Planet Diversity World Congress on the Future of Food and Agriculture

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23.01.2018 |

High Stakes for CRISPR and GMO Regulation in Europe

The European Court of Justice has been considering whether organisms obtained by mutagenesis are exempt from the EU’s Genetically Modified Organisms Directive.

That might sound esoteric or gobbledygook but both pro- and anti-GMO camps are keenly awaiting the outcome as many believe it will determine the legal status in the EU of the “new genetic engineering techniques”.

It almost certainly won’t but it might set the stage – or one of them.

These techniques are usually and erroneously lumped together and called gene (more properly genome) editing; chief of which is the much vaunted – some might say irresponsibly over hyped and promoted – CRISPR-Cas. Together with “synthetic biology” they make up what has been called GMO 2.0 and are seen by proponents and opponents as the future – direction and/or battleground – of genetic engineering in food and farming.

23.01.2018 |

US gives safety approval to Chinese genetically modified rice strain

BEIJING: A rice genetically modified (GMO) by Chinese researchers to resist pests has passed safety inspections by authorities in the United States, allowing for its sale there even though Beijing continues to prohibit planting of any GMO food grain.

The rice, known as Huahui 1, was developed by a team at Huazhong University in central Hubei province to resist pests like the rice stem borer. While Chinese authorities granted the strain a safety certificate in 2009, it has never been approved for commercial production.

Beijing has spent billions of dollars researching GMO crops but has held back from commercial production of any food grains because of consumer concerns about their safety. Validation of the country's GMO safety testing and products by U.S. authorities could help persuade the government and consumers in China to accept the products at home.

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China has said it aims to push forward the commercialization of GMO corn and soybeans by 2020 but has not made public any plans to approve planting of GMO rice, the country's most important staple food.

22.01.2018 |

China’s first GM rice gets US FDA approval

GM crops met with strong opposition from Chinese public

A genetically modified (GM) rice product developed by a group of Chinese scientists has acquired the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, the first such Chinese product allowed to enter the US market.

However, neither China nor the US has approved mass cultivation of the rice amid low acceptance from the Chinese public for GM food.

Huahui No.1 rice, developed by the Huazhong Agricultural University, is genetically engineered to resist a wide range of insects, thus reducing the use of pesticides.

Lin Yongjun, a professor at Huazhong Agricultural University and one of the scientists that developed the rice, told the Global Times on Monday that Huahui No.1 could not be grown in China as "the country has not conducted regional trials nor provided guidelines to examine genetically engineered rice."

Lin said his team might consider growing Huahui No. 1 in Southeast Asian countries, "but our reach is limited and we hope the authorities can provide funding and legal support."

Lin's university received an email from the FDA on January 11 approving the rice.

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"The government wants to take its time on GM food for social stability reason. It has a three-step plan to gradually industrialize GM crops, first on inedible crops, then on vegetables and fruits and the last on staple food such as rice and wheat," Luo said.

"There is still a long way to go before the public accepts GM rice in the market," he noted.

In 2016, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, the nation's top grain producing region, prohibited the cultivation of genetically modified crops, including GM corn and soybeans, after 91.5 percent of respondents to a survey conducted in the province raised objections to GM crops.

21.01.2018 |

Report highlights opportunities and risks associated with synthetic biology and bioengineering

Human genome editing, 3D-printed replacement organs and artificial photosynthesis – the field of bioengineering offers great promise for tackling the major challenges that face our society. But as a new article out today highlights, these developments provide both opportunities and risks in the short and long term.

Rapid developments in the field of synthetic biology and its associated tools and methods, including more widely available gene editing techniques, have substantially increased our capabilities for bioengineering – the application of principles and techniques from engineering to biological systems, often with the goal of addressing 'real-world' problems.

In a feature article published in the open access journal eLife, an international team of experts led by Dr Bonnie Wintle and Dr Christian R. Boehm from the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, capture perspectives of industry, innovators, scholars, and the security community in the UK and US on what they view as the major emerging issues in the field.

21.01.2018 |

BT Cotton: These two issues could put the brakes on the Bt cotton story

Open any boll here and you'll see it's destroyed, says Ganesh Shere, a farmer at a village called Jamb in Yavatmal district, about 160 km from Nagpur, in northeast Maharashtra.

He walks along the length of his bone-dry, four-acre cotton field and splits two dozen cotton bolls, with a stone or his fingers, to reveal the damage done by pink bollworms, which have become resistant to the genetically modified (GM) cotton variety he uses.

His yield this year has only been 200 kg, less than 5% of what he produced last year. Shere, a 61-year-old former police sub-inspector, pegs his losses at Rs 2 lakh.

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Besides the problem of pink bollworms, cotton is also plagued by use of illegal herbicide-tolerant Bt cotton seeds. New Delhibased South Asia Biotechnology Centre estimated that in 2017-18 the sale of herbicidetolerant seeds almost trebled to 35 lakh packets from the previous year, with Telangana, Maharashtra and Andhra being the top consumers. The governments in these states are looking into the issue. After the Centre capped the prices of Bt cotton seeds in 2016, Monsanto withdrew its application for sale of a herbicide-tolerant Bt cotton seed.

Farmers used to Bt cotton may not really think of an alternative immediately and may consider the pink bollworm problem this season an anomaly. But given that Bt cotton is certainly not cheap — each acre requires two packets of BG-II, costing Rs 1,600, and another Rs 12,000-13,000 on fertilisers and pesticides -those affected may not take the viability of Bt cotton for granted anymore.

20.01.2018 |

Modi Govt Being Blackmailed by MNCs on GM Crops, Say RSS-Linked Farmers' Unions

New Delhi: RSS-affiliated farmers' unions Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) have termed Mayhco Monsanto Biotech’s (MMB) letter to the government on Bt Cotton seeds as an attempt to 'blackmail', pressurise the government.

MMB had written to the Centre terming the National Seeds Association’s threat to stop the sale of Bolllgard 11 seeds as ‘irresponsible’ and against farmer’s interest.

"It is an attempt to coerce the key stakeholders and create a crisis for farmers," the company said.

In response, BKS' general secretary Mohini Mohan said, “The government is under pressure from these MNCs. For years they have been failing the tests yet they have stayed on. Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, which is the regulatory body has failed to curb them.”

Mohan further alleges that Bollgard I had failed in 2005, which was followed by Bollgard II’s failure in 2009. “The MNC came up with Herbicide tolerant seed, which lead to farmer suicides in Yavatmal, Maharashtra. Around 80 farmers have died. Monsanto is blackmailing the government, which is under pressure from these lobbies,” he said.

“Monsanto should go back, as it is important for seed sovereignty. We can produce our own seeds like we did in the past. There is no need to have the domination of a few seeds. The Bollgard XI continues without any call-back from authorities,” Mohan alleges.

20.01.2018 |

Dr Vandana Shiva submits objection to Bayer-Monsanto Merger

Press Statement - Monsanto is pretending to have sold business to a four year old company Tierra Agrotech with a paid up capital of 1 lakh rupees. This needs urgent investigation: Dr Vandana Shiva

New Delhi, January 20, 2018: Raising objections to the proposed merger between Monsanto and Bayer, Dr Vandana Shiva on Saturday submitted her comments and objections to the Competition Commission of India through an email and courier.

Bayer-Monsanto merger if comes through will be the largest cash acquisition. It is pegged at USD 66 Billion. Not only will it have a huge impact on the agri-business of the Europe and United States, but will have consequences globally for farmers and citizens. The proposed merger is perhaps one of the biggest convergences of agribusiness and pharmaceuticals which will adversely affect competition and free trade not only in India but the world.

Speaking in this context Dr. Shiva said:”The Bayer Monsanto merger is not arithmetic issue of economic concentration. It is a political issue. If the mergers go through, it will be spelling the end of peoples’ rights, democracy and constitutional safeguards. In 20 years time Monsanto has illegally captured the cotton seed sector violating biosafety laws and corrupting regulatory agencies.”

She said, “Indian farmers have suffered for Monsanto’s profits and their Bt cotton has left a legacy of poison and death all over the cotton belts of India. Bt cotton which claimed to control pest has failed and now farmers are also dying because of pesticide poisoning.”

19.01.2018 |

European court suggests relaxed gene-editing rules

Judicial opinion says restrictive regulations may not apply to plants and animals bred using CRISPR technique.

Crops and drugs created using powerful gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR–Cas9 might not need to be regulated by the strict European Union rules that govern genetically modified organisms (GMOs), according to a formal opinion from an advocate general in the European Court of Justice.

European scientists have cautiously welcomed the carefully worded document, published on 18 January. They would like to use precise gene editing, which allows tiny changes to be made to a genome in a simple and highly controlled manner, to create hardier plant species or to improve medical treatments. But legal uncertainty about existing rules has hindered progress in Europe, say researchers.

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Bobek’s text says that there is nothing in the directive to stop member states from making their own rules for gene editing, raising the possibility of a patchwork of different rules applying in different member states, which critics say undermines the single market.

19.01.2018 |

Arkansas lawmakers OK ban on disputed herbicide dicamba

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. • Arkansas lawmakers on Friday approved banning an herbicide that farmers say has drifted onto crops where it wasn't applied and caused damage, but the prohibition still faces a legal challenge from a maker of the weed killer.

The Legislative Council, without discussion, approved the Plant Board's plan to ban dicamba from April 16 through Oct. 31. A subcommittee earlier this week recommended that the council — the Legislature's main governing body when lawmakers aren't in session — approve the proposal.

Dicamba has been around for decades, but problems arose over the past couple of years as farmers began to use it to kill invasive weeds in soybean and cotton fields where specially engineered seeds had been planted to resist the herbicide. The board proposed the ban after receiving nearly 1,000 complaints last year about the weed killer drifting onto fields and damaging crops not resistant to the herbicide. Arkansas is one of several states where farmers have complained about dicamba drifting.

19.01.2018 |

GM Crops Drive Increased Pesticide Use in Brazil

In Brazil, genetically modified (GM) crops were initially introduced illegally at the end of the 1990s and officially authorized in 2003. Six types of GM crops are authorized, but only three are effectively in use, namely, soybean, corn and cotton that are herbicide-resistant, insect-resistant or both.

A new study has identified and characterized changes in the patterns of use of pesticides and herbicides in Brazil from 2000 to 2012. The emphasis was on soybeans, the main commodity produced in the country, of which 90% of the crops are GM. In 2014, when pesticide sales in Brazil were the highest at US$12.2 billion, the cultivated area of GM crops reached 42.2 million hectares, which represented an increase of 1306.67% over the 3 million hectares registered in 2003.

The study found that contrary to the initial expectations of decreasing pesticide use following the adoption of GM crops, overall pesticide use in Brazil increased 1.6-fold between the years 2000 and 2012. During the same period, pesticide use for soybean increased 3-fold. However, this increase did not result in an increase in average productivity. The results obtained in this study agree with similar studies in the US, Argentina, and other parts of the world which strongly suggest that the adoption of GM crops increases pesticide use, specifically herbicides sprayed on soybean, with possible increases in environmental and human exposure and associated negative impacts.

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