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Date:

December 17, 2005

Subject:

Beyond Precaution; Risk Obsession; Give Them The Tools; Muckraking Columnist; Cotton Makes the Grade

 

Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org December 17, 2005

* Beyond Precaution
* More on 'Sound Science or Precautionary Principle'
* Give Them The Tools
* Muckraking Columnist Takes on Biotech Industry
* In the wake of the Double Helix: From the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution
* Cotton: Making the Grade
* EPA Grants for Research on Allergenicity of GM Foods
--

Beyond Precaution

- Jon Entine, http://www.aei.org/books/bookID.842,filter.all/book_detail.asp

"Excerpts from the Introduction of the new book "Let Them Eat Precaution: 'How Politics Is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture' Edited by Jon Entine, AEI Press (Washington), January 2006, ISBN: 0844742007"

The debate over food and genes has degenerated in recent years into a cartoon discourse. Common sense, science, and the needs of the poor and malnourished are now regularly sacrificed to political calculations. Consider the contretemps over "Golden Rice," the genetically modified, vitamin-enhanced version of the world's most popular staple. White rice makes up 72 percent of the diet of the people of Bangladesh, and nearly as much in Laos and Indonesia; more than 40 percent in Madagascar and Sierra Leone; and around 40 percent in Guyana and Suriname. While it is a filling food that can be grown in abundance, it has a major drawback: It lacks vita-min A. Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) weakens the immune system, increasing the risk of infections such as measles and malaria. Severe deficiencies can lead to blindness.

Children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to VAD. According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 100 million VAD children around the world. Some 250,000 to 500,000 of these children become blind every year; half of them die. In Asia and Africa, nearly 600,000 women with vitamin A deficiencies die from childbirth- related causes (World Health Organization 2004). How should we as a society respond to a crisis of such malignant proportions?

In the 1960s, the developed world began reaping enormous benefits from the "Green Revolution," with the widespread use of pesticides, fertilizers, sophisticated irrigation, mechanization, and the use of new crop cultivars that dramatically improved yields and the nutritional content of crops. Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize for his development of high-yielding wheat varieties that helped feed people in developing countries. Now, with the advent of agricultural biotechnology, we have an opportunity to extend those gains with the development of new grains, fruits, vegetables, and other nutritionally enhanced foods developed using far fewer pesticides.

The engineering of so-called Golden Rice stands as the most powerful example of the potential of this remarkable technology. In 1999, Swiss and German scientists developed this unique gold-colored rice, the first major genetically enhanced food. Until this point, bioengineers had focused on developing new strains of crops and grains, such as cotton, wheat, and soy- beans; this was the first time this technology was used to develop a food that people eat directly, rather than a crop that needed to be processed. The new variety was produced by splicing into white rice two genes from the daffodil, which give the rice a golden color, and one from a bacterium. The added genes cause the new rice strain to produce beta carotene, which the body can convert to vitamin A. Newer varieties have been created to add iron and to make the iron already in the white rice more readily absorbed into the body. Yet, despite the enormous promise of Golden Rice and other remarkable new crops and foods, the biotech phase of the Green Revolution became mired in controversy.

The central opposition comes from organized anti-biotechnology activists. They include well-known environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and organic advocates; religious groups such as Christian Aid; and a small but media-savvy sector of the investment community known as "socially responsible investors," which includes groups such as Co-Op America; the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a religious- based advocacy group; and the Social Investment Forum, the trade group for liberal social investors. This loosely organized coalition attacks vitamin- packed rice seed and other biotech products on two grounds. First, they contend that genetic technology is inherently unpredictable, conjuring up images of a genetic Godzilla that could cause irreparable environmental and health damage. They argue that genes not subject to checks and balances in nature could be released into the environment, causing untold havoc, although scientists believe this scenario is unlikely outside of doomsday scenarios that could apply just as well to conventional agriculture.

And as the authors of the chapters in this volume make clear, agricultural biotechnology has proven to be even less risky than conventional gene transfer techniques developed before the advent of genetic modification, including radiation and selective breeding, to produce new varieties with enhanced nutritional qualities or disease resistance. Second, they argue that biotechnology crops and foods will ultimately result in higher food prices and less variety because private companies patent many of the new seeds and food genes. Some have even gone so far as to dismiss Golden Rice as bad science and a "gift horse for the poor" (Institute of Science in Society 2005). Other critics imply that Golden Rice amounts to a "TrojanHorse"--as Genewatch, one British-based antibiotech group, characterizes it--designed to soften opposition to agricultural biotech (Fumento 2003). "At the end of the day," concludes a briefing on Grain.org, a popular antibiotechnology Web site, "the main agenda for golden rice is not malnu- trition but garnering greater support and acceptance for genetic engineer- ing amongst the public, the scientific community and funding agencies" (Grain.org 2001).

In fact, Golden Rice was developed over ten years at a total cost of $2.6 million, using funds donated by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Swiss Federation, the National Science Foundation, and the European Union. Numerous corporations have contributed to its development, donating their expertise in what is called "open source" drug discovery, modeled after the open source technology that was used in computing to develop the Linux operating system (Pollack 2005). In May 2004, the biochemical firm AstraZeneca announced it would be distributing one type of genetically modified rice, developed by two European scientists, to Asian countries free of charge because of the crop's health benefits. Three months later, biotech giant Monsanto announced it would be providing royalty-free licenses for all of its patented technologies that might help further the development of this particular crop. Still, because of the intense opposition to biotechnology, it may take four years or more before the new crop can wind its way through the Byzantine regulatory system and go into production. Increasingly, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious groups that often align themselves on other issues with Greenpeace and other more radical environmental groups have come out in favor of agricultural biotechnology.

"I think [Golden Rice] has tremendous potential," said Alan McHughen, a senior research scientist at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada and author of Pandora's Picnic Basket: The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods. "Many expert ethicists, including the Nuffield Foundation, the Church of England and even the Vatican have given their seal of approval for genetically modified food that is used to provide more food or more nutritious food" (Orfinger 2004).

Enviromanticism
In case after case, activist groups have demonized biotechnology by exploiting a general wariness about science. The 2004 National Science Foundation study of science and engineering indicators shows that, although Ameri- cans express strong support for science in the abstract, public knowledge about science issues and the process of science remains low and the public is increasingly turning to the Internet as a major source of information (National Science Foundation). Echoing the views of other anti-biotech crusaders, Amory Lovins, founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, waxes about the dangers of "replacing nature's wisdom with people's cleverness" (Lovins and Lovins 1999).

For many biotech critics, this is not a scientific dispute but an ideological and religious one, driven by a simple--and dangerously simplistic--principle: Don't tamper with nature. It is a romantic and superficially seductive message, but a blanket insinuation that nature's products are always benign or better is obviously nonsense. Some mainstream environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, and social investors, who could have taken the high road on a complex issue, instead stand with anti-science hardliners. They often portray themselves as advocates of consumer choice by arguing for mandatory labeling of products made with genetically modified ingredients. At first blush, more disclosure seems reasonable and moderate. But will it provide any tangible benefit to consumers? As recently as July 2004, an independent panel of the National Academy of Sciences concluded without equivocation that genetically engineered crops do not pose any health risks that are not also present in conventionally produced crops.

"The most important message from this report is that 'It's the product that matters, not the system you are using to produce it,'" said Jennifer Hillard, a consumer advocate from Canada and one of the co-writers of the report Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods (Pollack 2004). The labeling argument is a disingenuous ploy, as even its proponents acknowledge. A spokesperson for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility told me that mandatory labeling would be akin to slapping "a skull and crossbones" on GM products. And Michael Passoff of As You Sow, another antibiotech group, predicted to me that if the mandatory labeling campaign succeeds, "We expect that [the food industry] won't want to risk alienating their customers with labeling, so they'll eventually decide not to use any bio-stuff at all" (Entine 2002). In other words, GM products with absolutely no evidence of posing any danger, but with proven health and environmental benefits, would be vaporized from the marketplace.

While not a panacea, GM technology offers unique tools to address international food needs, especially in countries with increasing populations and widespread poverty. There are certainly valid concerns that need to be addressed if genetic modification is to get a fair shot in the marketplace. However, in the current atmosphere, rational policy initiatives and coordinated international trade policies are extremely difficult to undertake.

The unfulfilled potential of biotechnology might well rest on how it comes to be perceived by the greater world community. Public perceptions about bioengineering have dogged the research and commercialization strategies of the biotech industry since the first commercial products were introduced more than a decade ago. The often-politicized process has prompted firms to formulate what are known as "freedom to operate" strategies, which allow otherwise competing companies to cooperate in research without infringing on the patent rights of their research partners. In response, an international advocacy industry has coalesced, seeking to limit this freedom to operate in the name of social, environmental, and health responsibility.

This coalition includes traditional activists, such as public interest research groups, self-defined environmentalists, religious groups, social investment organizations, and umbrella antibiotech groups, like the GE Food Alert Coalition. They seek to apply public relations and, by proxy, financial pressures to influence the debate and public policy; many are determined to scale back radically or even kill the introduction of bioengineered products and processes. Also highly involved are the media, who have acted as a filter and sometime mouthpiece and advocate for the anti-biotech perspective.

What appears to be lacking in the public debate in Europe and, increasingly, in the United States is a candid discussion about the current and potential benefits that these technologies can provide. That's where 'Let Them Eat Precaution' has a role to play. The chapters in this book deconstruct the politics of the biotechnology debate and examine the extremely well-funded anti-biotech industry; they also renew the promise of GM technology. Largely segregated to industrial crops in the developed world, there is now hope that the next generation of products--foods and crops that enhance nutrition or help in the development of critical new drugs--will break the public perception gridlock.

----
Postscript
http://www.aei.org/books/bookID.842,filter.all/book_detail.asp

The only winner in the current stalemate over genetically modified foods is the protest industry, particularly self-designated "green" groups that call for public debate but already have their minds closed to the science. We are just beginning to exploit the potential of genetic technology. There is the promise of lifesaving drugs tailored to our individual genetics, the eventual disappearance of congenital diseases, and the remarkable manipulation of cells to regrow bones and damaged organs, including our hearts and brains. However, these scientific advances are years, if not decades, in the future. Only in agriculture is the promise of biotechnology actually being realized. Let's hope that reasoned discourse and a careful balancing of risk against lost opportunity can help restore public confidence so vital research can continue.

We need to go beyond the precautionary principle and its obsession with "worst case" risks to a "risk-risk" model that also takes into account the potential benefits to change, not just potential dire consequences. While the precautionary principle states that the overriding goal of public policy should be guided by the ultraconservative drive to eliminate risk, a risk-risk approach would evaluate a situation based on the trade- offs that inevitably occur when reasonable risks are avoided at all cost.

GM technological innovations should be evaluated not just on the basis of the farfetched dangers they potentially pose, but on the often-horrific, day-to-day harm that not risking innovation imposes on the most vulnerable members of society. How many children in the developing world have to die before we can risk moving forward with this technology?

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

More on 'Sound Science or Precautionary Principle'

- Harwood D. Schaffer, hdschaffer.at.utk.edu

Rick, I am Daryl Ray's research associate and thought I would take the time to respond to your email. It appears to me that you have confused a discussion of research methodology with a discussion of the content of that research. In our article we were talking about methodology and in your response you were talking about the content of that research.

In our article we took out some of the technical language contained in Verma and Freudenburg's article. In the original they contended that arguments for "sound science" as the basis of making public policy decision in matters like BSE and GMOs indicated a preference for reducing the chance of committing a Type I error. Similarly then those using the "precautionary principle" indicate a preference for reducing the number of Type II errors. No matter where one comes down on the details of the arguments, that is the nature of the issue at hand. For any given technology one cannot reduce the risk of committing a Type I error without at the same time increase the risk of committing a Type II error. I infer from your comments that you have confidence in the technology and therefore are concerned about reducing the possibility of committing a Type I error. From a statistical point of view you then have to admit that there is a concomitant shift in the risk of committing a Type II error.

In either case you are correct: the issue is not one of science vs. non-science. Rather it is a matter of difference in risk preferences with some striving to reduce the risk of committing a Type I error while others are trying to reduce the risk of committing a Type II error. Those risk preferences are influenced by values and at that point values become a relevant part of the discussion and decision-making process in a democratic society.

Our purpose in writing the article was to present the issue of the trade-off between "sound science" and "precautionary principle" between Type I and Type II errors to a general audience that is not as well versed in statistical issues as you are.

Thanks for your response and your interest in public policy issues.

Sincerely yours, Harwood Schaffer, Research Associate, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, PhD candidate, Department of Sociology, University of Tennessee

> Producers Argue for Sound Science, Some Consumers Prefer Precautionary Principle
> Daryll. E. Ray, Southwest Farm Press, Dec. 14, 2005 http://southwestfarmpress.com/
> The precautionary principle is what our mothers were talking about when
they told us that it is better to be safe than sorry........
----

> Not Just Sound Science or Precaution...But Risks and Benefits
> Rick Roush, rtroush.at.ucdavis.edu
> Dear Prof. Ray: Your analysis with the example of GM crops is interesting, but overlooks
> the documented advantages of GM crops to consumers, including reduced and
> safer pesticide residues in the environment, maybe even on food, reduced.....

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

Response from Rick Roush, rtroush.at.ucdavis.edu

Dear Harwood :

No, I have not confused a discussion of research methodology with a discussion of the content of that research. Your approach and discussion is all about a one-sided view of the precautionary principle that considers only risks to the new technology, not known hazards of the current technologies. The only mention of the word "benefit" in your article was in the context of benefits to producers, with consumers taking all of the risks. This is an inadequate research methodology, where the benefits to consumers are never considered. Reality is not that simple.

I suggest that you have never had to make real world regulatory decisions, as I have, or this would be clearer to you. It is a key role of government to study issues and make some decisions for a general public that hasn’t the time or expertise to study the questions in detail. I work on this for ag, but have to trust other experts to make technical decisions for the military, power generation and distribution, local transit, sewage, water supply, etc. I suggest that it even extends to social welfare. If one went solely with what the majority of the public wanted, Mississippi would not have been integrated in the 1980s when I lived there. In fact, there still was no public kindergarten when I arrived, because it was seen as welfare for black kids; Governor William Winter had to force it through against popular sentiment.

Here in California, it has been the role of government to make tough decisions on the mechanics of cars that people buy and other tactics to reduce air pollution, for example, even if individual consumers don’t like them because of extra costs and inconvenience. There are limits on the number of fish you can catch, and protections for national and state parks, even if there is no direct, short term benefit to consumers. I see current GM crops as in the same vein; there is overwhelming evidence that they are reducing the environmental footprint of human habitation with essentially no risk to consumers.

What about the risks? We accept the risks of allowing planes to fly overhead because of the benefits to travelers and the airlines, even though we know that some planes occasionally will kill the innocent below who did not specifically accept the risks (as with the recent Southwest flight). This is not just a recent phenomenon; in old New York City, being kicked or otherwise injured by horses was a common source of mortality even for those who didn’t own or work with them, but horses were tolerated for their overall benefits.

Your methodology for GM crops does not consider their benefits to consumers as the general public, but focuses on the fears that people have about the risks. You have enhanced this by comparing BSE, with known risks and relatively low cost risk avoidance, with GM crops, where there are no known risks and the costs of avoidance (stopping their use) are enormous.

Reducing the risk of a Type I error seems warranted whenever the Type II error is not distinguishable from zero. In this case, the overwhelming evidence is that current GM foods are at least as safe as anything produced conventionally. At least they get a safety review; most of what we eat has never been reviewed for safety, and even for some cases that have been assessed and score badly at least in some circumstances (like transfats, peanuts, and raw milk), we continue to allow them on the market! No GM crop would be allowed with those risks; we banned Starlink even though there was good evidence that it wasn’t allergenic.

No, our disagreement is not about the content of research, but about the philosophical framework of research methodology for risk assessment.

Sincerely, Rick

---
Klaus Ammann:

Its just amazing to see that Daryl Ray and his research assistant are so focused on risk that they obviously cannot tolerate in their considerations the word benefit, it is just too complicated... cheers, Klaus

Andy Apel:

These people have mixed the elements of the precautionary principle and science-based decision-making, in a way that lets things boil down to tolerance for errors in forecasting. This comes out quite forcefully when you look at the examples they cite and realize that science-based decision making and "sound science" covers the examples completely from both angles, with the precautionary principle apparently involving "sounder" or "safer" science or some sort of thing. They're either working with a very fringe theory, or they're very confused.

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

Give Them The Tools

- Helen Szamuely, Free Market News Network, Dec. 16, 2005. Full commentary at
http://www.freemarketnews.com/Analysis/53/3204/2005-12-16.asp?wid=53&nid=3204

Amid all the pointless bleating about aid to Africa, accompanied as it is usually with all sorts of pseudo-scientific dampeners on anything that might be helpful as well as hysterical demonstrations by the anti-globalizers, it is always interesting to hear from African analysts.

One such is the Ghanaian Franklin Cudjoe, Director of the think-tank Imani, in Accra. Yesterday all the editions of the Wall Street Journal carried his article "Africa needs freer markets – and fewer tyrants". As readers have to subscribe to the WSJE on the net, Mr Cudjoe and his staff have made the piece available on their website http://imanighana.org/page.php?instructions=page&page_id=553&nav_id=152

His argument is very straightforward and one that he and numerous of his colleagues have used before: aid that feeds corrupt and oppressive regimes in Africa is not only not helpful, it is counter-productive. As he rightly says, most of Africa is extremely fertile. It ought not experience famine. Why is that situation so prevalent?

And what of the European Union and its obsession with GM? Mr Cudjoe thinks it helps to keep Africa in extreme poverty:

"The one thing that could give us drought-resistant and highly productive seeds is biotechnology. Experience shows that genetically modified (GM) crops could increase yields by 25% and cost less than Green Revolution techniques. But GM produce faces bans from rich countries, especially the EU, using unscientific "biosafety" protocols under the guise of environmental protection.

This kind of hysteria made Zambia, Angola and Zimbabwe reject famine aid because U.S. or South African maize could not be certified GM-free. Africans therefore have to hope that the U.S., Canada and Argentina win their case against the EU barriers to GM crops: The World Trade Organization is due to rule early in 2006."

No different really from the obsession with DDT that has killed millions of Africans as nothing else seems to get rid of the malaria mosquito.

Perhaps someone should produce a more truthful film than "The Constant Gardener", showing us who the real villains of the story are: the western lobby groups and NGOs who make it impossible to use science to eradicate the deep-seated problems of Africa; the corrupt politicians and officials who steal the money donated in aid; the socialist governments who impose failed "utopian" solutions that result in famine in fertile lands; and, last but not least, the governments that take the drugs given to them by those supposedly evil pharmaceutical companies free or at cost price and slap so many regulations and taxes on them that they never reach the suffering population.

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

Muckraking Columnist Takes on Biotech Industry

http://www.patentbaristas.com/archives/000296.php

Columnist Robert Horton ran a story, entitled "Muckraking movie takes on biotech industry" (http://www.heraldnet.com/stories/05/11/23/100ae_food001.cfm) in the Daily Herald about a new documentary film: "The Future of Food." It's not the views of the documentary that scared me (documentaries are often slanted to make a point) but it was instead the views of the columnist himself that were worrisome.

In his article, Horton noted that "the film depicts the inexplicable Supreme Court decisions that opened the door for companies to patent living species." This set the stage for his next point, which was that with seeds and grains, "this opens up a nightmare scenario, especially for farmers." Scarier than this column?

I'm OK with people having different viewpoints, I just get offended when they don't check the facts and just propagate misconceptions. Horton gives an overview of a recent Canadian case where Monsanto Corp. sued a farmer for prorogating plants grown with patented genes stating the facts as:

> A hapless Saskatchewan farmer recounts his experience getting sued by Monsanto for illegally possessing their patented product. The Monsanto canola seeds probably blew onto his farm from trucks passing by on the highway, and he doesn't want their stuff on his property anyway, but there it is, growing and mixing with his own seeds.

This sounds a little like someone walking into your home uninvited, urinating on your living room rug, and then suing you for possession of their bodily fluids. The courts, however, have been supporting Monsanto.
But, is it really like that? Despite an abundance of news articles perpetuating the view that this case was about an elderly gentleman haplessly planting a few plants in Mr. McGregor’s garden, as though it was his only sustenance, this case actually concerns a large scale, commercial farming operation that grew canola containing a patented cell and gene without obtaining license or permission. This is not about the innocent discovery by farmers of "blow-by" patented plants on their land or in their cultivated fields.

Schmeiser never purchased Roundup Ready Canola nor did he obtain a license to plant it. Yet, in 1998, tests revealed that 95 to 98 percent of his 1,000 acres of canola crop was made up of Roundup Ready plants. While the origin of the plants is unclear, the trial judge found that "none of the suggested sources [proposed by Schmeiser] could reasonably explain the concentration or extent of Roundup Ready canola of a commercial quality" ultimately present in Schmeiser's crop.

In the decision, Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser, 2004 SCC 34, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the validity of the Monsanto patent. Canadian Patent 1,313,830 (“the '830 patent”), issued to Monsanto for “Glyphosate-Resistant Plants,” claims a gene, methods of inserting the gene into a cell, and the derived cell line. However, it does not include claims to the plant per se.

The patent claims:
1. A chimeric plant gene which comprises: (a)a promoter sequence which functions in plant cells;(b)a coding sequence which causes the production of RNA, encoding a chloroplast transit peptide/5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS) fusion polypeptide, which chloroplast transit peptide permits the fusion polypeptide to be imported into a chloroplast of a plant cell; and (c)a 3' non-translated region which encodes a polyadenylation signal which functions in plant cells to cause the addition of polyadenylate nucleotides to the 3' end of the RNA; the promoter being heterologous with respect to the coding sequence and adapted to cause sufficient expression of the fusion polypeptide to enhance the glyphosate resistance of a plant cell transformed with the gene.

The Supreme Court underwent some linguistic jujitsu in construing the claims to not extend to plants and seed (finding that the cultivation of plants containing the patented gene and cell does not constitute an infringement) but found that Schmeiser's actions constituted use of the patented product that resulted in infringement.

The dissent disagreed, stating that "use" was limited by the subject matter of the invention (the gene, the insertion of the gene and the derived cell line) and did not extend to cover disclaimed subject matter, namely the plant. To construe the claims in the patent otherwise would confer patent protection on the plant which, according to the minority, would be improper. However, Monsanto did not claim protection for the genetically modified plant itself, but rather for the genes and the modified cells that make up the plant.

In the end, the court stated that Schmeiser actively cultivated Roundup Ready Canola as part of his business operations and noted that the trial judge found that Mr. Schmeiser was not an innocent infringer given that he knew or should have known that he saved and planted seed containing the patented gene and cell and that he sold the resulting crop also containing the patented gene and cell.

While Monsanto states that this is a matter of putting farmers on a level playing field and not letting freeloaders gain the benefits without paying, there has been criticism from some farmers and international agronomic groups because of its potential to effect subsistence farmers who need to grow and collect their own seeds. In any case, it seems that farmers will always be able to simply decide whether Monsanto’s seeds are worth the legal restrictions they carry.

See the text of the Supreme Court decision here http://www.mindfully.org/GE/2004/Monsanto-V-Schmeiser-Ruling21may04.htm

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

In the wake of the Double Helix: From the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution

http://www.dista.agrsci.unibo.it/doublehelix/proceedings.html

Proceedings of the Congress "In the wake of the Double Helix: From the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution" held in Bologna (May 27-31, 2003) is now available. The volume (784 pages; ISBN 88-86817-48-7; 25euro) presents a unique collection of 48 updated reviews and articles written by acclaimed experts in crop science and biotechnology. The book provides a prime reference source for students, teachers and researchers in plant breeding, molecular biology and plant biotechnology. - The Editors (Roberto Tuberosa, Ronald L. Phillips, Mike Gale).

- Prof. Roberto Tuberosa, Bologna, Italy, roberto.tuberosa.at.unibo.it

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

Cotton: Making the Grade

- Marlena Hartz, Clovis News Journal, Dec. 17, 2005 http://cnjonline.com

Twenty years ago, the cotton that sprouted in the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico could be used to make a limited number of items because the quality was poor. But farmers these days are celebrating a higher quality product, according to many in the industry.

Regionally grown cotton, once used primarily for denim, is now "suitable for the finer fabrics of life, like dress shirts, sheets, and better quality clothes," due to investments in genetically modified cotton seeds, said Plains Cotton Growers, Inc. Vice President of Operations Roger Haldenby, who represents cotton farmers in 41 counties across New Mexico and Texas.

The super seeds, Haldenby said, were developed by several companies. In the last few years, forerunners such as Fiber Max, Delta, and Pineland tailored seed varieties to growing conditions in different regions, according to The Journal of Agrobiotechnology Management and Economics. "This is the first year that we're actually getting into the world market," said Les Curtis, an employee of Farwell Gin Company.

Farwell cotton farmer Mark Williams uses Fiber Max seeds. He said a combination of good weather and modified, pest resistent cotton seeds have increased the quality and yield of his crop, which will reach about 8,000 bales this year. Strengthened through cross-breeding, the new seed varieties produce thicker, longer, and whiter cotton fibers, officials said. In the last five years, seed supply levels have blossomed significantly, along with farmer adoption of the seeds, Haldenby said. And in the last two, regional gins have been overflowing with fluffy, bright cotton.

Ambitious seed companies deserve a lot of the credit, said Texas Tech University Dean of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources Norman Hopper. Haldenby estimates this year's cotton harvest will yield 5.5 million bales, although about 4,000 acres of cotton have yet to be harvested among his farmers. Last year yielded 4.8 million bales, he said. "We are very pleased. This is not only good for our farmers, but the economic impact on all of the surrounding communities, towns and cities is tremendous," Haldenby said.

For every dollar a cotton farmer earns, another three is invested into his or her community, Haldenby said. Those in the cotton industry, however, also bow to Mother Nature. The last two growing seasons were almost perfect for cotton, officials said. Moisture from the previous winter lingered and a long fall season without a freeze followed, Haldenby and Curtis said. "Whenever you have two record crops back to back, you just wonder if it could possibly get any better than this," Haldenby said.

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

EPA Grants for Research on Allergenicity of Genetically Engineered Foods

More at http://es.epa.gov/ncer/rfa/2005/2005_star_biotech.html
-
Due Date for Applications: Mar 21, 2006; Estimated Funding: $3,000,000.00

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as part of its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, is seeking applications proposing to develop methods to assess the potential allergenicity of genetically engineered foods. The development of these methods will help in identifying substances that induce dietary allergy in humans and lead to improved evaluation of the relative potency of unknown proteins. Currently, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) have proposed a decision tree to be used in assessing the potential allergenicity of novel dietary proteins. However, many of the components recommended in this decision tree have not been sufficiently developed or validated.

The STAR program is issuing this request for applications (RFA) for research on appropriate methods, either within or outside the framework of the current decision tree, primarily to assess human allergenicity of proteins in genetically engineered foods and, secondarily, to improve our understanding of the basic mechanisms underlying food allergy and susceptibility to food allergy as it pertains to genetically engineered foods. Ideal methods would improve hazard identification and enhance the ability to estimate the potency of unknown proteins relative to known allergenic and non-allergenic proteins in a logistically feasible and cost effective manner. Development of methods that are further amenable to the investigation of factors that influence susceptibility for sensitization to dietary allergens are also of interest.
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