Planet Diversity World Congress on the Future of Food and Agriculture

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31.12.2018 |

India’s Swaminathan Criticises GM Crops as Highly Unsustainable

M.S. Swaminathan is known as the "Father of the Green Revolution in India". Although the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation has promoted GM crops since the early 2000s, in a newly published peer-reviewed paper he co-authored with P.C. Kesavan, Swaminathan criticises GM crops as unsustainable and questions their safety and regulation.

The authors state that none of the new agricultural technologies, including the Green Revolution, has been truly sustainable largely because of their adverse environmental and social impacts. They conclude that Bt and herbicide-tolerant crops are highly unsustainable. The authors state that Bt cotton has failed in India as a sustainable agriculture technology, failing to provide livelihood security for poor cotton farmers.

The authors draw attention to the "rising health concerns associated with Bt-crops", as well as evidence pointing to the conclusion that "Bt toxins are toxic to all the organisms, including mammals". They state that the Indian government was right to place a moratorium on Bt brinjal (eggplant) and call for a ban on Bt crops (except Bt cotton) in the country.

The paper is highly critical of India's GMO regulators for endemic conflicts of interest, lack of expertise in GMO risk assessment protocols, including food safety assessment, the assessment of their environmental impacts, the lack of ‘need’ for expensive transgenic technology, and the lack of a socio-economic assessment of their farming impacts on small farmers.

27.12.2018 |

Nigeria no longer dumping ground for modified products

Federal Government has disclosed that the dumping of unauthorised Genetically Modified Organisms, GMO, in Nigeria has been reduced to the barest minimum.

Speaking in Abuja, during the presentation of the scorecard of National Biosafety Management Agency, NBMA, Director General of the agency, Mr. Rufus Ebegba, said efforts have been heightened to safeguard the country against harmful GM products. He further stated that risks to human health from modern biotechnology practice and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are at their barest minimum.

20.12.2018 |

European Court of Justice ruling regarding new genetic engineering methods scientifically justified: a commentary on the biased reporting about the recent ruling

Eva Gelinsky and Angelika HilbeckEmail author

Environmental Sciences Europe201830:52

https://doi.org/10.1186/s12302-018-0182-9© The Author(s) 2018

Received: 1 October 2018Accepted: 5 December 2018Published: 20 December 2018

In July 2018, the European Court of Justice (Case C-528/16) ruled that organisms obtained by directed mutagenesis techniques are to be regarded as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) within the meaning of Directive 2001/18. The ruling marked the next round of the dispute around agricultural genetic engineering in Europe. Many of the pros and cons presented in this dispute are familiar from the debate around the first generation of genetic engineering techniques. The current wave of enthusiasm for the new genetic engineering methods, with its claim to make good on the failed promises of the previous wave, seems to point more to an admission of failure of the last generation of genetic engineering than to a true change of paradigm. Regulation is being portrayed as a ban on research and use, which is factually incorrect, and the judges of the European Court of Justice are being defamed as espousing “pseudoscience”. Furthermore, this highly polarised position dominates the media reporting of the new techniques and the court’s ruling. Advocates of the new genetic engineering techniques appear to believe that their benefits are so clear that furnishing reliable scientific evidence is unnecessary. Meanwhile, critics who believe that the institution of science is in a serious crisis are on the increase not just due to the cases of obvious documented scientific misconduct by companies and scientists, but also due to the approach of dividing the world into those categorically for or against genetic engineering. In this construct of irreconcilable opposites, differentiations fall by the wayside. This article is a response to this one-sided and biased reporting, which often has the appearance of spin and lacks journalistic ethics that require journalists to report on different positions in a balanced and factual manner instead of taking positions and becoming undeclared advocates themselves.

19.12.2018 |

Gene-drive organisms: Cutting Corners on Consent

A new UN agreement requires organizations seeking to release gene-drive organisms – which will fundamentally change or even eliminate entire populations of that species – to obtain the “free, prior, and informed consent” of potentially affected communities. But what that requirement implies needs to be spelled out – before it's too late.

MONTRÉAL – On November 29, after two weeks of contentious negotiations at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, 196 countries agreed to stringent rules on the use of so-called gene drives. Given the far-reaching consequences of a technology that causes a particular set of genes to propagate throughout a population – fundamentally changing or even eliminating it – such rules are badly needed. But are they enough?

(.....)

Target Malaria is soon scheduled to begin implementing a plan in West and Central Africa to release genetically modified “male sterile” (non-gene-drive) mosquitoes in the villages of Bana and Sourkoudingan in Burkina Faso, as a first step toward eventually releasing drive-modified mosquitos. The goal is to reduce the population of the species that transmit the parasite that causes malaria.

But it remains far from clear that Target Malaria has acquired anything close to the villages’ “free, prior, and informed consent.” To be sure, Target Malaria has issued videos of local people who support the project and introduced reporters to them. But when I traveled independently of Target Malaria to meet local communities that would be affected, I heard a very different story, which I recount in a short film.

19.12.2018 |

Glyphosate and Bt Proteins Toxic to Stingless Bees

Brazil is the second largest producer of genetically modified (GM) plants in the world. This agricultural practice exposes native pollinators to contact and ingestion of Bacillus thuringiensis proteins (e.g. Cry toxins) from transgenic plants. Furthermore, native bees are also exposed to various herbicides applied to crops, including glyphosate.

Various bee species are suffering large population declines. Stingless bees are important wild pollinators which have a life history which makes them more susceptible to the effects of agrochemicals, compared to other bees.

A study found that the Bt proteins Cry1F and Cry2Aa, and glyphosate were highly toxic to the stingless bee M. quadrifasciata, causing lethal or sublethal effects which can severely impair colony growth and viability, and reduce pollination ability. Glyphosate was very toxic to the bee larvae, killing all of them within only a few days of exposure while bees treated with Cry2Aa and Cry1F proteins were delayed in their development.

This study underscores the need for further research to establish trustworthy methods of assessing the risks of glyphosate and Cry proteins for non-target species.

17.12.2018 |

GMOs raise heckles in Zambia

Lusaka – The import of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) into Zambia has sparked concern among the public with consumer watchdogs calling for government intervention to sustain the country’s quest to accelerate diversification and investment to grow the agricultural sector.

The National Biosafety Authority, a government agency tasked to oversee and regulate agricultural related products - less those inclined with GMOs, has given three distributors permits to import products that might contain GMOs.

Cold Chain, Horizon and Innscor are among the 12 retailers, wholesalers and distributors that applied for new and renewal permits, have been allowed to bring into the country products with GMOs following a risk assessment.

(.....)

Zimba has since demanded a report from the NBA on how much food containing GMOs or with traces of GMOs has been allowed to land in Zambia and the companies allowed to import them.

He appealed to President Edgar Lungu to clear the matter if the diversification and non-GMO policy have been aborted.

“We are also appealing for the intervention of the Head of State, President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, over the GMO imports that are threatening to destroy our agriculture and our diversification agenda.”

12.12.2018 |

How France and Germany Are Ousting Glyphosate In A Search For Healthy Soils and Pesticide-Free Crops

The Macron Government of France is offering its farmers a way out of glyphosate dependency within the next 3 years.

Millions have been following European discussions on the possible ban (or a new licensing period) for glyphosate-based herbicides; discussions which stemmed from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declaring glyphosate a probable human carcinogen in March, 2015.

(.....)

The French solution to glyphosate

In November, 2018, the French government presented possible mechanisms for achieving such a ban. Here is my best understanding on how the French government sees a transition away from glyphosate use while protecting farmers financially.

Overall, the plan emphasizes good farming practices and encourages dialogue among farmers. The government has also declared that no one will be left without a solution if they abandon glyphosate.

07.12.2018 |

GMO-free food and drinks launches up 366% in Canada - research

The number of food and drinks products claiming GMO-free status has risen dramatically over the last ten years in the Canadian market.

According to Mintel's Global New Product Database, there was a 366% increase in 'GMO-free' claims on natural food/drink launches in Canada from 2007-17. Products claiming 'no additives/preservatives' grew 21%.

At the same time, Mintel said less specific claims such as 'all natural product' declined 62% in the same time period.

07.12.2018 |

GMO-free food & drinks launches up 366% in Canada

The number of food and drinks products claiming GMO-free status has risen dramatically over the last ten years in the Canadian market.

According to Mintel's Global New Product Database, there was a 366% increase in 'GMO-free' claims on natural food/drink launches in Canada from 2007-17. Products claiming 'no additives/preservatives' grew 21%.

At the same time, Mintel said less specific claims such as 'all natural product' declined 62% in the same time period.

07.12.2018 |

Gene drive symposium

Interdisciplinary symposium on gene drives with a focus on their scientific, ethical, socio-economic and regulatory aspects

FRIDAY 24 MAY 2019

9:00―17:00 Eventforum Bern Fabrikstrasse 12

3012 Bern, Switzerland

The idea of circumventing the rules of inheritance in order to quickly spread and maintain desired traits through an entire population or species, has long existed. With new genetic engineering techniques for genome editing, such as CRISPR-Cas9, it may soon be possible to turn this idea into reality. It has been claimed that gene drive technology may be used to combat infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue or zika, as well as to reduce the threat posed by agricultural pests and ecologically harmful invasive species. However, a crucial difference with conventional gene technology is that gene drives intentionally target wild populations in order to permanently alter them.

Gene drives are a technology that raises fundamental ecological, social, ethical, and legal questions:

* Which path do we want to take as a society?

* Is it a good idea to seek to irreversibly alter ecosystems in the age of mass extinctions?

* Are there dispensable species?

* Are the promised goals achievable?

* Who gets to decide?

* What environmental implications could we face if we were to eliminate populations or species using gene drives?

* What are the consequences of making such attempts if they are unsuccessful?

* Who is responsible when things go wrong with a technology that potentially crosses borders?

* Are the appropriate regulations in place?

A working group of international scientists and philosophers has extensively considered these questions. The outcome of this process will be presented for discussion at the Gene Drive Symposium.

SPEAKERS

Lim Li Ching, Third World Network

Christopher Preston, University of Montana

Ricarda Steinbrecher, Federation of German Scientists (VDW)

Helen Wallace, GeneWatch UK

PANEL DISCUSSION

Kevin Esvelt, MIT Media Lab

Ignacio Chapela, University of California, Berkeley

PANEL MODERATION

Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Honorary president, Club of Rome

More information at: https://genedrives.ch

European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility

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