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June 10, 2004


Fake Bt Seeds in India; Biotech Helping the Poor; Chinese GM Rice; Philippines; Chestnut Tree; Cartagena Protocol Takes Effect


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - June 11, 2004:

* Govt worried over fake Bt seeds
* Biotech crops do aid world's poor
* China all out on GM rice
* A resurvey of farmers and growers' acceptance of GM
* Philippine DA awards outstanding Bt corn farmers
* Chestnut may take root
* 'High-vigour' wheat puts weeds in the shade
* Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety takes effect


Govt worried over fake Bt seeds

- Times of India, By K SRIMALI, JUNE 10, 2004

The permission accorded to a new seed company to sell genetically modified Bt cotton seeds in the state is worrying agriculture officials, who are already saddled with the problem of spurious Bt seed flooding the markets.

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Union environment and forests ministry has cleared the application of Raasi seeds for selling Bt cotton from this year, after completion of trial runs for two years.

Mahyco-Monsanto, the first company that got permission for selling Bt cotton in the state, has been in the news for the last couple of years with some non-government organisations contesting its claims that Bt cotton seeds were cost-effective and give more yield.

Agriculture department officials argue that Mahyco-Monsanto has not been giving enough publicity in villages about the names of authorised distributors from whom farmers can buy genuine Bt cotton seed.

As a result, farmers are falling back on unauthorised traders who are mushrooming in villages and seem to offer any kind of seed, including Bt cotton. Agriculture officials also say that despite inadequate field staff, they were doing some campaign to inform farmers of the places where they can get genuine seed.

The spread of spurious Bt seed, officials say, is taking place by preparing a new hybrid seed from the original one. This is usually referred to as F-2 variety which is evolved by introducing the original Bt genes into any other ordinary cotton seed such as 'Bunny'. Such hybrid Bt seeds escape the scrutiny of GEAC, agriculturists say.

The agriculture department, which is clearly illequipped to deal with these kind of problems, prefers to place the responsibility on farmers.

It says farmers should learn to buy seeds only from genuine traders and insist on a bill with details such as lot number and name of variety.


Biotech crops do aid world's poor

- Minneapolis Star Tribune (letter), By Rudy Boschwitz and Dennis Avery, June 11, 2004

The Star Tribune's May 22 editorial "Biotech crops / Little benefit for world's poor" included this complaint about the development of genetically modified crops:

"The crops that have come into production since 1987 -- corn, cotton, canola and soybeans -- are important chiefly to agriculture on an industrial scale. There has been comparatively little interest in genetically strengthening the crops most significant to the world's agriculture-dependent poor, such as cassava, millet, sorghum and rice."

It's not surprising that costly early biogenetic seed research be directed at crops earning a return on that investment.

The editorial also said that providing biotech's benefits to poor countries would require "massive investment in public research and development."

We would love to see more public investment in biotech for the Third World
-- but if we had depended on public dollars spent through a bureaucracy, neither rich nor poor would have yet realized any benefit from this revolutionary technology.

Despite the assertion of the Star Tribune headline, it is remarkable how much genetically modified benefit has already accrued to poor countries from even the early stages of biotech.

In the Philippines, insect-resistant biotech corn varieties are yielding up to 80 percent more grain than farmers' non-biotech varieties because the tropical pests are vastly more voracious than those in Minnesota.

In China and India, more than 5 million small cotton farmers have doubled their incomes thanks to the lower costs and higher yields of pest-resistant biotech cotton. There's also a benefit to the farmer who no longer has to carry a backpack sprayer as he sprays in front of himself and walks barelegged through his own pesticide spray patterns 20 times a season.

The benefits of the pest-resistant cotton carry over to the millions of Indian and Chinese textile workers. (Cotton is by far the largest total employer in both countries, and the pink bollworm had put those industries under threat.)

Potato breeders have created the world's first blight-resistant potato. Densely populated Third World countries have become increasingly dependent on potatoes because of the ultra-high food production per acre.

An Israeli researcher has applied for a permit to field-test Roundup-ready corn in Africa.

One of the worst pests for small farmers in Africa is witchweed. It's parasitic, entering the corn plant through its roots and often taking half the crop. A farmer doesn't even know it's there until his cornstalk sprouts a bright red flower instead of an ear of grain.

The Israeli is betting that soaking herbicide-tolerant corn seeds in systemic herbicide will kill the witchweed and allow the corn to flourish.

We agree with Norman Borlaug -- Nobel Peace Prize winner, father of the Green Revolution and honorary chairman of our center -- that even at these early stages, biogenetic research has particular promise for Third World.

Whether to feed the hungry, or to prevent forests from being cleared for more low-yield crops (thereby further endangering Africa's wildlife), biotech -- even at these early stages -- is playing a meaningful role.

Biotech truly promises brightens the future for the poorest of the poor: the small rural farmers of the Third World.

Rudy Boschwitz, a former U.S. senator (1978-91), is chairman of the Center for Global Food Issues. Dennis Avery is director of the Center for Global Food Issues.

China all out on GM rice

- Crop Biotech Update, June 11, 2004, www.isaaa.org/kc

China's fear of being unable to produce enough rice to meet domestic demand may impel the country to become the first in the world to approve genetically modified (GM) rice. In an article in the journal Nature, Hepeng Jia, K.S. Jayaraman and Sabine Louet noted that China has increased its budget for research and field trials of GM rice since 2001. Its biotech budget for 2001-2005 is $1.2 billion, a 400% increase compared with 1996-2000. About $120 million out of the current budget is devoted to GM rice programs. Jia and colleagues reported that Chinese researchers have developed several GM rice varieties that are resistant to the country's major rice pests and diseases, such as the stem borer, bacteria blight, rice blast fungus and rice dwarf virus. Significant progress has also been made with drought- and salt-tolerant varieties of GM rice, which have been in field trials since 1998. The article quoted Jikun Huang, director of the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy in Beijing, as saying that the government thinks that high-output and insect-resistant GM rice varieties may help solve the country's supply problem.

For the full article online see http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/nbt/journal/v22/n6/full/

A resurvey of farmers and growers' acceptance of GM

- Crop Biotech Update, June 11, 2004, www.isaaa.org/kc

A study conducted by Andrew J. Cook and John R. Fairweather, of Lincoln University, New Zealand, entitled “New Zealand Farmer and Grower Intentions to Use Gene Technology: Results from a Resurvey,” examined the changes in the intentions, attitudes, and beliefs of farmers and growers in New Zealand regarding their use of biotechnology. Intentions to use gene technology, attitudes towards using gene technology, and beliefs about market acceptance, commercial viability, and environmental risk from using the technology were gathered and compared against similar surveys conducted in previous years. According to Cook and Fairweather, farmers and growers appear to be no more accepting or rejecting of gene technology than they were two years ago. However, fewer farmers and growers have agreed that New Zealand should become free of genetically modified (GM) crops. Further, farmers and growers deciding that risks to public health or personal health, damage to ecological systems, and adverse effects on future generations were unlikely, would have more favorable attitudes and intentions. The authors, likewise, enumerated three conditional factors that should be addressed for gene technology to be accepted. These were:

Farmers and growers must be convinced that the risks (damage to ecological systems, adverse effects on future generations, personal risk, and risks to public health) are acceptable.

The marketplace and consumers must be accepting of the use of GM technology in agricultural production. Financial rewards from either efficiency in production or better returns for produce must be evident.

Read the full research paper at http://www.agbioforum.org/v6n3/v6n3a05-cook.htm .

Philippine DA awards outstanding Bt corn farmers

- Crop Biotech Update, June 11, 2004, www.isaaa.org/kc

Carlos Guevarra, a farmer from Pampanga, Philippines harvested a record yield of 10.25 metric tons per hectare from planting a biotech-enhanced corn variety during the last cropping season. Similarly, Carmelo Dinopol from South Cotabato also harvested about 10 metric tons in contrast to only 6.5 to 7 metric tons per hectare from his previous harvests. Both farmers realized significant increases in income with Guevarra being able to buy a vehicle to transport his products to direct buyers. Guevarra and Dinopol are two of the six Bt corn farmers who were given plaques of recognition by Luis Lorenzo, Jr., Secretary of the Philippines' Department of Agriculture during the celebration of the Farmer and Fisherfolk Month. Lorenzo lauded the farmers for being open to new technologies noting that they are helping the country attain self-sufficiency in corn production. The event coincided with a corn technology fair which showcased organizations supporting corn production as well as demonstrations on using corn waste materials. The awarding ceremony was co-sponsored by CropLife Philippines, an association of seed companies.


- Manila Bulletin, by MELODY M. AGUIBA, 07-June-2004

The government should closely study the commercialization process of genetically modified (GM) cotton in countries as Australia, India, and China in order to successfully test the GM cotton in the local field where cotton growing is believed to have huge growth potentials.

Vic Alpuerto, technology chief of pioneering GM research firm Monsanto Philippines Inc. (MPI), said government should communicate with the US office of Monsanto with regard to its request to use Monsanto's GM technology on cotton.

"What the Philippine government can do is to determine the setup in the commercialization of Bt cotton in other countries where smallholder farms use the technology. I don't know if these countries have arrangements with top management (of Monsanto)," he said in an interview.

Alpuerto said that the Philippines should find out why certain countries, China and India, have been able to adopt the Monsanto-developed technology even if these are being used by just small farmers tending farms of one hectare and below.

He admitted it is not Monsanto's priority to develop Bt cotton in the Philippines since MPI presently has multi-locational testings of herbicide-resistant Bt corn along with a plan to test stacktrait corn.

The Philippines has been planning for the last two years to test the GM Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton in the local farms as the technology was proven to be resistant to bollworm and resists infestation which destroys 80 percent of harvest.

However, Aida Solsoloy, project leader at the Cotton Development Authority (CDA), said the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) refuses to approve CDA's request for Bt cotton testing as Monsanto has not yet given a consent on the use of the GM technology that it developed.

"NCBP can't allow it in deference to the technology developer. We don't have a word yet from the technology developer," said Solsoloy.

She said that India has been able to adopt the technology through a Monsanto-licensee Mahyco, a seed grower, which enabled huge farm areas in India to be devoted to the GM cotton called Bollgard.


Chestnut may take root
The tree species was ruined by blight, but science is stepping in


A century after blight began to bring down the American chestnut tree, once known as the "redwood of the East," scientists are tantalizingly close to reviving the majestic species.

Within a few years, using traditional plant breeding and genetic engineering, researchers hope to have a variety of blight-resistant chestnuts to repopulate the tree's native range.

If they succeed, the towering species that once accounted for one out of every four trees from Maine to Mississippi will be back, benefiting wildlife and humans alike.

Beyond those celebrated savory nuts, the modern market for new American chestnut trees could be huge, said William A. Powell, a molecular biologist at the State University of New York in Syracuse.

He said the tree's wood, amber-colored and extremely rot-resistant, is perfect for utility poles, fence posts, shingles and other exposed woodwork.

"If the chestnut was still around, everyone's deck would be built out of its wood. We might not even need treated wood," Powell said.

The tree's sudden vanishing act was the most spectacular in a series of fungal blights that have ravaged North America's trees - a list that includes the American elm, butternut and white pine.

Researchers are trying to revive those trees, too, but the chestnut's restoration would be the most ecologically significant, Powell said.

A century ago this summer, the fungus Cryphonetria parasitica was first detected in American chestnuts in New York City's Bronx Zoo, an alien invader that likely arrived on imported Asian chestnuts.

Spread rapidly by wind, rain and birds, its spores infected the tree's bark. By 1950, some 3.5 billion trees - about 90 percent of the species - were dead, with a few mostly shrublike survivors hanging on.

After holding a keystone place in Eastern forests for millions of years, the picturesque trees that towered up to 120 feet with globular crowns were nearly extinct. Black bears, wild turkeys and other animals that relied on chestnuts to fatten up for winter starved.

Poor rural families who collected the nuts for food and income also suffered, and the autumn aroma of roasted chestnuts hawked by vendors in big cities vanished.

Despite the American chestnut's collapse, scientists and tree breeders refuse to write it off. They have been working for decades on blight-resistant varieties through several strategies.

By 2006, the American Chestnut Foundation hopes to have a hardy American-Chinese hybrid that has the height and shape of the native tree with the blight-resistance of the Chinese variety.

In another breeding campaign, researchers are interbreeding American chestnuts that have survived blight, trying to create tougher trees.

"It's a slow process because it's a tree, not a corn plant," said Gary Griffin, a plant pathologist at Virginia Tech.

To speed things up, plant geneticists are working to create a blight-free tree by inserting fungal-resistant genes from other plants directly into the chestnut trees.

Charles Maynard, a forest geneticist at the SUNY Syracuse, said he and Powell recently learned how to routinely insert such genes into embryonic chestnut tissue. But they have not yet succeeded in growing those transgenic embryos into trees.

While those approaches seek to make a better tree, some hope to conquer the blight itself with a virus that is helping European chestnut trees rebound.

However, that virus, which limits canker growth in European trees, has so far met with scant success in American cousins due to genetic differences, said Mark Double, a plant pathologist at West Virginia University in Morgantown.

He said most scientists believe the tree's best hope lies not in a single breakthrough but a combination of approaches. "Everyone realizes it's going to take a mixture of all these avenues to bring the chestnut back," he said. "I don't think any one of these approaches alone will be what saves the American chestnut."


'High-vigour' wheat puts weeds in the shade

- CSIRO Australia, June 10, 2004

CSIRO is breeding new 'high-vigour' wheats so fast-growing they can out-compete weeds while maintaining high yields.

Weeds cost Australian farmers over $4 billion annually in chemical and mechanical control and yield losses.

"High-vigour wheats have the potential to provide significant economic savings and environmental benefits for Australian agriculture," says Dr Greg Rebetzke, CSIRO Plant Industry.

"In field trials where wheat crops have to compete with weeds, the high-vigour wheat yielded double the grain of current varieties."

The new wheats shade the soil surface, suppressing weeds and saving water by reducing soil evaporation.

They also have more robust root systems than current varieties, enabling them to starve weeds and access water and nutrients deep in the soil.

The high-vigour conventional breeding program follows a three-year study by CSIRO and the University of Adelaide that evaluated the competitiveness of over 200 wheat lines from Australia and around the world.

The study found that competitiveness in Australian wheat has been largely bred out over the last 100 years, as breeders focused on better grain quality and disease resistance.

"We measured a range of traits including wheat and weed seed yield, rate of leaf area development and the ability to suppress or tolerate weeds, selecting the most vigorous wheat lines for further breeding," says Dr Gurjeet Gill of the University of Adelaide.

"The program is now breeding the high-vigour traits into commercial wheat varieties for release to growers. Varieties are expected to be available in four to five years."

Further CSIRO research is aimed at understanding genetic control of early vigour and developing breeding strategies to improve the efficiency of selection.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety takes effect

- CBD Press Release (VIA AGNET), June 10, 2004

Montreal, September 9, 2003 - The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the first legally binding international agreement governing the transboundary movement of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology enters into force on Thursday, 11 September 2003.

The treaty, which aims at ensuring an adequate level of safety in the transboundary transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms
(LMOs) was adopted in January 2000 by member countries to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

On 13 June this year, the Republic of Palau became the 50th State to ratify the Protocol, which triggered the countdown to the entry into force. To date, 57 States and the European Union have ratified it, the Republic of South Africa being the most recent.

Underscoring the significance of the Protocol's entry into force, CBD Executive Secretary Hamdallah Zedan said, "The Protocol has now become a binding instrument in international law and in the legal systems of the States (Parties) that have given their consent to be bound by it".

"This means that the movement of LMOs from one country to another, where any or both countries are Parties, will have to be consistent with the objective of the Protocol," said Mr. Zedan.

"Because of the sensitivity and contention around some of the issues that almost made it impossible to have agreement on the text of the Protocol until the very last minute, some skeptics were wondering if the Protocol, even though adopted, would ever enter into force. Well, they have been proven wrong", said Ambassador Philemon Yang of Cameroon.

The Protocol establishes a harmonized set of international rules and procedures designed to ensure that countries are provided with the relevant information to enable them to make informed decisions before agreeing to the import of LMOs. It also ensures that LMO shipments are accompanied by appropriate identification documentation.

The adoption of the Protocol in 2000 and now its entry into force have been significant steps. However, the major challenge now is the practical implementation of the provisions to enable the Protocol's objectives to be met.

"All Parties need to take appropriate legal, administrative and other measures at the domestic level to translate the Protocol's provisions and objective into a practical reality", said Mr.Zedan.

Since the adoption of the Protocol, the Intergovernmental Committee on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (ICCP) has made considerable progress in proposing possible implementation measures. ICCP is the interim body, established to undertake preparatory work for the first meeting of the Protocol's decision-making body.

"The work done by ICCP has contributed significantly to clarifying a number of issues thereby giving many countries the confidence they needed to ratify the Protocol and get ready for its implementation", said Ambassador Yang, the ICCP Chair.

The decision-making body of all the member countries of the Protocol - the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties - will convene from 23 to 27 February 2004 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to address strategic and operational measures for the implementation of the Protocol.

While the ultimate responsibility to ensure that the Protocol is implemented lies with Parties, Mr. Zedan observed that "all relevant
stakeholders: business and industry, NGOs, scientists, researchers and the media have a big role to play". Their cooperation is essential for the successful implementation of the Protocol. "I encourage all the players to take on their respective responsibilities in support of the Protocol".

"I strongly urge all countries that have not yet done so to ratify the Protocol as soon as possible in order that they may participate as full partners in the decision-making at the first meeting of Parties, which will shape the future of the Protocol".

Additional information for Journalists

(1) The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was negotiated under the Convention on Biological Diversity in order to promote "the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health, and specifically focusing on transboundary movements".

(2) 103 countries signed the Protocol by the closing date for signature on 4 June 2001..

(3) The entry into force of the Protocol means, in practical terms, that a number of things will change regarding the transboundary movement of LMOs, involving countries that are Parties to the Protocol:

(a) Under what is known as the advance informed agreement (AIA) procedure, any Party shipping LMOs for intentional introduction into the environment for the first time shall have to give prior notification to the importing country that is a party to the Protocol and provide sufficient information to enable it to make an informed decision.

(b) On the other hand, if a Party approves for domestic use and marketing LMOs intended for direct use as food, feed or processing and these may be exported to other countries, that Party must communicate its decision and details about the LMOs to the world community via the Biosafety Clearing-House (BCH).

(c) Furthermore, exporters must ensure that all shipments are accompanied by appropriate documentation required under the Protocol.

(d) Shipments of LMOs for intentional introduction into the environment will have to be identified in accompanying documentation as LMOs, with a specification of the LMO identity and characteristics and a declaration that "the movement is in conformity with the requirements of the Protocol.

(e) The Biosafety Clearing-House is now operational. All decisions taken by any Party regarding the importation or release of LMOs must now be make available to the Biosafety Clearing-House. In addition, the information specified in the Protocol, including: national laws for implementing the Protocol; any bilateral, regional and multilateral agreements entered regarding transboundary movement of LMOs and summaries of risk assessments of LMOs must be provided through the BCH.

(f) Furthermore, Parties must ensure that risk assessments are carried out for decisions taken under the AIA procedure and must adopt measures for managing any risks identified by risk assessments. They must also monitor and control any new risks that may emerge in the future.

(4) Additional information about the Protocol is available at the following Web sites:

CBD Web site: http://www.biodiv.org/biosafety and
Biosafety Clearing-House: http://bch.biodiv.org/Pilot/Home.aspx.

Frequently asked questions are also available at: http://www.biodiv.org/biosafety/faqs.asp

For further information, please contact:
Diana Nicholson: Tel: +1-514-287-7031, diana.nicholson@biodiv.org
Erie Tamale: Tel: +1 -514-287-7050, erie.tamale@biodiv.org