We are happy to announce a new blog series - the Weekly News Round-Up! Each week, we’ll share our favorite biotech and agriculture stories from the week.
The New York Times reports on why farmers need disease-resistant cassava
This week, Donald McNeil wrote a piece for The New York Times that reported on the virus that is ravaging cassava crops (known elsewhere as manioc, tapioca and yuca) throughout Africa. This is especially alarming because many Africans are dependent on this crop and this could lead to famine and economic disaster. Scientists and agricultural experts are currently researching the virus and hoping to develop strands of cassava that can withstand the disease. Case studies such as this show why agricultural biotechnology is crucial; a disease-resistant cassava crop would not just help farmers economically, it would save lives. READ MORE »
Dr. Pamela Ronald with her best-selling book "Tomorrow's Table"
CBI Expert Dr. Pamela Ronald, Professor of Plant Pathology at Univ. of California- Davis, along with James McWilliams, fellow in the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University, penned an op-ed in the New York Times that discusses a National Research Council (NRC) report about biotech crops that was recently released. The scientists write that many people who reported on the study overlooked or dismissed the findings in the report that acknowledge genetic engineering’s (GE) positive contributions to society and the opportunity for GE crops to help farmers in the developing world achieve greater yields despite difficult growing conditions.
Dr. Ronald and Dr. McWilliams write,
Lost in the din is the potential role this technology could play in the poorest regions of the world - areas that will bear the brunt of climate change and the difficult growing conditions it will bring. Indeed, buried deep in the council’s report is an appeal to apply genetic engineering to a greater number of crops, and for a greater diversity of purposes.
What do you think of the argument Ronald and McWilliams put forth in this New York Times op-ed? Do you agree that opponents to the technology have hindered the advancement of crops that can save lives and access to this technology for those who need help most?
CBI attended the public briefing of a National Academies Report, “The Impact of Generically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States.”
According to the report in brief:
“Corn, cotton and soybean that have been engineered to resist insect pests and herbicides are now planted on almost half of all U.S. cropland. An analysis of the U.S. experience with genetically engineered crops shows that they offer substantial net environmental and economic benefits compared to conventional crops; however, these benefits have not been universal, some may decline over time, and potential benefits and risks may become more numerous as the technology is applied to more crops.”
The report concludes that additional research that studies the full effects of GE crops is needed, and private-public partnerships are necessary to help realize the full potential of genetic engineering.
The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and NPR all reported on this this important study issued by the National Resources Council, which is affiliated with NAS.
Andrew Revkin, science reporter from the New York Times Dot Earth Blog shared in his blog post “A Menu feeding 9 Billion” that Science Magazine, the premier national academic science journal, removed the pay wall from the report “Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People.” According to Revkin, the paper discusses the difficulty of feeding a growing population with current agricultural practices, but “expresses optimism that a sustained focus on efficiency, technology and policy innovations can do the trick.”
The authors of the report prepared a chart with examples of possible strategic traits that could be engineered in specific crops, helping farmers produce significant crop yields even in marginal circumstances. Examples of traits include: salinity tolerance and increased nitrogen-use efficiency.
The paper stresses “that technology alone is far from sufficient if policies are not shifted to advance the appropriate use of the right agricultural strategy or tool in the right place.” Therefore, the authors also point to areas such as aquaculture and food waste management as tools that can increase sustainable production limits.
Additionally, Revkin reports that this special February issue of Science about Food Security includes an analysis by Dr. Nina Fedoroff, Science and Technology Advisor at the U.S. Department of State and 14 other authors, including CBI Expert Dr. Pamela Ronald. This analysis, “Radically Rethinking Agriculture for the 21st Century” also underlines the importance of revising our agriculture policies to fit the needs of the 21st century, and focuses on the promise of agricultural technology that can greatly increase crop yields and support a growing population.
The authors of this analysis believe that the complex regulatory structure for GM crops needs to be simplified so more resources are allocated towards GM crop development. They believe that these efforts, along with improved aquaculture practices, will help us improve food security worldwide and combat the effects of a changing climate. The authors of this report conclude by saying, “But if we are to resume progress towards eliminating hunger, we must scale up and further build on the innovative approaches already under development, and we must do so immediately.”
Paul Voosen from Greenwire discusses the emergence of molecular breeding as one of the many techniques of biotech crop development. Molecular breeding uses latent genes in discarded seed varieties of a particular crop type.
Voosen says, “This next generation could shake up what has become a stalled debate by introducing GM crops that, for example, use only their species’ native genes or have the expression of their own genes silenced.”
By utilizing native genetic information instead of foreign genes, molecular breeding has avoided criticism from some traditional opponents of biotech crops.
The entire article can be read here.