Off-patent GMO soybeans: What happens now?

Soybean Seed

Farmers can save these Roundup Ready seeds

The development, testing, and regulation of genetically engineered crops usually takes a significant investment of time and resources, and it comes as no surprise that these crops are patented so that their developers can recoup their investments. Farmers who grow these crops usually pay licensing fees for the use of the technology, and sign license agreements that restrict their ability to save the seeds. Now, a variety of GMO herbicide-tolerant soybeans has been released by the University of Arkansas with no technology fees, and no license agreements to sign. The farmers are free to save the seeds and replant them ad infinitum. This is possible because the patent for the first genetically engineered trait in soybeans – Roundup Ready – has expired. The world of “generic” or Open Source GMOs is upon us, however, there are still some practical challenges ahead.

The University of Arkansas tells the story of this new variety.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture has released its first soybean variety that features Roundup Ready® technology.

Division soybean breeder Pengyin Chen said the new variety, called UA 5414RR, offers the weed control advantages of Roundup Ready® soybeans without the added cost of technology fees. He said growers could also save seed from each harvest for planting the following year.

Monsanto’s patent on the first generation of Roundup Ready® products expires in March 2015, Chen said, and the company shared the breeding material with public breeding programs, including the Arkansas program directed by Chen. He said UA 5414RR fills a niche for growers who want to use the Roundup system of weed control but don’t want to pay the higher cost of the next generation Roundup Ready 2 Yield® technology.

Continue reading.

A Misplaced Concern about an Apple

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Apples growing in British Columbia

As a consumer and as an agricultural scientist, I’m looking forward to the introduction of the Arctic® apple. It is possibly nearing approval by regulators in the US and Canada which could mean that supplies might finally be available in a few more years.  These apples could give consumers the possibility of buying apples that maintain their flavor, appearance and vitamin content after cutting, and which can also be used to make beautiful dried apple slices without the need for sulfites (something that can be a problem for some people).  This is an excellent example of how plant biotechnology can provide direct consumer benefits.

The Arctic® apple “works” through a mechanism called “RNAi.” That is a way to “turn off” a gene – in this case the genes for the enzymes that cause apples to brown when cut.  RNAi is a common, natural means of genetic regulation in plants, animals, insects and many other groups, but opponents of biotechnology are trying to portray it as something worrisome.

In a recent post on LiveScience, Margaret Mellon, formerly of the Union of Concerned Scientists and currently a consultant for the Center For Food Safety, tries to make the case that this and other uses of “RNAi” are something new and potentially dangerous. I’d like to explain why her critique is misleading at best, and why the bigger concern is that it will be believed. Continue reading.

A feminist mother and science advocate’s response to Vani Hari, the “Food Babe”

EogmuHn-_400x400Originally published on the Genetic Literacy Project.

Vani Hari, better known as “Food Babe,” is a self-proclaimed investigator of food and consumer advocate. Yet, some of her so-called investigations have been based in little to no evidence, while most of the rest of her claims are outright drivel. She has made her mark in an all-too-easy exploitation of public fear of the “unnatural,” distrust of establishment and love for fads.

As expected, her opposition has been growing. Scientists and skeptics have begun criticizing Hari’s assertions. Within the last several months, the frequency of articles, blog posts and social media opposition has skyrocketed.

I’m a mother and science writer, and I’ve been critical of Hari’s work over the last several months. I am not a scientist by the traditional definition. I don’t have a PhD., nor have I authored peer-reviewed research publications. Still, I have a unique perspective afforded by the intersection of a sound working knowledge of genomics, genetics, and bioinformatics. I’ve garnered this knowledge being raised by a molecular biologist, working for a small private-sector genomics R&D company, and via coursework and extensive reading on the subject.

In addition to writing on the subjects of feminism, atheism, and biotechnology in agriculture and medicine, I took on the position of spokesperson for Chow Babe, an open social media critic of Food Babe. While Chow Babe is a parody of Food Babe, she has gained a following of nearly ten thousand people sharing one common notion – that Vani Hari is a charlatan without evidence for her propaganda.

Maria Godoy of NPR’s “The Salt” took notice and contacted me and a few scientists to discuss scientific backlash against Food Babe. Considering that NPR is a renowned and reputable organization, I gladly obliged. Over the weekend–shortly after the piece was published and after declining to be interviewed for the NPR piece–Food Babe lashed out at her critics.

Food Babe refers to me as follows Continue reading.

Plushies Finished!

frankthumb1Good news, everyone! I have been informed that the manufacturing step for the 750 Frank N. Foode™ and 500 Lanakila Papaya plushies is completed! Right now, they are packing all 1,250 of them up in boxes and getting the details set up with customs. Soon they will be shipped to Wisconsin, where the boxes will be waiting for them to ship out to all of our backers. The shipping boxes are en route to us right now.

Keep in mind that it will take time to ship them to the US – the upper estimate is 45 days by ship, but it can be as low as 25 as well. If we elect for air shipping, it could be here sooner, but we’ll wait and see on the price. I’ll do what I can to make the last leg of this effort go quickly and efficiently.

If you haven’t gotten one yet, there’s no better time than now to get your name in to be a part of the first wave. If you are a backer you will be receiving an email shortly to confirm your details for the big shipment!

Thanks for your support!

Watch the Intelligence Squared GMO Debate

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The Intelligence Squared debate logo

Update: Watch the Debate Live Here.

Tune in Wednesday, December 3rd for a debate on GMOs. Intelligence Squared is hosting a debate between four individuals from two opposing camps, addressing the question of whether or not we should grow genetically engineered foods. Arguing the positive are Robert Fraley from Monsanto and Alison Van Eenennaam from UC Davis, and arguing the negative are Margaret Mellon, formerly of the Union of Concerned Scientists and currently a consultant for the Center for Food Safety, and Charles Benbrook, who is currently at Washington State University. The debate starts at 6:45 pm EST and runs until 8:30 EST, and will be live-streamed. Tune in, and discuss the debate here!

Here’s how they frame the debate:

Genetically modified (GM) foods have been around for decades. Created by modifying the DNA of one organism through the introduction of genes from another, they are developed for a number of different reasons—to fight disease, enhance flavor, resist pests, improve nutrition, survive drought—and are mainly found in our food supply in processed foods using corn, soybeans, and sugar beets, and as feed for farm animals. Across the country and around the world, communities are fighting the cultivation of genetically engineered crops. Are they safe? How do they impact the environment? Can they improve food security? Is the world better off with or without GM food?

The Intelligence Squared debates have an interesting aspect to them, and that is that they ask people to vote for or against the Motion both before and after the debate. Then, they can measure how many people are swayed by the arguments being presented. Continue reading.