Importance of Engaging Stakeholders in the Genetic Modification Process

by Morgan Beltz

Genetic biocontrol technology is one way of controlling invasive fish species. However, like genetically modified organisms, it is controversial in the eyes of the public. Sharpe (2013) studied the public perceptions of genetic biocontrol of invasive fish by conducting eight focus groups in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain regions. The focus groups were asked the same set of questions and allowed to voice opinions to discuss as a whole group. The discussions of the focus groups were then analyzed in three phases; sorting individual transcripts into reaction categories, coding the text to see emerging themes, and coding the written responses. The author found three central themes in the focus group discussions: issues of uncertainty, acting cautiously, and the question of balance. Most participants thought research for biocontrol was good, but the actual implementation should be analyzed with very high standards. The participants came up with a wide scope of concerns which the author believes is important for developers and researchers to take into consideration.

Sharpe conducted the focus groups in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain region because they are both facing invasive species problems. The focus groups ranged from 4 to 16 participants with a total of 61. The participants were all people that would potentially have a stake in genetic biocontrol, such as employees of management agencies, therefore not the general public. However, the author noted that not including the general public was of little concern because no participant had a position of authority, no one has vested interests in the approval or disapproval of technology, and all the discussions were confidential. To begin the discussion all participants were provided with the same background information packet that also included the discussion questions. The packet reviewed the genetic manipulation techniques that could be used and the purpose of each one. After the discussions each participant wrote down three benefits of, and concerns about, using biocontrol techniques. These responses were categorized and used as part of the results. The results were arrived at by transcribing the discussion of each focus group and sorting the reactions into categories, coding the categories to find overlapping themes, coding the participants’ written responses, and adding them to the different categories.

The author found that the participants generally had four major categories of initial reactions; science fiction, food and agriculture, concerns about the uncertainty and danger associated with the technology, and public perception of the technology. These categories addressed initial fears and controversies regarding genetic biocontrol, such as problems with consumption of GMOs, costs and consequences, and overcoming the negative public perceptions of GMOs. The participants next discussed potential benefits of genetic biocontrol and those responses landed in three broad categories; development of a potential control of invasive aquatic species, other benefits related to the technology, and concerns about benefits. Overall the participants were able to come up with 156 different benefits of genetic biocontrol. These benefits included being able to control species, having more tools to control species, increased knowledge of the technology that could lead to more innovations, and possible creation of an industry. Lastly the participants listed their concerns with this technology, coming up with 300 concerns that fit into five categories: ecological, related to uncertainty, financial, technological, and regulatory. These concerns covered all fears of transgenes being transferred to non-targeted organisms, negative outcomes and impacts, financial costs, success of the technology, and overlapping regulations.

The author concluded from the group discussions that participants feel that the concerns outweigh the benefits with genetic biocontrol. Concerns were much broader than benefits, falling into 11 categories and 22 subcategories, whereas benefits only had eight categories and three subcategories. Although several issues could be cross referenced as both benefits and concerns, there was too much uncertainty surrounding the issue for it to be seen as an overall benefit. In conclusion, the participants made recommendations for the producers of genetic biocontrol organisms. The recommendations included doing no harm, engaging many different viewpoints, requiring thorough unbiased testing, have a case-by-case approach, clear reasoning for stopping or going forward, an effective regulatory framework, and transparency at all steps.

From leading these focus groups the author found that stakeholders felt that developers do not necessarily consider the viewpoints of others and want to be included in the process. In general, stakeholders want a more determined path of action that includes knowledge of known benefits and harms. These stakeholders are affected directly by genetic biocontrol so they could potentially contribute valid information and knowledge of the implications of this technology to the scientists. Although this was a small sample, the focus groups came up with a wide variety of concerns that could be legitimate issues to solve in the production of aquatic species for genetic biocontrol.

Sharpe, L., 2013. Public perspectives on genetic biocontrol technologies for controlling invasive fish. Biological Invasions, doi: 10.1007/s10530-013-0545-5.

Modeling Risk Frames for Genetically Modified Foods

by Morgan Beltz

The regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is a constant battle of how to balance science with the consumers’ perception of risk. Scientists argue that there is no evidence to prove GM foods cause harm, but opponents reply there is no way to look at the potential future risks involved. Lisa Clark (2013) provides a solution to the governance framework by outlining three potential risk frames to use when regulating GMOs; 1) proof of harm, 2) precautious, and 3) precaution through experience. Currently, the regulation of GMOs and biotechnology is split between proof of harm and precautious risk frames, causing tensions between world governments and the correct way to govern the risks associated with GMOs. Clark concludes that individually the proof of harm and precautious risks frames are good, but focus on different aspects of the regulatory process. Bringing the two frames together to create a precaution through experience risk frame constructs the most solid foundation for a concise regulatory framework across different government bodies. Continue reading

Global Perceptions of Genetically Modified Foods

by Morgan Beltz

Public perceptions of genetically modified foods are not generally the same in different regions of the globe and can help dictate the availability of GM products. Frewer et al. (2013) conduct a systematic meta-analysis of 70 journal articles published all over the world, between the years of 1994 and 2010, to compare risk and benefit perceptions of different global regions. The authors focused on papers including agriculture genetic modification. The papers then went through a coding process to detect the levels of risks and benefits presented. The continent results were compared to the mean values of European participants in 2008. The authors found that North America and Asia have a lower risk perception of GM foods than Europe. North America also has a higher benefit perception of GM foods than Europe, but Asia has a lower benefit perception. Continue reading

Transgenic Hybridization of Atlantic Salmon and Brown Trout

by Morgan Beltz

With the possibility of genetically modified salmon being approved for the food industry, there is a growing concern of what would happen if a transgenic salmon breeds with a wild salmon. Oke et al. (2013) studied what the effects of breeding transgenic salmon and of cross breeding transgenic salmon with a brown trout would be in the wild. The authors created control and cross breeding scenarios which consisted of six brown trout families, two Atlantic salmon hybrid families (the mother was a transgenic salmon), four brown trout families (the mother was a brown trout), and seven salmon families (five families had transgenic mothers and two had transgenic fathers). The authors conducted this study in two different environments; one to mimic hatchery conditions, and the other, in stream mesocosms, to resemble natural conditions. The results show that the hybrids grew more rapidly than either transgenic salmon or non-transgenic fish in hatchery conditions. In the stream mesocosm the transgenic hybrid salmon and brown trout grew 86% and 87% faster than transgenic salmon. However, wild-type salmon grew at similar rates to wild-type hybrid brown trout and salmon. These results show the importance of not allowing… Continue reading

Decrease GM Crop Research to Preserve Agriculture Biodiversity

The questions of whether to increase research on genetically modified crops or on increasing agricultural biodiversity as solutions to sustainable agriculture are currently topics of intense debate in the food industry. Jacobsen et al. (2013) collected studies from all over the world to assess the present pros and cons of continuing GM crop research and increasing agricultural biodiversity. ­­­­After compiling the studies, the authors found there are two obstacles to having sustainable agriculture 1) the claim that GM crops are vital to secure food production, and 2) the shortage of research funds for agriculture biodiversity in comparison to research funds for GM crops. Evaluating these two obstacles in regard to the pros, cons, and economics of GMOs, the authors conclude that research funding currently available to GM technologies would be better spent financing more efficient breeding techniques to cultivate agriculture biodiversity.—Morgan Beltz

Jacobsen, S., Sorensen, M., Pederson, S., Weiner, J., 2013. Feeding the world: genetically modified crops versus agricultural biodiversity. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 33(4), 651—662.

                  Jacobsen et al. claimed that there is burden on the environment from the current agriculture practices and increase in monoculture production, in particular the reduction of biodiversity through soil degradation. The authors recognize that GM crops can help solve this problem through technological advances in gene sequencing to improve adaptive capabilities in the crops. However, the authors argue that GM crops are financially impossible in many developing countries because large manufacturers have a monopoly on the industry and drive up seed cost to a point that is not affordable for small-scale farmers. For example, the authors have found a correlation between suicides of Indian farmers and the prices of Monsanto seeds which have turned out to be overly expensive and have not had the high yields expected by the farmers, leaving them in debt. The economic burden is high for developing countries because the seeds have lowered the labor needed, increased the price, but have not increased the yield.
                  In larger more regulated countries, such as Denmark, the authors found that GM crops can be beneficial in lowering production costs; sugar beets came out 80 Euros/hectare on top, potatoes 108, and maize was the only negative crop at -5 Euros/hectare. These results show that in a regulated established industry GM crops can save a lot of money in labor and production. However, it does not guarantee biodiversity and a sustainable way to produce food.
                   The authors argue that the only way to increase biodiversity is to study the factors that influence it; genotype, environment, and management. They noted that a study on Australian yields over the past 100 years shows that management was responsible for 50% of yield increases, genotype for 35%, and environment for 15%. The study also showed that farms with more agricultural diversity produced higher yields than monoculture farms thus, they argue,  funding should continue to go to research these areas of crop.

                  The authors conclude that all the evidence shows a need for a greater emphasis on agriculture biodiversity instead of GM crops and technologies. GM crops will add to the biodiversity loss instead of helping it and will reduce the nutritional value of the soil and hinder the yield. The authors believe that GM crop research should be a basic foundation to learn from for future applications, but not in the short term to increase the world food production. Instead, research should go towards improved agricultural practices, agricultural biodiversity though breeding techniques, and sustainable production. Developing countries are the target of increased food production and practices, and if they cannot afford the GM seeds and have a profitable yield, than the focus needs to change to other sustainable methods.

Using PCR testing to Detect Foods With Unlabeled GM Ingredients

Before 2009 Turkey had minimal regulations of genetically modified foods. In a study containing 26 processed saybean, maize, cotton, and canola products, Arun et al. (2013) found that 42.3% were positive for GM ingredients. After regulations went into place, the authors reevaluated the amount of GM ingredients in foods using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The authors found that of 100 samples only 25 contained GM ingredients, a significant decrease since the 2009 study.  After evaluating results before and after GM regulations went into place, the authors conclude the regulations have been sufficient in decreasing the amount of unlabeled GM ingredients in food. These results show the effectiveness of regulating GMOs during importation and that PCR is a sufficient way to test for GMOs in food.—Morgan Beltz
Arun, O., Yilmaz, F., Muratoglu, K., 2013. PCR detection of genetically modified maize and soy in mildly and highly processed foods. Food Control 32, 525-531.

                  Arun et al. collected 100 different processed food samples that contained maize, soy, or both. The authors used certified reference materials consisting of soybean powder and maize powder as negative and positive controls for comparison with the samples. For the mildly processed samples and controls the authors extracted and purified DNA using the Promega Wizard DNA isolation kit. Highly processed samples had DNA extracted using the cetyltrimethyl ammonium bromide method and then purified with the Promega Wizard DNA isolation kit. The extracted DNA from each sample was primed in a PCR for an amplification reaction. This process allowed the authors to target a specific strand of DNA in each sample to study it. Each amplified DNA strand was separated and stained through electrophoresis in gel that had ethidium bromide in order to view the macromolecules in the DNA strands. To account for false negatives the authors analyzed each negative sample further for presence of soy lectin and maize zein sequences which are present in all GM foods. The authors also put a cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) (a virus that almost all GM food contains) 35S promoter in control samples to compare to false negative results related to PCR inhibitors.
                  The authors found that 14 of 43 maize samples and 11 of 57 soy samples tested positive for GM ingredients, 25 percent overall. Sixty-three negative samples were confirmed as true negatives with specific amplification of the lectin and zein sequences. The other 12 negatives were negative for both lectin and zein, suggesting that they had little or no soy or maize DNA present.The authors also found that three of the 14 positive samples contained two different GM strands, not uncommon, as other studies have found. Arun et al.did have difficulty extracting DNA from 5 negative lectin soy samples, as have other researchers, but the samples were evaluated again to make sure the negatives were not false.
These results are similar to those found in other studies conducted after new regulations are imposed. Other researchers reported having similar problems with DNA extraction with high processed foods, having so many negatives, and having negatives that did not have any detectable maize and soy DNA. This leads the authors to believe that the extraction process can be improved. However, the consistency with other studies shows the accuracy of PCR testing and effectiveness for tracing GM foods through to importation.

Although it is positive that the regulations have led to a decrease in unlabeled GM foods, some remain in the market, leading the authors to call for additional regulations and stricter enforcements. The success of this PCR study shows the authors that it is an effective way to monitor the GM content in unlabeled foods.

Three Scenario-Based Impacts of Transgenic Fish in the Fishing Industry

The increase in fish demand, due in part to population growth and rising income, is causing concern as to how the fishing industry will respond with more product in a timely manner. One possible solution to the fishing industry’s problem is genetically modified (GM) fish. Menozzi et al. (2012) discusses future trends of the fishing industry and potential risks that GM fish could bring. The authors have created a qualitative scenario analysis based on literature reviews and interviews with experts in the fishing industry. The data collected from the interviews allowed the authors to create three realistic scenarios of the impact of genetically modified fish in the fishing industry. The three scenarios are 1) no market for GM fish, 2) GM salmon reaches the dinner plate, and 3) GM salmon does not take off in the market. The authors have concluded that GM salmon will most likely be a part of the solution to the increase of fish demand, and it is just a matter of when.—Morgan Beltz
Menozzi, D., Mora, C., & Merigo, A., 2012. Genetically modified salmon for dinner? Transgenic salmon marketing scenarios. AgBioForum15, 276-293.

                  Menozzi et al. created a three step process for analyzing the fishing industry before they reached the three most likely scenarios of the impact of GM fish. First they created an accurate description of the current situation of the fishing industry by collecting information from literature reviews and researching online through the FAO to understand the decline in fish population and the increase in demand. The second step was to identify trends and driving forces in the market that are the most likely to be affected by the introduction GM fish. These were identified as public acceptance, regulatory framework, productivity increase, and the market structure in general.
                  The final step towards the authors’ conclusions was to conduct interviews with experts in the industry from all over the world. Fourteen experts in different positions in the fish industry were given a questionnaire to identify key variables that will impact trends for the next generation. The questionnaire also asked questions pertaining to GM fish in the market and the acceptance the experts thought the fish would receive. Theses answers were cross-referenced to the trends the authors previously identified in order to find links to the forces driving the industry. After all the data were evaluated, the author identified the three most plausible scenarios to GM fish in the industry, 1) no market for GM fish, 2) GM salmon reaches the dinner plate, and 3) GM salmon does not take off in the market.
                  The increasing demand for fish was the most important main trend affecting the industry, and the increasing sea temperature was unimportant. The experts interviewed generally agreed that the trends identified by the author were considered of equal but lower importance. The experts also identified environmentally friendly brands, fish health management techniques, waste treatment innovations, and breeding program improvements as the most important innovations to the fishing industry; GM salmon commercialization was considered as the least important.
                  The experts disagreed on when the introduction of GM fish to the industry would occur and what the acceptance would be, however the general consensus was that GM fish still has a long way to go before it would be introduced to the market, if it ever gets there. The experts also felt that the public will have a hard time accepting GM fish, but consumer and producer acceptance is likely to be higher in emerging and developing economies. The experts did agree that GM fish will bring new regulations to the market, ta market price decline, and an unequal distribution of profits. All of the uncertainty among the experts led the authors to the three scenarios.
                  In the first scenario there is no market at all for GM fish, due to strong resistance from consumers, retailers, and producers. This scenario would force the industry to increase production without the of GM fish, leading to new developments to minimize environmental impacts and costs, and to improve fish health management, waste treatment, and breeding technology.
                  The second scenario has GM fish making it to the dinner table in the near future and being completely accepted in the market. In this scenario the authors see market segmentation occurring by geographical location with the producing countries primarily serving nearby countries, but with a reduction in the market price. Although production would increase, the authors do not believe that the profits would be equally distributed because complying with the new regulations and technologies will be much easier for larger-scale farmers than for those small-scale ones.
                  In the last scenario GM fish do not take off. They are produced and brought to the market, but face resistance from producers, consumers, and even retailers, and purchased mostly by low-income consumers.
In any event GM fish in the market it will increase regulatory oversight and force the aquaculture industry to innovate breeding programs, technical improvements in pens and cages, and waste treatment techniques. Overall this should reduce the market price for all consumers in the long run.

                  After the creation of these three scenarios the authors went back to the experts to see which one they believe is most likely to occur. The experts’ responses thought the third scenario was slightly more likely, but not by much.