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June 16, 2005


Ghana seed law to be out soon; Genes help Africa's farmers; Genetically engineered crops: The first 10 years


Today in AgBioVoiew from www.agbioworld.org: June 16, 2005

* Ghana seed law to be out soon - Suglo
* Genes help Africa's farmers
* Genetically engineered crops: The first 10 years
* Biotech Products Rigorously Regulated, U.S. Official Says
* IRRI & CIMMYT - New Alliance takes shape
* U.S. regulation effective but more int'l outreach needed, experts say

Date: Wed, 15 Jun 2005 14:54:49 +0100 (BST)
From: "balopi kebapetswe"

Just recently,most fellow African countries benefited from their execellencies,presidents Bush and Blair programme of debt relief on poorer nations.According to my opinion, this gave us time as Africans to renew our minds and consider the actual facts about our continent, where we come from? and where we are going?.To minimise the broader picture of our continental problems, this piece of writing will try to focus on the greatest problem of most African states,hunger and diseases(more especially HIV/AIDS).Femines and diseases are working hand -in- hand to wipe off people on the surface of this continent,but with help from USA and Britain now the time has come for us to harness science in bringing developments more especially in our health sector( combating hunger and diseases).Biotechnology, as a science discipline which has proved to be more efficient in helping combat these health problems need to be developed in Africa.Most people in Africa know very little to nothing about products made from biotech applications,this results to many people including our leaders to avoid the use of such products(more especially food materials).

It is high time now that who know should tell those who do not know.Scientists, more especially life scientist and stake holders should begin teaching,demonstrating,and spreading the gospel of how biotechnology can benifit human life.And i would like to urge some other fellow African states who benefited frm the Bush-Blair debt relief wonderful program to use some of the money which was going to pay the (now "erased") debts on learning, practicing, applying, and harnessing science in general to the betterment of our lives.

Let us stop wars and corruption.

"people must understand that science is inherently neither a potential for good nor for evil.It is a potential to be harnessed by man to do his bidding" -Glen T Seaborg

L.B Kebapetswe

University of Botswana (2nd year BSc Student)


Ghana seed law to be out soon - Suglo

- GhanaWeb.com, June 16, 2005

ACCRA - Mr. Vepser Suglo, Director of the Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Division of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture on Wednesday said the Seed Certification and Inspection Decree, NRC Decree 100 of 1992, approved by Cabinet was before the Attorney General's Department for approval.

He said the law, which has been reviewed and restructured to include biotechnology and genetically modified crops, when passed would make the division more efficient and to it move along with the international world on science and technology.

Speaking to the Ghana News Agency in an interview after a lecture on "Communicating biotechnology to non-scientists: Lessons Learned" for scientists, agriculture and food regulatory officers, environmentalists and the media, Mr Suglo noted that the world was advancing in science and technology and that needed to be reflected in the laws regulating the institutions.

He said the laws in Ghana was not in conformity with that of the International laws and there was the need for Ghana do the necessary changes to be abreast with them.

The lecture was organised by the Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS), a global initiative for supporting the taking of science-based decisions on general genetically engineered products in collaboration with Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). It was also the start of series of awareness creating and capacity building activities for implementing biosafety regulations in the country.


Genes help Africa's farmers

- International Herald Tribune, June 16, 2005

Every year Kenya's corn farmers lose about 15 percent of their crop to the stem borer, an insect that drills into the corn stalk. Farmers who can afford it douse their corn repeatedly with pesticides, which poison the environment. The stem borer and its relatives steal the livelihood of millions of small corn farmers. Last year at least 125 Kenyans, most of them children, died from eating corn with toxins created by the stem borer.

Help may be on the way from genetic manipulation. Kenya has just begun trials of a corn identical to the local variety but carrying genes that increase its resistance to the stem borer. The project, carried out by the Kenyan national agricultural research program and the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, is a careful endeavor to test genetically modified crops and make them work for the small farmer.

A billion acres worldwide are planted with genetically modified crops. Yet virtually all the land belongs to agribusiness. That is because biotech companies create genetically modified seeds that can't be replanted; farmers who use them have to buy expensive patented seeds each year. Subsistence farmers need to be able to replant their own crop for seed, but companies like Monsanto and Syngenta find no profit in recyclable seeds. They also have no incentive to create hardier versions of subsistence crops, like cassava and sweet potatoes, that agribusiness doesn't grow.

Kenya's corn project will move slowly. The research will take six more years and will cost $10 million, which will come from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, which is separate from the biotech company. Researchers must also persuade biotech companies, which hold the patents, to free up the technology.

The Kenya project will likely get the needed financing and permissions. But similar studies will be needed elsewhere. Other farmers might, for example, want a drought-resistant corn. Since there is no market incentive, it won't happen without help from governments and foundations and cooperation from biotech concerns. The Kenya study is a model of how to do it and a warning about how difficult adapting this technology for poor farmers will be.


Genetically engineered crops: The first 10 years

- The Globe and Mail, By ROBERT WAGER, June 16, 2005

Although it can be argued that food biotechnology has been around for many decades, most people consider the "Flavr Savr" tomato of 1994 to be the first product to reach the market.

This tomato was engineered to ripen slower than conventional tomatoes. This allowed the fruit to ripen longer on the vine before it was picked and shipped. Better flavour and firmer texture made it popular until newer varieties replaced it in the late nineties.

By 1995 other genetically engineered (GE) crops had arrived in the marketplace.

Corn, canola, cotton, soybeans and potato varieties, that had specific traits engineered into them by recombinant DNA technology, were being planted in North American fields. The first year saw only a few thousand acres. Farmers who grew these new biotechnology varieties saw better yields with less or no insecticide spraying. They saw better weed control combined with reduced soil erosion and less ground water contamination.

2005 marked a milestone for the agricultural biotechnology industry with the billionth acre planted with GE crops. After 10 straight years of greater than 10 per cent annual growth, today more than 200 million acres of GE crops are planted each year. Globally, over 60 per cent of soybeans, 23 per cent of corn/maize, 11 per cent of cotton and 6 per cent of canola (80 per cent of canola in Canada) are products of biotechnology. China is about to add rice to the growing list biotechnology products.

Critics of GE crops have claimed that there is no testing, and that we do not know what will happen by growing these crops. In fact, the arrival of a biotechnology product on the market is not the beginning, but the end result of eight to 13 years of research. The level of pre-market evaluation done on every biotechnology crop is far greater than for any other type of food crop. The tests include both food safety and environmental impact assessments.

Researchers look at the levels of macronutrients, micronutrients and anti-nutrients, as well as fats, sugars and proteins. Every inserted gene is compared to over 500 known allergens to look for similarities. There has never been a GE food product marketed that contained a protein similar to a known allergen. This probably makes GE foods safer than all other new variety of food crops that are not analyzed for potential allergens.

The environmental analyses are just as thorough. Researchers examine how every GE crop interacts with other plants, animals and insects to ensure there are no significant threats to biodiversity.

Insect-resistant GE crops protect themselves from pests and do not require insecticide sprays. This reduced spraying benefits all insects and the birds that feed on them. Worldwide, approximately 100 million pounds of organophosphate insecticides are not sprayed because farmers now grow GE crops that protect themselves from insect pests. It has also been well documented that insect-resistant GE corn has far less fungal toxin than conventional, and particularly organic, corn. Increased yields, less environmental impact and even better health for farmers, who are no longer exposed to insecticides, are a few of the well documented benefits of growing insect-resistant GE crops.

It is sad that insect-resistant Bt potatoes are no longer grown in North America because French fry makers stopped buying these environmentally friendly potatoes. Instead, farmers continue to use insecticides. It does not make sense that the whole living bacteria (Bt) are considered safe for organic food production, but one gene taken from the bacteria and engineered into Bt potatoes is considered unsafe.

Modern herbicides are also far superior to products from the past. These modern herbicides replace older more persistent ones. The newer compounds also biodegrade into non-toxic compounds that do not threaten our ground water or the wildlife in our streams and rivers. They are even safer than some pesticides used in organic agriculture.

A report from the UN-Food and Agriculture Organization has stated that developing countries are getting into the biotech crop game in a big way. Eighteen countries now grow GE crops and 71 countries have ongoing research programs in agriculture biotechnology. Products soon to reach the market include virus-resistant papayas, sweet potatoes and cassava, as well as several new varieties of rice resistant to insects, salty soil or drought. Clearly these traits will be of tremendous interest to farmers in developing countries. Down the road we will see fungal resistance in a variety of crops including bananas that are threatened by the Black Sigatoka fungus.

Most bananas are sterile, and new plants come from cuttings of other plants. This means we can't cross varieties to obtain traits like fungal resistance. The best hope we have to maintain a world supply of Cavendish bananas is through biotechnology. Fungal resistance is being engineered into bananas in several research facilities around the world.

Ever taken a cruise? Want to? Have the reports of Norovirus outbreaks aboard cruise ships given you reason to pause? Now consider if you lived where medical treatment is days away or non-existent. This is the reality for hundreds of millions of people in the developing world. Now imagine that a banana that contained a vaccine for Norovirus was available. It could stop millions of deaths from the diarrhea caused by Norovirus infections. I suspect one's opinion of this particular product biotechnology crop depends on where one lives.

Up to 500,000 children go blind each year from Vitamin A deficiency. Many of these unfortunate children eat rice diets almost exclusively. Researchers have found a way to make rice produce the vitamin A precursor, beta-carotene. This new variety of rice is called "golden rice" as the grains have a yellowish colour from the beta-carotene. After the safety evaluations are complete it will be given away free to subsistence farmers. But certain environmental groups have been doing everything in their power to stop this humanitarian endeavour. Perhaps it's time we start asking these groups to justify their activities that threaten benefits of golden rice reaching the children.

The scope of products in the development pipeline is quite impressive. Everything from nutritionally improved crops like trans-fat-free canola and soy oils, to bio-fuels, to cheap pharmaceuticals, to salt or fungal resistant cereals and grains. Agricultural biotechnology is not a panacea. It will not stop hunger or disease everywhere. But it will help with these very difficult issues generated by an ever-increasing global population. Acreage of GE crops continues to expand and the entire globe will realize the benefits.


Biotech Products Rigorously Regulated, U.S. Official Says
Stresses importance of public confidence in government regulation

- US Department of State, June 15, 2005

The three U.S. agencies responsible for regulating agricultural biotechnology are working to assure industry, consumers and other groups both in the United States and abroad that genetically engineered crops, animal vaccines and other products are "rigorously regulated for safety," says Chuck Lambert, deputy under secretary of agriculture for regulatory programs.

The more the public understands the U.S. regulatory process regarding agricultural biotechnology, the more confidence people will have in the government's ability to protect the food supply and the environment, Lambert told the Senate Agriculture Committee June 14.

U.S. biotechnology regulation is coordinated among the Animal Plant Health and Inspections Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Agricultural biotechnology "is a science that is rapidly evolving," and it is "critical" that U.S. regulators keep pace with the new technology, Lambert said.

In response to the rapid growth of biotechnology, APHIS has taken steps to strengthen its regulations further for field tests of genetically engineered crops to ensure the safety of agriculture and the environment and to improve compliance with and enforcement of those regulations, he said.

USDA first began regulating biotechnology in 1986, he said.

Biotechnology is "the single largest influence changing agriculture since the introduction of the cultivator," said Senator Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican and chairman of the committee. A cultivator is a tool used for loosening soil and destroying weeds around growing plants.

Researchers are developing genetically engineered pharmaceutical and industrial compounds using rice, maize, barley, tobacco and safflower, Lambert said. The products being developed include chemicals, vaccines, antibodies for humans, and blood proteins, he said.

APHIS regulates the interstate movement, importation and release of genetically engineered plants, insects and microorganisms.

EPA regulates biotechnology-derived products used as pesticides. FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition oversees bioengineered plant-derived food and ingredients intended for human consumption. Its Center for Veterinary Medicine oversees genetically engineered plant-derived products used as animal feed or as ingredients in animal feed, and bioengineered products used to improve the health or productivity of animals.

For more information on biotechnology, see http://usinfo.state.gov/ei/economic_issues/biotechnology.html


IRRI & CIMMYT - New Alliance takes shape

- International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), June 17, 2005

El Batán, Mexico – Two of the world’s leading agricultural research institutes have announced more details of an exciting new Alliance to help improve the lives of the millions of poor farmers in the developing world growing the cereal crops rice, wheat and maize.

The Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico first announced the formation of their new IRRI-CIMMYT Alliance in May this year. Following a second round of talks at CIMMYT’s headquarters in Mexico earlier this month, the two centers have now announced three important new initiatives of the Alliance.

Focusing on common areas of research, the IRRI-CIMMYT Alliance has developed action plans that go far beyond day-to-day scientific collaboration between the two centers, which are recognized as key players in the Green Revolution in agricultural productivity that started sweeping the developing world in the 1960s. The three initiatives will build on the combined expertise and research capabilities of IRRI and CIMMYT and lay the foundation for the Alliance’s future impact and achievements.

Details of the three initiatives follow.

A new joint program for intensive farming systems in Asia

As the most important and fundamental pillars of Asian food security, intensively cropped rice, wheat and maize systems cover 30 million hectares of the region’s best agricultural land and provide 80-90% of Asia’s cereal needs. However, these systems are changing rapidly in response to economic and demographic pressure and their future sustainability is one of several key questions they presently face.

Building on their experience working together in the highly successful Rice-Wheat Consortium for the Indo-Gangetic Plains (RWC), IRRI and CIMMYT will develop a new joint program that will focus on complete agricultural systems that include, for example, rice-rice, rice-wheat or rice-maize cropping combinations. The Alliance says it is vital that researchers focus on such multicrop systems if they are to achieve any real impact and help the farmers involved improve their lives.

The new program will address a range of cross-cutting issues – from diversification beyond rice, wheat and maize, and breeding for specific farming system needs, to the development of resource-conserving technologies.

The Alliance’s intensive farming systems initiative in Asia will allow scientists to ask questions across the region and for systems that previously were not considered as a whole. Such questions include the regional and global impact of changes in cropping systems on hydrology cycles and greenhouse gas emissions from tens of millions of hectares of agricultural land.

The new Alliance program will also directly address the priorities of the Science Council of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to do research that looks at poverty alleviation within sustainable water, land and forest systems and to create wealth among the rural poor by developing high-value commodities and products. Both IRRI and CIMMYT are founding centers of the CGIAR.

A single unified crop information system for rice, wheat and maize – a new integrated cereal informatics center

As part of the Alliance, both centers have also agreed to establish a single information system for wheat, rice and maize combining – for the first time – the separate crop information systems of the two institutes, while still allowing for the distributed curation of specialist data. The new system will integrate and publish data from the two centers’ genebanks, breeding programs, and genomics and genetic studies for all three crops and link this information to other public bioinformatics resources.

A single unified structure will be easier to develop and maintain but the proposal goes far beyond looking for only these efficiencies. The new unified system will also permit new kinds of comparative biology research to be conducted, research that has not been feasible before. Such work will move the Alliance’s research into uncharted, but very exciting, scientific territory. Both the IRRI Biometrics and Bioinformatics Unit and CIMMYT’s new Research Informatics Laboratory will benefit by combining forces and creating the IRRI-CIMMYT Alliance Cereal Research Informatics Laboratory.

The new facility will see the creation of a new cereals information team that will have the critical mass needed to achieve previously unattainable goals. In addition, the Alliance’s crop information system will be open to new partners and will provide a common data platform that national programs and partners can also use as a standard.

An integrated cereal systems knowledge-sharing portal for extension workers and national programs

Meanwhile, the Alliance’s new interactive knowledge bank for rice, wheat and maize will let extension workers and national programs working on the three crops share practical information, best practices and ideas across a common platform. This interactive online encyclopedia for cereal cropping systems will also serve as a link and gateway to the public parts of the new cereals information center (discussed above). The new portal will use lessons learned and best practices from IRRI’s Rice Knowledge Bank to add value to the growing pool of practical information and knowledge that the partners of both centers need to maximize the impacts of enhanced technologies – those developed by both the centers and others.

The two centers have agreed to jointly contribute resources to the development of these three Alliance initiatives and that each activity should reflect a continuum of research from exciting basic research to practical applications. The Alliance is also emphasizing the complementarities of maize, rice and wheat in profitability, nutrition, genomics and farming systems.

As an important next step, Alliance scientists will now begin consultations with appropriate partners in the national agricultural research and extension systems of Asia to further define themes, key research issues and work plans for other specific activities.

# # #

For information, please contact:

Duncan Macintosh, Spokesperson,
IRRI, DAPO Box 7777,
Metro Manila, Philippines;

Tel: +63-2-580-5600; fax: +63-2-580-5699;
Email d.macintosh@cgiar.org

Web sites: IRRI Home (www.irri.org), IRRI Library (http://ricelib.irri.cgiar.org), Rice Knowledge Bank (www.knowledgebank.irri.org), Rice facts (www.riceweb.com).


David Mowbray,
Head, Corporate Communications,
Apdo. Postal 6-641, 06600 Mexico, D.F., Mexico

Tel: +52(55) 5804-2004
Fax: +52(55) 5804-7558
Email d.mowbray@cgiar.org
Web sites: CIMMYT Home www.cimmyt.org

U.S. regulation effective but more int'l outreach needed, experts say

- Environment & Energy Daily, June 16, 2005, By Lauren Morello

Current federal regulations governing genetically modified plants are capable of protecting America's public health and environment, representatives of the three agencies charged with policing biotechnology told a Senate panel yesterday.

Under the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology - established in 1986 by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration and U.S. EPA - the agencies govern aspects of transgenic plant and animal research and marketing.

Oversight of transgenic plants is carried out by the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health and Inspection Service, while EPA regulates pesticidal substances in plants modified for resistance. FDA has authority over the use of biotech crops for human consumption. The federal framework directs the agencies to regulate genetically modified organisms through existing laws, such as the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

"Recombinant DNA is being regulated under a network of laws originally created for other purposes," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in opening remarks at the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing. "This is based on an assumption that bioengineered crops are essentially the same as their conventionally bred precursors. The fundamental question we need to address is whether that assumption is correct - are bioengineered crops properly regulated under existing statutory and regulatory authority?"

"FDA is confident that the genetically engineered foods on the market are as safe as their conventional counterparts," answered Robert Brackett, director of the agency's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. The ability afforded by biotechnology to modify isolated genes, rather than breed for traits, "is actually likely to lessen" the risk of introducing detrimental qualities to plants, he said.

FDA currently offers voluntary consultation to companies developing GM foods for market, in an effort to guide them toward appropriate safety and impact studies. The success of the voluntary process with more than 60 GM products has led the agency to postpone finalizing a Jan. 2001 deadline that would mandate such consultation, Brackett said.

Chuck Lambert, USDA deputy undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said his agency has overseen more than 10,000 biotech field tests since it began regulating GM products in 1986 - since de-regulating more than 60 judged to pose little or no risk to the environment. In 2003, USDA instituted separate guidelines for evaluating the increasing number of applications to test "pharmaceutical" crops, or those grown plants genetically modified to produce ingredients for human medications.

The agency is considering changes to its section of the federal framework that would create a multi-tiered permitting system that would streamline approval of GM crops by taking into account results of earlier field testing of similar plants. USDA may also exempt "low-level and intermittent occurrence" of some transgenic plants from the complete permit process if they satisfy certain safety criteria - a concept known as "adventitious presence." The agency should complete an environmental impact statement on the changes later this fall, Lambert said.

Clifford Gabriel, director of EPA's Office of Science Coordination and Policy, also praised the current federal regulation. EPA has approved 12 crops engineered to produce their own pesticides, including strains of potatoes, cotton, field corn, sweet corn and popcorn. The agency has also developed a process to regulate GM microorganisms under TSCA, Gabriel said.

Brackett, Gabriel and Lambert all emphasized the importance of coordination between the agencies, which participate in monthly phone conferences organized by OSTP. Frequent informal contact is common between agency scientists and technical staff, the three said.

Members of the Senate committee also heard testimony from industry representatives, much of which focused on increasing global confidence and acceptance of biotechnology.

Resistance in Europe and elsewhere is a result of "mythology and misunderstanding," Biotechnology Industry Organization Chief Executive Officer Jim Greenwood told the panel. "There's a fair amount of [trade] protectionism as well ... and anti-U.S. sentiment," he said. "As long as the world sees this as a U.S. phenomenon with U.S. products, we'll see that resistance."

Opponents of biotechnology should consider its potential benefits for developing nations, Greenwood added - a sentiment echoed by Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, which was founded by biotechnology pioneer Norman Borlaug.

In the 1960s, Borlaug's efforts to develop hardier rice through biotechnology saved a billion people in Third World countries from famine and a billion hectares of forest and rainforest from clearing for agriculture, Quinn said. Last year, 11 developing nations planted biotech crops, compared with just six industrialized nations.