Public Food Safety Concerns Over GMOs
Being Heeded In World's Largest Dictatorship

Chinese Government Puts GM Crops On Backburner
As Priority Given To Other Agricultural Biotechnology To Feed Population
Beijing Sees Multinational Seed Companies As Threat To Farmers Incomes
And National Food Security

February 2011

"China will breed its own high-yield seeds and set up large seed companies to help ensure the country's food security in coming decades. The State Council, China's cabinet, said in a statement that the world's largest grain producer aims to breed new seeds using China's own biotechnology and set up large seed-breeding bases by 2020. The country will focus development on hybrid rice and corn -- particularly corn, where Pioneer already has a large share of the market and domestic seed firms are failing to compete,' said one Chinese seed-breeding scientist. 'The government's concerns are grain security and how to boost farmers' incomes, while foreign companies will increase seed prices after they have occupied the market.' DuPont, which owns Pioneer Hi-Bred, is one of the world's largest agricultural seed companies and sees China as a particular opportunity for expansion..... Scientists said genetically modified (GMO) seeds would not be a priority for Beijing for at least five years. Public debate over the safety of GMO food coupled with a long approval process meant China may not rush to use GMO seeds widely in the near term. '(Development of) non-GMO seeds will still play a key role in boosting grain production in the coming five years,' Huang Dafang, a researcher with the Biotechnology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told Reuters in December. 'GMO technology is a long-term national strategy and not for this or the next five-year plan,' Huang said."
China to breed large seed firms, up reservoir spending
Reuters, 23 February 2011

China's Wise Move In Strategy To Feed World's Largest Population

chinarice.jpg (30401 bytes)

If ever there was a country which needed to give priority to maximising food production it is China. If people there were to go persistently hungry on a major scale it would probably mean an uprising and the end of the ruling regime in Beijing.

Yet that same government has indicated (Reuters report, above) that it is giving priority to techniques of agricultural biotechnology which are more publicly acceptable than GM methods, and that this policy will apply even beyond the nation's current five year strategic plan.

It would seem that, at least for now, Beijing has realised that the risks associated with GM crops are not outweighed by any claimed benefits. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear from other reporting that GM crop technology is starting to break down in China and elsewhere (below).

Ironically it is China, the world's largest dictatorship, which at the same time also seems to be giving heed to public concerns about the safety of GM food. If only the American public were so lucky with their government. But then America is 'The Best Democracy Money Can Buy'.

Meanwhile the evidence is mounting that it is more publicly acceptable non-GM biotech, particularly advances based on genomics, which is really delivering meaningful results when it comes to improved crop varieties (below). The Chinese government's position would seem to signal a growing recognition of this.

GM Technology Breakdown

GM Technology Breakdown In China

"Growing cotton that has been genetically modified to poison its main pest can lead to a boom in the numbers of other insects, a ten-year study in northern China has found. In 1997, the Chinese government approved the commercial cultivation of cotton plants genetically modified to produce a toxin from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that is deadly to the bollworm Helicoverpa armigera. ....  Numbers of mirid bugs (insects of the Miridae family), previously only minor pests in northern China, have increased 12-fold since 1997, they found. 'Mirids are now a main pest in the region,' says Wu. 'Their rise in abundance is associated with the scale of Bt cotton cultivation.' Wu and his colleagues suspect that mirid populations increased because less broad-spectrum pesticide was used following the introduction of Bt cotton. 'Mirids are not susceptible to the Bt toxin, so they started to thrive when farmers used less pesticide,' says Wu. The study is published in this week's issue of Science. 'Mirids can reduce cotton yields just as much as bollworms, up to 50% when not controlled,' Wu adds. The insects are also emerging as a threat to crops such as green beans, cereals, vegetables and various fruits. The rise of mirids has driven Chinese farmers back to pesticides — they are currently using about two-thirds as much as they did before Bt cotton was introduced. As mirids develop resistance to the pesticides, Wu expects that farmers will soon spray as much as they ever did. Two years ago, a study led by David Just, an economist at Cornell University at Ithaca, New York, concluded that the economic benefits of Bt cotton in China have eroded. The team attributed this to increased pesticide use to deal with secondary pests. The conclusion was controversial, with critics of the study focusing on the relatively small sample size and use of economic modelling. Wu's findings back up the earlier study, says David Andow, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota in St Paul. 'The finding reminds us yet again that genetic modified crops are not a magic bullet for pest control,' says Andow. 'They have to be part of an integrated pest-management system to retain long-term benefits.'.... Wu stresses.... that pest control must keep sight of the whole ecosystem."
GM crop use makes minor pests major problem
| Nature |13 May 2010

"One of the major arguments in favour of growing GM crops has been undermined by a study showing that the benefits are short-lived because farmers quickly resort to spraying their fields with harmful pesticides. Supporters of genetically modified crops claim the technique saves money and provides environmental benefits because farmers need to spray their fields fewer times with chemicals. However, a detailed survey of 481 cotton growers in China found that, although they did use fewer pesticides in the first few years of adopting GM plants, after seven years they had to use just as much pesticide as they did with conventional crops. The study found that after three years, the GM farmers had cut pesticide use by 70 per cent and were earning over a third more than conventional farmers. But, by 2004, the GM cotton farmers were using just as much pesticide as their conventional counterparts and were spending far more because GM cotton seed is three times the price of conventional cotton seed. The findings will undermine claims by the biotechnology industry that GM technology can boost food production without necessarily damaging the environment with pesticides. Scientists from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, carried out the study which involved interviews with hundreds of Chinese farmers who had switched to cotton that had been genetically modified with a gene for a bacterial toxin. The toxin - known as Bt - is secreted by the GM cotton plant and is highly effective at stopping the growth of bollworm, a major pest of the crop that can cause millions of pounds worth of damage.... Before the introduction of the GM crop into China, farmers in the country had to spray on average 20 times each growing season to control bollworm but, with Bt cotton, the average number of treatments fell to below seven. The amount of pesticide also fell by 43.3kg per hectare in 1999, which was a decrease of about 71 per cent on previous years. However, Professor Per Pinstrup-Andersen and his colleagues at Cornell found that all those benefits have since been largely lost due to the rise of other pests that were not considered a problem for cotton. 'Using a household survey from 2004, seven years after the initial commercialisation of Bt cotton in China, we show that total pesticide expenditure for Bt cotton farmers in China is nearly equal to that of their conventional counterparts,' the scientists say in their report. 'Bt farmers in 2004 on the average have to spray pesticide 18.22 times, which is more than three times higher compared with 1999. 'Detailed information on pesticide expenditures reveals that, though Bt farmers saved 46 per cent of bollworm pesticide relative to non-Bt farmers, they spend 40 per cent more on pesticides designed to kill an emerging secondary pest,' they say. Secondary pests, such as a type of leaf bug called mirids, are not normally a problem in cotton fields because bollworm, and sprays against bollworm, tend to keep them in check. However, because Bt cotton is targeted mainly against bollworm, other pests are able to exploit the relatively low use of pesticide that such fields need."
Farmers use as much pesticide with GM crops, US study finds
Independent, 27 July 2006

GM Technology Breakdown In India

"Insects expected to drop dead after feeding on genetically modified cotton plants have instead been found for the first time in India to be thriving and even successfully breeding on the plants. Government entomologists have detected natural bollworms — pests of cotton — capable of feeding, surviving and reproducing on commercial varieties of GM cotton, and spawning progeny that can also complete a full life cycle on the plants. The entomologists at the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Raichur, Karnataka, say their observations coming within eight years after the start of commercial cultivation of GM cotton in India put a question mark on the wisdom of relying heavily on GM plants, particularly to fight crop pests. 'We saw virtually no differences between the biology of insect populations reared on the GM cotton and the non-GM cotton,' said Aralimarad Prabhuraj, associate professor of agricultural entomology at the UAS. The results of their studies appeared yesterday in the journal Current Science, published by the Indian Academy of Sciences. The GM cotton plants are designed to produce a bacterial protein that is toxic to bollworms. But the bollworm larvae picked up by the UAS researchers from their experimental farms in Raichur defiantly survived the toxins produced by the plants. Previous studies from the US, China and India have shown that bollworms can feed on GM cotton plants. But the new study is the first to demonstrate that bollworms can breed on the GM cotton and produce fertile offspring that also have the same capability..... The UAS researchers said their study did not probe whether the bollworms survived because they have turned resistant to the toxin in the GM cotton plants or because the amount of the toxins in the plants are below a minimum level needed to kill the insects. 'The damage caused by the bollworms to the GM cotton plants suggests that rather than banking on GM technology alone, we need to lay emphasis on integrated pest management, or IPM,' said Yerbahalli B. Srinivasa, a team member at the Institute of Wood Science and Technology, Bangalore. In IPM, farmers are encouraged to use multiple strategies to combat pests. Prabhuraj and Srinivasa say that without IPM, the population of insects capable of surviving GM plants may grow beyond a tipping point where the crop losses would be significant.... The UAS study observed survival and breeding of bollworms on both first-generation as well as a second-generation GM cotton. The second-generation varieties are loaded with two toxins, and thus viewed as a superior alternative to GM cotton with only one toxin."
Worms eat into GM crop myth - Insects expected to drop dead thrive on cotton plants
Telegraph (Calcutta), 12 December 2010

"Crop scientist Keshav Kranthi would hate being labelled campaigner against genetic engineering. He says he supports plant biotechnology and wants India to pursue the myriad promises it offers. But in the polarised debate on the genetically modified (GM) brinjal, Kranthi has aligned himself with groups calling for caution before its release, citing little-known but serious trouble with cotton rarely articulated before. Kranthi, acting director of the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) in Nagpur, has warned that poor management of the technology has spawned an abundance of predictable and unexpected problems. The rapid adoption of GM cotton by farmers across the country has coincided with the rise of hitherto unknown insect pests, increased pesticide applications by farmers, and declining cotton productivity over the past three years, he has told the government. Indian regulators approved GM cotton engineered with a bacterial gene to resist an insect — based on technology similar to that in GM brinjal — in 2002. Kranthi asserts there are no scientifically-authenticated safety issues over GM cotton from anywhere. Farmers have adopted the GM cotton, which now makes up 90 per cent of the crop in some areas, and virtually eliminated its target pest — bollworms. India’s annual cotton output has jumped from 3 billion kg to 5.3 billion kg over the past decade. But new insects, including one called a mealybug, not known as cotton pests, have spread, causing significant economic losses, Kranthi said in a report sent to the ministry of environment and forests with his comments on GM brinjal. 'Cotton is a tricky crop — we should have been more careful,' Kranthi said. 'There are lessons to be learnt from this experience for future genetically modified crops, brinjal or anything else,' he told The Telegraph.... a mealybug named Phenacoccus solenopsis, not observed earlier in India, has spread across northern, central and western states after it was first recognised as a cotton pest about five years ago, Kranthi said. In desperation, farmers have begun to spray 'extremely hazardous' pesticides on the cotton to fight the insect, which has a waxy coating over its surface that makes it hard to kill with less toxic pesticides, he said. The reduced use of pesticides on GM cotton and the proliferation of GM cotton hybrids that are susceptible to these insects may have contributed to the emergence of these pests, according to Kranthi’s report. 'The inappropriate choice of hybrids and the arbitrary and prolific spread of GM cotton hybrids have created conditions congenial for the rapid multiplication of these new insects.' Kranthi sees himself as an insider, a biotechnology believer, urging caution. 'Someone has to point this out,' said Kranthi, a 47-year-old entomologist who had articulated similar concerns five years ago in the journal Current Science from the Indian Academy of Sciences..... Kranthi says 90 per cent of the current GM cotton hybrids appear susceptible to mealybugs and whiteflies. Insecticide use in cotton appears to have increased from Rs 640 crore in 2006 to Rs 800 crore in 2008, his report said. A wrong choice of hybrids, Kranthi said, may be contributing to this drop."
Cotton lessons for Bt brinjal
Telegraph (Calcutta) 16 February 2010

GM Technology Breakdown In USA

"Hardy superweeds immune to the Farm Belt's most effective weedkiller are invading fields, prompting a counterattack from agribusiness that could leave farmers using greater amounts of harsh old-line herbicides. The flagging weedkiller is Roundup. Its developer, Monsanto Co., also sells [genetically engineered] seeds for corn, soybean and cotton plants unaffected by the chemical... Some 40% of U.S. land planted to corn and soybeans is likely to harbor at least some Roundup-resistant superweeds by the middle of this decade, executives at DuPont estimate. .... At least nine species have developed immunity to [Roundup]. They've spread to millions of acres in more than 20 states in the Midwest and South. Ron Holthouse, a farmer who grows cotton and soybeans on 8,600 acres near Osceola, Ark., says he spends hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on the herbicide. But after 10 years of use on his land, Roundup no longer controls pigweed, which ran rampant in his fields last year. The weed, which can grow six feet high on a stalk like a baseball bat, is tough enough to damage delicate parts of his cotton-picking equipment. Mr. Holthouse had to hire a crew of 20 laborers to attack the weeds with hoes, resorting to a practice from his father's generation. For the first time in years, Mr. Holthouse used some of an older, highly poisonous weedkiller called paraquat. Many Southern farmers are spending twice as much on killing weeds as it typically cost them just a few years ago. 'It is getting a lot harder and expensive to run a big farm,' says Mr. Holthouse. 'This is nerve-racking.'"
Superweed Outbreak Triggers Arms Race
Wall Street Journal, 4 June 2010

"Genetically modified cotton crops in the United States are becoming useless, as weeds evolve a resistance to the herbicide glyphosate. In the southern cotton crops, mutant weeds are becoming so bad mechanical harvesters are being damaged, and weed control must be done by hand [view ABC News USA video clip here]. A scientific study has found that the herbicide resistant weed population could threaten GM crop technology. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal."
GM cotton crops in US useless
ABC (Australia), 12 January 2010

"I stood side-by-side with a North Carolina [GM] grower looking at a field overrun with glyphosate-resistant weeds. He said that [glyphosate resistant] pigweed isn't his No. 1 problem; it's his No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 problems. It was at the point where he was determining whether or not that property could be used for farming.
Chuck Foresman, manager of weed resistance strategies for Syngenta
Delta Farm Press, 30 May 2008

"Eight years of planting genetically modified maize, cotton and soya beans in the US has significantly increased the amount of herbicides and pesticides used, according to a US report which could influence the British government over whether to let GM crops be grown. The most comprehensive study yet made of chemical use on genetically modified crops draws on US government data collected since commercialisation of the crops began...... Charles Benbrook, the author of the report, who is also head of the Northwest Science and Environment Policy Centre, at Sandpoint, Idaho, found that when first introduced most of the crops needed up to 25% fewer chemicals for the first three years, but afterwards significantly more. In 2001, the report states, 5% more herbicides and insecticides were sprayed compared with crops only of non-GM varieties; in 2002 7.9% more was sprayed; and in 2003 the estimated rise was 11.5%. In total, 73m lb [pounds weight] more agrochemicals were sprayed in the US during 2001-2003 because of GM crops, says the report, which was commissioned by Iowa State University, the Consumers' Union and others. During 2002-2003, an average of 29% more herbicide was applied per acre on GM maize. But this trend was not sustained over the eight years. Overall, modest reductions in insecticide usage with maize and cotton were recorded..... [Former executive director of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Board on Agriculture] Dr Benbrook said: 'The proponents of biotechnology claim GM varieties substantially reduce pesticide use. While true in the first few years of widespread planting ... it is not the case now. There's now clear evidence that the average pounds of herbicides applied per acre planted to herbicide-tolerant varieties have increased compared to the first few years."
GM crops linked to rise in pesticide use
Guardian, 8 January 2004

"I've worked in agriculture for 30 plus years. I've never seen anything that's going to have this kind of [adverse] impact on our agriculture."
Professor Ken Smith, weed scientist, University of Arkansas

on the spread of glyphosate resistant weeds in GM 'Roundup Ready' Crops
Super Weed Can't Be Killed
ABC News, 10 June 2009

View Videos Of Out Of Control Glyphosate Resistant Weeds In GM Crops In The United States
ABC News - June 2009
Arkansas Farm Bureau - November 2009

USDA Data On Rising Pesticide Applications On GM Crops
Click Here

Don't Believe All The GM Hype

"A claim that GM technology is helping deliver higher crop yields in Africa was wrong, the Government's chief scientist has been forced to admit. Professor Sir David King recently caused uproar with his assertion that GM crops could help feed the hungry of the Third World. He called on the Government to campaign for the adoption of GM technology and said the Daily Mail's campaigning stance against it was holding up progress. Yesterday however he was accused of 'letting off blasts of hot and sometimes rancid air' after it emerged his latest GM crop claims were wildly innaccurate.  Dr Richard Horton, the editor of medical journal The Lancet said Sir David took his faith in science into 'the realms of totalitarian paranoia'. Writing in his online blog he said: 'If he lost the debate on GM, it was because his arguments failed to convince people. 'King seems biased and even antidemocratic. It seems he would prefer the media not to exist at all. That is a troubling position for the Government's chief scientist to adopt.'.... The chief scientist had used the example of crop trials around Lake Victoria in Kenya to boast how useful GM farming could be in feeding the Third World. He claimed scientists had discovered the identity of a chemical in food plants that attract pests such as root borers. Sir David suggested it had been possible to 'snip' the gene responsible for this chemical out of the food crop and then insert it into grass that is grown alongside it. He said the pests then eat the grass rather than the food. He told Radio Four's Today programme: 'You interplant the grass with the grain and it turns out the crop yield goes up 40-50 per cent. A very big advantage.' The only problem is Sir David failed to accurately describe the research in Africa, which did not involve the use of any GM technology at all. The research actually involved finding plants that can be cultivated alongside food crops and provide a natural solution to boosting yields. Researchers identified one set of plants that naturally deters parastic weeds, while another set, a species of grass, attracts the pests. The net result of this 'push and pull' regime is that the food crop can grow more easily and produce a much higher yield."
Scientist who claimed GM crops could solve Third World hunger admits he got it wrong
Daily Mail, 18 December 2007

"There are hundreds of thousands of acres of genetically modified (GM) crops being grown around the world, but they are not at present addressing key agricultural problems for poor farmers... This journal champions biotech research, so we are not downbeat on its prospects to, one day, generate products that will heal, fuel and feed the world. That is, nevertheless, an outrageous act of faith bordering on the religious. And the fact is that biotech approaches must be used in the context of other technical and nontechnological solutions. Thus, reason dictates that proponents should be very careful about overhyping what biotech can do now and overpromising what it can do in the is time that the industry and its lobby organizations learnt that pushing one-dimensional hype about biotech solutions is counterproductive.... let [politicians and the general public] come to their own conclusions about the solution to the problems that society faces. This will mean outlining the problems accurately."
Join the Dots - Pushing biotech as the 'solution' to the world's problems is doing more harm than good
Nature Biotechnology 26, 837 (August 2008)

“A controversial report claims that traits introduced to food crops by genetic engineering (GE) have had, at best, a minor impact on yield. The report, Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Modified Crops, published on April 14 by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), argues that the adoption of expensive, GE-based approaches to agriculture has been at the cost of cheaper alternatives that carry less environmental risk. ‘We’re not saying GE should not be part of the mix at all. We just think it’s been way overemphasized,’ says the report’s author, Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist at the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based science policy advocacy group. The report claims to be ‘the first to evaluate in detail the overall, or aggregate, yield effect of GE after more than 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization in the United States,’ by attempting to tease out the contribution to yield made by transgenic crops, such as insect-resistant (IR) or herbicide-tolerant (HT) soy and corn varieties. It extrapolates from controlled field trials, in which transgenic varieties are compared with conventionally bred, near-isogenic (close) relatives, to total national output. The report argues that yield boosts obtained since the mid-1990s result from conventional breeding and crop management and that the emphasis in public-sector agriculture research spending should be shifted accordingly. ‘I’m just not convinced the benefits we get out of it will balance out the costs, the potential risks and some of the other factors that concern us, such as intellectual property, which has led to a concentration of the seed industry,’ says Gurian-Sherman….Although the report ( ) is limited to the US—because, Gurian-Sherman says, of the greater availability of data—he argues that its findings are generally applicable. The scope of the study was limited to food crops, motivatedby the sharp increase in global food prices during 2007 and 2008.”
Report claims no yield advantage for Bt crops
Nature Biotechnology, Volume 27 number 7, July 2009

Will GM Crops Deliver Benefits To Farmers?
To Find Out More About The Exaggerated Claims Made About GM Crops
Click Here

There Is A Better Way
'Biotech Yes, GM Crops No'

'The Acceptable Face Of Ag-biotech'
Learn More About What Non-GM Biotechnology Has To Offer In Feeding A Growing World Population
Click Here

"From a scientific perspective, the public argument about genetically-modified organisms, I think, will soon be a thing of the past. The science has moved on and we're now in the genomics era."
Professor Bob Goodman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Former head of research and development at Calgene, creators of the flavr savr tomato, the world's first GM food
Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 18 February 2001

"One area where both sides of the GM divide could meet is on emerging technologies such as Marker Assisted Selection (MAS), which is currently the subject of heavy funding and research. It is being used to develop new crops at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre and has won the blessing of anti-GM groups the Soil Association and Greenpeace as well as the major biotech firms. MAS uses a series of genetic markers to highlight genes of interest in a plant, allowing scientists to combine genetics with conventional breeding. Once a gene of interest has been highlighted, scientists can cross it with another plant and then test for presence of the highlighted gene in the new plant to see whether the trait has been passed on. The technique uses knowledge built up through GM research and applies it to conventional breeding to produce a new plant. The major difference is that MAS introduces the new gene under the control of the crop’s genome, avoiding the ‘unpredictable effects’ of GM often cited by campaigners."
Marker Assisted Selection - a genetic compromise
Farmers Guardian, 28 November 2008

Does The World Really Need GM Crops?
Click Here

But Biotech Is Not All There Is

"Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA), which is based on natural farming, is fast catching up with small and marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh. CMSA, which was first introduced in 450 villages in 10 districts on a pilot basis in 2005-06 by the Andhra Pradesh Government covering 25,000 acres of land owned by 15,000 farmers, has now been extended in 22 districts covering 8,225 villages benefitting 25,77,877 acres of land owned by 10,47,093 farmers. Sources said here on Tuesday that the objective of CMSA was to work on agriculture-based livelihoods, supporting farmers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices to reduce the cost of cultivation and increase net income. CMSA also aims at bringing down excessive dependence on chemical inputs in agriculture and help farmers revert to natural farming. The sources said that CMSA had also introduced a paradigm shift in agriculture practices moving from input-centric agriculture model to knowledge and skill-based model, making the best use of locally available natural resources and taking advantage of natural processes. The sources pointed out that the methods promoted under CMSA were a blend of scientifically proven technology and local wisdom. The sources said that non-pesticide management (NPM) was the stepping stone under CMSA. The main principle underlying NPM was that pests can be managed by understanding their behaviour and lifecycle and adopting preventive methods rather than controlling methods for checking pest attacks. Another important component of CMSA is to build soil health by considering soil as a living organism and a bank for crop nutrients. The focus was given to build soil microbial activity. CMSA adopted three-pronged strategy to enhance earthworm activity in soil which included elimination of chemical fertilizer, adopting mulching and application of dung-based inoculants. The sources said that maintaining soil fertility in addition to reducing pest and disease load reduces the risk of crop failure and ensures food security. These practices also increased yield frequency and provided regular income to farmers. Under CMSA, some crop or the other was ready for harvest any time of the year ensuring continuous supply to the kitchen. Crop diversity provided a range of crops to ensure nutritional security to families. The cost of cultivation in villages covered under CMSA had come down drastically. While paddy growing farmers saved Rs. 4,124 per hectare, cotton growers saved Rs. 14,500 per hectare and chilli growing farmers Rs. 40,750 per hectare. Economic prosperity of farmers due to zero cost cultivation had enabled them reclaim their mortgaged land and had also enabled them to take additional land on lease. CMSA had also enabled villages covered under the scheme to achieve self-reliance and self-sufficiency in food production in the village level."
CMSA becoming popular among small and marginal farmers
The Hindu, 23 February 2011

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