Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : March 29, 2005
* Klaus Ammann: Golden Rice update
* Golden rice could save sight of poor children
* New golden rice has 20 times more beta-carotene
* Brazil's Lula Signs New Law to Legalize GMO Crops
* WHO on childhood deaths and Ventria Biosciences
* Agriculture Biotechnology: The answer to food shortages in Northeast India
* Biggest study of GM crops finds impact on birds, bees
* 'Few differences' on GM crop
From: Klaus Ammann
Subject: Debate 2005'0328: Golden Rice update
The Golden Rice in its new breed carries enough pro-vitamin A, about 20 times more than previous experimental plants. In the past debates about the content developers always claimed that - if there would be a problem, this can be solved by modern breeding technology.
This is a Golden Rice update, since an important new publication about the progress of the Golden Rice development has just been published in Nature Biotechnology.
See the full declaration of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board
more selected background links to the Golden Rice story:
And a bibliography on the scientific literature around the Golden Rice:
Greenpeace seems to develop an allergy against success stories of GM crops Its hardly necessary to mention, but see the latest Greenpeace hoax on the Golden Rice, full of misinformation, and still sticking to the old and producing some new falsified myths. Greenpeace seems to have a real problem with success stories of genetically engineered crops: Its a classic piece of pseudosciene - .the Greenpeace spin doctors get nervous..
My pictorial comment: see:
I would recommend the Greenpeace (spider)webmasters to post some appropriate graphs and apply them to most of the GMO argument websites of theirs.
Another target of Greenpeace has been the success story of the Bt cotton in China, where again they do not shy away from presenting pseudoscience. See their original report:
And then compare the response of the Chinese author of the original scientific study which Greenpeace grossly distorted:
Finally an account of some more cheap Greenpeace GMO campaigns from July 2004 from Thomas Deichmann and Peter Langelüdekke:
I cannot understand why an organization like Greenpeace still can maintain the charity status. I cannot see any charity and mercy at all there in their stance against GM crops. In the face of 250,000 to 500,000 children going blind every year I have absolutely no understanding for such a purist point of view, shutting out a promising solution for the dramatic nutritional problems. I think we simply cannot afford in the face of a humanitarian catastrophe of major proportions such a painstaking methodological debate with half truths and blunt lies shuting out one particular solution even before it can become reality. In the fight for poverty alleviation we must refrain from narrowminded methodological restrictions. Have a look at a broad minded strategy developed over many years by Swaminathan:
In the meanwhile, the two main food distributors Migros and Coop in Switzerland are competing for lower rice prices, on the cost of rice farmers in Thailand....
With my best personal regards,
previous Berne Debates on http://www.bio-scope.org/bd_result.cfm
Golden rice could save sight of poor children
- The Telegraph, March 28,2005, By Nicole Martin
A new strain of genetically modified rice that could improve the sight of thousands of children in the third world has been developed by British scientists.
The "golden rice" produces large amounts of beta-carotene which the body converts into vitamin A.
The World Health Organisation says that about 500,000 children go blind every year because of a lack of vitamin A in their diets.
The rice, developed at the British laboratories of the biotechnology company Syngenta, produces around 20 times as much beta-carotene as previous strains.
Syngenta is providing the rice free to research centres across Asia which will begin field trials if their governments give permission.
Golden rice was first developed by scientists in Switzerland five years ago and was hailed as a solution to the problem of vitamin A deficiency. But that strain did not produce enough beta-carotene to meet a child's daily needs.
Environmental campaigners responded cautiously to the research, which was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
Golden rice alone could not solve the problem of vitamin A deficiency, they said. It was better for children to have a balanced diet to ensure that they could absorb and use the vitamin A.
Clare Oxborrow, of Friends of the Earth, said yesterday: "Vitamin A deficiency and the blindness that results from it is a huge problem in developing countries.
"However, the cause of it is not just the fact that rice is deficient in vitamin A; it is that the underlying poverty and malnutrition causes people to be deficient in a whole range of nutrients, including vitamin A.
"For people to absorb and use the vitamin A from the golden rice, they would need to have a lot of other nutrients in their diet, such as zinc.
"We want to see more political will addressing the underlying causes of poverty and malnutrition and focusing on trying to encourage people to grow a diverse range of fruit and vegetables."
She said the rice must be rigorously tested for safety. Ingo Potrykus, who created the original strain, praised the British scientists.
Mr Potrykus, the chairman of an association that hopes to take the crop to third world farmers, said: "We are determined to bring this benefit to people deficient in vitamin A. Syngenta's contribution is very helpful to our project."
New golden rice has 20 times more beta-carotene
- NutraIngredients.com, 29/03/2005
29/03/2005 - UK scientists have developed a new genetically modified strain of golden rice that is said to produce 23 times more beta-carotene than the previous variety, reports Dominique Patton.
The rice would be offered for free to developing countries where vitamin A deficiency causes blindness in up to 500,000 children each year, according to World Health Organisation figures. The human body converts beta-carotene in the diet into vitamin A.
The news raises once again the complex issue of genetic modification of plants for the benefit of poor countries. Increasing GM research could also become an issue for the health foods industry.
New biotech capabilities are allowing researchers to develop plants with higher amounts of health nutrients. Last year a team at Bristol University engineered a new strain of Arabidopsis, a relative of the cabbage, which had substantial quantities of they fatty acids arachidonic acid (ARA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Another team, in Germany, designed a linseed plant that accumulates significant levels of PUFA.
Like the new rice, such developments offer cheaper or more plentiful supply of key nutrients than current sources, however they also face safety concerns and consumer resistance to genetic engineering.
Syngenta's original golden rice, developed in Switzerland five years ago, has not yet been grown in field trials in Asia, although the firm says that public rice research institutions in the Philippines, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, China and Indonesia are in various stages of developing locally adapted varieties.
Greenpeace has criticised the lack of information given on the bioavailability of beta-carotene from the rice in the body, noting that the original variety was also designed to increase intake of this nutrient but children could not get their daily requirement from eating normal quantities of rice.
It adds that several other approaches to solve vitamin A deficiency have been shown to work efficiently and the Golden Rice project is likely to distract the necessary public awareness of solutions like vitamin A supplementation and political efforts against malnutrition.
The Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, chaired by co-inventor of golden rice Professor Ingo Potrykus from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Professor Peter Beyer from the University of Freiburg, noted that the rice “is but one tool in a larger toolbox from which country health officials, farmers and consumers could choose in their efforts to fight vitamin A deficiency” and that it could complement existing efforts to eradicate deficiency of the vitamin.
In Asia, the average person eats rice two or three times a day and it has also has become a staple food in many African countries. Milled white rice contains essentially no beta-carotene and unmilled brown rice contains a very small amount.
Rachel Drake and colleagues from Syngenta discuss the new development in a letter to Nature Biotechnology (doi:10.1038/nbt1082). “We hypothesized that the daffodil gene encoding phytoene synthase (psy), one of the two genes used to develop Golden Rice, was the limiting step in beta-carotene accumulation. Through systematic testing of other plant psys, we identified a psy from maize that substantially increased carotenoid accumulation in a model plant system."
This increased total carotenoids up to 23-fold, giving the rice a maximum carotenoid level of 37 micrograms per gram of rice and a preferential accumulation of beta-carotene.
Brazil's Lula Signs New Law to Legalize GMO Crops
- Reuters, March 29, 2005
BRASILIA - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Thursday signed into law a bill that legalizes genetically modified crops and regulates the biotechnology sector including stem cell research, issues that prompted heated debates among farmers, environmentalists, scientists and religious groups.
Under the new law, the government's biotechnology regulator, called the CTNBio, will be able to authorize the sale and research of new GMO products on the domestic market.
If a ministry, such as the environment ministry, objects to the CTNBio's decision it can appeal to an 11 ministry panel which will review the objection and make the final ruling. There is no time limit set for the panel to make a ruling.
The CTNBio will also have the power to wave requirements for lengthy environmental impact studies for GMO products that have been shown safe in other countries such as the United States, Argentina or Europe.
The law should be published in the Diario Oficial, or federal register, on Monday.
Subject: WHO on childhood deaths and Ventria Biosciences
Date: Fri, 25 Mar 2005 09:54:32 -0600
From: "Kershen, Drew L."
On March 24, news services carried stories about the WHO report on childhood deaths that was recently released. According to the WHO report, 10.6 million children per year die before reaching five years of age. Of these deaths, WHO reports that 18% die of diarrhea, i.e. 1.9 million.
Ventria Biosciences presently has a petition before USDA-APHIS for a permit to grow transgenic rice in Missouri. The transgenic rice produces lactoferrin and lysozyme – substances with medicinal qualities that are also found in our tears, saliva, etc. One product Ventria Biosciences is developing from the lactoferrin and lysozyme produced by the transgenic rice is an oral rehydration product that would help prevent childhood deaths from acute diarrhea.
How sad it would be if USDA-APHIS refuses to grant the permit to Ventria Biosciences to produce a substance that is harmless to humans through a low-cost, efficient production method of transgenic rice. To refuse a permit would mean that fear, hypothetical risks and no risks (based on the dosage in the plants) trumps an oral rehydration product for children who die from acute diarrhea. Morality and common sense demand approval of the Ventria Biosciences permit to grow transgenic rice.
Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Norman, OK 73019-5081 U.S.A.
Agriculture Biotechnology: The answer to food shortages in Northeast India
- Kangla Online, by Dr. Chong Singsit
The world economy has seen significant growth in the last decade through increases in productivity, product quality, and export base diversification. These advances were mainly driven by the growth of traditional agricultural and industrial sectors. The application of agriculture biotechnology offers the opportunity to alleviate marginal and subsistence farmers to get out of their dependency on government assistance and to increase production. The introduction of new crop varieties with insect and herbicide resistant genes is quickly changing the landscape of agriculture in the US and many countries. Major pests can be eliminated with little or no spray of pesticides, as well as nasty weeds killed with the spray of herbicide in genetically engineered crop varieties. Genetically engineered crop varieties are environmental friendly with reduced chemical use as an added benefit.
Given the need to feed more people on the same land area while using less water and nutrients, the application of biotechnology to improve crop plants is fast becoming the only viable option for the teeming millions. Let me give a direct quote from Dr. Norman Borlaug, Noble Peace laureate, “the world need to double food production by 2050 if hunger were to be banished from the world and the ongoing 'gene revolution' can definitely play a part in this. You cannot build peace on empty stomachs. Only 8 per cent of countries with lower levels of hunger are mired in conflict". I might add, insurgency, the dominant menace of the region is eating up the resources and turning many vibrant and intelligent youths into dangerous thugs because there is not enough opportunities to go around. Many insurgency groups have sprang up as a result of hunger and a lack of opportunity rather than a genuine desire to leave the society in better shape than the one they currently inherit.
What is GMO?
The acronym GMO stands for “genetically modified organism,” and refers to any plant or animal species that has had a gene or genes from a different species transferred into its genetic material via accepted genetic engineering techniques. The process of introducing genes into a new species and getting them to function is known as transformation. Genetically modified organisms have a foreign gene inserted into them that creates one or more new traits for that organism. The genetic engineering employs an array of methodology such as gene discovery, transformation, molecular characterization of the insert, and gene expression study. In a real sense, “genetically modified” is not a new phenomenon, but has been practiced by plant breeders for years through breeding and selection with the objective of producing more productive, more resistant offspring, or in producing better or different quality of product than the existing variety. The process to produce new varieties following conventional breeding methodology takes approximately 6-7 years compared to 2-4 years via genetic engineering. A single gene with a known function can be moved from one organism to another without transferring additional unrelated genes, as happens in the process in conventional breeding method. Above all, what marks GMO out from the products of conventional breeding was that the new techniques help us to cross taxonomic lines (across unrelated species), which means I can put a B.t. gene from a soil bacteria over to cotton.
How safe are GMO crops?
The majority of scientists have consensus that there is nothing inherently risky about genetically engineered crops. Splicing genes from one organism into another has been used for years. One example is the production of an enzyme required in processing cheese. No one calls that dangerous. Recently introduced genetically engineered rice (golden rice) that could potentially eliminate vitamin A deficiencies has been met with widespread acceptance.
Before a variety with a new trait is approved for cultivation, it has to go through rigorous government agency approval process. For example, in the US, three agencies: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must approve the new gene(s) before the traits are released. The process is very involved and takes up to 2 years for final approval. The agencies ask the following questions: is it safe to consume (FDA); is it safe to grow (USDA); and is it safe for the environment (EPA).
The benefits of GMO
The best way to demonstrate the benefits of GMO is through examples. 1) The virus that causes severe ring spot in papaya. The disease reduces papaya production and kills the trees in Asia, in parts of Latin America, and in Africa. 2) Leaf curls disease on white potatoes. 3) The leaf yellowing in sweet potatoes throughout east and central Africa. 4) The stunting and yellowing in rice throughout central Asia. Each of these examples is caused by different strains of virus. Each of these important diseases can be controlled through biotechnologies that increase the resistance of the plants to the viruses. The production of cotton in India, Pakistan, Egypt and other countries where the boll worm, boll weevil and other insect pests have in the past reduced yields, have with the application of biotechnology turned around and increased.
The common insect resistant trait gene used in the market place today is called B.t. gene. When smallholder farmers in China and South Africa grew native cotton varieties that contained the B.t. gene for insect resistance as a result of biotechnology, the farmers realized between $150 and $200 per hectare in increased profits. It is estimated that more than a million farmers (combined) in these two countries have benefited from insect resistant varieties of cotton. The increased profit came because of the reduced application of insecticides to control the pests and increased lint production.
Perhaps the most striking examples of how biotechnology can improve human nutrition are found in the many varieties of rice and canola that have been improved by biotechnology. Biotechnology has been used in rice and canola to increase the amounts of beta-carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A, which is in short supply in diets in many parts of the world. The hope is that consumption of foods rich in beta-carotene will alleviate the chronic Vitamin A deficiencies in the diets of many of the poor in Asia and Africa. Other research is underway to increase the levels of other vitamins, to improve the amount of proteins in crops like potatoes and cassava. Researchers are also developing foods that can deliver certain types of therapeutic substances, such as vaccines, which stimulate the body's immune system against certain endemic diseases.
Biotechnology center in NE India
The NE region is rich in diversity-both culturally and agriculturally. With agriculture being the predominant industry of the region, any positive changes focused on here is welcome news for 70% of the population. Since land holding is limited, any increase in agriculture product must come from either changing the cultural practices or integration of agricultural biotechnology. The later is attractive and promising for the future since there is a limit to what cultural practices will add to the overall production. For example, the Green Revolution in the early 1960s with the introduction of dwarf varieties of wheat and rice depended on cultural practices to make the changes, but production leveled off after agricultural inputs where enacted.
Establishing a biotechnology center is imperative if the region is to improve the agriculture to meet the future food demands of the region. Crop improvement through genetic engineering must be a priority if the region wants to stay competitive and to best utilize natural resources. A number of states have already established their own biotechnology center as is in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The region already has a number of universities that can provide the technical know-how and skills needed in the hundreds of competent faculty and scientists they employ. Additionally, there are several Indian Council of Agricultural Research centers in the region, which may have already thought through the process of establishing a biotechnology center. For a biotechnology center to stay competitive, the center must reflect the following criteria: 1) as a government (central and regional) sponsor with a non-political entity, 2) governed by a board of directors (scientist should make up a majority of the board), 3) registered as a non-profit organization, 4) development process driven by product delivery rather than consumption driven, 5) seek its own funding through government and foundation, both national and international, 6) competitive funding scheme should ensure the integration of biotechnology with classical breeding and other associated technical disciplines, 7) located close in proximity to a major airport, 8) close to a major university or college, 9) have the goal of becoming a self-supporting entity, 10) have the objective of addressing regional issues, 11) employee selection criteria strictly merit, and 12) the seven sister states each contribute and play a role.
What are the economic impacts and the market outlook for the region with GMO?
The economic impact on the region is enormous-from food import dependency to a player in India and the world food market. The total area under GM crops globally has risen by 20 per cent in the last year alone. In India, where GM use was allowed only three years ago, about 1.34 million hectares have come under B.t. cotton. A cotton farmer in India can increase his bottom line even though he pays higher seed premium in order to grow genetically engineered cotton. The market outlook for GM products in India is excellent since food shortage and poverty are still alive in India.
In conclusion, I believe biotechnology can bring unprecedented economic impact in the region, which in turn will change the attitude of the people. I believe if a product and market driven economy takes a hold in the region, the young people will trade their guns for the newfound economic power they so desperately seek to achieve. Rather than stealing at gunpoint, they will work hard exploiting the new economic reality within their reach.
One final note, but economic freedom is only one of three freedoms I mention in an earlier article, “True Freedom.” One cannot be truly free if he is not free spiritually. Spiritual freedom includes freedom from corruption, murder, envy, and all kinds of evil. Poverty and hunger in India can be eliminated, but the greater challenge is to eradicate the spiritual poverty that is beneath the surface of each person’s apparent happiness.
Biggest study of GM crops finds impact on birds, bees
- Daily Times, March 29, 2005
The world's biggest study to date on the impact of genetically modified (GMO) crops on wildlife found birds and bees are more likely to thrive in fields of natural rapeseed than GMO seed, scientists said.
But scientists behind the British study were keen to stress the differences between the two arose not because the crop was genetically engineered but because of the way pesticides were applied. "The study demonstrates the important of the effects of herbicide management on wildlife in fields and adjacent areas," researcher David Bohan said.
Green groups, however, were aghast. "These results are yet another major blow to the biotech industry. Growing GM winter oilseed rape would have a negative impact on farmland wildlife," Friends of the Earth campaigner Clare Oxborrow said. The trial was the last in a four-part 5.5 million-pound ($9.5 million) test of controversial technology – the largest experiment of its kind in the world.
Scientists said that when compared with conventional winter-sown rapeseed, GMO herbicide-resistant plants kept the same number of weeds overall, having more grass weeds but fewer broad-leaved weeds. Flowers of broad-leaved weeds provide food for insects, while their seeds are an important food source for other wildlife.
Researchers said that while fields planted with the biotech version were found to have fewer butterflies and bees, differences arose not because the crop was genetically-changed but because of the way they were sprayed.
In October 2003, the same government trials found that GMO sugar beet spraying was significantly more damaging to the environment than the management of conventional varieties. They also concluded that gene-spliced spring-sown rapeseed may also have a negative impact on wildlife, while GMO feed maize did not.
"GMO crops are better": The biotech lobby insist the crops are safe. "GM crops offer a better, more flexible weed management option for farmers and, as the results today indicate, the difference between the impact of growing GM and non-GM crops on biodiversity is minimal," Tony Combes, deputy chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, which represents biotech firms like Monsanto and Syngenta . Despite optimism from proponents of the technology, GMO crops seem a long way off in Britain. Last year, the only firm to win approval to grow a GMO crop in Britain.
'Few differences' on GM crop
- The Journal, Mar 25 2005, By Anna Logonne
The results of the Government's latest farm-scale evaluation GM crop trials provide valuable information on the management of these crops, according to the NFU.
The Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) presented the four-year field trials for winter oilseed rape to Defra this week.
The findings highlighted the impact on wildlife of growing and managing GM winter oilseed rape compared to its non-GM equivalent.
The findings revealed no significant differences overall between GM and non-GM crops in terms of insect life. Differences in crop type, herbicides and weed control practices and not the use of genetic modification was found to impact on biodiversity. NFU crop trials spokesman Bob Fiddaman said: "The results have identified few differences between GM and non-GM crops and must be viewed in the broad context of agricultural management systems.
"Herbicide use, weed control practices and differing crop types, not the use of genetic modification influences biodiversity.
"The NFU believes UK farmers should be able to access technologies available to their competitors. However, the market place will be the ultimate driver and British farmers will only begin commercial production of GM crops if it represents a clear business decision."
Environment Minister Elliot Morley said: "I am very pleased that all results of this study, the biggest of its kind conducted anywhere in the world, are now available.
"The trials demonstrate the Government's precautionary approach on GM crops and our firm commitment to case-by-case decisions underpinned by sound scientific evidence. I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Chris Pollock and members of the Scientific Steering Committee that oversaw the research programme and I look forward to receiving ACRE's advice on the final results which we will consider very carefully."
The results on winter oilseed rape will now be passed to the Government's statutory advisory body - the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE).
The Secretary of State will ask ACRE to advise on the environmental implications for the commercial growing of the GM oilseed rape involved and the wider implications of the results for sustainable agriculture.
The results of the three spring-sown crops - beet, maize and spring oilseed rape - tested in the Farm Scale Evaluations were published in October 2003.
Winter oilseed rape is sown in autumn and is economically the most significant of the crops studied in the Farm Scale Evaluations.