Could GMO Crops Help Solve The Climate Crisis?

Genetically engineered cereals may hold the key to sustainable agriculture

Genetic engineering may be anathema to many card-carrying environmentalists, who typically favor organic farming over other forms of agriculture. But to overcome the threat posed by climate change — while continuing to feed 7.7 billion mouths (and counting) — many scientists say it’s time to fully embrace the three most controversial letters in the food industry: GMO.

Their goal is to radically shrink the carbon footprint of global crop cultivation by doing away with the need for synthetic fertilizers, which account for about 5% of humanity’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Through extensive DNA manipulations, scientists are optimistic they can engineer a self-fertilizing relationship between crop species and root-dwelling microbes, obviating the need for artificial fertilizer.

Plants need nitrogen to make two important building blocks of life: amino acids, which are stitched together to form proteins, and chlorophyll, which traps the sun’s energy to power photosynthesis. For millennia, farmers met their crops’ nitrogen demands either by spreading nutrient-rich manure on their fields or by rotating their crops, alternatively planting legume crops that were plowed under the soil to help fertilize the cereal crops that followed.

The arrival of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and high-yield crop varieties during the Green Revolution of the mid-20th century largely replaced these practices, ushering in a new era of bountiful food production — but at a high environmental cost.

The Organic Path

To wean agriculture off its dependence on synthetic fertilizers, many environmentalists advocate a return to organic farming practices. “We already have the solutions that we need,” says Dana Perls, senior food and technology policy campaigner with Friends of the Earth, an environmental advocacy organization based in Berkeley, California. “The most sustainable, least risky, and healthiest way to provide food for people across the world are using organic, regenerative, and ecological agricultural systems.”

A Scientific Fixation

For some scientists, the ultimate goal is to create self-fertilizing crops that can fix nitrogen themselves — but that’s a tall order. The DNA for the task can be extracted from microbes, but it doesn’t function the same way when spliced into plants. It’s such an extreme cross-species conversion, in fact, that it’s only worked in Baker’s yeast, a single-celled fungus that, while not a bacterium, is also not a plant.

It may be easier to keep nitrogen fixation under the purview of microbes and instead genetically recreate the interaction found in legumes within the roots of cereal crops. No scientist has yet succeeded in making this dream a reality, but researchers around the world are pushing forward on several of the required steps.

Under Control

This kind of “synthetic symbiosis” would obviate the need for synthetic fertilizers, notes Philip Poole, a plant microbiologist at the University of Oxford. It would also have the added bonus of mitigating the concerns around genetically modified plants escaping fields and contaminating other crops, he adds. Since any pollen that blew into a neighboring field would not carry with it the bacteria from its roots, any resulting corn plants would be at a major competitive disadvantage, since they’d be making food for their new root bugs and getting nothing in return. As such, non-modified crops should quickly overtake any intruders.

Read the full article at Dhaka Tribune

Island Voices: Non-GMO Project Has A Dark Side

Most consumers have seen the Non-GMO logos on bread and many other food products while shopping at the grocery store. Today in North America, the Non-GMO Project Verified logo is on more than 50,000 food products.

The first product to hit the market with the logo was in 2010, barely nine years ago. GMOs, known as genetically modified organisms, have attracted fierce criticism since they entered the food chain in 1994.

Genetically engineered crops such as canola, corn, and soy are grown by farmers and enter the food chain.

Since both the United States and Canada have a voluntary labeling regime for genetically modified food ingredients, it was almost impossible for anyone to avoid them.

The only option was to go organic, which is quite often 20 percent to 30 percent more expensive to purchase. Not everyone can afford the added prices.

The Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization located in Bellingham, Washington, is essentially the product of a poor risk communication strategy by the biotechnology sector.

Biotechnology companies, such as Bayer and BASF, only have themselves to blame. For years, they sold their products to farmers without much considering the consumers as part of the social-acceptability equation.

And governments in both Canada and the United States have sanctioned the entire charade for almost three decades.

But the Non-GMO Project has its flaws, which are now being exposed by a greater number of organizations, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S.

Reports suggest now that some food companies are beginning to wonder if adding the logo on their packaging is still worth it. The U.S.-based non-profit organization, with revenues of over $2 million, slaps its label on just about any product, including salt, water, even orange juice.

Not only can salt and water not be genetically modified, but many Canadian consumers also are not aware that genetically engineered oranges in the marketplace do not exist.

As a result, the American FDA has recently notified the industry that it intends to crack down on exaggerated absence claims in the food industry. Suggesting, or implying that food products with the Non-GMO Project Verified label is safer and more nutritious is simply misleading and rests on scrawny scientific evidence.

Read the full article at Times Colonist

Are You Scared of GMO Foods?

Scientists can do some amazing things with genes, from saving papayas from extinction to making apples last longer before turning brown, to creating variants of crops that reduce pesticide use. Some of these things may sound too good to be true and I understand if you’re skeptical. How does this work? Is it safe? How do we know it’s safe? What are the side effects? If you’re asking these questions, you’re like many Americans who question the idea of genetically modified organisms.

Genetic modification has come a long way since ancient farmers first tinkered with the genes of the teosinte plant to develop the corn we have today. Yes, you read that correctly: genetic modification has been around since many centuries before we even knew genes existed. Although there are many techniques, they all achieve the same purpose. A genetically modified (GM) organism is an organism that has had its genetic code—elements of its DNA—changed or modified in some way so that it displays a desirable characteristic.

These types of concerns are natural, but understanding the facts behind GMOs (genetically modified organisms) requires a certain level of scientific knowledge that, unfortunately, many Americans lack. In fact, recent studies place America at around the middle of the pack when it comes to an understanding of science—just 24th out of 71 countries. And this lack of knowledge is likely to influence the decisions people make about what to eat.

In fact, knowledge is the best predictor of one’s attitudes about GM foods. Some research has even shown that those who think they know the most about GM foods actually know less and have the most negative beliefs. This means that people who dislike GM foods do so because they don’t know what GM foods are and how they are created.

In fact, knowledge is the best predictor of one’s attitudes about GM foods. Some research has even shown that those who think they know the most about GM foods actually know less and have the most negative beliefs. This means that people who dislike GM foods do so because they don’t know what GM foods are and how they are created.

It’s not really their fault, as the underlying science involves complex questions. How do we know what a certain set of genes does? How would we even go about changing those genes? What are the safeguards and testing procedures involved?

In a recent study, my colleagues and I found that we can change people’s attitudes about GM foods by teaching them the basic science behind it. But we took a different approach than you might expect. First, we avoided any claims that GM foods were safe or unsafe, good or bad. Instead, we focused simply on providing basic scientific information about them in an accessible way and gave people the opportunity to reflect on their beliefs and questions. We asked them to come to their own decisions about the issue and, at the end of the study, people were more positive toward GM foods overall.

Genetic modification is being applied to many types of organisms—mostly crop plants. The goal in developing these crops is often to change some characteristic so that they’re easier to grow, hardier, or able to thrive in places where they normally wouldn’t. For example, some GM crops require less pesticide than unmodified corps or are more resistant to diseases. Some GMOs, such as “golden rice,” modify plants so that they have greater nutritional value.

Read the full article at Scientific American

EU Authorizes 10 Genetically Modified Products

BRUSSELS, July 26 (Xinhua) — The European Commission on Friday authorized nine genetically modified (GM) products for food and feed uses and one as an ornamental cut flower.

Among the authorized are cotton, maize, soybean, oilseed rape and carnation, which the European Union’s executive arm said: “have gone through a comprehensive authorization procedure, including a favorable scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority.”

Genetic modification means that organisms such as plants, animals or microorganisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.

Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.

The World Health Organization says that “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

Church in Ghana Debates Genetically Modified Food

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Although genetically modified food is commonplace in the United States, it is still controversial in places such as the European Union, which possibly has the most stringent regulations on the products in the world.

This debate over GM food is now taking place in Africa, and the Catholic Church is taking part – although Church leaders are disagreeing on which path to take.

In Ghana, the issue is at the forefront, since field trials on its first GM crop – the Bt cowpea, which is resistant to the pod-borer pest – have recently been completed.

“GMOs can help us deal with agricultural challenges, including the problems with food insufficiency,” said Gaston Kofi Hunkpe, a catechist with the Catholic Church who holds a degree in clinical biochemistry.

“So it’s a good thing we should adopt and implement and it will go a long way to help us … Countries using it testify that it is a good technology and so it should go across the whole world,” he said.

However, Samuel Zan Akologo, the head of Caritas Ghana, told Crux he doesn’t see GMOs as offering solutions to Ghana’s and Africa’s food problems, linking the technology to entrenched financial interests of those promoting it.

In 2013, the president of the Ghana Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Joseph Osei-Bonsu, said: “We believe that Ghana can achieve food sufficiency and even produce surplus food for export using the conventional means of farming.”

Akologo told Crux the position of the bishops has not changed.

“The Catholic Bishops’ Conference did not support the attempt by Government of Ghana to introduce GMOs by legislation through Parliament a few years ago. So, Bishop Osei-Bonsu may have spoken generally about the opinion of leaders of other churches. The position of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference has not changed,” he said.

He said the introduction of GM food could deal a fatal blow to the Decade of Family Farming recently launched by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) to run from 2019 to 2028.

Read the full article at Cruxnow

Trump Orders Simpler Path for Genetically Engineered Food

NEW YORK—President Donald J. Trump wants to make it easier for genetically engineered plants and animals to enter the food supply, and he signed an executive order this past week directing federal agencies to simplify the “regulatory maze” for producers.

The move comes as companies are turning to newer genetic engineering techniques that make it easier to tinker with the traits of plants and animals.

Greg Jaffe, biotechnology director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the impact of the executive order would depend on the details of how it is carried out by federal agencies. Simply deregulating could make people lose confidence in genetically engineered foods, he said.

“There needs to be an assurance of safety for those products,” said Jaffe, who was among those briefed by government officials on a call before the order was announced.

The order also noted that the government’s policies should urge trading partners to adopt similar regulatory approaches. Even if the US loosens regulations on genetically engineered foods, Jaffe noted companies could be hampered by regulations overseas.

Last week, the US Department of Agriculture proposed changing its regulations in a way that would mean much of the genetically modified corn and soy is grown in the US today would not necessarily have been subject to special oversight.

Crops produced with newer gene-editing technologies also wouldn’t automatically be subject to special oversight under the proposed rule, unless they posed a risk as plant pests.

Companies have said that gene-editing allows them to more precisely alter plants and animals and that what they’re doing could theoretically be achieved through conventional breeding.

But Jaydee Hanson of the Center for Food Safety said gene editing could also be used to make more significant changes, including those that would never happen in nature, and said oversight is necessary.

But the fish was technically reviewed as a new animal drug, process companies say is inappropriate for genetically engineered animals for food.

AquaBounty’s fish eggs only recently cleared a final regulatory hurdle, and are not yet ready for sale in the United States.

Business Minor

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.


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.


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.


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