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04

May
2018

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60 Minutes: CRISPR: The gene-editing tool revolutionizing biomedical research

On 04, May 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured | By Admin

A new tool could be the key to treating genetic diseases and may be the most consequential discovery in biomedicine this century.

It’s challenging to tell a story about something that’s invisible to the naked eye and tricky to explain. But it’s one we undertook, because rarely does a discovery come along that could revolutionize medicine.  It’s called CRISPR and it stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. CRISPR sounds more like a refrigerator compartment than a gene-editing tool, but it’s giving scientists power they could only imagine before – to easily edit DNA – allowing them to reprogram the genetic code of living things. That’s opening up the possibility of curing genetic diseases. Some researchers are even using it to try to prevent disease entirely by correcting defective genes in human embryos. We wanted to see for ourselves, so we went to meet a scientist at the center of the CRISPR craze.

“There are about 6,000 or more diseases that are caused by faulty genes. The hope is that we will be able to address most if not all of them.”

Bill Whitaker: This is CRISPR?

Feng Zhang: This has CRISPR in it.

Bill Whitaker: So– this is what’s revolutionizing science and biomedicine?

Feng Zhang: This is what many people are using– in research — and trying to develop treatments.

Bill Whitaker: That’s wild.

Feng Zhang: Yeah.

That little vial is igniting a big revolution that is likely to change the way doctors treat disease in the future. One of the brains behind it, is baby-faced Feng Zhang.

crisprpreview.jpg

Feng Zhang speaks with correspondent Bill Whitaker

 CBS NEWS

At 36, he’s already a tenured professor at MIT and a scientific celebrity because he figured out a way to override human genetic instructions using CRISPR.

Bill Whitaker: So, the CRISPR is not the liquid, the CRISPR is in the–

Feng Zhang: It’s dissolved in the liquid. There are probably billions of molecules of CRISPR…

Bill Whitaker: Billions?

BOTH: In here.

Feng Zhang: That’s right. And the way we use it is we take the liquid and apply it to cells.

For the last seven years, Zhang has been working on CRISPR at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s a research mecca brimming with some of the brightest scientific minds from Harvard and MIT on a mission to fight disease. CRISPR is making medical research faster, cheaper, easier. Zhang’s colleagues predict it will help them tackle diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.  

Bill Whitaker: How many diseases are we talking about that this could be used to treat?

Feng Zhang: There are about 6,000 or more diseases that are caused by faulty genes. The hope is that we will be able to address most if not all of them.

Bill Whitaker: Most if not all of them?

Feng Zhang: That’s the long-term hope.

Bill Whitaker: So we’re talking diseases like Huntington’s—

Feng Zhang: Uh-huh.

Bill Whitaker: Sickle Cell.

Feng Zhang: Yup. ALS—hemophilia.

Eric Lander: I think CRISPR, it’s fair to say, is perhaps the most surprising discovery and maybe most consequential discovery in this century so far.

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Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute, speaks with correspondent Bill Whitaker

 CBS NEWS

To understand exactly what CRISPR is, we went to Eric Lander for a quick science lesson. He’s director of the Broad and Zhang’s mentor. He’s best known for being a leader of the Human Genome Project that mapped out all of our DNA, which is like a recurring sequence of letters.

Eric Lander: During the Human Genome Project, we could read out all the human DNA, and then, in the years afterwards, find the misspellings that caused human diseases. But we had no way to think about how to fix ’em. And then, pretty much on schedule, this mind-blowing discovery that bacteria have a way to fix those misspellings, appears.

Bill Whitaker: This comes from bacteria?

Eric Lander: This comes from bacteria.  Bacteria, you know, they have a problem. And they came up with a real clever solution. When they get infected by viruses, they keep a little bit of DNA, and they use it as a reminder. And they have this system called CRISPR that grabs those reminders and searches around and says, “If I ever see that again, I am gonna cut it.”

Zhang used that same bacterial system to edit DNA in human cells. Our DNA is made up of chemical bases abbreviated by the letters A, T, C, and G. As you can see in this animation from Zhang’s lab at MIT, a mutation that causes disease reads like a typo in those genetic instructions. If scientists can identify the typo, they can program CRISPR to find it and try to correct it.

Bill Whitaker: You program it? You say–

Feng Zhang: That’s right.

Bill Whitaker:  “I’m looking for this string of letters.”

Feng Zhang: Uh-huh.

Bill Whitaker: And the CRISPR will go in, and out of all of the billions and billions and billions of– of letters on your DNA, find the exact ones that you have programmed?

Feng Zhang: That’s right. CRISPR will allow you to– do many different things. You can cut it– to edit it.

Bill Whitaker: So you can snip out the bad part and you can add something that you want as well?

Feng Zhang: That’s right. You can give the cell a new piece of DNA that carries the sequence you want to incorporate into the genome.

Bill Whitaker: You say this so matter of factly. This is amazing.

Feng Zhang: It is pretty cool.

Bill Whitaker: How many other labs around the world are working with CRISPR like this?

Feng Zhang: Many. One of the things that we have been doing is to make the tool available to researchers. To date I think we have gotten it out over– 45,000 times, to 2,200 labs, in 61 countries.

Bill Whitaker: What are they doing with it?

Feng Zhang: They are using it to do everything.  A lot of applications of CRISPR. It’s really a Swiss army knife.

Cue the worldwide CRISPR frenzy. At the University of California, scientists used a form of CRISPR to edit mosquitos so they can’t transmit malaria. Their colleagues are modifying rice to better withstand floods and drought. In China, scientists tweaked a gene in beagles to make them more muscular.

crispr-full.jpg

A CRISPR vial from Zhang’s lab made its way to Dr. Kang Zhang. He is an ophthalmologist and a professor at the University of California, San Diego and wanted to see what all the hype was about.

Bill Whitaker: What did you think when you first heard of CRISPR?

Kang Zhang: I was a little bit skeptical.

Bill Whitaker: Why skeptical?

Kang Zhang: It worked so well. Too well to be believable.

He decided to experiment on mice with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic form of blindness. He conducted a vision test using a mouse with the disease.

Bill Whitaker: This is the blind mouse?

Kang Zhang: This is the blind mouse. And– obviously, you can see that he is ignoring the rotating stripes.

His researchers injected CRISPR into the eye of another blind mouse. The CRISPR was programmed to find the main gene associated with the disease and turn it off. It takes three months to see the results.

Kang Zhang: Now, let’s see how he’s responding to the light.

Bill Whitaker: He’s following it around.

Kang Zhang: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: Look at that. You’re sure that he is seeing these lights?

Kang Zhang: This is actually a very commonly used test for vision.

Bill Whitaker: How much of their sight do they recover?

Kang Zhang: About 30, sometimes even 50% of the sight for– for mice.

The next phase of Dr. Zhang’s research is to see how CRISPR works on one of our closer relatives. He sent us this video from his lab in China where he’s studying monkeys with retinitis pigmentosa. The blind monkey ignores the food. He says this monkey was treated with CRISPR and it’s easy to see the difference. Dr. Zhang hopes to try this on humans soon.

If CRISPR is used to treat disease or make a drug it could mean big bucks. The Broad and Feng Zhang hold a primary patent for CRISPR’s use in human cells in the United States. But no technology is developed in a vacuum. Biochemist Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley and her team made landmark CRISPR discoveries.

This week, they are challenging Zhang and the Broad in court for the rights arguing in part that Zhang’s advance was derived from her team’s breakthrough. It’s a high stakes battle. CRISPR is projected to be a multi-billion dollar market in a decade.

Bill Whitaker: Does that mean big business for you?

Feng Zhang: I think we’re– we’re still– quite a ways away from developing– CRISPR into a real therapeutic.

Bill Whitaker: I think you’re being a little bit modest. I mean this is sparking an incredible boom in biomedicine. And you’re in the center of it.

Feng Zhang: I think there is still really a lot of work that still needs to be done,  developing the systems so that they are efficient enough, making sure that they are safe enough, but these are things that– that we’re working hard to– to make possible.

“While it’s not gonna affect somebody who might be dying of a disease today, this is gonna have a real effect over the course of the next decade and couple of decades.”

But, what if it were possible to stop disease from even occurring? That sounds like science fiction, but a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon say with CRISPR, it’s now a reality.

Bill Whitaker: You correct it at the very, very earliest stages of life.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Right.

Bill Whitaker: In the womb.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Even before the womb.

Manipulating embryos has been the focus of Shoukhrat Mitalipov’s career. He runs the Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy at Oregon Health and Science University. Mitalipov is a maverick. He regularly makes headlines with his innovative, sometimes controversial methods to prevent genetic disease.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Preventing is always more effective– so there would be no– no recurrence of new disease. Particularly when we’re talking about heritable– diseases that parents pass to children.

So Mitalipov and an international team of scientists decided to use CRISPR on human embryos to correct a single genetic mutation that causes a deadly heart disease called hypertropic cardiomyopathy.

They got healthy eggs from donors and sperm from a man who carries the disease. At the same time the eggs are fertilized, they also get an injection of CRISPR. Mitalipov enlarged the microscopic procedure over three hundred times so we could see it.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Here we have our pipette with sperm inside, which has been already exposed to CRISPR.  And this is a egg. And so what we need to do is pierce through, and then we break membrane. And now –

Bill Whitaker: Release the sperm into the egg.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Yeah. And now this is the sperm coming in.

Bill Whitaker: Wow.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Now it’s inside there.

Bill Whitaker: Just like that, that egg has been CRISPRed?

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: CRISPRed, fertilized.

Bill Whitaker: And you have changed the genetic destiny of that embryo.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Yes, we believe so.

These embryos will never be implanted, but they are grown in an incubator for three days and then checked to see if they carry the disease mutation.

Normally, 50 percent would. Mitalipov says with CRISPR, 72 percent were free of the mutation that would cause the heart disease.

Bill Whitaker: This is a huge– advance in science and medicine.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: We hope so. I think we– we’re still kind of in the early stages. I wouldn’t say that we are ready to– to go to clinics now.

He knows his results have to be replicated by an outside lab before they’re accepted by the scientific community. But if they hold up, one day CRISPR could be used to help families that have been plagued by inherited disease for generations.

Bill Whitaker: Is that what drives you?

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Yes. Of course, it’s a suffering of children, but also the guilt the parents have at saying, “I passed it to my child.” So it’s like, “I caused this disease.” And I think now, we have a tool where we could help these families.

Mitalipov wants to use CRISPR to eliminate disease, but the concern is his research has created a blueprint for less scrupulous doctors to design human beings – to edit embryos to make babies that are smarter, taller, stronger. Mitalipov says that’s not even possible right now.

Bill Whitaker: Your critics say that you’re playing God.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: I think– you could say to– to every treatment that they– humans and doctors develop that– we– we’re playing God. God gave us brains so we could find a way to eliminate suffering of human beings. And if that’s– you know, playing God, I guess that’s the way it is.

Bill Whitaker: So what do you think about editing an embryo to prevent disease?

Feng Zhang: We don’t really understand how complicated biology is. There’s a gene called PCSK9. If you remove PCSK9, you can reduce cardiovascular disease, heart attack– risks significantly. But it also has been shown recently to increase risk for diabetes. So how do you make the judgment call between these tradeoffs? And there will likely be other—impacts we haven’t yet identified. So I think we need to wait and be more cautious.

Eric Lander: I don’t think we’re close to ready to use it to go edit the human population. I think we’ve gotta use it for medicine for a while. I think those are the urgent questions. That’s what people want right now, is they want cures for disease.

Those urgent questions might soon be answered. A small clinical trial, the first in the U.S. using CRISPR to target certain types of cancer, is now enrolling patients.

Eric Lander: I wanna always balance hope versus hype here. While it’s not gonna affect somebody who might be dying of a disease today, this is gonna have a real effect over the course of the next decade and couple of decades. And for the next generation, I think it’ll be transformative.

Produced by Nichole Marks. Associate producers, Kate Morris and Jaime Woods.

06

Apr
2018

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New technologies mean better crops

On 06, Apr 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured | By Admin

New technologies allow scientists to pinpoint specific genes to replace or delete. This editing allows scientists to improve the taste of tomatoes or lengthen the life of a strawberry. This will make crops better and will benefit both growers and consumers. The aim of this type of breading means heartier crops, more predictable yields and fewer pesticides. Gene edited crops are already on the market including a browning resistant mushroom and an improved potato.

Listen to this broadcast on the Market Place to learn more.

22

Mar
2018

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Food Evolution Screening – April 14th

On 22, Mar 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured | By Admin

Columbia County Farm Bureau Presents

Food Evolution Movie

a Scott Hamilton Kennedy film

When: Saturday—April 14th 9:00 Registration—9:30 Presentation by Dr. Cedric Mason Followed by Movie, Panel Discussion & Lunch at Noon Where: Taconic Hills School Auditorium 73 County Route 11A, Craryville, NY Cost: $8 Early Registration—$12 at the door Due to serving lunch, early registration is appreciated.

RSVP: Linda Fix—518-828-4401 or email: columbiacountyfarmbureau@yahoo.com

Farmers, the food producers, often feel criticized and misunderstood for their use of innovative farming techniques designed to boost yield, preserve soil health and safeguard the environment, all while trying to keep up with the evolving demands of their customers.

Farmers and consumers share common values in food, family and community. There is common ground between food consumers and food producers, at the end of the day, both want quality, wholesome products on New Yorker’s plates.

“Food Evolution” is “a fully independent investigation into the topic of GMOs every step of the way, interviewing experts on both sides of the aisle and including all points of view.” Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have saved crops, provided essential nutrients in formerly deficient staple crops and allowed for huge advances in no-till farming.

Genetic engineering, CRISPR and food: What the ‘revolution’ will bring in the near future

On 24, Jan 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, GMO’s and The Environment | By Admin

January 24, 2018

Humankind is on the verge of a genetic revolution that holds great promise and potential. It will change the ways food is grown, medicine is produced, animals are altered and will give rise to new ways of producing plastics, biofuels and chemicals.

Many object to the genetic revolution, insisting we should not be ‘playing God’ by tinkering with the building blocks of life; we should leave the genie in the bottle. This is the view held by many opponents of GMO foods.  But few transformative scientific advances are widely embraced at first. Once a discovery has been made and its impact widely felt it is impossible to stop despite the pleas of doubters and critics concerned about potential unintended consequences. Otherwise, science would not have experienced great leaps throughout history­­—and we would still be living a primitive existence.

Gene editing of humans and plants—a revolutionary technique developed just a few years ago that makes genetic tinkering dramatically easier, safer and less expensive—has begun to accelerate this revolution. University of California-Berkeley biochemist Jennifer Doudna, one of the co-inventors of the CRISPR technique::

Within the next few years, this new biotechnology will give us higher-yielding crops, healthier livestock, and more nutritious foods. Within a few decades, we might well have genetically engineered pigs that can serve as human organ donors…we are on the cusp of a new era in the history of life on earth—an age in which humans exercise an unprecedented level of control over the genetic composition of the species that co-inhabit our planet. It won’t be long before CRISPR allows us to bend nature to our will in the way that humans have dreamed of since prehistory.

The four articles in this series will examine the dramatic changes that gene editing and other forms of genetic engineering will usher in.

Great advances likely for GE foods

Despite the best efforts of opponents, GE crops have become so embedded and pervasive in the food systems—even in Europe which has bans in place on growing GMOs in most countries—that it is impossible to dislodge them without doing serious damage to the agricultural sector and boosting food costs for consumers.

Even countries which ban the growing of GMOs or who have such strict labeling laws that few foods with GE ingredients are sold in supermarkets are huge consumers of GE products.

revolution 1 5 18 2Europe is one of the largest importers of GMO feed in the world. Most of the meat we consume from cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, pigs and fish farms are fed genetically modified corn, soybeans and alfalfa.

And the overwhelming majority of cheesesare made with an enzyme produced by GM microbes and some beers and wines are made with genetically engineered yeast.

North America, much of South America and Australia are major consumers of foods grown from GE seeds. Much of the corn oil, cotton seed oil, soybean oil and canola oil used for frying and cooking, and in salad dressings and mayonnaise is genetically modified. GM soybeans are used to make tofu, miso, soybean meal, soy ice cream, soy flour and soy milk. GM corn is processed into corn starch and corn syrup and is used to make whiskey.  Much of our sugar is derived from GM sugar beets and GE sugarcane is on the horizon. Over 90 percent of the papaya grown in Hawaii has been genetically modified to make it resistant to the ringspot virus.  Some of the squash eaten in the US is made from GM disease-resistant seeds and developing countries are field testing GM disease-resistant cassava.

Many critics of GE in agriculture focus on the fact that by volume most crops are used in commodity food manufacturing, specifically corn and soybeans. One reason for that is the high cost of getting new traits approved. Indeed, research continues on commodity crops, although many of the scientists work for academia and independent research institutes.

For example, in November 2016, researchers in the UK were granted the authority to begin trials of a genetically engineered wheat that has the potential to increase yields by 40 percent. The wheat, altered to produce a higher level of an enzyme critical for turning sunlight and carbon dioxide into plant fuel, was developed in part by Christine Raines, the Head of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex.

Genetic engineering and nutrition enhancement

 A new generation of foods are now on the horizon, some as the result of new breeding techniques (NBTs), such as gene editing.  Many of these foods will be nutritionally fortified, which will be critical to boosting the health of many of the poorest people in developing nations and increase yields.

Golden rice is a prime example of such a nutrition-enhanced crop.  It is genetically engineered to have high levels of beta carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A. This is particularly important as many people in developing countries suffer from Vitamin A deficiency which leads to blindness and even death. Bangladesh is expected to begin cultivation of golden rice in 2018. The Philippines may also be close to growing it.

revolution 1 5 18 3strain of golden rice that includes not only high levels of beta carotene but also high levels of zinc and iron could be commercialized within 5 years. “Our results demonstrate that it is possible to combine several essential micronutrients – iron, zinc and beta carotene – in a single rice plant for healthy nutrition,” said Navreet Bhullar, senior scientist at ETH Zurich, which developed the rice.

The Science in the News group at Harvard University discussed some of the next generation foods.

Looking beyond Golden Rice, there are a large number of biofortified staple crops in development.  Many of these crops are designed to supply other micronutrients, notably vitamin E in corn, canola and soybeans…Protein content is also a key focus; protein-energy malnutrition affects 25% of children because many staple crops have low levels of essential amino acids.  Essential amino acids are building blocks of proteins and must be taken in through the diet or supplements. So far, corn, canola, and soybeans have been engineered to contain higher amounts of the essential amino acid lysine. Crops like corn, potatoes and sugar beets have also been modified to contain more dietary fiber, a component with multiple positive health benefits.

Other vitamin-enhanced crops have been developed though they have yet to be commercialized.  Australian scientists created a GE Vitamin A enriched banana, scientists in Kenya developed GE Vitamin A enhanced sorghum and plant scientists in Switzerland developed a GE Vitamin B6 enhanced cassava plant. None is near approval, however.

Scientists genetically engineered canola, a type of rapeseed, to produce additional omega-3 fatty acids. Research is being conducted on developing GM gluten free wheat and vegetables with higher levels of Vitamin E to fight heart disease.

Other more consumer-focused genetically-engineered crops that do not use transgenics, and have sailed through the approval system include:

  • FDA has approved the commercialization of a GE non-browning applethe Arctic Apple, developed by using a gene-silencing technique.
  • Simplot has developed GE potatoes created using gene-silencing techniques.  They are less prone to bruising and blackening, in some cases are resistant to certain diseases and also contain less asparagine which reduces the potential for acrylamide that is created when frying, baking and roasting.

Fighting plant diseases

Other products are in development that fight viruses and disease.  Scientists have used genetic engineering to develop disease-resistant rice.  A new plum variety resists the plum pox virus.  It has not yet been commercialized.  GE solutions may be the only answer to save the orange industry from citrus greeningwhich is devastating orange groves in Florida.  GE might be utilized to curb the damage caused by stem rust fungus in wheat and diseases effecting the coffee crop.

revolution 1 5 18 4In Africa, GE solutions could be used to combat the ravages of banana wilt and cassava brown streak disease and diseases that impact cocoa trees and potatoes. A GE bean has been developed in Brazil that is resistant to the golden mosaic virus.  Researchers at the University of Florida, the University of California-Berkeley and the 2Blades Foundation have developed a disease resistant GM tomato.

Scientists at the John Innes Center in the UK are attempting to create a strain of barley capable of making its own ammonium fertilizer from nitrogen in the soil. This would be particularly beneficial to farmers who grow crops in poor soil conditions or who lack the financial resources to buy artificial fertilizers.

Peggy Ozias-Akins, a horticulture expert at the University of Georgia has developed and tested genetically-engineered peanuts that do not produce two proteins linked to intense allergens.

New Breeding Techniques

New gene editing techniques (NBTs) such as CRISPR offer great potential and face lower approval hurdles, at least for now.

  • Scientists at Penn State have removed the gene that causes white button mushrooms to discolor, and the product was quickly approved.
  • In 2014, scientists in China produced bread wheat resistant to powdery mildew.
  • Calyxt, a biotechnology company, has developed a potato variety that prevents the accumulation of certain sugars, reducing the bitter taste associated with storage. The potato also has a lower amount of acrylamide.
  • DuPont has developed a gene-edited variety of cornwhich can be used to thicken food products and make adhesives.

In June, the EPA approved a new first of its kind GE corn known as SmartStaxPro, in which the plant’s genes are tweaked without transgenics to produce a natural toxin designed to kill western corn rootworm larvae.  It also produces a piece of RNA that shuts down a specific gene in the larvae, thereby killing them. The new GE corn is expected to be commercialized by the end of the decade.

What could slow—or even stop—this revolution? In an opinion piece for Nature Biology, Richard B. Flavell, a British molecular biologist and former director of the John Innes Center in the UK, which conducts research in plant science, genetics and microbiology, warned about the dangers of vilifying and hindering new GE technologies:

The consequences of simply sustaining the chaotic status quo—in which GMOs and other innovative plant products are summarily demonized by activists and the organic lobby—are frightening when one considers mounting challenges to food production, balanced nutrition and poverty alleviation across the world.  Those who seek to fuel the GMO versus the non-GMO debate are perpetuating irresolvable difference of opinion. …Those who seek to perpetuate the GMO controversy and actively prevent use of new technology to crop breeding are not only on the wrong side of the debate, they are on the wrong side of the evidence. If they continue to uphold beliefs against evidence, they will find themselves on the wrong side of history.

Steven E. Cerier is a freelance international economist and a frequent contributor to the Genetic Literacy Project.

19

Jan
2018

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The Politics of Food Conference in New York City

On 19, Jan 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured | By Admin

Consumers want to know more about how and where their food is produced and want options and information about farming practices and technology that impacts their food purchase. Farmers want to serve customers with high quality, wholesome food products yet are often  by increasing consumer demands on farming practices and technology.

What is needed is open dialogue and understanding between farmers and consumers. That what the 2017 Politics of Food Conference held in New York City in November was all about.

Hosted by City & State , the day brought together thought leaders, chefs, dieticians, and  farmers,  to discuss all forms of food programs, sustainability and policy issues in New York. The conference featured a panel discussion between farmers and nutritionists who talked about the science behind food production in New York.

Speakers included Toby Amidor, MS RD who is the author of Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook & The Greek Yogurt Kitchen and nutrition expert on the Food Network, Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, a nationally recognized nutrition expert with a focus on culinary nutrition and communications, Jessica Ziehm, a Dairy Farmer from Tiashoke Farm in Buskirk, NY, Jim Davenport a Dairy Farmer from Tollgate Holsteins in Acramdale, NY and John Mueller from Willow Bend Farm in Clifton Springs, NY.

All speakers discussed the end goal: getting nutritious food to people who need it. Unfortunately, due to misinformation, , many  consumers are horribly confused about modern farming technologies such as genetic modification. The reality is that farming innovations are enabling farmers to produce high quality, nutritious, sustainable and safe products –which is something everyone should be on board with.

“Agriculture is such an exciting field right now,” explained Ziehm. “The advice that I would give my friends who are moms is, just buy milk, just the regular old milk. It’s a highly regulated product and there really is no difference between organic and conventional milk.”

Speaking to the fact that many consumers will only purchase organic products, nutrition expert Levinson commented. “Many consumers misunderstand why and how farming techniques have evolved and have irrational biases against some of these products. The reality is that modern technology is responsible for helping to put quality, wholesome products on New Yorker’s plates.”

Amidor concurred, “I’m pro-choice when it comes to produce.  Choose to eat it—don’t worry about all the labels—GMO, non-GMO, organic…just get those nutrients into you and your family—they’re all the same!

In addition, farmers explained that a key component of modern farming is humane treatment and tender care for working animals.

“Cow comfort is a huge part of our farm. A happy healthy cow is a productive cow,” said Mueller explaining how his farm is able to produce 25,000 gallons of milk a day.

In addition to producing quality milk, new technologies are enabling farmers to protect the environment.

“We gotta do the best that we can to be good stewards of the land. We need to make sure that we are constantly improving the land to make it more productive and sustainable,” said Muller.

In addition to the panel discussion, the film FOOD EVOLUTION produced by Trace Sheehan was also shown during the conference.

FOOD EVOLUTION shows how easily misinformation, confusion and fear can overwhelm objective analysis about the food system. The film debunks the myth that GMOs are harmful and shows how that false narrative is hurting the planet.

The conference served as a successful forum to further the discussion consumers and farmers about the food we eat.

10 myths about farming to remember on your next grocery run

On 02, Aug 2017 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, GMO’s and The Environment | By Admin

Most of us don’t spend our days plowing fields or wrangling cattle. We’re part of the 99 percent of Americans who eat food but don’t produce it. Because of our intimate relationship with food and because it’s so crucial to our health and the environment, people should be very concerned about how it’s produced. But we don’t always get it right. Next time you’re at the grocery store, consider these 10 modern myths about the most ancient occupation. Read more…

The Daily Gazette: Pollinator protection funding good for state

On 20, Jul 2017 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, Pollinator Health | By Admin

July 19, 2017

Though some might say it’s been slow coming, summer is upon us.

For those of us in the landscaping and green management field, this is the time of year we live for. Being outdoors, in nature is one of the many benefits of working in the landscaping industry. Read more…

GMO grasses could provide healthier forage for livestock, reduce environmental impact

On 08, Jun 2017 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, Weed Management and Pesticides | By Admin

Grasses of the future will make animals healthier, more productive and reduce their impact on the environment.

AgResearch scientist Tony Conner said advances in modern grasses would bring many advantages to farming. Read more…

The Non-GMO Project Is Ruining My Shopping Experience

MAY 31, 2017

Kavin Senapathy 

With trends like the farm to table movement and a growing push to vote with your dollar, consumers increasingly want details about their food, like how fruits and veggies are grown, farmers’ working conditions, environmental impacts and how it all gets from farm to plate. At the same time, media and social networks are rife with food-related myths, and popular jargon is widely-bandied but poorly understood. The ubiquitous Non-GMO Project, dubbed the “butterfly seal of sanctity” by food and health writer Jenny Splitter, is ruining my shopping experience.

American shoppers are surely familiar with the iconic orange butterfly logo. According to its website, retail partners report that Non-GMO Project Verified products are the fastest dollar growth trend in their stores, with total annual sales exceeding $19.2 billion. What the Non-GMO Project’s website doesn’t tell visitors is that its label tells us absolutely nothing meaningful about a product or its ingredients, including healthfulness, environmental impact, and working conditions for food workers and farmers. It doesn’t even tell consumers about a common objection to GMOs—whether or not a food product was derived from a patented crop variety. For example, the Non-GMO Project verified Opal Apple is patented, with orchards paying a royalty for the right to grow and sell the fruit.

GMO, which stands for “Genetically Modified Organism,” is a largely meaningless term. Although it’s practically impossible to define “GMOs,”  in practice it’s become shorthand for any organism with traits created with modern biotechnology. According to this definition, the only GMO crops available in the U.S. are soybeans, corn (field and sweet), papaya, canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets and summer squash, with gene-silenced White Russet potatoes and Arctic Apples available in some test markets.

But virtually all of the foods we eat, with the exception of wild herbs, mushrooms and game, including foods labeled natural, organic, and even heirloom, have had their genes modified using unnatural methods. Consider mutation breeding, which is just one of many “non-GMO” crop modification techniques that tinker with an organism’s genetic makeup. With this method, breeders bombard seeds with radiation or chemicals in order to induce genetic mutations. When desirable traits occur from this process, the resulting plant varieties are commercialized and sold. Think of mutation breeding as rolling the genetic dice and hoping to get lucky. Thousands of crops, including common varieties of pears, peppermint, grapefruit, rice, wheat and more have resulted from mutation breeding. They all sound pretty “genetically modified” to me, but plenty of them are eligible for and carry the Non-GMO Project seal.

As a critical thinker and champion of social and environmental justice, seeing the butterfly seal everywhere I shop—from the pretzel crackers my kids love to whole grain bread—irks me to no end. For one, I like to make purchasing and parenting decisions based on facts, not fear and hype, but Non-GMO Project promotes common evidence-scarce myths about genetic engineering. “There is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs,” the Non-GMO Project website states. It’s an easily debunked statement. Indeed, the consensus of non cherry-picked data and major scientific bodies around the world is vast and unambiguous, all pointing to genetic engineering being no riskier, and sometimes less risky than so-called non-GMO breeding techniques. The organizations that claim danger from GMOs have a tendency to promote anti-vaccine sentiment and even conspiracy theories, as I recently discussed. That such wrongheadedness is emblazoned all over the American food supply is a testament to the alternative facts era.

But what really bothers me as a shopper are the injustices that result from the proliferation of this and other similar anti-GMO marketing. Perhaps the most mind-boggling example is citrus products that carry the sanctity seal, including Florida’s Natural orange juice and Cuties mandarin oranges. When it comes to Non-GMO Project verified oranges, the transgression is twofold. First, the seal implies that there are GMO oranges available even though there are no genetically-engineered citrus fruits on the market. Tomatoes, grapes, and sea salt are among several such products that carry the seal even though there are no “GMO” counterparts available.

Second, and more importantly, the citrus industry has been ravaged for over a decade by citrus greening, a bacterial disease that eventually kills infected trees. Oranges engineered with a spinach gene to make them resistant to infection are thought to be the best hope in the fight against citrus greening. That the Non-GMO Project is so trendy that marketers either don’t mind jumping on the bandwagon, or aren’t aware that they’re rejecting the very technology that could save the industry, is disturbing.

Products carrying the Non-GMO Project butterfly range from mundane to ridiculous, and include cereals, chips, water, sea salt, and even cat litter. While it may be amusing to poke fun at Non-GMO Project verified salt (there are no organisms or genes to “modify” in salt) and cat litter (the joke tells itself), the proliferation of the butterfly label is far from just harmless marketing. Fear and opposition to genetic engineering have a tangible impact, with anti-GMO rhetoric and marketing contributing to consumer fear and rejection, which influences policy, and leads to overly burdensome and ideological rather than science-based regulations keeping real solutions from farmers’ fields.

Given the challenges we face to feed an ever-growing population while combating climate change and striving to produce food efficiently with minimal use of land and other resources, the Non-GMO Project’s vilification of safe technologies that can reduce food waste, reduce carbon emissions, and help fight food insecurity and malnutrition if we would only let it, is indefensible.

The Non-GMO project believes that “everyone has a right to know what is in their food and deserves access to non-GMO choices.” In reality, the labeling movement has never truly been about consumers’ right to know. Rather, it’s a gospel that begins on high from movement leaders, some of them profiteers and others ideology-driven, trickling down to and convincing consumers and activists that valuable information is being kept from them. This so-called “right to know” has always been a subterfuge to increase non-GMO and organic market share and eliminate agricultural biotechnology altogether.

Informative, relevant food labeling, including nutrition facts and allergens, are important, but there is no “right to know” if a food is GMO considering that 1. GMOs are practically impossible to define and 2. Such labels tell us nothing meaningful. Instead, I believe that I have a right to shop for the foods my family enjoys, so many of which succumb one after another to the butterfly seal of sanctity, without having to support an initiative that is nonsensical at best and harmful at worst.

Kavin Senapathy is a communicator and mom of two based in Madison, Wisconsin. Follow her on Facebookand Twitter.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kavinsenapathy/2017/05/31/the-non-gmo-project-is-ruining-my-shopping-experience/#79114f5c1a60

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2017

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GMO Labeling

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USDA letter on federal GMO labeling law

On 02, Mar 2017 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, GMO Labeling | By Admin

On July 29, 2016, President Obama signed into law an Act amending the Agricultural Marketing at of 1946 which provides for a national bioengineered food disclosure standard. The FDA sent letters to Governor Cuomo explaining that under this new law there is no longer a need for state-specific labeling laws given that the Federal Government had set a uniform standard.

Click on the link below to see the letter.

USDA letter to New York on federal GMO labeling law