- Today's Topics in 'AgBioView' -
* Genetically modified plants -- Biological intervention, the answer
* Eight Months Prison Recommended for Jose Bove
* Canadian Biotech Advisory Committee
* THE APPLICATION OF BIOTECHNOLOGY TO INDUSTRIAL SUSTAINABILITY
* Managing Roundup Ready® crops
* BIOTECHNOLOGY MAY IMPROVE AUSTRALIAN SUGARCANE
Genetically modified plants -- Biological intervention, the answer
Hindu Business Line
By Ashok Chaudhury
November 23, 2001
GENETICALLY modified (GM) or transgenic plants will play an important role in Indian agriculture. The situation unquestionably calls for an integrated approach for sustainable agricultural development, as no single option will provide an answer. One of the solutions, scientists agree globally, is biotechnological intervention, which can play a vital role in not only increasing the crop yield but also improving the nutritional quality.
Plant breeders have been improving traditional crop varieties through hybridisation of diverse germplasm and selection for better performing varieties. However, self-incompatibility and species barrier has been a limiting factor in many crop plant improvement programmes. With the advent of molecular biology and genetic engineering techniques, it is now possible to isolate, clone and transfer genes of agronomic importance across species. This technique has not only enabled precise transfer of one or two genes from one species to another but also hastens the over-all process of crop improvement. Recent innovations in biotechnology have led to a revolution in modern agriculture worldwide.
Adopting adequate strategies for harnessing biotechnology research will ensure increased production of foodgrains, both quantitatively and qualitatively, as well as milk and animal products. There is a definitive need for biotechnological intervention in Indian agriculture. Numerous field trials of transgenic plants worldwide for increased crop production through insect resistance, herbicide tolerance, nutritional improvement, oil quality and plants as a factory for edible vaccines are being conducted.
The Green Revolution, ushered in the late 1960s, has certainly transformed the country from a state of foodgrain importing to that of self-sufficiency. However, with our burgeoning population, the achievements of the Green Revolution are proving to be insufficient to feed our teeming millions. Injurious farm practices that are commonly in use have damaged the cultivated land through water and wind erosion, compaction, salinisation, and water logging. The extent of the forest reserve is a sad mismatch between desirable levels and the actual ground reality. Over-tillage rapidly depletes prime agricultural lands. Very little quality land is available to increase the area under farm production today.
It is, therefore, not surprising that India would need to import an estimated 45 million tonnes of foodgrains to meet the basic requirements of food by 2030. There is a little doubt that agricultural research will have to be rejuvenated to meet the increasing demands of farm production. To achieve this, there will have to be a paradigm shift from the methodologies of the 1970s and 1980s. Radical changes will have to be made in the very thought processes that go into planning for the needs of the new century. Conservative and obsolete policies drawn for an older era will have to give way to realistic measures that reflect the urgency of the demand for availing technological breakthroughs that are available to us. The success of the Green Revolution of the earlier decades will now have to be repeated through a Gene Revolution.
In addition to increasing the total useful biomass in plants, improving or creating resistance to insects, pests, and microbes, value-addition to crops through suitable alteration of carbohydrate profile, addition of specific amino acids and vitamins, modification of fatty acid profile to meet the dietary requirements of humans and animals, elimination of certain biosynthesised products harmful to animals, enhancing the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables, and enhancing production of certain metabolites are some of the options that have been made possible by successfully employing biotechnology tools.
Vaccines can now be efficiently administered to the needy population through their incorporation in a common fruit such as banana.
While pursuing greater productivity, we need to redesign the crop and be able to add value to the farm produce so as to make agriculture more rewarding to farmers. A revitalised Indian agriculture can be the engine of growth in the new millennium, and biotechnology might be the best fuel for this. When deployed sensibly and with responsibility, biotechnology can be a major benefit to our society.
Several protest groups are confusing farmers and consumers alike on the inherent social, ethical and environmental risks being posed by genetic modifications and consuming foods from such modified plants. One should not forget that every human activity has inherent risks. Be it the use of electricity, nuclear power or even the use of new drugs and vaccines, or driving a car or flying in an airplane, all have certain perceived and real risks. Public acceptance of these risks is driven by the perception of the risk rather than the physical reality. Deadly chemicals continue to be manufactured even after the Bhopal leakage, and nuclear power plants using radioactive material churn out megawatts of power, despite the Chernobyl debacle.
It is interesting to note that in 1996 the acreage under transgenic plants was 1.7 million hectares, in 1999 over 45 countries from the US to China, including Canada, Argentina, Brazil, and India, had planted transgenic crops on over 39.9 million hectares while in 2000 more than 44.2 million hectares were planted. Exhibiting thereby, more than 25-fold increase in total area under transgenic crops worldwide. The global market for GM products has grown rapidly from $75 million in 1995 to $2.1-2.3 billion in 1999, crossed $3 billion in 2000 and is expected to reach $8 billion by 2005.
Globally, over 3,647 field trials of GM crops were conducted, of which 796 were in Western Europe and the rest in the US, Canada, Latin America and Asia. Genetically modified foods worth billions of dollars, ranging from cheese to tomato and soybean, are being consumed in all these countries (besides Japan and Australia), and there has not been even one report of adverse effects either to human health or to an animal from the use of such products.
Recently, some protest groups have been claiming that the transgenic plants generated have antibiotic resistance markers which are highly toxic and may cause allergenicity in people consuming GM food thereof. The presence of a suitable marker is necessary to facilitate the detection of genetically modified plant tissue during development. These genes have no intentional function in the genetically modified organism or in any products derived from it. Marker genes in genetically modified plants are almost exclusively of two types: Genes conferring antibiotic resistance and those conferring herbicide tolerance. The most widely used selectable marker is a bacterial gene for neomycin phospho transferase (NPTII), an enzyme that inactivates a number of related aminogycosidic antibiotics including kanamycin. After the introduction of constructs containing the NPTll gene into plant cells, kanamycin is applied to kill non-transformed tissue. Transformed cells expressing NPTII gene are protected from the effects of t
The transfer of the NPTll gene from GM plant to gut microflora is extremely unlikely because there is no evidence that such transfer can occur. This conclusion is supported by studies, which demonstrate that horizontal gene transfer from plants to microbes did not occur under a variety of test conditions.
The expression of the NPTll gene in GM plant is under the control of a plant-specific promoter, which is not expected to function in bacteria.
Even if expressed in intestinal bacteria, antibiotic therapy would not be compromised, as the co-factors necessary for the enzyme to inactivate kanamycin and neomycin are not present at the required concentration range in the gut. The NPTII protein would be rapidly degraded in the gut.
The ideal situation would be to develop strategies to remove a selectable marker from a transgenic plant before commercialisation. However, now strategies have been developed to generate marker-free transgenic plants which rely on high transformation efficiencies and which will allow the removal of the selectable marker gene by several methods. Numerous companies engaged in seed/agricultural biotechnology have a major role to play by keeping up their research efforts as also by disseminating information about the same. They need to soften their stand on royalty issues.
The relation between research institutes and industry needs to be strengthened for realising full commercial benefits through clear economic analysis of the benefits of adopting of the transgenic crops. The role of the media must be one of balanced reporting that is based on scientific data rather than on sensationalism. They should elaborate on giving technically correct information rather than on sensational reporting.
The mainstream population will have to be necessarily involved and duly communicated to without hype or false hope. Scientists who are developing genetically modified crops and the new opportunities that they foster are the fountainhead of evolving knowledge and hold primary responsibility for its effective dissemination.
Policy-makers, administrators, legislators, judiciary, industry, farmers, and the media will each have to play an active role in safeguarding societys interests by their participative decision-making. We should not be swayed by the European stand of resisting GM crops, in India our priorities are altogether different.
Eight Months Prison Recommended for Jose Bove
Political discourses on GM crops are not relevant in court, prosecutor says. Breaking of law must be punished, whether by Bove or anyone else.
by Tom Hargrove, Editor-in-Chief
November 26, 2001
MONTPELLIER, FRANCE--The state prosecutor requested on Nov. 23 that militant farmer Jose Bove be sentenced to 8 months in prison for ripping up a genetically modified rice field at a test laboratory.
The fiery French sheep farmer and founder of the left-wing farmers' union Paysanne admitted in an appeals court that he destroyed the crops in June 1999, but only "because farmers, the people, and politicians all oppose genetically modified foods," the Associated Press reported.
He said that he did nothing wrong tearing up the rice plants and will continue to destroy GM crops.
Bove and two others were convicted in March for destroying more than 1,000 rice plants in a greenhouse operated by CIRAD, an international agricultural research sponsored by the French government near Montpellier, in southern France. All three appealed.
The flamboyant Jose Bove--who sports a colorful walrus moustache like the French comic hero Asterix--became a rallying figure for anti-globalization efforts around the world after leading the ransacking of a French McDonalds restaurant in 1999.
Bove was given a 10-month suspended sentence in March and he and two other defendants were ordered to pay a fine of 600,000 francs (US$83,232) to CIRAD.
Bove has been involved in the destruction of GM maize, and also helped destroy 3 hectares of GM soybeans at a Monsanto experimental farm in Brazil. He has demanded a complete ban on GM crops in France and threatened to begin uprooting test fields across the country if the government does not stop GM tests, PlanetRice reported in August.
Plan to sail into WTO talks in Qatar scuttled
Bove helped conceive an aborted plan to sail six boats loaded with anti-globalization activists into Doha, Qatar, to protest the World Trade Organization meeting there, the Washington Post reported on Nov. 12.
The plan was scrapped after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon because the protesters were loath to risk being associated in the public mind with Osama bin Laden and his followers.
The Post reported "awkward divisions between the anti-globalization forces and the governments of poor nations whose interests the activists purport to champion."
Food safety is an example. Like many Europeans, Bove wants WTO rules changed so that countries can more aggressively restrict imports of meat, grain, fruit, and vegetables for health reasons. The restrictions would stem from products having been genetically modified or treated with hormones.
"The people who want to put a product on the market ought to have to show that the product is safe," Bove said. "For the moment, it's the country refusing to import a product that must show the product is bad. We have to reverse that."
Bove's view draws vehement criticism from officials of developing nations, the Post reported. Officials fear the EU, would use health concerns as an excuse to keep their farm products out of Europe, thus protecting the region's farmers.
Judge calls rice destruction "premeditated"
Prosecutor Jean-Claude Plantard said on Nov. 23 that Bove's destruction of the rice plants was "a premeditated act," that Bove had repeatedly committed offenses, and that his arguments were irrelevant in the eyes of the law.
"Political discourses on GM are not relevant in court. Every breach of public order must be punished, as the law requires, whether they have been committed by Bove or anyone else," Plantard said.
The prosecutor requested a 6-month prison sentence for Rene Riesel, one of the three defendants, who has since severed his ties from the anti-GM activists.
Riesel, who is now a local official in the Lozere region of southern France, stormed out of the courtroom Thursday, saying he was "tired of hearing the same speech by Bove."
But Plantard, angered by Riesel's failure to show up in court Friday, said he "should assume responsibility" for the destruction. "The squabbles between him and Bove do not concern us," he said.
Plantard recommended a suspended prison sentence for the third defendant, Dominique Soullier, also a local official in the nearby Herault region. The prosecutor said the judge could decide the appropriate suspended term.
It is not clear when the verdict will be rendered, but some speculate it will be on Dec. 20.
Damage in the GM rice attack
Bove proudly admitted to spearheading the 1999 CIRAD GM rice, PlanetRice reported last March.
"The justice system has not understood a thing about the dangers that face us all," he said.
CIRAD called the French radical's protest "misguided" and said that it provides an unbiased scientific view on GM foods, plus an alternative to research by multinational companies.
CIRAD lawyers said the rice destruction caused 4 million francs (US$550,000) of damage.
"This technology has just been thrown together," Bove told reporters outside the court. "Scientists know only 1% of the functioning of genes in organisms and they are imposing technologies today with no certainties, no guarantees.
"Unfortunately, sometimes you have to commit illegal actions to bring matters to public consciousness," Bove told reporters in Montpellier.
Criminal, or agricultural Robin Hood?
Many Europeans consider Bove today's agricultural Robin Hood.
The radical French farmer is fluent in English, initially learned during his first 7 years spend in the United States where his parents studied biochemistry at the University of California at Berkeley. English skills have helped Bove preach his message internationally.
Time magazine published a colorful description of Bove's 1999 "commando attack" on McDonald's: "Armed with crowbars, sledgehammers, wrenches, and screwdrivers, these crusaders for the French way of life dismantled the fast-food franchise.
"The broader battle cry of these rural Robin Hoods is their rejection of 'la mal-bouffe'--lousy food, as symbolized by the famous American burger chain."
Carted off in handcuffs, Bove spent 20 days in prison and emerged as one of France's most popular heroes. Soon he was giving countless TV and newspaper interviews and crisscrossing the country to address admiring groups of farmers, consumers, and ecologists.
"The judge did us a great service by throwing me in jail," Bove said.
"We couldn't have asked for better publicity."
From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: FW: Biotech and IP
Date: Tue, 27 Nov 2001 16:33:00 -0600
The Canadian Biotech Advisory Committee will be releasing its report
on Biotech and IP on November 29 at 10 am. The report will be available
on their website after its release: www.cbac-cccb.ca
From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: OECD publication
Date: Tue, 27 Nov 2001 16:17:25 -0600
Yesterday (Nov. 26) I purchased a recently published OECD book: THE
APPLICATION OF BIOTECHNOLOGY TO INDUSTRIAL SUSTAINABILITY (OECD, 2001).
The website is < http://www.oecdwash.org/PUBS/BOOKS/RP021/rp021st.htm >. I
think the book was published in May 2001.
I have now read the Executive Summary, Chapter 4: Lessons from the
Case Studies, and Chapter 5: Key Issues and Conclusions. I quote a
few paragraphs from Chapter 5, p. 43:
"This publication takes a number of steps forward in the
debate on industrial sustainability. It produces hard evidence on the
links between the two roles of biotechnology -- enviornmental friendliness
and economic improvement. It also gives a more precise picture of how
decisions to adopt these new technologies are made by industrial managers. We
now have a better understanding of the opportunities and constraints
created by policies on industrial sustainability.
"There are now many examples of replacement of chemical routes by biotechnological processes leading to very substantial
reductions in the production of emissions and in the use of hazardous raw
"Process innovations which 'only' improve enviornmental performance do not, however, give companies sufficient incentive to
modify their operations. They are at most desirable by-products. Only
economic advantages convince decision makers in companies to apply ecologically
advantageous, innovative processes. ... The balance of priorities is,
of course, affected by the severity of environmental regulations.
"Very few of the new processes adopted in the  case studies had an improvement in sustainability as the primary driving
force, economic competitiveness being by far the most important.
Neveretheless, every single example demonstrated an improvement in environmental
friendliness. This represents the first hard evidence that a change
from a conventional physico-chemical process to a biological one has a very
high chance of reducing adverse impacts on the environment. The substitution of
a chemical process for a biotechnological one can bring about a reduction in
consumption of resources and in environmental pollution without incurring
any expensive investments either of a technical or a financial nature."
As a comment, I add that everything said above in the OECD publication is also true for agricultural biotechnology and, in my
opinion, has already been proven to be true for agricultural biotechnology.
Indeed, I have argued in my published work that Environmental Ministers, rather
than fighting agricultural biotechnolgy, should be using their regulatory
powers to promulgate technology-forcing regulations in agriculture that would
result, in many (if not most) instances, in an incentive to adopt agricultural biotechnology as the best technology available to address
many environmental issues in agriculture.
Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Norman, Oklahoma 73019-5081 U.S.A.
Managing Roundup Ready® crops
28 Nov 2001
By Donald Turner
GROWERS looking to maximise the benefits of Roundup Ready® varieties in early-planted crops would have already sprayed first applications of Roundup herbicide over the top. They will maximise the benefits by getting a second application on before the four true-leaf stage, to knock out resilient weeds.
Management tips up to four true-leaf stage:
Dr Grant Roberts, pictured, of the Australian Cotton CRC, Narrabri specialises in management of cotton varieties with Roundup tolerance. He reports "excellent situations" where growers have applied Roundup herbicide early, based on recent field trips.
Says Grant: "I am thinking particularly of one field with a serious nut grass problem, where Roundup Ready cotton was planted with plenty of moisture. Roundup was applied early and it has an excellent job.
"The grower in that situation will get a second spray on, because the crop is only just coming up to four true-leaf stage. At this stage, a lot of earlier planted crops are coming to four true-leaf.
"From now on, it is important to get an indication of how many plants in the metre are at four true-leaf stage. Once the fifth leaf unfurls -- at about the size of a 10-cent piece or a little larger -- then we must stop applications over the top because you run the risk of yield reductions no matter what rate of Roundup herbicide you use."
Roundup® label rates:
The label indicates a maximum of 1.5kg of Roundup herbicide over the top up to two nodes, followed by directed or shielded sprays.
Says Grant: "The plant is very tolerant vegetatively -- some growers report having sprayed Roundup over the top of volunteer plants and it hasn't affected them, as we would expect.
"But we do have to watch the reproductive components of the plant, so that in the period around flowering it is crucial not to get drift on flowering plants."
Herbicide on lower leaves:
"You don't want any drift if you can help it, but we do know the plant is vegetatively tolerant. This technology really has become a drift safety net, from this stage of the season.
"So we need to have shielded sprays set up and to be out in the field looking at wind and drift conditions on those particular days.
"In theory, we can look at direct sprays as long as we go to the base of the plant -- the woody component."
Late applications and yield reductions:
Grant Roberts notes there have not been any documented or reported cases of yield reductions in commercial crops due to applications of Roundup herbicide over the top after four true-leaf stage.
Says Grant: "In our own research we have seen yield reductions of 40% to 50% when we went at flowering. That rate of yield reduction decreases the earlier you go.
"So the later you apply over the top, the greater the impact. You can see where Roundup takes fruit off in the zone for those fruiting nodes where it has been applied.
"In dryland situations I haven't recorded cuts in yield from late applications, but it's a risk you take. You don't want to take that risk with the way the cotton price is at the moment."
BIOTECHNOLOGY MAY IMPROVE AUSTRALIAN SUGARCANE
November 26, 2001
SYDNEY- The Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations (BSES) was cited as saying on Tuesday that biotechnology could become an integral part of Australian sugarcane production,. At a meeting with Australia's main cane grower body CANEGROWERS, it was revealed that biotechnology could enhance both the productivity and the production options of the sugarcane industry, BSES said. CANEGROWERS chairman Jim Pedersen was cited as saying that biotechnology research could prove extremely worthwhile for the industry, adding, "BSES has made considerable progress in developing varieties that have been genetically enhanced to promote herbicide and pest resistance." Pedersen further stated that biotechnology could also result in sugarcane 'biofactories' grown specifically for energy co-generation, ethanol production and the creation of biodegradable plastics. BSES chief executive officer Eion Wallis was cited as saying that biotechnology would also be an important tool in maintaining an edge over international competitors, addi