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January 9, 2006


GM crops made farmers richer; Biotech boom helping farmers; Sowing the seeds for designer crops


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: January 9, 2006

* Re: Zambia says ban on gene-altered maize stands
* GM crops made farmers richer, claim two UK economists
* Sowing the seeds for designer crops
* Biotech boom helping farmers
* Pioneer breaks new ground in trait optimization with "gene shuffling" technology
* Vermont rejects bill imposing liability on biotech farmers
* Organic dairy farming profits elusive

Date: Fri, 6 Jan 2006 14:40:36 -0600
From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Re: Zambia says ban on gene-altered maize stands

I wonder if Zambia's ban on GM maize is out of concern for their people, the environment, their GM free status or the fact that money usually has to change hands to buy the non GM maize instead of the US giving aid in the from of GM grain and not money.

It is more difficult to physically move the grain and sell it and pocket the proceeds than it is to skim money off the top of aid given in the form of money that can be hidden as administrative costs, brokerage fees, transportation or just sloppy book keeping.

The US food aid program is under pretty heavy fire as much of the world sees it as a dumping program. There is some justification for that claim in 60 year old program outlined here:


It has it roots in the reconstruction of Europe after World War II.

I believe that it is better to give food to nations that have food shortages than it is to give money to buy food. Regardless what happens someone has some food to eat. No matter what government you pick, if there are large sums of money with limited oversight on it spending a substantial amount, it will get diverted into the pockets of some of those administering the money and others that don't deserve it. Be it a small African country with a dictator in a famine or the USA after a hurricane, some people will find ways to steal money.

If food is given instead of money, it is a good deal harder to steal from the program. They still do it but the fact that $3 or $4 dollars worth of maize weigh 50 pounds make the logistics of it a great deal more difficult than writing a check to divert money from feeding the hungry to some ones pocket.

As a crop share landlord in Texas and Oklahoma and retired farmer, I have financial interest in the US farm program and indirectly in our Food for Peace program.

Gordon Couger Stillwater, OK www.couger.com/gcouger


GM crops made farmers richer, claim two UK economists

- Financial Express, By JOSEPH VACKAYIL, January 09, 2006

CHENNAI, JAN 8: Two UK scientists, based on their studies on income from genetically modified (GM) herbicide tolerant (HT) soy bean, maize, cotton, canola, Bt maize and cotton, claim that there have been substantial net economic benefits at the farm level, due to the technology.

In a study, ‘GM crops: The global economic and environmental impact, ‘The first nine years 1996-2004’ by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, examines specific global economic impacts on farm income and environmental impacts of the technology in key GM-adopting countries. They are co-directors of the UK-based company PG Economics Ltd, which over the years have been coming out with several reports in favour of GM technology.

Their studies are being heavily contested by GM-critics, as being funded by major biotech-corporates.

The report highlights the farm income benefit arising from GM HT soybeans in Argentina, GM insect resistant (IR) cotton in China, and a range of GM cultivations in the US. It also illustrates the growing level of farm income benefits in countries such as South Africa, Paraguay, India, and Mexico.

This study has quantified the impacts cumulatively for the period 1996-2004 through a combination of collating and extrapolating economic analysis findings from past studies and undertaking new environmental impact analysis. The largest environmental gain has been associated with the adoption of GM-HT- soybeans.

The result of the study is now available on the website of the ‘AgbioForum’. AgBioForum is a journal,financed by the IMBA (Illinois-Missouri Biotechnology Alliance), a joint program of two US universities, is funded by US Department of Agriculture and is aimed at funding research for promoting business in US).

The report says that, on the ecological front, the technology has reduced pesticide spraying and its environmental footprint considerably. It has also significantly reduced the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, which is equivalent to removing five million cars from the roads.In 2004, the direct global farm income benefit from GM crops is estimated as was $4.8 billion.

The largest gains in farm income have arisen in the soya, maize and canola sectors largely from cost savings.


Sowing the seeds for designer crops

- Financial Express, By BV MAHALAKSHMI & ASHOK B SHARMA, January 09, 2006

Singing along with the tunes of science and technology, rural India is slated to undergo a sea change. What would be the direction of the change? Going by the words of leading scientists and thanks to the advancements made in the field of biotechnology, there is room for significant development of agriculture that forms the livelihood of nearly 70% of rural India.

Call it the next wave, there may be ‘designer plants’ modeled in the scientists mindsets, which does not presently require certification or approvals. Although these ‘designer crops’ are still at a conceptual stage, they can be grown just like building a house —- an example of pick and choose a gene!

The concept is using the classic example of genetic engineering. Says Proagro managing director Clive Pegg, “We are still touching the surface of this ideology but in the long run, we may possibly change the architecture of plants.’’ Often referred to as the complex science of agri-bio-genetics, the complexity can be simplified with the rapid progress made in the field of bioinformatics. “All that one has to do is to understand the chemistry of stacking of genes or the building blocks, similar to gene therapies in human beings,” Mr Pegg says.

Plant biotechnologists are among those in the frontiers who are now working on growth promoting hormones in a much more scientific way. Biosystems are indeed complex. But, if moved in a measurable pace, science can perhaps be understood as an easy algorithm. Scientists are leveraging IT to understand the biochemical pathways that form the nucleus in agri-biotechnology.

On the same lines, MS Swaminathan, chairman, National Commission on Farmers, says, “Technology is the prime mover of change. Both technology fatigue and technology gap should be avoided. This will lead to revitalisation of research, education and extension systems.’’ He also suggests that the year 2006-07 be commemorated as the `Agricultural Technology Year’ and spread genetic literacy through genome clubs at village schools.

Going by the Noble laureate Richard Ernst’s words, modern technologies have already widened the gap between the rich and the poor. The rich have become owners of technologies and are using it to their advantage. He, therefore, suggests science and technology must work with a human face and its deployment must benefit the poor and disadvantaged.

In the current ecological and revolutionary state of affairs, technologies have to be sustainable and eco-friendly. So is the vision of another Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen: “India should not be half-California and half sub-Saharan Africa.’’ Does this mean a technological divide? All that one can think is about ‘model plants’. And there is room for development of agriculture that forms nearly 70% of rural India for improving the livelihood of farmers.

For scientists’ hope and enthusiasm, technologies are going one step ahead. Says Knowledge Commission’s vice-chairman PM Bhargava, the proposed 25,0000 village resource centres and 50,000 knowledge clubs have to be integrated for a perfect information package delivery. The integration might perhaps become useful for forming a differential fruiting or harvest system.

In order to reap such designer plants, the need of the hour is a public-private-partnership (PPP) between the academia, industry and research institutes. According to D Yogeswara Rao, head, TNBD Division, CSIR, the drivers for PPP in research (which is considered as risky, expensive and time consuming) is that technology is becoming multi-disciplinary and now has an option with a window for external knowledge.

Be it genetically modified (GM) or non-GM crops, the poor farmer is seeking various options for his betterment. He is not averse to new technologies provided it helps to raise his income, provide him a sustainable means for his livelihood and protect his environment, says Mr Rao.


Biotech boom helping farmers

- The Journal Gazette, By Michael Fumento, Jan. 08, 2006

Both in terms of consumption and variety, biotech is busting out all over – and we’re reaping a host of benefits from cheaper and better food to land and forest preservation.

The estimated global area of approved biotech crops for 2004 was 200 million acres, up from just 167 million acres the year before. It was an incredible 47-fold increase since 1996.

In the United States, as well, biotech acreage increases annually. Most of our corn, about four-fifths of our cotton, and almost 90 percent of our soybeans are transgenic. That means a gene or genes from another organism has been spliced into them to give them new traits, as opposed to using the clunky older method of cross-breeding.

Now consider some of the approximately 30 crops in the development pipeline of a single company, Monsanto of St. Louis.

Many of these will primarily aid farmers, but they also help all of us by keeping prices down and allowing more crops to be grown on less land, thereby leaving more land for nature.

Among these are corn, soybeans, cotton, and oil-producing canola that are resistant to drought. Monsanto has video footage comparing drought-resistant corn with a regular variety on a 100-degree day. Leaves of the regular variety began curling in the morning, while those of the drought-resistant corn remained open so the plants continued to grow.

They also checked the drought-resistant crop’s temperature and found it stayed cooler.

Droughts regularly destroy crops in the United States, causing great hardship for farmers and increasing consumer prices. But in poorer parts of the world, droughts mean famine and death. While American farmers are Monsanto’s main customers, much of their market is also overseas, where they’ve helped develop crops exclusively for Third World countries, including a variety of disease-resistant sweet potato.

Further, while a biotech plant such as cotton may boost an American farmer’s crop by 10 percent or more, I met with African farmers at a U.S. meeting who said that same biotech plant doubled their cotton yields. That’s because the biotech seed is the only advantage they have, with no access to tractors, pesticides, and even the global positioning system that U.S. farmers can use to tell them exactly where to spray and fertilize.

Speaking of which, one of Monsanto’s pipeline products is corn that increases nitrogen use. Most plants, including corn, must draw all of their life-sustaining nitrogen from the ground, so farmers must regularly apply fertilizer. Fertilizer costs money and, if not properly managed, can harm the environment when rain causes it to run off into waterways, causing algae growth explosions that crowd out both plant and aquatic life.

In developed countries, engineered nitrogen-efficient plants can reduce the amount of fertilizer needed, or produce greater yields with the same amount of fertilizer. But poor farmers can only afford the fertilizer they collect from their animals and families. Each year their meager crop yields decline. If possible, they create greener pastures by cutting down rain forest, which has much value to us, but none to them.

Currently, almost all biotech crops reduce the use of either insecticides or herbicides. Upcoming Monsanto products, however, more effectively kill pests and even combine the two traits. The Agriculture Department has just approved one that protects corn against both weeds and rootworms. These are actually voracious beetles nicknamed “the billion-dollar pest” because of their estimated annual cost to U.S. farmers.

Other pipeline products directly target consumers. Soybeans are emphasized, because they are healthy to begin with and are common in our food both as oil and meal.

Monsanto is introducing into the bean omega-3 fatty acids, which are strongly connected to reducing heart disease. It’s also improving the quality of the protein in soybeans and eliminating trans fats and saturated fats, both linked to causing heart disease.

I chose to focus on Monsanto for lack of space and because their annual report was plopped onto my lap while I was hunting for a column idea. But their pipeline represents a fraction of what the biotech industry as a whole – large companies and small, here and abroad – will bring to your supper table. These are truly exciting times for producers, consumers, and those who care about the environment.


Pioneer breaks new ground in trait optimization with "gene shuffling" technology

January 6, 2006

Des Moines, Iowa - Few technologies have had a greater impact on agriculture over the past decade than the introduction of glyphosate-resistant seed. Now researchers at Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., are developing the next generation of herbicide resistant seed, using groundbreaking technology commonly referred to as "gene shuffling."

In addition to offering an alternative to current glyphosate-resistant technology, gene shuffling holds the promise of introducing a range of desirable traits to Pioneer seed.

"Pioneer Hi-Bred's proprietary trait optimization technology of gene shuffling includes multiple formats and methods that are tailored for each individual trait," says Linda Castle, research coordinator at the Pioneer Research campus in Redwood City, Calif. "We apply this technology to a wide variety of traits in the Pioneer pipeline."

Gene shuffling technology is highly sophisticated, yet based on the simple principle of transforming genes with poor trait properties into genes with high value. That process begins with identifying genes with potentially valuable traits, such as glyphosate tolerance.

Researchers initially found a few genes with a weak enzyme that inactivated glyphosate. Through a repetitive process similar to traditional plant breeding, researchers began to improve this trait. Finally, at about a 2,000-fold improvement level, they had a gene that provided plants with a sufficient level of herbicide resistance.

This improved gene is being incorporated into Pioneer elite germplasm for further testing. Although commercial introduction is several years away, the technology will offer a number of benefits for growers using glyphosate-resistant production systems.

"The introduction of this proprietary glyphosate-resistant trait will give growers expanded options to choose among the glyphosate-resistant traits," says Castle.

"It will allow companies like Pioneer to offer expanded choices, including stacked traits, to growers in a variety of different seed products. The glyphosate-resistant trait will be stacked with sulfonylurea herbicide resistance to provide additional options for sound weed resistance management and to fill key weed gaps."

Gene-shuffling technology may lead to a wider application window and greater range of rates, which will give growers more application flexibility without having to change their management programs.

"Growers experienced with glyphosate-resistant crops should see a seamless transition in management practices when changing to the glyphosate-resistant trait," says Castle.

"In addition, they will be able to apply one or a custom blend of DuPont sulfonylurea herbicides over the top of the crop for added weed control and resistance-management options." Yields of soybeans with the new gene will not be held back as they are by today's glyphosate resistant traits, a difference university research suggests could be more than five percent. By combining this with industry leading soybean yields from Pioneer, farmers will enjoy even more significant yield advantages, along with improved weed control options.

In addition to improving weed control in soybeans, gene shuffling technology can be applied to any crop to address a broad range of trait optimization objectives.

"In some cases the same optimized gene can be used in multiple crops, and in other cases, part of the optimization process includes crop-specific aspects," says Castle.

"Gene shuffling technology should help Pioneer identify and develop a number of next-generation traits to help plants survive and perform better against agronomic and environmental stresses, including numerous diseases, plant pests and drought."

The cutting-edge research on the Redwood City campus, combined with the strength of Pioneer in the seed industry, creates a win-win situation, notes Castle - especially for growers.

"We are committed to providing superior traits at a faster pace that, when combined with Pioneer's elite germplasm, will deliver the highest value to our customers," says Castle.

Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., a subsidiary of DuPont, is the world's leading source of customized solutions for farmers, livestock producers and grain and oilseed processors. With headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, Pioneer provides access to advanced plant genetics, crop protection solutions and quality crop systems to customers in nearly 70 countries. DuPont is a science company. Founded in 1802, DuPont puts science to work by creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer, healthier life for people everywhere. Operating in more than 70 countries, DuPont offers a wide range of innovative products and services for markets including agriculture, nutrition, electronics, communications, safety and protection, home and construction, transportation and apparel.

Vermont rejects bill imposing liability on biotech farmers

- FDA WEEK, January 6, 2006

Vermont's House of Representatives Tuesday (Jan. 3) rejected a bill that would have held farmers cultivating genetically engineered crops responsible for any environmental contamination resulting from the spread of the crop. The bill was an attempt to stop the use of GE seeds, according to a biotechnology source. Similar bills in New York, Massachusetts, California and Hawaii also have been defeated, the source says.

"They were trying to pass strict liability for farmers which would put biotech crops in the same category as explosives and hazardous waste," the source says. "If this had passed it would have meant that a farmer with a complaint about his neighbor's biotech crop could have asked for damages."

The bill was arbitrary and did not outline a way to measure the harm, the source says. Farmers should have the same protections as a consumer and they should be allowed to grow any product approved for the marketplace, the source says.

If the bill had passed biotech companies would have chosen not to sell their products in Vermont, the source says.

Vermont's House voted 68 to 79 to reject the bill that would have allowed a farmer to collect damages if his crop had been contaminated with genetically engineered crop.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) lauded the House's move. In a statement Sean Darragh, BIO Executive Vice President for Food and Agriculture said, "By rejecting strict liability language, the Vermont legislature has codified liability protection for Vermont's farmers that will allow them to continue to adopt new farming practices as they become available, and remain competitive with farmers across the nation."

BIO says there is no documented case of any farmer in Vermont suffering economic loss from biotech crops. On the contrary a study by the National Center for Food and Agriculture Policy shows that Vermont farmers increased the state's food production, improved farm income and reduced pesticide use by using genetically engineered seeds, BIO states.


Organic dairy farming profits elusive


West Swanton, Vt. -- Making a profit from running an organic dairy operation can be difficult, a new study by researchers at the universities of Vermont and Maine shows.

Of 30 organic dairy farms whose financial performances in 2004 were studied, two-thirds failed to make a profit, the study found.

"Overall, we find that the average organic dairy operation was not profitable ... . The average rate of return on farm assets was minus 2.9 percent," the researchers reported.

The findings were surprising to some because dozens of conventional dairy farms have switched to organic production, enticed by promises of higher and more stable prices.

West Swanton farmer Earl Fournier said he was not surprised by the study's findings, although his operation has been improving. The profit on his 75 milk cows tripled from $9,000 to about $30,000 in 2004-2005.

"The numbers don't make you jump out of your chair, but I can say for certain I'm no worse off and the potential to be really better off is there," he said.

Demand among consumers for organic milk has been increasing 20 percent or more per year, although supply has not kept up.

Organic milk, Fournier calculated, would pay him at least $1.85 a gallon. In 2006, he will be paid at least $2.24 a gallon.

But feed costs are higher on an organic operation and the production is lower, often wiping out the premium that farmers earn, the study found.

"You've got to know what you're doing," said Glenn Rogers, one of the researchers on the study. He stressed that the study was just a one-year snapshot of the industry.