Why Haven’t Genetically Engineered Crops Made Food Better?

One of the arguments that have been advanced to promote genetically engineered crops is that the techniques have the potential for improving the food we eat. Crops could be engineered so that they provide nutrients they currently don’t or so that good nutrition is in reach of poor people in developing nations.

In fact, the technology does have that potential, and a couple of efforts have been made to do exactly this. Yet, decades into the GMO era, all of the engineered crops on the market provide enhanced productivity and other benefits to farmers but nothing for the people who ultimately end up eating the results. So why the huge gap between potential and reality? The huge number of problems involved is the subject of a review in Nature Plants.

Far from golden

The people behind the review come from the Rothamsted Research, a UK-based nonprofit agricultural science institution. The nonprofit aspect is rather critical. Rothamsted’s work does include developing genetically modified crops, but it’s not doing so to make money; instead, the organization is dedicated to improving farming in developing economies and sees GMO crops as a potential contributor there. But even with those things going for it, the organization has been caught up in the public’s disapproval of GMOs, with protesters having threatened to destroy one of its test plantings in 2012.

The new paper, however, isn’t especially focused on the work done at Rothamsted in particular (neither the protests nor the research effort that attracted them is mentioned in the piece). Instead, it uses two very different GMO crop experiences to illustrate the challenges of trying to improve nutrition. The first is a case that has reached a fair degree of public attention: golden rice.

Using genes from other plants, researchers engineered rice to produce a precursor to vitamin A, something that’s lacking from rice-dominated diets; deficiencies in vitamin A can lead to a form of childhood blindness. The first version of rice engineered to carry the new trait dates back nearly two decades. But, since that version was announced, nearly everything has gone wrong with efforts to get it in the hands of farmers.

As of 2017, the latest version of golden rice, one with all the biological issues seemingly solved, had been submitted for regulatory approval in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the US. If approved, golden rice will finally be ready to plant for food production.

Read more at Ars Technica

More Knowledge Changes Opinions on GM Food

Jonathon McPhetres, a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Rochester, admits he’s “personally amazed” what we can do with genes, specifically genetically modified food—such as saving papayas from extinction.

“We can make crops better, more resilient, and more profitable and easier for farmers to grow so that we can provide more crops around the world,” he says.

Yet the practice of altering foods genetically, through the introduction of a gene from a different organism, has courted controversy right from the get-go. While genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are considered safe by an overwhelming majority of scientists, including the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, and the American Medical Association, only about one-third of consumers share that view.

UNDERSTANDING AND ACCEPTANCE

In a series of studies, the team discovered that people’s existing knowledge about GM food is the greatest determining factor of their attitudes towards the food—overriding all other tested factors. In fact, existing GM knowledge was more than 19 times higher as a determinant—compared to the influence of demographic factors such as a person’s education, socioeconomic status, race, age, and gender.

In one study, using a representative US sample, participants responded on a scale of 1 (don’t care if foods have been genetically modified), 2 (willing to eat, but prefer unmodified foods), to 3 (will not eat genetically modified foods). Next, the team asked 11 general science knowledge questions—such as whether the universe began with a huge explosion; antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria; electrons are smaller than atoms; and how long it takes for the Earth to orbit the sun.

HOW TO OVERCOME THE SKEPTICISM?

The researchers followed up by conducting a five-week longitudinal study with 231 undergraduates in the US to test, first, if a lack of knowledge about GM foods could be overcome by teaching participants the basic science behind GM technology, and second if greater knowledge would alter attitudes. McPhetres worked with Jennifer Brisson, an associate biology professor, who vetted the students’ learning materials.

The team discovered that learning the underlying science led to more positive attitudes towards genetically modified foods, a greater willingness to eat them, and a lowered perception of GM foods as risky.

Their findings, the team argues, lend direct support for the deficit model of science attitudes, which—in broad terms—holds that the public’s skepticism towards science and technology is largely due to a lack of understanding, or absence of pertinent information.

Continue Reading at Futurity

The E.U is Strict on G.M. Crops, But is it Logical?

The arguments about risk and unnaturalness that support the European Union’s strict policy on genetically modified crops don’t stand up to scrutiny, a new study concludes.

The paper in Transgenic Research also says that the use of genetically modified (GM) plants is consistent with the principles of organic farming.

The EU’s rules on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are so restrictive that it is virtually impossible to get an authorization for cultivating a GM crop within the EU—which means that only one GM crop has prior authorization in the EU.

And even if a GMO crop does get authorization, individual member states may still ban the crop. This is untenable, argue researchers from the University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark, because EU regulation may stand in the way of important agricultural innovation that could provide more sustainable and climate-friendly solutions—and because the strict regulation cannot be justified.

CHEMICAL WASHING VS. CRISPR

In a 2010 Eurobarometer survey, 70 percent of Europeans agreed “that GMO food is fundamentally unnatural.” Unnaturalness is a common argument against GMO crops and foods, and mentions of it appear specifically in EU legislation.

“Unnaturalness, firstly, has many different meanings so even though there are cogent arguments that GMO’s in some respects are more unnatural than non-GMO’s, there are also cogent arguments that many GMO’s are just as natural or unnatural as their conventional counterparts,” says Christiansen.

According to the researchers, many novel gene editing technologies, such as CRISPR/Cas9, are much more precise and cause fewer alterations in plants than traditional breeding methods, in which, for example, plant seeds are washed with chemicals in order to provoke mutations. CRISPR/Cas9, however, appears in the restrictive EU legislation whereas the chemically induced breeding is not.

Read more at Futurity

Rwanda Must Pick a Side in its GMO Debate

Like a phoenix, Rwanda is fast rising towards a future that is inclusive, innovative and self-reliant. It is in this vein that last year, the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) began drafting a law seeking to regulate the country’s use of genetically modified organisms if and when it adopts their use. This policy framework would guide the import, distribution, and cultivation of genetically modified crops in the country. Not many Rwandans are excited about the prospects of GMOs, even as a measure to ensure food security in the region, as the Ministry of Agriculture says.

While some groups’ sentiments are around the long-term effects of consuming genetically modified foods, many are more concerned, and legitimately so, about the politics of this industry given that only a handful of multinationals control the production of genetically modified seeds across the globe. With its current clean slate – no GM crop has been introduced into the country yet – the government must take a critical look at both sides of this passionate debate before deciding which side it will fare on.

Agriculture biotechnology is a broad term used to describe techniques such as genetic engineering, tissue culture, and molecular markers, employed to impart resistance (pests, drought or flood resistance) to plants, animals, and organisms; or sometimes to improve nutrient quality as is the case with genetically modified sorghum and golden rice, which are enhanced with high content of vitamin A, iron and zinc. Around the world, GM crops are grown by approximately 18 million farmers and imported or researched in more than 75 countries.

The world population is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, with Africa accounting for more than half of this population. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) says the world will need 60% more food than it currently produces to feed its new entrants. Yet, arguments that the growing of genetically modified crops will help solve its food security challenge isn’t rooted in reality.

“GMOs aren’t silver bullets to tackling food security; it is only one tool in a breeder’s toolbox,” says Modesta Abugu, a Programme Assistant at the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), a pro-GMO organization with chapters across Africa. Nonetheless, GM crops have been credited with increased food production and reduced losses from pest attacks and adverse weather conditions.

Read more at Techcabal

GMO’s Are In Our Food, But We Aren’t Being Told About Them

In 1996, the first genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were introduced in Canada. Today, there are more than 81 genetically modified foods approved for sale and use in our food products — but you’d never know from reading their labels.

In Modified, a documentary from CBC Docs POV, filmmaker Aube Giroux goes on a personal journey to understand more about how GMOs have changed farming and why GMOs aren’t labeled on food products in Canada. “While many countries around the world were choosing to label them, Canada and the United States decided against it,” says Giroux in the film, remembering when the first GMOs came on the market. “So if you wanted to avoid GMOs, you had to become a bit of a detective.”

Essentially, GMOs are created when genes are transferred between organisms that cannot normally breed, creating brand new genetic sequences that do not exist in nature. A well-known example of genetic manipulation is when scientists inserted jellyfish DNA into rabbit embryos while studying hereditary illness, an experiment which made the rabbits glow in the dark.

According to the World Health Organization, future genetic modification could be directed at making food more nutritious, reducing exposure to allergens and improving the efficiency of food production.

Health Canada is responsible for monitoring all GMOs entering the Canadian marketplace and states that it is not aware of any evidence that suggests that genetically modified foods are unsafe for us to eat. However, Giroux remains skeptical of GMO safety, and concerns from the public still remain.

In a U.S. survey polling the public and scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, subjects were asked whether they “think it is generally safe or unsafe to eat genetically modified foods.” Only 37 percent of the public reported feeling “generally safe” about these foods compared to 88 percent of scientists.

Continue Reading at CBC

Gene-edited Foods are Safe, Japanese Panel Concludes

Japan will allow gene-edited foodstuffs to be sold to consumers without safety evaluations as long as the techniques involved meet certain criteria, if recommendations agreed on by an advisory panel yesterday are adopted by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. This would open the door to using CRISPR and other techniques on plants and animals intended for human consumption in the country.

“There is little difference between traditional breeding methods and gene editing in terms of safety,” Hirohito Sone, an endocrinologist at Niigata University who chaired the expert panel, told NHK, Japan’s national public broadcaster.

Now, Japan appears set to follow the U.S. example. The final report, approved yesterday, was not immediately available, but an earlier draft was posted on the ministry website. The report says no safety screening should be required provided the techniques used do not leave foreign genes or parts of genes in the target organism. In light of that objective, the panel concluded it would be reasonable to require information on the editing technique, the genes targeted for modification, and other details from developers or users that would be made public while respecting proprietary information.

The recommendations leave open the possibility of requiring safety evaluations if there are insufficient details on the editing technique. The draft report does not directly tackle the issue of whether such foods should be labeled. The ministry is expected to largely follow the recommendations in finalizing a policy on gene-edited foods later this year.

Consumer groups had voiced opposition to the draft recommendations, which were released for public comment in December 2018. Using the slogan “No need for genetically modified food!” the Consumers Union of Japan joined other groups circulating a petition calling for regulating the cultivation of all gene-edited crops, and safety reviews and labeling of all gene-edited foods.

Read the full article at Science Mag

What are the Pros and Cons of GMO Foods?

A manufacturer creates GMOs by introducing genetic material, or DNA, from a different organism through a process called genetic engineering.

Most currently available GMO foods are plants, such as fruit and vegetables.

All foods from genetically engineered plants on sale in the United States are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They must meet the same safety requirements as traditional foods.

There is some controversy over the benefits and risks of GMO foods. In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of GMO crops, taking into account their potential effects on human health and the environment.

Pros

The reasoning usually involves making crops more resistant to diseases as they grow. Manufacturers also engineer produce to be more nutritious or tolerant of herbicides.

Crop protection is the main rationale behind this type of genetic modification. Plants that are more resistant to diseases spread by insects or viruses result in higher yields for farmers and a more attractive product.

Genetically modification can also increase nutritional value or enhance flavor.

All of these factors contribute to lower costs for the consumer. They can also ensure that more people have access to quality food.

Cons

Because genetically engineering foods is a relatively new practice, little is known about the long-term effects and safety.

There are many purported downsides, but the evidence varies, and the main health issues associated with GMO foods are hotly debated. Research is ongoing.

This section discusses the evidence for a range of drawbacks that people often associate with GMO foods.

Read more at Medical News Today

Opposed to G.M.O.s? How Much Do You Know About Them?

Most scientists agree that genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.s, are safe to eat. But a new study suggests that the people who are most extremely opposed to them know the least about them.

Researchers surveyed 501 randomly selected adults, testing their knowledge of G.M.O.s with a series of true/false questions — for example, the cloning of living things produces genetically identical copies (true), or it is not possible to transfer animal genes into plants (false).

The study, in Nature Human Behaviour, also tested how strongly the participants opposed G.M.O.s by measuring on a seven-point scale the desire to regulate them, the willingness to eat them, and the inclination to actively oppose them by participating in protests or donating to anti-G.M.O. organizations.

“This shows that extreme beliefs stem from an overestimation of knowledge,” said the lead author, Philip M. Fernbach, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Colorado. “We have to somehow get people to appreciate that they don’t understand things as well as they think they do.”

The New York Times

Are Genetically Modified Foods(GMOs) Safe?

Recently, in the news media, there have been various reports about the introduction of certain Genetically Modified, GM, crops, and seeds into the country.

The technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology”, sometimes also “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering.”

It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species. Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods. Why are GMOs (including foods, seeds, crops, etc) produced? GM foods are developed – and marketed – because there is some perceived advantage either to the producer or consumer of these foods.

What are the potential dangers of GMOs? According to an April 22, 2000 issue of Awake! Magazine: “Biotechnology has moved at such a dizzying pace that neither the law nor regulating agencies can keep up with it. Research can scarcely begin to prevent unforeseen consequences from arising.

Researchers warn that there are no long-term, large-scale tests to prove the safety of genetically modified food. They point to a number of potential dangers:

Allergic reaction. If a gene producing a protein that causes allergic responses ended up in corn, for instance, people who suffer from food allergies could be exposed to grave danger. Despite the fact that food-regulating agencies require companies to report whether altered food contains any problem proteins, some researchers fear that unknown allergens could slip through the system.

Continue Reading at Vanguard

Are Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) Safe?

Recently, in the news media, there have been various reports about the introduction of certain Genetically Modified, GM, crops, and seeds into the country. Examples of such include: the release of genetically modified cowpeas to farmers in the country; the release of two transgenic cotton hybrid varieties into the Nigerian Seed Market; the granting of permits by the Federal Government for confined field trials on genetically modified maize, rice, cassava, sorghum and cowpea to ascertain ability to resist insect attack; etc.

All these despite growing opposition by a coalition of Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, against the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms, GMOs, in the country. GMOs, according to the World Health Organisation, WHO, are organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.

What are the potential dangers of GMOs? According to an April 22, 2000 issue of Awake! Magazine: “Biotechnology has moved at such a dizzying pace that neither the law nor regulating agencies can keep up with it. Research can scarcely begin to prevent unforeseen consequences from arising.

A growing chorus of critics warns of unintended results, ranging from severe economic dislocation for the world’s farmers to environmental destruction and threats to human health. Researchers warn that there are no long-term, large-scale tests to prove the safety of genetically modified food. They point to a number of potential dangers:

Allergic reaction. If a gene producing a protein that causes allergic responses ended up in corn, for instance, people who suffer from food allergies could be exposed to grave danger. Despite the fact that food-regulating agencies require companies to report whether altered food contains any problem proteins, some researchers fear that unknown allergens could slip through the system.

Increased toxicity. Some experts believe that genetic modification may enhance natural plant toxins in unexpected ways. When a gene is switched on, besides having the desired effect, it may also set off the production of natural toxins.

Full article at Vanguard