For an industry that is seemingly under continuous attack by anti-science and anti-corporate idealists, there has been some positive press for agriculture, food and science to celebrate. For agriculture using modern farming practices of genetically modified crops, chemicals and synthetic fertilizers, and scientific advancement, this has been a pretty decent year despite some negative press. Here are just some highlights of 2018 that we can be proud of and celebrate from the agricultural sector.
SUCCESS OF SCIENCE
Bt brinjal (eggplant) was first commercially grown by 20 farmers in 2014. This insect resistant crop was such a success at preventing insect damage to the fruit that in 2018 over 27,000 farmers grew Bt brinjal on nearly 50,000 hectares. Nothing defines success like a percentage increase of farmer adoption of 135,000% over 5 growing years (2013/14 to 2017/18).
SOME CORPORATIONS DO HAVE A CONSCIOUS
Numerous food companies have applied the Verified Non-GMO label to their food products. This is an issue when the food products do not have a GMO equivalent ingredient, but simply use the label to appease environmental activists. These labels needlessly raise the price of the food product and confuse consumers. In 2018, some companies made very public announcements that they would be dropping the non-GMO label from their food product labels.
REGULATIONS CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE
The government of Sri Lanka lifted the ban on glyphosate after a three year period, in large part due to the massive infestation of weeds in tea production, which resulted in a drop in tea production. The economic loss to tea farmers and the tea industry in Sri Lanka was estimated at nearly US$200 million.
Proving the merits of science-based regulation, a Japanese government committee recommended that an organism that has had its natural genome edited by genome editing and contains no inserted genes, should not be regulated. This recommendation would allow Japanese developer to produce organisms through gene editing without the government’s approval first. The sanity of science is evident in this direct to market approach to commercialization has the potential to save consumers millions in food costs.
More of a win for science innovation than just to health or agriculture and food is the announcement by the Burkina Faso government’s approval to release of GM mosquitoes. The intent of the GM mosquitoes is in efforts to control the transmission of malaria. It is estimated that 400,000 people die each year from malaria, mainly in developing countries.
Plant and animal breeding can be done through genome editing, yet the regulation of this process is widely controversial, especially this year given that the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that it must be treated as the regulatory equivalent of transgenic research (a form of genetic modification a.k.a GM). This decision was made, even though, no genes are transferred through the application of genome editing technology. While in Argentina, a regulatory decision over a variety of tilapia, allowed the genome edited fish variety to be regulated as a genome edited variety and not as a GM variety.
While it can seem that science, agriculture and food production receive a lot of negative attention and press coverage, the above are but snippets of what a truly successful year science and agriculture have had. The importance of science has never been greater and its contribution to making 2019 a good year looks promising.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from us at SAIFood.