We’ve scanned the web to bring together a library of interesting, thought-provoking articles, blogs, reports and academic papers that explore the issue of genetic engineering in food and farming from broader and deeper perspectives. Browse for inspiration or search by theme.

Democratization through precision technologies? Unveiling power, participation, and property rights in the agricultural bioeconomy

Publication date: 08/03/2024

This piece addresses the political dimension of sustainability in the agricultural bioeconomy by focusing on power, participation, and property rights around key technologies. Bioeconomy policies aim to establish economic systems based on renewable resources such as plants and microorganisms to reduce dependence on fossil resources. To achieve this, they rely on economic growth and increased biomass production through high-tech innovations. This direction has sparked important critique of the environmental and social sustainability of such projects. However, little attention has been paid in the bioeconomy literature to the political dimension surrounding key precision technologies such as data-driven precision agriculture (PA) or precision breeding technologies using new genomic techniques (NGT). The political dimension includes questions of power, participation, and property rights regarding these technologies and the distribution of the benefits and burdens they generate. This lack of attention is particularly pertinent given the recurring and promising claims that precision technologies not only enhance environmental sustainability, but also contribute to the democratization of food and biomass production. This contribution addresses this claim in asking whether we can really speak of a democratization of the agricultural bioeconomy through these precision technologies. Drawing on (own) empirical research and historical evidence, it concludes that current patterns are neither driving nor indicative of a democratization. On the contrary, corporate control, unequal access, distribution, and property rights over data and patents point to few gains for small firms and breeders, but to a reproduction of farmers’ dependencies, and less transparency for consumers.

Resource type: article: Web Page

Gene editing in animals: What does the public want to know and what information do stakeholder organizations provide?

Publication date: 07/02/2024
Organizations involved with gene editing may engage with the public to share information and address concerns about the technology. It is unclear, however, if the information shared aligns with what people want to know. We aimed to understand what members of the public want to know about gene editing in animals by soliciting their questions through an open-ended survey question and comparing them with questions posed in Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) webpages developed by gene editing stakeholder organizations. Participants (338 USA residents) asked the most questions about gene editing in general and animal welfare. In contrast, FAQ webpages focused on regulations. The questions survey participants asked demonstrate a range of knowledge and interests. The discrepancy between survey participant questions and the information provided in the FAQ webpages suggests that gene editing stakeholders might engage in more meaningful public engagement by soliciting actual questions from the public and opening up opportunities for real dialogue.
Resource type: article: Web Page

Remote Control and Peasant Intelligence – On Automating Decisions, Suppressing Knowledges and Transforming Ways of Knowing

Publication date: 14/11/2023

Digital technologies are often touted as a silver bullet to respond to the interconnected crises of food, climate and biodiversity. Although they are presented by their promoters in governments and corporations as a necessary tool for innovation and for making food systems more efficient and sustainable, the reality is much more complex.

This report examines the implications of digital technologies taking hold in European agriculture. It focuses particularly on frictions between new digital technologies and peasant autonomy, agroecology and food sovereignty.

Technologies are not mute objects. Their development, distribution and use are inextricably linked to economic and political interests, cultural meanings, different types of knowledge as well as social and ecological relationships. In a context where money, technological know-how and power are highly concentrated in the hands of a few large companies and countries, the digitalization of food and agriculture is set to reinforce inequalities and discrimination.

Resource type: article: Web Page

Measuring agroecology: Introducing a methodological framework and a community of practice approach

Publication date: 03/11/2023

. In this article, we report on a process of collaboratively developing a methodological framework, using the High Level Panel of Experts of the Committee on World Food Security 13 principles of agroecology as foundation. This framework overcomes some limitations of previous methodologies for evaluating degrees of agroecological integration (including those using Gliessman’s 5 levels of food system change) and facilitates a robust qualitative assessment of projects, programs, and project portfolios with respect to their “agroecologicalness.” The framework conceives of agroecology as paradigm-shifting rather than as incremental improvements to existing food systems. It enables global comparability as well as local contextualization of each principle. While the need for this framework arose from the desire to monitor—and increase—financial support for an urgently needed transformation toward agroecology, the framework can equally contribute to the design of projects and programs, which aim to radically transform food and farming systems. It also has value as an educational tool, in specifying through statements of value and concrete examples, what agroecological work aims at.

Resource type: article: Web Page

Genetic modification can improve crop yields — but stop overselling it

Publication date: 20/09/2023
Over the past two decades, many journals have published papers describing how modifying one or a few genes can result in substantial increases in crop yields. The reported increases range from 10% to 68%, and the crops analysed include rice, maize (corn), tobacco and soya bean.
These studies have contributed important insights in molecular biology and gene discovery. But many are the results of tests conducted in greenhouses or in small-scale field trials — the latter typically involving plants grown in small plots. Few, if any, have used the experimental designs needed to evaluate crop performance in real-world environments. And hardly any findings have translated into yield increases on actual farms.
Especially in the context of climate change and a growing human population, the growth of misleading claims around yields has become a cause of concern to us.
Resource type: article: Web Page

The EU legislative framework for a sustainable food system: How can it effectively deliver for the environment and people?

Publication date: 08/09/2023

In its Farm to Fork Strategy, the European Commission announced that it will present a legislative framework for a sustainable food system, an initiative expected for the third quarter of 2023.

The vision reflected in the law proposal will have a critical impact on the EU’s capacity to build its resilience against the worsening climate and biodiversity crises while guaranteeing long-term accessibility to healthy food.

The briefing presents solutions in the form of actionable tools that can best ensure the swift implementation of a sustainable EU food system on the ground. The European Commission must go ahead with its proposal and publish it in September 2023; there is no better time.

Resource type: article: Web Page

Gene Editing: the Ethical Questions

Publication date: 28/07/2023

This blog employs a food ethics lens to delve into some of the ethical issues surrounding gene-editing, assessing intended and unintended consequences. Issues discussed include patents, herbicide-tolerant traits, gene drives and food safety.

Resource type: article: Web Page

Identifying sustainability assessment parameters for genetically engineered agrifoods

Publication date: 22/07/2023

This Opinion article argues that to achieve a more sustainable agrifood production that relies on genetic engineering, governance systems related to new agrifood biotechnologies should incorporate a broader array of environmental, health, ethical, and societal factors to ensure their sustainability in the long-term. To facilitate this process, we propose a set of parameters to help evaluate the sustainability of agrifoods that rely on genetic engineering. We then discuss major challenges and opportunities for formalizing sustainability parameters in US governance policy and decision-making systems. Overall, this work contributes to further developing a more comprehensive assessment framework that aims to minimize potential risks and maximize potential benefits of agrifood biotechnology while also fostering sustainability.

Resource type: article: Web Page

Beyond the Genome: Genetically Modified Crops in Africa and the Implications for Genome Editing

Publication date: 01/01/2023

This article makes two interventions. First, it identifies the discursive continuity linking genome editing and the earlier technology of genetic modification. Second, it offers a suite of recommendations regarding how lessons learned from GM crops might be integrated into future breeding programmes focused on genome editing. Ultimately, the authors argue that donors, policymakers and scientists should move beyond the genome towards systems-level thinking by prioritizing the co-development of technologies with farmers; using plant material that is unencumbered by intellectual property restrictions and therefore accessible to resource-poor farmers; and acknowledging that seeds are components of complex and dynamic agroecological production systems. If these lessons are not heeded, genome-editing projects are in danger of repeating mistakes of the past

Resource type: article: Web Page

Unintended Genomic Outcomes in Current and Next Generation GM Techniques: A Systematic Review

Publication date: 07/11/2022

Here, we systematically review the scientific literature for studies that have investigated unintended genomic alterations in plants modified by the following GM techniques: Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated gene transfer, biolistic bombardment, and CRISPR-Cas9 delivered via Agrobacterium-mediated gene transfer (DNA-based), biolistic bombardment (DNA-based) and as ribonucleoprotein complexes (RNPs). The results of our literature review show that the impact of such techniques in host genomes varies from small nucleotide polymorphisms to large genomic variation, such as segmental duplication, chromosome truncation, trisomy, chromothripsis, breakage fusion bridge, including large rearrangements of DNA vector-backbone sequences. We have also reviewed the type of analytical method applied to investigate the genomic alterations and found that only five articles used whole genome sequencing in their analysis methods. In addition, larger structural variations detected in some studies would not be possible without long-read sequencing strategies, which shows a potential underestimation of such effects in the literature. As new technologies are constantly evolving, a more thorough examination of prospective analytical methods should be conducted in the future.

Resource type: article: Web Page