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From this week, every mainland Australian state will allow genetically modified crops. Here’s why that’s nothing to fear

June 27, 2021 3.50pm EDT

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  1. Daniel TanProfessor of Agronomy (Agriculture), University of Sydney

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Daniel Tan receives funding from the Cotton Research and Development Corporation, the Grain Research and Development Corporation and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. He is Fellow of Ag Institute Australia and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, UK.

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On July 1, the New South Wales government will lift a ban on genetically modified (GM) crops after an 18-year moratorium. It will mean GM crops can now be grown in every Australian state except Tasmania.

Major farming groups have welcomed the move. GM proponents say the biotechnology leads to better crop yields and may solve food shortages and reduce infestations of weeds and pests.

But opponents say GM crops are a potential threat to the environment and human health. They fear the technology will encourage superweeds, increase antibiotic resistance and food allergies in humans and may have other unintended effects.

So where does the truth lie? Academic research suggests GM crops are generally safe for humans and the environment, and so I believe the NSW government’s decision should be welcomed.

Unbiased. Nonpartisan. Factual.
protesters in front of sign
GM crops will be allowed in all mainland states, despite opposition from some. Greenpeace/AAP

What is genetic modification?

Genetic modification is the use of technology to change the genes of living things. It involves scientists injecting one organism’s DNA with genes from another, to give it a desirable trait such as resistance to drought, extreme temperature or pests.

Genetically modified crops were introduced commercially in the 1990s. The NSW moratorium began in 2003 following concerns from some importers and manufacturers. For example, countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia had been refusing GM grain, and Canada and Saudi Arabia had indicated they did not want GM-fed livestock.

Announcing the lifting of the ban in March, NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said his government had been working to ensure trade and marketing issues surrounding GM food were well managed. He said the Commonwealth Gene Technology Regulator will assess all applications to grow GM crops, ensuring they are safe for people and the environment.

The NSW decision follows similar moves by other mainland states in recent years, including South Australia, which lifted the GM ban in 2020 (with an exemption for Kangaroo Island). A moratorium remains in the ACT.

The NSW government says allowing cultivation of GM crops will increase agricultural competitiveness and productivity, and bring up to A$4.8 billion in benefits over the next decade.


Read more: Battling misinformation wars in Africa: applying lessons from GMOs to COVID-19


woman in lab coat
Genetic modification involves injecting one organism’s DNA with genes from another. Aleksandar Plavevski

Benefits of lifting of the GM ban

So are the benefits of GM crops real? To answer this question, we can look to three precedents: GM canola, cotton and safflower, which have been grown in Australia for many years. These crops were exempt from the moratoria in NSW and other states, and evidence suggests their cultivation has been a success.

GM cotton has been modified with insecticidal genes, which research shows makes it more resistant to pests. The modified cotton also requires less insecticide use.

GM canola has been transformed to make it resistant to herbicides, which enables better weed control.

State moratoria delayed the introduction of GM canola, including in NSW. Research in 2018 found, across Australia, the environmental costs of the delay included an extra 6.5 million kilograms of active ingredients applied to canola land, and an extra 24.2 million kg of greenhouse gas and other emissions released. Economic costs included a net loss to canola farmers of A$485.6 million.

In recent years, Australian regulators allowed cultivation of canola modified to contain long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, prized for their health benefits. The canola variety was hailed as the world’s first plant-based source of omega-3 and may reduce reliance on fish stocks.

Safflower has been genetically modified to contain higher amounts of oleic acid. These renewable oils can be used in place of petroleum, a finite resource, in products such as fuels, plastics and cosmetics.


Read more: The quest for delicious decaf coffee could change the appetite for GMOs


Crop with farm machinery
GM crops can be made resistant to herbicides. Greenpeace/AAP

What are the risks?

Experts concede there are limits to what can be known about the health effects of any food over the long term. However, scientists broadly agree the evidence so far suggests GM crops are safe to eat. This view is backed by the World Health Organization.

Foods derived from GM plants are consumed by millions of people in many countries. And in Australia, authorities rigorously assess all GM foods before they’re sold to consumers.

However many countries still ban the the cultivation of GM foods. And some people remain worried about the effects on human health. Concerns include that antibiotic resistance may be transferred from plants to humans, or that GM foods will trigger allergic reactions.


Read more: GM crops: to ban or not to ban? That’s not the question


Experts have concluded the risk of antibiotic resistance is not substantial. There is some evidence of a small number of GM crops being allergenic. But since GM crops undergo extensive allergen testing, they should not be riskier than conventional crops once cleared for market release.

Other GM opponents say the technology poses environmental risks – for example that herbicide-resistant GM crops can become “superweeds”.

Research has found weed resistance to the herbicide glyphosate is a problem, and there is some evidence of glyphosate-resistant canola persisting outside farms in Australia. Management strategies can reduce the chance of superweeds developing, but more research is needed.

And it should be noted that while the use of herbicide-resistant crops sometimes leads to less herbicide use, the decrease is often not sustained. Researchers also say a reduction in the kilograms of pesticides used does not necessarily predict environmental or health effects.

people spray field
More research is needed into preventing herbicide-resistant superweeds. Shutterstock

Some critics oppose GM crops on the basis that they allow a few large companies – which breed and commercialise seeds – to control food supplies. For example, in 2015 it was reported the GM maize seed sector in South Africa was owned by just two companies, which meant small farmers could not compete.

Researchers have proposed measures to counter this corporate concentration of power, by strengthening competition policies, boosting public sector support for diverse food systems and curbing corporate influence in the policy process.

The issue of cross-contamination is also a concern for organic farmers and consumers. In a well-known case from Western Australia, organic farmer Steve Marsh’s crop was contaminated in 2010 with GM canola, causing him to lose his organic certification.

Looking ahead

The lifting of the NSW ban on GM crops means Australian mainland states have a consistent approach, and provides new opportunities for Australian growers and consumers.

There are still issues with GM crops to be ironed out, and there’s a need for continued stringent regulation to ensure human and environmental safety. Opposition to the practice will no doubt remain in some quarters. However this may lessen over time as the technology develops and long-term outcomes become clearer.

How The Conversation is different

Every article you read here is written by university scholars and researchers with deep expertise in their subjects, sharing their knowledge in their own words. We don’t oversimplify complicated issues, but we do explain and clarify. We believe bringing the voices of experts into the public discourse is good for democracy.

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Kenya approves GMO cassava for farming after years of research

THURSDAY JUNE 24 2021

casava

Kenya has approved the release of genetically modified cassava for open cultivation, paving the way for commercialisation after five years of research.

The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) said it has given a green light for open field farming after years of confined trials, the clearest indicator that the approval of GMO maize is next on the line.

Cassava now becomes the first food crop to be approved for field cultivation. The government approved the planting of GMO cotton in 2019 and farmers are at the moment growing the first crop of this variety.

NBA Board approved the application following a necessary review under the country’s Biosafety Act, reversing the 2012 ban as government turns to technology to address food insecurity.

Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organisation (Kalro) scientists through research, have been developing this variety that is resistant to the brown streak disease, a notorious infection that has for years subjected farmers to total losses.

The approval paves the way for conducting national performance trials of these varieties before registration and release to farmers if the crops regulator finds that it meets all the attributes that scientists have listed.

ALSO READ

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Nigeria makes history with GMO cowpea rollout

BY NKECHI ISAAC

JUNE 30, 2021

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History was made today as Nigeria officially released genetically modified (GM) cowpea, which offers protection from the pod borer pest.

It’s the first genetically modified (GM) food crop adopted in Africa outside of South Africa. The pod borer-resistant (PBR) cowpea — popularly known as beans in Nigeria — is resistant to the insect pest Maruca vitrata, which is responsible for up to 80 percent yield losses.

PBR cowpea, which was first released in Nigeria in December 2019 as the SAMPEA 20-T variety, is the product of an international partnership under the coordination of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) that included scientists from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Dr.  Denis Kyetere, the outgoing executive director of AATF,  described the launch in Kano as a landmark event that would help Nigeria to achieve food security and also increase farmers’ incomes.

In his speech on the occasion, he said the development of PBR cowpea was a long journey that started in real terms with the acquisition of the technology.

“The national cowpea production will increase by 20 to 100 percent as has been recorded and witnessed by farmers during the national performance trials. It is estimated that 20 percent of the cowpea consumed in Nigeria is imported. With PBR cowpea, Nigeria is set to save billions in earnings,” Kyetere stated.

He explained that an increased supply of cowpea would reduce malnutrition in the country, especially among children and women as many people depend on it as rich source of protein, vitamins (thiamine) and minerals such as iron, adding the development would translate to healthy life and increased productivity among the people.

In his speech on the occasion, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Sabo Nanono said the Federal Government had since the beginning of the Buhari administration been working assiduously to address farming constraints in the country to improve living standard of farmers and enhance their contribution to government’s efforts to boost food security.

He described the launch of the genetically modified beans as liberation for the nation’s farmers, who he said had been faced with the incessant nightmare of dealing with the devastating impact of Maruca vitrata.

“I was reliably informed that during the 2020 cropping season, in on-farm demonstration trials in 28 sites across Adamawa, Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Kebbi, and Plateau, results of the demonstration trials clearly indicate the agronomic superiority of the new variety resulting in high demand for seed,” Nanono said.

The government, according to the minister, is currently repositioning the country’s agricultural extension services to provide farmers with the latest information on varieties and the best options to improve agricultural productivity.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnya Onu, paid tribute to the nation’s scientists for the great work done, saying the feat had registered the country on the world map.

“Agricultural biotechnology is one of the interesting tools capable of providing a soft landing for us as a nation in the midst of growing issues of food and nutritional insecurity because it has proven that it has the ability to quickly respond to low productivity, diseases, and pest challenges as well as climate change,” Onu said.

Nigeria, he said, could only solve its food problems, which have been exacerbated by the dwindling fertility of the soil and the reliance on age-old farming methods, by thinking outside the box.https://www.youtube.com/embed/_F8ZOzu-P-c?feature=oembed

Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State also commended the efforts of Nigerian scientists from the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, with support from NABDA for their selfless service that resulted in development and release of PBR Cowpea.

“In Africa generally, yields have been on perpetual decline, while in other climes, farmers are among the richest,” he said. “But here, farmers are at the lowest part of the ladder in our society struggling to feed themselves and sell what is left to [pay] for their children’s school fees.”

Saying the feat should spur the nation to take advantage of the emerging technologies and innovations in agriculture to regain lost glories and make huge economic gains alongside, he added: “Today, Nigeria is recognized as the first country in the world to release a cowpea variety that is resistant to Maruca, the destructive insect that had been a nightmare to farmers on the African continent.”

The director-general of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, noted:“Biotechnology, as we have seen in other countries, is a tool that can enhance productivity, reduce drudgery and increase yields. This is why the Federal Government of Nigeria established the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in 2001 to promote, coordinate and set research and development priority in biotechnology for Nigeria.”

Image: Shutterstock/CKP1001

Follow Nkechi Isaac’s Science Nigeria website.

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Identifying ToBRFV and ToMV using CRISPR/Cas

CRISPR/Cas12a-based detection is a novel approach for the efficient, sequence-specific identification of viruses. In new research,  CRISPR/Cas12a is used to identify the tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV), a new and emerging tobamovirus that is causing substantial damage to the global tomato industry.

Specific CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) were designed to detect either ToBRFV or the closely related tomato mosaic virus (ToMV). This technology enabled the differential detection of ToBRFV and ToMV.

Sensitivity assays revealed that viruses can be detected from 15–30 ng of RT-PCR product, and that specific detection could be achieved from a mix of ToMV and ToBRFV.

“In addition, we show that this method can enable the identification of ToBRFV in samples collected from commercial greenhouses. These results demonstrate a new method for species-specific detection of tobamoviruses,” the researchers explain. “A future combination of this approach with isothermal amplification could provide a platform for efficient and user-friendly ways to distinguish between closely related strains and resistance-breaking pathogens.” 

Read the complete research here.

Alon, Dan & Hak, Hagit & Bornstein, Menachem & Pines, Gur & Spiegelman, Ziv. (2021). Differential Detection of the Tobamoviruses Tomato Mosaic Virus (ToMV) and Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus (ToBRFV) Using CRISPR-Cas12a. Plants. 10. 1256. 10.3390/plants10061256. 

Publication date: Fri 25 Jun 2021

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International collaboration receives regulatory approval of cassava brown streak disease resistant cassava in Kenya

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St. Louis, Missouri, USA
June 23, 2021

The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) has received approval from the Kenyan National Biosafety Authority (NBA) for environmental release of cassava that is resistant to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). The approval paves the way for conducting national performance trials (NPTs), the final step of testing new varieties before they can be registered and released to farmers.

The disease-resistant cassava was developed under the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa Plus (VIRCA Plus) project, an international collaboration between the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) in Uganda, the Rwandan Agriculture Board (RAB), Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, MO.

In parallel with the NPTs, the VIRCA Plus team is working to multiply, deliver and steward the improved varieties to Kenyan farmers once they are registered and fully approved by regulatory authorities.

Through a decision document dated June18, 2021, the NBA Board approved the application following necessary review in accordance with the country’s Biosafety Act. The researchers used modern biotechnology to introduce a small part of two viruses that cause CBSD into the cassava plant to make it resistant. The process used augments a naturally occurring plant defense mechanism against viruses. The improved cassava was evaluated over a period of five years, in confined field trials (CFTs) in six different locations in Kenya and Uganda, and showed high and stable defense against CBSD, a disease that can result in up to 100 percent loss of usable storage roots in severe infection.

According to NBA’s Chief Executive Officer, Prof. Dorington Ogoyi, the decision was arrived at following a rigorous and thorough review, taking into account food, feed, and environmental safety assessment as well as consideration of socio-economic issues. The review process also factored public comments for 30 days, in line with the Kenyan constitution that calls for public participation.

“This is a welcome decision and a significant step to getting disease-resistant cassava into the hands of Kenyan farmers for addressing food security challenges,” said KALRO Director General Dr. Eliud Kireger. “We thank the NBA and all those who participated in the review for their diligent consideration of the application.”

More details about next steps of the project will be coming soon.

About VIRCA Plus
VIRCA Plus, a multi-institutional project working to improve resistance to viruses that cause cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) and to increase levels of iron and zinc in the storage roots, the edible part of the plant. VIRCA Plus collaborates with research scientists, regulatory experts and communication specialists with the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Rwanda. For more information please visit, cassavaplus.org.

More news from:
    . Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
    . Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro)

Websitehttp://www.danforthcenter.org

Published: June 23, 2021

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Bt Cotton adoption in Punjab has resulted in net economic, environmental benefits: Study

Vikas VasudevaCHANDIGARH, JUNE 21, 2021 19:34 ISTUPDATED: JUNE 22, 2021 15:52 IST

Yields have stabilised after its commercialisation, says expert

Amid the perpetual debate surrounding Bt cotton’s positive and negative impacts, a recent study titled — ‘Long-term impact of Bt cotton: An empirical evidence from North India’ — has said its adoption in Punjab in the past over a decade has resulted in net economic and environmental benefits.

Also read: Comment | The flawed spin to India’s cotton story

The research was funded by the Agricultural Extension Division of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research under extramural project “Impact evaluation of integrated pest management technologies”. The study was jointly done by the Punjab Agricultural University at Ludhiana, the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology in Jammu (SKUAST) and the Noida-based Amity University, and has been recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production Elsevier.

“Since the commercialisation of Bt cotton, there has been reduction in insecticide use by volume and applications, decline in environmental and human health impact associated with insecticide use, more so with the reduction in the use of highly hazardous and riskiest insecticides, and reduction in the expenses associated with insecticide use. Also, cotton yields in the past 13 years have been stable, the only exception being 2015. Yet over the past 13 years, pesticide use has gradually increased in Bt hybrids and reduced in non-Bt varieties, primarily driven by the use of fungicide, which was not applied in cotton in 2003 and 2004.

“Akin to the discovery of synthetic pesticides in the 1940s, which was proclaimed as ‘silver bullet technology’ by entomologists, the complete reliance on Bt cotton without incorporating it into the integrated pest management (IPM) system led to outbreak of whitefly in northern India and pink bollworm in western India in 2015; thus, resistance to Bt cotton is yet to become a significant problem. Compatibility of Bt with IPM is not a given when we have weaker institutional setting with ad hoc IPM system and the contrarian view that Bt cotton has been a failure in India, in this case Punjab, lacks empirical evidence,” professor Rajinder Peshin of SKUAST told The Hindu.

Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton has been commercially grown in India for the past 19 years. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved the release of Bt cotton for commercial cultivation in 2002 in western and southern parts of the country. In Punjab, Bt cotton was released for cultivation in 2005. Before the release, it was adopted by 72% farmers on 22% of the cotton area. However, a lot of questions have been raised recently on its impact.

“To find out the long-term socio-economic and environmental impacts of Bt cotton cultivation on cleaner production, we revisited cotton growers surveyed in 2003 and 2004 again in 2016-17. Before-after, with-without, and difference-in-differences [with and without sample attrition] within farm comparisons were analysed to find the impact of Bt cotton over time. Our results show that sucking insect pests have replaced bollworms as the key pests.

Decline in insecticide applications

“There has been a steep decline in insecticide applications to control bollworms, the target pest of Bt cotton, by 97%; however, this has been offset by an increase in the insecticide application by 154% to control sucking pests. Moreover, the increase in pesticide use was driven by the use of fungicides, which were not applied in cotton earlier, and increased use of herbicides.

“Our results show overall positive impact of Bt cotton on volume of insecticide active ingredients (a.i.) applied, insecticide applications, use of highly hazardous and riskiest insecticides, and resultant environmental impact of the field use of insecticides on cotton. Yields have stabilised after the commercialisation of Bt cotton,” said Mr. Peshin.


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COMMODITIES NEWS JUNE 17, 202111:53 AM UPDATED 8 DAYS AGO

Brazil regulation seen allowing more U.S. GMO crop imports

By Reuters Staff

1 MIN READ

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil’s government published a new regulation on Thursday to align rules for genetically modified (GMO) crops with global standards, a move the agriculture lobby says will make it easier to import more GMO soy and corn from the United States.

Under the new rules, published by Brazilian biosecurity regulator CTNBio in the official government gazette, crops with different genetic modifications can be transported in the same ship, provided each modification is already approved, industry group CropLife said.

“This new regulation makes it possible to import grains from outside Mercosur, creating an alternative for protein producers in Brazil,” the Brazilian Animal Protein Association (ABPA) said.

It sees the United States, the world’s biggest corn exporter and a large soy exporter, as Brazil’s most likely grains provider outside the Mercosur.

Prices of corn and soy, used to feed swine and poultry, rose more than 100% and 60%, respectively, over the last year.

Reporting by Roberto Samora; Editing by Richard Chang

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Book review: Jennifer Thompson’s ‘GM Crops and the Global Divide’ addresses Europe’s neo-colonialist attempt to intimidate Africa into rejecting crop biotechnology

Henry MillerKathleen Hefferon | April 22, 2021

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Credit: CSIRO Publishing
Credit: CSIRO Publishing

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

Jennifer Thomson’s excellent new book, “GM Crops and the Global Divide” (CSIRO Publishing, 2020), is a highly informed, lucid, and gracious narrative. Able to maintain equanimity in the face of one of the most polemical debates of our time, Thomson, Emeritus Professor of Microbiology at the University of Cape Town, provides a succinct yet detailed overview of the history of genetically modified crops, guiding the reader through the history of molecular genetic engineering, from its beginnings in the 1970s, and concluding with the birth of genome editing.

A veteran in the field, she discusses the science and economics of GM crops from the viewpoint of many of the usual-suspect countries, including the United States, Brazil, India, and China, as well as an assortment of African nations. Thomson also manages to cover fairly and clearly many controversial topics such as Seralini’s infamous fraudulent rat study, the continuing glyphosate sagaconundrums regarding food labelling, the myth of GM-caused farmer suicides in India, and misinformation in general, in a way that is informative but not inflammatory.

What distinguishes “GM Crops and the Global Divide” from other books on the topic is Thomson’s South African perspective, which is both refreshing and unique. Thomson has been a direct participant in the history of African biotechnology from its inception. In her chapter, ‘Countries that got it right, and why,’ she explains how genetically engineered crops came so easily to South Africa: From as early as 1978, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) created the South African Committee for Genetic Experimentation (SAGENE) which followed guidelines that were earlier promulgated by the United States’ National Institutes of Health.

As such, the Council required that universities implement adequate laboratory safety standards before research funding would be awarded to academic faculty, and offered training programs to provide academics with the expertise necessary. Eventually, these efforts paid off: By 1990, an assortment of biotech companies began to apply for approval to conduct field trials and the subsequent field testing of a variety of GM crops, ranging from maize and cotton to eucalyptus and apple. SAGENE drew up procedures, and by the time the South African government had obliged with the development of a GMO Act in 1999, the task of regulating biotech crops was already routine. It was straightforward, then, for South Africa to mobilize a strategy that could bring innovations such as GM crops forward to commercialization.

Jennifer Thompson. Credit: Alison Bert/AAAS

We need to interject here some relevant commentary about what, in this context, constitutes “getting it right.” Everything is relative, and the recombinant DNA guidelines from the U.S. National Institutes of Health alluded to above were far from “right.”  Because they were excessively, unnecessarily risk-averse, the guidance they provided was misguided. Those technique-based guidelines, which were focused on the use of a single technique–recombinant DNA modification–instead of on the actual risks of experiments, have slowed plant genetic engineering research and development ever since.

By assuming (incorrectly) from the beginning that recombinant DNA-modified organisms—which have come to be commonly known as “genetically modified organisms” or GMOs—were a high-risk category that needed to have sui generis regulation, the NIH guidelines created excessive or even redundant oversight for many products that were already sufficiently regulated if they posed unreasonable risk.

Worst of all, they reinforced the misconception that recombinant, or “genetically modified,” organisms are a meaningful “category.” Although the NIH gradually pared back the scope and stringency of its guidelines, stultifying, process-based, technique-focused approaches to regulation of this pseudo-category (defined in different ways, using various terms) have remained intact there and at other U.S. federal agencies, as well as in numerous foreign countries. Many countries have even banned the cultivation of genetically engineered plants entirely. Such excessive government regulation perpetuates the misapprehension on the part of many non-experts that products or activities that are stringently regulated must, ipso facto, be high-risk.

Even when genetically engineered crop plants move successfully through regulatory review, R&D is far slower and more expensive than necessary. In certain countries, such as the U.S., Canada, and South Africa, at least products do progress, albeit slowly. In conjunction with the movement of products through South Africa’s R&D pipeline was the creation of AfricaBio, a not-for-profit organization that promotes the safe, ethical and responsible use of the products of biotechnology. AfricaBio acts as a science communicator to smallholder and commercial farmers of South Africa regarding the use and management of GM crops.

Dr. Nompumelelo Obokoh of Africa Bio asks policy makers to give farmers the choice of growing GM crops. Credit: Daniel Otunge

As a result of entities such as SAGENE and AfricaBio, the South African public is currently far more positively disposed than Europeans toward GM crop safety, possibly because they have already been eating GM maize for over 20 years, without any harmful effects.

The story of South Africa and GM crops continues in Thomson’s next chapter, ‘To label or not to label–that is the question.’  The contradictions of labelling GM foods takes an interesting twist when considering that 80-90% of South Africa’s maize is GM, and it doesn’t make sense to make consumers pay for labeling costs, which could raise the price of maize by around 10%.

Thomson goes on to describe ‘The West versus Africa’ in the next chapter. The sad story of detrimental impacts of foreign influence on Africa is not new.  Thomson notes that the only African countries that are commercializing GM crops besides South Africa are Sudan, Nigeria, and Eswatini (Swaziland).  She states: “Much of Africa’s agricultural produce is destined for Europe,” and reminds us, “Therefore, Europe could influence organizations to adapt EU-style restrictions on GM crops and the EU has been waging war on GMO foods for decades.”Related article:  Viewpoint: Believing that we’ll have a COVID-19 vaccine anytime soon is naive

At the same time, Europe’s stringent import standards keep food products produced by smallholder African farmers out of their supply chain, instead favoring products from larger commercial farms.  She points out that Europe tries to protect its farmers from competition with their American counterparts (who farm GM crops prolifically), even to the point of preventing African nations from accepting food aid from the United States, as it might be “contaminated with GM.” Yet, paradoxically, the EU itself is heavily dependent on imported GM crops for animal feed. This is cynical neo-colonialism at its worst. Europe’s wholly unwarranted, decades-old, lose-lose campaign against genetic engineering was brought to mind by this lede in a Wall Street Journal article about the EU’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution:

It’s hard to think of a recent fiasco that can match the European Union’s Covid vaccine rollout. Protectionism, mercantilism, bureaucratic ineptitude, lack of political accountability, crippling safety-ism—it’s all here. The Keystone Kops in Brussels and European capitals would be funny if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The EU’s adamant rejection of GM crops is another, ongoing policy fiasco.

Another issue on which Thomson provides clarity is the claim that if African farmers have access to GM crops provided by multinational corporations, they will cultivate them in preference to and replace their indigenous crops, leading to control of the African seed sector by foreign corporate interests. The fear that African farmers will become reliant on corporate seeds is one of the arguments for “agroecology,” a vaguely defined concept that amounts to reliance on primitive, low-yielding agricultural techniques.

Thomson describes how as a child, science communicator Margaret Karembu (Director for the Director of ISAAA-AfriCenter (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications – Africa region) recalls how her family struggled to put food on the table. “She now realizes that her family was practicing subsistence farming, which European greens call agro-ecology family farming, in which families hardly produce enough food to last until the next harvest.” This results in African farmers being locked into a perpetual cycle of food insecurity and poverty.Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine?

Farmers should be free to choose whichever seeds and other farming methods are best suited to their circumstances. In any case, fear of new crop varieties is unwarranted.  Crops with new, improved traits were provided to African farmers long before GM crops were available, and many of the so-called local varieties are themselves the result of previous scientific research and development performed in their own countries. In Uganda, for example, more than half of the new maize varieties are the products of Ugandan research, not of foreign multinationals. In addition to this, the fear of permitting African farmers to use modern technologies is generally a moot one, as they cannot afford tractors, irrigation systems or fertilizers.

One thing they are far more likely to afford, however, is seed for better-performing GM crops – as illustrated by the fact that more farmers in developing countries plant GM seeds than in industrialized countries. Since 1995, when GM crops were first commercially grown, more than 70 countries have adopted them, either by planting or importing them. In 2019, more than 17 million farmers, 95% of whom come from developing countries, planted 190.4 million hectares of GM crops. These numbers could, and should, be much higher, but shortfalls in the adoption of useful technology are causing a major impact on agricultural productivity and preventing the widespread cultivation of potentially life-saving, income-boosting crops.

Thomson offers many examples of dysfunctional government approaches to GM crops, such as in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, no doubt egged on by anti-GMO sentiment. The culprits include the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health, the anti-GMO entity Inf’GMO of France in the case of Tanzania, or in Uganda, the President of the country himself.

In summary, in “GM Crops and the Global Divide,” Professor Jennifer Thomson capably traces the historical significance and current impacts of European influences on colonial governance, aid, trade, and educational involvement on African leaders and their people. It’s a revealing and sobering read.Editor’s note: Find “GM Crops and the Global Divide” for sale here.

Kathleen Hefferon, Ph.D., teaches microbiology at Cornell University. Find Kathleen on Twitter @KHefferon

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Is genetically modified corn the answer to fall armyworm? 

ABC Rural / By Megan HughesPosted 3ddays ago

A close up of a caterpillar on a stalk of corn. It's clear the grub has done a lot of damage
Fall armyworm has been detected across the country from North Queensland to Western Australia and even Tasmania.(Supplied: DPIRD)

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  • It’s a tiny caterpillar that’s difficult to detect, but for more than a year it’s been having a massive impact on crops in Australia, especially corn. 

Key points:

  • Fall armyworm is causing damage to corn crops around Australia 
  • Farmers are asking whether genetically modified corn could help
  • The Maize Association says it will need whole-of-industry support before GM corn can be introduced  

Fall armyworm (FAW) has infiltrated six states and territories and is so hard to control farmers are whispering about a method that’s been off the table for almost two decades — genetically modified (GM) corn.

Maize Association of Australia chairman Stephen Wilson said questions were being raised about whether GM corn could manage the armyworm incursion.

“Anecdotally, I am hearing from the field farmers saying we need GM to help us control the insect,” he said. 

“It’s a major discussion point for the industry as a whole because for the last three decades we, as an industry, as the Maize Association, have been working uniformly to say we do not need GM in Australia.” 

Lessons from the US 

Since arriving in Australia in February 2020, fall armyworm has been detected in Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and, most recently, in Tasmania. 

Fall armyworm is native to the United States, where it has devastated multiple agricultural crops, but growers there have different tools to fight it. 

Fall armyworm on corn plants
Fall armyworm outbreaks are contained by insecticide use and GM crops in the United States.(Supplied: Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries)

North Carolina State University professor and extension specialist Dr Dominic Reisig said in their industry, corn was genetically modified to produce insecticidal proteins that naturally occurred in a bacteria found in soil. It is known as BT corn.

Dr Reisig said while it was not specifically designed to treat FAW it had had an impact. 

“It was first commercially planted in 1996 but that particular crop that was planted did not control fall armyworm,” he said.

“So it wasn’t until different BT toxins were introduced that we really started to see fall armyworm control. 

“But because it’s a sporadic outbreak pest throughout the US it wasn’t like a huge, earth-shattering moment when we were able to control fall armyworm.” 

Are GMO crops the silver bullet? 

According to Dr Reisig, treating FAW across ag industries was a multi-pronged approach with insecticides and a GM crop. 

He said in corn the pest could infest a crop in different stages of its development. 

“Once it gets into the whirl it’s very difficult to control,” he said. 

“But the good thing is when it attacks in those (earlier) stages it’s not that damaging to yield — so the corn looks really bad but it usually pops out of it and it’s not a problem. 

“If fall armyworm attacks later in the season when maize has an ear, then it’s a problem. 

“Once it’s inside that ear you can’t control it and then it’s a really damaging pest in terms of yield and it’s really difficult to control with insecticides so BT (corn) is the way to go.”

He said insecticides were able to control the pest in other crops like soya beans or vegetables because the plants were structured differently.

Weighing up the losses 

Australia only grows three GM crops — cotton, safflower and canola. 

A sea of yellow flowers under a blue sky as the canola crop is in full bloom.
Canola is one of thee genetically modified crops in Australia.(Supplied: Riverine Plains Inc)

Corn has remained GM-free and, as a consequence, the industry has been able to access different markets including Japan and Korea. 

“End users such as snack food and cornflake breakfast cereal manufacturers have told us the whole time they do not want GM in their raw materials,” Mr Wilson said. 

“It would impact on both the export market and also on all the domestic markets — everything from dairy cows utilising the maize as grain or silage right through to beef cattle and right through to human consumption. 

“It’s a major, major, major impact that would need to be agreed to by all sectors of the industry.” 

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A person opens a corn's covering to check if it's ripe.
Australia has been able to access multiple international markets as the corn grown here is GM free.(Pexels: Frank Meriño)

He said any trial would be complicated.

“You have all the regulatory issues of actually bringing germplasm into the country, you have the quarantine issues of having the facilities that could handle the GM product, then you’ve got the issues of field testing,” he said. 

“It would be a long, drawn-out process and we’d have to consider the impact on the industry as a whole because it’s very hard, if not impossible, to have part-GM, part-non-GM. 

“It’s a very expensive process and it makes the non-GM corn being in the minority a very expensive product that people have to pay a premium for.” 

In a statement, a spokesperson from the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment said genetically modified maize seeds may only be imported into Australia under an import permit issued by the department, but that no applications had been made. 

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NEWS RELEASE 14-MAY-2021

EurekAlert

New technology enables rapid sequencing of entire genomes of plant pathogens

AMERICAN PHYTOPATHOLOGICAL SOCIETY

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Next-generation sequencing technology has made it easier than ever for quick diagnosis of plant diseases. “It’s really exciting to see how sequencing technologies have evolved and how this new technology facilitates sequencing of entire genomes in such a short amount of time,” said Yazmín Rivera, a plant pathologist with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Plant Protection and Quarantine program, who recently published a research paper on the efficacy of Oxford Nanopore Technologies protocols.

“We wanted to provide an unbiased assessment of the technology and protocols available for long read sequencing,” Rivera explained. Along with other plant pathologists, Rivera used the company’s protocols to prepare RNA and DNA libraries from virus-infected plant material and from a plant pathogenic bacterium, respectively. After one hour of data sequencing, scientists had enough data to assemble small genomes.

“Diagnosticians will welcome an objective review of this technology,” Rivera said. Rivera and her colleagues published their findings in Plant Health Progress, presenting a side-by-side comparison of the protocols that will allow the reader to identify which library preparation kit is best suited for their needs.

The ability to quickly obtain the entire genome of an organism has great implications for the plant pathology field. “Having more information readily available facilitates identification of emerging pathogens and of pathogens that are difficult to identify,” explains Rivera. For more information, read “Comparison of Nanopore Sequencing Protocols and Real-Time Analysis for Phytopathogen Diagnostics“? published in the March issue of Plant Health Progress.

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Disclaimer: Mention of trade names or commercial products in this publication is solely to provide specific information and does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.SHARE PRINT

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