Thursday, April 02, 2015

GMO - is China leading the fight to stop it?


Talk about a strange turn of events, which seem to be a common occurrence in the reign of President Obama, suddenly the tables have turned and China seems to be the only nation in the world actually beating down the advocates and profiteers of genetically engineered food.

I wrote a series of articles on the GMO controversy and confusion, and they are accessible through the links at the end of this introduction.  However, it might be useful that we all share the same understanding of the issue so there can be no distortion of the basics.

There are two sides to the GMO battle, very rich corporate producers, and very poor people all over the world.  In between lay a battlefield of the governmental agencies at the international, national, federal, state and who knows, all trying to regulate and generate money from the big boys and protect the health and safety of the people they purportedly represent.

Circling the regulators in the middle are the piranha, the lobbyists, bankers, environmentalists, anti-environmentalists, lawyers, accountants, a bunch of businesses making a lot of money and creating many jobs in the business of food.  Remember, billions of dollars a year are involved in this playground.

Therefore, we start by defining the issue.  Here is my explanation to help me understand the meaning behind the alphabet soup of key issues.  Two competing interests are at the producer level where all the money lies, and the battle is over what they stand for in the industry.

Within the producer, is the Natural Breeding segment, versus the Genetically Modified segment.  

Natural breeding is quite ancient, and practiced for thousands of years as Druids, ancient Chinese, indigenous peoples, kings, emperors, and presidents would use designer breeding methods to modify the seeds.  They might cross their plants through pollination or crossbreed them for multiple generations.  It was the only game in town.

Then the scientists began using a genetic insertion, according to Biology Online it means 
"(Science: genetics) a rare nonreciprocal translocation involving three breaks in which a segment is removed from one chromosome and then inserted into a broken region of a nonhomologous chromosome."

Are you kidding me?

How about this definition from the Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary, "a: a section of genetic material inserted into an existing gene sequence, b: the mutational process producing a genetic insertion."

Now that really explains it.  No wonder the general population is clueless about the news stories when such scientific, technical, and biological terms get bandied about in the latest breaking news.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, just what is the definition of Genetic Engineering?

"Genetic engineering is a set of technologies used to change the genetic makeup of cells, including the transfer of genes within and across species boundaries to produce improved or novel organisms. The techniques involve sophisticated manipulations of genetic material and other biologically important chemicals.

Genes are the chemical blueprints that determine an organism's traits. Moving genes from one organism to another transfers those traits. Through genetic engineering, organisms can be given targeted combinations of new genes—and therefore new combinations of traits—that do not occur in nature and, indeed, cannot be developed by natural means. 

Such an approach is different from classical plant and animal breeding, which operates through selection across many generations for traits of interest. Classical breeding operates on traits, only indirectly selecting genes, whereas biotechnology targets genes, attempting to influence traits.  The potential of biotechnology is to rapidly accelerate the rate of progress and efficiency of breeding."

Maybe we should say Playing God by combining things that are different and alien to each other in hopes of creating a more superior specimen.  I do not know about you but when it comes to manipulating the genetic structure of DNA and cells, whether in plants, animals, or humans, I get very nervous.

The field of genetic engineering is relatively new, in fact it came into use in 1996, just nineteen years ago, when our government approved the use by farmers.  Seems from a science standpoint it is still in the infancy stage since exposure is recent and it seems like something that new should undergo testing for longer than nineteen years to assess the side effects.

Not in America.

Quite the contrary, as our government went so far as to shield, protect, or whatever you may want to call the unfair business practices in which the government gave GMO producers immunity from liability for injuries or deaths caused by side effects or even prescribed use of their G

As a result, use of the experimental GMO technology went from nothing in 1996 to over 90% in 2014 for several major food categories including the largest selling, corn, soybeans, and others.  To be precise, 94% of all corn products used as human food and for animal food came from GMO seeds.  At the same time, the food for 95% of the food-producing animals in America is GMO.

The following are three recent news stories about the GMO situation, the role China is now playing, and the extent of worldwide GMO use in spite of the opposition.  First, here are the links to my previous series on GMO.

GMO Part 1. - America's Health - Obama's Achilles Heel!

GMO Part 2. - Myths and Truths

GMO Part 3. - The Higher Purpose of Genetic Engineering

GMO Part 4.  Does the USA Feed the World?, once it was approved by the FDA (the federal government).

GMO Part 5 - The End Game - Now What?

The Guardian

Is China's GMO corn ban protecting consumers or protecting markets?

As China closes its markets to many types of US corn, questions arise about the costs and benefits of genetically modified food

For 42 years, Don Villwock has grown soybeans and corn on 4,000 acres in southwest Indiana. He has endured low prices, bad weather and trade embargoes. This year, however, he’s facing a new challenge: China.

In March, China’s authorities stopped accepting exports of corn that contained a specific, very common genetic modification intended to make the plant resistant to insects. A few months later China also began rejecting dried distillers grain – a byproduct of ethanol production – that carried the trait.

Villwock explains that, as a major market evaporated, prices tumbled, and farms across the US took a financial hit. “We’re one of them,” he says. “I got to see this movie from the front row.”

Genetically modified foods have long been controversial. Opponents argue that these crops damage the environment, contribute to corporate control of food systems, and have not been proven safe for human consumption. Supporters counter that genetically engineered crops require less pesticide use and could be a key part of confronting rising food demand worldwide.

China’s recent moves, however, raise questions about the global future of GMO crops.

Ripples from a closed market

The trait China rejected was developed by Syngenta, one of the major producers of genetically engineered seeds. Four years ago, they released it under the name Viptera; since then, it has been approved in most major markets, including the US and the generally GMO-shy European Union. China, however, has lagged on approving the trait. Earlier this year, they began cracking down on imports.

Veronica Nigh, an economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), says that, in recent years, China has bought about 40% of the dried distillers grain produced in the US. But now, with Viptera unwelcome in China, many middlemen have become unwilling to buy any corn that might contain the trait, and many farmers have been left with surplus corn. In turn, the extra supply of corn in the market has driven down prices for all corn growers.

“When your number one customer starts rejecting [your crop], the price drops quickly,” Nigh says.
In response, the US Grains Council asked Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to pressure China to approve the trait. Some critics, however, place the blame squarely on Syngenta for pushing a new trait before it was approved by a major trading partner. The North American Export Grain Association and the National Grain and Feed Association have asked Syngenta to cease marketing Viptera and another unapproved trait. International trading company Cargill and livestock feed exporter Trans Coastal have both sued the biotech giant, claiming expected losses of $90 million and $41 million, respectively.

Syngenta did not respond to requests for comment, but has rejected responsibility on its website. David Morgan, president of Syngenta Seeds, has asserted that halting marketing of certain seeds at this point would be tantamount to giving a foreign nation control over US agricultural practices.
At the moment, biotech companies are standing by the power of GMOs. Villwock says, however, that some farmers are considering a return to conventional seed next year rather than risk growing crops that prove unsellable.

An economic power play?

AFBF’s Nigh suggests that China has economic reasons for rejecting Viptera: Chinese corn farmers are experiencing significant surpluses right now, and slowing imports could help buoy prices for these growers. However, once the fear of GMOs is incited, she says, it is not easy to reverse.
“Long-term, our concern is that it slows down the abilities of US farmers to adopt the newest and best technology available to them,” she says.

Monsanto, a major seed producer that is not currently having trouble with China, is still developing GMO traits. But Rob Fraley, the company’s chief technology officer, points out that it has also been dedicating a growing portion of its budget – currently over 50% – to “advanced breeding” programs. Whereas GMO seeds generally contain altered DNA or genetic code from other species, this new program is more like an accelerated, science-aided version of old fashioned breeding: scientists use gene mapping techniques to identify desired traits in plants, making it easier for breeders to select for these characteristics.

“They can breed faster, they can breed more precisely, they can map and tag breeding traits – but it’s not a GMO,” Fraley says.

These techniques have already produced an antioxidant-boosting broccoli that is just coming to market, Fraley says, noting that other varieties that offer enhanced nutrition, better flavor, and other desirable traits are also in development.

There are also promising alternatives to genetically modified crops, says Bill Freese, a science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety. Farming practices known as ecological agriculture – including crop rotation and the planting of cover crops – can help keep weeds at bay, making it unnecessary to plant herbicide-resistant GMO seeds. Moreover, he explains, conventional breeding programs have produced the kinds of drought-tolerant and enhanced-nutrition strains promised by genetic engineering. However, none of these new varieties have yet been able to gain traction in the market because the breeders, many of whom are publicly funded, don’t have the money or clout to compete with GMO producers, he says.

Even with the challenges they’re facing, GMOs are likely to stick around. Genetically modified crops make up nearly 90% of the corn grown in the US. And, according to a recent study by the Georg-August-University of Goettingen, GMO seed has increased yields by 22% and farmers’ profits by 68%.

Many farmers are planning to stick with their GMO seeds. When prices are low, Villwock says, it just makes sense to use the seeds with the highest yields. And, in his experience, those are genetically modified crops. “There’s no doubt the economics lean towards planting a GMO crop,” Villwock says. “We will stay planting GMOs on our farm.”

Sarah Shemkus is a freelance reporter and editor who writes about business, technology, food and the places where they all meet. Find her on Twitter at@shemkus.

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Bloomberg News

China to Battle GMO Crop Fear From Field to Dinner Table

Oct. 9 (Bloomberg) -- The Chinese government is trying to convince Zhou Guangxiu that the corn in the congee she wants to feed her son is safe. That may not be easy.

Zhou, the owner of a recycling business in the northeast coastal city of Weihai, said one source of her concern was an anonymous article shared online by her friends that alleges genetically modified crops cause infertility in Asians, part of a U.S. ploy against China. She fears her 21-year-old son won’t have his own family if she feeds him the corn-meal porridge.

“I definitely won’t let my son eat it,” Zhou said by telephone. “It’s not just me. All our friends are worried. All the corn grown now is genetically modified.”

China, the world’s most-populous country and the biggest consumer of rice, soybeans and wheat, has begun a campaign to push genetically modified organisms as it seeks to expand food supplies. While no domestic grain crops are bioengineered, President Xi Jinping has endorsed the technology used to boost output everywhere from the Americas to Africa. China’s Ministry of Agriculture said Sept. 28 it would use media, seminars and street advertising to combat the perceived risks.

Meat consumption has surged in China as the economy expanded almost six-fold over the past decade and incomes rose. That led to an increase in livestock herds and demand for feed. The nation is already the biggest soybean buyer and will become the top corn importer by about 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. Most of its overseas supplies are produced from seed genetically engineered to grow with certain traits, like killing pests or tolerating herbicides.

‘Controversial Views’

“There has been a lot of opposition against GMO in China not based on science, which, if left unchecked, can weaken government support for the development of biotechnology,” Li Qiang, chairman of Shanghai JC Intelligence Co., the country’s largest independent agriculture market researcher, said by telephone from Shanghai on Oct. 7. “The agriculture ministry probably feels compelled to do some education.”

Because the technology is new, “it’s reasonable that society should hold controversial views and doubts,” Xi told the Communist Party conference on rural works last December, the Beijing Evening News reported on Sept. 28. China should ensure biotechnology is safe and should not allow foreign companies to control the market for gene-modified products, he said.

‘Very Big Problem’

The concern among some Chinese consumers about genetically modified grains dovetails with broader worries about food safety. Fears have been fanned by high-profile incidents, including rice found with cancer-causing heavy metals; rat, fox and mink sold as mutton; cooking oil salvaged from sewers; and baby formula laced with chemicals. About 41 percent of Chinese consumers in a 2012 Pew Research Center survey considered food safety a “very big problem,” up from 12 percent in 2008.

The state-led campaign to promote GMOs comes at a time when meat has become a popular choice at meals, requiring more corn, wheat and soybeans to feed livestock. China is the world’s largest pork consumer, ranks second in chicken demand, and trails only the U.S. and Brazil in beef, USDA data show.

In December, the country announced a new food-security strategy that will allow “moderate” grain imports for feed, while maintaining self-sufficiency in wheat and rice, a break from previous policies to ensure the nation grows 95 percent of the corn, wheat and rice it needs, according to an April report by the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

More Meat

Per-capita demand for corn more than doubled in the past two decades, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Beef consumption in China, which the USDA estimates already raises and eats half the world’s pork, could surge by more than 70 percent from 2013 to 2030, Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. said Sept. 5.

China’s demand for corn and soybeans will continue to rise in line with economic growth, according to the USDA report in April. The economy, which has the world’s biggest meat industry, may expand 6.9 percent in 2016, more than twice as fast as the U.S., according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

The country imported 63 million metric tons of soybeans last year valued at $38 billion, accounting for more than 60 percent of global exports, customs data show. It also shipped in 3.3 million tons of corn, according to the data. Soybean purchases will climb to 96.9 million tons by about 2020, with corn reaching 16 million tons, according to a long-term projection made by the USDA in February.

U.S. Grains

Most of the soybeans and corn China imports are grown with engineered seeds, including those with built-in resistance to Monsanto Co.’s Roundup herbicide, Zhang Xiaoping, chief representative of the U.S. Soybean Export Council, said by telephone Sept. 30.

China’s biggest supplier is the U.S., where GMO crops account for 93 percent of all corn produced and 94 percent of soybeans, USDA data show. While the U.S. is the largest user, Brazil and Argentina sowed a combined 64.7 million hectares (160 million acres) of GMO corn, soybeans and cotton in 2013, with another 21.8 million hectares planted in India and Canada, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.

China doesn’t have a choice when the top suppliers all employ the technology,” Zhang said.
Corn in China trades at almost three times the U.S. price. Futures for December delivery on the Chicago Board of Trade were down 0.4 percent at $3.4175 a bushel at 6:08 a.m. On the Dalian Commodity Exchange, the grain was at 2,342 yuan a ton, or about $9.70 a bushel.

Not Unique

Concern that GMO crops are unsafe isn’t unique to China. Only 27 countries planted genetically modified crops in 2013, ISAAA data show, and at least 60 have labeling requirements, including JapanBrazil and the entire European Union. Surveys in the EU show opposition by consumers, who worry about risks such as human resistance to antibiotics and the development of so-called superweeds that are impervious to herbicides.

China approved strains of genetically modified rice and corn in 2009, saying at the time that mass-production will be allowed only after trial planting and public acceptance. Cotton is the only bioengineered crop widely grown.

Unlike the U.S.Brazil and ArgentinaChina doesn’t raise gene-altered food crops on a commercial scale, according to Huang Dafang, a researcher with Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and former member of the agriculture ministry’s biosafety committee. Instead, it only buys them, though the government has rejected some imports with unapproved traits, including an insect-repelling variety developed by Syngenta AG. Imports must be processed, mostly into animal feed and cooking oil, he said.

Consumer Concern

Even as the top leadership has approved the safety of domestically developed genetically modified corn and rice, they haven’t been cultivated outside labs, according to Huang. No one at China’s agriculture ministry replied to a request for comment sent by fax.

“The main reason for China’s slow adoption of biotech grain crops isn’t so much that the government is swayed by public opinions,” Shanghai JC Intelligence’s Li said. “It’s that China doesn’t have leading, marketable biotechnologies and is afraid of having the market controlled by foreign companies once commercialization is granted.”

Genetically modified foods currently available show no effect on human health among the populations where they’ve been approved and likely aren’t a risk, according to the World Health Organization.

That hasn’t prevented consumers from expressing concern about food safety. China Central Television reported illegal sales of unapproved GMO rice in supermarkets in central Hubei province, prompting a pledge by the government that it would crack down on illegal growing and selling.

“We don’t know what GMO is and what it really does to our bodies,” said Zhou, the mother in Weihai who expressed fear of feeding her son corn porridge. “Hopefully, the government can help us understand what the truth really is.”

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: William Bi in Beijing at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ramsey Al-Rikabi at Sungwoo Park.


Here are the Top 7 Genetically Modified Crops:

1. Corn: Corn is the No. 1 crop grown in the U.S. and nearly all of it -- 88 percent -- is genetically modified. In addition to being added to innumerable processed foods, genetically modified corn is a staple of animal feed.

2. Soy: 93 percent of soy is genetically modified. Soy is a staple of processed foods under various names including hydrogenated oils, lecithin, emulsifiers, tocopherol (a vitamin E supplement) and proteins.

3. Cottonseed: According to the USDA, 94 percent of cotton grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. Cottonseeds are culled from cotton, and then used for vegetable oil, margarine or shortening production, or frying foods, such as potato chips.

4. Alfalfa: Farmers feed alfalfa to dairy cows, the source of milk, butter, yogurt, meat and so much more. Alfalfa is the fourth largest crop grown in the U.S., behind corn, soybeans, and wheat (though there is no genetically engineered wheat on the market).

5. Papaya: 75 percent of the Hawaiian papaya crop is genetically modified to withstand the papaya ringspot virus.

6. Canola: About 90 percent of the U.S. canola crop is genetically modified. Canola oil is used in cooking, as well as biofuels. In North Dakota, genetically modified canola has been found growing far from any planted fields, raising questions about what will happen when "escaped" GE canola competes with wild plants.

7. Sugar Beets: More than half -- 54 percent -- of sugar sold in America comes from sugar beets. Genetically modified sugar beets account for 90 percent of the crop; however, that percentage is expected to increase after a USDA's decision last year gave the green light to sugar beet planting before an environmental impact statement was completed.

The organization True Food Now has a list of foods currently being tested for genetic modification, as well as those foods that are approved but not yet sold in the U.S. For a full snapshot of the future GMO landscape, visit this link.


The Debate About GMO Safety Is Over, Thanks To A New Trillion-Meal Study

By Jon Entine

Visit almost any anti-GMO website and you will find alarming headlines about the alleged dangers of GMO foods. They kill pigs, cows and sheep on farms and in lab studies! Humans are next!

Monsanto MON +3.93%’s GMO Feed Creates Horrific Physical Ailments in Animals,” screams a typical article, in AlterNet, a popular anti-GMO site. It touts “new research” but as is typical of such articles and such sites, it neither quotes a study nor links to any independent research.

Although there have been more than 2,000 studies documenting that biotechnology does not pose an unusual threat to human health and genetically modified foods are as safe or safer than conventional or organic foods, questions remain in the minds of many consumers.

What does the research say?

Animal feeding studies are the basis for evaluating the safety of GMO crops. One-off studies of lab animals have occasionally shown some problems. Gilles-Eric Séralini, in his retracted GM corn study (later republished in a non-peer-reviewed anti-GMO journal), claimed rats fed genetically engineered corn developed grotesque cancerous tumors—the kind no farmer would miss among his animals if this cause-effect was genuinely in place.

Anti-GMO crusader Jeffrey Smith, on his personal website, the Institute for Responsible Technology, lists more than a dozen cases in which he claims animals fed GMOs exhibited abnormal conditions, including cancer and early death. He also references his own self-published book, and anecdotal evidence that pigs fed GM feed turned sterile or had false pregnancies and sheep that grazed on BT cotton plants often died.

“Nearly every independent animal feeding safety study on GM foods shows adverse or unexplained effects,” he writes. “But we were not supposed to know about these problems…the biotech industry works overtime to try to hide them.”

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine—an alternative medicine group that rejects GMOs and believes that vaccines are dangerous—claims, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.

Is there any basis to these allegations? After all, globally, food-producing animals consume 70% to 90% of genetically engineered crop biomass, mostly corn and soybean. In the United States alone, animal agriculture produces over 9 billion food-producing animals annually, and more than 95% of these animals consume feed containing GE ingredients. The numbers are similar in large GMO producing countries with a large agricultural sector, such as Brazil and Argentina.

Estimates of the numbers of meals consumed by feed animals since the introduction of GM crops 18 years ago would number well into the trillions. By common sense alone, if GE feed were causing unusual problems among livestock, farmers would have noticed. Dead and sick animals would literally litter farms around the world. Yet there are no anecdotal reports of such mass health problems.

But we don’t need to depend on anecdotes to address these concerns. Writing in the Journal of Animal Science, in the most comprehensive study of GMOs and food ever conducted, University of California-Davis Department of Animal Science geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam and research assistant Amy E. Young reviewed 29 years of livestock productivity and health data from both before and after the introduction of genetically engineered animal feed. [NOTE: article is behind a paywall until October 1.]

The field data represented more than 100 billion animals covering a period before 1996 when animal feed was 100% non-GMO, and after its introduction when it jumped to 90% and more. The documentation included the records of animals examined pre and post mortem, as ill cattle cannot be approved for meat.

What did they find? That GM feed is safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GMO feed. There was no indication of any unusual trends in the health of animals since 1996 when GMO crops were first harvested. Considering the size of the dataset, it can reasonably be said that the debate over the impact of GE feed on animal health is closed: there is zero extraordinary impact.

The Van Eenennaam study corresponds to other reviews of animal feeding data, some multi-generational and as long two years.

Several recent comprehensive reviews from various authors summarize the results of food-producing animal feeding studies with the current generation of GE crops (Deb et al., 2013; Flachowsky, 2013; Flachowsky et al., 2012; Tufarelli and Laudadio, 2013; Van Eenennaam, 2013). Studies have been conducted with a variety of food-producing animals including sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, quail, cattle, water buffalo, rabbits and fish fed different GE crop varieties. The results have consistently revealed that the performance and health of GE-fed animals were comparable with those fed near isogenic non-GE lines and commercial varieties.

Here is a comprehensive list of animal feeding studies. Many of these studies are independent. The list included systematic reviews, all of which conclude that GMO feed is safe.

As Dr. Steven Novella notes on his blog Neurologica:

[T]his data is observational, meaning the authors are looking at data collected out there in the world and not part of any controlled prospective experiment. Observational data is always subject to unanticipated confounding factors. However, robust observational data is still highly useful, and has the potential to detect any clear signals.

The findings also comport with long-term GMO feeding laboratory studies. The GENERA database, found at Biology Fortified online, lists more than three-dozen examples of multi-year studies. A recent review of 24 of these studies by Snell et. al found: “Results…do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed.” There have been a few outlier studies, such as the retracted GMO corn research. But if Séralini’s data were real and 80% of food was poison, animals and people would be dropping like flies.

The authors also found no evidence to suggest any health affect on humans who eat those animals. No study has revealed any differences in the nutritional profile of animal products derived from GE-fed animals. Because DNA and protein are normal components of the diet that are digested, there are no detectable or reliably quantifiable traces of GE components in milk, meat, and eggs following consumption of GE feed.

In other words, the debate over the risks associated with GMO food is effectively over. As Novella writes:

We now have a large set of data, both experimental and observational, showing that genetically modified feed is safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GMO feed. There does not appear to be any health risk to the animals, and it is even less likely that there could be any health effect on humans who eat those animals.

In order to maintain the position that GMOs are not adequately tested, or that they are harmful or risky, you have to either highly selectively cherry pick a few outliers of low scientific quality, or you have to simply deny the science.

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