The Cross-Border Biotech Blog

Biotechnology, Health and Business in Canada, the United States and Worldwide

Tag Archives: GM crops

GM Crops Report Aimed at a Straw Man Creates Kerfuffle*

Yesterday, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report on genetically-engineered crops called “Failure to Yeild”  that did yeild a fair amount of press coverage.

However, the report’s focus on yeild is a bit of a … straw man … as UCS itself acknowledges in its FAQ:

“GE crops have provided other benefits important to U.S. farmers.  Bt corn provides protection against insect pests, and the GE traits are often available in varieties producing higher yields as a result of traditional breeding. GE soybeans provide increased convenience and save time.”

ScienceInsider, likewise, notes that

“[the UCS] results won’t surprise most farmers. They plant crops that have been genetically modified to tolerate doses of the herbicide glyphosate (widely known as Roundup) mainly because that trait makes it easier and sometimes cheaper to control weeds, not because it increases yields.  The UCS study is instead aimed at the general public, in an effort to counter claims by the biotechnology industry that genetic engineering offers the best solution to global food shortages.”

In the end, the report’s actual take-home message is unrelated to the any of the novel data:

“[I]t makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of [non-GE] proven technologies…

[R]ecent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in such developing regions as Sub-Saharan Africa.”

It’s hard to disagree with a call to apply all available tools to increase crop yeilds in the developing world.

A second story yesterday, which probably got a boost from the UCS report timing, was that Germany announced a ban on Monsanto’s GM corn, which the country had previously licensed.  This move has actually been anticipated since February, when the EU Committee of Experts failed to overturn bans in France and Greece, and is of a piece with other issues in the EU around GM crops.

* Kerfuffle: disturbance, disruption, commotion, flutter, hurly burly, to-do, hoo-ha, hoo-hah, kerfuffle (a disorderly outburst or tumult).

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Wednesday Brain Dump: Food Edition

Here’s a food edition of the Wednesday Brain Dump, but it’s all about limits:

  • Limiting Salt Intake:  A new epidemiological model predicts major benefits from minor reductions in salt intake.
  • Limiting Antibiotic Use: Some possibility that a bill, introduced in the House by Louise Slaughter (yep.), could pass, banning the use of antibiotics important to human health from being used on cattle, hogs, sheep and poultry unless animals are ill.
  • Limiting Food Imports: New rules came into effect mandating labels on most fresh meats, along with some fruits, vegetables and other foods, that will list where the food originated, and for some meat, will list where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.  Beef farmers in border states have been pushing for the rules, which may have a negative impact on Canadian beef sales.

and the best for last…

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Biotech Crop News Crops Up All Over

…with the EU on one side, and Cuba and the U.S. together on the other.

The EU’s council of environment ministers voted overwhelmingly yesterday to allow Austria and Hungary to maintain their empire ban on biotech crops.  When we noted this pending vote a couple of weeks ago, many reporters expected the ministers to be unable to reach a definitive result under the EU voting rules.  However, 22 of 27 ministers voted not to overturn the bans.  With other national bans active or possible in France, Greece and Germany, the European Commission will have its hands full if it continues its attempts in this area without a change in strategy.

On the other hand hemisphere:

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Ups and Downs for Biotech Crops in the EU

Quite an a-maize-ing week (sorry) for biotech crops in the EU:

  • The European Commission announced a proposal to end Austria’s ban on biotech maizes MON810 and T25, saying that Austria had not supplied scientific evidence that the specific nature of Austria’s ecology justified the ban.
  • A report from the French food safety agency, Afssa, saying MON810 is as safe as conventional maize leaked to the press just a few days before Envirmonent Minister Jean-Louis Borloo was due to appear before a committee of European biotech experts to justify France’s ban.   This prompted French Prime Minister Francois Fillon to say Thursday that “France is maintaining the suspension while it awaits a (European) Commission decision which it will respect.”
  • When the committee of experts met Monday, they did not have the “qualified majority” (a population-weighted test) to overturn the MON810 bans in France or Greece, the same result as in December when the voting was to lift similar bans in Austria and Hungary.  Now all four cases will be addressed by the EU’s council of ministers on March 2.
  • This apparently emboldened Germany’s Agriculture Minister, who said the German government may revoke the license it already issued for the GM crop.
  • Last, but not least, today the European Court of Justice issued a ruling that requires EU governments to make the location of GM crop field trials public.  Hopefully long jail terms will deter the “activists” who will no doubt be among those accessing the information.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world:

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