View from the fence

Social, environmental and economic issues surrounding GM foods, and the latest news

December news

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December was a busy month, here’s just a small amount of what I found in the news. Merry Christmas!

Is Africa ready for GM?
A new study in the journal Food Policy looked at the regulation and adoption of GM in Africa. One interesting suggestion in there was that countries may go through a Fiber–Feed–Food (F3) approach to adopting GM crops: Bt cotton is adopted first followed by GM crops for livestock feed while undergoing necessary assessments before producing GM foods for human consumption.

Nobel laureate speaks out in favour of genetic modification of crops
Geneticist and Nobel Prize winner Richard Roberts has spoken out in support of research into GM crops, condemning those who oppose research into nutritionally enhanced crops.

Bt-Brinjal in Bangladesh
Bt-Brinjal (aubergine) has been approved for growth in Bangladesh. Protests have taken place in India, partly due to fears it will contaminate Indian crops. In India, an indefinite moratorium has been imposed on the cultivation of Bt-Brinjal.

Creating a sustainable food future report
A new report from the UN and others discussed meeting the world’s food needs. It stated that the world will need 70% more food, as measured by calories, to feed a global population of 9.6 billion people in 2050. Other solutions include reducing food waste, change diets, and improve the efficiency of the least efficient farmers (close the ‘yield gap‘). Crop yields would need to increase by 32 percent more over the next four decades than they did in the previous four to avoid more land clearing. (Not GM news, but relevant to the problem and solutions)

If GM crops can feed the world, we should loosen regulations
A new article about a report from LSE in April 2013 points out that regulatory hurdles are making it difficult for rapid agricultural innovation to flourish. Although I wouldn’t have used the word ‘loosen’, I do think that we need to go back to the drawing board to produce regulations which support human and environmental safety whilst maximising the rate of approval of beneficial innovations.

The report stated that: “A cautious research, regulatory, and policymaking approach was appropriate during the dawn of modern biotechnology. Since then, researchers, regulators, and policymakers have accrued a vast body of experience in the United States and around the world. Humans and livestock have consumed billions of meals without a single case of harm attributable to the biotechnology-derived nature of the material consumed.”

This comes at the same time as a potato genetically modified to produce extra starch for the paper industry had its approval annulled because the European Commission had failed to follow rules in the approval process, which raises new concerns about the EU’s approval system for GM crops.

Activists target transgenic trees
I hadn’t realised that scientists have been developing genetically modified trees since the 1980s, but none have been approved for commercial use. Characteristics of the GM varieties include faster growth, pest & disease resistance, and suitablility for biofuels. The University of Florida does research in this area, and there has been controvesy about protestors on the campus.

GM link to celiac disease is challenged
A controversial new report from the Institute for Responsible Technology, which alleged that GM foods could trigger gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, has been challenged by the Celiac Disease Foundation and a professor of crop science.

Author: Rebecca Nesbit

I am author of a popular science book 'Is that Fish in your Tomato?' exploring the fact and fiction of GM crops. In my work and leisure so far, I have trained bees to detect explosives, used a radar to study butterflies for my PhD, written a novel, taken the train from London to China, organised Biology Week, sold science jewellery on Etsy, and traveled to four continents with Nobel Laureates. Best off all, I've made lots of friends whose support I very much appreciate. Thank you! Please visit my website:

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