Archive for February, 2013



ISAAA Brief 44-2012: Executive Summary. Global Status of Commercialised GM Crops: 2012

A record 170.3 million hectares of GM crops were grown globally in 2012, at an annual growth rate of six per cent, up 10.3 million from 160 million hectares in 2011.

Of the 28 countries which planted GM crops in 2012, 20 were developing and 8 were industrial countries. This compares with 19 developing and 10 industrial in 2011. Thus there are three times as many developing countries growing GM crops as there are industrial countries.

More than half the world’s population, 60 per cent or ~4 billion people, live in the 28 countries planting GM crops.

Two new countries, Sudan (Bt cotton) and Cuba (Bt maize) planted GM crops for the first time in 2012. Germany and Sweden could not plant the GM potato, Amflora because it ceased to be marketed; Poland discontinued planting Bt maize because of regulation inconsistencies in the interpretation of the law on planting approval between the EU and Poland; the EU maintains that all necessary approvals are already in place for planting whereas Poland does not. In 2012, Sudan became the fourth country in Africa, after South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt, to commercialize a GM crop – GM Bt cotton. A total of 20,000 hectares were planted in both rainfed areas and irrigated schemes. About 10,000 farmers were the initial beneficiaries who have an average of about 1-2.5 hectares of land. In a landmark event Cuba joined the group of countries planting GM crops in 2012. For the first time, farmers in Cuba grew 3,000 hectares of hybrid Bt maize in a “regulated commercialization” initiative in which farmers seek permission to grow GM maize commercially. The initiative is part of an ecologically sustainable pesticide-free program featuring GM maize hybrids and mycorrhizal additives. The Bt maize, with resistance to the major pest, fall armyworm, was developed by the Havana-based Institute for Genetic Engineering and GMnology (CIGB).

In 2012, a record 17.3 million farmers, up 0.6 million from 2011, grew GM crops – notably, over 90 per cent, or over 15 million, were small resource-poor farmers in developing countries.

For the first time, developing countries grew more, 52 per cent of global GM crops in 2012 than industrial countries at 48 per cent.

While 28 countries planted commercialized GM crops in 2012, an additional 31 countries totalling 59 have granted regulatory approvals for GM crops for import, food and feed use and for release into the environment since 1996. A total of 2,497 regulatory approvals involving 25 GM crops and 319 GM events have been issued by competent authorities in 59 countries, of which 1,129 are for food use (direct use or processing), 813 are for feed use (direct use or processing) and 555 are for planting or release into the environment. Of the 59 countries with regulatory approvals, USA has the most number of events approved (196), followed by Japan (182), Canada (131), Mexico (122), Australia (92), South Korea (86), New Zealand (81), European Union (67 including approvals that have expired or under renewal process), Philippines (64), Taiwan (52) and South Africa (49).

Global value of GM seed alone was ~US$15 billion in 2012. A 2011 study estimated that the cost of discovery, development and authorization of a new GM crop/trait is ~US$135 million. In 2012, the global market value of GM crops, estimated by Cropnosis, was US$14.84 billion, (up from US$13.35 billion in 2011); this represents 23 per cent of the US$64.62 billion global crop protection market in 2012, and 35 per cent of the ~US$34 billion commercial seed market. The estimated global farm-gate revenues of the harvested commercial “end product” (the GM grain and other harvested products) is more than ten times greater than the value of the GM seed alone.

Several new developing countries are expected to plant GM crops before 2015 led by Asia, and there is cautious optimism that Africa will be well-represented: the first GM based drought tolerant maize planned for release in North America in 2013 and in Africa by ~2017; the first stacked soybean tolerant to herbicide and insect resistant will be planted in Brazil in 2013; subject to regulatory approval, Golden Rice could be released in the Philippines in 2013/2014; drought tolerant sugarcane is a possible candidate in Indonesia, and GM maize in China with a potential of ~30 million hectares and for the future GM rice which has an enormous potential to benefit up to 1 billion poor people in rice households in Asia alone. GM crops, whilst not a panacea, have the potential to make a substantial contribution to the 2015 MDG goal of cutting poverty in half, by optimizing crop productivity, which can be expedited by public-private sector partnerships, such as the WEMA project, supported in poor developing countries by the new generation of philanthropic foundations, such as the Gates and Buffet foundations. Observers are cautiously optimistic about the future with more modest annual gains predicted because of the already high rate of adoption in all the principal crops in mature markets in both developing and industrial countries.


18 February 2013. Source: WA Farmers

The Western Australian Farmers Federation (Inc.) (WAFarmers) is calling for the continued use of Genetically Modified (GM) crops, as part of its 2013 Western Australian State Election Policy.

WAFarmers President, Dale Park, said WAFarmers’ Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) policy has, for a number of years, supported the technology through the appropriate use of GM crops governed by industry-agreed protocols relating to storage, transport and buffer zones.

“WAFarmers continues to work with the broader industry to ensure that ‘co-existence’ is more than a word which is constrained by a multitude of interpretations,” Mr Park said.

“The use of GM is still a very polarising topic, and unfortunately, this sometimes removes the opportunity for a debate around buffer zones, tolerance levels and market acceptance based on facts, reason and level-headed discussion.”

As the State’s farmers continue to adopt GM technology, WAFarmers has attempted to engage a range of parties to establish a broad dialogue on co-existence.

“Our discussions with other parties, regarding GM use, have drawn a range of responses, however few of them with enough discussion on this topic to reach a satisfactory solution to all parties.

“WAFarmers want a commitment for any State Government to allow the State’s farmers the choice on GM crops and continue to legislate for their use,” Mr Park concluded.



WAFarmers supports the lifting of the current State Government moratorium on the commercial release of GM canola.

WAFarmers supports future research and development into GM crops and pastures.

WAFarmers supports Australian and State Government tolerance levels of 0.9 per cent in crops and 0.5 per cent in seeds.

WAFarmers supports the OGTR and its charter to protect the health and safety of Australians and the Australian environment.

WAFarmers supports further development of protocols for the commercialisation of GM grains in the WA grains industry including intellectual property rights, contamination, segregation, licensing, protection of individual growers and legal liability issues.


Food science expert: Genetically modified crops are overregulated

17 February 2013, University of Illinois


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It has been almost 20 years since the first genetically modified foods showed up in produce aisles throughout the United States and the rest of the world, but controversy continues to surround the products and their regulation.

Bruce Chassy, a professor emeritus of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believes that after thousands of research studies and worldwide planting, “genetically modified foods pose no special risks to consumers or the environment” and are overregulated.

Chassy will elaborate on this conclusion at the 2013 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Feb. 17. During his talk, “Regulating the Safety of Foods and Feeds Derived From Genetically Modified Crops,” Chassy will share his view that the overregulation of GM crops actually hurts the environment, reduces global health and burdens the consumer.

Farmers have witnessed the advantages of GM crops firsthand through increases in their yields and profit, and decreases in their labor, energy consumption, pesticide use and greenhouse gas emissions, Chassy said.

Despite these benefits, various regulatory agencies require newly developed GM crops to be put to the test with rigorous safety evaluations that include molecular characterization, toxicological evaluation, allergenicity assessments, compositional analysis and feeding studies. This extensive testing takes five to 10 years and costs tens of millions of dollars, and Chassy argues that this process “wastes resources and diverts attention from real food safety issues.”

“With more than half of the world’s population now living in countries that have adopted GM crops, it might be appropriate to reduce the regulatory scrutiny of GM crops to a level that is commensurate with science-based risk assessment,” Chassy said.

During his talk, Chassy will chronicle the scientific tests used in pre-market safety assessments of GM foods and elaborate on the evidence from thousands of research studies and expansive GM plantings that he says show these crops do not present risks to consumers or the environment. The overregulation of GM foods is a response not to scientific evidence, Chassy said, but to a global campaign that disseminates misinformation and fear about these food sources.


3 January 2013, Oxford Farming Conference


I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.

As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

So I guess you’ll be wondering – what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.

When I first heard about Monsanto’s GM soya I knew exactly what I thought. Here was a big American corporation with a nasty track record, putting something new and experimental into our food without telling us. Mixing genes between species seemed to be about as unnatural as you can get – here was humankind acquiring too much technological power; something was bound to go horribly wrong. These genes would spread like some kind of living pollution. It was the stuff of nightmares.

These fears spread like wildfire, and within a few years GM was essentially banned in Europe, and our worries were exported by NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to Africa, India and the rest of Asia, where GM is still banned today. This was the most successful campaign I have ever been involved with.

This was also explicitly an anti-science movement. We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life. Hence the Frankenstein food tag – this absolutely was about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. What we didn’t realise at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it.

What really threw me were some of the comments underneath my final anti-GM Guardian article. In particular one critic said to me: so you’re opposed to GM on the basis that it is marketed by big corporations. Are you also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big auto companies?

So I did some reading. And I discovered that one by one my cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths.

I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

I’d assumed that Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.

I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.

But what about mixing genes between unrelated species? The fish and the tomato? Turns out viruses do that all the time, as do plants and insects and even us – it’s called gene flow.

And this is the challenge that faces us today: we are going to have to feed 9.5 billion hopefully much less poor people by 2050 on about the same land area as we use today, using limited fertiliser, water and pesticides and in the context of a rapidly-changing climate.

The full 51 minute presentation can be seen at:


Source: The Guardian

After 30 years, is a GM food breakthrough finally here?

Golden rice, a new strain that boosts vitamin A levels and reduces blindness in developing countries, is about to be sown in the Philippines – and is the new battleground crop.

Scientists say they have seen the future of genetically modified foods and have concluded that it is orange or, more precisely, golden. In a few months, golden rice – normal rice that has been genetically modified to provide vitamin A to counter blindness and other diseases in children in the developing world – will be given to farmers in the Philippines for planting in paddy fields.

Thirty years after scientists first revealed they had created the world’s first GM crop, hopes that their potential to ease global malnutrition problems may be realised at last. Bangladesh and Indonesia have indicated they are ready to accept golden rice in the wake of the Philippines’ decision, and other nations, including India, have also said that they are considering planting it.

“Vitamin A deficiency is deadly,” said Adrian Dubock, a member of the Golden Rice project. “It affects children’s immune systems and kills around two million every year in developing countries. It is also a major cause of blindness in the third world. Boosting levels of vitamin A in rice provides a simple, straightforward way to put that right.”

Recent tests have revealed that a substantial amount of vitamin A can be obtained by eating only 60g of cooked golden rice. “This has enormous potential,” said Dubock.

But scientists’ satisfaction over the Golden Rice project has been tempered by the fact that it has taken an extraordinarily long time for the GM crop to be approved. Golden rice was first developed in 1999, but its development and cultivation has been opposed vehemently by campaigners who have flatly refused to accept that it could deliver enough vitamin A, and who have also argued that the crop’s introduction in the developing world would make farmers increasingly dependent on western industry. The crop has become the cause célèbre of the anti-GM movement, which sees golden rice as a tool of global capitalism.

This view is rejected by the scientists involved. “We have developed this in conjunction with organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as a way of alleviating a real health problem in the developing world,” says Dubock. “No one is going to make money out of it. The companies involved in developing some of the technologies have waived their licences just to get this off the ground.”

This view is shared by Mark Lynas, an environmental campaigner and one of the founders of the anti-GM crop movement. He has publicly apologised for opposing the planting of GM crops in Britain. “The first generation of GM crops were suspect, I believed then, but the case for continued opposition to new generations – which provide life-saving vitamins for starving people – is no longer justifiable. You cannot call yourself a humanitarian and be opposed to GM crops today.”

Golden rice was created by Peter Beyer, professor for cell biology at Freiburg University in Germany, and Ingo Potrykus of the Institute of Plant Sciences in Switzerland, in the late 1990s. They inserted genes for a chemical known as beta-carotene into the DNA of normal rice. In this way they modified the rice genes so that the plants started to make beta-carotene, a rich orange-coloured pigment that is also a key precursor chemical used by the body to make vitamin A.

By 2000 the plant was ready for trials. However, it took another five years before test fields were grown, such was the resistance to the idea of introducing GM plants in many countries. These trials showed golden rice could stimulate vitamin A uptake but at a low level. New research was launched to create varieties that would provide enhanced amounts of the vitamins.

“All the time, opponents to golden rice insisted, year after year, that it would not be able to produce vitamin A in those who ate it,” said Beyer, golden rice’s co-creator. “For example, it was alleged by Greenpeace that people would have to eat several kilograms of the stuff to get any benefit.”

Two studies, both published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, demolished this claim. The first, in 2009, was based on a group of healthy adult volunteers in the US and showed that golden rice’s beta-carotene was easily taken up into the bloodstream. The second trial was carried out by American and Chinese researchers and published last year. It was carried out on Chinese children, aged between six and eight, and showed that a bowl of cooked golden rice, between 100g and 150g, could provide 60% of the recommended intake of vitamin A for young people. The study also revealed that golden rice is better than spinach at providing vitamin A.

“Given that normal rice has no vitamin A to speak of, that shows the importance of what has been achieved,” said Dubock.



An international team of researchers has succeeded in genetically modifying wheat seeds to prevent gluten production in subsequent plants. The researchers focused their work on an enzyme that activates the group of genes responsible for the production of gluten. Using genetic engineering techniques, they managed to suppress the enzyme by 85.6 percent which then reduced by 76.4 percent the production of gluten in wheat seeds.

The team, with researchers from China, Germany and the United States, says that flour made from the altered seeds appears to be suitable for making bread, and that the next level of their work will determine if these grains can be used in foods for people suffering from celiac disease.



KENNEWICK, Wash. — A University of Idaho researcher says he’s optimistic efforts to develop GM potatoes will resurface.

Joseph Guenthner, a UI professor in Moscow, Idaho, said he believes it’s possible the organic industry or environmental organizations may one day accept GM potatoes developed using traits from other potato plants.

Efforts to develop GM potatoes date back to the 1980s, Guenthner said. Efforts failed due to export market concerns or political pressure by groups like Greenpeace, he said.

“Four decades of scientific and economic activity and we don’t have a commercial GM product on the market now,” he said.

Simplot continues to be involved in developing genetically modified potatoes, Guenthner said.

“It’s not just Simplot who is working on GM potatoes,” Guenthner said. “There are people at universities and other agribusinesses who are developing products I think would be great for producers and consumers.”

He and a graduate student surveyed industry representatives for the company to determine the likelihood GM potatoes would find acceptance in the marketplace.

His study determined there was potentially more support for GM potatoes using traits from other potato plants than using traits from other species.

Farmers are most interested in traits that increase yields and water and nutrient efficiency, but consumers are interested in traits that improve nutrition and have cancer-fighting properties.

The study also found more potential acceptance if processors have strict guidelines for growing and handling GM potatoes. That includes fields and equipment designated for GM use only, planting and harvesting GM crops last and delivering potatoes directly to the buyer from the field to avoid mixing them with non-GM potatoes in storage.

Trucks carrying GM potatoes would be tarped to avoid potential potatoes falling off and mixing with non-GM potatoes.

Two other scenarios were also considered. In one, growers would make their own decisions on keeping GM and non-GM potatoes separate. The third scenario had elements of both of the others.

Guentner noted that the stricter scenarios held a potential for a range of less than 1 percent to 2 percent contamination. His goal is for less than 2 percent contamination. Most foreign markets are tolerant of up to 5 percent contamination.

U.S certified organic programs have a tolerance of roughly 5 percent contamination.

In a related story:


On Tuesday, BASF the German chemical company, said that it has given up seeking approval for GM potatoes in Europe after concerted opposition from consumers, farmers and lawmakers. Environmental activists have destroyed GM crops on fields in Europe because they believe that they might harm health and erode biological diversity. BASF said that, “…continued investment cannot be justified due to uncertainty in the regulatory environment and threats [over the destruction of crops].”

BASF will continue its GM crop business in the United States, however, and has even added GM corn as one of its target crops even though the company has stopped its research and development activities into nutritionally enhanced corn in the US “as part of a continuous review of the project portfolio.”