Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on
ag-biotech.


Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives

Subscribe

 


SEARCH:     

Date:

August 10, 2005

Subject:

Clean-Green Mirage; Corn in Hawaii; Victory for Science; California Survey; Scientists Must Become Assertive

 

Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : August 10, 2005

* Follow-Up: A 'Clean-Green, GM-Free' Mirage
* Health Professionals Hold Positive Attitudes Toward Biotech
* Hawaii Serves as Birthplace of Much of the World's Corn
* Science Defeats Superstition, So They Sue
* GMO Crops Don't Pose A Health Risk
* Transgenic Bt Technology: 1. Bacillus thuringiensis and Bt Toxins
* India's Scientific Community Must Become More Assertive
* Survey: Majority of California Voters Approve of Biotech Crops
* Cottoning On To GM Benefits

--

Follow-Up: 'Clean-Green, GM-Free' Mirage

- Roger Kalla, Director Korn Technologies, srkalla'at'bigpond.net.au

The 'GM free' stance taken by our canola growing States to protect
the 'clean and green = GM free' image of Australian grain exports is
being challenged by the second reported preliminary finding of trace
levels of allowed GM canola in export shipments of GM in Western
Australia.

See an article from Herald Sun
http://www.herald.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,547816194680%5E1702,00.html

I have written to the Minster for Agriculture in Western Australia
and Victoria to ask them to consider a cost vs. benefit analysis of
the testing program they have embarked on to protect the
contamination of a misleading 'GM free' image of Australian
agriculture. The 'GM free' status afforded to our agricultural
produce by the moratoria on GM canola cultivation and export doesn't
stand up to scrutiny.

Food Safety Australian And New Zeeland has got regulations in place
that allows 1% of presence of DNA or protein of allowed GM origin in
our foods. In a 2003 FSANZ report on compliance with the regulations
of GM labelling ("Australian Pilot Survey of GM Food Labelling of
Corn and Soy Food Products",
http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/_srcfiles/GM_Survey_Report_Final_for_website.doc
), using forensic DNA testing technology applied to foods found on
supermarket shelves, it was found that 10 out of the 51 food samples
(22 %) contained traces of GM material down to 0.01 % or the
detection limit using PCR tests. In all cases the quantity was less
than the amount of 10g/kg (1%) permitted for the unintentional
presence of a GM food in an ingredient of a non-GM food and therefore
deemed to be compliant .

So we have the bizarre situation that any consignment of canola found
to contain trace levels of allowed GM food can be provcessed by
a domestic oilseed crusher and end up in our foods as long as they
can be treated as non-GM (i.e GM content below 1% cut off)
). Moreover, since these canola consignments clear the 5% cut off
levels accepted for GM admixture in non-GM canola by Japan they have
got a ready market overseas. I have always argued that the moratoria
on the cultivation and export of GM canola that where set in place
to protect our 'GM free' marketing advantage are based on very shaky
scientific and economic foundations.

The present situation is untenable even in the short term since we
can't afford to perform quantitative DNA tests on all the canola
grown in Australia which is now demanded by anti GM groups to protect
the '100% pure' Australian vanishing mirage .

EU has often been pointed out as a GM 'sensitive' market for our
exports where we could expect to gain market share due to the State
Government's 'GM free' stance. I found this explanatory note in the
guidelines to the new EU GM labelling regulations that came in place
in April 2004 very illuminating.

'Accidental presence is largely unavoidable and can occur during
cultivation of the crops, their handling storage, transport and
processing. Such trace levels of unintended materials in a food
product is not a problem unique to GMOs. In the production of food,
feed and seed, it is practically impossible to achieve products that
are 100% pure'.

(EU Regulation 1829/2003 on GM food & feed; and 1830/2003 on the
Traceability and Labelling of GM food & feed)

---
More GM contamination found

- Tim Clarke, Herald Sun (Australia), 08aug05

Environmentalists say Australia is facing "the most serious genetic
contamination event" in its history after the West Australian
Government confirmed low levels of genetically modified (GM) canola
had been found in non-GM canola.

Tests had shown positive results of GM material but samples had been
sent overseas for further testing and no further details could be
released until more detailed results were confirmed, a spokeswoman
for the WA Department of Agriculture said today.

The latest test results come after GM material was found during
routine testing by the Australian Barley Board in June of an export
consignment of Victorian canola seeds bound for Japan. About 0.01 per
cent of the consignment contained the GM material.

The modification found in Victoria, known as Topas 19/2 and developed
by Bayer CropScience, is believed to have been found in the WA sample
tested. Following today's announcement, Greenpeace Australia
campaigner Jeremy Tager said state governments must now take
immediate action to protect Australia's GM-free status.

"This is the most serious genetic contamination event that Australia
has ever faced and the response from state governments in the coming
days will determine their commitment to upholding Australia's (GM)
free status," Mr Tager said.

"The WA and Victorian governments have instituted rigorous testing.
They are taking this issue extremely seriously but the lack of any
response from the New South Wales and South Australian governments is
disturbing. " "States that have not conducted testing, or taken
steps to determine if Topas is a problem in their agricultural areas,
are putting Australian farmers and our (GM) free status at risk."

WA Agriculture Minister Kim Chance said he would like to see
legislation put in place at a national level to govern liability for
GM contamination. Although he believed WA's GM-free status was not
under threat, he was keeping a close watch on the situation. There
could be a number of reasons for the positive test result, Mr Chance
said.

"It's certainly a matter for concern, but it is an interim test, and
the nature of those interim tests is that false positives are
possible," he said on ABC radio. "So really until we get the final
information from that trial, which won't be until early-September,
it's really speculative to say that we actually have that problem.

"I know that the Network of Concerned Farmers have argued very
strongly for strict liability laws of that kind, and I think it's
something that we need to be thinking about very seriously."

**********************************************

Health Professionals Hold Positive Attitudes Toward Biotechnology

- Medical Letter on the CDC & FDA August 14, 2005

Health professionals hold positive attitudes toward biotechnology and
genetically engineered foods.

"Few biotechnology processes have elicited the degree of controversy
that genetic manipulation of food through recombinant DNA technology
has. Research has shown that consumers turn to health professionals
for answers to questions regarding health and nutrition. This study
sought to assess the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of physicians
(MDs/DOs), nurse practitioners (NPs), and registered dietitians (RDs)
toward food biotechnology and genetic engineering (GE),"
investigators in the United States report.

"Six hundred three-part, self-administered surveys were sent to
health professionals holding active professional licenses," said
Jennifer Schmidt and colleagues at the Maryland Agricultural
Education Foundation. "Statistical analysis included analysis of
variance with Tukey's HSD and Scheffe's post hoc tests. Attitudes
toward GE were positive. MDs held more positive attitudes than NPs or
RDs (p=0.000). MDs and NPs supported the use of GE to improve plant
resistance to pests; RDs tended to support nutritional-improvement
technology."

"All groups supported the use of genetic engineering to produce human
medicines and the current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeling
policy," reported Schmidt and her collaborators. "No profession was
more knowledgeable than another. Biotechnology holds the potential to
positively affect human health. All health professionals can
facilitate or diminish this process through their understanding of
the technology and their ability to communicate effectively about the
science and issues associated with biotechnology."

Schmidt and her coauthors published their study in the Journal of
Environmental Health (Health professionals hold positive attitudes
toward biotechnology and genetically engineered foods. J Environ
Health, 2005;67(10):44-9).

For additional information, contact Jennifer Schmidt, Maryland
Agricultural Education Foundation, Sudlersville, MD 21668, USA.
E-mail: jenhans@dmv.com. The publisher of the Journal of
Environmental Health can be contacted at: National Environmental
Health Association, 720 South Colorado Boulevard, Suite 970, South
Tower, Denver, CO 80246, USA.

**********************************************

Hawaii Serves as Birthplace of Much of the World's Corn

- Tara Godvin, Associated Press, Aug 8, 2005

Persistently sunny and winter-free, Hawaii fields once used for
sugarcane and pineapple now serve as the incubators for hybrids and
new, genetically manipulated strains of one of the nation's oldest
food staples.

Since the Indians first introduced corn to the Pilgrims, production
has grown to about 80 million acres nationwide and a billion-dollar
business. Between 1998 and 2001, the production value of corn
averaged about $18 billion.

The corn plant itself has also gone through some significant changes.
Industry experts estimate about half of the nation's corn today has
its beginnings in biotechnology, meaning at least some of a plant's
genetic origins can be traced back to a laboratory instead of an open
field.

Among the goals behind such genetic manipulation - generally
involving the insertion of foreign gene material into plant tissues -
is to induce resistance to yield-cutting diseases or insects, or even
the herbicides used to kill the weeds growing between the rows.

While the islands are not a major source of the corn eaten by
consumers or livestock, many parents of the plants that yield the
seeds sold to farmers around the nation and the world have their
origins in Hawaii. "Most any corn hybrid, and a lot of the soybean
that would be planted, spent some time in Hawaii in its earlier part
... ," said Cindy Goldstein, Waialua-based manager of outreach at
Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., a subsidiary of DuPont. "We're
not producing something that goes directly into a bag for sale. But
something that a farmer in Romania is growing or that a farmer in
Brazil or Argentina is growing did spend time in the soil in Hawaii
in its earlier production stages ..."

About 92 percent of Hawaii's growing $60.2 million seed industry is
corn - and about half of that involves biotech varieties, Goldstein
said. And while only about 1,700 acres - many of those on Oahu and
Kauai - are dedicated to nurturing the biotech progenitors of the
plants eventually used to grow food and feed, Hawaii figures big in
the industry.

Growing the number of hybrids of corn needed to develop a desired
strain in a greenhouse is almost impossible, said Nathan Danielson,
director of biotechnology for the National Corn Growers Association.
Along with fellow winter refuges Puerto Rico and Chile, Hawaii
enables the industry to grow in a real environment every month of the
year.

"Although I guess you could make the case that Hawaii's kind of an
unreal environment compared to Iowa. But it really gives us the
ability to advance new and beneficial crops year-round as opposed to
just seasonally," Danielson said.

Hawaii has a history of being on the front lines of genetic
manipulation. In the late 1990s, a transgenetic variety of papaya
helped save the Big Island's papaya industry when local crops were
devastated by the papaya ring virus. Though the effect of genetic
modification on crop yields is impressive - biotech gave corn a boost
of more than $150 million boost in 2003, according to the National
Corn Growers Association - the new technology hasn't been entirely
welcome.

Protests against genetically modified foods popped up about as soon
as the new crops first went in to U.S. soil about a decade ago. The
movement against genetically modified organisms remains active
locally in Hawaii.

A 2003 federal lawsuit by environmental groups led to a recent ruling
by the U.S. District Court in Honolulu compelling the U.S. Department
of Agriculture to disclose the locations of permits for open-field
testing of pharmaceutical crops in Hawaii. Last week another lawsuit
was filed, this time challenging the state Board of Agriculture over
its approval of a permit allowing a company to grow genetically
modified algae off the coast of the Big Island to use for medicines
for asthma and other ailments.

Una Greenaway of GMO Free Hawaii - the group is one of the plaintiffs
in that case - said she feels the state has sold out. "I think
Hawaii's doing what they've often done and that's sort of taking the
first dollar that's waved in front of their face and not really
thinking about the future," said Greenaway, who is also an organic
farmer of coffee, macadamia nuts and chocolate on the Big Island.

Hawaii lawmakers also lead the nation for the number of bills
introduced attempting to regulate the biotech agricultural industry.
During the 2003 and 2004 sessions, 38 bills and resolutions related
to biotech agriculture were introduced in Hawaii. The next closest
number was 16, in Iowa, according to the Pew Initiative on Food and
Biotechnology. In February, the state Senate held a six-hour
committee meeting on seven biotech-limiting measures and later
adopted a resolution supporting meetings to look at the use of
biotech crops in the state.

However, the business environment is positive for high tech companies
in the state - qualifying companies can claim a 100 percent tax
credit over five years on their investment. And the corn industry and
big-name biotech companies such as Monsanto and DuPont keep on coming
back to Hawaii each year for another very simple reason that is
beyond anyone's control - beautiful, corn-friendly weather.

The year-round growth cycles in Hawaii push the biotech system faster
than places on the mainland, Danielson said. "We benefit hugely from
the fact that there's been so much research done. We would not be
able to have a livestock industry in this country I don't think ...
," Danielson said.

***************

Science Defeats Superstition, So They Sue

- Andrew Walden, Hawaii Free Press, August 7, 2005, Via Checkbiotech.org
Special from
http://www.hawaiireporter.com/story.aspx?dcd1d9e5-a75d-48f5-bb31-9b3eef7e1a9c


'Anti-GM Activists Sue to Overturn Approval of GM Algae Project in Kona'

In a victory for common sense and solid science over fear and
superstition, the Hawaii Board of Agriculture (HBOA) June 28th
rejected testimony from the usual suspects and approved Mera
Pharmaceuticals' application to grow genetically modified algae at
the Natural Energy Laboratory in Kona.

Mera's project seeks to demonstrate the possibility of growing
medically useful proteins in algae in an enclosed container. It is
being tested as a possible alternative method of "pharm-ing" --
growing modified crops to produce medicines. In spite of their
protests against open-field pharm crops, no anti-GM activist was
interested in supporting this alternative closed-container pharming
technology.

Having failed to force their will on the HBOA, Ohana Pale Ke Ao,
Kohanaiki Ohana, GMO Free Hawaii and Sierra Club-Hawaii Chapter --
represented by the lawyers of the mis-named group, "Earthjustice" are
now suing the state.

The Mera project is the first project of its type approved solely by
state authorities. Usually GM projects obtain federal approvals from
a variety of agencies. Thus the activist lawyers who filed their case
in Circuit Court August 2 see another juicy target lost in the
thickets of Hawai`i's highly politicized state judiciary.
The roots of the so-called "environmentalists'" agenda is best
described by Hawai`i County Sierra Club Secretary Cory Harden who
informed this writer in a tape recorded 2003 interview, "It (the 9-11
attack) ties into the root causes of terrorism about people in
poverty who don't have any hope. (An airplane) is the poor man's
bomb. As I watched the pictures of the airplane crashing into the
building I thought those people (al-Qaeda) must have felt so
powerless to do that ....

If Osama had as much money as the United States militaryŠit would
probably be a whole different world." So much for caring about
endangered plants and animals. All the hype about health risks,
hearings and procedures is about one thing-destroying the economy.

Their rhetoric retards development of Hawaii businesses which provide
high-paying knowledge-based jobs and minimal environmental impact
compared to other industries. The anti-GM arguments boil down to "we
are afraid" and "we don't know."

Anti-GM activists throw around the word "sustainable" as if they
owned it, but economic growth and technological advancement are the
only "sustainable" economy. Regression to the primitive past would
mean starvation and poverty, and there is nothing "sustainable" about
that.

GM organisms have never been shown to have harmed any human anywhere.
Americans have been eating GM foods for years with zero demonstrated
effect.

On the other hand, anti-GM activists have blocked US GM-corn food aid
to starving people in Zambia in 2002 and Angola in 2004 causing
thousands of deaths. This shows that anti-GM activism is deadly --
whereas GM organisms are not even harmful.

The hypocrisy of well-fed American and European anti-GM activists
blocking aid to starving Africans is documented by the Economist
magazine in a September, 2002 article titled, "Better dead than GM
fed."
Typical anti-GM rhetoric involves the phrase "genetic contamination".
This ignores the fact that genetic modification is a natural part of
the ecosystem.

As you read this, billions of viruses are in and on your body trying
to genetically modify you. Thus it is fraudulent to argue that the
introduction of a GM organism into the ecosystem (which Mera's
project works diligently to prevent) is 'contamination'. If this can
be called 'contamination', then it must be said that we are awash in
a perpetual sea of naturally occurring 'contamination' from before
our birth to after our death.
This "contamination" over the millennia has led to the creation of
the Earth's genetic diversity. Naturally occurring genetic
modification is an engine of evolution, yet many anti-GM activists
deny genetic modification is a natural process claiming it is only a
laboratory product of "intelligent design". At the same time they
oppose "creationism". Many opponents of GM plants are also gung-ho
for GM humans in the form of embryonic stem-cell research.

Anti-GM activists call GM foods "a threat to our food supply."
Actually GM crops are our food supply. According to the Pew
Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, in 2004 85 percent of American
soybeans, 76 percent of American cotton' and 45 percent of American
corn are GM varieties. Other GM crops currently grown in the U.S.
include canola, squash and 50 percent of the nation's papaya. As the
cases of Zambia and Angola show, it is anti-GM activism which is the
real threat to the food supply.

GM bacteria are used to produce chymosin -- used to curdle milk into
cheese since 1990. Almost all cheeses (and all 'vegetarian' cheeses)
are now made with this GM product. GM products are increasingly
important to medicine. Human insulin is produced by genetically
modified bacteria. Perhaps the anti-GM activists would like to
explain to diabetics that they must go back to bovine insulin?

I doubt they would get a very favorable hearing. Native Hawaiians
have a higher than average incidence of diabetes. Yet GM opponents
such as Momi Subiano of the Amy Greenwell Botanical Gardens quoted in
the August 1 Hawaii Island Journal, claim that "genetic manipulation
of life forms are offensive and contrary to the cultural values of
aloha aina?" What about the value of olakino maikai (good health)?
What about the value of not getting an adverse reaction to multiple
daily insulin shots?

A discussion on the benefits of genetic modification of kalo (taro)
is occurring amongst Hawaiian kalo growers. UH scientists have
pledged to participate in the discussion before any further GM kalo
development is undertaken, showing that GM development is part of
agriculture rather than something that is imposed from above. Rather
than destroying native kalo varieties, GM technology has the
potential to stop the continuing extinctions of heritage kalo
varieties which have fallen victim to fungal plant diseases for
decades.
The July issue of Office of Hawaiian Affairs newspaper, Ka Wai Ola
OHA, carries a front page article titled "Kalo Controversy." Anti-GM
activists complain of GM "contamination" of Hawaii papaya crop. This
is a perfect example of how these activists twist the facts to fit
their own anti-technological dogma. Viruses spread disease by
inserting their genetic material into the nucleus of the host.

Thus it was the ring spot virus that was "genetically contaminating"
Hawaiian papaya crops, killing off entire orchards. By inserting the
genetic code for the coat protein of the virus, GM researchers have
stopped the virus from further "contaminating" the papaya genome. So
it would be anti-GM activists who seek to continue to allow the
"genetic contamination" caused by the ring spot. Perhaps someone
should sue them.
The only reason there is a papaya crop in Hawaii is because papaya
varieties were modified to defend against the virus. Today, you can
tell whether a papaya tree is modified or not by whether it is
healthy or not. Organic "farmers" (many with plots about the size of
Hokulia lots) who complain that their crops are "contaminated" by GM
papaya varieties should know that they only have a crop because of
the so-called contamination. Since genetic modification occurs
naturally-including across species-on a constant ongoing basis, it is
time to "modify" the definition of "organic."

Even marijuana is genetically modified through the use of colchicine,
a chemical which induces multiple copies of the marijuana genome with
the nucleus of each cell resulting in higher levels of THC,
marijuana's primary active ingredient.

Efforts to ban GM crops would send medical marijuana right back into
illegality. Of course anti-GM activists never smoke marijuana, so
there is no irony here.

The GM revolution is a continuation of the agricultural progress of
the "Green Revolution" of the 1960s. These advances in agricultural
technology are dramatically increasing productivity. They reduce the
amount of acreage needed to feed the world and have allowed the human
population to increase by reducing starvation and associated diseases
which previously kept our numbers down. Some anti-GM activists see
this as a bad thing. That is what lies at the root of their
opposition to GM foods.

---
Andrew Walden is the publisher and editor of Hawaii Free Press, a Big
Island-based newspaper. He can be reached via email at
mailto:andrewwalden@email.com

**********************************************

GMO Crops Don't Pose A Health Risk

- The Guardian (Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island) August 6, 2005

Editor: Leo Broderick's letter of Aug 3, 2005 (Time to go GMO-free on
the island) contains so much misinformation about the safety of crops
enhanced through biotechnology that it is difficult to know where to
start in providing factual and balanced information.

Plant biotech crops are among the most studied and reviewed food and
food ingredient products in the world today.

Regulatory authorities around the world - including Canada - have
reviewed the commercial use of biotech crops according to well-
established, internationally-accepted standards of risk assessment
and have determined that biotech crops pose no more risk than crops
produced through traditional crop breeding methods.

Numerous international organizations have endorsed the health and
environmental safety of biotech crops, including the Royal Society
(UK), National Academy of Sciences (USA), the World Health
Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of
the United Nations, the European Commission, the French Academy of
Medicine, and the American Medical Association.

The 2001 European Commission report on the safety of plant biotech
summarizing 15 years of research by 400 scientific teams stated:
"Research on GM plants and derived products so far developed and
marketed, following usual risk assessment procedures, has not shown
any new risks on human health or the environment . . . indeed, the
use of more precise technology and greater regulatory scrutiny
probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods.

One need only to look at the overwhelming adoption rates among
farmers across Canada (over 80 per cent of canola; and 60 to 65 per
cent of corn and soybeans planted this year are GM varieties) to see
the large majority of farmers continue to choose this technology for
their farms because of the environmental and economic benefits it
provides.

Farmers in P.E.I. - like their counterparts throughout the country -
should continue to have the choice to access these beneficial
technologies, as well as all other forms of farming including organic
and conventional.

Trish Jordan, Monsanto Canada

**********************************************

Transgenic Bt Technology: 1. Bacillus thuringiensis and Bt Toxins

- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and
Education, Bangalore, India
http://www.fbae.org/Channels/Views/transgenic_bt_technology.htm

Transgenic technology, involving a wide range of pesticidal genes
from the bacterium Bacillus thuringinesis (Bt), dominates the
scenario of agricultural biotechnology. At the same time, Bt
technology is also the most vehemently criticized area of
agricultural biotechnology.

While the terms Bt cotton, Bt corn, Bt potato, etc., are widely used,
the level of understanding of what the technology actually means,
what it can and what it cannot do, is very poor. A variety of issues
such as the biology of Bacillus thuringiensis, its toxins, use of Bt
as a biopesticide, transgenic Bt crops, benefits and limitations of
the technology and biosecurity, are important components of public
awareness. This article is about the biology of Bt, its use as a
conventional biopesticide, Bt toxins and the pre-requisites for their
functioning.

Bacillus thuringiensis: Bt is a rod shaped, Gram-positive, soil
bacterium, discovered in 1901. Bt is among the most thoroughly
studied bacterial species of agricultural importance, its diverse
aspects having been researched for over a century. The book 'Bacillus
thuringiensis: biology, ecology and safety' (T.R. Glare and M.
O'Callaghan, 2000, John Wiley) refers to over 8,000 research
publications by over 10,000 biologists, in over 60 years, and deals
with most of the issues raised regarding the use of Bt. Ignorance of
this and other subsequent publications on Bt or a deliberate
indifference to them, have resulted in a wanton and much exploited
misunderstanding of Bt technology.

Concept of Bt: The term Bt now refers to not a single simple species
entity, but to a large group of subspecies and varieties, based on
over 60,000 isolates, collected from all over the world. There are
more than 80 serologically characterized types of Bt.

The question of difficulty in distinguishing Bacillus thuringiensis
from the related pathogenic Bacillus cereus and Bacillus anthracis
was adequately answered recently (Ruud A de Maagd, Alejandra Bravo &
Neil Crickmore, www.agbioworld.org : July 11, 2005). When types of Bt
can be identified serologically, a microbiologist can certainly
distinguish the three species.

Bt in nature: Bt is a universally occurring soil bacterium, isolated
from several thousand soil samples from 80 different countries. It
commonly occurs also on the aerial parts of plants such as leaves and
on even washed fruits and vegetables we consume. It may be present
in water, possibly as a wash off from the soil and plant surfaces.
Bt may be transported in the atmosphere, as inferred from its
presence deep in the polar ice cap.

Bt grows and competes, but poorly in soil. Bt or its proteins may
persist for about 100 days in soils, for 24 hr in running water and
for 12 days in stagnant water bodies. Bt seems to require an
association with plants and insects to perpetuate for longer periods
in nature.

Bt as a biopesticide: Bt produces a wide range of insecticidal toxins
and has been used in pest control since 1938. There are about a 100
biopesticides exclusively based on Bt and over 90 per cent of
commercial biopesticides, used even in organic farming, contain Bt.

Bt toxins and toxin-encoding genes: Bt produces a large number of
proteins that are toxic to insects. Bt also produces a) several
enzymes, b) some compounds that lyse erythrocytes, and c) some that
are enterotoxic to vertebrates. Bt toxins are produced either within
the bacterial cell (endotoxins), or on the cell surface (exotoxins).

More than 170 toxin-encoding genes have been isolated form Bt
collections. Among the endotoxins, the insecticidal crystalline
proteins, called the delta-endotoxins, are significant in Bt
technology. The crystalline proteins are described para-sporal, as
they are co-produced and co-exist along with spores (the means of
bacterial propagation), in the bacterial cells. When the bacterial
cell lyses to release the spores, the crystalline proteins are also
routinely released into the soil.

The names of the genes that encode the crystalline proteins are
prefixed with 'Cry', as for example Cry1Ab, Cry1Ac, Cry9c, etc., and
the proteins that are encoded by these genes are 'Cry' proteins. The
non-crystalline endotoxins are prefixed with 'Cyt'.

Most of the Bt toxins are insect group specific. Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab
control the cotton bollworms, Cry1Ab controls corn borer, Cry3Ab
controls Colarado potato beetle and Cry3Bb controls corn rootworm.
The Bt genes that are incorporated into different crops are species
specific to moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera, having wings covered
by scales).

Pre-requisites for the functioning of Bt toxins: The following
conditions are essential for an effective insecticidal activity of
the Bt toxins:

a) The pest must take a few bites of the plant tissue; Bt transgenics
are not effective against sucking pests (Homoptera, with wings
without scales), as they do not ingest plant tissue. b) An alkaline
environment (pH 9.5 and above) in the gut of the insect pest is
essential for the Cry proteins to dissolve in the gut fluids and to
be converted into an active molecule to function as an insecticidal
compound. c) The lining of the mid-gut (brush border) of the pest
must have an appropriate receptor for a particular toxin to bind to.
The pest specificity of different Bt toxins depends upon the presence
of appropriate receptors, which are absent form some pests, as
evidenced by toxins effective against Lepidoptera being ineffective
against Homoptera. The receptor bound toxin causes disturbance in the
integrity of the gut wall, leading to leakage of the contents,
followed by starvation and death of the pest.

Fundamentally, the alkaline gut environment and the presence of an
appropriate toxin binding receptor are crucial for the activity of Bt
toxins. Basing on such requirements, the genes that encode pest
specific toxins are chosen for developing transgenic crops.

**********************************************

India's Scientific Community Must Become More Assertive

- Shanthu Shantharam, Biospectrum (India), July 7, 2005
http://www.biospectrumindia.com/content/columns/10507072.asp

The Indian scientific community should communicate the risks and
benefits of modern biotechnology to the public in a sustained manner.

Lately stem cell research is making head lines in the world of
science. Stem cell research is being touted as the next wave of
medical biotechnology that could potentially revolutionize treatment
of diseases in the next couple of decades. Stem cell research has
become very controversial in the US, and this controversy will follow
wherever it goes. Certainly, there are ethical concerns that are
mostly based on ones religious proclivities and they are being
pandered by the political class as always.

This is becoming more and more egregious in the US with the divided
National Bioethics Commission advising the President to take
regressive positions on embryonic stem cells to appease the religious
right. President Bush has banned embryonic stem cell research in any
federal institution or in any federally funded research program save
for some already existing cell lines. There is a great deal of
scientific uncertainty as to what shape or form the stem cell
research agenda is going to take in the US. The State of California
has gone ahead with its own promotion of stem cell research by
selecting San Francisco as the global hub of stem cell research and
hopes to attract billions of dollars of investment in the area.
California is investing $3 billion upfront to attract leading
researchers and investments on stem cell research to come to San
Francisco.

Ultimatum to White House
Fed up with the lack of federal leadership, the US National Science
Academy offered its own guidelines for stem cell research in May
which the scientific community supports wholeheartedly and has sent a
clear message to the White House that if it does not act, they will
go ahead with stem cell research on their own voluntary guidelines.
The American scientific community, it seems, is determined not to be
left behind on stem cell research because of lack of federal
leadership on the issue. That is the kind of bold leadership from a
country's scientific body that is required to drive scientific agenda
in any country that is seriously committed to harnessing science and
technology for progress and economic development. The US National
Science Academy's bold move comes in the wake of a serious effort
under way in Southeast Asia on stem cell research.

China and Korea have made significant commitments to stem cell
research and are poised to become the leaders in the field. India
also jumped into the fray a few years back, and as always, without
much thought and preparedness. India's biotech private sector lead by
the Reliance group, has committed considerable resources to stem cell
research. All of a sudden one hears that AIIMS scientists have
started stem cell therapy experiments and never bothered to ask
anybody's permission a la Bt-cotton in Gujarat seven years ago.

In addition, scores of private nursing homes and hospitals (that are
largely unregulated) are engaged in experimental stem cell therapy
without any oversight. These same establishments have misused and
abused sex determination techniques and also In-Vitro fertility
technology with impunity. Sale of kidneys became a national scandal
few years ago. There is not a decent public law to govern organ
donations and there is not even a central registry from where one can
find out anything about organ donations. The private sector which has
the most to gain from the stem cell technology must demonstrate
leadership in corporate social responsibility and develop volunteer
guidelines to see that the benefits of stem cell research is
harnessed in an ethically appropriate and socially responsible manner.

Ignorance is not bliss
India is ambitious of harnessing stem cell research and is perfectly
capable becoming a world leader, but it has to do some quick home
work before jumping headlong into the field. ICMR and DBT seem to
have made some noise about developing a policy, but have nothing much
to show for it, and certainly there has not been much of a
stakeholder debate on the issue.

India has a national bioethics commission whose existence it seems is
some sort of a national secret. The Indian Medical Council and the
Indian Medical Association are feigning ignorance of the subject as
if it is of no concern to them. No one in the public or the
scientific community knows what the three major academies of science
in India think on the issue. The ministry of health recently said
that it did not even know that AIIMS was doing stem cell therapy
experiments. But, one can already hear noises from the civil society
organizations and non-governmental organizations that lose no time or
momentum to start howling. When they take charge, there is no telling
what kind of regulations will be put in place. But, once can be most
certain that science will not be the underpinning of those
regulations.

Recently the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS) hosted an
international meeting in Bangalore on stem cell research in
collaboration with scientists from the UK, and professed to be guided
by a voluntary code of conduct. It is unclear what these voluntary
codes are, but nevertheless, it is a good beginning. They must keep
up the momentum and lead the charge publicly. The kind of a mess that
one sees in the regulation of GM crops must not be allowed to repeat
in the medical field. Stem cell research will need significant
private investment and therefore scientists from the academia and the
industry must make this a common cause to take charge of the research
agenda. Apathy from the scientific community will not be acceptable
any longer, and they owe it to themselves to the country to show
political leadership and communicate with the public directly before
the anti-biotech brigade can inflict undoable public relations damage
on it.

India needs to be more vocal
The last time the Indian National Science Academy had anything to say
on the issue of regulating GM crops was at a press conference a
decade ago in far away London in the company of four other national
academies of science. The Indian public did not hear about it and the
Indian anti-GM brigade does not care about it. The Indian political
establishment is completely oblivious and is willing to be led by
anyone who cares to talk to them.

Everyone knows that the Indian scientific community is not the one
doing the talking. One cannot fathom the reason for aloofness of the
scientific community from this important technology issue. It is not
enough to "preach to the choir" by making customary speeches and
publish books and papers just for the benefit of their ilk. These
academies have to get into the activists mode and barrage the media
and the public just like the Luddites do. If the scientists shy away
from this responsibility, then they have only themselves to complain
about. To say that the public does not understand science is a tired
old argument that cannot and should not be used any longer.

This apathy of the scientific community allows all sorts of
ignoramuses in the name of protecting the public from the dangers of
the technology to spread falsehoods, innuendos and outright lies to
confuse media and the public. It is time for the Indian scientific
establishment to become a little bit of activists themselves and
provide leadership in communicating the risks and benefits of modern
biotechnology to the public in a sustained manner.

It is time for India to grow and cultivate charismatic science
communicators to do the job because the 21st century public policy on
science in India will be made by the public in public. Everyone these
days demand pluralism in technology decision making. The scientific
community in India must assert its role in science policy making,
communicate with the public, and demonstrate its true leadership.

**********************************************

Survey: Majority of California Voters Approve of Biotech Crops

- Red Nova News, August 10, 2005, http://www.rednova.com/

As Sonoma County voters consider making theirs the fourth California
county to ban genetically modified crops, backers of agricultural
biotechnology have released a poll showing 54 percent of likely state
voters believe farmers should be able to grow biotech crops.

Thirty percent believe biotech crops should be banned from
California's fields, the poll says, and 16 percent of those surveyed
said they didn't know. Asked if they would consider buying foods
containing biotech ingredients, 53 percent of respondents said they
would, while 37 percent said they would not.

The findings come as national, state and local opponents of
genetically modified crops aim to pass a voter-approved ban on the
crops in Sonoma County on Nov.8. Renata Brillinger and other
supporters of the measure questioned the survey results, saying
answers depend on how questions are phrased. Brillinger, director of
Californians for GE-Free Agriculture, explained that more people are
opposed when they hear biotech crops described as genetically
modified.

Similarly, Ryan Zinn of Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association
said people often don't realize biotech foods aren't labeled. If they
heard this and also learned that neither the U.S. Department of
Agriculture nor the Environmental Protection Agency tests these
crops, said Zinn, the organization's San Francisco campaign
coordinator, "I doubt any right-minded person would give the green
light to plant these foods or crops."

If passed, a Sonoma County ban would join those already in effect in
Mendocino, Marin and Trinity counties. Next year biotech opponents
are considering still more county ballot measures, with Sacramento,
Yolo, Nevada and Placer counties among potential targets.

The telephone survey of 900 likely voters showed support for
genetically engineered crops is highest in the state's agricultural
Central Valley and among those who claim to know "a lot about biotech
crops."
In the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, 68 percent of those
surveyed said farmers should be able to grow them, while 72 percent
of those who said they know a lot about biotech crops agreed.

Agricultural biotechnology is the science of transferring genes --
the small biological units that shape life -- between species. So
far, biotech farming largely makes crop plants resistant to
weedkillers and gives plants an ability to kill insects.

California has an estimated 600,000 acres of biotech crops, mostly
cotton and corn largely grown in the Central Valley. Globally,
farmers planted 200million acres last year, according to the Council
for Biotechnology Information in Washington, D.C.

With three months until the Sonoma County vote, elections officials
reported Monday the anti-biotech GE-Free Sonoma County Committee has
so far raised $155,605 for its campaign to ban biotech crops in the
wine-growing and dairy county. The pro-biotech Family Farmers
Alliance has raised $136,827, elections officials said.
The survey, which was in the field from May 3-5, was commissioned by
a pro-biotech coalition that includes the California Chamber of
Commerce; St. Louis-based biotechnology giant Monsanto Co.; and
BIOCOM San Diego, a trade association of Southern California biotech
firms.

Statewide, 54percent of those surveyed said they knew biotech crops
are already grown in California and 51percent knew California grocery
stores sell foods made from biotech crops.

"There's a tremendous benefit for use of biotech crops not only in
California but across the country," said Jess Arredondo, a Monsanto
spokesman in California. "What we see is that people in California
are noticing, and are comfortable with biotech crops."

**********************************************

Cottoning On To GM Benefits

- Weekly Times (Australia) August 10, 2005

In her letter on behalf of the Network of Concerned Farmers
Association (WT, June 30), Julie Newman says: "Australian farmers
have stated that they use additional irrigation for GM cotton so it
appears there is evidence that GM crops need more water".

As a grower of irrigated GM cotton for the past six years, I would
like to clarify the statement to enable your readers to get the true
picture on GM cotton.

While I have seen our watering program increase from three to four
waterings (25 per cent increase) in the past two years, our yields
have increased a staggering 30 to 50 per cent.

Considering the past two years have been of extreme drought
conditions, these figures stack up well for cotton farmers. Increased
production, together with the enormous environmental benefits of no
chemical sprays, makes good sense to me.

- Stuart Armitage, Darling Downs, Qld

###