New GM crops for Russia

Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan are together one of the world’s leading agricultural producers – Russia alone produces over 10% of the world’s potatoes. However, the potential potato crop is almost halved due to factors such as weediness, viruses, cold winters and dry summers. Another cause of major losses is the Colarado beetle, an invasive species native to North America. The vast majority of Russian farmers have no access to insecticides, so the beetle does billions of dollars worth of damage each year.

A recent review from the Russian Academy of Sciences explains how Russia is tackling some of these problems with GM crops.

Scientific work over the past 15 years has led to the creation of GM potato varieties resistant to herbicides, pests, fungal and viral diseases in Russia. Colorado beetle resistant potato varieties have also passed all safety trials. They are considered by the Russian authorities to be as safe as traditional varieties and have been registered for food use.

Another major crop in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan is sugar beet. Over half of sugar beet cultivation costs are from weed control, but weediness still leads to yields being reduced by a quarter, with further losses caused by viruses. To tackle the problem of weediness, the Russian Academy of Sciences has created GM sugar beet lines that are tolerant to herbicides. They are now developing lines resistant to viruses.

The paper says:

“The application of the potato varieties and sugar beet lines obtained allows improved reliability, profitability and simplicity of plant cultivation. It will also provide considerable, positive ecological effects and will reduce health risks of both producers and consumers.”

What do you think?

Skryabin (2010) Do Russia and Eastern Europe need GM plants? New Biotechnology

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About Rebecca Nesbit

I am author of a popular science book 'Is that Fish in your Tomato?' exploring the fact and fiction of GM crops. I have trained bees to detect explosives, used a radar to study butterflies for my PhD, written a novel, taken the train from London to China, organised Biology Week, sold science jewellery on Etsy, and traveled to four continents with Nobel Laureates. Best off all, I've made lots of friends whose support I very much appreciate. Thank you! Please visit my website: http://rebeccanesbit.com/
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4 Responses to New GM crops for Russia

  1. emmalouisewright says:

    GM is an amazingly smart idea: steal a few useful genes from one species and give them to another effectively speeding up evolution. These GM crops will save money, help the environment by reducing pesticide use, and increase yield…So what’s wrong with GM?

    At which point we could start a three hour debate on the pros and cons of GM; listing various studies of GM genes spreading to other plants, damage to non-target insects from insect resistant crops, over use of herbicide on herbicide resistant crops… Oh yes and we don’t really know what the long term effects of growing and eating GM crops will be…

    IMHO however I have to say that if GM isn’t necessary now then it soon will be to maintain food security and benefit the environment. So long as we keep up the rigorous testing on new GM crops and carry on long term studies on the existing ones…

  2. Good point – we can’t leave trials until we need the technology. It take time to establish whether each varity of GM crop is going to be safe. By the time we feel the need to use that variety we need to know if it’s a good idea or not

  3. nicholahawkins says:

    The trouble is the debate tends to talk about “GM” as one single thing, so questions about GM as a technology get all muddled up with questions about individual uses. Yes there are issues relating to GM as a whole, but these are mostly on the philosophical side- or to do with the economics and issues related to food production technologies being developed by commercial companies (pharmaceutical companies can behave in quite uncharitable ways, leaving people in the developing world unable to afford life saving drugs- does that mean we should ban all use of chemical medicines?) Otherwise it’s the individual applications that matter. If GM can be used to allow increased herbicide use (itself a slightly misleading statement, it actually means farmers use one herbicide instead of another), does that make it wrong to use GM technology to increase the vitamin content of rice, because they’re both GM? And would we be saying insect resistant crops as an alternative to sprayed insecticides were a bad thing if they were produced by conventional breeding?

    • Becky says:

      I think Nichola has hit the nail on the head of one of the things that can hold the debate back – not all GM is the same. We need to look at each case individually, not reject all GM because on variety is a bad idea.

      She also shares one of my main worries – the economics and social isues.

      Pharmaceutical companies (yep unethical in lots of cases though we need them…) who make drugs for the west and don’t sell them for less to developing countries just aren’t doing a good thing for the rest of the world (interesting debate in itself). That’s unlike GM social/ethical issues – when varieties are specifically developed for the developing world.

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