Seed and chemical giants Bayer and Monsanto said Wednesday that they will merge to become one of the world’s biggest agriculture giants, a $66 billion mega-deal that could reshape the future of farming and enhance their influence over the planet’s food supply. Bayer said it will spearhead the largest all-cash buyout in history in hopes of taking over St. Louis-based Monsanto, the world’s largest supplier of genetically modified seeds. The merger marks one of the most prominent signs yet of the broadening acceptance of genetically modified foods. The deal would also further strengthen the companies’ grips on vital seeds, pesticides and farm technologies, a concerning turn that critics said could raise prices, reduce choice and stifle innovations needed to feed a growing world. More
Researchers from the U.S., Indonesia and Bangladesh is creating a genetically-engineered potato to fight the late blight. The disease remains an issue for farmers worldwide, especially in Bangladesh, where many struggle with hunger. “Late blight is the number one constraint for potato production, and Bangladesh has a perfect environment for this disease,” said Jim Bradeen, co-director of the University’s Stakman-Borlaug Center and a scientific advisor for the project. The United States Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future partnership, led by Michigan State University, is a collaboration between the University of Minnesota and the University of Idaho, along with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute and the J.R. Simplot Company. The researchers are working to implement durable disease resistance in potatoes using three disease-resistant genes, Bradeen said. Since the pathogen that causes late blight disease can evolve and become resistant to the genes designed to protect the crop, researchers hope using three genes will be an adequate defense. They hope to introduce the potato in Bangladesh in the next six months to a year. More
Sufferers of malnutrition in the global south could soon find help from an unlikely source: a humble potato, genetically tweaked to provide substantial doses of vitamins A and E, both crucial nutrients for health. Dubbed the “golden potato,” boosted levels of provitamin A carotenoids are converted into vitamin A by digestive enzymes when eaten. The potato was genetically engineered in Italy using a technique called biofortification. It was created in a lab in Italy and studied at Ohio State University, is the most recent staple crop to be genetically transformed into a colorful superfood, joining such creations as antioxidant-rich purple rice and beta-carotene-enhanced golden rice. Continue reading
It’s taken almost 30 years, but Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists have finally won a monumental battle against the Colorado potato beetle (CPB). Dr. Benoit Bizimungu and Agnes Murphy, potato breeding research scientists at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre, recently developed two selections that are resistant to the major insect pest. Both varieties are available for industry to use in other trials as part of an accelerated potato variety release program. The new resistant varieties were developed as a team effort. Research scientist Dr. Helen Tai is part of the team. While she played an important role in the process, Tai said, “I stand on the shoulder of giants.” Tai stressed that traditional methods were used in all the breeding programs. “There are no GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in the potato breeding program at AAFC,” Tai says. She said the new varieties can be used in conjunction with integrated pest management. More
In a scientific study published this month in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, a research team at Montana State University examines the farm management decision of whether to adopt a new, genetically engineered potato variety, in particular three GMO Innate varieties developed by Simplot and approved for commercial use by the USDA in March 2017. The researchers note that the new varieties have potential human health benefits over other potato varieties, resist browning and bruising, and also resist late blight. If these new potato varieties are adopted, they would represent one of the first GE crops primarily consumed in a low-processed form in the United States. Currently, most GE crops such as alfalfa, corn, soybeans, and sugar beets are either highly processed into final consumer products or fed to livestock. In their paper, the scientists describe the potato industry with a particular reference to seed potatoes and discusses issues surrounding GE potato varieties. The case is built around a leading seed potato operation in Montana, Kimm Brothers Farming. More
Bangladesh is the world’s seventh-largest producer of potatoes. Most of the crop is grown by small-holder farmers. To help small-holder farmers, the Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Partnership based at Michigan State University in the US, is using the tools of biotechnology to develop a genetically engineered potato resistant to late blight disease. The Partnership will develop and bring to market a three-R gene late blight resistant potato to smallholder farmers in Bangladesh and Indonesia. By growing a disease-resistant variety, farmers will be able to reduce their use of fungicides and improve their yields, which means more money in their pockets at harvest time. Small-holder farmers anticipate better harvests with LBD-resistant potatoes. Agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury recently reaffirmed the government’s support for genetically engineered (GMO) crop technologies to ensure sufficient food for the people of Bangladesh. More
Iden Biotechnology – a Spanish biotechnology company – and J.R. Simplot Company, a potato processor and developer and marketer of Innate® GMO potatoes, recently entered into an agreement to explore the potential for nutritional enrichment of the potato. As part of the agreement, Iden will identify promising genes for potential use in Simplot’s proprietary Innate® biotechnology platform. Iden has established other industrial collaborations for gene trait discovery and development in row crops like wheat and corn. More. News release in Spanish
A genetically-modified (GM) potato designed to resist late blight has worked “brilliantly” during the first year of field trials, according to Norwich scientists. The field trial conducted by The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) on the Norwich Research Park involves incorporating three blight-resistant genes from a wild potato relative into the popular commercial variety Maris Piper. After the first year of the field trial, scientists observed a marked improvement in late blight resistance, with a stark difference in health between the resistant and non-resistant plants. Prof Jonathan Jones, who is leading the project, said the initial results offered hope that there could be a way of controlling late blight without the need for chemical fungicide sprays. More
Scientists say the first batch of locally grown genetically modified potatoes will be on sale in Ugandan retail markets in 2020. Dr Alex Barekye, the director of Kachwekano Zonal Agriculture Research Institute in the western district of Rubanda, said agricultural biotechnology research on potatoes is underway to create a genetically modified variety that will be resistant to diseases. Barekye said three trials have been conducted on the Victoria potato variety and so far, tests did not find any disease, yet the yield is high. “When we look at all the products in the GMO line and look at the duration of the crop, I think potatoes will be the first GMO crop to be commercially available in Uganda. We have conducted three trials and found that the disease is not there. The yield is good and there is nothing that has changed,” Dr. Barekye told The Observer in an interview during the World Food day celebrations in Rubanda on October 16. More
New Zealanders could soon be eating crisps and hot chips made from GE potatoes, with little idea of the added health risks from genetic engineering. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), which has just approved six new lines of GE potatoes for human consumption, has breached its duty of care to consumers, says the Soil & Health Association. Last week the Trans-Tasman food regulator released its decision approving the sale of food derived from potatoes that have been genetically engineered for disease resistance to foliar late blight, reduced blackspot bruising and reduced acrylamide potential. The potatoes are aimed at fast food outlets and the frozen chip and crisps market. “FSANZ has a legal requirement to protect the health and safety of people in Australia and New Zealand through the maintenance of a safe food supply,” says Soil & Health chair Graham Clark. “By approving these potato lines without sufficient evidence to prove that they are safe to eat, FSANZ has effectively breached this legal requirement.” More
The Council of Canadians is pressing the provincial government to keep genetically modified potatoes out of Prince Edward Island soil. Council chair Leo Broderick questions the science behind Innate generation 2 potatoes, and added that the Island. would be better off staying away from the controversy surrounding genetically modified food. Canadian officials approve Simplot’s second generation GMO potatoes last week. Broderick noted P.E.I. is already attracting attention as a producer of genetically modified salmon. “It would be foolhardy for the province to allow genetically engineered potatoes to be grown in the province,” said Broderick. “If we add genetically engineered potatoes we will have a very poor image and that’s not the kind of image that we want for the province.” Continue reading
Some farmers on Prince Edward Island are excited about a new genetically-modified potato that’s designed to resist late blight, which could mean spraying less fungicide. The CFIA and Health Canada recently approved growing the Innate generation 2 potato, developed by the U.S.-based company J.R. Simplot. Generation 1 of the potatoes were less likely to bruise or go grey when peeled, but potato farmer Ray Keenan, owner of Rollo Bay Holdings, is much more excited about this blight resistant variety. “It’s amazing science, is what it is. It’s something like we’ve never seen before in the potato industry,” said Keenan. “It’s two things. It’s a cost saving but it’s also simply good stewardship if we could find a way of making this work.” Simplot plans to sell the seed at a cost on par with conventional seed initially, and then increase the price as time goes on and farmers see the cost savings from lower pesticide use. CBC report
In a press release, the J.R. Simplot Company says Health Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) have completed the food, feed, and environmental safety assessments of the J.R. Simplot Company’s second generation of Innate® potatoes. The authorizations enable the potatoes to be imported, planted, and sold in Canada, complementing the three varieties of Innate® first generation potatoes that received regulatory approval last year. research shows that Innate® second generation potatoes help reduce waste associated with bruise, blight, and storage losses by reducing waste at multiple stages of the value chain. According to academic estimates, if all fresh potatoes in Canada had Innate® Generation 2 traits, potato waste (in-field, during storage, packing, retail and foodservice for fresh potatoes) “could be reduced by 93 million kilograms. In addition, CO2 emissions could be reduced by 14 million kilograms, water usage reduced by 13 billion liters, and a total of 154,000 fewer pesticide hectare-applications would be needed,” Simplot says in its press release.
Associated Press reports that three types of potatoes genetically engineered by J.R. Simplot to resist late blight are deemed safe for the environment and safe to eat, according to Canadian officials – who confirmed the approval of these potatoes on Thursday. The official approval by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency means the Simplot potatoes can be imported, planted and sold in Canada. The company said it received approval letters from Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in the last several days. Health Canada spokeswoman Renelle Briand confirmed the approvals to The Associated Press on Thursday. “We have no objection to the sale of food derived from J.R. Simplot Company’s” potatoes for human consumption, Karen McIntyre, director general of Health Canada, said in a letter sent on July 28 to the company. Canadian officials in two other letters sent on Monday approved the environmental release of planting the potatoes and using the potatoes for livestock feed. The three varieties of potato — the Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet and Atlantic — were approved by U.S. regulatory agencies in February. The company said the potatoes contain only potato genes and that the resistance to late blight comes from an Argentine variety of potato that naturally produced a defense.
This year’s Canadian acreage of J.R. Simplot’s genetically engineered Innate potato will be “very small” to non-existent, according to a company spokesperson. Kerwin Bradley, director of commercial innovation for Simplot, says the company’s marketing strategy for new varieties is based on customer polls and identification of marketing channels. “We don’t plant potatoes, or give seed to growers, until we know that there is a place for them to sell them, so how quickly that develops depends on how quickly we develop routes to market for those potatoes,” he says. “That way we ensure we keep the risk really low for everybody, especially the growers.” Any acres planted to Innate potato varieties will be in Eastern Canada, or potentially Manitoba, he says. Producers across Canada have been forewarned that growing biotech potatoes will present unique stewardship challenges. Full story by Julienne Isaacs