BusinessMirror leads Jose G. Burgos Jr. biotech awards winners

The Jose G. Burgos Jr. awards for biotechnology journalism celebrated its 10th year with the awarding of this year’s winners on Thursday night at the Sulo Riviera Hotel in Quezon City.

“Genetically modified corn allowed farmers to earn $560 million—study” written by Mary Grace Padin for the BusinessMirror, bagged the first prize in the Best News Story category. InterAksyon’s Diego Mora won second prize for his article “Dutch experts boost security to prevent loss of UPLB pathogenic microbes” and “Cheaper, healthier animal feed from UPLB” by Maricar Cinco of the Philippine Daily Inquirer took the third prize.

For the Best Feature category, James Konstantin Galvez from The Manila Times won first prize for his article “Corn growers urged govt to approve new GMO rules.” The second prize went to Ray Eñano of Manila Standard with his article “Academe hurting from GMO ruling.” Henrylito Tacio of EDGE Davao finished third for his article “Golden Rice fights hidden hunger.”

In the institutional category, the BusinessMirror bagged first place. Philippine Star won second place. InterAksyon.com and The Manila Times tied in third place.

Winning articles were chosen by this year’s judges Dr. Virginia Enriquez, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Alparce and Melo Acuña, who reviewed biotechnology stories from August 2015 to July 2016.

The Awards was organized by the J. Burgos Media Services and the Joe Burgos Pen with the support of the Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology Program Office, Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines and Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture-Biotechnology Information Center.

-Published in BusinessMirror.  See article link here.

‘Bt talong’ has no adverse impacts on nontarget insects, research shows

GENETICALLY modified (GM) Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) talong (eggplant) has no negative impacts on the biological diversity of nontarget organisms, the first-ever field-level study of the effects of insect-resistant Bt eggplants on nontarget arthropod species showed.

The study was carried out in the Philippines by researchers from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) working with Cornell University. It has been published in the prestigious open-access scientific journal PLOS One.

The data, collected over three growing seasons in the Philippines’s main eggplant-growing region of Pangasinan, shows no significant differences between the number of insects and other arthropods and species between the GM Bt and non-Bt control eggplants. Anthropods include insects and spiders.

This finding is consistent with previous studies on insect-resistant Bt crops, such as cotton and corn, the study authors pointed out. The study came after the Supreme Court unanimous decision reversing its earlier ruling that temporarily stopped the field testing of the GM eggplant.

The paper is entitled “Assessing Potential Impact of Bt Eggplants on Non-Target Arthropods in the Philippines” and was published on October 31. The author of the study, which was subjected to PLOS One’s rigorous scientific peer review, is Dr. Desiree Hautea, professor of crop biotechnology of UPLB’s Institute of Plant Breeding, College of Agriculture.

“This first published report from extensive field studies of Bt eggplants affirms that the technology is ecologically benign,” Hautea asserted. Study coauthor Dr. Anthony Shelton, international professor of entomology at Cornell University, welcomed the publication of the results.

He commented: “This study confirms the environmental safety of Bt eggplant to non-target organisms under field conditions in the Philippines. Our previous study, published earlier in the same journal, documented the effectiveness of Bt eggplant against the destructive eggplant fruit and shoot borer. Combined, these studies clearly document the benefits of Bt eggplant to growers, farm workers, consumers and the environment.”

The study was funded by United States Agency for International Development, with match funding provided by the University of the Philippines Los Baños and the Philippine government’s Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Program Office (the funders had no direct role in the study, however).

The eggplants used were varieties (purple, long fruits) preferred by Filipino farmers and consumers, with the Bt gene crossbred into them from an original transformation event carried out in India by the seed company Mahyco, which donated its genetic technology to the project.  The field trials were carried out between March 2010 and October 2012.

Bt eggplant could be of significant benefit to Filipino farmers and consumers, the study authors suggest, because conventional eggplant is typically sprayed with insecticide up to 72 times during the 180-day cropping season to control infestation by the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB) pest. Bt eggplant, as a previous study by the same authors has demonstrated, is fully resistant to the fruit and shoot borer pest, so it does not require pesticide sprays to prevent damage by this insect.

Filipino farmers use broad-spectrum insecticides for the conventional control of EFSB, including profenofos, triazophos, chlorpyrifos, cypermethrin and malathion.

In contrast, EFSB-resistant Bt eggplant varieties can be grown by farmers as part of a more ecologically friendly integrated pest management agricultural system.

-Published in BusinessMirror.  See article link here.

COMMENTARY: Biotechnology: What is in there for us?

Thank you to the organizers of this forum for kindly inviting me to share my views on biotechnology especially on its effects on our country and people.

Even as I am no expert on the nature of biotechnology, or its effects on edible plants and consumable meats, I am thankful that I am given the opportunity to discuss the topic which, like it or not, affects the wellbeing of our country and people.

Bt corn

Some 15 years ago today, at the first conference in Manila of Bishops with Scientists on January 29, 2001, I was also given the privilege to speak, be it only on broad strokes, on the issue of Biotechnology, particularly as it related to Bt corn.

I told the forum, then, that as a layman and as a legislator, I had no preconceived notions as to whether or not GMOs, or more specifically Bt corn, were good or bad.

Emotionally charged-issue

What I knew, then, was that the issue of Bt corn experimental farms in some parts of the country had become so emotionally charged that some of our NGOs and farmers took the law into their own hands by raiding the farms and uprooting the corn crops that had been planted there by certain foreign corporations engaged in GMO experimentation.

The thing, however, is that even at that time, both the GMO experimental farms and the acts of those opposing them had repercussions for good or ill to our country.

Naturally, if the experimental farms would produce more, and cheaper – and safe – food for our people and for our farm animals, then, the experimentations would be good for us and should, therefore, be promoted.

If, on the other hand, the experimental farms would cause ill health to our people and to our animals or destroy the food farms of our farmers, then, the experiments would be bad for us and should be banned.

The other day, I made a fast research in the internet and found the following data:

Europe bans Bt crops

In Europe, “19 of the 28 members of the European Union, including Germany and France, have voted to prohibit farmers from cultivating biotech crops. Scotland independently also voted to ban GMO cultivation.” [Google]

Still, under 2015 EU regulations, “countries can opt out of GM consents on a case-by-case basis.”

Opting out

And last year, on October 5 2015, the DAILY NEWS in New York reported that:

“Countries seizing the opportunity to opt out (of the ban against GMOs) include Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Regions within member states have also joined the exodus, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the UK, and Wallonia in Belgium.”

“And Countries that are anti-GM continue to feed their animals GMOs … It’s ironic that the countries that voted against approval of GM crops still import large amounts of GM ingredients for their animals.”

Africa

And in Africa, “only Kenya has banned the importation of food containing GMOs.” xxx

“For the first time, the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) recently approved open field trials of Bt maize xxx. This is the clearest signal that the country is moving forward with a scientific-based regulatory system. There are on-going confined field trials (CFTs) for maize, sorghum, cassava and other crops.”

[The data are also culled from ‘GMO Answers’]
Japan’s ambivalence

Closer to home, I made a quick search on Japan’s attitude towards GMOs.

It appears that a Japanese law bans the growing of any genetically modified seeds or crops in Japan. However, Japanese food manufacturers are actively importing “Roundup Ready” GMO canola grown in Canada primarily to manufacture canola oil.

If the report is true, it simply means that Japan has an ambivalent attitude towards GMOs.

How, then, should we treat GMOs or Bt corn specifically in our country?

I suggest that we leave the matter to our biotech scientists to determine whether or not GMOs or Bt corns are safe not only for animal, but, more specifically, for human consumption.

But, let us keep the issue alive by making the public aware that GMOs or Bt corns are now getting more positive treatment in many parts of the globe. And, at the very least, our national stand on the matter as to whether or not GMOs or Bt corns should be guided by scientific knowhow.

By now, scientific experiments, I understand, tend to show that GMOs, in general, are proven safe not only for “animal” but for human consumption as well.

And, if the matter is validated by our own science and technology department, duly assisted by proper research, there should no longer be any reluctance from our government institutions and our people to actively promote the production, sale and consumption of GMOs or Bt products.

For today, I understand that the results of GMOs, or the Bt corn experimentations, in general, show that those agricultural products are made resistant to ordinary plant diseases and they dispense with the more expensive and ill-health causing pesticides.

Moreover, the country is, thus, enabled to produce more food for human and animal consumption than ever before.

There are fears, however, that in the process of experimentation, poisons are spread to nearby corn farms that endanger the crops there directly or make them more dependent on pesticides or farm inputs than ever before. And, that the net effect of that negative aspect would be for us to import food from foreign producers.

These were legitimate concerns in the past. But, now, it seems that those apprehensions are being addressed in a scientific manner.

Filipino farmers’ positive experiences

We can cite the example of a lady farmer, Rosalie Eliazus, who had been using Bt corn seeds and had been harvesting bonanzas.

In her words, she planted Bt corn seeds in a hectare of her farmland that cost her something like P9,000. This amount was roughly P3500 more than what it would have cost her if she used non-Bt corn.

The fact, however, is that she also harvested much more by her use of Bt corn seeds, and in the process, it also relieved her of the need to use of pesticides by as much as 45 percent. And her harvests remained positively bountiful last year despite the drought that plagued the area where her farm land is located.

In brief, when she used Bt corn seeds, she harvested more than triple the usual yield of the same farm land area that she had been cultivating in the past.

Another recent report on a successful experiment on Bt corn comes from farmer Edwin Paraluman, chairman of the Philippine Farmers Advisory Board, in General Santos City.

His emphasis is on the safety of Bt corn which, he said, he had been eating for the last 12 years. His experience, he says, is proof that BT corn is fit for human consumption.

The conclusion now seems inevitable that the Bt is here to stay as it has proven its worth in enhancing the volume of the harvest of crops and in vastly increasing the income of the farmers using Bt seeds.

In other lands, Bt experiments are also producing more in terms of crop harvest volumes and in the process they deliver bigger sums of money to the Bt users.

Religion, no basis to ban Bt crops

Incidentally, I might mention that in the not too distant past, some religious contentions were raised against the use of Bt in the production of crops for the dietary needs of mankind.

Happily, in my view, the controversies were laid to rest sooner than latter, because the concerned Pontiffs of Rome in those times backed up by learned scientists put their reputations on the line to tell the world that Bt products are fit for human consumption and for the good of creatures inhabiting the earth.

Specific Pontiffs

In 1951, Pope Pius XII, himself, said in an address to the Pontifical Academy of Science that science bears “witness to the primordial Fiat Lux, let there be light.”

And 41 years later, in 1992, Pope John Paul II reiterated this theme of Pope Pius XII’s in a speech, entitled Faith Can Never Contradict Reason, that he made before the Pontifical Academy of Science.

He said that: “the Church, by virtue of her specific mission, is obliged to pay close attention to problems no longer related merely to astronomy, physics and mathematics, but also to relatively new disciplines such as biology and biogenetics.

“Many recent scientific discoveries and their possible applications affect man more directly than ever before, his thought and action, to the point of seeming to threaten the very basis of what is human.”

The Bishop of Rome further said that:

“in a general way, xxx the pastor ought to show a genuine boldness, avoiding the double trap of a hesitant attitude and of hasty judgment, both of which can cause considerable harm.”

On that occasion, Pope John Paul II also rectified the condemnation of Galileo by Church authorities in 1611 for his insistence that the earth revolved around the sun and not the sun around the earth.

Scientists support GMOs

Renown men of science like Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard evolutionist, was one such scientist who argued that there was no contradiction between traditional religious beliefs and the worldview of modern science.

Another one was Stephen Hawking, the eminent British scientist who has tried to get to the bottom of many scientific theories including Einstein’s theory of relativity. He also concluded that there was no inevitable conflict between the theory of Creation of the world, and the scientific theory of existence of the world.

Let me now suggest that whether or not GMOs or Bt corn would be good for our people should be left to the better judgment of our relevant scientific agencies.

Remembering Boethius

In the process, we should be guided by the advice of Boethius, a learned man who wrote in the 4th century, A.D., that it would be best for those who are religiously inclined and scientifically curious to “join faith to reason as far as you are able.”

In this discussion, I found it fit to insert a brief sharing of certain religious attitudes because, whether we like it or not, the majority of our people are guided in their daily lives by the tenets of Christianity.

It is important to remember that the leaders of our Church are no longer blind to the advances of science and that, we do have pastors in our Church who would conjoin faith and reason in addressing matters of concern to our people and country in this time and age.

Duty to spread truth

As citizens of this country, I think it is our duty to help spread the truth about things that have the potential to make cheap and safe food available to our people and to inform them of things that endanger their health and welfare.

I think it is time that we make full use of the advances of biotechnology – where applicable – and use it to help free our people from hunger – and from ignorance – so that they in turn may not only be receivers, but sharers of the wealth of the nation with those in dire need of it.

Salamat, for your kindness and patience in hearing our views on the topic at hand.

[Former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. delivered this talk during the opening of the 12th National Biotech Week at the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) last Nov. 21, 2016. Pimentel was the Local Governments Secretary in the aftermath of EDSA. He was elected senator in 1987.]

-Published in Minda News.  See article link here.

DA to strengthen biotechnology research

Davao City – Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Ariel T. Cayanan announced that the government will strengthen biotechnology research to increase the efficiency of the agriculture sector in the country and address the issues facing the Filipino farmers.

“Our strategy and action agenda at the department entails intensive technology updating and sharing, modernizing and mechanizing our agriculture and fisheries sector,” he said during the opening day of the 12th National Biotech Week at the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) here last Monday

He said that they have devised strategies and action agenda, which include, among others, intensive technology updating and sharing, modernizing and mechanizing agriculture and the fisheries sector that will transform the agriculture and fisheries enterprise from being a resource-based to being technology-based.

Cayanan acknowledged the biotechnology’s role in providing workable solutions to addressing issues such as poverty, insufficient food production, frequent natural disasters like typhoons, La Niña, El Niño, and outbreaks in infectious disease.

He said biotechnology was a “game-changer,” that could strengthen agricultural productivity, food security and poverty alleviation, environmental remediation, and robust health management.

He added that they believe biotechnology can help the country attain food security amid a “galloping rise in our population and the diminishing area and quality of our arable lands.”

“With precision tools and approaches like DNA-marker assisted breeding, our scientists-researchers are working hard and fast on developing high-yielding, pest and stress-resistant varieties,” he said.

-Written by Antonio L. Colina IV in Manila Bulletin.  See article link here.

Review of Australia’s Gene Technology Regulations: Opportunity to Strengthen Australia’s Biotechnology Industry

As Australia faces the challenges that come with the end of the resources boom and a shift away from many traditional manufacturing industries, the biotechnology industry represents an important opportunity for economic growth. With an increase in the demand for biotech products comes the potential for Australia’s biotechnology sector to offer substantial growth and investment opportunities if supported by the right policy settings. It was recently reported that the sector is expected to grow at a rate of 4.4% a year until 2021, bringing AUD8,675M of revenue to industry.[1]

Further, last year alone, more than 630 biotechnology patent applications including claims referring to “nucleic acids” were filed with the Australian Patents Office – many claiming subject matter that no doubt will test the boundaries of what constitutes patentable subject matter.[2]

In an industry that has undergone rapid technological advancement since the Regulator last conducted a technical review (which resulted in amendments being made to the Gene Technology Regulations 2001 (Gene Technology Regulations) in 2011), it is timely that the Australian Gene Technology Regulator (Regulator) has initiated a technical review of the Gene Technology Regulations.

This latest review seeks to clarify whether organisms developed using newly developed technologies should be regulated as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to ensure that new technologies are regulated in a manner commensurate with the risks they pose, and importantly, to ensure the Gene Technology Regulations reflect the current state of technology and scientific knowledge. Among the “new” technologies noted in the Regulator’s discussion paper as being relevant to the present technical review are agroinfiltation,[3] grafting,[4] RNA interference (RNAi)[5] and, of course, genome editing.[6]

Background
Under the terms of the Gene Technology Act 2000 (Gene Technology Act), “dealings” with organisms that meet the definition of “genetically modified organism” (GMO) – being an organism that has been modified by gene technology or an organism that has inherited particular traits that has occurred because of gene technology – are tightly regulated, and generally prohibited unless authorized by a GMO licence or otherwise may be characterised as “low risk”, “exempt” or specifically included in the GMO Register. While these restrictions on dealings with GMOs are aimed at minimising the risks posed by GMOs to people and the environment,[7] it is clear that the definition of “GMO” was intentionally cast broadly to ensure that it could be adapted to new technology as it develops.

The Gene Technology Regulations currently exclude a number of techniques from the definition of gene technology (including somatic cell nuclear transfer, protoplast fusion and various forms of induced mutagenesis) and a number of organisms from the definition of GMOs.[8] However, the applicability of those exclusions has become less clear with the fast development of new technologies. A major focus of the technical review will therefore be to clarify what is excluded from the definition of “gene technology” and “GMO”.

The Technical Review
The Regulator seeks submissions from interested stakeholders, offering the following four options for the regulation of new technologies:

  1. no amendment to the Gene Technology Regulations
  2. regulate certain new technologies
  3. regulate some new technologies based on the process used
  4. exclude certain new technologies from regulation on the basis of the outcome they produce.

Option 1 is self-explanatory. Option 2 proposes to amend the Gene Technology Regulations so that dealings with all organisms developed using oligo- and site-directed nuclease techniques are regulated under the Gene Technology Act. Under option 3, techniques which use a nucleic acid as a guide for directing DNA repair would result in a GMO, whereas certain techniques which do not involve the application of a nucleic acid guide would not result in a GMO. Option 2 and, to a lesser extent, option 3, would appear to have the effect of regulating organisms that are indistinguishable from those that are presently excluded from the definition of GMO, such as organisms brought about by natural, chemical or radiation mutagenesis. Option 4 proposes to exclude organisms from regulation as GMOs if the genetic changes they harbour are similar to, or indistinguishable from, those brought about by “conventional” breeding (including radiation and chemical mutagenesis).

A number of other issues will also be examined as part of the technical review including issues surrounding gene driven research and the applications of RNA interference. Stakeholders are asked to provide answers to eight consultation questions which are focused on these issues. The discussion paper also foreshadows the possibility of amending the Gene Technology Regulations to clarify the meaning of certain terms which have become increasingly ambiguous in light of technological developments such as “mutational event”, “introduction”, “foreign nucleic acid” and “non-homologous”.

The technical review must maintain the current policy settings and so cannot alter the definition of “GMO” in the Gene Technology Act. However, it is within the scope of the technical review to add to the list of techniques that are not “gene technology” and to the list of organisms that are not “GMOs”. In the event that amendments to the Gene Technology Regulations are deemed necessary, the Regulator will conduct another public consultation on any proposed amendments.

The discussion paper is available here. The initial deadline of 2 December 2016 for lodging a submission to the review has been extended to 16 December 2016.

[1] The McKell Institute BioSavvy Report, October 2016.

[2] Reference more here.

[3] Voinnet O and Baulcombe D.C. Nature 389, 553 (1997).

[4] Brosnan C.A., Mitter N., Christie M., Smith N.A., Waterhouse P.M., Carroll B.J. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 104, 14741-14746 (2007)

[5] Christie M., Croft L.J., Carroll B.J. Plant J. 53, 799-805 (2010).

[6] Kim J. Nat. Prot. 11, 1573-1578 (2016).

[7] section 10.

[8] GT Regulations sch 1, 1A.

-Published in The National Law Review.  See article link here.

About the Authors:

Michael Christie Ph.D., KL Gates, biotechnology lawyer, patent application attorney
Dr. Christie is a registered Australian and New Zealand patent attorney with a technical background in biotechnology. His work includes drafting and prosecuting patent applications, providing advice on the validity and infringement of patents, and acting in opposition matters.

Dr. Christie acts across a range of technical fields including pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, agriculture, genetics and genomics, biochemistry, chemistry, food technology, nanotechology and medical devices.

Dr. Christie also assists clients to…

Michael.Christie@klgates.com
61-2-9513-2497
klgates.com

Veg Tran, KL Gates, life sciences lawyer, food technology attorney
Special Counsel
Ms Tran is an intellectual property litigator with a substantial depth of experience in advising and representing a wide range of clients in proceedings before the Federal Court and High Court of Australia, as well as in matters before the Australian Patent Office.

With a First Class Honours degree in Biotechnology and training from leading research and development organisations such as the CRC for Biopharmaceuticals, CRC for Food Industry Innovation and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Ms Tran practices intellectual property law with a specific interest in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, life sciences and food technology industries. She has represented a large number of clients with global business operations and has significant experience working within multi-jurisdictional teams in patent infringement and revocation matters involving technologies such as electronic devices and components, medical devices, industrial equipment, as well as pharmaceuticals.. Many of these clients are the owners of extensive and highly valuable intellectual property portfolios world-wide, and are leading companies within their fields.

Veg.Tran@klgates.com
61-2-9513-2437
klgates.com

The end of biotechnology as we know it

Big challenges are waiting for science und industry according to the European Summit of Industrial Biotechnology 2016 in Graz/Austria

AUSTRIAN RESEARCH CENTRE OF INDUSTRIAL BIOTECHNOLOGY (ACIB)

If there were no biotechnology, the world would stand still. “Biotechnologically derived drugs dominate therapy with eight of the top ten best-selling drugs are produced using biotech methods,” says Prof. Nigel Titchener-Hooker from the University College London. The European Union is funding research projects in bio-economy with 3.8 Bio Euro in the Horizon2020 program. Additionally, 3.7 Bio Euro are mobilized to drive the biobased value chain through funding public-private-partnerships within the European Bioconsortium between 2014 and 2020, states Dirk Carrez, director of the European Bioconsortium.

Based on huge funding and investments, the world of biotechnology moves quickly forward. New technologies help the industry saving production costs and shorten development times. Using ultra scale-down technologies like tangential flow microfiltration and tangential flow chromatography, process times could be decreased from five hours to minutes. Perfusion systems reduce costs of goods for about 20 % compared to traditional (but still more stable) fed-batch systems, so Hooker-Titchener who believes that personalized medicine will be available by 2025 despite problems with clinical studies and approvals.

As most highly valuable therapeutics are manufactured using CHO cells (Chinese hamster ovary cells), improving these systems is a top priority of the pharmaceutical industry. According to Helene Faustrup Kildegaard from Novo Nordisk, traditional technologies like random integration, down-regulation using RNAs, or knockout via mutagenesis are currently replaced by the CRISPR/CAS approach that helps shorten the cell line development from one year to three months. “We need more than CRISPR like genome stability or an optimization of genome editing,” says Faustrup Kildegaard. Rainer Schneider, a key researcher of the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology, presented more solutions in another way. He talked about his in-vivo evolution and selection system for E. coli with an “extremely large mutation spectrum” that allows selection overnight with only variants with god stability surviving. Scheider pointed out that even a microbial antibody production would be possible.

However, severe challenges are appearing on the scientific horizon. Prof. Huimin Zhao from the University of Illinois showed a fully automatized and dehumanized laboratory where a robot is transferring probes from one machine to the other. “In the future, we will see fast, automated systems for a fast discovery of new products from known or new sequence information. We want to move quickly from a sequence to a product,” says Zhao. Thinking one step further, smart computers will analyze upcoming (big) data and define new work for robots that perform all experiments. As high-performance computers are yet able to assess scientific publications — IBM-Watson already saved and evaluated millions of papers as general manager Davin Kenny mentioned in the Fortune Magazine recently – maybe there won’t be much room left for scientists in future.

###

Find more information about the European Summit of Industrial Biotechnology 2016 including summaries of the sessions (about protein design, modeling, translation, highly valuable sugar molecules, synthetic biology and more) is available at http://www.esib.at.

The European Summit of Industrial Biotechnology (ESIB) was organized by the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib), an international Research Centre for Industrial Biotechnology with locations in Vienna, Graz, Innsbruck, Tulln (A), Hamburg, Bielefeld (D), Pavia (I), Rzeszow (P) and Barcelona (E). Using the concepts of nature, acib-scientists replace traditional industrial methods with new, more economic and ecological technologies. http://www.acib.at

-Published in EurekaAlert.  See article link here.

Government eyes rollout of 3-year agriculture degree program

The Commission on Higher Education (Ched) said it is mulling over the introduction of a three-year agriculture degree program to entice the Filipino youth to go into farming.

The agency bared this plan in a press conference to kick off the 12th National Biotechnology Week held in Quezon City on Monday.

“There’s a Ched proposal aiming to encourage the sons of farmers to venture into farming. We will have a degree for these farmers’ children, a three-year degree program,” Ched chief of Research Management Division Custer Deocaris told reporters.

Under the proposal, Deocaris said students will be taught farming-related theories in their freshman year. Students will spend their sophomore year in the field as part of their on-the-job (OJT) training. In their third and last year, students will devote their time on research or thesis focusing on agricultural entrepreneurship.

“At the end of the program, the face of our farmers will change. We are talking now with farmers with aspirations not just those who till the land, but farmers who also own the land,”
Deocaris said.

He said the Ched is now in talks with an Israel-based farm where the students under the said degree program could hold their OJT.

Another way to encourage the youth to go into farming, Deocaris said, is by increasing the number of techno-demo farms in the country as part of local universities’ extension programs.

He noted that the Ched provides a grant amounting to P125 million to identified national universities and colleges of agriculture and fisheries under the National Agriculture and Fisheries Education System.

Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) OIC Vivencio R. Mamaril said his office is already in talks with the Department of Education (DepEd) to reinstate gardening classes in the elementary level.

“This is part of the 10-point agenda of [Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol],” Mamaril said. “Currently, we [BPI and DepEd] are in the programming stage.”

He said gardening classes in the elementary level could be reinstated in academic year 2017-2018, while the training of teachers could start early next year.

With the return of the gardening classes in the elementary level, Mamaril said the government hopes to impart not only practical planting techniques but also scientific knowledge.

“We don’t only want the children to learn to count their harvest but we hope to incorporate biological and scientific knowledge, such as how to grow crops and why do they wither or die,” Mamaril said.

-Written by Jasper Y. Arcalas in BusinessMirror.  See article link here.

Jasper Emmanuel Y. Arcalas is a graduate of the UST Journalism School (Batch 2016). He currently covers agribusiness for the BusinessMirror. He joined the news outfit in August 2016.

DA highlights role of biotechnology in food security

The government recognizes the beneficial impact of biotechnology to help achieve food security, equitable access to health services, sustainable and safe environment, and industry development.

It has become increasingly important to the research and development of agricultural, medical, environmental and industrial products. Its application in agriculture sustains increased farm yields and productivity, and improved value, quality and suitability of crops.

To highlight its important role in the country’s overall development, the Department of Agriculture will lead the 12th National Biotechnology Week on Nov. 21-25 at the Bureau of Soils and Water Management in Quezon City.

The event, which bears this year’s theme “Bioteknolohiya: Kaagapay Para Sa Pangkalahatang Kaunlaran,” is a mandated observance by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 1414 in 2007.

According to DA Biotech Program Director Dr. Vivencio Mamaril, the NBW aims to create sustained public awareness, understanding and appreciation of biotechnology and highlight its role in helping achieve and sustain productivity and growth.

He noted that breakthroughs such as development of vaccines, antibiotics and other drugs have made health care accessible, and has helped reduce chemical inputs usage, ensure water quality and conservation of topsoil, and produce renewal energy sources.

He said that the weeklong observance will help provide public awareness, education and understanding of biotechnology which are essential for its responsible application and regulation.

Activities include a Techno-forum on The Colors of Cellulases, EnviroTech Forum for Mined- out Areas, Global Insight on Policies and Regulations on New Breeding Techniques, forums on effectivity of the dengue vaccine, health and wellness demonstrations, film showing, and lecture series on DNA in the Kitchen.

Pioneers, policy makers, advocates and practitioners of biotechnology will be feted on the Appreciation Night on Nov. 21.

The NBW is co- organized by the Department of Education, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Health, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Science and Technology, and Department of Trade and Industry.

A parallel trade exhibit at the Quezon City Hall will showcase technologies and products, as well as success stories of outstanding individuals who have contributed or benefited from biotechnology.

Simultaneous activities are also slated in Nueva Ecija, Tagaytay City, Gen. Santos City and other parts of Quezon City.

-Published in The Philippine Star via Pressreader.com.  See article link here.

DOST participates in national biotechnology week

THE Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology ( DOST- PCAARRD) participates in this year’s 12th National Biotechnology Week ( NBW) with the theme, Bioteknolohiya: Kaagapay and the tagline, s a P a n g k a l a h a t a n g Kaunlaran,
from Nov. 21 Yakapin ang Pagbabago, to 25 at the Bureau of Soils Biotek na Tayo! and Water Management (BSWM).

H e a d e d b y t h e Department of Agriculture (DA), this year’s NBW will be a weeklong activity that will highlight the technological a d v a n c e ments a n d potential benefits that can be derived from the various applications of biotechnology i n t he agriculture, environment, and health sectors.

As part of DOST’s activities during the NBW, PCAARRD will be holding a two- day agriculture and aqua science and technology fora on Nov. 22 and 24.Aside from the fora, the council, along with other DOST agencies, will be showcasing its biotechnology initiatives through an exhibit that will be displayed at the BSWM grounds throughout the week.

The Nov. 22 agriculture forum will feature the following: application of genomics in sugarcane variety development by the Philippine Sugar Research Institute; molecular marker development in mango by the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines Los Baños; the role of assisted reproduction i n dairy i ndustry development and value of molecular techniques i n hard to select traits of pigs by the Philippine Carabao Center.

The Nov. 24 f orum will focus on the biotech a pplications i n t he aquatic sector with topics including the practical genomics in mangrove crab rearing by the De La Salle University ( DLSU); DNA fingerprinting and genetic diversity analysis of cultured Nile and feral tilapia by the Institute of Biology of the University of the Philippines Diliman; coral genomics; and the biotech in sardines.

NBW will be participated by DOST, Department of Health, DA, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Education, Commission for Higher Education, Southeast Asian Regional Center f or Graduate and Research in Agriculture Biotechnology I nformation Center, and the Biotechnology C o a l i t i o n o f t h e Philippines.

NBW i s an annual celebration which kicked off i n 2005 and was institutionalized in 2007 by virtue of Presidential Proclamation 1414 and serves as a venue for government agencies, academic communities, and private institutions to create awareness about the role of biotechnology in food production and security.

-Published in Panay News via Pressreader.com.  See article link here.

DA spearheads National Biotechnology Week

THE GOVERNMENT recognizes the beneficial impact of biotechnology to help achieve food security, equitable access to health services, sustainable and safe environment, and industry development.
It has become increasingly important to the research and development of agricultural, medical, environmental and industrial products. Its application in agriculture sustains increased farm yields and productivity, and improved value, quality and suitability of crops.

To highlight its important role in the country’s overall development, the Department of Agriculture (DA) will lead the 12th National Biotechnology Week (NBW), on Nov. 21 to 25 at the Bureau of Soils and Water Management in Visayas Ave., Quezon City.

The event, which bears this year’s theme “Bioteknolohiya: Kaagapay Para Sa Pangkalahatang Kaunlaran,” is a mandated observance by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 1414 in 2007.
According to DA Biotech Program Director Dr. Vivencio Mamaril, the NBW aims to create sustained public awareness, understanding and appreciation of biotechnology and highlight its role in helping achieve and sustain productivity and growth.

He noted that breakthroughs such as development of vaccines, antibiotics and other drugs have made health care accessible, and has helped reduce chemical inputs usage, ensure water quality and conservation of topsoil, and produce renewal energy sources.

He said that the week-long observance will help provide public awareness, education and understanding of biotechnology which are essential for its responsible application and regulation.

Activities include a Techno-forum on The Colors of Cellulases, EnviroTech Forum for Mined-out Areas, Global Insight on Policies and Regulations on New Breeding Techniques, forums on effectivity of the dengue vaccine, health and wellness demonstrations, film showing, and lecture series on DNA in the Kitchen.

Pioneers, policy makers, advocates, and practitioners of biotechnology will be feted on the Appreciation Night on Nov. 21.

The NBW is co-organized by the Department of Education, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Health, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Science and Technology, and Department of Trade and Industry.

-Published in BusinessWorld via Pressreader.com.  See article link here.

Biotechnology: Why does Europe lag behind the US?

US had first-mover advantage, blockbuster drugs appeared soon, and the industry scaled up, writes Sir Geoffrey Owen

Of all the new technologies that have emerged since the Second World War, biotechnology is notable in the extent to which US-based firms, having taken the lead at the start, continue to dominate the world market. Why has it been so difficult for other countries to catch up?

Biotechnology in this context refers to a set of techniques, based on advances in molecular biology, genetics and immunology, which came to the fore in the 1970s. They opened up new approaches to drug discovery that were radically different from the chemistry-based methods on which the pharmaceutical industry mostly relied. Partly because of its novelty, the established pharma companies were slow to appreciate the importance of biotechnology, and left the field open to new entrants.

European scientists had been responsible for several of the discoveries which paved the way for new commercial opportunities. But American entrepreneurs were much quicker to exploit the new techniques than their European counterparts. The most successful of the pioneers, Genentech, was founded in 1976 and launched its first drug, a genetically engineered version of insulin, in 1982. It was followed by a host of imitators, many of which listed their shares on the stock market.

The success of these firms owed a great deal to the ingenuity and vision of their founders, but the US had other advantages which supported the growth of the sector. Biomedical research was funded on a very large scale by the Federal government, contributing both to advances in knowledge and to the supply of well-trained scientists. American universities were well equipped, especially after the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, for transferring the results of academic research into industry. The US had a venture capital industry which had experience in nurturing early-stage firms, especially in electronics, and could apply the same skills to biotechnology. The safety and efficacy of new drugs were regulated in the same way as in Europe, but there were no government controls over prices; the US market was not only much larger than any single European country, but also more rewarding for innovators.

Among European countries the UK seemed well equipped to follow the US lead, not least because of its strength in biomedical research. A missing ingredient was venture capital, and that was part of the rationale for using public funds to support the establishment of Celltech, the UK’s first biotech firm, in 1980. But Celltech was soon followed by a stream of wholly private-sector firms, and by the mid-1990s a sizeable biotech sector, well supported by local investors, was taking shape. Then came a series of setbacks, as failures in clinical trials exposed the over-optimism of some of the most highly valued firms. The result was an investor retreat. From the early 2000s the inflow of capital dried up, and several of the best firms either were acquired or moved to the US. Despite a partial recovery in 2014 and 2015, the gap between the US and the UK is probably wider today than it was at as the start of the new millennium.

Some observers believe that the failure of UK biotech to build on its apparently promising start was due to short-termism, the reluctance of institutional investors to back high-risk, science-based firms whose research may not pay off for ten years or more. Yet countries such as Germany which have a more patient, long-term approach to the financing of companies have been no more successful than the UK in biotechnology. The lag behind the US is a European, not a purely British phenomenon.

How did the US do so well? First-mover advantage is part of the answer, coupled with the fact that (alongside numerous failures) several of the pioneers produced blockbuster drugs within very few years of their foundation. These star performers attracted investor support to what came to be a seen as a high-risk but potentially high-reward business. As more scientist-entrepreneurs entered the market, the increasing size and sophistication of the investor community committed to biotech meant that promising firms could access capital on a scale that was not available in Europe.

The sheer scale of the US biotech sector, much of it being concentrated in Boston and San Francisco, is a huge competitive advantage, and there are other features of the US health care system which are difficult or impossible for European countries to imitate. For example, there is no way in which the European Union, with or without the UK, can match the amount spent by the US National Institutes of Health on biomedical research. Nor, given the determination of European governments to keep control of their national health care arrangements, is there is any possibility of a genuinely integrated European market for medicines, let alone one in which drug companies have the same pricing freedom as in the US. Even if that freedom is curtailed under the next US administration, American leadership in biotechnology is unlikely to be seriously challenged.

♣♣♣

Notes:

This post appeared originally at the LSE Department of Management’s blog, and is based on the author’s book Science, the State and the City: Britain’s struggle to succeed in biotechnology (2016) co-authored with Michael Hopkins.
The post gives the views of the author, not the position of LSE Business Review or the London School of Economics.

Sir Geoffrey Owen is a visiting professor in the Department of Management. Before joining the department he was a deputy editor of the Financial Times and a non-executive director of Laird Group. He was knighted in 1989. He is the author of three books – “The rise and fall of great companies: Courtaulds and the reshaping of the man-made fibres industry”, “Industry in the USA” and “From Empire to Europe: the decline and revival of British industry since the second world war.” He has contributed to several management journals.

Written by Geoffrey Owen in The London School of Economics and Political Science.  See article link here.

Food security on agenda as APEC 2016 Peru opens

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) members visit Peru to discuss the future of international trade policies, economic growth and improvement of life conditions, leading from the food security talks in September

The APEC meeting in Lima, Peru started on 14 November, and will host ministers from the 21 APEC members to discuss a number of issues on the theme “Quality growth and human development.” Congresswomen Mercedes Aráoz has confirmed that food security, and therefore agriculture, will be discussed in relation to this theme.

In September, members from APEC met in Lima to discuss and development food security policy frameworks. Officials from members states committed to promoting transparent, science-based and functional regulation of biotechnology innovations at these talks to secure regional food security.

“Supporting the larger goal of food security in the region means that we should be able to understand how the role of agricultural biotechnology can best respond to today’s research and food production challenges in the context of regional economic integration,” said the APEC High-Level Policy Dialogue on Agricultural Biotechnology Chair Alberto Maurer.

Congresswomen Mercedes Aráoz highlighted food security as a discussion point at this weeks talks. “Here the focus is on going against the traditional food concept of closing markets. We have worked to strengthen urban rural development and improving the profitability of rural food production.”

-Published in Far Eastern Agriculture.  See article link here.

China releases first report on biotechnology in developing countries

Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

The first report on biotechnology in developing countries revealing an overall picture of their biotechnology growth and competitiveness was released on November 15 on the 27th TWAS General Meeting held in Kigali, Rwanda.

The report was organized by CAS-TWAS Centre of Excellence for Biotechnology (CoEBio), a jointly supported center by Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries (TWAS).

Release by Professor LI Yin, director of CoEBio, this report focused on scientific publications and patents in 32 categories of industrial, agricultural and medical biotechnologies covering 141 developing countries during the time from 2004 to 2014, as well as collaborations among those countries.

“This report is the first extensive document summarizing the development status of a specific technology area in the developing world. It provides a strong, valuable assessment of biotechnology activities in developing countries, as measured in scientific publications and patents,” said BAI Chunli, President of CAS and TWAS, in the foreword of the report.

The report reveals that among the 141 developing countries, 128 countries have references published in biotechnology and only 30 countries have patents granted. In the five regions of TWAS, TWAS East and South East Asia and Pacific Region and TWAS Sub Saharan Africa Region (TWAS-SSA) have the most references and patents; while, TWAS-SSA has the most active cooperation.

According to the report, China, India, Brazil and Mexico have the most references and patents, while Saudi Arab, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Algeria have the fastest growth in references. China has the most references and patents among all.

The report was a joint work of CoEBio and Clarivate Analytics (formerly the IP & Science business of Thomson Reuters). It has a compared study of development and characteristics among five regions in TWAS, with a detailed analysis of each country, which provides a macro-reference of the subject for TWAS and UNESCO in understanding the current status and future trend of biotechnology development in developing countries.

CoEBio was formally established in 2013, based on the Institute of Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. It is an integrative platform aiming to strengthen the biotechnology innovation capability of developing countries and to provide biotechnological solutions to the problems in developing countries through strategic intelligence analysis, scientific cooperation, technology training and education relating to biotechnology.

-Published in EurekaAlert.  See article link here.

DA sets up P150-M lab in Davao City

DAVAO CITY — The Department of Agriculture (DA) is setting up an agricultural laboratory worth P150 million next year in Manambulan, Tugbok District, this city.

The project called the Southern Mindanao Integrated Agricultural Laboratory (SoMInAL) aims to harmonize agricultural laboratories to help increase production and ensure quality and bio-safety of agricultural products through state of the art research and development facilities.

Of the P150 million, P100 million will be utilized for the building construction while P50 million is allocated for the laboratory paraphernalia.

Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on Wednesday said the laboratory would directly address the needs for the provision of various diagnostic services, analyses and ensure product quality, consumer safety and environmental protection for both domestic and global markets.

“SoMInaL will serve the needs of our farmers, fisherfolks and livestock growers. It will also mark a radical development and at the same time strengthen the High Value Crops industry,” Piñol added.

He said the laboratory will handle plant disease, animal disease, water and soil analysis. “We are confronted with various diseases in plants like for example the Fusarium wilt and cocolisap. There is a need for research with such problems. This (lab) is the solution for our dream to address the problems confronting our farmers,” Piñol said.

He added, “I would like it to be completed in the next two years or even earlier.”

On the other hand, Piñol reiterated his thrust against corruption during his speech after the groundbreaking ceremony of the SoMInaL on Wednesday afternoon.

He challenged DA employees to give the projects needed by the farmers. “I hope we will be able to prove to the farmers that our government is not corrupt and I want all of you to make the same commitment,” he said.

Piñol also assured the farmers and stakeholders present during the groundbreaking ceremony that President Rodrigo Duterte supports the agriculture sector.

-Written by Philippine News Agency in Manila Bulletin.  See article link here.

GMOs, food and pesticides 101: No chemical “flood” and yields are rising

Has the growing of GMOs led to a “flood” of pesticide use as critics contend?

You see such claims rampant on advocacy sites. “Herbicide and Insecticide Use on GMO Crops Is Skyrocketing, and Rubber-Stamped Approvals Now Usher in Next-Gen GMOs,” screams a headline on natural product huckster Joseph Mercola’s eponymous website. Such statements are a staple during GMO labeling ballot initiatives–and they are effective. Who would want to embrace an innovation if it ended up doing more harm than good.

That’s just not what the data show. Moreover, the single minded obsession–focusing on pesticides as having the most environmental impact in modern agriculture misses the big picture and distracts from tackling far more serious ecological challenges.

Opposition by environmental groups to recent USDA approvals of new herbicide tolerant biotech crops underlines a strange aspect to the debates about how to lower the environmental impact of agriculture. Earlier this year, Food and Water Watch predictably came out againstMonsanto’s new glyphosate and dicamba tolerant soybeans, claiming that it would lead to more resistant weeds and massive problems with pesticide drift.

This approval follows that of 2,4-D tolerant soybeans and corn, billed as the next generation of herbicide-tolerant crops to tackle glyphosate (Roundup)-resistant weeds. Dicamba-tolerant soy and cotton are simply the latest example of USDA’s allegiance to the biotechnology industry and dependence upon chemical solutions. This continues the disturbing trend of more herbicide-tolerant crop approvals taking place under President Obama’s watch.

In 2014, the Environmental Working Group warned the nation that hundreds of thousands of American school children would newly be at risk to a toxic weed killer.

There are 5,532 American schools within 200 feet of farm fields that may soon be blanketed with massive amounts of a toxic defoliant linked to Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and reproductive and immune system problems.

That’s the finding of a new EWG analysis that shows that hundreds of thousands of children across the country will be at risk of increased exposure to the harmful chemical compound 2,4-D if the Environmental Protection Agency approves a new weed killer mixture called “Enlist DuoTM” created by Dow AgroSciences (a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co.).

That apparently doesn’t worry the EPA. But if these rural schools were full of plants rather than children, the agency would be concerned.

(Andrew Kniss, Associate Professor, Weed Biology & Ecology at the University of Wyoming, took a look at the claims about drift for dicamba and 2,4-D and the risks to schoolchildren — they don’t really hold up.)

The big thing that stands out in the debate between advocates of technologically progressive agriculture and the opponents of technological agriculture is the persistence of the idea that the use of pesticides is still a major problem, if not the central environmental impact of agriculture, that needs to be addressed. This is unfortunate. It’s just not accurate. It’s a cul-de-sac in the discussion about how to improve the environmental footprint of agriculture. It’s a distraction from the addressing the major environmental impacts.

Curing the chemical hangover of the post-war era

The disconnect mostly comes from the chemical hangover from the unfortunate excesses of industry during the 1950s, 60s and into the 1970s. DDT, PCB’s, a raft of dangerous food colorings and additivespulled from the market, Love Canal and similar incidents left people with the unshakeable feeling that everything causes cancer and technological progress might be more trouble than it’s worth.  People have a much better handle on that dismal chapter of history than they have on the reforms and innovation that came after. With creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air and Water Acts, regulation has become much tighter. Meanwhile, scientists began working in earnest to create pesticides that were more effective, while making less impacts where they weren’t supposed to. Environmental watchdog groups have worked hard to make sure that they do.

There are other reasons for the disconnect. There is a notable lack of incentives for both environmental groups and agri-chemical companies to trumpet the progress that’s been made in lowering the toxicity and reducing the collateral damage of pesticides. Another source of disconnect is the way organic farming has been marketed or perceived, falsely, as pesticide free. Pesticides as an environmental impact are often played up by organic advocates and advertisers as a way of highlighting the alleged benefits of organic agriculture.

All of these threads have come together to make a widespread lack of understanding about how modern pesticides are much safer and less toxic than earlier generation chemicals. Many pesticides have been banned in recent decades and those that have been approved are much more targeted in the way that they work. Following the uproar over DDT (deserved or not), scientists have made degradibility a central priority, so today’s pesticides are far less persistent in the environment. We’ll get to all that, but let’s start by laying out the major impacts of agriculture.

Agriculture’s biggest impacts

The discrepancy between the actual environmental impact of pesticides versus how they are perceived was brought home last summer with the publication of “Leverage points for improving global food security and the environment” in the journal Science by a group of University of Minnesota scientists. What’s the sustainability picture?

research_reports

The environmental impacts highlighted include water use and irrigation; nutrient leaching and eutrophication due to excess nitrogen and phosphorus; land use, especially tropical deforestation; and greenhouse gases, especially N2O but also carbon and methane. If you look at the research on the environmental impacts of food production by researchers like geophysicist Gidon Eshel of Bard College (Michael Pollan’s go-to source on these matters) you will find a similar set of concerns and the same absence of pesticides as an environmental concern.

When you really dig into the research on the hierarchy of ecological impacts, pesticides represent a drop in the sustainability bucket when compared to land use, water use, pollution and greenhouse gases. In fact, it may seem counter-intuitive but, pesticides can play a substantial role in mitigating the damage associated with many of those other factors. Pesticides allow for us to grow more food on less land, limit the wasting of fuel and water, and help curb erosion and run-off.

In conversations however, I continually find myself engaging people promoting practices that result in major compromises on land and water use, water pollution and greenhouse gases in exchange for the potential to decrease pesticide use. This is getting the calculations and priorities on environmental impacts exactly backwards.

What you should know about pesticide use in 2016

What’s changed about pesticide use since Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s 1962 classic book that ignited people’s concerns about the environmental downsides of pesticides? It’s true that pesticides, when misused, still pose risks to farm workers, and a few pretty nasty pesticides are still in use. For instance, chlorpyrifos, an insecticide has been linked to developmental issues in the children of farm workers. Methyl bromide, a soil fumigant has been linked to ozone depletion and cancer risk for farm workers * These are important challenges, but their use is decreasing while the use of more targeted and less toxic chemicals steadily increases.

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide, perhaps the most problematic class of pesticides. Organophosphates are nerve agents, and the way they kill bugs also works on animals and humans. The good news is that the use of organophosphates has been steadily declining over the past three decades as this chart in Science shows.

getting-safer

In the last few years, agriculture expert and writer Steve Savage has done great work breaking down common misconceptions about pesticide use. In a post using the California grape industry as a typical example, he shows how the profile of pesticide use has dramatically improved over the years. Contrary to campaigns by environmental groups and anti-GMO activists that talk about a “flood” of “toxic pesticides” unleashed since the beginning of the biotech era, the data show usage shifting dramatically away from Category II (moderately toxic) and Class III (slightly toxic) towards Category IV (practically non-toxic) and the almost complete abandonment of Class I (highly toxic) pesticides.

trends

This pattern is repeated across almost all grain, fruit and vegetable farming. In another post putting pesticide use into greater context, Savage shares two key charts.

california-pesticide

The chart above underscores that today’s most prevalent pesticides are relatively benign from a human health perspective: more than 60% of the pesticides used in California are classified as Category IV (relatively non-toxic) and another 20% are Category III (slightly toxic).

Savage goes on to compare the amount of pesticides used in California in relation to the toxicity of substances that we popularly consider safe or even good for us.

relative-toxicity

Nearly all the pesticides used in California are less toxic than caffeine or aspirin, with only 3% by acreage more dangerous than your favorite morning pick-me-up or your favorite pain reliever. More than half are less toxic by weight than vitamin C.

What drives the perception disconnect?

Savage also lays out the interesting story about what has contributed to the reduction in pesticide use and what forces are in place conspiring to keep these achievements something of a public secret. It’s worth quoting at length.

  • The Environmental Movement: becoming visible after the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in 1962, a broad coalition of NGOs, politicians and academics drove the awareness and impetus for the creation of regulatory bodies such as the EPA (est. 1970) which began to regulate pesticides. In a variety of ways these groups have continued to be an important voice that puts pressure on regulators to deal with additional issues as they arise through advances in the sciences of human and environmental toxicology. However, you won’t hear these groups talking about how much things have improved. They tend to focus on the next issue rather than on past progress, even if they could take some real credit along with the rest of the “team.”
  • The Major AgroChemical Companies: These players have been investing hundreds of billions of dollars over decades to discover, evaluate, and commercialize new pesticide options. Their search has been for products that work better, which are more selective, and which can meet ever more sophisticated health and environmental standards. Without this investment, between pest resistance development, new pests and regulatory constraints, farmers would never have been able to accomplish the sort of productivity gains that have been seen. These players are actually constrained by the EPA from talking about new products as being safer than the older ones. They also usually have a mixed portfolio of newer and older products. Besides, in an anti-business climate their messaging is typically ignored.
  • Government Regulators: If you step back and look at what agencies like the US EPA have accomplished over the decades, it is rather impressive. On the whole, the EPA has done its job in a way that is science-based and free from excessive political influence. As is probably the fate of any such regulator, the various “sides” on issues are all going to be unhappy with something about your decisions or bureaucratic procedures. Honestly, the EPA does not seem to have the skill or orientation for public promotion of what they have achieved (although this summary is pretty good). In any case the political Right tends to want to get rid of the agency, and the Progressive Left seems to think that they have all been “bought-off.” I have some direct experience with EPA staffers and a window on their process through friends who serve on advisory panels. This system isn’t perfect, but it deserves a great deal more respect than it gets.

Pesticide use commands inordinate attention from the general public because they are seen as “unknown” and “scary”. The fears play into the well known inability of humans to to distinguish harm from risk. Even the mere mention of the word “chemical” can touch off an extreme psychological and irrational reaction. Yet most fears are simple run of the mill chemophobia. Synthetic chemicals are automatically considered more harmful than natural chemicals, although synthetics are often specifically developed to be better targeted and less toxic. The general public tends to think just the opposite–the “natural fallacy”.

It’s the same reason we fear shark attacks more than slipping in the shower or driving when tipsy despite the fact that our bathrooms and drinking and driving are thousands of times more treacherous than swimming in the ocean. As consumers we are almost completely insulated from any serious health risks when it comes to pesticides. The residue levels in food, based on decades of empirical data, is mostly infinitesimal, and dropping.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 4.28.55 PMChemophobia has been used as a major wedge among agriculture warriors, used as a political football in the culture war between organic and conventional agriculture. Pesticide use, while not absent from organic farming, is perceived as the most visible difference that sets organic apart. It’s a perceived sustainability advantage (but not really, in fact). When you dig below the surface at the organic impact of various farming types, however, organics fairs less well. On concerns like carbon, methane, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, organic farming is less sustainable. Thus, much is made about synthetic pesticides, despite their relatively minor environmental impacts.

How biotech crops have impacted pesticide use

Insect resistant crops, corn and cotton that produces produce proteins toxic to pests, have been pivotal in reducing insecticide. While that impact is well documented, it’s less well known. Here’s the most recent USDA report on the issue:

Farmers generally use less insecticide when they plant Bt corn and Bt cotton. Corn insecticide use by both GE seed adopters and nonadopters has decreased—only 9 percent of all U.S. corn farmers used insecticides in 2010. Insecticide use on corn farms declined from 0.21 pound per planted acre in 1995 to 0.02 pound in 2010. This is consistent with the steady decline in European corn borer populations over the last decade that has been shown to be a direct result of Bt adoption.

insecticide-use

Even farmers who didn’t adopt Bt corn benefited from the reduction in pests
Borrowing again from the infographic from Science, we can see how the use of soil applied insecticides plummeted as Bt corn planting became more widespread .

bt-uptake

Here’s use in corn broken out by insecticide.

insecticeide-way

The decrease is due to the effectiveness of Bt crops as well as a virtuous cycle, notesGrist food and agriculture writer Nathanael Johnson:

When I started asking about environmental effects, several experts who take a critical view of GMOs pointed me to an entomologist at the University of Arizona named Bruce Tabashnik. Yet Tabashnik was surprisingly upbeat: So far, he said, insect-resistant plants have been a clear win for the environment. “Because of them, we’re running the pesticide treadmill in reverse,” he said.

The pesticide treadmill describes a problem that consistently occurs in agriculture. It goes like this: Eventually, insects evolve resistance to an insecticide, so the farmer starts using more sprays or something more toxic. But this can kill all the critters in the fields — not just the pests, but also the predators that eat the pests. Then the problem gets much worse. As time passes the farmer becomes more and more dependent on chemicals as the only means of pest control, using larger amounts, or more severe poisons, and getting less benefit.

But transgenic insect-resistant crops have turned this process around, Tabashnik says. These plants produce proteins from a widespread bacterium known as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) that only harm a narrow set of insects. Bt itself is widely used as an insecticide, mostly by organic farmers. Because the Bt-producing crops kill some key pests, farmers spray less insecticide to control those pests. This allows beneficial insects to survive. With more insect predators there’s less need for insecticides, and when farmers do spray, the insecticides work better.

The link between Bt crops and the decrease in insecticide use is unequivocal. The numbers on herbicide use are less dramatic and the picture less stark–until you dig deeper. Glyphosate use has increased and total pounds of herbicides are up a little or down a little depending on what data is cited. But the real story is the the most toxic herbicides  have fallen by the wayside.

Let’s take a look at the second and third most popular herbicides from the pre-biotech era. Prior to 1996, alachlor was the second most popular herbicide after atrazine. Alachlor is banned in Europe and strictly regulated in Australia. It presents some health risk to humans.

use-by

The third most heavily used herbicide prior to 1996 was cynazine, basically atrazine plus cynanide. it was an herbicide that caused birth defects in animals. It has disappeared from the market without a ban from the EPA.

use-by-year

So, the odd thing is that even though preservation of soil is a major goal of the Environmental Working Group and clean water is a major goal of Food and Water Watch, both groups put a lot of time and energy into opposing pesticides and biotech crops when biotech crops have helped to improve the profile and impact of pesticide use, while improving soil conservation. The role that glyphosate and other herbicide tolerant crops have played in the adoption of conservation tillage should be something both groups could get behind. Conservation tillage reduces erosion, water use, and fertilizer run-off. Those are all big ticket environmental impacts, made possible in many cases by an herbicide that with a lower toxicity than table salt, and applied fairly sparingly. Just between corn and soybeans, we are talking about 100-150 million acres of conservation tillage.

adopters

Pesticides in a world of trade offs

There is still room for improvement. Pesticides do get misused, especially in developing countries without strong regulations and little public spending on ag education and training. They can harm wildlife and pollinators. Farm workers need stronger protection.

But the single minded focus by many on pesticides ignores that we live in a world of trade offs and producing the most food on the least amount of land, with the least amount of water, the least amount of erosion, the least amount of fertilizer runoff, and the least amount of greenhouse gases is a larger, more important set of goals. Those goals can often best be advanced through smart use of some fairly non-toxic tools.

* Use of methyl bromide in the U.S. is currently only allowed in strawberry production under an “critical use” exemption to the Montreal Protocol on ozone depletion. That exemption ends in 2017.

-Written by Marc Brazeau in Genetic Literacy Project.  See article link here.  Marc Brazeau is an independent food and agricultural writer.  He blogs at Food and Farm Discussion Lab. Follow Marc on Twitter @realfoodorg.

Philippines field research shows no negative impacts from Bt eggplant on non-target arthropods

The first-ever field level study of the effects of insect-resistant genetically modified Bt eggplants on non-target arthropod species, carried out in the Philippines by researchers from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) working with Cornell University, has been published in the prestigious open-access scientific journal PLOS One.

The data, collected over three growing seasons in the Philippines’ main eggplant-growing region of Pangasinan, shows no significant differences between the number of insects and other arthropod individuals and species between the genetically modified Bt and non-Bt control eggplants.

This finding that genetically modified Bt eggplant has no negative impacts on the biological diversity of non-target organisms is consistent, the study authors point out, with previous studies on insect-resistant Bt crops such as cotton and corn. The paper is entitled “Assessing Potential Impact of Bt Eggplants on Non-Target Arthropods in the Philippines” and was published on Oct. 31, 2016.

The corresponding author of the study, which was subjected to PLOS One’s rigorous scientific peer review, is Dr. Desiree Hautea, professor of crop biotechnology of UPLB’s Institute of Plant Breeding, College of Agriculture. “This first published report from extensive field studies of Bt eggplants affirms that the technology is ecologically benign,” Hautea asserted.

Study co-author Dr. Anthony Shelton, international professor of entomology at Cornell University, welcomed the publication of the results. He commented: “This study confirms the environmental safety of Bt eggplant to non-target organisms under field conditions in the Philippines. Our previous study, published earlier in the same journal, documented the effectiveness of Bt eggplant against the destructive eggplant fruit and shoot borer. Combined, these studies clearly document the benefits of Bt eggplant to growers, farm workers, consumers and the environment.”

The study was funded by USAID, with match funding provided by the University of the Philippines Los Baños and the Philippine government’s Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Program Office (the funders had no direct role in the study, however). The eggplants used were varieties (purple, long fruits) preferred by Filipino farmers and consumers, with the Bt gene crossbred into them from an original transformation event carried out in India by the seed company Mahyco, which donated its genetic technology to the project. The field trials were carried out between March 2010 and October 2012.

Bt eggplant could be of significant benefit to Filipino farmers and consumers, the study authors suggest, because conventional eggplant is typically sprayed with insecticide up to 72 times during the 180-day cropping season to control infestation by the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB) pest. Bt eggplant, as a previous study by the same authors has demonstrated, is fully resistant to the fruit and shoot borer pest, so it does not require pesticide sprays to prevent damage by this insect.

Filipino farmers use broad-spectrum insecticides for the conventional control of EFSB, including profenofos, triazophos, chlorpyrifos, cypermethrin and malathion. In contrast, EFSB-resistant Bt eggplant varieties can be grown by farmers as part of a more ecologically-friendly “integrated pest management” (IPM) agricultural system. Using resistant varieties as a foundation, IPM includes such techniques as sex pheromones for trapping adults and disrupting mating, removing infested plant parts and more selective and sparing use of chemical insecticides. Cornell’s Professor Shelton is an internationally-recognized expert on IPM.

IPM is more ecologically friendly, the researchers state, because “agriculture depends on several arthropod groups performing ecological functions such as decomposition, pollination and biological control that are essential to soil health and crop productivity.” Broad-spectrum insecticides kill a wide variety of these non-target arthropods, reducing the useful ecological functions they are able to perform and harming overall biodiversity in the field.

The PLOS One paper concludes:

“Farmers would gain profits because the technology would reduce EFSB damage, increase the marketable yield and lower production costs. Consumers would have an adequate supply of safer eggplant at a lower price. The adoption of Bt eggplant is projected to greatly reduce pesticide use on eggplant, thereby reducing both pesticide loading in the environment and hazards to farm laborers and consumers. Bt eggplant presents a more efficacious, environmentally benign and profitable alternative to the current practice of intense use of chemical insecticides in eggplant production.”

-Written in Cornell Alliance for Science.  See article link here.

SOUTH AFRICA: Local biotech perceptions survey shows improved awareness

It is estimated that the economic gains from biotech crops in South Africa in 2013 alone was $313-million, which shows that biotechnology, or genetically modified organisms (GMO), has a positive economic impact on South Africa, according to Department of Science and Technology director-general Phil Mjwara.

Speaking at the Public Perceptions of Biotechnology survey results presentation in Pretoria, on Tuesday, Mjwara noted that South Africa grew more than 2.7-million hectares of genetically modified (GM) crops in 2014.

“Between 86% and 90% of maize and soy are GM and 100% of cotton is GM,” he said, adding that, while GM crops have been approved and adopted in South Africa by science-based regulatory systems and farmers, they still remain a source of public controversy.

“While it is appropriate for the public to have varying opinions on GM crops, it is important to provide scientific evidence where deliberate misinformation is offered,” he said.

Mjwara pointed out that the biosafety of any GMO is regulated in South Africa under various Acts and regulations, complemented by different institutions and approaches.

Meanwhile, the survey of South African public’s perceptions of biotechnology focused broadly around biotechnology, as well as on more specific areas such as agricultural biotechnology, medical biotechnology and indigenous biotechnology knowledge.

The survey shows there has been a major increase in attitudes that favour buying GM food, with the proportion of the public who would buy GM food on the basis of health considerations increasing from 59% to 77%.

The public’s attitudes towards buying on the basis of cost considerations and environmental considerations have also increased from 51% to 73% and 50% to 68%, respectively.

When it comes to knowledge about biotechnology, the study reveals that most South Africans report having little or no knowledge about biotechnology.

“A younger and more privileged group report considerably greater knowledge than older and less privileged groups. Almost half of the public feel that biotechnology is too specialised for them to understand,” the survey says.

It further reveals that South Africans have used biotechnology in the context of indigenous knowledge systems (IKSs) and practices.

For instance, groups with low incomes and low levels of education may find it difficult to engage with concepts of mainstream biotechnology, though they harbour rich traditions of knowledge and IKS practice that may be successfully leveraged to build greater awareness of biotechnology.

When it comes to the perceptions of medical biotechnology, the overall knowledge about medical applications of biotechnology is similar to that of GM foods, which suggests that attitudes among the public cut across specific applications of biotechnology.

White and Indian South Africans are more likely to see biotechnology as an overall risk to society compared with black African and coloured groups.

Higher levels of education and living standards are also associated with an increased likelihood to view biotechnology as a risk.

Those living on rural farms and in urban informal areas were substantially more positive in their assessment of GM food.

“An individual with no ethical or religious objections to GMO is much more likely to believe that biotechnology is a benefit rather than a risk. If an individual thinks that government effectively regulates GM food, then he or she will be less likely to view biotechnology with uncertainty and more likely to rate it as a benefit than a risk,” the survey noted.

The survey further recommended that policy interventions needed to include a strategic approach to addressing different publics in different ways, drawing on the evidence related to their level of knowledge, attitudes and preferred sources of information.

-Written by Anine Kilian (Contirbuting Editor Online) in the Creamer Media.  See article link here. 

The Chinese Really Hate GMOs — Or Do They?

The United States and China have a couple things in common when it comes to genetically engineered crops. In both countries the government embraces them; in both, the people distrust them.

Keep those similarities in mind as you peruse the following headlines:

“China Wants GMOs. The Chinese People Don’t.” (Bloomberg)

“Can the Chinese Government Get Its People to Like G.M.O.s?” (The New Yorker)

“China Hates GMOs. Problem Is, China Really Needs GMOs” (Wired)

“In Push for G.M.O.s, China Battles Fears of 8-Legged Chickens” (The New York Times)

Notice that the United States goes unmentioned in these headlines. The story line that pops up again and again from Googling “China” and “GMO” is that China’s citizens loathe genetic engineering with a unique passion. Yet much of the evidence cited for this proposition has remarkable American parallels. Are the Chinese really so violently and uniquely anti-GMO?

For biotech agriculture, China is the future — the make-or-break country. China grows only 3 million acres now, mostly cotton. But the government has made developing a biotech-ag industry a top priority. Whether it will succeed depends on whether it can overcome the purportedly ferocious resistance of the Chinese people.

And, to be sure, the articles I just cited are studded with vituperative quotes from anti-biotech Chinese. In one, a GMO advocate is vilified as a “traitor.” In another, ChemChina’s acquisition of Syngenta is called “suicidal.” An army general says GMOs are a foreign conspiracy — “biological weapons” aimed at destroying the Chinese people’s health.

Yet if you follow these issues in the U.S., you know the Chinese have no monopoly on hyperbolic verbal abuse of biotechnology. “GMO foods are killing us,” cries a headline on an American website. “Monsanto is poisoning you,” an American demonstrator’s sign declares. Internet conspiracy theorists even blamed Chipotle’s food-safety problems last year on “bioterrorism attacks” by the biotech industry.

In both China and the U.S., then, some chunk of the population seems to really despise genetic engineering. Could the chunk be bigger in China than the U.S.? Possibly. In a Chinese poll 84% considered GMOs unsafe, while only 57% responded that way in an American poll. Neither poll, however, was entirely convincing.

Going by the old maxim to watch what people do rather than what they say, please note that in both countries people eat GMO food. There’s no sign of big consumer boycotts in either. There’s reason to suspect that in both countries most people know little about GMOs.

Perhaps, then, Chinese fears of GMOs aren’t so deeply rooted that an authoritarian government determined to create an ag-biotechnology industry couldn’t allay them.

What is different in China is the public’s distrust of the safety of food generally. The 2008 contaminated-milk crisis is just one of many food scandals still fresh in people’s minds. These memories incline them to believe wild charges, like the rumor last year that KFC was serving genetically modified chickens with six wings and eight legs.

Make no mistake, it won’t be easy for China’s government to change the public’s mind. But the task isn’t hopeless. Because the government sees GMOs playing a crucial role in the country’s food security, because developing an ag-biotech industry ranks high on its industrial-policy wish list, it’s certain to give it a try.

If it succeeds, China could end up five or ten years from now growing more of its own GMO soybeans and importing fewer from the U.S. and Brazil. Alternatively, the country’s demand for animal feed could continue to increase, requiring both imports and domestic production.

Or, fear of eight-legged genetically engineered chickens could make success impossible. That’s what the predominant story line suggests will happen. You have to wonder, though, about the evidence supporting that line.

**

Curious about where China’s demand for imported food and agricultural products is going? At the DTN/The Progressive Farmer Ag Summit in Chicago this December 5-7, Informa Economics CEO Tom Scott will give a sneak peak into the company’s research on export prospects to China and other large commodity markets.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Ag Summit. The editors have put together a strong lineup of presentations and breakout sessions. And with several hundred leading producers expected to join us (last year, total attendance topped 700), there will be plenty of networking opportunities, as well.

To get more information and register, check out http://tiny.cc/5wligy

-Written by Urban Lehner in The Progressive Farmer.  See article link here. Urban Lehner can be reached at urbanity@hotmail.com.

South Africa: Science and Technology On Public Perceptions of Biotechnology in South Africa Survey

PRESS RELEASE
Half of South Africans are familiar with biotechnology

More than half of South Africa’s population believe that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are good for the economy and many are in favour of purchasing GM food.

This is in contained in the second survey on the Public Perceptions of Biotechnology in South Africa conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) which was released by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in Cape Town today.

The survey showed that most South Africans are aware they are consuming genetically modified food; figures indicate that 48% were aware that they were eating GMOs while 49% believed it was safe to do so.

The first survey conducted in 2004 revealed that public familiarity with the term ‘biotechnology’, stood at only 21%, while and there was a 13% public awareness of GM consumption. The latest survey commissioned by the DST last year, showed that the figures have tripled, 53% and 48% respectively.

The HSRC said each of these changes signified a major shift in public awareness. The HSRC’s Dr Michael Gastrow said these changes could be due to increased levels of education, increased access to information, and greater prominence of biotechnology in the public discourse since the first survey in 2004.

Dr Gastrow said there had also been a major increase in attitudes that favour the purchasing of GM food. The proportion of the public that would purchase GM foods on basis of health considerations increased from 59% to 77%, on cost considerations increased from 51% to 73%, and on environmental considerations from 50% to 68%.

GMO forms of maize, soybean and cotton have been approved for commercial production in South Africa and these crops have become established in some parts of the country.

While the survey reveals a significant improvement of the public’s understanding and awareness of biotechnology, the levels of understanding remain broadly linked to living stand measures (LSM’s), demographics, and levels of education. In addition, biotechnology still remains a source of apparent public controversy, despite offering great potential for socio-economic development.

With the introduction of the GMOs Act in 1997, South Africa established a robust system to ensure any activities with GMOs are scientifically assessed for potential risks to human health and the environment.

Among the key aspects was the approval of the National Bio-economy Strategy in 2001 to ensure coordination of all stakeholders in this sector, and to align research, development and innovation with that of industry and government.

The Public Understanding of Biotechnology Programme established in 2003, sought to advance awareness and understanding but not specifically to promote biotechnology. To benchmark public understanding in this regard, the first survey was commissioned in line with Stats SA processes.

Releasing the latest survey, the DST’s Director-General, Dr Phil Mjwara said while there were significant improvements on the understanding of biotechnology, there was still a lot work to be done to bring the public on board.

Dr Mjwara said Government was committed to ensuring that GMOs are safe and people are not at risk. The DST DG added that the department was committed to ensuring that adequate information was made available to ensure an informed citizenry.

“We have thus tasked Biosafety South Africa to promote biosafety communication and awareness in South Africa – specifically to address the apparent gap in evidence behind the GMO controversies, and across the different public groupings within South Africa,” said the DG.

-A press released by the South African Government (Pretoria) published in AllAfrica.com.  See article link here.