Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : http://www.agbioworld.org November 30, 2005
* Holed Up In the Alps
* Genetic Modification of Foods In France
* Bt Cotton In Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, India
* Explaining Contradictory Evidences of Bt Cotton In India
* Coexistence and GMO-Free Zones
* Avian Flu and Modern Agriculture
* South Asia Biosafety Program
* Monsanto is Delivering on Promises It Made
* 'GM-Lite' - Scientists Harness Plant Defence Mechanism
* World Production of Biotech Crops to Touch $210 Billion by 2015
* Two PNAS Papers of Interest
* Cultural Reflections (A History Professor Attacks AgBiotech in 'Nature')
Holed Up In the Alps
London (28 November 2005) - By almost the same percentage as their
counterparts in Sonoma County rejected a GM-free initiative for their
county (1), the electorate in Switzerland yesterday voted in favour
of a five-year moratorium banning the use of genetically modified
organisms in Swiss agriculture (2).
While GM crops are now making tentative progress across Europe (this
year, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Portugal, Romania and
Spain are all cultivating them commercially), Central Europe, and
particularly the more mountainous regions, feel happier cosseted in
the familiar old ways
During the campaign, there was concern expressed for the sanctity of
organic farming, a major consideration in the region. That in itself
is an interesting concept. Having abrogated the use of any trace of
GM material in their activities, parts of the organic sector now go
in fear of the slightest commingling. Whether this is based more on
philosophy than concern for brand promotion and market share is a
matter for discussion; anti-GM sentiments often do appear to be
strongly influenced by commercial considerations.
It has also been commented by observers in Switzerland itself (3)
that, compared with the earlier referendum in 1998 (4), the
pharmaceutical sector ("red GM") were less active in promoting the
cause of biotechnology before yesterday's vote. Perhaps they were a
touch complacent; the vote was not so directly about them as the
previous one had been so perhaps they felt they could afford to keep
their distance. But they were misguided to have done so. Support for
anti-science movements in the political sphere and more widely is
likely to rebound with unfortunate consequences.
Nevertheless, a moratorium is what the Swiss democratically decided
they wanted for themselves. So be it. If yesterday's vote is binding
for five years, preventing the issue from being revisited in that
period, might Switzerland turn out to be the last country in Europe
to recognise that GM agriculture brings benefits, not disasters? In
addition, farm subsidies in Switzerland and more widely in the EU
will decrease and make product income more important and hence the
economics of production more important. Swiss scientists will have to
increase their dialogue with the public, and politicians will have to
forge more pro biotech alliances. Is it moreover conceivable that one
day Swiss proponents of organic agriculture might themselves perceive
the benefits, heretical though such a concept may seem today?
Switzerland remains a splendid country if suffering a little at the
moment from a measure of alpine sickness. Hopefully the Swiss will in
due course recover their equilibrium and reassert their traditional
1. Voters reject Sonoma ban on genetically modified crops. Contra
Costa Times (9.11.05)
2. Swiss back GM moratorium and Sunday shopping. Swiss info (27
3. Klaus Ammann. Die unerträgliche Leichtigkeit des Halbwissens. Neue
Zürcher Zeitung (5 November 2005). (English translation 'Partial
knowledge' available at
4. Swiss reject genetic ban. BBC News (7 June 1998)
Genetic Modification of Foods In France
- Marketplace, National Public Radio, Nov. 28, 2005
ANCHOR TESS VIGELAND: Yesterday voters in Switzerland took genetic
modification off the table, at least a good chunk of it. They
overwhelmingly rejected the farming of genetically modified crops.
They also said "no" to the importation of any animals whose genes had
been altered in laboratories. The five-year moratorium does not apply
to medical research, and it doesn't stop imports of genetically
modified food, but these are some of the toughest restrictions in
Europe. And farmers to the west, in France, would approve. John
Laurenson reports on what could be called the new "French Resistance."
REPORTER JOHN LAURENSON: Pierre inspects a field of GM corn. It's the
first time a French farmer has talked to the media in front of a crop
of genetically modified organisms. Until now, it seemed the threat of
direct action by militant environmentalists had succeeded in keeping
France GMO free. But Pierre wanted to show his defiance, though he
won't allow his surname or the location of his farm to be publicized.
PIERRE - TRANSLATED FROM FRENCH: To protect myself and my family and
to stop my crops being attacked, I've got to be careful. But it's
worth the risk. Look at the pest damage on this normal maize. My GM
corn is perfect.
REPORTER: Pierre holds out a head of conventional corn that he's
grown nearby and gouges out white dust with his finger. Pest damage
like this has been losing him up to thirty percent of his crop,
despite using pesticides.
A harvester chomps its way through Pierre's GM corn.
According to figures leaked from the government's crop protection
agency, twelve hundred acres of GM corn will be harvested in France
this year, and the real number could be much higher. The EU has ruled
that growing this corn is legal but has left it up to national
governments to frame their own laws. Legislation in Spain, for
example, stipulates that GM and non-GM crops must be declared as such
and kept separate.
France, though, hasn't framed a law, so in a country famous for its
anti-GMO militancy, growing GM corn is almost completely unregulated.
Others, though, have been all too willing to impose a law of their
own. Jose Bouvier, kissing a supporter on the cheek, says he and
eight other so-called reaper volunteers arrive at a court in
Toulouse. It's the fourth time the left wing peasant leader's been
charged with destroying GM crops. Last time, he served ten weeks in
jail. He believes GMOs are a threat to public health and small scale
farming and that now his own government is introducing them by
JOSE BOUVIER - I think this is organized to impose GMOs to the
population, to say, well, this year there may be five hundred acres.
We don't know, really. So, that means that we have GMOs everywhere,
so it has no sense to still go on to fight against GMOs.
REPORTER: The government refused to comment. The public, though, is
keen to share its opinion. In stores like this, it's common to see
"sans OGM," GMO Free, on the packaging of everything from bottled
soup to soy milk. It's a sales argument. In France, the aunties
aren't as fond of the mutant Franken-food horror movie vocabulary as
their counterparts in some English speaking countries, but shoppers
are deeply dubious about GM food nevertheless.
1st UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE - TRANSLATED FROM FRENCH: It worries me a
bit. I don't really trust it.
2nd UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE - TRANSLATED FROM FRENCH: GM food hasn't been
around long enough for us to know what the disadvantages are.
3rd UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE - TRANSLATED FROM FRENCH: I like everything
that's healthy natural. I like eating well, and that means without
REPORTER: Back at Pierre's farm, the combine harvester spews corn
into a container. Pierre isn't even going to try to sell this corn in
France. It'll be sold in Spain as animal feed, if Mr. Bouvier and his
supporters don't find him first. In the South of France, I'm John
Laurenson for Marketplace.
Bt Cotton In Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, India
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and
Education, India; krao.at.vsnl.com
The article 'Centre admits failure of Bt cotton in 2 States', in the
Hindu (November 27, 2005) speaks volumes of the reporter's ignorance
of Bt cotton related issues.
The establishment of referral labs to detect the presence of Bt by
the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) in Nagpur and by the
Department of Seed Certification, Tamil Nadu, at Coimbatore, are
steps in the right direction, and so is the advice of the Central
Government to the State Governments, to constitute special flying
squads to prevent sale of illegal Bt cottonseed and undertake massive
campaigns to educate farmers on the subject. I wish that the
Government included journalists too, to receive such education.
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) and the Governments
at the Centre and the States must take expeditious and stringent
action against dealers of both the spurious Bt cottonseed and
authentic Bt cottonseed of below optimal quality and make them pay
compensation to the genuinely affected. There must be records with
each supplier of the seed about the farmers who have bought seed from
them, which should help to track the truth about failure of seed
germination and the dealers related to it. Nevertheless, complaints
of seed germination should come immediately after the sowing season
and not after one or even two pickings of cotton.
The problem with the Hindu article is that it puts the whole onus on
The article says that 'the Government on Friday conceded the failure
of Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan'. Which Friday? When did
Rajya Sabha meet this week (preceding November 27) for Sharad Pawar
to make such a statement? This is quite an old story about Andhra
Pradesh, dressed up to look hot. It is garbage we seek to recycle for
use in different forms. Reports on serious and explosive issues
should not fall into this category. Then, where are the reports on
failure of Bt cotton in Rajasthan? ~ The writer states that
'subsequently, permission for sale of the Monsanto-Mahyco varieties
of MECH seeds had not been renewed for Andhra Pradesh this kharif'.
This happened six months ago, and not subsequent to the Friday, of
the writer. ~ The statement that 'The Centre has asked the
cotton-growing State Governments to take action against producers,
suppliers and vendors of spurious Bt cotton seeds that have failed to
germinate or are non-Bt cotton seeds being sold in the name of
transgenic seeds at exorbitant prices' is most welcome. If the Centre
has asked the 'States to monitor the performance of Bt cotton by
constituting State Level and District Level Coordination Committees',
it means that the States have not complied with this important
regulation. Cultivation of any transgenic crop, in those States
and/or Districts where such Committees have not been functioning, is
irregular and the State Governments should be taken to task. To my
question at an International Conference in Delhi in the last week of
September, an officer of the Department of Biotechnology, Government
of India, said that only 13 States have State Level Committees. No
one seems to be wiser on the District Level Committees.
The GEAC had denied renewal of permission for commercial cultivation
of three Bt MECH varieties for the 2005 cotton season, in Andhra
Pradesh, reportedly on the basis of a report from the State
Government. Curiously, permission for the cultivation of the same
three varieties was renewed even in the States neighbouring Andhra
Pradesh. Wonder if plants and their pests respect Government
directives and stop trans-State migration.
I have seen the two letters from the Commissioner and Director of
Agriculture, Government of Andhra Pradesh, which were reported to
have triggered GEAC's decision.
In a letter dated April 11, 2005, the Commissioner sent the following
reports to the GEAC:
a) 'Farmers feedback' collected by her Department for the cotton
season of 2002 (and not other seasons): It reported low to moderate
incidence of the bollworm and moderate to high incidence of sucking
pests. Low yields compared to indigenous popular hybrids were also
reported, but this comparison is incorrect, since comparisons should
be with the isogenics and not whatever else. The report states that
the majority of farmers have not expressed their opinion on the
intention to grow Bt cotton in 2003-2004, but the Mahyco's sale
statistics indicate that the majority did buy Bt seed during the two
This report from the Department is sketchy and unscientific. How many
farmers were contacted and where, whether they bought the seed from
authentic Mahyco outlets and several other relevant questions, are
still unanswered questions.
b) The report of the Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University
(ANGAU): This report covers the four agro-climatic cotton zones of
the State, for the 2002 and 2003 seasons and not the 2004 season.
Over all, the number of sprays was less than for non-Bt cotton. The
potential of Bt varieties to control bollworm was recognized
particularly in the North and South Telengana and the Kurnool
regions. It also states that during 2003, Bt cotton varieties have
performed well compared to non-Bt hybrids.
c) the report of the State Level Committee: This report covers only
Medak and Ranga Reddy districts, where the crop was rain fed. For the
2003 season, it recorded low to no incidence of bollworm damage.
During the 2004 season the District Level Committees received reports
of poor seed germination in several districts and this cannot be
taken as a comment on the Bt technology as such, though references
are made to the quality of MECH 12 for yield parameters, which also
is not the function of Bt technology. These Committees approved
compensation for several farmers.
The Commissioner stated that 'in view of the above facts, it is
suggested that critical analysis on the performance of the varieties
may be made before permitting further renewal of the commercial
marketing in the State of Andhra Pradesh'. She did not recommend the
withdrawal of permission for the three MECH varieties.
The Commissioner wrote another letter to the GEAC on April 30, 2005,
and she simply attached the letter and reports of April 11, 2005, to
this letter. In this letter she stated that a) Bt varieties had a
mixed performance, b) Rasi's RCH2 performed better than MECH
varieties and c) 'the overall productivity of cotton crop both in Bt
and on-Bt varieties increased over the period from 2002 to 2004' in
Reports from all the three sources are rather sketchy, no information
on the number of farmers, their location, the season, the variety,
growing conditions, rain fall, irrigation, pest pressure and others,
to make a proper evaluation. The reports smack of impressions and
cannot be taken as scientific surveys.
It is a little perplexing that the GEAC had discontinued three MECH
varieties in Andhra Pradesh, reportedly based on the recommendation
of the State Government, which is not evident in the documents
submitted to the GEAC by the Commissioner for Agriculture of the
State. A GEAC source said that since Agriculture is a State subject,
the views of the State had to be given due weightage.
The ban by the Government of Andhra Pradesh on the sale of MECH
varieties followed GEAC's decision. The Decision of the Andhra
Pradesh Government does not seem to be based on a rational valuation
of the ground realities and contingent factors. It is unfortunate
that appeasement and other kinds of inept politics seem to have ruled
the roost. The situation would probably have been different, had the
previous Government continued in power.
The anti-tech brigade will lap up the Hindu's report of November 27,
2005. Certainly there are some genuine cases of failure of seed
germination and inadequate bollworm protection in some Bt varieties,
in some of the places. The reasons for these failures should be
evaluated and remedied. But most farmers could easily lured by the
very tempting proposition to gain from the technology and also get
compensation from the seed dealer or even the Governments, supported
by the activists.
Explaining Contradictory Evidence Regarding Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries. Varietal Performance of Transgenic Cotton In India.
- Bennett, R.; Ismael, Y.; Morse, S. 2005. Journal of Agricultural Science. 143. 1. 35 - 41.
Abstract: A study of the commercial growing of different varieties of
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton compares the performance of
growing official and unofficial hybrid varieties of Bt cotton and
conventional (non-Bt) hybrids in Gujarat by 622 farmers.
Results suggest that the official Bt varieties (MECH 12 and MECH 162)
significantly outperform the unofficial varieties. However,
unofficial, locally produced Bt hybrids can also perform
significantly better than non-Bt hybrids, although second generation
(F2) Bt seed appears to have no yield advantage compared to non-Bt
hybrids but can save on insecticide use. Although hybrid vigour is
reduced, or even lost, with F2 seed the Bt gene still confers some
advantage. The F2 seed is regarded as 'GM' by the farmers (and is
sold as such), even though its yield performance is little better
than the non-GM hybrids.
The results help to explain why there is so much confusion arising
from GM cotton release in India.
Coexistence and GMO-Free Zones
- Request from Prof. Drew Kershen < dkershen.at.ou.edu >
Dear Friends: Recently I read about a coexistence study that is
on-going (and therefore may not yet be published as a report). If it
has been published as a preliminary or final report, I would
appreciate a copy. I would also appreciate information about the
study - i.e. has a report been published on only the news item about
The item is as follows: 'Safe Coexistence At 20 Meters Distance' by
Ralph Sommer (translated by Barbara Duebeldeiss for Checkbiotech) -
German molecular biologists develop recommendations for cultivation
of genetically engineered maize. Inge Broer, Professor of Molecular
Biology at Rostock University. Dr. Broer and fellow scientists
conducted field trials throughout Germany. At 20 meters distance,
they determined that the crosspollination was below the legally
allowed threshold (i.e. 0.9%). I would much appreciate a copy of the
report either in German or English (preferable).
Also, recently, I read the following post about the debate on Prince
Edward Island: "A recent study prepared by the George Morris Centre
at the University of Guelph for the Prince Edward Island Certified
Organic Producers Co-op examining the merits of making the Island a
GMO- free zone, was cited as concluding that producers would be able
to secure little - if any - premium in the marketplace."
Does anyone have a copy of the George Morris Centre report? If so,
please send it to me as an attachment. Thank you.
- Drew L. Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law, University
of Oklahoma College of Law, Norman, OK; dkershen.at.ou.edu
- Request from Prof. Tom DeGregori
Dear All: I have been following this exchange from Africa and now I
am back. Pardon me for asking a non-biotech question but in my
judgment, the reason that anti-biotech arguments are so readily
accepted by so many is that there has been a long term attack against
all aspects of modern food production so that an attack against any
segment of it already has a prepared and receptive audience. In order
to defend biotechnology, some of us have to be involved in defending
modern agriculture in general.
In any case, I have sent the following question to the CDC and WHO. I
would appreciate any suggestions as to where else that I could send
it that has the possibility of getting a reasonable informed answer.
My question: The following quote appeared today in an op-ed piece in
a major newspaper in the United States: "H5N1 is a product of
intensive poultry production, especially in regions like Southeast
Asia with scanty farm hygiene and large live-bird markets, which
create a hothouse environment for influenza viruses and a
transmission route to people." The author also added "large live-bird
markets" as an additional villain.
This quote is typical of any number of comments that I have seen in
recent op-ed pieces on Avian Flu where the author seemed to have an
agenda of attacking modern "intensive poultry production" or what is
also called "industrial agriculture" by its critics.
Are these claims correct? I have been following the news carefully as
I travel to this region frequently and I lived in Indonesian where I
was involved in the study of agriculture. From the news accounts, it
seems that most humans contacting bird flu are getting it directly
from small backyard operations or from the markets served by them. Am
I wrong in this observation?
My observation in Indonesia was that birds from the large breeder
operations were sold mainly to supermarkets or to wholesalers or
primarily serviced large hotel and restaurant establishments. Am I
not correct that these later have not been the source of the avian
flu to human transmissions?
I would appreciate your guidance on this matter. Thank you
- Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, University of
Houston, Department of Economics 204 McElhinney Hall, Houston, Texas
South Asia Biosafety Program
Developing countries need to be in a position to establish systems of
governance that diligently and judiciously respond to national and
international developments associated with biotechnology. The South
Asia Biosafety Program is intended to support governments and their
stakeholder communities as they continue to develop and respond to
national policies and regulations governing biotechnology products to
spur economic growth and food security while ensuring the protection
of human health and the environment.
Modern biotechnology offers powerful new tools for improving
agricultural productivity, environmental sustainability, and
nutritional quality of staple foods. These new technologies are
helping to guide more precise crop and livestock breeding efforts, to
diagnose crop and livestock diseases, and to develop more effective
livestock vaccines. New crop varieties developed using biotechnology
are being rapidly adopted by millions of large and small farmers in
both industrial and developing countries. From 1996 to 2003 a
cumulative total of over 300 million hectares of biotech crops were
planted globally in 21 countries and in 2003 more than 85% of the 7
million farmers benefiting from these crops were resource-poor
farmers in developing regions.
The South Asia Biosafety Program (SABP), with support from the United
States Agency for International Development (USAID), is dedicated to
assisting the Governments of Bangladesh and India in further
strengthening institutional governance of biotechnology. The program
builds on existing efforts to advise governments on enhancing and
streamlining government systems to realize the benefits of
agricultural biotechnology within a transparent, efficient and
responsive regulatory framework that ensures the safety of new foods
and animal feeds, and protects the environment.
Through a combination of public and private consultations, SABP
activities are both responsive to local needs and are designed to add
value to existing regulatory, communications and policy capacities
within India and Bangladesh. This is being achieved by collaborations
with ministries of agriculture, health, science and environment;
district governments; national research and policy institutions;
stakeholders in the agricultural sector; non-governmental
organizations, farmers groups and other development agencies.
Over the next three years, SABP will work with its in-country partners to:
* Identify and respond to technical training needs for food, feed and
environmental safety assessment.
* Develop a sustainable network of trained, authoritative local
experts to communicate both the benefits and the concerns associated
with new agricultural biotechnologies to farmers and other
* Facilitate systems for permitting the safe conduct of experimental
field trials of new crops developed using biotechnology so that
scientists and farmers can evaluate them.
* Raise the profile of biotechnology and biosafety on the policy
agenda within India and to address the policy issues within the
overall context of economic and agricultural development,
international trade and environmental sustainability.
Proceedings of a recent meeting on "GM Crops - Issues for Consumers,
Regulators and Scientists" at
Monsanto is Delivering on Promises It Made
- Rachel Melcer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov 26, 2005 http://www.stltoday.com/
In cookies and crackers made without trans fats, and soy milk that
doesn't feel gritty, Monsanto Co. is consummating a promise made to
After years in development, the Creve Coeur agribusiness giant is
delivering the first seeds from a pipeline aimed at making foods
healthier, tastier, easier to ship and store, or better for
processing. It adds to Monsanto's booming business of improving crops
for farmers by boosting yield and reducing the need to apply
pesticides and herbicides.
This fall, contract farmers harvested the first commercial crop -
100,000 acres of Vistive soybeans, bred by Monsanto to contain a
reduced level of linolenic acid. This change makes the soybean oil
more stable, so it doesn't need to be partially hydrogenated for
longer shelf life. Partial hydrogenation creates unhealthy trans fats.
The oil will be in some consumer products by Jan. 1, when a new
government regulation requires trans fat content to be included on
food labels, Monsanto said. "It will be out in crackers and cookies
in a couple of months," said Robb Fraley, Monsanto's chief technical
Coming close on the heels of Vistive are other consumer-benefit products:
* Soybeans bred with higher levels of beta-conglycinin, which will
improve taste and texture in products such as soy milk, meat
alternatives and energy bars.
* Vegetables bred for a variety of consumer characteristics, such as
melons that last longer after cutting, or sweeter corn.
* Soybeans genetically modified to contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which
improve heart health and may have other benefits such as reducing
swelling in arthritis.
Later versions of Vistive soybeans, genetically modified for further
oil profile improvements - making the oil stable for baking uses; and
adding oleic acid, a healthy monounsaturated fat that boosts good HDL
Monsanto will begin marketing these food offerings at the same time
it introduces a next generation of beneficial agronomic traits in
soybeans, corn, cotton and canola, Fraley said. Monsanto hasn't said
how much of its business the food products eventually will comprise,
but the company is promising strong overall growth in the foreseeable
"We are entering an exponential phase of research and development
discovery," Fraley said. "I'm excited because ... this is absolutely
an unparalleled pipeline in our history." All of the products are
the result of genetic technology - but only some are genetically
modified, a controversial practice that has raised opposition
primarily in Europe.
Monsanto scientists analyze the genetic makeup of particular seed
varieties and mark genes that are responsible for desirable traits.
They cross-breed plants to combine and bring out those traits,
informing and speeding up a practice used in agriculture for
centuries based on simple observation.
In the case of genetic modification, they are adding traits across
plant or bacteria species. The Omega-3 enriched soybeans, for
example, likely will contain traits from algae, fungi or other things
eaten by fish, which are naturally high in the fatty acid.
In both of these cases, Monsanto has a deep pool from which to draw
because it owns a lot of seeds that provide the germplasm or genetic
material, Fraley said. The company was criticized by Wall Street for
a string of expensive seed-company acquisitions in the 1990s. But
those buys were necessary, Fraley said, because the company needed a
business beyond genetically modified crops.
"We started to get a sense that (breeding) was not only going to be
really important, but that it was going to undergo a big change,"
Fraley said. "For all practical purposes, breeding today is molecular
breeding. ... And all of this is based on the same fundamental
technology in being able to characterize and understand genes."
The ability to produce valuable crops that are not genetically
modified gives Monsanto an entry into markets, such as much of the
European Union, that continue to resist the technology. But in the
United States, Brazil, Argentina and other countries, the hybrid
seeds will carry biotech traits demanded by growers - most notably,
the Roundup Ready trait that allows them to more efficiently use
glyphosate weed killer.
More than 80 percent of the soybean crop in the U.S., Brazil and
Argentina - the top three soybean producers - are Roundup Ready. So,
American consumers of most processed foods containing soybean oil
already are eating a genetically modified ingredient - though 58
percent do not realize it, according to a study released this month
by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, a Washington-based
nonprofit that works to stimulate debate.
Half of Americans in the survey said they oppose genetically modified
foods. But, in a related string of questions, respondents who opposed
genetically modifying or cloning animals in general were more
accepting of that technology if it reduced the transmission of
potentially deadly diseases such as avian flu and mad cow disease.
"One interpretation of that data is that people are asking, 'What
will be the benefit to me?' And that would suggest that some of these
kinds of products that have direct consumer benefits ... might be
expected to meet with greater consumer acceptance," said Michael
Fernandez, executive director of the Pew initiative.
Those who strongly oppose the technology are unlikely to be swayed,
he said. But that represents less than 20 percent of Pew's poll
respondents. Stephanie Childs, spokeswoman for the Grocery
Manufacturers Association (of which Monsanto is a member), said that
GMA companies are seeing demand for improved foods. "Consumers are
looking for the best of all worlds. They (want) improved health and
taste. And innovations in food science are allowing us to give them
ingredients that meet all of their demands," she said.
At Monsanto, Fraley said he has seen a shift in the food-processing
industry over the last five years. Where he once had trouble getting
companies' attention, now they are calling him. Demand for the first
generation of Vistive soybeans is high.
Ventura Foods LLC, a large food service company based in Brea,
Calif., is using the new Vistive oil in a zero-trans-fat frying oil
product. If the response is good, it will become a principal brand
for Ventura - and the company is likely to follow up with the next
generation of Vistive products, said Kelly Brintle, senior vice
president of corporate strategy and business development.
Ventura supplies industrial operations such as hospitals,
universities and nursing homes, as well as smaller food-service
providers. But it recently acquired the Marie's brand of salad
dressings, which will lead it to the consumer market.
Brintle sees strong demand for healthier foods, driven by the aging
and more affluent baby boomer demographic. He believes people not
only will accept biotech foods with such benefits, but will pay a
premium for them.
"There's a new, higher level of expectations" for so-called
functional foods such as calcium-enriched juices and fortified
cereals, he said. Monsanto products such as soy foods with added
Omega-3 nutrients, and biotech soybean cooking oil that is as healthy
as olive oil, are a natural extension of that trend. "Those types of
products are going to become our normal foods - they won't be
'functional foods' any longer," Brintle said.
Yet other observers say there's a line that many consumers aren't
ready to cross with biotech foods: the division between processed
items, with long lists of often unintelligible ingredients, and fresh
produce. "People feel differently (about biotech) if you're going to
bite into an apple," Fernandez said. The introduction of more
identifiable genetically modified products, such as cooking oil or
soy foods, "is going to be the toe in the water" that could indicate
consumers' ultimate reaction.
In the meantime, Monsanto is content to use its molecular breeding
technology when it comes to fruits and vegetables. The company
recently acquired Seminis Inc. of Oxnard, Calif., and became one of
the world's largest providers of produce seeds.
It is just beginning to comb Seminis' germplasm for valuable traits,
and already has identified genes that could give tomatoes resistance
to nematodes, a common pest. In the first four weeks after the
acquisition, Monsanto found 1,000 markers to help with sweet corn
breeding. It also is studying peppers and melons.
"These are the types of examples that you will see repeated in
hundreds of thousands of (cases) as molecular breeding gets fully
applied in the vegetable world," Fraley told financial analysts
during a recent conference that was Webcast to the public.
Monsanto is enthusiastic about providing consumer benefits, Fraley
said. But that will go hand in hand with continuing to develop traits
that are useful for farmers - otherwise, no one will grow the crops.
"The key is, you can't go overboard one way or the other," he said.
"You have to have good yield, good properties for the (animal) feed
market, for seed production and the farmer, and for processing. We're
Monsanto's consumer focus
Product: Vistive low-linolenic soybeans
Benefit: Allows food processors to avoid adding trans fat to products
Timing: Shipped to processors this fall; will be in consumer goods
early next year
Product: High beta-conglycinin soybeans, being marketed by Solae Co.
Benefit: Improved flavor and texture for foods like soy milk, meat
alternatives and energy bars
Timing: Will ship to farmers in spring 2007
Product: Hybrid corn, melons, peppers, tomatoes and other produce
Benefit: Improved taste, shelf life, growing and processing characteristics
Timing: Three to seven years away from market
Product: Omega-3 enriched soybeans
Benefit: Shown to improve heart health and may help with arthritis
and other conditions
Timing: Seven years away from market
'GM-Lite' Scientists Harness Plant Defence Mechanism
A cheaper, safer and more productive alternative to genetically
modified crops could soon be available. A team of scientists in
Canberra has discovered a plant defence process that can silence
certain genes to control specific plant features.
Dr Peter Waterhouse, from the CSIRO, says by triggering the
mechanism, plant productivity, disease resistance, even the colour of
flowers can be made to order. He has dubbed the process "GM-lite"
because no additional proteins from other organisms have to be added.
"A nice example of this is you might want to make decaffeinated
coffee," he said. "What we can do is take the gene that makes
caffeine in the coffee plant and switch it off.
"Tell the plant that this caffeine gene is, if you like, is a virus
and the plant says, 'Oh I don't like that gene any more, it's a
virus' and it kills it off. "Therefore the plant lives quite
normally, it makes the normal coffee beans but without the caffeine."
World Production of Biotech Crops to Touch $210 Billion by 2015
- Web India, November 27, 2005 http://news.webindia123.com
New Delhi -- Global production of biotech crops including grains,
oilseeds, fruits and vegetables is expected to touch to 210 billion
dollars by 2015, predicts an Australian study. Australian economists
say this projection has been based on a full adoption with 10 per
cent productivity gains in high and middle-income countries, and 20
per cent in low-income countries.
As the population increases in Asia, specially India and China, the
countries are bound to adapt biotechnology to feed its growing
population and the opposition to biotech food crops like rice is
likely to dissipate, according to a report circulated by the US
Grains Council (USGC) here.
China, India and the Philippines are pushing research on a few
varieties of biotech rice containing the BT gene, which is resistant
to corn borer pest, the leading destroyer of corn crops in Asia.
Gurdev Singh Kush, a consultant with International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI) and a World Food Prize recipient, has said ''Some
day GM rice will be approved in Asia. As per reports available, the
number of rice consumers is likely to increase to 4 billion by 2030
as almost 70 per cent of the rice consumers live in Asia.'' Other
biotech rice, containing the Xa21 gene which is resistant to the
bacterial blight pest and golden rice rich in Vitamin A, are also
being studied and may be released in comming ywears.
Iran on the other hand has claimed to be the first country to
commercialise GM rice in 2004 after nearly 10 years of risk
assessment, including field trials.
GM crops are being embraced in developing countries much faster and
there is a greater interest in high-yielding, pest-resistant crops
that can increase productivity and profits to the farmers, the report
added. China expects the gains to be 1 billion dollars from Bt Cotton
and 4 billion dollars from GM rice by 2010. In India, fours years
since biotech cotton was introduced, sales of transgenic seeds has
jumped by over 30 times. After the initial success, Monsanto plans to
introduce Bt Cotton with 2 genes, which it claims will be 10 times
more effective. Bollgard II, as it has been named is in its final
year of field trials and will be released in the next season.
With GM Cotton and GM Rice ready to be adopted in India and China, it
is likely that the gains from the technology will be huge. It will
benefit small farmers in developing countries immensely and will also
make them competitive in the world market. Clive James, Chairman and
founder of International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications (ISAAA) says, 'While the West argues, the developing
world is planting biotech crops'.
In 2003, the number of developing countries growing biotech crops was
6, while in 2004, it increased to 11. As per ISAAA, more than 34 per
cent of the global biotech crop under 81 million hectares of land
last year was grown in developing countries. The benefits accrued to
producers from biotech crops in 2003 in the US were 1.9 billion
dollars, while in Argentina, the gains were to the tune of 1.7
billion dollars in 2001-02, the USGC report said.
Two articles of likely interest to AgBioView readers: A new issue of
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 29 2005;
Vol. 102, No. 48 (From Prof. Tom DeGregori)
Transgenic rice for allergy immunotherapy
- Shengwu Ma and Anthony M. Jevnikar
PNAS 2005;102 17255-17256
Glyphosate inhibits rust diseases in glyphosate-resistant wheat and soybean
- Paul C. C. Feng, G. James Baley, William P. Clinton, Greg J.
Bunkers, Murtaza F. Alibhai, Timothy C. Paulitz, and Kimberlee K.
Kidwell PNAS 2005;102 17290-17295
- Howard P. Segal, Nature 438, 562-563; December 1, 2005 www.nature.com
Book Reviewed: 'Hubris and Hybrids: A Cultural History of Technology
and Science' by Mikael Hård & Andrew Jamison; Routledge: 2005. 335
pp. $90 (hbk); $29.95 (pbk)
It is a truism that culture, broadly defined, shapes science and
technology as much as they shape culture. This once controversial
position became the conventional wisdom decades ago, after purely
internal histories of science and technology, followed by largely
uncritical interpretations of their developments, were displaced as
the dominant models.
In their excellent book Hubris and Hybrids, historians Mikael Hård
and Andrew Jamison engage in a cultural assessment of science and
technology. They replace the traditional 'heroic tale' of scientific
genius with stories of the frequently mixed blessings of science and
The 'hubris' of the title is reflected in James Watson's book The
Double Helix (Atheneum, 1968), which recounts the race to discover
the structure of DNA. In Watson's book the professional and monetary
rewards were seen virtually as ends in themselves; there was a role
for intuition along with conventional scientific methods; there was
questionable treatment of peers; and there was little concern for the
social and moral consequences of research. For Watson, limits to
either human intelligence or human power over nature had virtually
disappeared. Yet Watson never denied his own flaws, and so helped to
push scientific heroes off their traditional pedestals.
But even this account is too 'romantic' for Hård and Jamison, who
seek even franker explorations of science from inside the laboratory
- but only if paired with external (yet no less frank) analyses, such
as Vandana Shiva's Stolen Harvest (South End, 2000). 'Hybrids' is the
implicit theme of Shiva's book, which describes the way large
corporations use the biotechnology derived from the genetic code.
Some of these enterprises make huge profits while exploiting poor
farmers, harming the environment, and undermining traditional
balances between mankind and nature.
Hård and Jamison describe this story as a "tragedy" but wisely go
beyond merely stressing the victimization. They never reduce their
stories to wholesale good versus evil. Instead they focus on the
growing convergence between science and technology into
'technoscience'. This is not simply about the elimination of most of
the remaining barriers between scientific discovery and technological
applications. It is also the story of changing meanings of being
human, as we incorporate ever more technology within ourselves and
our immediate surroundings. The authors discuss the possible cloning
of people in the future, as well as current issues such as the
implantation of mechanical devices, the increased consumption of
genetically engineered foods, a growing reliance on mobile phones and
the Internet for daily communication, and endless modifications of
the natural environment.
The authors invoke the influential concept of 'cyborgs': beings that
are like humans in their ability to learn, feel and experience
consciousness, but also like machines in having been 'programmed' to
learn, feel and experience the world in only particular forms. Hence
the authors' proper use of 'hybrids', a term they creatively apply to
Hård and Jamison also provide useful summaries of the writings of
earlier scholars, including Lewis Mumford, Siegfried Giedion, Lynn
White and Raymond Williams, who all provided ground-breaking studies
of science and technology in broad historical and cultural contexts,
and Thomas Kuhn and Michel Foucault, who offered penetrating
critiques of science and technology as being to varying degrees
socially constructed. Hård and Jamison revisit, update and sometimes
revise these earlier studies. By contrast, they criticize the
founding editors of the leading journals of the history of science
(George Sarton) and of the history of technology (Melvin Kranzberg)
for promoting traditional uncritical views. Sarton's journal Isis may
once have been guilty as charged, but Kranzberg's Technology and
Culture was never so one-sided.
Far from being a critique of the excesses of only modern science and
technology, Hubris and Hybrids is an extremely wide-ranging
historical survey. Its coverage begins with the Scientific
Revolution, Britain's Industrial Revolution, and the Enlightenment.
More modern topics include technocracy movements, artistic uses of
science and technology from William Morris to the film The Matrix,
appropriate technology, the greening of corporate America and Europe,
film and industrial design, and Asian developments. The richness of
the authors' observations on these historical phenomena is
exemplified by their comments on the medieval period: "eyeglasses and
mirrors created opportunities to experience a technically mediated
The authors hardly claim expertise in every area they discuss, but
even so I was disappointed by their simplified comments on Mary
Shelley's Frankenstein. Not only do Hård and Jamison follow most
other commentators in wrongly describing Victor Frankenstein's
unnamed and quickly abandoned creature as a "monster", but they also
follow the crowd in wrongly characterizing Victor as a "mad
scientist". Except in appearance, the "creature" -- as he is usually
called until the novel's later stages -- is repeatedly portrayed as
more human and humane than his creator. In my view, this should have
been connected with the authors' own emphasis on humanity's changing
identities. As for Victor, he is quite sane but is extraordinarily
self-centred, as indifferent towards his family and friends as he is
to his creature. Ironically, his creature embodies Victor's missing
Were Victor truly mad, he might well have escaped Shelley's actual
target: his refusal to take responsibility for his research project.
Here the authors missed the opportunity to use Frankenstein to
bolster their own case. Neither work is a Luddite tract. Shelley
argues that only if scientific experiments prove harmful to society
should they be stopped. Hubris and Hybrids extends this same position
to inventors and engineers.
Recognizing that the relationship between the past and the future is
different for historians from that for scientists, inventors and
engineers, Hård and Jamison wisely offer no simple historical
lessons, much less any silly predictions. What they provide instead
are provocative and perceptive reflections that deserve to reach a
wide general audience.
Howard P. Segal is in the Department of History, University of Maine,
Orono, Maine 04469-5774, US