Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





July 8, 2004


GM Cotton Can Cut Pesticide in Half; Syngenta Comments on Leaving UK; Promise and Potential in Africa


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - July 8, 2004:

* Global Crop Diversity Trust: Not A Good Idea for Ensuring Global Food Security
* Making Pharma Crops Look Different
* Research finds GM cotton can cut pesticide use by half
* Sygenta's Pragnell comments on biotech foods, EU regulation
* Bid to quell fears about GMOs in SA
* EMBO awards for Communication in the Life Sciences
* Award Winner Helps Bridge the Continental Divide
* Understanding public resentment towards biotech
* Realizing the Promise and Potential of African Agriculture
* Silent Spring: RIP 2004

Global Crop Diversity Trust: Not A Good Idea for Ensuring Global Food Security

- Dave Wood

M.S. Swaminathan and Per Pinstrup-Andersen (AgBioView July 6, 2004) make a plea for further support for the Global Crop Diversity Trust that is trying to raise $260 million. Income from this Trust would fund seed conservation in 1,470 genebanks around the world.

With respect, I disagree. There are far more effective ways of ensuring global food security than supporting the Trust.

The first way is to ensure that the vast numbers of existing crop diversity collections are better evaluated, fully documented, and actually used. Our experience over the past thirty years is that very large collections directly servicing large crop breeding institutes work best for food security. This approach gave us the Green Revolution in rice and wheat. The bottleneck now is not yet more genebank samples, but more research, especially on wild relatives still evolving to match the stresses of climate change and new pests and still out there in the field. There is an essential role for biotechnology here but the present governance of the Trust includes anti-GMO elements. Can the Trust be trusted to be neutral on GMOs?

The second way is to recognize that 1,470 genebanks are far too many for secure storage of possibly 10 million samples. The Trust should not seek to encourage this inefficiency. Fortunately, there is a very new opportunity to solve this massive (and hitherto expensive) technical problem of poor storage. The new International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (IT) entered into force last week (on the 29th June). The IT establishes an agreed ‘global commons’ for crops to replace the national sovereignty endorsed by the Convention on Biological Diversity a decade ago. Thus there is no longer a political barrier to physically consolidating a multitude of national and institutional genebanks for greater security of storage. The present 1,470 genebanks are often of dubious technical quality, with an appalling record of sample duplication (essential for secure storage). In future, a limited number of large, technically excellent, duplicated genebanks, would be of far greater service to global food security at far lower cost than the $260 million required by the Trust. Three or four genebanks would suffice, but the cost efficiency of very large stores is so great that several more could be built. Just this week, with the IT, this became possible.

The third way to ensure global food security is to return to the roots of genetic resource management through plant introduction and distribution. The proven value of plant introduction has been lost sight of in the promotion of conservation of a limited range of crops. Early efforts recognized that most crops grow better and produce more in continents away from their homeland (probably because they escape their co-evolved pests and diseases: the rabbit in Australia phenomenon). For example, Africa depends on maize, cassava and beans from Latin America; Brazil on coffee from Ethiopia; Malaysia on oil palm from Africa and rubber from South America; and the U.S.A. on wheat and soybean from Asia and sorghum from Africa. But this biological fact it was the driver for the great efforts of plant introduction of the likes of Vavilov, as he brought back 330,000 samples of crops for the new agricultural lands of Russia, and for the global collecting efforts of the US Department of Agriculture over more than a century. Millions of samples were distributed in the U.S.A., direct to farmers. This process of intercontinental crop diversification is not nearly complete. There are many food security crops and important pasture species not covered by IT. These omissions range from major crops such as soybean and groundnut to locally important staples such as teff and ensete from Ethiopia, peach palm from Latin America, and sago from S.E. Asia. Food diversification based on livestock will suffer as major tropical grass and legume pasture species are excluded. As the Trust will not cover crops excluded from the IT, it will fail to ensure the conservation of these vital crops and pasture species. It will also not promote the effective work of intercontinental crop diversification.

Finally, even for crops that are covered by the IT and the Trust, the only collections covered are in public domain genebanks – either national or in the CGIAR institutes. These ‘raw materials’ may not be the most essential for global food security. Certainly within the CGIAR the most immediately useful samples are from the vast range of trial material developed with care and skill by national and CGIAR scientists. Each modern variety may contain the ‘good’ diversity from more than a hundred traditional varieties. This trial and breeders’ material is both excluded from the IT and Trust mandates (as ‘material under development’) and also not, unfortunately, securely stored. Its survival is an urgent priority.

In sum, priority funding is needed not for the Global Crop Diversity Trust, but for: more evaluation and enhancement of existing samples; consolidation of national collections into efficient and large international stores (with effective documentation) on the model of the CGIAR genebanks; greater emphasis on plant introduction and crop diversification; and secure storage for the millions of enhanced lines threatened by the retirement of breeders or changes in institutional interests.

Global policy over genetic resources now seems to be in disarray. The stamp-collectors urge for yet more conservation has taken over from the former ethic of 'stamps ensuring the delivery of mail' that gave us effective crop introduction and plant breeding to ensure food security.

Dave Wood

Date: Wed, 07 Jul 2004 15:40:11 -0500
Subject: Post: McHughen Response to MacGregor
From: Alan McHughen

Making Pharma Crops Look Different

Bob MacGregor presents the good idea of tightly linking a visual marker to GE pharma crops, for example using red pigmented kernels to easily distinguish pharma corn from regular corn and help ensure contaminants are seen an removed (Drugs in crops, AgBioView, July 7, 2004).

Such an idea is not, however, new. Kernel visual distinguishability (KVD for short) is already in common practice in the seed industry and used in many crop species. Depending on the crop (e.g. some types of wheat), KVD may even be able to determine the specific cultivar.

Genetically promiscuous Brassica napus Rapeseed (an industrial-oil commodity) can be grown near a field of equally promiscuous Brassica napus Canola (a food oil commodity) with little or no threat to either market (recognizing that there will always be some small amount of cross contamination). In Canada, industrial oil flax cultivars produce brown seeds, but food oil flax cultivars produce yellow seeds; this easily distinguished government sanctioned seed feature helps detect and manage the inevitable admixtures. (Never mind that these flax mutants are uncharacterized and largely unregulated, so may present other undetermined health or ecological risks. But that’s a different issue for another day.)

KVD can indeed be useful in helping management of seed admixtures, whether segregating food from pharma, or GM crops from organic, or one commodity-type cultivar from another. The worries about seed ‘contamination’ are grossly overblown, considering we’ve always had such contamination, and we’ve always had means to minimize it where it presented a real risk.

--- Alan McHughen, D.Phil., University of California, Riverside, CA


Research finds GM cotton can cut pesticide use by half

- ABC Online, 08/07/2004

New research has found genetically modified cotton can cut pesticide use by half, while boosting the crop's biodiversity.

The CSIRO study shows over six years, growers who planted the Bt cotton variety reduced the need to spray for cotton's major pest, the helicoverpa moth.

Dr Gary Fitt says a new variety of Bt cotton is about to hit the market, which should reduce pesticide use even further.

"With two-gene cotton, that reduction will be even more dramatic; in fact around 80 per cent reduction compared to conventional cotton.

"So growers are certainly saving a lot on pesticide costs.

"The last few years has certainly seen growers getting an economic benefit from Bt cotton.

"But I think the argument that's most important is that the environment has been benefitting right from the start, with much reduced pesticides."

Sygenta's Pragnell comments on biotech foods, EU regulation

- Bloomberg, Peter McGill, July 5, 2004 (VIA AGNET)

NEW YORK - Michael Pragnell, chief executive of Syngenta AG, comments on the company's decision to end research on genetically modified crops in the U.K. and discusses the European Union's need for an independent regulator.

Pragnell spoke at a conference on consumers, farmers and food at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. Syngenta, based in Basel, Switzerland, is the world's biggest maker of crop chemicals.

On ending basic research on biotech crops in the U.K.:

``It was about the rationalization of our research activity around three major laboratories, two in Europe and one in North America. We had four, we wanted to reduce them to three, to get greater proximity of our scientists, to accelerate the rate of innovation.''

``What we are doing is investing some $40 million in new research facilities, and we had to decide where we did what.'' ``This was not a political decision about saying `Goodbye Europe, there is no future for biotechnology-based crops here in Europe.' Not at all.''

On European consumers' concerns about gene-altered foods:

``What we saw happening in the late 1990s here in Europe was where a technology was launched on an unsuspecting consumer in the belief that the consumer wanted the product and would therefore buy the product.

``What became abundantly clear was that the European consumer was not prepared to be taken for granted. This was a consumerism point, not a regulatory point.''

On European Union regulation of biotech foods:

``Here in Europe, and this applies as much to the Commission as the independent sovereign states, we have a situation in which regulators can only advise the governments of the day, whereas in the U.S., the regulatory obligation discharged by the Environmental Protection Agency is enshrined in law, and the EPA is obliged to act independently in the best interests of the consumer.

``That is the fundamental challenge we have here in Europe, and it's not one that is going to be quickly faced. That really is the issue, that the regulation hasn't the power to act, the regulation can only advise the government of the day.

``Put that alongside the increasing power wielded by the consumer -- and governments, of course, are made up of elected politicians -- then elected politicians can be influenced by consumer opinion and attitude. What you don't see is their best interest being protected by an independent authority.

``That's really what underlay my point. Not a broad swipe at regulators. Far from it.''

On U.K. government policy toward genetically modified crops:

``I'm concerned that some of my competitors in the industry, who have been submitting products for approval, appear not to have enjoyed the wholehearted, enthusiastic support we had hoped for.''


Bid to quell fears about GMOs in SA

- Independent Online, July 08 2004

The agriculture department sought to dispel fears about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in South Africa.

All GMOs in the country had gone through a rigorous assessment process taking into account human, animal and environmental safety factors, the department's director of genetic resources, Julian Jaftha, said in Pretoria.

"All GMOs that are available have gone through the same process and we are confident that all concerns have been adequately addressed," he told the Agricultural Writers Association.

"Not everything is just approved and put out there."

Jaftha described in detail how GMO licensing applications are processed, saying the emphasis was on access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food and the sustainable management of the country's natural agricultural resources.

The government believed biotechnology could play an important role in eliminating poverty and hunger, but also recognised the potential risks, he said.

The appraisal of each application involved an assessment of safety and the socio-economic impact, and the evaluation of submission from the public and affected sectors of the economy.

There was also inspection and monitoring after an application had been approved.

Jaftha said 10 applications for trial releases (the planting of crops for trial rather than commercial purposes), one for contained use (in a laboratory) and one for a commodity clearance (using a GMO product only for food and feed but not planting) were received between January and June. The latter application has since been withdrawn.

None of the other 11 have yet been adjudicated upon, and some of them are to be considered this week.

According to a departmental document, GMOs commercially available in South Africa by last year were insect resistant maize and cotton, and herbicide-tolerant cotton, maize and soybean.

GMO safety was the topic of a recent Pretoria High Court application by environmental lobby group Biowatch.

It wanted to compel the government to divulge details of all GMOs brought into or manufactured in the country to date.

The body sought a court order directing the State provide a list of facts concerning each permit, approval and authorisation granted for all GMO imports, exports, field trials and general releases to date.

Judgment in the application is expected early next month.

Jaftha said the department was obliged to provide certain safety information in any event, but some data was classified as trade secrets.

Any party seeking information was free to lodge an application through the Promotion of Access to Information Act or the Administrative Justice Act.

Regarding an objection by Grain SA to an application by biotechnology company Monsanto for an import permit for genetically modified maize for human and animal consumption, Jaftha said the application had not yet been received.

Once it is, the objection would be considered as part of the evaluation process.

Grain SA expressed concern in a statement on Tuesday that the maize could be used for domestic production purposes, as importers could not guarantee that it would be immediately milled or fed as whole grain to animals.

EMBO awards for Communication in the Life Sciences

The European Molecular Biology Organisation award is for a scientist who is active in research and has made an outstanding contribution to the communication of science to the public.

The closing date for applications is 31st August 2004, with the award being presented on 5th November 2004.

For further details:


Award Winner Helps Bridge the Continental Divide
Heart-healthy soybean oil provides an opportunity to educate consumers.

- WhyBiotech.com, July, 2004

Marie-Laure Sauer, 28, sees herself primarily as a researcher and a Ph.D. student. But Sauer's very presence at South Dakota State University makes the French native and Young Scientist award winner an ambassador working to bridge the cultural divide between the United States and Europe over plant biotechnology.

"A lot of people in France don't understand what GMOs are or what biotechnology is and, sometimes, they don't want to understand," Sauer said.

Sauer's research involves using biotechnology to produce soybean oil that is healthier for consumers and holds up better when stored or heated for the food industry, which uses it in many processed products.

As one of three winners of the Council for Biotechnology Information's (CBI's) Young Scientist award chosen from a nationwide pool of 25 nominees, Sauer will receive a $5,000 scholarship and the opportunity to discuss her work with biotech leaders at a national forum. CBI presents the Young Scientist award to select master's or Ph.D. students conducting agricultural and food biotech research that will provide quality improvements such as better taste, nutrition, healthfulness or cooking performance.

"The fact that other people recognize your work is very rewarding and makes you want to continue," Sauer said.

Soybean oil makes up more than 80 percent of all edible oil consumed in the United States.1 Regular soybean oil contains high levels of the polyunsaturated fatty acids linoleic acid and linolenic acid, which oxidize quickly and are too unstable for long-term storage or cooking at high temperatures.

To alleviate these problems, soybean oil may be partially hydrogenated to make it more stable. However, this process results in the production of trans fat, which has been linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease.

Another fatty acid present in soybean oil is oleic acid, which is associated with decreased heart disease risk, is naturally stable and stores well.

"One objective in my work is to provide easy, cost-effective ways to select for the genes to help the breeder combine low-linolenic and high-oleic traits in soybean varieties to make healthier, more stable oils for the food industry," Sauer said.

Other researchers are working toward this same goal, but are using biotechnology to manipulate the levels of fatty acids produced in the bean.

Sauer's approach is to identify and select genes associated with low levels of the "bad" linolenic acid and high levels of the "good" oleic acid. These genes are then used in breeding programs to introduce the desired characteristics into soybean plants.

Sauer said initial results have been promising, and she is excited about the potential applications of her research.

"It's good to know that what you're doing is going to be useful to science, your university, the edible oil industry and the farmers who are going to grow those crops," she said.

Born in France to parents who are both doctors, Sauer knew early on that she wanted to pursue a career in plant genetics. She holds a master's degree from the École Nationale Supérieure Agronomique in Toulouse, France, where she specialized in biotechnology and plant improvement and graduated in the top 10 percent of her class.

She says her parents have been supportive of her goals, but she also has encountered negativity from friends and acquaintances who, like many Europeans, are concerned about biotechnology.

"In Europe, a lot of people are against GMOs. They are scared of the idea of genome manipulation," she said. "I wanted a new outlook on biotechnology research, so I decided to come to the United States to do my Ph.D."

After earning her Ph.D., Sauer hopes to return to France to continue her biotech research, but is open to staying in the United States if it will provide her more opportunity to pursue the work she loves.

"I'm very pleased with what I'm doing, and I'm very proud of what I'm doing," Sauer said. "I'm going to try to have as many discussions with people as I can and try to explain to them what biotechnology is."


Understanding public resentment towards biotech

- EUROPA, European Commission, July 7, 2004 (VIA AGNET)

It is too easy to blame the media, and its tendency to dumb down and sensationalise scientific discoveries, for the apparent public hostility towards biotechnology, say Italian researchers. They asked the question: if it isn’t scientific illiteracy and media alarmism causing this distrust, what or who is?

Using data from previous opinion surveys as their starting point, two Italian researchers decided to delve deeper into the root causes of public hostility towards the sciences and biotechnology in particular. They found, contrary to common belief, that being better informed about biotechnology is not a precursor to being more open and accepting of it. Italians were also capable of making a distinction between ‘the sciences’ in general and different biotech applications.

Talking about their work in the latest edition of Science, Massimiano Bucchi of the University of Trento and Federico Neresini of the University of Padua ask “Why are people hostile to biotechnologies?’ They answer this question using data collected during their 2003 survey of almost 1 000 Italians’ opinions on science, biotechnology, ethics and governance issues.

They conclude that the negative attitudes of Italians towards biotechnology “are not part of a more general public prejudice against science”. Indeed, 84% of respondents favour continuing research on medical biotechnologies, whereas fewer (57%) thought such research should continue on food. Elements of the Italian findings are confirmed in other studies, including the EU’s Eurobarometer survey of public opinion on science. Almost 40% of participants in the current study feel scientists are trustworthy sources of information on biotechnology – in the European study, 45% of the EU-15 and 54% of the then candidate countries expressed similar faith.

Communicating with the public

At the same time, the authors note, scientific research appears to have lost its air of impartiality, with 69% of respondents concurring that it is “loaded with interests”, and it has developed a split personality over certain issues. For example, over 68% think that the scientific community is divided over what to do about genetically modified organisms and more than 83% perceive a lack of uniform opinion on cloning among specialists.

The challenge of scientific governance and ethics also came to the fore in the study when Italians were asked who should decide whether to continue research on biotechnologies. Just under 30% suggest a transnational body – specifically mentioning the European Union – is best placed to decide on such questions, while nearly 21% favour more democratic decision-making on the subject.

“Our study suggests that what we are witnessing represents concern for the procedures connecting scientific expertise, decision-making and political representation,” say the authors. They conclude that neither the “leave it to the experts” approach nor the “utopian approach”, which assumes citizens are scientifically qualified to make the right decisions, would be appropriate. They add that the objection to some biotechnologies seems to be rooted in a “perceived absence of adequate and publicly accountable procedures for the governance of innovation”.

This matter was well aired at the European Group on Life Sciences’ latest meeting entitled ‘Modern biology and visions of man’. Indeed, the Union recognises the importance of scientific ethics and governance in its Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) for research. Projects applying for EU funding are obliged to include statements on how they will deal with the ethical concerns of their research and how they plan to disseminate their findings to a wider audience.
These matters are dealt with in more detail in the guide for participating in FP6. In addition, the European Federation of Biotechnology’s dedicated task group on the public perception of biotech offers support to projects funded under the EU’s Integrated Projects and Networks of Excellence instruments, helping them engage and communicate with the public on this sensitive subject.


Realizing the Promise and Potential of African Agriculture

- InterAcademy Council

Africa is rich in both natural and human resources, yet nearly 200 million of its people are undernourished because of inadequate food supplies. Comprehensive strategies are needed across the continent to harness the power of science and technology (S&T) in ways that boost agricultural productivity, profitability, and sustainability -- ultimately ensuring that all Africans have access to enough safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs. This report addresses the question of how science and technology can be mobilized to make that promise a reality.

Realizing the Promise and Potential of African Agriculture

* Front Matter
* Executive Summary


1. Introduction
2. Food Security in Africa
3. African Agricultural Production Systems and Productivity in Perspective
4. Science and Technology Options That Can Make a Difference
5. Building Impact-oriented Research, Knowledge and Development Institutions
6. Creating and Retaining a New Generation of Agricultural Scientists
7. Markets and Policies to Make the Poor Income and Food Secure
8. Strategic Recommendations


* Annex A. Priority Issues That Emerged From African Regional Consultative Workshops
* Annex B. Strategic Actions For Target Audiences
* Annex C. Study Panel Biographies
* Annex D. Glossary
* Annex E. Abbreviations and Acronyms
* Annex F. List of Boxes, Figures, and Tables

FULL REPORT AT: http://www.interacademycouncil.net/print.asp?id=6959


Silent Spring: RIP 2004

CapitalismMagazine.com, by Walter Williams, July 7, 2004

Summary: The fact that DDT saves lives might account for part of the hostility toward it.

Ever since Rachel Carson's 1962 book "Silent Spring," environmental extremists have sought to ban all DDT use. Using phony studies from the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the environmental activist-controlled Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT in 1972. The extremists convinced the nation that DDT was not only unsafe for humans but unsafe to birds and other creatures as well. Their arguments have since been scientifically refuted.

While DDT saved crops, forests and livestock, it also saved humans. In 1970, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences estimated that DDT saved more than 500 million lives during the time it was widely used. A scientific review board of the EPA showed that DDT is not harmful to the environment and showed it to be a beneficial substance that "should not be banned." According to the World Health Organization, worldwide malaria infects 300 million people. About 1 million die of malaria each year. Most of the victims are in Africa, and most are children.

In Sri Lanka, in 1948, there were 2.8 million malaria cases and 7,300 malaria deaths. With widespread DDT use, malaria cases fell to 17 and no deaths in 1963. After DDT use was discontinued, Sri Lankan malaria cases rose to 2.5 million in the years 1968 and 1969, and the disease remains a killer in Sri Lanka today. More than 100,000 people died during malaria epidemics in Swaziland and Madagascar in the mid-1980s, following the suspension of DDT house spraying. After South Africa stopped using DDT in 1996, the number of malaria cases in KwaZulu-Natal province skyrocketed from 8,000 to 42,000. By 2000, there had been an approximate 400 percent increase in malaria deaths. Now that DDT is being used again, the number of deaths from malaria in the region has dropped from 340 in 2000 to none at the last reporting in February 2003.

In South America, where malaria is endemic, malaria rates soared in countries that halted house spraying with DDT after 1993 -- Guyana, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. In Ecuador, DDT spraying was increased after 1993, and the malaria rate of infection was reduced by 60 percent. In a 2001 study published by the London-based Institute for Economic Affairs, "Malaria and the DDT Story," Richard Tren and Roger Bate say that "Malaria is a human tragedy," adding, "Over 1 million people, mostly children, die from the disease each year, and over 300 million fall sick."

The fact that DDT saves lives might account for part of the hostility toward it. Alexander King, founder of the Malthusian Club of Rome, wrote in a biographical essay in 1990:

"My own doubts came when DDT was introduced. In Guyana, within two years, it had almost eliminated malaria. So my chief quarrel with DDT, in hindsight, is that it has greatly added to the population problem."

Dr. Charles Wurster, one of the major opponents of DDT, is reported to have said,

"People are the cause of all the problems. We have too many of them. We need to get rid of some of them, and this (referring to malaria deaths) is as good a way as any."

Spraying a house with small amounts of DDT costs $1.44 per year; alternatives are five to 10 times more, making them unaffordable in poor countries. Rich countries that used DDT themselves threaten reprisals against poor countries if they use DDT.

One really wonders about religious groups, the Congressional Black Caucus, government and non-government organizations, politicians and others who profess concern over the plight of poor people around the world while at the same time accepting or promoting DDT bans and the needless suffering and death that follow. Mosquito-borne malaria not only has devastating health effects but stifles economic growth as well.