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GM to feed the world: what’s in the pipeline? Dr Helen Wallace GeneWatch UK

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Presentation on theme: "GM to feed the world: what’s in the pipeline? Dr Helen Wallace GeneWatch UK"— Presentation transcript:

1 GM to feed the world: what’s in the pipeline? Dr Helen Wallace GeneWatch UK

2 Overview The agbiotech industry’s ‘pro-poor’ PR strategy What’s really in the pipeline? Conclusions

3 GM to feed the world (history) US Office of Technology Assessment (1981) includes predictions that GM salt-tolerant and nitrogen-fixing crops will be developed. Patents on life + significant investments Commitment to ‘biotech economy’ as driver for growth in OECD. See: ‘Bioscience for life?’ report on 1990s: first products; public opposition to GM soya imports in UK/EU. Monsanto tries to position itself as ‘pro-poor’. (Glover, STEPS Working Paper 11, 2008).

4 Where we are now 2007: new PR push for GM crops in EU ‘Plants for the Future’ European Technology Platform (incl. Syngenta, Bayer, BASF). Seeking EUR45bn over 10 years (EUR7.5bn public money?) ISTAAD report. Biotech industry walks out [ignored] Royal Society Report 2009: advocates ‘sustainable intensification’ Inst of Engineers & WorldWatch reports Foresight report: out on Monday A battle for the future…

5 The PR strategy

6 Current generation GM crops 95% of GM seeds from Monsanto. Other companies: Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, BASF, Bayer. Most profits from ‘RoundUp Ready’ soya and maize. Growing problems for farmers in North and South America: GM superweeds; seed price hikes; restrictions on seed saving and access to non-GM seeds. Lost markets. GM cotton in India, China: emerging pest resistance/other pests; variable performance (Glover, 2009, STEPS).

7 Stacked traits GM plants since 1984: two traits. Existing pipeline dominated by stacked traits i.e. resistance to multiple herbicides plus Bt (pest resistance) A response to major problems with ‘superweeds’ and pest resistance + emergence of new pests Other responses: more spraying (incl. tank mixes), sterile insect releases, development of GM pests…

8 Claims from Godfray et al. (2010) CurrentHerbicide tolerant, pest-resistant (maize, soybean, oilseed rape) Short-term (5- 10 years) Nutritional bio-fortification; resistance to fungi, viruses, sucking pests; improved processing/storage, drought tolerance (staples, cereals, fruits, vegetables). Medium-term (10-20 years) Salt- and heat-tolerance, increased nitrogen use efficiency (staple cereal and tuber crops). Long-term (20 years plus) Nitrogen-fixation, increased photosynthesis efficiency.

9 ‘Product quality innovations’ Graffe et al (2009): 558 ‘product quality innovations’ led to 243 (mainly US) field trials, 5 GM products (carnation, tomatoes with altered ripening, reduced-nicotine tobacco, oil seed rape/soy beans with altered oil content). 28 projections by 2015: altered nutrient content (17), plus shelf-life, fibre quality and a blue rose.

10 Altered nutrient content: two purposes ‘Functional foods’ to ‘add value’ for food companies (patented products sold with ‘health claims’) ‘Biofortification’ to tackle hidden hunger (micronutrient deficiencies), especially for those living on rice

11 August 2000

12 Golden rice: beta-carotene Rockerfeller Foundation: invests $100k 1990-2000. Total $2.6 million over ten years from 1993 (EU and Swiss Govt). AstraZeneca deal in 2000 to offer free to poor farmers to tackle vitamin A deficiency. AZ would also develop as a functional food in developed countries: “Golden rice contains the anti-oxidant beta-carotene, and anti-oxidants have been shown to play a role in the fight against cancer and heart disease”. (FT, 14 th Jan 2000)

13 Good for health? Initial beta-carotene levels (much) too low to tackle vitamin A deficiency. Now has higher beta-carotene levels, up to 31 µg/g (HarvestPlus Monograph and Paine et al. Nature Biotech, 2006). Studies on cost-effectiveness include no data in dose-response curve for Vitamin A (Krawinkel, 2006, 2009). Bioavailability depends on fats in diet: doubts remain whether it can really tackle vitamin A deficiency (Nestle, 2001)

14 “Beta-carotene was interpreted to be a highly beneficial ingredient, aiding in the protection against certain cancers, especially lung cancer. In response to this interpretation, a major shift in the carotenoid content of the food supply was underway when 2 large intervention trials…discovered that high intakes of beta-carotene as a supplement actually increased the incidence of lung cancer in smokers”. Scientists at Uni of California, Davis; Lipomics Technologies, Inc.; and the Nestlé Research Centre, 2001

15 The GM purple tomato Enhanced levels of antioxidant anthocyanins “Anthocyanins offer protection against certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and age-related degenerative diseases. There is evidence that anthocyanins also have anti-inflammatory activity, promote visual acuity and hinder obesity and diabetes” (John Innes Press Release Oct 2008) Single ‘cancer prevention’ study in GM mice Criticised by Andrew Wadge, Chief scientist at the Food Standards Agency, the NHS, and Cancer Research UK due to lack of evidence re benefits of anthocyanins.

16 Zinc and iron and calcium Not synthesised in plants. GM strategies: increasing uptake or bioavailability Increasing uptake will further deplete soils Concentrate toxic metals as well as iron, zinc Changes in metal content alter plant metabolism = poor growth Increasing calcium reduces plant defences against chewing insects

17 Omega-3 soy beans Soymega TM beans: collaboration between Monsanto and Solae. Contains stearidonic acid (SDA), which converts to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) Food safety approval by FDA in October 2009: on market 2011 or 2012? Likely to be also ‘RoundUp Ready’ Mass production of soya for grain fed meat is the main cause of the omega-3/omega- 6 fat problem…




21 Key problems Nutrient enhanced crops are costly to develop and may not deliver claimed benefits Nutrient ‘enhanced’ crops may be harmful to some people (people who are not nutrient deficient) Nutrients can have harmful effects that may only be detected in large-scale, long-term clinical trials Modification may have other unintended effects on plants Distraction from fundamental problems

22 Salt- and drought-tolerance Salt and drought tolerance are complex traits: multiple factors/trade-offs. DuPont and Syngenta have both just announced new drought-tolerant maize varieties. These are conventionally bred (using marker assisted selection) Syngenta says it will include two GM traits (herbicide tolerance and pest resistance) before marketing.

23 “It is surprising that, in spite of the complexity of salt tolerance, there are commonly claims in the literature that the transfer of a single or a few genes can increase the tolerance of plants to saline conditions”. Flowers (2004) J. Exptl Botany. “…despite all the recent technological breakthroughs, the overall contribution of genomics-assisted breeding to the release of drought-resilient cultivars has so far been marginal” Cattivelli et al. (2008) Field Crops Research.

24 “In conclusion, if achievements made to date in developing salt-tolerant plants through conventional breeding or genetic engineering are compared, it is not difficult to infer that conventional breeding has been relatively successful in improving the yield potential, disease resistance, and abiotic stress tolerance of most crops, but undoubtedly, at the expense of little resources and with little or no knowledge of underlying biochemical pathways of stress tolerance. In contrast, genetic engineering has resulted into relatively little success particularly in terms of enhanced crop stress tolerance despite the fact that large sums of resources have been utilised in generating transgenic lines of different crops…” Muhammad Ashraf and Nudrat Aisha Akram (University of Agriculture, Pakistan). Biotechnology Advances 2009.

25 PR or reality? PR: Future GM crops will be pro-poor, help adapt to climate change, good for farmers, health and the environment, increase yields. Reality: Farmers face superweeds and resistant pests, seed price hikes, increased dependence on expensive chemicals, (usually) lower yields, and legal threats. Health concerns are unresolved (unresolvable). For poor farmers this is a poverty trap.

26 The alternatives Tackle food waste, distribution, infrastructure, reform markets (esp. commodity price speculation), scrap agrofuel subsidies. Non-GM technologies and approaches: traditional breeding, farmland management and MAS. Native food plants/diversity. Agro-ecology: IAASTD and UN reports. Revitalise traditional plant breeding, agricultural colleges, extension services, lost skills (all cut to create the ‘biotech economy’).

27 Summary Salt-tolerant, drought-tolerant and nitrogen fixing GM crops were promised 30 years ago: they do not exist and are not in the R&D pipeline. Nutrient-altered GM crops may do more harm than good. GM technology shifts control over the food chain away from farmers and consumers to multi- national companies and ‘scientific’ regulators. Planting patented GM crops risks locking poor farmers into a cycle of poverty. Better alternatives exist and should be a priority for funding.

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