Plant scientists are delighted by US ruling which gives green light to gene-editing

American researchers have been given the go-ahead to use gene-editing techniques to alter crops and plants, The Guardian reports (HERE).

The decision allows scientists to create a new generation of genetically altered crops without serious restriction and paves the way for approvals for similar work in Britain and the rest of Europe.

The decision – by the US Department of Agriculture – has delighted scientists, who had feared that limitations on the creation and growing of genetically modified crops would also be imposed on crops created using far simpler gene-editing techniques.

“I think this decision by American legislators will have all sorts of benefits in the long run,” said Professor Denis Murphy of the University of South Wales.

“This is a win-win situation because agriculture for gene-editing is cheaper, faster, simpler and more precise than the genetic modification of plants, in which a gene is taken from one organism and moved to another.”

The European Court of Justice indicated in January that it does not think crops created though gene-editing techniques should be regulated by the rules that govern genetically modified organisms in Europe, The Guardian says.

“At the same time, Britain’s Acre – the advisory committee on releases into the environment – also seems to be sympathetic to this position,” said Professor Huw Dylan Jones of Aberystwyth University.

“It is very encouraging.”

In the wake of hostile green campaigns, Britain imposed severe restrictions on GM crops two decades ago and few have been grown.

Many scientists worried that this fate would also befall plants created by the newer and simpler technique of gene-editing and a technology at which Britain excels would be banned.

These fears are now disappearing, they say.

“If we have our own domestic gene-editing industry then scientists trained at our universities will have something to work on here when they qualify,” said Professor Murphy.

“At present, our young scientists have to go to work in another country if they want to continue working on the topic.”

Gene-editing could lead to the development of domestic crops particularly suited to Britain, said Professor Jones.

“Loliums and clovers that are good for grazing could be improved to make them more hardy, for example,” he said. “It is very hopeful.”

The Guardian explained that genetically modified crops are generated through the introduction of foreign DNA sequences.

Gene-edited crops are created by editing an organism’s native genome.

Gene-editing is more efficient, cheaper, quicker and more precise.

By altering the DNA make-up of a gene the characteristics of a cell or an organism can be changed.


Californian campaigners are pressing for the world’s most demanding farm animal welfare law

A lobbying campaign in California is aimed at pressing legislators to ban the sale of all eggs, pork or veal from a caged animal, putting the state ahead of the European Union.

If they success and the law is passed, it would be the most progressive farm animal welfare law in the world.

The EU has banned battery cages since 2012.

The campaigners first must secure enough signatures from the public.

A report in The Guardian explains:

The law is only possible thanks to the quirky US ballot measure system which allows organisations and individuals to bypass politicians and put potential laws directly to a vote by the general population – as long as they can get enough signatures to support the measure in the first place.

In California that means collecting a tremendous 365,000 signatures – and so for the last four months animal lovers across the state have been fanning out on street corners every chance they get, clipboards in hand.

So far they are nearing 200,000, but even with less than two months to go before the 1 May deadline, Carol Misseldine, the campaign’s northern California coordinator, is optimistic.

“The response has been very positive,” she says when we meet, as volunteers assembled for a day of signature hunting.

“Most people see it as a no-brainer. That being said, we are all gonna have to hustle.”

The new measure would ban cages of any kind for hens, gestation crates (known as sow stalls in this country) for mother pigs, and veal crates for calves, which restrict movement for their entire lives.

By the end of 2019 all hens would have to be cage-free – living, at minimum, on an open barn floor or in an indoor aviary with multiple levels for birds to go up and down.

It would have national implications, applying not just to in-state famers but to any farmer doing business with the world’s sixth largest economy.

But as The Guardian notes, some US farmers and industry bodies are deeply concerned by the proposed changes.

Nationally, the US Department of Agriculture points out that with just 10% of the country’s 300 million hens currently in cage-free housing, meeting demand would require a “momentous” shift and cost egg producers billions.

In Iowa, the nation’s largest egg producer, a bill currently poised to become law would require grocers selling cage-free eggs to stock cheaper, caged eggs as well. Lawmakers say the bill, which would affect grocers participating in a federal food-assistance program, is an effort to help low-income shoppers.

Pork, veal and egg producers say California’s plan will raise prices for consumers, come at a high cost to small farmers, and in the case of veal, which has largely moved away from crates, ban a problem that doesn’t exist. For farmers, the shift can be crippling.

“When a farmer invests in a cage system he’s hoping to get at least a 20-year lifespan,” explains Ken Klippen, the spokesman for the National Association of Egg Farmers.

“Then if just a couple years later he’s got to go cage-free, which can cost up to $45 per chicken, the financial burden is so oppressive that some just give up.”

Polling in April by the Humane Society of the United States found 72% in favor of the new law.

If the campaigners get the signatures they need, there is an excellent chance that it will be passed, The Guardian reports.


USDA report provides uniform ways of measuring greenhouse gas emissions

The US Department of Agriculture has released a report that for the first time provides uniform scientific methods for quantifying the changes in greenhouse gas emissions and carbon storage from various land management and conservation activities.

A media statement from Colorado State University says its faculty members served as authors and external science advisors on the new report and a CSU team is leading the implementation of a new online tool that provides customized GHG reports and management plans in accordance with the new guidelines.

The report is titled Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Agriculture and Forestry: Methods for Entity-Scale Inventory. It is expected to help the USDA evaluate greenhouse gas mitigation programmes and develop new tools to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners participate in emerging carbon markets.

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Research in US clarifies the health costs of air pollution from agriculture

Ammonia pollution from agricultural sources poses larger health costs than previously estimated, according to NASA-funded research.

Harvard University researchers Fabien Paulot and Daniel Jacob used computer models, including a NASA model of chemical reactions in the atmosphere, to better represent how ammonia interacts in the atmosphere to form harmful particulate matter.

The improved simulation helped the scientists narrow in on the estimated health costs from air pollution associated with food produced for export – a growing sector of agriculture and a source of trade surplus.

A media release can be found here.

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