Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: April 5, 2005
* World's First Blue Rose Developed by GM!
* Egypt Develops GM, Others Fight
* Offering Proof of My Statements
* Syngenta Corn Issue - Reporting the Truth
* Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers: Commentary on The CFS Report
* Monsanto Branches Out Into Fruits and Vegetables
* Poisonous Harvest Cut by GM Crop
* Contaminated Corn Can Create Risks For The Unborn
* Mendel in the Kitchen Author Discusses Biotech Safety
* Open Up Their Eyes
* Monsanto Comments re Paper by Rick A. Relyea: Impact of Insecticides and Herbicides on the Biodiversity
* Request for Correction
World's First Blue Rose Developed by GM!
See the rose at http://www.florigene.com.au/news/news.php
The World's First Biotechnology-driven "Blue Roses" -synonym for the impossible - have been successfully developed. SUNTORY LIMITED (Head Office:Osaka City, Japan / President:Nobutada Saji), jointly with Florigene Ltd. (Victoria, Australia / President:Toshihiko Ashikari - SUNTORY holds 98.5% of Florigene's shares), has successfully developed the world's first biotechnology-driven "blue rose".
Roses have been grown for a long time - 5,000 years or more. It is said that the varieties developed to more than 25,000 species and a wide variety of colours exists including red, white, pink and yellow. For a long time, breeders have been trying to develop blue roses, which have long been synonym for the impossible.In an effort to achieve this breeders have been crossing rose varieties grown all around the world. As a result, there are so-called 'blue' roses already on the market. However, blue roses, derived from the presence of blue pigment, have not yet come into being. It has been revealed that this is a result of the fact that in rose petals genes encoding the enzyme that is necessary to create the blue pigment, "Delphinidin", are not functional (the enzyme is known as flavonoid 3'5'-hydroxylase).
SUNTORY has focused on this finding and, in 1990, in cooperation with an Australian bio-venture company "Calgene Pacific (now: Florigene Ltd.) started the joint development of biotechnology-driven "blue roses". Since then we have been pursuing our research attempting to develop "blue roses" by retrieving the genes necessary to create blue pigments from other plants such as petunia and implanting these into roses. The world's first "blue carnations" were born in this development process in 1995 and, in Japan, they were named "Moondust" where they have been marketed since 1997
For the first time in the world, SUNTORY has succeeded in creating blue pigment in roses by implanting the gene that leads to the synthesis of blue pigment from pansy. Unlike the roses created by using conventional breeding technologies, the roses developed by us have almost 100%* Delphinidin in their petals, which has allowed these new and very different blue roses to become a reality. Although traditional roses have only red pigments, by using the blue roses we have developed as a starting point, it is expected that roses with the ability to create a blue pigment will soon lead more variety in rose flower colour.
The SUNTORY GROUP will continue our research and development to make blue roses "clearer". The roses have been evaluated and approved based on the "Act concerning Maintenance of Diversity of Organisms regulated by Use of Genetically-Modified Organisms" (http://www.mext.go.jp/a_menu/shinkou/seimei/main.htm) and we will consider merchandising after production, distribution, and sales structures have been properly established. Florigene. Ltd. was established as an Australian bio-venture company in 1986. It develops new varieties of plants by using biotechnology. It is a world's leading company in the research of flower colour. SUNTORY LIMITED took over the company's shares in December, 2003..
Egypt Develops GM, Others Fight
- Joseph Krauss, Ellinghuysen, April 05, 2005
In May of 2002, a number of southern African nations faced the worst food shortages in more than a decade when crop yields already weakened by poor management, political turmoil and the devastation wrought by AIDS were further aggravated by a summer of severe flooding, followed by an equally severe drought. Aid groups estimated that nearly 15 million people faced starvation. The international community acted quickly, with the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) promising a substantial amount of emergency food aid in the form of surplus crops, primarily from the United States, the WFPs chief donor. Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique politely declined.
Leaders said they could not accept food aid from America, because it was contaminated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which they claimed made it hazardous to human health. The most outspoken was President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia, who refused to admit even milled grains from the United States. Simply because my people are hungry, that is no justification to give them poison, to give them food that is intrinsically dangerous to their health, said Mwanawasa, during a development conference in Johannesburg.
Many speculated that African leaders opposition to the aid was motivated by other concerns, namely the fear that GMO contamination could harm their countries long-term ability to export to Europe, which at that time had a strict moratorium on the import of genetically modified foods. The United States implored the small African countries to accept aid, claiming that there is no scientific proof that GM foods are harmful to human health. The threat of famine is something we know, Andrew Natsios, head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), told the BBC. We know what happens when people dont eat they die. Natsios added that he and his family, like most Americans, have been eating genetically modified foods for the last several years without any noticeable effects on their health.
The countries eventually gave in and accepted milled GM cereals, but Zambia refused to budge, and was only spared from the catastrophe at the last minute when European donors stepped in to provide certifiably non-GM aid.
The Zambian case remains one of the most extreme and often discussed events in the history of a controversy that has engulfed the entire world, pitting the United States against the European Union and large-scale agribusiness against the global environmental movement. As a result, nearly every developing country in the world has had to carefully navigate between the rival export markets, while making hard decisions about a new technology that manipulates the building blocks of biological life, promising big dividends and, critics allege, potentially catastrophic long-term effects on human health and the environment.
Since 1990, the Agricultural Research Center (ARC), based in Egypt under the leadership of Magdi Madkour, has been actively researching and developing genetically modified crops that scientists believe can address a host of problems faced by the agricultural sector, from insect infestations to drought and rising soil salinity. But until now, the country has refused to delve into commercial production, largely out of the fear that doing so may shut down export markets in Europe, where hostility to GM foods runs high. In recent months, however, as the European Union has softened its stand by lifting a five-year moratorium on GM crops, opened the door to 18 GM products including soybeans, maize, and some vaccines and taken 24 more under review, Egyptian advocates of GM technology have grown bolder, calling for the commercial production of GM cotton and corn crops by 2006. Egypt would not be the first developing country to embrace the technology China and Argentina have been growing GM crops for years but the decision will nevertheless mark a crucial juncture in the history of Egyptian agriculture. However, whether a cautious majority of growers and consumers in Egypt will embrace GM technology remains to be seen.
Sowing GM crops in Egypt South of Cairo University, behind the tall concrete walls that separate it from the bustling city, sits the Agricultural Research Center, a sprawling commune of fields, greenhouses and administrative buildings. Here scientists in lab coats and straw hats wander through narrow furrows in several sequestered gardens, carefully monitoring and evaluating a microcosm of Egypts agricultural landscape the size of a football field. It was here that Egypt launched its own applied biotechnology research program, the Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute (AGERI), in 1990.
Anticipating the important role the burgeoning science of genetics would eventually come to play in agriculture, the Ministry of Agriculture partnered with USAID to establish the center. Now, nearly 15 years later, it may be on the verge of launching the countrys first commercially grown genetically modified crop, a strain of cotton that could save the industry millions of pounds every year by boosting output and virtually eliminating chemical crop spraying.
Cotton is a very safe product to start with, because the areas in which cotton is grown are restricted to certain varieties, so each variety is segregated, says Hanaiya Al Itriby, AGERIs director and one of the pioneers of GM technology in Egypt. Every year theres a decree that comes out that says the Giza variety so-and-so will be grown in this district, so its allocated to specific areas.
Cotton is also a safe bet for export markets. Although exporting cotton seed oil from genetically modified plants would qualify as a GM product, the fibers themselves, especially when transformed into yarns and fabrics, do not contain any genetic material that would shut them out of European markets, and while many consumers refuse to eat GM products, few object to wearing them.
Over the last decade, AGERI has been actively researching a wide array of products everything from virus-resistant potatoes to bananas that contain vaccines for hepatitis. But with cotton, the center has found a commercial partner in the Monsanto Company, the US-based producer of the worlds No. 1 herbicide, and anticipates Egypt will be able to start growing GM cotton by 2006.
The new cotton crop will contain a gene purchased from Monsanto that makes the plants resistant to certain insects, but Al Itriby maintains that the crop will retain its unique Egyptian characteristics in every other respect. In addition to collaborating with Monsanto, AGERI has also cooperated with the Cotton Research Institute (also part of the ARC) to insure that the new plants produce the sought-after long staple fibers Egypt is know for. The breeders of the cotton are making sure that we keep the Egyptian line with all its characteristics, Al Itriby says. The selection was done by the breeders, so its a collaborative and multi-disciplinary approach.
Although many in the cotton industry are optimistic about the new technology, some wonder whether the idea will actually catch on among Egyptian growers. The only thing they modify is the ability of the plant to sustain the attacks of insects, so that means less spraying, less cost and a better quality of fiber theoretically at least, says Amin Abaza, the Managing Director of the Modern Nile Cotton Company, which is heavily involved both in the agricultural and industrial side of the crop. But all of this remains to be seen, it has to be tried. [The grower] has to see it to believe it, especially our growers. They dont usually believe what the scientific community tells them until they see it themselves and they make sure that there really is a lower cost and a higher quality.
Abaza, who is in favor of genetically modified crops, believes that resistance to the concept will not come from any widespread health or environmental concerns, but from the increased price of the new seeds. People have to be convinced that if they are paying a little more for the seed, they are going to get their moneys worth in crop management and in the quality of the crop, and this has to be seen in practice.
Because the new seeds contain a patented gene, anyone who uses them will have to pay a royalty to Monsanto, but advocates say that increased output, along with the amount farmers will save on chemical fertilizers, will more than cover the price of the switchover. Al Itriby points out that, in addition to developing the new crops, AGERI is also actively working to ensure that they find both commercial producers and markets. We are not doing research for research only, we are looking to put a product out, she says.
Although Egypt will have to purchase the initial genes from an international company, Al Itriby expects that the scientists at AGERI will eventually be able to develop their own genes, and has created an intellectual property rights office to help them to secure their own patents. Once you have your own genes, you have something important that you can use to barter if you want something that another person, or another institution, or even the private sector has and is willing to exchange.
Full story at http://www.truthabouttrade.org/article.asp?id=3648
Offering Proof of My Statements
- Robert Wager, The Guardian (Charlottetown), April 5, 2005; Via Agnet
It seems Dr. Christie would like something to back up Wager's claim there is no evidence of harm from growing or eating GE crops ('Making statements with no proof', The Guardian, March 23, 2005). The International Council for Science which represents over 100 academic and scientific organizations from around the world did the most detailed examination on GE crops and food that Wager is aware of.
The report 'New Genetics, Food and Agriculture: Scientific Discoveries-Societal Dilemmas', discusses the review of 50 scientific reviews on GE crops and food http://www.icsu.org/1_icsuinscience/INIT_GMOrep_1.html . They concluded there is no evidence of any harm from consumption of food containing GE ingredients and no evidence of any harm to the environment from growing the present GE varieties. Similar endorsements can be found from the American Medical Association, the Society of Toxicology and many
My website http://web.mala.bc.ca/wager has links to many world experts with similar opinions. The mentioned Benbrook report was referring to herbicide use not insecticide use. The 100 million pounds figure is for organophosphate insecticides, not herbicides. Two different issues.
- Robert Wager, Malaspina University College, Nanaimo, B.C., Canada
Reporting the Truth
- Dean Kleckner, Truth About Trade and Technology, March 31, 2005
"If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out," said Oscar Wilde.
That's the situation Syngenta found itself in last week, when the news media reported on a mistake involving biotech crops. It turns out that an infinitesimally small amount of corn that does not have regulatory approval--but which is nevertheless totally safe to consume--probably entered the food chain in recent years.
This made headlines around the country, which is no surprise. But lost in all the hullabaloo was an important fact: The reason why we know Syngenta erred in the first place is because Syngenta reported the error on its own to the federal government.
In other words, Syngenta told the truth and was found out.
The notification took place at the end of last year. Regulators at the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration were still discussing how to respond to the oversight when word of what happened was leaked to the press.
The most important thing to know is that nobody's health was ever at risk. The corn in question goes by the technical name of Bt10. The proteins it produces are identical to another biotech enhanced corn called Bt11, which received regulatory approval here in the United States in 1996 and in Europe in 1998. Here's how the scientific journal Nature described the situation: "U.S. government scientists have assessed the Bt10 corn--which differs from Bt11 by only a handful of nucleotides on a section of the gene that does not code for the protein toxin--and have concluded that it is safe to eat and poses no environmental threat."
What's more, these Bt10 plantings involved a microscopic fraction of the U.S. corn supply. About one-one-hundredth of one percent of the country's corn acreage was potentially affected. Most of the harvested Bt10 corn actually wound up as animal feed.
Syngenta and the government were preparing to release a statement about what happened, but they were also taking great care not to create a ruckus over a fairly minor incident. With the exception of anti-biotech zealots, nobody wants to raise public alarms over nothing. "Had there been a human health concern, we would have alerted the public immediately," said an EPA spokeswoman.
That's the point - there was no human health concern. Officials were taking their time as they thoroughly collected information and tried to craft an appropriate response. What we have here is an example of America's food industry and its regulators working exactly as expected. A mistake was made, it was self-reported, and the government began contemplating an appropriate response. Syngenta now faces a substantial fine.
Winston Churchill once spoke of "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." The case of Bt10 is a mistake wrapped inside responsibility inside trustworthiness. It's a regulatory success story.
The enemies of biotechnology like to use scare-tactics, and they'll no doubt attempt to stir up controversy over the Bt10 mix-up. They'll want Americans to think that biotech crops are somehow unnatural, even though they merely represent the latest development in the science of genetic improvement and agricultural crossbreeding that has been going on for thousands of years.
Before these activists start lecturing us on what's natural and what isn't, however, they should read a separate story that first appeared in Nature last week. Plant geneticists at Purdue University seem to have discovered what the New York Times described as "an unprecedented exception to the laws of inheritance discovered by Gregor Mendel in the 19th century."
The details are a bit complicated, as they involve poorly understood non-DNA backup copies of a genome. Suffice it to say that the natural world is stranger than we first thought--and that scientists may in fact know more about developing new crops through biotechnology than they do about how organisms in the wild pass on their traits from one generation to the next.
Something tells me that the plants studied by the Purdue scientists didn't bother to inform regulators about their plans. Occasionally nobody tells the truth, but it gets found out anyway.
--- Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) is a national grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed and led by farmers in support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.
Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers: Commentary on The Center for Food Safety Report
- Drew L. Kershen, ISB News Report , April 2005
In January 2005, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) released a report - MONSANTO vs. U.S. FARMERS - described as "an extensive review of Monsanto's use and abuse of U.S. patent law to control the usage of staple crop seeds by U.S. farmers." As stated in the CFS's press release accompanying the report, "These law suits and settlements are nothing less than corporate extortion of American farmers. ...suing innocent farmers. We [the CFS] are committed to stopping the corporate persecution of our farmers in its tracks."
The report consists of five chapters covering fifty-six pages, four pages of endnotes, and an Appendix of seventeen pages in which CFS describes 98 lawsuits against 90 farmer-defendants. These ninety-eight lawsuits serve as the primary, but not sole, data upon which CFS bases its claim of persecution of U.S. farmers.
If one looks at CFS's own data on the ninety-eight lawsuits in the Appendix, the following results are tabulated. Against the ninety defendants, Monsanto has won seventy-three times. Farmer-Defendants and Monsanto have unresolved lawsuits in fifteen cases in January 2005-so there is, as yet, no winner in these fifteen cases. CFS's data was unable to determine the outcome of two cases, leaving it unclear whether Monsanto or the farmer-defendant triumphed in the litigation.
When Monsanto wins 73 of 73 cases (of known outcomes), with a number of legal wins coming in front of a jury, it is difficult to agree with CFS that Monsanto is persecuting farmers. Putting aside CFS's ideological dislike of Monsanto, a dispassionate reader of CFS's own data would more likely conclude that Monsanto must be pursuing cases only when convinced that it can prove and win the lawsuit. When Monsanto wins 73 of 73 cases, the more accurate description would appear to be that judges and juries concluded that Monsanto was protecting its legal rights against defendants who had factually infringed those legal rights.
CFS also claims that Monsanto is "suing innocent farmers." Monsanto's 73 wins in 73 cases seems difficult to reconcile with CFS's claim of "suing innocent farmers." Moreover, in the judicial opinions that courts have published about these 98 lawsuits, all the farmers, except one, have admitted that they intentionally acquired Monsanto patented seed without signing a license agreement or that they purposefully saved Monsanto patented seed in violation of the signed technology use agreement prohibiting the saving of seed for replanting in the following year. By deciding for Monsanto, judges and juries have obviously indicated difficulty in applying the label "innocent" to these farmer-defendants.
When one looks at CFS's data, it becomes clear that what CFS finds unacceptable is that the statutory law, the judges, and the juries favor Monsanto. In other words, while CFS vents its rhetorical wrath on Monsanto, CFS actually is complaining about the law and its effective enforcement. CFS's complaint becomes clear when one reads the report's Chapter 5 "Policy Options: Preventing the Prosecution of America's Farmers."
- Amend the Patent Act (PA) and the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA) to exclude plants from the subject matter that can be protected by intellectual property rights; - If the PA and the PVPA are not amended to exclude plants, make the PVPA the exclusive statutory means for protecting plants as intellectual property because the PVPA has an exception for farmers saving seeds for replanting on their own lands;
- Aend the PA to add a farmers' saved-seed exception and /or to exempt inadvertent possession from being an infringing act; - Legislate liability laws to put liability on seed companies (Monsanto); - Adopt existing state models for controlling the intrusive and aggressive patent infringement investigations of farmers; - Pass legislation that negates the forum selection clause in technology use agreements;
- Pass statutes or ordinances banning the growing of transgenic crops.
Of these seven policy options, bullet points 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 are calls for amendments or new laws that prevent or reduce enforcement of intellectual property rights. Bullet points 4 and 7 have nothing to do with the report's study of the "use and abuse" of US patent laws but are direct attacks on agricultural biotechnology. Indeed, the CFS report was released in January 2005 just as legislators in Vermont, Montana, North Dakota, and Hawaii introduced CFS-drafted legislation about liability that embodied the CFS policy option bullet point 4.
After reading the CFS report, the author is reminded of Sinclair Lewis' lament about the public reaction to his novel, The Jungle, "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach." The CFS report claims to aim at farmers' innocent hearts and persecuted souls but actually hits guilty farmers' in their back (wallet) pockets. Other farmers, who by the hundreds of thousands have used transgenic seeds without conflict with Monsanto, may not be impressed with CFS's aim.
Drew L. Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
ISB News Report, April 2005 - Other commentaries at http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2005/news05.apr.html#apr0504
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Monsanto Branches Out Into Fruits and Vegetables
- Stephan Herrera, Nature Biotechnology, April 1, 2005, www.nature.com
Monsanto recently acquired a US fruit and vegetable seed outfit, a move that both Wall Street analysts and environmental activists (oddly) agree could spell trouble. Indeed, these observers are concerned that the St. Louis, Missouri, biotech seed giant is once again overreaching, should the firm start producing genetically modified (GM) fruits and vegetables. The move could be an attempt to become the first company to step into that market and impose its products before competition from China, Brazil and India kicks in.
Last January, Monsanto announced its $1.4 billion acquisition of Seminis, a fruit and vegetable seed company from Oxnard, California. Investors and environmentalists rarely agree on anything when it comes to Monsanto, but it seems that the Seminis deal--and on a smaller scale, the $300 million purchase of the Emergent Genetics cotton seed company of Boulder, Colorado in February and the $40 million acquisition of Lincoln, Nebraska?based grain seed firm NC+ Hybrids in March--has brought back bad memories of Monsanto's exuberant expansion in the late 1990s into the soy and seed corn business.
Both investors and environmentalists have been known to exaggerate and misjudge the larger meaning of news concerning Monsanto. The question is, did they overreact to the Seminis acquisition or is it with good reason that these two important Monsanto constituencies are apprehensive now? The answer is probably yes to both. "I think Monsanto wants to be an all-purpose seed company and sees new varietals with improved traits as a way to gain market share in the fruit and vegetables market, which hasn't seen a lot of innovation or growth"
Wall Street was not entirely impressed by the Seminis deal because it is a bit too reminiscent of those done by former Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro. Back in the late 1990s, Shapiro was accused by Wall Street of having indulged in overpriced acquisitions, even though they helped transform Monsanto from a sleepy chemical company into a global life science firm. As history seemingly repeats itself, some analysts believe Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant paid too much for Seminis. As an unprofitable company that lost $16 million on 2004 sales of $525.8 million, Seminis will need to prove its worth. Much like Shapiro, however, Grant justifies his far-flung purchases by saying that the acquisition was a long-term play whose true value will only reveal itself down the line.
Until now, Grant has been vague about his strategic intentions for Seminis except to say that he reckons the future is bright for those who produce the seeds for fruits and vegetables. After a decade of slow (and in some years, no) growth, in just the past two years, for example, sales of apples, oranges and bananas in the United States have started to recover, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Likewise, leading producers Brazil and the United States, and even niche producers such as New Zealand, have all reported robust growth in exports of both fruits and vegetables to the seemingly insatiable market that is China.
Despite the lack of open strategy, Grant has a point in noting that as is, Seminis seeds allow Monsanto to hedge its bets should its genetically modified (GM) business run into new snags down the way. Indeed, acquisituion costs and opposition to GM foods in Europe and Africa have contributed to an oppressive cost structure, stifling Monsanto's profits despite robust sales.
But the main reason environmentalists see shades of yesteryear in the Seminis deal is that the last time Monsanto started spending big on seeds, many of them were quickly re-engineered to include a new gene that made them impervious to Monsanto's top-selling herbicide, Roundup (glyphosate). Environmental groups such as Greenpeace view the Seminis acquisition as a harbinger of new genetically engineered fruits and vegetables to come.
"I think that Monsanto would be very foolish to bring forward [GM] whole fruits or vegetables," says Lindsay Keenan, a GM campaigner for Greenpeace International in Amsterdam. "But, Monsanto can clearly benefit by having their patented genes in as many seeds as possible. The company is also quite capable of attempting to introduce [GM] fruit and vegetables in markets where it believes it can get away with it like the United States and Canada. Since GM papaya, for example, is only grown in Hawaii, but sold widely in the United States, they might assume that the [fruit] market is wide open."
There are, after all, still a large number of potentially lucrative fruits and vegetables that have not been commercially genetically engineered-strawberries, oranges, apples, and bananas, to name just a few. An industry insider who knows Monsanto says the company probably hasn't decided which fruits and vegetables it would focus on, but they agree that the company never would have bought Seminis if it had no intention of creating a GM fruit alternative.William Young, an analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston in New York concurs: "I think Monsanto wants to be an all purpose seed company and sees new varietals with improved traits as a way to gain market share in the fruit and vegetables market, which hasn't seen a lot of innovation or growth," he says. "But, there are a lot of political issues to resolve first." If history is any gauge, the political price and as a result, the economics of commercializing GM fruit will be higher than originally envisioned."
Poisonous Harvest Cut by GM Crop
- Daniel Lewis, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), April 2, 2005 http://www.smh.com.au
Farmers have begun harvesting a vast crop of genetically modified cotton that has allowed them to slash the heavy use of pesticides for which they have long been been criticised. With NSW and Queensland farmers free for the first time last spring to plant as much GM cotton as they liked after nine years of caution, about 80 per cent of the 300,000 hectares sown was genetically modified to resist herbicides and fight the crop's enemy, the helicoverpa moth.
While cotton growers such as Bourke's Ian Cole would normally spray his crop up to 18 times each growing season to kill off pest insects, this season he only sprayed three times after choosing to grow a GM crop. Those three sprays were targeted to attack sucking insects such as mites and did not wipe out the "beneficials" - spiders, wasps and ladybirds - as the powerful, broad-spectrum sprays for helicoverpa used to.
"I'm a big believer in technology being able to solve problems for us in agriculture," Mr Cole said. "Technology has solved a huge problem for us in cotton."
Over the years, traditional pesticides had became stronger and were applied more frequently as insects built immunity. Helicoverpa moths lay their eggs into the boll, or fruit, of the cotton plants and when the larvae hatch they eat the fruit. GM pioneer Monsanto first won permission for Australian farmers to grow its Ingard GM cotton in 1996. Ingard contained a gene found in soil bacteria that enabled the cotton to produce a protein that killed the grubs when they ate the plant.
But because there was a risk of the helicoverpa developing immunity to the single-gene product, planting of Ingard was limited to 30 per cent. Now Monsanto has replaced Ingard with Bollgard II, which uses two genes and produces two deadly proteins. The chance of insects developing immunity to Bollgard is "extremely small", according to Mark Buckingham, a Monsanto spokesman.
Ingard enabled farmers to more than halve the amount of pesticide spraying they needed to do and Bollgard requires 85 per cent less pesticide than conventional cotton. As an ongoing safeguard, farmers planting Bollgard must also plant a "refuge crop" of pigeon pea. The theory is that any moths that do develop an immunity to Bollgard would mate with moths that have fed on the nearby pigeon pea and have not developed immunity. Their offspring would also not have immunity.
Apart from carnations, cotton is still the only GM crop allowed to be commercially grown in Australia because of strict government regulations and strident opposition from environmental and consumer groups.
Mr Cole said that as well as being great for the environment and the workplace safety of his staff, Bollgard saved farmers a lot of money because they do not have to spray as much and can devote more time to other matters such as improving water efficiency. Cotton's thirst for water is the industry's other public relations problem.
Globally, the area planted with GM crops rose 20 per cent last year to 81 million hectares - 5 per cent of the Earth's cultivated crop land. More than 8 million farmers in 17 countries planted GM crops in 2004 and 90 per cent were in developing countries. When commercial GM crops were first planted in 1996, there were 1.7 million hectares.
Contaminated Corn Can Create Risks For The Unborn
URBANA -- Miscarriages and infants born with neural tube defects are just two of the possible risks for pregnant women who consume corn that has been contaminated by the mycotoxin fumonisin produced by species of Fusarium which cause Fusarium ear and kernel rot of corn. Women who take vitamins containing folic acid when they are pregnant are more protected from the effects, but women in many countries may not be.
"In the United States, food grade corn is tested at the grain elevators for mycotoxins, including fumonisin," said Martin Bohn, maize breeder and geneticist at the University of Illinois. "If the mycotoxin is present at an unsafe level, the corn is not sold for human food consumption. But, in cultures that consume large quantities of corn in their diet and are in countries that do not test for the presence of fumonisin, there have been higher cases reported of embryo abortions and deformities in newborns," Bohn said.
Fusarium ear and kernel rot is primarily a problem in drought-stricken areas with high humidity. "Farmers in parts of North Carolina, California and other coastal areas have been forced to take a loss and sell their entire crop for animal feed instead of getting the premium prices for human food when the grain is tested at the elevator and high levels of fumonisin are found," said Don White, U of I plant pathologist.
Bohn was a member of a team when he was in Germany studying the resistance of corn cultivars to the European corn borer. They believe that corn borer larvae feed on the corn, injuring the stalks and ears, creating an opening for fungi to develop and rotting to occur. They were also investigating the association between these resistant corn varieties and the presence of a fumonisin.
The study also evaluated genetically modified Bt corn for its resistance to the European corn borer. "The study showed that although insect management did not reduce contamination by some fungi diseases, using Bt corn did reduce mycotoxins produced from Fusarium rot," said Bohn. "We believe that at least a short-term solution is to plant corn carrying the Bt gene in order to increase the resistance to European corn borer and, in so doing, reduce the incidence of ear rot and the concentration of fumonisin.
White believes that the corn borer is just one of the injury-causing elements that can give fumonisin an opening to take hold in corn. High levels of fumonisin can be found in corn grain with little or no evidence of insect damage or kernel rot. He has a collection of 1,500 inbred lines that have been screened for resistance to Fusarium ear rot and the production of fumonisin. He has already narrowed the search to four or five highly resistant inbreds and knows where the resistance is located in the molecular make-up of two inbreds. "If we had funding, we could have a commercial hybrid available in a few years. Without it, the process will take a decade," said White.
"It's a big problem, especially for people in Latin American countries like Guatemala for whom corn is a major part of their diet and the food systems may not be regulated as closely as they are in the U.S.," said Bohn.
White hopes that genes for resistance can be added to locally grown varieties that will replace the currently used local varieties. "The technology exists to develop resistant varieties," said White. "We just need the funding to keep the research moving forward."
Corn contaminated by fumonisin even at very low levels can be deadly to horses and cause some diseases in pigs, but it can be sold to use safely in cattle feed.
Bohn's research was supported by grants from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Monsanto and Syngenta Seeds. The study is scheduled for publication in the January 2005 journal of the American Society of Agronomy.
Mendel in the Kitchen Author Discusses Biotech Safety
- NAWG Newsletter, Via http://www.truthabouttrade.org/article.asp?id=3635
Dr. Nina Federoff, author of Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Foods, spoke to a seminar at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) this week in Washington. Dr. Federoff is the Evan Pugh Professor of Life Sciences and Verne M. Willaman Chair in Life Sciences and Pennsylvania State University, and a Member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Federoff stated that the risks to biotech foods remain hypothetical. "There is not one documented case of real risk that is unique to the technology," she said. Opponents of biotechnology keep talking about risk, but there is nothing real to measure or analyze.
She also suggested that biotechnology is becoming more accepted in the mainstream of public thought, and the hard-core activists are the remaining opponents. One example is virus-resistant papaya, where farmers and consumers have embraced the technology but activists still object to it. However, the activists still have a powerful voice, and are a primary reason that many crops (including wheat) do not have commercial biotech applications today, despite compelling cases for environmental or productivity benefits. A variety of virus-resistant cocoa has been developed, which would provide substantial benefit to small cocoa farmers, but is not being commercialized due to perceived consumer reservations.
Dr. Federoff also addressed several common criticisms raised by opponents: possible introduction of new toxins, gene flow, and control by multinational companies.
"The probability of introducing a new toxin through recombinant DNA techniques is remote, and it is tested for [by the regulatory system]," she said. "Introduction of allergenicity, while more difficult, is also tested for. It's far more likely to be exposed to a food allergen by trying a product you've never tried before than trying a biotech version of a common food. The fear of introducing toxins or allergens is much smaller than it's been made out to be."
Gene flow (and potential resistance development) is no greater or lesser problem with GM than with conventional breeding techniques, she said. Gene flow is simply a fact of nature. Borrowing a quote from Missouri Botanical Garden head Dr. Peter Raven, she said that "there is nothing more devastating to biodiversity than the agriculture necessary to feed 6 billion people." Biotechnology can actually help us preserve biodiversity if it is applied in the right way, she said.
Critics point out that a few multinational companies own most of the intellectual property. But a big reason for this is the cost of regulatory compliance; universities and small companies cannot foot the bill. The comprehensive nature of the regulatory system and its associated costs are significant barriers to entry to small firms and public institutions, particularly when combined with an uncertain path to commercial use.
She closed with a comment from Dr. Florence Wambugu, Executive Director of A Harvest Biotech Foundation International, based in Nairobi, Kenya, an advocate for using biotechnology to abate hunger in Africa. "You people in the developed world are free to debate the benefits and problems of GM food. But can we eat first?"
Open Up Their Eyes
- The Economist, April 4, 2005 http://www.economist.com
Two books, by Dick Taverne and Thomas Friedman lobby hard for rationalism, progress and globalisation. Why are they not more convincing?
THIS cogent restating of the case for science, reason, optimism and the other values of the Enlightenment is clear about its opponents. They include anyone who uses alternative medicine, or who buys organic food, or worries about genetic modification, or opposes nuclear power, or likes post-modernism, or doesn't vaccinate their children properly, or distrusts scientists, or believes the Bible, or dislikes global capitalism or thinks that human progress damages the environment. In Dick Taverne's view, all these wrong-headed beliefs are part of the same batty, sentimental mindset that ultimately threatens democracy.
A former lawyer and centre-left politician who was ennobled in 1996, Lord Taverne presents a useful compendium of facts and arguments that are often drowned out by media scare stories and green propaganda. Alternative medicine is at best a placebo, and at worst outright harmful; if it worked reliably, it would not be alternative. Organic food is often worse for the environment than conventional farming. GM crops, by contrast, are hugely promising and rich western nations' antipathy towards them is a mystifLying bit of self-indulgence. The precautionary principle in science is either so vague as to be meaningless or a disastrous recipe for stagnation. Globalisation is making the planet richer and therefore cleaner. Global warming will not be solved by greater poverty.
Lord Taverne, who is married to a scientist, expounds and exposes like the barrister he once was. He is gutsy, fluent and ambitious. Rather than fight battles singly, he prefers all-out war on what he sees as unreason. But the result is also flawed. Although there is a common thread to much modern silliness-people who believe in astrology may well be easily convinced that "Frankenstein" GM food is poisonous and that well-shaken water heals-real life is often a compromise between different kinds of irrationLality, not a choice between sense and nonsense. To take a small example, many quite sensible people buy organically produced meat, not because they believe in all the principles of the organic movement, or even because they think it tastes significantly better or is always more healthy, but just because they feel queasy about factory farming.
Lord Taverne ducks the problem. There are ethical issues in modern farming, but the market offers very few choices: conventional meat and free-range or organic. Consumers may plump for the latter as the least bad option, not because they are soft-headed green nutcases.
This is symptomatic of the book's greatest weakness: an insistence that the scientific, rationalist world-view is not just mostly right, but always so without exception. This is manifest in its skimpy and simplistic treatment of religion. In attacking a loosely defined "fundamentalism", Lord Taverne conflates private piety with public zealotry, and appears to assume that deeply held religious belief is always synonymous with intolerance. Evidence-based approaches to life are undoubtedly useful, but what about ethics?
The real question for supporters of Lord Taverne's excellent causes is how to deal with opponents who are wrong but not wrong-headed. If a mother, for example, wants her child vaccinated with individual mumps, measles and rubella shots, rather than a combined one, are doctors wise to refuse on the quite reasonable grounds that there is no medical evidence that multiple vaccines are dangerous?
In Britain, where this was recently an issue of national debate, the medical authorities were so keen not to bow to popular hysteria following the assertion that the multiple vaccine was linked to an increase in autism that they refused to make single shots available. The result was not a triumph for reason. It stoked conspiracy theories, and vaccination rates plunged dangerously. For Lord Taverne, that is all the more cause to bewail the march of unreason. In retrospect, it might have been better quietly Lto make single vaccines available, which would have defused a popular panic, rather than aggravating it.
Similarly, alternative medicine may have the flimsiest conceptual foundations. But as a placebo, it helps some people recover. That presents an interesting ethical dilemma for doctors who themselves believe in medical science, but who treat patients who don't-something that this forceful but unfocused book ignores. -- The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy and the New Fundamentalism By Dick Taverne Oxford University Press; 318 pages; $29.95 and £18.99
Monsanto Comments regarding a Published Paper by Rick A. Relyea: The Impact of Insecticides and Herbicides on the Biodiversity and Productivity of Aquatic Communities, Ecological Applications 15 (2) 2005, pp. 618-627
Prepared by Joy Honegger, March 31, 2005
Paper Summary: This paper reports the results of a study conducted to determine effects of an unspecified Roundup® brand herbicide formulation* (as well as 2, 4-D, carbaryl, and malathion) on an aquatic community containing algae and twenty-five species of aquatic animals including six species of amphibians. The concentration of the Roundup brand herbicide formulation that was tested was 6.4 mL/m2, which is equivalent to 64 L/ha or 27.4 quarts/A. The test was conducted in cattle tanks containing approximately 1000 L of water and no sediment. Nearly complete mortality was observed for tadpoles of the following amphibian species: leopard frog (Rana pipiens), gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor), and the wood frog (Rana sylvatica). The Roundup brand formulation at the tested concentration did not have significant effects on the American toad (Bufo americanus), the spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) or the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum).
This study does not represent realistic use conditions for Roundup brand herbicides or other Monsanto glyphosate-containing formulations for applications to aquatic environments for the following reasons:
* There are no Roundup brand formulations approved in the US or Canada for application over water. In fact, all current Roundup brand herbicide product labels specifically prohibit application over water. Glyphosate-containing products used for water applications are specifically formulated for this use to enhance their safety to aquatic organisms, such as the organisms studied in this report.
* The application rate used in this study is unrealistically high, over 7 times the typical use rates for agricultural applications.
* Finally, previous studies conducted with realistic application methods, glyphosate-containing products have shown no adverse effects on aquatic organisms, including some of those studied in this report.
Specifics 1. The "over water" application method used in this study is not a realistic environmental exposure. The direct application of Roundup brand herbicides over water is specifically prohibited by the U.S. or Canadian product labels. The results obtained in this study, therefore, are not representative of results that would be obtained from the terrestrial application of Roundup brand herbicides.
2. Even if direct application to water was permitted, the application rate used in this study is over 7 times greater than typical application rates for agricultural uses (1.5 lb glyphosate a.e. acre) and over 3 times the maximum single application rate for agricultural uses (3.75 lb glyphosate a.e. per acre).
3. The results of this paper are inconsistent with actual field studies conducted with Vision® herbicide, which is identical to the Canadian product Roundup Original®, (Thompson et al., 2004). In the field study, no effect on mortality of the leopard frog, Rana pipiens, or the green frog, Rana clamitans, was observed after aerial application of Vision herbicide at an average application rate of 1.92 kg glyphosate acid equivalent (a.e.)/ha, very near the maximum application rate for conifer release (2.14 kg glyphosate a.e./ha).
4. A risk assessment considering exposure to amphibians and other aquatic organisms demonstrates that terrestrial use of glyphosate formulations is predicted to pose minimal acute and chronic risk to amphibians, including tadpoles (Giesy et al., 2000). ______________
* Note that although the author refers to the commercial product "Roundup®" it is unclear what formulation was actually tested. Monsanto no longer markets a product called simply "Roundup" in the United States or Canada. It is misleading for the author to suggest that "Roundup" and "glyphosate" are synonymous. Roundup is a brand name and numerous formulations are marketed under the Roundup brand name. Some Roundup brand formulations contain active ingredients other than glyphosate.
References: Thompson DG, Wojtaszek BF, Staznik B, Chartrand DT, Stephenson GR. (2004) Chemical And Biomonitoring To Assess Potential Acute Effects Of Vision® Herbicide On Native Amphibian Larvae In Forest Wetlands. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 23(4): 843-849.
Giesy JP, Dobson S, and Solomon KR. (2000) Ecotoxicological Risk Assessment for Roundup® Herbicide. Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 167: 35-120.
Request for Correction
- Kim Nill
Am I missing something in your below just-published article? It states: "If a farmer in an arid developing country improves water efficiency on average by 1%, he or she will gain about 200000 L of fresh water a hectare, a year. This would provide drinking water for more than 150 people."
I seriously doubt that: A. rain amounting to 200,000 L X 100= 20,000,000 L of rain falls per year on a hectare in an "arid" developing country. OR...
B. farmers are able to procure and apply 20,000,000 L per year of irrigation water on each hectare in an "arid" DEVELOPING country.
I also doubt that the (alleged) 200,000 L of water resulting from "1% efficiency improvement" in either #A or #B would be: A. readily captured & available for DRINKING. B. drinkable in terms of purity (very little irrigation water in developing countries is).
Sincerely, Kim Nill
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....