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Compatibility of breeding techniques in organic systems

Publication date: 01/01/2018

This IFOAM position paper states that “New genetic engineering technologies …are not compatible with organic farming and must not be used in organic breeding or organic production.” It goes on to list the specific techniques, and calls for “clear legal definitions to be in place which are regularly updated”.

The paper also states “Products obtained through genetic engineering processes should not be released into the environment. In any case such releases should not take place without a prior rigorous, multistakeholder designed and agreed risk assessment protocol that includes input from the organic sector and like-minded movements, and an assessment of the possibility to prevent the presence of such products in organic products and GMO-free products.”

IFOAM asks for the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle to be maintained. This means “On-going costs and harms to organic and non-GMO supply chains from contamination by these new techniques … should be borne by the developers and/or the company that puts the product on the market.” Although the principle is one of the EU directives, sadly it is not guaranteed in post-Brexit Britain.

Resource type: article: Web Page

Why are NGOs sceptical of genome editing?

Publication date: 02/11/2017

In 2016, 107 Nobel Laureates signed an open letter calling on Greenpeace to desist from campaigning against agricultural biotechnology and for governments to reject and resist such campaigning, arguing that “[o]pposition based on emotion and dogma contradicted by data must be stopped”

The letter marked the latest chapter in a long‐running, heated and apparently intractable debate around agricultural biotechnology. Yet, while the arguments by Greenpeace and other non‐governmental organisations (NGOs) against agricultural biotechnology are frequently dismissed as based on emotion and dogma, their opposition is often grounded on more general scepticisms concerning the framing of the problem and its solutions, and the motivations of actors to employ biotechnology in agriculture.

Genome editing is an important case of agricultural biotechnology. In Europe, however, the European Commission has been delaying a decision on the regulation of genome editing and new plant breeding techniques (NPBT) for use in agriculture.

In the meantime, numerous groups are attempting to influence the debate, including biotechnology companies, scientists and NGOs. Scientists and their representations have been particularly prominent in these debates in contrast to a more muted position from commercial interests as companies have adopted a “wait‐and‐see” strategy with regard to the pending regulatory decision on genome editing.

As with earlier debates on genetically modified (GM) crops, NGOs have become the subject of intense criticism from leading scientists who support genome editing in agriculture. The subsequent debates have aroused passions on all sides, but rarely led to greater mutual understanding.

In this paper, we use the case of genome editing to argue that the Nobel Laureate letter may have mischaracterised opposition to agricultural biotechnology as rooted in emotion and dogma.

Rather, our results suggest that this opposition is grounded in three specific types of scepticism concerning the problem framing of food security; the focus on intensive agriculture and technological solutions to the problem of food security; and the motivations for adopting agricultural biotechnology. Below, we describe our methods for analysing NGO scepticism, before providing more detail on each of three types of scepticism.

Resource type: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)

A world without hunger: organic or GM crops?

Publication date: 11/04/2017

It has been estimated that the world population will increase to 9.2 billion by 2050; supplying the growing population with food will require a significant increase in agricultural production.

A number of agricultural and ecological scientists believe that a large-scale shift to organic farming (OF) would not only increase the world’s food supply, but might be the only way to eradicate hunger sustainably.

Nevertheless, OF has recently come under new scrutiny, not just from critics who fear that a large-scale shift in this direction would cause billions to starve but also from farmers and development agencies who question whether such a shift could improve food security. Meanwhile, the use of genetically modified (GM) crops is growing around the world, leading to possible opportunities to combat food insecurity and hunger. However, the development of GM crops has been a matter of considerable interest and worldwide public controversy.

So far, no one has comprehensively analyzed whether a widespread shift to OF or GM would be the sole solution for both food security and safety. Using a literature review from databases of peer-reviewed scientific publications, books, and official publications, this study aims to address this issue.

Results indicate that OF and GM, to different extents, are able to ensure food security and safety. In developed countries, given that there are relatively few farmers and that their productivity, even without GMOs, is relatively high, OF could be more a viable option.

However, OF is significantly less efficient in land-use terms and may lead to more land being used for agriculture due to its lower yield. In developing countries, where many small-scale farmers have low agricultural productivity and limited access to agricultural technologies and information, an approach with both GM and OF might be a more realistic approach to ensure food security and safety.

Link goes to full text and .pdf options.

Resource type: Web page URL

Sowing fresh seeds – Food, farming and animal welfare post-Brexit

Publication date: 31/01/2017

Brexit gives us the opportunity to think about food and farming from scratch. We need food and farming that produces nutritious food and encourages healthy diets. That enables us to
meet the Paris climate targets and restores water, soils and biodiversity so that they are passed in good shape to future generations. Decent livelihoods for farmers and respect for
animals as sentient beings, as individuals must be core elements of our policy.

There are two important starting points. Firstly, we need to move away from the current practice of formulating policy in silos with different Government departments, or sections of
departments, being responsible for agriculture, the environment, animal welfare, dietary health, climate change and agri-tech. As a result policies in this arena do not cohere and are
sometimes contradictory. For example, Defra tends to press for further intensification even though this has a detrimental impact on soil quality and animal welfare. Public Health
England advises people to eat less red and processed meat while Defra promotes increased meat production.

Secondly, we need to move away from industrial livestock production as this is a key driver of, or an important contributor to:

  • overconsumption of meat and dairy which leads to health problems and will make it
    impossible to meet the Paris climate targets
  • overuse of antibiotics in farming
  • pollution and overuse of water, soil degradation, biodiversity loss and air pollution
  • food insecurity
  • poor animal welfare

Compassion in World Farming  wishes to present the following integrated plan for post Brexit food and farming in England.

Resource type: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)

The need to respect nature and its limits challenges society and conservation science

Publication date: 31/05/2016

The need to mitigate human impacts on species and natural systems has made conservation science a major multidisciplinary discipline. Society and conservation science have tried unsuccessfully to resolve this need within the growth paradigm. We show that its resolution increasingly demands profound shifts in societal values. The aim of this paper is to identify the nature of these necessary shifts and to explore how they define future paths for conservation science.

Increasing human population interacts with local and global environments to deplete biodiversity and resources humans depend on, thus challenging societal values centered on growth and relying on technology to mitigate environmental stress. Although the need to address the environmental crisis, central to conservation science, generated greener versions of the growth paradigm, we need fundamental shifts in values that ensure transition from a growth-centered society to one acknowledging biophysical limits and centered on human well-being and biodiversity conservation. We discuss the role conservation science can play in this transformation, which poses ethical challenges and obstacles.

The authors analyze how conservation and economics can achieve better consonance, the extent to which technology should be part of the solution, and difficulties the “new conservation science” has generated. An expanded ambition for conservation science should reconcile day-to-day action within the current context with uncompromising, explicit advocacy for radical transitions in core attitudes and processes that govern our interactions with the biosphere. A widening of its focus to understand better the interconnectedness between human well-being and acknowledgment of the limits of an ecologically functional and diverse planet will need to integrate ecological and social sciences better. Although ecology can highlight limits to growth and consequences of ignoring them, social sciences are necessary to diagnose societal mechanisms at work, how to correct them, and potential drivers of social change.

Resource type: Web page URL

Organic farmers are not anti-science but genetic engineers often are

Publication date: 24/05/2016

At one of the public brainstorming sessions for the New York Organic Action Plan, an organic farmer made an impassioned plea for support for “independent science” and told us that with 8.5 billion mouths to feed by 2050, we will need genetic engineering to prevent starvation.

I would like to examine these words carefully to decipher what they mean, how those words are used by this farmer and by others, and suggest how the movement for locally grown organic food in this country should respond.

What is the meaning of ‘independent science’? As co-chair of the Policy Committee for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY), I have been an active participant in the coalition that is campaigning to pass GMO labeling legislation in NY State. In this capacity, I have spoken at public meetings, to the press and on radio interviews. A question that I have heard from proponents of biotechnology is “why do you organic farmers oppose science, like the climate deniers?”

The first time I heard this, I was startled and felt defensive. Had I ever opposed science?  I searched back through things I had written and reviewed all the policy resolutions the members of NOFA-NY had passed over the years. I found a few places where I criticized reductionist science and defended “indigenous knowledge” (that is things like composting and crop rotations that people who practice a craft know and pass on to their children that has not been proven by research at a university). But nowhere could I find any statement opposing science.

Resource type: article: Web Page

Opinion: The complex nature of GMOs calls for a new conversation

Publication date: 07/10/2015

What are the conditions under which GMOs might work more effectively? Can they be compatible with the needs of farmers, eaters and their communities, not only with the aims of corporations and biotech scientists?

We can start by broadening the conversation around human health to include social science and natural science perspectives, and encompassing the ripple effects of technologies packaged with GMOs. we can open the floor to engaged citizens and laborers across the food system. We also need better regulatory oversight. We can bring GM research and development into the public sphere.

A nonreductionist evaluation of GMOs can push us toward thinking about effects at multiple scales and time spans. Such an evaluation can get us to think deeply about who benefits from technologies, who controls their availability and access, and who makes such decisions. We get to think about the entanglements of politics, the media and public interest in shaping scientific validity and “consensus.”

In short, we are invited to think socially and ecologically — indeed agroecologically — about the utility and value of engineered seeds. “If GMOs can survive such scrutiny and emerge as a beneficial tool, ” writes the author “I’m certainly not anti-GMO”.

Resource type: Web page URL

Seeing GMOs from a systems perspective: the need for comparative cartographies of agri/cultures for sustainability assessment

Publication date: 20/08/2015

Over the past twenty years, agricultural biotechnologies have generated chronically unresolved political controversies. The standard tool of risk assessment has proven to be highly limited in its ability to address the panoply of concerns that exist about these hybrid techno/organisms. It has also failed to account for both the conceptual and material networks of relations agricultural biotechnologies require, create and/or perform.

This paper takes as a starting point that agricultural biotechnologies cannot be usefully assessed as isolated technological entities but need to be evaluated within the context of the broader socio-ecological system that they embody and engender.

The paper then explores, compares and contrasts some of the methodological tools available for advancing this systems-based perspective. The article concludes by outlining a new synthesis approach of comparative cartographies of agri/cultures generated through multi-sited ethnographic case-studies, which is proposed as a way to generate system maps and enable the comparison of genetically modified (GM) food with both conventional and alternative agri-food networks for sustainability assessment.

The paper aims to make a unique theoretical and methodological contribution by advancing a systems-based approach to conceptualising and assessing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and proposing a synthesised methodology for mapping networks of relations across different agri/cultures.

Link goes to full text and .pdf options.

Resource type: Web page URL

Are we ready for back-to-nature crop breeding?

Publication date: 16/12/2014

Sustainable agriculture in response to increasing demands for food depends on development of high-yielding crops with high nutritional value that require minimal intervention during growth. To date, the focus has been on changing plants by introducing genes that impart new properties, which the plants and their ancestors never possessed.

By contrast, we suggest another potentially beneficial and perhaps less controversial strategy that modern plant biotechnology may adopt.

This approach, which broadens earlier approaches to reverse breeding, aims to furnish crops with lost properties that their ancestors once possessed in order to tolerate adverse environmental conditions. What molecular techniques are available for implementing such rewilding? Are the strategies legally, socially, economically, and ethically feasible?

These are the questions addressed in this review.

Resource type: article: Web Page

Who’s afraid of GM food?

Publication date: 01/08/2014

In 2014 Royal London Asset Management produced this short report which aimed to be “a myth-buster for sustainable investors”.

It noted, as an asset manager with a specialism in Sustainable Investing we are sometimes asked what our position is on Genetically Modified or Transgenic organisms. Here, we critically examine the credibility of the arguments and defences for using genetically modified crops as a tool to get more out of less, and in a less harmful way.

The 15 page report looks at questions of yield, nutrition, environmental impact, the ‘naturalness of genetically modified food, food system pressures corporate control, ownership and power hierarchies, examines the pros and cons of genetically engineered crops against each of these and notes both problems and potential.

Resource type: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)