Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : March 31, 2005
* Scientists Aim for More Crop Per Drop
* True or False: Only Big Corporations Conduct Biotech Crop Research?
* GM Crops: What's being studied, where, and by whom?
* Agriculture's Critical Role in the Developing World
* Letter from Senator Kit Bond to Riceland Foods, Inc
* Brazil Gets Set For New Genetically Modified Soybean Era
* Lawmakers head off seed regulation
* UK Conservatives Attack Blair Over Biotech Crops
* Crop Ferality and Volunteerism - A Threat in the Transgenic Era?
Scientists Aim for More Crop Per Drop
- Business Day (Johannesburg), March 30, 2005, By Christian Verschueren
DOOMSDAY scenarios in which nations fight over access to water used to be the exclusive preserve of science fiction writers. But today, as the ready availability of fresh water becomes less certain, and the unequal distribution of water to the world's population becomes more pronounced, truth threatens to supersede fiction.
Last week saw the launch of the United Nations (UN)-sanctioned International Decade for Action, Water for Life. But, how do we quench an increasingly thirsty world? The answer has to lie in an adjustment of our usage patterns while simultaneously developing technologies that not only protect the water reserves we have, but maximise the efficiency with which we use them.
The figures show vividly where the most work needs to be done. Domestic use of water accounts for 9% of total global water use, industry accounts for 20%, and agriculture uses 71%.
Production of food consumes a great deal of water. To grow 1kg of cereal requires about 1000l of water, and up to 5000l are needed to produce 1kg of rice, the world's most important food crop. Meat production is considerably more water intensive. And since a growing and increasingly affluent world population means we will have to double global food production by the middle of the century, pressure on world water supplies are set to increase dramatically.
It is for this reason that one of the aims of the UN Earth Summit in Johannesburg in 2002 was to "enhance in a sustainable manner the productivity of land and the efficient use of water resources in agriculture". But how can we get, in agriculture industry parlance, "more crop per drop"?
One obvious way is to make plants more efficient consumers of water. Universities, public research institutes and the biotech industry are developing plants that require less water or that use water more efficiently. Research shows that damage caused to food crops by exposure to extremes of weather - flooding, drought, extreme heat or cold - can reduce yields by as much as 70%. Stress-tolerant plants being researched in effect have a shock absorber, allowing these crops to withstand the ravages of unpredictable weather.
Herbicides also have an important role to play in the reduction of water use in agriculture. By helping to control weeds that would otherwise compete with crops for water, light and nutrients, herbicides are increasingly being used in the developing world to facilitate a practice called "conservation tillage". This practice involves sowing seed directly into the field, without ploughing to remove weeds. More moisture is retained in the soil if it is left undisturbed, and there are other indirect bonuses, such as better retention of soil insects and worms, and lower carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere.
In Ghana, no-till farming was introduced in the 1990s and since then farmers have been regularly obtaining maize yields that are 45% higher than farmers who do not use this practice during normal years. In a dry year, such as 2000, the yield was 48% higher.
Stewardship, research and development, good agricultural practices and proper land management techniques are fundamental to water protection and preservation. The plant science industry is well placed to address the challenges of feeding a growing population while conserving water.
As Kenji Yoshinaga of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's land and water development division writes: "If a farmer in an arid developing country improves water efficiency on average by 1%, he or she will gain about 200000l of fresh water a hectare, a year. This would provide drinking water for more than 150 people." What could be a better example of Water for Life?
True or False: Only Big Corporations Conduct Biotech Crop Research?
- THE STEWARD, from HARTS (Hawaiian.Alliance.for.Responsible Technology.&.Science), April 2005
FALSE: the activists’ myth that agricultural biotechnology is just another ploy by big North American corporations to monopolize the global agricultural economoy is, well, just a myth. Another fabrication to mislead policymakers and the public.
THE FACTS: Public Research Thrives
Many countries have publicly-supported groundbreaking research to produce genetically modified (GM) crops, according to an article published recently in Nature Biotechnology.
The article highlights the results of a new study from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) on the development of genetically modified crops by research institutes in 15 developing countries. The first of its kind, this study assesses the state of biotech crop research, the types of genes being used, and the biosafety and regulatory challenges poor countries face.
“Our study debunks many misconceptions about biotech crop research,” said Joel Cohen, IFPRI Senior Research Fellow and author of the article. “Many people assume that large multinational corporations control the global development of genetically modified foods, but the reality is that poor countries have vibrant programs of public biotech research. Often this research draws upon indigenous plant varieties to cultivate improved crops for local use by small-scale farmers.”
According to the study, current biotech research has the potential to reduce the use of pesticides. In the future, biotech crops may increase drought tolerance and resistance to saline soils and improve the nutritional value of staple foods.
The study documents biotech research on 45 different crops, including cotton, corn, cacao, and cassava. The majority of this research focuses on improving resistance to diseases and pests, which can devastate yields for farmers in poor countries. However, most of the research is currently being developed in laboratory, greenhouse, or confined field trials. Very little is currently available for use by farmers.
“Unfortunately, most poor countries lack the knowledge, capacity, and funding to develop and comply with biosafety regulatory requirements. As a result, GM crops face difficulties moving from the lab to farmers’ fields,” noted Patricia Zambrano of IFPRI, who contributed to the study.
While previous reports have examined biotech crop research in developing countries, this study is the first to draw the connection between regulation and specific crops and genetic traits, showing the policy implications of the research. This information will be critical to policymakers for improving biosafety regulation.
“Poor countries are often unwilling or unable to test commercial GM crops because of national policies or regulatory systems that are not prepared to grant approval for general use,” Cohen explained. “Researchers in industrialized and developing countries need to work together to provide science-based information for decision makers, so that they can enhance the clarity of regulatory policies and procedures.”
The study recommends an increase in small-scale, confined field trials to test crops and receive feedback from farmers. It also stresses the need for improved information sharing among developing countries.
“The information in this study will assist developing countries to strengthen the effectiveness of research and regulation, so that they can maximize benefits to small-scale farmers,” said Mark Rosegrant, director of Environment and Production Technology at IFPRI.
GM Crops: What's being studied, where, and by whom?
- THE STEWARD, from HARTS (Hawaiian.Alliance.for.Responsible Technology.&.Science), April 2005
In the 15 countries studied by IFPRI, the public sector undertook GM research for 45 different crops. To date, the crops with the most modifications are rice, potatoes, maize, and papaya.
Much of the research focuses on crop improvements to benefit poor farmers and consumers, including:
reduced need for conventional pesticides and other agrochemicals, disease resistance, increased tolerance to drought and saline soils, prolonged shelf life and other enhanced product characteristics, and improved nutritional value.
Eight-five percent of the genetic materials used in this research are derived locally from public materials.
Asian countries have GM products in all stages of the research pipeline. Despite this robust development, only the Philippines has approved a commercial feed crop (maize) for production. China has permitted cultivation and use of publicly-developed transgenic cotton, and Korea has approved insect-resistant maize and herbicide -tolerant soybeans. (Global Status of Approved Genetically Modified Plants, AGBIOS website, 2003).
Sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of South Africa, lacks many capabilities and resources to advance public GM research. Kenya and Egypt have demonstrated competence in regulatory and import approval decision making, but have still not approved any crop for open testing or commercial use.
The first biotechnology-based agri-food product entered the market in 1994. By 2001, more than 50 modifications involving 13 crops had been approved and produced on more than 52 million hectares in at least 14 countries. (Phillips, Peter W.B. 2003. Policy, National Regulation, and International Standards for GM Foods. Biotechnology and Genetic Resource Policies Brief 1. IFPRI).
In 2003, the United States, Argentina, Canada, Brazil, and China accounted for 99 percent of the 67.7 million hectares under biotech crop cultivation worldwide. Of this production, 99 percent concentrated on just four crops (soybean, maize, cotton, and canola), and were developed to tolerate herbicides and resist insects. (Clive, James. 2003, Preview: Global Status of Commercialized Transgenic Crops. ISAAA)
Agriculture's Critical Role in the Developing World
- THE STEWARD, from HARTS (Hawaiian.Alliance.for.Responsible Technology.&.Science), April 2005
In many developing countries, agriculture is the engine of economic growth, and agricultural growth is the cornerstone of poverty reduction. (World Bank website)
Agriculture employs nearly one-half of the labor force in developing countries. A high share of rural communities and especially the rural poor are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture through farming, food processing, fishing, forestry, and trade. (World Bank website)
In Africa, agriculture accounts for 70 percent of full-time employment, 33 percent of the continent’s total gross domestic product (GDP), and 40 percent of its total export earnings. (Ending Hunger in Africa: Only the Small Farmer Can Do It, IFPRI, 2002).
In South Asia, most of the poor are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, as well as their survival. Sixty percent of the South Asian labor force is still involved in agriculture, and agriculture contributes about 25 percent to GDP. (South Asia Initiative, IFPRI website)
In Latin America and the Caribbean, agriculture and rural economic activities are major sources of employment and are of critical importance in terms of eradicating poverty. More than 30 percent of the labor force work in agriculture.(International Fund for Agricultural Development, Strategy for Rural Poverty Reduction in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2002).
Increased agricultural productivity
enables farmers to grow more food, which can translate into better diets and higher incomes. In Africa, estimates show that a 10 percent increase in the level of agricultural productivity is associated with a 7.2 percent reduction in poverty. In India, a similar increase in agricultural productivity is estimated to decrease poverty by 4 percent in the short run and 12 percent in the long run. (Agriculture, Food Security, Nutrition and the Millennium Development Goals, IFPRI, 2004).
Currently, African countries spend on average only 0.85 percent of their agricultural GDP on research, a much lower figure than the 2.6 percent averaged by industrialized countries. (Ending Hunger in Africa: Only the Small Farmer Can Do It, IFPRI, 2002).
Letter from Senator Kit Bond to Riceland Foods, Inc
Mr. Bill J. Reed
Corporate Communications and Public Affairs
Riceland Foods, Inc.
P.O. Box 927
Stuttgart, AR 72160
March 24, 2005
Dear Mr. Reed:
While we have had a good relationship and enjoyed working with you and your members cooperatively and expect fully to continue that relationship, I am very concerned about the way in which the handling of the matter related to new transgenic rice may harm agriculture and undermine our nation’s commitment to science and its place in our future.
I am fully aware that you and your members are generally strong supporters of new technology. In the face of anti-technology and protectionist opposition to safe new biotechnology, agriculture has stuck together with the science and regulatory communities committed to the mandate that our system be science-based - not political - and that failing that, we jeopardize the future viability of technology and all its rewards for producers and customers alike - particularly some of the world’s most desperate children. There have been plenty of tempting excuses to follow the lead of the Luddite officials in Europe, but we have succeeded in staying the course and we now see signs that in its growing isolation and indefensible scientific and moral positions, the European governments are charting a course to accept new technology. One of the principal objections we recognized previously from European consumer analysis is that there was “nothing directly in it for consumers.” Remarkably, if determined safe, here we have a second generation transgenic proposal designed to help save the 1.3 million young children who die annually from dehydration and diarrhea - 5 times the death toll of the recent tsunami tragedy.
It is in no one’s interest to leave the false impression that there is something wrong with biotechnology or the regulatory process that governs it. Farmers will be the biggest victims of any impression that undermines the confidence in our science-based process. Pity the day when our system is turned over to politics and we must conduct a referendum on the approval of all new technologies.
I have worked a great deal, following the lead, first of producers, then with the scientific and regulatory communities, and of forward-looking food processors to invest in new technology and protect the integrity of the science-based regulatory system, which ensures its safety. It has been our collective goal to make Missouri not a sightseer of this new technological revolution, but to make us central to this revolution. If we cannot introduce new technologies
and new uses for our farmers (and consumers) then the future of agriculture will be tied to shrinking promise and growing subsidies, which are becoming harder to defend.
It is my understanding that in the previous several years, the federal government has approved over 20 permits allowing the production of genetically improved rice in the Delta area in which Riceland producers operate. It is disturbing that when Missouri gets an opportunity to enter into a new market, some prejudge the scientific findings, subject the proposal to public criticism arousing controversy and conflict among our producers, and create media attention that risks arousing fear without a basis in science.
There is nothing more that the dwindling collection of opponents of technology could hope for, than to divide U.S. producers on biotechnology, after failing to peddle junk science and hysteria before the public, the Congress, the courts, corporate shareholders, the regulatory authorities, and the media. After 10 years of commercial experience, we expect to see the billionth acre of biotechnology crops planted while the naysayers search in vain to identify the first stomach ache.
As I have done always, I adamantly defend the science-based process and oppose the introduction of politics into it. The decision rendered by the regulatory process in this case is one that I will honor, yea or nay. But beyond this singular decision, a great deal more is at stake if we pursue a course and leave an impression that farmers are not supportive, or that the French government will dictate our farming practices and technological pursuits, or that the technology is not safe and our regulatory system should not be trusted. As we proceed, I recommend strongly that we not undermine biotechnology, deprive the sick and the hungry, and surrender our future.
Christopher S. Bond
United States Senator
Governor Matt Blunt
Fred Ferrell, Director of Agriculture
Paul T. Combs
Brazil Gets Set For New Genetically Modified Soybean Era
- Dow Jones Newswires, By Alastair Stewart; March 30, 2005
SAO PAULO (Dow Jones)--With a stroke of the pen, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva last week ushered in the widespread use of genetically modified crop technology across the country's massive soy belt.
And seed producers say the expansion could be much quicker than the government has anticipated.
Agriculture Minister Roberto Rodrigues said he didn't expect a major explosion in the use of official GMO soybean seeds in the 2005-06 crop season (October- September), but industry leaders said companies have been using a loophole in the law to multiply GMO seeds this season and will have up to 4.5 million 50- kilogram bags of modified seeds ready for next year.
"The industry estimates it could supply GMOs for up to 30% of the planted area," said Iwao Miyamoto, president of the Brazilian Seed Producers Association, or Abrasem, adding that many of the labels are ready.
Brazil is the world's second largest soybean producers, turning out approximately 52 million metric tons this year after initial expectations had put the crop as high as 65 million tons. It is also the last major producer to approve legislation for the use of GMO seeds.
Now farmers in the south of the country will have access to certified GMO soybean seeds, they will likely stop using the illicit seeds smuggled in from Argentina, observers said.
"Farmers are aware of the diseases and problems these uncontrolled seeds can cause and will want to use material with certificates to improve the quality of the crop," said Flavio Franca Junior, soy analyst at the local agricultural consultancy Safras e Mercado.
Over the last five years, increasing numbers of soybean producers were using illicit seeds, leading the government to temporarily allow their use and sale over the last two years.
As a result, some 21% to 26% of Brazil's crop was already genetically modified in 2004-05, according to a survey by the local Celeres agricultural consultancy.
Monsanto (MON) has been tight-lipped about its plans for the world's biggest untapped market, but press reports indicated they have already earmarked $20 billion to develop new varieties for Brazilian conditions.
Farmers can expect a 10% to 15% reduction in costs with the introduction of certified varieties based on Monsanto's RoundUp Ready technology, said the agriculture minister after the GMO bill was signed. These gains will be extremely welcome at a time when costs are rising, said Carlos Sperotto, president of the Agricultural Federation in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where up to 95% of the soybeans produced are GMO.
However, the immediate benefits may not be great, warned Abrasem's Miyamoto.
He explained the main benefit of GMO soybeans comes from less herbicides and pesticides being needed. But much of the southern crop is already GMO while the center-west crops already tend to be pretty clean, he said.
"The farmers in the south will be using much higher quality seeds next year and this should help their yields," he added.
Soy production in the south of Brazil has been decimated by drought this year. Miyamoto said certified seeds wouldn't have helped that situation.
Lawmakers head off seed regulation
- QC Times, By Todd Dorman, March 30th, 2005
DES MOINES — Senate lawmakers have voted to head off any future attempt by local governments in Iowa to regulate the use of agricultural seeds — including genetically modified varieties.
Under a bill approved 33-16, only the Iowa Department of Agriculture would have authority to regulate agricultural seeds. Backers of the bill argue state oversight is preferable to a patchwork of local rules that could hamper Iowa farmers and businesses developing biotech products.
Passage sends the bill to Gov. Tom Vilsack, who has not said whether he would sign the bill into law.
“The essence of this bill is who is better positioned to regulate seed in Iowa, the Department of Agriculture or local counties and cities,’’ said Rep. Tom Rielly, D-Oskaloosa, a former mayor and the bill’s floor manager. He said one California county banned the use of genetically modified seeds.
The bill prohibits any local ordinance seeking to regulate the “production, use, advertising, sale, distribution, storage, transportation, formulation, packaging, labeling, certification, or registration of agricultural seed.’’
But critics questioned whether the bill is needed in Iowa, where biotech crops are widely grown. They also argued that local officials should have the authority to protect a hometown organic agriculture operation from contamination by genetically modified crops growing nearby.
“This is another step in the taking away of local control from our local communities,’’ said Sen. Keith Kreiman, D-Bloomfield, who was among 13 Democrats and three Republicans who voted no. “So what’s the crisis? What is so important that we take this power away from our local people?’’
Legislative leaders told the bill’s critics they would form a committee to study the concerns of local governments, organic growers, conventional farmers and other interested parties this summer.
Todd Dorman can be contacted at
(515) 243-0138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UK Conservatives Attack Blair Over Biotech Crops
- Reuters, March 23, 2005
LONDON - Gene-spliced crops would have no future under a Conservative-led government in Britain unless conclusively proved to be safe, the main opposition party said on Tuesday.
Shadow environment secretary Tim Yeo also blasted Prime Minister Tony Blair for his apparent backing of the controversial technology and ignoring persistent consumer fears about the safety of so-called "Frankenstein foods".
The move comes just a day after a four-year 5.5 million-pound ($9.5 million) goverment-sponsored trial of genetically modified (GMO) crops showed they could have detrimental effects on the environment.
"I think the signs show that we still do not fully understand what the effect of commercial plantings of GM crops would be, although I don't share the same concerns that some people stress about human health," Yeo told reporters.
Launching the party's rural affairs manifesto ahead of an expected May 5 election, Yeo said a Conservative government would would ban outright the gene-spliced varieties until it can be proved they pose no threat to the environment.
"Our position is very different from Labour. It was them who authorised the first planting of GM maize. Although it's not taken place and the company involved has decided not to go ahead, it was their policy. It is not our policy," Yeo said.
"And we do know that Tony Blair has been very keen to encourage the growing of GM crops in this country," he added.
Britain gave biotech giant Bayer Cropscience a conditional approval to market GMO maize seeds after studies showed they posed no threat to wildlife, but the German-based firm dropped the plan, saying it was "economically unviable".
In addition, the Conservative Party said it would boost environmentally friendly transport fuels like biodiesel and bioethanol, issue licences to cull badgers in areas most affected by the cattle disease bovine tuberculosis (TB) and ensure more affordable housing in rural areas.
Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2005 07:19:57 +0200
From: "Jonathan Gressel"
Subject: New Book: Crop Ferality and Volunteerism - A Threat in the Transgenic Era?
Questions had been asked about whether the transgenic era would lead to more monoculture in agriculture, with the concomitant possibility that volunteer weeds coming from the crop would have the ability/time to de-domesticate to feral, weedier forms.
Unlike in animal systems, where much is known about de-domestication, very little is known about the propensity of plants to evolve feral forms, and little has been published in an organized form, especially on "endo-ferality", where the crop de-domesticates by back mutation of its own genes, vs. "exo-ferality", where de-domestication is facilitated by gene flow from wild or weedy relatives. Thus, a group gathered for a week in Bellagio to discuss these issues, with an outcome being a peer-reviewed book, which will be out in a few weeks. One of the most interesting aspects to me was the vast diversity in methods that have plants have used to de-domesticate to feral forms.
The Table of Contents appears below, to give you an idea of the scope of issues covered. Should you or your library be interested, a voucher is available from me (Jonathan.Gressel@Weizmann.ac.il) or any of the
Chapter authors that will give you or your library a 20% discount on the book.
Crop Ferality and Volunteerism Jonathan Gressel, ed. CRC Press April, 2005
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Introduction - The Challenges of Ferality 1 Jonathan Gressel
Chapter 2 Crops Come from Wild Plants ‹ How Domestication, Transgenes, and Linkage Together Shape Ferality 9 Suzanne I. Warwick and C. Neal Stewart, Jr.
Chapter 3 The Ecology and Detection of Plant Ferality in the Historic Records 31 Klaus Ammann, Yolande Jacot, and Pia Rufener Al Mazyad
Chapter 4 Feral Beets ‹ With Help from the Maritime Wild? 45 Ulrich Sukopp, Matthias Pohl, Sarah Driessen, and Detlef Bartsch
Chapter 5 Volunteer Oilseed Rape; Will Herbicide-Resistance Traits Assist Ferality? 59 Linda M. Hall, M. Habibur Rahman, Robert H. Gulden, and A. Gordon Thomas
Chapter 6 Incestuous Relations of Foxtail Millet (Setaria italica) with Its Parents and Cousins 81 Henri Darmency
Chapter 7 Urban Ornamentals Escaped from Cultivation 97 Ingo Kowarik
Chapter 8 Sorghum and Its Weedy Hybrids 123 Gebisa Ejeta and Cécile Grenier
Chapter 9 Multidirectional Gene Flow among Wild, Weedy, and Cultivated Soybeans 137 Bao-Rong Lu
Chapter 10 Maize and Soybeans ‹ Controllable Volunteerism without Ferality? 149 Micheal D.K. Owen
Chapter 11Wheat Domestication and Dedomestication ‹ What Are the Odds? 167 Sharon Ayal and Avraham A. Levy
Chapter 12 Feral Rye ‹ Evolutionary Origins of a Weed 175 Jutta C. Burger and Norman C. Ellstrand
Chapter 13 Can Feral Radishes Become Weeds? 193 Allison A. Snow and Lesley G. Campbell
Chapter 14 Ferality; Risks of Gene Flow between Sunflower and Other Helianthus spp 209 André Bervillé, Marie-Hélène Muller, Bernard Poinso, and Hervé Serieys
Chapter 15 Issues of Ferality or Potential for Ferality in Oats, Olives, the Vigna Group, Ryegrass Species, Safflower, and Sugarcane 231 André Bervillé, Catherine Breton, Ken Cunliffe, Henri Darmency, Allen G. Good, Jonathan Gressel, Linda M. Hall, Marc A. McPherson, Frédéric Médail, Christian Pinatel, Duncan A. Vaughan, and Suzanne I. Warwick
Chapter 16 Asian Rice and Weedy Rice ‹ Evolutionary Perspectives 257 Duncan A. Vaughan, Paulino L. Sanchez, Jun Ushiki, Akito Kaga, and Norihiko Tomooka
Chapter 17 The Damage by Weedy Rice ‹ Can Feral Rice Remain Undetected?....279 Bernal E. Valverde
Chapter 18 Properties of Rice Growing in Abandoned Paddies in Sri Lanka 295 Buddhi Marambe
Chapter 19 Coexistence of Weedy Rice and Rice in Tropical America ‹ Gene Flow and Genetic Diversity 305 Zaida Lentini and Ana Mercedes Espinoza
Chapter 20 Gene Movement between Rice (Oryza sativa) and Weedy Rice (Oryza sativa) ‹a U.S. Temperate Rice Perspective 323 David R. Gealy
Chapter 21 Modeling Population Dynamics to Overcome Feral Rice in Rice 355 Francesco Vidotto and Aldo Ferrero
Chapter 22 Molecular Containment and Mitigation of Genes within Crops ‹ Prevention of Gene Establishment in Volunteer Offspring and Feral Strains 371 Jonathan Gressel and Hani Al-Ahmad
Chapter 23 Assessing the Environmental Risks of Transgenic Volunteer Weeds 389 Alan Raybould
Chapter 24 Regulation Should Be Based on Data, Not Just Models 403 Richard Roush
Epilogue 411 Ervin Balázs
Prof. Jonathan Gressel Plant Sciences Weizmann Institute of Science Rehovot, Israel Phone: +972-8-934-3481 Fax: +972-8-934-4181 Home: +972-8-941-5604 Email: email@example.com