Today in AgBioVoiew from www.agbioworld.org: June 13, 2005
* Dr. Modadugu v. Gupta -- 2005 World Food Prize Laureate
* Higher yields draw ryots to genetically modified cotton
* WA farmers see GM wheat as solution to salinity problems
* Bt cotton achieves record growth
* Progress in transgenic crops
* Illegal GMO rice spreads across China - Greenpeace
* Monsanto may ditch GM corn investment
Dr. Modadugu v. Gupta -- 2005 World Food Prize Laureate
- WorldFoodPrize.org, June 13, 2005
Innovative Researcher Honored for Bringing Blue Revolution and Improved Nutrition to One Million Extremely Poor People in South and Southeast Asia and Africa
(DES MOINES, IOWA, USA) – An Indian scientist has been named winner of the $250,000 World Food Prize for his work to enhance nutrition for over one million people, mostly very poor women, through the expansion of aquaculture and fish farming in South and Southeast Asia and Africa.
Dr. Modadugu v. Gupta’s name was announced by Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation on June 10, 2005, at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department presided over by USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios and Acting Undersecretary of State E. Anthony Wayne.
In making the announcement, Ambassador Quinn indicated that Dr. Gupta had been selected for this honor based on his work over three decades at the World Fish Center, a member of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) of the World Bank. “Through his dedicated and sustained efforts in Bangladesh, Laos and other countries in Southeast Asia , Dr. Gupta made small scale aquaculture a viable means for over one million very poor farmers and women to improve their family’s nutrition and wellbeing,” Ambassador Quinn stated. As a result of Dr. Gupta’s efforts, freshwater fish production has risen dramatically in these countries by as much as three to five times, he added.
The Ambassador explained that Dr. Gupta developed unique methods of fish farming, requiring little cost while causing no environmental damage. As a result, landless farmers and poor women have turned a million abandoned pools, roadside ditches, seasonally flooded fields and other bodies of water into mini-factories churning out fish for food and income. Keen to duplicate the success achieved in Asia, Dr. Gupta is working with a growing number of African countries to implement similar measures.
“Dr. Gupta is truly deserving of receiving the World Food Prize—the foremost international award for increasing the quality, quantity and availability of food in the world—for his achievements in bringing the Blue Revolution to those most in need,” Ambassador Quinn concluded. Dr. Gupta is the sixth citizen of India to receive the World Food Prize since it was established in 1986. Previous recipients include : Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, 1987; Dr. Verghese Kurien, 1989; Dr. Gurdev Khush, 1996; B.R. Barwale, 1998 and Dr. Surinder K. Vasal, 2000.
The World Food Prize will be formally presented to Dr. Gupta at a ceremony on October 13, 2005 in the Iowa State Capitol Building in Des Moines. The ceremony will be held as part of the World Food Prize International Symposium, which will focus on the Twin Global Challenges of Malnutrition and Obesity and Overnutrition.
For more information go to http://www.worldfoodprize.org/Laureates/05Laureate/2005laureatestory.htm
Higher yields draw ryots to genetically modified cotton
- The Hindu, By Mahesh Vijapurkar, Jun 13, 2005
MUMBAI: As farmers will henceforth be paid only the Centre's minimum support price for cotton, instead of the earlier higher rate, under the monopoly purchase scheme here, the Maharashtra Government is hoping that the Bt cotton's higher yield would rescue the cotton cultivator from the lower returns. More they grow per acre would mean more in their pockets.
Despite being a major producer — 34 per cent of country's cotton acreage under rainfed conditions — Maharashtra's productivity is the lowest amongst major States: 62.75 kg of lint per acre compared to Haryana's 161.53 kg, Punjab's 183 kg, and Andhra Pradesh's 144 kg. The increase in the output here has been due to more area brought under cotton cultivation, driven by higher prices offered by the State, not productivity. Now with the advent of Bt cotton, productivity could move up.
Now the logic is that with genetically modified cotton becoming increasingly popular with its perceived higher-per-acre yield the farmers are likely to realise more despite the lower prices. The Government does not intend to pay more than the minimum support price of Rs. 1,980 a quintal against the previous year's Rs. 2,500. The farmer stands to lose Rs. 520 a quintal.
This hope persists despite a report of by the State's Agriculture Commissioner, who evaluated genetically modified cotton's performance in khariff 2002-03, saying variation in yields between the Bt and non-Bt varieties ranged between 16.31 and 60.07 per cent but "as per the feedback of field officers, the performance of Bt cotton as compared with other popular hybrid varieties like NCS-145, etc., is not satisfactory. That is, non-Bt was better than Bt."
Bt cotton is fast catching up despite fears in some quarters, including reports of pest attacks on some varieties. Non-officials speak of "a third of cotton acreage" already being under Bt cotton but trade statistics from seed marketers show that of the 68 lakh acres under cotton, a total of 11 lakh acres would opt for Bt cotton this year. Last year, 5.25 lakh acres was under Bt cotton.
The Government is banking on this enlarged shift to Bt cotton, as it would help the farmer bridge the price gap by improved yields. Till the 2004-05 season, the monopoly purchase scheme paid the Centre's minimum support price plus advance bonuses anticipating profits from the sale of cotton converted into bales.
The profits never came, but losses mounted to around Rs. 5,600 cr. The practice of `advance bonus' started in 1994-95.
The government, however, is not actively canvassing the switch from traditional varieties to Bt cotton, apparently not wanting to be seen as promoting Bt cotton. But the view among policy makers is that "when choices get limited, farmers, driven by search for profits, know which way to turn." However, top agriculture officials concede that farmers are being asked to go for other crops, implying that oilseeds and Soya could be a good choice.
Bt cotton got its toehold around the time the monopoly scheme was diluted by allowing the entry of private traders who actually pushed the prices down.
The Government had expected the traders to help ease its responsibility for buying the cotton and that year, the acreage under Bt cotton went up from 30,100 to 54,000. The Government's operations were limited to buying 4.97 lakh quintals against 153 lakh quintals in the previous year.
That grew nearly tenfold to 5,25,000 acres in 2004-05 despite the high seed cost of Rs. 1,600 per acre. According to an ACNielsen-ORG Marg survey cited by Monsanto, the Bollgard variety gave a yield of 7.08 quintals per acre in 2003 against the traditional varieties' 5.60 quintals — a 26 per cent improvement in the yield.
A survey sourced to IMRB International by Monsanto for yields in 2004 showed it was higher at 50 per cent. That seems to draw the farmers to Bt cotton.
WA farmers see GM wheat as solution to salinity problems
- The World Today, 13 June , 2005
This is a transcript from The World Today. The program is broadcast around Australia at 12:10pm on ABC Local Radio.
You can also listen to the story in REAL AUDIO and WINDOWS MEDIA and MP3 formats.
ELEANOR HALL: Farmers in Western Australia who have invested in a trial of genetically modified wheat are touting the crop as the solution to their battle against salinity.
The wheat has been developed to grow in a saline environment, an environment which is unfortunately becoming all-too-common in Australia, particularly in the west.
But the trial of the GM crop has sparked division in the farming community and beyond, as David Weber reports.
DAVID WEBER: Scientists believe more than a quarter of Western Australia's agricultural land will be salt affected during this century. Of all the States and Territories, WA has the largest area at risk.
Grain BioTech has been developing a type of wheat that it hopes will allow farmers to stay productive in a saline environment. Grain BioTech's General Manager, is Dr Paul Fox.
PAUL FOX: The wheat we're testing now in the field in Western Australia is a wheat that's been developed incorporating a gene for salt tolerance which has shown extremely great promise in the glasshouse, so we're really itching now to see how… what that does in farmers' fields in the wheatbelt, because salinity's such a huge problem for Western Australian and Australian farmers in general.
DAVID WEBER: Dr Fox says the wheat could be grown anywhere, not just in WA. He says the regulations governing the current trial go way beyond what's needed, including a buffer zone to ensure the grain doesn't get onto other farmland.
But for Julie Newman, of the Network of Concerned Farmers, no buffer zone is big enough. She doesn't want the trial to go ahead at all.
JULIE NEWMAN: The regulator doesn't assess economics; even the perception of contamination could actually damage our markets.
DAVID WEBER: Wouldn't salinity also be causing problems for farmers? Wouldn't they like to turn their land into something that can be productive?
JULIE NEWMAN: Oh, absolutely, and non-GM salt tolerant wheat is being developed at the moment, and what they have to realise is almost all of the markets will not accept any trace of GM wheat in their wheat, and really, if they commercially release it, it's nothing short of industrial sabotage because we cannot keep it out.
DAVID WEBER: You think it is being rushed?
JULIE NEWMAN: Yes, well, why, why push it through the regulatory process when they know full well that they have no market for it at the other end, because you've got States banning GM wheat, and I don't think it's right that they're actually using farmers' money to push it through a very expensive regulatory process when there is no hope for this at the end.
DAVID WEBER: What's the feeling from farmers, from your perspective?
JULIE NEWMAN: Serious concern, I've had a number of phone calls from farmers around the Corrigin area, and they really are very, very worried because they've seen what the perception of contamination can do to our wheat markets, and it's devastating. We don't want anything to do with this crop.
(Sound of truck starting up)
DAVID WEBER: In Corrigin, about 200kms east of Perth, rainfall levels have been declining over the past 20 years. Salinity has been creeping in, and farmers have been dealing with it in different ways.
Lex Stone is one of those who's been doing what he can to protect his land. But he's also preparing for the eventuality that it'll one day run to salt. Lex Stone is one of the key supporters of the GM wheat trial.
LEX STONE: So it'll help against the stresses that we've got within agriculture being frost, it is being tested, the wheat is being tested at the moment for frost, for salinity. We don't know how it's going to go with the drought, but we're maybe thinking that it will hang on a lot longer within this harsh environment, because we have over-cleared it.
DAVID WEBER: Do a lot of farmers around here feel the same way?
LEX STONE: Um, we have… with this trial on the GM wheat we have huge support within our community. I have not come across one person in the community that is opposed, that has got dry-land salinity that is opposed to this trial.
DAVID WEBER: Do you have any fears about GM wheat?
LEX STONE: Oh, I probably do in a little way, but I at this stage, I'm just very keen to see it in the environment that we have created out here to see how it does perform. If you could give me a salt tolerant wheat that's going to grow in half sea water, and it does have that gene in there, a salt gene put in there, I don't really have too many fears about it. There could possibly be markets.
DAVID WEBER: Lex Stone believes markets will open up to GM grains as what he believes are irrational fears will eventually subside.
LEX STONE: It's great that we've got Julie Newman and people like that out there canvassing against this, but I believe that we've got to look at this technology, it is out there, it is being regulated extremely severe in the office of the gene technology regulator, they wouldn't let out something that's going to really cause harm to the environment.
ELEANOR HALL: Corrigin farmer, Lex Stone speaking to David Weber in Western Australia's wheatbelt.
Bt cotton achieves record growth
- SIFY Finance, June 10, 2005
BANGALORE - Notwithstanding the controversy and widespread opposition it faced, Bt Cotton grew by 154 per cent in 2004-05 and was looking for a much faster growth in the coming years with more seed companies joining the bandwagon.
A biotech industry survey, carried out by the Association of Biotechnology-led Enterprises (ABLE) and BioSpectrum magazine, revealed that bio agriculture achieved the fastest growth of over 154 per cent last year, though its total contribution was nearly seven per cent of the total revenue earned by the sector. The total agri sector contributed Rs 330 crore last year as against Rs 130 crore in 2003-04.
The total Bt Cotton seed revenue during 2004-05 was Rs 253.3 crore, recording a 369 per cent growth, compared to a mere Rs 54 crore in 2003-04.
This year Bt cotton would witness a watershed year as six new varieties of transgenic cotton had been approved by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee for release, for the first time, in the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Currently, Bt Cotton seeds were grown in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. As against three Bt cotton hybrids permitted for cultivation in 2003, the number had gone up to 17 now. The total area covered by Bt cotton currently stood at over five lakh acres.
Progress in transgenic crops
- DAWN, By Dr M. Jalaluddin, 13 June 2005
During half a century world food production has more than doubled from 700 million tons to about two billion as of now.
However, to meet the increasing needs of the growing population, it would be required to produce 50 per cent more food by 2025. Therefore, crop varieties with higher yields are required. Several biotic and a biotic stresses are threatening the sustainability and yield stability of crops. These stresses cause approximately 40 per cent of loss in agricultural production.
From 1960 to 2000 there has been an excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides which has become a matter of concern on account of its adverse effect on environment and human health. Thus, there is a challenge how to sustain the productivity by using traditional agricultural methods.
To increase the yield, improved disease-resistant varieties have been developed through conventional plant breeding through which the shuffling of genes in the resulting offspring is at random and the desired objective (trait) may or may not be achieved. Moreover, it is a very labourious and highly time-consuming process.
Recent advances in molecular biology have opened new avenues for the production of genetically engineered pants with the new genetic properties. The refinement in plant regeneration with the defined marker genes selected for _expression of desired traits, mediated by a vector (carrier) for transferring the genes have resulted in the production of 90 species of genetically-engineered plants.
When genes of an organism is transferred into the genome of another organism, the resulting plant is called transgenic. The transgenic plant is created by means of genetic engineering. This is done to achieve certain objectives.
It could be to create new varieties of crop plants with higher yields, better nutritional values, better taste and flavour and self-protective measures from diseases and pests. Transgenic plants have been produced in several major crop plants such as wheat, barley, rice, maize, cotton, tomato, potato, soybean etc. The area under-transgenic crops had increased from 2.8 million hectares in 1996 to 12.8 million hectares in 1997 (James, 1997).
Agrobacterium tumefaciens (A. t.) mediated gene transfer is the most common system used for the transformation in higher plants. The soil bacterium (A.t.) infects a wide range of plants to produce crown galls by introducing DNA into the plant at the site of infection. The bacterium is capable of transferring a piece of DNA (T-DAN) into the genome of host plant. The foreign genes inserted into T-DNA through Ti plasmids are co-transferred and integrated into the host genome. Agrobacterium rhizogenes harbouring Ri plasmids are also now being used in gene transfer.
A series of genes governing agronomically important traits have been transferred through A.t. and various other transfer techniques such as direct gene transfer, microinjection, micro-projectile bombardment, electroporation and polyethylene glycol (PEG) mediated gene transfer.
For the management of pests and parasites, several agronomically important genes for viral, bacterial, fungal resistance and herbicide tolerance have been transferred through genetic engineering techniques in transgenic plants. Bacillus thuringtensis (B.t.) produces a number of insect toxins. The toxin is specifically toxic to Lepidopteran insects by disrupting the gut cells of the insects.
The gut-cell swells and eventually bursts. The microbial preparations of B.t. as commercial insecticides are in use to resist attack of insects on cotton, corn etc. for the last 20 years.
Transgenic plants carrying B.t. genes are stably inherited in the progeny without detrimental effects on the recipient plant and are eco-friendly and sustainable under diverse agro-ecosystem.
At the end, it may be pointed out that any genetic change occurring via traditional breeding or by genetic engineering will have some measurable impact on the environment. The important criterion for evaluating transgenic (genetically modified) plants should be whether the benefit (biotech food fighting hunger) outweighs the risk (toxins and allergens) in the environment.
Illegal GMO rice spreads across China - Greenpeace
- Reuters, 13 Jun 2005
BEIJING, June 13 (Reuters) - The discovery of genetically modified rice being illegally sold in a booming southern Chinese city shows the grain is spreading across China and could enter markets overseas, Greenpeace said on Monday.
The environmental group said genetically engineered rice had been found at grain wholesalers in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, even though such rice had not gone through safety testing or been approved by the Chinese government.
Greenpeace in April announced it had found genetically engineered rice at markets in central Hubei province.
"We are sure that people are consuming it unknowingly," Greenpeace campaigner Sze Pang Cheung said at a news conference in Beijing, referring to rice that had been modified to contain the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which produces a toxin that kills pest.
"We are now facing the contamination of the most important staple crop in the whole world," Sze said.
Pressure to launch GMO rice in China comes at a time when the country is facing a tough task in raising urban grain output and narrowing the income gap between farmers and urban citizens.
Proponents of genetically modified crops say they will improve yield and reduce plants' vulnerability to pests. Opponents say pests will develop greater resistance to the modified crops, and that the techniques undermine biodiversity and could prove dangerous for human consumption.
China, the world's largest producer and consumer of rice, is testing several strains of genetically modified rice and is expected to grant approval for the commercialisation of such rice as early as this year.
China, one of the world's largest importers of GMO crops, said last month it had ratified a U.N. treaty that aims for more transparency and control over trade in genetically modified foods.
"China is sending a strong message to the world that it is no dumping ground for GM crops," Sze said at the time.
Chinese genetically engineered rice may have already made its way into exports of rice or rice-based products, Sze said on Monday.
But he acknowledged Greenpeace had no direct evidence of Bt rice leaving China.
Greenpeace estimated that up to 29 tonnes of genetically modified Bt rice seeds, capable of producing as much as 14,500 tonnes of rice, were illegally sold in Hubei this year.
"We think it is unacceptable and irresponsible that they are not taking this issue seriously because rice is the most important staple in China," Sze said.
The group called on the government to ban planting and sales of genetically engineered rice, recall and destroy all modified seeds on the market and punish people involved.
Monsanto may ditch GM corn investment
- Bangkok Post, By KULTIDA SAMABUDDHI, June 13 2005
Phitsanulok _ Agribusiness giant Monsanto, a leading developer of genetically modified (GM) crops, has threatened to scrap its plans to invest in GM corn production in Thailand unless the government lifts its ban on open field trials and the commercialisation of transgenic crops.
Poomin Trakoontiwakorn, director of Monsanto's Southeast Asia technology development division, said the US-based company had begun shifting its operation from Thailand to India and the Philippines, where the commercial planting of GM corn and cotton has been approved.
``Over the past four years, we have tried to convince the public and the government to embrace GMOs, but to no avail. So we can't think about expanding our business here,'' Mr Poomin said.
``Due to the unsupportive policy on genetic engineering, it's not surprising our headquarters have begun turning their eyes to other Asian nations, where GMOs are being welcomed,'' he told a press briefing at Monsanto's seed plant in Phitsanulok on Friday.
Monsanto announced in November 2003 a plan to make Thailand a regional base by 2006 for its GM seed production, starting with Round-up Ready and Bt corn seeds.
Monsanto's Round-up Ready corn is resistant to Round-up herbicide produced by the company, while Bt corn is resistant to bollworm, one of the most destructive pests to attack corn and cotton crops.
However, the plan has been hit by the government's ban on open field trials, which was imposed in 1999 after finding that GM cotton crops belonging to Monsanto had spread to nearby farms growing non-GM crops.
GM crops must pass three levels of biosafety tests _ laboratory, greenhouse, and open field trials _ before being endorsed for mass production.
Monsanto has repeatedly yet unsuccessfully lobbied Agriculture and Cooperatives ministers, including Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, and the cabinet to revoke the ban. Efforts have failed due to strong opposition from farmers, environmentalists and consumer groups.
The anti-GMO coalition says GM crops pose a serious threat to native plants, increase investment costs and pose a health threat to the human population.
In terms of basic infrastructure and the skills of its farmers, Mr Poomin said Thailand offered more potential than India and the Philippines as a GM ``seed hub''. The country could earn large revenues from exporting transgenic seeds to a number of Southeast Asian countries, South American countries, as well as some European nations, such as Portugal and Spain.
``It is disappointing that the government has failed to see the benefit and potential of GM crops in the world market,'' he said, adding that he expected the expansion of GM plantations worldwide to prompt the Thai government to fully embrace the technology in the near future.
Monsanto is working on the modification of its Phitsanulok seed plants to raise the production capacity for corn from 12,000 to 19,200 tonnes a year in a bid to prepare for full acceptance of commercial GM crops, he said.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, an alliance of biotechnology and multinational agribusiness firms, 17 countries have adopted commercial GMO planting, including developing countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, China, India, and the Philippines. The total area of land being utilised to grow GM crops in 2004 stood at 81 million hectares, up 20% from 13.3 million hectares in 2003.
Mr Poomin said besides herbicide and pest resistant corn, Monsanto is preparing to launch a series of transgenic crops in the Thai seed market, including a drought-resistant crop, a high Omega-3 oil seed crop and high-nutrient maize crop.
He conceded the possibility of cross-breeding between transgenic and native plant species, but insisted contamination was ``controllable''.
Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner Varoonvarn Svangsopakul, however, urged the government to stand firm on its GM-free policy, which would protect Thai farmers and consumers from multinational firms' expensive GM crops.