Tag Archives: Mosanto

Modernize or Die: Bio-Engineered Food

China is betting that CRISP technology*can transform the country’s food supply.  China also expanded its efforts beyond its borders in 2017, when the state-owned company ChemChina bought Switzerland-based Syngenta—one of the world’s four largest agribusinesses, which has a large R&D team working with CRISPR—for $43 billion. That was the most China has ever spent on acquiring a foreign company, and it created an intimate relationship between government, industry, and academia—a “sort of a ménage à trois” that ultimately could funnel intellectual property from university labs into the company, says plant geneticist Zachary Lippman of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

Chinese leaders “want to strategically invest in genome editing, and [by that] I mean, catch up,” says Zhang Bei, who heads a team of 50 scientists at the Syngenta Beijing Innovation Center…China may one day need CRISPR-modified plants to provide enough food for its massive population….    China needs to resolve how it will regulate CRISPR-engineered crops—a divisive issue in many countries. In a 2018 decision that rocked big agriculture, a European court ruled that such crops are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that need strict regulation. In contrast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) exempts genome-edited plants from regulations covering GMOs as long as they were produced not by transferring DNA from other species, but by inducing mutations that could have occurred naturally or through conventional breeding.  Chinese consumers are wary of GM food. The country strictly limits the import of GM crops, and the only GM food it grows are papayas for domestic consumption. But for CRISPR, many plant researchers around assume China will follow in the United States’s footsteps…

For Corteva, Syngenta, and the other two big ag companies—BASF and Bayer (which acquired Monsanto last year)—the long game is to use CRISPR to develop better versions of their serious moneymakers, the “elite” varieties of a wide range of crops that have big commercial markets. They sell dozens of kinds of elite corn seeds—for example, inbred strains that consistently have high yields or reliable resistance to herbicides. Creating the genetic purity needed for an elite variety typically takes traditional breeding of many generations of plants, and CRISPR is seen as the cleanest way to improve them quickly. The earlier methods of engineering a plant can lead to unwanted genomic changes that must be laboriously culled…

Syngenta sees CRISPR-modified corn as a big opportunity in China, which grows more hectares of corn than any other crop. Yields per hectare are only 60% of those in the United States because corn ear worms often weaken Chinese crops. A fungus thrives in the weakened plants, producing a toxin that makes the resultant ears unfit for animal feed. As a result, China must import a great deal of corn. (According to USDA, 82% of U.S.-grown corn has been engineered to have a bacterial gene that makes it resistant to ear worms.)…“Syngenta is putting a lot of emphasis to grow in China to become the leading seed company. The China market as a whole, if it modernizes as the U.S. has modernized, can be as big as the U.S. market.”

Jon Cohen, To feed its 1.4 billion, China bets big on genome editing of crops, Science Magazine, Aug. 2, 2019

* Genome editing (also called gene editing) is a group of technologies that give scientists the ability to change an organism’s DNA. These technologies allow genetic material to be added, removed, or altered at particular locations in the genome. Several approaches to genome editing have been developed. A recent one is known as CRISPR-Cas9.

Herbicides: safer than table salt

It’s been a tough year for glyphosate, the world’s most popular weedkiller. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, declared that glyphosate—the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup products—was probably carcinogenic to humans. In the months since, multiple lawsuits have been filed blaming the chemical for causing cancer and birth defects. In February, testing found traces of glyphosate in German beer and organic panty liners sold in France. Other tests have found chemical residue in British bread, as well as in the urine of people across Europe. In early March, the European Union put off a vote to renew a 15-year license for glyphosate after several member states balked.

Monsanto famously advertised Roundup, which was introduced in 1974, as safer than table salt. In 1996 the company stopped making the table salt claim after complaints from New York state….. In September 2016 state officials in California proposed adding the herbicide to a list of known carcinogens. The FDA said in February 2016 that it would begin testing for glyphosate residue in food in the U.S. The results aren’t yet available. The Environmental Protection Agency has been reviewing its use since 2009. The agency, which in 1985 temporarily classified glyphosate as “possibly carcinogenic,” was supposed to wrap up sometime last year; it now says a draft of its decision should be available for public comment sometime this year.

The herbicide industry has mounted an aggressive campaign to discredit the cancer finding and to convince regulators—and the public—that the herbicide should remain in use. …

Glyphosate works by blocking the production of certain amino acids that a plant needs to grow, and it’s nonselective, meaning it kills most plants. It began to dominate the herbicide market only after Monsanto genetically engineered crops to survive it, marketing them under its Roundup Ready brand. Global sales of glyphosate were about $7.8 billion in 2014, 30 percent of the herbicide market, according to Cropnosis, a market-research firm. Monsanto’s dominance of the glyphosate market has declined since the chemical went off patent in 2000. Some weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, triggering the need for other weedkillers. Nonetheless, Roundup remains the primary money-maker for Monsanto’s agricultural productivity segment, which brought in 32 percent of its revenue in fiscal 2015.

A rejection of glyphosate by either the U.S. or Europe would have “massive” ramifications on farming and food production, says Jason Miner, an analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence. “You could quickly take us two decades back in terms of farm yields,” he says. “The world doesn’t have capacity to produce all the alternatives.”

Monsanto’s Roundup Could Get Whacked by European Regulators, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Mar. 10, 2016

Stealing Patent-Protected Seeds

A Chinese man pleaded guilty in a US court on January 27, 2016 to stealing patent-protected corn seed from agribusiness giants Monsanto and DuPont to take back to China for commercial use.  Mo Hailong, 46, participated in a plot to steal inbred corn seeds from the two US companies so that his then employer, Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group, could use them in its own seed business, the US Department of Justice said.Mo “admitted to participating in the theft of inbred – or parent – corn seeds from fields in the southern district of Iowa for the purpose of transporting those seeds to China,” the department said in a statement.“The stolen inbred seeds constitute the valuable intellectual property of DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto.”..

Man admits stealing patented corn seeds from US fields to take to China, Guardian, Jan. 27, 2016

US Government Lobbying for Biotechnology Industry

American diplomats lobbied aggressively overseas to promote genetically modified (GM) food crops such as soy beans, an analysis of official cable traffic revealed on Tuesday.  The review of more than 900 diplomatic cables by the campaign group Food and Water Watch showed a carefully crafted campaign to break down resistance to GM products in Europe and other countries, and so help promote the bottom line of big American agricultural businesses.

The cables, which first surfaced with the Wikileaks disclosures two years ago, described a series of separate public relations strategies, unrolled at dozens of press junkets and biotech conferences, aimed at convincing scientists, media, industry, farmers, elected officials and others of the safety and benefits of GM producs…The public relations effort unrolled by the State Department also ventured into legal terrain, accotrding to the report. US officials stationed overseas opposed GM food labelling laws as well as rules blocking the import of GM foods. The report notes that some of the lobbying effort had direct benefits. About 7% of the cables mentioned specific companies, and 6% mentioned Monsanto. “This corporate diplomacy was nearly twice as common as diplomatic efforts on food aid,” the report said….

In some instances, there was little pretence at hiding that resort to pressure – at least within US government circles. In a 2007 cable, released during the earlier Wikileaks disclosures, Craig Stapleton, a friend and former business partner of George Bush, advised Washington to draw up a target list in Europe in response to a move by France to ban a variety of GM Monsanto corn.  “Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits,” Stapleton wrote at the time.”The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory. Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices,” he wrote.

Excerpts, Suzanne Goldenberg,Diplomatic cables reveal aggressive GM lobbying by US officials, Guardian, May 15, 2013