Genetically Modified Organisms Can Help With Food Security

Abu Dhabi: Despite the controversy surrounding it, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) used for food can play a big role in meeting the world’s future food security needs, with scientific studies thus far showing that genetically modified foods pose no harm to humans, said a distinguished researcher in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

Held at New York University Abu Dhabi, the talk was given by Nina Fedoroff, a molecular biologist who has served as science adviser under former US secretaries of state, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. During her talk, Fedoroff acknowledged that a public mistrust towards GMO foods existed, but pointed out that the use of GMOs was growing around the world.

“GM crops were grown by roughly 18 million farmers in 26 countries on 457 million acres [of land in 2016],” she added, highlighting an official study that was carried out by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

“More than 90 percent of the farmers growing [GM foods] are resource-poor farmers in developing countries, [and] the overall profits were roughly equally divided between the developed and the developing world. So it’s not a simple case that this only benefits big farmers,” she said, highlighting how farmers were also benefiting.

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Why We Cannot Gamble On Genetically Modified Foods

It is nevertheless also important to recall the many instances where for-profit scientific breakthroughs have brought humanity dangerous products marketed by those with financial interests in them as silver bullets to our many problems.

Think asbestos, think DDT, think plastics and hundreds of other products. Think also of such disasters as Bhopal, Chernobyl, Fukushima and similar catastrophes whose damaging effects will last for thousands of years.

And nothing can be scarier than handing our food security to the ones whose abiding interest is to maximize their own profits, without any concern for the externalities they generate in pursuit of that narrow self-interest.

In falsely claiming no adverse health effects from GMOs (when they have done everything in their considerable power to prevent long-term studies of such effects), the GMO industry and their well-funded army of lobbyists already show they cannot be trusted. Thus the need to fully apply the precautionary principle to the introduction of their products and to put the onus on them to prove both the benefits and benign health effects of this highly-chemically impregnated ‘foods’.

Food is too critical to the survival of all living things and our environment to transfer to the control of those whose sole interest is narrow profit-maximization. Let us not commit mass suicide.

The News Times

Do You Happily Eat Genetically Modified Foods?

Talk about genetically modified (GM) foods causes angst for some people who’re concerned about eating healthily because they worry that too little is known about the long-term effects of modified foods to label them safe.

But others say that controlling our food’s characteristics is nothing new, having been practiced in agriculture for hundreds of years. For example, being selective about the fruit and vegetables we propagate means that we now have products that are larger, are more resistant to natural elements and taste better.

The Australian and New Zealand Food Standards Website explains that “today’s techniques use new ways of identifying particular characteristics and transferring them between living organisms”. For example, the site explains that it’s now possible to make a copy of a particular gene from the cells of a plant, animal or microbe, and insert the copy into the cells of another organism to give it the same characteristic.

What are the health concerns?

Some of the health concerns that have been brought up since the inception of GM foods range from the possibility of new diseases being spread among crops or transmitted to humans, to an increase in allergic reactions.

In 1996, a study found when desired genes from a brazil nut were transferred to a soybean, the allergenic properties were too. While this prompted a ban on using gene modification on allergenic there have been cases of genetically modified foods escaping into the wild.

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A Diet High In Fat Is Best – With The Right Kind Of Fat

This is the time of year we tend to consider a change in diet. There has been a lot of confusion in recent years about what constitutes a healthy diet, with many people advocating and espousing a ketogenic diet, similar to the Atkins diet: a low-carbohydrate, high-fat/high-cholesterol diet (HF/HC). Since most North Americans will die of a heart attack or stroke if they don’t die young from another cause, this is a big mistake.

In 2016, there were large headlines trumpeting that “we can eat cholesterol now; the new U.S. guideline says so.” But that’s not what the guideline said. It said that there were insufficient data on which to base a specific limit to daily cholesterol intake, as in the past, but the intake of cholesterol should be as low as possible within the recommended eating pattern.

A study that clarifies what is the best diet for weight loss and diabetes was done among overweight residents of a nuclear facility in Israel, who were randomized to a low-fat versus a low-carb HF/HC (Atkins) diet, versus the Mediterranean diet. Weight loss was identical on the Mediterranean diet and the low-carb HF/HC diet, and both were better than the low-fat diet. The key finding, though, was that the Mediterranean diet was clearly the best for lowering blood sugar, fasting insulin levels and something called insulin resistance (a pre-diabetic state).

So the healthiest diet is the Mediterranean diet – a high-fat/low-glycemic index diet. This is why recent guidelines – the 2016 U.S. guideline, and the Canadian guideline now in development – are moving toward a more plant-based pattern of eating. We should limit red meat, avoid egg yolks and have three vegetarian days a week.

Read the full article at The Globe and Mail

Is GMO Opposition Immoral?

Evaluation of GMO crops that emphasizes independent science — rather than nonpublic research by pesticide companies — reflects that in 2015, the research arm of the World Health Organization analyzed all published glyphosate studies and determined the pesticide was a probable carcinogen. That finding prompted California to add glyphosate to its list of cancer-causing chemicals.

Escalating use of GMO crops and glyphosate has triggered the growth of glyphosate-resistant superweeds across nearly 100 million acres in 36 states. To combat that, pesticide companies are now pushing the use of the highly toxic, drift-prone pesticide dicamba on a new generation of GMO crops that tolerate both dicamba and glyphosate.

I have long been perplexed that so many people continue to condemn foods made from genetically modified organisms that have been consumed by Americans and others for decades with no deleterious effects.

Mitch Daniels rightly framed as “immoral” the scientifically baseless yet “concerted, deep-pockets campaign” to persuade “a high percentage of Americans and Europeans to avoid GMO products” and “inflict their superstitions” on the world’s poor and hungry.

Apparently, winning market share and lawsuits is more important to some people than feeding a hungry planet.

Read the full article in The Washington Post

Hangover Cures: The World’s Best and Weirdest Remedies

Since the earliest days of civilization, humanity has been trying to work out how to enjoy all the pleasure of drinking alcohol with none of the pain of a hangover.

To combat the symptoms of a big night out, veteran partygoers swear by everything from the hair of the dog to a full English breakfast to alleviate the symptoms of a big night out – but do any of them work?

Alas, the NHS has no words of comfort for the regretful raver. “There is no cure for a hangover,” is their stark ruling on the subject.

So, from a scientific perspective, anything purporting to be a “miracle” hangover cure is probably a load of hokum. But if the thought of getting out of bed is making you quail and you’re willing to give anything a go, here are some of the most unusual remedies from around the world.

Peru

Leche de Tigre, or tiger’s milk, is the Peruvian name for the potent marinade used to make ceviche, the national dish of raw seafood.

The Philippines

Balut is a fertilized duck embryo that is boiled alive and eaten in the shell – beak and all. Although it might turn even the most hardened of stomachs, it is often recommended as the ultimate hangover remedy and is also believed to boost male fertility and libido.

More of this at The Week

Gene Editing Could Rewrite the GMO Debate

Decades of fretting over the safety and virtue of genetically modified organisms have led to a perverse outcome. Plant scientists in academia and startup companies have largely shied away from creating new GM crop varieties because it takes, on average, more than a hundred million dollars and over a decade to get such a plant approved by regulators in the United States, and also because the idea of GMO food has elicited public outrage.

As a result, a few large agricultural and chemical producers like ­Monsanto—or MonSatan, if you prefer—dominate the GM industry, making a killing off herbicide- and insect-resistant corn and soybeans.

New gene-editing tools, either CRISPR or the slightly older TALEN, don’t insert a foreign gene into the plant to create a new trait (as typically happens with conventional GMOs) but, rather, tweak the plant’s existing DNA. The engineered crops thus sidestep the lengthy regulatory process and could avoid the stigmas surrounding GMOs entirely.

Read the full article at MIT Technology Review

Can A GM Banana Solve Uganda’s Hunger Crisis?

Trials for a GM banana variety, which is resistant to wilt and contains vitamin A, have been ongoing since 2004 in an effort to improve production. The law will mean this crop can be released to the public.

“Now that the law has been passed, we’re able to go for open-field trials [of the technologies] before releasing them to the public,” says Priver Namanya Bwesigye, a plant biotechnologist at the National Agricultural Research Organisation. She adds that GM bananas could be released for public use in 2021.

Other GM trials include developing cassava resistant to brown streak, drought-resistant maize, and bollworm-resistant cotton.

Critics say GM crops will make farmers beholden to big agribusiness by having to buy seeds every season. Farmers in Uganda produce between 80% and 85% of their own seeds (pdf), saving some of their harvest as seed for the next planting season.

Scientists say the GM banana will fight vitamin A deficiency. In Uganda, on average, 30% of people do not get enough of this vitamin, Bwesigye says: the World Health Organization classifies the situation as grave if 15% of the population is deficient.

“[Malnutrition] is rampant in communities feeding a lot on staple [crops],” she says. “We are addressing communities feeding on these bananas every day.” She says the culture in Uganda is still for people to feed on staples and little else, rather than having a more varied diet that includes vegetables.

Read more at The Guardian

GMO Expert Voices Concerns About Engineered Foods

The Ecology Action Centre and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network are hosting an international expert in genetically modified organisms at talks in Halifax, Truro and Charlottetown this week to try to answer that question and others.

Lucy Sharratt, a coordinator with the biotechnology network, said genetically engineered salmon is already available to Canadian consumers, and genetically modified apples and potatoes have been approved in Canada but aren’t yet on the market.

“We’re so excited to have Dr. Steinbrecher come and speak because we want to have a discussion about the potential of the science and how, as a society, we should introduce new technology, and that involves public engagement and it involves good government regulation, and if we have new technologies in front of us, let’s look at them together,” she said.“This is the great thing about Dr. Steinbrecher. It is an examination of the science itself behind the technology, but she is able to describe it so that it’s very accessible.”

If that product is sent to market and it’s not labeled, survey data shows people are likely to buy fewer apples to avoid eating a GMO, she said, and that could have an economic impact on growers everywhere, including the Maritimes.

More of this news at Truro Daily News

Is Uganda ready for GMOs?

The Parliament of Uganda recently passed the National Biosafety Act 2017. The law is intended to provide a legal and regulatory framework for the safe development and application of “biotechnology”, not “Biosafety”, in the country.

The advancement of modern biotechnology has been popularised as a powerful tool in alleviating poverty and enhancing food security. Uganda is a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol which mandates parties to ensure an adequate level of protection in the field of safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from biotechnology.

Over the years, Uganda has been progressively promoting the adoption of genetically modified (GM) varieties. A number of confined field trials have been conducted: for example, genetically modified (GM) bananas are being tested for resistance to banana bacterial wilt, black Sigatoka as well as the biofortifying banana with micronutrients with iron and vitamin A.

Uganda’s population is estimated to approach 40 million by 2020, with an estimated 70% below the age of 30. It is argued, therefore, that applying science, technology, and innovation will solve problems of food shortages, unemployment and wealth for the growing population. Biotechnology has been presented as a genetic quick fix that can solve Uganda’s food insecurity problems.

This poses a number of questions: 1) Can Biotechnology overcome problems of food access, food shortages to farmers in Uganda? 2) Can the National “Biosafety” Act regulate GMOs effectively? Answering these questions requires a focused debate on the potential benefits and risks of applying genetic engineering and genetic modification in Uganda’s agriculture sector.

Investing in GMO seed presents a significant financial risk for many small-scale farmers especially with climate change, volatility of markets, access to markets among others. Farmers will be forced to sell all or part of their harvests to cover input costs related to buying seeds – perpetually.

Secondly, the National Biosafety Act that was passed recently is still lacking with regard to biosafety. It is not about “Biosafety” as is known in scientific structures and processes, but mainly GMOs in agriculture. The bill does not take cognizance of the Precautionary Principle as enshrined in the Cartagena Protocol.

Continue Reading at New Vision