Collecting squishies is a fun activity that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. There are plenty of designs and models to choose from making it very engaging. People can’t wait to buy new sets of squishies to add to their growing number of collections. Even if you have no plans of buying, seeing a display of squishies can make them very irresistible to own. Let us look at some of the avenues where you can buy squishies to help you with your collection.

Squishies are considered to be very accessible with them being made available on a regular day to day basis. People today will not be finding any shortage of squishies as many toy stores have caught up with the latest trend. Most if not all toy stores today has its own dedicated squishies section integrated and featured on their respective store fronts. This in turn makes it relatively easy for people to find squishies saving them a fair amount of time as a result.

With the advent of online services, stores have also taken the necessary measures in order to integrate their services over the internet. As a result, most stores today have their respective websites which they are maintaining. The same can also be said with regards to toy stores as they have online websites setup to welcome their customers. As a result, it is possible for just about anyone to browse their toy lines at any given time when the need calls for them to do so. These stores also provide online shipping with most of their products which delivers these toys directly from your doorsteps. This added option is considered to be a very much welcomed feature helping provide their clients the added convenience and relief.

Aside from online toy stores, there are dedicated websites such as eBay that are setup to hold online auctions. Amazon is also a popular store that provides a great variety of items to their customers. It is pretty common to see squishies with these types of websites. People who are also planning to sell their squishies will be able to do just that with the help of this selling platform. This is a great place to find limited edition and rare squishies giving you the opportunity to purchase them although at a more expensive price.

We’ve listed a few avenues where you can buy squishies. For example, Windsor smith collection. Consider the tips listed below to help expand your squishy collection.


Dinnerware sets are used on a regular day to day basis making them quite an essential tool in homes and restaurants. You can’t imagine running a kitchen without them as this can make work much troublesome and problematic. For that matter, it is important to secure dinnerware sets for your own. Dinnerware however, is not only used in the kitchen as they have expanded their utility over the years. Let us look at some of the different uses of dinnerware sets.


Timely Decorations


There are a number of individuals who place their dinnerware in an orderly and arranged manner stored in locked cabinets. These types of dinnerware however, serve a specific purpose and that is to be used as decorations. This is especially true with regards to antique dinnerware that are considered to be valuable. Having them used by guest may risk having them break which can cost a fortune.

Other restaurants use dinnerware sets to replicate a typical dinning experience with the items being displayed at their store front. These types of dinnerware however, are usually not for sale and you customers will not be able to use them as well. They are utilized as decorations to entice customers to visit their establishment more frequently.


Serve Specific Function and Purpose


The utility of dinnerware sets can vary differently depending on who will be the ones using them. For instance, a chef will want to use durable dinnerware to help them prepare food, like SPlate which can even retain the heat of the food. Birthdays and other similar occasion make good use of dinnerware plates as they are more convenient and affordable when compared to plate made of ceramics which are heavy. The risk and worries of having them break is also lessen as paper plates are fairly cheap and can be easily replaced on a whim.

Theme and setting plays a very important role on how your dinnerware sets will be used. A good example of this is when you are running a Chinese or Japanese restaurants. These establishments for the most part, will be using chopsticks so metal spoons and forks are almost non-existent. Owners will most likely reduce their orders of spoon and forks keeping them at a minimum.

These are some of the many ways dinnerware sets are used today. Regardless of your choice, make sure that your kitchen is fully equipped with the right amount of dinnerware that you can use on a day to day basis.


Seeing a photo installed in your party can be an exhilarating and exciting experience. Having them around does indeed boost the overall mood and atmosphere of your event. This is the reason why a huge number of individuals are taking the necessary measures to have them setup at their intended locations. There are however, a number of factors that need to be considered in order to make photo booth truly a success. Let us look at five tips for starting a photo booth.


Look for an Ideal Photo Booth Company

People today will not be finding any shortage of photo booth rental companies in Melbourne Australia. They operate on a regular day to day basis and have setup their services over the internet for easy access and reach. Research your photo booth company of choice and see if they are able to provide your needs and preference for your upcoming event. See what Aussie Photo Booths has to offer!


Consider the Size of Your Party


It should be noted that photo booths take up a considerable amount of space in order for them to operate effectively. During your rental acquisition, make sure that your event is able to hold photo booths without making them feel too cramped up. To do this, ask your photo booth company about the size and dimension of their booths and make the necessary adjustments to accommodate their location.


Duration of Your Photo Booth

Photo booth operates in an hourly basis and clients will be able add a few hours if the need calls for them to do so. One photo booth will be able to serve 100 guests for 3 hours. If you are expecting more, then you may want to consider adding an extra booth to accommodate more guests.


Choose Your Props

Photo booths aren’t complete without the props companies bring with them. Props can make or break your photo booth so make sure to choose one that fits the style and setting of your party.


How Photos are Saved


You will want to have these pictures backup to share with your friends. For that matter, it is important that you ask photo booth companies how they will be saving the pictures for the event. This is usually done through USB flash drive or DVD discs.

We’ve mentioned some of the tips to help you start a photo booth. Hopefully by your next event, your photo booth installation becomes more seamless and hassle free.


When people say a photo booth rental it is in fact a mobile photo studio. In the past, when you want to have your pictures taken you only have to visit a photo studio or you hire a professional who will be able to document the images that you like to keep. But it takes some time before you can see the actual photos from the booth. But technology has already resolved this issue as it brought about new products that capture images and develop them fast. We all want and deserve to have the best pictures of ourselves and our companions.


You have to be aware that photo booths only have limited pictures. Only the three best shots have to be captured to give chance to many others who like to have their photos captured too. Interestingly, you can ask for more in Many people would like to have souvenirs of the event and post their photos on their social media accounts too. Due to these constraints, you have to think about different strategies for you to have more photos on photo booths. Here are some of them:

1) You can be friendly with everyone and each time they have a pic on the photo booth they’re likely to invite you to take shots with them.

2) You can also initiate by just being yourself, grabbing people to have photo booth pictures with you or themselves. You may even ask them for their social media accounts and also ask for the pictures to be posted on their walls.

3) You can also try to use the cosplay tactic. Change your costume and your props to create that impression that you’re a different person and have not have enough time to take some pictures at the booth yet.

4) You can also take the place of those people who don’t like to have their photos taken at the booth. You can tell the photographer that the host is paying for all the guests’ photos and you simply don’t want the host to be kind of shortchanged. That explains why you have to take the slots of those who don’t like to have photo ops at the booth.

5) You have to flirt with the photographer. You will be given a few more extra shots. You just have to be careful not to suggest anything untoward.

6) You can try to trick the photographer and ask about the terms and conditions on photo booth rental. This may give you more time on the photo booth.


You wouldn’t think such a thing exists, but there exists a underworld of sorts that consists of many people in the western countries that practices male chastity. When I first read about it, I was shocked – they put the guy’s penis in an actual cage. What in the world?


I honestly don’t really understand why they do it, at-least I didn’t at first. Many people have different kinks – many are where the man is being dominant. After being so used to the notion that it’s the men who are always dominant, the notion of a female led relationship is definitely something new, and intriguing.


This kink started off in the Uk a few decades ago, and it’s spread to America – but why do people do it?

Tom from Manchester says “I just want to be completely under my wife’s control – my existence is for her pleasure, and for her to deny me pleasure”.


Such a quote may seem strange to you, but he is not alone. Hundreds of thousands of people are taking part of this.

There are even devices that enables the two to have sexual intercourse without the man feeling any pleasure – something called a hollow dildo. Essentially, the man puts his caged up member inside of the dildo, and then he makes love to his significant other. Yes – he does not receive physical pleasure from this.


Why does he do it? He gets off…. on not getting off. I’m not even kidding. Although I can understand how some one can get pleasure from giving pleasure.



Some men are locked up ALL the time. Reasons can differ. I was reading a christian (off the deep end) forum the other day. There was a family having a “problem” with their kid masturbating. The solution? Put a male chastity device on him! Not even kidding. This is insane. If you’re wondering what they look like, take a look at “Lock The Cock“‘s website – not even kidding, that is what they’re called.


I have no problem with a consenting adult putting on such a device, but a teenager? It’s completely healthy and natural for a teenager to be jacking off. Who didn’t? To deny a teenager of this is abuse at best.


What about the women that wants their men in chastity?


The women doesn’t necessarily deny them sexual pleasure – as long as they are around. As a keyholder (most chastity devices come with a lock), they have full control over when the man may use his member for pleasure. These women want full control over their man – they don’t want the man to experience sexual pleasure during their absence. But when she’s there, it’s all good, she will unlock it and let her man do what he pleases.


Some people go beyond – like with the example of the hollow dildo. These women just want to deny their men all the time. Eventually, these men can even ejaculate while being flacid, how weird is that?


Thanks for reading this post, hope you found this mildly entertaining.

We become attached to our pets just as like any other member of the family. Losing a pet will be the most traumatic experience for anyone who has a pet. And since all the pets have a limited life span, one day or the other everyone has to experience the D-Day.  So what are the different ways we can keep remember our pet after it is gone. Let us find out.

  1. Urns – This is the most popular choice among people. Urns are used to store the pet remains after they are cremated.  They come in different sizes for different animals. Also, they are manufactured in different materials like wood, marble, ceramic etc or some are made in eco-friendly materials. There is also option of customized urns available in some places.
  2. Window Decals – This can act as a remembrance souvenir. Decals are UV resistant, heavy duty materials which are put on windows. These window decals can be customized with the pet’s name; its photo with you, “I miss you” quotes etc and put in the drawing rooms.
  3. Photo Album – This is the easiest option isn’t it? A photo album or a book with all the photos of the pet along with you and family members is the best and easiest remembrance. Whenever you miss it, take the album and browse through the pictures, your day will become better for sure.
  4. Taxidermy – It is one of the most unique options available. If you do not want to cremate the pet and want to have it displayed, approach a taxidermist. He can remove everything and stuff the pet up and make it like a toy. It can always be beside you, isn’t it? They cost about $800 to $2000 dollars depending upon the size.
  5. Memorial Service – One of the best ways to remember and pay respect to your pet is holding a memorial service. A get together of the whole family, lunch at your house, getting together in church or a park and offering tribute to pet is the best way to remember the pet.
  6. Making Videos – Just like a photo album, making a video of all the photos of the pet, some good heart touching videos of it in functions can be grouped together and made into a video with a background track. While playing this video, it will bring us back some great memories of the past.
  7. Paintings – A professional painting of the photograph of your pet and hanging it up in our room, wont it feel it is with us forever?
  8. Headstones – After the pet burial, headstones can be created in that place as its memorial. There are different types of headstones in different materials like metals, graphite etc. Also, it can be customized with photo and other things as we would wish. You can purchase pet memorial gifts at lcmemorials
  9. Jewelry – There are many goldsmiths who make and give customized jewelry as we like. Jewelries, rings etc with pet’s photo can be a great remembrance.
  10. Tattoo – Tattoos in your body of the name of the pet or its photo will give us a life-long remembrance of our pet.

Hence, these are few of lots of weird and odd ideas which will not make you miss your favorite pet.

Maintenance is one aspect of the business which is always essential yet, we try to avoid as much as possible. Because an industry is made up of machines and its components, maintenance needs to be done from time to time. And this maintenance puts burden into the overall budget of a business. One may want to cut down the share of the maintenance by opting for cheaper alternatives of maintenance but it comes with a serious price. There may arise a time, when maintenance is done only when the system fails. Due to whatever reason, the system may face even drastic damage due to the unhealthy environment that it was working on. For example if there was a lose wire and sparks were happening, it puts a serious threatening into the overall health of the system as it doesn’t only pose threat to the component involved but it can damage the system overall. So while trying to save a few bucks from maintenance, you end up paying more and more due to damage of the key components and it doesn’t seem feasible many at times.

That’s why the concept of maintenance came into the picture. It not only keeps the system healthy but it also checks the vital components for Amy errors and keeps the system running smoothly and on optimal level. With maintenance in place, a system doesn’t need to worry about disasters that may take place as the burden is taken up by the maintenance system to keep the system running.

That’s why in an industry maintenance plays a very significant role. It can make or even break a while business because just think about it, if you need to put the system on halt for a significant period of time, you may end up losing marketing advantage and this production less period could end up hurting you much more than you could have anticipated.

Now, for this to achieve, many ways of maintenance could be implemented. For example, one may opt for cheaper options where maintenance is indeed done when the actual disaster takes place but none before that. It makes it viable for small industries where, the equipment aren’t costly and maintenance ends up more in the liability section in the balance sheet than the amount of assets that the business has. But for big industries, where there are lots and lots of costly equipment, it simply isn’t feasible at any condition. Which is why there is a affordable alternative to vibration meters at proaxion.

That’s where condition based and predictive based maintenance comes into play. Condition based maintenance is a type of maintenance where maintenance is based upon predefined conditions of the system. If, those conditions are met, then some trigger kicks in and rise of maintenance is occurred. While predictive maintenance, though uses the same or almost same technology, uses algorithm to predict where and when disaster may occur and advices to run maintenance based upon that predictions.

While algorithm takes a key role in predictive maintenance, it is the conditions itself which makes the bulk for condition based maintenance. This plays the key difference between the predictive based maintenance and conditions based maintenance.

Another difference that indeed arises is, in case of conditions based maintenance, the half of a system is a must for maintenance to take place. In simple words, in conditions based maintenance, a system needs to be stopped completely so that the maintenance could go on. But that isn’t a requirement for predictive maintenance to carry out. In predictive maintenance, the system could be up and running even when the maintenance is being carried out which makes a great difference in the end because production doesn’t need to suffer while maintenance is taking place.



There are countless reasons not to have your baby anywhere near you when you are cooking. Safety, efficiency, and tidiness are among them. These are all valid concerns that can be addressed with adequate preparation and a little bit of patience.

But why should you even bother when it’s so much easier to put up the baby gate or strap the kid into a high chair? Well, there are many incentives to including your little one in your culinary adventures. Obviously, if you enjoy your time in the kitchen, you will pass that on. Time spent together in the kitchen teaches safety skills, math skills, nutrition, reading skills, and following directions.

This will not happen immediately. Most of it will not even happen quickly. But it will happen, if you are persistent, and you will be so glad you kept your baby nearby when you were cooking.

How Do You Cook With Baby?

While your little bundle of joy is still a newborn, you can get both of you used to being together in the kitchen by parking baby in a swing or bouncer on the floor in an out of the way spot. Talk to him, explaining what you are doing and why.

When baby is able to hold her head up on her own, you can hold her on your hip while you cook, at least for some steps, like measuring and mixing. Whenever you are using a knife or handling heat (taking things in and out of the oven, frying bacon) you should remember to put baby back in the swing, bouncer, or excersaucer. Continue to converse with your little one about all of the culinary goings on, and share little bites when you can. By including your little one in the process behind making meals, and by offering tastes of lots of different foods you will raise and adventurous eater.

When the baby is a little older, preferably able to stand on his own, you can stand him on a chair at the counter to watch you. He’ll get a kick out of putting ingredients in the bowl, learning how to

mix, and maybe even holding on to the hand mixer as you use it. Remember to never leave baby standing on a chair or stepstool alone, and don’t leave kitchen appliances where baby can reach them. They love those buttons! It’s a good idea to have several sets of measuring cups and spoons so that you have spares for your little one to imitate you with.

Cooking with your little one can lead to a lifetime of shared memories, and starting when they’re young helps you both learn the ins and outs of sharing the kitchen with each other. I hope you try cooking with your baby; it gets even more fun as they get older!

Customized pillows are often used by people during sleep. As such, these types of pillows are 
usually seen in the bedroom. Store owners have been pretty expansive with the types of pillows 
they are able to customize. One of them can be found in the form of throw pillows. Let us look at 
how throw pillows benefit greatly from the customizable options that are available to them as 
why as why it is a good idea to take part in designing them. 

Throw Pillows Are Readily Seen

Throw pillows are also called small decorative pillows which are placed on a chair or a couch. 
These throw pillows offer a great deal of comfort and style to its users. Unlike pillows used in 
your bedroom, throw pillows are more visible with them being out in the open. As a result, your 
guests will take notice of your throw pillows the moment they step inside in the confines of your 
living room. For that matter, it is important that you make sure that these pillows are always in 
good working condition for your guests to use. 
Aside from cleaning and changing your throw pillows on a regular basis, a number of individuals 
have taken the extra step in designing them. This gave birth to the rise in popularity of custom 
throw pillows. By customizing throw pillows, people are able to keeps things fresh and 
interesting while at the same time be able to show off their new designs to their guests. 

Surprise Your Guest

People are able to surprise their guest with their personalized throw pillows. Designs can range 
from anything that you can think of. This in turn can help brighten a person’s day when they see 
your cool designs. The same can also be said when your relatives are dropping by for a visit. A 
number of couples decide to make custom throw pillows of their children which relatives love 

Sharing Throw Pillows

Seeing their impressive design, your guests will surely have a number of questions that revolve 
around your custom throw pillows. You can decide to make share your throw pillows by sending 
them as gifts or perhaps guide your guests on how you were able to make them. There are a 
number of stores that provide great customizations with their throw pillows making them fairly 
accessible in the present. Find a store near you today! 

The other day my family and I went to a new restaurant in town. Overall, it was a perfectly adequate experience. The staff was attentive, the food was tasty and served promptly after ordering, the dining room was well decorated and had a nice ambiance. All in all, I’d say it was an experience I’d be willing to repeat. However, there was an oddity about this restaurant that gave me pause. You see, they didn’t serve their food on traditional dinnerware. There was nary a plate to be found. They instead served all their food, yes even complimentary bread, cheese, and desserts, on slate.

This was immediately concerning to me. Slate, as most people know, is simply a rock that can be found naturally occurring, in some regions more prominently than others, but I digress. We were being given food that was resting on rocks.

I’m not so naive as to suggest that these slates weren’t perfectly clean. I’m sure they’ve made their rounds through the dish washers’ hands in warm, soapy water. And I understand that these particular slates were cut and styled for the express purpose of being dinnerware. But I was nonetheless concerned more from a manufacturing perspective. I’d had, through limited experiences before, like at work events or fancy catered parties, been served food on slate. I concur that it’s definitely a unique and picturesque way to present the food, but do either of those things take priority over the safety of edibility of the food? I should certainly think not.

My main concern was the quality of the slate itself. Slate is a stone, if left untreated, prone to chips and breakages. It’s hard to imagine something less appetizing than biting into a piece of food and finding a rock in it. Don’t get me wrong, this definitely did not happen, but the mere thought of it is worrisome, at best. Secondly, slate is not something one can just eat off of without some form of surface treatment. It would need to be sanitized and sealed or order to not only make it safe to eat off of, but keep it safe after it is washed.

I don’t ever mean to be “that customer,” but I flagged down a waiter and asked him about their slate plates. He was not sure where they were from, but assured me he would find out. Only several minutes later the owner himself jovially approached us eager to discuss his plates. The company he purchased from, aptly named Slateplate, was a small business based entirely out of the US, manufacturing and all. This alone was somewhat assuring, as I know that US standards for safety are more thorough and more highly regulated than say, Chinese standards.


That night at home I googled around. I dug up some Chinese slate plate websites and perused their products. The were coarse, gray looking plates that seemed untreated. The website assured me that it was rubbed down with a “sealing oil” (their words, not mine), but the specifics of this magical sealing oil are probably best left to one’s imagination. Sure, it’s most likely fine, but I could find literally no information on it. As someone who works with chemicals for a living, I’m all too familiar with the plethora of things that could, even without malintent, be terribly wrong with a “sealing oil.” Would you feed your family food off a tray that used an oil you could find no information on?

I eventually got around to looking up this Slateplate place. On looks alone their slate seemed far superior to their Chinese counterparts. Slateplate, however, has pages dedicated to its manufacturing process. The slate is manufactured and treated in such a way that it will not chip or break though simple and regular usage. They also use a high-grade mineral oil to seal the slate. The is what helps prevent those breakages, and also what keeps it chemically safe to consume food from. This is most assuredly a perfectly safe way to protect any food that comes in contact with the slate. These factors are very important for using these plates for your restaurant

So, despite my initial concerns, I have to conclude that I’m perfectly comfortable with myself and my family eating off of slate, at least Slateplate slate. They also have articles at slateplate that discusses other types of dinnerware. Slate plates certainly won’t be a barrier that prevents us from returning to any restaurants that we enjoy. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to admit it was fun and delightfully posh to dine off slate now that my concerns have been alleviated.

Things she is tired of hearing

We live in the 21st century where a key value is taught in schools and that is of Gender equality. But the sad part is that we have seriously struggled to give HER the equal status she deserves. There is always a “But she is a woman lingering somewhere in our minds.”

Let’s take a look at some of the frustrations a woman has to deal with on a constant basis:

The perception that she dresses to be pleasing to a man’s eye:

Well this is the most encountered one. If she takes an extra effort to look good, its assumed that she has done it to impress some guy who is around her.

No, this is pretty stupid like what are we even thinking?

Even if men vanished off earth one morning, she will spend the same time selecting that perfect shade of lipstick or the perfect colour of the jeans.

We are not the judges to a fashion show that goes around 24×7.

Take that straight.

The perception that whatever great qualities she has will wither off once she becomes a mother:

This is one biggie here.

We all have that girl who is the best at what she does.

But some creeps be talking about her that its ok this will last until she gets married after that it’s the same shit.

Kids their diapers and their crying and this is where she will belong.

Believe me. I have seen a lot of them come back after the maternity leave and kick serious ass.

They were more efficient with some new vigour they got after that leave.

So, if she is great at something it’s her skill. Nothing can ever take that away.

The perception of being an authoritarian if she has an opinion:

If a girl stands up for a point she believes in.

She does believe in it that’s it.

It’s not that she wants to show who’s the boss by making her point.

Yup they have that emotional quotient more than we do.

That doesn’t mean that it’s all they have.

They have a working brain to know about something and stand for it.

So the next time a woman stands for a point she makes. Don’t judge it as a lady point, listen to it with care, she may have a unique perspective we men can’t provide.

The perception that she shouldn’t try to be everything:

We should stop undermining things she does just because she is a woman.

If she loves something and wants to follow it. We have the responsibility to help her in every way we can.

Of course we have to tell her about the challenges but I really don’t think that is the case mostly.

Women are constantly told about how they can’t do something just because they are women.

Like what does chemistry need that a woman can’t have as a skill?

The core engineering fields have also seen discrimination against women.

She has some differences in her brain structure surely.

But that doesn’t stop her from using it in a way better than you.

So, it doesn’t matter if she is a woman, if she wants to do something, there is nothing that can stop her.

So these were some frustrations that a woman has to face. Let me know about more.

You’re free to read more at our home page

The source for this article is Here

Note: This post follows Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence about Don Huber’s alleged letter to the USDA that claims a never before seen “micro fungus” is endangering all of agriculture.

While claims about “micro-fungi” are too extraordinary to even consider until extraordinary proof is provided (and preferably replicated by another lab and peer reviewed), Don Huber’s claims that Roundup (specifically the active ingredient glyphosate) weakens crops by binding minerals in the soil seems to have at least some merit, at least enough to be taken seriously and examined further.

Over the years since Roundup Ready (RR) crops have been released, independent researchers have conducted many studies to determine whether there is a specific problem with some crop varieties with the RR gene, with all crops with the RR gene, or with glyphosate itself. Overall, the research shows that there may be some concern about glyphosate reducing availability of some minerals when the soil is deficient in those minerals. The research hasn’t found a problem with the RR gene itself.

It is important to note that the stack of peer reviewed papers indicating glyphosate to be a problem with disease or yield is much smaller than the stack indicating there is no problem. We must look at the entire body of evidence, not just cherry pick one or a few papers, in order to get a clear understanding of what’s really happening. Happily, extension experts from multiple universities have summarized the research for us, but if you want to look for yourself, PubMed is a great place to start.

Claims of interactions between glyphosate and minerals

In February of 2010, Dr. Huber appeared in an article by Martha Ostendorf titled Are We Shooting Ourselves In The Foot With A Silver Bullet? in No-Till Magazine along with Bob Streit, an agronomy consultant in Iowa. That article is no longer available from the No-Till Farmer website, but thankfully a Biofortified reader found another source (linked from the article title). Another article written by Huber at about the same time is Ag chemical and crop nutrient interactions. In these document, a lot of claims are made that aren’t consistent with the majority of peer reviewed research on the subject.

Since 2010, Dr. Huber has continued publicly claiming that glyphosate binds up minerals in the soil, making the minerals unavailable to crops and increasing susceptibility to disease (specifically fungal disease), thus decreasing yields. He spoke to the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario in March 2010, one of many talks he’s given on this topic. In February 2011, he gave a talk in Des Moines at a seminar organized by the same Bob Streit and Amie Brandy. Dr. Huber has published some peer reviewed studies to back up his claims as well.

Dr. Huber is not the only scientist that has found interactions between glyphosate and minerals. Back in 2007, Barney Gordon published some research in an industry newsletter indicating that glyphosate treated soybeans may require manganese fertilizer for optimal yields: Manganese Nutrition of Glyphosate-Resistant and Conventional Soybeans. Of course, this research was used inappropriately as “evidence” that genetic engineering reduces yields, but that’s another story.

Dr. Gordon and Dr. Huber’s work has been used eagerly by fertilizer companies and organizations that promote fertilizers to encourage farmers to apply minerals to their crops. For example, see Glyphosate and Micronutrients by Jim Halbeisen of Growers Mineral Solutions and Missing Micro Nutrients by Larry Reichenberger of ProfitPro (who sells liquid fertilizer).

Dr. Huber has published directly in fertilizer promotion materials, such as the Fluid Journal (sponsored by the Fluid Fertilizer Foundation): What About Glyphosate-Induced Manganese Deficiency? Dr. Gordon’s Manganese Nutrition of Glyphosate-Resistant and Conventional Soybeans was published in Better Crops which is run by the International Plant Nutrition Institute which encourages use of a variety of fertilizers.

Response from extension

Understandably, farmers have been actively pursuing more information from extension agents as soon as they hear about a possible decrease in yields with glyphosate use. University extension has responded with multiple documents and presentations to help guide farmers using known research and by conducting additional research. Extension agents have a unique ability to bring research directly to farmers and other people near the university and can quickly conduct field tests to help farmers make science-based decisions.

In February of 2010, Iowa State University Extension produced a great overview of the research that includes analysis of some papers of which Dr. Huber was a co-author: Glyphosate-Manganese Interactions in Roundup Ready Soybean by Bob Hartzler, Extension Weed Specialist and Professor of Agronomy. He concludes that manganese uptake varies depending on which soybean variety is being used, not on whether or not the RR gene is present. He also concludes that while it is known that glyphosate will bind to soluble manganese, this is only a problem in manganese deficient soils.

In November of 2010, Bob Hartzler released Glyphosate Interactions with Micronutrients and Plant Disease, with the conclusion:

Due to the complexity of the processes that occur within the root zone, it is impossible to completely rule out negative effects of glyphosate on mineral nutrition or disease development in GR crops.  However, results from field research and our widespread experience with glyphosate on GR crops for over a decade do not indicate widespread negative impacts of glyphosate on these factors.

In April of 2010, University of Minnesota Extension put out a short commentary that also discussed Dr. Huber’s claims: Roundup and Manganese for Minnesota Soybeans. Extension agent George Rehm conducted experiments in Minnesota and found that additional manganese was not needed due to adequate manganese in Minnesota soils. The April commentary was actually a followup to a xpost about manganese from January of 2010, Magnesium In Minnesota, that attracted some critical commentary from none other than Bob Streit.

In January of 2011, Ohio State University Extension released a presentation (Flash needed) by Robert Mullen, extension specialist and associate professor, summarizing their work on this subject: Manganese / Glyphosate antagonism? Their research shows that applying manganese to soy does increase the concentration of manganese in plant tissues, but did not find that glyphosate caused decreases in yield or manganese. Adding manganese can cause yield increase or yield decrease depending on environment, specially soil type. They did find that soil type and pH causes significant differences in manganese uptake.

In February of 2011, Dr. Huber’s colleagues at Perdue University Extension put out a paper titled Glyphosate’s Impact on Field Crop Production and Disease Development that seems to be in direct response to the flurry of blog posts and “news” articles about Roundup that were spurred by Dr. Huber’s recent letter. While they don’t mention Dr. Huber directly, they do cite and express concern about articles that are credulous about Dr. Huber’s claims regarding glyphosate and plant and animal disease. They conclude:

Overall, the claims that glyphosate is haing a widespread effect on plant health are largely unsubstantiated. To date, there is limited scientific research data that suggest that plant diseases have increased in GM crops due to the use of glyphosate. Most importantly, the impact of these interactions on yield has not been demonstrated. Therefore, we maintain our recommendations of judicious glyphosate use for weed control. We encourage crop producers, agribusiness personnel, and the general public to speak with University Extension personnel before making changes in crop production practices that are based on sensationalist claims instead of facts.

This isn’t the first time that Dr. Huber’s colleages have attempted to do damage control in response to “greatly exaggerated” reports by Dr. Huber about minerals and glyphosate. In April of 2010 Dr. Huber’s colleagues at Perdue University Extension released Glyphosate – Manganese Interactions and Impacts on Crop Production: The Controversy, referring interested persons to Iowa State University Extension. They state that high pH, high organic matter soils cause manganese to be less available to the crop whether or not glyphosate is present.

Update: Extension agents are still working to correct what they see as misinformation spread by Dr. Huber. Anne Dorrance, expert in soybean pathology and extension agent at Ohio State has a 14 March 2011 article in Ag Professional: Glyphosate Effects on Soybean Diseases. She directly assesses the claims that glyphosate use has increased incidence of disease, backed up with literature and her personal experience.

Have you seen any other extension or other articles by professional agronomists on this topic? Let us know and I’ll include them here.

Consider the data, not the source

I have read some claims that university researchers can not be trusted because many universities accept some grants from agricultural companies. Specifically, some bloggers have claimed that the Purdue extension agents’ scientific integrity is compromised, which is something that I think needs to be addressed, especially when it is clear that fertilizer companies and foundations are so eager to use Dr. Huber’s research. Potential conflicts of interest go every which way.

Purdue, like Iowa State and every other university, has strict standards of scientific and professional ethics. In addition, the amount of research funding granted by companies is small compared to funding from other sources. For example, at Iowa State, publicly available detailed reports of funding show that the research being conducted with corporate funding are far from the majority of funding and that most grants are extremely specific in scope. While there are isolated examples of inappropriate conduct of public universities regarding private companies or company interests, that is no reason to denounce every employee at every public university.

Instead of smearing the names of extension employees and researchers, we should examine the veracity of their work. We need to consider the data available. The identity of the source needs to be known in order to determine if a person has relevant expertise. We can look at the source to get a feeling for how much skepticism we need to apply. Go too far beyond that, and we get dangerously close to ad homs.

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The Guardian’s Science Blog wants to know: “Which science blogs give you the real story behind the headlines?” The list is currently lacking in biology, especially plant biology. You can leave your suggestions at the article Wanted: The hottest science blogs on the world wide web or tweet them to the author Alok Jha @alokjha or to the Guardian Science Team @guardianscience.

While you’re thinking of blog to submit to the Guardian (perhaps, I hope you’ll take a moment to comment on this post with blogs you follow about plant biology, plant science, genetic engineering, genetics in general, and similar topics – and share why you like them. Your responses will help to create a Biofortified Blogroll page.

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That headline catches your eye, doesn’t it?

Antibiotics by AJC1 via Flickr.

We’ve seen such claims made in popular media such as the March 2010 Fury as EU approves GM potato: Critics claim plant could spread antibiotic-resistant diseases to humans in the Independent: “Opponents fear bacteria inside the guts of animals fed the GM potato – which can cause human diseases – may develop resistance to antibiotics.” Groups that actively work against deregulation of genetically engineered crops have been making such claims for years.

We’ve also seen these claims in peer-reviewed journals (although, far less frequently than in non-peer reviewed media and reports). For example, in the February 2009 issue of Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, the review Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods: “An area of concern focuses on the possibility that antibiotic resistance genes used as markers in transgenic crops may be horizontally transferred to pathogenic gut bacteria, thereby reducing the effectiveness of antimicrobial therapy.”

Are antibiotic marker genes in genetically engineered crops really a risk to human health? Many people have raised this question and there seems to be a lot of confusion about the issue. It’s time to look into the risks and reasons more deeply.

What are antibiotic resistance genes for?

In order to understand why these genes are used, we have to look a little at the process of genetic engineering. For some plant types, including corn and rice, immature seeds are dissected to expose the developing embryo. Pieces of carrot roots can be transformed, as can the leaves of tobacco. The desired genes are transferred into the plant cells with either a gene gun or Agrobacterium. The plant cells are then grown up into whole plants in petri dishes, with the help of plant hormones. The process is similar to other asexual plant propagation techniques, but much smaller!

Growing plants up from cells.

Not every cell receives the gene of interest, however, so researchers need a way to find the cells that have it. Enter antibiotic resistance genes. If the cells are transformed with the gene of interest and an antibiotic resistance gene, the appropriate antibiotic can be added to the media in the petri dish so that any cells that didn’t get the genes will die. The antibiotic resistance gene is being used as a selectable marker, since it allows the researcher to select only the desired cells.

Of course, just because these genes are useful doesn’t mean that they are safe or that they should be used. What does the research tell us?


Risk: Gene transfer from plants to bacteria

Soil bacteria by Michigan State University.

Fear of antibiotic resistance markers is mainly due to fear of gene transfer from genetically modified plants to bacteria in the soil or bacteria in human or animal guts. There are at least two reasons why this fear is unwarranted. First, soil and gut bacteria naturally contain a variety of antibiotic resistance genes without any human intervention. Second, transfer of genes from a plant to a bacterium is extremely unlikely.

Natural antibiotic resistance

Life for a bacterium isn’t easy. They have to compete fiercely for resources, so it’s not surprising that some bacteria have evolved to produce poison that kills their competitors: antibiotics. The producers of these antibiotics also evolved antibiotic resistance mechanisms so they could survive their own weapons. Additionally, bacteria develop resistance to antibacterial compounds in the environment.

Often, antibiotic resistance is conferred by a single gene. Any bacteria that can find that resistance gene and use it have an advantage. Consequently, antibiotic resistance genes are widespread in natural environments. When humans intervene, using antibiotics in ways that encourage development of resistance in bacteria, that resistance is passed around even faster (no GMOs needed). For some information on how humans, check out the CDC’s pages on antibiotic resistance.

Gene swapping

Genetically modified crops: methodology, benefits, regulation and public concerns, a 2000 review in the British Medical Bulletin has a summary of the risks of horizontal gene transfer from genetically modified crops:

…horizontal transfer of a gene from ingested plant material to bacteria has never been demonstrated, and there is no indication that it has ever occurred during evolution. The probability that it could occur is, therefore, considered to be so low that it is not relevant when compared with the natural occurrence of antibiotic resistance genes.

They sound awfully confident, don’t they?

Bacteria (prokaryotes) are fairly promiscuous when it comes to genes. Many types of bacteria (not all) have the ability to take up DNA from the environment and from other bacteria and integrate it into their own genome during parts or all of their life cycle. This process is called horizontal gene transfer, and the bacteria that have this ability are called competent. Since they have this ability, it makes sense to worry about bacteria picking up antibiotic resistance genes (and other genes as well) from other organisms, including genetically modified crops.

Interestingly, eukaryotes (multicellular organisms like plants and people) also have the ability to take up DNA into their genomes. For example, the August 2007 Widespread lateral gene transfer from intracellular bacteria to multicellular eukaryotes shows transfer of the entire genome from endosymbiotic bacteria into their hosts’ genomes. A more recent example appeared in January 2010 in the New York Times: Hunting Fossil Viruses in Human DNA. An entire virus genome resides in the human genome, and has been passed down from our simian ancestors.

So we know that bacteria can swap DNA and that eukaryotes can take up DNA from bacteria and viruses. Can prokaryotes take up DNA from eukaryotes?

It doesn’t look like it.

The European Food Safety Authority has the following to say about the subject in their excellent 2009 Statement of EFSA on the consolidated presentation of opinions on the use of antibiotic resistance genes as marker genes in genetically modified plants (section, edited slightly for clarity):

While many studies support the evolutionary significance of horizontal gene transfer between bacteria, eukaryotic genes in prokaryotic genomes are a rarity. There is no definitive report of DNA transfer from eukaryotes to bacteria.

As of 24 September 2008 the public genome databases included more than 750 completed prokaryotic genomes. In the first annotation of the putative genes there are frequent cases where closest matches are found with eukaryotic genes, but these preliminary results have not manifested into demonstrations of horizontal gene transfer from eukaryotes to prokaryotes, as judged by the scientific publications interpreting the genomic sequencing data. For one functional gene (phosphoglucose isomerase), phylogenetic analyses indicated that the gene might have been transferred from a eukaryote to bacteria. The transfer was estimated to have happened approximately 500 million years ago.

Homologous recombination from Duke University.

Multiple studies have found that bacteria can take up eukaryote DNA, but only in certain conditions, where the researchers used a sort of genetic trick called homologous recombination. In short, homologous recombination can occur when the ends of the donor DNA have sequences similar to part of the acceptor DNA. The homologous sequences can bind together, and in the next round of replication, the donor DNA can be integrated. In studies that aimed to find evidence of transfer of DNA from eukaryotes to prokaryotes without genetic tricks, none was found.

Table 1 of the EFSA Statement lists all studies prior to its publishing that examined horizontal gene transfer in bacteria (25 studies in all). Of the 18 studies that looked for gene transfer with homologous recombination, 15 found gene transfer and 3 did not. Of the 16 studies that looked for gene transfer without homologous recombination, no evidence of gene transfer was found.

In short, there are many DNA sequences that look like eukaryote genes in prokaryote genomes, but so far only one has been found that might be an actual functional gene. All evidence to date shows that gene transfer from eukaryotes to prokaryotes can only occur when homologous DNA sequences are present in donor and acceptor genomes. The lack of evidence for horizontal gene transfer in the wild suggests that there are some sort of barriers to gene transfer from eukaryotes to prokaryotes.

Barriers to gene swapping

Prokaryotic DNA and eukaryotic DNA are sort of like different computer languages. In fact, each species has slightly different ways of “personalizing” its own DNA with things like methylation and other DNA modifications, different codon preference, post translational modification of RNA, and whether or not introns are present. Eukaryotic DNA is so different from prokaryotic DNA that the bacteria just can’t take it up and use it as they would other bacterial DNA. Additionally, even if all of the barriers to gene uptake occur and all the barriers to gene expression are overcome, the likelihood that the gene will confer a positive trait for the bacterium is low. Most eukaryotic genes aren’t going to be helpful for a prokaryote, such that the few useful genes are few and far between. Even if a bacterium was able to uptake and express an antibiotic resistance gene from a genetically engineered plant, there would have to be selective pressure (i.e. an environment that included the antibiotic that the gene conferred resistance to) in order for the gene to be maintained in a bacterial colony. For more information about barriers to gene swapping, check out the EFSA Statement.

Avoiding the unlikely

Despite the fact that horizontal gene transfer from eukaryotes to prokaryotes is so unlikely (the only known example was estimated to have happened 500 million years ago), there are still precautions that can be taken to make it even more unlikely. For example, if antibiotic resistance genes are used as selectable markers in genetically modified organisms, researchers can avoid using sequences with homology to known bacterial genomes, they can be sure to only use antibiotic resistance genes that include features that make the gene unusable in bacteria, and they can avoid using promoters that are active in bacteria, just to name a few.

Alternative markers

Transformed rice cells expressing GFP via Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna.

Another option is to find alternative marker genes and alternative strategies. Herbicide resistance genes are an alternative selectable marker. Visible markers like GFP or GUS are screenable markers. Marker genes can be bred out, meaning that the final plant line will not contain the marker gene. Finally, it is possible to use no marker genes at all, but that does require far more screening of adult plants which can add expense and time to any project.


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James, over at James and the Giant Corn, has written a post about the long lasting tomatoes from India: Scientists at India’s NIPGR Create a Longer-Lasting Tomato (Studying The Regulation of Fruit Ripening). He does a great job of explaining cell wall chemistry, which I neglected to cover in I say tomato… I appreciate that he pointed out something that I forgot to mention (emphasis added):

I shouldn’t have to say this, but there are currently no genetically engineered tomatoes on the market. For a short time in the 1990s Calgene sold the Flavr Savr tomato in California grocery stores, but they weren’t able make a profit doing so, so they stopped. The poor taste of most tomatoes for sale in the grocery store today is purely the result of conventional breeding (my post on the subject and Mat_kinase’s).

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The Thirteen_Years_cover_2009Organic Center recently released Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years by Dr. Charles Benbrook, agricultural economist and “Chief Scientist” of the Organic Center. I can’t help but get the feeling that Dr. Benbrook started with a conclusion and found data to fit rather than starting with a general review then finding significant conclusions. It’s not that I necessarily have any specific problems with the information Dr. Benbrook presents, it’s just that I think he’s leaving some key ideas out of the report that should have been considered. There are also generalizations that just aren’t warranted. There are a lot of problems with this report, but I’m particualrly concerned with the way Dr. Benbrook fails, for the most part, to distinguish between different biotech traits, fails to distinguish and between different pesticides, and fails to consider non-biotech traits that could increase pesticide use.

First, all GMOs are not created equal. The two biotech traits currently on the market are herbicide tolerance and insect resistance (Bt). These traits are obviously very different, but most of the report just lumps them together as “GE crops”, even though the report clearly states multiple times that Bt crops have reduced insecticide use. For example:

Bt corn and cotton have delivered consistent reductions in insecticide use totaling 64.2 million pounds over the 13 years. Bt corn reduced insecticide use by 32.6 million pounds, or by about 0.1 pound per acre. Bt cotton reduced insecticide use by 31.6 million pounds, or about 0.4 pounds per acre planted.

Why, then, does the report fail to distinguish between glyphosate tolerant crops and Bt crops when concluding:

For the foreseeable future, this study confirms that one direct and predictable outcome of the planting of GE corn, soybean, and cotton seed will be steady, annual increases in the pounds of herbicides applied per acre across close to one-half the nation’s cultivated cropland base. Farm production costs and environmental and health risks will rise in step with the total pounds of pesticides applied on GE crops.

What about Bt crops? What about nitrogen efficient crops? What about nutritionally enhanced crops? These don’t require additional pesticides of any kind when compared to non-biotech crops. If anything, the conclusion should read:

…this study confirms that one direct and predictable outcome of the planting of herbicide tolerant corn, soybean, and cotton seed will be steady, annual increases in the pounds of herbicides applied per acre across close to one-half the nation’s cultivated cropland base. Farm production costs and environmental and health risks will rise in step with the total pounds of herbicides applied on herbicide tolerant crops.

Second, all pesticides are not created equal. There are huge differences between pesticides in toxcicity, target organisms, amount required, etc. Use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp herbicide, certainly does increase with glyphosate tolerant crops. The million dollar question is: does the use of glyphosate replace the use of other herbicides? And even more importantly, what is the relative impact of the herbicides used? The Organic Center’s report doesn’t actually address these questions.

The 2008 report GM crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996- 2006 (pdf) produced by PG Economics did answer these questions*. They used an index called EIQ (Environmental Impact Quotient) which was first described by Kovach et al in 1992 (to learn exactly how the EIQ is calculated, see the American Farmland Trust’s explanation). The EIQ actually factors in how toxic a pesticide is as well as how much active ingredient is used. This report found (on page 60-61) that, in soybeans, the global impact has been:

In 2006, a 6% decrease in the total volume of herbicide [active ingredient] applied (10.1 million kg) and a 23.7% reduction in the environmental impact (measured in terms of the field EIQ/ha load)

Since 1996, 4.4% less herbicide [active ingredient] has been used (62 million kg) and the environmental impact applied to the soybean crop has fallen by 20.4%.

A similar global impact was seen in maize:

In 2006, total herbicide ai use was 8.3% lower (10.9 million kg) than the level of use if the total crop had been planted to conventional non GM (HT) varieties. The EIQ load was also lower by 10.8%

Cumulatively since 1997, the volume of herbicide ai applied is 3.9% lower than its conventional equivalent (a saving of 46.7 million kg). The EIQ load has been reduced by 4.6%.

It certainly seems strange that two different reports would have such vastly different conclusions.

Third, what about non-biotech herbicide tolerant crops? Breeding for herbicide tolerance doens’t require biotechnology at all – breeders can simply rely on artificial selection (aka “natural” plant breeding). For example, consider the Clearfield trait, resistance to the herbicide imidazoline. Clearfield is available in far more crops than glyphosate resistance, likely because it is not required to undergo any of the additional testing or regualatory hoops that are required for biotech traits. Crops available with Clearfield include sunflower, canola, corn, wheat, and rice. Because this is a non-biotech (non-transgenic, non-GMO) herbicide resistance trait, Clearfield crops aren’t tracked in the same way as Roundup Ready crops.

“This report deals only with GE HT crops” even though “a market research firm recently estimated that non-GE herbicide-resistant crops were planted on roughly 6 million acres in 2007.” The thing is, if biotech herbicide tolerance was never invented, we’d just have many more acres of non-biotech herbicide tolerance. Using herbicide tolerant non-GE crops would result in all of the same effects that we see in GE herbicide tolerant crops. Additionally, improper use of herbicides of any type (in conjunction with herbicide tolerant crops or not) will result in resistant weeds. It is misleading to claim that side effects of herbicide use are due to genetic engineering.

If a person was truly interested in determining how novel traits affect herbicide use, that person would consider all types of herbicide resistance, instead of singling out just the ones created with a certain method.

In sum, these are the three main complaints I have with this report: failure to distinguish between different biotech traits, failure to distinguish between different pesticides, and failure to consider non-biotech traits that could increase pesticide use.

What are your thoughts?

*I already had a copy of the PG Economics report stored in Papers (iTunes for journal articles), but when I went to find the link for this post, I found that PG Economics has actually written their own rebuttal to the Organic Center’s report: Impact of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use: US Organic Center report evaluation by PG Economics (pdf). They cover far more specific issues than I did in this post – I recommend it and the original PG Economics report as a counterpoint to the Organic Center report. No matter our personal beliefs, it’s always good to expose ourselves to many points of view.

Another viewpoint can be found at Truth About Trade and Technology, a non-profit farmer’s advocay group, where Illinois farmer John Reifsteck wrote The Business of Farming in response to the Organic Center’s report.


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Many people who garden or make home preserves might be interested in selling their produce and products at the local farmers market or other places, but might not know what laws regulate sale of such items. Now, people can easily find out, thanks to the Leopold Center at Iowa State University. Their FAQs on Food Regulations for Small Market Food Producers provides information and resources.

For example, did you know that whole, uncut fruits and vegetables may be sold without any license and without charging sales tax? While growers of whole fruits and vegetables are not required to practice any particular food safety procedures, the Leopold Center recommends that Good Agricultural Practices (pdf) be used, such as using non-porus containers for transport of crops.

Of course, laws in Iowa could be different from other states, so make sure to check what is appropriate in your state (links for midwestern states can be found at the bottom of the page at “13. Can I sell my products in other states?”).

via the ISU Sus Ag mailing list.


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Photo credit: JENS BUTTNER,JENS BUTTNER/AFP/Getty Images)

Every time I read something Vandana Shiva has written, I become more convinced that she is either 1) willfully ignorant on the subject of farming or 2) willfully ignoring a whole swath of problems in order to focus on a pet peeve. She is another sad example of a self-styled celebrity who plays games with people’s lives because she is unwilling to move from her ideology. One would think she would at least adapt her diatribes to fit peer-reviewed research or the numerous surveys of the people she claims to protect. Unfortunately, she’s still using the same old talking points and flat out lies that have accomplished nothing.

Case in point: Shiva writes about the plight of Indian farmers in the Huffington Post article From Seeds of Suicide to Seeds of Hope: Why Are Indian Farmers Committing Suicide and How Can We Stop This Tragedy? in April of 2009. Instead of focusing on real solutions or the real source of the problems, she points a lazy finger at the boogeyman Monsanto. I don’t have any particular love for big M (or for capitalism in agriculture in general), but it’s reckless to ignore all of the other issues, as she does in this article (and many others). Shiva writes:

Farm saved seeds were replaced by corporate seeds, which need fertilizers and pesticides and cannot be saved.
Corporations prevent seed savings through patents and by engineering seeds with non-renewable traits. As a result, poor peasants have to buy new seeds for every planting season and what was traditionally a free resource, available by putting aside a small portion of the crop, becomes a commodity.
The shift from saved seed to corporate monopoly of the seed supply also represents a shift from biodiversity to monoculture in agriculture. The district of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh used to grow diverse legumes, millets, and oilseeds. Now the imposition of cotton monocultures has led to the loss of the wealth of farmer’s breeding and nature’s evolution.

The majority of “corporate seed” is hybrid. If farmers save seed from hybrids, the resulting plants will not have the benefit of hybrid vigor. That’s biology, and has nothing to do with corporate greed, patents, or genetic engineering. Hybrids can be grown without fertilizers and pesticides, but they will then yield less. Local varieties yield less without fertilizer and pesticides as well. In other words, hybrid seed grown in farming methods that de-emphasize chemical inputs will do as well if not better than saved seed, assuming that the hybrid is appropriate for the environment (wet or dry soil, etc). Sadly, no one is researching the use of improved seed in alternative farming systems. This is not physics, it’s crop science – which might be why she doesn’t seem to understand it. Some activists argue that we shouldn’t be using hybrids at all, but removing hybrids of all types from the food supply would spell starvation for a lot of people.

There is no corporate monopoly of the seed supply in India. Ironically, things might be better if seeds there was such a monopoly, but seed is often bought from cut rate dealers selling counterfeit (mislabeled or fake) seed. To solve this problem, India would need to adopt some sort of seed certifying system. It would also be useful to have more government research into crop varieties including genetically engineered traits, then distribute them to farmers at low cost, as China does.

Farmers are welcome to continue using local varieties; there is no legal requirement for them to take out loans they can’t afford to buy fertilizers, pesticides, and seed (or larger houses, extravagant weddings, etc). One of the biggest problems plaguing farmers and small business owners all over the world is credit – absurdly high interest rates are a bigger problem than Bt could ever be.

Shiva never asks why “corporate seeds” were snapped up so quickly by farmers (perhaps she thinks they are stupid). Farmers all over the world are buying Bt seed of various species because it works. Bt decreases pest damage without increasing pesticide use. It isn’t a silver bullet, though. Bt only controls certain pests, and the specific varieties the trait is in may or may not be suited for the local environment. The best way to use traits like Bt are to integrate them carefully into an Integrated Farm Management Plan and to put the trait in locally adapted varieties.

To solve the existing farm problems in India – including eroded soil, misuse of fertilizers and pesticides, monocultures, and misuse of Bt – India needs farm extension and price regulation. The farmers surely remember how to grow millet, legumes, and oilseeds, but why would anyone choose to grow those if they could get a higher price for cotton?

Some of these and many other issues surrounding the problem of farmer suicides and Bt cotton in India can be found in a report by IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) in October of 2008. I wrote about the report in November of 2008 in Bt cotton and suicides in India.

h/t Luigi.


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When I first read reports of mercury in corn syrup, I was first shocked, then concerned, then skeptical. Janet (qualifications unknown) at Ethicurean described the source of the mercury (in fact, she was picked up by Huffington Post):

How did the heavy metal get in there? In making HFCS — that “natural” sweetener, as the Corn Refiners Associaton [sic] likes to call it — caustic soda is one ingredient used to separate corn starch from the corn kernel. Apparently most caustic soda for years has been produced in industrial chlorine (chlor-alkali) plants, where it can be contaminated with mercury that it passes on to the HFCS, and then to consumers.

First of all, I’m no particular fan of corn syrup; it tastes nasty and I avoid it. However, I also avoid added sugar or rice syrup or any other sweetener because I eat enough calories without them. Various types of foodie have been railing against HFCS for a long time, but I haven’t actually be able to figure out why. Instead of saying “HFCS is bad” we should be saying “processed food is bad”. Any special link between obesity and HFCS was broken in December with a comprehensive review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (see press release in Newswise). The other argument against HFCS is that we are growing too much corn, but this is a sidestep at best. If people really cared about the amount of acres taken up by corn, they’d be saying “eat less meat” instead of “eat less corn syrup” (see the ISU Extension fact sheet about corn syrup for the uses of corn – ironically, you can’t get both ethanol and HFSC from a given bushel). Seriously, if you don’t like the stuff, then don’t eat it – but it’s helping no one to spread falsehoods and exaggerations.

Ok, back to mercury. While I’ll be the last person to say that the FDA is doing the best job in keeping us all safe, or that food processing conglomerates aren’t out to get a profit no matter what, American capitalism does have some protective effects. I’d wager that the Corn Refiners Association knew about the possible contamination source long ago and has done their best to remove or reduce it (which is exactly right, according to the CRA press release) simply to avoid future boycotts and lawsuits. Some commenters on Janet’s post were also skeptical, along with Marion Nestle on her Food Politics blog.

Marion points out that the study used no controls, and I heartily agree. The researchers should have obtained multiple brands of approximately equivalent foods (vanilla flavored yogurt for example), tested for mercury, and looked for any statistically significant differences between those that contain and those that do not contain HFCS. Without this comparison, the result that “nearly one in three” of the products contained detectable amounts of mercury is meaningless. Some amount of mercury is in everything we eat, processed or not, perhaps the result of decades of coal burning. Of course, there’s many more details to consider…

Some of their conclusions are good, like better food oversight and cleaning up chlorine plants, but, overall, the report Not So Sweet: Missing Mercury and High Fructose Corn Syrup from the IATP (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy) is propaganda. It’s full of inflammatory language like:

Just published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Environmental Health, is the bombshell that
commercial HFCS appears to be routinely contaminated with mercury. It turns out the contamination
isn’t so much accidental as newly recognized, given the fact that much HFCS has been made
and continues to be made using “mercury-grade” caustic soda.

The full text of the peer-reviewed study Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: measured concentrations in food product sugar is available from Environmental Health, but it only contains the study on HFCS itself (not of processed foods). The writing style is too conversational for a scientific paper, but it is better than the IATP report. According to the abstract:

The [HFCS] samples were found to contain levels of mercury ranging from below a detection limit of 0.005 to 0.570 micrograms mercury per gram of high fructose corn syrup. Average daily consumption of high fructose corn syrup is about 50 grams per person in the United States.

Perhaps that consumption estimate is a little low. Let’s use the estimates reported in Not So Sweet: “American 19- to 30-year-olds consume about 60 grams of HFCS per day. For 12- to 18-year olds, HFCS consumption is about 70 grams”. Worst case scenario, a “heavy user” may consume 39.9 ug (0.0399 mg) per day (if all 70 g of HFCS were produced with mercury cells), according to this data.

Before we panic (or write condescending blog posts), we should know: how much mercury is in HFCS today, what form of mercury is it, how much mercury is in various foods, and how much of the mercury in food products is from HFCS compared to other ingredients?

The data in the Env. Health paper is from 2005. Why is it just now being published? The CRA says HFCS production methods have changed since this data was collected, so it would be irresponsible to make policy based on it. The authors said they were unable to secure HFCS from the sources as they did in 2005 – but couldn’t they get the samples from the food processors that buy the syrup? It feels like they just gave up (or that they knew a newer data set might prove their conclusions wrong).

The form of mercury matters because the different forms are absorbed into the body differently. According to the DoE Risk Assessment Information System’s page on mercury:

Gastrointestinal absorption of inorganic salts of mercury from food is <15% for mice and about 7% for humans (Goyer 1991). Organic mercury compounds (methyl- and phenylmercury) have been shown to be readily absorbed (>80%) by humans and animals following oral exposure (ATSDR 1989, Goyer 1991).

In other words, measuring the total mercury isn’t as useful as it seems. If the mercury in HFCS is the type that accumulates in fish, then we have cause to worry. If it is inorganic mercury, (as we would expect from  the mercury cell process) then the danger is minimized to a worst case scenario 0.0028 mg effective dose of mercury per day.

In Not So Sweet, the question of how much mercury ends up in food products that contain HFCS is answered (sort of). Their results are discussed by ChemRisk, “a leading scientific consulting firm” in a report they made at the behest of the CRA, along with a comparison of these values with other foods:

More than two-thirds of the samples analyzed by IATP had no detectable level of mercury at all. In the remaining sample, most of these were at or near the limit of detection. The average concentration for the 17 samples with detectable levels was only 128 parts per trillion (ppt). EPA sets limits for mercury in drinking water at two parts per billion.

It is well known that small amounts of mercury are broadly present in our environment. For example, Health Canada reported in 2003 that the concentrations of total mercury in steak ranged from 420 to 1,800 parts per trillion (ppt); fresh pork contained 1,100 to 1,500 ppt; organ meats (liver and kidney) contained over 2,100 ppt; and lamb contained 290 to 2,300 ppt of total mercury. (Dabeka et al, 2003) For the sake of reference, one part per trillion is equal to one drop of water spread out into 26 Olympic-size swimming pools. (Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, 2009)

That same study by Health Canada looked at mercury in seafood, finding amounts that ranged from 40,000 ppt in fresh or frozen marine fish to 148,000 ppt in canned fish. Other foods, such as canned mushrooms, had 5,100 to 16,000 ppt total mercury, grapes had 180 to 590 ppt, blueberries 210 to 640 ppt, rice 570 to 1,800 ppt, raisins upwards of 700 ppt, and shelled seeds up to 1,000 parts per trillion (ppt).

Unfortunately, Dabeka, et al. isn’t available for free. The numbers reported by ChemRisk do match numbers I found elsewhere when researching this post.

Without controls in a properly designed experiment, we do not know if the mercury found in the items they tested is due to HFCS or if it is due to other ingredients. There are many ingredients that are common to a variety of processed foods. The ChemRisk report states:

IATP assumes that the total mercury they detected in a questionably small sampling of consumer foods is primarily the result of high fructose corn syrup; an assumption that has not been properly tested or validated. In fact, the authors do not attempt to characterize whether there may be mercury in any other ingredients contained within the consumer products tested, even while the recipes for the items studied may have had multiple sources of potential contamination.

Normally my suggestion for health and safety is simple: eat as little processed food and as few animal products as possible. Even that general message of moderation won’t work when it comes to mercury. Unfortunately, mercury is all around us. It would be nice to get kids to cut back on sweets, and it would be nice if the mercury cell HFCS refining process was changed, but the real problem is elsewhere. I have to question the ethics of any organization the leads us on a wild goose chase.

Coal fired power plants are the single largest emitter of mercury into the atmosphere. If you really care about children ingesting mercury in their food, write letters to your congressmen demanding that they act to reduce mercury emissions from existing plants (the technology exists) and to prevent new coal fired plants from being built. Encouraging China to do the same is another matter entirely.

One upcoming source of mercury in the environment is CFC light bulbs. They won’t be anywhere near the level of pollution from coal fired plants, but we should be conscious of the mercury in the bulbs. According to EcoGeek, some places are now offering recycling. Contact your city leaders and ask for CFC recycling in your area.



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Even before Tomorrow’s Table graced the shelves of bookstores across America, I was intrigued by the idea of combining science with traditional farming methods. In this week’s Nature Genetics, Jonathan Gressel reviewed Tomorrow’s Table and may have coined a term to describe the combination of organic and transgenic methods – orgenic! What do you think of the term?

Dr. Gressel is interesting in his own right, a professor emeritus of plant sciences at Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, and author of ” Genetic Glass Ceilings: Transgenics for Crop Biodiversity“. I can’t wait to find a copy and let you know what he has to say. A preview is available at Google Books. He argues that we need to use biotechnology in order to break the glass ceiling – alluding to the decline in crop yield improvement over the past few years. According to the reviews, he also addresses problems with biotech and ways to overcome them.

At its heart, organic ag is based on biology – understanding biological processes in order to coax food out of the soil. Conventional ag has forgotten things, such as how soil-bacteria interactions can affect soil fertility, how polyculture (or at least rotation) can help prevent disease, or how natural predators can be used to keep pests away. In short, conventional ag is chemistry while organic is biology.

Even though the technology is new, biotech is biology, not chemistry. This is eloquently described by Raoul Adamchak in Tomorrow’s Table. For example, giving plants the means to protect themselves from disease with technologies like RNAi is very different from spraying potentially toxic chemicals, and doing so is fundamentally true to the idea behind organic farming.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many people who are listening. For example, when I brought this up in a Sustainable Agriculture class at Iowa State, the response was:

Organic agriculture is defined by law (unlike other forms of agriculture) and as such, the rules prescribe that transgenic forms cannot be used in organic agriculture.

The rules about what is and is not organic may be defined by law, but they aren’t defined by science. Some of the additives allowed by the organic rules are quite dangerous and don’t follow from the idea of biologically conscious agriculture – such as the use of sulfur and copper (see p133-137 of the Google Books preview of The Truth About Organic Gardening).

The line drawn to exclude biotechnology is arbitrary. Included are techniques like chemical and radioactive mutagenesis, forced hybridization across species, grafting to form physically chimeric plants. Excluded are techniques like cell fusion, microencapsulation and macroencapsulation, and recombinant DNA technology. There is one distinction I can see: techniques allowed in organic farming have been in use for decades and can generally be done with minimal equipment while techniques excluded from organic farming are new, patentable, require expensive equipment and trained technicians.

It has been suggested that the organic movement (specifically the anti-GM movement) is actually a reflection of anti-capitalism and in some cases anti-technology sentiment. The regulations support this theory, but I think at least some of that can be left in the past. I hope we can all look forward to redefining organic to stay true to its original meaning of biologically based agriculture. Without an integrated farming strategy – orgenic farming – I’m afraid we won’t have much left to eat.


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Colony Collapse Disorder has been in and out of the media since 2006. With conspiracy theories and non-science abounding, it can be hard to separate truth from fiction.

Last semester, Dr. Diana Cox Foster of Penn State spoke at Iowa State about her work with CCD. She has been studying bees for 20 years and heads a diverse team of researchers working to solve the mystery. She said that there there are quite a few “theories” that her team disagrees with. In particular, she said that CCD is not caused by the rapture or the Russians. She puts cell phones and genetically engineered crops in the same category, choosing instead to focus on legitimate leads. She says that there are many reasons why their group is not looking into these as possible causes, but one reason sticks out: some Amish and organic beekeepers whose hives are isolated from genetically engineered crops, many pesticides, and cell phones in the case of the Amish have experienced CCD, while some conventional beekeepers have not. In other words, there isn’t a common thread connecting colonies that have collapsed.

Despite the fact that scientists like Dr. Cox Foster have spoken on the lack of legitimacy of these theories, people continue to write about them, such as this example from the always creative Global Research. I won’t pick the article apart due to time constraints, but wanted to show the range of views. A lot of mainstream articles have less extreme views, but few if any make an effort to debunk the incorrect theories. Instead, they reinforce them! Karl over at Inoculated Mind has a nice post summarizing some issues with the cell phone and GMO theories that’s over a year old. If only the reporters would research as he did.

There is abundant evidence that the Bt protein Cry1Ab doesn’t affect non-target insects. A meta-analysis from Jan 2008 of 25 independent studies found “that Bt Cry proteins used in genetically modified crops commercialized for control of lepidopteran and coleopteran pests do not negatively affect the survival of either honey bee larvae or adults in laboratory settings.” A meta-analysis from May 2008 of a public database found no significant effect on type or number of arthropods in Bt and non-Bt crops. They did find, as have many others, that various types of insecticides decreases the type and number of arthropods.

A quick lit search did come up with a June 2008 study that showed decreased learning ability in bees that were force fed syrup containing very high concentrations of Bt that are not found in nature. This data might indicate the need for more research on bee physiology, but doesn’t mean that Bt isn’t safe for bees in the field.

Now that we know what it’s not, I’ll share with you what Dr. Cox Foster thinks are the most likely causes and solutions…

First is simple stress. This image of an almond grove from Klausesbees (which incidentally may be the same one that Dr. Foster used in her presentation) shows that bees don’t have many dining options. Instead of having wildflowers or even another crop such as strawberries under the almond trees, the grove is a virtual pollen desert when the trees aren’t in bloom. Other crops used to be grown with hedgerows separating smaller farms, but these have been all but eliminated as farms are consolidated. This type of agriculture is what led to bees being trucked across the country to keep up with crop flowering. Bees did not evolve in the conditions of being moved from state to state, feeding on one type of plant one day to something entirely different the next. A related problem could be the sugar and corn syrups that bees are fed before the crops bloom, just because bees haven’t evolved with this as a food source. The stress of the move and of the ever changing food sources might be too much to bear. The solution to this would be to have areas set aside for wildflowers that would both encourage natural bee hives and serve as a food source to local cultivated bee colonies when the local crops are out of season.

Second is a combination of mites, viruses, and other diseases. Dr. Cox Foster and her associates have sequenced DNA samples from bee hives and found a variety of surprising things, including Aspergillis fungus and the parasite Leishmania. Israeli virus (IAPV) correctly predicted collapsed hives more than any other factor. The virus is transmitted by Verroa mites (shown here in a photo from the USDA ARS). When bees are stressed, they are especially susceptible to mites which in turn makes them susceptible to disease. Royal jelly from China, used to feed prospective queen bees, was also found to contain IAPV. Also contributing to susceptibility is the decrease in genetic diversity among bee hives. One possible solution to the problem is breeding or engineering resistant bees. For example, Arizona beekeepers who have Africanized bees haven’t experienced CCD. Another solution is to develop “biocides” which would be like a medicine to help the bees fight off mites and disease. Vaccines aren’t an option because bees don’t have an adaptive immune system. Beekeepers who irradiate box components before placing a hive inside have had some success, because irradiation kills mites and bacteria.

Third is pesticides, less likely, but still under consideration. Researchers found copious residues of miticides (which some beekeepers apply to bees or to boxes) and other pesticides in the bee wax that beekeepers buy and place in new hives. Use of formic acid, considered a natural substance because it is produced by some species of ants, is widespread and may play a role in increasing bee stress and susceptibility to disease. Bees are affected by a wide range of insecticides, which obviously could play a role. However, there is no common pesticide reside in colonies that experience CCD.

Another hive related possibility is a little more difficult to understand and quantify. Some commercial beekeepers try to get a lot out of their hives. One practice that Dr. Cox Foster questions is too-frequent hive “splitting” because it leads to bee stress. I was also able to find some ruminations on the net that the large cell size used by commercial beekeepers to encourage bee growth may also encourage mite infestations, but couldn’t find any actual data on the subject (anyone need a summer project?).

After her presentation, Dr. Cox Foster shared these links that include more information and info on how individuals can help: The Pollinator Partnership, Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium, and The Status of Pollinators in North America. Another source is the USDA Agricultural Research Service, who has multiple fact sheets, including Colony Collapse Disorder: A Complex Buzz.

One last thing I’d like to share before I end this post – bees are not the only pollinators out there. Of course some aspects of agriculture would have to change if we were no longer able to cart bees across the country, but it wouldn’t be the end of agriculture as some people have said. A Slate article from 2007 called Bee Not Afraid explains. Much of the information in the article matches things that Dr. Cox Foster said in the course of her lecture and in the Q&A session that followed./


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One valid argument against GMOs is that big corporations control the tech and can charge the farmers sky high prices for the seed. For a long time, I’ve been saying that I don’t like the system, but if countries want to protect their farmers then they should pass some legislation. Well, it’s happened!

The Maharashtra government has fixed the price of genetically modified Bt cotton seeds at 750 rupees [about US $17.40] for a 450 gram [about 1 pound] packet, it said on Wednesday.

This is the maximum price that seed companies can charge from farmers in the current sowing season, which will start from [sic.] June.

Other main cotton growing states like Andhra Pradesh in eastern coast and Gujarat in western coast have already imposed similar price restrictions.

Maharashtra, the biggest cultivator of the fibre crop, this year began fixing seed prices ahead of the sowing operations in the upcoming kharif season [autumn harvest], under a new government act.

via CheckBiotech


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Good news from Africa – “Scientists and crop researchers at Kenya´s Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) developed the new wheat seeds over the past decade. Through a process called ‘mutation plant breeding’, they applied radiation-based techniques to modify crop characteristics and traits.” In 2001, KARI plant breeders released Njoro-BW1, their first mutant wheat variety. It is drought tolerant, moderately resistant to rust (a fungus), has good yield, and good flour quality. “Kenya´s plant breeders soon will release a second mutant wheat variety, code-named DH4, which shares most of the same good qualities of Njoro-BW1.” [Golden Wheat “Greens” Kenya´s Drylands]

It is indeed good news that Kenyan farmers have these lines of wheat with such improvements over unimproved varieties. However, radiation based so-called mutation plant breeding could have unintended changes in the genome. This technique, widely used in both organic and conventional crops, literally bombards the seeds with radiation. The seeds are allowed to germinate, and interesting mutants are used to create new lines. The problem is that multiple mutations can occur in the same seed, and some of those mutations may go undetected.

A February report entitled “Microarray analyses reveal that plant mutagenesis may induce more transcriptomic changes than transgene insertion” from the National Institute of Health in Portugal indicates that this plant breeding tool may not be the best idea. The last few sentences of their abstract sums it up: “We found that the improvement of a plant variety through the acquisition of a new desired trait, using either mutagenesis or transgenesis, may cause stress and thus lead to an altered expression of untargeted genes. In all of the cases studied, the observed alteration was more extensive in mutagenized than in transgenic plants. We propose that the safety assessment of improved plant varieties should be carried out on a case-by-case basis and not simply restricted to foods obtained through genetic engineering.”

Trying to regulate GM or non-GM as broad categories are impossible, because each resulting plant variety is going to have its own “quirks”. If DH4 and Njoro-BW1 have been extensively tested for unwanted alteration in gene expression and subsequently released for general use, then they are reasonably safe (remember, nothing is definitive in science). Similarly, if transgenic plants such as Sub1A-1 rice have been tested and released, then they too can be used without worry. However, if plant varieties mutated with radiation are not adequately tested before release, then we might all have something to worry about. To my knowledge, only Canada requires testing of these crops.

We can’t even assume that traditional breeding by cross pollination is 100% safe because of natural mutation and new combinations of genes and alleles. Tomatoes, potatoes, and celery all naturally produce some nasty toxins. We’ve mostly bred them out, but there have been cases where the toxins appeared at higher levels through traditional breeding. These plants have much higher probability of danger for consumers than transgenic plants, but don’t have to be tested at all under current regulations in the US or EU.

Intragenic or cisgenic plants are our best opportunity for safe enhancement of food crops (cis- means same). This is a form of genetic engineering that uses the plant’s own genome as a source for new traits instead of other non-related organisms (has also been called GM-lite). To learn more about the idea, please see Some people, including myself, believe that cisgenic crops should be regulated differently from transgenic crops that express proteins that don’t normally occur in that species. The applications of cisgenics are more limited than transgenics, but still there is a lot to be done. A great example of cisgenics is gene silencing, which can be used to inactivate unwanted genes, such as those that cause toxins. Examples that are currently being researched are less carcinogenic tobacco and rice that can more easily form hybrids. All of the benefits in KARI’s mutated wheat could have been accomplished with cisgenics.

JR Simplot is a company that is particularly interested in cisgenics, and has produced a lot of literature that essentially says that Monsanto’s way of creating new plant lines is not the right way. I think there’s room for both, but agree that cisgenics are inherently safer. I especially like the idea that cross pollination between cisgenic plants and wild varieties won’t be a problem, since these things could have all happened naturally anyway.

The idea of cisgenics has been around for quite a few years now, but scientists need to talk with the public about it, so the public can talk to their government representatives, so the representatives can go about getting the regulations changed.

Images from “Cisgenic plants are similar to traditionally bred plants: International regulations for genetically modified organisms should be altered to exempt cisgenesis“. Text to accompany images is as follows:

Definitions of key terms in relation to plants

Cisgenesis is the genetic modification of a recipient plant with a natural gene from a crossable—sexually compatible—plant. Such a gene includes its introns and is flanked by its native promoter and terminator in the normalsense orientation.Cisgenic plants can harbour one or more cisgenes, but they do not contain any transgenes.

Transgenesis is the genetic modification of a recipient plant with one or more genes from any non-plant organism, or from a donor plant that is sexually incompatible with the recipient plant. This includes gene sequences of any origin in the anti-sense orientation, any artificial combination of a coding sequence and a regulatory sequence, such as a promoter from another gene, or a synthetic gene.

Traditional breeding encompasses all plant breeding methods that do not fall under current GMO regulations.As the European legal framework defines GMOs and specifies various breeding techniques that are excluded from the GMO regulations,we use this framework as a starting point, particularly the European Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release of GMOs into the environment (European Parliament, 2001). Excluded from this GMO Directive are longstanding cross breeding, in vitro fertilization, polyploidy induction, mutagenesis and fusion of protoplasts from sexually compatible plants (European Parliament, 2001).

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Norm Borlaug warns of another impending crisis relating to food – one that few have thought about. I hope that people will take notice of his editorial in the NY Times, and that the US and other governments will be willing to fund solutions. Distinguished Professor John Pesak sent the editorial to some ISU students and faculty, saying: “He makes some excellent points with which there cannot be too much disagreement.” Indeed, who can say that developing crops that can handle new challenges is a bad thing?

I’ve posted the full article below for your convenience. A quick summary of Stem Rust Never Sleeps: Stem rust is a fungus that can decimate wheat fields. In the 1950s, Dr. Borlaug and others developed resistant wheat lines, but these lines are no help against a new strain of the fungus. We, as a planet (and especially in the US), must fund research to prevent the loss of millions of tons of wheat. Unfortunately, the US is doing exactly the opposite, cutting funding for agricultural research.

Specifically, stem rust research at the Cereal Disease Laborotory in St. Paul Minnesota is poised to loose funding, according to Dr. Borlaug, despite the importance of the research.

Say what you will about the Green Revolution – but Dr. Borlaug knows how to feed people. If anyone is equipped to notice an upcoming crisis, it’s him. We all need to contact our congresspeople and representatives, email the Secretary of Agriculture at AgSec @, and do whatever we can to ensure that the US helps to prevent further famine.

April 26, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor

Stem Rust Never Sleeps

WITH food prices soaring throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America, and shortages threatening hunger and political chaos, the time could not be worse for an epidemic of stem rust in the world’s wheat crops. Yet millions of wheat farmers, small and large, face this spreading and deadly crop infection.

The looming catastrophe can be avoided if the world’s wheat scientists pull together to develop a new generation of stem-rust-resistant varieties of wheat. But scientists must quickly turn their attention to replacing almost all of the commercial wheat grown in the world today. This will require a commitment from many nations, especially the United States, which has lately neglected its role as a leader in agricultural science.

Stem rust, the most feared of all wheat diseases, can turn a healthy crop of wheat into a tangled mass of stems that produce little or no grain. The fungus spores travel in the wind, causing the infection to spread quickly. It has caused major famines since the beginning of history. In North America, huge grain losses occurred in 1903 and 1905 and from 1950 to ’54.

During the 1950s, I and other scientists, first in North America and later throughout the world, developed high-yielding wheat varieties that were resistant to stem rust and other diseases. These improved seeds not only enabled farmers around the world to hold stem rust at bay for more than 50 years but also allowed for greater and more dependable yields. Indeed, with this work, global food supplies rapidly increased and prices dropped.

From 1965 to 1985, the heyday of the Green Revolution, world production of cereal grains — wheat, rice, corn, barley and sorghum — nearly doubled, from 1 billion to 1.8 billion metric tons, and cereal prices dropped by 40 percent.

Today, wheat provides about 20 percent of the food calories for the world’s people. The world wheat harvest now stands at about 600 million metric tons.

In the last decade, global wheat production has not kept pace with rising population, or the increasing per capita demand for wheat products in newly industrializing countries. At the same time, international support for wheat research has declined significantly. And as a consequence, in 2007-08, world wheat stocks (as a percentage of demand) dropped to their lowest level since 1947-48. And prices have steadily climbed to the highest level in 25 years.

The new strains of stem rust, called Ug99 because they were discovered in Uganda in 1999, are much more dangerous than those that, 50 years ago, destroyed as much as 20 percent of the American wheat crop. Today’s lush, high-yielding wheat fields on vast irrigated tracts are ideal environments for the fungus to multiply, so the potential for crop loss is greater than ever.

If publicly financed international researchers move together aggressively and systematically, high-yielding replacement wheat varieties can be developed and made available to farmers before stem rust disease becomes a global epidemic.

The Bush administration was initially quick to grasp Ug99’s threat to American wheat production. In 2005, Mike Johanns, then secretary of agriculture, instructed the federal agriculture research service to take the lead in developing an international strategy to deal with stem rust. In 2006, the Agency for International Development mobilized emergency financing to help African and Asian countries accelerate needed wheat research.

But more recently, the administration has begun reversing direction. The State Department is recommending ending American support for the international agricultural research centers that helped start the Green Revolution, including all money for wheat research. And significant financial cuts have been proposed for important research centers, including the Department of Agriculture’s essential rust research laboratory in St. Paul.

This shocking short-sightedness goes against the interests not only of American wheat farmers and consumers but of all humanity. It is tantamount to the United States abandoning its pledge to help halve world hunger by 2015.

If millions of small-scale farmers see their wheat crops wiped out for want of new disease-resistant varieties, the problem will not be confined to any one country. Rust spores move long distances in the jet streams and know no political boundaries. Widespread failures in global wheat production will push the prices of all foods higher, causing new misery for the world’s poor.

Ug99 could reduce world wheat production by 60 million tons. But a global crop failure of this magnitude can be avoided. Before it is too late, America must rebuild, not destroy, the collaborative systems of international agricultural research that were so effective in starting the Green Revolution.

Norman E. Borlaug, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, is a professor of international agriculture at Texas A&M University.

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Arcadia Biosciences has developed rice that uses nitrogen more efficiently, so the plants need less fertilizer. As described in the Guardian yesterday, Arcadia “is working with the Chinese government to reward farmers in China that grow the firm’s genetically modified (GM) rice, with carbon credits that they can sell for cash.”

The rice will reduce fertilizer run off (responsible for oceanic dead zones) and decrease emissions of nitrogen oxide. How does it work? Arcadia’s website isn’t telling all, but I was able to find a paper in the Canadian Journal of Botany: Engineering nitrogen use efficiency with alanine aminotransferase. See the abstract below:

Nitrogen (N) is the most important factor limiting crop productivity worldwide. The ability of plants to acquire N from applied fertilizers is one of the critical steps limiting the efficient use of nitrogen. To improve N use efficiency, genetically modified plants that overexpress alanine aminotransferase (AlaAT) were engineered by introducing a barley AlaAT cDNA driven by a canola root specific promoter (btg26). Compared with wild-type canola, transgenic plants had increased biomass and seed yield both in the laboratory and field under low N conditions, whereas no differences were observed under high N.The transgenics also had increased nitrate influx. These changes resulted in a 40% decrease in the amount of applied nitrogen fertilizer required under field conditions to achieve yields equivalent to wild-type plants.

The first thing I like about their strategy is that they are using a root specific promoter. Plants only absorb nitrogen (N) from their roots, so don’t need N uptake enzymes in other tissues. Even better, the promoter is from the species being transformed so it will presumably work more effectively than a foreign promoter. The researchers chose a barley gene instead of simply using the corresponding rice gene, but there may be a reason that I don’t know about. The protein produced by the gene is one that is native to rice, however, so it is a little closer to cisgenic than transgenic (when compared to bacterial genes and such).

“Alanine aminotransferase (AlaAT) catalyses the reversible transfer of an amino group from glutamate to pyruvate to form 2-oxoglutarate and alanine.” The enzyme is present in virtually all organisms. In plants, AlaAT causes the breakdown of alanine during times of hypoxia (oxygen shortage). “Therefore, AlaAT appears to be crucial for the rapid conversion of alanine to pyruvate during recovery from low-oxygen stress.” [Miyashita et. al.]

So, it sounds like the engineered plants are able to absorb N at a higher rate, and that N goes on along normal pathways to create proteins – resulting in increased yield despite low N concentrations in the soil.

I won’t go into all of the benefits of using less fertilizer here – but there are many. In short, it will save farmers money while being a huge boon for the environment, and producing more food for growing human populations.