Does mention of allergen-free peanuts, striga-resistant cowpeas, salt-resistant wheat, beta-carotine rich sweet potatoes, virus-resistant cassavas make you think of GM?

If so, you’ve missed the great unpublished story of 2007 – all the non-GM breakthroughs with precisely the kind of problems (drought-resistance, salt-resistance, biofortification etc.) that GM proponents claim only GM can provide the answer to.

While GM ”miracle” stories win vast amounts of column inches, the non-GM stories generally get minimal if any reporting in the popular media. Without GM’s often exaggerated crisis narratives and silver bullet solutions, it seems there is no story!

The biotech industry and its PR people are, of course, very keen to keep it that way, particularly because the non-GM solutions are often way ahead of the work on GM. They also bring with them none of the uncertainties that surround GM.

All of this makes keeping track of some of the many non-GM success stories especially important.

Another reason it’s important is because – thanks to the lack of success with GM ”solutions” – non-GM success stories can end up being claimed as GM breakthroughs!!

This happened again recently with the UK Government’s retiring Chief Scientist, David King, who claimed an important non-GM breakthrough in Africa as evidence of why we need to embrace GM.

The real lesson of the example King chose is that we need to do the exact opposite, ie stop being distracted by GM and get the funding and support behind the non-GM solutions to the problems we so badly need to address.

So here’s some of the good things we came across on the non-GM front in 2007.


+ ORGANIC FARMING CAN FEED THE WORLD – STUDY Organic farming can yield up to three times as much food on individual farms in developing countries, as low-intensive methods on the same land – according to new findings which refute the long-standing claim that organic farming methods cannot produce enough food to feed the global population. ”My hope is that we can finally put a nail in the coffin of the idea that you can’t produce enough food through organic agriculture,” said Ivette Perfecto, professor at University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, and one of the study’s principal investigators.

+ ORGANIC FARMING COMBATS GLOBAL WARMING… Big time, according to data from the Rodale Institute’s long-running comparison of organic and conventional cropping systems. Converting the US’s corn and soybean acres to organic production would sequester enough carbon to satisfy 73 percent of the Kyoto targets for CO2 reduction in the US.

+ ORGANIC FARMING BEATS NO-TILL Organic farming can build up soil organic matter better than conventional no-till farming, according to a long-term study by US Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists. Organic farming, despite its emphasis on building organic matter, was previously thought by some to endanger soil because it relies on tillage and cultivation – instead of herbicides – to kill weeds. But Teasdale’s study showed that organic farming’s addition of organic matter in manure and cover crops more than offset losses from tillage.

+ UN’s FOOD AND AG ORG SUPPORTS ORGANIC The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has come out in favour of organic agriculture. Its report, ”Organic Agriculture and Food Security” states that organic agriculture can address local and global food security challenges.

+ ORGANIC FOOD BETTER Important new research has shown up to 40% more beneficial compounds in organic vegetable crops and up to 90% more in organic milk. It has also found high levels of minerals such as iron and zinc in organic produce.

+ IT’S OFFICIAL: ORGANIC REALLY IS BETTER FOR YOU A 10-year study comparing organic and non-organic tomatoes has found that the organic ones have almost twice the quantity of antioxidants (called flavonoids) that help to prevent high blood pressure, thus reducing the likelihood of heart disease and strokes.

+ GROWERS CAN MAKE MORE MONEY BY GOING ORGANIC Minnesota grain farmers could make more money by switching from conventional to organic grain crops, shows a four-year study announced at the American Agricultural Economics Association’s annual meeting in Long Beach, Calif. The study, by David W. Archer, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) economist, and Hillarius Kludze, an ARS soil scientist, analyzed both economic risks and transition effects of switching to organic farming.


+ NEW SALT-TOLERANT WHEAT SET TO BRING LIFE TO ”DEAD” FARMLAND Scientists have developed a non-GM salt-tolerant wheat which could allow farmers to crop a third of the 1.8 million hectares of agricultural land lost to salinity across Australia’s wheat belt.


+ ZAMBIA: BETTER NON-GM MAIZE HARVESTS Although drought-prone Zambia is still facing many problems, huge improvements have been reported in its maize harvests – its main staple crop. A report from Inter Press Service notes, ”… production changed dramatically after President Levy Mwanawasa took over from Frederick Chiluba in 2001…. [He] promoted innovations like mixed farming and conservation farming. Mwanawasa rejected GM maize and encouraged the growing of non-GM maize, resulting in bumper harvests for the past three consecutive years.” When the Zambian government rejected GM maize in 2002, there were calls from the US Ambassador to the FAO for its leaders to be tried ”for the highest crimes against humanity in the highest courts of the world.”

+ UK: NON-GM CROP SCIENCE GETS GBP13m BOOST UK crop scientists have been awarded a GBP13.3m boost in funding to carry out research aimed at delivering benefits for farmers and consumers. Researchers say they will not be producing GM crops. Prof David Pink, from Warwick HRI, University of Warwick, whose team has been awarded GBP500,000 to identify genes in broccoli that will extend its shelf life and maintain its nutritional value for longer, said, ”We are not going down that [GM] route because GM is not acceptable at the moment, and not acceptable to our plant breeding partner.”

+ NON-GM DROUGHT-RESISTANT RICE IN PIPELINE Japanese researchers have made progress in breeding non-GM drought-resistant rice, intended for planting in Africa and other dry regions.

+ GM DROUGHT TOLERANT MAIZE WAY BEHIND NON-GM During March 2007, the South African authorities gave Monsanto permission to conduct GM drought tolerant maize field trials in South Africa. The African Centre for Biosafety released a report on the issue, pointing out that drought tolerance is at least 8-10 years away from commercialisation. Nevertheless, GM drought tolerant crops are being used as PR tools by biotech lobbyists to promote acceptance of GM crops, expand existing markets and develop new markets. Finally, the report points out that traditional breeding, marker assisted selection, and building up organic content of the soil are proven methods of dealing with drought.

+ PHILIPPINES NEW NON-GM DROUGHT-RESISTANT CORN A Philippines scientist has developed a new non-GM corn variety that was able to survive a drought for 29 days.

+ INDIGENOUS RICE BETTER THAN GM FOR DEALING WITH STRESS A New Delhi-based NGO, together with farmers from nine Indian states, has developed a register documenting over 2,000 indigenous rice varieties. They say GM rice strains are not only costly to cultivate but also are a poor match to the native strains in fighting pests, diseases and environmental fluctuations.

+ BODY BLOW TO GRAIN BORER The larger grain borer is taking a beating from CIMMYT (Internation Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre) breeders in Kenya as a new non-GM African maize withstands the onslaught of one of the most damaging pests.

4.MORE NON-GM DEVELOPMENTS (thanks to Genet for keeping track of these)

*Non-GM process for allergen-free peanuts
SOURCE: EurekAlert, USA
AUTHOR: North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, USA

*Non-GM approach to Striga-resistant cowpeas in Africa
SOURCE: University of Virginia, USA
AUTHOR: Press Release

*Non-GM salt-resistant wheat
SOURCE: Molecular Plant Breeding CRC, Australia
AUTHOR: Press Release

*Gates Foundation supports non-GM b-carotine rich sweet potato in Africa
SOURCE: International Potato Center, Peru
AUTHOR: Press Release

*Non-GM virus-resistant cassava for East and Central Africa
SOURCE: Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, USA
AUTHOR: International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Nigeria, Press Release

*Non-GM technology reduces aflatoxins in maize in Nigeria
SOURCE: Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, USA
AUTHOR: Story of the Month

*Iron-fortified non-GM maize cuts anaemia rates inchildren
SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK
AUTHOR: Ochieng” Ogodo

*Austro-Indian non-GM research cuts 50% of cotton insecticides, adds 75% profitability SOURCE: Inter Press Service News Agency, Italy
AUTHOR: Neena Bhandari

*Molecular Marker research could feed the world without GM
SOURCE: Kansas State University, USA
AUTHOR: Press Release, by Jianming Yu

*New non-GM drought-resistant corn
SOURCE: Minda News, Philippines
AUTHOR: Allen V. Estabillo

*Dutch researcher bred non-GM fungi-resistant tomato
SOURCE: Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, The Netherlands
AUTHOR: Press Release

*Texas-sized sorghum: New non-GM solution for fuel?
SOURCE: Texas A&M University AUTHOR: Press Release

*Non-GM tomatoes made to drink less water

*Non-GM rice with bacterial leaf blight-resistance genes developed
SOURCE: Indian Council of Agricultural Research, India
AUTHOR: Press Release

*Non-GM solution found for cassava root-rot devastation in Africa
SOURCE: New Scientist, UK AUTHOR: Fred Pearce

*U.S. grape researcher breeds non-GM vines resistant to Pierce’s Disease
SOURCE: Wine Spectator, USA
AUTHOR: Lynn Alley

*Non-GM method to produce virus-resistant brassica crops
SOURCE: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK
AUTHOR: Press Release

*High-yielding, soybean cyst nematodes-resistant non-GM soybeans
SOURCE: Wallaces Farmer, USA
AUTHOR: Rod Swoboda

*Non-GM success in combating cassava mosaic virus in Africa
SOURCE: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Italy
AUTHOR: Press Release