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Dear Science Allies:


As 2015 comes to a close, the Alliance for Science has a lot to celebrate. Together, we accomplished an incredible number of "firsts" in our inaugural year as a global initiative – a year that, as you'll see in our overview below, has seen a lot of big news stories contributing to the changing narrative of agricultural biotechnology. Over 1000 science allies have joined our cause and over 6200 people have actively supported our initiatives. Dozens of organizations globally have joined us as partner institutions.
 
As a global community we are leveraging our united voice in support of our shared mission to ensure access to innovation as a means of promoting global food security, improving environmental sustainability, and raising the quality of life globally. Together, our collective voice has proven to be strong. As we echo our shared mission in multiple languages around the world, we ensure that science and evidence drive agricultural decision-making.
 
The definitive highlight of our first full year was the success of the Alliance’s inaugural Global Leadership Fellows program. In August, 25 champions from 10 countries convened at Cornell for 12 weeks to build capacity in our global alliance.
 
In the few short weeks since then, these Fellows are already proving to be passionate champions committed to ensuring that modern innovations in agriculture do not bypass their countries. As members of the Alliance, the Fellows believe that scientists should have access to all the tools — including genetic engineering — that they need to innovate, and that farmers and consumers should be able to choose what they want to grow, and what they want to eat. People in the global north exercise those choices daily; the opportunity to choose is even more critical in the food fragile countries of the developing world.
 
All of the Fellows joined us at the official launch of the Alliance for Science at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York City on November 17. We were joined by the permanent ambassadors of the UN from Uganda, Indonesia, Kenya, and Ghana in an event that brought the Alliance to the world and the world to the Alliance. If you were not able to attend our hard launch at the United Nations you can get to know the 2015 Global Leadership Fellows in this brief video. Other assets from the launch are included in this year-end issue.
 
We have begun to recruit the 2016 cohort of Global Leadership Program Fellows and are reaching out for your support. Please make a year-end donation to help us support the Fellows program in 2016. By supporting a Fellow, you invest in the champions who are shifting the global debate around agriculture, food security, and environmental sustainability.
 
As we enter 2016, we will continue to engage champions around the world who share our mission. Please join us in some of the short courses in innovative communications we will be holding in Asia in January, and in Latin America in February (more details to the right). 
 
Thank you for being an early Ally of our Alliance for Science. We look forward to another year of positive growth as a global community in support of science and access to scientific innovation!
 

Sarah Evanega
Director, Cornell Alliance for Science
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Cornell Alliance for Science Fellows Start a Global Conversation at the United Nations. Read all about it here!
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This has been a huge year for agricultural technology, ranging from the approval of the first GMO animal for human consumption in the United States (after nearly two decades!) to monumental policy decisions from Scotland to Ghana. The Alliance for Science has aggregated what we believe are some of the most important events worth knowing about as we move into a new year.

Public Sector & Small Business Successes 

Bangladeshi farmers find hope in the successful field demonstrations of Bt brinjal — eggplant engineered to resist destructive pests. This year, 108 farmers received seedlings from the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, free of cost. 
In collaboration with researchers at the Univ. of California-Davis, Recombinetics unveiled the first two healthy dairy calves born without horns, thanks to a new gene-editing process. The naturally-polled calves were introduced to the world on the front page of the New York Times in Nov. 

 
On the grounds that "food from the fish is safe to eat," US regulators have — after nearly 20 years — approved the commercialization of AquaBounty's genetically engineered salmon, making it the first GM animal approved for human consumption. (Photo courtesy of AquaBounty Technologies)

 
Bioengineered apples that don't brown as quickly, and potatoes that bruise less, took a major step towards U.S. grocery store shelves this year. On March 20, the FDA declared six GE potatoes and three GE apples "as safe and nutritious as their conventional counterparts." (Photo courtesy of Modern Farmer)
 

Regulatory Modifications

At the start of 2015, the European Union changed its rules on the governance of GMOs, giving individual governments more power. By late 2015, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Scotland had each announced bans on GM cultivation. (Photo courtesy of Matti Mattila)

 
After a lawsuit filed against the National Biosafety Committee and the Ghanaian Ministry of Food and Agriculture by Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG) was dismissed by the High Court "without merits," the suspension of the commercialization of GMO cowpeas and rice in Ghana was ended in October. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)


 
In July 2015, the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy announced its plans to review the roles and responsibilities described in the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology — for the first time since 1992. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

 
Historically a GM-friendly country, in December the Philippines Supreme Court permanently stopped the field testing for Bt talong (eggplant), in addition to temporarily stopping any new applications for GM. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia) 

 

Barriers to Access to Innovation

In March 2015, millions of GE eucalyptus plants at the FuturaGene lab in Brazil were destroyed by vandals. The attack resulted in the loss of years of technological development. In response, thousands of Science Allies condemned the attack

 
Throughout 2015, over 40 public sector scientists received requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to turn over email correspondence. The Alliance launched a campaign to show support for the scientists bullied by these spurious requests. 

 
25 emerging leaders from around the world recently came to Cornell University to participate in the inaugural Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellows Program. A diverse group representing 10 nations, they were united in their passion to end world hunger through the use of science and evidence-based policies for food & agriculture. 

The Fellowship ended with a gala event at the United Nations, where the Alliance's 25 newly graduated Fellows mingled with diplomats, journalists, academics, and science allies, initiating a new conversation on ending world hunger. Read more about the event!

 

"As a trained plant scientist and a mom I feel strongly that we must use the tools of science to end the disparity we see around the world. I’d like to work towards ensuring that every parent has the opportunity to put warm, nutritious food in front of their children three times a day. And that every mother can both feed her children, and send them to school ... Ensuring that access to all people is what drives me each day in my work in support of access and choice."
 

— Dr. Sarah Evanega, Director, Cornell Alliance for Science

[View full event remarks here]

Guests at Nov. 17 UN event, L to R: Daniel Otunge (AATF/OFAB), Fellows Kennedy Oyugi & Iro Suleiman; Alliance Communications Director Atu Darko and Director Sarah Evanega; Cornell Univ. College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Sr. Associate Dean Max Pfeffer, Fellow Lia Moidady, and Dep. Ambassador to Permanent Mission to United Nation of Indonesia. Photos courtesy of Eric McNatt.
As 2015 comes to a close, the Alliance wants to amplify the voices of farmers around the world who share in our mission of promoting scientific innovation as a means of sustainably enhancing food security. Meet our two remarkable Farmers of the Year! 

Md. Hafizur Rahman, Bangladesh


Mohammad Hafizur Rahman is a pioneer. An unassuming man living with his mother, brother, and sister in a small village a few hours north of Dhaka, Bangladesh, he is one of the first farmers in the developing world to grow a genetically modified food crop: so-called Bt brinjal, or eggplant.

Selected by government agricultural officers as one of only 108 farmers to grow the new crop last season, he is enthusiastic about the experience. "For the local varieties [of eggplant] I had to spray pesticide 2-3 times per week for the fruit and shoot borer pests," he says. Fruit and shoot borer is a caterpillar pest that destroys the plants and fruits. "Now I don't need to spray [for them]." With the new GMO eggplant, Rahman only spends a tenth as much on pesticides, and has noticed significant health improvements as a result.
 
Rahman knows the value of education. Having completed a diploma at the nearby Tangail Polytechnic Institute he considers himself an early adopter and is well educated compared to his peers in the village. "I implement my learning in the field," he says. "For this reason I think I am a progressive farmer and am trying to be self-reliant." Although he admits to not having much idea what a 'GMO' is, he knows the benefits of a pesticide-reducing crop when he sees one, and he both consumes Bt brinjal in the home and sells it at a premium in local markets. <Read More> 

Amy Hepworth, Milton, NY


I am a seventh-generation family farmer in Milton, New York, in the Hudson River Valley. After graduating from Cornell with a B.S. pomology in 1982, I adopted an alive systems approach to farming, practicing organic and sustainable agriculture. Today, Hepworth Farms has 400 acres of NOFA-certified production land growing more than 400 varieties of organic vegetables.

The organic movement was successful in changing the way the agricultural industry operates. But the time has come to release ourselves from the tyranny of the label—taking its valuable lessons and evolving beyond organic to create the safest, most ecologically, economically, and socially just agricultural system possible. Advances in biotechnology are a natural fit to meet the demand of the population for sustainably grown food.
 
The anti-GMO movement, while well intentioned, is a dangerous movement. Lack of understanding and fractious language has led to misinformation, fear, bad policymaking, and a two-party system in which “organic” is seen as “good” and conventional is “bad.” A hybrid of these two approaches is the way of the future. It is important to use applicable biotechnology, including GMOs, to protect our environment and advance human health; it will become imperative in order to feed the world in 2050. It’s our moral duty to use this technology for the good of the people and the planet.
 
That’s why the agricultural industry’s need for applied research and technology is now greater than ever. Land-grant universities like Cornell need to invest in maintaining their applied research programs in order to find the solutions to the complex problems facing farmers today. When you educate conventional farmers on best farming practices, they are very quick to adapt. The land-grant university — for the people, by the people — is the institution to give independent merit to these advances. <Read More>
 
Below is a preview of some of our team's photos from the year. Check out our Flickr stream for more! Photos by Jeremy Veverka, Joan Conrow, & Rebecca Harrison.
Each month, the Alliance tracks the world’s top news and opinions on agricultural biotechnology. If you or someone in your organization is interested in contributing reports to the Monthly Monitor, please let us know at allianceforsci@cornell.edu. We always encourage you to submit important news reports from your region.

COP21 | UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, France


For the past two weeks, all eyes have been on Paris, the site of the 2015 international climate change conference, COP21. Conference objectives include creating an overarching framework for holding countries accountable for their offers to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gases.

While there has been significant coverage of the deliberations, little focus has been directed towards the positive role agriculture can play in mitigating climate change. Rather, the intense relationship between agriculture and climate change is often seen negatively. But as Mark Lynas contends, the beneficial role agricultural technologies can play in reducing CO2 emissions is often not given a place in the conversation.

Photo courtesy of COP21

Human #GeneEditSummit & its implications on agricultural technologies 


On Dec. 1-3, the National Academies of Sciences, in conjunction with the Royal Society in London and the Chinese Academies of Sciences, hosted the International Summit on Human Gene Editing to discuss the rapid advancements in gene editing.

According to the New York Time's Nov. 15 article, "The Crispr Quandary," while this gene-editing tool may on one hand provide huge benefits to civilization, it may also "create an ethical morass." The #GeneEditSummit sought to address the associated ethical, legal, and social implications of the technology. Gene editing provides great promise for animal and crop agriculture, but where are the boundaries drawn when it comes to editing human embryos? Who gets to decide? 

As it turns out, the scientific community has not yet reached consensus. 

Photo courtesy of Yorgos Nikas/SPL. 

Swedish Board of Agriculture says CRISPR-Cas9 not "GMO"


According to the Nov. 17 press release, "The Swedish Board of Agriculture has, after questions from researchers in Umeá and Uppsala, confirmed the interpretation that some plants in which the genome has been edited using CRISPR-Cas9 technology do not fall under the European GMO definition. This is important for the wide use of such plants to contribute to solving some of the escalating challenges of mankind." 

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The Alliance wants to hear from you!


Are you attending an event that you think the readers of the Alliance Monthly Monitor would like to hear about? Email your coverage to alliance@cornell.edu for consideration in our newsletter. 
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