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

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

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

With great power comes great responsibility: why ‘safe enough’ is not good enough in debates on new gene technologies

Publication date: 25/10/2022

To avoid past mistakes of under- or miscommunication about possible impacts, we need open, transparent, and inclusive societal debate on the nature of the science of gene (editing) technologies, on how to use them, and whether they contribute to sustainable solutions to societal and environmental challenges. To be trustworthy, GMO regulation must demonstrate the authorities’ ability to manage the scientific, socio-economic, environmental, and ethical complexities and uncertainties associated with NGTs. Regulators and authorities should give equal attention to the reflexive and the emotional aspects of trust and make room for honest public and stakeholder inclusion processes.

Resource type: article: Web Page

Genetic engineering, nature conservation and biological diversity: boundaries of design

Publication date: 01/10/2022

Germany’s Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) presents its position on an international discussion surrounding research approaches to the genetic modification of wild organisms. Conclusions include:

  • Due to the complexity of biological diversity – from the molecular to the ecosystem level – the effects of genetically engineering wild organisms cannot be sufficiently assessed with the methods currently available.
  • The fundamental and necessary discussions on the compatibility of genetically engineering wild organisms with the requirements and the objectives laid down in section 1 of the German Federal Nature Conservation Act must be conducted.
  • Global biodiversity loss is progressing with tangible consequences. We need suitable instruments to stop it. Nevertheless, wild organisms must not be genetically modified solely based on the assumption of a potential benefit to nature conservation and with uncertainty about possible harm.
  • Along with its diversity, beauty and utility, nature’s uniqueness is a protected good in nature conservation that is firmly embedded in society and in legislation. Its intrinsic value imposes limits on the extent to which humans can intervene in nature to protect it. I
Resource type: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)