China Wants GMOs. The Chinese People Don’t.

The latest food safety scandal in China might be its most damaging. Earlier this week, a former doctoral student at one of the country’s national testing centers for genetically modified organisms went public with allegations of scientific fraud, including claims that records were doctored extensively, that unqualified personnel were employed under illegal contracts and — most seriously — that authorities refused to take action when his concerns were aired privately.

On Wednesday, China’s Ministry of Agriculture responded to a social media storm by suspending operations at the center.

That might take care of the current scandal, but the Chinese public’s hostility toward GMOs won’t go away so easily. Those concerns have only grown over the past decade as the government has increased its support of GMOs, including approval of the state-owned ChinaChem Group’s $43 billion takeover offer for the Swiss seed giant Syngenta.

These efforts have galvanized a very public opposition that transcends China’s typical political fault lines, and created one of the government’s most intractable headaches.

Feeding China’s huge population has never been easy. But over the last three decades, the challenges have become considerably greater as urbanization devoured farmland, and pollution made even more of it unusable. Today, the government is faced with the task of feeding 21 percent of the world’s population with 9 percent of its arable land. Its reliance on foreign goods has made China the world leader in imports since 2011. Officials now fear the country could become dependent on foreigners for its food supply and the government remains committed to maintaining self-sufficiency in rice, wheat, and other key grains. As a result, the political pressure to increase yields is considerable.

In fact, this pressure is centuries-old. Domesticated rice first appeared in the Yangtze River Valley at least 8,000 years ago, and Chinese farmers and scientists have been innovating ever since. In 1992, China became the first country to introduce a GMO crop into commercial production, when it sowed a virus-resistant tobacco plant on 100 acres. Since then, the government has issued safety certificates for a wide range of GMO crops, ranging from chili peppers to petunias. Yet, so far at least, only cotton has gone into wide cultivation. Other GMOs — especially rice, a staple of the Chinese diet — are still awaiting approval to be domestically cultivated.

Safety concerns have long been the favored excuse for the lack of approvals. But that’s not credible when the scientific consensus within and outside of China is that GMOs are safe, and the Chinese government itself has long allowed importation of GMO soybeans and corn for use in animal feed and cooking oil. Instead, the government is clearly worried about widespread public opposition to GMOs, which is showing up on social media and among the urban middle class.

The first source of that opposition is a widespread belief that GMOs are a foreign conspiracy against Chinese health. This isn’t merely a fringe idea on social media. In 2013, a major general in the People’s Liberation Army wrote an op-ed for China’s hyper-nationalist Global Times newspaper that compared GMOs to biological weapons.

“The consequences will be far worse than what the Opium Wars wrought,” he wrote. “Shall China develop a biological weapons program?”

As nationalism has become amplified under President Xi Jinping, that sentiment has become more prevalent. In 2014, Guangzhou military officials requested a ban on GMO food for their troops (the request was later censored).

But the far more damaging source of anti-GMO sentiment is the broadly held certainty that the government is incapable of ensuring a safe food supply — GMO, or otherwise. It’s a legitimate concern. For three decades, China has suffered through a string of food safety scandals, including dead pigs floating in the Yangtze River and rats masquerading as hotpot mutton.

In response, China has enacted new food safety laws, but they appear to have made little difference. Two weeks ago, for example, police seized 1,000 tons of substandard frozen meat, much of which was soaked in bleach. Meanwhile, a few weeks earlier a farmer in far western China found himself the target of a national social media storm when local authorities revealed he’d been raising GMO corn on his land (the farmer claimed he’d been duped by a company that had hired him to cultivate its crop).

Yet these failures and suspicions haven’t dented official confidence in China’s GMO program. Xi recently encouraged further GMO research, the government’s current five-year economic plan calls for the commercialization of domestically-grown GMO corn and soybeans, and Syngenta is expected to catalyze a new era of Chinese domination in the field.

Nonetheless, until the Chinese government addresses the lack of confidence in its food safety programs, in particular, it’s likely to face considerable and growing opposition to a GMO program that has a very small constituency outside of elite circles. That’s not just a commercial problem, either. Like China’s notorious air pollution woes, widespread public frustration has the potential to mutate into widespread political opposition. As the Chinese government seeks to solve the country’s food problems on its own terms, that’s a particularly unappetizing development.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Adam Minter at aminter@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net

-Written by Adam Minter in Bloomberg.  See article link here.

GMO Bt corn’s underrated ability to reduce mycotoxins benefits health and economy

Bt crops, the sibling to the herbicide resistant crops often maligned by anti-GMO activists, have not only reduced insecticide use in the U.S. but also have a food safety benefit: The reduction of mycotoxin contamination of crops, which can harm both humans and animals.

Bt seeds are engineered to express the cry genes from bacillus thuringiensis, which produces insecticidal toxins so crops are resistant to certain pests. Farmers, most especially organic farmers, have been spraying the natural form of the bacterium for almost a century to great effect and with no measurable environmental hazards, as the toxin only interacts with targeted insects but not humans.

“The benefit of Bt corn’s reduction of mycotoxin damage has been virtually ignored in policy debates anywhere in the world,” Felicia Wu, a Michigan State University food and nutrition professor, has noted.

There are more than 300 known mycotoxins that have different effects on health. Mycotoxins can be produced by fungi, which absorb best into crops that have been damaged from pests. Contamination can occur either in field or in storage. In short, since Bt maize wards off the corn borer, reduced feeding damage allows less fungus to penetrate.

Two of the most prevalent mycotoxins in agriculture are fumonisins and aflatoxins. Fumonisins are found almost exclusively in corn, while aflatoxins can be found on corn as well as cotton, peanuts, pistachios, almonds and walnuts.

Fumonisins have been connected to high human esophageal cancer rates and neural tube defects in human babies, according to the University of Kentucky Agriculture Extension Service. They can also affect a number of animal species. Animals consume the toxins in animal feed, which can lead to fertility problems or diseases—leukoencephalomalacia in horses and porcine pulmonary edema in pigs.

Increased exposure to aflatoxin can increase risk of liver cancer in humans, modulate human immunity and may contribute to childhood stunting, according to a 2014 paper by Wu.

Bt crops also stand to have greater health impacts in developing nations, where higher rates of malnourishment and high exposure to mycotoxin due to little diet diversity can have more devastating effects, Wu said. But genetically modified crops also face political opposition in some of the countries worst afflicted with aflatoxin exposure. In Africa, only South Africa has adopted Bt corn on a wide scale.

Use of Bt crops could also play a role in reducing contamination and economic and environmental losses. In 2011, 180 bags of maize were destroyed in front of starving farmers in Kenya because the maize had been contaminated with aflatoxin.

Though recent numbers were difficult to find, researchers estimated in 2003 that economic losses in the U.S. due to aflatoxin contamination, ranged $163 to $500 million annually, depending on whether all crops and animal health effects are included. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture estimates global losses of about $1.2 billion with African economies losing $450 million annually.

Additionally, global trade between wealthy and less developed nations can worsen losses due to contamination when developing nations export their best food and sell contaminated food locally or when intended exports are rejected and wasted due to food safety limits on mycotoxins from other nations, Wu said.

Additionally, Bt crops could be more environmentally sustainable. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of using Bt corn as a part of a strategy to reduce mycotoxin contamination, which would reduce waste.

The University of Kentucky summed up field studies in the U.S. and Europe on furmonisin contamination, saying reductions have ranged from 20 to 90 percent, often bringing the grain below concentrations that pose risks to humans and the most sensitive animals. Aflatoxin reduction typically ranges from 50 to 90 percent when Bt corn is planted.

In Europe, where Bt corn is the only approved GM crop, Andreas Schier of Nürtigen-Geislingen University in Germany is examining mycotoxin levels in maize using different variants, such as soil management, weed management with insecticides and growing Bt maize.

“The levels are lower if the corn borer is controlled with insecticides, and we get the best effects by growing Bt maize,” Schier said. “We can say that the mycotoxin levels are more or less halved in Bt maize compared with conventional maize grown on the same site without measures to control the European corn borer.”

This applies to three classes of mycotoxins: deoxinivalenol, fumonisins and zearalenone.

There are some caveats. Reductions in mycotoxin are not certain. According to the University of Kentucky Extension Service, the Bt toxin must be expressed in the kernel of corn for it to provide reduced mycotoxin contamination. Genetic background of the corn hybrid can also impact the effectiveness, as can the insect pest that is present. For example, lower mycotoxin levels have been shown from feeding damage caused by the European corn borer but not the corn earworm.

Schier also explained that weather conditions conducive to fungal growth can cause an increase in mycotoxins, as can farm practices, such as straw, soil management and timing of harvest.

“Farmers cannot completely avoid mycotoxin contamination resulting from a serious fungal infection just by growing Bt maize,” Schier said. “All they can do is reduce it to a certain extent.”

In developing countries, other problems exacerbate mycotoxin contamination including low-quality seed, lack of pest control and poor storage, Wu has said.

Nonetheless, growing Bt corn could be a successful part of a strategy to reduce mycotoxin levels.

Rebecca Randall is a journalist focusing on global food and agriculture issues. Follow her @beccawrites.

-Written by Rebecca Randall in Genetic Literacy Project.  See article link here.

China lays groundwork to be major producer of GMO crops

China has a fifth of the world’s population, but only about 7 percent of its arable land. Farming plus safe and healthy foods are national obsessions. So it came as no surprise that government-owned ChemChina is poised to snap up Swiss-based Syngenta, one the world’s largest seed and pesticide companies. It’s a bet on the future by the country’s ruling elite.

The biggest challenge is overcoming widespread public skepticism. Resistance from groups like Greenpeace and the ultra-Maoist group Utopia that regularly vilify biotechnology research has had a great impact. In one recent survey, 84 percent of respondents opposed GMOs.

Despite this public wariness, agriculture and biotechnology topped the Communist Party’s wish list in its Central Document for the 14th straight year. The government has signaled it will actively encourage their development in order to boost food production.

The agriculture blueprint published in August recommended “pushing forward the commercialization of new pest resistant cotton, pest resistant corn and herbicide resistant soy beans.” The government has also designated biotechnology as a “strategic emerging industry” and has funded a large research program for GE crops.

The government also appears to be putting money where its directives are. According to to Wired, Caixia Gao, a plant geneticist at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, has used money from the Chinese Ministry of Science to engineer rice for herbicide resistance and corn for drought resistance. “We want to put our product on the market as soon as possible,” she says.

At present only two GE crops have been approved for cultivation: a virus resistant papaya authorized in 2006 and insecticide resistant cotton, which is engineered to include a natural bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that naturally repels insects, approved in 1996. The use of the Bt bacterium dramatically reducing the need for pesticide use. Two GM rice crops have received Ministry of Agriculture safety certificates but the government has not approved them for commercialization. China also plants millions of Bt GM poplar trees that have been shown to have no harmful impact on the environment.

Bt cotton is the major GE crop grown. As of 2015 it accounted for 96 percent of the country’s total cotton acreage. China is the second largest producer of cotton in the world behind India, which is also a major grower of Bt cotton. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), incomes of cotton farmers have increased “by approximately $220 per hectare due, on average, to a 10 percent increase in yield and a 60 percent reduction in insecticides” as a result of the use of Bt cotton.

In an attempt to stir public opposition to GE crops, Greenpeace alleged last January that farmers in northeast China were growing GM corn. It claimed 93 percent of samples taken in 2015 from corn fields in five counties in Liaoning province, which is one of the major grain growing regions of the country, tested positive for GMOs. If the allegations proved true, the crops were not sanctioned by the government and were instead the result of GMO plants tested in field trials being sold illegally to farmers. There have also been allegations of the illegal growing of GM rice in Hubei province.

A series of food scandals have contributed to the erosion of public trust in the food supply system. In 2008 milk and infant formula products were found adulterated with melamine. As a result, 54,000 babies were hospitalized and six died after developing kidney stones.

Other food scandals include: watermelons exploding after excessive use of growth hormones, borax in beef, bleach found in mushrooms, the sale of cooking oil recovered from drains and soy sauce made from arsenic.

These scandals have made the public leery of government food safety, increasing public suspicion about government-backed GMOs. A 2014 poll indicated that less than 1 percent of those surveyed accepted that GE foods were safe. Worries about the safety of GM crops have been exacerbated by unfounded rumors, often spread by Greenpeace and other NGOs, that they might cause infertility, cancer and other health problems.

“Many people in China still have limited knowledge about biotechnology, and rumors and misinformation is widespread,” noted a report on the food security challenges in China by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “A common and persistent misperception is that consumers in biotechnology producing countries, such as the United States, do not themselves consume genetically modified food. The emerging media, such as the MicroBlog, WeChat, and on-line forums, are often used by opponents of agricultural biotechnology.”

Although the government has been hesitant about sanctioning the growing of GM crops, it has approved their large scale importation. China is the world’s largest importer of GMO soybeans, which along with imported GE corn is used as animal feed. In addition, it also imports soybeans to produce soybean oil, rapeseed oil made from GE rapeseed and sugar derived from GE sugar beets.

In 2013, President Xi Jinping signaled to the public a more accepting stance towards GMOs when he said China must “occupy the commanding heights of transgenic technology” and not yield that ground to “big foreign firms.”

In an attempt to cut down on its reliance on foreign biotechnology, the government has actively funded a major GM research program, disbursing at least $3 billion to research institutes and domestic companies to develop home-grown disease and drought resistant wheat, disease resistant rice, drought resistant corn and soybeans that produce more oil. In addition, there have been field trials and research conducted on GM peanuts.

“Agricultural biotechnology is one of the few technologies in which China is on an equal footing with the world’s best,” said Yan Jianbing, a corn genomics researcher at Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan. Yan works at the University’s laboratory of crop genetic improvement, which is a government designated GMO research facility.

A senior agriculture ministry official, Liao Xijuan, recently said the government plans to focus on new types of insect-resistant cotton and corn. There is a particular focus on developing China-engineered products and not depending on imported patented technology.

“We cannot lag behind others in GMO research,” said Han Jun, the deputy of the Central Office for Agricultural Work. “Our GMO market should not be saturated by foreign brands.”

To hasten that reality, the government backed the $43 billion ChemChina takeover of Syngenta.

In addition to investing in GM crops, China is also spending heavily on gene editing as a means of modifying plants and animals. Chinese scientists claim they are among the first to use CRISPR technology to make wheat resistant to a common fungal disease, disease resistant tomatoes and to make pigs that have leaner meat. Paul Knoepfler, an associate professor of cell biology and human anatomy at UC Davis School of Medicine, said he “would rank the U.S. and China first and second” in CRISPR-Cas9 technology.

Given the Chinese public’s distrust of GMOs, cultivation will likely proceed at a gradual and cautious pace. The government is likely to embark upon a major education campaign to reassure the public that GE foods are safe to consume before any major commercialization begins.

As part of its reassurance campaign for GM crops, the Agriculture Ministry indicated this summer that it will support new food labeling laws “based on a certain threshold” of GE content “at a suitable time.”

The government clearly recognizes the need to increase farm productivity at a time when arable land is increasingly disappearing as a result of spreading urbanization, curb the damage done to crops by pests and deal with the threat of climate change—all factors which will necessitate the application of GE technology to grow drought and flood resistant crops.

If China does utilize transgenic and gene editing technology to produce food on a large scale it could encourage other Asian nations to also grow GE crops given that China is the region’s largest trading partner and a major source of foreign assistance and investment.

Steven E. Cerier is a freelance international economist.

-Written by Steven E. Cerier in Genetic Literacy Project.  See article link here.

One more GM cotton on the way — this one’s home-grown

Bengaluru, Sep 11 (IANS) While the controversy over MonsantoBSE -0.79 %’s Bt cotton has not yet died down, a new transgenic variety is at India’s doorsteps — this one developed by the country’s own scientists.

It remains to be seen how the regulators — the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) — will react to this Made in India cotton when its developers seek approval for its cultivation.

The Bt cotton (containing a toxin from the Bacillus thuriengiensis or Bt organism) was introduced in 2002 to protect the crop from the bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera) pest. The benefits versus risks of Bt cotton is a continuing debate, with its proponents claiming that it had increased production while the opponents partly blame it for farmers’ suicides.

The new transgenic cotton is supposed to target whitefly (Bemisia tabaci), whose infestation had been extremely serious in Punjab and Haryana and perhaps elsewhere in the last season and is emerging as a new threat to the crop.

The whitefly damages crops by sucking their sap and transmitting viral diseases. None of the insecticidal proteins used in genetically modified (GM) crop plants to date are effective against the whitefly.

Now, in a paper published in the prestigious “Nature Biotechnology” journal, a team of scientists from the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) in Lucknow — and some other institutions under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) — have offered a ray of hope to fight the whitefly with their new weapon.

To find this weapon, they screened 38 “ferns” (plants that reproduce via spores and have neither seeds nor flowers) to find a protein that is toxic for the whitefly.

The search led them to identify a protein from an edible fern called “Tectaria macrodonta” that kills the whitefly and interferes with its life cycle. They appropriately named the protein “Tma12”.

In the next step, they cloned the gene encoding for this protein and, using standard genetic engineering methods, inserted it in the cotton plant to create the transgenic variety expressing the Tma12 protein.

According to their report, the scientists developed 16 transgenic cotton lines with variable Tma12 expression for “contained field trials” or “greenhouse study”.

They report that all the transgenic cotton lines they produced were found resistant to whitefly infestation, “with no detectable yield penalty”. One line, in fact, “showed excellent control of whitefly and superior agronomic parameters throughout four generations”.

Leaves of transgenic plants grown in contained field tests had no visible symptoms of cotton leaf curl disease, unlike the control plants, the scientists report. Experiments further showed that the population of whiteflies feeding on transgenic leaves decreased rapidly while those feeding on non-transgenic leaves kept multiplying.

Transgenic plants grew normally and the yield was on a par with that of pesticide-protected control plants, the report said.

“Seed germination, photosynthesis rate, plant biomass and flowering time were comparable between the transgenic and control plants,” the report said.

According to the scientists, Tma12 targeted only the whitefly and did not affect the ladybird beetle, an important predator of the whitefly and a beneficial insect.

The researchers point out that Tma12 was isolated from a known edible plant that is consumed as a vegetable by humans and used in traditional remedies for various human diseases.

“Therefore Tma12 is a promising candidate gene that could be pyramided with Bt toxins to develop GM crops with resistance to whitefly and other herbivorous pests,” the report said.

The scientists said their toxicity studies in rats revealed no adverse effects, thereby making Tma12 “a promising candidate for the development of GM crops”, but admit that “detailed safety studies are required to meet GEAC’s requirements”.

Besides NBRI, scientists from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute and Panjab University in Chandigarh participated in the study.

(K.S. Jayaraman can be contacted at killugudi@hotmail.com)

–IANS

-Published in The Economic Times.  See article link here.

Korea to become leader in Asian precision medicine

Biotechnology has been identified as a potential new growth engine for the Korean economy, as the government grapples with a decline in traditional exports. The country has one of the most advanced medical systems in Asia. Dr Jeong-Sun Seo, President of the Korea Biotechnology Industry Organization (KoreaBio), outlines his vision for the sector based on the optimization of technology for the development of precision medicine that can benefit people across Asia.

South Korea’s economic progress over the past six decades is known as the “Miracle on the Han River”, but as traditional exports decline in a slowing global economy, Korea is being forced to look at developing new potential growth engines. How do you assess the potential of biotechnology to be a strong engine for future economic growth?

There are many different fields in biotech. Red biotech, related to hospitals and the healthcare system, accounts for 80-90% of the sector. One of the problems of the 21st century is the exponential rise in the cost of healthcare with the acceleration of an aging population. This is true even for the most developed economies, such as the United States. If this is not adequately addressed, some experts predict the US healthcare insurance system will go broke by 2025. Around two thirds of healthcare expenses go towards caring for cancer patients in the last six months of their life. The high cost and low efficiency makes this an unsustainable healthcare system.

The solution is to move towards predictive healthcare through the use of genomic information. The current treatment-focused healthcare system has to shift to a preventive healthcare system, which is often referred to as “genomic medicine”. These efforts can reduce the cost of healthcare by at least ten-fold. The United States is the front-runner in utilizing genomic information for treatment of chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes. President Obama has launched the precision medicine initiative to propel the changes in the current healthcare system.

Korea and the United States have a very special relationship in healthcare. In 1955, about 100 professors from Seoul National University trained in the US under the Minnesota plan, supported by the US government. We have not only replicated the US healthcare system, but also have improved the system to provide a more affordable care for the patients. The Korean healthcare system has three key advantages to initiate precision medicine in Asia.

Firstly, Korea has one of the most advanced medical systems in Asia. There are 100,000 doctors who practice the standardized Western medical system. Therefore, developments in precision medicine in Korea and the US can be shared bilaterally.

Secondly, Korea has state-of-the-art IT infrastructure with standardized and transferable electronic medical records (EMR). The Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, for example, has an outstanding EMR system. The integration of EMR and genomic information is expected to dramatically enhance the current healthcare system.

Thirdly, Asians have population-specific genetic content, and understanding Asian-specific variations is critical for implementing precision medicine in Asia. My company, Macrogen, is a key player in Genome Asia 100K, which aims to investigate and understand such population differences.

Another key advantage Korea has compared to the US is that we have fewer stakeholders in the healthcare system. Therefore, our government can effectively control the stakeholders, which allows us to follow a clear strategy.

Collectively, these advantages position Korea to become the leader in establishing and practicing precision medicine in Asia. The establishment of precision medicine in Korea could be a major stepping-stone for initiating precision medicine across Asia, which could be of immense benefit for the 4.5 billion people across our continent. We have to focus on China, Japan and Korea first, and then we can look at India, Indonesia and the southern nations. This should be our national biotech target.

There were a total 975 biotech companies in Korea as of 2014, but 60% were start-ups with limited financial resources. How you rate the effectiveness of current state support mechanisms for bio-tech start-ups and small enterprises, and what role does the Korea Biotechnology Industry Organization play in nurturing start-ups and small firms in the sector?

Okay. That’s a very good question. Korea has always been a “fast follower” in our main industries.

However, in biotech, no one quite knows the way forward. All countries involved in biotech are starting on the same line.

There needs to be a swift paradigm shift from that of the fast follower to that of the first mover. That’s the biggest challenge for Korea. The Korean government understands the need to support biotech startups and venture companies. The ministries in the Korean government, however, are too competitive with one another. The Health Ministry, Industry Ministry and the Science and Technology Ministry, for example, compete with each other for influence in the biotech sector. We need a single control tower to oversee and nurture this valuable sector. Our government still instinctively has a top-down approach, but for the future of the biotech industry, a bottom-up approach could be more effective.

Government initiatives by themselves are insufficient. We also need to learn as a society to tolerate failure, because ventures by their nature are highly risky endeavors. People need to have the confidence to try new ideas and know that they will be supported and that even if they fail, they will not be condemned. We need young Koreans with imaginative ideas for startup companies. We need to adapt our education system to foster creative minds and fearless entrepreneurs. We unfortunately don’t have that at the moment.

Here at KoreaBio, we are looking to support 1,000 startups within the next 3 to 5 years. The experiences from both successful and failed startups can lay the foundation for the biotech ecosystem. Medical doctors should be looking for biotechnology business opportunities. We expect around 50% of biotech startups to come from medical doctors.

Last year President Park Geun-hye visited the USA and made a joint declaration with President Obama which mentioned enhanced collaboration in biotechnology. I’d like to know your opinion on this. Where do you see the scope for further Korean-American collaboration in biotech going forward?

My advice to the Korean government is we have to import the framework of the American healthcare system. We are able to not only adapt to the framework with ease, but we have consistently shown ourselves to be able to innovate within the framework. I think the Korean system and the American system complement each other. As I have mentioned before, the quality of the Korean healthcare system is on par with that of the US, but it is much more cost efficient. We expect similar progress with the precision medicine initiative in Korea, and then Asia. That is my belief.

KoreaBio was established in 2008 and has approximately 300 members, who have entrusted you to represent them as their President. On the Macrogen website, the company you founded, you talk about your employees “being encouraged by the infinite vision of bio industry.” Can you expand on your personal vision for the Korea biotech industry and the role of KoreaBio within it?

There are two sectors that can be growth engines of major economies. One is the entertainment business and the other is the healthcare business. When the basic needs are fulfilled, people wish for continued health and longevity, especially with a rise in the aging population. These needs can only be fulfilled by the biotechnology industry and its growth is of absolute importance. The new startups must meet these demands. KoreaBio, together with the Korean government, wants to support these ventures by easing regulations and by fostering collaboration between the various stakeholders.

-Written by Dr Jeong-Sun Seo, Chairman of Korea Biotechnology Industry Organization (KoreaBio) in The World Folio.  See article link here.

India soon to make GM mustard stance public, develop more varieties

The Indian government will soon make public its stance on allowing the commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) mustard – what could be its first transgenic food crop – and “ideology” will not influence the decision, a minister said.

The mustard variety has been developed by a group of New Delhi scientists over the past decade, and Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave said India would also come up with other GM food as its population increases and arable land shrinks.

“You’ll get to know about our view on GM mustard very soon,” Dave, whose ministry decides on GM crops, told Reuters on Friday.

“Naturally if Indian scientists do some research for India, that is an advantage. India’s money is staying within India.”

Allowing GM mustard is seen as critical to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of attaining self-sufficiency in edible oils.

India spends around $12 billion annually on vegetable oil imports. GM mustard – with yields up to 30 percent higher than normal varieties, also loosely called rapeseed – will give Modi a chance to slash this bill.

But the path to a commercial launch is not without hurdles.

Public opposition to lab-altered food remains fierce, including from groups close to Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who object to reliance on technology developed mainly by Western countries.

This could throw a spanner in the works for GM mustard, which recently got technical approval from a panel of government and independent experts after multiple reviews of crop trial data.

In 2010, India placed a moratorium on GM eggplant and that too after an expert panel had given its clearance, effectively bringing the regulatory system to a deadlock.

But Modi, who was instrumental in making the western state of Gujarat India’s leading user of GM cotton while chief minister there, cleared several field trials for GM crops soon after taking office in New Delhi in 2014.

“You must have different parameters for what you eat and what you only come in contact with, like cotton,” Dave said. “(But) eventually it is the doctor who gives the medicine. Ideology has no connection with this.”

-Written by Krishna N. Das and Mayank Bhardwaj (New Delhi) and published in Reuters.  See article link here.

Philippine court lifts ban on GM eggplant, now what?

[MANILA] On 26 July, the Philippine Supreme Court reversed its December 2015 decision to stop the field testing, propagation, commercialisation and importation of genetically modified (GM) foods, including the controversial Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant. The reversal raises several questions: Will the GM eggplant soon be available on the market? How does this affect food labelling of GM foods? And how does the high court’s vacillation affect the morale of local scientists? Saturnina Halos, chair of the Department of Agriculture’s biotechnology advisory team, clarifies that “the availability of the GM eggplant will depend on whether the University of the Philippines Los Baños has undertaken all the necessary studies to submit data on these considerations”.

There’s no substantial difference between genetically engineered and conventionally bred food crops.

–Peter Davies, Cornell University

She notes the GM eggplant has yet to undergo another review process under the new regulatory scheme where the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Health are active participants. For Peter Davies, international professor of plant biology at Cornell University in the US, no labelling is needed “as every reputable scientific body worldwide has declared there’s no substantial difference between genetically engineered and conventionally bred food crops”. “However, it is my opinion that as Bt eggplant is healthier for the customer, being free of pesticides, and for the farmers who no longer need to spray pesticides daily, a label such as ‘wonderful pesticide-free talong (eggplant)’ would be appropriate,” Davies says. Davies believes “the reversal is a great morale booster for plant scientists worldwide, especially in the Philippines, as it justifies their efforts to produce healthier pesticide-free food for consumers while improving the livelihood of farmers and the environment in which they work”. Halos, however, also sees the downside of the recent turn of events: “Many scientists feel they wasted emotional investment in the case. They feel good about the reversal yet they find the case to be a waste of effort and time.”

-Written by Katharina Schmidt in SciDev.net.  See article link here.