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August 22, 2005


Ghana strongly favours GM Crops; Replacement found for bacterial DNA in transgenic crops; Fears of genetically modified crops are unfounded; Organic Crops aren’t healthier or safer


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: August 22, 2005

* Ghana strongly favours GM Crops
* Ghana Advances in Bio-Safety
* Equipping East African Women for Leadership and Career Growth in Science
* Replacement found for bacterial DNA in transgenic crops
* Fears of genetically modified crops are unfounded, panel says
* Organic Crops aren’t healthier or safer
* IFPRI reports on Africa prospects for 2025
* Paper recounts new GM methods


Ghana strongly favours GM Crops

- Ghanaweb,com, Aug. 18, 2005

Accra, Aug. 18, GNA - Mr Ernest Debrah, Minister of Food and Agriculture, on Thursday said Ghana had not taken any strong stand against the importation and cultivation of Genetically Modified Crops, but was rather strongly in favour of it.

He said with he National Bio-Safety Framework and its other nine accompanying instruments, which had just been launched, "we have now met the accessions of the Cartagena Protocol, which was signed in May 2003 affirming our position for the safe use, handling and transportation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) that might find their way to Ghana."

Speaking to the Ghana News Agency in Accra on the nation's position on Genetically Modified Crops, the Minister said the Ministry was working vigorously on the passage of the bio-safety bill to show the country's preparedness and commitment to ensure the safe use, handling and transfer of GMOs in Ghana.

He stressed that Ghana's position on the issue of GMOs was strictly based on the precautionary principle and that every effort would be made to ensure the safety in the use of GMOs.

The Categena Protocol states: "Parties shall ensure that the development, handling, transport, use, transfer and release of any living modified organisms are undertaken in a manner that prevents or reduces the risks to biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health."

Mr Debrah said all Genetically Modified Crops imported or cultivated locally would pass through vigorous inspections to conform to the country's regulations and standards to ensure their safety for both living organisms and the environment.

He said Ghana and its neighbours continued to exchange planting materials and it was, therefore, prudent for the country to put in place all the necessary precautions and mechanisms to formally standardise the usage of GMOs, hence, the framework and the pending bill.

Ghana, the first in Africa and the 10th in the world to accomplish the task of developing a National Bio-safety Framework under the United Nations Environment Programme and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) had proved its ability to ensure sustained use of modern biotechnology products and processes, the Agriculture Minister said. 18 Aug. 05


Ghana Advances in Bio-Safety

Ghanaian Chronicle, August 18, 2005, by Kenneth Nyarko & Ayisha Natasha Yahaya

The minister for Environment and Science, Ms. Christine Churcher, has launched a national framework on Bio-safety for Ghana at a ceremony in Accra.

She said the framework is based on Ghana's position on the Cartegena Bio-Safety Protocol rectified on May 30, 2003, in Montreal Canada.

"By the accession, we affirmed our position for the safe use, handling and transportation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) that might find their way to Ghana," the minister said.

According to her, the process of domesticating the protocol was started in November 2003 by the development of scientific, legal and administrative arrangements that would ensure the safe development and deployment of modern biotechnology products, including GMOs and relevant processes in Ghana.

Ms. Churcher disclosed that Ghana was the first in Africa and the tenth in the world to accomplish this task of developing a national Bio-safety framework under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF) projects.

She commended the National Biosafety Committee and other stakeholders for their untiring efforts in all aspects, to achieve such merit.

In line with this achievement, Ghana is being considered for additional support for a 4-year project to help implement its biosafety framework and build the needed capacity, including the development of a National Biosafety Clearing House for information exchange, as required by the Protocol.

In simple terms, Biosafety is described as the safety processes, management systems in eliminating the harmful issues that are associated with all scientific processes. A typical example was how yeast could rise a small amount of flour and how plants could be made resistant to pests and diseases, to promote high yields but still not cause harm to the human body.

In an explanation, the Coordinator of the National Bio-Safety project, Mr. Alex Owusu Biney said Bio-safety is a term used to describe or efforts to reduce and eliminate the potential risk, resulting from processes and products of modern biotechnology, to help achieve a good and effective livelihood.

The Cartegena protocol is therefore a global instrument to assist parties to ensure the safe use and trans-boundary movements of living modified organisms that may have adverse effects on biological diversity and human health.

Miss Churcher therefore used the opportunity to call on all Ghanaians and development partners to work in the same spirit shown in the development process, to achieve a workable system for the management of modern biotechnology.


Equipping East African Women for Leadership and Career Growth in Science

- CGIAR Gender and Diversity Program, 17th August 2005, NAIROBI

The Gender & Diversity Program (G&D) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) today announced the names of the first recipients of a new fellowship for East African women crop scientists. The 11 winners come from national research institutions and universities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and were selected on the basis of their scientific achievement and leadership potential. The fellowship programme received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation.

“The two-year fellowship is designed to support professional growth, and to help ensure continued development of female science leaders for East Africa,” said Peter Matlon, Director of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Africa Regional Office. “Congratulations to this year’s winners, and to the Gender and Diversity Program for launching this important initiative.”

Over a hundred East African scientists applied for the 2005 fellowships. The next selection of fellows will be in 2006.

G&D’s purpose is to help the Future Harvest Centres of the CGIAR leverage their rich staff diversity to increase research and management excellence in realising the CGIAR mission of scientific research for sustainable food security and poverty reduction.

For the list of the 11 Fellows and background on the fellowship programme, see: http://www.genderdiversity.cgiar.org/resource/women_fellowships.asp

Media contact:

Antonia N N Okono
Communications Officer
CGIAR Gender and Diversity Program (G&D)
c/o World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)
United Nations Avenue
P.O. Box 30677-00100, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: 254-20-7224145 (direct)
254-20-7224000 (operator)
1-650-833-6645 (via USA)
Fax: 254-20-7224001 or 1-650-833-6646 (via USA)
Email: a.okono@cgiar.org
Website: www.genderdiversity.cgiar.org


Replacement found for bacterial DNA in transgenic crops

Possible spread of antibiotic resistance to gut bacteria squelched by using weed genes.

- Nature, 21 August 2005, by Roxanne Khamsi

Ayalew has designed transgenic crops that have antibiotic resistance borrowed from another plant.

Scientists may have developed a potentially less controversial way to bioengineer plants, by replacing a marker gene normally borrowed from bacteria with a gene from weeds. The new technique could make genetically modified crops less contentious in places such as Europe, the team says.

Modern technology allows experts to mix and match DNA from different organisms to enhance favourable crop properties; a gene from fish, for example, can make tomato plants frost resistant.

Most transgenic crops also contain a bacterial gene, which helps researchers distinguish between plants that have successfully picked up foreign genes and those that haven't during crop development. The two genes, one for the favourable trait and one for antibiotic resistance, are tacked together and inserted into seeds. When the growing plants are then doused with antibiotic, those that haven't picked up the foreign genes die off.

The marker gene typically comes from the Escherichia coli bacterium. But critics of the technology have pointed out that the code for antibiotic resistance could hop, in a process known as horizontal gene transfer, from the bioengineered food we eat into the bacteria that live in our gut, thereby creating a superbug and a health menace.

Gene for gene

Some companies take an extra step to remove the antibiotic-resistant gene before marketing their seeds. But this doesn't always happen (see 'Stray seeds had antibiotic-resistance genes').

Now Neal Stewart and Ayalew Mentewab of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee think they have a more foolproof way to eliminate this threat, which involves scrapping the E. coli gene and using one from a plant instead.

A gene called Atwbc19 in the well-studied weed Arabidopsis thaliana also confers antibiotic resistance; when this gene is expressed at unusually high levels it helps to capture and squelch antibiotic compounds.

Stewart and Mentewab designed a piece of DNA including this gene and another that codes for blueish pigments, making plants that pick it up easily identifiable. The Atwbc19 gene is three times larger than the antibiotic-resistance gene from bacteria. Both the large size of the gene and the fact that it comes from plants makes it less likely to hop into microbes, they say.

Weeding out fears

To test whether the Arabidopsis gene worked, they incorporated the linked genes into tobacco plants; the tobacco seedlings with the Arabidopsis gene continued to grow when blasted with antibiotics. The results appear in the journal Nature Biotechnology1.

Microbiologist Michael Syvanen of the University of California, Davis agrees that the study could calm fears about GM crops, particularly since the plant gene simply can't be expressed by bacteria. "It produces a gene which, if displaced by horizontal gene transfer back into bacteria, would never be able to confer resistance to antibiotics," he says.

The technique could be adopted in parts of the world that have remained skeptical about bioengineered foods, suggests Stewart. "There would be some interest, especially in Europe, to move away from a bacterial gene towards a plant gene," he says. But he cautions that further testing is needed. Scientists must demonstrate, for example, that the protein made from the weed gene has no negative effect in humans.


Mentewab A. & Stewart C. Nature Biotech., Advanced Online Publication. doi: 10.1038/nbt1134 (2005).


Fears of genetically modified crops are unfounded, panel says

- Lincoln Journal Star, By MARGARET REIST, Aug. 22, 2005

Eating products made with genetically modified crops is not a risky venture, despite fears such scientific tinkering generates, a panel of experts said Saturday.

"There is no example of anyone in the world being hurt or (becoming) sick, no documented case," said Michael Fromm, director for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Center for Biotechnology. "It's one thing to worry about it, but it helps to put it against that fact . . . The record is actually perfect."

The panel of five University of Nebraska researchers and professors answered questions about genetically modified foods — such as corn and soybeans — as part of a community discussion on the subject.

The citizen forum, sponsored by Leadership Lincoln and the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center, consisted of 50 randomly selected Lincoln and Lancaster County residents asked to read up on the subject then come together to discuss it.

Following small group discussions on the issue, the panel answered questions from each group at Gere Library.

Lyle Hunt, a retired Xerox technician, said he had given little thought to genetically modified food until asked to be a part of the forum.

Now, he said, he knows more, wants to learn even more, and had many of his concerns addressed by the panel — and a farmer named Jerry Minchow who was a part of his group.

"I learned a lot from Jerry because he's a farmer," Hunt said. "Lots of foods we eat are genetically modified."

That's true, according to the public policy center, which says 60 percent of the total acres of corn and 92 percent of soybeans planted last year in Nebraska were genetically modified. In 2003, genetically modified crops accounted for 25 percent of the cultivated acreage worldwide.

Minchow said he already knew raising such crops was safe or he wouldn't be doing it. A major benefit, he said, is that raising crops genetically modified to be resistant to insects means he doesn't have to use pesticides that contaminate water or pose dangers to people, he said.

"This helps me and helps the environment," he said.

Genetically modified plants have gone through much more rigorous testing than non-modified foods, said Professor Anne Vidaver, who heads the UNL Department of Plant Pathology.

Because a person's body breaks down foods, any problems would happen quickly, not long-term, Fromm said.

The biggest danger is taking a gene from a highly allergenic food such as peanuts and putting it into another food, a practice that is highly regulated, said Richard Goodman, research professor with UNL's Food Allergy Research Resource Program.

Labeling genetically modified food would be a costly proposition to both manufacturers and consumers, the panelists said.

Organic produce — which costs about twice as much as regular produce — is an example of the marketing implications, Fromm said.

Such labeling would force companies to use only genetically modified or non-modified food in their products because of the costs of ensuring there is no contamination during processing, he said.

The question is whether labeling something that's inherently safe —and paying twice as much for it — is wise, said Stephen Baenziger, UNL agronomy and horticulture professor.

"Is it worth it to label something that's inherently safe?"

Why, then, asked one of the groups, has Europe banned genetically modified foods?

The answer lies in cultural differences, a lack of trust by Europeans of their regulatory agencies — spurred on by such phenomena as mad cow disease — and an effort to protect European agriculture markets, panelists said.

Media coverage of the issue has also contributed, Fromm said.

"If you hear every day on the news that purple shoes are dangerous eventually you start worrying about purple shoes," he said.

Despite the focus on the risks, genetically modified foods offer many benefits, such as reducing the need for pesticides and adding needed vitamins or minerals, Baenziger said.

"They don't talk about the benefits," he said.


Crops aren’t healthier or safer

- Kansas City Star, By Alan McHughen (University of California at Riverside), Aug. 21, 2005

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Many organic supporters are willing to pay exorbitant costs for organic foods. They claim that organic food is worth sometimes double the regular price because it is, among other things:

■ “Natural,” grown without pesticides or antibiotics

■ Better tasting, fresher

■ Nutritionally superior

■ Grown in an environmentally sustainable manner.

But is there scientific proof from independent, nonorganic food industry-funded studies to support these claims? Let’s investigate some of the popular organic folklore.

Most organic crop varieties are no more “natural” than conventional crop varieties. They are bred using many of the same mechanisms of genetic breeding that produce conventional crops, including ionizing radiation to mutate and alter the DNA.

Organic supporters draw a fundamental distinction between man-made and natural chemicals. But nature doesn’t.

University of California scientist Bruce Ames says “99.99 percent” of consumed chemical pesticides occur naturally in all foods. So consumers of organic food are still getting a full dose of toxic pesticides provided by Mother Nature herself.

Organic farmers can add certain organically approved chemical pesticides to those already present. Unfortunately, these “natural” pesticides include such dangerous chemicals as neurotoxic rotenone, carcinogenic pyrethrins and toxic copper salts.

Organic farmers are also allowed to use antibiotics such as streptomycin and tetracycline. While the organic industry argues these are used sparingly, minimal pesticide usage is also true in conventional agriculture, noting a dramatic drop in pesticide usage in the last 20 years.

Blind taste tests — where neither investigator nor taster knows the food source — invariably show consumers cannot taste the difference between organic and regular foods. Freshness is the major factor in taste, not the method of farming. For the best-tasting food, buy the freshest produce available, whether from an organic farm or not.

Analyses from independent scientific studies show no meaningful difference between organic and regular foods in the basic nutrients — in vitamins, in minerals, in proteins or in calories. Paying more money doesn’t provide better nutrition.

No proof exists to show that organically grown foods are safer or healthier. If anything, evidence shows organic crops are more likely to carry natural pathogens and mycotoxins — the most toxic substances known.

Without effective synthetic pesticides protecting crops, natural pests and their toxic products thrive. The less effective organic pesticides allow infestations of weeds, bugs and microbes, including fungi. The fungi produce the nasty mycotoxins, which invisibly infiltrate the food.

Also, organic farmers are prohibited from using synthetic fertilizers, so they fertilize with manure and other waste, complete with bacteria and other biological contaminants.

Although the organic industry likes to equate organic with sustainable agriculture, many organic methods are, in fact, environmentally harmful. For example, weeds in organic crops are controlled mainly using tillage, which depletes more energy, uses more water and causes soil erosion compared with modern weed-control methods.

Organic agriculture also uses much more land to produce any given amount of food — hardly a sustainable practice with increasing populations and diminishing farmland.

Organic started as a “family farm” alternative to corporate agriculture, providing good quality, fresh, locally grown produce. But now much of the organic industry is itself corporately owned. The romantic dream of better, organically grown food coming exclusively from a local family farm is just that — a dream, an illusion.

IFPRI reports on Africa prospects for 2025

- CropBiotech Update, August 19, 2005

In “Looking Ahead: Long Term Prospects for Africa’s Agricultural Development and Food Security,” Mark Rosegrant and colleagues of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI http://www.isaaa.org/kc/CBTNews/features/ifpri.htm ) use scenarios to illustrate the future for Africa if current economic trends continue.

Using computer modeling to project supply, demand, price, and trade of 32 major food commodities for five regions of Sub-Saharan Africa and two regions of West Asia and North Africa through to 2025, researchers found that 1) the number of hungry children in Africa would decrease dramatically to 9.4 million by 2025, 2) West Asia and North Africa will actually see a decline of 2.3 million hungry children by 2025, and 3) agricultural production grows only modestly to 2025.

To address food and nutrition security for Africa, researchers recommend common policy priorities for governments to consider. These include 1) reform of agricultural policies, trade, and tariffs; 2) increased investment in rural infrastructure, education, and social capital; 3) better management of crops, land, water, and inputs; 4) increased agricultural research and extension; and (5) greater investments in women. The report also recommends investment in both conventional breeding and biotechnology, such as genetic engineering of key crops, tissue culture, and other molecular techniques.

The report can be downloaded at http://www.ifpri.org/2020/dp/vp41.pdf.

Supplements include fact sheets on child malnutrition in Africa, policy and investment priorities, and water and food security, all of which may be downloaded at http://www.ifpri.org/media/20050811Outlook2025.asp.

Paper recounts new GM methods

- CropBiotech Update, August 19, 2005

One of the newest methods for introducing genes into agriculturally-important crops, as well as ensuring proper insect resistance management, is gene pyramiding, or introducing more than one resistance trait into plant cells. The techniques involved are recounted by Dr. Claire Halpin of the University of Dundee in the United Kingdom, as she looks into the future “Towards ‘stacked’ traits - prospects for multi-gene manipulation in plants.” Her article appears in the latest issue of the Information Systems for Biotechnology News Report.

Current strategies in stacking traits involve adding the transgenes one at a time into plant cells, which may be done by either crossing a plant containing one transgene with other plants harboring other transgenes, or re-transforming transgenic plants with additional transgenes. Another stacking method is to introduce more than one transgene at one time, say by having different multiple DNA fragments on one tungsten bullet in biolistics. Yet another method is to link the genes together into a single sequence so that they will transfer as a single entity into a plant.

The newest strategies, Dr. Halpin writes, now involve the use of bacterial operons and internal ribosome entry sites (IRESs). In this technique, scientists can introduce a multiple number of genes into one vector, along with DNA sequences which, when transcribed, attract ribosomes to different sites of the transcript. These different sites are the start sequences of different proteins, allowing different gene products to be expressed from a single transcript.

Yet another method is to introduce a single gene with a single IRES, to be expressed as a single protein containing multiple domains. Once in a cell, this polyprotein could be broken down by the host cell into component proteins, all of which may code for different traits.

Read more at http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2005/news05.aug.htm#aug0501 http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2005/news05.aug.htm#aug0501 .