information sources, including online and social media sources. We find that healthcare professionals report increasing challenges to building a trustful relationship with patients, through which they might otherwise allay concerns and reassure hesitant patients. We also find a range of reasons for vaccination attitudes, only some of which can be characterised as being related to lack of awareness or misinformation.

Reasons that relate to issues of mistrust are cited more commonly in the literature than reasons that relate to information deficit. The importance of trust in the institutions involved with vaccination is discussed in terms of implications for researchers and policy-makers; we suggest that rebuilding this trust is a multi-stakeholder problem requiring a co-ordinated strategy.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.04.018


See on sciencedirect.com

Apr 20 '14

The role of environmental biotechnology in exploring, exploiting, monitoring, preserving, protecting and decontaminating the marine environment - Kalogerakis &al (2014) - New Biotechnol

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

In light of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and the EU Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources, environmental biotechnology could make significant contributions in the exploitation of marine resources and addressing key marine environmental problems. In this paper 14 propositions are presented focusing on (i) the contamination of the marine environment, and more particularly how to optimize the use of biotechnology-related tools and strategies for predicting and monitoring contamination and developing mitigation measures; (ii) the exploitation of the marine biological and genetic resources to progress with the sustainable, eco-compatible use of the maritime space (issues are very diversified and include, for example, waste treatment and recycling, anti-biofouling agents; bio-plastics); (iii) environmental/marine biotechnology as a driver for a sustainable economic growth.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nbt.2014.03.007



See on sciencedirect.com

Apr 20 '14

Researchers rethink ‘natural’ habitat for wildlife - Stanford U (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Protecting wildlife while feeding a world population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050 will require a holistic approach to conservation that considers human-altered landscapes such as farmland, according to Stanford researchers.

Wildlife and the natural habitat that supports it might be an increasingly scarce commodity in a world where at least three-quarters of the land surface is directly affected by humans and the rest is vulnerable to human-caused impacts such as climate change. But what if altered agricultural landscapes could play vital roles in nurturing wildlife populations while also feeding an ever-growing human population?

A new study… finds that a long-accepted theory used to estimate extinction rates, predict ecological risk and make conservation policy recommendations is overly pessimistic. The researchers point to an alternative framework that promises a more effective way of accounting for human-altered landscapes and assessing ecological risks.

Current projections forecast that about half of Earth’s plants and animals will go extinct over the next century because of human activities, mostly due to our agricultural methods. “The extinction under way threatens to weaken and even destroy key parts of Earth’s life-support systems, upon which economic prosperity and all other aspects of human well-being depend,” said co-author Gretchen Daily… But that grim future isn’t a foregone conclusion. ”Until the next asteroid slams into Earth, the future of all known life hinges on people, more than on any other force,” Daily said.


Conservationists have long assumed that once natural landscapes are fractured by human development or agriculture, migration corridors for wildlife are broken, blocking access to food, shelter and breeding grounds. A scholarly theory was developed to estimate the number of species in such fractured landscapes, where patches of forest surrounded by farms resemble islands of natural habitat…


The theory drives the default strategy of conserving biodiversity by designating nature reserves. This strategy sees reserves as “islands in an inhospitable sea of human-modified habitats” and doesn’t adequately account for biodiversity patterns in many human-dominated landscapes, according to the Stanford study.

"This paper shows that farmland and forest remnants can be more valuable for biodiversity than previously assumed," said Daniel Karp… "If we’re valuing coffee fields and other human-made habitats at zero, we’re doing a disservice to ourselves and wildlife"… "Conservation opportunities for tropical wildlife are tightly linked to adequate management of these human-modified habitats," said co-author Christoph Meyer…

Especially in the tropics, island biogeographic theory’s application is “distorting our understanding and conservation strategies in agriculture… ”Not only do more species persist across the ‘sea of farmland’ than expected by island biogeographic theory, novel yet native species actually thrive there,” said co-author Elizabeth Hadly… ”This indicates that human-altered landscapes can foster more biological diversity than we anticipated” … 


http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/april/bats-rethink-habitat-041714.html


Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13139


See on news.stanford.edu

Apr 19 '14

Effects of the glyphosate-resistance gene and of herbicides applied to the soybean crop on soil microbial biomass and enzymes - Nakatani &al (2014) - Field Crops Res

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide used for the non-selective control of weeds, inhibits… a key enzyme… in plants, fungi and bacteria, thus impairing the synthesis of proteins required for various life processes.

Soybean genetically engineered to be glyphosate resistant (GR or Roundup Ready, RR) represents the most cultivated transgenic crop globally, including Brazil. There are concerns about the effects of RR transgenic soybean and of glyphosate on soil microbial communities and their functioning.

Our study was designed to detect changes in soil microbial biomass-carbon… and -nitrogen… and in enzyme activities… in a large set of field trials… We evaluated the effects of the RR transgene, glyphosate and weed management… with three pairs of nearly isogenic soybean cultivars…

Soils were sampled… microbial parameters and [soil microbial variables] were not affected by the transgene, type of herbicide or weed management. Differences were, rather, related to site, cropping season and cultivar… 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fcr.2014.03.010


See on sciencedirect.com

Apr 19 '14

Reasons Analysis of Chinese Urban Consumers Opposing Genetically Modified Food—An Empirical Analysis based on a Metropolitan Representative - Ma (2014) - Stud Asian Soc Sci

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Scientific experiments… proved that genetically modified food possesses many advantages such as insect resistance, herbicide tolerance and disease resistance. However… many Chinese consumers prefer conventional food to genetically modified food when they go to supermarket… The reasons were attributed to four aspects… risk… human health… environment hazards… profit… 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.5430/sass.v1n2p11


See on sciedu.ca

Apr 19 '14

Performance of dairy cows fed silage and grain produced from second-generation insect-protected (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn (MON 89034), compared with parental line corn or reference corn - Casti…

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Corn grain and corn silage are major feed components in lactating dairy cow rations. Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.) is a naturally occurring soil bacterium that produces a protein that is toxic to lepidopteran insects that may damage plant tissues and reduce corn quality and yields…


Cows were offered 1 of 4 rations in which the corn grain and silage originated from different corn hybrids: a nontransgenic corn control (from hybrid DKC63-78; Monsanto Co., St. Louis, MO), a B.t. test substance corn… and 2 commercial nontransgenic reference…


Sixteen multiparous Holstein cows… were… randomly assigned… Milk yield, fat yield, and percentage of fat… milk protein yield and percentage of protein… milk urea nitrogen concentration… and 3.5% fat-corrected milk yield… were not different across treatments.


The results from this study show that lactating dairy cows that consume B.t. corn (MON 89034) do not differ from lactating dairy cows that consume nontransgenic corn in milk yield, 3.5% fat-corrected milk per unit of dry matter intake, or milk components.


http://dx.doi.org/10.3168/jds.2014-7894



See on sciencedirect.com

Apr 19 '14

Application of the Theory of Planned Behavior to genetically modified foods: Moderating effects of food technology neophobia - Kim &al (2014) - Food Res Int

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

The purpose of this study is… to identify the structural relationships among ecological concerns and the Theory of Planned Behavior’s… constructs (attitude, subjective norm, perceived behavioral control, and behavioral intention)… to examine the moderating effects of food technology neophobia… neophobia had a statistically significant effect… 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2014.03.057



See on sciencedirect.com

Apr 18 '14

Food shortages could be most critical world issue by mid-century - AgriLife (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Food Policy

The world is less than 40 years away from a food shortage that will have serious implications for people and governments, according to a top scientist at the U.S. Agency for International Development. “For the first time in human history, food production will be limited on a global scale by the availability of land, water and energy… Food issues could become as politically destabilizing by 2050 as energy issues are today.” 


Davies… said the world population will increase 30 percent to 9 billion people by mid-century. That would call for a 70 percent increase in food to meet demand. “But resource limitations will constrain global food systems… The increases currently projected for crop production from biotechnology, genetics, agronomics and horticulture will not be sufficient to meet food demand.”

Davies said the ability to discover ways to keep pace with food demand have been curtailed by cutbacks in spending on research. “The U.S. agricultural productivity has averaged less than 1.2 percent per year between 1990 and 2007… More efficient technologies and crops will need to be developed — and equally important, better ways for applying these technologies locally for farmers — to address this challenge.” 

Davies said when new technologies are developed, they often do not reach the small-scale farmer worldwide. “A greater emphasis is needed in high-value horticultural crops,” he said. “Those create jobs and economic opportunities for rural communities and enable more profitable, intense farming.” Horticultural crops, Davies noted, are 50 percent of the farm-gate value of all crops produced in the U.S.

He also made the connection between the consumption of fruits and vegetables and chronic disease prevention and pointed to research centers in the U.S. that are making links between farmers, biologists and chemists, grocers, health care practitioners and consumers. That connection, he suggested, also will be vital in the push to grow enough food to feed people in coming years. 

“Agricultural productivity, food security, food safety, the environment, health, nutrition and obesity — they are all interconnected” … One in eight people worldwide… already suffers from chronic undernourishment… 

http://today.agrilife.org/2014/04/18/food-shortages-could-be-most-critical-world-issue-by-mid-century/


See on today.agrilife.org

1 note

Apr 18 '14

Combating Mineral Malnutrition through Iron and Zinc Biofortification of Cereals - Shahzad &al (2014) - Comp Rev Food Sci Safety

See on Scoop.it - Global Nutrition

Iron and zinc are 2 important nutrients in the human diet. Their deficiencies in humans lead to a variety of health-related problems. Iron and zinc biofortification of cereals is considered a cost-effective solution to overcome the malnutrition of these minerals. Biofortification aims at either increasing accumulation of these minerals in edible parts, endosperm, or to increase their bioavailability.


Iron and zinc fertilization management positively influence their accumulation in cereal grains. Regarding genetic strategies, quantitative genetic studies show the existence of ample variation for iron and zinc accumulation as well as inhibitors or promoters of their bioavailability in cereal grains…. This review focuses on the common challenges and their possible solutions related to agronomic as well as genetic iron and zinc biofortification of cereals.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1541-4337.12063


See on onlinelibrary.wiley.com

Apr 18 '14

Exploring the social value of organic food: a qualitative study in France - Costa &al (2014) - Int J Consumer Stud

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether organic foods are used to signal social identity, class or status, i.e. if they have social value… three research questions: (1) does organic food have social symbolism?; (2) does the social value of organic food depend on the venue where it is obtained?; (3) are other symbols associated with the social value of organic food? … Results indicate that organic food has a social value… 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ijcs.12100


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

I’m not sure how a study with a sample size of only 20 respondents made it into a journal, but that organic food is little more than a status symbol or a lifestyle choice is not surprising… 


See on onlinelibrary.wiley.com

Apr 18 '14

Plants That Practice Genetic Engineering - NYT (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

In the debate over genetically modified crops, one oft-said word is “unnatural.” People typically use it when describing how scientists move genes from one species into another. But nature turns out to be its own genetic engineer. Genes have moved from one species of plant to another for millions of years. 


Scientists describe a spectacular case… in which ferns acquired a gene for sensing light from a moss-like plant called hornwort. Gaining the gene appears to have enabled the ferns to thrive in shady forests… The scientists found that roughly 100 million years ago, ferns exploded into a number of new lineages. Eighty percent of today’s fern species can be traced to that evolutionary burst.

Intriguingly, these successful ferns also evolved a new kind of light-sensing protein. Known as a neochrome, it makes ferns sensitive to dim levels of light. These neochromes may have enabled ferns to thrive on shady forest floors… Fay-Wei Li, set out to discover the origin of neochromes… But as hard as Mr. Li looked, he couldn’t find a light-sensor gene in ferns that was closely related to the neochrome gene… 


He found one. To his surprise, however, the gene was not in a fern. Instead, it belonged to a hornwort. These primitive plants, which lack roots or stems, grow in mats on damp banks or on trees. It was a strange connection to find because hornworts are only distantly related to ferns. 


“The first thing that came to my mind was that this must be a contamination,” Mr. Li said. A neochrome gene must have somehow been mixed into a sample of hornwort DNA. The only way to know for sure was to look at more hornwort DNA… Mr. Li and his colleagues came up with an unexpected hypothesis for how ferns got their neochromes. Neochromes did not gradually evolve in ancient ferns. Instead, a single lineage of ferns picked up the neochrome gene from hornworts… 

Mr. Li speculates that the transfer took place between a hornwort and a fern growing in intimate contact. Once a fern picked up the neochrome gene, his research indicates, it moved into other fern species as well. It’s possible that acquiring this gene enabled ferns to thrive in dark forests…

Previous studies suggested that plants sometimes replaced one of their genes with a version from another species… The fern study, on the other hand, shows that plants have also gained functions by acquiring new genes from other plants… 

 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/17/science/plants-that-practice-genetic-engineering.html ;
See on nytimes.com

Apr 18 '14

General Mills defends GMOs in responsibility report - Food Business News (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

General Mills… defended biotechnology in its 2014 Global Responsibility Report… Not only are G.M.O.s safe, the report said, but also they may offer a solution to food insecurity worldwide. “…biotechnology shows promise to address such issues as strengthening crops against drought and extreme temperature, and delivering more nutritious food, even in poor soil conditions… We agree with the U.N. World Health Organization (W.H.O.) that the development of genetically modified organisms (G.M.O.s) offers the potential for increased agricultural productivity or improved nutritional value that can contribute directly to enhancing human health and development.” … 

General Mills said it has found a broad global consensus among food and safety regulatory bodies that biotech crops are as safe as their conventional counterparts. “This technology is not new… Biotech seeds have been approved by global food safety agencies and widely used by farmers in food crops for almost 20 years. Because U.S. farmers use G.M. seed to grow certain crops, 70% of foods on U.S. grocery store shelves likely contain G.M.O. ingredients… Global food safety experts will note there has not been a single incident of harm to health or safety demonstrably linked to the use of G.M.O.s anywhere in the world. Numerous studies have found certain benefits, however.” 


The company said it believes biotechnology helps ensure safe and effective food production because genetically modified crops require less insecticide and less energy use by farmers. Genetically modified crops also are associated with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved water quality, improved water filtration and reduced soil erosion, the report said… 

“We know that some consumers remain uncomfortable with G.M.O.s,” General Mills said. “As a global food company, we produce products without G.M. ingredients in some markets — we also offer organic and non-G.M.O. alternatives in most of our major categories in the U.S.” The company added it opposes state-based labeling of products made with genetically modified ingredients but that it supports national standardized labeling in the United States… 

http://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/news_home/Business_News/2014/04/General_Mills_defends_GMOs_in.aspx?ID={8EBE8C7A-FA78-4323-BB7F-0AD0D4EE99D7}

Original report: http://www.blog.generalmills.com/2014/04/the-2014-global-responsibility-report/


See on foodbusinessnews.net

Apr 16 '14

GM crops given green light by government - Telegraph (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Genetically-modified food which boosts health could be on British dining tables by the end of the decade after the Government gave the green light for the first field trial of nutrient enriched crops. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs today granted permission for Rothamsted Research to grow plants enhanced with the same omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, in a decision branded a ‘milestone’ by scientists… 

If successful the plant oil will be fed to fish, such as farmed salmon, to boost their uptake, but it could eventually be used in oils and spreads such as margarine. Professor Johnathan Napier, lead scientist of this project at Rothamsted Research, said: “Omega-3 doesn’t occur in any other plant species but there is a real pressing need for it for health reasons.


“The way that fish currently acquire their omega-3, from algae, is not sustainable. So we are trying to find another source… This is something that could reduce our dependency on fish or supplements in the long term.” Omega-3 fatty acids have been widely linked to health benefits, such as lowering the risk of heart disease, cancers and neuro-degenerative diseases.

Although omega-3 is often described as fish oil, it is in fact made by microscopic marine algae that are eaten or absorbed by fish. Farmed fish grown in cages are unable to absorb sufficient omega-3 in their diets so they have to be fed on smaller fish which critics claim is unsustainable. 


The Rothamsted Research scientists have copied and synthesised the genes from the algae and then spliced them into a plant called ‘Camelina sativa’, known as “false flax”, which is widely grown for its seed oil. Although the main aim of the research is to produce GM crops that could be made into food for farmed fish, the seeds could eventually be used in other foods, such as margarine.

It is the first crop to be given permission since a wide-ranging report, commissioned by the government, gave the green light to GM in March… GM crops are already widely used in the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and India. Around 85 per cent of all corn crops in the US are now GM. 


Sir Mark has warned that Britain risks falling behind if it does not begin GM production soon. Professor Cathie Martin, the John Innes Centre, which has been producing enhanced tomatoes in green houses said: “Modern diets contain low levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Diets with high omega-3 are strongly associated with health and protection from a range of chronic diseases including cardiovascular diseases. Cultivation of crops that produce oils high in omega 3 offers a sustainable supply of these health beneficial products for the first time.” … 


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10769797/GM-crops-given-green-light-by-government.html


See on telegraph.co.uk

Apr 16 '14

CSSA Issues Position Statement on GM Technology - McClure (2014) - CSA News

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

While the ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Science Policy Office generally focuses on research funding, we also work on policy or regulatory issues that are closely connected to scientific research. The use and regulation of genetically modified (GM) crops is one notable example.

It’s an issue where scientific research can and should have a significant impact on how policy is shaped. What does the research tell us about GM crops? How is scientific research being used in the GM debate? What policy recommendations can be made based on GM research? These are some of the questions CSSA wanted to try to address in its new position statement on GM technology… 

“The use and regulation of GM technology is a sensitive and often emotional issue for many people,” says Stephen Baenziger, chair of the CSSA Science Policy Committee. “But the research overwhelmingly indicates that GM crops are safe, and for a scientific Society dedicated to crop science, it’s important for CSSA to stand behind the research and convey that message” … 

FDA labeling practices require product labeling when the absence of information would pose a special health or environmental risk. Since the research overwhelmingly indicates there are no significant health or environmental risks associated with GM crops, CSSA sees no basis for requiring a label. 

“… we need to have regulatory policies that are evidence-based, and in the case of GM crops, the evidence tells us that those approved by our federal agencies are safe.” The position statement on GM technology was approved by a unanimous vote of the CSSA Board of Directors…

http://dx.doi.org/10.2134/csa2014-59-4-8

Original statement: https://www.crops.org/science-policy/position


See on agronomy.org