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May 2009: Challenges to Agricultural Production

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Challenges to Agricultural Production

GMO Corn : Falling Food Production : Biotech Seeds Thwart Research

GMO Corn

    The February issue of New Scientist Magazine features an article discussing two studies in which scientists have found genes from genetically engineered corn contaminating indigenous varieties. The studies suggest that detecting the cross-over of genes may be more difficult than originally expected. In 2001 biologists David Quist and Ignacio Chapela reported finding transgenes from genetically engineered corn in traditional varieties in Mexico. When a second study failed to find significant results backing up their findings their study was dropped. Recently however Elena Alvarez-Buylla, of the National Autonomous University in Mexico City, and her research team have found that approximately 1% of the nearly 2000 samples they took are contaminated with transgenes. Scientists are learning that they have to diversify their testing methods and test a broader cross-section of crops in order to ensure that contamination is discovered.


    Falling Food Production

    In a detailed online article by Eric de Carbannel entitled, “Catastrophic Fall in 2009 Global Food Production”, the devastating impacts of drought around the world are shown as creating dire conditions for farmers.  According to the article, “The countries that make up two thirds of the world's agricultural output are experiencing drought conditions.” In the United States, California has been one of the hardest hit. While in the midst of what is now a three-years drought, the state has experienced one of the driest Januaries on record. The National Weather Service reports the snow pack in the Northern Sierra Mountains to be just 49% of average with statewide snow pack measuring only 61% of average. Farmers have been forced to fallow fields they rely on for income; as many as 40,000 jobs may be affected.  In China, some provinces have only received 20% of their average yearly rainfall and are experiencing the worst drought in 50 years. Global grain markets are showing the stress of crop shortages, as China produces 18% of the world’s grain each year. DeCarbannel writes of China, “authorities have also resorted to cloud-seeding, and some areas received a sprinkling of rain after clouds were hit with 2,392 rockets and 409 cannon shells loaded with chemicals.” Extreme measures for extreme conditions. All told the article discusses devastating drought conditions in 20 different nations worldwide and can be found at


    Biotech Seeds Thwart Research

      Biotechnology companies are constantly in the news under speculation of questionable ethics regarding their research practices and strict legal contracts. In a recent article," Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies are Thwarting Research",  Andrew Pollak interviews several of the 26 scientists who penned an official statement to the United States EPA voicing their frustration and concerns over the restrictions biotech companies place on research of their crops. They argued, "No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions."  Across the board biotech companies require farmers and other buyers of genetically engineered seeds to sign contracts to ensure they obey patent rights and environmental regulations; these agreements also prohibit the use of the crops for research. University scientists must get permission directly from the seed companies and are often denied outright or their research is subject to review and final approval by the seed company before it can be published. Scientists say this gives opportunity for seed companies to launder the data, including information submitted to the EPA and other governmental regulatory agencies. For more on this subject, the entire article may be found at






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