Archive for 2013


Curse of the Frankenfoods

15 September 2013. Source: ABC Radio National

Health and safety fears have restricted the growth of genetically modified foods for decades. But is a hungry world, a new generation of consumers, and the weight of scientific evidence loosening the grip of the Frankenfoods curse? Ian Walker set aside his long standing antipathy towards GM foods to investigate.

Frankenfood. It’s the meme that keeps giving…the brainchild of an English professor from Boston named Paul Lewis, whose timing was as impeccable as his rhetorical flourish was devastating.

‘Ever since Mary Shelley’s baron rolled his improved human flesh out of the lab,’ Lewis wrote, ‘scientists have been bringing such good things to life… If they [the GMO corporations] want to sell us Frankenfood, perhaps it’s time to gather the villagers, light some torches and head to the castle.’

It was 1992 and the first GM crops were coming online for approval by America’s Food and Drug Administration.  Lewis’ turn of phrase was fabulously alliterative, catchy as a car commercial, and conjured powerful notions of something amiss.  Fish genes in tomatoes.  Nature being tampered with.  Humans playing God.  Mad scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life.

In reality, though, scientists have been tinkering with crops since the dawn of agriculture, making them more productive, resistant to disease…shorter, fatter, bigger, better.  The development of hybrid crops in the 1930s was a game-changing moment.  Then, in the 90s, ethical, environmental and food safety concerns collided with panic about mad-cow disease to produce a backlash against the notion of crop science gone too far.  Frankenfood provided the frightening metaphor that tilted the war of words wildly in favour of the anti-GM warriors.

‘It feeds into a very deep-seated and long-held fear of technology that people have,’ explains former anti-GM activist Mark Lynas.  ‘And that’s where the Frankenstein association is so powerful.  It’s something humans are doing which they shouldn’t do.  You even get this back in Genesis with the Tree of Knowledge.  So it’s a very strong myth that goes right through human culture.’

And, while scientists weren’t exactly being burnt at the stake, some took Lewis’ rallying cry to heart and found righteous cause to destroy important scientific experiments in the trial crop stages. Lynas excelled in this for nearly two decades, leading campaigns in the UK and Europe.

‘It was my life,’ he says. ‘We did all of these kinds of night-time actions against GM crops, going and chopping them down. We thought we were decontaminating the landscape. We thought what we were doing was environmentally responsible and important.’

What he didn’t realise at the time, Lynas says now, was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but the reaction against it by people like him and his anti-GM cohorts.  Back in January 2013, his public apology to the Oxford Farming Conference for what he now describes as his ‘years of wrongheadedness’ made headlines around the world.  At the time, it was nerve-wracking and heartfelt.

‘I’d kind of had enough, and I just wanted to put all of my cards on the table and speak from the heart, really, and say, “I got this wrong”. I think everyone else in the anti-GM movement has got this wrong. We need to take stock of where we are and I for one am issuing an apology.’

Oxford was a fitting place for such a dramatic change of heart, being the same venue where Lynas had earned notoriety for throwing a cream pie in the face of Bjorn Lomborg, an outspoken critic of eco-apocalyptic agendas.  ‘Pies for lies,’ yelled Lynas as his underarm lob hit its target.

This time, he was asking for forgiveness from a gathering of farmers and scientists, soberly recanting ‘demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment…I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path.’  No-one preaches better than a convert.

Lynas is a respected environmentalist, and a strong campaigner on climate change who’s written award-winning books. What irked him was the slow realisation that his passionately held views on GM were inconsistent with his reliance on evidence-based science when arguing his position on human-induced climate change.  When it came to GM, he admits, he actively ignored the weight of evidence in favour of biotechnology.

The argument he puts is that an estimated three trillion meals containing food derived from GM-bred plants have been eaten in 29 countries over 15 years without one single substantiated case of harm. ‘You are more likely,’ he quips, ‘to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food.’

Mark Lynas was a big fish in the anti-GM pond.  Within days of his conference appearance, the video of his speech went viral.  There are now versions in more than a dozen languages, translated by volunteers in different countries around the globe.

The Lynas conversion was a revelation for journalist Jon Entine, who wrote up the story for Forbes magazine. Entine saw it as the potential dynamite it was for the ongoing GM debate. But, he says, it also pointed to a turning point in our thinking about the interface between technology and the natural world.

‘Every once in a while our society faces major inflection points when certain technologies come into play,’ Entine explains. ‘We saw it in the 1800s with the railroad, we’ve seen it with nuclear technology, we’ve seen it with computer technology. And I really think that we’re in this kind of inflection period with biotechnology.’

‘It is literally changing the way we can think about nature.  And I mean in a good sense. I don’t believe we’re violating God’s way, or any kind of natural order of things, but it is a profound experience, which is why it’s scary to many people.’

As Entine pointed out in his article, Lynas took a somewhat slow-road to Damascus. It happened over a number of years of realising that, while he was backing the claims in his various books about climate change with scientific evidence, he was doing the opposite when it came to GM.  He actively ignored the weight of the evidence in favour.  Finally, Lynas says, he had to admit his own cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than ‘green urban myths’.

‘There were so many myths,’ he recounts. ‘Probably first off was this idea that somehow there’s a unique property that genes have when they belong in different species, so that there’s something carroty about carrot genes or fishy about fish genes. So I don’t think I realised that DNA is this universal code, and it’s just a number…you know, four sequences of letters, basically, is how we interpret it, and you can chop and change it between different species with actually very little impact.’

As a new convert, Lynas has joined the likes of Jon Entine, as a champion of the potential benefits of biotechnology.  His conversion has coincided, or highlighted, a new urgency to feed a hungry world, a new generation of consumers, more scrutiny of anti-GM activism, plus the weight of scientific evidence showing it is safe.

Lynas makes the case strongly that it’s time for scientists to speak out about the benefits of biotechnology.  For too long, he says, they’ve been cowed by the strident fear campaigns around Frankenfood.  And, it seems, some are fighting back and talking up a new phase of the technology.  Like Australia’s Professor James Dale.

‘We’re just starting to see the revolution,’ says Dale, the Director of the QUT’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities.  ‘Virtually all of the really big crop genomes have been sequenced, we’re now starting to identify what genes in those genomes are going to be really useful.’

The prospects and potential of what’s to come has been dubbed ‘Biotech Version 2.0’.  And, Dale is convinced, it’s likely to further sway the debate.

‘A lot of it is going to be targetted towards the things that we’re really concerned about, with climate change, with drought, with flooding, submersion. So we’re starting to see those traits coming through and the next generation of GM crops are going to be of much greater benefit to humanity than round one.’

Dale’s Banana 21 Project is a case in point. It’s funded by the Gates Foundation and is tackling Vitamin A deficiency in some of the poorest parts of Africa by enriching a staple food—in this case, bananas for Uganda—via GM. 

It might help save the 670-thousand or so kids who die from micronutrient malnutrition every year, and half as many again who go blind.  These genetically-modified ‘golden bananas’ have been developed in Australia and Professor Dale claims the results so far are very promising.

‘We have provitamin A Cavendish bananas with double our target level of provitamin A, so that’s fabulous. We now know which genes to use and which promoters to use. We transferred that technology to Uganda, and they now have their bananas in the field. Just very recently they identified a line which also has double the target level of provitamin A.  It’s really exciting, so we’re now moving into development phase.’

The project’s on track to produce enriched bananas ready for human eating trials by next year.  But not if some of the NGOs in Uganda have their way.  Lynas has just returned from a visit there with some hair-raising tales of treachery by anti GM activists.

He says he’s heard stories from local MPs who have had activists going into their Muslim constituencies telling people that the scientists are putting pig genes into bananas—the bio-fortified and the bacteria-resistant bananas—which you wouldn’t be allowed to eat as a Muslim.

‘Literally, people have been going crazy about this,’ Lynas reports.  ‘There’s almost been violence breaking out. So, the anti-GM activists have stooped so low as to cause religious violence in order to stop this technology.’


GM bananas: from nutrition to disease resistance


This article outlines biotechnology research underway involving bananas (vitamin enhanced and disease resistant) led by Professor James Dale at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Professor James Dale and his team at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have come far since gaining support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) in 2005. Initially focused on vitamin-rich genetically modified (GM) bananas for growers in Uganda, work has extended to India with disease resistance thrown into the mix, while Dale mentions the possibility of collaboration with Nigerian and Indonesian scientists in the future. Catching up with him in Brisbane, hears why transgenic bananas may face less resistance than other GMO crops, and their potential if consumers accept the technology.

…“In the early 1990s we decided we were going to get involved in genetic modification. I should say that was before anybody said that it was a naughty thing to do – we thought, ‘wow, what a fabulous opportunity to actually improve bananas’, and there’s a huge number of vegetatively propagated crops which you can’t breed from the already accepted cultivars.

This fact has likely been instrumental for the establishment of QUT’s GM field trials south of Innisfail in North Queensland; the heart of Australia’s banana-growing district.

“We invited any of the banana growers who wanted to come before we planted the field trial, and we went through everything. It took a couple of hours, and they were really comfortable with what we’re doing,” he says.

“There’s no threat because there’s no transgene flow.”

Disease resistance

Dale says his team of 15 people is still working on resistance to Bunchy Top but hasn’t “quite got there yet”, and has also developed a way of controlling Panama Race I – which wiped out previous staple banana variety Gros Michel – through stress tolerant genes.

“For the original genes we’d put in, the best one was from a nematode and that gave us a hint of what we should do, and then we went and looked for the plant equivalents and we’ve been able to use those.

“That’s one strategy. Another is we’ve gone to a wild diploid banana called musa acuminata [spp.] malaccensis which grows in Indonesia and Malaysia. Some of those plants are absolutely immune to Tropical Race IV.

“There are about 25,000 types of genes, so it’s needle in a haystack type of stuff. So we’ve got to identify the right gene; we haven’t got the results from the field trial in the Northern Territory yet.

“Because it’s a slow-forming disease, we’d want to have the results probably by the end of next year. We’d be confident if we had lines there that are still standing up, and none of them are diseased, that there’s real resistance there.”

He adds that this variety is also resistant to Black Sigatoka, but his team is not working on that fungus.

“We know that malaccensis is also resistant to Black Sigatoka, so that will come. And it would be interesting to see how some of the big banana companies cope with that, when they’d say, ‘gee, we wouldn’t have to spray if we had these GM bananas’.”

Nutrition for the developing world

Dale’s work received a boost in 2004 when the BMGF put out a call for expressions of interest around grand challenges in global health.

“Most of those global challenges were new vaccines, antibiotics and the control of insect vectors of human diseases; there was one grant challenge nine, which was to develop staple crops with a complete set of micronutrients.

“We’d already started to work with the National Agricultural Research Organization in Uganda so I suggested we make an expression of interest.

“In Uganda their staple food is bananas, and in that whole region there’s very high banana consumption, very high levels of Vitamin A deficiency, and very high levels of iron deficiency; anemia.”

QUT received the funding to collaborate with their Ugandan counterparts, and Dale says “remarkable” progress has been made since then.

“So we’ve now got bananas with more than double our target levels that we wanted for provitamin A.”

He says bananas already have vitamin A through beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, but genetic modification has allowed the scientists to augment the level.

“We were able to take the genes from one of them [beta-carotene] that makes very large amounts and put that banana gene into East African Highland Bananas and into Cavendish.

“The whole issue of vitamin deficiency is really complex – micronutrient deficiencies particularly. There is still this very poor population that don’t buy food and don’t access health clinics, and that can be anywhere between 30-50% of the population in developing countries.

The first field trial for Vitamin A was in 2009, with a plan of developing the technology in Australia and then transferring that technology but not the plants to Uganda.

“Now that project is moving into the development phase where we can go and develop an elite line that we’ll take all the way through to farmer release in Uganda, and that will be available to other countries in the region if they want it.

He adds the next part of the Ugandan project is to increase iron levels, which is “much harder”.

“But we’re getting there. We’ve got a 50% increase but we actually want a 400% increase. We’ve got our next field trial in Australia already happening.”

On the back of the Ugandan collaboration’s success, QUT was approached by the Indian government to work on a similar project with its Department of Biotechnology.

“They wanted disease resistance as well, which we put in – they want resistance to bunchy top and Panama wilt.”



19 August 2013. Source: University of California, Davis

A new gene that will equip wheat plants to resist the deadly stem rust disease has been discovered by an international team that includes plant scientists from Australia, United States, and China

The research team, which included co-author Jan Dvorak, a professor and wheat geneticist at UC Davis, succeeded in cloning the Sr33 gene, known to exist in Aegilops tauschii, a wild relative of common bread wheat.

“We are hopeful that the Sr33 gene and the Sr35 gene, which our colleagues at UC Davis helped to isolate, can be ‘pyramided,’ or combined, to develop wheat varieties with robust and lasting resistance to wheat stem rust disease,” Dvorak said.

The discovery of genes that confer resistance to wheat stem rust disease is vitally important for global food security, as a new, highly aggressive race of the fungus that causes wheat stem rust appeared about a decade ago in Africa and has been spreading from there. That new UG99 race, which causes rust-colored bumps to form on the stems and leaves of the wheat plants, threatens global wheat grain production.

Identification and cloning of resistance genes is expected to enable plant breeders to use traditional breeding techniques to develop new wheat varieties that will be resistant to the new strain of wheat stem rust disease, before it grows into a global pandemic.

Lead author on this study was Evans Lagudah from CSIRO Plant Industry.


Malnutrition fight not over, Golden Rice research continues

8 August 2013. Source: International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), media release.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) – Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) are continuing to fight malnutrition in the Philippines, and continuing Golden Rice research as a potential way to reduce vitamin A deficiency.

“Golden Rice field trials are part of our work to see if Golden Rice can be a safe and effective way to reduce vitamin A deficiency in the Philippines – to reduce malnutrition,” said Dr Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general of communications and partnerships at IRRI.

“Vitamin A deficiency is “horrible and unnecessary, and we want to do our part to help to reduce it.”

“Our Golden Rice research is part of our humanitarian work to reduce vitamin A deficiency that mostly affects women and children – causing sickness, blindness, and even death,” Tolentino said. “Earlier today one of our Golden Rice field trials located in the Bicol region of the Philippines was vandalized. We are really disappointed that our Golden Rice field trial was vandalized, but it is just one trial and we will continue our Golden Rice research to improve human nutrition.”

In the Philippines, vitamin A deficiency affects approximately 1.7 million children (15.2%) aged 6 months to 5 years. Subclinical vitamin A deficiency affects one out of every ten pregnant women.

Golden Rice is a new type of rice that contains beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A when eaten. Research so far indicates that eating about one cup a day of Golden Rice could provide half of an adult’s vitamin A needs.

IRRI is working with leading nutrition and agricultural research organisations to develop and evaluate Golden Rice as a potential new way to reduce vitamin A deficiency in the Philippines, Bangladesh and other countries.

In the Philippines, all GM research and development under contained conditions are overseen by the Department of Science and Technology – National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines. The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI) strictly monitors field trials, coordinates evaluation of biosafety information, and approves GM crops if appropriate.

Golden Rice field trials are being conducted in the Philippines by PhilRice and IRRI. The field trials have been permitted by DA-BPI, the national regulatory authority in the Philippines for crop biotechnology research and development, after establishing that the trials will pose no significant risks to human health and environment.

The Golden Rice field site that was vandalized was located within the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Unit 5’s (DA-RFU5) Bicol Experiment Station in Pili, Camarines Sur. The Golden Rice trial site is less than 1,000 square metres (or 0.1 hectare). Nearly all plants have been uprooted and left on site.

“We all want to answer questions about Golden Rice,” Tolentino added. “Therefore, we need to test Golden Rice and test it according to the best and most rigorous research standards. This means continuing field trials to ensure there is adequate data and analysis that will enable informed decisions on Golden Rice.”

“At IRRI, we remain dedicated to improving nutrition for everyone in the Philippines and in other rice-eating countries,” Tolentino said.

“We’re here for the long term, and Golden Rice and other healthier rice are part of our efforts to help reduce malnutrition amongst rice-consumers.


8 August 2013. Source: ACPFG KAUST RELEASE FINAL.pdf

ACPFG and KAUST sign MoU to deliver salt tolerant crops

The Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) at the University of Adelaide and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), an agreement that will deliver salt-tolerant varieties of wheat and barley for the benefit of both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Australian growers.

The partnership will allow for transfer of materials, technologies, and resources between the two organizations, facilitating the development of crops that are able to grow in saline conditions. The project will also provide opportunities for student exchanges and joint PhD projects.

“Both KAUST and ACPFG have great resources and mutual interest in understanding and improving salinity tolerance in crops,” said Prof. Mark Tester, Professor of Bioscience at KAUST. “This international agreement provides a valuable opportunity to benefit agriculture in both the Kingdom and Australia – we all win.”

“The agreement is an exciting venture for ACPFG and Australia because our researchers will access additional information, resources, and expertise to investigate how these important crops respond to extreme saline conditions,” said Dr. Stuart Roy, Program Leader at the ACPFG. “The project will help deliver to Australian farmers’ crops that can grow in these tough conditions.”

In one part of this collaboration, ACPFG and KAUST will replicate laboratory and field trials to identify genes that play an important role in salinity tolerance, providing both organizations with extensive data on these cereals.


GM rice approval ‘edging closer’

6 August 2013. Source:

Scientists in the Philippines are weeks from submitting a genetically modified variety of rice to the authorities for biosafety evaluations.

They claim it could be in the fields within a year, but national regulators will have the final say.

Supporters say it will help the 1.7 million Filipino children who suffer vitamin A deficiency – which reduces immunity and can cause blindness.

But campaigners say “Golden Rice” is a dangerous way to tackle malnutrition.

They say that it threatens the Philippines’ staple food.

The fields at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), in Nueva Ecija, just north of Manila, look just like the other thousands of rice paddies that make up the Luzon landscape.

Apart from the tall fences surrounding them, you would never guess they were being used to grow rice that had been genetically modified to produce beta-carotene.

The body converts beta-carotene into Vitamin A and scientists estimate that one cup of Golden Rice could provide up to 50% of an adult’s recommended daily intake.

The rice has been engineered so that the precursor chemical is expressed in the edible grain as well as in the non-edible leaves, where it occurs naturally.

It has taken scientists more than two decades to boost the beta-carotene in Golden Rice to meaningful levels. But Dr Antonio Alfonso, who leads the project at PhilRice, says the product is now ready.

Speaking to the World Tonight programme, he said: “My increased confidence comes from the fact that… our data, aside from being mostly available now, are as expected and, therefore, unlikely to raise new questions or concerns on the part of the regulators.

“But we have to recognise people’s fear. That’s exactly why we have regulation for establishing safety: food safety feed safety, environmental safety, safety to humans, safety to animals, these are all considered in our current regulatory system in the Philippines.”


Response to a feeding study in pigs by Carman et al

4 July 2013. Source:’s-study.aspx

In June 2013, Dr Judy Carman and co-authors published a paper in the Journal of Organic Systems on a feeding study in pigs. The pigs were fed either a mixture of GM corn and GM soy or an equivalent non-GM diet for nearly 23 weeks. The GM diet was derived from plant lines approved for food use in Australia and New Zealand (and in other countries).

There were no differences between pigs fed the GM and non-GM diets for feed intake, weight gain, mortality and blood biochemistry parameters but the authors attributed severe stomach inflammation and enlarged uteri to the GM diet.

FSANZ response – key points 

  • The authors have not provided convincing evidence that stomach inflammation was present. The stomach data, as presented, do not support the authors’ interpretation and conclusions because:

The presence of “inflammation” was determined by visual appearance (reddening) only, without any microscopic (histological) confirmation. This is not considered a reliable method for establishing the presence of true inflammation, because it relies solely on the colour of the tissue which can vary for many reasons.

If the GM diet caused the stomach inflammation, the total number of GM-fed pigs with stomach inflammation would be expected to be greater than non-GM fed pigs. According to the data provided however, greater numbers of non-GM fed pigs exhibited “inflammation”.

The authors erred in their statistical approach to analysing the stomach “inflammation” data. If the data are analysed using more appropriate statistical methods, no statistical association with diet exists.

  •  The authors have not proved that the statistically significant increase in uterine weight is attributable to the GM diet.

The relevance of uterine weight data and the presence of fluid in uteri cannot be determined without information on the ovarian activity of the affected pigs, and without microscopic (histological) evidence to determine the condition of the endometrium. Uterine weight and fluid content can vary enormously in young female pigs based on the stage of puberty and/or their reproductive cycle.

  • There are many deficiencies with the design, conduct and reporting of the study. More detailed comment on these deficiencies is available. These deficiencies are sufficient to invalidate the study conclusions.
  • Overall, the data presented in the paper are not convincing of adverse effects due to the GM diet and provide no grounds for revising FSANZ’s conclusions about the safety of previously approved glyphosate-tolerant and insect-protected GM corn lines and glyphosate-tolerant GM soy lines.


Roundup Ready Canola Sales Surge 22 per cent

24 June 2013. Monsanto Media Release. Source:


Growers have purchased a record 550 tonnes of Roundup Ready canola seed this season.

New high performing varieties, the reopening of China’s market and negligible premiums for non-GM canola drove the 22% increase in sales from last year.

The strong sales growth follows National Variety Trials (NVT) that reveal Roundup Ready canola varieties have higher oil content and are higher yielding than other herbicide tolerant varieties.

Monsanto Australia Managing Director, Daniel Kruithoff, said that grower confidence in Roundup Ready canola is increasing every season.

“The 22% growth in sales demonstrates the confidence that growers have in the performance of Roundup Ready canola. This is a particularly impressive result given the forecast drop in overall canola plantings this season.

“Roundup Ready canola growers can also look forward to prices that are within $10 of those for non-GM canola. The benefits of Roundup Ready canola significantly outweigh the small price difference which is why growers are buying more of it each and every year.

“Roundup Ready canola sales have increased every year since it was commercialised in 2009 which clearly demonstrates the value growers place on having the freedom to choose GM crops,” Daniel said.

NVT data shows that compared with other top varieties, Roundup Ready canola is on average yielding 12 per cent higher than Triazine Tolerant canola and 6 per cent higher than Clearfield over the last three years.

The trials also reveal that Roundup Ready canola has higher oil content on average than TT varieties helping growers generate more income from the crop.

“The NVT data suggests that growers can also expect more than just reliable weed control from Roundup Ready canola. New high performing varieties offer growers improved yields and oil content,” Daniel said.

For further information about Roundup Ready canola visit


GM considered to remedy field pea disease

20 June 2013. Source:

A SCIENTIST with 20 years experience breeding field peas (Pisum sativum L.) recommends genetic modification research to mitigate the effects of black spot (Didymella pinodes).

“We have made significant progress in developing moderately resistant varieties of peas but more robust resistance has been illusive,” Professor Tanveer Khan says.

Prof Khan, who is now a research professor at The UWA Institute of Agriculture, has just led a review of international methods trialled to combat the disease, which he says have only been partially successful for growers in Australia.

He says black spot is endemic to most areas of the country planted with field peas.

The fungus survives on pea stubble, releasing spores into the air with the first winter rains.

Prof Khan says yields are relatively low in Australia, so it is not economical to apply fungicides to growing crops although there has been some success with applying fungicides to the seeds themselves.

He says a more successful method in Australia has been to delay sowing for two to three weeks after the first winter rains, after which time most of the spores have been released and fallen on to the soil rather than the growing plants.

The disadvantage of this method is a reduction in crop yield of up to 25 per cent, due to the limited growing season.

Prof Khan says climate change may bring more summer rains which would tend to exhaust most of the spore before pea planting season, however the amount of winter rain and consequent effect on pea yields is unknown.

He says breeding for resistance has had limited results, producing partially-resistant varieties of pea which he recommends be trialled for earlier plantings and/or single fungicide spraying.

Research is in progress to develop molecular marker technology to help development of resistant varieties but he says there have been no major breakthroughs so far.

“A remote possibility is, can you actually have a big breakthrough with genetic modification?” Prof Khan says.

“Can you actually import some resistance from some other alien species into peas?

“I think there’s a good reason why we should invest in some very novel technology.

“In Western Australia there are about 70,000ha grown.

“If we are able to control black spot in future we’re going to see peas becoming a very big crop.

“Potentially peas are the best plant, they are very adaptable, you can grow peas in all sorts of soil and climate.”

Professor Khan is a Research Professor at the UWA Institute of Agriculture, Faculty of Science, The University of Western Australia. In the past, he was an operational plant breeder concentrating on grain legumes for two decades with the WA Department of Agriculture and Food.

He initiated and produced the review in conjunction with scientists based in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Spain.



20 June 2013. Source: CropLife Australia –

New reports from the anti-GM lobby are becoming more and more disconnected from reality. The plant science industry is calling on consumers to look at the weight of credible, independent evidence, rather than the latest activist claims.

Matthew Cossey, CEO of CropLife Australia said today, “The same old claims about GM crops are being trotted out by the anti-GM lobby. It’s an issue so frequently discussed, with so much misinformation that it can be hard for consumers and farmers to sort fact from fiction. The logic that cuts through the deception is that if GM crops really didn’t work, farmers wouldn’t use them.

“Yet farmers continue to adopt the technology in increasing numbers. Data on the global adoption of GM crops shows that GM technology is used by more than 16 million farmers worldwide. The global area of biotech crops has increased one hundred fold since they were first commercialised in 1996. Just last year, global adoption of GM crops increased by 6 per cent to reach 170.3 million hectares.

“If crop biotechnology had not been available to the 16.7 million farmers using the technology in 2011, maintaining global production at the 2011 levels would have required additional plantings equivalent to 33 per cent of the arable land in Australia. That’s over 15 million hectares of forest and natural habitat saved by the use of crop biotechnology.

“So why are so many farmers switching to GM crops? Between 1996 and 2011, the global farm income gain from GM crops has been US$98.2 billion. Farmers are astute business people, if GM crops didn’t put more money in their pockets, they wouldn’t buy GM seed the next season.

“Despite these gains, some states are still missing out. Over the past decade, Tasmania’s agricultural sector has suffered a $71 million loss due to a moratorium on genetically modified organisms. South Australia will have lost around $115 million by 2019. This is in stark contrast to mainland states that have generated over AUD $595 million in farm gate benefits from GM crops since 1996, without compromising their ability to successfully market conventional or organic produce.

“In Australia, growing GM cotton varieties has seen environmental benefits resulting from decreased insecticide use and changes in the types of insecticides and herbicides used. Almost 100 per cent of Australia’s cotton crop is now grown with GM varieties. Cultivation of GM insect resistant cotton varieties has enabled a reduction in the amount of insecticide active ingredient used by up to 85 per cent. This, in conjunction with industry stewardship practices, has greatly reduced the potential for chemical runoff into rivers in cotton growing regions of Australia

“The types of chemical being used have also changed. Because of the ‘in-built’ insecticide in GM insect resistant cotton, insect control can be more targeted and specific, meaning there is less of an impact on non-target organisms, allowing beneficial (ie. predatory insects) to remain in the crop.

“GM crops currently under research and development in Australia will help Australian farmers to combat environmental stresses such as drought, acid soils and salinity, which are being caused by climatic changes and previous non-sustainable farming practices. There is also considerable Australia research into GM traits that will bring health benefits to consumers, such as healthier starches, and cooking oils modified to be lower in saturated fats and with improved cooking qualities.”

“GM crops are continuing to deliver significant productivity gains and environmental benefits. If they weren’t, farmers wouldn’t be using them and we wouldn’t be seeing industries like the Australian cotton industry having the success it enjoys today,” concluded Mr Cossey.



Statement on the Detection of Genetically Engineered Wheat in Oregon

14 June 2013. Source: USDA

USDA Office of Communications Director Matt Paul gave the following update on the detection of genetically engineered wheat in Oregon:

On May 29, USDA announced that a small number of volunteer wheat plants in an Oregon field had tested positive for genetically engineered (GE) glyphosate-resistant wheat. Extensive testing confirmed the wheat as a variety – MON71800 – developed by Monsanto.

The detection of this wheat variety does not pose a public health or food safety concern. Monsanto worked with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2004 to complete a voluntary food and feed safety consultation. Completion of the FDA consultation process means this variety is as safe as non-GE wheat currently on the market.

USDA began an investigation into this matter on May 3 when an Oregon State University scientist notified USDA’s officials that plant samples they had tested positive for a protein that made them resistant to glyphosate.

As of today, USDA has neither found nor been informed of anything that would indicate that this incident amounts to more than a single isolated incident in a single field on a single farm. All information collected so far shows no indication of the presence of GE wheat in commerce. Investigators are conducting a thorough review. They have interviewed the person that harvested the wheat from this field as well as the seed supplier who sold the producer wheat seed; obtained samples of the wheat seed sold to the producer and other growers; and obtained samples of the producer’s wheat harvests, including a sample of the producer’s 2012 harvest. All of these samples of seed and grain tested negative for the presence of GE material. Investigators are continuing to conduct interviews with approximately 200 area growers.

On June 13, 2013, USDA validated an event-specific PCR (DNA-based) method for detecting MON71800 (provided by Monsanto to USDA on May 23, 2013). The USDA validation process included a specificity study and a sensitivity study. USDA determined that the method can reliably detect MON71800 when it is present at a frequency of 1 in 200 kernels. Additionally, USDA has provided this validated DNA test method to detect this specific GE variety to our trading partners that have requested it.

Major markets, such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan, have postponed imports of U.S. white wheat as they continue to study information from U.S. officials to determine what, if any, future action may be required. USDA officials will continue to provide information as quickly as possible as the investigation continues – with a top priority on giving our trading partners the tools they need to ensure science-based trade decisions.



GMO debate stretches from farm to table

14 June 2013. Source:

Among the 20 genetically modified crops now awaiting USDA approval, two stand out — a new potato and an apple.

While most of the biotech crops being evaluated will be fed to livestock or crushed for biofuel feedstock, the potato and apple are intended for human consumption, sparking keen interest among both the farmers who will grow them and the public who will eat them.

Simplot Plant Sciences introduced the biotech potato, called Innate, that is engineered to resist browning and black spot disease and to have fewer sugars and acrylamide, a substance linked to cancer and is produced when a potato is fried.

A Canadian company, Summerland, B.C.-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits, introduced Arctic apples, which stay white after slicing. That makes them good for a variety of uses such as packaged apple slices and to be served in restaurants…

GMO polling

While opponents remain confident about the public’s feelings on GMOs, polls that Simplot and Okanagan commissioned reveal far greater acceptance to GMO staples.

A Simplot study of 1,000 consumers found 60 percent support general GMO technology, 91 percent approve of Simplot’s Innate method and 93 percent are comfortable with traditional breeding. Simplot has emphasized that its technology introduces only genes from other potatoes, rather than different species, to silence expression of specific traits.

In its study, Okanagan, which uses a similar approach to incorporate only other apple genes to silence browning traits in its Arctic apple, found 78 percent of 1,000 consumers were neutral, somewhat likely or extremely likely to buy the product after hearing about it, and only 12 percent were not at all likely to buy it. Nonetheless, industry groups including the U.S. Apple Association and the Northwest Horticultural Council have come out against the Arctic apple, fearing it might turn off some consumers.

As for potatoes, Freese recalls Monsanto’s Colorado potato beetle-resistant GM spud NewLeaf, released in 2000 and discontinued a few years later based on trade partners’ concerns. In general, consumers in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are wary of GM food.

Rupert, Idaho, grower Duane Grant was among the farmers who planted NewLeaf and intends to plant Innate as soon as possible. He believes the reaction to the Oregon wheat issue doesn’t reflect on other GMOs.

“The Innate potato, once they go through the regulatory process, it would be legal, and then distinctly different than Roundup Ready wheat,” Grant said. “If the consumer has a choice of a healthier potato, and healthier as a result of genetic modification that brings no additional risk to the table, the consumer will make an informed decision to buy it.”

By contrast, Freese believes the GM wheat controversy will fuel support for GMO labeling ballot initiatives. Connecticut recently approved the nation’s first labeling law, which would only take effect after at least four other states, including a neighboring state, enact similar requirements, and Washington will vote on a similar proposal in November. An Oregon initiative is in the early stages.

“There have been GMO labeling initiatives in dozens of states. That’s unprecedented,” Freese said.

Other GMO crops…

Simplot marketing and public relations director Doug Cole said his company intends to segregate all of its Innate spuds from the general supply, a strategy Okanagan will also use with its apples, and has already begun the deregulatory process in Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Japan to avert the problems that derailed NewLeaf.

“We expect approval next year by USDA and to be on the market in 2014, with more seed in 2015 and 2016,” Cole said. “We believe all of these traits we’re working on to improve the potato are going to have a dramatic effect on the industry over time. We also believe it may take time to build broad acceptance.”

In a survey for Simplot led by University of Idaho agricultural economist Joe Guenthner, 67 percent of growers expressed willingness to plant GM spuds in the future. Furthermore, Guenthner said the growers believe consumers will be far more likely to embrace so-called “green” GMO technology, which introduces traits only from the same species…




14 June 2013. Source:

The Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has granted approval for Rothamsted Research to extend a trial of genetically modified (GM) wheat this autumn.

The independent Advisory Committee of Releases to the Environment found that the trial will have no adverse effects on human health or the environment. Defra has set precautionary conditions to ensure no GM material will enter the food chain.

In 2011 Defra authorised Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire to plant its GM aphid-resistant wheat in spring 2012 and 2013. The GM wheat produces a naturally occurring pheromone that not only repels aphids, but also attracts their natural enemies, such as ladybirds and wasps.

Currently, a significant proportion of the UK wheat crop is treated with chemical insecticides to control cereal aphids, which reduce yields by sucking sap from the plants and transmitting barley yellow dwarf virus.

Unfortunately, repeated use of such chemical sprays leads to aphids developing resistance to insecticides, while killing other beneficial species of insects and thereby damaging ecosystems.

Despite potential gains to be made by developing GM wheat with natural defence against aphids, Rothamsted was targeted by anti-GM activists last year. Defra said extending the trial will enable further data to be obtained on the performance of GM wheat later in the year, under different weather conditions and against different aphid populations.

A crop of spring-sown Cadenza GM wheat is being grown at the research centre. The autumn extension will be sown in mid-September and destroyed after 10-12 weeks in late November or December.


Pigs in the real world – feed them different diets, measure many health parameters, some which show differences – but what does it all mean?

12 June 2013. Source:

A long awaited study by Australian Dr Judy Carman has appeared in the open access journal Journal of Organic Systems. It is an American-Australian collaboration, including Carman’s IHER, Howard Vlieger’s non-GMO marketing operation Verity Farms based in Iowa in the United States. It seems to be the same study for which a preliminary report has been presented at a South American scientific conference several years back.

It is an investigation in which pigs were fed a so-called real world diets for ~23 weeks, and analysed for about 35 health related parameters.

In most of the parameters measured on these pigs there is no apparent difference between animals fed a diet that included genetically modified corn and genetically modified soy beans compared to pigs fed conventional mixture of the same grains, but two out of about 35 measured parameters showed a difference.

These are presence of inflammation in the animal gut at autopsy gut and average size of female animal’s ovaries.

The question raised by the study is what are the reasons for these differences. Are they due to chance, because of the random distribution of differences between individual animals: are they caused by the diet, and if they are caused by the diet, or is the indeed transgenic components of the diet that has possible causal effect.

The paper by Carman and colleagues avoids rigourous analysis of whether the differences are attributable to chance.

In the study there is no clear-cut hypothesis about what component(s) of the diet is different and what effect the component might have specifically on the animal.

Instead of a well formulated prior hypothesis the investigation consists of a survey of a fairly large number of parameters -18 are mentioned in one table, 17 in another, and there is no necessary statistical analysis to check for false discovery of effects because of repeated searching for differences.

It’s what some call a fishing expedition in search of a finding, and a known pitfall of animal feeding trials on whole foods.

The individual statistical tests actually done in this study in each of the individual parameters measured do not provide for this false discovery rate effect due to multiple testing testing.

Using the standard criteria of a one in 20 chance that observed differences are randomly generated, about one or two apparent effects in this study might be a false discovery.

The observed differences might also be caused by compositional differences in the variety of soybeans or corn used in the study, and the crucial difficulty with such a complicated study is that there are many components in these animals diets.

Unfortunately there is relatively little information in the paper about nutritional formulation, methods used for producing the pig diets, storage time for the grain and which particular varieties of grain were used in the diets.

A crucial missing piece of information is analysis for soybean isoflavone content. Soybean isoflavones are known compounds with female animal hormone activity, and as some differences were seen in ovary size in these animals, whether or not they have been exposed to different levels of isoflavones in formulating the two test diets is a most obvious question that does not appear to be considered by these investigators.

Because of the complicated way the experiments have been designed for this investigation we don’t know the answer to this question.

The study claims to be an investigation of the real world effects on hog health health. The real world is full of complications when it comes of physiological effects of diets and we still don’t know whether the observed differences between the test group –“GMO diet” as compared with “Conventional diet “– are explained by chance, due to the high number of different types of tests carried out in the animals, or whether some of these differences are caused by grain composition variation — especially soy isoflavone variation.

The most particular difference is a claim about ovary size variation — and the papers authors do not seem to be aware of the very plausible effects of differences between the test and control diets in phyto-oestrogen compounds in the different soybean varieties used in the diets.

Perhaps the most newsworthy nonscientific aspect of the report is the statement about conflicts of interest in which none are claimed.

The Verity Farms non-GMO grain marketing venture linkage is not seen to be a conflict of interest, and a previous revelation on Australian television channel SBS by Dr Carman that the Institute of Responsible Technology associated with Fairfield, Iowa based author Jeffrey Smith was funding such studies is also not mentioned in the paper.

A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a mixed GM diet. Adverse effects of GM crops found.

11 June 2013. Source: Dr. Judy Carman

This is a briefing about the contents of a new, peer-reviewed scientific paper titled: A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM corn maize diet, by Dr Judy Carman, Howard Vlieger, Dr Larry Ver Steeg, Veryln Sneller, Dr Garth Robinson, Dr Kate Clinch- Jones, Dr Julie Haynes and Dr John Edwards.

At a commercial piggery in the US, we took 168 just-weaned pigs and fed them a typical diet for the piggery, containing soy and corn, for 22.7 weeks (over 5 months) until the pigs were slaughtered at their usual slaughter age. Half of the pigs were fed widely-used varieties of GM soy and GM corn (the GM-fed group) for this whole period and the other half of the pigs were fed an equivalent non-GM diet (the control group). The GM diet contained three GM genes and therefore three GM proteins. One protein made the plant resistant to a herbicide and two proteins were insecticides. We chose a mixed diet instead of a single crop because this is usually what pigs and people eat. Regulators do not require animal feeding studies on mixtures of GM genes and their proteins, regardless of whether the genes are all “stacked” into the one plant or spread across several plants that are eaten in the same meal. We chose pigs because they have a similar digestive system to humans, and because some of the investigators had been observing reproductive and digestive problems in pigs fed GM crops. We took blood from the pigs a few days before they were slaughtered to do standard biochemistry tests. Autopsies were done by qualified veterinarians who didn’t know if a given pig was fed the GM diet or not, so their observations were completely unbiased.

Some of the investigators had previously seen a reduced ability to conceive and higher rates of miscarriage in piggeries where sows were fed a GM diet, and a reduction in the number of piglets born if boars were used for conception rather than artificial insemination. Artificial insemination guarantees the presence of a certain number of viable sperm. Because male pigs were neutered at 3 days of age in order to provide meat free of boar-taint, we were only able to look at the female reproductive system in these pigs. We found that, on average, the weight of the uterus of pigs fed the GM diet, as a proportion of the weight of the pig, was 25% higher than the control pigs. We found that this biologically significant finding was also statistically significant. We list some of the pathologies that could be occurring in these uteri in the paper.

Some of the investigators had also previously seen higher rates of intestinal problems in pigs fed a GM diet, including inflammation of the stomach and small intestine, stomach ulcers, a thinning of intestinal walls and an increase in haemorrhagic bowel disease, where a pig can rapidly “bleed-out” from their bowel and die. We weren’t able to look inside the intestines, due to the amount of food in them, but we were able to look inside the stomach. We found that the level of severe inflammation in stomachs was markedly higher in pigs fed the GM diet. Pigs on the GM diet were 2.6 times more likely to get severe stomach inflammation than control pigs. Males were more strongly affected. While female pigs were 2.2 times more likely to get severe stomach inflammation when on the GM diet, males were 4 times more likely. These findings are both biologically significant and statistically significant.

We found that these key findings were not reflected in the standard biochemistry tests that are done in GM feeding studies, probably because standard biochemistry tests provide a poor measure of inflammation and matters associated with uterus size. We did however find a marginally significant change on a measure of liver health in the blood of GM-fed pigs.



Genetically Engineered Crop Prevails Again in Court

25 May 2013. Source: [USA] National Law Review

In a major development for the agricultural biotechnology industry, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has upheld the decision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to deregulate Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready Alfalfa (RR Alfalfa)…The Court rejected all of plaintiffs’ claims and affirmed in all respects the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision is the latest in this long-running litigation that has attracted close attention in many circles throughout the country. APHIS initially granted non-regulated status to RR Alfalfa and supported its decision with an environmental assessment (EA) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). After that decision was reversed in litigation, APHIS prepared a more detailed environmental impact statement (EIS) under NEPA and again deregulated RR Alfalfa. Plaintiffs challenged the new deregulation decision and EIS on the same grounds, alleging violations of NEPA, the Plant Protection Act (PPA), and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Ninth Circuit’s 31-page decision dismissed each of these claims and agreed with APHIS’ determinations. First, the Court found that the PPA requires analysis of only the “plant pest” risks identified by the statute and regulations, not a broader set of extrinsic concerns favored by plaintiffs. Second, the Court found that because RR Alfalfa is not a plant pest, APHIS had no jurisdiction to continue regulating the crop, and thus there remained no discretionary agency action to trigger consultation under the ESA. Finally, the Court upheld APHIS’ revised NEPA analysis, including APHIS’ rejection of “partial deregulation” alternatives after a finding of no plant pest risk.

This important decision has implications beyond RR Alfalfa. Special interest groups, including the plaintiffs in the RR Alfalfa litigation, have filed similar arguments in response to pending petitions for deregulation of other genetically engineered crops. APHIS and the industry can now draw confidence from the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in responding to such comments. Moreover, by refocusing the deregulation analysis on whether a new trait presents a “plant pest risk” as defined by statute and APHIS’ regulations, the Court’s decision has the potential to simplify and expedite agency decisions on genetically engineered crops going forward.

It is possible that the plaintiffs will seek to appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which previously heard aspects of the prior challenge to APHIS’ first RR Alfalfa deregulation decision. APHIS has also been considering proposed revisions to its rules governing deregulation and commercialization of genetically engineered crops. These issues continue to warrant careful monitoring.

© 2013 Beveridge & Diamond PC