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Archive for the ‘GMOs’ Category

A world first: Philippines will soon start eating GMO “golden rice”

The variety of rice can help tackle childhood malnutrition and promises to bring a revolution in the developing world.

Fermin Koop by Fermin KoopAugust 1, 2021 in EnvironmentEnvironmental IssuesHealth & MedicineNutrition

ZME News

Developed by Philippines’ Department of Agriculture in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute, this rice is just what the doctor ordered: it contains additional levels of beta-carotene, which then the body converts into vitamin A. 

“It’s a really significant step for our project because it means that we are past this regulatory phase and golden rice will be declared as safe as ordinary rice,” Russell Reinke of the International Rice Research Institute told AFP. “The next step is to take out few kilos of seeds and multiply it, so it can be made widely available.”

A new type of rice

Image credit: Pixabay

Golden rice has a rich history, with researchers from Germany and Switzerland starting to look into it in 1982. Then, in 1999, various groups came together and continued the research, successfully triggering beta carotene production in rice in 1999. An improved version was later produced with Syngenta, with much higher levels of beta carotene. The body converts beta carotene into vitamin A (retinol).

While ordinary rice does produce beta carotene, it’s not found in the grain. Thus, scientists used genetic engineering to add the compound to the grain. The beta carotene is identical to the one found in green leafy and yellow-colored vegetables, orange-colored fruit, and even in many vitamin supplements and food ingredients.

However, GMOs ares not without their critics. If anything, critics outnumber and outpower the supporters.

This new type of rice was harshly questioned by environmental organizations opposed to genetically altered food plants, such as Greenpeace. While it has now passed the final regulatory hurdle, the rice is still far from appearing across Asia. Limited quantities of seed would start being distributed to selected farmers next year.

“The only change that we’ve made is to produce beta-carotene in the grain,” Reinke told AFP, replying to the criticism. “The farmers will be able to grow them in exactly the same way as ordinary varieties. It doesn’t need additional fertilizer or changes in management and it carries with it the benefit of improved nutrition.”

Why this matters

The vitamin comes directly from animal products and indirectly from beta carotene in plants, which the human body can convert to Vitamin A.  As rice is a staple food in many communities in Asia, golden rice could be of significant help in improving these areas’ vitamin A status once the grain becomes available for public consumption.

Still, there are some unanswered questions. In a recent blog post, US researchers Dominic Glover and Glenn Stone said the claim that golden rice will remedy the Vitamin A deficiency remains unproven. Plus, the families that are poor enough to be affected by VAD in the Philippines often lack land to grow rice for themselves.

“The Philippines has managed to cut its childhood VAD rate in half with conventional nutrition programs. If Golden Rice appears on the market in the Philippines by 2022, it will have taken over 30 years of development to create a product that may not affect vitamin levels in its target population, and that farmers may need to be paid to plant,” they wrote.

This could be a turning point for not just the Philippines, but for the rest of the world as well. Many researchers have supported the implementation of some GMO foods such as golden rice, but due to popular opposition, plans haven’t really caught on.

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Philippines Becomes First Country to Approve GMO ‘Golden Rice’

Modern Farmer

JUL 28, 2021Dan Nosowitz

The rice is supposed to help with childhood nutrition. But will it?The golden rice is the yellow one.Photography courtesy of International Rice Research Institute

Genetically modified crops are common in countries such as the United States, but generally they’re modified for two things: efficiency and profit.

Golden rice, which is a short-grain rice genetically modified to contain beta-carotene, was first developed in 1999, in Switzerland. But the rice’s journey to federal approval has been slow and filled with opposition. This week, the government of the Philippines announced that it had approved golden rice, making it the first country to do so.

Golden rice is a variety of rice that has been genetically modified to combat vitamin A deficiency, thanks to the inclusion of beta-carotene. This pigment is red-orange in color and is found in many plants, most famously carrots (hence the name). The human body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which is an important nutrient for the immune system, for vision and for digestion. Vitamin A deficiency is a significant problem in some parts of the world, with the World Health Organization estimating deficiency in about a third of all preschool-aged kids.

The Philippines has been leading the charge for golden rice, with much of the development and testing taking place there. But the path for this rice has not been easy, and in some ways it has devolved into the same debate about genetically modified foods seen over the past few decades. 

Proponents say that golden rice is a potentially life-saving creation, that it can deliver around 50 percent of the daily recommended allotment of vitamin A in a single cup of rice. Supporters include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has funded research into the GMO grain.

Opponents include organizations such as Greenpeace. Some are opposed to GMO food on principle, no matter what. Many have noted that the development of GMO crops has historically benefited huge corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta, rather than farmers or consumers, and that the millions of dollars golden rice has required to develop could have been used for more cost-effective nutrition programs. There’s also uncertainty about whether a yellow-colored rice would actually be appealing in regions where rice is typically white.

Currently, the rice has moved “past the regulatory phase,” according to the Philippine Star, meaning it has been declared as safe as any other rice, and is ready to plant.

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Kenyan small farmers look to genetically engineered disease resistant cassava to improve food security

Xinhua | July 28, 2021

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Credit: Japhet
Credit: Japhet

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

Catherine Taracha, a scientist at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (Kalro), is looking forward to starting planting genetically modified (GM) cassava on a trial basis after the government recently approved the process.

“We will do the trials in Western Kenya, at the Coast and in the Eastern part,” Taracha said Monday during a virtual meeting in Nairobi, expressing optimism that in two year’s time, farmers across the country and other parts of East Africa would start growing the crop commercially.Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.SIGN UP

In Kenya, only 970,000 tonnes of cassava are produced annually, and this is because of diseases like cassava mosaic and brown streak as well as pests like whiteflies and mealybugs.

For millions of farmers across East Africa, the cassava mosaic disease was a real problem in the mid-1990s as it spread like bush fire in the region, causing over 80 percent yield losses.

Annual yield losses due to the disease are estimated at 7 billion shillings (about 65 million U.S. dollars) in East and Central Africa, according to Taracha.

“We are banking on the GM crop to boost this crop. There is a huge market for cassava because of its huge potential,” she said.

Read the original postRelated article:  China to restrict reliance on foreign seed companies to foster lagging innovation in genetic engineering and advanced breeding

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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.

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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.

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