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Date:

April 11, 2004

Subject:

Consumer, the King; Controversial Grass; Assessing Safety; Resisting Anti-GM Lobby; Unwise, Unscientific, & Unnecessary Regulation; Rat Genes in Our Children; World Needs DDT; Self-interested Science

 

Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - April 12, 2004:

* Success of GM Crops Depends on Consumers
* Most Controversial Grass - and It's Not Marijuana
* Nutrition and Safety Assessment of Biotech Foods
* Farmers, Scientists Urge Government to Resist Anti-GMO Lobby
* Unwise, Unscientific, & Unnecessary: Biotech Regulation in US
* Domestication has Made Cassava 'Nutrient Poor'
* Policy For GMOs in Tanzania?
* Bokanga, New Director of Africa Ag Tech Foundation
* Plant Biology Society Offers Free Access to Science Journals
* Could GM Plants Provide Edible Vaccines for Diabetes?
* Role of Crop Protection: Safeguarding Against Losses
* Beware - Rat Genes in Our Children!
* What the World Needs Now Is DDT
* Sounds of Self-interested Silence
* Environmentalists Now Attempt to Use Humor
--

Success of Genetically Modified Crops Depends on Consumers

- Ed Howard, Nebraska State Paper, April 12, 2004 http://nebraska.statepaper.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2004/04/12/407a94c0a841c

Farmers may embrace it. Companies can invest billions. But the ultimate fate of agricultural biotechnology hinges on consumers.

Consumer acceptance and demand depend largely on whether people think this technology benefits them and whether they believe foods made from genetically modified, or GM, crops differ from traditional products, said Konstantinos Giannakas. The University of Nebraska agricultural economist has extensively studied the economic ramifications of ag biotechnology for consumers, producers and biotech companies.

"My research looks at the market and welfare effects of introducing genetically modified products into the food system," he said. His economic analysis provides a clearer picture of what's likely to happen to GM products in the marketplace under different regulatory and labeling scenarios. Overall, he found that consumer attitudes toward GM food and their influence on public policy will significantly affect demand for GM products throughout the food system. "This will affect farmers' decisions on which crops to grow, as well as life science companies' decisions on pricing and developing GM technologies," the university's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources economist said.

Giannakas' analysis indicates that imposing mandatory labeling in the United States could increase costs to segregate GM and non-GM products during processing. That ultimately could boost consumer food prices. Labeled or not, if consumers believe GM products differ from traditional foods, they may conclude that introducing GM crops lowers their utility and some consumers may prefer to see them banned, he found. "This has important implications for GM product regulation and agricultural research and development activity," Giannakas said.

The distribution of benefits from agricultural biotechnology also affects the market potential of this technology. First-generation biotech products such as crops that produce their own insect-beating toxins and soybeans that withstand herbicide spraying primarily benefit farmers and biotech companies, he said. GM crops are used to produce food products but consumers so far haven't enjoyed cost savings or other direct benefits, he found. And some people have health, environmental, moral or ethical concerns about this technology.

Benefits and concerns may shift as a new generation of consumer-focused biotech products emerges. Foods with enhanced nutritional properties or health products made from GM crops are likely to boost consumer appeal "My analysis reveals the potential for significant benefits from the introduction of consumer-oriented GM products for consumer welfare as well as for the market acceptance and growth of agricultural biotechnology," he said.

If these second-generation products really take off with consumers, they also could trigger some surprising consequences, Giannakas discovered. "They might eliminate similar conventional and first-generation GM products and jeopardize the prospects for fast-growing organic agriculture," he said.

While many Europeans strongly oppose GM foods and the European Union requires mandatory GM food labeling, Americans generally are more accepting. "The major difference is that American consumers trust the food safety and inspection systems that are in place," he said. "Europeans do not trust their system."

Since Europe is a major player in the world market, "what happens in Europe in terms of regulations and consumer demand has a direct effect on Nebraska producers." While U.S. consumers are less critical of GM products, their introduction and regulation are likely to continue to create conflicts of interest among growers, companies and consumers.

Consumers, ag producers and biotech companies seldom agree on the regulation and labeling of GM products, he found. "It certainly implies that the introduction of GM technologies is likely to result in a conflict between consumers, producers and life science companies," he said. This has implications for regulating GM products and contributes to regulatory uncertainties that influence companies' research spending.

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Most Controversial Grass -- and It's Not Marijuana

- Rukmini Callimachi, Associated Press, April 12, 2004

'Environmentalists are against bioengineered turf that could resist weed-killing chemical'

GERVAIS, Ore. -- In an unmarked site on the edges of this community of berry farmers, Bob Harriman puts one foot on the world's most controversial grass. It's a blanket of brilliant green -- as thin as a piece of paper and as uniform as cellophane. If it sounds unnatural, that's because it is.

The turf is a genetically modified version of the creeping bentgrass popular on golf course greens and fairways, and it is being tested here by Scotts Co., which hopes its creation will be resistant to a common weed-killing chemical. Scotts keeps the test site incognito because environmentalists are trying to ban the bioengineered grass -- and radical groups have gone so far as to sabotage test plots elsewhere.

But while environmentalists have long opposed bioengineered crops of any kind, this silky turf has other powerful voices urging caution: the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. "Our concern is that if it was to escape onto public land, we wouldn't know how to control it," says Gina Ramos, senior weed specialist for the Bureau of Land Management. Her words conjure an image of a golf course gone berserk -- a state park, for example, blanketed in acres of perfect putting green turf, with no biodiversity.

Harriman, Scotts' chief research scientist, counters that numerous studies by the company indicate the grass is unlikely to spread. The grass seeds are dispersed by flowering blossoms -- but the closely shorn turf on a golf course is never allowed to grow tall enough to flower.

The natural version of creeping bentgrass is the perfect surface for a golf ball because as its name suggests, it "creeps" -- growing in a smooth horizontal plane. But, as Harriman points out, kneeling to stroke a patch adjoining the bentgrass test site, the silky smoothness can get interrupted by a coarse weed -- a yellow grass that grows vertically in bunches, like an artichoke.

On a putting green that acts as a speed bump, deflecting the ball and frustrating even the most talented golfer. "Tiger Woods hates this stuff," Harriman says. The problem is that trying to kill the weed with an herbicide, such as Monsanto Co.'s Roundup, would also kill the creeping bentgrass.

The grass tested here is engineered to be resistant to Roundup. A superintendent who seeds his putting green with this grass will be able to spray it at will -- and only the yellow weed will shrivel and die, leaving the velveteen bentgrass. That would be a golf course superintendent's dream. Of the 15,000 courses in the United States, only the most elite can afford to wipe out the yellow weed, either by fumigating the entire green, or else handpicking the clumps.

The bioengineered grass is now in the final stages of approval. Public comment ended in March. Among the opponents were environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy, which have long spoken out against bioengineering. The United States Golf Association has came out in favor of the biotech grass. After all, 60 different bioengineered crops have received federal approval -- including tomatoes, corn, soybean, canola, potatoes and papaya trees.

"The irony is, you're cooking your french fries in oil that's genetically engineered," says Stanley Zontek, a regional manager with the golf association. But the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service have urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to delay approval for the turf in order to do more research on its potential impact.

"What we're saying is let's be very careful until its proven that its not going to do the things we're concerned about -- like take over," says Jim Gladen, director of the Forest Service's watershed, fish, wildlife, air and rare plants division.

At the Bureau of Land Management, Ramos stresses that because the grass is resistant to Roundup, it's unclear how it could be kept in check if it were to escape the confines of a golf course. "Our budget is already strained trying to control invasive species -- having one more will really be difficult for us," she says.

Those words of caution from federal agencies have taken some by surprise.
"I've never seen it happen before," says Peter Jenkins, policy analyst for the International Center for Technology Assessment, which advocates for limits on genetic engineering.

Other government voices that have joined the chorus of caution include the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Fish and Game, as well as experts with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Since the introduction of the first genetically modified tomato a decade ago, bioengineering has been fraught with controversy. Four years ago, a group dubbing itself the Anarchist Golfing Association broke into a seed research facility in Portland, Ore., and stomped on experimental plots, then spray-painted the walls with the slogan, "Nature Bites Back." In 2000, biotech saboteurs struck more than 20 times in the United States, including burning the landmark Agriculture Hall at the University of Michigan.

Such attacks make biotech companies nervous, but they are not abandoning their testing. Oregon farmers hand-picked by Marysville, Ohio-based Scotts are growing nearly 400 acres of biotech grass in Madras, a three-hour's drive from Gervais. "We've been here since the 1970s. It would be un-American to be scared away," Harriman says. "Why a new use of a safe technology should cause controversy is beyond me."

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Nutritional and Safety Assessments of Foods and Feeds Nutritionally Improved through Biotechnology 

-- Task Force of the ILSI International Food Biotechnology Committee 
    
Download the entire paper at http://www.ift.org/cms/?pid=1000362

The global demand for food is increasing because of the growing world population. At the same time, availability of arable land is shrinking. Traditional plant breeding methods have made and will continue to make important contributions toward meeting the need for more food. In many areas of the world, however, the problem is food quality. There may be enough energy available from food, but the staple foods lack certain essential nutrients. In the developed world, demand for 'functional foods' (that is, foods that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition) is increasing. Nutritional improvements in foods could help to meet both of these demands for improved food quality.

Modern agricultural biotechnology, which involves the application of cellular and molecular techniques to transfer DNA that encodes a desired trait to food and feed crops, is proving to be a powerful complement to traditional methods to meet global food requirements. An important aspect of biotechnology is that it provides access to a broad array of traits that can help meet this need for nutritionally improved cultivars. The new varieties developed through modern biotechnology have been identified by a number of terms, including genetically modified (GM or GMO), genetically engineered (GE or GEO), transgenic, biotech, recombinant, and plants with novel traits (PNTs).

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Farmers, Scientists Urge Government to Resist Anti-GMO Lobby

- Philippine Star, April 9, 2004 http://www.philstar.com/philstar/index.htm

Leading Filipino scientists and farmer organizations recently called on the government "to resist a new wave of pressure from anti-GMO lobbyists who are on an apparent campaign to derail the country’s bid for food sufficiency".
   
The leaders said the recent botched attempt by foreign anti-GMO lobbyists to link ailments among local tribesmen to genetically-modified corn crops may be a sign that the government policy on biotechnology "may not have been beneficial to some foreign business interests."

The Arroyo government adopted the use of biotechnology in 2002 in a bid to improve farm productivity while reducing the need for chemical applications. It also approved the domestic propagation of the high-yielding Bt corn variety following field test results that it can raise production by up to 40 percent with less chemical insecticide application. The policy, however, was opposed by Europe-based groups.

Recently, Filipino scientists and farmers groups have questioned allegations by Norwegian anti-GMO campaigner Terje Traavik that certain respiratory ailments among B’laan tribesmen in Mindanao were caused by the high-yielding pest-resistant Bt corn variety. Health officials also belied the claims. Leading Filipino scientist and University of the Philippines medical expert Nina Barzaga urged Traavik to desist from "engaging in a scare campaign unless his claims can be substantiated using scientific methodology".

Barzaga said the allegations need to be evaluated "based on the principles of immunology and immunobiology." Barzaga is a professor of medical microbiology and microbial immunology at the University of the Philippines in Manila.

Farmer-leader Edwin Paraluman, chairman of the Agricultural and Fisheries Council of General Santos City, and of the Provincial Farmers Action Council of South Cotabato, meanwhile, urged the government ‘to pursue the biotechnology-based strategy for food security". He said the agricultural officials "must not succumb to the perennial campaign by anti-GMO groups to derail the country’s bid for food sufficiency."

Paraluman said "with dwindling farmlands, the need for a scientific approach to agriculture has become even more important". He also said the use of biotechnology-processed plant varieties, including Bt corn, "liberates farmers from our age-old bondage to toxic chemical insecticides". Bt corn reportedly significantly reduces or eliminates the use of chemicals pesticides since it is naturally resistant to the Asiatic corn borer, the biggest plague of corn farms in the Philippines.

The other scientist groups that supported the government’s adoption of biotechnology were the Women Association of Scientists in the Philippines, The Philippine Association for the Advancement of Crop Science and Technology, the Crop Science Society of the Philippines and the Biochemical Society of the Philippines. It was also backed by the Philippine Maize Federation, the country’s biggest organization of corn farmers.

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Unwise, Unscientific, Expensive, Flawed, Unnecessary and Anti-innovative: Biotech Regulation in US

- Henry Miller: Comments on proposed revisions to USDA regulations: Environmental Impact Statement; Introduction of Genetically Engineered Organisms

Biotechnology regulation in the United States - at the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), as well as at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -- is unscientific, un-cost-effective, damaging to American innovation and to consumers’ ability to choose among products in the marketplace, and harmful to the environment. In addition, flawed U.S. domestic regulation vitiates the ability of U.S. negotiators, in forums such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission, to insist upon science-based regulation internationally.

Not only does this regulatory approach - which focuses specifically on products made with the most precise and predictable techniques -- violate the principle that the degree of regulation should be commensurate with the perceived degree of risk posed by a product or activity, but as discussed below, they are arguably inversely related to risk. The approach to regulation taken by domestic regulatory agencies conflicts not only with scientific consensus and common sense, but also with official USG statements of the principles that should guide regulatory policy.

Those who are skeptical about the safety of plants, animals and microorganisms crafted with the newest gene-splicing techniques (and food and other products derived from them) - few of whom reside within the scientific community - gloss over a fundamental point: Neither biotechnology nor genetic engineering is new, and consumers, government and industry all have extensive – and positive -- experience with them. 

A primitive form of biotechnology -- the application of biological systems to technical or industrial processes --  dates back at least to 6000 B.C. when the Babylonians used specialized microorganisms in fermentation to brew alcoholic beverages.  And genetic engineering can be dated from man's recognition that animals and crop plants can be selected and bred to enhance desired characteristics.  In these applications, early biologists and agriculturists selected for desired physical traits, with poorly understood changes in the organisms’ genetic material occurring concomitantly.

Putting it another way, "nature" didn’t give us seedless grapes, the tangelo (a tangerine-grapefruit hybrid) or fungus-resistant strawberries: plant-breeding - by farmers, biologists and breeders -- did.

During the past half-century, better understanding of genetics at the molecular level has added to the sophistication of the genetic improvement of all manner of organisms.  The genetic engineering of wheat for human consumption – an important component of the "Green Revolution" - was recognized in 1970 with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. Norman Borlaug. 

These applications of "conventional" biotechnology, or genetic engineering, represent scientific, technological, commercial and humanitarian successes of monumental proportions.  However, the techniques used for these earlier successes were relatively crude and recently have been supplemented, and in many cases replaced by "the new biotechnology," a set of enabling techniques which make possible genetic modification at the molecular level.  The prototype of these techniques, variously called recombinant DNA technology, genetic modification (GM) or "gene-splicing," is a more precise, better understood, and more predictable method for altering genetic material than was possible previously. 

Thus, all that has changed since the demonstration of gene-splicing in the early 1970s is the technology of biotechnology. The new technology is at the same time more precise and predictable than its predecessors and yields more versatile and predictable products. The desired “product” of gene-splicing may be the engineered organism itself -- for example, bacteria to clean up oil spills, a weakened virus used as a vaccine, or a papaya tree that resists disease -- or it may be a biosynthetic product of the cells, such as human insulin produced in bacteria, or oil expressed from seeds.

An authoritative 1989 analysis of genetic technologies by the United States National Research Council summarized the scientific consensus: "With classical techniques of gene transfer, a variable number of genes can be transferred, the number depending on the mechanism of transfer; but predicting the precise number or the traits that have been transferred is difficult, and we cannot always predict the [traits] that will result. 
With organisms modified by molecular methods, we are in a better, if not perfect, position to predict [their traits]."

As discussed extensively in the attachments to these brief summary comments, other aspects of scientific consensus include:
* The newer molecular techniques for genetic improvement are an extension, or refinement, of earlier, far less precise ones;
* Adding genes to plants or microorganisms does not make them less safe either to the environment or to eat;
* The risks associated with gene-spliced organisms are the same in kind as those associated with conventionally-modified organisms and unmodified ones;
* Regulation should be based upon the risk-related characteristics of individual products, regardless of the techniques used in their development; and
* The evaluation of gene-spliced food does not require a fundamental change in established principles of food safety; or a different standard of safety.

Our experience with gene-spliced plants alone -- let alone with other genetically improved organisms over millennia - is impressive. They have for several years been grown worldwide on more than 100 million acres annually (approximately three-quarters of that in the United States), and more than 60 percent of processed foods in the United States contain ingredients derived from gene-spliced organisms.  There has not been a single mishap that resulted in injury to a single person or ecosystem. 
Thus, both theory and experience confirm the extraordinary predictability and safety of gene-splicing technology and its products - especially compared to the less precise and predictable techniques of "traditional" biotechnology.

However, gene-spliced products - in field testing, in the food supply and in other commercial applications - have been regulated in a discriminatory, unscientific and burdensome fashion, by USDA/APHIS, EPA’s Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances, and FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Nutrition. These hugely intrusive and expensive oversight regimes have violated one of the basic tenets of regulation - that the degree of oversight should be commensurate with risk.  In fact, arguably, oversight has been inversely related to risk. 

U.S. regulatory agencies have for more than a decade and half applied to biotechnology regulation what might be called "The Emperor’s New Clothes" school of rule-making. No matter how unscientific, unwise, unnecessary or anti-innovative the regulatory proposal, the process gains legitimacy as regulators negotiate step after bureaucratic step according to specified rules – holding public meetings, publishing announcements in the Federal Register, analyzing public comments, and so forth – with everyone pretending that the evolution and substance of the document makes sense. 

Although the regulations have attained legitimacy of sorts, by being produced according to the required procedures, the resultant policy has been profoundly unscientific and contrary to the public interest.  (If OMB were to calculate cost-benefit as it has done in the past, the cost of these regulations per premature death prevented, or ecosystem damage prevented, would be astronomical, inasmuch as the denominator approaches
zero.)  The fundamental assumption that underlies the regulatory approach of USDA (and EPA and FDA) – namely, that scientific justification can be found for oversight regimes focused on the "pseudo-category" of organisms or other products modified by gene-splicing techniques -- is flawed and contrary to a broad-based and long-standing scientific consensus (vide supra).

It should be emphasized that with the above mentioned elements of scientific consensus transgressed - as they are in fundamental ways at federal regulatory agencies including APHIS - one cannot arrive at a paradigm that makes sense and offers meaningful protection against bona fide risks.  In other words, in spite of regulators’ remonstrations to the contrary, one cannot adopt a scope of regulated products that is absurd, apply a "scientific process" to their evaluation, and hope to emerge with a result that has integrity.

Moreover, it should be noted that the chosen scope of the document is incompatible with the part of the United States’ federal framework that is supposed to guide regulatory approaches to products derived from gene-spliced organisms.  That guidance is contained in a 1992 statement of policy from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, "Exercise of Federal Oversight Within Scope of Statutory Authority: Planned Introductions of Biotechnology Products into the Environment," which describes "a risk-based, scientifically sound approach to the oversight of planned introductions of biotechnology products into the environment that focuses on the characteristics of the ... product and the environment into which it is being introduced, not the process by which the product is created. Exercise of oversight in the scope of discretion afforded by statute should be based on the risk posed by the introduction and should not turn on the fact that an organism has been modified by a particular process or technique."

In short, official U.S. dictates unequivocally that merely the use of gene-splicing techniques is not an appropriate trigger for oversight – and yet federal oversight commonly employs that trigger, for expansive (and
expensive) regulatory regimes.

It is clear that the scientific community does not consider gene-spliced organisms or components of such organisms to be a meaningful category. Consider, for example, some recent Gordon Research Conferences and the individual sessions within them.  One entire conference was devoted to "Bacterial Cell Surfaces."  None of the sessions addresses gene-spliced organisms specifically; rather, they are concerned with subjects like "protein secretion" and "cell-cell communication" whether gene-spliced or not.  Similarly, another conference on "Microbial Toxins and Pathogenicity" does not designate special sessions for gene-spliced organisms or sub-cellular constituents, although gene-splicing is used routinely for the research described in sessions like "Bacterial Cell Biology and Pathogenesis" and "Bacterial and Host Gene Regulation during Infection." Finally, during the dozens of presentations at the the conference on "Chemistry and Biology of Peptides," not one was limited to the "category" of gene-spliced peptides. This should be instructive: proteins, cells, and foods produced solely by gene-spliced microorganisms are not meaningful categories.

The existing regulatory policies for biotechnology products at APHIS and other agencies are wasteful in terms both of direct and indirect costs. These regulations are not only hugely expensive to comply with - field trials of a gene-spliced plant can be 10-20 times more expensive than trials with a virtually identical plant crafted with less precise, less predictable techniques; and EPA-regulated plants must undergo pesticide registration - but the bureaucracies created to implement this regulation are massive.  One need only search for 'biotechnology' on the agencies' web-sites to identify the vast, and arguably unnecessary, bureaucracies.  (There is no evidence that the regulatory mechanisms in place to oversee "traditional" biotechnology would not also have been sufficient for products made with the more precise and predictable gene-splicing techniques.)

In summary, the regressive, overly burdensome and unscientific policies toward biotechnology at U.S. regulatory agencies have damaged innovation, destroyed entire sectors of R&D (e.g., microbial, "biorational"
pesticides) and inhibited others (e.g., agricultural biotechnology applied to subsistence and non-commodity crops), and encouraged similarly flawed regulation internationally.  Because these approaches are becoming progressively entrenched at organizations such as the agencies of the United Nations, they will be difficult to rationalize, but if irreparable, long-term repercussions are to be avoided, APHIS and other regulatory agencies must revise their policies to comply with the 1992 OSTP policy statement cited above - in other words, to adopt regulatory policies that make scientific and common sense. The perpetuation of the status quo will continue to inhibit innovation, reduce consumer choice, and make a mockery of the ideal of science as the basis for public policy.

Sincerely yours, Henry I. Miller, MD, Fellow, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University

**********
From Prakash:

You may please send your input to APHIS by April 13, 2004.

Comments can be emailed to APHIS at . Email messages should include the name and address of the sender in the message and the subject line should be "Docket No. 03-031-2" Comments also can be provided via the APHIS web site at: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppd/rad/cominst.html

Please read the comments prepared by Drs. Steven Strauss, Scott Merkle and Wayne Parrott and co-signed by over 60 scientists who work on crop transformations in an academic setting a http://www.cropsoil.uga.edu/~parrottlab/APHIS

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Biofortification of Cassava - Domestication has Made it 'Nutrient Poor'

- Nagib Nassar , Professor, Universidade de brasilia

Greetings from Brasilia. This message has reference to what Agbioview published concerning a recent project financed by Bill Gates foundation where a generous donation of 25 million dollars given to IFPRI, CGIAR (future harvest). It aims to improve micronutrients contents in cassava to avoid infant and child malnutrition in poor countries. The improvement of micronutrient content is to be  carried out  by screening germplasm of common clones and selecting those which are supposed to be rich in zinc and iron.  I wish though to bring to your attention some of my experience in this field. First kindly visit my site on the subject
http://www.geneconserve.pro.br
 
What I think important to expose is: Looking for micronutrients, iron and zinc in cultivated cassava will not bring positive results at all, simply because genes of these characters have been eliminated on the years by farmers and indigenous people through process of domestication. Those clones which contain high iron and zinc have no favoured flavour or smell and were not adopted by cultivators, consequently their genes eliminated. They are no more exist in the gene pool of present cassava clones.

However, they do exist in wild cassavas and may be transferred to the cultigen through interspecific hybridization (see my article in the same
site: Nutritive value of cassava interspecific hybrid, and,  the article
entitled: UnB 033 an interesting cassava hybrid , where I reached by interspecific hybridization a productive hybrid contains 5 times zinc! 3 times iron ! and double Carotene.
 
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Policy For GMOs in Tanzania?

http://www.agbiotechnet.com/

The Tanzanian government is said to be drafting a policy on genetically modified crops in readiness for adoption of the technology. According to reports in The EastAfrican newspaper, a multi-sector selection of Tanzanian experts will be drafting the policy guidelines and regulations in order to safeguard and equip the nation with the necessary precautions.

Tanzania’s Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, Charles Keenja, said in Dar es Salaam last week that the country had taken "no clear position" on GM products to date. "We cannot avoid this technology, but what’s important is to put in place mechanisms and guidelines on how it would be introduced, including preparing a Cabinet paper for the purpose," he said.

Keenja said Tanzania was at an advanced stage in discussions with the South African government over how to adopt GM technology, "We have a similar environment and they possess advanced laboratories for research on GM organisms," he said, adding that Tanzania was also considering consulting with India and China.

Keenja said Tanzania was not in dire need of adopting GMOs immediately because, "As of now we are self-reliant for over 90 per cent of our food, but by going about this issue systematically and critically, we would in future reach a point where we will decide on how to adopt GMOs. "

"There are legal issues, intellectual property rights and organs to be put in place or consulted before GM seeds go commercial," said Joe Kabissa, the Director General of the Tanzania Cotton Lint and Seed board. He said that in Africa, only South Africa uses GM seeds, with the DPL South African Company enjoying a monopoly over dealings with such seeds in the continent. "I am optimistic over the introduction of GMOs because research has shown that there are some advantages in using them if we are to overcome some of our agricultural problems," he said.

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Mpoko Bokanga To Be Executive Director of AATF

- http://www.agbiotechnet.com , April 6, 2004

Mpoko Bokanga has been appointed the first Executive Director of the Nairobi-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), the new organisation whose aim is to access royalty free agricultural technologies for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Announcing the interview results presented by the Search Committee, Jennifer Ann Thomson, the Board Chair, said that Bokanga will assume office on June 14, 2004, taking over from Eugene Terry, the Foundation's Implementing Director, who has been responsible for the Foundation's start-up and its activities since July 2002.

Bokanga is a food scientist with a masters degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a doctorate from Cornell University both in the USA. While at IITA Bokanga developed technologies for processing cassava into new products which were deployed in over a dozen African countries among them Benin, Chad, Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria, Tanzania and Togo. He was instrumental in the formation of the Working Group on Cassava Safety (WOCAS) in 1994, a sub-committee of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC) whose function was to monitor the progress made in the understanding and handling of issues related to cassava safety due to the cyanogenesis of the cassava crop.

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American Society of Plant Biologists Offers Developing Nations Free Access to Science Journals

ROCKVILLE, MD - The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) announced today that it is offering scientists in nearly 70 poor nations free access to its plant science journals: Plant Physiology and The Plant Cell.
 
ASPB is participating in Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA), which is an initiative to provide free or low-cost access to over 400 major scientific journals in agriculture and related biological, environmental, and social sciences to public institutions in developing countries.

ASPB is a non-profit society of nearly 6,000 plant scientists. Founded in 1924, ASPB is headquartered in Rockville, Maryland. For more information on ASPB, visit the ASPB web site at http://www.aspb.org For more information on AGORA, visit http://www.aginternetwork.org/en/

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Could GM Plants Provide Edible Vaccines for Diabetes?

http://www.agbiotechnet.com/, April 1, 2004

A team of scientists from Canada is reporting a breakthrough in preventing Type I diabetes in mice, through oral tolerance therapy using proteins made in genetically engineered plants.

Induction of specific immunological unresponsiveness by feeding protein antigens is termed oral tolerance and may be a potential therapy for autoimmune diseases such as diabetes. Whereas oral tolerance therapy may be both simple and effective, the very large amounts of protein required can limit clinical trials. Now scientists working in London, Ontario, have shown that transgenic plants can be utilised as molecular factories to produce large amounts of therapeutic proteins which remain biologically active when orally administered.

In work published online in the 31 March early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists report that they were able to prevent mice that are prone to diabetes from developing the disease, by feeding them proteins made by insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Anthony Jevnikar, program director of transplantation, immunity and regenerative medicine at the Lawson Health Research Institute, said the proteins fed to the mice, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), are thought to be a trigger factor for Type I diabetes, which is caused by the body's immune system damaging insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. When the proteins are part of the diet, the immune system is reprogrammed not to attack the cells, the mechanism known as oral immune tolerance. Jevnikar said, "There is no other group in the world that has this approach or is as advanced as we are in this area."

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Safeguarding Production -- Losses in Major Crops and the Role of Crop Protection

- E.-C. Oerke, H.-W. Dehne, Crop Protection 23 (2004) 275-285 (Institute for Plant Diseases, University of Bonn, Bonn 53115, Germany)

It is well accepted that agricultural production must be increased considerably in the foreseeable future to meet the food and feed demands of a rising human population and increasing livestock production. Crop protection plays a key role in safeguarding crop productivity against competition from weeds, animal pests, pathogens and viruses. The loss potential of these pest groups and the actual losses -- i.e. losses despite the present crop protection practices--have been estimated for wheat, rice, maize, barley, potatoes, soybeans, sugar beet and cotton for the period 1996–1998 on a regional basis for 17 regions.

Among crops the loss potential of pests worldwide varied from less than 50% (on barley) to more than 80% (on sugar beet and cotton). Actual losses are estimated at 26–30% for sugar beet, barley, soybean, wheat and cotton, and 35%, 39% and 40% for maize, potatoes and rice, respectively. Overall, weeds had the highest loss potential (32%) with animal pests and pathogens being less important (18% and 15%, respectively). Although viruses cause serious problems in potatoes and sugar beets in some areas, worldwide losses due to viruses averaged 6 - 7% on these crops and 1 - 3% in other crops. The efficacy of crop protection was highest in cash crops (53 -
68%) and lower (43–50%) in food crops. The variation coefficient of efficacy among regions was low in cash crops (12 -18%) and highest in wheat (28%).

As weed control can be achieved through mechanical or chemical means, worldwide efficacy in weed control (68%) was considerably higher than the control of animal pests or diseases (39% and 32%, respectively), which relies heavily on pesticides. The intensification of crop production necessary to meet the increasing demand through enhanced productivity per unit area might be impossible without a concomitant intensification of pest control. The perspectives of integrated pest management in safeguarding crop production and preventing negative effects on the environment are discussed for developing and developed countries.

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Beware - Rat Genes in Our Children!

- Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D., AgBioView, April 1, 2004 http://www.agbioworld.org (Professor of Economics, University of Houston) (From Prakash: Sorry that I missed sending it out on April Fool's Day!)

The April 1st issue of Nature carried the frightening discovery that in sequencing the rat genome, it was "revealed" that rats have about 25,000 genes and that "around 90% of these have matches in the mouse and man" (Pilcher 2004). Imagine, 90% of the rat's genes are human and a comparable but a bit lower percentage of the human genome (our genome is larger) is composed of rat genes. Oh the horror!! Rat genes in our children!

Given that the cover date for the Nature issue was also the date renown for scientific surveys of various and sundry types, I thought that I would conduct a survey of some of the pillars of anti-modernity on their reaction to this finding. If there are those who believe that tomatoes don't have genes unless biotechnologist add them, then certainly rat genes in humans would be of major concern. Who put them there? And circa 22,000 (90% of 25,000) rat genes in humans should raise the ire of those who are worried about non-existent rat genes in tom atoes.

Being that this is the day of all days for surveys, I miraculously was receiving replies to my request for a reaction to the finding of rat genes in humans even before I composed my question. The following is a sample of the responses:

Vandana Shiva - "BIOPIRACY"!!

George Monbiot - "Now I know why I distrust humans. It has been downhill ever since humans learned to control fire."

John Vidal blames the Green Revolution and predicts even worse with transgenic food crops.

David Quist and Ignacio Chapela found evidence that rat DNA had introgressed into maize landraces and teosinte in Oaxaca and Morelos. In a confidential memo they conceded that the NGO midnight purification rituals in the maize fields may have gone a bit too far - hey fellows, save the seed.

Craig Sams announced the creation of Whole Earth Organic fertility clinics to produce wholesome children without rat genes. DNA-free-children is the long-term objective to be weaned on pure DNA-free goats milk from bloviating José Bové‚s herd.

Jane Rissler doing her patented Rumpelstiltskin imitation, stomped and definitively declared that since this was such a widespread phenomenon, how could we ever be able to identify the dangers without labeling. She admitted that even with labeling, there might be a problem in identifying the dangers.

Dr. Joe Cummins blames an unnamed UC Davis researcher.

Dr. Douglas Parr recalled the Brent Spar incident and blamed Shell Oil for this travesty.

Arpad Pusztai was preparing for a press conference to announce his statistically insignificant findings of danger from rat genes in his not yet completed study. Even before his press conference began, Greenpeace was proclaiming a cover-up and demanding that Pusztai's findings be published in a leading medical journal lest the public be led to believe that a conspiracy of scientists wanted to hide something from the public.

Hope Shand was working on a term for rat genes in humans along with a slogan that was guaranteed to completely obfuscate the issue and totally terminate any possibility for rational discussion. Her partner in ETC (nee RAFI), Pat Roy Mooney had already contacted his fund providers in the Scandinavian aid organizations to push for a special UN meeting in which Pat Roy Mooney would be the only authorized guest in attendance.

Percy Schmeiser declared that rat genes were the result of spilt seeds. For once everyone believed him. He was relieved to learn that Monsanto did not own them.

Mendocino County, California where a referendum defining DNA as a complex protein just recently passed, is now preparing a referendum making it illegal for anyone with rat genes to die in Mendocino County so as to prevent the contamination of the local cemeteries. Mae-Won Ho was in the county campaigning for it expressing concern about horizontal gene transfer from the cemetery to the crops in the field - rat genes in our tomatoes or even worse, in our wine grapes. Dr. E. Anne Clark was also there lecturing on the stability of the maize gen ome and the instability wrought by transgenics. A local resolution declared that Barbara McClintock was wrong and that the her Nobel Prize should be withdrawn and awarded to Jane Clark.

Barry Commoner continuing his 50 year dissatisfaction with Watson and Crick and about everyone else since 1953, declared that this finding once again refuted the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology but he had not yet figured out how it did so. Another Mendocino County resolution was passed demanding the couple of dozen Nobel awards for DNA research all be withdrawn and be awarded to Commoner. He graciously and modestly accepted.

Charles Margulis was demanding regulation and blaming the biotechnologists for the lack of it.

A Eurobarometer poll found that 99.99% of Europeans do not want to share their genes with rats.

Greenpeace was demanding a moratorium on all reproduction. When asked when it would be allowed to resume, they succinctly answered - NEVER!! This greatly pleased the Earth Firster that thought that it was a workable way to eliminate humans and save the ecosystem. This is also known as the Lysistrata strategy and works as longs as there are no backsliders. The slogan - SAVE THE SEED - took on a whole new meaning.

Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth was demanding labeling and working with the European Commission to draft provisions for it. The Precautionary Principle was invoked lest this situation get out of hand.

An unidentified voice out of the night wind blamed it all on the Pied Piper - that dirty old man!

Dr. Peter Rossett re-iterated his oft-repeated claim that small units are more efficient than bigger ones.

PETA had far greater concerns about a secret scientific conspiracy that they had uncovered. It was a project to turn donkeys into livestock for eating by inserting onion genes in them. It was said that a piece of one of these donkeys was so good that it brought tears to your eyes.

I awoke with tears in my eyes and completed my survey. I will wait exactly one year to conduct a follow-up.

- Tom DeGregori
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Pilcher, Helen R. 2004. Rat Genome Unveiled: Deciphered DNA Will Boost Medical Research. Nature 428(6982):451, 1 April.

Rat Genome Sequencing Project Consortium. 2004. Genome Sequence of the Brown Norway Rat Yields Insights Into Mammalian Evolution, Nature 428(6982):493-521, 1 April.

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What the World Needs Now Is DDT

- Tina Rosenberg, The New York Times Magazine
April 11, 2004, Full article http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/11/magazine/11DDT.html

(Forwarded by: Tom DeGregori : Along with the article, the NY Times is doing a poll on whether DDT should be used in Africa for malaria. Please click-on and cast a vote for sanity: TRD; (From Prakash: So far it is 72% for DDT and 28% Against.... please vote!)

http://www.nytimes.com/pages/magazine/index.html
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The year 2000 was a time of plague for the South African town of Ndumo, on the border of Mozambique. That March, while the world was focused on AIDS, more than 7,000 people came to the local health clinic with malaria. The South African Defense Force was called in, and soldiers set up tents outside the clinic to treat the sick. At the district hospital 30 miles away in Mosvold, the wards filled with patients suffering with the headache, weakness and fever of malaria -- 2,303 patients that month. ''I thought we were going to get buried in malaria,'' said Hervey Vaughan Williams, the hospital's medical manager.

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Sounds of Self-interested Silence

- Sunita Narain, Down to Earth (India), April 2004 http://www.downtoearth.org.in/editor.asp?foldername=20040331&filename=Editor&sec_id=2&sid=1


I write this to provoke, not to insult. It is increasingly important to understand that in the modern world, the term "sound science" is becoming the choicest of insults. Science is a passive hireling, not to bring policy reform, but to delay, prevaricate and to dismiss. And scientists are hired guns, used by various interests to intimidate - with high-falutin knowledge -- and to disinform with talk of complexity and uncertainty. In the US, this has become a fine art. President George Bush is a staunch believer in "sound science" -- from issues concerning climate change, to nuclear waste to arsenic in water. The president makes sure that he is attentive to only what is 'empirical' and 'peer reviewed' information. It is another matter that this sound science is not so sound, or that peer review simply means that there will be umpteen delays in taking action on what we already know. Science is turned into a disingenuous perpetrator of public fraud.

Washington Post recently published an article on the origins of the term, "sound science" and tracked it back to the campaign of the tobacco industry that sought to undermine what was indisputable: the connection between smoking and disease. In 1993, the tobacco giant Philip Morris and its public relations firm created a non-profit group called the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition to fight regulation. Since then the phrase has gained many friends. US vice president, Dick Cheney found it useful to invoke this profane god when he urged for the opening of Alaska for oil drilling based on "sound science and best available technology". The pesticide industry, likewise, has urged regulators in the US not to restrict toxins, saying, "sound science says pesticide sprays are safe and effective".

The latest fisticuff in public policy is whether the consumption of excessive sugar is unhealthy in our diets. The World Health Organisation
(WHO) has concluded that there is a link between junk food and obsesity; unhealthy diets are leading to a growth of non-communicable diseases: cardiovascular diseases, diabetes type 1 and 2 and bone fractures. But when its report was released last year, the US government went into overdrive to protect its powerful sugar lobby. It officially wrote to WHO, in a letter that was subsequently leaked, that the report "fails to meet the standards of the US Data Quality Act, lacks external peer review and mixes science with policy." Questioning the scientific basis becomes the weapon of every government and industry to protect their interests.

But it is global warming that brings out the best out of the believers of sound science. They use an obvious uncertainty, regarding a phenomenon that the world can best predict and take precautionary action against, to argue that not enough is known and that what is known cannot be trusted. Bush used this classic excuse to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol -- the global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Once again, public policy was sacrificed at the altar of uncertainty.

It is not different in India. Today, sadly, scientists get invariably aligned against public interests. But I think it is more often because of a force of habit, than direct interests, in protecting the polluter. It could be because scientific literacy is low and therefore, scientists have tended to be much more contemptuous and arrogant than even their counterparts abroad. By habit, they have built a caste system, which allows only a select few into the world of "sound science". Worse, they will not actively engage in any public discourse, because that is about policy and not science. But they will ensure that anyone who does so gets dismissed, because it is not based on "sound science". Its their domain, after all.

This attitude, in our increasingly science-intensive societies, is a sound disaster. In the West, scientific issues are at least publicly debated and even George Bush and his "sound science" caucus will get a run for their money as more and more citizens (including) scientists engage with and put public pressure on policy systems to deliver. But not in India, where scientists have taken silence to be their best insurance. And worse, arrogance, as their best cover.

When we raised the issue of the science of diesel particulates and the need for policy reform for vehicular pollution, scientists were highhanded in their dismissal of these issues. Now, when the issue of pesticide contamination has been raised, scientists are quick to argue -- in closed policy making circles, where they are appear as privileged providers of clarification -- that these issues are still not understood and that the proponents for change are unscientific and not credible. It is another matter that they who are responsible for integrating science into policy have never really succeeded in their own jobs and that today, the regulation of pesticides in terms of human safety is nothing short of a criminal offence in India.

But why condemn the self-silenced? We must find ways of moving ahead. For this we must comprehend why the Indian scientific establishment is losing its confidence to creatively engage in public concerns. Then we have to build scientific literacy, so that open debates take us to logical and rational conclusions on the state of knowledge and the need for action. In other words, the role of science in democracy must be revisited with a new intensity.

But in all this we must also realise that science is not the ultimate truth. Scientific uncertainty can never really be eliminated, even in the best of sound science. All conclusions involve some uncertainty and are creatures of the nuances of interpretation. Therefore, science must guide policy, but ultimately, societal values and ethics must underwrite that policy code. That is what we could call "sound science".

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Environmentalists Now Attempt to Use Humor to Spread their Message...

http://www.grinningplanet.com


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