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June 9, 2004


India's Talents and Regulations; Net Farm Income Increases; Malaysian PM Meets Biotech Firms


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - June 10, 2004:

* Comment on story Chinese Scientists Push GM Rice
* Biotech expo showcases India's talents
* Report Says India Needs Stronger, Independent Regulatory Body
* Net farm income increases
* PM meets top guns of biotech firms

From: "Alex Avery"
Subject: comment on story Chinese Scientists Push GM Rice
Date: Wed, 9 Jun 2004

I just have to comment on the continued hilarious claims of those opposed to ag biotech from the article, SCIENTISTS PUSH GM RICE COMMERCIALIZATION from the June 8 China Business Daily. Greenpeace China spokesperson: "Given the gene flow between GM plants and related species, cultivation of GM rice could threaten the environment."

Gene flow threatens the environment? How? These people act as if evolution has stopped. Guess what, genes are being swapped, resurrected, mutated, tweaked, at a grotesque rate over every square inch of the planet as we speak! There goes the environment . . .

"Xue Dayuan, a research fellow at the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Science, said the Bt gene used to make GM cotton resistant to insects could cause the pests to evolve into "super" bugs that are impermeable to most pesticides."

Wow, evolving resistance to a Bt toxin makes a bug impermeable to most pesticides? Holy caterpillar BtMan, why haven't any of the insect pests that developed resistance to Bt toxin from organic-style traditional Bt sprays taken over the planet? Give them time and a continued expansion of organic farming from slander-the-competition black marketing campaigns and who knows, they just might!

"Chang Ruzhen, a scientist specializing in soybean crops with the Institute of Plant Varieties under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), said gene pollution -- such as that experienced in Mexico, on wild corn varieties, in the late 1990s -- could occur in China if the country plants massive amounts of GM rice and soybean. "China has the world's oldest varieties of wild soybean and rice species. If their natural genes are destroyed by floating genes from GM varieties, it will be a disaster," Chang said."

I've been to Mexico, but I never saw any of the wild corn all the reporters and activists keep talking about. Unless "wild corn" grows in rows. And to think, who knew that floating genes from GM varieties destroy natural genes. Now that's what I call Terminator technology!!

Couldn't the scientists just make the genes heavier so they wouldn't float? Oh, then the farmers wouldn't be able to save seed each year and would instantly become the automotons of MegaGlobalGenTech Corporation.

Please wake me when these people have something reasonably intelligent to say.

Alex Avery
Center for Global Food Issues,
Hudson Institute


Biotech expo showcases India's talents

- SIFY Finance, 09 June, 2004

The fledgling biotechnology industry is already reinventing itself -- as an economic booster in emerging countries.

To this end research scientist Kiran Sharma expects India will develop an edible vaccine against cholera within five years.

And Weiping Yang is working on "biochip" technology at a new company in China to wed molecules with computers in systems to detect infectious viruses like SARS.

India and China are among 59 foreign countries and 16,000 scientists, executives and government officials crowding into three big meeting halls for the BIO 2004 Annual International Convention in San Francisco. The forum, which first began in 1993, ends Wednesday.

"We always had strong international representation from Canada, Great Britain, France and Germany, but nothing like we have now," said Dan Eramian, a spokesman for the Biotechnology Industry Association, which organizes the conference. The number of countries attending has doubled since 1999.

"More countries now see building biotech industries as a way to strengthen their economies." Eramian added.

The global biotechnology industry posted about $47 billion in revenues last year, according to a study by the Ernst & Young accounting firm.

"We have two goals here," said B.P. Acharya, secretary of Industries and Commerce in the Andhra Pradesh government in India: "Showcase what is happening in biotechnology in India to change the view that the industry is all U.S. and Europe. And take advantage of the networking opportunities for new business."

Acharya, who is promoting "Genome Valley" in southeast India as the nation's biotech hub, attended the 2001 convention in San Diego alone. At this week's conference, however, he has 30 colleagues to help him scout for new business and take part in scientific presentations. India's total delegation numbers 89.


Indian scientists with the International Crops Research Institute are linking life sciences and agriculture to develop edible vaccines against polio, cholera and other diseases that could be delivered in peanuts or other plants at greatly reduced costs, said Sharma.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has expressed interest in the work, said Acharya.

Yang said four biotech companies from China attended the San Francisco meeting and "visa problems" prevented four more from showing up. This was the first year that China had its own "pavilion" on the convention floor to present technologies.

Beijing-based three-year-old Capital Biochip Corp., part of China's National Engineering Research Center, is developing a range of medical detection systems founded on biochips -- electronic devices that use organic molecules and form a semiconductor.

The technology can examine tens of thousands of genes in a scanning system in 10 minutes versus years in conventional detection systems, Yang said.

"We have developed some interesting leads from companies in the US and Europe who are interested in our overall technology," he said.

This year's conference also signed up 11 new member nations -- Algeria, Armenia, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Peru, Romania, Slovenia, Uganda, Ukraine and Yemen.

Wales also had nine biotech companies and research organizations represented at its pavilion.

Bioscience in Wales is developing healthcare diagnostic systems, clinical trials for cancer drugs and chronic wound treatments, medical devices and instruments, and doing research in grassland-based livestock agriculture, said Bob Wallis, research manager for the Welsh Development Agency.

Closer to home, 28 US states set up pavilions to vie for business leads, contracts and jobs.


Report Says India Needs Stronger, Independent Regulatory Body

- Science Magazine, By Pallava Bagla, 11 June 2004

NEW DELHI--A blue-ribbon panel has recommended that India spend $300 million on an autonomous, expert body that would regulate agricultural biotechnology. Such an independent authority would both speed up the approval process and make it more transparent, according to a report delivered last week to the Ministry of Agriculture. But critics say that the small number of genetically modified crops in the pipeline doesn't warrant such a major change in the current system and that the money could be better spent on research to improve existing crops.

"Public regard and satisfaction for the regulatory systems currently in place are, to say the least, low," asserts the task force, which was chaired by eminent agriculture scientist M. S. Swaminathan. The present oversight body has had six chairs in the past 2 years and is bogged down in bureaucratic infighting. A National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority would help restore credibility to the process, the task force argues, as well as spur investment in the field by overseeing a venture fund for new technologies. (By comparison, the biotechnology ministry's annual budget is less than $75 million.) In the interim, Swaminathan says, the government should appoint "an outstanding biosafety and technical expert" to handle genetically modified (GM) organisms.

The task force recommends that transgenic research should not be pursued on high-profile domestic crops and commodities such as basmati rice, soybeans, and Darjeeling tea. The report also proposes a ban on genetically engineered crops from designated biodiversity hot spots. Breeding for herbicide tolerance should be given low priority, it adds, because deweeding provides employment for a large number of landless families. At the same time, the panel believes that derivatives of transgenic crops that have passed muster "need not always be evaluated for biosafety to the same extent again." The 50-page report also suggests creating a mechanism to segregate, certify, and label GM and non-GM products

The only GM crop now in the hands of Indian farmers is a Monsanto variety of Bt cotton, although research is under way on more than a dozen plants. That modest level of activity suggests that "this is not the opportune time to tinker with the regulatory system," says Sushil Kumar, a geneticist at the National Centre for Plant Genome Research in New Delhi and a former co-chair of the existing Genetic Engineering Approval Committee. "Do not upset the apple cart."

The report has drawn criticism from both industry and citizen groups. Although seed companies like the idea of regulating the gene, not the crop, they were hoping the task force would describe each step in the regulatory process. Devinder Sharma, chief of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security in New Delhi, worries that giving all authority to one body invites corruption. (The current system has three tiers, with approval required from a different group at each level.)

The new government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should be favorably disposed to key recommendations in the task force, which was set up in 2003 by the previous government. Science minister Kapil Sibal has already talked about the need for regulatory reform to attract greater foreign investment (Science, 28 May, p. 1227), and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has said that the country's agbiotech policy must ensure food security. That is code for increased productivity through genetic engineering.


Net farm income increases

- Agri News, June 8, 2004, By Janet Kubat Willette

Average net farm income increased about $10,000 statewide last year, according to data reported by farmers in the state's farm business management education program.

Net incomes varied from an average of $40,412 in north central and northwest Minnesota to $63,481 in southwestern Minnesota.

"We had a good year last year," said Al Brudelie, dean of management programs at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Jackson. "People had tremendous yields" and good prices to go with them.

Corn yields averaged 164 bushels per acre in southwest Minnesota, and the average bushel was sold for $2.08, netting the average farmer a return of $31 per acre.

Soybean yields averaged nearly 39 bushels and the average bushel was sold for $5.90, netting the average southwestern Minnesota farmer a return per acre of $27.75.

Soybean returns declined from $33 per acre a year earlier for several reasons, primarily because chemical application cost increased and there were fewer bushels to spread out the increased cost.

Chemical costs rose $6 per acre, and soybean seed costs in southwest Minnesota set a new high at $21.22 per acre, up from $18.49 the previous year.

Many farmers are putting two applications of Roundup on their Roundup Ready soybeans, Brudelie said, and last year many producers sprayed for soybean aphids. Seed costs are increasing because more farmers are turning to higher priced genetically altered seed. It wasn't that long ago that farmers would take soybeans from the bin to plant, he said.

Livestock producers also had a fairly good year.

Returns per beef cow climbed $70 from $6 in 2002 to $76 in 2003, and returns per ewe climbed to $28 from $2 in 2002. Returns for finishing hogs rose from a negative 88 cents per hundredweight in 2002 to $1.81 per hundredweight last year.

The average price of milk sold in 2003 was $12.93, up nearly 40 cents from the $12.57 received in 2002, but down significantly from the $15.02 received in 2001.

Higher prices allowed southwestern Minnesota farmers to pay down debt and put money away, Brudelie said. Many are positioning themselves for future farm growth or expansion. Last year marked the first time since 1999 that southwestern Minnesota farmers enrolled in the farm business management program actually paid back as much as they borrowed.

"I think 2003 was really a good year for agriculture and hopefully it's just a picture of things to come," Brudelie said.

"(Farmers) have some tremendous opportunities right now," Brudelie added.

PM meets top guns of biotech firms

- New Straits Times (Malaysia), June 10, 2004, By Syed Nazri

MALAYSIA may see its biggest gains yet in the rapidly-growing biotechnology industry following Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's meeting with some of the biggest names in the business yesterday.

Abdullah, here on a private visit, met 15 of the top executives of biotechnology firms over lunch and seemed pleased that most were keen to invest in Malaysia.

It was part of a brief but significant appearance by Abdullah at the on-going Biotech 2004 Exhibition here, one that was seen as a clear signal of the Malaysian Government's support and commitment towards business in biotechnology.

The 15 bigwigs included Dr Mark Ahn (Hudson Health Science Centre president and CEO), Elliot Entis (Aqua Bounty Technologies Inc president and CEO), Dr Robert Fraley (Monsanto executive vice-president), Dr William Johnston (Inhibitex president and CEO), Jeremy Levin (Novartis Institutes head of strategic alliances), David Raisbeck (Cargill Inc vice-chairman), Dr Roger Wyse (Burrill and Co managing partner) and Craig Wheeler (Chiron BioPharmceuticals president).

Abdullah told Malaysian journalists later that he was confident the firms would seriously consider investing in Malaysia as the industry had strong Government backing.

He said he took the opportunity to sell Malaysia as a place for them to expand their businesses and set up research and development facilities.

A few of the companies, he noted, had already established links with partners in Malaysia while the rest were expected to touch base soon.

"I also explained to them that biotechnology had great potential in Malaysia and it could be a catalyst for new growth areas in the country's economy as well as a source of new wealth and income for the people," he added.

Abdullah said the growth in biotechnology would suit Malaysia's diversified economy well.

"Biotech is useful in many areas - agriculture, livestock farming, herbal industry and traditional and modern medicine.

"Its potential in the pharmaceutical industry is also unlimited," he said.

Abdullah, who earlier spent more than two hours visiting booths at the exhibition, said he was amazed by the products and potential of biotechnology.

Malaysia is one of the 59 countries taking part in the Bio 2004 convention and one of the 28 participating in the exhibition.

The country's delegation, comprising a mix of both government and private sector officials, is headed by Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Dr Jamaluddin Jarjis.

Meanwhile, Bernama reported that Abdullah's presence at the annual event was hailed by top corporate officials from American biotechnology firms.

They said it reflected his commitment to oversee the growth of the industry in Malaysia.

Covenance Business Development vice-president Peter Varney said: "It demonstrated enormous commitment on the part of Malaysia to this industry."

Biogen Idec Strategic Initiatives vice-president Gunther Winkler said: "It sends a fantastic signal not only to US biotech firms, but also those of the world that Malaysia is pro-business and not just open to business.

"Malaysia really regards doing business internationally and especially with the biotech community as the most important agenda.

"The Prime Minister is here speaking to us and this really sends a very important signal."