Today in AgBioView - July 5, 2002
* New Biotech Corn Seen Cutting Pesticide Use
* India Promotes GMOs in Asia
* Re: EU moratorium on crop approval
* Local Farmers Urged To Adopt Biotechnology
* Tangible Benefits To Adopting GE Crops
* Effect Of GM Corn Hybrids On Fungi
* Bt Rice Could Benefit Philippines and Vietnam
* Gene Discovery In Petunias Could Boost Yield Of Hybrid Food Crops
* What's In A Label?
New Biotech Corn Seen Cutting Pesticide Use
- The Associated Press; WEEKLY FARM, July 3, 2002 (Forwarded by Katie
A new type of genetically engineered corn awaiting government approval
could significantly reduce use of chemical insecticides if the crop proves
as popular with farmers as expected.
The crop, developed by St. Louis-based Monsanto Co., is toxic to a beetle
larva known as the corn rootworm, a major pest that costs U.S. growers an
estimated $1 billion in crop losses and pesticide usage.
The biotech corn is a "much more environmentally friendly product," said
Vic Miller, a farmer near Waterloo, Iowa, who hopes to start growing the
crop next year.
"I've got to live here. I realize people don't look at farmers as being
environmentally concerned but we live here. This is our world. I don't
want to do anything to hurt the environment." Corn is the most widely
grown crop in the United States, covering nearly 80 million acres, and it
is heavily treated with a variety of chemical insecticides and
A report by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, a
Washington think tank, estimates the new crop could cut insecticide usage
as much as 14 million pounds a year and soon account for nearly one-third
of the corn acreage.
By comparison, the biotech corn now on the market, which is toxic to a
less prevalent and more easily controlled pest, has reduced insecticide
usage by an estimated 2.6 million pounds.
"There are some very, very strong possibilities that this is going to be
very much widely accepted," said Richard Reiman, who oversees pesticide
regulation for the Nebraska Agriculture Department. "You have to have
something that's going to combat these pest problems."
In a recently released environmental assessment of the biotech crop, the
Agriculture Department said "availability of a practical and economical
alternative" to chemical insecticides for corn rootworm "would result in a
significant reduction" of their use.
The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency
have cleared the corn for use in food, and Japan has approved it for
import. The corn still needs final approval from those agencies before it
can be grown commercially in the United States. The EPA is expected to
convene a group of scientific advisers in August to examine some
environmental issues before its approval is granted.
Some groups opposed to biotechnology worry that the new corn will become
so popular that insects will become widely resistant to the toxin it
produces. They want the EPA to either block commercialization of the crop
or at least apply more restrictions than Monsanto wants. The crop is now
only grown in a series of test plots around the country.
Farmers have shown a willingness to use biotechnology, despite consumer
resistance overseas to gene-altered food. About three-quarters of the
soybeans and a third of the corn that farmers will grow this year is
bioengineered. The soybeans can be sprayed with a popular weedkiller
without dying. The biotech corn most widely used is toxic to a corn pest
that is less of a problem than the rootworm, a moth larva known as the
European corn borer.
Monsanto developed both types of insect-resistant corn by inserting genes
from a group of common soil bacteria, known Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt
bacteria also are used to make a pesticide popular with organic growers.
The rootworm eats away the root system of corn stalks, robbing them of
water and nutrients and causing the plant to topple.
The larvae long have been a problem where farmers grow corn continuously
on the same ground year after year. But it is also starting to be a
problem where farmers have been trying to control the insect by
alternating between corn and soybeans. A new strain of rootworm that can
survive in soybean crops has spread rapidly since it was first found in
the early 1990s, the Agriculture Department said.
Organic growers worry that the overuse of Bt crops will render their Bt
sprays useless by making insects resistant to the toxin. Other critics of
the biotech industry say there isn't enough known about the impact of the
new crop on other insects.
"The benefits have to outweigh the risks. Based on what Monsanto has
submitted, they have not demonstrated that," said Jane Rissler of the
Union of Concerned Scientists. Similar concerns were raised about the corn
that is toxic to corn borers when laboratory research indicated it could
be killing Monarch butterflies. Subsequent research alleviated those
Monsanto is proposing that the EPA require farmers to plant at least 20
percent of their corn acreage in non-Bt varieties to ensure that
sufficient rootworms survive that aren't resistant to the toxin. That is
the same requirement for existing Bt corn varieties. Rissler says the EPA
should set the minimum non-Bt acreage at 30 percent.
On the Net: Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Pesticide
Programs: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides Agriculture
Department background on biotechnology:
India Promotes GMOs in Asia
K.S. Jayaraman, Nature Biotechnology, July 2002 Vol 20,No 7 pp 641-642
(Reproduced in AgBioView with Approval from the editor of NB)
Having allowed commercial-scale planting of genetically modified cotton
and announced plans to introduce half a dozen genetically modified (GM)
crop plants in the next two years (Nat. Biotechnol. 20, 415, 2002), India
has started to champion the adoption of GM technology among other Asian
countries. In late May, the Indian government, with support from the
regional office of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and
Natural Resources (a United Nations-recognized intergovernmental body),
brought 18 Asian countries to a conference in New Delhi, where the
countries formed an alliance to deal with all issues surrounding the
introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the region.
Indian science minister Bachi Singh Rawat, who opened the conference,
noted that India "would like to see the development of regional programs
that strengthen this part of the world significantly in the handling of
GMOs." Rawat said many countries in the region do not have access to GMOs
in their public sector outfits and hence "are not feeling encouraged to
apply this technology with confidence." Because of this, "there is a
strong need to upgrade capabilities of individual countries to not only
develop their own technologies but also to create competence for the
assessment of risks and benefits on sound scientific basis."
Prasanta Kumar Ghosh, chief adviser to DBT, the Indian Department of
Biotechnology (New Delhi), and a key member in the organizing committee,
agrees. "The basic point that emerged from the conference was that
developing countries would embrace GMOs if they had a mechanism in their
countries to ensure [that GMO] introduction is safe to their people and
the environment," says Ghosh. Bhutan and Mauritius, for instance, although
concerned about adverse impact of GMOs on wild germplasm, have no
regulatory bodies to oversee this or advise their government on the issues
involved. In this respect, says Ghosh, such countries "very much welcome
regional collaboration" to build capacity and avoid repetitive research
and environmental mishaps. Regional collaborations are preferred, he says,
because of similarities in culture and agricultural crops and practices.
China, the region's leader in biotech applications, felt it "necessary to
set up appropriate regional cooperation mechanisms" considering that a
number of Asian countries, such as India, the Philippines, and Thailand,
"have taken biotechnology as a mainstay industry in twenty-first century,"
according to Wang Changyong of China's Environmental Protection
Administration (Beijing). He pointed out that other Asian countries have
imported GMOs from developed countries "to solve their food shortage" and
need to ensure that GMOs that have already been "released into [the] open
environment for field trial and commercial production" do not harm the
environment. China proposed a possible regional cooperation model to
evolve a uniform framework for risk assessment and management of GMOs as
well as the development of databases for the environmental release and
commercial production of GMOs. China also suggested collaborative
scientific research between countries, with the establishment of a joint
biosafety laboratory and exchange of scholars.
Although all countries at the conference favored such efforts, some voiced
concerns. For instance, representatives from Nepal and Mauritius made it
clear that their countries would adopt GMOs only if their introduction was
environmentally safe. A delegate from Nepal said that Nepal is "cautious"
but not averse to GMOs, and that "the GMO research must be totally
transparent." Even Thailand, which is expected to be the next country to
introduce GMOs (under less stringent laws than India), does not favor
blanket introduction of GMOs, calling for a cautious case-by-case approach
by each nation. Others, such as Bhutan and Vietnam, are worried that the
introduction of GM crops could eliminate some of the need for agricultural
Having formed the alliance, the participating countries will now help each
other build scientific capacity to assess environmental and food safety of
GMOs and set up a sound administrative structure and legal framework for
handling GMOs in each country. India, China, and Thailand-acknowledged
biotech leaders in the region-will take a lead role in providing training
and other facilities to strengthen the infrastructure of fellow developing
countries for handling GMOs.
This building up of capacity is expected to be very thorough and will
include setting protocols for large field studies of GM plants, animals,
and microorganisms; devising experiments to study the effects of GMOs on
flora and fauna; developing animal models to assess the safety of food
containing GMOs; producing transgenic microorganisms such as Escherichia
coli; setting up insect-rearing facilities and bioassays; agreeing on
analytical methods to trace transgenic traits in the open; and
establishing PCR methods for detecting and quantitatively assessing
nucleic acids, says Ghosh. Because most Asian countries are likely to
import GMOs, he says, they need to be able to examine the rationality of
transgenic constructs introduced, including promoter and terminator
sequences, genes, enhancers, and markers. Each country will also have a
biosafety clearinghouse as a focal point and will be able to access and
submit information to center for GMOs for the entire Asia region.
"Developing countries still experimenting with the process of evaluation
of GMOs are handicapped by lack of adequately trained scientific manpower
to quantify the risk perception, [the] severity of which varies with time
and region," observes E.A. Siddiq, a leading Indian rice geneticist in
Hyderabad, India and a conference participant. "The New Delhi meeting," he
says, "may be a starting point for many such collaborations."
Alliance progress is to be reviewed at the next meeting, in a year's time.
From: "Bob MacGregor" Ý
Re: EU moratorium on crop approval
It seems to me that one of the bigger hurdles (at least in the rhetoric of
creating barriers to GM crop introduction) is the issue of gene escape,
cross-pollination or "contamination" . Wouldn't it be a reasonable first
step to allow accelerated review/approval of crops that are predominantly
self-pollinating? Also, at least for the concern about contaminating
native gene pools, target crops for which there are no known wild species
interfertile with the GM crop.
In the longer term-- and especially for the crops that are more
promiscuous in their pollen dispersal (like canola)-- genetic barriers may
be created that essentially mimic natural species limits to interfertility
(eg hybrids are not fertile), which eliminate the transgenes in pollen (eg
plasmid engineering), or which automatically (and reliably) inactivate the
transgenes in subsequent generations. The absolute moratorium approach, in
the light of so much favourable scientific evidence about GM crops, looks
more and more like simple trade protectionism. Labelling is another way to
accomplish the same end, by scaring food processors into eliminating GM
components from their products-- ie, by eliminating the market for GM
(mostly American, Canadian and Argentinian) products.
Local Farmers Urged To Adopt Biotechnology
- Leilani M. Gallardo, Asia Intelligence Wire, June 26 2002
Local farmers should be more pragmatic and adopt biotechnology since it
promises not only higher crop yields but also reduced post-harvest losses,
a biotechnology expert said.
In a recent press conference in Manila, Dr. Channapatna Prakash,
biotechnology expert at Tuskgee University said Filipino farmers should
take a more pragmatic outlook and not deny themselves the benefits of
biotechnology currently enjoyed by their counterparts in 15 other
countries such as the United States.
The American farmers benefit from it, (so) there is no reason why Filipino
farmers shouldn't also benefit from it,he said. Mr. Prakash said, in the
Philippine context, local farmers can benefit from using biotechnology in
three areas-increasing the yield of their harvest, reducing the amount of
pesticides used and lastly reducing postharvest losses as most
genetically-modified crops have longer shelf life. Almost 50% of vegetable
and fruit produce is lost because we don't have the infrastructure for
processing, for transportation or cold storage. Almost 50% of the produce
is lost from the moment they are harvested to the moment they are
consumed. Biotechnology reduces that, he said.
Local farmers can also save on pesticide expenses and at the same time cut
down the estimated 30% to 40% production losses caused by plant diseases
thereby increasing yield. The International Service for the Acquisition of
Agri-Biotech Applications defines biotechnology as any technique that
makes use of organisms to make or modify products, to improve plants or
animals, or to develop microorganisms for specific purposes.
One of its tools is genetic engineering which allows scientists to develop
hybrid plant species that can grow bigger, better and faster. This is done
by inserting a gene known to control a particular trait, such as increased
resistance to pest, into the cells of a plant. For the farmers, this
results in a dramatic increase in production and reduces the amount of
chemicals and pesticides that needs to be applied.
On the issue of safety of the genetically modified crops, Mr. Prakash said
consumers should be aware that these pass through safety tests before
being released by their manufacturers.
Tangible Benefits To Adopting GE Crops
- Crop Biotech Update, email@example.com, July 5, 2002
A study by Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo and William McBride used data from the
US Department of Agriculture data to examine the extent to which farmers
have adopted GM crops. The report entitled "Adoption of Bioengineered
Crops" was released last May. It also examined the factors affecting the
adoption of these crops and the impacts of bioengineered crops on input
use and farm-level net returns.
The authors made the following analyses:
* GE crops have been adopted rapidly since they were introduced in 1996.
This is particularly true with herbicide-tolerant soybeans and cotton
which reached 68 and 56 percent of their respective acreage in 2001.
* The economic impact of GE crops varies by crop and type of technology.
Adoption of herbicide-tolerant cotton and herbicide-tolerant corn had a
positive economic impact on farms. However herbicide-tolerant soybeans did
not have a significant impact on farm financial performance.
* The use of herbicide tolerant soybeans was quite profitable for some
farms but the profitability depended specifically on the types of weed
pressures faced on the farm.
* Adoption of Bt cotton had a positive economic impact on farms but Bt
corn had a negative impact. Bt corn may have been used on some acreage
where the value of protection against the European corn-borer was less
than the Bt seed premium.
* The adoption of GE crops has been associated with a small but
statistically significant reduction in aggregate pesticide use.
The authors caution that the data should be interpreted carefully, as in
all studies, since the impact studies are based on only two years of
survey data. All in all, the writers conclude that there are tangible
benefits to adopting first generation GE crops. The study can be
downloaded at www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer810/
Effect Of GM Corn Hybrids On Fungi
- Crop Biotech Update, firstname.lastname@example.org, July 5, 2002
The protection against European corn borer offered by Bt hybrids
translates into a consistently reduced risk for Fusarium ear rot and
fumonisins in grain, and a somewhat reduced risk for stalk rots. This was
the conclusion made by Gary Munkvold, a plant pathologist of the Iowa
State University (ISU). He examined the role of transgenic hybrids in the
management of European corn borers, corn earworms, Fusarium and
Aspergillus ear rots and stalk rots.
Munkvold says previous experiments showed dramatic differences in Fusarium
ear rot between Bt and non-Bt corn. "In this two-year experiment, the
differences were smaller but they still appeared," he says. "Results show
Bt hybrids have a lower risk for Fusarium and fumonisins than their non-Bt
Susan Thompson of the ISU College of Agriculture reports that last
November, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released guidelines
for safe levels of fumonisins in foods and feeds. This action was taken
because of the widespread occurrence of fumonisins in corn and the
evidence of their toxicity. The FDA concluded fumonisins may present human
The research project also showed stalk rot incidence and severity was
lower in some Bt hybrids, but the reductions were not consistent
year-to-year. "The background genetics of hybrids influence their stalk
rot vulnerability more than the presence of a Bt gene", Munkvold added.
To obtain a copy of this report, e-mail email@example.com.
The 7th International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified
- Beijing, China, October 10-16, 2002.
Organized by the Peking University, Chinese Ministry of Science and
Technology, and the International Society for Biosafety Research. For more
information, contact Prof. Hongya Gu, College of Life Sciences, Peking
University, Beijing 100871, China or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bt Rice Could Benefit Philippines and Vietnam
- AgBiotechNet, http://www.agbiotechnet.com/Trial/subscribe_form.asp
A study by a Masters student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State
University suggests that introduction of Bt rice could have significant
economic benefits for the economies of the Philippines and Vietnam. The
study, Transgenic Pest Resistant Indica Rice: An Ex-ante Economic
Evaluation of an Adoption Impact Pathway in the Philippines and Vietnam
for Bt Rice by Cezar Brian Castillo Mamaril suggests that the total
welfare gains from Bt rice could be $618.8 million, divided into $269.6
million for the Philippines, $329.1 million for Vietnam, and $20.1 million
for the rest of the world. The simulation analysis indicates that
producers in both countries will capture 66.5% of the total welfare effect
from Bt rice adoption, while 25.9% would accrue to consumers, 3% to the
rest of the world, and the loss in Philippine government revenue accounts
for 4.6% of the total welfare effect. The study also reports how other
factors will determine the size and distribution of economic benefits of
Contact: Cezar Brian Castillo Mamaril, Agricultural and Applied Economics
Department, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,
Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA. Email: email@example.com
Gene Discovery In Petunias Could Boost Yield Of Hybrid Food Crops, Cornell
Plant Scientists Predict
July 3, 2002 Cornell University (Via Agnet)
ITHACA, N.Y. -- Working with a decorative plant, the petunia, scientists
at Cornell University have identified a gene that restores pollen
production to sterile plants. The finding, reported the week of July 8 in
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, points the way to
probable locations of similar restorer genes in approximately 150 other
plant species with the so-called cytoplasmic male-sterility (CMS) defect
and could facilitate crop-plant hybridization for increased yields. The
fertility restorer gene is located in the plant cell nuclei of certain
petunia varieties and somehow prevents an abnormal gene in the cells'
mitochondria from disrupting pollen production, says Maureen R. Hanson,
the leader of a six-year effort to identify the gene and the Liberty Hyde
Professor of Plant Molecular Biology at Cornell. Oilseed rape,
cauliflower, sunflower and rice are among the food plants known to have
similar naturally occurring restorer genes, and knowing the general
location in one plant genome should help pinpoint it in others, Hanson
says. Identification of a crop plant's own restorer gene will help plant
breeders transfer the gene more quickly to advanced breeding lines, either
by traditional sexual crosses or by using genetic engineering techniques.
Once the restorer gene is incorporated into a breeding line, the plants
can be used in hybrid seed production. No other plant gene that can turn
off the expression of a defective mitochondrial gene has previously been
discovered. In addition to Hanson, the finding was reported in PNAS by the
research team of Stephane Bentolila and Antonio A. Alfonso, postdoctoral
research associate and graduate student, respectively, in Cornell's
Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics.
Cytoplasmic male sterility is a valuable trait that is used in a special
strategy by seed producers, lead author Bentolila explains. First, a
male-sterile plant variety, lacking any pollen, is grown in fields near a
plant variety that contains fertility restorer genes and makes pollen. All
the seeds collected from the male-sterile plants must be hybrid, resulting
from cross pollination. Plants arising from hybrid seed are more vigorous
and productive than inbred genetically uniform seed that arises when
For example, hybrid rices have been bred in China using natural fertility
restorer and male-sterile lines, and the result has been as much as a 30
percent higher yield compared with inbreds in some areas. Hybrid rice
breeding efforts are under way at many rice research centers, including
the Philippine Rice Research Institute, where team member Alfonso will
return after completing his Ph.D. at Cornell. To map the petunia gene, DNA
from nearly 1,000 petunia plants was extracted and analyzed. Then using
special enzymes, petunia DNA was sliced into many pieces, which were put
into 86,000 different bacterial colonies, each containing a different
piece of petunia DNA. DNA isolated from one of the bacterial colonies was
found to carry a marker near the fertility restorer gene. When that DNA
was transferred into cells from a male-sterile plant, using tissue
culture, all plants arising from the transformed cells were able to
produce pollen -- proving that the Cornell researchers had identified the
fertility restorer gene.
The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National
Research Initiative and by a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to Alfonso.
But identifying and locating the fertility restorer gene doesn't explain
everything, Hanson adds. "We still don't understand the molecular
mechanism of action of the petunia restorer gene and how it turns off
expression of the abnormal mitochondrial gene. And we also need to find
out why a form of the gene present in nonrestoring lines does not allow
normal pollen development in the presence of the male-sterility
cytoplasm." The web version of this release, with accompanying photos, may
be found at
What's In A Label?
July 5, 2002, The Wall Street Journal (Via Agnet)
It's one thing, according to this editorial, to demand that food that
contains detectable traces of genetically modified ingredients be labeled
as such. But what's one to do when purists demand that even products with
no detectable GMOs be labeled to suggest that they too are, in that
charmingly deceptive term invented by Green radicals, "Frankenfoods"?
This is, unfortunately, not a hypothetical question. Wednesday, the
European Parliament approved a series of measures on GM-food labeling.
Among them was a provision that would require even certain products
derived in part from GMOs be labeled as containing genetically modified
material, even if any trace of modified DNA has been eliminated in the
process of refinement. But surely consumers have a right to know, right?
Well, the editorial says, we're all for full disclosure -- whether it's on
the farm, in the market, in national capitals or Strasbourg. But we draw
the line when disclosure requirements themselves call for deceptive
labeling. They begin to look more like a poison pill designed to kill off
competition, which we suspect is the whole idea, than consumer protection.
Take the labeling threshold. Another provision passed by the Parliament
Wednesday requires that any product including animal feed -- that contains
so much as 0.5% of GM material be labeled as such. This requirement is an
order of magnitude stricter than that for earning the "organic" label in
Europe. Foods containing up to 5% of materials treated with pesticides and
other "nonorganic" material can still be called "organic" according to EU
Then there's the GM food with no GM, as noted above. These draconian
requirements are designed more to increase the cost and regulatory red
tape involved in planting GM crops than to provide any meaningful
The editorial says that there's no credible evidence that these products
are dangerous. Having been forced to concede that there's nothing to
protect consumers against, the Luddite opponents of GM products have
transformed the debate into a "consumer choice" question. Consumer choice
is all well and good, of course. But under the guise of supporting it, the
anti-GM forces are actually trying to undermine it, by setting standards
so strict that -- they hope -- no GM foods will ever make it to market at
A reasonable labeling regime -- one that, for example, listed GM products
present in significant quantities in the already mandatory list of
ingredients, instead of requiring a badge of shame to be placed on
anything that came within a mile of a GM product somewhere along the way
-- need not be problematic. But the labeling advocates aren't interested
in a reasonable regime, as the measures that they fought for -- and
achieved -- in the Parliament this week show.
The good news is, the member states still have to approve a final version.
Their more responsible leaders might want to ask themselves if it is
really such a good idea to fight technological developments in agriculture
by embracing a pack of lies from the radical left. Their own farmers may
someday need that technology to compete in world markets, particularly
when the inevitable happens and Europe can no longer afford lavish farm