Optimism high as Uganda’s biotech bill gets a “second chance”

Some Ugandan officials are optimistic that the nation’s biotechnology biosafety bill will soon pass, saying that President Museveni’s concerns have been addressed.“The president expressed concern on seven out of 44 clauses in the biosafety bill,” noted Kafeero Sekitoleko, chairman of Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee. “These have since been addressed and we’re ready to report back (to Parliament). I want to leave Uganda with a biosafety law by end of my term in May (2018).”

After years of wrangling, Parliament passed the bill in October 2017. But President Museveni referred it to back to lawmakers in December, citing various concerns.

Other officials also sought to allay fears that the country may never have a biosafety law.

“The president’s issues with the biosafety bill have been addressed. So the bill will pass,” reiterated Christopher Kibazanga, state Minister for Agriculture.

His and other supportive voices were heard at the 3rd Biennial National Agricultural Biosciences Conference (NABIO) 2018, where Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, speaking at the official opening, assured guests that the Science and Technology Committee’s report on the bill would be tabled for debate before Parliament breaks off for the Easter holiday.

The announcement prompted jubilation from an evidently excited audience. Uganda’s pro-biotech community is now in a “fingers-crossed” mood as it eagerly awaits results from yesterday’s tabling of the report.

The two-day NABIO conference — organized by the Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (SCIFODE), in cooperation with local and global partners in biotech and biosafety — attracted national and international scientists, policy makers, journalists, politicians, farmers and university students.

The biennial event provides a platform for dialogue among bioscience stakeholders to chart out the most strategic way to harness bioscience for national and regional economic transformation.

Almost naturally, Uganda’s biosafety law took center stage as different scientists shared updates on bioscience research and regulatory progress in different countries. The local audience, particularly farmers, expressed frustration about the protracted process of passing Uganda’s law.

“Last season alone, I lost seven acres to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD),” lamented Sarah Nabirye Kiirya, a farmer from Kinyomozi village in the Kiryandongo district in Western Uganda. “Please fast track the enactment of the biosafety law so farmers like me can access virus resistant GM cassava.”

Losses due to CBSD are estimated at $24.2 million annually.She and many other farmers also are recovering from a long drought and a fall armyworm (FAW) invasion that devastated crops countrywide in 2017.

In a bid to restore farmers’ yields, scientists at the National Agricultural Research Organization have since 2007 used genetic engineering to address viral diseases in cassava, bacterial wilt in bananas, drought and pest challenges in maize, nitrogen and water use efficiency in rice, and late blight disease in potatoes.

While Uganda has the highest number of genetically modified (GM) crops under field testing in Africa, efforts to get such products of modern agricultural technology into farmers’ fields have so far been stifled by the absence of an enabling national policy.

“It is very pernicious when everyone, especially non-scientists, claim scientific authority,” argued Amos Mandela, a Ugandan parliamentarian. He was addressing widespread misinformation circulated by anti-GMO and environmental groups, which has at least in part been responsible for the delayed passing of the biosafety law.

As the conference concluded, one overreaching sentiment remained: Is this it? Could this be the time when farmers like Sarah are finally given the opportunity to choose better performing GM crops? As it stands, they can only remain optimistic.

Written by Joshua Raymond Muhumuza in Cornell Alliance for Science. He is a research assistant with Uganda Biosciences Information Center. See original article link here.

NEMA to approve field trials for GM cotton in May

Planting of National Performance Trials (NPT) for Genetically Modified (GM) Cotton might start May once the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) gives approval.
Currently NEMA is awaiting feedback from the public which is supposed to be ready by end of April, after it issued a gazette notice for them to submit comments on an environmental impact assessment for the proposed NPT on the GM Cotton.
Speaking Thursday during an Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Nairobi, Chief Compliance Office at NEMA Margaret Njuki said they issued a gazette notice to the public to submit comments last month for the proposed NPTs at nine sites.
The nine sites proposed for the field test of GM cotton include Mwea, Katumani, Kampi ya Mawe, Bura, Perkerra, Kibos Alupe, Barwessa and Matuga.
Simon Gichuki from Kenya Agriculture and Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO), said the initial plan was to start the NPTs in April to target the long rains. However, due to the delay in approval, some areas including Kampi ya Mawe, Katumani and Matuga may miss out due to erratic weather condition.
Mr. Rajeev Arora, Advisor, Textile Value-chain for Kenya and Chair Bt. Cotton Taskforce at the Ministry of Industry Trade and Cooperatives, said before planting NPTs that had been proposed to commence in April 2018 will now be conducted in six sites due to the delay.
He added that the team appointedin 2017 together with the Agriculture, Food Authority (AFA) has developed a cotton revitalization roadmap with conventional hybrid seed initiative which will then be followed by Bt Cotton.
“A total of 20 counties have been mapped out as potential areas for revitalization of cotton production with a total of 200,000 hectares,” he said.
Arora noted that sensitization programs and activities are also ongoing with support from different development partners.
The impact of Cotton revitalization, Arora said is to increase cotton production from the current 5,500 tons to 50,000 tons in the next five years.
“The plan is to initially develop cotton using hybrids and conventional seeds and by 2019 to grow Bt cotton after its commercialization which will have three times production yield compared to present conventional varieties,” Arora said, adding that total production will be done in over 200,000 hectares land in the five years.

 

-Written by Wangari Ndirangu in Kenya News Agency. See original article link here.

GM crops that produce industrial products could be grown in Britain for first time

Crops which have been genetically modified so they produce industrial products could be grown in Britain for the first time after scientists applied for permission to the government to start field trials.

Rothamsted Research, which is based in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, wants to plant GM camelina with altered DNA so that it produces ‘wax esters’, a natural lubricant which can be used instead of petrochemicals to keep machinery running smoothly.

Until now the company has only planted GM crops which could be used for human consumption, such as camelina with extra Omega-3 fish oil to boost health, or wheat altered to produce higher yields.

But the company said it now planned to use camelina as a ‘chassis’ to make useful lipids, or fatty acids, which can provide alternatives for chemicals in a range of industrial applications.

However campaigners said the outdoor trials in Hertfordshire and Suffolk, represented an ‘unacceptable risk’ to ‘people, wildlife and the wider environment.’

Twenty-six organisations including farmers, scientists, retailers and environmentalists have lodged a formal objection to Defra, asking them to refuse permission for trial, warning that pollen or seeds could escape and lead to other plants growing wax esters, which are harmful to humans.

Liz O’Neill, director of umbrella group GM Freeze: “Rothamsted Research started off trying to persuade us that GM camelina would save the oceans but now they’re referring to it as a ‘chassis’ on which they will produce an array of industrial compounds.

“GM Freeze wants to help create a world in which everyone’s food is produced responsibly, fairly and sustainably. This trial would be a step in the opposite direction and should not go ahead.”

Rothamsted, which has been genetically altering plants for 15 years, submitted its application in February and objections can be lodged until April 8, with a final decision expected from Defra by the end of May.

The company said it hoped to begin planting this year, and complete their trial by 2020.

Professor Jonathan Napier who is leading the trial said: “We have synthesised the gene sequences involved in the production of omega-3s and other useful compounds, such as astaxanthin and wax esters, and optimised them to be functional in camelina plants.

“These synthetic sequences are based on the sequence of genes found in a range of different organisms, including photosynthetic marine organisms and other lower eukaryote species, such as mosses and oomycetes.

“By using transgenic camelina as a chassis to make these useful lipids, we have an alternative source for them.”

As well as the wax esters and Omega-3 alterations the plants will also be genetically altered to increase the thickness of their stems and improve photosynthesis, to boost crop yields.

Rothamsted said if the trials go ahead they would be closely monitored by Defra and its independent advisory committee and the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE).

There will also be regular inspections, carried out by the Genetic Modification Inspectorate, which is part of the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency.

But campaigners said there was a significant amount of information that is missing from the company’s application to Defra, including technical details of the genetic modifications themselves and any assessment of the potential impact on farms already growing non-GM camelina in the UK.

Rothamsted has also provided no details of what the wax ester lubricant could specifically be used for.

 -Written by Sarah Knapton in The Telegraph. See original article link here.

USDA will not regulate CRISPR-edited crops

 The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will not regulate plants that have been modified through genome editing, according to statement released last week (March 28) by the agency.

In the announcement, the USDA states that it won’t oversee the use of genetically altered plants, as long as they could have also been developed through traditional breeding methods, such as cross-breeding or selecting for desirable properties. The agency adds that genome editing allows breeders to introduce new traits more precisely, and at a faster rate.“With this approach, USDA seeks to allow innovation when there is no risk present,” US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue says in the statement. “Plant breeding innovation holds enormous promise for helping protect crops against drought and diseases while increasing nutritional value and eliminating allergens.”

MIT Technology Review notes that transgenic crops—plants that contain artificially inserted genes from other species—will still be regulated.

This announcement comes as good news to biotech companies using CRISPR to modify plants. According to Wired, this move will “[shave] years and tens of millions of dollars off the cost of developing a designer plant.”

“Having this consistent position enables smaller companies and academic labs to form this ecosystem of innovation to bring options to consumers,” Federico Tripodi, CEO of Calyxt, a Minnesota-based biotech that has already developed soybeans that produce oil low in trans fats that can be cooked at high heat, tells Wired.

Whether gene-edited plants require special labeling is still unclear. “Bioengineered foods are defined by containing genetic material that could not otherwise have been conventionally bred or obtained in nature,” Deepti Kulkarni, a former member of the FDA’s Office of Chief Counsel who currently works at Sidley Austin, a corporate law firm in the U.S., tells Wired. “If USDA is construing the language this way, there is some suggestive signaling that these products might not be subject to disclosure.”

-Written by Diana Kwon in The Scientist. See original article link here.

Pakistan: New breeding technologies successful to grow salt resistant crops

ISLAMABAD, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News – 15th Mar, 2018 ): Prof Mark Tester, a world renowned authority on Food security on Thursday said new technologies of breeding crops would be helpful to convert any crop become salt resistant to control scarcity of food globally. Read more

High adoption of biotech crops recorded in 2016

In 2016, the global area of biotech crops reached 185.1 million hectares, according to a research paper authored by Drs. Rhodora Aldemita and Randy Hautea of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). The results of their study are published on February 2, 2018 in GM Crops and Food. Read more

Who’s afraid of genetically modified chickens?

DEALING with controversies can be stressful and migraine inducing. Still, I welcome heated discussions over certain topics if only because it will give light and popularize what was once obscure but nonetheless important issues. Take for instance the recent decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to revoke the incorporation papers of online media site Rappler. Overnight, my social-media feeds are filled by posts of corporate law experts talking about Philippine Depositary Receipts and media ownership. Each posts will generate responses—and not just from lawyers or law students—either criticizing, defending or clarifying the SEC’s decision. Read more

GMO crops could help stem famine and future global conflicts

When most of us think about the threats posed by climate change, events like floods, droughts, intense storms and hotter temperatures come to mind.  These are all, according to the vast majority of scientists, exactly what we can expect to see more and more of.  However, what is often overlooked are the sociopolitical consequences of these climatic changes.  In other words, we tend to view these natural disasters in a vacuum without recognizing the myriad ways in which climate change is both directly and indirectly shaping economies, cultures and governments. Read more

SLAC says gov’t should go slow on genetically modified products

While the country takes baby steps towards the development of genetically modified food (GMO) products, there’s one company that isn’t happy about it and another group even fears it could only be a temporary solution to the country’s problems in terms of food security.

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Addressing GMOs’ promise, problems

The debate over the promise and problems of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) has continued to rage.

GMO has become a controversial topic as its benefits for both food producers and consumers are companied by potential biomedical risks and environmental side effects. Increasing concerns from the public about GMO, particularly in the form of genetic modified (GM) foods, are aimed at the short- and long-lasting health problems that may result from this advanced biotechnology. Complex studies are being carried out around the world independently to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of GM foods.

The debates over GM foods focus mostly on uncertainties concerning the potential adverse effects of GM foods on human health and environmental safety. The anxiety among consumers can be attributed to four sources: the difficulty of the scientific community in explaining concisely to the lay public the biological techniques involved; concerns about the improper dissemination of GM foods; and the ethical principles inherent in traditional food processing; the misgivings with regards to the adequacy of evaluation of the GM foods.

Three major health risks potentially associated with GM foods are: toxicity, allergenicity and genetic hazards. These arise from three potential sources, the inserted gene and their expressed proteins per se, secondary or pleiotropic effects of the products of gene expression, and the possible disruption of natural genes in the manipulated organism.

For one thing, the unequivocal declaration that all GM crops are safe flies in the face of the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) assertion that “it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.” As the WHO noted, because “different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways” it is necessary to assess them “on a case-by-case basis.”

To domesticate and address the concerns about the safety of GMOs, the Federal Government has established the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST) and the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).

The NBMA was established by the National Biosafety Management Agency Act 2015, to provide regulatory framework to adequately safe guard human health and the environment from potential adverse effects of modern biotechnology and genetically modified organisms, while harnessing the potentials of modern biotechnology and its derivatives, for the benefit of Nigerians.

Assistant Director/Country Coordinator, Open Forum on Agriculture Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) Nigeria Chapter, Dr. Rose Maxwell Gidado, told The Guardian unequivocally: “The WHO has given the final verdict that ‘no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of GM foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.’”

Gidado during a courtesy visit to The Guardian, in company of the Regional Director, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) Abuja, West Africa, Dr. Abdou Rhamane Issoufou Kollo, concluded: “Any quest to prove beyond doubt that GMOs are safe will run into the same roadblock, as nothing can be proven 100 per cent safe. More than 2,000 studies and 20 plus years of consumption by humans and animals have produced no evidence that GMOs represent an unusual health risk. Every major health and regulatory body in the world agrees. Critics are left holding out the argument that there is unknown threats lurking in the shadows of our future.”

AATF is a not-for-profit organisation that facilitates and promotes public/private partnerships for the access and delivery of appropriate agricultural technologies for sustainable use by smallholder farmers in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) through innovative partnerships and effective stewardship along the entire value chain.

Kollo told The Guardian: “In Africa, resistance to GMO crops is strong. Organized groups supported by Europeans’ Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) mostly cause it. These groups appear very dynamic. Excited by two recent contradictory events about GM crops in West Africa – the decision of the Government of Burkina Faso to stop growing Bt-cotton; and the decision of the Nigerian Government to authorize its cropping- the Anti-GMO proponents became hyperactive; they have been organizing concerts, radio talk shows, workshops and conferences. Their methods consist of creating confusion about GMOs and scaring the uninformed public of the supposed dangers of GM crops. Thus, mineral fertilizers, pesticides, hybrids and GMOs are often lumped together. It is appears that some of the anti-GMO proponents are organic farming crusaders who want to impose their views on the society.”

Gidado and Kollo urged the media to help in educating the public of the benefits of biotechnology to the country and Africa.

Gidado said the agency’s mandate is to ensure adequate level of protection in the field of safe transfer, handling and use of GMOs resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on conservation. She said that there is going to be direct and indirect employment and production of high quality materials for industries regarding the emergence of NBDA in the country.

Gidado said that modern biotechnology as a term adopted by international convention to refer to biotechnological techniques for the manipulation of genetic material and the fusion of cells beyond normal breeding barriers.

“Biotechnology will ensure sustainable use of biodiversity, taking into account risks to human health, animals, plants and environment.”

However, there has indeed been evidence of GMOs link to ill effects, and many studies published in peer-reviewed journals have detected ill effects to the animals that consumed a GM crop. For instance, a systematic review of the toxicological studies on GM foods that was published in 2009 concluded that the results of “most” of them indicate that the products “may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive effects and may alter hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters the significance of which remains unknown.” It also noted that further studies were clearly needed. Another review that encompassed the additional studies that had been published up until August 2010 also provided cause for caution. It concluded that there was “equilibrium” between the research groups “suggesting” that GM crops are as safe as their non-GM counterparts and “those raising still serious concerns.”

Between 2008 and 2014 there have been eight such reviews published in standard journals, and as a whole, they provide no grounds for unequivocally proclaiming safety. As Sheldon Krimsky, a professor at Tufts University, United States (U.S.), observed in a comprehensive examination that was also published in a peer-reviewed journal: “One cannot read these systematic reviews and conclude that the science on health effects of GMOs has been resolved within the scientific community.”

But Gidado said: “In the three decades since the introduction of GMO crops, there have been more than 2,000 studies evaluating health and environmental aspects of genetically engineered products. The vast majority of studies have found nothing to indicate that GM foods represent a health threat. The consensus among scientists is that gene altered crops offer no more risk than those developed through conventional breeding techniques.

“More than 275 independent science organizations from around the world have concluded that foods grown from genetically engineered seeds pose no unique health concerns.”

She said more 110 Nobel laureates issued a joint communique in June 2012, stating: “Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production.”

According to Gidado, after a two-year evaluation, in the most comprehensive evaluation of GM crops ever undertaken, the US National Academy of Sciences concluded that genetically engineered crops have not caused increases in cancer, obesity, gastrointestinal illnesses, kidney disease, autism or allergies: there are “no differences that would implicate a higher risk to human health from eating GE foods than from eating their non-GE counterparts.”

Gidado and Kollo dismissed a long-term study that yielded disturbing results. In it, a team of university researchers led by Gilles-Eric Séralini demonstrated that a GM crop approved by regulators based on a medium-term, 90-day toxicological feeding study caused significant damage to the rats’ livers and kidneys when tested over the long-term (two years).

Those results cast doubt on the entire GM food venture because no regulators require tests greater than 90 days, and several GM crops have entered the market without any toxicological testing at all.

So when the study was published in a respected journal in 2012, proponents of GM crops bitterly denounced it and demanded its retraction. But because it was a solid toxicological study, they could not attack it on that ground. So they focused on the part of the study that reported an increased rate of tumour development in the GM-fed rats, and they argued that too few animals had been used to meet the standards for a carcinogenicity study.

However, they disregarded several crucial facts:
(1) The research was not designed to meet the standards of a carcinogenicity study.
(2) It did fulfill the standards for a toxicological study.
(3) The troubling toxicological results were reliable.
(4) Tumours are supposed to be reported when detected during a toxicological study.

Nonetheless, despite the weakness of their claims, they continued to pressure the journal until, more than a year after publication — and after the addition of a former Monsanto employee to the editorial board — the study was finally retracted. But not only did the chief editor acknowledge the adequacy of the toxicological findings, the lone reason he proffered for rejecting the tumour-related findings was that they were “inconclusive,” which is not a valid reason for retraction. Furthermore, according to standard guidelines, even if there had been good grounds for retracting that part of the study, the remainder should not have been withdrawn along with it.

-Written by Chukwuma Muanya, Assistant Editor, in The Guardian.  See original article link here.

OPINION: Must we fear GMOs or start listening to science?

AS we are bombarded by scare tactics against plants with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn and Bt eggplant, we do not realize that almost everything we eat, many of the medicines we take, the cotton-based apparel we wear, the detergents we use in washing clothes and many of the beverages and processed canned goods we take are already genetically modified (GM).

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Biotech crops reduce use of pesticides–experts

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that up to 35 percent of the losses in the annual crop production worldwide are due to pests—insects, weeds, plant diseases, rodents and birds.  Of the estimated 1 million insects in the world, between 150 and  200 species frequently cause serious damage to crops.

When losses due to pests are combined with postharvest losses, worldwide food losses would amount to 45 percent. “This is almost one half of the world’s potential food supply,” the FAO pointed out. Read more

Uganda Parliament Passes Bill To Promote Use Of Genetically Modified Materials, Biotech

KAMPALA, Uganda — Several genetically modified crops that are more resilient to drought, flooding, saline or acid soils and temperature extremes resulting from climate change are already being researched in Uganda and are in advanced stages. The enactment of an enabling law, the Uganda National Biosafety Bill 2017, is intended to enhance the development of modern biotechnology.

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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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