ICRISAT shares insights on using agricultural biotechnology to facilitate healthy and sustainable consumer food choices

The 2017 Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium held recently in Iowa had a strong ICRISAT presence. ICRISAT’s Ambassador of Goodwill Dr Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina was honored as the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate in the main event and at one of the sub-events, the crucial role agricultural biotechnology plays in facilitating nutritious, healthy and sustainable consumer food choices was underlined by ICRISAT scientist Dr Pooja Bhatnagar-Mathur. The theme of the symposium was ‘The Road out of Poverty’.

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Assuring food security

A range of biotechnological approaches, including both traditional techniques and modern interventions, can contribute towards achieving food and nutrition security. 

The words of Noble Laureate and father of the Green Revolution Norman Borlaug, “You cannot create a peaceful world on empty stomachs,” ring true in the present times, when we are facing the mammoth task of feeding a growing population, expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050.

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Food security needs more from GM crops

Only a better understanding of fundamental plant processes can exploit the potential of GM technology to create higher yielding, more resilient food crops

Genetic modification of plants will be essential to avert future food shortages, conclude a group of agricultural scientists who have reviewed how biotechnology developments over the past 35 years have shaped the efficiency of crop production.

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APEC seeks boost to food security, sustainable agriculture growth

Viet Nam News CẦN THƠ – Việt Nam strongly support promoting co-operation in water management for sustainable agricultural development among APEC members, a senior Vietnamese official told the first APEC Water Resources Authorities Meeting for Food Security that opened in Cần Thơ yesterday. Read more

All in the name of food security

PRESIDENTIAL Proclamation 1414, signed in 2007, stipulates “the policy of government to promote safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology and its products as one of the several means to achieve and sustain food security, equitable access to health and services, sustainable and safe environment and industry development.”

Biotechnology, coined by Hungarian agricultural economist Karl Erchy by combining the two words, “bio [from biology]” and technology, is considered as a possible solution to the impending wave of hunger the world will be facing in the future.

Referring to that brance of science, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug commented: “I [can] now say that the world has the technology—either available or well-advance in the research pipeline—to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology.”

The tools used in biotechnology include gene cloning, tissue culture, microbial culture, DNA-marker technology and genetic engineering. The latter is the most controversial as, it is the method used in developing genetically modified organisms.

To a nonscientist, biotechnology is too hard to understand. But for an American scientist like Frank A. Shotkoski, it is as easy as eating fried chicken or drinking lemon juice. Ask him anything about it, and he will not deviate from the subject.

Currently, he maintains an adjunct professor position at Cornell University in the College of Life Science Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics. He originally joined the university in 2005 as Director of Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII), where he directed several biotechnology commercialization projects in South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa. The program ended in November 2016, but he is still working pro bono on the projects in Indonesia and Bangladesh.

Biotech as boon

“I see biotechnology as an important component of the many technologies and choices that we have available to provide food security, human nutrition and health for an ever-expanding population,” Shotkoski said in an exclusive interview. “This is especially important for agriculture, where farmers are faced with many biotic and abiotic constraints, most of which can’t be dealt with using conventional technologies.”

The man knows what he is talking about. He has worked in both agricultural and medical technology and biotechnology all of his professional career. He has witnessed and experienced the benefits of biotechnology firsthand and understood well the potential future benefits to mankind that will come from this technology.

What makes Shotkoski a credible source of information when it comes to biotechnology is that he has been directly involved in the development and commercialization of two important products of genetic engineering.

It was in Bogor, Indonesia, where we had the pleasure of meeting Shotkoski. He was one of the invited speakers for the biotechnology workshop for Asian journalists. It was there we learned he had been to the Philippines several times already. In fact, he is happily married to a Filipina, Anna Marie Jensen (more popularly known as Francine Prieto).

It was in 2005 that he first came to the Philippines. As the newly appointed director of ABSPII, he visited the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB). “I spent most of my time in Los Baños working with our research team on the bacillus thuringiensis talong, ringspot virus-resistant papaya and multivirus-resistant tomato projects. I was very impressed with the professionalism of the staff and students regarding their work and dedication to the project. [And also] by their willingness to enjoy an active social life,” he recalled.

Loving the Philippines

Shotkoski finds Filipinos as his kind of people: They work hard, he said, “And they play hard!”

Aside from the people, what made him attracted to the Philippines is the natural beauty of the country. “The fantastic beaches, ocean adventures, cultural uniqueness, affordability and interesting food,” he said.

Now, going back to biotechnology. According to him, he became interested in science and technology at a quite young age. “I still remember as far back as kindergarten, our teacher showed the class a drawing of a crop duster plane spraying a crop field with insecticide,” he recalled. “The next page had a drawing of an ominous-looking grasshopper [which was] even larger than the plane from the previous drawing. The teacher went on to explain to us that because of the indiscriminate use of pesticides, we were creating superbugs that could survive the pesticide applications.”

“In my mind, I envisioned those large mutant grasshoppers knocking the crop duster planes out of the air and killing the pilots. I decided then that something had to be done about the bad situation, and it stuck with me until now. Of course, I later learned more about pesticide toxicology and the development of resistance,” he related.

The young Shotkoski grew up on a working farm in Nebraska, where people grew corn, alfalfa, sorghum and other row crops. “I was well aware of the production constraints associated with insect pests, diseases and weeds, as well as the extreme labor and intensive work involved in controlling and managing these problems,” he said. “I was convinced that there had to be an easier way to make a living on the farm.”

-Written by Henrylito D. Tacio in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Will Biotechnology Regulations Squelch Food and Farming Innovation?

INTRODUCTION:

Genetically engineered crops and animals (GMOs) have been a controversial public issue since the first products were introduced in the 1990s. They have posed unique challenges for governments to regulate. Although most working scientists in the field hold the opinion that genetic engineering, for the most part, is part of a continuum of the human manipulation of our food supply that’s gone on for thousands of years, critics contend differently.

Many crop biotechnology skeptics frame their concerns in quasi-religious terms, as a violation of “nature” or fears that the increased use of GE foods will lead to a ‘corporate takeover’ of our seed and food systems, and the adoption of an ecologically destructive ‘industrialized’ agriculture system. GMOs have become a symbol of the battle over what our global, regional and local food systems should look like going forward.

The clout of the food movement that vocally rejects many aspects of conventional farming has exponentially increased since then, promoted by mainstream journalists, scientists and non-profit groups from Michael Pollan to Consumers Union to the Environmental Working Group. Organic leaders and lobbyists, such as Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Organics and Just Label It, openly demonize conventional food and farming in defiance of their commitments agreed to in the 1990s that organic food would not be promoted at the expense of conventional agriculture. Attempts to reign in the unchecked influence of the conventional food critics have repeatedly failed; over much of the past decade, they’ve had a sympathetic ear in Washington. Partly in response to the prevailing winds, the USDA has evolved increasingly byzantine regulatory structures when it comes to new GE products.

The Genetic Literacy Project 10-part series Beyond the Science II (Beyond the Science I can be viewed here) commences with this introductory article. Leading scientists, journalists and social scientists explore the ramifications of genetic engineering and so-called new breeding technologies (NBTs), specifically gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR. We will post two articles each week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, over the next 5 weeks.

Regulation is at the heart of this ongoing debate. Many scientists and entrepreneurs have come to view the two key agencies regulating GE in the United States — the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture — as places where ‘innovation goes to die.’ That’s an exaggeration, but not without some truth; regulations are inherently political, and the winds have been blowing against technological breakthroughs in agriculture for much of the last decade. On average, it takes upwards of $125 million and 7-10 years for the Agriculture Department to approve a trait, exhausting almost half of a new products 20-year patent protection. No wonder the agricultural sector is consolidating, and most new products are innovated by larger corporations.

The regulatory climate may be changing, perhaps radically, in the United States and possibly in the United Kingdom, as the result of recent elections.

Many of the old rules and regulations regulating GE crops were set up in the 1980s and early 1990s. They are arguably creaky, overly-restrictive and do not account for dramatic increases in our understanding of how genetic engineering works and the now clear consensus on their safety.

Now with NBTs, which are largely unregulated since the techniques were not foreseen 30 years ago when regulations were first formulated, agricultural genetic research is at an inflection point: Will governments make the same mistake that they did previously and regulate innovation almost out of existence, or will they incorporate reasonable risk-risk and risk-benefit calculations in evaluating which technological advances should proceed with limited regulations?

Decisions on these issues will shape not only food and farming in Europe, North America and the industrialized nations, but the food insecure developing world, which looks to the West for regulatory guidance.

Gene Editing and Animals

The second article in our series, by University of California animal geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam, addresses the challenges of regulating genetically engineered animals. She focuses on dehorned cows, which have been developed without gene editing over many years with, at times, less than optimal results. Should gene editing be evaluated on a case-by-case basis triggered by the novelty of the traits, or should the entire process be heavily regulated — the general approach favored by the European Union in regulating more conventional genetic engineering?

Pesticide Debate: How Should Agricultural Chemicals Be Regulated to Encourage Sustainability?

Dave Walton, an Iowa farmer, discusses the brouhaha that has erupted in recent years over the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed killer originally developed under patent by Monsanto. Many GMO critics are now expressing concerns over pesticide use in conventional agriculture, using glyphosate as a proxy for attacking the technology. Are their concerns appropriate? Walton, who grows both GE and non-GE crops and is director of the Iowa Soybean Association, has used glyphosate on his farm since the introduction of herbicide resistant crops in 1996. He uses on average a soda-sized cup of glyphosate per acre, and the use of the herbicide has allowed him to switch from more toxic chemicals. Most strikingly he discusses the sustainability impact if a glyphosate ban is imposed, as many activists are calling for.

Plant pathologist Steve Savage challenges us to think in a more nuanced way about a popular belief that organic farming is ecologically superior to conventional agriculture. The Agricultural Department has been a fractious mess in recent years in its efforts to oversee and encourage new breeding technologies. When the Clinton administration oversaw the founding of the National Organics Standards Board in 1995, USDA officials extracted the commitment from organic industry that the alternative farming system would not be promoted at the expense of conventional agriculture. After all, study after study, then and now, has established that organic farming offers no safety nor clear ecological benefits.

“Let me be clear about one thing,” said former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman in December 2000. “The organic label is not a statement about food safety, nor is ‘organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality.”

But that’s not what’s happened.

Regulations and the ‘NGO Problem’ in Africa and Asia

While GE crops were pioneered in the United States and embraced in other western coun- tries outside of Europe, there has been resistance in regions of the world where these innovations could arguably bring the most impact: Africa and poorer sections of Asia. Ma- haletchumy Arujanan, executive director of Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre and editor-in-chief of The Petri Dish, the first science newspaper in Malaysia, takes on the emerging Asian food security crisis posed by a parallel rise in population and living (and food consumption) standards. She reviews the successes and failures in various countries, and the effective campaigns by anti-GMO NGOs, mostly European funded, to block further biotech innovation.

Margaret Karembu, director of International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications, Africa regional office (ISSSA) AfriCenter based in Nairobi, has found a similar pattern of mostly European-funded NGOs attempting to sabotage research and spread misinformation about the basic science of crop biotechnology. Africa is the ultimate ‘organic experiment’, and farmers have failed miserably using family agro-ecology techniques for decades. Cracks are beginning to form in the anti-GMO wall erected across the continent and there are hopes that young people will be attracted to farming, lured by the introduction of GE crops and other innovations.

Public Opinion and GMOs

Brandon McFadden, assistant professor in the Food and Resource Economics Department, University of Florida, addresses the complex views of consumers regarding innovation and GE foods. The public has a widely distorted perception of what genetic engineering entails, which helps explain why consumers remain so skeptical about technological innovation in farming.

Julie Kelly, a contributing writer to numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal, National Review and the GLP, takes on Hollywood in her analysis of the celebrity embrace of the anti-GMO movement. Who are the ‘movers and shakers’ manipulating public opinion in favor of the organic movement and against conventional agriculture? Is the celebrity-backed science misinformation campaign working?

Future of GM Research and How the Public Debate May Evolve

Paul Vincelli, extension professor and Provost’s Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Kentucky, has been perturbed about the attack on independent university researchers for working with the biotechnology industry over the years. By law, land grant university scientists are required to work with all stakeholders, particularly corporations who are developing the products used by farmers, including organic farmers. No, scientists who partner with corporations in research and product development are not ‘shills’. He rejects the knee jerk belief, advanced by many activist critics of GE crops, that corporate funding necessarily corrupts science and should be banned.

Finally, risk expert David Ropeik has an optimistic take on the future. He believes 2016 may have been a turning point in the debate over GE foods. Technology rejectionists, from Greenpeace to labeling activists, are sounding increasingly shrill and less scientific. Gene editing, he believes, could undercut claims that GE foods are unsafe because they are unnatural. He is convinced, perhaps optimistically, that GE opponents will soon be viewed as ‘science denialists.’

We will see.

Anti-GMO critics cite opinion polls and the votes of anti-GMO legislators in Europe and elsewhere as ‘proof’ that genetic engineering should be curtailed and more heavily regulated. That’s a rickety platform if one believes in science, however; science is not a popularity contest.

The Genetic Literacy Project is a 501(c)(3) non profit dedicated to helping the public, journalists, policy makers and scientists better communicate the advances and ethical and technological challenges ushered in by the biotechnology and genetics revolution, addressing both human genetics and food and farming. We are one of two websites overseen by the Science Literacy Project; our sister site, the Epigenetics Literacy Project, addresses the challenges surrounding emerging data-rich technologies. Jon Entine is the founder of the Science Literacy Project.

-Published in The Genetic Literary Project and written by Jon Entine, Executive Director, Genetic Literacy Project.  See original article link here.

Biotechnology solution to food insecurity

Prof. Benjamin Ubi, the President, Biotechnology Society of Nigeria (BSN), has identified food insecurity as an underlining cause of some of the greatest challenges in the country.

Ubi, who said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday in Abuja, added that biotechnology would ensure adequate food security in the country.

“We recognise that food security is paramount and biotechnology, the green alternative policy of the government, will achieve its goal of ending hunger, ensuring food security and promoting sustainable agriculture.

“This will also provide a form of economic diversification as it will bring with it a new set of skill requirements and expand job opportunities.

“The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reinforce this with Goal 2 which seeks to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture since 75 per cent of crop diversity has been lost from farmer’s field,’’ Ubi said.

He also said that better use of agricultural biodiversity could contribute to more nutritious diets, enhanced livelihoods for farming communities and more resilient and sustainable farming system.

“The effects of climate change have had a devastating effect on food security, food availability, food accessibility, food utilization and food systems stability.

“And for Nigeria to be food sufficient, we must look to scale, underscoring the need for modern and climate smart agricultural practices.

“We must look to increase investment, including through international cooperation, rural infrastructure, agricultural research and extension services, technology development as well as plant and livestock gene banks in order to enhance agricultural productivity capacity.’’

Ubi said that the practice of safe modern biotechnology should be encouraged to ensure zero hunger by welcoming technology that would provide safe and adequate food for Nigerians.

He, therefore, implored stakeholders to put more efforts in developing the country’s local resources to meet agriculture demands both at local and international trade platforms.

-Published in The Guardian.  See original article link here.

PHL tackles food security through UK’s Newton Fund

Rice researchers, scientists and funding partners from the Philippines and the United Kingdom, along with those from China, Thailand and Vietnam, converged early this month at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Los Baños, to collaborate and share issues in sustainable rice production.

Thirteen projects funded through the Newton Fund UK-Philippines-China-Thailand-Vietnam Sustainable Rice Programme presented the current outputs of their research which address real-world problems as varied as lowering the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases for rice consumers, to increasing rice plant drought tolerance.

The three-year research projects began in 2016 and will continue until 2019. The Newton Fund Sustainable Rice Programme showcases an innovative mix of regional and country approaches that aim to help solve core challenges in global food security.

About 60 researchers, joined by representatives from the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and each of the country’s funding partners came together to explore ways to collaborate further, including sharing resources, lessons learned and data that can add value to their current projects and strengthen links with their counterparts from participating countries.

Deputy Ambassador to the Philippines Nigel Boud, in his welcome remarks to the delegates, said: “This is the first regional research program that we are running under the Newton Fund and it brings together countries to collaborate on work that is so important, like the sustainable production of rice. It demonstrates the kind of work that we want to be doing in the Newton Programme in the years ahead.”

Together with Dr. Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general of IRRI, the delegates noted the significance of rice research to the country and the region, noting the importance of rice and the regional collaboration being achieved through the projects.

Of the 13 projects, four involve scientists from the Department of Agriculture (DA)-Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice). Two projects are working on improving the nutritional quality of rice and the other two focus on creating greater resilience of the rice plant to diseases and environmental stresses due to climate change.

One PhilRice researcher involved in the projects, Dr. Riza G. Abilgos-Ramos, said: “Our work will help to provide part of the solution in preventing type 2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular diseases, by increasing dietary fiber and enhancing rice-grain properties that would help to manage or prevent spikes in blood sugar increase after meals.

“The Newton Fund gives us the chance to do this with experts from different countries and allow us to expand our network in the UK and Southeast Asia.” Ramos is a supervising science research specialist in the Rice Chemistry and Food Science Division of PhilRice. The IRRI visit was highlighted by a tour of the research facilities, group presentations, poster-sharing sessions and clinic sessions.

Representatives from partners DA-PhilRice, Department of Science and Technology (DOST)-Philippine Council for Agriculture Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Chinese Academy of Science, and Thailand National Science and Technology Development Agency were among the delegates.

The Newton Fund builds scientific and innovation partnerships with 16 partner-countries to support their economic development and social welfare, and to develop their research and innovation capacity for long-term sustainable growth. It has a total UK government investment of £735 million up until 2021, with matched resources from the partner countries.

In the Philippines the program is known as the Newton Agham (Science) Programme to reflect the collaboration between the UK and the Philippines in science, research and innovation.

The UK delivery partners and the UK government, through its embassy, works with Philippine science and innovation institutions and funders, such as the DOST and the Commission on Higher Education, to codevelop and implement program that strengthen science and innovation capacity and create solutions to development challenges in the Philippines and in the region.

– Published in BusinessMirror.  See original 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.

Contribution of biotech crops to food security, sustainability, and climate change

Contribution of biotech crops to food security, sustainability, and climate change

From 1996 to 2014, biotech crops contributed to Food Security, Sustainability and the Environment/Climate Change by: increasing crop production valued at US$150 billion; providing a better environment, by saving 584 million kg a.i. of pesticides; in 2014 alone, reducing CO2 emissions by 27 billion kg, equivalent to taking 12 million cars off the road for one year; conserving biodiversity by saving 152 million hectares of land from 1996-2014; and helped alleviate poverty for ~16.5 million small farmers and their families totaling ~65 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world. Biotech crops are essential but are not a panacea – adherence to good farming practices such as rotations and resistance management, are a must for biotech crops as they are for conventional crops.

biotechcrops_foodsecurity

Source: ISAAA Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology (http://isaaa.org/kc)

Monsanto, UP group promote sustainable agriculture

Monsanto Philippines, together with the University of the Philippines League of Agricultural Biotechnology Students (UP-LABS), recently led a student outreach activity in Muntinlupa City to broaden young people’s awareness on the role of modern agriculture in feeding the country’s growing population.

UP-LABS members performed an on-stage adaptation of the published children’s book Lina’s Town Rises Again, inspired by the tale of triumph of a lady corn farmer in Sultan Kudarat.

Almost 50 grade school students and teachers from the Alabang Elementary School watched the live performance at the Bulwagang Haribon, Insular Life Corporate Centre in Muntinlupa City.

Monsanto Corporate Engagement Lead Charina Garrido-Ocampo shared that the activity was meant to help young students gain a basic understanding of the food value chain, the different challenges to food sufficiency, and the role of modern science in keeping up to the growing demand for food.

She also highlighted the importance of engaging the next generation for the future of agriculture. “Today’s youth plays a critical role in contributing creative ideas and actions to address real-world issues such as food security. Monsanto’s collaboration with UP-LABS demonstrates our efforts to work with different stakeholder, including the young, to promote sustainable agriculture,” Ocampo said.

Meanwhile, UP-LABS President Jakov Abellido hopes that the activity will be able to correct the stereotypes surrounding agriculture as a low-income and “uncool” profession, and in turn, attract them to take agricultural science.

“Currently, the image of agriculture among the younger population remains ‘uncool’. Rapid urbanization and rural-urban migration continue to become major factors causing the disinterest in agriculture among young people. Because of this declining interest, reaching out and educating them is a key step in ensuring our youth’s continued involvement in the farming sector,” Abellido said.

Monsanto is committed to expanding the discussion on the importance of sustainable agriculture in schools and colleges across the country. Since 2012, Monsanto has already reached out to more than 10,000 students in Quezon City, Iloilo, Davao, General Santos and Cagayan through their activities geared towards making young minds interested in agriculture.

-Published in The Standard.  See article link here.