Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food


so my name is Steve Strauss I’m a professor in the department of forest ecosystems in society at OSU and I’m director of the OSU outreach and biotechnology program tonight’s lecture is the first of five this academic year and marks the start of the third year of this food-for-thought lecture series the series focuses on biotechnology and related environmental and agricultural issues the lecture theme this year is entitled unifying ideologies food system technology society and sustainability it seeks to consider the higher-level explanations for why bio technologies as well as other complex environmental and Technology issues can be so hard for people to come together around and how we might be able to avoid or better manage our differences in the future the lecture series is sponsored by the American Society for plant biology the weight and lowest rising lectureship fund from the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and the OSU College of Forestry ramadhan tract and pamela ronald are faculty members at UC davis rural has a BS in economics from Clark University and an MS in agricultural development from UC Davis from 1987 to the present he has been involved in numerous aspects of organic agriculture from being an organic vegetable grower to an organic inspector and has for a number of years been the coordinator of the UC Davis student organic farm a job that includes farm worker management marketing products to a number of restaurants and and groceries in the davis area training dozens of students each year on the farm and teaching courses in organic agriculture pamela ronald has attained a BS from Reed College and MS from Stanford a PhD from UC Berkeley and was a postdoc at Cornell Pam’s research also takes her to many different parts of the world she just returned from Bangladesh and if any of you came to the lecture this afternoon you heard you heard her talk about some of her work on the genetics of flooding tolerance and rice pam has a very impressive academic record which you might be glad to hear I’m not going to bore you with but when you learn if someone like me takes a look at it you said hold your breath and say wow how does all that stuff happen terms of grant activity scientific publications lots and lots of invited lectures also lots and lots of service pans turned on the editorial boards of a number of journals she’s the co-director presently of the UC Davis Chevron Research Program in renewable energy technologies that’s funded about 25 million per year and she’s chair of the university-wide plant genomics program Pam also is very involved in service that goes outside of the university and outside of science she’s very involved in lots of policy and outreach activities and of course her appearance tonight is an example of that Pamela and Raul will speak tonight on the subject of their recently published book copies of which I hope you’ve seen are available for sale in the foyer and also at the OSU bookstore hopefully there’ll be some there tomorrow dave dave harry and i who worked with me on selecting the lecturers for this year’s series have been looking for some time for what we consider credible scholars that are broad minded enough and simply brave enough to navigate the DMZ between genetically intensive agriculture and organically certified agriculture as i think you will hear all types of crop genetic engineering regardless of the gene trait or benefits are considered fundamentally against the principles of organically certified farming and thus legally excluded from its intentional use on the other hand the proponents of genetic engineering in agriculture see the many dogmas and shortcomings of the organic system including its inconsistent scientific record for health and environmental benefits and high cost to consumers and right out of hand the fights among the two resemble those amongst certain religious groups in countries where the u.s.Is at war though mostly though not always I must say stopping short of violence so do these powerful divisions really make sense is there a better way our speakers tonight think so and I’ve made a marriage at of that other way academically and personally I applaud their courage and wisdom and speaking out given the acrimony and the toxicity that often meets such efforts the title of their book as you can see is tomorrow’s table organic farming genetics in the future of food some recent reviews of this book suggest that many on both sides of this debate think they have provided a clear even-handed and reasoned view in science magazine this month mark tester wrote quote unlike most protagonist Ronald and Adam Chuck do not crudely lump every GM crop as though they are all the same that over simplification blurs the issues to the detriment of fruitful consideration of topics that are increasingly important in a world in which we need to produce more food fiber and fuels in the face of global environmental change in an editorial in the most recent issue of organic gardening magazine entitled looking forward Scott Meyer wrote quote you will see in this issue an excerpt from a provocative new book written by a scientist at an organic farmer who assert that the tools of biotechnology could be useful to sustainable agriculture this premise may be viewed as heresy by many in the organic movement but when I read the book I was reminded of the words of our visionary editor Robert Rodale that biotech will have to be part of that environmental solution and it will have to blend into a whole landscape of farm and garden methods that will be asked to regenerate instead of degrade the environment please help me to welcome Pam and Ronald to Oregon State thank you Steve for that very kind introduction and also for organizing this Vinit visit we’re very honored to be here and we appreciate all of you for for coming tonight to listen to us so you may think that organic farming and genetics represent opposite ends of agricultural industry and you may even think that organic farmers can’t talk to each other well but in fact it’s easy to have a conversation because our goal is the same a future sustainable agriculture so over the years many of our friends and family and colleagues have asked us what genetically engineered crop means for the the human health and the environment and on the other hand many of our scientific colleagues have asked us if organic farming can produce enough food to feed the growing population so this book is our response to those questions and what we attempt to do in the book is to give to really distinguish between fact and fiction in the debate on crop genetic engineering and we also bring the reader into our lives to give the reader a better idea of what organic farmers and geneticists do on a daily basis so the thesis of our book is that the judicious incorporation of two important strands of Agriculture genetic engineering and organic farming is key to helping feed the growing population and an ecologically balanced manner so we split up the talk my husband Raul will begin and then I will continue after that Steve in his introduction did echo something that I feel about our book and that is that it has something to offend everyone so I hope that I hope it speaks to you so I’m gonna regress a little bit here what kind of Agriculture do we have now the conventional AG system as many of you are probably aware is the system that produces abundant food and has produced cheap food for a long time here but at the cost of the environment there are the impacts of pesticides on the environment the impact of synthetic fertilizers on the environment the impact of farming practices that cause sort because soil erosion are serious problems ongoing problems that we still face today even though you don’t hear so much about it in the news people don’t talk about them as much as they once did they’re still unresolved problems as an example in California where we’re from in 2004 there were a hundred and eighty million pounds of pesticides used and that number you’d think well that’s going down right it’s not going down and in recent years it’s actually gone up a few million pounds more and that was associated with 1,200 pesticide related related poisonings in your state here I looked up in in 2007 there were 40 million pounds of pesticides used in the US there are hundreds of millions of pounds overall of pesticides used and this not only leads to environmental degradation but it has long-term health impacts increased risks of of cancer and Parkinson’s disease and other serious health issues but the u.s.Is not the end of the story 20% of pesticides are used in less developed countries here is a potato grower in Peru who’s happily spraying spraying pesticides without gloves on or respirator on and as a consequence of behavior like this there the World Health Organization estimates that there are 3 million cases of severe pesticide poisoning each year that result in 300,000 deaths in less developed countries synthetic fertilizers conventional AG uses depends upon synthetic fertilizers and here is a slide from from China where a farmer is applying these synthetic fertilizers by hand I have a slide coming up that shows how many millions of tons of fertilizers are applied in Asia and it takes a lot of people to apply that many millions of tonnes of fertilizers by by hand but synthetic nitrogen phosphorus potassium fertilizers their big problem is that they’re very soluble they contaminate ground water and surface water I don’t know if you’ve ever been in California but if you drive down i-5 and you get about half way down the valley there and you stop off with a rest stop above the water fountain sign above the water fountain there’s a sign that says if you’re pregnant or you’re young don’t drink the water because the nitrate levels in this water are unhealthy to drink so it there’s this nitrate issue of groundwater contamination and and surface water contamination all around the country here’s let that’s that slide that I had of of world fertilizer use and that’s the right button there it is millions of metric tons used from 1961 to 2000 you can see the great increase in synthetic fertilizer use in Asia over that period of time and I think of North America as being the area where synthetic fertilizers are used but the rest of the world is outpacing us so the total here is a hundred and forty million metric tons a year and the other downside to this is that it takes the equivalent of 30 gallons of gasoline in energy to provide the nitrogen fertilizer to to fertilizer an acre of field corn in the Midwest so if you if you multiply all these pounds by the amount of energy that it took it’s it’s astronomical amount of energy that’s being put into creating synthetic fertilizers this is a satellite photo of the turbulence but of the turbulence that forms at the mouth of the Mississippi River and these red areas are areas that are low in oxygen and what happens is that all the fertilizers from the Midwest come down the Mississippi River come out the mouth of the Mississippi where algae blooms and there’s a lot of plant growth as they break down bacteria when they break them down take all the oxygen out of the water and these become dead zones no oxygen no aquatic life at all so the impact of fertilizers is both local but it’s also national and international as adipex environmental systems finally agriculture as I said causes soil erosion here’s a map of soil erosion around the world 30% of the world’s arable land has become unproductive so far due to soil erosion 60 percent of that ends up in rivers and streams and lakes soil erosion means also that the fertilizer that was in the soil is eroded as well the orange areas show very degraded soils around the world but but you noticed if in areas where there isn’t any agriculture there is no soil erosion no vegetation either so if we continue with our current farming practices we’re going to end up with more of the same more soil erosion more fertilizer contamination of aquatic systems more pesticide related injuries more loss of wild species so there has to be a better way to resolve this need for increased food production while minimizing its impact on the environment and on us too so the better way people have talked about it a lot is to design some sort of sustainable agriculture and we’ve we’ve developed some criteria here of what what the goals of a sustainable agriculture should be and they include of course providing abundant safe and nutritious food reducing harmful environmental inputs like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides reducing energy use although the guests the the price of gasoline has gone down below two dollars it’s not going to stay there for long and we need to we need to reduce as much energy use as we can we need to build soil we need to build soil and to reduce soil erosion we need to enhance crop genetic diversity in order to minimize the impact of diseases and insect outbreaks very important to my heart we need to maintain the economic viability of farmers and of rural communities if farmers can’t can’t make a living they don’t farm we don’t eat we need to protect biodiversity and that’s in two ways one we need to protect biodiversity from the impact of of pesticides that kill beneficial insects and birds and soil organisms but we also need to protect biodiversity by minimizing the expansion of agriculture because agriculture itself is a wonderful destroyer of biodiversity if you have a rainforest and you chop it down to two grow crops you’ve wiped out a lot of plants and animals so one of the goals is to minimize the expansion of agriculture and finally an important goal is to improve the lives of the poor and the malnourished we’re very well fed here but in there are many parts of the world where their diets are not quite as extravagant as ours one of my students came back from the Peace Corps and described she was living in new year and she ate ground-up millet with okra sauce that was made from dried up okra pods and water was added and it was turned into a mush they ate that three times a day and in her village millet and okra sauce and as she described the making of it I couldn’t have imagined making it in such a way that it would taste worse but it’s an example of what’s going on so as many of you also know organic agriculture came about as a response to these problems of conventional agriculture in restante in response to pesticide use in response to synthetic fertilizer use in response to soil erosion and here’s my farm right here recently so organic agriculture and trying to resolve the issues of conventional agriculture focuses on the health of crops animals farmers the environment and consumers organic agriculture uses 97% fewer pesticides than conventional system and instead we control pass through crop rotation the support and enhancement of beneficial insects and other organisms resistant varieties and naturally occurring pesticides this is a photo of our compost Turner at the student farm and this windrow I think this compost pot was done but our field manager wanted to turn it one more time but we take animal waste from the dairies and the horse barns in the in the pig barns at the UC Davis campus and turn it into compost here at the farm and that’s one of the main fertilizer sources for our fields and it solves two problems it produces nutrients for our farm without significant energy inputs but it also recycles this waste out of the AG system and gets it back onto the field and one that’s another thing that the the conventional AG system has really failed at which is returning agricultural waste animal waste and getting them back to the field the other way that organic farmers add to the fertility of their soil is through cover crops and this cover crop was planted in October this is a mix of bell beans and vetch that we have at the farm and by March it’ll be about this tall and very dense and it’ll fix about a hundred and fifty pounds of nitrogen out of the air because these are legumes and they take nitrogen for free out of the air and put it into the soil cover crops also reduce nutrient runoff and soil erosion if you if you went around Davis right now the organic fields that aren’t being farmed right now are planted to cover crops and the conventional fields are bare there’s nothing they’ve been bedded up herbicide ‘add no weeds no crop it’s gonna rain I hope in California and there’s going to be soil erosion but people don’t seem very concerned about it let’s put it that way organic agriculture all set also has benefits in in developing countries because it requires fewer external inputs including energy and it’s more suitable for location where these inputs are either very costly or just not available so the question that Pam and I have talked about is organic agriculture enough then to solve all these problems and to provide abundant food and that’s an interesting question well one of the more important issues is yield and if you look at all the studies comparing organic and conventional yields sometimes the yields are comparable sometimes they’re they’re not and and for some key crops such as rice I’ve been a organic farm inspector and have inspected a lot of organic rice farms and the weed issues on organic rice farms can be so so drastic that the yield is reduced from thirty to fifty percent compared to conventional farms and so the the rice growers accepted those yield losses because the prices for organic rice was quite a bit higher but in a in a country unlike ours and in Bangladesh or India those sorts of yield losses would mean people didn’t eat and so it’s an important consideration when we’re thinking not only of us but of the world yield becomes very very critical there are also there are also some pests in organic agriculture know there are some pests that are different difficult to control using organic methods we have on our farm pest called sim file ins which is a arthropod insect like pest that eats the roots of crops and it not only do crops not grow a weeds don’t even grow and there’s there’s some spots where there it’s so severe that we have we just have bare spots there are also viruses and nematodes and other diseases that can be very challenging to control using organic methods another issue that we actually don’t have here is that there are many parts of the world where there are environmental stresses there’s salt in the water there’s flooding so cold there is is one more no coal they have cold here alright that’s that’s true and all those environmental stresses can impact the food supply and I it seems like any opportunity we can provide that can address some of those problems can help increase the food supply and organic agriculture per se can’t deal with increased salt tolerance or increased tolerance to submergence presently also organic agriculture organic agriculture comprises only 3% of all agriculture and that’s increasing which is which is a positive thing but there’s still 90 97 percent of the farmers out there that would argue that it’s a good idea and finally organic agriculture has produced a lot of food and a lot of high quality food in this country especially that high quality food has at a higher price and that can reduce the availability to low income consumers which can be a serious issue so the situation in the world is that right now there are a billion people undernourished 33% of children less than five and in less developed countries and every day 24,000 die from malnutrition of one sort or the other and it’s estimated that by the year 2050 the this population is going to increase from 6.7 billion to nine point two billion and we would like to think that we would be able to produce the food – to feed all these people and there are arguments made of well that’s an awful lot of people and can we feed them all and what’s the impact of that on the earth but the alternative is not feeding them and allowing millions if not billions of people to starve and you know Pam when I think that’s that’s that’s not the proper choice so with the without additional yields maintaining even the the food consumption that we have now would require a doubling of the world’s cropland if the population is going to increase that that much and that would result in deforestation reduction of biodiversity strain on water systems and cause a lot of soil erosion so the question that arises because Pam when I can talk to each other because we’re married is can modern genetic approaches such as genetic engineering contribute to sustainable agriculture and we have two important well here at first we have one important concept that we insist upon and that is each GE crop needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to see that it meets our criteria for sustainable agriculture so if you remember what some of those were abundant and healthy food reduced pesticide use reduce soil erosion support farmers if a genetically engineered crop doesn’t meet those criteria and doesn’t help forge a sustainable agriculture then we don’t think it’s worth supporting and that that evaluation may depend on the crop it depends on the location and it may depend on on farming farming practices so Pam is going to try and answer that question of whether genetically engineered plants can aids sustainable agriculture thank you okay so I thought I would start with plant breeding and remind you about conventional crop modification and think about the corn that Native Americans were eating 8,000 years ago it looked like this so this is a sort of a progenitor of modern-day corn and to get into the grain you need a hammer to break the grain open and compared to modern varieties the the modern varieties have a hundredfold more food on each year than the more ancient varieties and so this concept of natural this corn that we eat today would not have occurred naturally this is a product of domestication it’s a product of a lot of people’s hard work starting with the Native Americans who picked out very interesting mutations that were naturally occurring and then made crosses and through modern breeding we have ended up with very abundant high yielding varieties so everything we eat has been domesticated except for maybe the blackberries that you can pick out around Oregon that have evolved here although I understand some of them are from the Himalayas but you also have some native blackberries basically everything we eat has been domesticated by breeders and by geneticists and we rely on that breeding for our food supply so I wanted to just explain what genetic engineering is and another type of modern genetic modification called precision precision breeding so these are modern approaches to seed modification so they’re different than conventional breeding but some people argue that it’s sort of the modern form of conventional breeding so there’s basically just two differences so with genetic engineering or precision breeding only one too few genes are introduced so conventional breeding because readers have not in the past had any information about the genetic components so basically the crosses were made and a large group of uncharacterized genes were mixed together so that’s the reason it’s called precision breeding because we know that the genes that were introducing they’ve been very well characterized the other difference for genetic engineering is that genes from any species can be introduced so you can bring in a bacterial gene a fish gene anything you want it’s very easy students do it in high school now so that is the main difference you can do this with genetic engineering precision breeding although it requires modern genetic methods you cannot bring in genes from other species and we could talk about that difference later if people are interested so these are the these are two differences from modern breeding from conventional genetic modification that resulted in our hybrid maize and other hybrid varieties that that we eat so the the the result is the same both conventionally modified and and modern approaches to seed modification result in a crop plan a domesticated crop plant that produces seed and in the seed then will produce different seed that can be saved by farmers if there’s no other intellectual property restrictions for example but aside from that it’s just a seed and it can be replanted so today I wanted to keep it fairly simple I’m just going to give you three examples of genetic engineering and precision breeding that are addressing problems that were difficult or even impossible to address through conventional breeding or organic farming so the first couple examples will be resistance to insects and viral disease and the last example I’ll give will be work from from my laboratory that we’ve been working on for about 13 years so this is the cotton boll worm he is emerging from his egg and he’s about to start eating and he can eat a lot he’s a big problem to carton growers all over the world and in fact cotton just a single crop uses 25% of the world’s insecticides these insecticides are not benign the Environmental Protection Agency considers how about half of the pesticides used to control this one insect to be possible or known human carcinogens so this is where Raul and I feel that tension should be focused is how do we reduce applications of these types of toxic toxic pesticides not all pesticides are toxic but some certainly are so the story goes like this so this comes from organic farmers they were very clever many years ago now it was discovered that a naturally occurring soil bacterium called bacillus thuringiensis was producing an insecticidal protein called bt and this small protein has been really interesting because it kills and ballroom it’s very specific for the type of pests that it it kills and it does not affect other types of insects and it does not affect humans or other animals so this particular protein called Bt toxin has been used since the 1930s by organic farmers so it’s been a favorite tool of organic farmers it’s a naturally occurring pesticide and it’s very effective in controlling many different types of insect diseases so then the geneticist came along and so then I should mention that all of this can be sprayed so what happens is this bacteria is grown in these large industrial vats and it’s then processed into a powder form and organic farmers will spray it on the field so it’s effective for some particular insects but not for for all it depends on again on the crop and location so what geneticists did was they just cloned the gene that encodes this particular protein and they put it directly into the crop so now instead of spraying the dead bacteria on the crop the crop is producing a single protein and we now have about ten years of data which is very it’s very encouraging so this bt cotton that’s called BT cotton this is the genetically engineered cotton carrying this gene from the bacterium it kills 90% of cotton boll worms and after the adoption of bt cotton in within a couple of years in china insecticide use fell by 156 million pounds so just to give you an idea of how much insecticide was reduced that’s almost equal to the total amount we spray in california and california supplies 50% of the fruits and vegetables in the united states so that’s a lot of insecticide reduction in india where farmers cannot afford pesticides so they they just let the pests feed on the crop generally once they started planting bt cotton their yields increased 80% and these dramatic increases in yield are our scene because they didn’t have access or money for the pesticides and this is compared to enable neighboring crops growing conventional cotton so we think this is a good thing reduction in insecticide in Arizona growers were able to cut their insecticide use in half while maintaining the same yield as their neighbors in addition compared to conventional growers insect biodiversity actually increased in the field so this is measured by looking at the the number of ant and beetle species and it makes sense if you’re Spain spraying less insecticide you’re gonna have more insects in your in your field hopefully beneficial type insects so one point that we’d like to make and the book is that you can’t just rely on a single tool so genetically engineered crops are simply seed and any organic farmer knows that seeds are only part of the equation that integrated farming practices are also needed to really have a productive crop and in fact in China after seven straight years of dramatically reduced insecticide use populations of other insects began to increase and that’s because the farmers were using less insecticide so they weren’t controlling other insects that were attacking the crop so the farmers because they weren’t using integrated organic practices or organic control measures had to start spraying certain kinds of pesticides again they still are using a lot fewer pesticides but we think they could use even fewer if they integrated this genetically engineered crop with organic farming methods so and one of the examples is you can introduce beneficial insects and then you can rotate your crop so these simple organic approaches would really enhance the longevity and the usefulness of genetically engineered cotton so the second story is papaya which this is a papaya that’s infected with papaya ringspot virus so viral diseases of plants are some of the most difficult control and you can think of viral diseases of humans such as HIV a very serious disease not a lot of solutions but a lot of a lot of research so plants also have the same vulnerabilities to viruses and in fact papaya was grown for many years on the island of Oahu and that 1950s the entire papaya growing orchards were completely wiped out by this single virus there was no conventional approach to control this disease there was no organic approach to control this disease the growers had no other choice but to stop producing papaya on this island and moved to another Island so they moved the production to the Island of Hawaii so in 1992 and this was predicted by plant pathologists we know viral viral diseases spread and it was predicted that the virus would somehow move to the other Island and and usually this is carried out because a papaya infected papaya from one Island gets moved to the other so the virus that was discovered in Hawaii and by 1995 the production plummeted there was about a 50% reduction in yield well there’s a hero to the story this is Dennis Gonsalves he is he grew up in Hawaii and he carried out his studies at Cornell University and he was aware of this problem so he began a long process to engineer papaya for resistance and he actually was one of the pioneers in genetic engineering and he started doing some experiments with a lot less knowledge than we have today so what he did is he took a small snippet of DNA from a mild strain of the virus and he spliced it into the papaya genome and the reason he did this is because biologists had noticed that when there’s a mild form of the virus around the severe form cannot infect and a simple way to think about this is it’s sort of like human vaccinations against polio and smallpox so these two diseases have been virtually eradicated from the human population because we’ve been immunized with mild strains of he’s very severe and deadly viruses and so Gonzalez then was able to him immunize papaya against further infections so remember that engineered papaya has a snippet of the viral genome whereas the non engineered papaya has a lot of viral RNA and protein because the virus is replicating and of course so papaya that you used to buy and maybe even today that’s that smart organic is likely full of viral RNA and protein well it’s not gonna hurt you it’s a it’s a it’s a plant pathogen but it’s not so great for the farmers so the genetically engineered papaya yields yielded 20 times more fruit than non genetically engineered papaya and I like this story because this work was supported by a very small grant from the USDA was nonprofit source by by 2003 90% of all papaya was transgenic the farmers really embraced it and interestingly the organic growers also benefited because there was less viral inoculum around so you can imagine a roomful of people with the flu well it’s going to be contagious but if if suddenly you’ve immunized 90% of the people in the room against the flu you’re going to have less of the viral spread we are according to be visiting Hawaii soon and will be interested in in looking at the types of practices there because if if organic practices have not been integrated into the genetically engineered papaya plantations then we’re gonna have other types of problems that will still be fertilizer runoff there may be pesticides used to control other insects so I wanted to finish was work from my own lab some of you were at the lecture earlier this morning this is a very truncated version of this work so we know that 25% of the world’s rice has grown in flood-prone areas so rice feeds half of the world’s population says staple food for half the human beings on the earth and much of it has grown in these areas these are the Himalayas and here we here we have eastern India Bangladesh Burma or Myanmar now Thailand there’s a lot of rice grown in this area and these areas are prone to flood in this area there’s 75 million people that live on less than a dollar a day so these are subsistence farmers they don’t have they don’t have money to buy other types of food often and in Bangladesh for example the diet of the average Bangladeshi is 2/3 rice so the issue then is and what I should say is you think of rice is growing in in flooded areas and it it really likes water and water is spread to reduce weeds but the Rice’s is above the water in a successful farming system if there’s a flood and the rice is completely submerged within three days virtually every rice variety will die they cannot survive complete submergence there’s not enough light there’s no photosynthesis there’s other this limited gas exchange and there’s that the plant just uses up its carbohydrate reserves and it dies so interesting Lee in the 1940s in this eastern area of India called ERISA there was a submergence tolerance line that was identified and this line had really amazing properties it could stay under water completely submerged for 14 days at the time there was no other rice variety that had this property but it was not in production and it’s because it looks like this it looks like a weed that it’s very poor grain quality very very low yielding so people were not using it conventional breeders tried to introduce this submergence tolerance trait in to varieties that were locally adapted and favored by farmers but they failed because they did not have enough genetic information they did not really they could not bring in the trait of interest without bringing in other negative traits so the farmers did not accept the varieties that were developed so in 2006 my my laboratory isolated a submergence tolerance gene called subway and we were able to show by genetic engineering that the addition of a single gene was allowed a normally intolerant variety to survive complete inundation for 14 to 17 days we then collaborated with David mcil who has been studying this particular gene for many years he works at the International Rice Research Institute and he carried out precision precision breeding to introduce this gene into multiple varieties so I want to give you a film to give you an idea of how effective this single gene is and this is a time-lapse sequence that was conducted at the field station in the International Rice Research Institute so in this situation the field was artificially flooded and on the left you’re going to see the variety that was developed through precision breeding called the sub 1 variety on the right you’ll see the other variety so you get it’s very fast it’s a whatever June through October at reduced to 40 seconds so here they are planting on the left you see the sub 1 variety everything both varieties look really nice uh-oh here comes the flood completely submerged and this is the recovery after the flood and you could see the addition of the small genetic locus carrying the sub 1 genes here I’ll run it again for you so so here we go everything looks good then there’s a flood and now comes the recovery and you can see which rice recovers faster now that recovery of this is 64 sub 1 rice translates directly into increased yield so on the left you can see I are 64 sub 1 his 3.8 tonnes per hectare on the right the variety without sub sub one has one point four tonnes per hectare so my collaborator Dave McGill has been busy at work and he’s now been able to introduce this locust we call it a gene or locust it’s a very small region of the chromosome from that fr 13 a variety he’s introduced it in to about six different varieties that are normally intolerant and this just shows you the example here’s I are 64 and I are 64 it’s sub one that I showed you there’s several other varieties that it’s been introduced to here’s Samba Samba alone Samba sub one and here are I or 42 which is another variety which is submergence intolerance so this small region of the chromosome now that we’ve been able to genetically characterize it we can introduce it into locally adaptive varieties that are embraced by growers so our team we had a large team that just visited Bangladesh in India to see how the variety was behaving in those countries both in field stations under controlled conditions and also in farmers fields so this is a photo I took just last week this is dr.Mazeed at the bangladesh rice research institute and he’s showing a difference between a variety that’s favored in Bangladesh called sworn appears sworn as sub-1 on the left and sworn are on the right and this was after about 14 days of flooding so in Bangladesh then this variety is very high yielding and just to give you an example it’s estimated in in in just a single country in Bangladesh 4 million tons of rice is lost every year to flooding and 4 million tons of rice is enough to feed 30 million people for one year so I think this demonstrates the the real positive impact of genetics so of course genetics is not the only solution to all our global agricultural problems but it really is an important tool and it can have a very dramatic impact so we then we’re lucky enough to go into the farmer’s field so what I’ve shown you before were trials on field stations well for the last three years the seed has been given to farmers in both Bangladesh and India so we went out to those small villages and we spoke with some of those farmers she’s speaking Araya which is the local dialect there and what she’s saying is she was surprised and very happy when she saw the sub when rice survived the flood and then the children we gave them a soccer ball there just didn’t care about the rice they just ran through the field with the soccer ball this little boy is I think running home with the soccer ball probably wants to hide it under his bed so that was very fun for us and then we went to India and we had a village meeting that was set up by the local breeders who have been carried out a three year farmers study and this was an opportunity to the farmers to meet us for us to meet the farmers for us to ask them questions about how the rice performed and for them to ask us questions about what would be the difference you know this looks great summers is tolerance but well are we bringing in any negative traits as well and that was one of the questions they asked us and the answer as well you know we’ve brought in a really small region of the chromosome so it’s unlikely there will be detrimental effects which is one of the advantages of genetic engineering or precision breeding and I wrote about this trip on my blog so if any of you want to journey to Bangladesh in India you can check out that blog so this was a place in erisa eastern India that I mentioned before in the village of Ngong and here’s one of the women at the meeting talking to us and she made the point which I thought was really important because of the rice because of this one variety her family had more to eat and they had more money because they were able to sell they had some surplus rice they were able to sell some of the rice and it was a really great time this they put up this tent for us it was decorated with cloth with big Galilee Bengali Tigers it was really a very lovely time so then it’s the question okay that all sounds great but are genetically engineered crops safe to eat this is a very important question the answer is clear at least for those crops the market but really the scientific evidence is in that the crops that have been commercialized that are on the market are safe to eat so that the highest scientific agency in the nation is called the National Academy of Sciences they’ve looked at this issue several times and have made this conclusion but it’s not only the National Academy of Sciences in the United States virtually every or every scientific society in every nation that has looked at this has made the same conclusion that the crops currently on the market are safe to eat there has been about a billion acres planted over the last ten years there’s not been a single case of adverse health or environmental impacts and I want you to keep that in mind considering that every year there’s 300,000 deaths due to insecticide poisoning so it’s really important to keep perspective risk perspective when you’re thinking about this so there’s no scientific basics for ruling out the process of genetic engineering there may be for philosophical reasons but really scientifically there’s no scientific basis and in fact genetic engineering and precision breeding really presents similar risks of unintended consequences as conventional breeding and the reason for that is anytime you develop a new variety there is some risk of some unintended consequences with conventional breeding you’re mixing a lot of different genes together that haven’t been characterized and they’re there some argue there’s less of a risks with genetic engineering because you knew know which gene that you’re breeding it putting in so clearly though each new crop must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and this goes for genetically engineered crops but it also goes for crops that have been developed through conventional breeding so just to summarize we think that the farms of the future really must produce enough food in an affordable manner to feed feed the human population but we really need to reduce the toxic inputs puts minimised nutrient runoff and soil erosion we believe organic production practices and genetically engineered crops as well as precision breeding can have a major contribution to reaching these goals just as plant breeding with some crucial importance to increase food production in the 20th century so I want to just close with a quote from environmental activists and visionary Rachel Carson from 1962 and I’ll just read it what she said was a truly extraordinary variety of alternatives to the chemical control of insects is available some are already in use and have achieved brilliant success others are in the stage of laboratory testing still others are little more than ideas in the minds of imaginative scientists waiting for the opportunity to put them to the test all have this in common there are biological solutions based on understanding of the living organisms they seek to control and of the whole fabric of life to which these organisms belong specialists representing various areas of the vascular biology are contributing and Tamala gist pathologists geneticists physiologist biochemists ecologists all pouring their knowledge and the creative inspiration standards or formation of a new science of biotic control so thank you for coming and thank you for your attention okay that’s a great question and the question the two-part question referre asked what do I think about the potential for resistance to bt due to it being used in genetically engineered plants and the second part of the question was what do I feel about the residue of bt going into the soil the first question about resistance to BT I think that is a critical question and there have been systems set up to try and prevent resistance from occurring growers that grow BT crops are also required to grow a percentage of their crop that’s not a BT crop so there’s enough genetic diversity there to avoid resistance and there’s a researcher in Arizona Bruce tabash Nick who’s done a lot of work on this and he’s shown that if these buffer areas are maintained that he hasn’t found that resistance occurs but if these buffer areas are not maintained then resistance indeed can can come about and this is this resistance question is one of the reasons that I would put the BT crops in a in a group of crops that may or may not fit into a sustainable system and it would depend on the area it would depend on what sort of farming practices people had but it’s you know it’s one of those crops that really needs to be be evaluated and scrutinized and it it from a organic farmers point of view it may be one that you say well you know I don’t that fits into a sustainable system the second party a question about the residue in the soil I’m not a expert on that but it’s it’s interesting to me that that bTW that the bacteria is a soil borne organism that’s that’s where it that’s where it came from so I’m I’m somewhat less concerned about the residue in the soil and more concerned about the potential for resistance to bt which I find to be a very useful tool what Ron said but but one thing to think about is the only insects that evolved resistance have evolved resistance in organic fields and that’s because possibly because BT has been used longer in organic fields possibly because when the crop is genetically engineered there’s a more planned production so there has not been insects that evolved resistance and created problems for farmers in genetically engineered crops these problems so far only occurred in inorganic situations merci yes so that’s Bruce tabash Nick and that is a really important study and what he showed that there were some alleles that that did develop resistance to BT but that these evolved in areas where there was not these alternative plantings but he also showed that there were no because their alleles they did not create epidemic of insect resistance so his conclusion from that study is that this whole idea of integrating BT and non BT crops works we have to continue and another point he makes is I think your question is a very important question it came up very early on people started using BT crops and it was predicted that insects would evolve resistance and it was mutsu prize that insects have not evolved resistance more quickly so what addressing the environment so I think the question is that if you genetically engineer crop and it’s high yielding and highly productive well what if it takes over the ecosystem it’s important question the same question applies to conventionally bred crops so everything that we eat as I mentioned has been conventionally bred it has traits that have been domesticated and brought in by geneticists and breeders so far to date there’s not been an example where a domesticated crop has invaded a native ecosystem and the reason for that is if you think about that corn variety that thing cannot survive without the help of the farmers Mencia at least in our area you don’t see weedy corn around so you have to think about again this idea of domesticated crops whether it’s through conventional breeding or genetic engineering these crops are bred to feed us they’re bred for farmers it’s like a poodle right we don’t see wild poodles running around but however it’s still an important question and I think the attention brought because of genetic engineering has been really useful people are starting to really stand back and say ok before we plant this crop whether it’s conventionally grown conventionally developed or genetically engineered we need to think about the environment so I think it’s a good question yeah so the Himalayas blackberry though if I understand this is this is a weeds are definitely a problem invasive species are definitely a problem but these are not domesticated species these are weedy species so weedy species have created tremendous problems I mean in California we have grasses that have taken over our entire Central Valley and they’re exotic they come from Europe so they thrive in in situations in weedy situations but actually a highly domesticated variety itself has not to my knowledge invaded a native ecosystem with our increased use of our other plants for biofuel would serve oil products such as camel aina it’s a plant that occurs as an invasive but we also have cultivated to breed and product what do you feel about introgression between these populations in basic populations that have been genetically engineered because and insects that’s a good question I think the question is what about you know engineering types of weedy species for purposes that we want to take advantage of and so we talked about this a little bit in the book and you and Oregon are familiar with this case of bent grass so we don’t golf we don’t really care about bent grass so much excuse me if I don’t want to offend the golfers see we offend everybody in this book but bent grass is important for as I understand it for for creating turf for golfing so an herbicide tolerance gene was introduced into a weed and as it’s not unpredictable that this would spread it into another system because it’s already a weed so I think the idea of engineering weeds for purposes such as golfing is would not fit our lit onto our list of sustainable agriculture experts on creeping bank grass we we it’s not as you pointed out today which is producing a lot of in Atlanta and I may be diseased a case were that know that you were topical considering each crop and its trade individually and pay attention to there are characteristics in detail important thank you yeah I just wonder if you evaluate and levy most genetically engineered Roundup Ready soybeans in regard to your criteria for sustainable and just a couple points about that like somebody attractive to protect biodiversity there are harmful environmental impact so right now Roundup Ready soybeans are about 90 percent of what is being used in the US to the point where a number of farmers that want to get nine Roundup Ready soybeans finding it very difficult to even find a person plus although the herbicide years went down after is originally now because of resistance to the roundup Roundup Ready soybeans it’s actually been shown the pesticide so did everyone hear that question because you spoke so loudly I heard it that’s a great question of but what actually fits into a sustainable AG system and I would I envision these sorts of questions being resolved in a room full of people that represent different aspects of Agriculture and maybe consumers in our society but that said it seems like if you develop genetically engineered plants that are likely that where resistance is likely to develop to that trait that that’s not a very well designed trait there’s a researcher here on campus Carl month Chris Chris Mundt is he here yeah whoo oh yeah no no no no but he works he works on he works on if I’m if I’m correct on mixed varieties of wheat and rice being used in in fields and I feel like that’s a that’s a great example of using genetics to minimize the resistance of whether it’s diseases or herbicides or insects to your crop and I guess I’d like to see if if there are going to be genetically engineered plants with with really beneficial traits I’d like to see them used in a way that increases that maximizes the diversity of the the genes within those within those plants so instead of there being just one gene in the same variety of soybean planted over two million acres I love the idea of a mix of varieties with the mix of genes I don’t know if that answered you my two cents into so there has been a lot of debate in the literature that you’re probably familiar with about well you know herbicide tolerant soybeans is that actually increasing the amount of herbicide being used and in different situations we’re seeing different answers to that but again it’s it’s location specific but but what is very clear is that the overall toxicity of the herbicide in the environment has dramatically decreased and that’s because roundup is a relatively benign herbicide and it’s replace more toxic herbicides such as metal ore which is a cancer causing and atrazine which are very serious problems environmental problems and the other point that we we do make in the book is that you know herbicide tolerant crops are not useful in less developed countries they can’t afford to buy the herbicide so it’s not something useful for less developed countries but it may be useful and it is seem to be useful for farmers here in the sense that they can reduce tilling use no-till agriculture and just the other point I wanted to make about that is so in the book I get an argument with my sister who is an environmental lawyer and I wouldn’t recommend get in an argument with a lawyer but I did and I put the argument in the book and her point is well you know I don’t want to use more herbicides I don’t want to use any inputs and I respect that opinion but but this idea of development of resistance to the herbicide is really a problem of over application of the herbicide it’s not an issue of genetically engineered crops and in fact the same situation has occurred with naturally-occurring mutants that are they’re tolerant of the herbicide so I didn’t I didn’t see that as a good argument to ban genetic engineering but I don’t think I convinced her you can read the book and tell me what you think you harvested for the next crop to plant have all the carrots tomatoes but they’re going around the resistance and then you can create or your proxy companies that are resistant and let’s see that’s that’s a great example of where you need organic farming practices to make it a more sustainable system because an organic farm is going to rotate their crops so the next well that’s true well no no no but no no no so so so one thing one thing I’d like to make make clear is that what we’re proposing here is is the combination of a lot of organic farming practices with genetically engineered plants but that’s not an organic farm because legally in this country using genetically engineered plants is not allowed in organic farming systems what we’re developing here is a sustainable agriculture for that ninety seven percent of the rest of this country that’s not using cover crops that’s not rotating their crops that’s not trying to enhance beneficial insects so in a in a sustainable system there’s not gonna be monoculture there’s not gonna be the same crop being planted in the same ground year after year you know kind of an interesting thing when I looked at Oregon’s pesticide use the the material that was used the most is met Tam solium met Tam sodium which is a sow fumigant so so so fumigants they’re used in strawberries in California and they’re used in situations where farmers want to grow the same crop in the same ground year after year after year and it’s not a sustainable system you know it’s a it’s a it’s a system that causes lots of different problems and and you know so I think that that I don’t know if you know first of all I’m not sure if the Roundup Ready tray fits into a sustainable system you have to weigh the benefits of of no-till agriculture versus not but if it does if it’s used by itself it doesn’t really form a sustainable system you’ve had your hand up for a long time ya know yeah the question was should there be patents on GM crops right now along with patents plants are protected in a variety of ways one is by creating hybrids because you can’t save seed from a hybrid and if you look in seed catalogs most of the varieties many of the popular varieties for tomato and broccoli and melons and and field corn especially they’re all hybrids and so farmers growing corn around the country they’re all buying new seed each year they don’t save you know they can’t save their old seed if they’re if they’re growing hybrids another way plants are protected is through the plant variety Protection Act which basically is used mostly with open pollinated crops that have been developed by by seed companies so I guess I see a value in being able for a seed company or a plant breeder to protect their creative plant and I have a funny story there’s a there’s a plant breeder in Davis who has developed this wonderful purple kale and he spent a number of years developing this this this kale that we’re fortunate enough to be able to grow at this at the student farm but but he doesn’t have the money even to pay for the the plant the PvP the plant varietal Protection Act which is about $6,000 and he certainly doesn’t have enough for a patent so what he’s done is nothing so there’s this variety that he’s put a lot of work into he wants to get some money out of but he doesn’t feel like he can so almost no one gets to use it and I think that’s a that’s a greater tragedy greater tragedy than rewarding someone for developing a useful plant that said I’m really opposed to the idea of patenting genes a variety is one thing but a gene I think takes it too far and I have patented the gene so the way we worked this this is a gene on my lab clone about its oh it’s getting on 15 years now it’s a disease resistant gene and what we did it was funded by non-profit foundation and Rockefeller Foundation and when we came up with this gene a lot of companies approached us and said oh you know we want that gene and it was a dilemma for me because we wanted to see the gene use broadly and these companies were offering to develop new wheat varieties new corn varieties that would use less pesticides and and that was very attractive to me and of course these companies have a very large power but at the same time because this was funded by nonprofit corporation because I work on rice which is a crop for the less developed world I felt very strongly that we had to make that gene available so what we did is we sort of split the difference so we had we developed what was called the genetic resources recognition fund and UC Davis filed a patent application on that gene and we licensed it well it was never licensed but this is long story with options of Licensing we options to license to some agricultural companies but just for use in corn and wheat in developed countries and we made it clear that that genes should be put in the public domain in less developed countries and on top of that we were hoping that the companies would make a lot of money on our gene because what we were planning to do is take some of those profits and return those profits to the country of origin so this particular gene originated from West Africa from a wild species so we were hoping to plough that money back into some sort of land conservation program or farmer education program that gene however was never taken up by the US companies it’s sort of you know very faddish they get really excited about something and then they drop it but the fact that we made it publicly available has allowed the Chinese researchers to introduce it into their varieties and they were very careful so China is very careful they don’t want to pay any fees to American corporations so once we said no you can use it they have developed some genetically engineered rice it actually may be released this year and in the case of the submergence tolerance rice that we put into the public domain we really wanted to get it out as fast as possible so I think again it’s important to think about what what you can do is that gene and who it will benefit very motivated to do genetic engineering and you know some people say that the historical is this historical problem right if Golden Rice had come out first some of you may be familiar with this Golden Rice was a genetically engineered rice for enhanced vitamin A production and it’s expected 200,000 children a year die from vitamin A deficiency the research was funded again by a non-profit Rockefeller Foundation it’s been put into local adaptive varieties some people feel that if that was the first product that came out the whole concept of genetic engineering would have maybe would have been embraced but because some of the products came out first by these large corporations and most people don’t trust Monsanto they were some of the makers of Agent Orange right so we don’t want to trust corporations to control our our food supply it just doesn’t make sense you know their job is to make a profit hopefully satisfy their consumers but their job is not to feed the world so I think the point I wanted to make about regulation it’s very complicate because right now we we believe that we need to regulate genetically engineered crops maybe some conventional crops need to be better regulated the problem is it’s getting to be so costly the only ones that can afford it large multinational corporations and so we’re kind of going into a circle here we want these genetically engineered crops to benefit people that are very poor and if if some of that genetic potential is locked up in corporations that wanted to profit here it could could hinder so there are nonprofit corporations not nonprofit foundation since the Rockefeller Foundation and the Gates Foundation that are really putting a big effort into this whole issue of intellectual property which is quite tangled up you


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