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Newsletter / March 2015

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Dear Science Allies:

The attack on the 14 public sector scientists by an anti-GMO group filing spurious Freedom of Information Act Requests (FoIA) this month was an alarming threat to academic freedom and provides an important moment for the Alliance and its allies to convene and stand up for science.

In response to the FoIA requests, we have launched the "I stand with the #Science14" campaign, which I hope you will sign today and share widely with your own networks of Science Allies.

As we detail in this issue of the Alliance Monthly Monitor, there was a lot of love for ag biotech last month — from new investments in the public sector fight against citrus greening, to the approval of the Arctic Apple, to Bill Nye “the Science Guy,” a popular U.S. television personality, embracing GMOs. In Africa, there were significant developments toward the passing of biosafety bills in Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda that will help ensure farmers in those countries have access to modern agricultural innovations.

Many champions stood up for science, globally, this month. Champions like Anne Glover, the former EU chief science advisor, stood up for the scientific consensus on GE crops; Radha Mohan Singh, the Indian Agriculture Minister, advocated for the great promise GE technology holds for solving some of India’s most pressing agriculture challenges. And champions like the Girl Scouts of America stood firm in their support for science — citing “worldwide scientific support for the safety of currently commercialized ingredients derived from genetically modified agricultural crops,” in their defense of the cookies they sell.

Please sign our petition!

Optimistically standing with science,


Sarah Evanega
Director, Cornell Alliance for Science
 
Facebook
@ScienceAlly

April 10-11

Cornell Alliance for Science – The Nairobi Biotechnology Leadership Course
The Cornell Alliance for Science Short Course in Nairobi is a two-day intensive training course for leaders around the globe who are committed to advocating for increased access to agricultural biotechnology. <More>

Global Leadership

12-Week Fellowship Program in Science Communications

Starting August 2015, the Alliance is launching our Global Leadership Fellows Program, a certificate program designed to empower emerging leaders who will improve science communications and promote evidence-based decision-making around the globe. For more information on the 12-week program’s curriculum and application requirements, visit our program web site.

US Government Funds Biotech Effort to Save Citrus Industry

The USDA is making a major investment in a biotechnology strategy to combat citrus greening disease, or Huanglongbing (HLB), the devastating disease that has ravaged the country’s citrus industry and has already cost as many as 8,000 jobs and more than $4 billion in crop damage. <More>

 

British Scientists Develop GE Plant That Could Make Fish Farming More Sustainable

A team of British scientists has made major progress in addressing one of the seafood industry’s biggest environmental challenges. Last month, Rothamsted Research, a public agricultural research institute in the UK, announced that a genetically engineered camelina plant had been successfully fed to farmed Atlantic salmon. <More>

 

Anti-GMO Group Floods Public Biotech Researchers with Freedom of Information Requests

Last month, public sector scientists were alarmed when a nonprofit group opposed to GM products filed a flurry of freedom of information (FoIA) requests with at least four U.S. universities. <More>

 
Our New Goal: 1000 Signers for #Science14

We reached our initial goal of getting 500 signers for the "I stand with the #Science14" petition in less than a day!

Given the tremendous outpouring of support for #Science14, we're raising our goal.

Now we hope to gather 1000 signers by Tuesday, March 10th.

We hope you'll join the fight for academic freedom by signing the Alliance’s letter to support the 14 scientists under attack urging them to stand strong in the face of agenda-driven, anti-science bullying. And if you've already signed the petition, thank you! We hope you'll share our petition with fellow Science Allies. Sign our petition here!
 

Food Science Students Ask “Food Babe”: Show Us Evidence


In late January, six food science graduate students had heard enough from the Food Babe. Weary of hearing misinformation about food science and tired of watching attacks on their profession go unchallenged, the students published an open letter to Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe <More>
 

Biofortified Launches “Cookies and Science” Campaign to Support Girl Scouts


From teamwork, to setting up a campsite and making crafts, Anastasia Bodnar learned a lot during her years as a Girl Scout — and today, she is deeply proud of her experience. Last month, Bodnar, who is a PhD maize geneticist, became even more proud when the Girl Scouts of America stood up to a relentless campaign by anti-GE activists.

Instead of caving to the activists — who gathered 40,000 signatures for a petition asking Girl Scouts to make their popular cookies GMO-free — the Girl Scouts stood their ground, seizing the opportunity for a “teachable moment” about the scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs. To show her appreciation for the Scouts, Bodnar, a board member and editor at Biofortified, launched her own petition campaign on Change.org, titled “Celebrate Cookies and Science.” <More>

 

Is Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” Embracing GE Foods?

Discover’s Keith Kloor recently reported that Bill Nye — the popular science commentator known as “The Science Guy” — has apparently changed his views on GE foods. Nye, who has previously expressed concern about ‘hidden dangers’ posed by GE foods, recently visited Monsanto, where he met with the company’s top scientists. According to Kloor’s story in Discover, Nye hasn’t yet announced in what ways his views have changed — or what happened during his Monsanto visit <More>

Real Time with Bill Maher: Backstage with Bill Nye the Science Guy (HBO)
 
 

How Jairam Ramesh's ban on Bt Brinjal Set India Back Several Years

It has been five years since Jairam Ramesh, India’s Environment and Forests Minister, instituted an indefinite moratorium on the release of Bt brinjal. Writing in India’s FirstPost, journalist Vivian Fernandes describes Ramesh’s decision to ban Bt brinjal, India’s first genetically engineered crop, which is resistant to the fruit and shoot borer, as “Luddite,” a decision that has demoralized scientists and had a chilling effect on industry. <More>

 

Poll Findings on Public Fears about GMO Safety: Grossly Misleading

One of the most newsworthy, and heavily trumpeted finds from last month’s 2015 PEW/AAAS survey “Public and Scientists View of Science and Society” was the staggering rift between what scientists and the public think about GMOs. The widely publicized poll reported a more than 50 percent gulf: 88 percent of scientists believed GMOs to be generally safe, while only 37 percent of the public believe the same. But Dan Kahan, a Yale Law professor, believes this finding to be “simply pathetic.” <More>

 

Could Uganda Become A Beacon for Pioneering Ag Biotech?

Uganda is evolving into a center for biotechnological research and a model for other African nations, writes Ongu Isaac for the Genetic Literacy Project. Ongu highlighted several examples of Uganda’s pioneering role. <More>

 

Science that is Hard to Swallow

In the midst of an ever-growing national conversation about the risks of vaccine denial prompted by more than 140 confirmed cases of measles, the Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt penned a powerful editorial about the risks of another type of denialism — rejecting the consensus on GM foods. <More>

 

Will Gene-Edited Products be Considered GMOs?


It’s been hailed as the biggest biotech discovery of the century and the breakthrough that will change medicine forever. But programmable gene editing technologies — the most promising of which is the CRISPR-Cas9 system — could also change agricultural biotechnology. <More>
 
Each month, the Alliance tracks the world’s top news and opinions on agricultural biotechnology. If you or someone in your organization is interested in contributing reports to the Monthly Monitor, please let us know at allianceforsci@cornell.edu. We always encourage you to submit important news reports from your region.
 

U.S. Approves Arctic Apple —Biotech Apple that Resists Browning

On February 13, the USDA approved the release of two apple varieties genetically engineered to resist browning. The USDA decision is a milestone for agricultural biotech not only because the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden are among the first GE crops with a direct consumer benefit, but because the non-browning apples were created by a small company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, of Summerland, British Columbia <More>

 

GM Mosquito Plan Continues to Spark Florida Debate

The January announcement of a plan to release millions of GE mosquitoes in the Florida Keys — as a safer, more effective way of controlling Dengue and chikungunya disease — continued to generate extensive media coverage in February. The New York Times highlighted the anti-GE mosquito movement in a story “A Mosquito Solution Raises Heat in Florida Keys,” while CBS News covered the opposition from Keys residents and NGOs such as Food and Water Watch. <More>

 

Indian Agriculture Minister Pushes for GE Crops

In yet another sign that India may be ready to change its stance on GE crops, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh said that crop biotechnology holds “great promise” in increasing productivity and countering climate stress. <More>

 

Ex-EU Science Chief Criticizes Environmental Groups; Says GE Tech is Safe

Anne Glover, the Scottish microbiologist who formerly served as chief science adviser to the European Commission, fired back at her critics in a widely publicized interview on the BBC show HardTalk.

In her first full interview since leaving Brussels, Glover not only disputed charges that she was sacked, saying she intended to leave, but also said that criticism from environmental groups was “unjustified.” <More>

 

U.S. GE Labeling Fight’s New Venue: Capitol Hill

The battle over GE labeling in the United States is heating up at the federal level. Last month, members of the U.S. House and Senate announced campaigns to require labels on food made with GE ingredients. <More>

 

China Begins GE Food Education Campaign

China will step up efforts to improve public awareness of GE agriculture in 2015 to challenge consumer fears, according to Xinhua, the Chinese government news agency. “GM technology is very promising,” Chinese agricultural official Han Jun said, “and we must stand on top of GM research as China has quite limited agricultural resources.” <More>

 

Uganda Tables Biosafety Bill

Denis Hamson Obua, Chairperson of the committee on science and technology of the Ugandan parliament, has tabled Uganda’s National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, according to AllAfrica.com. <More>

 

New York Assembly Bill Would Defend Farmers Against Lawsuits from Seed Companies

Farmers in New York State would be protected against lawsuits from biotech companies if GE crops inadvertently grow on their fields, according to a bill passed by the NY Assembly in February. <More>

 

India Surpasses China in GM Hectares Grown

India now has as many hectares devoted to GE crops as Canada and more than China, the Hindustan Times reported last month. <More>

 

EU Lobbied for 13 Biotech Approvals

A consortium of U.S. commodity, seed, and biotech groups has sent a letter to the European Health & Food Safety Commissioner asking for quick approval of more than 13 new biotech products, according to Prairie Farmer. <More>

 

Scottish Farmer: Rebrand genetic modification as ‘ethical crop breeding’

Nigel Miller, president of Scotland’s National Farmers Union, believes that genetic modification should be re-branded as “ethical crop breeding,” The Courier (UK) reported. <More>

 

Alliance Video: How Biotech Is Fighting a Devestating Disease in Uganda

Bananas are a staple in Uganda. In fact, the average Ugandan eats seven bananas a day —that's more bananas than any other country in the world. But since 2002, a devastating disease, called banana bacterial wilt (BBW), has been wiping out crops throughout the country. There is, however, a promising way of combatting BBW. Using biotechnology, a team of scientists at Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) have developed a banana variety that is resistant to BBW. <More>

Fighting Banana Bacterial Wilt in Uganda
 

Why Do So Many Reasonable People Doubt Science

So much scientific knowledge — on climate change, vaccines, GM foods, and even evolution — faces furious opposition today. Why? Last week, PBS Newshour’s Gwen Ifill interviewed Joel Achenbach, author of the must-read National Geographic cover story, “Why Do So Many Reasonable People Doubt Science,” and Cary Funk of the Pew Research Center about science denialism — and why throwing facts and data at people doesn’t always persuade them. Watch here.

 

Mark Lynas: Why I Changed My Mind on GMOs

Environmentalist Mark Lynas was once a leading figure in the movement against agricultural biotech research. Now he’s an outspoken advocate for the technology. In this short interview, Lynas, who is leading the Alliance’s efforts in Europe, tells the BBC why he changed his mind on GMOs.

 

Can GE Crops End World Hunger by 2030?

In this short, animated video on The Verge, Bill Gates makes his case for how GE seeds can help drive down poverty and improve the quality of life in Africa. View here.

 

 
 

Genome Editing 101: CRISPR Cas9

Watch this five-minute video for an excellent introduction to CRISPR Cas9, one of the most promising gene-editing techniques.

 

Genome Editing with CRISPR-Cas9
see this video in Quanta Magazine
 

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