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January 19, 2005


GM Beet Can Benefit Environment; Bangladesh Endorses GM Rice; India Majot GM Player, Develop Protein-rich Potato


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: January 19, 2005

* GM beet 'can benefit environment'
* Celebrating a cereal or Attacking Science?
* Bangladesh 'endorses' GM rice
* India now major player in transgenic crops
* Indian scientists develop protein-rich potato
* Genetically modified seed sales nearly triple
* How to combat malaria


- Broom's Barn Research Station, 19th January 2005

In research published today(1) , scientists from Broom's Barn Research Station(2) conclusively show how to use GM herbicide tolerant (GMHT) crop technology for environmental benefit. The authors suggest that the new crop management approaches they have demonstrated could resolve legitimate concerns about indirect environmental effects of GM sugar beet on weeds, insects and birds. John Pidgeon, director of Broom's Barn comments that 'This work adds a new perspective to future discussions about the benefits from GMHT sugar beet that the public, environmentalists and farmers should all be interested in'.

To obtain wildlife benefits in spring, the authors have improved timing of herbicide application to maximise both crop yields and the benefits from leaving weeds between crop rows. Maximising yields removes barriers to farmer up-take. However, autumn environmental benefits are more important, as autumn weeds provide seeds for bird food and for recharging weed seedbanks. The paper demonstrates a system that gives maximum crop yield AND increased weed seed availability (up to 16 fold), compared to previous GM or conventional management systems tested in the government's recent Farm Scale Evaluation trials. The new system is extremely simple in comparison, it involves applying the first spray fairly early and omitting the second spray - making additional cost and pesticide savings on top of the already large savings compared to conventional practice.


Mike May Tel: 01284 812230, mike.may@bbsrc.ac.uk
John Pidgeon Tel: 01284 812201 john.pidgeon@bbsrc.ac.uk
Elspeth Bartlet Tel: 01582 763133 ext 2260 ebartlet@bbsrc.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

1. Management of genetically modified herbicide tolerant sugar beet for spring and autumn environmental benefit by: Mike J. May, Gillian T. Champion, Alan M. Dewar, Aiming Qi and John D. Pidgeon. In Proceedings B of the Royal Society.

2. Brooms Barn Research Station is part of Rothamsted Research (www.rothamsted.ac.uk), one of the largest agricultural research institutes in the country, which is sponsored by the BBSRC.


GM beet 'can benefit environment'

- BBC News, By Alex Kirby, Jan 19, 2005

Some genetically-modified crops can be managed in a way that is beneficial to wildlife, a UK research team believes.

Their work, published by the Royal Society, says there is "conclusive evidence" of benefits to wildlife from GM sugar beet crops.

They say their findings mean everyone involved in the debate about GM crops should rethink where they now stand.

But anti-GM campaigners say the work changes nothing, and are still opposed to any use of the crops in the UK.

The researchers are from Broom's Barn Research Station, part of Rothamsted Research, which specialises in the study of sugar beet.

Unconditional funding

The study, Management Of GM Herbicide-tolerant Sugar Beet For Spring And Autumn Environmental Benefit, was funded in 2001 and 2002 by a consortium of GM industry interests, the Association of Biotechnology Companies (ABC).

But the researchers say they accepted the support on condition that they could publish their work with no restrictions or reference to the ABC.

To help wildlife in spring, the researchers say, they improved the timing of herbicide application to maximise crop yields and the benefits from leaving weeds between crop rows.

Answering the doubters?

For the more important autumn environmental benefits (weed seeds for bird food and for recharging weed seedbanks), they say they developed a system giving maximum crop yield and increased weed seed availability (up to 16-fold).

This is by comparison with previous GM or conventional management systems tested in the government's recent Farm Scale Evaluation (FSE) trials.

The team says: "The new system is extremely simple: compared to the previous GM management system, it involves applying the first spray fairly early and omitting the second spray."

The researchers say their new crop management approaches "could resolve legitimate concerns about indirect environmental effects of GM sugar beet on weeds, insects and birds".

Dr John Pidgeon, director of Broom's Barn, told the BBC: "We're scientists, and we go by the evidence. We think this is all about how you manage the crops, not whether they're genetically modified or not.

Beyond academic interest

"If you manage the crop differently and to benefit the environment, you get a different result. Perhaps all sides of the GM debate need to think again.

"Although the government has ruled out the growing of GM beet, this research could undoubtedly have a commercial application if anyone decides to take it up."

But the Five Year Freeze Campaign said the research showed different management approaches would leave farmland wildlife short of food at some stage of the year.

Still sceptical

It said Broom's Barn had used two techniques on the beet to increase weed cover or seed production, band spraying early in the season or delayed spraying. But only one technique could be used, it said.

The campaign's director, Pete Riley, said: "The choices offered by GM sugar beet cropping appear to offer farmland birds three options: insufficient food throughout the year, early season food or autumn food.

"We doubt that this last ditch attempt to save GM sugar beet will have much credibility with regulators or farmers."

Celebrating a cereal or Attacking Science?

Dear Editor of Frontline:

In an article entitled "Celebrating a cereal" that appeared in the FRONTLINE issue of January 18, 2005
(http://www.flonnet.com/fl2202/stories/20050128001909600.htm) your writer ASHA KRISHNAKUMAR has done great disservice to your readers by simply focusing on the hypothetical scary scenarios and faulty information in talking about the fruture of rice crop. Instead of talking to real rice scientists who have made tremendous contribution in enhancing this wonderful crop, she has chosen to primarily talk to naysayers like Vandana Shiva and Devinder Sharma who have done nothing to elevate this crop, and simply indulge in their usual multinational bashing, and attack on science.

Application of science especially genetics was crucial to increase the production of rice by more than four fold in the past four decades all over Asia. Scientific developments including genetic engineering of rice further offers tremendous opportunities to safely improve the productivity of this wonder cereal by making it disease and pest resistant, tolerant to drought and salinity and also make it more nutritious as the research on Golden Rice has already shown. Leaders such as Prof. Swaminathan understand this, and his own institute is now pioneering the development of salt-tolerant rice through biotechnology.

However your correspondent chose to provide a skeptical picture through wrong information. She could have spent more time to learn about the rice research through journals than through the Greenpeace website. This was clearly evident when she asserts that "More than $100 million was spent over 10 years to produce this transgenic rice at the Institute of Plant Sciences in Zurich, Switzerland". The truth is that this was the amount spent on all of rice research by the Rockefeller Foundation to funds hundreds of studies across the world over nearly ten years. She also quotes some unnamed (Pseudo?) experts who, according to her, "argue that this will have no effect as it will meet less than 1 per cent of the required daily intake of Vitamin A" which is blatantly false. The developer of this Golden Rice Dr. Ingo Potrykus has argued repeatedly that this rice would provide enough pro-vitamin A to prevent the deficiency symptoms such as blindness and immune impairment (see www.agbioworld.org).

Indian agricultue and our farmers can also benefit greatly from an increasing role of private sector in this industry. Investment and interest on this crop by the private seed sector can boost rice development (as it has already happened with cotton, mazie and vegetables) and is badly needed in India.

Readers of Frontline expect more balanced and analytical reporting from such an esteemed magazine.


C. S. Prakash

Dear Editor:

Apropos “Celebrating Rice” in the January 18-28, 2005 issue.

It is unfortunate that the writer did not bother to verify some of the basic facts about the science and technology of rice improvement, and the kind of fantastic (mind boggling) progress in the understanding of rice biology that has been achieved by global teams of rice researchers in the past two decades, thanks largely due to Rockefeller Foundation’s largesse.

India is swarming with a multitude of rice experts and the nearest neighboring Tamilnadu Agricultural University researchers would have been an excellent source of verifiable information. It behooves Frontline to publish balanced and objective articles to inform its enlightened readership, and not mislead them with baseless information fed by the non-scientific experts.

In fact, one will be hard pressed to find a fact based objective reportage on modern agricultural biotechnology in Frontline, and causes one to wonder what could be driving this anti-biotechnology bias in your magazine. There are plenty of knowledgeable experts in Chennai alone who can be sourced for verifiable facts about modern biotechnology for asking, and it would be advisable to use those sources in addition to seeking your regular suspects for opinions.

Dr. Shanthu Shantharam, Biologistics International, Ellicott City, MD, USA; sshantharam@biologistics.us

Dear Editor of Frontline:

It is a sad day to read so biased an article authored by Ms. Asha Krishnakumar (Celebrating a Cereal, Vol. 22, Issue 02, Jan. 15, 2005) which does not contribute an iota of information to the readers of Frontline nor does it do justice to the mountainous scientifically validated information accumulated on the origin, evolution, development and status of current research on the staple crop rice. On the contrary, the author has freely indulged in non-science based vilification of the achievements in improvement in yield and several other positive characters brought about by diligent application of genetics and plant breeding over decades. The author freely quotes personages who are avowed technology-bashers and are sworn to yoking the masses of the developing world to archaic practices so they can make a cosy living out of modernity for themselves with their arm-chair criticism and unfounded pontifications.

The author would have done her cause a ton of good and her magazine a lot of proud had she bothered to check with any of the national rice research institutions in the country or the International Rice Research Institute for validating the unfounded criticisms so freely paraded by the numerous charlatans that she has deliberately chosen to quote. Not one item in her lengthy article relates remotely to science and is in fact a serious let down to the readers although going by the author’s track record, any essay based on facts or science is far too much to expect of her.

The Frontline can do better than fill glossy pages with verbiage of this kind just to rake in a few more silvers.

Gurumurti Natarajan, Ph D, General Manager, Emirates Agriculture Technologies, Sharjah, UAE


Bangladesh 'endorses' GM rice

- BBC, 18 January, 2005

The Bangladesh Agriculture Ministry says it hopes to release a type of genetically modified rice to farmers if on-going research is successful.

Authorities claim the new rice may help feed Bangladesh's growing population as well as tackle certain common ailments associated with malnutrition.

The Agriculture Minister says the government does not object to GM technology, which may prove beneficial.

Research into the crop is being carried out at the Rice Research Institute.

Dense population

Bangladesh's population now stands at nearly 150 million, making it the most densely populated in the world.

But agriculture experts say the country is losing 80,000 hectares of land to industrialisation and urbanisation each year.

Bangladesh has already produced a hybrid rice and signed agreements with Vietnam and China to share information of this particular rice technology. But officials say the country will now look at genetically modified rice to boost production.

The chief of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Dr Mahidul Haque, said a locally developed rice variety known as BRRI 29 has been transformed into a genetically modified rice.

He said beta carotene - which the body develops into Vitamin A - had been taken from daffodils and added to the rice. This made it useful in fighting conditions such as poor sight and blindness.

Environmentalists and health experts have already warned the government against introducing any GM rice and food in Bangladesh without testing. They fear that any GM food without proper testing could create severe health problems in a poor country like Bangladesh.

The Agriculture Minister, MK Anwar, acknowledged GM foods are controversial worldwide, but his government will not take any stand against the technology.

"We'll introduce GM rice in Bangladesh after proper testing and going through the national and international rules and regulations," he told the BBC.

Officials expect the research on GM rice to be completed shortly, but no time-frame has been given.


India now major player in transgenic crops

- Economic Times, January 18, 2005, By Prabha Jagannathan

NEW DELHI - Admit it, you were among those who thought biotech crops meant a robot’s haircut in 2025. Now, stuff that bargain down your sceptical face and chew on this: India has hit the big time in biotech (transgenic) crop coverage, making it with honours to the list of biotech mega countries (countries growing over 50,000 hectares or more of biotech crop), neck and neck with top-notchers USA, Argentina, Canada, Brazil, China, Paraguay and South Africa.

And is now poised to be a big player in a projected $5 billion global biotech market for 2005, having quietly between 2002 and 2004 hiked its BtCotton area coverage by 400% to a whopping 500,000 ha.

Simply put, India, along with China, is expected to galvanise the global biotech crop market (the commercial biggies here now are soyabean, canola, maize and cotton) in a significant manner over the next few years.

“Of the 11 developing countries that have already approved and adopted biotech crops to meet their own food, feed and fibre needs and/or optimise exports, five leading countries, (including) China and India in Asia will exert leadership and have a significant impact on future adoption and acceptance of biotech crops globally, because of their significant role in biotech crops and generally in world affairs” an ISAAA (the USA-based International Service for the Acquisition of Agri biotech Applications) study by chairman Clive James holds.

Here’s one indication of what sort of MFN status India gets for making it to that exclusive club of transgenic crop pucca sahibs: the accumulated value for the nine year period between 1996(when biotech crops were first commercialised)-2004 was a whopping $24 billion.

And in 2004, the global market value of biotech crops, forecasted by Cropnosis, was $4.70 billion, accounting for 15% of the $32.5 billion global crop protection market in 2003 and for 16% of the $30 billion global commercial seed market.

Crop biotech investments from both the public and private sector in India was estimated in 2001 at $25 million per annum.

Post-BtCotton, though, that estimate could well now out to be (Bt) peanuts!! The global value of total crop production from biotech crops in 2003, meanwhile, was estimated at $44 billion.

By 2015, biotech grains, oilseeds, fruit and vegetables are expected to make a global potential gain of $210 billion, according to another study by Australian economists.

That projection, though, was based on full adoption with 10% productivity gains in high and middle income countries and 20% in low income countries. Even a fraction of gain, though, spells biotech big time.

Oh, and about that baingan...projections are that in the Bharat of tomorrow, the humble brinjal will be the most important new biotech food crop that to compete with Bt cotton.


Indian scientists develop protein-rich potato

- Silicon India, January 18, 2005

NEW DELHI: A genetically engineered, protein-enriched potato is being readied for commercial field-testing in India, scientists here said.

Developed by Asis Datta at the National Centre for Plant Genome Research in Jawaharlal Nehru University, the "protato" - "pro" from protein and "tato" from potato - has up to 35 percent more protein than a normal potato due to a gene transfer from the amaranth plant.

Potato, a starch-rich tuber, contains barely one percent protein while the amaranth plant has nutrition-rich leaves and seeds used for culinary purposes.

Scientists have isolated the gene in the amaranth responsible for protein synthesis and have introduced it into potato, thus increasing the tuber's protein content.

Scientist and National Commission of Farmers member R.B. Singh said on the sidelines of a two-day workshop on biotechnology: "It is a marvellous discovery working on the fact that protein is consumed on a large scale in India."


Genetically modified seed sales nearly triple

- Times Argus, By Darren M. Allen, January 19, 2005

MONTPELIER – The amount of genetically altered seeds sold to Vermont distributors last year was nearly triple the amount recorded two years ago, the state's agriculture secretary told lawmakers Tuesday.

Almost 460,000 pounds of soybean and corn seeds altered to resist insects and disease were purchased by the companies who ultimately sell them to farmers. Two years ago, the amount was just under 170,000 pounds, according to Steve Kerr, the secretary of agriculture, food and markets.

The rise in sales reported by the major manufacturers of genetically altered seeds is alarming to many in the organic farming movement, who fear contamination of their crops by the engineered ones.

It also, according to Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, chair of the House Agriculture Committee, points to the need for legislation protecting farmers from the ramifications of using altered seeds.

Such legislation was proposed last year, and actually passed at least twice by the Senate. The measure would have reduced the liability farmers face by inadvertently growing altered crops that drifted into their fields but that the farmer didn't purchase from the seed manufacturer. But the liability measure faced stiff opposition in the then-Republican controlled House.

This year will be different, Zuckerman said.

"The use of these seeds is not just one sector of farmers versus another," said Zuckerman, himself an organic farmer. "It's a discussion going on within sectors."

The seed report is a compilation of sales figures reported by the manufacturers themselves. Most states – and the federal government – do not require such reporting.

Kerr noted that the top three gene-altered seed manufacturers – Monsanto, Pioneer and Mycogen – account for the overwhelming majority of sales to Vermont distributors. Two manufacturers – Agri-Culver Seeds and Seedway Inc. – have not yet filed their sales reports, Kerr said.

The whole issue of genetically modified organisms has taken on considerable prominence in the past several years in the Legislature. One of the groups most vocal against the use of GMO seeds is the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which yesterday said it was concerned by the spike in seed sales.

"What's disturbing to us is the size of the increase in just two years," said Ben Davis, an advocate for the Montpelier-based group. "Certainly it makes the task more difficult for people who want to protect themselves from these crops. And it will continue to be much more daunting with each passing year."


How to combat malaria

- Washington Times, January 18, 2005

The butcher's bill from the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia and East Africa last month is broaching the 200,000 mark. That number, as tragic as it is, could be increased by some magnitudes if something isn't done immediately to halt the onset of malaria, which has already been detected in Indonesia. Yet, inexplicably, the most effective way to combat malaria — spraying the insecticide DDT — is not being used by the world's leading aid organizations. Instead, we're giving those most at risk bed nets. Why? Because of baseless Western fears that DDT is more dangerous to humans than malaria, which causes 2 to 3 million deaths every year.

Ever since Rachel Carson's 1962 book, "Silent Spring," effectively labeled DDT as a bald eagle killer and carcinogen to humans, the United States and the other nations have stopped using it, and also stopped supplying it to those countries where malaria kills hundreds of thousands annually. "It's a colossal tragedy," Donald Roberts, a professor of tropical public health at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, told New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. "And it's embroiled in environmental politics and incompetent bureaucracies."

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, when DDT was in widespread use, malaria rates throughout the world were in decline, almost to the point where many expected it to disappear. Now it's back as one of the Third World's most deadly diseases due entirely to the ban the United States and other nations put in place, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Never mind that nearly all of Mrs. Carson's claims have been refuted by the Environmental Protection Agency. Ben Johnson, managing editor of Frontpagemag.com, notes the findings of Todd Seavey of the American Council on Health and Science in a recent article: "No DDT-related human fatalities or chronic illnesses have ever been recorded, even among the DDT-soaked workers in anti-malarial programs or among prisoners who were fed DDT as volunteer test subjects — let alone among the 600 million to 1 billion who lived in repeatedly-sprayed dwellings at the height of the substance's use."

And now areas like Indonesia and Sri Lanka, with thousands of people living in make-shift camps, are entering their malaria seasons. The devastation and pools of water left by the tsunami are only worsening the problem, according to Richard Allan, director of the Mentor Initiative, a public-health group that fights malaria epidemics. "The combination of the tsunami and the rains are creating the largest single set of [mosquito] breeding sites that Indonesia has ever seen in its history," he told the AP.

There is still time to ward off the impending catastrophe, which could be far worse than the one that triggered it, but only if the United States sets aside its backward DDT policy — and not only for Southeast Asia and East Africa.