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December 7, 2005


Higher GM Yields; GM wheat offers new salinity hope; GM technology tried in fight against pollution


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: December 7, 2005

* re: Schubert - Is Plant Breeding Different from GM
* Study says farmers benefiting from higher yields, lower costs
* Minister announces GM reference group
* GM wheat offers new salinity hope
* Harnessing Biotechnology For The Caribbean – Part II
* GM technology tried in fight against pollution

From: "Roger and Carolyn Morton"
Subject: re: Schubert - Is Plant Breeding Different from GM
Date: Thu, 8 Dec 2005 00:09:45 +1100

I found the Schubert piece on Is Plant Breeding Different from GM? refreshing in that he actually talks science rather than ideology. However, I have three factual bones to pick.

1. The assertion that the recombination events of conventional breeding are non-mutageneic is wrong. Below are three references where the recombination junctions of mutants produced by convetional breeding have been analysised. This data shows how the recombination events of conventional breeding are mutagenic. And since the production of a conventional plant variety requires many cycles of crossing there will be a large number of mutatgeneic events happening in the production of a conventionally bred variety. Thus, conventional breeding and GM breeding are very similar in this regard.

Anderson PA, Lawrence GJ, Morrish BC, Ayliffe MA, Finnegan EJ, Ellis JG. Plant Cell 1997 Apr;9(4):641-51 Inactivation of the flax rust resistance gene M associated with loss of a repeated unit within the leucine-rich repeat coding region. M Parniske and JDG Jones Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 1999 96: 5850-5855 Recombination between diverged clusters of the tomato Cf-9 plant disease resistance gene family D Leister, J Kurth, DA. Laurie, M Yano,T Sasaki, K Devos, A Graner, and P Schulze-Lefert Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 1998 95 : 370-375 Rapid reorganization of resistance gene homologues in cereal genomes

2. Another point I would take issue with is Schubert's assertion kanamycin resistance is uncommon in bacterial pathogens and that we should be wary of kanamycin resistance as a marker gene in plants. Isn't the point of the argument that kanamycin resistant bacteria are everywhere, we eat them all the time and they live in our guts? So how does adding a tiny fraction more kanamycin resistance DNA going to increase any risks? Does Schubert have evidence to refute these facts?

3. I would also call into question Schubert's claim that transpositional mutagensis does not happen in conventionally bred crops. What about corn? Isn't it common knowledge that transposons are mutagenic and active in the corn crop? - reference anyone? I think transposons are probably active in all crop plants - we just have not discovered them. For example a mass screening for rust resistance genes in Flax revealed a mutation that when examined further was discovered to be caused by a flax transposable element (JE. Luck et al Plant Journal 16 p365 1998) It had not been discovered because no-one had done a mass screening in the Flax plant.


Study says farmers benefiting from higher yields, lower costs

- ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, By Rachel Melcer, 12/06/2005

As the number of commercially available, genetically modified crops grows, so do the benefits reaped by American farmers, according to a study released Tuesday by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy.

With each new product introduction, the total acreage of genetically modified, or GM, crops planted in the United States increases, said the study's author, Sujatha Sankula. Competition does not appear to be stealing market share from Creve Coeur-based Monsanto Co., the world's leading provider of biotech seeds and traits; instead, the overall market is expanding, she said.

"It's not a substitution" of one product for another, Sankula said. Biotech crops "will be planted on more acreage than before, and therefore there will be more benefits to growers."

Some critics say the ultimate effects of GM crops on human health and the environment are unknown and suspect, but 10 years of use and study have shown no significant harms. Farmers quickly adopted the technology that allows them to cut down on the use of pesticides and herbicides, boost yield and reduce costs.

In 2004, biotech crops were planted on 118 million U.S. acres, an increase of 11 percent over the previous year, the study found. Growers using these varieties, as opposed to conventional crops, realized an additional $2.3 billion in income last year - largely due to an increase in yield of 6.6 billion pounds and a reduction in pesticide use of 62 million pounds, the study said.

It looked at the use of several GM varieties: herbicide-resistant canola, corn, soybeans and cotton; insect-resistant corn and cotton; and virus-resistant papaya and squash.

Each of the benefits - rising farm income, lower production costs and less pesticide use - swelled over the previous year because of the increased acreage, Sankula said.

Donna Winters, a third-generation farmer from Lake Providence, La., is supporting the study by sharing her experience with the media. Her 3,000-acre farm includes about 1,000 acres of soybeans plus 600 acres each of cotton and canola - all genetically modified. She planted the first available biotech crop, Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans, a decade ago.

"I just know the benefits of it. I know what I've seen on our farm, (including) positive benefits to the environment," she said.

Using biotech crops allows growers to plant without tilling the soil, which reduces costs, soil erosion and dust. That practice, along with the reduced use of pesticides, has made Winters' farm more welcoming to wildlife, she said. Species such as wild turkeys, red fox and quail have returned to the area in recent years.

But her true motivation for using GM crops is economic. She estimates a savings of $19 an acre, plus improved yield, in using Roundup Ready soybeans over conventional varieties.

"Growers are really savvy businessmen," Sankula said. "If they try something and it doesn't work for them, they won't try it again the next year."

Her study shows that demand has increased, year over year, since the initial NCFAP survey in 2001. As new traits are introduced to the market, they quickly are adopted.

In 2004, there was an increase in the use of LibertyLink crops, produced by Des Moines, Iowa-based Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., a DuPont subsidiary. LibertyLink cotton, canola and corn can resist applications of glufosinate-ammonium herbicide, which Pioneer sells as Liberty.

These products compete with Monsanto's Roundup Ready crops, which can stand up to Monsanto's Roundup glyphosate weed-killer.

Growers apply less Liberty per acre than Roundup - typically 0.45 pounds per acre versus 1 pound per acre of active ingredient, respectively, Sankula said. So, that added to the overall benefit of reduced pesticide use.

But that doesn't mean fewer Roundup Ready crops were planted. On the contrary, their use also grew in 2004 over the previous year, Sankula said.

There was a similar uptick in the use of Herculex biotech crops - jointly developed by Pioneer Hi-Bred and Dow AgroSciences LLC of Indianapolis - without a reduction in use of competing Monsanto products, she said.

Sankula expects the trend to continue as new traits are introduced to the market. Roundup Ready Flex cotton and Herculex RW Rootworm Protection corn both will be planted for the first time next spring.

Some critics question the study, because NCFAP receives a portion of its operating funds from corporations that include Monsanto.

But Sankula defended the results, noting that acreage and yield data were drawn from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service. She surveyed researchers and extension crop specialists at land-grant universities to determine how the crops and pesticides are used by farmers.

The report also was reviewed by 29 agricultural, pest-management and plant biotechnology experts from 21 academic and government institutions, she said.

However, a study released last year by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which also used agriculture department statistics, produced different results.

It found that farmers were applying large amounts of glyphosate herbicide on Roundup Ready corn, soybeans and cotton in order to deal with glyphosate-resistant weeds. That increase in herbicide use was offset partially by a drop in insecticides applied to insect-resistant GM crops, resulting in an overall 4.1 percent increase in these chemicals used on biotech acres since 1996.

Sankula said the Union of Concerned Scientists' study takes pesticide application data from the agriculture department, without considering that those numbers include sprays used in land preparation rather than on crops; her report discounts that usage.

Sankula sees the final proof in the increasing adoption of this technology by farmers. "Growers have planted them all these years because they see the benefits," she said.

Boosting yields, income

Illinois and Missouri farmers gained by planting genetically modified crops rather than conventional varieties, says a study by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy. Here's how they benefited from using GM technology:

State: Illinois Missouri

Crops evaluated: corn, soybeans corn, cotton, soybeans

Yield increase: 602 million pounds 341 million pounds

Farm income increase: $217 million $147 million

Reduced pesticide use: 7.4 million pounds 5.3 million pounds


Minister announces GM reference group


Agriculture Minister Kim Chance today announced the membership of a Ministerial reference group that will explore issues relating to genetically modified crops and the status of GM technology.

Mr Chance said the group, made up of representatives from industry, education and science organisations and marketers, would report to the Government with expert advice on the use of biotechnology in Western Australia's agricultural crops.

Members of the group include representatives from WA Farmers, Pastoralists' and Graziers' Association, CBH-Handling, CBH-Marketing, Department of Agriculture, Bio Farmers Australia, Network of Concerned Farmers, a GM scientific expert, a farmer nominee and a market analyst. The group will be chaired by a State Government MP.

"The Ministerial Industry Reference Group will provide advice on logistical, agronomic and marketing issues relevant to the use of biotechnology in agriculture, a key policy area for the agriculture portfolio," Mr Chance said.

"The Gallop Government renewed its commitment to a moratorium on the commercial use of GM crops in agriculture at the last election, based on the need to preserve WA's advantage of producing crops that can be marketed as non-GM. Another commitment at the election was the formation of an advisory group, which we have now fulfilled.

"The reference group will be helpful in informing Government on the current status of GM crop technology and its relevance to WA, and in providing advice on the effect of the GM Crops Free Areas Act 2003."

The Minister said the focus of the reference group would be to assess issues associated with production, supply chain, management and the marketability of GM crops in comparison with non-GM crops.

He said the group would also assess acceptable levels of tolerance of GM presence in WA food crops, and how to effectively segregate seed and harvested grain in order to preserve the identity of GM and non-GM crops.

"Experts on the group will also examine such matters as liability and insurance issues raised by dealings with GMOs, and the adequacy of the legal framework that governs GMOs in the event of the adoption of GM technology," Mr Chance said.

A specialist advisory group will also be formed to provide specific input to the Reference Group within areas of their particular expertise. It will include representatives from the University of Western Australia, Murdoch University, AWB Landmark, Conservation Council of WA, World Wildlife Fund and Grains Research and Development Corporation (Western Panel).

Mr Chance said the moratorium on the general commercial use of GM crops in agriculture would remain in place in WA until all relevant issues had been addressed.

"The Gallop Government is protecting and enhancing WA's unique lifestyle," he said.

GM wheat offers new salinity hope

- THE WEST AUSTRALIAN (Perth), By Jennifer Eliot, December 7, 2005

Corrigin crop culminates in $2 million, three-year effort to find weapons against frost and salt in WA's fields

WA's first genetically modified wheat crop - which scientists hope will lead to strains that are tolerant to waterlogging, frost and salt - will be harvested today.

The crop is the culmination of a three-year, $2 million program carried out amid strict quarantine by Grain Biotech Australia and the Grains Research Development Corporation.

The trial modified two standard wheat varieties in a bid to produce grain that could be sown on land lost to salinity.

GBA business development manager Alan Trough said a full analysis on yield, grain quality, starch and protein levels would be available in March but, on the face of it, the trial had been a success and offered hope for salt-affected farmland.

"Further testing will show if the grain is good or if increasing the hardiness of the grain has sacrificed quality," he said.

Mr Trough said the Corrigin trial was part of an ongoing program to bring GM wheat to a stage where it could be grown commercially.

It was one of only a handful of GM wheat trials in the world and it was unlikely GM wheat would be available for commercial planting in Australia before 2011.

There is a moratorium on commercial GM crops in WA until 2009 but GM cotton and canola crops have been tested.

Agriculture Minister Kim Chance said this week that a lot could be learnt from the wheat trial and the State Government would like to see similar trials to improve knowledge of the science behind GM tech-nology.

Corrigin farmer Lex Stone, who faces losing half the family farm to salinity, said that for every year he had to wait for a crop that was salt tolerant the less viable his farm became.

"Managing salinity is a seven-day-a-week job for me and in the last few years I have spent upwards of $250,000 on landcare works and rebuilding the farm and that is why I am interested in this technology," he said.

"GM wheat won't fix the salinity but it will allow us to grow crops. I say bring it on."

The prospect of more tolerant wheat comes amid fears that bad weather will see this season's WA harvest fall short of the projected 12.8 million tonnes.

GRDC western panel chairman Dale Baker said growers had underestimated the damage from losses to frost and hail. There could also be quality problems because of the late start to the season.

But Co-operative Bulk Handling maintained it did not need to revise its estimate.


Harnessing Biotechnology For The Caribbean – Part II

- The Bahama Journal, By Godfrey Eneas, December 7, 2005

At the 4th Advisory Committee Meeting of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Development which was recently held November 7 – 12, 2005 at the CTA’s Headquarters in Wageningen, The Netherlands, the Board Approved and Adopted the Policy Paper #2 on "ACP Region must Harness Biotechnology for a Better Future". The Bahamas was represented on the Board by BAIC’s Assistant General Manager responsibly for the Agricultural Division Mr. Arnold Dorsett.

The mission of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) is to strengthen information and communication management capacities of ACP agricultural and rural development organizations. It is also charged with policy and institutional capacity development. Consequently, CTA is committed to building capacity to participate in and lead the policy dialogue on Science and Technology in pursuit of these goals.

This year’s meeting was built on the outcomes of prior meetings of the Advisory Committee which has met regularly since its conceptualization in Cape Town, South Africa in 2002. The theme for this year’s meeting was "Enhancing the S&T Policy Dialogue / Bridging the Gap in the Agricultural Science, Technology and Innovation System".

What are the implications for the ACP countries?

For ACP countries to reap the benefits of biotechnology, visionary leadership and strong political commitment are prerequisites followed closely by adequate policy, legal and regulatory frameworks. Biotechnology offers a significant opportunity for: improving health care, meeting food security goals, increasing the availability of potable water, improving efficiency of industrial processes, producing high value-added products from the rich biodiversity, developing sustainable methods for aforestation and reforestation, and bioremediation. ACP countries should therefore not focus only on the issue of the benefits and risks of genetically modified foods but put the necessary biosafety systems in place to reduce the risks to safeguard human health and the environment while simultaneously putting in place additional mechanisms to seize the opportunities and compete in the global biotechnology market place.

ACP countries need to urgently develop appropriate policies, set priorities and strategies and avoid increasing technological dependence by promoting and supporting innovation. ACP countries must address resource limitations and become innovators.

Does the ACP region have the necessary resources?

ACP countries need to build on existing strengths and address inefficiencies. Special attention must be given to strengthening scientific and technical expertise within the ACP region and rationalizing and modernizing existing infrastructure for carrying out biotechnological activities including risk assessments. Facilities for information sharing, public-private partnerships, intellectual property rights (IPR), market studies and foresight analysis are needed to support the knowledge-based environment that is required to support a thriving bio-industry. Financial investment whether from governments and/or private venture capital must be made available. Training across disciplines together with the development of entrepreneurial and management skills are necessary investments to develop the capability needed to compete on a sustainable basis.

Is this an urgent issue for the ACP region?

If ACP countries fail to harness biotechnology, the region will lose the opportunity to better safeguard human health and the environment, generate wealth, upgrade health care systems (using new diagnostics and vaccines), improve food security and quality of nutrition, increase bio-industrial application, and raise the standard of living of ACP citizens. Seizing this opportunity is urgent because biotechnology is being driven to a large extent by market forces in the developed world. The pace of this trend increases the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots". It is imperative that ACP countries build on and strengthen existing initiatives to increase their involvement in the globalization of biotechnology.

Can regional platforms take the ACP forward?

Yes, biotechnology being a highly competitive industry requires regional cooperation at all levels – inter and intra regional and this can only succeed with national support. Regional cooperation is essential given the high capital investments needed to improve and modernize the physical infrastructure and to have adequately trained and highly skilled personnel available to the ACP countries. In response to appeals made by Ministers in several fora, it is recognized and accepted that regional platforms provide the thrust necessary. Regional bodies in ACP countries such as CARICOM – the Caribbean, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community – the Pacific, NEPAD and Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) - Africa, in addition to regional universities and research organizations, to name a few, can be mandated to further articulate and coordinate the important issues for the respective regions for ratification and endorsement by the leaders. Harmonization of regulatory frameworks and IPR regimes, avoiding duplication of efforts and sharing information, knowledge and equipment at the intra and inter–regional levels are the only ways for moving forward.

Can key stakeholders build credibility to harness biotechnology?

Key stakeholders in biotechnology include consumers (civil society), non-governmental organizations, farmers and other private sector entrepreneurs, investors, government (public sector), development partners, knowledge based institutions, scientists.

To build credibility and social acceptance of biotechnology especially agricultural biotechnology, and to ensure that biotechnology contributes to addressing the pressing social and economic needs of ACP countries, a new contract is needed between all stakeholders – between pubic and private research, between scientists and the private sector, between scientists and civil society and policy makers. Such a contract should be based on the following principles:

Open dialogue on biotechnology, its related applications, risks and benefits (e.g. science-based evaluation procedures that objectively determine the benefits and risks of each GM organism on a case by case basis) and on the legal and regulatory systems to gain public confidence in the technology and the related products;

Public and private research co-operation and collaborative partnerships based on a shared agenda, shared responsibility, transparency, mutual trust and profit-sharing;

Harmonization of intellectual property rights legislation to include issues related to access and benefit sharing given the various agreements and treaties which ACP countries have signed and/or ratified e.g. WTO /TRIPS Agreement, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and Cartagena Protocol and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. This is crucial for the growth of the bioindustry.


GM technology tried in fight against pollution

- CHINA DAILY, By He Peng, 7.12.2005

While scientists have toiled for several years to find and use natural plants as remedies to reduce pollution, one research team has made use of genetically modified (GM) technology.

Scientists led by Ru Binggen, of Peking University's College of Life, have used GM tobacco and GM algae in tests to remove toxic heavy metals, such as mercury, from soil and water.

The GM plants are inexpensive and effective in eliminating heavy metal pollution from the environment, Ru told China Daily.

Ru's study is based on metallothionein, a protein produced in the livers of people and other mammals that binds easily to heavy metals.

By inserting a rat gene into tobacco and the algae, Ru's team enabled the plants to produce metallothionein.

Ru said that, theoretically, the same kind of gene could be transplanted into rice to create a GM variety that will absorb heavy metals but not convey them into the fruit itself.

So far, Ru's GM tobacco and GM algae have not been approved for large-scale field studies.

Elsewhere, Jiao Nianzhi, of Xiamen University in East China's Fujian Province, and Yang Hongsheng, of Qingdao-based Institute of Oceanology of CAS, are developing methods of growing an aquatic plant eucheuma to remove the pollutions produced by the sea farming industry.