Today in AgBioView: November 14, 2003:
* GM food: silver bullet or Trojan horse?
* India 'to approve GM potato'
* GM corn doesn't affect livestock performance
* Nature's Affirmative Action
* Pushing Delta corn yields
* UK SCIENTISTS REACT OVER GM DEBATE
* BT COTTON REDUCES PESTICIDE USE IN ARGENTINA
* ACCURATE MAPPING OF ARABIDOPSIS REVEALS NEW GENES
* LESS WAITING TIME TO DETERMINE IF APPLE TREE'S A DWARF
* Study Links Pesticides with Parkinson's Disease
GM food: silver bullet or Trojan horse?
This half hour radio program features Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Adrian
Bebb of Friends of the Earth International.
To hear it go to http://www.rnw.nl/amsterdamforum/html/031114food.html and
click on the REAL logo on the right.
Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2003 20:35:08 +0500
India 'to approve GM potato'
I have read you above article in AGBIOVIEW just now. Earlier also, there
was a similar news, which stated that protato (protein rich potato) will
be approved for commercial cultivation by the end of 2003.
In this connection I talked to the Director, CPRI (ICAR), Shimla, who
corodinates release of new potato varieties. I was told that the release
of potato with Ama1 gene for protein (with balanced composition of amino
acids) from Amaranth will take a minimum of three more years, and the work
is still in a preliminary stage. It is unfortunate, that the Department of
Biotechnology issues statements, without any consultations with ICAR or
CPRI, or the All India Corodinated Programme for Potato Improvement, which
are the nodal agencies to take decisions and overview the release of new
potato varieties, whether traditional or genetically modified (GM).
Professor & INSA Senior Scientist
Deptt. of Genetics & Plant Breeding
Meerut 250 004 (UP)
NU research shows feeding, grazing GM corn doesn't affect livestock
Study finds 97 percent of fields surveyed were in compliance with EPA
By Robert Pore
November 14, 2003
Now that corn harvest is winding down and farmers are turning their cattle
out to graze on the corn stalks, new research from the University of
Nebraska confirms that feeding or grazing genetically modified corn has no
effect on livestock performance.
Nebraska is one of the nation's leading states in planting biotechnology
varieties of corn. This year, according to the Nebraska Agricultural
Statistics Service, 55 percent of all corn fields in the state were
planted to some variety of genetically modified corn. Nationwide, the
average was 38 percent.
The percentage of biotech corn varieties planted in Nebraska has grown
from 34 percent in 2000 to 55 percent this year, compared to the national
average of 25 percent to 38 percent during that same time period.
Leading the way of biotechnology corn varieties planted in the state this
year was Bt corn for insect resistance at 40 percent. Eleven percent of
all corn acres were planted to Roundup Ready corn.
The University of Nebraska studies involved Bt corn and Roundup Ready corn
and reinforced earlier findings on the feed value of genetically modified
crops by scientists at Nebraska and at other land-grant universities, said
animal scientist Galen Erickson.
According to Erickson, "The bottom line for livestock producers is they
can expect the same livestock performance whether they feed currently
available genetically modified corn or conventional corn."
NU Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources animal scientists have
evaluated performance of livestock fed or grazed on genetically modified
corn for the last three years to provide information on these new types of
corn, he said. Sixty percent of the U.S. corn supply is fed to livestock.
"It's important if we change corn traits that we do not decrease the
feeding value," Erickson said. "Bt and Roundup Ready corn are very
advantageous from an agronomic point, but we needed to research this to
ensure that the feed value was not negatively impacted."
Feeding trials for beef, dairy and swine were conducted at NU's
Agricultural Research and Development Center near Mead, Neb. All the
studies found that there was no difference in the animal's performance
when they were fed biotech varieties of corn verses conventional corn.
According to Erickson, experiment's have found no difference in steer
performance among steers that grazed corn stalks from either biotech
varieties or conventional corn varieties during a 60-day grazing period.
One concern some producers had was that cattle spent more time grazing
conventional corn than the Bt cornstalks. However, Erickson said this
apparent preference probably is because there's more corn left after
harvest in conventional corn fields because of insect damage.
The studies were conducted in cooperation with IANR's Agricultural
In related news, the results of a survey released Thursday showed that the
percentage of corn growers adhering to insect resistant management (IRM)
requirements designed for corn borer resistant Bt corn rose significantly
According to results of an annual survey required by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, 92 percent of farmers met regulatory
requirements for IRM refuge size, while 93 percent met refuge distance
requirements, which is an increase from 87 and 82 percent, respectively,
in 2000 when the survey began.
The study also found that 97 percent of the fields that were surveyed were
found in compliance with EPA regulations.
The EPA requirements established in 1999 obligated growers to plant at
least a 20 percent refuge of corn that does not contain the Bt gene for
controlling corn borers. The IRM refuge requirements were enacted to help
prevent corn insect pests, such as the European corn borer, from
developing resistance to Bt technology, enabling the technology to be used
well into the future.
Scott Merritt, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Growers
Association, said the survey included Nebraska corn growers.
"With some of the new biotech varieties that are coming out, there was a
little bit of a learning curve that we found among our members," he said.
"That few percentage who didn't meet those requirements was probably not
because they were not trying to, but that they were not implementing the
technology properly. So we are very pleased that number jumped up
Merritt said during the past year there has been a "real conscious" effort
on behalf of state farmers to make sure that they are complying with those
"Farmers are now aware that in the long term they want to keep the
technology because it is working well for them, especially with the
increase in acres," he said. "They also realize that if the requirements
aren't met, the product won't be available from either a regulatory
standpoint or it won't be effective in the long term. We have had good
acceptance of Bt technology and farmers have learned how to manage and
The survey was conducted by an independent research firm for the
Agricultural Biotechnology Stewardship Technical Committee in conjunction
with the National Corn Growers Association. More than 550 growers were
interviewed for the survey conducted during the 2003 growing season among
Bt corn users in the Corn Belt.
Nature's Affirmative Action
By Richard Braun Published
Biodiversity, represented by the 10 million or so animals, plants and
microbes living on this planet, is threatened by many human activities.
Amongst the numerous quasi-natural environments, the widest diversity is
in the tropical humid forests, of which about half has been cut down
during the past 100 years. The remaining area will vanish in the next 50
years, if no substantial countermeasures are undertaken. No single action
on its own will be a remedy, but a central issue is to prevent subsistence
farmers, who want to produce food for themselves and their families, from
encroaching on untouched land such as tropical jungles.
The most important way to achieve this goal is to increase productivity on
the land already being used, which means increasing yields. Here the
"Second Green Revolution" will have an important role to play. The
original "Green Revolution" increased grain yields substantially in Asia
and thereby reduced famine in the region. Hopefully the second one will
improve farm output in Africa.
For this to happen, new plant varieties -- that grow with less chemical
input and are resistant to pests and diseases -- will be essential. Modern
biotechnology offers such possibilities, be it by marker-assisted breeding
or by genetic modification (GM). It is important to realize that GM is not
scale dependent: that means small farmers can profit as much as big ones,
if the economic parameters are right. In South Africa, for instance,
small-hold farmers have made excellent use of pest resistant GM cotton,
thereby requiring less insecticide. On an experimental level,
virus-resistant GM cassava varieties have been developed in Kenya.
There are highly capable scientists in Africa who can take up such lines
of R&D. However, they do depend on technology transfer, R&D facilities and
money. The institutes of the Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR) have been active along these lines, though
their funds are very modest compared to the huge problems that need
solving. The Rice Research Institute in Manila, for instance, is a CGIAR
institute and was of central importance for the first Green Revolution.
Of course plant breeding is not the only factor important for preserving
biodiversity in tropical countries. The infrastructure of rural areas
needs improvement, including transport facilities, medical facilities and
educational opportunities, particularly for women, who do most of the
farming in developing countries. In addition there needs to be a lowering
of the access barriers for tropical farm products to the markets of the
North. Without a reduction of subsidies and tariffs in the North, farmers
of the South will not be able to raise their income and standard of
Many Europeans view agricultural biotechnology quite skeptically and
perceive it as potentially harmful to human health and the environment.
Unfortunately, people's perception of reality is more powerful than
reality itself, said Marion Dönhoff, the former chief editor of Die Zeit.
Whilst most medical applications of biotechnology are well received,
agricultural applications provoke near hysteria in Europe. People say they
don't even want a trace of genetic modification in their food, while at
the same time accepting insulin, interferon or other medical products made
by genetic modification.
There are many by-products of civilization we may, as individuals, not
want, but we are exposed to them anyway, like noise from airplanes, fumes
from cars and electromagnetic waves from telecommunication installations.
Zero tolerance is not possible for any of these and the same will hold in
future for the products of agricultural biotechnology. At present GM crops
are grown worldwide on about 60 million hectares, an area larger than the
whole surface of France.
The publication of results from the Farm Size Evaluations (FSE) of three
GM crops in Britain has stirred considerable controversy. Environmental
groups claimed that herbicide resistant GM crops reduced biodiversity,
however such a conclusion can only be reached by disregarding reality.
Essentially the FSEs showed that herbicides are efficient in controlling
weeds in the fields. Depending on the crop, the herbicide-tolerant GM
varieties, treated with herbicides, allowed the growth of more variable
amounts of weeds than the controls. Fewer weeds in a field result in fewer
insects, irrespective of whether the crops are GM or not: the reason being
that flowers and their seeds serve as food for insects and birds.
In general, herbicide tolerant crops allow for easier farm management, for
instance, without plowing. No-till farming is on the rise, since it
improves soil quality and helps prevent erosion. Farmers will have to
decide whether they want to produce food or butterflies. By increasing the
productivity per hectare through GM crops and other measures, farmers will
be able to set aside more land as temporary nature reserves.
Sustainability and productivity are both central goals of agriculture. The
question is not butterflies or food, but how can a farmer strike a balance
between maintaining biodiversity and producing food. GM crops offer a new
and valuable tool for solving this dilemma in a rational way.
Richard Braun (email@example.com) is Professor Emeritus of Microbiology
at the University of Berne and Chairman of the Task Group on Public
Perceptions of Biotechnology, European Federation of Biotechnology.
Pushing Delta corn yields
Nov 13 2003
By Elton Robinson
NEWELLTON, La. -- New genetics and Bt technology are helping farmer Jay
Hardwick achieve Midwest-like yields in corn production.
During most of the 1990s and early 2000s, Hardwick gave most of his
attention and acreage to cotton, and it's been rewarding. But recently, he
has began to realize that corn can be a good earner, sometimes better than
Hardwick has continued to increase his corn acreage since he began growing
it in 1987 and produced over 2,000 acres of corn this year. Meanwhile, he
reduced cotton acreage on Somerset Plantation, which is owned by his
wife's family, from 8,000 acres to 3,000 acres.
This season turned out to be a good one for corn production on the farm.
According to his yield monitors, Hardwick harvested 200-plus bushels on a
number of fields and 230 bushels on one.
Hardwick cites Bt technology for much of the yield increase and wasn't shy
about his requirements for corn seed. "When it comes to corn hybrids, I
don't want a thoroughbred, I want a kick-ass mule."
Hardwick planted YieldGard Corn Borer on a large number of acres this year
after the technology outyielded non-Bt corn by an average of 17 bushels an
acre in on-farm trials last year. "The yield difference wasn't as stellar
this year, but still ranged between 10 to 15 bushels more."
By field, yield increases from YG corn ranged from 5 to 40 more bushels
than non-Bt corn, according to Hardwick. "I think we've been ignorant
about the amount of damage done by the corn borer. When you plant
continuous corn, you get corn borer damage plus grass problems.
"Crop rotation was our only defense against corn borer before we got the
YieldGard corn," Hardwick added. "I think the corn borer can cost you up
to a 30 percent yield reduction, and this pest causes a lot of downed
Hardwick suggests that farmers devote 5 acres to making a comparison
between YG corn and a conventional corn hybrid. "Take yield measurements
from those 5 acres, and you can make an informed decision."
Pioneer is still the most popular hybrid in the region, noted Hardwick.
"But I wanted to investigate other genetic materials versus Pioneer's
known hybrids. DeKalb has made some great strides, and their lines have
done exceedingly well in my test plots."
Two varieties performed very well for Hardwick this growing season. The
230-bushel field was planted to DeKalb DKC69-70 (YGCB). The variety was
also the top overall performer on the farm.
Another DeKalb hybrid, DKC69-71 (RR2/YGCB), a Roundup Ready/YieldGard
stacked variety, averaged 140 to 150 bushels per acre "on my worse ground.
Our dryland corn yields this year were as good as our irrigated acres."
No-till is another key to pushing yield on Hardwick's ground, which is 85
percent Sharkey clay complex, and 15 percent silt loam. "Because of
no-till and the crop residue, we have a balanced mix of insects and
Hardwick doesn't use fungicides on any crops, but plants when temperatures
are ideal — which nearly always results in excellent stands. He works corn
and milo into a rotation with cotton to keep pythium- and
rhizoctonia-caused diseases under control. "Growing corn also boosts
cotton yields and can reduce populations of reniform nematodes by 50
Hardwick notes that the corn supply pipeline from the Midwest states is
usually dry when he's harvesting corn in August, and prices normally go up
under that scenario. "We have a surplus of time in August that can be
spent harvesting corn and getting corn ground ready for cotton. We do our
soil testing and any necessary land preparation then."
He added that WTO issues and China's appetite for corn are sure to create
more volatility in the marketplace, which is a positive for the U.S.
farmer. "You have to have volatility in the market to capitalize on
Hardwick will also try more twin-row planting in 2004, after a successful
attempt at the practice in 2003. "We plant twin rows on the same bed,
about 3 inches to either side of the bed. A twin row strip of DKC69-70
(YGCB) yielded 231 bushels on 3.6 acres this year. The remainder of the
field (77.7 acres), yielded 199.3 bushels. I'm also trying this twin row
approach with soybeans.
"I think there have been great strides in corn genetics and technology,"
Hardwick added. "We've exhausted our soil with continuous cotton crops.
Corn puts back organic matter and increases water-holding capacity. Both
cotton and corn yields benefit when one follows the other. The value of
corn is not just on the bushel level."
Hardwick also credits good technical support from his suppliers for his
increased yields and the decision to look at DeKalb hybrids. "I am the
limiting factor on this farming operation," he said. "I need to adapt to
technology, marketing and all the risk in the marketplace. And I need to
be more attentive to seed genetics."
UK SCIENTISTS REACT OVER GM DEBATE
Over 100 hundred scientists wrote to the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, to
express their disappointment at the handling of the national debate on
genetically modified (GM) crops. The group noted that media reports about
GM technology were misleading and not corrected. Large scale trials of GM
crops recently concluded that two out of the three varieties tested could
be more harmful to the environment than conventional varieties; however
the scientists claim that the GM debate has not given them a fair chance
to express their views.
Meanwhile, Prime Minster Tony Blair sent a response to the letter from the
UK scientists. He said that “science and technology are vital to the
country's future prosperity and that we need to ensure that the UK
continues to be one of the top countries in the world for scientific
research.” He noted that the reason why the government had not yet made a
formal response to the results of the farm-scale evaluations is that they
were still waiting to hear the assessment of the Advisory Committee on
Releases to the Environment.
For more on this, visit:
BT COTTON REDUCES PESTICIDE USE IN ARGENTINA
A farm survey in Argentina reveals that using Bt cotton led to a
considerable decline in pesticide application rates. The adopting farmers
used 50% less insecticides on their Bt plots than they used on plots grown
with conventional cotton. Farmers not only significantly reduced use of
highly toxic chemicals but also benefited from concomitant positive
effects on the environment and individual health. Moreover, Bt adopters
benefited from significantly higher yields. Matin Qaim and Alain de Janvry
of the University of Bonn and the University of California, respectively,
gave these findings during the 7th International Conference of the
International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR) in
In an international comparison, the authors noted that Argentine cotton
producers use relatively little amounts of pesticides, so the yield gains
of Bt cotton are higher than in many other countries. Their econometric
estimates demonstrate that average insecticide application rates in
conventional cotton would need to be doubled, in order to achieve the same
output per hectare as with Bt technology.
The full paper including others presented during the conference can be
viewed online at
ACCURATE MAPPING OF ARABIDOPSIS REVEALS NEW GENES
Researchers at the University of California and the Salk Institute have
accurately mapped nearly 6,000 genes in Arabidopsis and in the process
discovered 3300 new genes. The achievement should assist the development
of genetically modified crops that can grow faster, produce more food and
The project revealed some shortcomings of computer-based gene prediction
programs, including those that have been used to sequence the human genome
and Arabidopsis. The researchers said that computer algorithms could not
always distinguish whether a piece of code corresponds to a single gene or
two overlapping genes. In addition, while the programs have become
increasingly accurate in recent years, the computer programs may still put
genes' parts in the wrong places, find genes that aren't really there, or
miss genes altogether. As such an initial sequence of a genome is a
"best-estimate" line-up of transcription units.
The study, which appears in the Oct. 31 issue of Science reveals the
existence of nearly 6,000 genes, about one-third of the genes that exist
in Arabidopsis. "Arabidopsis has all the genes a plant needs," said Joe
Ecker, Salk professor of plant biology. "All flowering plants are closely
related, and so the genes that encode various traits are also shared. It's
possible, then, to take a gene for flowering from Arabidopsis and insert
it into rice or poplar, and have that gene function."
Ecker and Athanasios Theologis of the University of California are the
principal project investigators which includes a team of 72 scientists
from nine institutions in the United States and Japan.
Contact Joe Ecker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LESS WAITING TIME TO DETERMINE IF APPLE TREE'S A DWARF
Scientists from the Agricultural Research Service of the US Department of
Agriculture have significantly reduced the time to determine if an apple
tree will grow to be a dwarf and resist diseases. Through gene mapping,
Genarro Fazio and H. Todd Holleran of the ARS Plant Genetic Resources Unit
in New York, have discovered the genetic inheritance of the dwarfing
characteristic in apple tree roots, also known as rootstocks.
The discovery can help researchers find molecular markers that can help
identify dwarf varieties, as well as positive and negative traits within
those varieties, early in their development. Currently, a tree must grow
for about 12 years before growers can tell whether it's a dwarf.
Fazio says the ability to read genetic markers may cut these evaluation
times in half. In addition, further understanding of the workings of the
genetic inheritance gene may make it possible to transfer the knowledge to
other tree fruit systems.
More on this research in the November issue of Agricultural Research
magazine, available online at:
Study Links Pesticides with Parkinson's Disease
November 14, 2003
The pesticide rotenone has been shown to cause cell damage that is linked
to Parkinson's disease (PD). Now, new lab research indicates that other
pesticides can also cause this damage and some are even more toxic than
However, there is no cause for general concern, since the way the
pesticides were tested doesn't really reflect the way they're found in the
"In an earlier study, we had shown that rotenone produces PD-like symptoms
and features in rats," lead author Dr. Todd B. Sherer told Reuters Health.
"However, rotenone really isn't used that commonly in the environment. So,
in the current study, we wanted to see if other pesticides produce the
same type of (cell) damage as rotenone."
The new findings were presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in
In the study, Sherer and colleagues, from Emory University in Atlanta,
tested several pesticides in the lab to see if they damage cells as
rotenone does. The pesticides included pyridaben, fenazaquin, and
With the possible exception of fenazaquin, all of the agents caused cell
damage similar to that seen with rotenone. In fact, one
agent--pyridaben--was even more toxic than rotenone. "Fenazaquin was only
toxic at very high doses," Sherer noted.
These pesticides may therefore also lead to Parkinson's disease, Sherer
said. "Based on the current findings, we plan on testing pyridaben's
effects in an animal study like we did with rotenone."
Still, these findings are "really just a proof of principle and they
shouldn't cause any major concern regarding the use of these pesticides,"
Sherer emphasized. "The way people are exposed to these chemicals is much
different than the lab setting."