Genetic Engineering, Agriculture and Climate Change


11 Δεκ 2012 (πριν από 5 χρόνια και 7 μήνες)

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Genetic Engineering,
Agriculture and Climate
Bonn Climate Change Discussions
June 2009
Helena Paul, EcoNexus
Messages from biotech and
We must increase yields

Green revolution crop yields are levelling off

Population rising 50% to 9 billion –
must increase food
production 50-100%

Climate change and peak oil mean we must

Produce fuels from biomass without competing with food production

Replace all fossil oil products

Insufficient land and water available for this –
must produce
more from each hectare

Use -
and regenerate -
so-called “marginal”
And we face the impacts of climate

More extreme weather events

eavier rains, longer dry seasons

heat, flood and drought

Less predictable seasons
So we need climate-ready crops

plants for greater extremes of weather

salt tolerant crops for saline land

due to flooding, irrigation

for salt water farming

ess chemical fertiliser: scarcities, expensive
to transport, energy intensive to produce

plants to fix their own nitrogen

plants to take up nitrogen more efficiently
And we have to replace fossil oil

onvert biomass into fuels and other

Breaking down biomass uses energy and
causes GHG emissions -
we are promised

GM plants that will break down easily

enzymes and microorganisms
that will reduce the need for
energy use in processing

synthetic biology to custom-build microorganisms
Claims for current and future biotech
crops and trees

GM biotech companies regularly claim
increased yield for GM crops

Current GM crops may show reduced losses (also
known as operational yield increase) in some
cases -
Bt corn

Some have shown reduced yields compared to
conventional counterparts -
yield-drag in GM soya

Intrinsic (actual) yield increases: not from GM but
conventional breeding
New GM crops and trees for yield

Many claims that new GM crops are being developed
for higher intrinsic yield

None yet proposed for commercial use

No concrete information on the nature of the research
has been divulged so it is impossible to assess
Stress tolerant plants

Salt, heat, flood and drought tolerant crops to
address climate change, soil and water degradation

complex to be attainable in the foreseeable

many genes involved

the interactions between genes, proteins
and chemical
compounds involved not fully understood or predictable

Can be developed without GM through conventional
breeding or using already adapted varieties
Other promised GM solutions (1)

hese are either hypothetical or if they exist, potentially
very risky

Nitrogen fixing and uptake

nitrogen-fixing for non-leguminous plants
to reduce dependence
on chemical nitrogen fertilizers.

enhanced uptake and utilization of nitrogen
by plants: still at very
early stage as gene regulation poorly understood

Convert C3 plants to C4 plants: more efficient
photosynthesis, water use and heat tolerance

involves modifying complex photosynthesis system of plant

C4 examples: maize, sugarcane and millet;

C3 examples: potato, rice, wheat and barley.
Other promised GM solutions (2)

Enable plants (cold-tolerant eucalyptus trees)
to grow
outside their usual climatic

ast growing poplar trees for second generation
(and biochar?) to be planted on marginal lands

Resistance to emerging pests and dis
eases: Current GM
response: developing crops stacked with different
patented genes for herbicide tolerance and insect

GM plants and algae designed to give consistent
commercial yields
Genetic engineering to convert biomass
to feed the “new bioeconomy”

Convert biomass into fuels and other industrial

Use less energy to do so more efficiently

Replace fossil fuel products with the new bioeconomy
based on biomass –
whole crops and trees, “waste”

brings together the interests and experience of
the major agricultural and chemical
industries (e.g. seed,
fertilizer, pesticide, commodities and biotechnology) with the
energy sector, including the oil, power and automotive
industries, plus the paper industry.
GM to break down biomass

Lignin and cellulose are complex substances, difficult to

Lignin impedes extraction of cellulose from cell walls

Cellulose and hemicellulose
require different treatments

Use GM to

change ratios of lignin to cellulose in plants and trees

change structure of lignin and cellulose for easier break-

develop GM enzymes and/or microbes
for insertion into
crops or for use
in processing plants to promote breakdown
of biomass
Risks of GM “climate-ready”
plants, trees
and enzymes (1)

Some can be anticipated, others will be completely new

Assumptions based on familiarity/equivalence not valid for crops
with completely novel traits

Not proven, not ready yet and may not be for many years

Claims that escape of enzymes and microorganisms
refineries is no threat cannot be substantiated

Special risks associated with GM trees:

GM contamination of forests would be inevitable

long life cycle means many years before impacts are known

trees have vital functions and complex interactions within

wide dissemination of pollen, fruit and seed
Risks of GM “climate-ready”
plants, trees
and enzymes (2)
Alteration of natural forest ecosystems could be
profound and would be irreversible.

ast growing trees would have new advantages

Low lignin trees: vulnerable to pests, fungi

Insecticide expressing (Bt) trees would alter pest balance, food
chain, could promote emergence of new pests

Risks and potential impacts are not clearly understood

impacts greater than for annual field crops
Implications for climate impossible to predict
Risks from bioeconomy
to address
climate change and peak oil
Massive concentration of industries
Requires huge areas for fast-growing
monocultures of biomass raw

prioritises use of biomass for economic purposes over ecological
purposes (eg:
protecting biodiversity or ecosystems to enhance
climate resilience)

demand is potentially limitless
as massive increases in energy
consumption are predicted

plant biomass has low energy density in comparison with fossil

would extend the well-documented impacts of
industrial agriculture on soils,
water, biodiversity, ecosystem
integrity, small farmers, local communities and indigenous peoples.

could replace major tracts of forest and other vital ecosystems
Patents, confidentiality and research

Agricultural research and development increasingly
carried out by the private sector

Little information available about research -
Confidential Business Information
(CBI) –
hard to
assess their value

Pending patent applications limit information
exchange between researchers –
500 patent
applications on “climate ready”

Granted applications may involve payments for
access to material and information
What’s the alternative?

Technical solutions can’t substitute for genuine
political commitment to address climate change

Reduce consumption in Annex 1 countries…

Stop marginalising
small farmers, local communities,
indigenous people and women in climate and
agriculture discussions

Redirect research priorities to centre on these groups
and to support:

Locally adapted varieties of crops

resilient agriculture for resilient ecosystems