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June 17, 2004


Scientists Must Explain Science; Sen Durbin Labeling Bill; German Field Tests; Chinese GM Rice; No EU Approval for GM Canola


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - June 18, 2004:

* RE: Biotech Question
* Scientists have an obligation to explain science
* Durbin bill seeks federal review of genetically modified foods
* Genetic engineering field test is rooted in the soil of secrecy
* New Agricultural Technologies Gaining Acceptance, Usda's Penn Says
* Life-sciences network launches online dialogue on plant-made pharmaceuticals
* EU Panel experts fail to approve genetically modified canola
* Locals build a better broccoli

Subject: RE: Biotech Question
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 2004 17:47:18 -0700
From: "Sivramiah Shantharam"

Dear Timur:

The general statement that genetic engineering can help crops grow in less water, less or no pesticides, herbicides, and increase yield are true and have been amply demonstrated. But, some of the applications have not been commercialized on a large scale because either they are still under development and some because the authorities have not given approvals for
commercialization. There are ever so many startling and innovative
developments in biotechnology almost on a daily basis, but many of them are still long way off from the market place for various non-scientific and non-technological reasons. We all hope that the products of this technology will come sooner than later for he benefit of all.

Shanthu Shantharam, Biologistics International LLC, Ellicott City, MD.


Scientists have an obligation to explain science

- BioSpectrum, By N Suresh & Rolly Dureha, June 10, 2004

Continuing our series of "Biotech Gurus", in this issue we focus on Dr Channapatna S Prakash, the founder of the highly successful and popular agricultural biotechnology website—Agbioworld. He moderates daily Internet discussion group and newsletter "AgBioView" which is read by more than 4,000 experts in 55 countries.

Dr Prakash is a professor in plant molecular genetics and the director of center for plant biotechnology research at Tuskegee University, Alabama, USA. He oversees the research on food crops of importance to developing countries and is actively involved in enhancing the societal awareness of food biotechnology issues around the world. In an exclusive interview, Dr Prakash shares his views about the future of crop biotechnology, its promises and the problems. Excerpts:

QUESTION: What was the objective behind starting a website on agricultural biotechnology?

I started "AgBioView" in the year 2000 to provide a forum for discussion on issues facing agricultural biotechnology among scientists across the world. Because the products of our research, GM crops, were being increasingly seen as controversial and their public acceptance was being threatened by scare campaigns by the activist NGOs. I felt that scientists must speak up. To empower scientists, it is essential that we understand the root of such apprehension and also recognize that the public and policy makers must be provided with a reasoned, science-based information (in a manner that they understand) by the scientific community. The orchestrated opposition to biotechnology is by a minority of individuals or groups who are very vocal and effective but they must be countered for so much is at stake here. While scientists are not usually trained to indulge in such activism, increasingly it has become essential that we learn to communicate effectively among various stakeholders. AgBioView is sent out daily to more than 5000 readers across the world including hundreds in India. Our readership now not only includes scientists but also the media, students, scholars, environmental organizations and policy makers. It contains important news from across the globe on issues related to agricultural biotechnology and also useful commentaries, research developments, information on scientific meetings, scholarships, book reviews and even occasional humorous pieces. Articles posted on AgBioView are often reprinted in many newspapers, magazines and web forums. I am heartened when many people routinely tell me how useful they find AgBioView.

QUESTION: The EU commissioners have granted a license for the import of Syngenta’s GM maize. Will this have major bearings on the future of GM crops in Europe?

I think that this is a step in the right direction. It is a kind of break on the impact of five years of so-called de facto moratorium. So it is a breath of fresh air for those of us who have been calling for Europe to open up. After all, Europe is the home of this technology and the cradle for the whole of science and technology revolution. And it is not a technophobic continent by any means. Even in the field of biotechnology, it is home to literally thousands of biotech companies both small and big.

Europe was dragging its feet in the area of agricultural and food biotechnology and its approval of the insect resistant, Bt11, GM maize variety (developed by the Swiss firm Syngenta) is a step in the right direction. But I still believe that much needs to be done before Europe can open its front to biotechnology without much fear and feel comfortable about it. The European public, the policy makers and the food industry are the three major stakeholders that are holding back in the area of biotechnology in Europe.

QUESTION: Both the UK and EU have given a tentative go ahead to biotechnology but with strict labeling and segregation rules. Is this like moving one step forward and two backwards?

Well, I think in a symbolic manner even though EU has approved Bt 11, at the moment, Europe by itself is not moving ahead in biotechnology. In England also, though they have approved the GM maize developed by Bayer Crop sciences, but because of the stiff conditions imposed, the company is not marketing it purely for business reasons. This is one of the reasons why I say that Europe has a long way to go. However, at least this is one step forward. But it is so encumbered in traceability segregation and labeling that it is a very hard sell. We are wishing that Europe would open up fully. And I am sure that Europeans will understand that it is in the country’s interest and recognize that many countries like North America, developing nations like China, India, South Africa are moving ahead with this technology and none of them seem to be having any problems. All their worry related to the use of technology in food is either very hypothetical or very insignificant in terms of food safety or its environmental effects.

Now the world has started recognizing the very positive effects of this technology. Last year alone, in the US, we saw a drop of 21 million Kg of pesticides, active ingredients, so much so that BASF closed one of its pesticide plants because they incurred losses of $175 million last quarter. The rate of pesticide application/sale coming down was directly attributed to the use of GM crops. Today Europe has the highest per capita pesticide consumption in the world. Two countries, Europe and Japan, consume much more pesticides than the US.

In Europe people have this image of nice family farms, small farmers and they somehow think that by using better varieties, using biotechnology is somehow going to corrupt the kind of image they have, which is silly, really! It is not going to change one bit, like it has not changed anything for the Bt cotton farmers growing cotton. It is only going to make things better. I am sure that in the next 5-10 years Europe is gradually going to see light but it shouldn’t take so long too. As earlier Europe was the seat of action for many of the big biotech companies like ICI, Syngenta, Ciba, PGS and so many others, who had invested so much into this technology and suddenly they started closing shop and moving their R&D units to the US. It is really sad in terms of how this technology could have blossomed into so much more if not for the European intransigence.

QUESTION: Monsanto has abandoned its plans to sell GM Wheat in the US. Is this a big setback for the agri biotech sector?

I think that more than the US, it is the export of wheat to Europe and Japan that led to this decision. Although, probably only about 10 percent of the wheat produced in the US is exported, but still it was significant enough to have led to this decision. This shows that the perception of the technology in the food sector is not as positive as in the seed sector. Much of the push for biotechnology in the seed sector came from the farmers because they are the direct beneficiaries of the current day technology—herbicide tolerant, pest resistant, insect resistant crops, etc. The food industry does not see much benefit for itself, at least that is the perception, and this perception is bound to the consumer concerns. When ironically the consumer is not having any concerns, at least not in the US.

And even in Japan and Europe it is just the politics of marketing and supermarkets having more clout. It is unfortunate because wheat is one of the largest growing crop in the world and if commercialized this would have had an impact on how the technology could have translated into many more crops. I think that it is a bit of a setback.

QUESTION: Labeling of GM products is a contentious issue. Do you think it should be allowed?

It is a difficult question as the US does not have any labeling of GM products and yet does not have any problem. Labeling is a very tricky issue and is being enforced not for any health reason but for marketing and it is not going to help the technology much at this moment. Today there is so much of negative perception attached to labeling at least in Europe because of traceability and other issues.

I believe that labeling is very important. The laws of labeling should be made keeping the interest of the consumers in mind. And traditionally labels all around the world are meant for two major things. One for providing information on content and second to provide any health related information and warning. So writing about an ingredient sourced from a GM crop has nothing to do with either. For instance, if you buy a bag of potato chips you do not know what variety of potato has been used, what pesticide was used and where it was grown because it is immaterial. It has no relation either to the nutritional aspects of the food that one is consuming or to the health and allergies concerns. By putting on the label that it is a GM food, you are actually stigmatizing the product just because it is biotech. When there is absolutely no scientific proof anywhere in the world that because of being biotech/genetically modified it somehow has an extra element of risk. There is none! While those who have a vested interest in opposing the product like the organic food industry or the anti biotech activists will have an advantage in maligning the product.

What you provide on the label should be factual and verifiable. When you talk of labeling sugar, oil, etc as GM or non-GM, then it may so happen that you use a GM crop with all its health benefits and still label it as non-GM and it will be very difficult to trace that. This is the reason why FDA has resisted labeling. The only compromise that they made was to certify organic food where they cannot use any GM variety. Thus, following all the traceability rules is very difficult for developing countries. It is draconian in terms of what has been put together. To give an example, if you are eating a chocolate bar and you want to know in what form the cocoa or sugar were used I think it is stretching the things a bit too far.

QUESTION: How do you foresee the future of crop biotech nology in the African continent?

I think Africa is going to move slowly though public perception is not a big problem there. It is a country like India where perception is not a major issue except for a few intellectuals here and there. The biggest problem in the African continent is that apart from South Africa and some parts of the Arab world like Egypt, there is hardly any technology research being done.

Africa is where agricultural biotechnology’s greatest promise lies. In Africa biotechnology has the potential of increasing the agricultural productivity, developing crops that are tailored for harsh environmental conditions, marginal soils, etc. But this cannot be done in many of the African countries simply because of lack of research infrastructure, lack of policy supporting, forget biotechnology, just simple agricultural research. And so there is no point in having computers when people are illiterate. So what is required there is something more basic. Just like how the green revolution was brought into countries like India with the help of an international consortium of institutions, a similar model will work for Africa at the moment.

In other words they have a need for crops like cassava that is virus resistant, banana that is fungus resistant and perhaps corn that is herbicide resistant and disease resistant cowpeas. These are the major African crops, and improving them is very simple. For example disease resistant cowpeas, it is an off the shelf technology, you just take the Bt gene which is there in cotton and put it in cowpea, it will be protected. Even the seeds are given free and the farmer does not have to make any extra effort. It is not a destructive technology and does not call for a lot of investment also. These things could be put into place by international institutions, donor agencies and western labs working in consort with the local African agricultural scientists. Some efforts are being made in this direction by the CGIAR system, National Centre of Tropical Agriculture, some of the other centers working in Africa including ICRISAT, donor agencies like the Bill Gates foundation, which has recently pledged $25 million for this effort. These are some of the medium term applications of biotechnology that will come in Africa.

QUESTION: What are the major problems hindering the growth of agricultural biotechnology in the world today?

The crux of the problem hindering the growth of agricultural biotechnology around the world can be divided into three major issues.

Trade - Till the time the South African countries perceive that bringing in biotechnology will jeopardize their trade, they will not go for it and that is what happened in Zambia, which literally shot itself in the foot by refusing food grains last year and Angola did the same this year. They were purely driven by fears of their trade being threatened. To give an example, Namibia is a small country and is one of the biggest importers of corn. It cut off all its corn trade with South Africa because the latter grows GM corn and Namibia is the largest exporter of beef to Europe. Now though Europeans are the biggest consumers of GM food for the life stock and would not have had a problem but due to the perception of some food companies that source beef from Namibia, it could have taken this step. So countries that have nothing to do directly with biotechnology but due to the fears of trade avoid adopting it. Another example is Thailand, which has done excellent research in rice biotechnology since the last 15 years but does not want to opt for biotech crops, as it is the largest exporter of rice to the world including Europe. China is a good example. It has approved Bt cotton long time ago but has yet not approved Bt corn, although GM corn has been on field trials since more than the past eight years. It has not approved the commercialization of Bt corn as it exports corn to Korea and Japan. It is sad that trade more than any other concern is the guiding factor in growing/commercializing GM crops.

Biosafety regulations - The current regulations are very burdensome, costly and mostly unscientific. The regulation or too much of it is another important factor hindering the growth of agribiotechnology. Even the US grows only 3-4 GM crops. Monsanto, that has spent $1 billion a year for the past 10 years which is probably more than what we have spent on agricultural biotechnology research related to developing countries in all the past 20 years and yet what products do we see? Hardly a handful on cotton, soybean, canola! And all these are just insect tolerant or Bt. They have many other products like virus resistant potato, sweet corn, etc but none of them have been brought in the market because the cost of regulation is very high. And this not a case specific to the Monsanto’s products but is common in the entire food industry.

Today amongst the whole range of biotech products/food there is no whole food other than papaya, all other biotech products are processed foods. To illustrate the cost of regulation, lets take a product that is of direct relevance to the consumer especially from a health point of view. Assume that there is a groundnut oil that is better in quality with low saturated fats, almost as good as olive oil. Today, we do have the technology to do it, but the point is if you spend $5 million to develop that groundnut, it takes another $20 million to prove that it is safe. Although it may be just turning off one gene and not much conceptually to worry about. But yet the burdensome regulations that just don’t regulate it in the country in which you are growing, you also have to worry about the regulations in the country, which is importing it. You have to satisfy all of them! So why bother? And that is why most of the companies have put some very promising technologies on the shelf.

Development of GM crops is an expensive process and scientifically very sophisticated but its commercial release is almost prohibitive because of the burdensome regulation and bureaucratic red tape. The extra cost of justifying the product safety is invariably passed on to the consumer. So just like the pharma industry is in search of blockbuster drugs to cover the cost of developing a new drug. Similarly the agri industry wants to go for a blockbuster, no one wants to bother for cassava, cowpea, etc, they want to go for something big. This is really sad because many of the crops, which are of direct benefit to the consumers include healthier fat, better starch more vitamins, better appearance flavor and color all of which are technically possible and yet are not going to happen.

Food Industry - There is a certain kind of monopoly when it comes to food in the western world. Like for potato, Mac Donald is a big buyer. And though we had a GM potato, which was nearly similar in all respects to the normal potato and is practically pesticide free, but it cannot be introduced because of the company monopoly, which dictates terms.


Durbin bill seeks federal review of genetically modified foods

- St. Louis Business Journal, June 17, 2004

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced new legislation Thursday that he said would increase consumer confidence in the safety of genetically modified foods.

The Genetically Engineered Foods Act would require a mandatory Food and Drug Administration review of all genetically modified foods as well as an environmental review for genetically modified animals as part of the safety approval process. In addition, the public would be informed of the decisions made in the process and would have the opportunity to comment, Durbin said.

"Genetically engineered foods have become a major part of the American food supply in recent years, and many of the foods we consume now contain genetically engineered ingredients," said Durbin, in a statement. "These foods have been enhanced with important qualities that help farmers grow crops more efficiently. However, they have also raised significant concerns as to the safety of these foods and the adequacy of government oversight."

Durbin said an improved regulatory system for genetically modified foods would boost consumer confidence, give federal agencies legal authority to deal with the technology, give developers of the products a predictable path to approval and provide a process to detect problems.

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest said it backed the bill.

"Although the United States is the world leader in producing genetically engineered foods, it is the only developed country where those foods can be marketing to consumers without government approval," said Gregory Jaffe, director of the center's biotechnology project, in a statement. "The Durbin bill gives the federal government the authority to ensure that genetically engineered crops and animals are safe before they are eaten without burdening the biotechnology industry with an unnecessarily costly and lengthy regulatory process."


Genetic engineering field test is rooted in the soil of secrecy
Because of protesters, a veil hangs over crop even during a press visit

- Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, By Christian Schwägerl, June 18, 2004

The green shoots poking out of the brown soil look just like any other plants you see around Germany. But the crop is quite exotic by this country's standards: It has been genetically modified in a way that is supposed to eliminate the need for pesticides.

But the crop's appearance is not welcomed by everyone. Activists, who see the plants as a symbol of powerful, profit-oriented agriculture giants, intend to stop it.

So the crop remains cloaked in secrecy, even during a press event at which the farmer and his seed suppliers want to show why genetically modified crops are a good thing. The field's exact location in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt must remain unmentioned. The steeples of the nearby town and the wind turbines are also off-limits for any photos.

“Please do not include too many details in your picture,“ says Anja Matzk, who heads the regulatory affairs division at seed producer KWS.

The farmer, too, said he would rather be photographed from behind, just like undercover agents or shamed victims of violence.

The farmer and the company have good reason for their reluctance to go public with their project. Just recently, a test field of the agrochemical company Syngenta was destroyed at night. The company was conducting research on a wheat variety that had been made resistant against cancer-causing fungi through genetic engineering.

Saxony-Anhalt is by no means the only state where a genetically modified crop has been planted. The cultivation area covers 300 hectares (741
acres) at 30 locations in seven states. But ever since Saxony-Anhalt's minister of agriculture, Petra Wernicke, and the state's economic minister, Horst Rehberger, started a “biotechnology offensive“ in November, the state has become the principal arena for the battle over agricultural genetic engineering. This has started a game of hide-and-seek that has reached bizarre proportions, at times.

Since the exact location of test fields is not being disclosed, the environmental group Greenpeace is now resorting to modern biotechnology to find them. The group deployed an official genetic engineering opposition representative to the region when the biotechnology offensive was proclaimed. The university student, Jan Michael Ihl, took a semester off from his studies and set up camp in the area to raise opposition among the general public against the field trials and to coordinate activities in the region.

During the next few weeks, he will spend a lot of time checking corn leaves, filing them and sending them to Gene Scan, a biotechnology company in Freiburg. Gene Scan will examine the leaves, which have been gathered throughout the region by activists and other citizens, for genetic modifications. In this manner, the group hopes to find the fields where the crops are growing.

And if the secret is disclosed? “We never announce our activities beforehand,“ Ihl says.

On the field targeted by the activists' search, the farmer in a gray work shirt who has soil beneath his fingernails has a look around. He says he does not understand all the fuss. He has told all his neighbors that he is taking part in the testing of gentically modified crops, even the local organic farmer. The neighbors did not get angry, the farmer says. After all, they all have other things weighing on their minds, he adds.

Georg Folttmann, the head of corporate communications at KWS, says he is not happy about the secrecy surrounding the project. “We would like to be more open,“ Folttmann says.

He also says that the company does not want to force the use of genetic engineering. “But without genetic engineering, we will not remain competitive around the world,“ Foltt-mann says.


New Agricultural Technologies Gaining Acceptance, Usda's Penn Says

- AllAfrica.com, June 16, 2004

U.S. officials are seeing "much more acceptance" of new agricultural technologies on the part of developing countries, U.S. Under Secretary of Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Agriculture J.B. Penn says.

Briefing reporters June 15 at the State Department's Foreign Press Center in Washington, Penn said an upcoming agricultural science and technology ministerial conference focusing on West Africa will examine the use of "appropriate technologies," including biotechnology, to raise the productivity of staple food and high-productivity crops with the goal of strengthening food security, reducing hunger and improving nutrition.

At the meeting the United States will sign a memorandum of understanding with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, a group founded by a coalition of foundations including the Rockefeller Foundation and several companies to help disseminate technologies in Africa, Penn said.

Penn will lead the U.S. delegation to the conference.

U.S. sponsors of the conference, which is expected to attract 300-400 participants from 16 West African countries and the United States, are the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Other cosponsors are the government of Burkina Faso, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West African Economic and Monetary Union and the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel.

Pamela Bridgewater, deputy assistant secretary of State for African Affairs, who will also represent the United States at the conference, participated in the briefing.

Full transcript of the briefing available at:



- Crop Biotech Update (ISAAA), June 18, 2004

A group of Chinese biotechnology scientists have released a report urging the central government to allow the commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) rice. "Our GM rice technologies are technically mature and ready to commercialize. What's lacking is the leadership's bold decision," said Zhu Zhen, a leading rice scientist and deputy director of the Bureau of Life Science and Biotechnology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The Business Daily Update noted that Chinese researchers have developed several GM rice varieties resistant to China's major rice pests. The varieties include strains that can resist stem borer by using Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), delta endotoxin and cowpea trypsin inhibitor CpTI genes; protease inhibitor rice; planthopper and bacterial leaf blight, by using the rice plant disease resistance Xa21 gene; and fungal-resistant rice. The country has the largest field for GM rice trials.

Zhu estimates that about 25-30 per cent of China's plant biotechnology investments are spent on GM rice programs. The Chinese Government has become the world's second-largest spender on plant biotechnologies, next only to the United States. China is expected to launch at least 10 GM rice field trials between 2001 and 2005.


- Crop Biotech Update (ISAAA), June 18, 2004

FEFAC, the European feed manufacturer's association based in Belgium, said that European feed manufacturers will have to label most of their compound feed products as containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). FEFAC estimated that 95% of compound feed produced in the EU contains some GM material. While 92% of all animal feed in the EU is not GM, compound feed, made from a variety of different crops, often contains small amounts of GM material. Compound feed supplements protein crops in Europe.

The Europe Information Service quoted FEFAC Secretary-General Alexander Doring as saying that it was difficult to label feed as 'non-GM' because there is no legal distinction between feed without any GMOs and feed containing small amounts of GMOs under the 0.9% GM material.

Doring likewise noted that half of all animal feed is home-grown forage and the rest is made up of home-produced cereals such as wheat, barley or rye. These are non-GM plants grown in the EU. The vast majority of the protein crops used by the feed industry come from the Americas where acreage under GM crops is increasing. FEFAC estimates that 80% of the soybeans imported from the US and Canada for feed will have to be labeled.

Contact FEFAC at fefac@fefac.org or visit their website at http://www.fefac.org.


Life-sciences network launches online dialogue on plant-made pharmaceuticals

- Seedquest.com, June 16, 2004

Responding to a need for informed dialogue on plant-made pharmaceuticals
(PMPs) and their potential to help combat life-threatening illness, the International Academy of Life Sciences (IALS) and U.S. partner the Biomedical Exchange Program (BMEP) has launched www.PlantPharma.org, an online community dedicated to science-based medically oriented dialogue on PMPs.

“PMPs are getting increasing attention both in the U.S. and Europe for their potential to help the medical community treat diseases including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and many more,” said Dr. Hilmar Stolte, president of IALS, a global network of universities, medical schools, and related institutions that are dedicated to education, training and research in key issues associated with the life sciences.

“PlantPharma.org is designed to be a reliable source of information for physicians, scientists, journalists, the patient community, and others who are interested in the potential for PMPs or “pharming” to expand and improve health care options for people of all ages,” Stolte continued.

The site, located at www.PlantPharma.org, offers a variety of resources including PMP-related news; background materials such as white papers and peer-reviewed journal articles; an electronic newsletter; a calendar of upcoming events; and more. Visitors to the site may also join the community, share comments or news with other members and sign a declaration in favor of informed dialogue on PMPs.

New scientific discoveries involving therapeutic proteins offer exciting and promising hope for treating a range of diseases. Doing so in an effective and appropriate manner demands an informed dialogue on such challenges as producing these therapeutic proteins safely, economically, and in quantities that can be adjusted to meet growing needs.

Plant-made pharmaceuticals are one potential solution to manufacture these proteins in a manner that is easily scaleable, safe and cost-effective. In this process, pharm plants become factories that manufacture therapeutic proteins. These proteins are then extracted, refined, and used as the active ingredient in a pharmaceutical application.

In comparison with conventional production methods this process could save substantial amounts of time and money, enable more-easily scaleable production, and provide the ability to produce complex proteins that current systems may not.

“An open discussion about these issues among credible stakeholders including academics, scientists, the medical and patient communities and others is an essential step in creating greater understanding on the potential of this technology,” said Dr. Robert Rich, an IALS founder, member of the BMEP and a professor of law and political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Given the potential for PMPs to make a real difference in the treatment options for sufferers of diseases including Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis, HIV/AIDS and many more, the technology merits an informed and open discussion of its development, regulation and application.

“IALS and its community of academics, scientists, health-care professionals, consumers and others is committed to openly discussing the potentials and challenges of PMPs, with a goal of ensuring their maximum public benefits” he concluded.


EU Panel experts fail to approve genetically modified canola

- FoodIngredientsFirst.com, 18/06/2004

The application would now move to EU government ministers, who would have three months to try and reach a decision.

Just a month after the European Union lifted its 6-year moratorium on approving genetically modified organisms, a panel of national experts failed to approve a second new product.

The experts failed to secure the required majority either for or against approving the import and processing of a genetically modified oilseed rape
- also known as canola - made by U.S.-based Monsanto Co., the European Commission announced.

The application now moves to EU government ministers, who have three months to try to reach a decision. If the ministers fail to approve or reject it, the Commission itself is empowered to decide - as it did in May with a biotech variety of corn made by Switzerland`s Syngenta AG.

That was the first new biotech product approved for import and sale - but not cultivation - in the EU since 1998, when a de facto moratorium was imposed in response to public fears about the health and safety of bioengineering.


Locals build a better broccoli

- Gilroy Dispatch, June 17, 2004, By Jodi Engle

GILROY - Gilroy seed researchers are devising a variety of broccoli that won’t break a sweat even when temperatures soar above 100 degrees.

Normally, broccoli does best in temperatures between 40 and 70 degrees. It is generally grown in the late spring and early fall and almost exclusively along the California coast to avoid warmer temperatures. Exposure to heat can cause irregular heads and brown buds.

“Sometimes even if you grow it in a cool place, like the Salinas Valley, you’ll get a hot day or two, and it messes it up,” said Robert Barham, a seed researcher from Gilroy.

Barham and David Joynt, owners of R&D Agriculture, will be planting three to four acres of broccoli in a field along Pacheco Pass with seedlings of their new breed next week, hoping the plants will endure Gilroy’s sometimes sweltering summer heat.

“Broccoli can’t normally stand over 80,” Barham said. “This was almost like going to color TV from black and white. It can take 110 if you give it enough water. It’s amazing.”

When their plants mature, they’ll put their genetically modified broccoli to the test.

“Every summer we run our broccoli beauty contest and pick the best out of those,” he said.

R&D looks for plants that resist mildew, have smooth domes, have uniform flower buds and are green to blue-green in color. Plants that pass muster will be re-bred to produce these desired qualities, while ones that fail will be thrown out.

Barham and Joynt founded R&D Agriculture 14 years ago. Because they were a small company, the partners decided to specialize in broccoli.

Gilroy was the ideal climate for their experiments, said Barham, who has a doctorate in plant genetics.

“After three or four years, we were astounded by what we were starting to see,” he said. “It was material that could withstand heat over 100 degrees.”

Currently, broccoli grows best in Monterey County, with its cool and consistent coastal climate. More than half of the state’s broccoli is harvested in Monterey County. According to the most recent crop report for Santa Clara County, 5.4 tons of broccoli were harvested in the county in 2002 with a total value of $1,647,000.

In the end, Barham and Joynt hope their research will allow growers to rotate the crop throughout the year or move to cheaper land. Land in Monterey County cost more than $3,000 an acre in 2002. Also, if broccoli could be grown in more areas, it would cut down on the shipping costs.

“It could be grown right next to New York City, rather than shipped all of the way to New York City,” Joynt said.

Very few farmers in Gilroy grow it, Barham said.

Uesugi Farms grows mostly chili and bell peppers and also Napa cabbage and strawberries on its 1,000 acres, which stretch from the Coyote Valley to Hollister. Sales Manager Pete Aiello was impressed by R&D’s results with broccoli, however he doubted Uesugi would start growing broccoli.

“We have certain commodities that we’ve grown for many, many years that we’re good at growing. However, I could see this open a lot of doors where the weather is hot,” Aiello said.

Now, R&D Agriculture is in the process of applying for a patent, which should take up to another month and a half to win final approval. Barham described the process as “long and tedious and expensive.”

Soon, they will be embarking on an even more difficult endeavor: producing enough seed to distribute worldwide.

“Seed production is always a huge bottleneck for anything,” said Joynt, who focuses on marketing and production.

The Hollister resident said R&D will start seed plants in late summer, which will take a year and a half to grow. It’ll take more time to reliably predict how many pounds of seed they can produce and deliver.

So how does it taste?

“Broccoli is generally mild,” Barham said. “We select for that mildness. Most people want to get that flavor from butter, salt and cheese.”

No matter how it’s prepared, Joynt - like George Bush Sr. - probably won’t touch it on his dinner plate.

“I eat it in the field,” he said. “Cooked for dinner at home, I just will pass. (It’s) not one of my favorites.”