Confined field trial of GM maize MON810 starts in Vietnam

The Agricultural Genetics Institute of Vietnam and Pioneer Hi-Bred Vietnam Company Ltd. cultivated seeds of GM maize event MON810 for confined trial on March 17, 2016 in Van Giang district, Hung Yen province. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development approved the trials in January 2016.

Representatives from different agencies were present during the start of the confined field trials, including Department of Biodiversity Conservation (Vietnam Environment Administration, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment); Department of Science, Technology and Environment (MARD); Biosafety Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of Hung Yen Province, Divisions of Agriculture and Rural Development, Natural Resources and Environment and Experimental Station of Van Giang district.

GM maize MON810 has improved trait to resist attacks of corn borer. MON810 seeds were planted on 1,368.4 square meters of land at the Van Giang Experimental Station, Lien Nghia commune, Van Giang district, Hung Yen province.

The original article in Vietnamese is available at the Vietnan BCH Portal.

-This article is published in ISAAA Global Knowledge Center’s CropBiotech Update.  See article link here.

Use GMOs to fight Zika

A small but vocal minority of Florida Key residents are stonewalling bioengineering efforts to fight Zika over junk science fears regarding genetic modification. Meanwhile, the Zika threat rages on. This small group of radical activists is holding the state’s public health and economy hostage.

The federally approved Zika fighting plan involves releasing bioengineered, infertile male mosquitoes to control Florida’s population. When genetically modified males mate with wild females, their offspring die before reaching adulthood.

If the idea of releasing more mosquitoes makes your skin crawl, don’t worry: Male mosquitoes, and not just the lab-born variety, are physically incapable of biting people. Trials in Brazil, Panama, Malaysia and the Cayman Islands have been wildly successful, reducing local mosquito populations by over 90 percent.

The idea that genetically engineered organisms can turn the tide of a public health crisis isn’t a new one. Modified bacteria have been the primary source of medical-grade human insulin for decades. Recent developments have allowed scientists to pursue cancer and HIV treatments from modified microorganisms.

Although not an “organism” per se, scientists manipulate each year’s most prominent strain of flu virus to create its vaccine, saving an estimated 40 thousand Americans over a 10-year period. In fact, the Zika vaccine, which is still being tested, takes advantage of genetic modification in our own skin.

But unfortunately for Floridians (and the rest of the country), “GMO” has become the buzzword du jour for opponents of biotechnology. Activists claim not enough research has been performed, even though over 2,000 independent studies have found that genetic modification poses no risk to humans.

International regulatory bodies like the World Health Organization, European Food Safety Authority and even the United States’ own Food and Drug Administration have awarded genetically modified foods currently on the market with their stamp of approval. Yet according to a Pew Research study, only 37 percent of U.S. adults believe it is safe to eat genetically modified food, compared to almost 90 percent of board certified scientists.

A blanket rejection of anything genetically engineered impedes not only the domestic response to Zika, but also the effort to address global health. The United Nations estimates that 1 in 9 people suffer from chronic undernourishment, and vitamin A deficiency reigns as the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness.

Yet at the turn of the century, Greenpeace lead the assault against modified “golden rice,” which was developed as a humanitarian project to address this very issue. As recently as this summer, over 100 Nobel laureates urged Greenpeace to cease its continued efforts to prevent the introduction of golden rice to impoverished communities worldwide.

Genetic modification has been responsible for countless medical advancements of the 21st century. As Florida confronts a potential pandemic, it is essential that scientists are allowed to use every available tool at their disposal.

Remember, only in a healthy and economically vibrant state can activists have the luxury to worry about such life and death matters as how the corn in their Doritos was manufactured.

Joseph Perrone is chief science officer at the Center for Accountability in Science.

Dave, a river conservationist and amateur pilot, said the government’s aim was to make regulation on GM crops foolproof and that people’s views would be taken into consideration before finalizing anything.

-Written by Joseph Perrone in Tallahassee Democrat.  See article link here.

Water For Sustainable Growth: How Biotechnology Crops Are One Solution

Water For Sustainable Growth: How Biotechnology Crops Are One Solution

Over the weekend, more than 2,500 of the world’s experts, practitioners, policymakers and business innovators began to gather in Sweden to advance thinking and develop solutions to our planet’s most critical natural resource, water. The theme for the 25th World Water Week meeting, organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), is “Water for Sustainable Growth.”

The world’s leading thinkers and doers will build on the decisive sustainability actions of the past year, the United Nation’s agenda for 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Conference of the Parties agreement made in Paris (COP21), and collaborate on how today’s innovation in water stewardship will help us produce food, energy and jobs well into the future. They will all bring different solutions to address the challenge of our age: doing more with less.

Every day, our farmers are using new tools and technology to do more with less so they can solve for water efficiency. One of our farmers, Lawson Mozley, is a sixth generation farmer whose family has farmed the same land in the Florida Panhandle since the 1850s. For Mozley and other farmers, water is critical to delivering their mission to feed their families, communities and the world.

“For farmers, water represents balance. Not enough and our crops won’t grow. Too much, and they will drown and we will lose nutrients as they flow away.” Drought and water scarcity, on the rise since the 1970s, are challenging farmers to use less water to grow more food. And many are turning to biotechnology and GM crops to protect the sustainability of their natural resources and their livelihoods.

infographic-water-conservation-090716-1200x1600
Infographic courtesy of GMOAnswers.com

Farmers like Mozley embrace biotechnology solutions because they offer tools to help them use less water and breed stronger, more drought-tolerant plants. The use of herbicide resistant GM crops allows them to adopt conservation tillage or no-till practices, which preserves nutrients and increases the amount of water the land can store. Mozley says that “preserving soil and water resources is key to agricultural sustainability. For generations, my family has used the best technology available to preserve the land and water that we depend on.”

From the Florida Panhandle to the African nation of Tanzania, more farmers are looking to change what they plant and how they farm to combat severe drought that results from the extreme changes in weather patterns. Dr. Esther Ngumbi, a research scientist at Auburn University and Kenyan native, believes biotechnology can have a hand in helping farmers both in the U.S. and in her homeland thrive in the face of adversity. “As they face a continuous decline of rainfall and recurring droughts, African farmers will need all the tools and resources they can get to adapt to the effects of climate change. Biotechnology will continue to play a big role and farmers should be open to considering planting genetically modified crop varieties that have been bred to grow with minimal amounts of water.”

us-drought-monitor
http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

Farmers, no matter where they are located, all face the balancing act of feeding the hungry and caring for the land. The efficient and thoughtful use of water is critical to our farmers’ ability to deliver on their two-pronged missions, and the effectiveness of GMOs and GM crops has earned an important place in farming toolboxes.

-Written by Kate Hall in Forbes.com.  Kate Hall is managing director of the Council for Biotechnology Information and GMO Answers spokesperson.  See article link here.

Cornell Offers Online Course on Genetically Modified Organisms

Genetically Modified Organisms have been a topic of much controversy, even though they have been transforming the way we produce and consume food. Cornell is now offering a Massive Online Open Course on EdX, called ‘The Science and Politics of GMO’, to help students understand why “the GMO is politically contentious.”

Starting September 13, 2016 this five week interdisciplinary course will provide an introduction to genetic engineering and biotechnology in the context of GMOs and help study the politics of GMO at both an individual and a societal level, according to the course website.

The course is taught by professors across disciplines,and that is what makes it unique. Prof. Sarah Evanega, plant breeding and genetics, Prof. Ronald Herring, government, Prof. David Just, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Jaron Porciello, Associate Director, Research Data Engagement and Training in International Programs and Rebecca Harrison, grad come together to comment on and explain this issue in a multifaceted manner.

Leaderboard 1
Just rightly describes the course as a “marriage of science and social science.”

“The GMO issue consists of a new technology with great promise, and the social movements and consumer reactions to that new technology,“ he said. “A full perspective can only be gained by understanding both the hard science that informs us about technology and the social science that informs us about the controversy.”

Since there are “unprecedented challenges” facing the world today, Evanega said, it is important to understand if GMOs have a role to play in these challenges.

Leaderboard 2
“We need to understand both the risks and the possible rewards of GMOs,” she said.

She also emphasised the practical skills taught in the course, and said that students will learn to understand how their choices as individuals affect society.

“Through an exploration of “The GMO,” students will gain a deeper understanding of how science works, how to evaluate the quality of data; principles of social psychology as applied to politicized scientific controversies; and how to connect their values to positions based on evidence,” she said.

Just finds consumer behavior regarding GMOs fascinating. Consumers are presented with familiar foods that have been changed in some way by an unfamiliar process, and consumer reaction to this unfamiliarity is worth studying.

“This unfamiliarity creates the opportunity for biases in the way people assess food safety and environmental risks,” said Just. “More importantly, often the direction of the bias depends heavily on who benefits the most from the GMO — often leading to widely conflicting views on safety.”

Harrison explained why, due to its history, Cornell has a voice on the issue.

“Cornell has a long and controversial history in its role in the development of GMOs, which makes it a bit of a lightening rod on this topic,” she said. “However, from my perspective as a graduate student studying these issues, it also means we are in the perfect place to really pull the issue apart.”

Because GMOs are a controversial topic, Evanega said that the course focused on equipping students with tools to critically analyze this and other issues.

“This course is important not only in helping people navigate the confusion around GMOs but [also] offers course participants information literacy tools that they can apply to better understand other controversial areas in science.”

edX is a nonprofit, open-source learning destination offering online courses from more than 100 member institutions, composed of both leading global universities, and colleges and a diverse group of prominent organizations from around the world.

-Written by Divyansha Sehgal in The Cornell Daily Sun.  See article link here.

No quick fix from GM food — Piñol

AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said genetically modified (GM) foods won’t be a “quick fix” in filling in gaps in the food supply.

“Personally, I’m not really convinced that GM plants are the quick-fix solution to our shortage of food,” Mr. Piñol told BusinessWorld in a phone interview.

He said Vietnam and Thailand have not extensively adopted GM and yet they produce enough to become the world’s second and third-largest rice exporters, respectively.

“If you look at Vietnam and Thailand, they do not embrace GM but they are self-sufficient. The belief that GM will provide the magical solution to our shortages… should be reviewed,” said Mr. Piñol.

This is the first time Mr. Piñol has indicated his position on GM, having asked previously for more time to evaluate the technology.

The current administration’s view is a reversal of former Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala’s position, which sought to incorporate GM in pushing up productivity.

Mr. Piñol added that he will nonetheless abide by the recent decision of the Supreme Court.

The country’s top court halted in December the use, field testing, and propagation of Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) eggplant, with the decision applicable to all genetically modified foods that are subject to regulation here.

To lift the moratorium, a new set of regulations required tighter environmental scrutiny before biosafety permits are issued, addressing one of the issues the Supreme Court cited when it voided the old rules, in place since 2002.

In August, however, the Supreme Court reversed itself since the initial decision was based on petitions that were rendered moot because Bt eggplant field trials had been completed and the biosafety permits issued by the regulator had expired.

For his part, Vivencio R. Mamaril, officer-in-charge at the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), cited yellow corn production, which is made up of 90% GM.

“We are sufficient in corn and that’s because of the GM technology,” Mr. Mamaril said in a phone interview, referring to yellow corn, which is used for feed.

Mr. Mamaril added that he has requested a meeting with Mr. Piñol to present the biotechnology program.

The bureau, along with the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines and the independent Scientific and Technical Review Panel, is in charge of biosafety, risk assessment, and regulation for all GM organisms that enter the Philippines.

The Philippines is the first country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to initiate a biotechnology regulatory system.

Philippine Maize Federation, Inc. (PhilMaize) President Roger V. Navarro said the country should consider adopting new ways to address the widening demand for food on the back of rapid population growth.

“There are a number of ways in order to achieve food sufficiency, like good agriculture practice, mechanization, post-harvest (management), enabling policies and certainly biotechnology is just one — to increase production per unit of land,” Mr. Navarro said in a mobile message.

“Our land is not increasing, but the demand is, ergo technology must come into play,” PhilMaize’s president added.

Last year, the country achieved 113% sufficiency in yellow corn, according to Mr. Navarro.

-Written by Janina C. Lim in BusinessWorld.  See article link here.

Bt corn mainstreamed

bt-vs-non-bt-corn_croplife
Photo shows a comparison of Bt and non-Bt corn. The lower corn shows an ear attacked by the Asian corn borer. (ISAAA)

 

THE heavily-maligned Genetically Modified (GM) crop, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, is actually mainstreamed now with corn growers using this in scales bigger than any other corn variety.

Having corn as the second to the most important crop in the country next to rice, Philippines pioneered the planting of Bt corn in Asia. The crop’s commercial propagation was allowed in late December 2002.

Since then, the area planted to biotech maize in the country has reached a total of 702,000 hectares (has) involving over 400,000 farming families.

The total area devoted to Bt corn is some 70 percent of the total harvest corn area in the country at 1.04 million hectares in 2015, according to the Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA).

“Adoption rate of biotech maize in 2015 is at 63 percent. In the period 2003 to 2015, there were 13 years of consecutive growth in hectarage of Bt corn, except for 2015 due to drought,” Dr. Randy A. Hautea, global coordinator and Southeast Asia director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (Isaaa), said during the recently-concluded three-day training-writeshop on Engaging Regional media for science-based reporting on Modern Agricultural Technologies last July 27 at University of the Philippines Los Baños-Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) Residences.

Highest hectarage of Bt corn recorded is at 831,000 hectares in 2014.

He added that the year-by-year upward trajectory in adoption of biotech maize “reflects the significant and consistent benefits generated by biotech maize to farmers here.”

“About 65 percent of the total yellow corn of the country is actually GM, the 350,000 to 400,000 farming families are now directly dependent on GM corn production,” he said.

The corn producing areas in the country are Isabela, the rest of Cagayan Valley, South and North Cotabato, Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat, among others. Davao City is also producing corn but only minimal.

On an average, one farming family has a corn holding of two to two and a half hectares.

Bt Corn
Bt corn in the Philippines was engineered to be specifically resistant to the Asiatic Corn Borer (ACB), Ostrinia furnacalis (Guenee), the most devastating corn pests in the industry.

It was introduced as a “practical and ecologically sustainable solution” for poor corn farmers, a major bullet to combat poverty and improve livelihood.

Hautea said that application of insecticide to corn can control but not effective and 100 percent guaranteed.

“The only control, which is not that effective, is the application of heavy pesticide and that is not 100 percent effective because if the borer entered the corn plant’s surface, it can’t be reached by the insecticide but a Bt corn protects the plant itself,” he said.

Better yield and income
In a research entitled “Adoption and uptake pathways of Biotech crops commissioned by International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA),” Dr. Cleofe S. Torres of the UPLB-College of Development Communication said that farmers’ income tripled with Bt corn as compared to traditional corn.

The study has over 400 respondents from across the country.

Higher income leads the top reasons and considered facilitating factors for continued adoption of GM crop, followed by pest resistance, good grain quality, available financing, lesser production cost, and availability of seeds.

“We went to the communities where 95 percent are corn farmers. Generally the findings tell us that indeed the farmers benefited in terms of income. Their income actually tripled and they are now not in debt to anybody because they can readily pay immediately after harvest,” she said in a separate interview.

For instance, Torres cited that one farmer who is earning just P10,000 per hectare per harvest with the non-GM corn, now they are having an income of P30,000 per hectare per harvest.

One farming family, on an average has 2.5 hectares of corn field. In a year, corn farmers are harvesting twice or thrice a year.

Hautea, for his part, said that the high retention rate of farmers growing Bt corn is a clear and best measure of acceptability of the Filipino farmers.

Bottlenecks
In the same research, it was noted that problems encountered by biotech corn farmers include the occurrence of fungal/bacterial diseases and other pests (31.8 percent); expired seeds that did not germinate (19.8 percent); high cost of inputs (16.1 percent); low buying price of traders (8.1 percent); and lack of own capital (6.8 percent).

Biotechnology is but the road toward food and nutrition security, said Hautea, emphasizing that biotechnology can be the door in achieving the Department of Agriculture’s (DA’s) target of making food available and affordable to the Filipinos.

“Biotechnology can be part of the solution, it can contribute,” he said.

Proving his assertion, Hautea cited the commercialization of the Bt corn in the Philippines which he said, has paved way for the conversion of the then corn import-dependent to a corn export-oriented country.

“To date, we are not importing corn for the past two years,” he said, adding that the country managed to be self-sufficient in corn.

But he was clear that Biotech, just like any technology, will not be a sole technology savior.

Department of Agriculture (DA) secretary, Emmanuel Piñol, when asked in a separate interview about his direction as far as biotechnology is concerned, was quick to say that he is open to any development with GM for as long as same vision will be shared.

“No problem. We meet with anybody. I am open to talk to biotechnology,” Piñol said.

But he underscored that he is not that keen about this, as he has yet to learn and deeply understand Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), as he believes organic farming is still the way.

“I am not keen, I don’t know, as of the moment, let it come but you know ignorante pa ako sa GMO (I am still ignorant about GMO),” he said.

Hautea also said that biotechnology has to be used where it is advantageous.

“You really have to use it where it is advantageous like the Bt corn, that is the only controlled method for the corn borer except insecticide. So you have to use it to the best agronomy, cultural, soil, water management and best market matching,” he said.

“With the rallying mandate of the President (Rodrigo Duterte) which is to provide available and affordable food to every Filipinos, so anything that can contribute in achieving this, I think that is how we should put the role of biotechnology or any technology like irrigation, soil analysis, organic, etc.” Hautea added.

–Written by Ace June Rell S. Perez, Sun Star Davao.  See article link here

Bt talong technology to proceed as SC reverses own ruling

The Supreme Court has reversed its ruling that prevented the field testing of the genetically engineered Bt talong.

In a unanimous decision, the high court granted the motions for reconsideration filed by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications Inc., Environmental Management Bureau, Crop Life Philippines, University of the Philippines Los Baños Foundation and University of the Philippines.

The court agreed that “the case should have been dismissed for mootness” since the Bt talong field trials have been completed and terminated and the biosafety permits issued by the Bureau of Plant Industry have already expired. Thus, these “effectively negated the need for the reliefs sought by respondents [Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines) and Magsasaka at Siyentipiko sa Pagpapaunlad ng Agrikultura] as there was no longer any field test to stop.”

According to the SC, “an action is considered moot when it no longer presents a justiciable controversy because the issues have become academic or when the subject matter has been resolved,” and it is “not empowered to decide moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or riles of law which cannot affect the result as to the thing in issue in the case before it.”

It added that the completion and termination of the field tests would not automatically lead to the commercial propagation of Bt talong as three stages are still needed before genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be made available in the market. The Bt talong technology never went beyond the field testing phase.

“Thus, there are no guaranteed after-effects to the already concluded Bt talong field trials that demands an adjudication from which the public may perceivably benefit. Any future threat to the right of herein respondents or the public in general to a healthful and balanced ecology is therefore more imagined than real.”

In December 2015, the high tribunal ordered that field trials of Bt talong be permanently stopped following the nullification of the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order (DAO) No. 08-2002. The DA document, which regulates the use of GMOs, was found insufficient in enforcing biosafety protocols. Along with the suspension of Bt talong trials, the SC also temporarily halted any application for field testing, contained use, propagation and importation of GMOs. The decision was opposed by farmers and scientists.

Bt talong, developed through biotechnology, can increase productivity in areas affected by eggplant pests known as fruit and shoot borers without the use of chemical pesticides.

–Published at Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs, University of the Philippines website.  See article link here.