Results tagged “genetic engineering” from onegoodmove

How to Feed a Hungry World

Producing enough food for the world's population in 2050 will be easy. But doing it at an acceptable cost to the planet will depend on research into everything from high-tech seeds to low-tech farming practices.

With the world's population expected to grow from 6.8 billion today to 9.1 billion by 2050, a certain Malthusian alarmism has set in: how will all these extra mouths be fed? The world's population more than doubled from 3 billion between 1961 and 2007, yet agricultural output kept pace — and current projections (see page 546) suggest it will continue to do so. Admittedly, climate change adds a large degree of uncertainty to projections of agricultural output, but that just underlines the importance of monitoring and research to refine those predictions. That aside, in the words of one official at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the task of feeding the world's population in 2050 in itself seems “easily possible”.

Easy, that is, if the world brings into play swathes of extra land, spreads still more fertilizers and pesticides, and further depletes already scarce groundwater supplies. But clearing hundreds of millions of hectares of wildlands — most of the land that would be brought into use is in Latin America and Africa — while increasing today's brand of resource-intensive, environmentally destructive agriculture is a poor option. Therein lies the real challenge in the coming decades: how to expand agricultural output massively without increasing by much the amount of land used.

What is needed is a second green revolution — an approach that Britain's Royal Society aptly describes as the “sustainable intensification of global agriculture”. Such a revolution will require a wholesale realignment of priorities in agricultural research. There is an urgent need for new crop varieties that offer higher yields but use less water, fertilizers or other inputs — created, for example, through long-neglected research on modifying roots (see page 552) — and for crops that are more resistant to drought, heat, submersion and pests. Equally crucial is lower-tech research into basics such as crop rotation, mixed farming of animals and plants on smallholder farms, soil management and curbing waste. (Between one-quarter and one-third of the food produced worldwide is lost or spoiled.)

Links With Your Coffee - Thursday

Coffee Cup

We suspect that fructose overload may be contributing to rising obesity rates. The primary source of fructose these days is high fructose corn syrup, a refined sweetener that is widely used in processed foods and beverages. Getting people to cut back on high fructose corn syrup might be an effective way to cut obesity rates. But if everyone simply replaces high fructose corn syrup with another sweetener that contains fructose, such as cane sugar, we won’t have accomplished much. That’s why I think it’s important to make sure that people don’t confuse the alleged culprit (fructose) with the most common source (high fructose corn syrup).

In this case, it’s especially easy to confuse the two because both contain the word “fructose.” But don’t be fooled: High fructose corn syrup contains roughly the same amount of fructose as cane sugar and honey. And fruit juice concentrates and agave are even higher in fructose

A proof of concept treatment using RNA interference protects monkeys against the deadly virus, even after exposure

The stewards of the land are in deep shit.

“We are supposed to be stewards of the land,” said Matthew Stoltzfus, a 34-year-old dairy farmer and father of seven whose family, like many other Amish, shuns cars in favor of horse and buggy and lives without electricity. “It is our Christian duty.”

But farmers like Mr. Stoltzfus are facing growing scrutiny for agricultural practices that the federal government sees as environmentally destructive. Their cows generate heaps of manure that easily washes into streams and flows onward into the Chesapeake Bay.

. . .When toxins, bacteria and viruses enter the body, they're eventually met by antibodies uniquely designed to recognize and remove intruders. At least, they should be. In some instances, antibodies are produced slowly or not at all, leaving foreign invaders free to circulate in the blood unchecked, spreading infection and leaving host cells open to attack.

But scientists may have come up with a solution: plastic antibodies—artificial versions of the lymphocyte-produced proteins—that work just like the real thing. . .

Why GE Shouldn't be Excluded From Organic Farming

Ten bad reasons why GE is incompatible with Organic

One can understand an issue on an intellectual level but still not be able to share that understanding. It is particularly difficult on questions of science. You can be an expert in one field, even a related field, and be ignorant of the fine points of another. My background in science is limited and so I try to be more careful than I am on other topics I'm more familar with. I'm lucky that there are so many bright individuals who visit the blog, since they keep me on my toes.

They say you really know a subject when you can explain it to others. I've fallen down on that front, in part because my understanding has come recently, and also because I haven't been successfull in making the distinction between GE as a method and its use by big agri-business. But I view the topic as an important one and worthy of discussion so I've tried to educate myself and give it a try. I've argued that we don't need to throw the baby (GE) out with the bathwater (Corporatism). But that GE can and should thrive outside of the Monsanto world. In fact it does, but the Monsanto connection gets the ink while the other is ignored.

Back in the sixties when I attended the University of Utah the John Birch Society was strong and there was a book going around that the young conservatives on campus were promoting called 'None Dare Call it Treason' If you ran across one of the conservatives, they would say all you need to do is read this book and you'll understand.

Since that day whenever someone says just read this book, or just read this article and you'll understand I recall that time, and remind myself of the need to be skeptical. I've recently recommended a couple of books
Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food and Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Food both of which I believe to be well written by people qualified to write on the subject, but it behooves one to be skeptical, because until you read something and verify that it is both logically sound and that the evidence is good, you need to remain skeptical. The article I've linked to is one I believe to be both logically sound and fact based. I encourage you to read it. I especially ask you to read the final section on transgenics because it is there where I think the true difference of opinion exists. The article may not change your mind, but you will understand better the sorts of arguments that have lead me to my current position on GMO's

If you decide to read the article perhaps you'd be kind enough to post a comment listing the points you agree with and those you dont and give your reasons. Ask yourself, are you challenging just the facts, or do you find the argument logically flawed.

I'll continue to post interesting links on the subject but my obession in posting about it on the blog, you'll be happy to hear is waning, at least I think it is.

More on GMOs

I know some of you are already growing tired of my preoccupation with genetic engineering, a subject that until recently I knew very little about. There is still much I don't know, but I consider it an important topic, and will continue to educate myself. I'll probably be posting less about it in the future but for now I still have a few things to say.

Red, in the comments to a previous post raised some good questions about GM crops, concerns he has, dangers he feels need addressing. . I'm certainly no expert, but I've never let that stop me before so I'm going to try and address some of his concerns. He doesn't say whether he thinks existing GM crops need to be withdrawn, nor does he weigh in on specific GM crops that are under development like Golden Rice, he says he's basically in favor of biotech but still has concerns.

1. It's effect on biodiversity and its vulnerability to to potenital crushing effects on our food supply if disease strikes homogeneous plant or animal populations.

It seems to me that this isn't just a problem of GM crops, but is something that has been happening for a long time. Long before there were any GM crops the varieties of crops like apple, corn, etc were decreasing. When a farmer finds something that works well they tend to stick with it whether it's a GM crop or not. Biodiversity is important and I think that GM can play a positive role in increasing diversity in crops in significant ways, not just variety for varieties sake but for variety that meets the specific needs of farmers. I recently read a post at Biofortified that addresses this very issue.

2. Its economic effects. I think you like this technology because of its potential to feed more people. But the last 20 years have seen a giant spread of industrial food production and increased hunger. Economics are more complicated than cheaper food = more people eating. Many poor people have both their primary income and primary expense in the realm of food production. Nevada republicans think that you can still trade a chicken for medical service. What is a chicken worth in a market flooded with corn fed factory birds? $8? Not exactly going to cover a deductible. Corporate mass production has devalued one of the primary small business opportunities for the poor. Not to mention the small business around seed and family farms. You end up with the same argument that Wal-Mart uses to say that they are good for the economy.

As Red points out this problem not unique to GMO it is a problem that is inherent in our system. The solution is not to clamp down on GMO, but to support laws that regulate corporations in general.

3.Nutrition has been hurt by the cheapness of mass produced corn that is stuck into everything we eat. when they get done designing super corn, will I be able to get brown rice for an affordable price? We are plowing under fields of more nutritious foods to produce the highest profit product.

Once again this is not a problem unique to GM crops, but a problem with a system that promotes big. It is a problem of education, if consumers aren't educated then they will demand the products the big corporations. I recently watched the program Food Inc. One of the points it made was that even big corporations respond to consumer pressure. In the program they pointed out how Wal-Mart was now buying large quantities of organic foods. So again to blame GM crops is missing the point.

4. The need to protect the vulnerabilities in my number 1 (biodiversity) with chemicals on plants and drugs in animals. The first does us some potential minor harm and the second has the potential to create super bugs and kill lots of people. Not to mention that any farmer can tell you that corn is one of the most destructive crops when it comes to soil and requires much more fertilizers. also pretty bad for the environment.

Planting the same crop year after year is not good farming practice, but that really doesn't have anything to do with GM crops per se. I don't know what superbugs Red's referring too perhaps he could clarify in the comments.

5.The unintentional potential consequences of GM foods. There a number of foods that we eat, like peanuts that have trace amounts of known carcinogens and we don't really know how many proteins we are changing when we alter genetics. We could be increasing plants content of things that could have long term health effects. How do round-up ready crops resist the poison?

For the most part the unintentional potential consequences of GM foods are not greater than foods that grown from seeds subject to mutagenesis both chemical and radioactive. Even other so called standard plant breeding techniques have their risks. What they don't have is the same level of scrutiny that GM crops have. Actually modern genetic engineering of plants has a better idea of what the changes will do than other methods.

So there you go, I think there is way too much knee-jerk criticism of GM crops. It reminds me of the kind of arguments you hear from some of those that criticize big pharma and promote the so-called alternative medicines. GM crops have great potential, we should be cautious but not paranoid. We should be thoughtful and look at the evidence not the name-calling, the guilt by association. We should carefully look at the evidence and follow it where it leads. We need to be careful that we're not just confirming our biases and are evaluating the evidence fairly.

Your comments are an important part of the discussion so don't be shy, speak your mind.

Here are a couple of books I've found helpful in understanding the issues underlying GMOs

GM Crops can Benefit Farmers


Unlike the argument recently put forward by Daniel Church, three reports published this month have documented the benefits of GM crops around the world. A review of peer-reviewed surveys of farmers worldwide who are using the technology compared to farmers who continue to plant conventional crops, published last week in Nature Biotechnology, found that by and large farmers have benefited. Another report released last week by the National Research Council in the US concluded that many American farmers have achieved more cost-effective weed control and reduced losses from insect pests. And a survey of farmers in Brazil, which is a leader in global adoption of GM crops, shows benefits for soybean, cotton and corn growers. New technologies, such as Bt aubergine, promise additional gains to farmers if allowed for commercial release, despite the debate inspired by a recent moratorium in India.

Last year, 14 million farmers in 25 countries grew GM crops commercially, over 90% of them small farmers in developing countries, according to ISAAA. I've been studying the impacts of GM crops for the past 12 years. Given the growth in adoption rates around the world and the increasing number of studies that have been done to assess the impact of the technology on farmers, I was interested in looking at how the results of all these studies stacked up. In my review of global farmer surveys, results from 12 countries indicate that most surveyed farmers have increased yields, decreased costs and improved economic performance. The benefits were found to be greatest for the mostly small farmers in developing countries. The average yield improvements for developing countries range from 16% for insect-resistant corn to 30% for insect-resistant cotton, with an 85% yield increase observed in a single study on herbicide-tolerant corn. On average, developed-country farmers' reported yield increases range from no change for herbicide-tolerant cotton to a 7% increase for insect-resistant cotton.

It is often claimed that biotech crops are more expensive for farmers. However, the evidence shows that while seed costs (including technology fees) were nearly always higher for farmers who planted GM crops, this was usually offset by decreased costs of pesticides. The combination of increased yields and decreased costs has translated to improved economic performance in nearly three-quarters of the cases studied. And the economic advantage may be even greater, as surveys have also found that farmers value additional cost savings that are not included in a traditional accounting of costs, such as management time savings, human and environmental safety and reduced yield risk.