Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on
ag-biotech.


Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives

Subscribe

 


SEARCH:     

Date:

January 7, 2003

Subject:

Are Seedbanks Obsolete?; New Year, New Debate; Let 'em Eat Cassav

 

Today in AgBioView -January 8, 2003

* Will Seedbanks be 'Obsolete and Worthless' in Future? Pro & Con
* New Year, New Debate
* Zambia: Traditional Foods In Abundance to Feed 3 Million Starving People
* A GE Urban Myth That Has Grown to Become a 'Fact'
* China Takes a Bumpy Road From The Lab to The Field
* Holy Cow! Now That's Progress
* It's a Gas
* Elitist Environmentalists Part of Problem, Not Solution
* Biotech to Solve Food Security Needs
* Indian Scientist Calls For Comprehensive Agricultural Biotech Policy
* Policy on Development of Agriculture In The UK
* Does Canola Cross Pollinate With Wild Turnips?
* Morton v/s Cummins.....
* The Real CSPI Surfaces
* Ministerial Conference on Agricultural Science and Technology
* Public Perceptions of Biotech
* Genetics and Safety
* Seeds of Change

Will Seedbanks be 'Obsolete and Worthless' in Future?

- Dave Wood, AgBioView, Jan 8, 2003, http://www.agbioworld.org

There is a stark contrast between the views (AgBioView -January 7) of
Andrew Apel, that 'native landraces' stored in seedbanks are 'obsolete and
worthless' and in future will be fed to cows and pigs; and Don Kennedy,
that there is a 'long-term requirement for crop diversity conservation'
and the need for a Global Conservation Trust fund targeted initially at
$260 million to conserve seeds.

I side with Andrew. The Global Conservation Trust (GCT) is a sledgehammer
to crack a nut; moving funds from where they are needed (advanced plant
breeding and seed systems) to where they are not (yet more conservation),
and raises multiple questions. What do we need to conserve? How best to
conserve it? And how will samples be used?

What to conserve: The great bulk of the many millions of samples stored at
great expense globally will never be used. There are three reasons for
this. First, there are not nearly enough plant breeders now to continually
trawl through a vast range of poor-quality varieties (solution more
plant breeders and more biotech, rather than yet more storage).

Second, major collections have already been mined for genes, and these
genes have been transferred to advanced lines and released varieties
(solution conserve the advanced lines and older commercial varieties,
now more valuable and more threatened than stored landraces as breeders
retire, and commercial varieties are superseded and abandoned).

Third, with advancing breeding technology wild relatives will become more
valuable than landraces (solution, concentrate research on a small number
of actively evolving wild relatives instead of the vast range of moribund
and obsolete landraces). An example from wheat: of the first twenty genes
identified for leaf rust resistance, 18 were from bread wheat varieties;
yet all 18 of the most recently identified resistance genes were from wild
relatives, rather than bread wheat itself. Biotech will further increase
the value of wild relatives, and they are still out there in the field
evolving resistance to what Don calls 'novel pathogens, arising from
sudden genetic alteration or from delivery by an agroterrorist'.

How best to conserve? First, for wild species, obviously best in their
natural habitats, rather than frozen in genebanks. Second, for landraces,
the bulk of the genetic variation has now been assigned to 'core
collections' (about 10% of total samples), or extracted as advanced lines.
For the all-important cereals, with appropriate seed drying and simple
packing, I could store global core collections of wheat, rice and maize at
the back of my garage for at least 25-50 years at no storage cost whatever
and minimal loss of viability. If seed really is a 'global heritage' and
essential for future food security it could be 'mothballed' in a dozen
secure locations for much less than the $12 million that the World Bank is
about to spend upgrading the CGIAR genebanks, and perhaps at 1% of the
cost of the GCT.

Anyone who thinks the $260 million Global Conservation Trust is better
than the (free) back of my garage should check the proposed governance of
the GCT at http://www.startwithaseed.org/pages/civil-com.pdf . This
reveals a nightmare of expensive international bureaucracy and 'jobs-for
the-boys'. Anyone subscribing to the GCT is wasting money: this is the
tail wagging the dog.

How to use samples? There is no value in conserving samples unless they
are to be used. The bottleneck is not, and from now on never will be,
sample availability: it is utilization through breeding, evaluation,
biotech, trials networks, and seed distribution systems. At a time when
breeding and seed system support in the CGIAR is collapsing under the
World Bank environmental focus, more funding for conservation is
definitely a distraction.

Significantly, those calling for a greater investment in seed storage -
including FAO, IPGRI (a non-breeding institute of the CGIAR) and various
NGOs - are not breeders or hands-on crop scientists. My personal view,
after spending five years managing international genebanks, and a further
four years collecting landraces, is that the major constraint farmers
anywhere face is a reliable seed system and access to new varieties (and
definitely not, as Andrew correctly indicates, access to obsolete
landraces).

A question that is never asked is: What would we do if all stored genebank
samples were lost tomorrow? I am fairly certain that with our human
ingenuity we could manage very well indeed, through reliance on breeders'
collections of advanced lines; re-collecting landraces (and certainly wild
relatives many of which are poorly represented in existing collections);
investing in more biotech; using the released varieties of other countries
in breeding (as China, the source of soybean landraces, is doing with US
commercial soybean varieties); and enhancing seed systems at all levels to
deliver the results of breeding.

The analogy put forward by NGOs that crop varieties are like wild
species, once lost they are gone forever is entirely spurious. Any
competent farmer can generate new varieties at will, by selecting from
apparent 'off-types' in the crop (the source of Golding and Fuggles hops,
Cox Pippin apple, Fife wheat, Chevalier barley, and a host of unnamed
selections by skilled farmers in developing countries). For crop
varieties, extinction is not forever: there is a continual varietal
evolution and turnover that collecting and seed stores fail to capture.

Finally - a hobby-horse of mine. Don's repeated concern is 'the liability
of the monocultures of our major cereal grains'. 'Monoculture' is in
danger of becoming a buzz-word used increasingly by people who don't know
what they are talking about.

There is nothing whatever wrong with cereal monocultures. Early farmers
domesticated our major cereals from extensive monodominant stands of wild
relatives. There is no evidence at all that these persistent wild stands
(relatives of rice, wheat, barley, sorghum and pearl millet) were
vulnerable to disease and pests, rather the opposite they were tough.
Modern monoculture cropping is a direct descendent of these stable wild
monocultures; it is as 'ecologically correct' as possible; and still
provides most of our food. There is no example of famine in modern times
resulting only from the vulnerability of monocultures. Yet there are
numerous historical examples of famines from diverse landrace agriculture.

The worst case that can be found of cereal vulnerability was the Southern
Corn Leaf Blight, which affected maize in the US in 1970. This was a key
stimulus to the expansion of national and global seed collections (of
which there are now far too many). Yet this disease was nothing to do with
monocultures it was result of an over-reliance on limited genetic
variation in a widespread crop. Always ignored was the rapid recovery of
US maize production the following season.

Since the 1930s, and as a result of top quality agricultural science, US
maize yields have shown a steady and remarkable increase. There was a tiny
dip in 1970 as a result of blight, and by 1971, yield had increased beyond
the trend line. Rather than a failure, the immediate recovery from the
1970 blight was an outstanding success of forward-looking breeding, seed
production, and monoculture cropping (rather than filling genebanks with
landraces and fields with unmanageable crop mixtures).

It is not possible to justify the millions of samples stored in genebanks
by claims that cereal monocultures are especially vulnerable to disease:
they are not. Monocultures are robust cropping systems based on robust
natural analogues. Biotech can make them yet more robust and ecologically
correct.

--
- Dr. Dave Wood of UK has worked on germplasm research and gene banks
around the world.

>> From: Andrew Apel
>> Ten years from now, the expense for seed banks will be deemed pointless,
>> their contents will be fed to cows and pigs and people will relent from
>> making bizarre claims in favor of biodiversity, such as that 3 bu/a is
>an
>> acceptable yield in Mexico. Mexico, and Mexicans, deserve better.
>
***********

Museum of Maize NEEDED!

- Alex Avery, AgBioView, Jan 8, 2003, http://www.agbioworld.org

>> Andrew Apel wrote: Not too long ago, it made sense to argue that
>"native Mexican landraces" needed to be preserved because of their
>"biodiversity" and the "possible benefits" that might lie undiscovered in
>their germplasm. Seeds from these various landraces are held by CIMMYT at
>great expense, and are about to become obsolete and worthless....Seed
>banks and biodiversity are only important if your only available
>technology is conventional breeding. With more advanced knowledge and
>techniques, antique germplasm becomes increasingly irrelevant. If you
>need a trait (such as resistance to the European Corn Borer), you
>engineer it in--as with the YieldGard gene.
>
Andrew, you are highly mistaken on this point. The seed banks and
germplasm ARE important, especially in this early era of biotechnology and
still relatively rudimentary knowledge of the specific function and
workings of most genes/alleles in our crop species. Yes, you can engineer
the desired traits into crops, but only if you have a template to work
from in designing your synthetic gene construct.

YieldGuard is a great case-in-point. We got the template from natural
proteins, not some completely synthetic conceptual approach. Without the
natural bacterial protein and genes, we wouldn't have anything to work
from and we wouldn't have bioengineered versions of Bt protein in our
crops. We didn't make it up, we coopted it.

Tanksley and McCouch (Science 277:1063-1066, 1997) discuss this very topic
at length, but they make their point about the need and potential of gene
banks and wild crop progenators quite dramatically with two findings in
rice and tomato. Using molecular linkage maps and a breeding technique
referred to as the advanced backcross QTL (Quatitative Trait Loci mapping)
method, it allows the testing of a subset of alleles from the wild or
progenitor variety in the genetic background of a modern elite variety. To
make this communication short, they used this advanced QTL method to
identify superior alleles in the older or wild varieties. The result: they
identified one allele in wild tomato that increased tomato solids yield by
50%!!!! They identified 2 alleles in rice that each increased rice yields
in the highest-yielding modern Chinese rice hybrids by 17%!!!!! These are
huge yield gains, simply from using a different version of one allele from
the wild crop ancestors. There are no doubt some important alleles in the
landraces of crops in our genebanks -- potential that will be unleashed in
modern crop varieties by biotechnology, but only if we have a blueprint to
follow.

Genebanks and landraces may eventually become obsolete and worthless, but
not anytime soon. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to turn the world into
a gene museum, or even much of Oaxaca, but I don't want to toss a valuable
resource before we've extracted the value from it.

- Alex Avery, Hudson Institute

**********************************************

New Year, New Debate

- New Scientist, January 4, 2003

Will the world finally make up its mind on genetically modified food?

Three years ago, a scientist in Scotland called Arpad Pusztai claimed that
the genetically modified potatoes he had fed his rats made them ill. The
resulting furore sent questions about the safety of GM food hurtling
around the globe, confirmed Britain as a nation of GM sceptics, and added
personal health fears to what might otherwise have seemed a list of
distant environmental concerns.

Since then we have seen the world split into two camps. Some countries,
many in Europe, have imposed bans on importing and growing GM crops.
Others, notably the US, have grown, cooked and eaten them without knowing
about it, or seeming to care that they don't know. One way or another,
2003 promises to shake up this global divide and offer people on both
sides of the GM debate a chance to rethink their positions. Will they take
it?

One country to watch is India, home to a quarter of the world's farmers.
Last year the Indian government gave the go-ahead for growing GM cotton.
In theory, the move will cut crop losses to the dreaded bollworm and
liberate farmers from a dependency on hazardous pesticides. But will the
GM varieties, developed for American soils, thrive in tougher Indian
conditions? Will we see insect resistance emerge? And how will biotech
corporations stop farmers using the seed without paying for it? The
answers will be crucial.

India is also worth watching because it is developing its own crops. Some
of them, such as a potato variety with extra protein, are at an advanced
stage. It is simplistic to see any new crop as an instant answer to
hunger, but such projects at least offer India, and perhaps other
developing countries, the chance to sidestep Western biotech corporations
and set their own biotechnology agendas.

Europe, too, is trying to forge its own agenda. Though debate still rages
on key points, the European Union is likely to introduce tough rules
demanding that if or when GM food is grown or imported it must be labelled
and traceable. The US is likely to respond with a trade war. Two weeks ago
a US Department of Agriculture official called the proposed rules
unworkable and irresponsible. "European consumers are not sure about
biotechnology, so hungry people in Africa don't eat. It's that simple,"
the official said.

The ugliest scrap this year is likely to be in Britain. Three years ago,
ministers set up a series of farm trials to monitor the impact of GM crops
on farmland biodiversity. With these nearly over, the government must
decide whether to permit commercial growing. In the run up, ministers have
commissioned new reports - one on science, a second on the costs and
benefits of the technology - and set up a panel to organise what the
government calls a "national debate".

Ministers, not unreasonably, want to avoid a rerun of lurid "Frankenfoods"
headlines. But their tactics are already backfiring. A row has broken out
over the derisory sum of money set aside for the national debate, and the
purpose of the debate and the status of the commissioned reports are
confused.

Of course it would be wonderful if, this time round, the debate is calm
and honest. Many opponents of GM crops see the key problem of the
technology as the stranglehold over the food chain that it hands to the
biotech industry. They should summon up the courage to say so, rather than
scaremongering about antibiotic-resistance genes or appealing to vague
notions of the technology being "unnatural". Proponents of GM crops who
want the technology to create more jobs for plant molecular biologists, or
provide benefits for growers or the biotech industry, or let farmers use
more benign herbicides, should also say so, rather than resort to claims
that GM crops are the answer to world hunger and that it is "anti-science"
to oppose them.

But is it going to happen? Pusztai's rat tests, we now know, were
irrevocably flawed. Yet their legacy lives on. India's decision to grow GM
cotton, for instance, was based partly on confidence that there will be no
consumer revolt against its GM cotton or demands from Europe for
regulations to label any T-shirts made from it. And the reason it can be
confident? European consumers' anxieties about GM have been skewed from
the start towards largely bogus personal health risks, rather than the far
more substantial social, economic and environmental issues. Europe has not
yet had an honest debate about GM. Britain really ought to seize the
chance.

**********************************************

Zambia: Traditional Foods In Abundance to Feed 3 Million Starving People

- Zarina Geloo, The Black World Today, January 7, 2003

Lusaka - "We have traditional foods in abundance. I do not know why there
is this maize mania when some of our provinces do not even grow maize,
traditionally,'' says Mundia Sikaatana, Zambia's minister of agriculture.
Sikatana says there is an unhealthy focus on maize as the only ''food'' in
Zambia, which causes consumers to believe they will starve when it is in
short supply.

But, a World Food Programme (WFP) official, who declined to be named, says
the people of southern Africa ask donors to give them maize, their staple
diet. ''It is a common feature in sub-Saharan Africa and we have not been
told, otherwise,'' he says.

Giving Africans other cereals like wheat would mean ''teaching'' the
consumers how to use it -- a time consuming exercise that involves
mobilisation and advocacy, he says. But Charles Banda, an agricultural
scientist in Lusaka, says the reason donors insist on maize is simple
economics. It is the grain the Western farmers grow in surplus, for stock
feed.

"WFP give us maize because that is what the farmers in the north grow and
they have to keep them in business by buying up their stocks,"he says.
Banda argues that maize is not the traditional food of Zambians or even a
native of the Southern African soil, it is an import from South America.

A voracious critic of Genetically Modified (GM) food, he says, ''look at
us now, we are panicking because we do not have maize, but our traditional
foods are millet, cassava and sorghum. Let us not only return to our
traditional staple foods but also farm the cereals best suited to our
soil. Maize is an import that is why it is problematic to grow in Southern
Africa. ''

But WFP insists, "we give people what they know to eat''.

Another bone of contention between government and WFP is the procurement
of food. While the WFP insists on distributing maize for relief food,
government says there is more than enough traditional grains to feed the
hungry Sikatana, quoting statistics from the National Association of
Peasants and Small Scale Farmers in Zambia, says there is a surplus of
over 300,000 metric tonnes of cassava, or manioc, in the northern and
northwestern parts of Zambia ''crying out'' for a market.

He says Zambia has a long history of using cassava as a key crop for food
security. Thirty percent of the country's population depends on cassava, a
drought-resistant crop, as its main source of energy. "If we can buy
cassava then we have won the war on this hunger and farmers will become
solvent to produce more food for the next season,'' says Sikatana.

WFP resident representative in Zambia, Richard Ragan told a donor meeting
in Lusaka recently that "the government has been asking us to use the
funds mobilised to buy food locally but we are constrained by our
regulations''. Sikatana says government will encourage the UN agency to
change its mind. - We have managed to convince some of our friendly donors
to stipulate as a condition, that their funds are for local procurement so
we are moving slowly,'' he says.

This has brought hard feelings, says a source in the ministry of
agriculture. WFP is the main agency in mobilising and channelling food
relief in Southern Africa. "As a ministry we are uneasy. We cannot help
but believe in the age-old trick of giving with the right hand and taking
with the left. The money given for food by the West goes back to it via
the purchase of maize from its farmers,'' says the source in the ministry
of agriculture.

According to the latest emergency report, Zambia needs 224,000 Metric
Tonnes (MT) of grain to feed its hungry population up to Mar 2003. The
World Food Programme has pledged to provide 82,000 MT, leaving a deficit
of 120,000 MT. Civil society has picked up the slack in the fast losing
battle to resolve the food crises. Working with Sikatana, the group
comprising churches and non-governmental organisation (NGOs), has formed
an alliance to raise funds to buy cassava from areas of surplus and
distribute it to the food-deficit areas.

In a petition signed by about 90 organisations, Co-ordinator of the
project, Bernadette Lubozhya requests Zambians and local organisations to
raise about 59 million U.S. dollars to buy and distribute the cassava,
while government resolves issues with World Food Programme. "We rejected
the GM food that was given to us on our own, we cannot look to the same
donor community and foreigners to do things for us, we have to take the
initiative,'' she says.

Richard Lee, WFP spokesperson in South Africa, had warned, when Zambia
rejected GM maize, that it would not only be difficult to source non-GM
food but it would also be hard to get it in time to avert hunger.

Concurring, Lubozhya presses her point home about buying food already
available in the southern African country. When Sikatana ordered WFP to
get rid of the 12,000 tonnes of GM maize in the country late last year,
only a few countries like the U.S. government had pledged 30,000 MT of
wheat and Sorghum, and Italy had donated white (non-GM) maize worth one
million U.S. dollars.

The World Bank has given Zambia 50 million U.S. dollars in grants and
loans for drought relief, but this money has already been committed to
other areas and it is unlikely any of it will be channelled to local
procurement. Zambia, along with Zimbabwe and Malawi, is the hardest hit by
a food shortage due to two successive droughts and poor agricultural and
economic policies.

**********************************************

A GE Urban Myth That Has Grown to Become a 'Fact'

- Tony Conner, New Zealand Herald, January 07, 2003

Rather than taking the opportunity to present balanced arguments on the
sustainable future of our primary industries and the relative merits of
genetic modification versus conventional technology, the Sustainability
Council has resorted to reiterating the rhetoric of other anti-GM
organisations.

This is well-illustrated by Sam Neill's Dialogue article. He presents a
series of half-truths and innuendo to develop an argument of GM's
unacceptable risk to the environment and human health. Of particular
concern was his reference to the Crop and Food Institute's research of
toad genes in potatoes at Lincoln.

This example has been used repeatedly by anti-GM groups to generate public
fear. The transfer of a gene from toads to potatoes is nothing more than
an urban myth that has assumed the status of a scientific fact. It is time
to put the record straight.

This project was initiated more than 10 years ago as a novel approach to
the development of disease-resistant crops. Many diseases are caused by
microbes, such as fungi and bacteria, and the aim was to develop plants
that would resist such diseases.

At the time, small protein molecules active against bacteria and fungi
were being discovered in insects and reptiles. The institute set out to
investigate whether we could design and build plant genes to protect
plants against disease infection.

When this project was initiated, one of the best-known anti-microbial
proteins was magainin, which was identified in the African clawed toad. An
experimental system was required for testing the institute's idea. Potato
was the obvious choice because the institute had the most experience in
the genetic modification of this crop and it suffers from soft-rot, an
important bacterial disease.

Potatoes are easy to test for soft-rot resistance and it was found that
magainin was highly active against the soft-rot bacteria. Researchers
chose not to transfer the gene for magainin from toads to potato because
scientific knowledge suggested that a toad gene would not work in plants.
Since the magainin protein is small, it would be more efficient on time
and resources to synthesise an artificial magainin gene.

When designing and constructing the synthetic DNA sequence with the
genetic information to make magainin in potatoes, researchers used DNA
sequence information from other potato genes to ensure the designed gene
was potato-like. No toads were ever touched and no genetic material from
any animal was transferred to plants.

Furthermore, when the DNA sequence of the institute's synthetic magainin
gene is compared to the millions of DNA sequences known from all
organisms, it has greater similarity to other plant genes than to the DNA
sequence of the magainin gene from toads.

Ten years after initiating this project, it was rewarding to finally
produce potato plants that made the magainin protein and were also
resistant to soft-rot bacteria. The institute contributed to a scientific
development to control plant disease.

The magainin-producing potatoes may have no future, but what has been
learned can be applied to other diseases and crops. Despite what anti-GM
groups proclaim, researchers never intended these potatoes to be released
and grown by the potato industry. This was only used as an experimental
system to test a novel scientific concept.

In the future it is possible the synthetic magainin gene could be used
with a molecular switch that only permits the magainin protein to be
present in the non-edible part of a crop. This could control root diseases
in crops where the fruit is eaten.

As expected, science has moved dramatically since this project began.
Small proteins with similar properties to magainin have been discovered in
other organisms, including humans and plants. They are likely to be
discovered in potato or related species in the future. We will then be in
an excellent position to quickly adopt a new technology for controlling
plant diseases in potato.

In presenting his case against GM, Neill confuses two clear and distinct
aspects of the debate: that of ethics versus safety. While animal genes in
plants carries a "yuk" factor in the minds of many, it does not mean it is
unsafe for the environment or to human health. New Zealand consumers are
protected by one of the world's most rigorous regulatory systems governing
the safety assessment of GM organisms.

We need to debate the ethical issues surrounding the development and use
of GM technology. Many ethicists have pointed out that it may be more
unethical not to use a GM technology than to use it, especially in a
situation where it can save lives.

We need to debate the relevance of the capitalistic concept of gene
ownership in a natural world where genes are common property to many
species. We need to debate where the boundary lies between gene transfers
that are acceptable and unacceptable while recognising that in most cases
the transfer of genes across more distant natural barriers, such as
animals to plants, will involve synthetic genes similar to the situation
described above for toad genes in potatoes.

We also must understand that chromosome fragments have been transferred
across species barriers over the past four or five decades in conventional
crop breeding, especially in wheat. One of the widest possible gene
transfers is between humans and bacteria. We must not forget that for more
than 20 years diabetics have been highly dependent on GM insulin produced
in bacteria following the transfer of a human gene.

----
Tony Conner is a scientist with Crop and Food Research and a professorial
fellow at Lincoln University.

**********************************************

Transgenic Crops: China Takes a Bumpy Road From The Lab to The Field

- Ding Yimin and Jeffrey Mervis, Science, Vol. 298, No. 5602, Dec 20,
2002, pp.2317-2319.

'China's rejection of applications to sell GM crops and a ban on foreign
investment coexist with an expanding research portfolio'

Beijing - The Chinese government has long maintained that transgenic crops
are the key to feeding and clothing the country's huge population in the
21st century. And it is backing that conviction with rapid increases in
research budgets. But although it once enthusiastically embraced efforts
to get genetically modified (GM) seeds into the hands of farmers and
welcomed foreign investment in developing GM crops, the government is now
proceeding with extreme caution. Officials point to growing concerns about
biosafety as the reason for the shift, whereas others see trade policy as
the driving force.

The latest example of this dichotomy between supporting research and
postponing the harvest of its commercial fruits came last month, when the
government's biosafety committee turned down an application for the
commercial distribution of a domestically developed, herbicide-resistant
variety of rice. It wasn't a big surprise: Although China has approved
commercial cultivation of five species of GM crops, most notably Bt cotton
in 1997, no staple food crop has ever passed muster. Earlier this year,
the government drew the line around GM crops a little tighter by
announcing a ban on new foreign investment in agbiotechnology ventures.
The rules, issued in March, are part of a series of edicts governing the
importation and labeling of GM crops.

Although the two actions are independent, together they emphasize the
prevailing attitude toward GM crops. Chinese officials say their cautious
approach is needed to make sure all GM crops are safe. The restriction on
foreign investment, they argue, simply adds another protective layer by
ensuring that overseas companies don't unleash varieties that could
threaten local strains. "Our government is not trying to ban foreign
investment from the domestic market," insists Duan Wude, deputy director
of the Department of Science, Technology, and Education at the Ministry of
Agriculture. "It is only being careful with the introduction of foreign
technology."

That explanation sounds to many observers like a smokescreen for a tougher
trade policy, however. "By trying to protect its own research-based
industries, China is creating a situation in which the real losers are the
farmers," contends Scott Rozelle, a professor of agricultural and resource
economics at the University of California, Davis. "I favor a go-slow
system for approving new releases, but I am against the ban on foreign
investment."

The ban on foreign investment "is more of a trade issue than a scientific
issue," says Xing-Wang Deng, director of the new Center for Plant
Molecular Genetics and Agribiotechnology, which involves scientists at
Yale and Beijing universities. Deng and others say that China is worried
that other countries might impose restrictions on its agricultural exports
if farmers begin harvesting large amounts of transgenic crops, along with
traditional varieties, and they fail to segregate the two types. That has
happened in the past with Chinese-made soy sauce, derived in large part
from GM soybeans grown in the United States. The ban, he says, is seen as
a way to limit the amount of land planted with GM crops and thus make
oversight easier.

U.S.-based Monsanto is by all accounts the company most affected by the
restrictions on foreign investment. It's the biggest foreign source of GM
crops in China; its Bollgard Bt cotton seeds, for example, are growing in
a majority of the 350,000 hectares of GM cotton cultivated this year. John
Killmer, president of Monsanto China, says the new rules exacerbate an
already difficult situation for the company, which has repeatedly failed
to win approval for Bt corn and has abandoned an earlier collaboration
with Huang Danian of the National Rice Research Institute in Hangzhou on a
herbicide-resistant rice variety that is also awaiting government
approval.

"The current process is so onerous that it can take 7 to 9 years to win
approval," says Killmer, noting that Monsanto has tried unsuccessfully for
6 years to introduce the same Bt corn that is now growing in the United
States. "And some corn hybrids have a life of only 3 to 4 years." Killmer
says companies such as Monsanto currently have little incentive to push
ahead with GM crops in China, in view of the almost-certain rejection of
any application for a commercial license. He also dismisses the official
explanation for the ban on new foreign investment: "The idea that it's for
safety considerations doesn't wash," he says, because those considerations
should apply equally to domestic activities.

China's Bt cotton crop is the fourth largest in the world and the most
successful of five species under cultivation (see table). Two species of
GM rice--one herbicide tolerant and the other blast resistant--have been
approved for field trials and environmental release, but Duan says the
review for a commercial license could take quite a long time because of
concerns about whether genes from the transgenic plants could spread to
wild species.

While these debates play out, plant scientists are benefiting from the
government's growing investment in research. The current Five-Year Plan
projects a fivefold rise in spending on agbiotech research, to perhaps
$500 million by the end of 2005, and some three dozen Chinese institutes
are working on transgenic plant research. The Beijing-Yale center, which
officially opened 18 months ago, is riding that wave of support, says
Deng: "We try to understand basic biology. And we focus on Arabidopsis and
rice because it's a good model system as well as an important economic
crop."

The recent ban on foreign investment doesn't affect Yale's participation
in the center, Deng says, nor did it stop Monsanto this summer from
pledging approximately $750,000 over 5 years to support the center's
programs. "It's not considered an investment by a foreign company," notes
Deng about the contribution, which he says will "strengthen an exchange
program and lessen our dependence on university funds."

Despite the current impasse, both Deng and Killmer believe that properly
licensed GM crops will one day be commonplace among China's 350 million
peasant farmers. But they offer different reasons for their optimism.
"They are facing a use-it-or-lose-it situation," says Killmer, referring
to work by Chinese scientists, including discoveries based on the
sequencing of the indica rice genome, that could wind up in the hands of
foreign competitors. "And that may be the thing that breaks the logjam."

For Deng, it's a simple matter of waiting until the government decides the
time is right: "In the long term, these GM crops will be approved [for
commercial sale]. All of the scientists I know are optimistic. But I don't
know how long it will take."
--
GM Crops That Have Passed Muster
Approved in 1997: cotton (Monsanto) Bt cotton (Chinese Academy of
Agricultural Sciences) Delayed-ripening tomato (Central China
Agriculture University) Color-altered petunia (Beijing University)
Approved in 1998: MV-resistant sweet pepper (Beijing University) Tomato
(Beijing University)
Source: China Agricultural University

**********************************************

Holy Cow! Now That's Progress

- HealthScoutNews, January 7, 2003

Specially bred cows that produce low-fat milk, environmentally friendly
cows that emit less methane, and milk that boosts people's immune systems
are among the changes in dairy production that may occur over the next 50
years. They're included in a special report that appears in a recent
issue commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Journal of Agricultural
and Food Chemstry. You can already buy organic milk at your local
supermarket. However, there are plans to create new kinds of milk that
will boost immunity, improve lactose utilization and relieve diarrhea.

Recent advances in biotechnology have identified a gene for milk fat
synthesis. That research may some day lead to selective breeding of cows
that naturally produce low-fat milk. The report notes that while research
into genetically modified cows and milk products shows promise, such
products will likely face consumer resistance for many years. Something
that consumers may be more enthusiastic about are "green" cows that
produce less methane and have less impact of global climate change. Dairy
cows and other cattle produce significant amounts of methane as a result
of their digestion process. Methane is a major contributor (second only to
carbon dioxide) to the greenhouse effect, which contributes to global
climate change. Scientists believe they can alter cattle digestion to
reduce methane emissions. The scientists think this can be achieved either
by removing microorganisms that produce methane in cattle stomachs or by
creating microorganisms that produce metabolic products other than
methane.

More information
http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/foodsci/agentinfo/dairy/conspub.html

**************

It's a Gas

- Nature Biotechnology, January 2003 Vol. 21 No 1 p 1. www.nature.com.
Reprinted in AgBioView with the permission of the editor.

Despite the gloomy fact that last year was the worst in recent memory for
the biotechnology industry, Nature Biotechnology is pleased to announce
that innovation in some areas is as fresh and vigorous as it always was.
At least, it is if you believe news released in December by the American
Chemical Society.

Late last year, the society announced a special report to commemorate the
50th anniversary of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The
report divulged exciting news about plans to create "green cows." No, no,
not green-colored cows (the press release helpfully points out), but
environmentally cleaner cows!

The big problem, it seems, is that all these cattle lowing in the mangers
and fields have been chomping the cud and producing too much methane as a
result of digestion and "belching" (thankfully no other bodily functions
are mentioned in the release). Methane is bad, apparently, because it is
"a major contributor to the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere (second
only to carbon dioxide), which many scientists think contributes to global
warming." Although the ACS supplied no figures to quantify methane
emissions from cows, a quick search of the literature reveals an estimate
from the US EPA that domestic livestock contributes 20% of the total
methane in the atmosphere. At this stage, Nature Biotechnology remains
uncertain as to the extent of the threat posed by bovine-derived gas to
global meteorological systems.

Whatever the case, all is not lost (here's where biotechnology comes in).
Researchers are apparently working around the clock to alter the digestive
process in cattle, either by removing the microorganisms that produce
methane from their stomachs or by creating microorganisms that can produce
metabolic products other than methane. As the release puts it: "end
result: green cows."

Here then, at least, is one application where agbiotech comes up smelling
like daisies.

**********************************************

'Elitist' Environmentalists Part of Problem, Not Solution

- Hembree Brandon, Farm Press Online, Jan 2 2003

http://deltafarmpress.com/ar/farming_elitist_environmentalists_part/index.htm


Dennis Avery's been jousting with environmentalists, greenies,
tree-huggers, and assorted other save-the-worlders for a long while. Many
of them, says the director of global food issues for the Hudson Institute,
are "affluent elites, working against the good of society."

This environmental elite, Avery told members of the Southern Crop
Production Association recently, "is made up of affluent families,
well-off academics, and children of successful people in Europe and
America, who claim not only that the world's poor should stay poor for
the good of the environment, of course but also that the poor themselves
prefer to stay in poverty."

They are, he says, "well-meaning people who simply do not understand the
power of technological abundance." Despite decades of predictions of
population growth outstripping the world's ability to feed its peoples,
agriculture's abundance has more than outpaced demand. Rather, the problem
has been in getting food to those who need it, but can't pay for it, or
are the victims of corrupt and/or inefficient governments.

The food security provided by the Green Revolution helped convince Third
World parents to have fewer children, Avery says, with births dropping
from 6.2 in 1960 to about 2.7 today. "This has to stand as one of the most
outstanding testaments to the power of technology, off-farm job creation,
and hope for the future."

Despite these achievements, at least 14 million people are reported at
risk of starvation in Africa this winter, where a scare campaign against
U.S.-donated corn, some of it biotech, is keeping the grain from being
given to those who desperately need it, Avery notes. "European activists
have conducted savvy, effective, and massively anti-human scare campaigns
against American biotech corn." The president of Zambia says he's been
told that the corn is "poison," and he refuses to distribute it, while
millions of his people boil poisonous roots and berries just to get
something in their bellies.

The terrorism of 9/11 did more than make anti-globalization protestors
look trivial, Avery says. "It showed the First World once again that
humanity inhabits one world that we cannot go forward half-rich and
half-poor. Either the world will have to support high quality diets, good
educations, and effective pharmaceuticals for everyone, or the affluent
world will be torn down."

Agriculture is going to have to do more to help city people understand
"how and why we pursue high yields," he says. "We must help them
understand that more agricultural research is the only way to have room
for nature in the 21st century, and that high yield conservation also
includes expanded agricultural trade so the prime soils in America and
other countries can help provide higher quality diets" for Asia and other
densely populated nations.

To that end, the Hudson Institute, along with a couple of Nobel Prize
winners and over 700 agricultural professionals from more than 50
counties, is promoting its High Yield Conservation Declaration.
Organizations and individuals are invited to sign and support it. You can
do so online at http://www.highyieldconservation.org/declaration.cfm.

**********************************************

Gentic Engineering, Biotech to Solve Food Security Needs

- The Press Trust of India, January 6, 2003

Bangalore- An expert at the 90th Indian Science Congress has said that
genetic engineering and biotechnology are the answers to the increasing
demand for food security in the country.

While the benefits of the Green Revolution during the 1970s and 80s were
now on the wane despite introduction of high yield varieties of cereals, a
transformation was needed in the crop quality and quantity to meet future
challenges and growing demands of the Indian population, K K Narayanan of
Meta Helix, a firm based in the southern city of Bangalore, said

He said rice was being grown in about 44 million hectares, the largest
cultivated area in the world and yet the per hectare yield was just two
tons, considered the lowest. Interestingly, between 1995 and 2000, the
average rate of increase in rice productivity was just 1.5 per cent, which
was significantly lower than the country's average rate of increase in
population, recorded at between 2 and 2.5 per cent, he said adding
considering this, agricultural biotechnology was the only potent option
available today.

However, he said, before biotechnology was brought in on a large scale,
there was need to demystify the topic in the eyes of the people, mainly
the small farmers. There was also an urgent need to put in place an
efficient regulatory mechanism to prevent uncontrolled use of this
technology. Another area which needed encouragement was partnership
between the public and the private sectors to develop the area of
biotechnology to increase the quality and quantity of crops in the
country, he added.

**********************************************

Indian Scientist Calls For Comprehensive Agricultural Biotech Policy

- Xinhua News Agency, January 6, 2003

New Delhi - Eminent scientist Dr M S Swaminathan Monday called for
formulating a comprehensive national agriculture biotechnology policy to
streamline the use of genetic engineering in improving the quality and
quantity of foodgrains and crop in the country.

Swaminathan, father of the country's green revolution, also called for
broad-based national commissions on genetic modification for sustainable
food and health security consisting of independent professionals,
environmentalists, mass media and concerned government regulatory
authorities. He said that a national patent bank to protect Indian species
of crops and traditional plant should also be set up under the guidance of
these commissions.

Talking to reporters on the sidelines of the 90th Indian Science Congress
in Bangalore, Swaminathan, who is Chairman of M S Swaminathan Research
Foundation (MSSRF), said that the policy should be on the lines of the
ones formulated for the country's space and nuclear programs, hoping that
such a policy would also ensure the success of the biotech revolution in
the country. The policy, he said, would have to address setting up a
national integrated natural resources management program and would have to
merge information systems for farmers including the
climate-water-solid-biodiversity quartet holding relevance of improved
agriculture.

**********************************************

Policy on Development of Agriculture In The UK

- Professor Willie Russell FRSE :Chair of Scientists for Labour based at
University of St Andrews,Fife, Scotland UK

Scientists for Labour (SfL) is a UK-based organisation which promotes
science within the UK political establishment. It has produced a policy
statement on "Science and the Development of Agriculture" as a response to
the UK government consultation exercise on GM crops and organic farming.
This can be accessed at the SfL website at
http://www.scientists-for-labour.org.uk

The main points can be summarised as follows:

1) A case for adopting farming policies which will ensure the production
of sustainable high yield crops is presented. Different farming systems
have been examined in the light of this requirement and it is concluded
that integrated farm management and its derivatives should be encouraged.

2) The use of pesticides and herbicides in the provision of increased
crop yields in conventional agriculture is studied and the current system
of UK regulation is strongly supported but it is noted that the facts
about pesticide use are often distorted by organisations with alternative
agendas.
3) The claims of the organic farming industry are examined in some detail
and no evidence could be uncovered to support the belief that organic
farming provides healthier and more nutritious food while protecting
biodiversity. SfL believes that there is a place for accommodating
different approaches to land utilisation, whether by conventional,
integrated management, organic or GM but that a long term strategy
-based on sound evidence and the need for sustainability should be
pursued to achieve this objective.

4) The ethics, risks and benefits of developing GM crops are examined in
detail and the sensitive and careful application of these new
technologies is advocated. However, SfL cannot recommend the unrestricted
applications of GM technologies in the UK and suggest, that to ensure the
retention of biodiversity ,mandatory restrictions on the methods of
growing GM crops should be imposed. These should include appropriate
seasonal delays in the application of herbicides and pesticides and the
operation of a reduced tillage system coupled with the imposition of
integrated pest management techniques to reduce pesticide applications.
The success of these techniques is well-documented. and it is speculated
that they could become a paradigm for changes that might be imposed on
conventional UK agriculture and help to implement sustainability ideals.

5) In conclusion SfL urge the UK government to vigorously support
research and development of the agricultural sciences as the most rational
strategy for meeting the future and current demands for sustainable
agriculture.

**********************************************

Does Canola Cross Pollinate With Wild Turnips?

- From: "Robert Wager"

The Christmas eve report of the British Government on GM canola (rape
seed) cross pollination puzzles me. Does canola cross pollinate with wild
turnips? And if so what is the characteristics of the hybrid. Is the
vigour better or worse or un-affected? I don't know anything about the
karyotype of either species of plant but I find it hard to believe that a
hybrid of these different species could become a "superweed".

Could some one please help me understand the genetic (chromosome number
etc) relationship between canola and wild turnips. There have been many
claims of "superweeds" developing from transgenic crops. Is this the first
example or merely the latest scare story?

- Robert Wager, Malaspina University College, Canada

**********************************************

Reply to Roger Morton

- From:Joe Cummins"

Replying to Roger Morton's comments in AgBioView Jan.6,2003 Roger
comments:

>>" You offer all sorts of wild theories about virus promoters being
dangerous because they have homology to HIV viruses and the like. It makes
good copy when you want to scare the general public. But it does not wash
in the world of science. You can not address my point "

The fact that Cauliflower Mosaic Virus is a pararetrovirus directly
related to the pararetrovirus hepatitis B and to the true retrovirus HIV
has washed in the world of science for a long time. It is probably unwise
to presume that retroviruses, pararetroviruses and retrotransposons are
unable to recombine if their is a massiver influx of the viruses or their
genes into an environment in which much greater contact between the genes
of the viruses and retrotransposons are permitted.Recently CaMV promoter
was sucessfully combined with genes from HIV in a transgenic plant and it
is unlikely that such recombinants cannot appear naturally.

>> Roger comments:"So what is the danger of a recombination hotspot then??
>If you concede there are millions of them out there then one more is not
>a worry right?"
>
Joe replies: Roger's view is wrong, not right, I indicated that there is
evidence that there is a well described genetic phenomenon , transcription
related recombination and mutation in plants, animals and bacteria thus
introduction of a hyperactive promoter such as the CaMV promoter should
cause a recombination hotspot to appear in a chromosome where no hotspot
has been before. Hot spot refers to degree rather than kind and there are
not millions of hotspots in the genomes of plants and animals.

>> In Joe's original letter: Highly active exchange between the integrated
>virus promoter and viral sequences have been reported ie(Wintermantel,
>W.M. and Schoelz, J.E. (1996). Isolation of recombinant viruses between
>cauliflower mosaic irus and a viral gene in transgenic plants under
>conditions of moderate selection pressure. Virology 223, 156-164.)
>
>> Roger says: "I have not read this paper but I note the term "under
>moderate selection pressure" in the title. This suggests to me that you
>don't get it happening unless you select for it. Would this be correct?
>If you can only see it when you select for it in a lab then of what
>relevance is it to GM crops?"
>
Repying to Roger , it would be good to read the paper, or better yet a
text book on genetics.Roger's comments would have been warmly appreciated
by authorities such as Lamarck or Lysenko who beleived that selection
causes recombination. In the paper refers to the experimental conditions
"moderate selection" used to detect recombinants. Few editors would have
passed a paper claiming that selection caused recombination.

The important point was that recombination between viruses and virus
transgenes were detected at very high frequency. In spite of those and a
few other related studies little effort has been directed to studying
virus promoters as recombination hot spots in transgenic crops and more
studies should be done.

**********************************************

The Real CSPI Surfaces

- From: Alex Avery

CSPI claims that excessive levels of "harmful compounds" could show up in
GM foods and the FDA isn't doing enough to protect the public. Finally,
the real and true CSPI we all know and love has emerged on the GM/biotech
crops debate. I just knew that their earlier, "moderate" stance on GM
foods was just a ruse to give the group the thin veil of openess and
legitamacy on GM issues so they could later trash it. Once a junkscience
junkie, always a junkscience junkie.

Full article at:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19370-2003Jan6.html

**********************************************

Ministerial Conference on Agricultural Science and Technology

http://www.fas.usda.gov/icd/stconf/conf_main.htm

June 23 - 25, Sacramento, California; US Agency for International
Development & Department of State

The conference will focus on the critical role science and technology
plays in raising sustainable agricultural productivity in developing
countries, with the goal of boosting food availability and access, and
improving nutrition. Ministers will be invited from over 180 nations. The
conference aims to broaden participants' knowledge and understanding of
relevant science and technology, including biotechnology, and enhance
access to new technologies through public-private partnerships.

Agricultural production, processing and marketing technologies from
developed and developing countries will be examined, as well as critical
issues regarding the transfer and indigenous development of technologies.
The conference will also address low- and high-cost technologies, and
state-of-the-art and traditional methods. Crop and livestock biotechnology
are included in the array of technologies.

**********************************************

Public Perceptions of Biotech

- Doug Powell et al, Journal of Food Science, Vol. 67, No. 9, 2002. (From
Cropbiotech.net)

Researchers from the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada say that public
support for a controversial technology such as agricultural biotechnology
is crucial for deriving any benefits associated with the technology. K.
Baline, S. Kamaldeen and D. Powell made this assertion based on an
analysis of public opinion surveys on some aspects of biotechnology and
its applications.

Some of their findings are: * Despite much debate regarding the importance
of public acceptance of genetic engineering (GE) and its applications,
there is evidence that consumers do not reject GE outright, but focus on
specific applications of the technology. * Global differences in support
for specific applications of agri-biotech are based on factors like a
country's culture and history, economic conditions, and government
initiatives or responses related to the issue. Media coverage and activist
opposition were pronounced in countries where survey respondents were more
negative. * Overall, support for the technology tends to be dependent upon
perceptions of benefits. * Consumers view risk very differently from
scientists. Hence, scientists need to understand how consumers perceive
risks.

* While increasing the amount of science and technology information
available decreases perception of scientific risks, it has been argued
that the amount of media coverage, not the content, creates the negative
perceptions. * Surveys have shown a significant increase in consumer
awareness of GM foods but understanding remains low. * Biotechnology is of
less concern than chemical pesticides, microbial contamination, and
additives. Consumer acceptance tends to be conditional and dependent of
perceptions of benefits and moral acceptability, which are tied to trust
in regulatory agencies. * The single most important determinant of gain or
loss of trust in a source is whether the information is subsequently
proven right or wrong, and whether the source is subsequently demonstrated
to be unbiased.

The Canadian researchers conclude that there is a strong need for
government and industry to engage in open dialogue with the public, both
providing information on their activities and decisions and listening to
their concerns. They also added that there is a need for ongoing
monitoring of public opinions and concerns to ensure communication efforts
are aligned with consumer needs.

Direct inquiries to author Powell at dpowell@uoguelph.ca. The full paper
is published in the Journal of Food Science, Vol. 67, No. 9, 2002.

**********************************************

Genetics and Safety

- Reprinted from IPM news Issue 109 with the permission of the sponsor The
Consortium for International Crop Protection. January 2003 (from Agnet)

A 2002 title, 'Genetically Modified Crops - Assessing Safety', risks being
labeled oxymoronic in some circles, though it clearly states, Safety is
of paramount importance and the concerns of scientists and the public must
be addressed. The 266-page, hardbound work sets out the advances made in
agrobiochemical technology as well as the safety evaluation strategies
that have been, and are being, developed and utilized.

K.T. Atherton has edited the contributions of a 23-person mix of European
and North American scientists and produced a contemporary monograph that
covers a wide range of critical concerns. The initial six chapters discuss
concepts and strategies while the last four chapters detail landmark case
studies including herbicide tolerant crops and Bt-crops engineered for
pest insect management. >> *--> Taylor & Francis, 11 New Fetter Lane,
London EC4P 4EE, UK. Fax: 44-0-20-7842-2298. Phone: 44-0-20-7583-9855.
Web: http://www.tandf.co.uk/books/default.html

**********************************************

Seeds of Change

- Kurt Lawton, Farm Industry News, January 1, 2003 Vol. 36; No. 1

Little did anyone know 20-some years ago that the birth of plant-based
genetic engineering would downsize the seed-chemical agribusiness complex
by billions of dollars. Its impact goes far beyond the companies involved.
The entire supply chain * from co-ops and dealerships to distributors,
along with related agribusinesses * is feeling margin-draining heat.
Meanwhile farmers benefit from reduced input costs but despair about
limited choices.

The confluence of seed-based herbicide/insecticide resistance and the
patent loss of glyphosate not only changed the crop protection business
forever, it short-circuited revenue sources that funded some biotech seed
businesses. All major players were forced to drop prices and concede great
value in their crop protection portfolio in order to compete.

The biotech profit race, to be first and own the most and best patents,
has seemingly been won more by lawyers than by biotech giants conducting
expensive and laborious research and development (R&D). Yes, there are
success stories where valuable technology has been created for farmers,
such as Roundup Ready soybeans, Bt corn, Bt cotton and the coming
rootworm-resistant corn. And some biotech products have truly aided the
bottom lines of companies. But the picture is bleaker when it comes to
recouping total biotech R&D expenditures, especially when some companies
are at themercy of current stock prices and quarterly reports.

Add to this the huge challenge of educating consumers around the world
about the safety of these products in order to gain global market access
for U.S. producers.

"From a big seed company perspective, especially those tied to chemical
industry money, things are pretty negative right now," says Tray Thomas,
president of The Context Network, a management consulting firm
specializing in agribusiness. "There was a lot of money spent on
developing seed trait technology and getting it through an increasingly
rigorous regulatory system, and very few products have paid off. Herbicide
product margins have dropped dramatically due to glyphosate tolerance
technology and generic herbicides, which depletes R&D efforts. It's simply
hard to see things getting better for some companies."

Many industry executives believe the six big players in agriculture *
BASF, Bayer, Dow AgroSciences (Mycogen), DuPont (Pioneer), Monsanto
(DeKalb, Asgrow), and Syngenta (Northrup King) * will be reduced to three
or four major players within the next one to three years.

"Consolidation will continue, whether it's among the largest six or 206
companies, because the cost of technology and customer choices drive
this," says former Syngenta Seeds President Ed Shonsey. "Management teams
and shareholders are more closely scrutinizing biotech investments, and
all companies involved are asking themselves if the investment [in
biotech] is worth it."

Costly legal battles. As predicted in a 1999 series in Farm Industry News
titled "Who Owns Nature?" the fight for patent ownership often has
overshadowed the development of the products themselves.

Take Bt corn, for instance. Five companies attempted to claim this prized
trait patent. An amazing 33 lawsuits were filed and, in the end, there was
no real winner, Shonsey says. All five companies and many more ended up
cross-licensing the trait. Although lawsuits didn't overtake development
of this product, it did drain millions of dollars from companies (some
from your wallet, too) and no doubt changed company philosophy on the
risks of fighting to obtain patents. It also forced companies to
reconsider or even resist researching traits where patent protection was
deemed a long shot.

Have patent challenges stopped? No, and rightly so if companies are to
protect their products developed from costly research. But expensive
lessons have been learned, many lengthy suits have finally been settled,
and the number of litigants and disputes has greatly diminished.



Just one tool. Where will genetics and biotechnology take us in the
future? Projections are difficult to make because so many variables affect
this industry * from government regulation and the uncertainty of global
acceptance, to food, environmental, and investment and profit concerns.

"Five or six years ago, we thought biotech would change the world. It's
definitely made an impact, but it's just a tool, not the tool," Shonsey
says. "The science is sound, the regulations are sound, and we've made
excellent progress educating people on the value of biotechnology. But
there's much more work ahead. Everyone involved in biotech, from the
companies to universities to trade associations, must inform the ill
informed. The greatest threat to this technology is ourselves, and we must
take a responsible approach, not a too aggressive approach.

"We, as an industry, must do a better job at creating more new markets and
maintaining current markets for our customers," Shonsey continues. "Help
figure out who the customer is, whether it be General Mills or a small
baker, and give them what they need. Growers know production, we just need
to help them find buyers."

At the end of the day, Shonsey states, profitability per customer acre
will rule. "Shift your way of thinking," he advises. "How does everyone
help create more profit per acre?" Good food for thought.