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Student Blogs – AN SC 110S: Animal Biotechnology and Society (First-Year Seminar Course)

Thu, 2011-12-15 09:52

Terry D. Etherton

 

One objective of my blog is to provide a public forum for presenting science-based facts about numerous issues that relate broadly to the use of biotechnologies and technologies for food production.  In the spirit of my blog being a public forum, students in a first-year seminar course I taught this Fall (Animal Science 110S: Animal Biotechnology and Society) had to write a short blog about some aspect of biotechnology and agriculture.

My objective was for the students to learn about biotechnology AND engage in a learning activity about communicating science to society.  I shared with the students that writing a blog would be a terrific learning experience about communicating science.  You will be the “judge” of how well they did this.  

The project was team based…that is, several students were assigned to teams.  Each team selected the topics and submitted their blogs to me for review (and grading).

The blogs were supposed to be 300 to 400 words.  I also conveyed to the students that as the authors of each blog they were responsible for the accuracy and content of their blog.  In addition, they have the responsibility of responding to any comments readers might have.  Thus, if you have any perspectives to share with the autors, please post a comment and I will forward it to the appropriate team for their response.

Enjoy reading the blogs.

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Team 1:  Joslyn Beltram, Kassie Heeman, Sarah Nafziger, and Lucy Stubler

I Just Found Out there is rBST in My Milk!  What is it Doing There, and Should I Still Drink It?

 What is BST?

Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a naturally occurring  protein hormone produced by all cattle (1). Its basic function is to direct the nutrients from feed throughout the body, and in cows it also directs the nutrients to the udder.  When cows are lactating, bST causes feed energy to be used more for milk production instead of tissue synthesis (2). BST is present in all milk.

What is rBST and Why is it Useful?

rBST is recombinant bovine somatotropin, or  bST that is synthesized using recombinant DNA technology(3).  Cows are injected once every two weeks with rBST in order to increase their milk production.  With increased amounts of BST, the udder absorbs more nutrients from the bloodstream and is able to make more milk (4).  In addition, the efficiency of the conversion from feed to milk increases.

This is markedly beneficial in the dairy industry because each rBST-supplemented cow produces on average one extra gallon of milk per day, while consuming the same amount of feed and without any additional health problems!  That’s a 10 to15 percent increase in milk production with a cost increase of less than 5 percent (2).

Is Milk Produced by rBST-supplemented Cows Safe?

In 1993, rbST was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. agency responsible for regulatory review of the product (5).   Despite huge amounts of testing to search for any potential health risks, no professional science groups have ever found any evidence that there is any doubt about the safety of rBST in milk production (6).

rBST is not harmful to humans.  This is due to the fact that human somatotropin receptors do not recognize it. This causes it to be completely inactive in the human body, meaning that it can do no harm (3).  This being said, using rBST to increase milk production in dairy cows only produces more milk.  That is it.  Humans are completely safe to consume the milk produced by the cows receiving these hormones.  rBST is a protein and not a steroid, so rbST in milk is broken down (digested) in the human body just like every other protein we consume.

References:

1. “Bovine Somatotropin (BST).” Biotechnology Information Series, North Central Regional Extension Publication, Iowa State University, December 1993. <http://www.biotech.iastate.edu/biotech_info_series/Bovine_Somatotropin.html>

2. Brennand, Charlotte P. and Bagley, Clell V.  “Food Safety Fact Sheet: Bovine Somatotropin in Milk.”  Utah State University Cooperative Extension. <https://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/factsheet/FN-250_6.pdf>

3. Global Dairy Innovation, Elanco 2010. <https://www.globaldairyinnovation.com/dairy-milk-production/what-is-rbst.aspx>

4. Rushing, John E.  and Wesen, Don P.  “BST and Milk.”  NC State University Dept. of Agriculture and Sciences Cooperative Extention.  <http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/foodsci/ext/pubs/bstandmilk.html>

5. “Report on the Food and Drug Administration’s Review of the Safety of Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, FDA U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 23 April 2009. <http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ProductSafetyInformation/ucm130321.htm>

6. “BST Fact Sheet.” University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Food Science.  <http://foodsci.wisc.edu/news/2001/bst_qa.php>

 

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Team 2:  Julia Brown, Meleni Hoffman, Kendall Proctor, and Clayton West

Artificial Insemination in Alpacas

Artificial insemination (AI) is a technology used in many livestock breeding programs and has proved to be a very useful tool in the livestock industry.  It has decreased breeding costs, increased breeding efficiency, and helped control the spread of diseases.  Unfortunately, AI technology does not yet exist for any camelid species.  In order to develop the necessary technology, additional large-scale experiments must take place.  However, due to the low volume of the ejaculates, the samples cannot be split into the appropriate number of portions, or aliquots, necessary to perform said experiments (1).  Also, sperm quality varies within and between males, making it difficult to obtain consistent samples needed to test different preservation protocols (2).  Besides that, the high viscosity of the semen makes it difficult to divide the samples into aliquots (1).  In addition to these issues, there are also several obstacles when it comes to the female’s reproductive physiology.

In female alpacas, ovulation does not occur spontaneously, it is induced during mating.  During the act of copulation, the male’s penis stimulates the cervix of the female, which causes the release of hormones that, in turn, cause the final development of the follicle and lead to ovulation.  If mating does not occur, then the follicle will regress.  Because of this, female alpacas do not go through a period of estrous, but instead show a “prolonged period of sexual receptivity (3).”  Because of this, and the difficulties presented by male physiology, it is difficult to artificially inseminate an alpaca.

If progress could be made in developing  an artificial insemination program for alpacas, the industry would benefit greatly. The main advantage would be the possibility of widespread use of quality herd sires.  In addition,  AI would permit crossbreeding, which can change a production trait and would accelerate the introduction of new characteristics.  It also would reduce the risk of spreading sexually transmitted diseases and other diseases.   AI also would reduce the costs of breeding by eliminating the need to transport animals for mating.2  Overall, the addition of artificial insemination technology to the alpaca industry has been, and will be, a difficult goal to achieve, but it would greatly benefit alpaca farmers throughout the world.

References:  

1. Morton, Katherine, and W.M. Chris Maxwell.  The Continued Development of Artificial Insemination Technologies in Alpacas.  Australia: University of Sydney, 2006.  PDF.  25 Oct. 2011.

2. Reyna, Jorge.  “Artificial Insemination in Alpacas.”  Alpacas Australia. 2005; 48:38.  23 Oct. 2011.

3. Australian Alpaca Association (AAA).  “Key Reproductive Features and Reproductive Physiology.”  2008.  PDF.  25 Oct. 2011.

 

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 Team 3:  Briana Cardie, Morgan Kimmel, Lindsay Royer, and  Zach Wolff

The Ethics of Biotechnologically Enhanced Animals

 There are some common misconceptions about animal biotechnology; however the pros far outweigh the cons. For instance; some people are concerned that genetically enhanced animals will compromise the purity, and change the overall biodiversity of the specific breed. Though animals naturally adapt to their environment, genetic enhancement alters this ability, which some consider unnatural and unethical (1).

While these concerns are understandable, some people are unaware of the benefits of genetically modified animals. There is a growing need for more food and fiber to support an increasing World population. The world population is increasing, and consequently food production needs to increase to meet the growing demands of the world (2). Genetically enhanced animals can help fill the ever-increasing gap between supply and demand. With medical breakthroughs, farmers can raise healthier animals with the use of antibiotics and vaccines (3). Less disease decreases the mortality rate, and increases production for less cost meaning more income for the farmer, and more supply for the market. This increase in income can benefit smaller farms who mostly use family labor force (4), as well as farms that, like any business, have suffered from the current economic instability of current markets. These enhancements can lead to less workers and more income for farms. The increase in product supply will decrease the consumer price as well, creating a “win-win” scenario for farmers and consumers.

Animal biotechnology benefits more than just the market and health of animals, but also our environment(5).  Biotechnology can enhance the wellbeing of people and animals by decreasing the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in the soil by genetically modifying pigs to reduce release of gases such as methane into the atmosphere.  An increase in quality of meat can be attained by genetically enhanced pigs who produce more muscle and less fat (6).  Sheep can be genetically modified to produce more wool.  Human health can even be improved by the change in milk composition by deleting the Beta-lactoglobulin gene (one of the major proteins that causes milk allergens) which can reduce the mammary gland engorgement and infections associated with this protein(6).

So, while genetically enhanced animals may seem scary and unnatural, they are not but simply misunderstood.  They have a lot to offer our society, and are part of our generation’s way of improving our world.

References:

1.  Murray, J. D. Dickson, J. Transgenic animals in agriculture. Wallingford, Oxon, UK ; New York, NY,USA:CABI Pub., c1999.

2.  Twine, R. Animals as biotechnology : ethics, sustainability and critical animal studies. London; Washington, DC : Earthscan, 2010

3.  Rollin, B. E. An ethcist’s commentary on animal rights versus welfare. Can Vet Journal. V 43(12) pp 913.

4.  Swain, D. L., D. Lloyd. Redesigning animal agriculture : The challenge of the 21st century. Wallingford, Oxfordshire, UK ; Cambridge, MA : CAB International, 2007.

5.  Peacock, K. W. Biotechnology and genetic engineering. New York : Facts on File, c2010. Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. 2002.

6.  Houdebine, L. Animal transgenesis and cloning [electronic resource] / Louis-Marie Houdebine; translated by Louis-Marie Houdebine … [et al.].  Chichester, UK ; Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley & Sons, c2003.

 

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Team 4:  Michael Chacko, Taylor Marino, Julie Schou, and Caroline Wu

Food Biotechnology

By definition, food biotechnology is the application of biological processes to increase rates of food production.  Because the population of the World is expanding, we need a highly sustainable and more efficient method of producing food(1). For example, by 2050, it is estimated that we will need to feed nine to ten billion people(5). With an increase in population, there is a decrease in available farm area. With that being said, it is not only prudent, but it is vital that we find an alternative to traditional farming methods.

Population growth is dependent on the number of deaths and births(5). As time goes on, there are fewer deaths than births in the world. Thus, there is a net population growth. As population increases, food consumption also escalates, because they are directly proportional. Not only does the world have considerably more people than it did years ago, but the consumption of food per person is much higher than it previously was in Developed countries, due to individual income growth in Developed countries. In conclusion, we need to maximize crop production efficiency (quantity produced per acre) to compensate for this increase in population growth.

Food biotechnology is an important main alternative to solving the problem of feeding a growing population. One use of this biotechnology is growing plants faster and larger. To do this, scientists splice specific genes in crops and create a desirable DNA strand(3). For example, scientists can genetically alter a specific crop to be less likely to wither from lack of water (i.e., be more drought resistant). Today, many foods are being grown with biotechnology, but most of the population is unaware of this. Some in society view the use of this technology as being controversial(4). The main reason for this is that people are unsure if what is being done to these foods is safe(6). There is still much to learn about this technology, however, for now this seems like the most effective method of producing food.

As is apparent, food biotechnology is a vital part of the lives of people around the world, whether they know it or not. Although this topic can sometimes be controversial, due to the media and people’s lack of knowledge, it is an important topic that needs to be discussed in order for the world’s population to survive for generations to come.

References:

1.) Ervin, David E. Glenna, Leland L. Jussaume, Raymond A. Jr. “Are biotechnology and sustainable agriculture compatible?” Renewable agriculture and food systems. 2010 June, v. 25, issue 2 p. 143-157.

2.) Vianna, G. R., N. B. Cunha, A. M. Murad, and E. L. Rech. “Review Soybeans as Bioreactors for Biopharmaceuticals and Industrial Proteins.” Genetics and Molecular Research 10.3: 1733-752. Rpt. in 2011.

3.) Fleet, G.H. “Biotechnology and Food Production–relevance to Nutrition.” Journal of Food & Nutrition of Australia 45.Dec. 1988 (1988): 90-93. AGRICOLA. Web. 8 Oct. 2011.

4.) Avery, A. A.; Irish Grassland Association, Borris in Ossory, Irish Republic, Irish Grassland Association Journal, 2003, 37, pp. 17-27.

5.) Etherton, T. (2011). PowerPoint Lectures August 23-November 15, AN SC 110S. University Park PA, 16802.

6.) Isshiki, K. “Food Technology Development and Safety.” Seibutsu-kogaku Kaishi. 2010 Vol. 88 No. 11 pp. 609-611.

 

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Team 5:  Carrie Clark, Samantha McKinney, Alyssa Sheppard, and Kelsey Zook

 Organic Farming Economic Efficiency

 Organic farming is a form of agricultural production in which the use of artificial production aids such as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are strictly controlled or excluded entirely from the operation. While organic farming appeals to many consumers, there is evidence that shows that the disadvantages may outweigh the advantages of organic food production in comparison to conventional farming practices.

There are many obstacles that are faced by both farmers and consumers that are involved in the production and sales of organic products. There are high managerial costs involved with organic farming, as well as the added risk of shifting towards a new way of farming.  In general, producers and consumers alike have a limited awareness of organic farming practices. In addition, issues with marketing and business as a whole involved in organic farming have been observed (1). Certified organic suppliers are most commonly utilized in the distribution of organic goods (2). States now charge additional fees for certified producers because they are seen as an ongoing expense. Consumers, in turn will face a higher price because of these state implemented fees (1).

When analyzing cost and profit for conventional and organic farming no significant differences between either of these areas for the two different methods can be seen. In a study conducted in Hungary, it was found that in winter wheat production the material costs were the same for organic and conventional farming, but the production cost per unit was up to 35% higher in organic farming. The material costs in conventional farming stem from the chemicals used for crop production, while the costs for materials is due to a greater amount of soil and plant conditioning in organic (3). Higher prices for organic products are the result of these added production costs (1).

While consumers may believe that there are added health benefits related to consumption of organic products the economic disadvantages to organic farming are quite high and outweigh these possible benefits. While organic producers may see a higher profit, the overall economic advantages are difficult to recognize (3).

References:

1. Green, C., Kreman, A. (2000). U.S. Organic Farming in 2000-2001: Adoption of Certified Systems. U.S. Department of Agriculture Economics Research Division Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 780. http://purl.access.gpo.gov/GPO/LPS34764

2. Dimitri, C., Oberholtzer, L. (2008). Baseline Findings of the Nationwide Survey of Organic Manufacturers, Processors, and Distributors. U.S. Department of Agriculture Economics Research Division Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 36. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/EIB36/EIB36.pdf

3. Urfi, P., Kormosne Koch, K., Basci, Z. (2011). Cost and Profit Analysis of Organic   Farming In Hungary. Journal of Central European Agriculture. http://www.cabi.org/cabdirect/FullTextPDF/2011/20113302396.pdf

 

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Team 6:  Isaac Haagen, Casey McQuiston, and Jessica Solis

 Therapeutic Cloning

Great strides are being made in biotechnology.  The necessity to increase knowledge and skills within this field is ever increasing.  Today, our society is recognizing the myriad of benefits biotechnology has provided. It is an exciting time, in which the previously intangible is now becoming tangible. One such exciting advancement in recent history is the evolution of therapeutic cloning.

Therapeutic cloning is a relatively simple concept.  It involves cloning an embryo for the purpose of creating a store of embryos which can then be used for extracting embryonic stem cells. These stem cells can then be put to use in regenerative medicine and also combating many genetic disorders. While this may appear to be rather simple concept, it has, however,  proved much more difficult in practice.  The first human embryo was successfully cloned in 2001 without successfully producing any embryonic stem cells. Since then, scientists have successfully managed to retrieve embryotic stem cells form several mammalian species; however, attempts to obtain embryonic stem cells from cloned human embryos have remained fruitless (1,2).

Regardless, strong efforts are being put forth to make the use of therapeutic cloning a success.   The primary reason for this continued interest is the exciting possibilities therapeutic cloning provides the medical field particularly in the area of regenerative therapy.   The use of therapeutic cloning would allow for one to remove the current constraints involved with organ and tissue transplants.   Specifically, therapeutic cloning removes the possibility of organ and tissue rejection from donor to patient and alleviates the severe shortage of organs the medical field is currently facing.   In addition, therapeutic cloning holds huge promise in treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, genetic conditions such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and common diseases such as diabetes (3,4).

It is important for one to realize that therapeutic cloning is performed specifically for the purpose of producing embryos for embryonic stem cells; under no circumstances is the use of therapeutic cloning performed for the creation of a new human being.  With this in mind, it is clear that the use of therapeutic cloning is a scientific advancement that will prove most beneficial to the aid of peoples around the globe (5).

References

1 Arshad, S. (2008). Cloning. In Gale Carnegie Learning. Retrieved November 10, 2011, from Gale Virtual Reference Library.

2 Aschheim, K. (2011, November 8). Toward human therapeutic cloning. In Nature Biotechnology. Retrieved November 15, 2011, from PubMed (22068535).

3 Seidel, Jr., G. E. (2004). Cloning: I. Scientific Background . In Gale Carnegie Learning. Retrieved November 17, 2011, from Gale Virtual Reference Library.

4 Kfoury, C. (2007, July 10). Therapeutic cloning: promises and issues. In PubMed Central. Retrieved November 10, 2011, from PubMed (PMCID: PMC2323472).

5 McGee, Glenn. “Human Cloning.” Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics. Ed. Carl Mitcham. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 938-942. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

BASF Farm Perspectives Study Shows Strong Agreement between Farmers and Consumers

Mon, 2011-11-28 11:24

LUDWIGSHAFEN, GERMANY, November 8, 2011 – Consumers’ interest in agriculture and personal respect for farmers is high, even in countries where less than two percent of the population works in agriculture, according to the BASF Farm Perspectives Study, which surveyed 1,800 farmers and 6,000 consumers. Yet farmers and consumers also agree that farmers’ reputations remain low. The study, which outlines the way farmers and consumers view the farming profession, its challenges and its support network, revealed surprisingly strong agreement on major issues, including the role of farmers and the major challenges farmers are facing in the 21st century.

The study was carried out in Brazil, India, the United States, Germany, Spain and France in cooperation with the global market research firm Synovate GmbH and Professor Dr. Ulrich Oevermann, Professor for Sociology at the University of Frankfurt.

Both farmers and consumers view farming as a vocation, one that is dedicated to providing nourishment, supporting rural culture and caring for the land. “Steward of the land” or “Caretaker of the land” is farmers’ favorite self-description in all six countries (over 80%), but registers significantly lower with consumers (50-60%). In a related question, many consumers blame farmers for environmental problems, with concerns strongest in Brazil, India and France (38-43%), the U.S. and Germany (23%).

Introducing the study at the BASF Agricultural Solutions Press Info Day, Dr. Stefan Marcinowski, Member of the Board of Executive Directors, explained: “Many farmers take the consumers’ concerns very seriously and do their best to address them properly. For us this is an important finding since it clearly shows us where we can help farmers to overcome this gap with more sustainable products and solutions.”

21st century challenge: Feeding the world

Around 80 percent of farmers and consumers from all countries agree that farming’s primary objective is to feed the world. Even so, a majority of farmers believe that consumers do not understand the full dimension of the food supply challenge or the reality of farming. Agreement on the contribution of plant biotechnology was strongest among farmers and consumers in countries with high adoption of genetically-modified crops, such as India (76% of farmers and 62% of consumers), Brazil (78% and 29%) and the USA (53% and 25%).

Interest-understanding gap

Consumers show a high level of interest in farming (from 84% in India to 50% in France), but also admit that they do not know enough about farming to judge it properly. Although farmers also see an understanding gap among consumers, many (ranging from 40% in the USA to 74% in India) take consumers concerns seriously and say they should do more to meet consumers’ expectations.

Price an obstacle, little support for subsidies on environment

The price of food and, conversely, the price of conservation remain obstacles for both farmers and consumers. A large majority of farmers believe consumers are not willing to pay higher prices for food produced in an environmentally-friendly way. Though some consumers (30%) say they would pay higher prices, a slight majority in France, Spain, Germany and the USA would not. Subsidies are seen by both groups largely as a means to keep food prices low, especially in India (74%), Brazil (67%) and Germany (64%) rather than as environmental lever (around 30%).

Farmers believe that industry and consumers should do more to support agriculture: More environmentally-friendly products and representation in public from industry; better grasp of farming and willingness to pay for environmental benefits from consumers.

“These results are a clear message that farmers expect support on challenges that go far beyond their business success. At the same time, it’s also a signal to all of us, industry, consumers and policymakers, that we need to bridge the farm-knowledge gap and give growers broader support going forward,” concluded Marcinowski.

The press release is available at:  http://www.basf.com/group/pressrelease/P-11-492

Here a Sustainable Farm, There a Sustainable Farm – What’s Going On?

Mon, 2011-11-07 10:00

Terry D. Etherton

This article was first published on the IFIC Food Insight Blog on November 4, 2011.

Sustainable is a popular word these days in conversations about the practices used to produce our food.  The word is used and misused extensively.

I have asked many folks what sustainable food production means.  The answers are diverse, and astonishing in some instances.  Relative the latter, some convey that sustainable food production is the only “way” and that unsustainable agriculture doesn’t work.  The latter response is more than puzzling to me.  If the business is not economically sustainable then it is unsustainable.

My perspective is that sustainable should first be viewed through the “lens” of economic sustainability.  Farms are businesses.  If they don’t make money they close…pretty simple.

However, sustainable gets used in a myriad of confusing ways.  For example, some in society talk about sustainable in the context of this being the “best” food production practice to embrace.  I am sure many readers have seen the marketing message:  organic food production is more sustainable than other agricultural production practices and, therefore, better.

There are other sound bites that convey free-range or pasture-fed production practices are more sustainable than conventional ag production practices.  I even went to a restaurant in San Francisco that markets their restaurant as being sustainable because they focus on urban, rustic food that was sourced from a “sense of place”.  By the way, I still don’t know what urban, rustic food is.

The reality is that well managed and profitable farm businesses are sustainable irrespective of production practice.  And, the food is all the same from a nutrient quality and health standpoint.

Some “spin” sustainable in an environmental context to convey that there are ag production practices (think large scale ag) that are not being managed in an environmentally and sustainably effective way.  This is another example of misleading and inaccurate messaging.

Some even use sustainable to attack science…if products of biotechnology are used in agriculture, the food production practice is not sustainable!  In fact, the opposite is the case, use of biotechnology has many benefits on agriculture that range from environmental to improved production efficiency.

The sustainable campaign even spins into the arena of subsidies for farmers.  I have come to appreciate that more than a few individuals believe that without farm subsidies, large farms would not exist.  They rail that we should limit subsidies to big agribusinesses.  This is another deceptive and misleading communication message.  Recent data published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicates that the level of support to agriculture in the U.S. is much lower than many other developed countries (see Figure).  In the U.S., the Producer Support Estimate was 9% in 2008-2010.  This is dramatically lower than the European Union level of support (22%), which some view as a haven of “sustainable” food production practices.

My encouragement is that we celebrate the contemporary food system that we have evolved, and not get hung up on the use of the word sustainable.  One looming issue that is high on my priority list is to develop and implement new technologies that will help feed the 10 billion individuals that are projected to populate the world in 2050.

 

The Need for Food Biotechnology

Thu, 2011-11-03 14:50

Terry D. Etherton

The public discussion about the need for adequate food is a luxury that well-fed people in developed countries can afford.  But in developing countries where the population is growing while the supply of farmland shrinks, people are grappling with a much thornier and higher-stakes dilemma.  Unless they can grow more food on less land, they may not have enough to eat.  The scale of this is already daunting – more than 1 billion individuals in the world go to bed each night hungry.

Agricultural biotechnology is helping to solve this by making it possible to grow more and healthier food in conditions and places where it could not be grown before. The new agricultural biotechnologies offer great promise for producing enough food for the growing world population.  The world’s population is expected to increase to 9 to 10 billion individuals by 2050, with more than 60% of the growth occurring in Africa, Southern Asia, and Eastern Asia.  This increase in population translates to a projected increase in annual global food production from 9.9 trillion pounds to about 14.3 trillion pounds in 2050 (see post at Terry Etherton Blog on Biotechnology at:  http://blogs.das.psu.edu/tetherton/).

Some may be amazed at the extent to which plant biotechnology is being adopted in agriculture.  The rate is accelerating impressively.  For example, in 2010, the accumulated acreage planted during the past 15 years (i.e., from 1996 to 2010), exceeded one billion hectares for the first time.  This is equivalent to more than 10% of the total land area of the USA or China.   This translates to an 87-fold increase in acreage planted to GM crops between 1996 and 2010, making biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture.

It is important to appreciate that feeding the growing world population will be a challenge.  As farmers in developing nations clear-cut more land and consume more natural resources to grow the food their mounting populations need to survive, the world faces an environmental dilemma in addition to a humanitarian one.  I don’t think we want to continue to destroy more wildlife habit or tropical rainforest to plant more soybeans.  What is the answer?  One important answer is to invest in science to develop future generations of technology that improve productive efficiency of plant and animal agriculture.  (Food productive efficiency is an increase in the quantity of food produced per acre for crops, and the quantity of meat or milk produced per unit of food consumed by animals.)

Opponents of ag biotechnology contend (incorrectly) that many consumers are opposed to modern biotechnology.  However, the science-based consumer survey evidence clearly shows that the majority of Americans have accepted the benefits of the new food biotechnologies  (see: Terry Etherton Blog on Biotechnology at:  http://blogs.das.psu.edu/tetherton/).

There are many compelling reasons to support and promote ag and food biotechnology for the global village.  These “biotechnologies” contribute importantly to alleviating some of the major challenges facing global society, including: food security and self-sufficiency, sustainability, alleviation of poverty and hunger, and help in mitigating some of the challenges associated with climate change and global warming.  We are fortunate that we are traversing an era where there is so much science that is being applied to pressing societal issues.  Let us celebrate the many positive contributions that ag biotechnology has made to the world, and will make in the future!

Biotech Firms Warn EU over Pace of GM Crop Approvals

Tue, 2011-10-11 10:43

By Charlie Dunmore

BRUSSELS | Tue Oct 11, 2011

(Reuters) – Europe’s biotechnology industry has warned the European Commission that agricultural imports vital to EU food security are increasingly being put at risk, due to the slow pace of the bloc’s approval system for genetically modified (GM) crops.

In a report to be presented to EU policymakers on Tuesday, biotech association EuropaBio said the speed of GM crop authorizations in Europe is slowing — even as governments worldwide seek to step up the pace of their approvals.

“The EU authorization process for GM products takes substantially longer than comparable systems, despite the fact that government processes around the world to assess the safety and impact of GM products are essentially the same,” it said.

EU policy on GM crops has long been politically fraught, with a majority of consumers opposed to modified foods, but the bloc reliant on imports of about 30 million tonnes of GM animal feed each year — equivalent to 60 kg per person.

EuropaBio estimates the EU’s approval process takes 15-20 months longer, on average, than in the three top global exporters of GM crops — the United States, Brazil, and Canada.

The number of GM crops awaiting approval in Europe has risen from about 50 at the end of 2007 to 72 today — 51 for import and 21 for cultivation. Based on current trends, EuropaBio said it expects more than 90 products to be pending approval by 2015.

Only two GM crops are currently approved for cultivation in Europe, compared to 90 in the United States and 28 in Brazil.

As well as blocking EU farmers from growing GM crops, the lack of approvals increases the risk of import disruptions due to contamination with unapproved GM varieties, the report said.

“It’s a double whammy — we don’t allow farmers to import these GM crops because they haven’t been approved here, and you can’t cultivate them either. We’re putting ourselves into a corner,” EuropaBio Secretary General Nathalie Moll told Reuters.

In its report, EuropaBio urges the European Commission, which oversees GM crop approvals, to set targets for reducing the backlog of applications.

POLITICAL IMPASSE

The Commission said its own analysis of GM approvals found the delays were not as significant as stated by EuropaBio and that it gave extra priority to cases that could disrupt imports.

“The Commission pays particular attention to authorizations which can have a major impact on trade, and looks for efficiency gains whenever they are possible,” EU health and consumer spokesman Frederic Vincent said.

EU environmental groups argue that pro-GM countries in other parts of the world cut corners in safety assessments, and that if anything the EU should beef up its approval system.

“In the U.S., GM crops are riddled with failures, so Europe shouldn’t be compared with a weaker system. EU laws are there to protect the public and environment from the risks of GM crops,” said Mute Schimpf, GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

Last month, U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill and agricultural processor Archer Daniels Midland refused to accept grain that had not received EU regulatory approval, for fear that traces in shipments could shut off a key export market.

In a bid to avoid such disruptions to animal feed imports –which totaled more than 50 million tonnes last year, worth some 15 billion euros ($20.5 billion) — the EU adopted rules in June allowing tiny amounts of unapproved GM crops in feed shipments.

In a bid to avoid such disruptions to animal feed imports –which totaled more than 50 million tonnes last year, worth some 15 billion euros ($20.5 billion) — the EU adopted rules in June allowing tiny amounts of unapproved GM crops in feed shipments.

While the so-called “low level presence” (LLP) rules will help, EuropaBio argues that their scope — applicable to feed, but not food — and the threshold for unapproved GM material of just 0.1 percent will not prove an effective long-term solution.

The European Commission drafted rules last year to allow EU governments to decide themselves whether to grow or ban GM crops, which could speed up the process. But opposition from members including France, Germany and Britain — and the biotech industry itself — stalled talks on the plans.

The impasse coincided with a fall in the number of GM crop authorizations proposed by the Commission for approval by governments.

“The processing of approvals has stopped while Europe works on these political issues … and there’s no reason why these two things couldn’t go in parallel,” said EuropaBio’s Moll.

Stefan Marcinowski, executive board member of German chemical giant BASF, said Europe’s slow approach went beyond a threat to imports and a lack of EU cultivation.

“We are not starting any new projects that are exclusively dedicated to being marketed in Europe, despite having many crops which have a special European demand. It makes no sense with this uncertainty to make long-term investments into such projects.”

God and Science

Mon, 2011-09-12 20:59

Terry D. Etherton

Ag Progress Days (APD) was held a few weeks ago at Penn State.  Ag Progress Days is a 3-day event that is hosted by the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State University. Typically, APD attracts about 50,000 attendees (for additional insights into what APD is, please see: How I Spent a Summer Day at Penn State’s Ag Progress Days).

This year, the College hosted a program that involved short presentations by various Penn State employees about a variety of scientific topics and agriculture.  I was invited to speak about Biotechnology in the Barnyard…a topic near and dear to my heart.  An important aspect of my talk addressed the issue of how are we going to feed a growing world population?  I believe that the development and application of science will play a role in trying to feed the world in the future.  While I have given versions of this talk countless times over the past 30 years, this presentation, actually the question and answer session, turned out to be very different.

Different in what way?

At the conclusion of my talk, an individual in the audience asked if I believed in God.  That has never occurred before!  The closest I had come have been conversations about God and Science but never in a formal meeting.

My response was:  ”I believe in a Higher Power that many individuals elect to call God.”  Her response, was that I didn’t answer the question!

I immediately started processing the thought that the attendee must be concerned that scientists  don’t believe in God.  I didn’t speak to this issue, however, in the question and answer period.

Her subsequent comments veered to her story about deep prayer and “clean” food accounting for her recovery from a serious health condition.   She shared words to the effect “that the biotechnology-based food was dirty…”!  At this point, I thought “oh oh”!!  Viewing certain food production practices as resulting in “clean” or “dirty” food is not a position supported by any science.  We didn’t have time to elaborate on the details of what she meant by using the word “dirty”.

Over the years, I have had more than a few opponents of science and biotechnology in agriculture attack the topic in many ways, ranging from “it isn’t safe” to “we don’t need/want it”, etc.  However, I have evolved a response to the question about the safety of science and biotechnology by asking the person posing the question the following:  Heaven forbid if you have a child with a catastrophic illness…would you take them to the best and brightest physician and use the latest medical science and biomedical biotechnology to help?  Or, would you prefer to use medical technology and healthcare practices from the 1850′s?  For those who answer the question, I have never one individual select “1850′s healthcare”!

Of course, there have been a slew of individuals who have dodged the question.  In fact that attendee at APD said, “what do you mean” and “hmm, that is hard question”, without answering.  I didn’t press for an answer.

My question is intended to “force” a look at a different value system (appreciation) for science.  It is clear that individuals differentiate their value for science in a manner that depends on the application, i.e., ag biotech versus medical biotechnology.  The scientific methods are the same so safety is the same; however, some in society make value judgments about science and technology without truly understanding the underlying science.  We all do this…I don’t have a clue how my computer works but I make value decisions about what to buy based on perceptions.

Confusing isn’t it?

I am grateful that God created the scientific method and scientists.  Imagine where society would be without all of the goods, products and services we use that evolved from science.  Fortunately, the cohort who is concerned about science in agriculture are a vocal, small minority.  And, for that, I thank God.

Speaking of Communicating

The fact that the cohort who questions or doubts the need for science in agriculture is small should not be interpreted that scientists should stop communicating about the need for ag science in feeding a growing world.

I have spent about 30 years traveling down the “road” of trying to communicate science to the public. It has been an interesting journey. I launched my blog, Terry Etherton Blog on Biotechnology, in 2006 for many reasons, including the idea of providing science-based facts for consumers about many public discussions around food biotechnology in which activists and activist groups try to scare consumers.

During this journey, I have come to appreciate the need for scientists to become more proactive in communicating science. Specifically, the scientific community needs to be much better at conveying what they do and how science and technology benefit consumers.  I have written about this, most recently in Please Explain:  Training Scientists to be Better Communicators imploring scientists to get involved.

In my travels down this “road”, I have become sensitized to the issue of how the information I present is being “heard” by the audience. This can be a real adventure, especially when some in the “audience” share “they don’t believe the message(s) or messenger” (i.e., me). This raises the interesting question of what to do?

Yes, there are those who do not believe in science and technology.

Here is a good example. A colleague (Dr. Ann Macrina) and I wrote an article, Hormones in Milk – Are they Causing Early Puberty in Girls? that was posted on the Best Food Facts blog in June.  Recently, a consumer, “Rachel”, submitted a comment for posting:  “I don’t believe all the information in this article. I think the facts are skewed. There is a great milk lobby out there. Not all they say is true. Hormones are indeed causing younger girls to mature ahead of time. This is true for girls that are not even heavy. I have seen this with my own eyes. More than once.”

Not a shred of what Rachel shared in her post is true based on science. Our blog clearly presented the facts that hormones in food are NOT the cause of early onset puberty. Rachel, however, obviously elected to not believe this!  I have no idea what the basis for her decision was.

And, with this comes the question:  What to do when clear scientific evidence is not believed?

The answer?  We keep communicating – it works. Here are some examples.

It is clear that many Americans value science and technology. In 2010, the National Science Foundation released a report, Science and Engineering Indicators:  2010, showing that Americans overwhelmingly agree that science and technology will foster “more opportunities for the next generation”; about 89% of respondents agreed with this statement (see: Chapter 7, Science and Technology:  Public Attitudes and Understanding).

In the 2010 Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology Survey, conducted by the International Food Information Council, only 2% of respondents listed biotech when asked: What, if anything, are you concerned about when it comes to food safety?

Another recent report, Making Safe, Affordable and Abundant Food a Global Reality, that was posted on the Plenty to Think About Blog  presented compelling evidence that 95% of survey respondents are either neutral or fully supportive of using technology to produce their food.

With this, I shall get back on the “road” and keep communicating what science is and the benefits that science offers to the public. And, as always, do so with great appreciation for the fact that there are different opinions for how best to feed the world, and with immense gratitude for learned minds in science who strive to do their best to develop science-based solutions that are of benefit to the world.


 

In the Pursuit of Communicating Science

Thu, 2011-08-18 15:48

Terry D. Etherton

I have  spent about 30 years  traveling down the “road” of trying to communicate  science to the public.  It has been an interesting journey.  I launched  my blog,  Terry Etherton Blog on Biotechnology, in 2006 for many reasons, including the idea of  providing science-based facts for consumers about many public discussions around food biotechnology in which activists and activist groups try to scare consumers.

During this journey, I have come to appreciate the tremendous need for scientists to become more proactive in communicating science.  Specifically, the scientific community needs to be much better at conveying what they do and how  science and technology benefit consumers.  I have written about this, most recently in Please Explain:  Training Scientists to be Better Communicators imploring scientists to get involved.

In my travels down this “road”, I have become sensitized to the issue of how is the  information I present  being “heard” by the audience.  This can be a real adventure, especially when some in the “audience” share “they don’t believe the message(s)” or messenger (i.e., me). This raises the interesting question of what to do?

Yes, there are some non-believers of science and technology “out there”.

Here is a good example.  A colleague (Dr. Ann Macrina) and I wrote an article,  Hormones in Milk – Are they Causing Early Puberty in Girls?, that was posted on the  Best Food Facts blog in June.  Recently, a consumer,”Rachel”, submitted a comment for posting.  Her comment:  “I don’t believe all the information in this article. I think the facts are skewed. There is a great milk lobby out there. Not all they say is true. Hormones are indeed causing younger girls to mature ahead of time. This is true for girls that are not even heavy. I have seen this with my own eyes. More than once.”

Not a shred of what Rachel shared in her post is true based on science.  Our blog clearly presented the facts that hormones in food are NOT the cause of early onset puberty.  Rachel, however, obviously elected to not believe this!  I have no idea what the basis for her decision was.

And, with this comes the question:  Now, what to do?

The answer?  We keep communicating – it works.  Here are some examples.

It is clear that many Americans value science and technology.  In 2010, the National Science Foundation released a report, “Science and Engineering Indicators:  2010“, showing  that Americans overwhelmingly agree that science and technology will foster “more opportunities for the next generation”; about 89% of respondents agreed with this statement (see: Chapter 7, Science and Technology:  Public Attitudes and Understanding).

In the 2010 Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology Survey, conducted by the International Food Information Council, only 2% of respondents listed biotech when asked: What, if anything, are you concerned about when it comes to food safety?

Another recent report, Making Safe, Affordable and Abundant Food a Global Reality, that was posted on the Plenty to Think About Blog presented compelling evidence that 95% of survey respondents are either neutral or fully supportive of using technology to produce their food.

With this, I shall get back on the “road” and keep communicating science and the benefits of science to the public.

 

 

 

 

 

Food Safety – Then and Now

Tue, 2011-08-02 13:08

Terry D. Etherton

Disease outbreaks that originate from consumption of food attract great media attention, and create concerns for many in society…for good reason. The recent outbreak of Escherichia coli (E. coli) in Europe is a good example of this and the societal problems that ensue.  As of July 26, 2011, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control had reported 3900 confirmed or probable E. coli cases including 46 deaths from the recent E.coli outbreak in Europe.  The media attention that a disease outbreak like this causes is staggering!

How staggering?

A Google search of the word sequence “E coli Europe 2011″ on July 26 resulted in 10,600,000 results!  Media scrutiny like this can create the image for many in society that food safety issues abound.  The fact is, however, that individuals living in developed countries have the safest food supply in recorded history.  the challenge is how to communicate this effectively to the public.

The story of how agriculture research and contemporary food production practices allow the United States to produce the world’s safest food supply is one that tends to get “lost” in the media frenzy that explodes after a disease outbreak that is linked to food.  When one looks at the record of food-borne diseases throughout recorded history, it is evident that today we have an armada of scientific and public health resources that are remarkably effective in reducing risk of contracting disease from food.  In addition, the public health and diagnostic infrastructure that is in place is phenomenal at determining the cause of the disease outbreak, and delivering appropriate, high-level health care.  I do not talk with many individuals who would like to live life using the biomedical and public health resources that were available in 1850.

To illustrate the power of science, consider the E. coli outbreak that began in Germany in May, 2011…by June 29, 2011, a paper [Brzuszhiewicz et al. Genome sequence analyses of two isolates from the recent Escherichia coli outbreak in Germany reveal the emergence of a new pathotype:  Entero-Aggregative-Haemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EAHEC)] had been published online in the science journal “Archives of Microbiology” that presented the complete genome (DNA) sequence analyses of two isolates from the outbreak!  This would have been impossible 10 years ago!

In the face of a disease outbreak like the one in Europe, we should not lose sight of the fact that advances in science and medicine have had a dramatic and beneficial impact on reducing risk of contracting food-borne disease. Advances in numerous technologies have made this possible.  These include:  canning; autoclaving; refrigeration; microbiology; assay technology (including rapid pathogen assays); meat science; packaging; use of biotechnology; shipping; epidemiology; disease outbreak tracking; and public health monitoring and intervention!

To the point of food safety…then versus now…we should be appreciative of the marvelous food safety systems that are in place, and extol the benefits of the scientific and technological advances that have made all of these possible.  The food-borne outbreaks that occur are identified and dealt with quickly (especially versus prior decades) because of enhanced vigilance, application of science and public health monitoring.

Did You Ever Wonder Where Your Milk Came From?

Wed, 2011-07-20 10:26

Terry D. Etherton

Did you ever wonder where your milk comes from?  And, no, I am not referring to cows.  My question pertains to the geographic regions of the United States that contribute most to milk production.

As you will see, the results are revealing.

Based on information released by the Market Administrator for the Central Federal Order No. 32, 59 counties accounted for 50% of the U.S. milk production (see Figure 1).

When you look at the map, it is evident that milk production is concentrated in a few geographic regions of the United States.  The 11 counties (in red) that account for 25% of all milk produced in the United States are perhaps a more telling illustration of this.  To put the 25% of milk in context, total milk production in the United States in 2010 was about 193 billion pounds!

You might ask: what does this mean?

One, a lot of milk/dairy products gets transported significant distances to get to consumers. Advances in technology have enabled this.  Two, the greatest concentration of milk production is in California.  And, three, the concentration of dairy production has important biosecurity implications.  For example, if a dairy disease outbreak occurs in relatively few regions in the country, this would have a huge impact on milk production and availability to consumers throughout the country.

I have thought a lot about a “targeted strike” on the U.S. food system.  One example of a targeted strike is the intentional release of an animal pathogen (such as the virus that causes food and mouth disease) with the intended consequence of causing economic and social upheaval. With respect to the dairy industry, the concentration of a lot of cows in few counties in the United States would greatly facilitate causing a “big time” problem.  This concentration of food production is not unique to the dairy industry…it is common for other animal and plant commodities, as well.

If you wondering what the impact of an “intended” animal disease outbreak might be in the United States, consider the consequences of the foot and mouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom in 2001…it had an economic impact of about $10 billion (see:  Impact of Bioterrorism on Agriculture in the U.S.).  If this occurred in the United States, the economic impact likely would be far greater!  And, how the public would respond is likely to be closer to chaos than calmness.

 

 

 

 

 

How Much Food will the World Need in 2050?

Mon, 2011-06-27 16:01

Terry D. Etherton

Much has been written by others and myself about the need to feed a growing World population that will increase to between 9 and 10 billion individuals by 2050 (based on estimates from the Population Estimates and Projections Section of the UN). Making projections about the impact of population growth on food production raises the question of just how much food will be required to feed 10 billion people?  While the question is straightforward, developing these estimates is remarkably challenging.  The vast majority of numbers are derived from food disappearance data, that is food for human consumption that is produced is assumed to “disappear” via consumption.  This is problematic, in part, because it has been estimated that 30 to 40% of food in developed and developing countries is wasted (Godfray et al., 2010).  This wastage spans the spectrum of the food system from production to plate waste.

The question emerges, then, of whether there is more accurate approach for estimating projected food needs in 2050? 

Inherent to any approach that is developed to estimate food production needs in 2050 is the reality that this must be considered in the context of the numerous events that could affect food needs and production capacity.  These include aligning food production needs to the rapidly changing demand from a larger and more affluent population; doing this in environmental and socially acceptable ways; and ensuring that the world’s hungry are no longer hungry! Moreover, achieving this goal of adequate food production in 2050 also presumes that future climate change will not hinder food production, and that geopolitical strife will not disrupt food production (and distribution).

As I have written in Terry Etherton Blog on Biotechnology, growing food production by 2050 to meet population needs will require an increase in funding for science and technology.  This raises the question of “who pays for this”?  Related to this question is another daunting question:  how will private sector companies that develop these new biotechnologies distribute them to developing countries, and at what price?  Another pressure point on feeding the world in the future is the development of biofuels.  The current business model of diverting feed grains, such as corn, to ethanol production is folly.

There have been numerous estimates of future food needs.  In a report published by the World Bank, World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development, it was estimated that cereal production would have to increase by 50 percent and meat production by 85 percent from 2000 to 2030.  This is similar to a report (Reaping the Benefits:  Science and the Sustainable Intensification of Global Agriculture) published in 2009 by the Royal Society.  Other estimates are that we will need 70 to 100% more food by 2050 (Godfray et al., 2010).  In none of these estimates is the percentage increase translated to quantity of food actually needed.

To estimate future food needs, I used information about energy and nutrient requirements for men and women that were published in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, specifically the USDA Food Patterns (Appendix 7).  I used two levels of dietary energy intake for women and men that are commonly used “benchmarks” for individuals at a healthy body weight.  For women, this is 2000 calories per day and for men it is 2800 calorie per day.  The USDA Food Patterns information translates recommended nutrient requirements to recommended daily intake for each food group (i.e., fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, dairy and oils) to a mass basis (i.e., cups or oz)..  This approach permits the calculation of the quantity of food needed to meet daily nutrient needs for an individual.

Based on the above, the quantity of food needed daily for a healthy diet can be determined (1.93 kg/day for men and 1.6 kg/day for women) .  This information can be used to calculate current and projected consumption (on an annual basis).  Based on the current population of 6.8 billion people in the World, the estimated food production need is about 9.9 trillion pounds per year.  In 2050, it is about 14.3 trillion pounds per year or an approximate 44% increase, which aligns with other estimates.  If you are “wrestling”, as I am, with how to scale a “trillion”, consider that 1 trillion seconds is equal to 32,000 years!

There are several obvious constraints to these estimates.  First, there are over a billion individuals in the World who are malnourished and are eating a diet that meets neither nutrient nor energy requirements.  Conversely, there is a large and growing cohort of overweight and obese individuals that dramatically over-consume both nutrients and calories.  Nonetheless, the evidence presented herein is based on an approach that accurately quantifies the amount of food we need to produce based on meeting nutrient and energy needs of normal weight individuals.

The results are telling in that considerable progress could be made to meet future food needs by reducing food wastage over the spectrum of the food system.  This, of course, will be enormously difficult to do.  As one example, can you envision a strategy that would effectively “redirect” food from individuals/countries that over-consume food to those who are in an energy and nutrient deficit?  I can’t and this reinforces the reality that meeting future food production needs will be incredibly challenging and, most likely, costly.  This does not bode well for having enough food in the World by 2050.

 

Technology, Diet and the Burden of Chronic Disease – Another Perspective

Thu, 2011-05-05 08:39

Terry D. Etherton

In the April 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Dr. David Ludwig concluded in a commentary “Technology, Diet, and the Burden of Chronic Disease” that “reducing the burden of obesity-related chronic disease requires a more appropriate use of technology that is guided by public health rather than short-term economic considerations”.  In the commentary, Dr. Ludwig’s usage of “technology” pertains primarily to food technology.

When I read this article and got to the last paragraph…I thought:  Here we go again!  Another not so subtle condemnation of food technology with a different “slant”…if you make food technology better it could help reduce the burden of obesity! My opinion is that this strategy won’t do much to solve a very serious public health issue…the ongoing obesity epidemic.

As I have written on countless occasions in my blog, we have the best and safest food system in recorded history.  This was achieved by developing and implementing a huge array of food technologies over the past decades that span the spectrum of food production practices, harvesting and processing, product development, food safety, nutrition, packaging, cooking, and shipping so that we have all the food you see at your local grocery store. Research advances in food technology have played an essential role in evolving the current food system, which is a present day “wonder”.  I haven’t found many individuals who wish to go back to the food system and technology used in 1850.

Despite the “wonder” of our present food system, it is a fair point that not all the food available in the market space meets the criteria for “healthy” and can be included in a healthy diet on a routine basis.  However, this is where moderation comes into play.  All foods, in moderation, can be included on occasion in a healthy diet.

My point?

Food technology is not the cause of the obesity in the United States and other developed countries.  And, please don’t think that there is NOT a major public health crisis due to overweight and obesity in the United States.  There is an ongoing obesity-related public health epidemic  in the United States.  The most recent data published by Ogden et al. who work at the National Center for Health Statistics (which is part of CDC) indicate that about 74% of Americans over the age of 20 are overweight, obese or extremely obese!  The medical care costs of obesity in the United States are staggering – totaling about about $147 billion annually.

The argument is not about whether we need to dramatically reduce the incidence of overweight and obesity in the United States but how to fix the problem.

On the face of it, the fix seems simple, individuals who are overweight or obese just need to reduce energy intake and increase energy expenditure (via physical activity).  The difficult reality is that obesity is remarkable difficult to treat.  This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the federal government and various health organizations in the United States have spent billions of dollars over the past decade on population intervention programs and initiatives to reduce the incidence of overweight and obesity, and, yet, about three quarters of the population is still markedly above ideal body weight!

Much of the responsibility for the obesity epidemic reflects choices individuals make relative to the dietary pattern they consume daily (i.e., their daily food choices) as well as the quantity of food (energy intake) they ingest. Public health experts clearly recognize this; however, the problem is that population-based  intervention programs that effectively modify eating behavior of overweight/obese individuals so that they consume healthier dietary patterns, and reduce over-consumption of energy on a life-long basis are difficult to implement and sustain.  I can’t predict what the timeline may be for developing strategies that reduce the incidence of obesity in the American population.  In the meantime, however, I do know that we shouldn’t place the blame for the obesity epidemic totally on the food industry.

Why Genetically Modified Crops?

Wed, 2011-04-20 09:36

Terry D. Etherton

Recently, a compelling and persuasive article was published by Dr. Jonathan D. G. Jones in a scientific journal (the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society) entitled “Why Genetically Modified Crops“.  In the article, Dr. Jones shares his exasperation over the widespread misrepresentation of genetically modified (GM) plant science.  Importantly, he presents that rationale (that is widely accepted by the scientific community) that adopting GM crops is essential for agriculture in the future because it reduces its environmental impact by reducing pesticide applications and conserving soil carbon by enabling low till methods.  Dr. Jones concludes with the perspective that “it would be perverse to spurn this approach at a time when we need every tool in the toolbox to ensure adequate food production in the short, medium and long term”.

The paper published by Dr. Jones reaffirms the need for the global village to maximize crop yields going forward.  It is estimated that at least 50% more food production will be needed by 2030.  And, this will have to achieved without “adding” additional cropland (i.e., destroying tropical rainforests and wildlife habitat), with more expensive energy, looming water availability issues (I have not written much about this but shall in the future), and the ever-present uncertainty of climate change.

A report published in 2009 “Reaping the Benefits: Science and the Sustainable Intensification of Global Agriculture” by the Royal Society presented the rationale for how science and technology could increase crop yields and made the recommendation that improved farming methods and the use of ALL available and approved biotechnologies be used to increase the yield potential of crop varieties.

My encouragement is that you read the article by Dr. Jones.  Tellingly, the article concludes with a poignant message:

“GM is a method to introduce new genes that can improve crop performance. In the last 14 years, both GM HT (herbicide tolerance) and insect resistance have been enthusiastically adopted by farmers in the USA, Argentina, Brazil, India and China. The outcomes have broadly been positive; easier weed control, better insect control with reduced insecticide applications, increased carbon sequestration by low till agriculture, and increased farm incomes. However, activists in Europe have greatly retarded adoption of GM, and the public has been misled by unwarranted criticisms of the technology from its opponents. This is unhelpful at a time when we need to use all available technology to secure food supplies over the next 20–40 years.

Europeans should consider the following questions about GM. First, why is so little consideration given to the costs of not using GM? For example, in the UK alone, farmers spend  approximately £50 million per year to control late blight, and a 10 year delay in solving the problem thus costs £500 million. The major beneficiaries from any such delay are the fungicide manufacturers such as Bayer and Syngenta, and the major losers are consumers. Second, European politicians generally support the desirability of strengthening the European bioeconomy, but how are we to compete successfully with the USA when our regulatory burden is so much more severe? Companies such as Monsanto are the major beneficiaries from excessive and expensive regulation; it increases the barriers to entry from competitors, and maintains their monopoly position. Third, EU taxpayers spend considerable sums both nationally and Europe-wide on plant science and technology that could result via GM in EU crops with better performance and reduced environmental impact. However, excessive regulation is preventing EU taxpayers from benefiting from their own investment—why? Finally, EU regulations on import of GM crops are influencing policies in developing countries and retarding the deployment of solutions to problems of food availability and quality. How can the harm that results from these European anti-GM prejudices be justified?”

Five Nations Express Support for Livestock Cloning

Sat, 2011-03-26 08:51

Terry D. Etherton

Here is interesting release from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) about the importance of livestock cloning.  Enjoy reading this.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Monday, March 21, 2011) – Five nations have come out in support of livestock cloning as one of many agricultural technologies that can help meet our growing demand for sustainable food production.

These governments recognize that cloning is one breeding technology that helps farmers and ranchers produce healthier animals and contributes to more consistent food production, said Dr. David Edwards, Director of Animal Biotechnology for the Biotechnology Industry organization (BIO). There is global scientific agreement that foods from livestock clones and their offspring are no different than foods from livestock produced through conventional breeding and are completely safe to eat.

Intergovernmental meetings were held in Buenos Aires in December 2010 and March 2011 where discussions focused on the regulatory and trade-related aspects of livestock cloning in agriculture and food production.  Following these discussions, representatives from the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, New Zealand and the United States signed a document in support of livestock cloning technology, and invited other Governments to sign on as well.

The document identified five key points:

  1. Regulatory approaches related to agricultural technologies should be science-based, and no more trade-restrictive than necessary to fulfill legitimate objectives, and should be consistent with international obligations.
  2. Expert scientific bodies around the world have reviewed the effects of SCNT cloning on animal health and the safety of food derived from livestock clones. There has been no evidence indicating that food from clones or the progeny of clones is any less safe than food from conventionally bred livestock.
  3. The sexually-reproduced progeny of SCNT clones are not clones. These progeny are the same as any other sexually-reproduced animal of their own species. There is no scientifically justifiable basis for imposing a regulatory differentiation between the progeny of clones and other animals of the species.
  4. Restrictions specifically aimed at food from the progeny of clones – such as bans or labeling requirements – could have negative impacts on international trade.
  5. Any audit and enforcement measure addressed to progeny of clones would be impossible to apply legitimately and would result in onerous, disproportionate and unwarranted burdens on livestock producers.

World demand for meat and dairy products is forecasted to increase dramatically in the next few decades, and much of that supply will need to come from more efficient livestock, said Dr. David Faber, President of Trans Ova Genetics and Chair of BIO’s Animal Policy Committee. Increasing pressure is being put on limited resources to meet the growing challenges to food security, and agricultural technologies such as cloning are going to play an increasingly crucial role in meeting these challenges.

In January 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a final risk assessment on animal cloning concluding that livestock cloning is safe.  In July 2008, the European Food Safety Authority also issued a scientific opinion that food from clones is safe, and there are no implications of animal cloning on the environment.

Penn State Ag Budget Hits the Chopping Block; Is that Bad or Just Necessary? A Perspective by an Undergraduate Student

Tue, 2011-03-22 16:14

By Will Nichols

In the spirit of promoting undergraduate education that is different and “outside the classroom”, I am posting this article that was written by Will Nichols, a senior at Penn State (his short bio is at the bottom of the blog).  Will’s blog was first posted on Pearl Snaps’ Ponderings blogsite.  Enjoy reading the blog.

Wisconsin’s government may be receiving national attention for congressional efforts to balance its budget in this troubled economy, but it’s far from the only state taking drastic measures to balance the books. Pennsylvania is right there with it, under newly-elected Governor Tom Corbett. He seeks a budget balanced not by raising taxes, but by cutting spending from the current $4 billion deficit. When he presented his proposed budget for the coming year, the Pennsylvania State University’s appropriations were cut by 52%. Ag funding in particular has been cut in half, too, to $26 million.

That will affect farmers and non-farmers alike, all across Pennsylvania.

Penn Staters are understandably upset – outraged, even – by the total $182 million reduction. No one wants to see Dear Old State’s budget cut so drastically. Its President, Graham Spanier, warned that this budget could have a devastating effect on Pennsylvania’s families. And while Penn State is not the only state-funded university in the state (Temple, Pitt and Lincoln receive funding and received cuts, too), it is the state’s land-grant university.

It makes sense that the College of Agricultural Sciences is its largest college, too. And most expensive, as the home of Cooperative Extension and research and educational farm units spread over 13,800 acres of research land. It hosts 2,500 undergrads and 460 graduate students over 19 majors and 24 minors.

So it bears the brunt of the impact. The College of Ag Sciences has already worked to trim the “subcutaneous” fat. It’s currently been working on the “seam fat.” This news means the college will have to look at making the difficult decisions to finally cut some of the meat.

We’re not sure what will happen. Corbett’s proposal is just that – a proposal. It has to be ratified by the legislature, which may restore some of Penn State’s funding due to strong lobbying efforts from its constituents – lots of people across Pennsylvania.

So we’re facing the possibility of program cuts and tuition hikes. The situation looks kind of bleak. It sure could be worse, but it should probably be a little better.

Penn State’s appropriations haven’t seen a substantial increase in a decade, so such a drastic cut to Pennsylvania’s land-grant institution seems a bit harsh to me. (Also remember that Penn State is one of the most expensive public universities in the country – in-state tuition is around $15,000 per year, out-of-state is $27,000.) Fortunately, the College of Ag Sciences awards about $1.8 million in scholarships to its students annually. We get by with a little help from our friends.

But some perspective is important. Eight percent of Penn State’s budget comes from the state. Seventeen percent of its educational budget comes from the state. Seventy-five percent is spent on payroll. And that gets spread over 90,000 students at 24 campuses and online. (It runs the local airport, too.) So a 4% total budget reduction? With apologies to Han Solo, “It may not sound like much but it’s got it where it counts, kid.” That’s still a lot of money and will likely mean tuition hikes and layoffs.

Yes, Penn State has built more buildings under Spanier than any other previous administration. And there are lots of people paid lots of money each year. Much of that all is privately funded from generous donors. They may become an even more critical source of funding. We’d be even closer to being a private university. That’s not what we were designed to be.

So what if we’re just finally getting our share of the hard times? The college never got hit hard in the initial meltdown – we should feel fortunate that it’s taken this long to arrive. Lower taxes and a smaller government can’t happen if the state keeps on doling out money, even to worthy causes.

Is this cut unfair? Maybe. Is it warranted? Probably. Will it, coupled with other budget cuts that together balance the budget, be helpful to Pennsylvania? Possibly. Will other states be looking to see how this gamble works out for Pennsylvania, and possibly apply it to themselves? Likely.

The only certainty is that Penn State’s College of Ag Sciences will finally suffer greatly from the effects of the troubled economy and out-of-control spending in Harrisburg (and Washington, D.C.). Let’s hope the suffering ends quickly so we can get back to the agricultural research and education that helps improve lives across the world.

***

Will Nichols is a senior at Penn State majoring in Animal Science and minoring in Agribusiness Management and Ag Communications. He raises registered Angus cattle on a small farm nestled in the hills and valleys of central Pennsylvania. He enjoys music, writing, photography and videography, and plans a career where those loves intersect with his passion — agriculture — a career that will aid and strengthen American agriculture in this global economy.

 

Here a “Natural” Food there a “Natural”Food…Have you had any “Natural” Food Lately?

Mon, 2011-03-21 18:20

Terry D. Etherton

Is your preference to shop for and purchase “natural” foods?  Based on some of my observations in a few trips recently to the West Coast and Texas, there are some segments of the restaurant and grocery store industries where the usage of this phrase has gotten completely out-of-hand.  Every time I hear “natural foods”, I always wonder what isn’t “natural”?  Of course, that isn’t the point of marketing, which should be to communicate succinctly…no, in the food industry one seems to need phrases that are poetic and differentiate some foods as a whole lot better, safer and healthier even when they are not!

This marketing “smoke and mirrors” creates a lot of unnecessary confusion among consumers by championing the belief that the organic/natural food system is the best way forward for feeding the world in the future.  As I have written in The Locavore’s Plight, this approach is simply not doable and denies the virtues of one of the great creations in society…the contemporary world food system.

The sound bites to describe foods as “better” than your standard food has become remarkably sophisticated.  At one restaurant in San Francisco, their website touted that their establishment served “natural, urban rustic food”.  I sort of like the phrase “urban rustic food” even though I have no idea what it means…but it sounds good!

I am guessing that urban rustic food is viewed by some as a notch better that the more “pedestrian food” (inject humor here) that is described as organic, grass-fed, free-range, local or hook and line caught (net-free caught fish seems better)!

The use of the English language to entertain and mislead folks at the grocery store or local bistro is evolving.  In San Francisco, one restaurant sources food from organic producers whose livelihood is based on a respect for nature and a sense of place.  Most folks I know respect nature, even the vast majority of farmers in the business of contemporary food production.  The “sense of place” while a pretty word phrase, still makes no sense to me… but I am guessing someone with an MFA degree (Master of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing came up with this phrase.

Another vendor to a very “hip” restaurant in San Francisco (I didn’t go, just looked at their website) conveyed that their vendors were committed to promoting and supporting a sustainable, organic county – a county in which growers and the people who rely on them recognize their mutual interdependence (I will leave the name of the county out of the blog to minimize the fan mail I get…but it is just north of San Francisco).  The phrase “mutual interdependence” is a “good one” in that it sounds “cool” but conveys little.

The last descriptor that I found that I “liked” was:  “we serve pastured meat, poultry and eggs from small farmers..these are the flavors of place”.  I was confused by the usage of pastured.  I thought animals could be kept on pasture, but was surprised to learn that there must be some way to keep meat and eggs in the pasture.  The “flavors of place” is a phrase I just give up on.  I have no idea what it means.  However, if any of you have had any medium-rare “place”, please let me know.  The word “place” must be important because it used a lot.

If you are wondering what the point of this blog is, it is to make light of the verbiage that is being used to differentiate food production practices.  As I have written before, these are production practices that differ; however, they don’t have much impact on nutrient content, healthiness or safety.

The use of the word “natural” is a good example of the “word spin” that occurs in the marketplace to make one think a particular food production practice is better than another.  The phrase “natural foods” is a widely used terms in food labeling and marketing, and, as I have discussed is remarkably vague.  There are no USDA standards that “define” natural.  And, I can’t fathom this ever being done.

Consumers in developed countries are lucky.  We have plenty of affordable food.  Most consumers in these countries never consider the complexity of the system that produces and delivers the food to their grocery store or restaurant.  We should be celebrating the robustness of this and not engaging in practices that inaccurately and unfairly differentiate foods when there is no difference.

Go ahead and eat pastured meat and eggs and natural, rustic, urban food which gives you a feeling of mutual interdependence and a flavor of place if you find value in that; don’t disparage those who choose to eat healthy food that tastes delicious and is delivered in a more traditional, economical way.

 

 

Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2010

Wed, 2011-03-02 16:17

Terry D. Etherton

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) has released their annual report Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2010.  The report presents interesting and compelling information about the rapid global adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops.

2010 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the commercialization of biotech crops. As a result of the consistent and substantial economic, environmental and welfare benefits offered by biotech crops, millions of large, small and resource-poor farmers around the world continued to plant significantly more acres of biotech crops in 2010.

The ISAAA Report notes that progress was made on several major fronts: accumulated acreage planted from 1996 to 2010 reached an historic global milestone; a significant double-digit year-over-year increase in biotech crop acreage was observed as well as a record number of biotech crop countries; the number of farmers planting biotech crops globally increased substantially; across-the-globe growth, reflected increased stability of adoption and that biotech crops are here to stay.

These are very important developments given that biotech crops already contribute to some of the major challenges facing global society, including: food security and self-sufficiency, sustainability, alleviation of poverty and hunger, help in mitigating some of the challenges associated with climate change and global warming.  The potential of biotech crops for the future is enormous.

It is impressive that in 2010 the accumulated acreage planted during the 15 years, 1996 to 2010, exceeded for the first time, 1 billion hectares, which is equivalent to more than 10% of the total land area of the USA (937 million hectares) or China (956 million hectares). It took 10 years to reach the first 500 million hectares in 2005, but only half that time, 5 years, to plant the second 500 million hectares to reach a total of 1 billion hectares in 2010.

A record 87-fold increase in acreage planted to GM crops occurred between 1996 and 2010, making biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture.

To read more about this informative report that clearly presents the need for, and value of biotechnology, click here.

FASS Biotechnology Statement – Biotechnology as a Tool to Enhance Sustainability for Animal Production

Sun, 2011-02-27 12:00

Terry D. Etherton

The Federation of Animal Science Societies (FASS) has just released a position statement (Biotechnology as a Tool to Enhance Sustainability for Animal Production) about the importance of biotechnology for sustainably feeding a growing world population (the statement is presented below).  FASS is a federation of the American Society of Animal Science, the American Dairy Science Association and the Poultry Science Association, and is dedicated to promoting the benefits of science and education for the good of animal agriculture.

The FASS Biotechnology Statement:
The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity describes Biotechnology as “Any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use” (1). This definition extends to many aspects of animal agriculture used over the last century including animal breeding, artificial insemination, and the use of vaccines. More recently, biotechnologies are used for gene transfer to modify gene expression (transgenics), in health care (insulin for diabetics), or for environmental clean up (bacteria that can digest oil). In addition, comparing genomics of organisms that are resistant and susceptible to disease to identify genetic markers is used to select for genotypes that favor desired health status or production traits.

The world population will increase from 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050 (2,3). By 2020, the global demand for meat will increase by 58%; milk consumption will increase from 568 to 700 million tons; egg production will increase by 30%; and demand for poultry, beef and pig meats will increase by 85%, 80%, and 45%, respectively, from 1995 levels (2). With only 2% more arable land available for food production in North America in 2050, there must be continual improvement in productivity per unit of land area (3). FAO estimates that 70% of these gains in production must come from the use of new technologies (4). Modern biotechnology offers solutions to challenges for environmentally sustainable animal production that are not achievable using historical technologies. However, the use of biotechnology in food animal production can be a contentious issue for some consumers.

Policy Statement:

  • FASS recommends that the basis for acceptance of the use of biotechnology to improve the sustainability of agricultural production be from a science-based viewpoint. FASS believes that adoption of modern biotechnology is critical to meet the growing demands for sustainable food production in the next 25-50 years. FASS believes that consumers should have the right to choose what technology they embrace by having the freedom in the marketplace to buy products with the attributes they desire.

Policy objectives

  • FASS endorses the importance of continuing to do research and where applicable adopt modern biotechnologies to safely improve the attributes of agricultural production systems, and the plants and animal products used and consumed by the world’s human population.
  • FASS endorses that rational, scientifically-based systems be adopted in governmental policy regarding the research and introduction of agricultural biotechnologies, including the production, marketing, and global trade of plant and animal products derived from the use of biotechnology.
  • FASS can provide information and educational assistance to any agency or educator as a resource to support the science underpinning the use of a biotechnology related to animal agriculture.
  • FASS encourages funding for research and education necessary to provide the fundamental biological knowledge of organisms, including genomes, that will lead to strategies for global solutions that address the grand challenges for production of abundant, safe and affordable foods for the 21st century and beyond.

References

  1. The Convention on Biological Diversity (Article 2. Use of Terms).” United Nations. 1992. Retrieved on February 6, 2008.
  2. http://www.grid.unep.ch/geo1/ch/ch4_9.htm Accessed 07DEC2010.
  3. USDA Agricultural Projections to 2017. Office of the Chief Economist, World Agricultural Outlook Board, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Prepared by the Interagency Agricultural
    Projections Committee. Long-term Projections Report OCE-2008-1, 104 pp.
  4. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 2004. Protein Sources for the Animal Feed Industry. Expert consultation and workshop. Bangkok 29April-3May 2002. FAO, Rome.

Adopted by the FASS Board of Directors on February 10, 2011

Regulation-Induced Stagnation – What is this?

Thu, 2011-02-10 15:02

Terry D. Etherton

There was a great article in the Wall Street Journal “Let’s Restart the Green Revolution” (see below) that addressed the issue of regulation-induced stagnation.  Regulation-induced stagnation is a term that refers to growing regulatory (federal government) oversight for approval of genetically enhanced crops and livestock, and how this slows down the process to approve a new GM crop or animal.  The delay consequently adds greatly to the cost of getting a new ag biotech product through the regulatory approval “pipeline”.  The review process is important because approval is required before commercial sales of an ag biotech product can occur.

My concern about regulatory stagnation is not an indictment of the need for evaluating new ag biotech products.  The review process is critically important to assure efficacy of the new ag biotech product, and to determine that there is no increased risk (safety or environmental).  However, we have a looming need to increase the pace of developing innovative ways to feed a growing population in the world… the last thing we need are regulatory obstacles or politics to slow down the scientific review process.  The recent USDA World Agriculture Supply and Demand Report that projected ending U.S. corn stocks for 2010/11 will be at 15-year low (only 675 million bushels or an 18-day supply) is a telling sign of how close the current food system is to a situation where production of cereal grains is less than demand!

Consider what might happen if we have several years in a row where food supplies are less than societal needs?

Given this, the last thing we need is a more regulation-induced stagnation!

Enjoy the article by Mr. Jenkins.

++++

Let’s Restart the Green Revolution
By Holman W. Jenkins
Wall Street Journal
February 2, 2011

Food prices are up, and output and productivity is falling behind. Not enough attention is being placed on regulation-induced stagnation.

The U.N.’s food price index has hit an all-time high. Food price hikes are widely understood to be a trigger of Egyptian upheavals in a country that imports a large share of its grain. Some blame Ben Bernanke. Some blame the Chinese for gobbling up too much of the world’s resources. Not enough attention is focused on the forces of stagnation loose in our world. Agricultural output has been falling behind population growth for almost two decades, and so has productivity.

In a small way, consider the Obama Agriculture Department’s decision last week to throw up its hands and finally permit the planting of bio-engineered alfalfa.

Alfalfa is the country’s fourth biggest crop. Roundup Ready soybeans and corn, modified to resist the weedkiller glyphosate (known by the trade name Roundup), have been in the market for a decade. Roundup Ready alfalfa raised no new issues, and yet in 2007 a court found a wholly new excuse to block planting. The USDA hadn’t produced an “environmental impact statement” to consider the economic impact on “organic” alfalfa growers.

To be sure, these growers were about to be inconvenienced. The bio-engineered trait would likely turn up in their crops. The standard of genetic purity they need to meet to satisfy their health-food customers would become that much harder.

But organic alfalfa represents about 1% of the market. Functionally, it is not different from bio-engineered alfalfa. Only the label is different. “Organic” alfalfa is fed to “organic” cows so consumers can splurge on milk that says “organic” on the label.

Shoppers have every right to indulge themselves in this fashion, and farmers to make a buck meeting their need. But should other farmers be stopped from planting a new seed just because it would complicate their niche marketing strategy? When the gauze of environmental correctness is peeled away, the battle here isn’t about much more than keeping organic alfalfa (also known as hay) cheap so organic dairy operators will be less tempted to substitute another feed.

A similar lawsuit threatens to halt planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets, which account for nearly half of U.S. sugar production. Perhaps the best answer, brutal as it might seem, was offered by a beet farmer in Oregon. He told NPR that since the engineered beet had been found to be safe, if a neighboring farmer has “organic” customers who prefer to believe otherwise, “it would be in his interest to educate them.”

It’s too bad when change upsets somebody’s livelihood, but these lawsuits seek to award organic farmers a civil right not to have their high-end, advertising-created market segment disturbed by industrial progress. Tom Vilsack, the Obama agriculture secretary, twisted and turned for weeks trying to reconcile the interests of organic and mass-market alfalfa farmers. In the end, he gave up and made the right decision: The organic farmers will have to adjust to a reality that has shifted a little bit against them.

The world needs more such decisions.

When some hear the word “regulation,” they imagine government rushing to the defense of consumers. In the real world, government serves up regulation to those who ask for it, which usually means organized interests seeking to block a competitive threat. This insight, by the way, originated with the left, with historians who went back and reconstructed how railroads in the U.S. concocted federal regulation to protect themselves from price competition. We should also notice that an astonishingly large part of the world has experienced an astonishing degree of stagnation for an astonishingly long time for exactly such reasons.

Greece has destabilized the entire European monetary system because its government borrowed more than it could afford. But the flipside is an economy that can’t afford its debts because it has been buried under anticompetitive rules, guilds and monopolistic privileges that make enterprise all but illegal.

A few hundred miles to the south, Egyptian protestors clamor for “freedom” when American television reporters are present. But “food” has been the chant across North Africa since before the beginning of the year, in Algeria, where several protestors were killed, and in Tunisia where an autocrat chose to make his exit.

These upheavals got their start in a telling way. A street vendor in central Tunisia set himself afire as a protest after being harassed by police for trying to make a living selling vegetables without a permit. The nature of the modern regulatory state everywhere is to be hard on those trying to do anything new. In this way at least, the quaking North African regimes have been thoroughly modern.

There is no “Hill” Backing for Biotech Alfalfa Restrictions

Sat, 2011-01-22 11:55

Terry D. Etherton

I have discussed the “firestorm” of opposition that has flared up in response to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s idea of calling for producers of GM, non-GM and organic crops to “coexist” in previous posts on Terry Etherton Blog on Biotechnology.

Jim Webster of Agri-Pulse Communications has published an excellent article about the House Agriculture Committee’s view about de-regulating Roundup Ready alfalfa…their view is to de-regulate it without burdensome and non-science based restrictions, and do it expediently.  To read the article by Mr. Webster, click here.

World Economic Forum Releases Global Risk Report…Trouble Ahead?

Thu, 2011-01-20 15:39

Terry D. Etherton

The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently released its sixth annual report on the state of the global economy. The Global Risk Report 2011 discusses several threats to world stability, including rising economic disparity, insufficient global governance, and sufficient availability of water, food and energy.

According to the WEF Global Risk Report 2011, economic disparity and global governance failures likely will  pose a risk to global stability. Economic disparity can be viewed as the “gradient” in wealth among countries that may affect social and political stability.  Economic disparity is an important contributor to many global issues including corruption, health issues, food insecurity, terrorism, and several others.

The WEF also discussed other “risk factors” for global stability, including water, food, and energy availability in the future.  As Figure 1 (see below) conveys, world population is expected to increase 30-50% in the next twenty years, with most of the growth occurring in emerging economies. This could bring a plethora of problems, including geopolitical struggles and social and political instability, as the population struggles to attain access to resources.  As I have written about many times in Terry Etherton Blog on Biotechnology, the looming challenges in feeding the growing world population can not solved “overnight” and are dependent on an increased investment in research.  In addition to producing sufficient food, supplying sufficient water and energy will be daunting.  For example, projections are that there will be a 30% increase in demand for water by 2030.

The ever-pressing question is:  How are “we” (the developed and developing countries) going to solve these problems?  Unfortunately, in the nightly news (at least in the U.S.), this doesn’t seem to high on the priority list of policy issues that members of Congress are concerned about.

FIGURE 1.  WORLD POPULATION FROM 1960 to 2050. Source:  World Economic Forum Water Initiative, edited by D. Waughray (2010).  Water Security:  The Water-Food-Energy-Climate Nexus, based on United Nations Population Division, UN-DESA, UN Revision 2008.