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Date:

August 12, 2005

Subject:

Chapela Responds to Snow Paper; Australian Liability Laws; Zimbabwe Must Learn from China; Bangladesh; Rice Genome

 

Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : August 12, 2005

* Chapela -Quist Response to PNAS Paper on Mexican Maize Transgenes
* Chapela Quist Statement Ironic
* Study Contests Professor's Controversial Paper
* Australia: Liability Laws Are Already In Place
* Zimbabwe Must Learn from China
* Bangladesh: Modern, Improved Technology to Boost Crop Output
* ABIC 2006 - "Unlocking the Potential of Agricultural Biotechnology"
* Scientists Find The Rice Stuff

--
Response to PNAS Article Failing to Detect Transgenes in Maize from
Oaxaca, Mexico

- Ignacio Chapela and David Quist, http://www.pulseofscience.org/pnasstatement

Initial statement by Ignacio Chapela and David Quist; Contact:
ichapela@nature.berkeley.edu, dquist@nature.berkeley.edu, 10 August,
2005

Given the large number of requests for comment from us regarding the
article recently appeared in PNAS (below), we would like to make the
following statements, preliminary to a deeper commentary.

"Ortiz-García, S., Ezcurra, E., Schoel, B., Acevedo, F., Soberón, J.
and Snow, A.A. 2005. Absence of Detectable Transgenes in local
landraces of maize in Oaxaca, Mexico (2003-2004). Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences."

We were surprised by the results and statements presented in this
paper. We had no prior knowledge of the contents or conclusions of
the paper until it was being discussed in the media, a few days
ago. On first approach, it seems to us highly suspect that transgenic
DNA may have been widespread in local landraces of maize in Mexico in
2000-2001, as demonstrated in at least 3 separate studies, would
suddenly become absent within a couple of years.

Part of our surprise stemmed also from our knowledge that three of
the authors in this paper have made many categorical public
representations prior to this paper which lie in diametrical
contradiction to the negative results paper presented in
PNAS. Although their statements were never published in a
peer-reviewed journal, we must presume that those contradictory
categorical statements were based on real samples and analyses. We do
not know whether the results presented now in PNAS are derived from
the same samples, what differences in method they applied, and how
much the change in their conclusion is determined not by a biological
or social phenomenon, but rather by a change in the author's
assumptions and expectations. We reserve our judgement in this regard
until these contradictions are explained. We call upon the authors of
the PNAS paper to clearly explain the change in their statements from
one year to the next.

We continue to be surprised by the interpretation of the significance
of this paper as well as by the many representations made about it by
the authors for the general public and the media. We are deeply
concerned by the conclusions being drawn from those representations
in terms of GMO policy and trade, since we feel that these
conclusions are not warranted by this paper's results or the
interpretation of those results.

We have noticed troubling methodological and technical problems in
the PNAS paper which would have deserved close attention before
publication, and certainly before any conclusions could be drawn from
it. We are writing a first rebuttal of the paper dealing with these
questions, and will make this rebuttal public as soon as it is
carefully reviewed and considered by our colleagues. News about this
rebuttal will be posted at http://www.pulseofscience.org .

Given the fact that the paper was published nonetheless, and that
conclusions from the biological to the policy and commercial levels
are quickly being used in developing policy, we strongly recommend
caution in deriving policy from this paper. The scientific community
needs the opportunity to apply scrutiny to this work, so that
discourse can help guide exactly what can be said about this work.
For now, there are certainly more questions than answers brought by
this research, will need to be answered through thorough scientific
scrutiny and continued research on the fate of transgenes in and out
of Mexican maize. Stay tuned.

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

Chapela Quist Statement Ironic

- Alex Avery, Hudson Institute

I find the statement released by Chapela and Quist to be quite ironic
because if the roles and players were reversed, this same statement
could have been issued against Chapela and Quist's paper in Nature.
Read the following slightly tweaked version of the C/Q statement and
tell me this isn't true?

Modified statement:
"We (pro-biotech academicians, scientists, policymakers) were
surprised by the results and statements presented in this paper (by
Chapela and Quist). We had no prior knowledge of the contents or
conclusions of the paper until it was being discussed in the media,
a few days ago. On first approach, it seems to us highly suspect
that transgenic DNA may have been (absent) local landraces of maize
in Mexico would suddenly become (ubiquitous) within a couple of
years.

We continue to be surprised by the interpretation of the significance
of this paper as well as by the many representations made about it by
the authors for the general public and the media. We are deeply
concerned by the conclusions being drawn from those representations
in terms of GMO policy and trade, since we feel that these
conclusions are not warranted by this paper's results or the
interpretation of those results.

We have noticed troubling methodological and technical problems in
the (Nature) paper which would have deserved close attention before
publication, and certainly before any conclusions could be drawn from
it. We are writing a first rebuttal of the paper dealing with these
questions, and will make this rebuttal public as soon as it is
carefully reviewed and considered by our colleagues.

Given the fact that the paper was published nonetheless, and that
conclusions from the biological to the policy and commercial levels
are quickly being used in developing policy, we strongly recommend
caution in deriving policy from this paper. The scientific community
needs the opportunity to apply scrutiny to this work, so that
discourse can help guide exactly what can be said about this work.
For now, there are certainly more questions than answers brought by
this research, will need to be answered through thorough scientific
scrutiny and continued research on the fate of transgenes in and out
of Mexican maize. Stay tuned."

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

Study Contests Professor's Controversial Paper

- Jennifer Jamall, Daily Californian, August 11, 2005

After a nearly two-year battle with UC Berkeley over tenure,
assistant professor of microbial biology Ignacio Chapela is again
facing scrutiny after a study released Tuesday disputed his research
that genetically modified corn had spread to native maize crops in
southern Mexico.
The study, headed by Ohio State University professor Allison Snow, is
the first follow-up to Chapela's study.

Chapela's paper, which was written with UC Berkeley graduate student
David Quist, garnered worldwide attention when it was first published
in Nature in 2001 and later withdrawn from the science journal after
journal officials said Chapela's evidence was lacking.

Snow and her co-authors examined about 870 plants in Oaxaca in 2003
and 2004, concluding that there was no evidence to support Chapela's
2001 paper, which claimed genetically modified corn had contaminated
local varieties of the crop. "I am quite surprised," Chapela said.
"Mostly because the authors who produced the samples for this are
people who a year ago were publicly saying there was contamination."
Following the report, the Mexican government investigated the issue
and determined that transgenic corn had ruined some original wild
crops.

In the study, Snow accepts that genetically modified corn could have
made an impact in 2001 but was not present in their later findings,
which spanned more than 150,000 seeds from 125 fields in Oaxaca.
"It's very difficult to believe that contamination has disappeared,"
Chapela said. "Barely two years after we said we found it, they say
it's gone. One of those two statements has to be wrong."

Both critics and supporters of Chapela speculated that the highly
contentious paper played a major role in the university's initial
refusal to grant him tenure. "If you look at the report for denying
me tenure, it pays so much attention to the paper," Chapela said. "I
do think it played an important role."

Chapela fought a high-profile battle against the university for two
years. Shortly after being denied tenure in 2003, Chapela began
holding his office hours outside California Hall to protest the
decision and later picketed in front of the hall with hundreds of
supporters in December 2004.

Despite Birgeneau's promise to review his appeal, Chapela filed a
lawsuit against the UC Board of Regents in April 2005 alleging
conspiracy and discrimination by university officials against his
Mexican heritage.
In May, Chapela received an offer for tenure from the university and
salary as if he'd been tenured in 2003.
Chapela does not believe the recent findings from this study will
affect his new position at the university. "I really appreciate the
fact that at least somebody thinks something about the issue in
Mexico," Chapela said. "The 2001 paper was so noisy, it really made
the rounds, but after that nobody touched the question ever again. So
any research is very much welcome."

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

Australia: Liability Laws Are Already In Place

- Dr Ian Edwards, Chairman - AgBio Advisory Group. AusBiotech.

The recent wave of hysteria from NGO's following preliminary tests
indicating a trace level of GM canola in a WA grain sample should
come as no surprise to growers or to industry. The level detected (1
grain in 10,000) is 500 times below the tolerance level for the
unintended presence of GM in non-GM bulk shipments accepted by
Japan, US, Canada and Mexico. It is also 90 times below the level
accepted by the European Community, and 50 times below the level set
by the Australian Seeds Federation for non-GM seed lots.

Trace levels of unintended materials in a food product is not a
problem unique to GM crops - in the production of food, feed and seed
it is practically impossible to achieve 100% purity. This fact is
recognized by producers, government regulators and food companies who
set and carefully manage appropriate standards and tolerances. The WA
government appears out of touch with our globally interconnected
farming industry and the need to recognize accepted industry
standards for "non-GM" grain.

To protect farmer's livelihoods in WA, standards should be set at
levels that reflect market requirements rather than the lowest level
that can be detected using tests that are so unreliable that we find
it necessary to obtain confirmation from laboratories in Europe.

WA's Ag Minister, Kim Chance is misguided in calling for further
Federal liability laws. Existing liability laws and common law,
combined with Australia's strict regulation of gene technology
protects farmers, consumers and the environment. The Australian
Government reviewed liability law for GM and agreed with the findings
of the New Zealand Royal Commission into genetic modification, namely
that both common law and product liability covers the needs of
growers and consumers.

Strict liability laws are designed for products or activities
regarded as dangerous - GM products approved as safe by our
regulatory authorities (and a number of independent organizations
worldwide) do not come in this category. Let's consider the realities:

- Since the mid-1990's Food Standards Australia / New Zealand (FSANZ)
has approved 26 varieties of corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, sugar
beet and potato to be used in Australia's food and 40% of our frying
oil used domestically comes from cottonseed (now over 80% GM). In
other words, while our farmers are not allowed by the states grow GM
canola, we are allowed to import it!
- 1.25% (250,000 hectares out of 20 million hectares) of all
cultivated crops in Australia are GM through approved planting of GM
cotton.
- Historically, the presence of unintended impurities in food, feed
and seed is recognized and accepted - for example, organic food can
contain trace levels of pesticide and pure seed can contain traces of
different varieties or seeds. These standards and tolerances are
carefully managed.

Let's set the record straight - NGO's calling for zero percent
unintended presence of GM in non-GM grain shipments are out of touch
with the realities of world trade. It is simply a crude attempt to
deny growers access to a technology that is already benefiting 8.25
million farmers and the environment in 17 countries worldwide. This
year over 90 million hectares of GM crops are being produced around
the world, a feat that requires an average of 250,000 hectares of GM
crops to be planted and harvested every day of the year!

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

Zimbabwe Must Learn from China

- Njoroge Wachai, New Zimbabwe, August 10, 2005 http://www.newzimbabwe.com/

Ever heard of the saying, 'you cannot bite the hand that feeds you?'

Shunned by the West for oppressing his people, Zimbabwean President,
Robert Mugabe, has turned to China for comradeship.

Two weeks ago, Mugabe and his lieutenants were in China - on a
begging mission. His country's economy now in a shambles, Mugabe saw
it fit to plead with China to rescue his fast sinking ship.

Expectedly, China - a fast growing economy - has pledged to come to
Mugabe's aid. Help will be limited, meaning that Zimbabweans'
troubles are far from over.

What now awaits Zimbabwe - once Africa's food basket? Agriculture,
which is the backbone of Zimbabwe's economy, for one, is on its last
throes.

Outdated agricultural policies, obsolete farming practices coupled
with bad politics are largely to blame for the country's down turn.
Why shouldn't Zimbabwe, now, take advantage of its newfound suitor-
China, to revitalize its agriculture? China, for instance, has and
continues to benefit from modern biotechnology. Zimbabwe, similarly
could benefit immensely if it courts biotechnology. This would make
it self-sufficient in food and allow it to stop relying on relief aid.

Monetary handouts such as the one President Mugabe is craving are
only a stop-gap measure to Zimbabwe's food problems.

China is currently the hub of biotechnology in Asia. Since the
planting of the first genetically modified crop in the US fifteen
years ago, China has aggressively pursued cultivation of genetically
modified (GM) crops. So far, it has given regulatory approval to
eight varieties of biotech corn, seven types of canola and one of
soybeans. As a result, China can now feed its 1 billion people
without seeking outside help. China is no longer in the list of the
countries the United Nations (UN) consider in need of food
assistance. In a very short period of time, China has transformed its
agriculture, effectively moving from recipient of food aid to a donor.

China's success in biotechnology can be attributed to a number of
factors. One, China, unlike many African countries, has refused to
politicize the issue of genetically modified food. It has worked
closely with the US to promote a regulatory system based on sound
science to expedite GM approvals. This is despite the presence of
major political differences between these two countries.

Two, China's enthusiasm in training first-class scientists on modern
biotechnology has been steadfast. It has invested billions of dollars
in science and technology education. As a result the country is now
able to make informed decisions about genetically modified food.

Now that Zimbabwe is engaged with China, can't it take advantage of
this new acquaintance to modernize its agriculture? Zimbabwe remains
strongly opposed to GM food for no justifiable reason. Even a time
like this, when it is facing acute food shortage, Zimbabwe would not
allow food aid with genetically modified organisms into its
territory. Relief organizations are required to produce GMO
certificates to certify that food being brought into the country is
GM free.

Many times, African countries have complained about being used as
guinea pigs by biotech companies. China, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil
and South Africa are some of the countries from developing world
currently growing genetically modified food. They are not guinea
pigs. China, early enough, saw the folly of politicizing the biotech
debate. It is now reaping bountifully. A poor country a decade ago,
China is now able to bail out a country like Zimbabwe.

When Mugabe travels to Beijing again, China should remind him that
its wealth has been accrued from modern biotechnology. And that
Zimbabwe should follow suit. Failure to do so amounts to biting the
hand that feeds it.

---
The writer is a student in communication and media studies at Wichita
State University, USA

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

Bangladesh: Call to Adopt Modern, Improved Technology to Boost Crop Output

Financial Express (Bangladesh), August 11, 2005
http://www.financialexpress-bd.com/index3.asp?cnd=8/11/2005§ion_id=3&newsid=10075&spcl=no

Agriculture Minister MK Anwar has underscored the need for adopting
modern and improved technologies in agriculture to increase crop
production in marginal land of the country.

The minister said this while speaking at the inaugural session of a
two-day workshop jointly organised by the Bangladesh Agricultural
Research Council (BARC) and Agricultural Biotechnology Support
Project II on "Intellectual Property Rights, Technology Transfer and
Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of Genetically Modified Crops" at a
city hotel Wednesday, reports BSS.

"We need to adopt modern technologies in agriculture to grow an
additional five to six million tonnes of food grains by 2020 in our
decreasing cultivable land to feed the projected population of around
173 million (17.30 crore)," the minister said.

According to statistics, about 27.0 million tonnes of food grains,
mainly rice and wheat was produced in the country last year. "The
country needs to adopt technologies that can boost productivity and
add value to agricultural produces, as conventional technologies
alone cannot meet the future challenges of food security," MK Anwar
said.

"Biotechnology can be adopted for solving the problems confronting
agriculture as application of modern biotechnology in research and
development efforts will complement our crop improvement programme,"
he added.

In this context, the minister laid emphasis on developing efficient
institutional technology transfer mechanism and Intellectual Property
Rights (IRP) policies on the basis of own needs and policies as IPR
is not easily understood by many people in the country so far.

Referring to GM (Genetically Modified) crops, the minister said we
have to make sure before releasing the crop that it would not create
any adverse affect to the environment as well as health. He also
requested the agricultural scientists to expedite their research
activities on the GM crop.

Referring to IPR, Anwar said the Ministry of Agriculture has already
finalised the draft of Plant Variety Protection and Farmers Right Act
to provide protection to breeders and establish farmer's rights on
protected varieties that facilitate technology transfer.

Presided over by Executive Chairman of the BARC Frank A Shotkoshi of
Cornell University, the workshop was addressed, among others, by M
Abdur Razzaque of the BARC, K Vijayaraghavan of the ABSPII and Anne
Williams of the USAID.

About 50 biotechnology practitioners, researchers and scientists from
home and abroad are taking part in the workshop.

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

ABIC 2006 - "Unlocking the Potential of Agricultural Biotechnology"

- Melbourne Australia, August 6 - 9 2006

The Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) is the
major global conference for agricultural biotechnology. First held in
1996 in Canada by the ABIC Foundation, Melbourne Australia will host
the first conference to be staged in the Southern Hemisphere. The
Victorian State Government as Principal Sponsor and Host State and
AusBiotech, as the Host Industry Body invites you to join the ABIC
Foundation at ABIC2006 from 6 - 9 August 2006.

For more information please visit http://www.abic2006.org

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

Scientists Find The Rice Stuff

- Daniel Lewis, Sydney Morning Herald, August 12, 2005 http://www.smh.com..au/

The genetic map has been produced for the world's staple crop, writes
Daniel Lewis.

RICE sustains half the Earth's population every day, and scientists
yesterday hailed the cracking of its genome as one of the great
breakthroughs in science and agriculture. Given its importance,
scientists joked that people should not feel offended by the
knowledge that the grain possesses 37,544 genes - about 12,000 more
than for a human.

The discovery will enable researchers to help feed the world's
booming population by pinning down genes in rice that increase yield
and enhance resistance to pests, disease and drought.

In Australia, the breakthrough has implications for research into the
most controversial facet of the rice industry - its heavy reliance on
irrigation water. "This is a breakthrough of inestimable
significance, not only for science and agriculture, but also for all
those people who depend on rice as their primary dietary staple,"
said Joachim Messing, one of the scientists involved in the project.

About 3 billion people rely on rice - mostly in the Third World. By
2025, it is predicted that number will rise to 4.6 billion. Although
there will be some switch in demand to other foods as incomes rise,
the population gain will still require a 30 per cent increase in
production.

The International Rice Genome Sequencing Project - using the pooled
resources of scientists from 10 countries including Japan, China,
Thailand, Brazil, France and the US - started work on its mammoth
task in 1998. After initial rivalry between public and private
research efforts, the companies Monsanto and Syngenta contributed to
the project. The results were published yesterday in the science
journal Nature.

Robin Buell, lead investigator at the Institute for Genomic Research
in the US, said the genetic map would help speed research into
genetically similar crops such as maize, wheat, barley, rye, sorghum
and sugar cane.
"Rice is the Rosetta Stone for crop genomes," Buell said.

Australia is a minnow in terms of world rice production, which was
nearly 600 million tonnes in 2001-02 - but it is a big exporter. Its
rice-growing heartland is the irrigated fields of the Riverina. There
are about 2000 rice farmers in NSW and their co-operative, SunRice,
employs more than 1000 workers and exports to about 60 nations. When
there is enough water available, Australia's rice production is about
1.25 million tonnes and exports are worth $500 million a year.

Dr Laurie Lewin, from Yanco Agricultural Institute in the
Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, has been researching rice since 1969.
He says Australia's rice farmers can lay claim to being the most
water efficient in the world.
He said they had improved their water efficiency by 60 per cent over
the past 10 years.Lewin said the genetic map would enable the
"revolution to speed up" by enabling scientists to identify the genes
that could make rice even less reliant on water. It would also help
tackle the Australian industry's other main problem - cold tolerance.

While genetic engineering has many critics, it has enabled other
agriculture industries, such as cotton, to slash their chemical use
by developing strains that are resistant to pests. Scientists have
already developed genetically modified rice strains - such as "golden
rice", which is especially rich in beta carotene, which the body
converts into vitamin A.

Lewin said the Chinese were forging ahead with research into
herbicide-tolerant rice. However, genetically modified rice in
Australia may not be a natural consequence of yesterday's
announcement as the Australian industry has, so far, steered clear of
using genetically modified crops.

Lewin stressed that having a map of the genetic code would be just as
helpful in developing better strains of rice based on traditional
breeding methods. "It can make an enormous difference to conventional
breeding," he said. "I think there's a huge opportunity there." As
the rice genome was quite varied, scientists would not necessarily
have to use genes from other plant or animal species to manipulate
the crop genetically. Lewin said: "It's got a lot of potential, but
really there's a lot of work still to be done."

What lies ahead for scientists is working out the function of
individual genes and how they can be manipulated to produce better
strains of rice. An advantage for Australian farmers is that the
genetic code was cracked using a japonica strain - similar to what is
grown here.

Like many scientists, Lewin is afraid that private enterprise will
try to patent any manipulation of rice genes for profit. He said he
would be saddened if the benefits of the breakthrough were put beyond
the means of those who most need help, as the research had been
largely publicly funded and rice was responsible for feeding so many
of the world's poor. "It's important that the benefits get spread
around," he said.

###