In Perspective: GM crop field testing needed

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click image to zoom“Research is critical and crucial to advancing the tools that farmers need. Research needs to continue, and progress should not be destroyed.” Field testing genetically modified crops is key to developing crops that offer huge benefits to farmers and consumers. Without research to understand how the crops grow and develop, improvements cannot be made as efficiently. Science depends on repeatability and this applies to field crops as well.

So, it’s terribly tragic when anti-GM activists decide to destroy field trials and short circuit research that has taken many years and likely millions of dollars to bring to fruition. On Aug. 8, anti-GM activists broke into a facility that was testing Golden Rice in the Philippines and destroyed the test plots. Golden Rice is a genetically modified version of rice that produces more vitamin A and was conceived as a way to help poor countries provide more vitamin A, which is key to good vision, to their populations.

Many in the global scientific community expressed their outrage over the incident. This criminal act shows the activists’ unrelenting view that any and all GM crops must be bad. Scientists around the world spoke out more vocally to this crime more so because this crop in particular is specifically designed to help the world’s poor and malnourished. Golden Rice is seen as a humanitarian way to solve a nutrition problem.

Although many disagree with the nutrition of Golden Rice or claim malnutrition and starvation are just problems of poverty, inequity and social injustice, which cannot be solved with technology, this GM rice is a step in the right direction. If society only accepted positions or goals that completely solved a problem, we’d never make progress because people would be encouraged not to try.

Activists who seek not to discuss their views publicly with scientists show a lack of respect for the scientific progress. Albeit many of these activists are anti-science, they often refuse to take part in discussing or solving the problem; seeking instead to just destroy.

On the other hand, Australia announced in August it would be testing 40 lines of GM wheat from November 2013 through December 2015. The field trials recently proposed will be testing GM wheat with delayed leaf senescence and enhanced fuctan biosynthesis with an aim to boost biomass production and seed yield and improve drought tolerance.

Considering how the U.S. market was rocked this spring with reports of Roundup Ready wheat found in Oregon, it’s ironic that more countries are investing in GM wheat research. Australia is the latest to announce its research. Britain has been studying a GM wheat variety that would repel aphids with a pheromone.

Although mostly Asian markets reacted poorly to the U.S. GM wheat find by withdrawing purchases of U.S. wheat, other countries are pushing ahead with research. At some point GM wheat will be accepted in international trade circles.

But before that happens, research and field plots will need to be conducted so that scientists can capture the best data. Producing wheat and other staple crops is not going to get easier in the future. Science is working to develop new varieties and hybrids that will allow U.S. and other farmers to produce the crops needed to feed the world.

Without that research, many will suffer. Research is critical and crucial to advancing the tools that farmers need. Research needs to continue, and progress should not be destroyed.

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Jana Bogs, PhD    
USA  |  October, 03, 2013 at 08:41 PM

I am a research scientist who specializes in increasing food nutrient density by working with nature to optimize the soil. Comprehensive soil analyses and proper amendments can double or triple nutrient content of edible plant parts over USDA values. Furthermore, the plants are healthier and resist pests and diseases naturally without the need for "rescue chemicals". The plants are also more drought resistant. The harvested crops yield much better and are easier to dry down because of greater nutrient density. They are not susceptible to molds due to increased cellular integrity. This is the direction we need to go in research--working to solve multiple problems at once in harmony with nature instead of trying to solve problems one-by-one working against nature. The danger in working against nature is that there are many unknown, potentially dangerous outcomes. Good science would dictate that extensive, long-term trials be run on genetically engineered products, including environmental, animal and human studies, before allowing the products outside of controlled environments. Good scientists, like good doctors, should live by the motto, "First, do no harm."

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