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Nigeria Commercialises First Transgenic Food Crop BUSINESS NEWS

The Nigerian Tribune
https://tribuneonlineng.com/nigeria-commercialises-first-transgenic-food-crop/

By Collins Nnabuife – Abuja
The Federal Government of Nigeria has approved registration and release of a new Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea variety for commercialisation.

The approval was granted by the National Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Varieties, chaired by Mr Oladosu Awoyemi, at its 28th meeting which was held in Ibadan.

The new cowpea variety, SAMPEA 20-T, was developed by scientists at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in collaboration with various partners under the coordination of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).

PBR Cowpea was earlier in the year granted environmental release approval by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), which confirmed the product was safe for human, livestock and the environment and paved the way for submission to the National Variety Release Committee for consideration and registration as a commercial crop in Nigeria.

The newly approved SAMPEA 20-T has been bred for resistance to Maruca vitrata, a lepidoptreran insect pest that causes up to 90 per cent yield loss in severe infestation cases.

This new variety is early maturing (70 – 75 days) with semi-erect growth habit and photoperiod insensitive and has medium-large white seeds. It is also resistant to Striga and Alectra, two notorious parasitic weeds.

The decision to release the variety means that farmers will have access to the seed that will help them significantly reduce the number of sprays they currently apply to their crop from 6 to 7 times to only 2 per cropping season and as a result realise better yield in quantity and quality. It will also contribute to addressing the national cowpea demand deficit of about 500,000 tonnes and also improve the national productivity average of 350kg/hectare.

During the Multi locational Advanced Yield Trials conducted across Nigeria’s agro-ecologies, researchers found SAMPEA 20-T to have high stable grain yield across the test locations. The minimum observed grain yield increase over the conventional cowpea varieties was 20 per cent and the maximum was over 200 per cent. The variety can yield up to 2.9 tons of beans per hectare, and over 3.0 tons of fodder per hectare.

Professor Mohammed Ishiyaku, the Principal Investigator for the project and Executive Director, Institute for Agricultural Research, Zaria said both the on-station and on-farm trials demonstrated the superiority of SAMPEA 20-T relative to local, recently released cowpea varieties and improved breeding lines tested.

“SAMPEA 20-T is high yielding, early maturing and resistant to Striga and Alectra, which are a major constraint to cowpea production in most producing areas in Nigeria and other dry savanna regions,” said Professor Ishiyaku.

“The protein and nutrients content of variety ‘SAMPEA 20-T is the same as that of other conventional varieties meaning that the Bt gene that was introduced into the variety has no negative influence on the nutritional composition of both grain and folder,” Professor Ishiyaku added, saying that the newly released variety does not differ in any way from already existing cowpeas (beans) other than the improvements made.

 

The Guardian

Nigeria, other African countries lose $200b to plant pests, diseases yearly


• 40% Of Crops Lost To Plant Pests, Diseases Yearly—FAO
• Contributes To Economic Losses In Sub-Saharan Africa—IITA
• UN Declares 2020 As International Year Of Plant Health
The United Nations General Assembly has declared year 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH). This is aimed at raising global awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment and boost economic development.

This has not only showed the importance attached to plants and food crops, but the urgent need to start conversations that will help promote understanding and awareness about the importance of plant health.Plant or crops provide 80 per cent of the food humans eat, plant also provide feeds for livestock, more importantly, plants provide the oxygen humans breath. However, the major threat plants face now is pest.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that up to 40 percent of food crops are lost to plant pests and diseases yearly. These leave millions of people without enough food to eat and seriously damaging agriculture, which is the primary source of income for rural communities.

The Director of Plant Production & Health Management, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dr. David Chikoye, put the losses incurred yearly as a result of the plant pests and diseases, across Sub-Saharan Africa, at over $200b considered as a significant amount of money.

One of the factors given by experts for the persistent spread of pests and diseases to new areas is the expanding international trade and travel, which increases the risk. Considering the huge economic losses incurred as a result of the challenge, coupled with the health challenges posed by continuous consumption of unhealthy plants, there is renewed vigour by stakeholders to key into the IYPH, by raising awareness and continuous efforts to protect plant health.

So far, IITA appears to have taken the bull by the horn. The institute has undertaken researches with partners on plant health to ensure food and nutritional security and meet some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).Specifically, the institute’s focus is on Fall Armyworm (FAW), and Aflatoxin, in which it has recorded breakthroughs, which have drastically reduced economic losses of farmers.

FAW (Spodoptera frugiperda) is an insect pest of more than 80 plant species, causing damage to economically important cultivated cereals such as maize, rice, sorghum, and also to vegetable crops and cotton. It is native to tropical and subtropical regions. It is the larval stage of the insect that causes the damage. FAW reproduces at a rate of several generations per year, and the moth can fly up to 100 km per night. It is currently in 31 African countries.

Aflatoxins are poisonous carcinogens, produced by certain molds (Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus) which grow in soil, decaying vegetation, hay, and grains. They are regularly found in improperly stored staple commodities such as cassava, chili peppers, corn, cottonseed, millet, peanuts, rice, sesame seeds, sorghum, sunflower seeds, tree nuts, wheat, and a variety of spices. When contaminated food is processed, aflatoxins enter the general food supply where they have been found in both pet and human foods, as well as in feedstocks for agricultural animals.

Contaminated animals feed can pass aflatoxin transformation products into eggs, milk products, and meat. For example, contaminated poultry feed is suspected in the findings of high percentages of samples of aflatoxin contaminated chicken meat and eggs in the Indian subcontinent.

Children are particularly affected by aflatoxin exposure, which is associated with stunted growth, delayed development, liver damage and liver cancer, among others.Aflatoxin contaminates up to 65 per cent of maize and groundnut crops. More than 95 per cent of children under five in some countries have aflatoxin in their body signifying high exposure. It affects many other crops such as melon seeds and rice.

Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa (SARD-SC) Maize Commodity Specialist, Sam Ajala, who took journalists on field tour of the IITA experimental farms said the FAW was first noticed in Nigeria in 2016 but prevalent in 2017.He said: “The pests feed on the leaves, reducing the photosynthesis area. When the leaves are fully opened, they go into the stem, eat up the maize and cause economic losses. After much research, it was discovered that the specie of the pests are similar to the ones in Florida, which means it must have been brought into the country from there.

“Pesticides have been tested on the pests and they are not really working. It was discovered that if you are using a particular pesticide for a long time, the pests will resist it and it will not work again. Currently, we have succeeded in developing resistant maize breed that tolerates the pest.”

To combat the aflatoxin contamination, IITA and partners have developed an all-natural product, Aflasafe, which drastically reduces aflatoxin in crops. Aflasafe contains native non-toxic strains of Aspergillus flavus that out-compete toxin-producing ones when applied in the field.

When it is correctly applied and all facilitative conditions are met, farmers in several countries consistently achieve 80 to 100 per cent reduction in aflatoxin contamination in their maize and groundnut fields.One application of Aflasafe every cropping season, provides protection from aflatoxin in a cumulative manner, along with attendant health benefits.

A Plant Pathologist/Bacteriologist and consultant in IITA, Ibadan, Oyo State, Dr. Maria Ayodele said the major objective of the IYPH is to raise global awareness on how promoting plant health could help end hunger, reduce poverty, among others, explained that food security could only exist when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food for an active, healthy life.She said low crop yields were common in many developing countries and improved productivity was vital to reducing poverty and increasing food security.

According to her, the causes of low productivity are complex, which includes the often-neglected issue of the importance of plant health in productivity and hence, in food security.“One major aspect of plant health, concerns crop losses due to pest, constraints, estimates of losses of 30 to 40 per cent of crop production annually are common.

“Any future solution regarding improved global food security must address these losses. That means improving plant health of what we are currently producing,” she said.Ayodele further said that IITA had been involved and had good reputation on plant health management by taking measures, which included bio-control of cassava mealy bug, bio-pesticides, integrated striga control and aflatoxin management.

 

fresh plaza logo

Risk of banning roses and vegetables exports

Papaya mealybug poses a threat to Kenya’s multi-billion export market

The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) has stated that the mealybug, which has so far devastated papaya cultivation sites in the coastal region, poses a serious threat to roses and vegetables.

Kephis managing director Esther Kimani called for quick intervention to tame the spread, warning that failure to do so could inflict heavy losses on the horticulture sector: “Papaya mealybug is now becoming as serious threat that can affect our vegetables and roses if we do not contain it on time.”

The bug, according to the agency, can cause losses of up to 70 percent when it attacks a crop. Kephis said it will have no option but to ban export crops found to be infected by the pest as they will fail to conform with the phytosanitary requirements of zero tolerance to pests. Phytosanitary requirements are a key condition that countries have to comply with or risk export ban.

For instance, avocados from Kenya were denied access to the South African market 10 years ago after the country’s authorities raised concerns over the presence of disease causing fruit fly in the avocado coming from Kenya. Kenya’s avocado has also been given stringent rules to adhere to before it gets access to the lucrative Chinese market.

In October, Australia tightened its rules on exports of Kenyan roses saying that they could only accept the flowers if they comply with the zero-pest rule.

Kephis said the pests were first spotted in Mombasa but had moved to other parts of the country. “We have seen them affecting other crops too especially when the papaya is off season,” said Isaac Macharia, general manager in charge of phytosanitary at Kephis.

Source: businessdailyafrica.com

 

Publication date:

genetic literacy project

Philippines is first! Long-delayed Vitamin A-enhanced Golden Rice greenlighted, bucking activist opposition

In a victory for science-based regulatory decision-making, the government of the Philippines authorized the direct use of GR2E Golden Rice in food, feed, and for processing, the first country to do so. The fortified food is designed to be consumed in areas with a shortage of dietary vitamin A, a deficiency which each year is estimated to kill 670,000 children under the age of 5 and cause an additional 500,000 cases of irreversible childhood blindness.

golden ricIn its decision, the Philippine Government  joined Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, which all affirmed in 2018 that Golden Rice poses no unique health concerns. Canada and the US approved golden rice for cultivation, with Health Canada and the US Food and Drug Administration declaring it safe for consumption, although only for export.

The regulatory data were submitted by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the spring of 2017 and were scrutinized by several regulatory committees representing agriculture, environment, health, science and technology, and local governments.

This decision, formally taken on December 10, is huge as it represents the first food approval for Golden Rice in a country where rice is the staple and vitamin A deficiency a significant public health problem. Rice is a staple food crop for over half of the world’s population, providing 30–72% of the energy intake for people in Asian countries. Those involved in the authorization are to be praised for their scientific integrity and courage in the face of stiff activist-opposition.

Unlike the industrialized countries, the Philippines is a country where rice is so important, that Pinoys (the Filipino people) do not consider any food to be a meal unless it is accompanied by rice. In 2018, per capita white rice consumption in the Philippines was 115 kg – or 315 g daily (454 g = 1 lb), or more than 15-fold higher than in the US.

Since the 1940s the Philippine Government, at all levels, has pursued policies to deliver better health for its citizens. Nevertheless, the Philippines is a country where vitamin A deficiency (VAD) – globally, the leading cause of child mortality, and irreversible blindness – remains a significant public health problem.

The World Health Organization lists Philippine mothers as being moderately vitamin A deficient, and children less than 5 years old as being severely vitamin A deficient. This is despite, as reported in 2014, 85 percent of children consuming a vitamin-A rich food in the past day, and 76 percent of children receiving a vitamin A supplement in the past 6 months. Vitamin A capsule (VAC) distribution in the Philippines has been in place since the early 1990s. Initially, the use of VACs was highly controversial.

indian infant
Indian woman with her newborn child, Thar Desert, Rajasthan
 

Globally, over the past 20 years, about 10 billion VACs have been distributed to preschool children at a cost of about $10 billion. In the Philippines increasing standards of living, and the use of VACs, reduced VAD incidence among preschool children from 40 percent in 2003 to 15 percent in 2008. By 2013, however, VAD incidence had increased again to 20 percent of preschool children, and 28 percent of children between 6 and 12 months old.

A universal source of vitamin A will reduce child mortality by 23 – 34 percent, and up to 50 percent in cases of measles. It is expected that adoption of Golden Rice – the golden color beta carotene is a source of vitamin A – into the regular diet will continue to reduce the incidence of VAD, and very sustainably: there is no extra cost for the additional nutrition, and no limitations on what small farmers can do with the seed.

img original
A mid-November 2019 demonstration against Golden Rice was mounted outside the Bureau of Plant Industry in Manila

In the last month, New Scientist reporter Michael Page commented about Golden Rice:

What shocks me is that some activists continue to misrepresent the truth about the rice. The cynic in me expects profit-driven multinationals to behave unethically, but I want to think that those voluntarily campaigning on issues they care about have higher standards.

Consistent with its commitment to public health, the Philippines authorities have ignored the misrepresentations and hyperbole around Golden imagesRice. Instead they used their regulatory system and internationally accepted risk assessment principles (and their experience in assessing the safety of GMO crops, which are widely used in the Philippines) to carefully, and impartially, consider the data submitted by PhilRice and IRRI.

Children and women are dying and going blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency, despite existing interventions, and Golden Rice can assist. Even partial substitution of white rice consumption by Golden Rice – all grown in the Philippines by Philippine farmers – will combat VAD, and with no possibility of overdosing.

Before Golden Rice can be adopted by Filipino farmers, it will have to be approved for wide-scale propagation and receive varietal registration. Field trials of Golden Rice, already completed in both the Philippines and in Bangladesh – which share the same agro-ecosystem – have shown no cause for concern, so the outlook is very positive. Only following adoption of the publicly owned Golden Rice varieties developed by PhilRice into daily consumption can Golden Rice start to save sight and lives, as it was designed to do almost a quarter of a century ago.

Note: This article was written by three of the key developers of Golden Rice:

Peter Beyer headed a research group at University of Freiburg, Germany, with a strong focus on improving the nutritional value of crop plants.

Ingo Potrykus worked at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, with a research group using genetic engineering technology applied to “food security” crops in developing countries.

Adrian Dubock designed the international collaboration, and its governance, for turning the results of the Potrykus and Beyer teams into a useful product,

The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.

NE farmer.png 1

A plant affected by soybean gall midge is seen in eastern Nebraska Justin McMechan
BETTER UNDERSTANDING: A plant affected by soybean gall midge is seen in eastern Nebraska. The good news is researchers know more about the pest now.

What’s new in soybean gall midge research?

Possible alternative hosts, a parasitoid, and a soybean gall midge look-alike all were identified in 2019.

Tyler Harris | Dec 19, 2019

Soybean gall midge has been identified in Nebraska fields as far back as 2011, but it hasn’t always been considered a major pest.

“Prior to 2018, this insect was a minor issue and annoyance for growers,” says Justin McMechan, Nebraska Extension cropping systems and crop protection specialist.  “It would show up in a field that had injury — historically, it had a hail event or disease or something, and you’d find it late in the season. All the way back to 2011, there was really no reason to study it. And then in 2018, it swept 60-some-odd [counties] and killed plants early in the season.”

Early in the 2018 season, growers began finding dead soybean plants, and orange larvae feeding on and killing off tissue inside the stem. As of 2019, the gall midge had been identified in 92 counties, including in Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota. Since 2018, however, McMechan and his colleagues have ramped up research on soybean gall midge.

In 2018, researchers in Nebraska captured the first adult soybean gall midge, allowing them to confirm it as a new species of gall midge, Resseliella maxima Gagne.

In 2019, University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers used cage traps at 27 sites in four states to learn about the gall midge’s emergence patterns.

“It wasn’t until June that this midge began emerging and at very low levels, but it came from last year’s soybean fields,” McMechan says. “If you have a soybean field that has had issues this past year, gall midge is going to come from there in 2020.”

Depending on the site, adult midges emerged for a 10- to 23-day period. And, including the overwintering generation from the previous year, three generations can emerge in a single season. Because of the insect’s long and overlapping emergence, and because larvae feed on the inside of the plant and the adults don’t feed on plant tissue, it’s difficult to control with insecticide.

However, McMechan encourages growers to look at these findings with some skepticism — these cage traps have a small footprint covering about a 1-by-2-foot area, and with one year’s worth of data, that may not paint the most accurate picture of the midge’s emergence.

In 2019, he also used time-lapse cameras to monitor plant development and how it affects the gall midge’s infestation and emergence patterns. And it appears the midges begin infesting plants at the base of the stem around the V2 or V3 stage.

“As you get further into the vegetative stage, you’ll start to see these little expansion points [on the stem] where things spread apart, and there are these little cracks forming,” McMechan says. “It appears from time lapse that soybean gall midge is using that to lay eggs into those natural openings that are occurring as a result of stem expansion.”

Recent Nebraska research suggests possible alternative hosts for the gall midge. In 2019, UNL doctor of plant health student Amy Hauver surveyed hosts surrounding fields where adults were captured in cage traps. And after submitting samples to colleagues who conducted DNA analyses of the insects on these plants, she identified sweet clover and alfalfa as hosts — although these plants weren’t being killed by the gall midge.

“They’re probably just background populations, but if you’re in an area where soybean gall midge is not hitting soybean fields and you’re not seeing injury, you might want to look at those hosts,” McMechan says. “[Growers] will find black spots on those hosts. They’ll find them much higher on the plant, in some cases up to 2 feet off the ground.”

In 2019, Robert Koch, University of Minnesota associate professor and Extension entomologist, identified a separate, similar-looking species, Karshomyia caulicola, or white mold gall midge. This midge, which is not harmful to soybeans, feeds solely on white mold. However, McMechan says its appearance may cause problems with misidentification.

In addition, researchers in Minnesota and Nebraska have identified a possible parasitoid that feeds on the gall midge — and while it was identified in Minnesota and not Nebraska, it may serve as a biological control method.

DNA extractions on soybean gall midge larvae led to the identification of a possible parasitoid. While the species cannot yet be narrowed down, McMechan notes UNL researchers found an equal match to two different species. Robert Koch and Bruce Potter, University of Minnesota Extension entomologists, will be looking into this more in 2020.

“It should be exciting for everybody to know there might be something out there that’s feeding on soybean gall midge,” McMechan says. “Those samples will go back to Minnesota, and we have some excellent scientists in Minnesota that will dissect the soybean gall midge larvae and see if they can find those parasitoids inside.”

Of course, moving forward, the overall goal is determining options for control.

“Adult emergence was a big topic for us; it is the underlying thing that we use for all of our management studies,” McMechan  says. “We need to know we have activity and how long we have it. But there are lots of questions about larval movement and the timing of when an insecticide is made and planting date. A lot is happening really, really quickly, which is good, but we also need to pay attention to the quality of those studies so we answer some questions and generate new ones.”

Golden rice

genetic literacy project

Golden Rice inventors: ‘Why our life-saving GMO crop is still not getting to the impoverished people who need it’

In a few weeks it will be 20 years that we three have been working together. Our project has been independently praised as one of the most influential of all projects of the last 50 years.

The project’s objectives have been admired  by some and vilified by others. It has directly involved teams of highly motivated people from a handful of nations, from both the private and public sector. A book by Ed Regis, dedicated to the three of us – Golden Rice: The Imperiled Birth of a GMO Superfood – has been written about our work. Nevertheless, success has, so far, eluded us all.  The story of our thwarted efforts is a tragedy that we hope will soon – finally – reach a milestone of potentially profound significance for humanity.

So, what have we been working on, and why haven’t we succeeded yet?

[Editor’s note: On December 18, 2019, the Philippines approved Golden Rice for human consumption. According to the International Rice Research Institute:

After rigorous biosafety assessment, Golden Rice ‘has been found to be as safe as conventional rice’ by the Philippine Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry. The biosafety permit, addressed to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), details the approval of GR2E Golden Rice for direct use as food and feed, or for processing (FFP).

“PhilRice Executive Director Dr. John de Leon welcomed the positive regulatory decision. ‘With this FFP approval, we bring forward a very accessible solution to our country’s problem on Vitamin A deficiency that’s affecting many of our pre-school children and pregnant women.’” ]

Food: everybody needs it, and many are fortunate enough to have enough, even too much of it. Food is a highly emotional subject on every continent and in every culture. For a healthy life our food has to provide energy, as well as, in very small amounts, minerals and vitamins. A varied diet, easily achieved and common in industrialized countries, provides everything.

d cd f o
Corneal scarring after vitamin A deficiency. Image: John DC Anderson

But poor people in countries where rice is grown often eat little else. White rice only provides energy: no minerals or vitamins. And the lack of one of the vitamins, vitamin A, is responsible for killing around 4,500 poor children every day. Lack of vitamin A is the biggest killer of children, and also the main cause of irreversible childhood blindness.

Our project is about fixing this one dietary deficiency – vitamin A – in this one crop – rice – for this one group of people.  It is a huge group though: half of the world’s population live by eating a lot of rice every day. Two of us (PB & IP) figured out how to make rice produce a source of vitamin A, and the rice becomes a golden color instead of white. The source is beta-carotene, which the human body converts to vitamin A. Beta-carotene is what makes carrots orange. Our rice is called “Golden Rice.”

The technology has been donated to assist those rice eaters who suffer from vitamin A deficiency (‘VAD’) so that Golden Rice will cost no more than white rice, there will be no restrictions on the small farmers who grow it, and nothing extra to pay for the additional nutrition. Very small amounts of beta-carotene will contribute to alleviation of VAD, and even the earliest version of Golden Rice – which had smaller amounts than today’s Golden Rice – would have helped. So far, though, no small farmer has been allowed to grow it. What happened?

To create Golden Rice, it was necessary to precisely add two genes to the 30,000 genes normally present in rice plants. One of the genes is from maize, also known as corn, and the other from a commonly eaten soil bacterium. The only difference from white rice is that Golden Rice contains beta-carotene.

It has been proven to be safe to man and the environment, and consumption of only small quantities of Golden Rice will combat VAD, with no chance of overdosing. All current Golden Rice results from one introduction of these two genes in 2004. But the use of that method – once, 15 years ago – means that Golden Rice is a ‘GMO’ (‘genetically modified organism’). The enzymes used in the manufacture of bread, cheese, beer and wine, and the insulin which diabetics take to keep them alive, are all made from GMOs too.

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The first GMO crops were created by agri-business companies. Suspicion of the technology and suspicion of commercial motivations merged, only for crop (but not enzymes or pharmaceutical) applications of GMO technology. Activists motivated by these suspicions were successful in getting the ‘precautionary principle’ incorporated in an international treaty which has been ratified by 166 countries and the European Union – The Cartagena Protocol.

Related article:  As fears of ‘rogue’ GMO wheat ease, Japan lifts ban on Canadian imports

This protocol is the basis of national rules governing the introduction of GMO crops in every signatory country. Government regulators in, and for, each country must agree before a GMO crop can be ‘registered’ to be allowed to be used by the public in that country. Currently regulatory decisions to allow Golden Rice release are being considered in Bangladesh and the Philippines.

The Cartagena Protocol obliges the regulators in each country to consider all possible risks, and to take no account of any possible benefits. Because the anti-gmo-activists’ initial concerns were principally about the environment, the responsibility for governments’ regulation for GMO crops – even for Golden Rice, a public health project delivered through agriculture – usually rests with the Ministry of the Environment, not the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Agriculture.

Activists discovered, before Golden Rice was created, that inducing fear of GMO food crops from ‘multinational agribusinesses’ was very good for generating donations from a public that was largely illiterate about food technology and production. And this source of emotionally charged donations would cease if Golden Rice was proven to save sight and lives, because Golden Rice represented the opposite of all the tropes used in anti-GMO campaigns.

WEB MEDIA GMOFactsGoldenRice
Anti-GMO meme.

Golden Rice is created to deliver a consumer benefit, it is not for profit – to multinational agribusiness or anyone else; the technology originated in the public sector and is being delivered through the public sector. It is entirely altruistic in its motivations; which activists find impossible to accept. So, the activists believed, suspicion against Golden Rice had to be amplified, Golden Rice had to be stopped: “If we lose the Golden Rice battle, we lose the GMO war.”

Activism continues to this day. And any Environment Ministry, with no responsibility for public health or agriculture, and of course an interest in avoiding controversy about its regulatory decisions, is vulnerable to such activism.

The anti-GMO crop campaigns, and especially anti-Golden Rice campaigns, have been extraordinarily effective. If so much regulation by governments is required, surely there must be something to be suspicious about: ‘There is no smoke without fire’. The suspicion pervades research institutions and universities, the publishers of scientific journals and The World Health Organisation, and UNICEF: even the most scientifically literate are fearful of entanglement in activist-stoked public controversy.

The equivalent of 13 jumbo jets full of children crashes into the ground every day and kills them all, because of VAD. Yet the solution of Golden Rice, developed by national scientists in the counties where VAD is endemic, is ignored because of fear of controversy, and because poor children’s deaths can be ignored without controversy.

The tide is turning, however. 151 Nobel Laureates, a very significant proportion of all Nobel Laureates, have called on the UN, governments of the world, and Greenpeace to cease their unfounded vilification of GMO crops in general and Golden Rice in particular. A recent Golden Rice article commented, “What shocks me is that some activists continue to misrepresent the truth about the rice. The cynic in me expects profit-driven multinationals to behave unethically, but I want to think that those voluntarily campaigning on issues they care about have higher standards.”

The recently published book on Golden Rice has exposed the frustrating saga in simple detail. And the publicity from all the above is perhaps starting to change the balance of where controversy lies. Perhaps more controversy lies in not taking scientifically based regulatory decisions than in taking them. 

But until they are taken, while there continues a chance of frustrating the objectives of the Golden Rice project, the antagonism will continue. And despite a solution so close at hand, VAD-induced death and blindness, and the misery of affected families, will continue also.

Peter Beyer headed a research group at University of Freiburg, Germany, with a strong focus on improving the nutritional value of crop plants.

Ingo Potrykus worked at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, with a research group using genetic engineering technology applied to “food security” crops in developing countries.

Adrian Dubock designed the international collaboration, and its governance, for turning the results of the Potrykus and Beyer teams into a useful product

This article originally ran at Leaps Mag as We Pioneered a Technology to Save Millions of Poor Children, But a Worldwide Smear Campaign Has Blocked It and has been republished here with permission.

The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.

The weed-spotting robot

genetic literacy project

Meet ‘Tom’: The weed-spotting robot that could slash blanket herbicide spraying

| | December 10, 2019

A National Trust estate farm has brought in a robot called Tom to map its weeds. The robot’s mapping capability allows operators to target herbicides more accurately, ending the need for blanket spraying with chemicals.

Tom is fitted with two downward-facing cameras and has sensors to detect obstacles as it trundles around. Powered by electricity, with a four-hour battery life, the 150kg prototype can map 50 acres per day.

Callum Weir, farm manager at the Wimpole Estate, Cambridgeshire, said the robot cuts fuel, fertilizer and herbicide costs – and benefits the environment too.

As Tom weighs far less than a traditional seven-tonne tractor, soils also suffer less compaction, he said. “The beauty of the robot is that it gives me absolute precision,” said Mr Weir.

Related article:  Microbes living in plant roots fight off fungal infection, cutting need for pesticides, study shows

Read full, original article: Every farmer will need a Tom, Dick and Harry robot in their fields