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February 28, 2005


Embrace the Terminator; Spanish Want GM; Potential Potato Cure; Shining the Light in Vermont; Managing Activism


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : February 28, 2005

* 'Terminator' Technology Keeps GM Crops in Check
* Videos on Biotech - Politics, Hunger, Nutrition, Environment, Farmers....
* Spanish Farmers Want More GM Crops
* India: Staple Crops Go GM
* S. Africa: Anti-GM Group Misdirecting Public
* Fellowships to Study Plant Genetics in the U.S.
* Potential Potato Cure
* Biotech Can Boost Agricultural Production
* Shining the Light in Vermont
* Judgment on Gene Technology Possible Only With Facts
* Gene Revolution Reaches The Poorest Farmers In India
* UN: Population to Top 9 billion by 2050
* Managing Activism: Dealing with Activists and Pressure Groups

'Terminator' Technology Keeps GM Crops in Check

- Michael Le, New Scientist, February 26, 2005

Terminator technology: the name alone makes it sound like the work of a James Bond villain intent on world domination. For critics of multinational biotech corporations, the reality seems hardly less horrifying. Terminator technology is a way of making genetically modified plants produce sterile seeds, forcing farmers to buy fresh seed every year instead of saving it from the previous year's harvest.

Aren't farmers in developing countries poor enough already? Surely multinationals should not be plotting to make them even poorer. There is a de facto moratorium on the commercialisation of Terminator technology, and this month at a meeting in Bangkok of the Convention on Biodiversity, Canada failed in an attempt to overturn it. Shouldn't we be celebrating?

Actually, no. Eco-activists have got it wrong. Instead of fighting Terminator technology, we should all be encouraging it - even campaigning to make it compulsory for most GM plants. There are plenty of good reasons for doing this, but first let's get one thing straight. Claims that Terminator genes might spread to other crops or wild relatives are nonsense. If any neighbouring plants are fertilised by pollen containing the Terminator gene, the resulting seeds will be sterile. End of story. The Terminator terminates, it does not spread.

The Terminator is just one of a group of "genetic use restriction" technologies, otherwise known as GURTs, designed to stop the spread of engineered traits to other plants. Some do not interfere with fertility at all but instead switch on the desired GM trait only when farmers apply a proprietary chemical to their fields. One, dubbed the Exorcist, destroys all the foreign DNA in the seeds and fruits of the plant, so the food it produces is GM-free.

There is no hiding the fact that seed companies want to exploit these technologies to make money. But anyone concerned about the spread of GM crops has good cause to encourage them, for Terminator and its ilk are a great way of controlling both GM crops and who grows them.

Indeed, without this technology GM crops can seriously disrupt agricultural markets. Look at what is happening in South America. Last month, Monsanto stopped selling its herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready soya in Argentina. The crop has no patent protection there, so the company was unable to force Argentina's farmers to sign licences obliging them to buy new seeds every year, as it does in countries like the US and Canada. The result was a huge black market in GM soya seeds, and losses for Monsanto.

Monsanto's misfortune will please its enemies, but even for those opposed to GM crops there is a downside to this story. Many of the black-market seeds are being sold in Brazil, where GM crops have not been approved. Consumers are buying Brazilian soya thinking it is non-GM. Yet astonishingly, as much as one-third of Brazil's soya crop is thought to be GM. Had Terminator or Exorcist technology been available and acceptable when Monsanto developed its soya, Brazil would still be GM-free.

There are other reasons to embrace GURTs. While herbicide-resistant crops make it easy to kill off weeds, they can become weeds themselves when leftover seeds sprout at the wrong time. Farmers then have to use another herbicide to kill them off. And in Canada, varieties of oilseed rape (canola) that have been engineered to be resistant to different herbicides have interbred, making them even harder to dispose of. The Terminator or the Exorcist would prevent such problems.

Perhaps their greatest benefit is in preventing the spread of altered genes. The most notorious example of such "gene flow" is the discovery of genes from GM maize in traditional varieties in Mexico. As GM plants become more widespread - from fast-growing trees to grasses for golf courses and blue roses for gardens - cases like this will become more common. These GM strains may be harmless, or they may be even more threatening than the exotic plants that are already wiping out indigenous flora everywhere from the Galapagos to the Cape of Good Hope. But any genetic pollution is undesirable, so let's not wait to find out. If regulatory agencies worldwide insisted on GURTs in any plant given a trait that enhances survival, the risk of gene flow would be greatly reduced. Even if you hate the idea of GM plants, surely it makes sense to support technologies that could help keep them in check.

As for the accusation that forcing farmers to buy GM seed every year will hit poor farmers hardest - well, no farmer will be forced to buy GM crops. And many GM varieties either require expensive inputs such as herbicides that poor farmers can ill afford, or are not suited to their local conditions. Seed companies argue, perhaps correctly, that if they can be sure of making a profit they will invest in developing a more diverse range of crops, rather than focusing on products for rich commercial farmers.

It is time we face the fact that GM plants are here to stay. Technologies like the Terminator and the Exorcist are the best hope we have of controlling them. For the benefit of the environment, consumers and even farmers, we should embrace them.


Videos on Biotechnology - Politics, Hunger, Nutrition, Environment, Farmers....

The U.S. Grains Council has produced a series of streaming video segments highlighting the realities of the U.S. grain handling system and how this system interacts with the widespread use of biotechnology and genetically modified production tools.

Biotechnology, Politics & the Public
Biotechnology & Hunger: Feast or Famine?
Biotechnology & Nutrition: Safe or Toxic?
Biotechnology & the Environment: Transgenes Out of the Box
Biotechnology & Farmers: Do They Really Want It?

View the videos at http://www.grains.org/grains/page.ww?section=Education+Center&name=Web+Video


Spanish Farmers Want More GM Crops

- Emma Ross-Thomas, Reuters, Feb 28, 2005

MADRID - Spain bucks a European trend by allowing its farmers to grow genetically modified crops for sale and while environmental groups fiercely oppose it, Spain's farmers want all the biotech they can lay their hands on. Spain is the only country in the European Union to grow GMO maize commercially and production of the pest-proof crop is growing rapidly.

Some 60,000 hectares were sown to GMO maize in 2004, farmers' unions estimate, about twice as much as the year before, out of a total of some 480,000 maize-sown hectares. The biotech seeds used in Spain are adapted to resist the corn borer pest, which farmers in the affected areas say in a normal year can destroy 15 percent of the crop, rising to 60 percent in a bad year.

Farmers say that although biotech seeds cost 10 to 15 percent more than conventional seeds, they are willing to pay the price as they save money and effort on pesticides. Nearly all maize grown in Spain is for animal feed and in that market there is no price difference between GMO and conventional maize, traders say.

Even Antonio Abad, who sows conventional maize because British food group Tate & Lyle pays his cooperative a premium to keep their crop GMO-free for products for human consumption, envies his GM-growing colleagues. "When you sow a protected plant ... that gives the farmer peace of mind," Abad said. "If there weren't problems in the market we would grow GMO, of course ... the more protected plants the better."

Abad says he spends 100 euros per hectare on pesticides each year which he could avoid with GMO seeds. However, some GMO seeds used elsewhere require custom-made chemical treatments. Spanish farmers are lobbying for more GMO seeds to be approved, including ones they hope will reduce the cost of growing sugar beet.

"Uncontrolled Experiment"
"Europeans see it as going against nature. This perfects nature," Agustin Marine, president of the Spanish Maize Producers' Association told Reuters.

Environmental group Greenpeace begs to differ. They say it is an uncontrolled experiment on the environment and an attack on biodiversity. Also, they say it causes irreversible damage. "There is no going back ... because the (GMO) genes are mixed in with the very building blocks of life," Juan Felipe Carrasco, head of the anti-GMO campaign for Greenpeace said. Greenpeace is also concerned that pests become resistant to the plants designed to repel them and some farmers say corn borers have reappeared in GMO fields.

Spain's government approved GMO seeds before the European Union stopped authorising biotech products in 1998. While the last government was greatly in favour of GMO use, the new Socialist government is treading more cautiously. While the last government tended to vote "yes" in Brussels meetings on biotech, the Socialists have abstained seven times in a row. "It is not against GMOs. It wants to deal with the issue very cautiously, with great transparency, and on a case by case basis," a government source told Reuters.

Even before it began planting GMO crops, Spain -- a net importer of grain and soy for animal feed -- bought GMO soy from Argentina and the United States. Most animals in Spain have been fed on GMO products -- although EU legislation does not oblige food retailers to label meat from GMO-fed animals.

"Unless it's an animal which has never eaten feed, which practically doesn't exist or unless it's been certified ecological then in almost all certainty it will have eaten GMOs," a technician at union ASAJA Jesus Rivera said. Some farmers argue that as Spain imports it anyway, and humans eat engineered crops via meat, it is illogical not to grow it.


India: Staple Crops Go GM

- James Randerson, New Scientist, Feb 19, 2005

ICRISAT's palatial campus is an oasis of serenity after the noisy streets of Hyderabad. As Kiran Sharma drives me through part of the 1400-hectare site we pass fields of diminutive chickpea and pigeon pea plants next to imposing stands of pearl millet and sorghum. This haven, a half-hour drive from central Hyderabad, is home to 278 wild bird species, as well as monkeys and, slightly alarmingly, cobras.

But I am here to see something that could change Indian agriculture. Sharma stops the car next to a low fence. Within the small enclosure are rows of unimpressive-looking, knee-high plants. And in a central inner sanctum of netting designed to keep insects out are the world's first field tests of varieties of pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan). They have been genetically modified with the Bt gene, Sharma announces. In an enclosure next door is a patch of bare earth, where Sharma tells me he planted another world first only the day before, Bt chickpea (Cicer arietinum). Both plants are grown primarily by poor subsistence farmers, but the conventional varieties are vulnerable to the American bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), a caterpillar that can wipe out more than half a farmer's harvest.

"These products are badly needed by subsistence farmers," says Sharma. The non-GM plants in the outer enclosure act as a pollen trap: a way to find out if they pick up the inserted gene from plants in the inner sanctum and pass it to their offspring. They and the earth around them could be contaminated with GM pollen, so I am not allowed near them in case I then contaminate conventional varieties growing nearby.

Sharma's most advanced GM crop is a variety of groundnut (Arachis hypogaea) that is resistant to peanut clump virus, which can reduce harvests by 70 per cent. His team has inserted a gene for part of the virus's protein coat. The plants express the protein but do not fold it correctly, and for reasons Sharma is not yet sure of, this defective protein stops the virus from assembling its coat and escaping to infect other cells. Groundnut is a particularly good candidate for genetic modification because it is almost entirely self-fertilised, so there is little chance of the foreign genes escaping. What's more, growing GM groundnut should benefit conventional growers in the area because the plant mops up virus particles in the soil. "Our transgenic plants are eliminating the virus," says Sharma.


S. Africa: Bio Group Accuses Anti-GM Group of Misdirecting Public

- PanAfrican News Agency Daily Newswire, February 25, 2005

Johannesburg, South Africa (PANA) - A grouping of biotechnology stakeholders, AfricaBio has expressed concern at a High Court order in South Africa granting Biowatch, a lobby group opposed to genetically modified organisms access to information pertaining to imports, exports, trials and general release of GMO approvals granted to date.

"This opens the door for well-known anti-GM organisations such as Biowatch, to poke holes in all assessments or reviews previously conducted by experts in the field," AfricaBio executive director Prof. Jocelyn Webster observed Friday.

"As we know, their aim is not to contribute to the objective and scientific evaluation of GM technology but to sow apprehension and maintain mass negative publicity in order to sway public opinion," Webster said. She warned that this development has serious implications not only for biotechnology but also for continuing research and development in South Africa.

Webster refuted recent media reports that government had turned down an application by Dow Agrowsciences to test its GM maize in South Africa because of the "potential impact of the pest resistant maize on non-target organisms." The African Centre for Biosafety, which objected to Dow's application reportedly express outrage that a foreign company had tried to use South Africa as a "guinea pig" to test its products for release in Europe.

But according to Webster, Dow's application was not turned down, but referred back to Dow due to a procedural error in their application. She said Dow was seeking approval from South African regulatory authorities to grow the GM maize in small, isolated test plots to evaluate its effect against two economically important South African pests of maize, the African stem borer and the grain sorghum stem borer. "These pests are not found in Europe. How could the field trials have been used to influence European regulators?" Webster questioned.

She claimed that despite the worldwide anti-GM campaign conducted by activists, GM crops globally have grown by an average 10 percent per year over the past ten years. She cited South Africa, which had planted more than 500,000 ha of transgenic crops and that this season it is expected to increase to over 600,000 ha.

"The moves made by the African Centre for Biosafety and Biowatch appear to be part of a well-orchestrated campaign financed to the tune of some $70 million a year by foundations, organic food interests, EU governments, and even UN agencies and programmes.

"It employs moratoriums and threats against agricultural imports from countries that grow biotech crops, complex and expensive requirements for labelling all GM ingredients and tracking them from seed to store shelf, even outright lies about the safety of biotechnology," Webster stated.


Fellowship Opportunity for PhD Study in the U.S. - Plant Breeding and Genetics

Supported by gifts from Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. to the Generation Challenge Program, the fellowship aims to attract the highest quality students from developing countries whose careers will continue to advance the science of plant improvement, with an emphasis on international agriculture. DEADLINE FOR APPLICATIONS: 1 May 2005.

Details at http://www.generationcp.org/latestnews.php?i=173&PHPSESSID=a3ad1bbacd20ff6f0254a4ebc135cdf3

Generation Challenge Program Travel Grants for Non-GCP Member NARS

Eight travel grants available for up to US $5,000 for non-GCP NARS scientists. Awards must be used to travel to a GCP workshop, or to visit a GCP member institute.

Application criteria at http://www.generationcp.org/sccv10/sccv10_upload/GCP_TRAVEL_GRANTS.pdf.

DEADLINE FOR APPLICATIONS: 30 April 2005. Contact Ibti Vincent, GCP communications assistant (i.vincent@cgiar.org), for more information.


Potential Potato Cure

- Michael Fumento, Washington Times, February 27, 2005 http://washtimes.com/commentary/20050226-101212-7064r.htm

Each year, about 350 million people worldwide are chronically infected with hepatitis B virus. Spread through blood and other bodily fluids, this virus puts them at high risk for cirrhosis, chronic liver disease and liver cancer -- diseases that kill about 1 million people each year. Yet through the magic of biotechnology, the lowly spud may change that.

For centuries, potatoes have saved lives with their nourishment. Now they'e tackling diseases spread by viruses and bacteria. Using potatoes with a protein gene (called antigens) from HBV spliced into them, researchers have produced high levels of immunity-providing antibodies in volunteers who ate them. Their findings, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online, should lead to cheaper, safer and easier-to-deliver vaccines.

In the study, scientists from Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., led by Dr. Yasmin Thanavala, fed volunteers small pieces of raw potato.

Some had "placebo potatoes," as it were; others received two doses of genetically engineered potatoes and one dose of placebos, while the third group ate only GE potatoes.

Nobody eating ordinary spuds developed extra hepatitis antibodies, while 53 percent of those who ate two doses of the GE ones did, as did more than 60 percent of the three-dose eaters. All recipients had previously received the HBV vaccine series, so the potatoes simply boosted an immunity they already had. Some people developed antigen levels 50 times higher after eating the super spuds.

That 60 percent level is still a far cry from the 90 percent to 95 percent protection rate provided by the three-dose series of HBV injections, but Dr. Thanavala is already working to improve the potatoes' immunogenicity to that level and in a single dose. One method comprises inserting more of the viral antigen into the potato. Another would insert a harmless bacterium into the potato as an adjuvant, an immune-system stimulator that helps produce more antibodies.

Current HBV vaccines aren't particularly expensive to produce; the real costs come from the need for refrigeration, injection by a trained person, and using a fresh needle and syringe each time: No small potatoes considering some studies have shown clinically reused needles and syringes may do far more to spread HIV/AIDS in Africa than is reported, since politically correct health officials wish to focus on vaginal sex.

Formerly, "edible vaccine" meant consuming vaccine foods directly. But worries over medicinal strains getting mixed in with normal food put the kibosh on that. So "edible vaccines" wouldn't really be eaten, notes Dr. Thanavala. Rather, they probably would be powdered and ingested in gel capsules.

Successful potato-vaccine experiments aren't new. Charles Arntzen of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University has induced antibodies in humans to both the diarrhea-causing Norwalk virus and the dreaded E. coli. But these pathogens attack the stomach. Dr. Thanavala's antigens had to make it past the stomach and into the bloodstream. That's what makes the process so promising against so many diseases.

"I'm bowled over each time this works as well as it does," she told me. "We've shown the antigen in plants is encapsulated in membranes, and we believe this allows it to survive stomach conditions until reaches the small intestine." As such, she has given the entire field of plant-based vaccines a boost -- and a large field it is. At least 45 different antigens have been produced in a wide variety of plants to treat diseases affecting billions of people.

A short list includes an HBV vaccine being grown in lettuce, a rabies vaccine in spinach and tobacco, and an anthrax vaccine in tobacco and lettuce. Texas-based ProdiGene is developing a corn-based HIV vaccine. You probably don't know what hepatitis E is, but somebody is using tomatoes to make a vaccine against it.

Dr. Thanavala wouldn't speculate when a potato-based vaccine might be available. She wants to keep it in the lab until it meets all her goals. But remember the axiom: "Perfection is the enemy of the good." People are dying now and this vaccine could get regulatory approval in just a few years.

It sounds like a cause for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Are you listening, guys?

Michael Fumento is author of "BioEvolution: How Biotechnology Is Changing Our World." He is a Hudson Institute senior fellow and a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.


Biotech Can Boost Agricultural Production

- Business Line (India), Feb. 25, 2005 http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blnus/10251307.htm

Innovative uses of new technologies are enabling farmers and researchers to discover ways to increase agricultural production and better understand the causes of and potential cures for crop and animal diseases, US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has said.

Speaking at the Department of Agriculture's annual Agricultural Outlook Forum, Johanns said science and technology research was being used to develop new applications for farm products, citing recent advances such as the development of biofuels, new fibres and allergen-free foods.

Addressing the meeting, scientist Norman Borlaug, Father of India's Green Revolution, said new applications of food technologies -- such as biotechnology -- can result in more food produced from lands already in production, more efficient use of water resources and less use of farm chemicals.

Farming using seeds developed through biotechnology also can help reduce farm labour and fuel costs, help reduce soil erosion and control pests, he said. He called for governments to support more efficient food production by reforming their policies related to taxes and land ownership so that more farmers could adopt new technologies. Borlaug also asked for private funding for biotechnology research in addition to more government funding for food research and development.

The Bush administration has asked for $996 million for agricultural research for the next fiscal year, said Kathie Olsen, Associate Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. It has also proposed to set up a National Institute for Food and Agriculture that would help guide food safety research, she said.


Shining the Light in Vermont

- Terry Wanzek, Truth About Trade, Feb. 25, 2005


Can you imagine this scenario? You are sitting on the porch with your grandfather; he is sitting in his favorite rocking chair. As he gazes out at the horizon, you recognize the reflective expression of his eyes. With respect and admiration for your grandfather you wait in anticipation, knowing you are about to hear a jewel of knowledge, experience and wisdom, meant to be passed on to future generations.

Then he begins to speak as you listen intently, "Let me tell you about how I fought Thomas Alva Edison and his good-for-nothin' light bulb," he says. "He wanted to bring light into darkness! Can you believe it? Light into darkness!" He concludes, "Edison was just plain careless, but fortunately folks like me put a stop to that!"

.What..? Most of us today would find this absurd. We understand the tremendous benefits the light bulb and electricity have brought to mankind. Someday that same 'light' will shine on biotechnology and it will be viewed in the same regard as the light bulb and electricity.

Yet, there are those today who are fighting it. I hope we can 'turn the lights on' for them and others to the benefits of biotechnology before it is too late!

What are today's anti-biotech activists going to tell their grandkids? Their version of a bright idea is to oppose an agricultural technology that allows for less need of land and other resources to feed more people with a higher level of safe and nutritious food in an environmentally friendly way.

Their latest effort is now underway in Vermont, where a few legislators are proposing to pull the plug on biotechnology. They've introduced a bill to hold seed companies absolutely and strictly liable for the accidental spread of genetically enhanced crops. As if this measure and its guilty-until-proven-innocent assumptions weren't bad enough, there's even some talk about a statewide ban on biotech crops.

The ban probably won't succeed, but debating it will serve to make the liability bill seem like a compromise measure. Don't be fooled, this liability bill will have the same effect as a ban and would devastate farmers who want to use the latest tools of the trade. It will also put its supporters in the awkward position of having to tell their grandkids about how they opposed sensible progress.

Much of the impetus for this legislation comes from Vermont's organic growers, whose numbers have more than tripled in the last five years. Some of them say they're worried about pollen from biotech crops drifting into their fields and mixing with their non-biotech plants--and thereby jeopardizing their status as certified organic farmers.

This is a classic case of a solution in search of a problem. According to the USDA, no organic farmer anywhere in the U.S. has ever lost his or her USDA organic certification because of biotechnology. It simply has never happened. Ever.

The forces behind this bill say they're trying to defend organic farmers, but they have a different agenda altogether. Their real goal is to destroy the biotech competition. And that's why several Vermont dairy farmers recently testified against the bill: They grow biotech corn and soybeans to feed to their cows, and they want to keep on growing their crops and feeding their cows in ways that make sense for their farms.

I've got absolutely nothing against farmers who choose to grow organic food. If consumers want organic products, then somebody ought to grow them. That's how the marketplace is supposed to work.

At the same time, I believe deeply in the principle of co-existence, which says that agriculture can support a diversity of approaches to the production of food. Organic farming is one of them. Biotechnology is another. These are merely different processes, and they do not pose threats to each other. What they do is provide a 'lifestyle choice' that American's are fortunate to be able to make - since all food in the U.S. is equally healthy and nutritious.

The bottom line is that biotech and organic farming already co-exist in a symbiotic relationship. And we can continue to co-exist in the future--as long as anti-biotech radicals don't turn back the clock on progress in Vermont or anywhere else.

Rather than passing aggressive laws to make biotechnology illegal, Vermont should encourage its organic farmers to grow the best organic food they can.

As Thomas Edison once said: "There is no substitute for hard work."

Now that's an idea I intend to teach to my children's children.
Terry Wanzek, a former state legislator and board member of Truth About Trade and Technology, grows corn, soybeans, and wheat on his farm in North Dakota.


Judgment on Gene Technology Possible Only With Facts

- Greg Bodulovic & Professor Barry Rolfe, Canberra Times, Feb. 28, 2005 http://canberra.yourguide.com.au/

Bob Phelps argued that gene technology is inherently unsafe. In response to some of the points raised in his letter, the deaths and illness caused by a batch of L-tryptophan diet supplements in 1989 were unrelated to its GM nature.

A Royal Commission and United States courts have accepted that the cause of the illness was bacteria which were not removed from the end product because a purification step during production was omitted.

With respect to the CSIRO research on field peas, the addition kidney bean gene conferred resistance to pea weevils, the major pest for Australia' s pea industry. This research is still continuing, although the application for commercialisation has been withdrawn.

There is substantial scientific literature about GM food safety and safety assessments have been carried out in countries where GM foods are sold.

Furthermore, GM food products have been consumed in the US for over a decade without any indication that they are less safe than unmodified foods . The safety assessments of GM foods carried out by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand follows guidelines developed by the FAO, WHO and other international bodies.

The same guidelines have been adopted in Canada, Japan and EU nations. FSANZ considers raw experimental data, scientific literature and data from other food safety authorities and can order additional testing if necessary.

Finally, Australia does have mandatory labelling of GM ingredients in food products. For example, just walk into your local Woolworths supermarket , pick up a box of freshly baked donuts and have a look at the ingredients list.

We encourage people to form their own opinions on GM, but for that to happen, people need to have access to the actual facts about genetic modification and agricultural biotechnology and not the scare stories that "activists" continue to push.


Gene Revolution Reaches The Poorest Farmers In India


It's the news they have all been waiting for. After years of living under the threat of another devastating epidemic of downy mildew, a disease similar to that which caused the Irish potato famine, India's poorest farmers have been offered a lifeline in the form of a new disease-resistant hybrid. The hybrid has been produced in record time using modern biotechnology techniques.

In February 2005, India released its first hybrid using modern DNA techniques. "This is something new and something very big" stated Professor Witcombe, from the University of Wales, Bangor who manages the research programme "it has taken an international team of scientists more than a decade of hard work to produce this new hybrid and I believe it marks the beginning of a revolution in pearl millet breeding."

The fact that revolutionary DNA techniques have been used to improve a crop that is grown only by the poorest farmers in India and Africa is nothing short of remarkable. Until now agricultural biotechnology has been driven almost exclusively by the private sector for farmers in the developed world. "We want to change all that and give the poorest farmers a real chance of benefiting from the first products of this new Gene Revolution" says Tom Hash, a plant breeder from ICRISAT, a member of the research team.

The crop in question is pearl millet; know as the poor man's crop because it grows in the hottest, driest places where no other crop can survive. Tens of millions of poor people depend on its grain to eat and its leaves and stems to feed to their animals. More than half of the world’s pearl millet is grown in India where it seems to survive almost anything -- anything that is, except downy mildew. This devastating disease can destroy up to one third of the crop and worryingly the most popular pearl millet hybrid grown in India is now showing signs of susceptibility to the disease. If the disease hits the crop in epidemic proportions then farmers are looking at losses in grain yield worth at least US$ 8 million.

A solution was needed and needed quick. Traditional plant breeding for resistant hybrids can be a cumbersome and slow process so scientists turned to biotechnology for answers. The UK Department for International Development funded an international team of scientists to develop the tools to read the genetic sequence of pearl millet. With the help of the genetic map, scientists were able to identify the genes required for resistance to downy mildew. Resistant genes were taken from pearl millet grown in Africa and India and introduced into one of the parents of the new hybrid. No foreign genes were introduced and the hybrid was produced naturally so the product was the same as that of traditional breeding – not a GMO.

"The application of biotechnology has produced this new hybrid in a third of the time usually required and so has given us a head-start in the fight against the disease" says Witcombe. "downy mildew is a slippery customer that eventually manages to get past our defences. It’s the battle we’ve won but not the war"


UN: Population to Top 9 billion by 2050

- Jonathan Wald, CNN, February 25, 2005

'The populations of some countries will triple by 2050, according to a U.N. report.'

The world's population will rise from 6.5 billion to 9.1 billion by 2050, according to a United Nations survey released Thursday. Much of the growth will take place in the least-developed countries, where a high rate of mortality is outweighed by an even higher rate of fertility. Their current collective population of 800 million is projected to swell to 1.7 billion in 2050.

"It is going to be a strain on the world, but it seems feasible," said Hania Zlotnik, director of the U.N. Population Division. "It doesn't seem that there is a crisis coming, [but] that doesn't mean that some countries are not facing a crisis."

Populations will at least triple in some of the poorest nations -- Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, East Timor, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger and Uganda. The U.N. report predicts that nine countries will account for half of the 2.6 billion increase: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, the DRC, Bangladesh, Uganda, Ethiopia and the United States.

India is expected to surpass China as the world's most populous country by about 2025, Zlotnik said. The average life expectancy of a child born in 2050 will be 75, according to the report. A child born today is expected to live, on average, until 65.


Managing Activism: A Guide to Dealing with Activists and Pressure Groups

- Book by Denise Deegan, Amazon.com Price $17.49, Paperback,160 pages, Publisher: Kogan Page (February 1, 2001), ISBN: 074943435X

Activists and pressure groups can present a serious threat to organizations. An activist group intent on creating opposition can do untold damage to an organization's reputation, sales, profits and share price. While this sort of action can be destructive, in many cases the motives of the activists are worthy. How can an organizer protect itself without creating a public relations nightmare? The author provides realistic solutions and covers important areas like:

* The dynamics of pressure groups
* Assigning responsibility
* Building relationships
* Media relations
* Handling emergencies