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Posts Tagged: GMO

GMO fight in southern Oregon sharpens GMO debate in California

UC researchers are decoding the genetic clues that help public and private breeders worldwide develop wheat varieties that resist disease.
A ballot measure approved by voters in a single southern Oregon county to ban genetically modified crops is expected to have far-reaching impacts on agriculture, reported Mateusez Perkowski in Capital Press. The new law is expected to spur lawsuits against growers of conventional crops, court cases that will be closely watched by scientists trying to solve farm problems with genetic modification.

"We could do millions of things with transgenics, but we have our hands tied," a story in The Scientist quoted Jorge Dubcovsky, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis.

Dubcovsky commented in The Scientist article about his work in using biotechnology to instill resistance to a devastating plant disease, stripe rust, in wheat.

“Wheat is a very important cereal,” says Ravi Singh of Irrigated Bread Wheat Improvement and Rust Research in Mexico. “Twenty percent of [humans'] calories and about the same [percent of] protein are coming from wheat.”

Genetic engineering is a way to breed long-lasting stem rust–resistant wheat varieties and boost wheat yields around the world. But genetically modified foods are being kept off the market by public opposition and regulatory expenses.

The Scientist article, written by Kerry Grens, said a few groups are forging ahead, including Dubcovsky and other researchers who are cloning stripe rust-resistance genes from wheat and other taxa and identify their functions. For more on Dubcovsky's work, see UC researchers improve wheat nutrition and yield.

Posted on Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 11:51 AM
Tags: biotechnology (11), GMO (17), Jorge Dubcovsky (2), wheat (5)

Genetically engineered food animals meet resistance

Size comparison of an AquAdvantage Salmon (background) vs. a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon sibling (foreground) of the same age.
Scientists have been breeding genetically modified animals for decades, and assert they are perfectly safe, but to date none has been admitted into the U.S. food supply, reported Jef Akst on The Scientist.

The article reviewed the case of Enviropig, which was modified to produce lower levels of phosphorus in its manure, an environmental benefit because phosphorus can leach into groundwater beneath pig farms. The transgene also eliminates the cost of adding phosphorus to the animals' feed. Anti-GMO activists voiced loud opposition.

"They really targeted it and made it a bad thing," said Alison Van Eenennaam, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis.

James Murray, professor in the UCD Animal Science Department, has used genetic modification to develop goats whose milk contains an antibacterial protein found in human breast milk that could help treat childhood diarrhea.

“Who would have thought when we started [manipulating animal genomes] in the early 1980s that at this point we would have no animals approved?" Murry said. “It's been over 30 years. I made my first transgenic sheep in 1985. We were all making [GM] mice before that, with an eye toward agriculture.”

Akst used the case of the AquAdvantage salmon as an object lesson about resistance to GMO animals. AquAdvantage salmon contain a gene from an eel-like ocean pout. It grows twice as fast on 25 percent less food compared to wild salmon. Despite safeguards its makers have in place to keep the GM fish away from their wild cousins - farming them in inland tanks, raising only sterile female fish - the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been holding off on approval for years.

“Fifteen or 20 years in, $70 million down the drain, and no decision,” Murray said. “Who wants to invest in the next transgenic animal product?”

Posted on Monday, June 2, 2014 at 1:36 PM

Science provides facts for Hawaii GMO debate

Symptoms of papaya ringspot virus. The disease is controlled in a GMO variety called Rainbow papaya. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The New York Times reported on a heated debate on the Big Island of Hawaii late last year about a proposed law that would ban the production of genetically modified organisms by farmers in that part of the island state.

The story describes a lone councilman's effort to get science-based information in face of vocal opposition to GMOs among advocacy groups. The lack of input from farmers and scientists on policy issues that affect food and farming has rankled many agircultural scientists, including Pamela Ronald, professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis. She compared some advocacy groups' resolute objections to GMOs to people who don't believe the world climate is changing despite the scientific proof.

“Just as many on the political right discount the broad scientific consensus that human activities contribute to global warming, many progressive advocacy groups disregard, reject or ignore the decades of scientific studies demonstrating the safety and wide-reaching benefits” of genetically engineered crops, Ronald said.

Hawaii has a unique status in the GMO debate. It's the only American state where farmers grow genetically modified fruit. After an outbreak of papaya ringspot virus in the mid-1990s, scientists used biotechnology to insert a gene from the virus itself into the papaya that gave it immunity and saved the crop.

The article outlines research showing that many of the claims made by GMO opponents do not stand up to scrutiny. Experts conceded that the research doesn't prove genetically engineered food could never cause harm, but the risks of such crops could be reliably tested, and they had so far proved safe.

“With scientists, we never say anything is 100 percent certain one way or another,” USDA-ARS research molecular biologist Jon Suzuki said. “We weigh conclusions on accumulated knowledge or evidence — but often this is not satisfactory for some.”  

The GMO ban was approved by Hawaii's County Council by a 6 to 3 vote and on Dec. 5 signed by the Big Island's mayor.

Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:25 AM
Tags: biotechnology (11), GMO (17), Pamela Ronald (7)

Passage of Prop 37 would cause widespread labeling

Most packaged foods - such as cereals, sodas, cookies, crackers and salad dressings - contain genetically modified ingredients.
Almost any food in the grocery store that comes in a box, bag or can and is not organic probably has some genetically engineered content, according to an article in the Sacramento Bee about the potential ramifications of Proposition 37.

If the proposition passes in November, the packaging of most foods with common ingredients like corn syrup, sugar, canola oil and soy-based emulsifiers will declare that they contain ingredients that have been genetically altered.

Biotech crops are so commonplace in the United States that about 90 percent of the nation's corn and soybeans are genetically engineered, the Bee reported. For that reason, Colin Carter, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, views the labeling debate as more about the business of food than its safety.

He predicts that more people would buy organic goods if comparable non-organic items carried labels saying they've been genetically engineered.

"This does not present a health risk," Carter said. "It's about money."

Christine Bruhn, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Food Science and Technology at UC Davis, agrees that the term "genetically engineered" would scare away consumers. However, the article pointed out, such food labeling is already required in more than 40 countries.

University of California at Davis Reports Make Dubious Claims on Prop 37
Michele Simon, Huffington Post Blog

A public health lawyer called into question two studies by UC Davis researchers that predict the effects of labeling foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, as would be required if Proposition 37 passes in November. The studies are "California's Proposition 37: Effects of Mandatory Labeling of GM Food," co-authored by Carter; and "Proposition 37 - California Food Labeling Initiative: Economic Implications for Farmers and the Food Industry if the Proposed Initiative were Adopted," co-authored by Julian Alston and Daniel Sumner, professors in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis.


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Posted on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 2:09 PM
Tags: Colin Carter (1), Daniel Sumner (29), GMO (17), Julian Alston (7)

GMO labeling is costly proposition for California

Proposition 37 would result in $1.2 billion in higher costs for farmers and food processors, higher prices for consumers and new regulations, according to an article published in Western Farm Press that refers to a new UC Davis study. The article is credited to the No on 37 campaign.

If passed, Proposition 37, which is on California's November ballot, would require labeling of genetically engineered food.

“The proposed regulations have no basis in science and impose rules that would have significant costs for food producers, processors and marketers, and ultimately for consumers, while providing misinformation and no demonstrable benefits,” the article quotes Julian Alston and Daniel Sumner, professors in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis.

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times notes that the work for the study was undertaken with partial funding support from No on 37.

"That doesn't mean the study is without interest for voters," wrote Karin Klein in the editorial.

Posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 9:07 AM
Tags: Daniel Sumner (29), GMO (17), Julian Alston (7), Proposition 37 (1)

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