February Views 2015

March 5, 2015

How Jairam Ramesh’s ban on Bt Brinjal Set India Back Several Years

It has been five years since Jairam Ramesh, India s Environment and Forests Minister, instituted an indefinite moratorium on the release of Bt brinjal. Writing in India s FirstPost, journalist Vivian Fernandes describes Ramesh s decision to ban India s first genetically engineered crop, which is resistant to the fruit and shoot borer, as Luddite a decision that has demoralized scientists and had a chilling effect on industry. Ramesh s decision, Fernandes writes, came after two months of public consultation in seven cities that should have been conducted in a structured and sober manner. Instead, Ramesh’s town halls were packed with anti-science activists who gave free vent to their lynch mob mentality, Fernandes writes. The process was more than transparent; it was a spectacle.

Poll Findings on Public Fears about GMO Safety: Grossly Misleading

One of the most newsworthy, and heavily trumpeted finds from last month s 2015 PEW/AAAS survey Public and Scientists View of Science and Society was the staggering rift between what scientists and the public think about GMOs. The widely publicized poll reported a more than 50 percent gulf: 88 percent of scientists believed GMOs to be generally safe, while only 37 percent of the public believe the same. But Dan Kahan, a Yale Law professor, believes this finding to be simply pathetic. As an elite scholarly research operation, Pew knows that this survey item did not measure any sort of opinion that exists in the U.S. public. Members of the public, argues Kahan, don t know anything about GM foods. Indeed, Pew had to know that the responses to their own survey reflected simple confusion on the part of their survey respondents. The media is filled with accounts of how anxious people are about GM foods. That s just not so.

Could Uganda Become A Beacon for Pioneering Ag Biotech?

Uganda is evolving into a center for biotechnological research and a model for other African nations, writes Ongu Isaac for the Genetic Literacy Project. Ongu highlighted several examples of Uganda s pioneering role. Uganda is conducting numerous advanced field trials of genetically engineered crops, including a cassava that is resistant to brown streak disease, bioengineered rice that is drought tolerant, bananas with bacterial wilt resistance, and sweet potatoes that are beta-carotene enhanced. Although opposition exists, Ongu writes that there is a groundswell of popular support for biotech among Ugandan farmers, and that it is a model for neighboring nations, such as Tanzania.

Science that is Hard to Swallow

In the midst of an ever-growing national conversation about the risks of vaccine denial prompted by more than 140 confirmed cases of measles, the Washington Post s Fred Hiatt penned a powerful editorial about the risks of another type of denialism rejecting the consensus on GM foods. Some would argue that, unlike climate-change denialism or vaccine resistance, Hiatt writes, it s harmless even if baseless who cares if Manischewitz now feels compelled to offer a line of GM-free kosher foods? Unfortunately, this form of denialism also has victims. Farmers, Hiatt writes, need to close a 69 percent gap between the crops they produced in 2006 and the food the world will need by 2050. It s far from the only solution to this challenge, Hiatt argues, but genetic modification is one significant component to avoiding mass hunger over the next generation.

Will Gene-Edited Products be Considered GMOs?

It s been hailed as the biggest biotech discovery of the century and the breakthrough that will change medicine forever. But programmable gene editing technologies the most promising of which is the CRISPR-Cas9 system could also change agricultural biotechnology. Writing in Biofortified blog, Layla Katiraee describes the new gene-editing technology, and wonders whether crops generated through gene editing would be considered GMOs. What are currently known as a GMOs are transgenic crops, Katiraee writes, meaning that a gene from a different species has been added to their genome. But in the case of crops modified using CRISPR-Cas9, what s edited was there to begin with. To read Katiraee s post, click here. For a great video overview of how CRISPR-Cas9 works, see this video in Quanta Magazine: