Archive for the ‘Breeding’ Category


Organizations Push for Global Ban on Genetically Modified Trees

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Five organizations released a letter in early October 2012 to the executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity demanding a global ban on genetically modified (GM) trees. World Rainforest Movement, Global Justice Ecology Project, the Campaign to Stop Genetically Engineered Trees, Global Forest Coalition, and Biofuelwatch oppose the potentially damaging impact of GM trees on the environment and Indigenous communities.

GM trees pose inevitable and irreversible threats to forest ecosystems and the people who inhabit them. (Photo credit: Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

“The forestry industry is involved in developing GM trees for use in its industrial plantations, in order to achieve trees that can grow faster, have reduced lignin content for production of paper or agrofuels, are insect or herbicide resistant, or can grow in colder temperatures,” stated Isis Alvarez of Global Forest Coalition. “This research is aimed at increasing their own profits while exacerbating the already known and very serious impacts of large scale tree plantations on local communities and biodiversity.”

According to a 2012 report by Global Justice Ecology Project, GM trees pose “significant risks” to carbon-absorbing forest ecosystems and the global climate. Trees with less lignin would be more prone to pest attacks and would rot more quickly, altering soil structure and releasing greenhouse gases more quickly. Other dangers range from increased “flammability, to invasiveness, to the potential to contaminate native forests with engineered traits.” According to the Sierra Club, “the possibility that the new genes spliced into GE trees will interfere with natural forests isn’t a hypothetical risk but a certainty.” The substitution of natural forests by GM monocultures for industrial use would also threaten biodiversity, in the same way that oil palm plantations do today. Many of these consequences would impact Indigenous communities, reducing the ecosystem services that they rely on for their livelihoods and survival.

Despite these risks, several GM tree projects are moving forward. The GM tree research and development company ArborGen has a request pending with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to sell half a billion cold-tolerant eucalyptus seedlings each year for bioenergy plantations in the southern United States. Since eucalyptus trees are a documented invasive species in both Florida and California, this has raised red flags for many. Both the Georgia Department of Wildlife and the US Forest Service have submitted comments to the USDA expressing concerns about the impact of plantations on native ecosystems. Meanwhile, several universities, timber corporations, and seedling manufacturers in the Pacific Northwest are also collaborating to develop GM poplar trees for bioenergy production. About 30 species of poplar trees already grow from subtropical to subalpine regions across the United States, Canada, and Europe, meaning there is a serious risk of genetic contamination.

The Sierra Club warns that the “commercial development of out-of-doors applications in the absence of environmental safeguards is a prescription for disaster,” and it is clear that GM tree plantations pose inevitable and irreversible threats to forest ecosystems and the people who inhabit them. Today, 245 organizations and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations from 49 countries support a global ban on GM trees, according to Global Justice Ecology Project.

Do you think the development of GM trees should continue? Are there ways to regulate and limit the negative impacts of GM trees on the environment? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

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Tomatoes Bred and Selected in the Industrial Food Production System are Losing their Sweetness

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By Molly Redfield

A recent study published in Science magazine reveals that cosmetic breeding has altered the genetic expression of tomatoes cultivated within the industrial food production system, both decreasing their natural sugar content and making them less tasty.

Cosmetic breeding has altered the genetic expression of tomatoes (Photo Credit: Vegetable Matter)

In industrial agriculture, farmers tend to pick produce before it has the chance to ripen naturally. This ensures that after packaging and transportation food is not rotten when it arrives at its supermarket distributors. For the last 70 years tomato breeders have used uniformly light green tomatoes because farmers can more easily see their lighter color in the trees and, after they are picked, packaged, and transported, these fruits become evenly red on supermarket shelves. Tomatoes that are darker when they aren’t ripe, however, are more difficult for farmers to find. The uniformity of their coloring is also less discernible. For these reasons, breeders avoid selecting darker green tomatoes. In the wild, however, these tomatoes are more prevalent than their lighter green counterparts.

Wild tomatoes that are darker green when unripe have a transcription factor that has been bred out of many cultivated varieties. Transcription factors are important because they are proteins that can turn certain gene sequences on and off. This particular transcription factor, SIGLK2, interacts with the sequence of genes coding for chloroplast production.  Chloroplasts are responsible for photosynthesis, or the process of converting light energy into sugars, and also for the green color in plants. Consequently, when farmers breed for tomatoes that are uniformly light green when unripe, they are inadvertently also choosing tomatoes that will have less natural sugar content and will, ultimately, not taste as sweet.

By inserting SIGLK2 into cultivated varieties, however, scientists found an up to 40 percent increase in both the sugars fructose and glucose. Additionally, lycopene content rose. Lycopene, which is an antioxidant, has numerous health benefits. These health benefits include enhanced bone health and cancer prevention.

In addition, picking fruits from trees before they are ripe decreases the nutrients they would receive as they are ripening. In fact, an estimated 80 percent of the fruit’s sugars are produced in the plants leaves and then later transported to the fruit as it ripens.

Given the findings of this recent study, several questions still remain. What other long-term impacts does industrial agriculture have on the nutritional value and taste of its produce? Furthermore, what alternative types of agricultural practices might lead to more nutritious, better tasting food?

Molly Redfield is an intern with the Nourishing the Planet project. 

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.


Taihu Pig: A Fertile and Tasty Breed of Swine

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By Caitlin Aylward

Pork plays a prominent role in Chinese cuisine, particularly in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River Valley. As a result, swine, like the Taihu pig breed, are important components of native agriculture and livestock production in the region.

The Taihu pig is a Chinese heritage breed known for its tasty meat (Photo Credit: Robin Loznak)

The Taihu is a domestic breed of pig from the Taihu Lake region in the lower Yangtze River valley of China. In general, the Taihu is a relatively large breed of pig, characterized by its thick skin, black color, large floppy ears, and distinctly wrinkled face. However there are several different varieties of Taihu, including the Meishan, Fengjing, Jiaxing Black, and Erhualian varieties, all of which are differentiated by the variability in character and the region they inhabit.

The Taihu pig is one of the most prolific pig breeds in the world, and is particularly well known for its high fertility rates. The Taihu sows are capable of producing multiple litters throughout their lifetime, often averaging around 14 piglets each; however litters can range in size from anywhere between 12 to 20 piglets. The Taihu also matures sexually at an early age, making it a popular swine among breeders.

Taihu pigs are typically raised in densely populated townships and cities. Consequently, the Taihu are often kept in enclosures year round. The diet of the Taihu is mostly comprised of barley and rice brain, but also includes radish, pumpkin, grass, and certain aquatic plants. The Taihu’s rich diet contributes to its highly desirable tasty and juicy meat. The swine’s exceptional resistance to disease is yet another advantageous characteristic that distinguishes the Taihu pig from other breeds.



Five Indigenous Livestock Breeds You Have Never Heard of

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By Sheldon Yoder

Approximately 21 percent of indigenous animal breeds around the world are in danger of extinction, according to the FAO. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Indigenous breeds of livestock have fed and clothed humans for thousands of years. Many of them have unique adaptations for survival in harsh environments and for tolerating specific diseases.

Regrettably, while it took millennia to create the rich genetic wealth of indigenous livestock breeds, that diversity is in danger of being lost forever as farmers are encouraged to switch to commercial livestock or cross-breed indigenous livestock with exotic breeds.

The following are five breeds of livestock in Africa whose genetic diversity deserves to be protected.

1. Ankole Cattle: The Ankole is a breed of cattle native to Eastern Africa that is not only beautiful but valuable because of its ability to survive in extremely harsh, dry conditions—a trait that is increasingly useful as sub-Saharan Africa becomes drier and hotter. These animals have striking, long, large-diameter horns, which help circulate blood and keep them cool in hot climes. The animals are renowned for their hardiness, allowing them to forage on poor quality vegetation and live off limited amounts of water. (more…)


UN Agricultural Agency Proclaims 2013 as Year of the Quinoa

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By Edyth Parker

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has declared 2013 to be the Year of the Quinoa in their annual UN observance calendar. President Evo Morales of the Plurinational State of Bolivia described the announcement as a “historic moment.”

FAO has proclaimed 2013 as the Year of the Quinoa. (Photo credit: Elements4health)

Addressing the opening of the council of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Morales thanked the council for acknowledging not only the worth of the Quinoa crop’s potential to advance food security, but also the importance of the indigenous knowledge system that has led to sustainable harvesting practice.

The observance bestowment was proposed by the Plurinational State of Bolivia and received support from the governments of Argentina, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Georgia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations supported the initiative and further appointed President Morales to Special Ambassador of the FAO, a fitting position for a once small-scale Quinoa farmer.

The Year-2013 observance resolution calls on governments, as well as regional and international organizations, to support the initiative. It aims to “focus world attention on the role that quinoa biodiversity can play, owing to the nutritional value of quinoa, in providing food security and nutrition and in the eradication of poverty.”



The Kuri: A Unique Study in Natural Selection

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By Edyth Parker

The Kuri cattle are a rare breed, found along the shores of Lake Chad Basin as well as across north-eastern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and Niger. Kuri are classified as humpless longhorns, but are known by many other names such as Baharie, Dongolé, Koubouri, or Buduma. The most common name, Kuri, stems from the regional tribe who herded the breed for centuries in the Lake Chad area.

The Kuri male. (Photo credit: International Livestock Research Institute)

This natural habitat of the Kuri is hot, with an average temperature of 84 degrees Fahrenheit, and semi-arid with an extremely seasonal rainfall pattern. Lake Chad is surrounded by semi-aquatic and aquatic vegetation, which is the main food source of the Kuri. Their reliance on aquatic food sources and water as cooling mechanism has required some interesting adaptations in their physical appearance.

The Kuri breed is characterized by its unique horns. Though the horns can be anything from 60-150 cm in length, the internal fibrous material and thin exterior casing leaves the horns surprisingly lightweight. These hollow horns are used as flotation devices, necessitated by their semi-aquatic habitat.



Carlo Petrini: “Good, Clean and Fair Food” for Sustainable Development

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By Katie Spoden

Carlo Petrini, the founder and president of the Slow Food Movement, is invited to speak at the Sustainable Development Dialogue on Food and Nutrition Security at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20.

Carlo Petrini (Photo credit: Slow Food Perth)

The dialogue is one of ten dialogues that will take place during the conference. The goal of the sustainable development dialogues is to bring together representatives from NGOs, the private sector, the scientific community, and other relevant groups – no UN representatives or Governments will be represented – to debate and compile tangible recommendations to present to the Heads of State and Governments present in Rio.

Carlo Petrini founded Slow Food in 1986 in protest to a McDonald’s opening in Piazza di Spagna in Rome. Born in Italy, Petrini began the Slow Food movement with the hope of bringing cultural and quality food back to its Italian roots. Slow Food’s philosophy is to provide “good, clean, and fair food for all.” Currently, the international grassroots organization has over 100,000 members in 150 countries. In 2004, the Terra Madre network was launched by Slow Food. Terra Madre is a program that connects small-scale farmers with consumers around the world to discuss solutions to improve the food system and food and nutrition security.

About the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Petrini says, “The 1992 UN Conference in Rio de Janeiro was a truly historical moment, finally bringing sustainable development to the attention of the whole world. Twenty years have passed, and we have not yet made enough progress to meet the challenges that had been set out. My hope is that Rio+20 will send out a strong message of unity, where we acknowledge our responsibilities as citizens of the world and where we commit ours earth and the global community as a whole.”



Four-Year-Old Seed Vault Protects Hundreds of Thousands of Crop Varieties

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By Eleanor Fausold

Buried deep in a mountainside located in a group of islands nearly 1,000 kilometers off the northern Norwegian coast lies a vault charged with the task of safeguarding nearly three-quarters of a million seed samples from around the globe. It might sound like something out of a movie, but this seed preservation bunker is very much a real-life agricultural security project.

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture has submitted seed varieties for conservation at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. (Photo credit: Neil Palmer, ICTA)

Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located near the village of Longyearbyen, Svalbard, a far-northern location that exists in total darkness for nearly four months out of the year. The vault serves as backup to living crop diversity collections housed in “genebanks” around the world and is designed to protect seed varieties from both natural and manmade disasters.  Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, explains that the seeds that the vault receives are crucial to preservation of global crop diversity: “Our crop diversity is constantly under threat, from dramatic dangers such as fires, political unrest, war and tornadoes, as well as the mundane, such as failing refrigeration systems and budget cuts. But these seeds are the future of our food supply, as they carry genetic treasures such as heat resistance, drought tolerance, or disease and pest resistance.”



UNDP Highlights Food Security in First Africa Human Development Report

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By Seyyada Burney

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has released its first-ever Human Development Report focused exclusively on Africa. The report, Africa Human Development Report 2012: Towards a Food Secure Future, argues that establishing food security must become a top priority among governments to achieve sustainable human development in Africa.

The Africa Human Development Report is the first UNDP Human Development report to focus exclusively on Africa. (Image credit: UNDP)

Despite a wealth of natural resources and recent economic progress, sub-Saharan Africa remains the world’s most food-insecure region. According to UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, “the specter of famine, all but gone elsewhere, continues to haunt millions in the region.”  Report statistics reveal that even though GNP per capita was as high as $17,000 in countries such as Equitorial Guinea in 2011, gross economic disparities persist within sub-Saharan Africa — approximately one in four people still suffer from undernourishment. But, says Tegegnework Gettu, Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Director of the UNDP’s Regional Bureau of Africa, “Africa has the knowledge, the technology, and the means to end hunger and food insecurity.”

The report outlines four multidimensional strategies through which food security can be achieved:

1) Increasing and maintaining agricultural productivity.

With the population of sub-Saharan Africa projected to reach 2 billion by 2050, there is a dire need to improve access to and availability of food for current and future generations. Many previous development efforts have been held back by urban biases against the agricultural sector and rural populations. A realignment of government budget priorities towards improving efficiency, transportation infrastructure, and access to capital, markets, and insurance in the agricultural sector will improve availability and management of food, as well as improving access.



Slow Food President to Address the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

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By Alison Blackmore

On May 14, Slow Food President Carlo Petrini will be speaking on the right to food and food sovereignty at the 11th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). His invitation to speak is the first time an external guest has been asked to address the Forum.

Carlo Petrini speaking at the Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The UNPFII represents global issues pertinent to Indigenous Peoples. This year, at its annual two-week session, the Forum will focus on the “Doctrine of Discovery,” where Indigenous, governmental, and UN representatives will discuss the impact foreign conquests have had on Indigenous Peoples, and how to rectify these grievances.

At the Forum, Petrini will speak on the power Indigenous Peoples hold to deal with many of our most dire societal ills – from environmental crises to global health problems. For many years, Petrini and Slow Food have been working with Indigenous communities, learning from their agricultural approaches, supporting farming initiatives, and fostering connections between farmers. Petrini argues that returning to many traditional agricultural practices that work in harmony with the earth is one of the best ways to establish a food system that guarantees access to nutritional food without sacrificing the long term health of our environment.