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The Real Burning Question: Are Liquid Fuels the best use of Non-Woody Biomass?

March 28, 2009 Commentaries, Environment, Science Media Comments Off on The Real Burning Question: Are Liquid Fuels the best use of Non-Woody Biomass?
Are Liquid Fuels Really the Best Use for Non-Woody Biomass?

David Malakoff, Science Writer (Photo Credit: PortWorks)

If Roger Samson had a coat of arms, it might be a flickering flame encircled by a wreath of grass.

For decades now, the Canadian agriculture expert has been talking up the environmental and economic benefits of burning non-woody biomass – such as pellets made from perennial grasses – to produce heat and electricity. And he’d won some converts: Policymakers, industry executives and farmers in the United States and Canada were warming to the idea, conducting research and starting pilot projects.

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Roundup Ready 2 Yield as much as Conventional Soybeans?

Roundup Ready 2 Soybeans

Jonathan Latham, PhD and Allison Wilson, PhD

Gore Vidal once wrote that “I told you so,” is the most satisfying sentence in the English language. If so, then the imminent launch of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybean line is going to provide a lot of satisfaction, though not to supporters of Monsanto. The role of the new glyphosate-resistant line (insertion event MON88978) in the following story is to provide a single, but highly significant, new data point.

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USDA Top Officials Versus USDA Data

June 25, 2008 Commentaries, Science Media Comments Off on USDA Top Officials Versus USDA Data
USDA Top Officials Versus USDA Data

Daryll E. Ray, the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee. He is the Director of UT’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC).

The recent Rome food summit was dominated by some rather intemperate exchanges over whether biofuels were a significant cause of higher food prices. Shortly before the summit, on May 19, USDA held a reporter briefing which argued, in contradiction to our regular column (www.agpolicy.org), that Chinese and Indian food imports were a significant factor in these price hikes. In the column we said, “China has increased its consumption of meats [beef, pork, broilers] at a rate well above the rate of population increase.” But we also noted, “China produces virtually all of the meat that is domestically consumed, and then some. In fact China was a net meat exporter for the last 7 years and 14 of the last 18 years.”

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India’s Colourless Revolution: Replacement of Traditional Oils by Soy and Palm Oils

May 12, 2008 (Un)Sustainable Farming, Commentaries, Health Comments Off on India’s Colourless Revolution: Replacement of Traditional Oils by Soy and Palm Oils
Replacement of Traditional Oils by Soy and Palm Oils

Dr Rashmi Sharma, Dept. of Chemistry, S.D. Govt. College, Beawar, India

The interrelationships between agriculture, food, cooking and health are highly complex and profoundly significant. A characteristic of complex relationships is that a change in any one component will have effects on the viability and functioning of each of the others. In India, where native seeds such as mustard, groundnut, sesame (til) and coconut are traditionally cultivated for their oil, this linkage can be clearly seen. With a high oil content, these seeds are traditionally extracted by cold pressing, an activity suited to small scale production and which utilises non-hazardous low-impact technologies. The resulting oils are nutritious, and high in natural flavours. And since they are traditionally used and stored in their unrefined state, they are long-lasting (1-4).

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How the Science Media Failed the IAASTD

April 7, 2008 (Un)Sustainable Farming, Commentaries, Environment, Science Media Comments Off on How the Science Media Failed the IAASTD

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

Note: An excellent complementary piece, from one of the IAASTD authors, is:
The IAASTD report and some of its fallout – a personal note By Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, ETH Zurich, Institute of Integrative Biology, Zurich, Switzerland

You may not have heard of it, but a potential landmark document in the fields of development and agriculture (called by some the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of agriculture) is currently in the late stages of reaching fruition.

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Let the World Learn From Our Experience with GMOs

March 25, 2008 Biotechnology, Commentaries Comments Off on Let the World Learn From Our Experience with GMOs

E. Ann Clark, University of Guelph, Canada

E. Ann Clark is an Associate Professor in the department of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She wrote this piece in response to a widely reported survey which suggested UK farmers wanted to grow GMO crops (1). The first paragraph refers to the fact that the 30 farmers questioned for the survey were selected from a list provided by SCIMAC (the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops). In their own words, “SCIMAC is a grouping of industry organisations along the UK farm supply chain, established in 1998 to support the carefully managed introduction of GM crops in the UK.” It is written as an open letter to British farmers and others considering growing GMO crops.

As I tell my students, how you frame the question predetermines the range of possible answers. This article demonstrates the corollary: how you pick your survey respondents predetermines the outcome. Did the authors of the research – Professor Andy Lane and Dr Sue Oreszczyn – actually intend their findings to be released now, or was it an inadvertent disclosure? Perhaps this small and patently selective sampling of farmer opinion – 30 ‘large-scale, commodity farmers — not those mainly involved in organic growing’ – was just a preliminary effort, to be followed up by a larger, statistically sound sampling? Or perhaps all British farmers are large-scale commodity growers, such that this small group could be considered representative?
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What is Nature Biotechnology good for?

December 4, 2007 Biotechnology, Commentaries, Health, Science Media Comments Off on What is Nature Biotechnology good for?

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

The case of Irina Ermakova

Quite likely it surprised many regular readers of Nature Biotechnology that for the September (2007) issue their journal had invented a new article format specifically in order to describe, and then extensively criticise, the work of a researcher that most of them had never heard of before (1). That surprise will only increase if they read the translation, featured on our website, of a Nov 1st article (The excommunication of a heretic) in the Swiss Newspaper WOZ. Readers who thought this new format was simply a curious, if rather aggressive, literary innovation, can now see that this was a story with a disturbing history. Even more interesting however than the ethical shenanigans behind the publication of the interview with Dr Ermakova, is a point not raised by the Swiss newspaper article.

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Rethinking the Risks of Viral Transgenes in Plants

November 30, 2007 (Un)Sustainable Farming, Biotechnology, Commentaries, Environment Comments Off on Rethinking the Risks of Viral Transgenes in Plants

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

Part I: Transcomplementation and its implications

Today marks the publication, in the journal Molecular Plant Pathology, of the Bioscience Resource Project’s newest biosafety review: Transcomplementation and synergism: implications for virus-resistant transgenic plants?.

This review, which represents a conceptual reanalysis of the risks of viral proteins expressed in transgenic plants, is particularly timely because virus resistance and the biosafety of viral transgenes are currently under active discussion in more than one US regulatory agency.

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Commentaries

The UK’s Royal Society: a Case Study in How the Health Risks of GMOs Have Been Systematically Misrepresented

by Steven Druker For more than twenty years, many eminent scientists and scientific institutions have routinely claimed that genetically modified foods are safe. And because of the perceived authority of their pronouncements, most government officials and members of the media have believed them. But when the arguments these scientists employ …

“Poison Papers” Snapshot: HOJO Transcript Illustrates EPA Collusion With Chemical Industry

The Poison Papers

by Rebekah Wilce The world of independent chemical testing has a shiny veneer. The public is reassured that chemicals they’re exposed to on a daily basis are certified by technicians in spotless white lab coats who carefully conduct scientific studies, including on animals in neat rows of cages. But a …

The Biotech Industry Is Taking Over the Regulation of GMOs from the Inside

by Jonathan Latham, PhD The British non-profit GMWatch recently revealed the agribusiness takeover of Conabia, the National Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology of Argentina. Conabia is the GMO assessment body of Argentina. According to GMWatch, 26 of 34 its members were either agribusiness company employees or had major conflicts of …

The Meaning of Life (Part I)

DNA double helix

by Jonathan Latham, PhD Many people date the DNA revolution to the discovery of its structure by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. But really it began thirty years before, conceived by the mind of John D Rockefeller, Sr. Thus it is fitting that DNA is named after him. …

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Reviews

Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA

Poison Spring Evaggelos Valllianatos

Book Author: Evaggelos Vallianatos with McKay Jenkins Reviewed by: Carol Van Strum “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” Richard Feynman famously declared in 1966. Ever quick to challenge accepted wisdom, he distinguished the laudable ignorance of science, forever seeking unattainable certainties, from the dangerous ignorance of experts …

The Real Cost of Fracking: How America’s Shale Gas Boom Is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food

The Real Cost of Fracking book cover

Book Authors: Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald Reviewed by Allison Wilson (The Bioscience Resource Project) The first researchers to systematically document ill health in livestock, pets, and people living near fracking drill sites were Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald. Bamberger, a veterinarian, and Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at …

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