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Posts Tagged: GMO

Food is already genetically altered

True to its name, a listicle published on BuzzFeed News about genetic modification of foods caused a buzz during Thanksgiving week. Writer Stephanie Lee reported that many techniques have been used over the centuries to tinker with the DNA of fruits, vegetables and animals to make them prettier, tastier and easier to grow.

Largely based on an interview with UC Cooperative Extension specialist Alison Van Eenennaam, the article said some changes were accidental acts of nature, some from traditional cross breeding, and others are crop improvements by genetic engineering. None of these changes make food fundamentally unsafe or unhealthy.

Alison Van Eenennaam is a UCCE specialist in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis.

"It's up to us as parents or humans to seek out correct information," Van Eenennaam said. "And that's why my kids are vaccinated, we drink pasteurized milk, and we happily eat GMOs."

Cross breeding and selection have transformed scrawny poultry into today's plump, meaty domestic turkey. Corn is descended from a barely edible grass. Spontaneous mutations from solar radiation produced Washington navel oranges. Seeds exposed to radiation by scientists "randomly scrambles the genes inside them and yields desirable traits," the article said.

Today's farmed turkeys barely resemble their ancestors. (Photo: USDA)

More than 90 percent of U.S. corn is genetically modified. Most goes to ethanol plants, animal feed or processed food, but, "In 2011, Monsanto began growing sweet corn engineered with a protein that helps fight off pests. It's meant to be eaten directly and sold in grocery stores." 

The article generated a few online conversations, with comments from those praising the article and others suggesting it was not balanced.

"I cannot believe this is your header Thanksgiving article," wrote one reader. "Seriously, who paid you?

Another said, "The anti-GMO movement isn't really about food safety ... it's primarily an anti-corporate movement."

The article said the FDA requires that food derived from GMO plants to meet the same food safety requirements as food from traditionally bred plants. 

"What I would be more worried about is undercooking my turkey, because then I could actually be exposed to salmonella — that actually could kill people," Van Eenennaam said.

Posted on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at 3:08 PM
Tags: Alison Van Eenennaam (25), GMO (17)

Anti-GMO measure is on the Sonoma County ballot

Sonoma County residents are voting today whether to join neighboring counties in a ban of genetically modified agricultural crops, reported Filipa Ioannou in the San Francisco Chronicle.

County voters rejected a similar ordinance 11 years ago. However, judging from the money donated to the campaigns in favor and against Measure M, some minds have been changed. In 2005, more than a $1 million went into the fight, with opponents outspending supporters by about $55,000. This time, the supporters have raised more than detractors, with the campaign in favor receiving $278,233, and the campaign against $67,500, the article said.

Few genetically engineered crops - probably only corn and alfalfa - are known to grow in Sonoma County. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

This comes despite an impact report by the director of UC Cooperative Extension in Sonoma County, Stephanie Larson. The report says few genetically engineered crops are now grown in Sonoma County and the potential impact of the ordinance on the growth of the local agricultural industry is not known. Larson's report says GMO crops have bee consumed by humans in billions of servings of food over 20 years without a single documented health problem. 

“Is this maybe a solution in search of a problem? I wonder about that,” said Kim Vail, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. “We live in a free-market economy. Consumers have choices, producers should have choices. Let the market decide.”

Passage of Measure M would align the county with its neighbors. Marin County, which passed Measure B in 2004, was the first to ban GMOs in the United States. Four other Northern California counties - Humboldt, Mendocino, Santa Cruz and Trinity - have banned genetically modified agricultural crops.

Update: Measure M passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

Posted on Tuesday, November 8, 2016 at 3:39 PM
Tags: GMO (17), Stephanie Larson (9)

'Non-GMO' milk label more about marketing, says UCCE expert

Clover Stornetta Farms of Petaluma will be adding non-GMO certification to its conventional milk in early 2017. The move upset organic and conventional farmers, as well as a few agriculture scientists, reported Tara Duggan in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The non-GMO designation means the milk comes from dairy cows who have been raised with no genetically engineered corn, soy or other products in their diets. 

The article featured comments from Alison Van Eenennaam, UC Cooperative Extension specialist based at UC Davis. She said non-GMO animal feed crops have a larger ecological impact than genetically engineered versions because of their decreased resistance to disease and pests, and lower yields.

“We are really talking marketing here — developing a product line to differentiate it from a product that already does not contain GMOs,” she said. “As a company they of course can develop whatever products they want and if they see a profitable market — then it is a good business decision.”

Van Eenennaam said she is concerned that suggesting non-GMO milk is a safer or more environmentally sound product could have a chilling effect on agricultural science advances necessary to feed a world population set to hit 9 billion by 2050.

“We can keep taking technologies away from farmers by pandering to fearmongering around safe technologies — at the end of the day it just increases the environmental footprint of a glass of milk with no food safety benefit," she said.

DNA from genetically engineered feed is not passed to milk or meat, according to research by UCCE specialist Alison Van Eenennaam.
Posted on Friday, September 23, 2016 at 9:20 AM

Chinese scientists use biotechnology to develop tiny pig pets

When pot-bellied pigs grow larger than expected, they often cease to be good pets. A Chinese firm is using biotechnology to create pigs that weigh in no heavier than 33 pounds. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Chinese biotechnology firm BGI believes the diminutive pigs they developed with genetic engineering will make great pets and plans to sell them for $1,600 each, reported Julie Makinen in the Los Angeles Times. The pigs' genetic material was edited in way that disabled a copy of the growth hormone receptor gene so that cells don't get a signal to grow.

In the story, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources expert expressed disappointment in the company's plan to market mini pigs as pets. Alison Van Eenennaam, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, said the company's decision reflects the "global regulatory gridlock" around genetically engineered food animals.

"Genome editing is a powerful technology that can be used for many beneficial applications … such as producing disease-resistant animals and other things that would have real benefits for the sustainability of food production," she said. 

Americans seem to be open to genetically engineered pets. A glowing fish created in Singapore by inserting jellyfish and sea anemone genes into zebrafish eggs has been accepted by many U.S. consumers.

"People are happy to have them in their aquarium, but it's when it's on their dinner plat that they have a different attitude," Van Eenennaam said.

Scientists used different processes in creating glowing fish and miniature swine. With the fish, genes from other organisms were inserted into the DNA. The mini pigs were made by cutting tidbits of DNA out of the pig genome. According to the article, Van Eenennaam believes gene editing animals is no different from traditional selective breeding. Furthermore, she said the FDA's unwillingness to approved genetically engineered food animals is impeding the technology. Companies are deterred from investing in research by the uncertainty.

"(There's too much financial risk) if you go to all the effort of making an animal and it's unclear whether you're going to be able to market it," Van Eenennaam said.

Posted on Monday, October 19, 2015 at 2:13 PM

New GMO alfalfa holds exciting possibilities, UC expert says

Growers can produce more nutritious alfalfa using new low-lignin variety, says UCCE's Dan Putnam.
Good news for dairy cows. Science has found a way to produce alfalfa with less lignin, a component of the plant that has no nutritional value. The new alfalfa variety – genetically modified in a way that puts brakes on the lignin-producing gene – was deregulated by USDA in November.

“In general, a reduced lignin trait in alfalfa is very welcome,” said Dan Putnam, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. “The low-lignin trait has some interesting potential implications for dairy cows and other ruminants, as well as for yield, agronomic efficiency, and even energy and water use efficiency.”

The new variety, called KK179, was developed by Forage Genetics International, Monsanto and the Nobel Foundation. Some of the field testing took place at UC Davis and the UC Intermountain Research and Extension Center in Tulelake, Calif.

KK179 differs from most other GMO agricultural crops in that the modification improves the plant quality. Other common modifications, such as glyphosate resistance and addition of a Bt gene, were designed to help with pest control.

Another difference is the source of the modified gene, Putnam said. In glyphosate-resistant (Roundup Ready) alfalfa, for example, the plant was modified by inserting a bacteria gene. Gene segments reducing lignin were derived from alfalfa itself.

Lignin is a fibrous part of cell walls in plants. It strengthens stems, helping the plant grow upright. However, its concentration in alfalfa is high compared to other forages, a drawback for what is considered the premiere forage of dairy cows.

“Farmers often try to cut early to reduce lignin,” Putnam said. “Unfortunately, yields are decreased by early cutting, often by many tons per acre. If growers were able to harvest later and still obtain good quality, yields would improve.”

That leads to the potential energy- and water-conserving aspects of the KK179 alfalfa.

“If growers reduce harvests by one each year and increase yields with no quality penalty, energy use would decline,” Putnam said. “Also, the amount of milk produced per unit of water used to grow the feed may be increased.”

KK179 won't be for everybody, Putnam cautions. Some export markets reject GMO technology, so growers should check whether their markets will accept alfalfa with the low-lignin trait. Another concern is the possibility of gene flow for farmers who grow alfalfa seed for organic production or export.

“Further research and experience by farmers and researchers are needed to fully understand the importance and implications of reduced-lignin alfalfa on farms,” Putnam said, “but this trait holds some very exciting possibilities.”

An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025

Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 8:13 AM
Tags: alfalfa (49), Dan Putnam (12), GMO (17)

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