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Monsanto Protection Act

Alex D. from TRIBE on Utility Room


TRIBE Member
^^ great piece! I'd add a bit of nuance on the points they make on Golden Rice and the "making GMOs for milleniums" points but all in all this was great!

More here on the topic of labelling:


FrankenFoodFacts: GMO labeling arguments are not exclusive to GMOs

Boss Hog

TRIBE Member
I get that GMOs are not proven dangerous for consumption and all that, but what about the fact that so much food tastes like nothing these days? I'm looking at you, strawberries.


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I get that GMOs are not proven dangerous for consumption and all that, but what about the fact that so much food tastes like nothing these days? I'm looking at you, strawberries.

Ya actually Kevin Folta, who I've been following for a long time since as a science communicator on biotech he not only provides great information but is also interesting to follow as he has become targeted by anti-GMO crazies (threatening him and his family, breaking into his office, etc).

Anyway his day-job is all about the strawberry - and looking at its make up in as much detail as possible. And one of the things him and his students are working on is what processes and traits really deliver the best flavour.

Strawberries are really messed up because they are "polyploidal" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyploid

And this means they have a TON of genes and chromosones, making study very difficult and challenging!


The real reason flavour is going away?

We don't produce for flavour AND customers don't demand flavour.

We produce vegetables that will do well for shipping/shelf life/size

We do not select for traits that give flavour.

So its a pretty broad, complicated answer to a simple question: why is flavour going away?

Our selection pressure, over time, is not geared to flavour. So we got here from a journey of a thousand steps for sure.

Folta wrote a paper on this here:


"Plant breeders have been extremely successful at driving genetic improvements in crops. However, ‘improvements’ are truly a question of perspective. Over the last one-hundred years most plant genetic innovations have been driven by industry demand. Larger fruits, heavier yields, uniformity, increased resistance to disease and better shipping quality are just a few of the traits that have ensured profits on the farm and affordable food for consumers. However, these milestones have come at the expense of sensory qualities, which have been sacrificed in exchange for practical production objectives. With a base of industry-sufficient genetics, today’s breeders can now turn to the consumer for guidance in defining critical desires. New approaches to plant breeding start with the analysis of consumer preferences, and then merge them with modern genomics and analytical chemistry tools. The result is the next generation of crops that meet supply chain demands while presenting improvements in flavor, nutrition, color, aroma and texture. This review analyzes the approach of consumer-assisted selection as it has been applied to tomato and strawberry, two complementary annual crops that have been intensively bred to meet industry expectations. Current breeding efforts start with the consumer, with the objective of reclaiming lost sensory qualities."

I used to think Italians claiming "tomatoes taste better in Italy" were just full of shit. Turns out I was just being anti-Italian - they were right! The varieties of tomatoes there have SO MUCH MORE flavour than we have here.

People are working on it.

I totally want to order some of these tomatoe seeds:

Klee Lab Research

"What is an "heirloom" tomato? There is no legal definition of an heirloom cultivar. Anyone can call anything an heirloom if they want to. However, we loosely define an heirloom as "old" and open pollinated (i.e., seeds from the fruit breed true). Everyone loves the taste of their favorite "heirloom" tomato. But let's be honest here. Heirlooms are really cultivars that have been superseded by something better. Hobbyists and a passionate few individuals hang onto some cultivars because they have something that these individuals hold in high regard. They are willing to put up with plants that have low yield or are susceptible to every disease that comes along because the fruit have fabulous taste or are particularly visually appealing.

We've taken a step back to exploit the natural diversity in heirloom tomatoes to understand the chemistry of a really great tasting tomato. We've grown hundreds of them – some going back to the 19th Century. Kind people have sent us seeds of ones they think are particularly noteworthy. Others we've purchased from various sources. In our large-scale consumer trials, many do not do well. Some don't give us enough fruit to run our 100 person panels. Others turn to mush within 24 hours of picking. Others leave us wondering why someone bothered to save them at all. They must do better in some microclimate than they do in ours. But a few cultivars just shine. They make you realize what a tomato should taste like. Inevitably, the plants just aren't that easy to grow. So we asked ourselves whether we could capture the best flavor and move it into something that is easier to grow. The answer to that question is an emphatic yes.

In principle what we've done is to take the best of both worlds and combine them into a single package. We screened hundreds of heirlooms to identify the ones with the best taste. We identified modern lines that have high productivity and shelf life but just don't excite our taste buds. We produced and extensively tested hybrids for performance and flavor. Many combinations fell by the wayside. But a few have been remarkable. The taste panels told us that they were just as good or better than the heirlooms. Yields far exceed those of the heirlooms in our North Florida fields. While yields are not good enough for large scale commercial producers to adopt them (that's another story altogether), they are ideally suited for home gardeners. Heirloom taste without the heirloom challenges. We think they epitomize what breeders call hybrid vigor; the best of both worlds. They're not true "heirlooms". And yes, you will need to buy new seeds each year. We hope that you'll think it's worth it."​

Someone here should order some and give em a go! I dont have the space on my condo balcony...
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Egadz, Huffington Post is reprinting propaganda here. EPA is following where the science leads, IARCs conclusions were the outlier.

Its important to put the risks of glyphosate in context:

17 Questions About Glyphosate

About those harsher herbicides that glyphosate helped replace:

This was an article printed by the activist group, US Right to Know, Anti-GMO dead-enders engaged in a PR battle to spread fearmongering about glyphosate, only because it is used with some "roundup ready" GMO crops.

Why would US Right to KNow want farmers using Round Up Ready beets to go back to practises that were worse for the environment, using more frequent and more toxic applications of pesticides prior to these crops?

Because they don't understand agriculture and they don't understand how science works.

As consumers shift to non-GMO sugar, farmers may be forced to abandon environmental and social gains

More on US Right to Know:

Anti-GMO group USRTK attacks UC Davis scientists while refusing to answer questions about own anti-vaccination links - Mark Lynas

The anti-GM lobby appears to be taking a page out of the Climategate playbook

HuffPoo should be ashamed of themselves for hosting misinformation from committed ideologues spreading fear without basis.


TRIBE Member
More background on the IARC decision:

Glyphosate and IARC-gate

Some other perspectives on the EPA decision, which was absolutely correct:

Australian chemical agency joins EPA, Canada, Europe in rejecting IARC's glyphosate cancer claim | Genetic Literacy Project

EPA Weighs In On Glyphosate, Says It Likely Doesn't Cause Cancer

If you drink coffee or eat steak you are taking more risk for cancer than a farmer applying Roundup directly using proper methods. Caffeine is a pesticide, the plant made it so insects wouldn't eat it - caffeine is more toxic than roundup and coffee contains multiple 'known carcinogens'. US RTK isn't telling people to stop drinking coffee or boycotting Dunkin Donuts. Its sad to see people's risk appraisals skewed by such a poor understanding of basic chemistry, toxicology and agricultural practise. If anything we should all be thankful Roundup has come along and allowed us to phase out more persistent chemicals we used in higher volumes and were more toxic. We've converted a lot of land where Round Up Ready crops are grown into "no till" land - this means carbon stays in the fields, better for soil health and the greenhouse effect. Roundup has a quick half life and degrades to miniscule levels in weeks, and is applied in amounts that equate to soda cans/acre.


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Moving Beyond Pro/Con Debates Over Genetically Engineered Crops

Guest Author:
Pamela Ronald

Since the 1980s biologists have used genetic engineering to express novel traits in crop plants. Over the last 20 years, these crops have been grown on more than one billion acres in the United States and globally. Despite their rapid adoption by farmers, genetically engineered (GE) crops remain controversial among many consumers, who have sometimes found it hard to obtain accurate information.

[In May of this year] the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a reviewof 20 years of data regarding GE crops. The report largely confirms findings from previous National Academies reports and reviews produced by other major scientific organizations around the world, including the World Health Organization and the European Commission.

I direct a laboratory that studies rice, a staple food crop for half the world’s people. Researchers in my lab are identifying genes that control tolerance to environmental stress and resistance to disease. We use genetic engineering and other genetic methods to understand gene function.

I strongly agree with the NAS report that each crop, whether bred conventionally or developed through genetic engineering, should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Every crop is different, each trait is different and the needs of each farmer are different too. More progress in crop improvement can be made by using both conventional breeding and genetic engineering than using either approach alone.


Modern cultivated corn was domesticated from teosinte, an ancient grass, over more than 6,000 years through conventional breeding.
Nicole Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation
Convergence between biotech and conventional breeding
New molecular tools are blurring the distinction between genetic improvements made with conventional breeding and those made with modern genetic methods. One example is marker assisted breeding, in which geneticists identify genes or chromosomal regions associated with traits desired by farmers and/or consumers. Researchers then look for particular markers (patterns) in a plant’s DNA that are associated with these genes. Using these genetic markers, they can efficiently identify plants carrying the desired genetic fingerprints and eliminate plants with undesirable genetics.

Ten years ago my collaborators and I isolated a gene, called Sub1, that controls tolerance to flooding. Million of rice farmers in South and Southeast Asia grow rice in flood prone regions, so this trait is extremely valuable. Most varieties of rice will die after three days of complete submergence but plants with the Sub1 gene can withstand two weeks of complete submergence. Last year, nearly five million farmers grew Sub1 rice varieties developed by my collaborators at the International Rice Research Institute using marker assisted breeding.

In another example, researchers identified genetic variants that are associated with hornlessness (referred to as “polled”) in cattle – a trait that is common in beef breeds but rare in dairy breeds. Farmers routinely dehorn dairy cattle to protect their handlers and prevent the animals from harming each other. Because this process is painful and frightening for the animals, veterinary experts have called for research into alternative options.

In a study published last month, scientists used genome editing and reproductive cloning to produce dairy cows that carried a naturally occurring mutation for hornlessness. This approach has the potential to improve the welfare of millions of cattle each year.

Reducing chemical insecticides and enhancing yield
In assessing how GE crops affect crop productivity, human health and the environment, the NAS study primarily focused on two traits that have been engineered into plants: resistance to insect pests and tolerance of herbicides.

The study found that farmers who planted crops engineered to contain the insect-resistant trait – based on genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt – generally experienced fewer losses and applied fewer chemical insecticide sprays than farmers who planted non-Bt varieties. It also concluded that farms where Bt crops were planted had more insect biodiversity than farms where growers used broad-spectrum insecticides on conventional crops.


Genetically modified crops currently grown in the United States (IR=insect resistant, HT=herbicide tolerant, DT=drought tolerant, VR=virus resistant).
Colorado State University Extension
The committee found that herbicide-resistant (HR) crops contribute to greater yields because weeds can be controlled more easily. For example, farmers that planted HR canola reaped greater yields and returns, which led to wide adoption of this crop variety.

Another benefit of planting of HR crops is reduced tillage – the process of turning the soil. Before planting, farmers must kill the weeds in their fields. Before the advent of herbicides and HR crops, farmers controlled weeds by tilling. However, tilling causes erosion and runoff, and requires energy to fuel the tractors. Many farmers prefer reduced tillage practices because they enhance sustainable management. With HR crops, farmers can control weeds effectively without tilling.

The committee noted a clear association between the planting of HR crops and reduced-till agricultural practices over the last two decades. However, it is unclear if the adoption of HR crops resulted in decisions by farmers to use conservation tillage, or if farmers who were using conservation tillage adopted HR crops more readily.

In areas where planting of HR crops led to heavy reliance on the herbicide glyphosate, some weeds evolved resistance to the herbicide, making it difficult for farmers to control weeds using this herbicide. The NAS report concluded that sustainable use of Bt and HR crops will require use of integrated pest management strategies.

The report also discusses seven other GE food crops grown in 2015, including apple (Malus domestica), canola (Brassica napus), sugar beet (Beta vulgaris), papaya (Carica papaya), potato, squash (Cucurbita pepo) and eggplant (Solanum melongena).

Papaya is a particularly important example. In the 1950s, papaya ringspot virus wiped out nearly all papaya production on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. As the virus spread to other islands, many farmers feared that it would wipe out the Hawaiian papaya crop.


Papaya infected with ringspot virus.
Scot Nelson/Flickr, CC BY-SA
In 1998 Hawaiian plant pathologist Dennis Gonsalvesused genetic engineering to splice a small snippet of ringspot virus DNA into the papaya genome. The resulting genetically engineered papaya trees were immune to infection and produced 10-20 fold more fruit than infected crops. Dennis’ pioneering work rescued the papaya industry. Twenty years later, this is still the only method for controlling papaya ringspot virus. Today, despite protests by some consumers, 80 percent of the Hawaiian papaya crop is genetically engineered.
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Scientists have also used genetic engineering to combat a pest called the fruit and shoot borer, which preys on eggplant in Asia. Farmers in Bangladesh often spray insecticides every 2-3 days, and sometimes as often as twice daily, to control it. The World Health Organization estimates that some three million cases of pesticide poisoning and over than 250,000 deaths occur worldwide every year.

To reduce chemical sprays on eggplant, scientists at Cornell University and in Bangladesh engineered Bt into the eggplant genome. Bt brinjal (eggplant) was introduced in Bangladesh in 2013. Last year 108 Bangladeshi farmers grew it and were able to drastically reduce insecticides sprays.

Feed the world in an ecologically based manner
Genetically improved crops have benefited many farmers, but it is clear that genetic improvement alone cannot address the wide variety of complex challenges that farmers face. Ecologically based farming approaches as well as infrastructure and appropriate policies are also needed.

Instead of worrying about the genes in our food, we need to focus on ways to help families, farmers and rural communities thrive. We must be sure that everyone can afford the food and we must minimize environmental degradation. I hope that the NAS report can help move the discussions beyond distracting pro/con arguments about GE crops and refocus them on using every appropriate technology to feed the world in an ecologically based manner


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The tiresome discussion of initial GMO expectations
October 30, 2016
Posted by Andrew Kniss
A new article in the New York Times has questioned the benefits associated with genetically engineered crops (which I’ll call GMOs for brevity). The response to the article has been pretty predictable; folks who don’t like GMOs are circulating it to say “I told you so.” And ag-twitter has exploded with claims that the New York Times is biased against the technology. The article makes some reasonable points that GMO crops are not a ‘silver bullet’ cure all technology. But almost any reasonable person has already acknowledged that. In a nutshell, the article has 2 main conclusions: GMO crops don’t yield more, and GMO crops haven’t reduced pesticide use. These two items were initially claimed as reasons to invest in and adopt GMO crops, and for many years, we’ve been hearing about how these crops either have or have not met the initial expectations. Danny Hakim looked at some data and has come down pretty solidly on the side of “have not” met expectations. From the Times article:

“An analysis by The Times using United Nations data showed that the United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields — food per acre — when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany. Also, a recent National Academy of Sciencesreport found that “there was little evidence” that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the United States had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops.” – Danny Hakim, NYT

Of all the arguments against GMO crops, the “failure to yield” talking point is among the oldest, and most exasperating to many of us who work in pest management. I addressed this issue a couple years ago:

If you take a broad look at national level data in the US, it is difficult to make a case that GMOs, as a monolithic entity, have had a dramatic impact on crop yields. But I can think of very few traditional plant breeding efforts that have led to a “quantum leap” in crop yields across the board. If the inability to generate a “quantum leap” in crop yield is a failure of crop biotechnology, it is also a failure of traditional plant breeding methods. Does this mean we should stop investing money in traditional breeding efforts? Certainly not. Why should we expect GMO crops to have this kind of impact?

[T]he only reason we’d see an increase in crop yields due to [current GMO] traits is if we didn’t have adequate tools to manage those pests prior to the introduction of the GMO traits. For corn and soybean in particular, it is not at all surprising we’ve not observed major yield increases due to these traits. Corn and soybean represent huge market opportunities for pesticide development, and therefore, many tools were already available to manage weeds and insect pests in those crops.

But there are situations where GMO traits have contributed to major yield increases.

In that post, I used regional USDA data (not national level data, which often ‘washes out’ any regional benefits of various technologies) to show that increases in yield trajectory are likely attributable to the adoption of GMOs. Please read it if you’re interested in the question of GMOs increasing crop yields. Here, I’m going to instead highlight some of the issues with the pesticide use comparison Mr. Hakim relied upon to draw conclusions about how GMOs affected pesticide use. Mr. Hakim states in his article:

“At the same time, herbicide use has increased in the United States, even as major crops like corn, soybeans and cotton have been converted to modified varieties. And the United States has fallen behind Europe’s biggest producer, France, in reducing the overall use of pesticides, which includes both herbicides and insecticides.

“…in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage — 65 percent — and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36 percent.” – Danny Hakim, NYT

I have to say this comparison seems borderline disingenuous; certainly not what I’d expect from an “extensive examination” published in the New York Times. The NYT provides a few charts in the article, one of which supports the statement about France’s reduced pesticide use. But the figures used to compare pesticide use in France vs the USA are convoluted and misleading. First, the data is presented in different units (thousand metric tons for France, compared to million pounds in the US), making a direct comparison nearly impossible. Second, the pesticide amounts are not standardized per unit area, which is critically important since the USA has over 9 times the amount of farmland that France does; it would be shocking if the U.S. didn’t use far more pesticide when expressed this way. So took the data presented by Mr. Hakim and converted it into the same units, and standardized by arable land, and this is what that same data looks like:


It is true that France has been reducing pesticide use, but France still uses more pesticides per arable hectare than we do in the USA. In the case of fungicide & insecticides, a LOT more. But a relatively tiny proportion of these differences are likely due to GMOs; pesticide use depends on climate, pest species, crop species, economics, availability, tillage practices, crop rotations, and countless other factors. And almost all of these factors differ between France and the U.S. So this comparison between France and the U.S., especially at such a coarse scale, is mostly meaningless, especially with respect to the GMO question. If one of France’s neighboring EU countries with similar climate and cropping practices had adopted GMOs, that may have been a more enlightening (but still imperfect) comparison.

Given all of these confounding factors, I wonder why France was singled out by Mr. Hakim as theonly comparison to compare pesticide use trends. Pesticide use across Europe varies quite a bit, and trends in most EU countries are increasing, France is the exception in this respect, not the rule. In the early 1990’s, France was using more herbicides compared to almost every other country, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that pesticide use decreased as formation of the EU began to standardize pesticide regulations after 1993. If the increase in herbicide use in the U.S. is due to GMOs, what can explain the increase in herbicide use throughout most of Europe, where GMO varieties are not available?

But all of the discussion about weight of pesticides applied doesn’t really provide much insight into pesticide use anyway, especially when it comes to the impacts of GMO crops. An increase in the weight applied could be due to replacing 5 or 6 different pesticides for one pesticide that is used at a higher rate. Or we could decrease pesticide weight applied by substituting one relatively safe pesticide for one that is highly toxic, but used at a lower rate. This problem was noted by the recent National Academies report on GMO crops (emphasis mine):

“The use of HR crops sometimes initially correlated with decreases in total amount of herbicide applied per hectare of crop per year, but the decreases have not generally been sustained. However, such simple determination of whether total kilograms of herbicide used per hectare per year has gone up or down is not useful for assessing changes in human or environmental risks.
RECOMMENDATION: Researchers should be discouraged from publishing data that simply compares total kilograms of herbicide used per hectare per yearbecause such data can mislead readers.” – National Academies, GE Crop Report


TRIBE Member
Mr. Hakim cited the NAS report to support his conclusions on yield gains, but apparently missed this important recommendation from the report. Instead of looking at weight of pesticides applied, it is more instructive to look at the number of active ingredients being applied to each field. I recently did this for the U.S. and found that herbicide treatments were increasing in the three glyphosate resistant crops (corn, soybean, and cotton). But herbicide use was also increasing in rice and wheat, where no GMO varieties are commercially available. In fact, the pace of herbicide increase was slower in the GMO crops than non-GMO crops. From these data, one could make a plausible argument that GMO crops have decreased herbicide use, since the increase in herbicide use has been slower compared to non-GMO crops. But this is the problem with trying construct a narrative from imperfect, national-level data. I don’t actually know whether GMO crops have increased or decreased herbicide use (and neither does Mr. Hakim). We can each use different versions of the best data available to fit a particular narrative if we want to. But the answer is far more complex than anything we can derive from data that weren’t explicitly generated with this question in mind.

Mr. Hakim decided not to delve too deeply into the toxicity differences in the pesticides being used, except for the following (rather remarkable) comment:

Pesticides are toxic by design — weaponized versions, like sarin, were developed in Nazi Germany — and have been linked to developmental delays and cancer. – Danny Hakim, NYT

I’m a little taken aback that Mr Hakim went full Godwin in the New York Times in an article about GMOs and pesticides. Setting that aside, it is indisputable that pesticides are, indeed, toxic. But so are antibiotics, and pet flea collars, and nutritional supplements, and salt, and caffeine, and almost every other thing we come into contact with in our daily lives. With respect to the impacts of pesticide use, the question should be how toxic, and to which organisms? The toxicity of different pesticides differs dramatically, by several orders of magnitude. And many pesticides are practically non-toxic to humans. To say that pesticides are all toxic, while certainly true, misses the point. The questions we should be asking is whether we are using pesticides that are more or less toxic than we would be using if we didn’t have GMOs. Mr. Hakim decided not to address this issue. But I have.

The herbicide that we’re using more of because of GMO crops has probably contributed to a major reduction in chronic toxicity (I say probably, because again, we can’t know for sure what would happen in an alternate universe without GMOs). Glyphosate has a lower chronic toxicity than 90% of all herbicides used in the US in the last 25 years. In 2014 to 2015, glyphosate made up 26% of corn, 43% of soybean, and 45% of cotton herbicide treatments, yet only contributed 0.1%, 0.3%, and 3.5% of the total chronic toxicity of herbicide use in those crops, respectively. There are trade-offs involved with every decision farmers make, including the choice to use (or not use) glyphosate and GMO crops. If GMO crops were not available in the U.S., or if glyphosate use were discontinued (as was recently proposed in the EU), the resulting displacement of glyphosate by other herbicides would almost certainly have a negative impact on chronic health risks faced pesticide applicators and farm workers.

I really hope the conversation can eventually move beyond whether GMO crops have met some arbitrary initial expectations, regardless of the origin of those expectations. If that means we all need to simply acknowledge that GMO’s have failed to meet those goals, then fine. I concede. Not because I think the data overwhelmingly support that conclusion, but because this is a tiresome conversation that distracts from much more important issues in agriculture. GMO’s have not (and will not) result in an agricultural panacea. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have value.

Updated: October 30, 2016 at 3:55 pm

Boss Hog

TRIBE Member
I'm not sure this is the right thread, but I'll put it here anyway.

What bothers me about Monsanto and what continually makes people distrustful about them is that they have consistently proven time and time again that they are predatory in nature. Take what's happening in Tanzania right now as an example:

Tanzanian farmers are facing heavy prison sentences if they continue their traditional seed exchange

When we see a company influencing local laws to punish people who don't follow their business model, how can anyone be expected to believe that somehow their research and biotechnology is to be trusted? Their bottom line isn't saving humanity; their bottom line is finding ways to make more money. This is why people consistently distrust their motives and the safety of their products.

As far as the science goes - nothing has yet been proven to be unsafe. That isn't the same thing as knowing that the product IS safe. It simply means we haven't found anything wrong with it yet. That's not very reassuring to a lot of people who don't practice faith in monetarily-driven science.


TRIBE Member
Tanzania has a promising crop coming along actually, the story of GE tech there is not all doom and gloom.

Reselling saved hybrid seeds probably wouldn't do farmers much good who bought them anyway, so I think the resell/saved seed concern is overblown - if you saved these seeds and replanted or resold them the wouldn't really work as well in the next generation anyway. I'm sure the seed markets will be fine in Tanzania. Besides, a lot of this type of work is being done as a public/private/charity thing that makes the seeds royalty free - so lawsuits aren't really a concern (and aren't really elsewhere, even in NA)

Their big issue is drought:

Tanzania plants its first GMO research crop

Tanzania planted its first genetically modified maize research trials today under an initiative that is building a new model for advancing agricultural innovation through public-private partnerships.

The confined field trial, a pre-cursor to commercialization, will demonstrate the effectiveness and safety of a drought-tolerant GM maize hybrid developed by the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project.

Some 300 million Africans depend on maize as their main food source, but the crop is frequently harmed by drought, leading to hunger, poverty and human suffering. WEMA, a pioneering initiative that pools NGO, corporate and philanthropic resources, seeks to reduce crop failure by developing conventional and GM maize hybrids for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.

“It's important that we develop drought-tolerant varieties to ensure food security,” said Dr. Kingstone Mashingaidze, a scientist with the National Agricultural Research Council of South Africa.

Under a royalty-free licensing agreement, seed companies in Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda are already growing and selling drought-tolerant maize hybrids developed by WEMA to suit local conditions and branded as DroughtTEGOTM. Mozambique will introduce the TEGO brand seeds this year. The WEMA project has received commercial release approvals for more than 60 TEGO conventional hybrids across the five countries.

The TEGO hybrids caught on quickly as farmers growing the less-productive open-pollinated varieties saw their hybrid-cultivating neighbors reaping bigger harvests.

“I think the WEMA partnership is making a difference,” said Mark Edge, director of WEMA partnerships at Monsanto. “The TEGO hybrids’ improved performance provides a lot of promise and hope for smallholder farmers in Africa.”

The GM side has proven more challenging. Despite political constraints in Africa, WEMA moved forward with biotechnology because it “offered the promise to add still greater drought tolerance to the already improved [conventional] hybrids, resulting in an even more substantial gain for drought tolerant maize,” according to a case study authored by the WEMA partners. “Scientifically, the optimal approach was to use both techniques together.”

Seed companies in South Africa, which has a longer history with GM crops, were the first to take advantage of the royalty-free GM licensing agreement. They will begin selling royalty-free transgenic maize seeds with drought-tolerant and insect-resistant traits this year. Kenya is expected to follow suit in 2017.

Mozambique has approved field trials for drought-tolerant GM maize, which will begin either this planting season or next, pending issuance of a seed import permit.

Uganda has conducted numerous successful field trials, but since it lacks a national biosafety law, it has been unable to commercialize GM seeds for sale to farmers. “Eventually, biotech investment may be at risk there because there is no commercial path forward,” Edge said. “We may be getting close to that point. The horse has been led to water many times, but the horse is not drinking.”

That leaves Tanzania, which this week planted its first GM research crop — a drought-tolerant white maize. Pending the results, trials of an insect-resistant variety could begin next year.

“We have had successful meetings with local leaders, local government authorities, farmers and communities around the confined field trial (CFT) area,” said Philbert Nyinondi, coordinator of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) programming committee in Tanzania. “We must be transparent to maintain trust. We are informing them on the importance of the trial, and the process of bringing GM crops to commercialization.”

However, anti-GMO activists do not in support this agricultural advancement in Tanzania and have urged the public to protest the government’s issuance of the CFT permit.

Though WEMA, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Howard G. Buffett Foundation and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is providing a window of opportunity for the advancement of crop biotech in sub-Saharan Africa, “that window will close eventually,” Edge said.

“That’s the message the Africans need to hear,” he said. “They do not have unlimited time on this. No donor should have unlimited patience.”

A combination of altruism and business interests motivated Monsanto to participate in WEMA, which is led by the nonprofit African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). Other partners are the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) from the five participating sub-Saharan nations. AATF manages all the seeds.

In 2004-05, Monsanto offered to share its newly discovered drought-tolerant traits for humanitarian purposes. That proved a good match with the Gates foundation, whose officers had identified drought tolerance as one of the most important crop improvement goals for helping smallholder farmers in Africa.

WEMA was formed in 2008, introducing a new model for public-private partnerships (PPPs) in agriculture. Though the road has been rocky at times, the collaboration is providing tangible proof that public and private entities can work together for the public good.

“There needs to be a benefit for each member participating,” Edge said. “Otherwise you get platitudes, but no real action. There is such a strong desire across businesses, NGOs, government and Africans themselves. They want to find ways to do things better.”

He thinks more PPPs are likely as corporations strive to be socially responsible, and foundations and NGOs focus on creating systems and businesses that can sustain themselves through profitability.

“I think it’s a really good thing, and I’m hoping the case study with WEMA will help people understand what you need to do,” Edge said. “It’s not about perfection; it’s about success. There is a way to accomplish our common goals
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Nope not at all!

Pointing out that:

A) GE seeds are only just now being planted in a field trial there, so no farmer's seed markets in Tanzania are impacted by this
B) they won't be, because WEMA is already distributing royalty free hybrids (non-GE) to farmers in Tanzania who are eagerly using them for their improved drought resistance


C) when WEMA distributes even better GE hybrids we should not fear the seed sellers markets being destroyed because WEMA distributed hybrids being used today in Tanzania have not resulted in this impact.

There's an activist community in Tanzania, just as there is here, committed to spreading scare stories about GE techniques and corporate malfeasance.

The corporate influence here? Its tied up with that of NGOs and governments in a public private partnership to distribute such seeds at low cost and royalty free - as a charitable thing.

So this spectre of some corporate takeover of "old ways" in africa just doesn't apply. In reality farmers in Africa have real issues - like heat and drought resistance - and GE techniques can help bring improved harvests year over year if the resulting hybrids do better under these stresses.

With climate change happening now - this is absolutely the kind of thing everyone should be fully supporting if they truly care about how well Africans can feed themselves.

here are other examples of public/private partnerships dealing with similar issues in staple crops like cassava and banana in Africa:

Ugandan scientists grow GM banana as disease threatens country's staple food

021 Solutions for Cassava – Biofortification and Characterizing Disease Vectors

So we can tie hands behind our back for ideology's sake, or we can actually do something good with technology we have today!

I'm not saying "tough love", I'm saying the whole narrative in the article you shared is unfounded - and even dangerous to human life if it slows adoption of crops that will need improvement to manage over the next hundred years.

it takes 25 years or so to bring a good new cultivar to market: NeuroLogica Blog » The Need for Improved Food Production


TRIBE Member
Oh I see, it's just a conspiracy theory.

Sorry, Monsanto.

In many ways this is exactly right.

That said, there are concrete reasons to disbelieve the worst of what your article alleged.

Patents aren't really going to be an issue on the ground in Tanzania - and if they were?

The WEMA hybrids would already be wreaking this havoc on Tanzanian farmers.

instead they're resulting in more reliable harvests.

Any GE cultivar you hear about in Africa will be public/private partnership stuff - so the transplant of a western anti-gmo activist line on patents can't be done 100% - its apples and oranges.

No one behind these partnerships would really want to be in the business of suing small time african farmers.
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TRIBE Member
The whole patents thing is a bit overblown even in the West though.

No one seems to going on about the evil Fruit Orchard Lobby, whose fruits are almost always patented hybrids since it takes decades when the thing that produces your fruit is a tree.

Can't just cross some trees and see results in 6 months.

I suppose its evil a fruit orchard company has a "patent on life" after making a new apple hybrid.


TRIBE Member
The whole patents thing is a bit overblown even in the West though.

No one seems to going on about the evil Fruit Orchard Lobby, whose fruits are almost always patented hybrids since it takes decades when the thing that produces your fruit is a tree.

Can't just cross some trees and see results in 6 months.

I suppose its evil a fruit orchard company has a "patent on life" after making a new apple hybrid.

I'm really not familiar with science-based GMO (i.e. people gene-splicing plants) but wouldn't it take the same amount of time to grow that product and see what bears fruit? (haha)


TRIBE Member
I'm really not familiar with science-based GMO (i.e. people gene-splicing plants) but wouldn't it take the same amount of time to grow that product and see what bears fruit? (haha)

Some researchers that work with trees set up experiments only their students will be able to finish

Decades we are talking here. Plus it takes a lot of infrastructure to manage a fruit orchard. It's why they deserve some protection for such long efforts and investment behind what they produce.


TRIBE Member
I'm really not familiar with science-based GMO (i.e. people gene-splicing plants) but wouldn't it take the same amount of time to grow that product and see what bears fruit? (haha)

In terms of speed to a good cultivars, while a hybrid cross of corn and a GE corn hybrid will take about the same time to grow once planted (if they share similar characteristics) it may take many failed crosses before you discover the hybrid you needed.

GE techniques can mean less trial and error as you know exactly what change you are making vs smashing thousands of genes together when doing hybrids and hoping it sticks.

One interesting technique is "marker assisted" hybridization where you use advanced techniques to identify key genes that would make your next hybrid the one you want. The resulting cultivar is a plain "hybrid", not genetically engineered, but you use good knowledge of genes and advanced equipment to make your hybrid attempts more fruitful and likely to be what you want.

Marker-assisted selection - Wikipedia
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