Plant biotech news in the spotlight

To overcome today’s huge agricultural hurdles, we should move to an integrated agricultural model that combines the best features of conventional farming with the best features of organic farming but with the adoption of the latest technologies, including the targeted genetic modification of crops.

VIB's mission on Plant Biotech & Agriculture


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IPBO’s Facts Series 'Cotton in Africa'

3 October 2017

Cotton represents a crucial source of income in Sub-Saharan Africa, both for rural populations and for national economies. It is one of the most widely produced cash
crops grown by African smallholder farmers, ranking only second in value after cocoa.

Despite its economic potential, the cotton industry is subject to a number of risks,
such as price fluctuations of both inputs and cotton on the world market, changing weather conditions, pest attacks and also problems related to pests becoming resistant to pesticides. All these risk factors threaten the sustainability of cotton production in Africa.


IPBO’s Facts Series 'Maize in Africa'

 28 August, 2017

Maize is the most-produced cereal worldwide. In Africa alone, more than 300 million people depend on maize as their main food crop. In addition, maize is also very important as feed for farm animals. Currently, approximately 1 billion tons of maize are grown in more than 170 countries on about 180 million hectares of land. 90% of the world’s production is yellow maize, but in Africa, 90% of the total maize production is white maize.

In Africa, maize production is continuously and severely affected by a number of threats, such as weeds, insects, bacteria, viruses, nematodes, fungi, low quality seed, low levels of mechanization, suboptimal post-harvest management, drought and climate change.

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Golden Rice

 18 January, 2017

Rice is the staple food of more than half of the world’s population. Rice grains are rich in carbohydrates and comprise a good source of energy but lack many essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. For people who barely eat more than a portion of rice a day, those deficiencies can result in serious health problems.

Tackling poverty, the lack of infrastructure and inadequate education are the greatest challenges. In attaining these goals the fortification of staple food crops in developing countries can comprise a sustainable way of adding additional nutrients to people’s diets. The development of Golden Rice is an example of this. This rice contains provitamin A, a substance that the body converts into vitamin A.

This document discusses Golden Rice as a potential component of the broad strategy against vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. Efforts must continue to be made in combating global poverty and promoting a varied diet. But, for as long as vitamin A deficiency remains a public health problem in several countries, Golden Rice can be of added value.

Download pdf or order a paper copy (we only send a copy to a Belgian address)

Effect of genetically modified crops on the environment

September 6, 2016

This report forms a two-part series on the safety of genetically modified (GM) crops along with the background report on “Food safety of genetically modified crops”, which has already been published. In this report we discuss what impact GM crops have on the environment.
All agriculture, including cultivating a particular crop, has an impact on the environment. Planting calendars determine which weeds and insects are present in the field, agricultural machinery compresses the earth, uses fuel, and emits CO2, whilst excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides can leave traces in and on the earth. In addition, a particular crop trait (for instance, insect resistance) can also affect the impact on the environment. ~
The aim of this report is to provide a nuanced response to the many concerns that exist concerning the environmental impact of GM crops. The impact, whether positive or negative, depends on the crop trait and the cultivation method, but not on the breeding technology used. Plant breeding makes it possible to develop plants that reduce the impact on the environment.

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Impact des plantes génétiquement modifiées sur l’environnement

6 septembre , 2016

Ce dossier constitue le second volet d’une série en deux parties consacrée à la sécurité des plantes génétiquement modifiées (OGM). Le premier volet, à savoir le dossier de référence « La sécurité alimentaire des plantes génétiquement modifiées », a déjà été publié. Quant au présent dossier, il dresse un état des lieux de l’impact des cultures OGM sur l’environnement.
Toute activité agricole, y compris la culture d’une plante donnée, a une incidence sur l’environnement. Les schémas de culture déterminent les espèces de mauvaises herbes et d’insectes qui envahissent les champs, les machines agricoles compressent le sol, consomment du carburant et rejettent du CO2, tandis que les engrais et pesticides appliqués de manière excessive peuvent subsister dans et sur le sol. En outre, chaque propriété d’une plante (comme sa résistance aux insectes) peut également affecter l’environnement.
Ce dossier entend offrir une réponse nuancée aux nombreuses préoccupations que suscitent sur l’impact des plantes OGM sur l’environnement. L’impact – positif ou négatif – dépend de la propriété de la plante et de la méthode de culture, mais non de la technique d’amélioration mise en œuvre. La technique de la sélection végétale permet de développer des plantes qui atténuent ces effets.

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IPBO’s Facts Series  'Bananas, the green gold of the South'

12 August, 2016

There are few people in the world who are not familiar with bananas. With an annual production of 145 million metric tons in over 130 countries and an economic value of 44.1 billion dollars, bananas are the fourth most important food crop in the world. Given that bananas serve as a basic food source for 20 million people in East Africa and for 70 million people in West and Central Africa, Africa is highly dependent on banana cultivation for food, income, and job security. To continue to guarantee food security in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as the worldwide export of bananas in the future, there is an urgent need for improved banana varieties with an increased yield and nutritional value, which are resistant to all pests and diseases.
These Facts Series elaborate on processes to produce new and improved banana varieties that contribute to sustainable, environmentally friendly, and economically viable agriculture.
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Download digital book The GMO Revolution by Wim Grunewald and Jo Bury

Couldn’t lay your hands on a copy of the book The GMO Revolution yet?
You have the book but prefer an electronic version to read on your eBook reader or notebook this summer? No worries! Here’s the book in ePub format. Download away!

Download ePub format.epubDownload ePub format.epub
Dowload pdf format

GM crops symbolize an important evolution in plant breeding. An evolution that is based on modern plant biotechnology, a new scientific discipline which originated in Belgium at Ghent University and which examines the genetic basis of plant characteristics. This knowledge forms the basis for a range of new strategies for crop improvements. The GMO Revolution offers a balanced and fact-based insight into how GM crops could be useful in solving current and future issues facing agriculture: from potatoes that can protect themselves against late blight, to trees that can be used in biofuel production, to rice that contains more vitamins and wheat with a safe form of gluten.

Paper books can still be ordered here.

From plant to crop: The past, present and future of plant breeding

21 April 2016

Whenever plant biotechnology pops up in conversation, it is usually as part of a debate on genetically modified (GM) crops. Nevertheless, selective genetic modification of crops with the use of GM technology is only one of the many possibilities we have to make plants respond better to our needs. In this VIB Facts Series issue, we outline how the crops we know today have evolved from nature, with particular emphasis on the role humans have played.

Since agriculture began around 10,000 years ago, humans have adapted plants to suit their purposes. We selected plants and crossed them so that they slowly but surely became more adapted to our requirements. And with the rise of new plant breeding technologies, a debate started concerning their need, potential risks and technical aspects of how to create the appropriate legislation. In the wake of the GM debate, certain new breeding techniques—which are often referred to with the abbreviation NBTs (New Breeding Technologies)—are coming under increased scrutiny, especially from a regulatory standpoint. In this VIB Facts Series issue, we explain how these techniques work, how they differ from generally accepted methods, and what advantages they have over traditional breeding techniques.

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Food safety of genetically modified crops

4 February 2016

In this VIB Facts Series issue, we discuss current scientific understanding regarding the food safety of GM crops. Just as there are scientists who deny global warming or who disregard the effectiveness of vaccines, there will always be people, even from the scientific community, who state that GM technology in itself poses a threat to public health. However no single scientific argument can be found to doubt the safety of
GM technology. Food safety institutions, companies, research institutes and universities have conducted large-scale tests and studies on GM crops over the past thirty years. The significant scientific consensus about the safety of GM technology is based on this. However, it must be clear that the applications of GM technology must be evaluated case by case before a crop can be authorized for cultivation and/or food and feed use by local governments.
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Séralini is re-using old data

25 January 2016 

In answer on Séralini's study 'First commercialized GM Crop was toxic to farm animals over long-term'

The Robert Koch-Institute in Berlin as German Competent Authority under Directive 2001/18/EC at this time in 2002 initiated an in-dept investigation on this case (and not the German Ministry of Health as stated in Seralini 2016). The final results were made public on this webpage
"Analysis of the findings did not provide any evidence that Bt maize was the cause of death. According to the Robert Koch Institute, “based on the data and information available, it is therefore highly unlikely that there is a causal connection between the use of feed (silage, maize kernels) containing the Bt toxin from Bt176 maize and the deaths on Glöckner’s farm. Any long-term effect leading to deaths in cattle as much as several months after discontinuing use of these feeds is at least as unlikely”.


A blight resistant potato for Europe

24 September 2015
Each year potatoes in Europe are threatened by Phytophthora infestans, a fungus-like organism that causes late blight. Treatments needed to protect potato harvests come with a significant financial and environmental cost. Several research institutes in Europe aim to introduce late blight resistance to popular potato varieties. The potatoes will have at least three different natural resistance genes obtained from older, wild relatives of the modern potato. This will be achieved using genetic modification. A late blight resistant GM potato could be grown with 80% less fungicide. Read all about the potato disease, the problems that it causes and the solutions that plant biotech can offer in this joint publication of VIB, The Sainsbury Laboratory and Wageningen University & Research centre.

Download pdf or order a paper copy (we only send a copy to a Belgian address)


Genetic engineered apples get U.S. approval

18 February 2015

On February 3rd the US government approved the commercial planting of genetically engineered apples that are resistant to turning brown when sliced or bruised. The so-called Arctic apples — which will be available in the Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties — are genetically engineered in a way to suppress the production of polyphenol oxidase; the enzyme that causes browning. In contrast to most genetically modified crops that are developed by multinationals, Artic apples are a product of Okanagan, a small company based in Summerland, British Columbia. The first apples could reach US stores, in very small quantities, in 2017.


Genetically modified crops: Time to move on from theological dispute

11 February 2015

The EU needs to move on from a narrow focus on GM crops, and address wider issues of how to make agriculture more efficient and sustainable, as well as better able to withstand climate change and feed a growing global population, says Stephen Tindale, research fellow at the Centre for European Reform and former executive director of Greenpeace UK. The fact that science says a crop is safe does not mean that countries should be forced to grow it, according to Tindale, but anti-GM countries should stop trying to prevent any cultivation anywhere in Europe.

Objections to GMO’s are not science-based but represent ‘technofobia’

23 October 2014
Currently Europe is reviewing the possibility for member states to restrict or ban the cultivation of authorized GM crops. This nationalization proposal seems to be necessary to unlock the GM situation in Europe. Jan Huitema, agricultural engineer and member of the European parliament, makes a plea to make science-based decisions. “For more than 20 years now GMO’s have been safely consumed, it is time to embrace these technologies and not to let ourselves be led by ungrounded fears”, Jan Huitema states. With his text Huitema responds to the call of his Croatian colleague Marijana Petir to completely restrict the cultivation of GMO’s in Europe.
Read the full text of MEP Huitema

The next green revolution
3 October 2014
Global agriculture needs both organic farming and modern biotech crops. It’s not a question of low-tech vs high-tech. “A lot of us got into genetic engineering because we thought we could do a lot of good for the world” Robert Zeigler says, plant pathologist and director of IRRI. “These tools are fantastic, but we do feel a bit betrayed by the environmental movement. If you want to have a conversation about what the role of large corporations should be in our food supply, we can have that conversation. But it’s not the same conversation about whether we should use these tools of genetics to improve our crops. Let’s not confound these issues.”
Read the full paper in National Geographic Magazine

No sign of health or nutrition problems from GMO livestock feed, study finds

1 October 2014
The United States produce over 9 billion food-producing animals annually. More than 95% of these animals consume feed containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients. Two researchers from the University of California Davis summarized the scientific literature on performance and health of animals consuming GM feed. The data sets, representing over 100 billion animals, reveal that the health and performance of GM fed animals are comparable to that of non-GM fed animals.
For more info, or read the full paper

Sticking with non-GMO agriculture isn’t always the solution 

20 September 2014
Mischa Popoff, a former organic farmer and author of “Is it Organic?” explains that farmers, consumers and the environment would benefit from cultivating insect resistant GM maize in Italy. Italy bans the GM maize MON810 while it is authorized for cultivation in Europe. As a result Italian farmers end up with infected and contaminated maize that can only be used for bioenergy production. To feed its livestock Italy imports maize from the US … GM maize.

Read the full text

Why I Turned From GM Opponent to Advocate
4 June 2014
Environmentalist and climate change expert Mark Lynas explains how he came to realise that his position against GM crops was completely wrong.

Read the full text.  



Virus resistant papaya in Hawaii - the local papaya industry's life raft

28 February 2014

In Hawaii, the genetically modified (GM) papaya has been cultivated since 1998 to deal with the papaya ringspot virus. The Hawaiian GM papaya was developed by the public sector and the intellectual property rights were transferred to the local papaya industry. The adoption of the virus resistant papaya rescued the Hawaiian papaya industry and inspired many other countries to look for a similar solution to deal with plant viruses. Read everything what you want to know about the virus resistant GM papaya in the new VIB background report.

Europe is at serious risk of becoming the Museum of World Farming
27 Januari 2014

Owen Patterson, UK’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, highlights the consumer benefits of GM technology. Read here the speech he gave at the Growing Voices event on Healthy food.