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Carbon - The New Cash Crop

Following Copenhagen the message is clear: if we do not act swiftly, industrial agriculture could soon claim large rewards from carbon trading by being recognized as a carbon sink. We know that climate change has the potential to irreversibly damage the natural resource base on which agriculture depends. But we also know that industrial agriculture is a major cause of climate change, so how can rewarding it with carbon credits help reduce its climate impacts? The Land Magazine: http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/

Agriculture and soils in carbon trading

Including soil carbon sequestration in a Copenhagen agreement may provide opportunities for commercialization and profit, but should not be confused with proven strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, building resilient food systems and empowering rural communities. In the negotiations and debates leading up to Copenhagen, there has been growing emphasis on carbon credits for agriculture and the inclusion of soil carbon sequestration into the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and other mechanisms including REDD.

Agriculture and Climate Change - Real Problems, False Solutions

Few would deny that agriculture is especially severely affected by climate change and that the right practices contribute to mitigate it, yet expectations of the new climate agreement diverge sharply, as well as notions on what are good and what are bad agricultural practices and whether soil carbon sequestration should be part of carbon trading.

Feed the world?

The promise of more food from increased yields is driving the appeal for more GM crops, but that promise is theoretical and unfulfilled, argue Dr Ricarda A Steinbrecher and Antje Lorch. Since the 1980s, biotechnology companies have promised that genetic engineering would produce crops that deliver higher yields. No such crops have ever been produced, but as fossil fuel supplies dwindle and food prices rise, the belief that higher-yielding GM crops could solve both our fuel and food problems has gained momentum and prominence among policymakers, government officials and the media.

Potential Ecological and Social Impacts of Genetically Engineered Trees

It is the purpose of the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect biological diversity in all of its richness – this is also done in awareness of its importance for the functioning of vital systems such as ecosystems, climate systems and water systems. Forests include some of the world’s most important biodiversity reserves with some forest soils alone containing thousands of species. Many of these species are endemic to particular ecosystems and the fragmenting of forest ecosystems has left these species highly vulnerable to new threats. It is therefore crucial that the CBD address emerging issues such as genetically engineered (modified) trees with an eye to ensuring that forest biological diversity is in no way negatively affected.

Genetically Engineered Trees & Risk Assessment

Trees differ in a number of important characteristics from field crops, and these characteristics are also relevant for any risk assessment of genetically engineered (GE) trees. A review of the scientific literature shows that due to the complexity of trees as organisms with large habitats and numerous interactions, currently no meaningful and sufficient risk assessment of GE trees is possible, and that especially a trait-specific risk assessment is not appropriate. Both scientific literature and in-field experience show that contamination by and dispersal of GE trees will take place. Transgenic sterility is not an option to avoid the potential impacts posed by GE trees and their spread. Regulation of trees on a national level will not be sufficient because due to the large-scale dispersion of reproductive plant material, GE trees are likely to cross national borders. All this makes GE trees a compelling case for the application of the precautionary principle.

Why 'marginal' land does not solve the biofuel problems

Partly in order to respond to accusations that agrofuels compete with food production, some propose that agrofuel crops should only be planted on marginal or idle land. We are told there are millions of hectares of such land around the world. But before considering what could be grown on it we must define "marginal land". So-called marginal land may be a vital resource to local communities - especially women - to herders, pastoralists and to biodiversity.

Agrofuels and the Myth of the Marginal Lands

It is claimed that growing agrofuels on marginal lands will bring development benefits to Southern countries, while avoiding the negative impacts on forests, food security, climate change and land rights, brought about by agrofuels so far. But a closer look finds that growing on “marginal” lands will not avoid these problems, but exacerbate them.

Transformation-induced Mutations in Transgenic Plants

Plant transformation has become an essential tool for plant molecular biologists and, almost simultaneously, transgenic plants have become a major focus of many plant breeding programs. The first transgenic cultivar arrived on the market approximately 15 years ago, and some countries have since commercially approved or deregulated (e.g. the United States) various commodity crops with the result that certain transgenic crop plants, such as herbicide resistant canola and soya and pest resistant maize, are currently grown on millions of acres.

Genome Scrambling – Myth or Reality?

Internationally, safety regulations of transgenic (genetically modified or GM) crop plants focus primarily on the potential hazards of specific transgenes and their products (e.g. allergenicity of the B. thuringiensis cry3A protein). This emphasis on the transgene and its product is a feature of the case-by-case approach to risk assessment. The case-by-case approach effectively assumes that plant transformation methods (the techniques used to introduce recombinant DNA into a plant) carry no inherent risk. Nevertheless, current crop plant transformation methods typically require tissue culture (i.e. regeneration of an intact plant from a single cell that has been treated with hormones and antibiotics and forced to undergo abnormal developmental changes) and either infection with a pathogenic organism (A. tumefaciens) or bombardment with tungsten particles. It would therefore not be surprising if plant transformation resulted in significant genetic consequences which were unrelated to the nature of the specific transgene. Indeed, both tissue culture and transgene insertion have been used as mutagenic agents (Jain 2001, Krysan et al. 1999).

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