Modern Agriculture

By • December 08, 2017

This post was originally published on GMO Answers' Medium page.

 

From minimizing yield loss to fighting diseases, GMOs and plant science help farmers protect our foods and grow more with fewer resources. (Image Credit: GMO Answers)

Food Evolution is a documentary released earlier this year that goes inside the debate over genetically modified foods. To learn more, GMO Answers reached out to volunteer expert Joanna Wavrunek for her thoughts on the documentary and where consumers can find trusted information about modern agriculture off-screen. 

 

 

 

I don’t blame you for having questions about modern farming practices and how your food is being grown. People are further removed from farming than ever before and modern practices can be misunderstood.

However, I do encourage you to find credible sources to become more engaged in agriculture.

The recent documentary entitled Food Evolution demonstrates how easy it is for customers to fall into the trap of misinformation. I am confident this documentary will open your mind to genetically engineered crops or GMOs.   

When you watch Food Evolutions, think of it like going to the doctor. We trust certain people to provide us with information that will keep us healthy. For example, we rely on a dentist, eye doctor and family practice doctor to ensure we are making the best decisions for ourselves and families.

As a millennial, I know that understanding modern agriculture can be challenging because it isn’t a part of everyday life for most people. My goal is to break it down into terms that my fellow millennials can understand. 

Trust in doctors – Trust in farmers

We trust our doctors because they have years of education and experience under their belt. Farmers have many years of experience too. Nearly 97 percent of farms are family owned, which means farmers have learned from their parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Today, many farmers continue their education beyond high school to gain expertise and provide new insight to the family farm.

Keep in mind that farmers are producing food for their families to eat, too. They understand their responsibility to grow safe and affordable food for you and me. Food Evolution describes how marketers use scare tactics to break that trust. They trick customers into buying specific products. Don’t be a victim of their marketing strategies.

Improvements in medicine – Improvements in agriculture

We would not want a doctor to be performing surgery on us with the tools they had five years ago. In the same way, we don’t want our farmers to use the same tools and practices they did five years ago either, if there are proven new technologies that are better. We expect doctors and farmers to use the best tools. Many of us millennials don’t want to use the technology from five years ago or even the last update on our cellphone. 

GMO crops are an example of a useful modern tool in agriculture. Using GMOs allows farmers to produce food for our growing population on less land, withstand insects and unpredictable weather patterns, reduce food waste and improve air quality. Food Evolution shows how crops looked in the past and then how GMOs have transformed farmers’ ability to grow food in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.

Getting a second opinion – Asking another farmer

Sometimes we need a second viewpoint from another doctor. We want to make sure we are making the very best decision. The same goes in agriculture. It is acceptable to ask another farmer and gain another perspective to make an educated decision about food. It is essential that you ask someone that is credible and experienced. Food Evolution explains how we are fighting for the same common goal – safe food!

Schedule your next appointment – Continuing to engage with farmers

We don’t visit the doctor once and never go again – at least I hope that isn’t the case! We make an appointment annually to keep us healthy. The conversation with farmers shouldn’t end either. Our world is continuously adapting and we should continue to talk to credible sources. Food Evolution is a place to start to learn about GMOs. I encourage you to connect with a farmer to learn more about how their farming practices affect you.

Overall, I want us millennials to keep our reputation of being interested in how things work or, in this case how our food is grown. Give Food Evolution a watch. After that, if you need a second opinion, contact a few farmers in the area. Don’t become a victim of fear-based marketing and always continue to learn more about advancements in agriculture.  

By • December 08, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article posted on the website Women You Should Know profiling UC Davis researcher Pamela Ronald, who has developed a flood-resistant genetically modified rice. 

It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of rice for the human species.  More than a fifth of all the calories consumed by humans are in the form of rice. In terms of nutrition, it is the globe’s most important staple crop, which means that when something goes wrong with rice, the humanitarian implications can be staggering.

And, believe me, rice has some powerful enemies. Rice blight, when it strikes, can wipe out eighty percent of a crop in a grotesquely brief amount of time, and worldwide is responsible for the loss of one hundred thousand tons of grain a year, which could feed just over 750,000 people. That is a terrifying number, but in magnitude it is dwarfed by the destruction wrought each year by water. Flooding has traditionally claimed about 4 million tons of rice every year, which could have gone to feed thirty million people.

Food loss on that scale has attracted all manner of traditional solutions over the years, but the breakthrough that finally created rice seeds strong enough to stand up to blight and flood came when Pamela Ronald (b. 1961), a plant biologist and geneticist at UC Davis, combined the know-how of evolution with the rigor of molecular biology and genetics to solve at last a problem as old as written history.

Ronald had always been intrigued by how plants interact with other organisms, how these seemingly passive living things hide within them a plethora of active responses to the hordes of micro and macroscopic beings attempting to do them in. In college, she studied how plants interface with fungi and the nature of plant-bacteria interactions when it struck her that the biggest problem she could devote her research to was the elucidation of how rice reacts to chemical and biological adversaries.

Rice-A-Ronald: The UC Davis Treat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To read the entire profile, please visit the Women You Should Know website

By • December 07, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article in the Financial Times about the global acceptance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

Genetically modified crops are continuing to spread across the world’s agricultural land. Last year they covered a record 185m hectares, 3 per cent up on 2015. Experts are anticipating another small increase this year, though the authoritative annual GM survey by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) will not appear until next spring.

These modified crops are still distributed very unevenly. They are found predominantly in the western hemisphere.

The US and Canada are the heartland of biotech crops, while South American countries are adopting them rapidly — especially Brazil, where the GM area grew by 11 per cent to 49m hectares last year. Europe remains steadfast in its opposition to GM food, with just 136,000 hectares cultivated in the EU (0.07 per cent of the global total). While Asia was quick to adopt GM cotton, it too has been reluctant to accept GM foods.

“China has been very slow to approve GM products for many years,” says Erik Fyrwald, chief executive of Syngenta, the Swiss agricultural group that was recently bought by ChemChina. But he sees signs of change: recently, the Chinese government approved imports of some GM crop varieties and Mr Fyrwald expects approvals for cultivation in China to follow. Mr Fyrwald is not optimistic about a change of heart in Europe, however.

“In Europe we are unlikely to see GM crops for many years to come,” he says, because of intense opposition from consumers and environmental groups. “We’re not pushing [genetically modified organisms]. It is not our priority to spend money and effort to try to convince European consumers to encourage their politicians to start accepting GMOs,” Mr Fyrwald says. “We’re better off providing GM technology in countries that want it.”

To read the entire article, please visit the Financial Times

By • December 04, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article at Ag Daily summarizing six key points about the new food documentary Food Evolution. 

If you have the opportunity to see the documentary “Food Evolution,” do it. It has been the most talked-about food and agriculture film of the year — and rightfully so. The movie examines one of the most important tools in today’s agricultural industry, genetic engineering technology, and shows the emotion and divisiveness created by three small letters: G-M-O.

It’s a movie about the science of farming, and the filmmakers said they approached this project with no preconceptions and with a level playing field in the GMO discussion. After seeing the film Tuesday night during a screening at Ferrum College in Southwest Virginia, I understand why detractors have labeled this as GMO propaganda — truthfully, you can’t be pro-science and avoid being pro-GMO. So yes, the film shows GMOs in a favorable light. It respects science and technology. It would be a disservice to play down the consensus among the scientific community and how widely celebrated genetically engineered traits are for drought tolerance, disease resistance, and the ability to feed the hungriest among us.

I enjoyed this film immensely, as did most of the 100 or so people in attendance at the screening, and it affirmed much of what I understand about biotechnology and agriculture in the modern era. So much has already been said about the movie (just look here and here and here), and because of any perceived or actual confirmation bias I may have, I’m not going to write a review, per se, but I will share six takeaways I have after seeing this film:

  • Food is an emotional issue
  • You have a tribe if you’re pro-GMO
  • It’s cool be an ag nerd

To read the entire article, including details about all six takeways, please visit the Ag Daily website

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GMO Innovation Contest Recap!

By • December 01, 2017

This post was originally published on GMO Answers' Medium page.

By Porter Christensen. Porter is a high school senior from St. George, UT, who loves the art of storytelling and filmmaking because it allows him to share what he’s passionate about.

This September, GMO Answers launched the GMO Innovation Contest, an online video contest that challenged consumers to submit a 15- to 30-second video answering the question, “If you could use biotechnology to solve any food problem around the world, what would it be and why?” The contest kicked off GMO Answers’ annual Get to Know GMOs Month and encouraged anyone to "Get to Know GMOs" by showcasing real-world problems facing our food supply and food production system that could be solved using GMOs and biotechnology

Following a host of submissions, GMO Answers awarded Porter Christensen the first place prize for his entry demonstrating how genetically modified, nutritionally-enriched white corn may help solve widespread vitamin A deficiency in East Africa. GMO Answers spoke with Christensen about his submission and what inspired his innovative biotech solution for this global food challenge.

 

Porter Christensen, winner of the GMO Innovation Contest, explains how introducing beta-carotene to white corn could help improve the wellbeing of millions of people that suffer from nutritional deficiency. (Image Credit: Porter Christensen)

 

Tell us about yourself. Why did you decide to enter the GMO Innovation Contest?

I originally saw the GMO Innovation Contest online and immediately thought of my brother. My brother spent two years in Uganda, where malnutrition and starvation is rather common. I knew that he would know a lot about food challenges, so he and I worked together to come up with ideas to enter the contest. His knowledge of how GMOs would benefit Uganda is what inspired us to enter.

Why did you select the food challenge included in your submission?

We selected to focus on white corn, which is also known as maize in Uganda. We chose this because it is one of the main sources of food in East Africa, making it a great food choice to target. By altering something that everyone in Uganda consumes, we could have quite an impact!

How did you come up with your solution?

After deciding that white corn is the food source that we should focus on, we began to do research. We found the differences between yellow corn and white corn, and also found causes of malnutrition in Africa. Vitamin A deficiency is a huge problem there, which is precisely what white corn lacks. Through the use of the almighty Google, something we all have access to, we were able to come up with the idea of adding vitamin A into this current food source.

 

 

Are there any other current/future applications of biotechnology that you think can be most beneficial?

This use of biotechnology is the only plausible one we have come up with as of now. However, as everyone continues to do research and find problems, the world will find solutions. Biotechnology is something that will always continue to progress, moving with our constantly changing world.

Why do you think it’s important for us to talk about biotechnology?

With the growth of the global population and introduction of new diseases, it is so important to talk about biotechnology. Nutritional deficiencies and other health problems will continue, but the more we apply biotechnology, the smaller the problems become. It is also extremely important to increase our food production to meet the demand of our growing population. This is why we must address biotechnology and the benefits it provides.

By • November 29, 2017

The following is an article in the Mankato (MN) Free Press discussing how and why farmers choose to grow GMOs and dispelling other misconceptions about modern farming. 

There are two things that drive farmer and ag advocate Wanda Patsche crazy.

"One is GMOs. There's just a vast perception with consumers that GMOs equal bad and the science and research says the opposite." She said genetically modified organisms have produced crop seeds that don't affect the nutrition, safety or taste of food but do allow for hardier plants in the field.

"They're a good tool. We use less pesticide and we have better crops and it's easier on us and the environment because we're using less pesticide."

Her other pet peeve. "The use of 'factory farm.' That drives me crazy. Here in Martin County we're the No. 1 hog producer in the state and No. 6 in the country. People driving through here see a lot of barns and people maybe think of them as factory farms," said Patsche, of Welcome.

"But they're families, my neighbors and people I go to church with. Yeah, farms look different than they did years ago and we're making use of technology that is available, but they're family farms."

To read the entire article, please visit ithe Mankato Free Press website. 

By • November 29, 2017

The following is an except of an article in the Southeast Farm Press highlighting the health and safety facts about GMOs to consumers and farmers alike. 

In today’s world of fake news, one of the greatest myths is that genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, cause cancer, autism, allergies, gluten intolerance and other illnesses. Science and extensive research make it perfectly clear: GMOs are safe.

The Council for Biotechnology Information points out that GMOs have not caused or contributed to a single death in the 20-plus years they have been on the market. In the spring of 2016, the National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine released results from an extensive study concluding “no substantial evidence of a difference in risks to human health between current commercially available genetically engineered crops and conventionally bred crops.” 

Adding to the credibility that GMOs are safe is the backing of the federal government. Congress appropriated $3 million to fund the Agricultural Biotechnology Education and Outreach Initiative, which calls for the Food and Drug Administration to work with USDA to provide education and outreach to the public on agricultural biotechnology.

As part of the initiative, FDA held a listening session in Charlotte where the public could weigh in on GMOs. Some who testified said GMOS are unsafe and cause autism and make people sick. At the hearing, Bryant Chapman, a dairy, beef, poultry and grain farmer in Alexander County, N.C., and Don Duvall, a grain farmer from Carmi, Illinois, countered the argument with  convincing testimony on both the safety of and need for GMOs.

Agriculture has a convincing story to tell on the proven safety and need for biotechnology. The daunting challenge is many consumers still believe the “fake news” that GMOs are unsafe. Hats off to Bryant Chapman,  Don Duvall and other farmers who take the time to tell their stories to consumers.

To read the entire article, please visit the Southeast Farm Press website

By • November 27, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article on Wired.com about the non-browning Arctic Apple. 

The Arctic Apple, as it’s known, is strategically missing an enzyme so it doesn’t go brown when you take a bite and leave it sitting out on the counter. It’s one of the first foods engineered to appeal directly to the senses, rather than a farmer’s bottom line. And in a bid to attract consumers, it’s unapologetic about its alterations.

Neal Carter bought his first apple orchard in 1995, up in the gently sloping valley of Summerland, British Columbia. When he started, the future president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits didn’t have grand plans for upending the industry. But in his first few seasons he was struck by just how many apples (and how much money) he had to throw away on account of browning from the routine bumps and jostles of transit and packaging. Most years it was around 40 percent of his crop.

When you cut an apple, or handle it roughly, its cells rupture, and compounds that had been neatly compartmentalized come in contact with each other. When that happens, an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase, or PPO, triggers a chemical reaction that produces brown-colored melanin within just a few minutes. Carter thought there had to be a way to breed or engineer around that. So when he came across Australian researchers already doing it in potatoes, he wasted no time in licensing their technology, a technique known as gene silencing. Rather than knocking out a gene, the idea is to hijack the RNA instructions it sends out to make a protein.

The problem, Carter found out later, was that apples were a lot more complicated, genetically speaking, than the potato. In taters, the browning enzyme was coded into a family of four sub-genes that were chemically very similar. All you had to do was silence the dominant one, and it would cross-react with the other three, taking them all down in one go. Apples, on the other hand, had four families of PPO genes, none of which reacted with the others. So Carter’s team had to design a system to target all of them at once—no simple task in the early aughts.

To do it, the Okanagan scientists inserted a four-sequence apple gene (one for each member of the apple PPO family) whose base pairs run in reverse orientation to the native copies. To make sure it got expressed, they also attached some promoter regions taken from a cauliflower virus. The transgene’s RNA binds to the natural PPO-coding RNA, and the double-stranded sequence is read as a mistake and destroyed by the cell’s surveillance system. The result is a 90 percent reduction in the PPO enzyme. And without it, the apples don’t go brown.

To read the entire article, please visit Wired

By • November 27, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article on the KMVT-TV website highlighting the use of genetically modified sugar beets. 

You could say sugar-beet sugar runs through the blood of Luke Adams. “I grew up a sugar beet farmer,” Adams said. “My parents grew sugar beets, so I’m second generation sugar beet farmer, third generation farmer here in Idaho. He said he has seen the changes in growing firsthand, from irrigation to GPS harvesting. It’s all helped his job get easier.

But nothing has helped quite like the genetically modified seed. Adams said growers are spraying less herbicides, using less water and diesel, and they have better soil. On top of all that they have a lot more beets. Before genetically modified seeds, growers would yield anywhere from 25 to 30 tons of beets per acre. Now it’s closer to 45 tons per acre.“Still with real high sugar content,” Adams said.

This technology hasn’t just changed life for the grower but for the researcher. Don Morishita is another expert on sugar beets, or rather an expert on their number one threat. He’s a weed scientist at the University of Idaho, and he was brought on in 1990 to help growers with their biggest issue. “At that time the sugar beet growers considered weeds as their number one pest problem,” Morishita said. He saw the transition from conventional sugar beets to GMO sugar beets, and he confirmed what the grower said: It changed everything. “They went from having to spend an inordinate amount of time and effort and resources controlling weeds in sugar beets to it becoming very simple for them,” he said.

That means his job has changed a little, but there’s still plenty to do.

To read the entire article, please visit the KMVT website

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