Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: January 12, 2006
* Report Projects Increase in Use of Biotech Crops in Next Decade
* Engineered crops boast banner year
* GLOBAL STATUS OF COMMERCIALIZED BIOTECH/GM CROPS: 2005
* Anti-poverty group calls modified crops helpful
* Germany 'accepting' GM agriculture
* The curious incident of the NGO: why didn’t RAFI bark?
* ON KRANTHI'S PAPER
* Philippines' GM Crop Areas Surge 40 PCT In 2005
Report Projects Increase in Use of Biotech Crops in Next Decade
- United States Department of State (Washington, DC), January 11, 2006
Global planting of genetically modified (GM) crops is likely to grow even faster in the next decade than the double-digit annual rate of the past 10 years, according to a new independent report.
The report predicts with "cautious optimism" that GM planting will accelerate as the benefits of such crops become recognized more broadly, as currently available crops are adopted more broadly, and as new crops become available.
The report, Global Status of Biotech/Genetically Modified Crops in 2005, was published January 11 by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), an international not-for-profit organization that promotes agricultural biotechnology in developing countries.
GM crops, with traits such as improved resistance to destructive insects and increased tolerance of herbicides, are more cost effective and environmentally friendly and produce greater yields than traditional crops, according to many farmers and experts.
The expansion of acreage designated for GM crops also will be driven by China's expected adoption of genetically modified rice in the near future, demand for more nutritional GM food and feed, and the anticipated introduction of novel crops with qualities desirable in the production of medicines and biofuels, the report said.
In 2005, 8.5 million farmers grew GM crops on 222 million acres, according to the report.
ISAAA said that GM acreage growth of 11 percent in 2005 was down sharply from 20 percent in 2004 and 15 percent in 2003, as debates about the benefits and perceived risks of GM foods continue.
Friends of the Earth, a nonprofit group that argues GM crops can be harmful to human health and the environment, said the report ignored the fact that a growing number of countries actually were banning GM products
But Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA, told reporters during a January 11 teleconference that the continued increase in the number of countries growing GM crops -- from six in 1996 to 21 in 2005 -- indicates that the substantial benefits associated with these crops are becoming more obvious.
He said that even Europe, which has so far mostly resisted GM crops, is likely to begin accepting them more broadly in the next decade although rather slowly.
"It won't happen overnight," he said.
As evidence of growing acceptance of GM crops in Europe, James cited resumed planting of GM maize in France and Portugal in 2005 and the adoption of that crop for the first time in the Czech Republic. These developments have brought the total number of European countries dedicated to the commercialization of GM maize to five.
James said that Bulgaria and Romania, which are seeking to join the European Union, also grow GM crops, with Romania among the largest producers of such crops in the world. The United States leads the top GM crops producers, followed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada and China.
James said developing countries have shown increasing interest in GM crops. Although such countries represent only one-third of the global GM acreage, from 2004 to 2005 they expanded GM acreage almost five times faster than industrialized nations, and the trend is likely to continue in the next decade, he said.
In an ISAAA news release, James said that GM crops have helped to lift 7.7 million subsistence farmers in 11 developing countries out of poverty by increasing their incomes. The potential to alleviate poverty and hunger in the developing world in the next decade is even greater, he added.
"The broader commercialization of biotech rice, the most important food crop of the world's 1.3 billion poor and the 850 million hungry and malnourished, can further this effort," he said. "Biotech rice could make a substantial contribution to the formidable U.N. Millennium Development Goal of reducing poverty, hunger and malnutrition by 50 percent in 2015."
In Africa, where such a reduction would make the biggest difference, only South Africa grows GM crops. James said that the resistance to GM foods from major European food importers explains to a large degree why African governments and farmers are reluctant to embrace the new technology. But he said that some countries such as Egypt, Kenya, Burkina Faso and Mali that are considering adopting GM maize or cotton face other big challenges, including a lack of financing.
Nevertheless, James predicted "significant growth" in GM crops in Africa in the next 10 years as these obstacles are overcome and new generations of GM crops with characteristics particularly attractive to the region become available. He said that the commercialization of drought-resistant crops expected in 2010-2012 will be particularly important in this respect.
The texts of the news release and executive summary of the report, as well as related tables, can be viewed on the ISAAA Web site.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
Engineered crops boast banner year
- Associated Press, Jan 12, 2006
HONOLULU — Last year set records for the growth of genetically engineered crops, as more farmers in Europe and the developing world embraced biotechnology, an industry-supported group reported Wednesday.
Yet anti-biotech activists and other observers still complain that the industry isn’t helping alleviate world hunger as it has long promised. None of the commercially available genetically engineered crops last year were nutritionally enhanced. Much of the output is for animal feed.
About 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries grew engineered crops on 222 million acres last year, an 11 percent increase over 2004, according to a report released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.
Nearly 8 million of those people were considered subsistence farmers, the report concluded.
The report was paid for by two philanthropic groups, the Rockefeller Foundation and Italy’s Fondazione Bussolera Branca.
In 1996, the first year genetically modified crops were commercially available, about 4.3 million acres were under biotechnology cultivation. Now genetically engineered crops are grown throughout the Americas, China and India. Last year the technology began to be used in Iran.
“The technology has been very important for us,” said Jose Manuel Pomar, who joined a conference call announcing the report and said his 250 acres of corn in Spain were saved from a deadly pest because of biotechnology.
Many papaya farmers in Hawaii, which supplies 90 percent of the United States’ supply, credit biotechnology with saving the industry from a ruinous virus 10 years ago.
However, opponents note that no new or innovative genetically engineered crops have been introduced in the last decade. Much of the worldwide growth last year was attributed to soybeans genetically engineered to resist weed killer and corn spliced with bacteria genes to resist bugs, traits that directly benefit farmers, not consumers.
So far, no one has introduced crops with added nutrients and other attributes that could fight hunger in the developing world, as the biotech industry often promises. What’s more, few biotech versions of crops such as rice that are widely consumed in poor countries have been distributed on a large scale. The four most popular biotech crops are soy, corn, cotton and canola.
“While the acreage continues to grow, it’s driven by technology that was developed 10 years ago,” said Greg Jaffe, biotech director for the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. “It would be nice to see others in the food chain aside from farmers benefit.”
Clive James, author of the report and founder of the group behind the study, said he expects more diverse biotech crops to hit the market in the next three to five years, including drought-tolerant corn and rice engineered to resist pests.
“Rice is the most important food crop in the world,” he said, noting that Iran recently approved commercialization of biotech rice, grown on about 100,000 acres. Some 250 million farmers grow rice, and it’s a staple for more than 1.3 billion of the world’s poorest people.
China could disrupt the global market if it decides to commercialize genetically engineered rice. The country is experimenting, but Chinese government officials have given mixed signals when _ or if _ the world’s most populous country plans to grow biotech rice on a larger scale.
The three biggest biotech crop producers in 2004 were the United States, Argentina and Brazil, which struck a deal last year with biotech behemoth Monsanto Inc. to officially allow genetically modified soy to be grown there. Nearly all the soy grown in the U.S. and Argentina is genetically engineered. Soy is a key ingredient in many packaged foods.
The 124 million acres grown in the U.S. in 2005 represents a 5 percent increase over 2004. Soy and corn were the dominant crops, and the United States accounted for 55 percent of all biotech crops grown last year.
James said most of the growth was spurred by Monsanto and other biotech companies’ research and marketing efforts rather than governments and nonprofit entities.
The continued growth of biotech crops comes as the United States and the European Union await a resolution by the World Trade Organization over most of Europe’s de facto ban on genetically engineered U.S. crops.
Many Europeans are so skeptical of genetically engineered crops that analysts say even a WTO ruling in favor of the U.S. will not significantly open the biotech market there. So farmers dependent on the European market, including many in Africa and even in the United States, will continue to shun biotechnology, James conceded during the teleconference.
Still, he argued that genetically modified plants will help alleviate poverty in developing nations by improving crop yields and cutting expenses through less use of pesticides.
“Biotechnology has helped alleviate 7.7 million subsistence farmers from abject poverty,” James said. “It’s a contribution, not a solution to the alleviation of poverty.”
HIGHLIGHTS OF ISAAA BRIEFS NO. 34-2005
GLOBAL STATUS OF COMMERCIALIZED BIOTECH/GM CROPS: 2005
- ISAAA, by Clive James, Chair, Jan 11, 2006
The Brief, the tenth in an annual series, was released on 11 January 2006. ISAAA Brief 34 characterizes the global status in
2005 of commercialized GM crops, now often called biotech crops, as referred to consistently in the Brief. The focus on
developing countries is consistent with ISAAA’s mission to assist developing countries in assessing the potential of biotech
crops. The principal aim, is to present a consolidated set of data that will facilitate a knowledge-based discussion of the current
global trends in biotech crops.
• 2005 marked the tenth anniversary of the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) crops, now more often called
biotech crops, as referred to consistently in these Highlights.
• In 2005, the global biotech crop area continued to soar as the billionth acre, equivalent to the 400 millionth hectare of a
biotech crop, was planted by one of 8.5 million farmers, in one of 21 countries. This unprecedented high adoption rate
reflects the trust and confidence of millions of farmers in crop biotechnology.
• Over the last decade, farmers have consistently increased their plantings of biotech crops by double-digit growth rates
every single year since biotech crops were first commercialized in 1996. Remarkably, the global biotech crop area
increased more than fifty-fold in the first decade of commercialization.
• The global area of approved biotech crops in 2005 was 90 million hectares, equivalent to 222 million acres, up from 81
million hectares or 200 million acres in 2004. The increase was 9 million hectares or 22 million acres, equivalent to an
annual growth rate of 11% in 2005.
• A historic milestone was reached in 2005 when 21 countries grew biotech crops, up significantly from 17 countries in
2004. Notably, of the four new countries that grew biotech crops in 2005, compared with 2004, three were EU countries,
Portugal, France, and the Czech Republic whilst the fourth was Iran. Portugal and France resumed the planting of Bt
maize in 2005 after a gap of 5 and 4 years respectively, whilst the Czech Republic planted Bt maize for the first time in
2005, bringing the total number of EU countries now commercializing modest areas of Bt maize to five, viz: Spain,
Germany, Portugal, France and the Czech Republic. In 2005, the 21 countries growing biotech crops included 11 developing
countries and 10 industrial countries; they were, in order of hectarage, USA, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Paraguay,
India, South Africa, Uruguay, Australia, Mexico, Romania, the Philippines, Spain, Colombia, Iran, Honduras, Portugal,
Germany, France and the Czech Republic.
• In 2005 biotech rice (Bt) was grown commercially for the first time on approximately four thousand hectares in Iran by
several hundred farmers. Iran and China are the most advanced countries in the commercialization of biotech rice, which
is the most important food crop in the world, grown by 250 million farmers, and the principal food of the world’s 1.3 billion
poorest people, mostly subsistence farmers. Thus, the commercialization of biotech rice has enormous implications for the
alleviation of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, not only for the rice growing and consuming countries in Asia, but for all
biotech crops and their acceptance on a global basis. China has already field tested biotech rice in pre-production trials
and is expected to approve biotech rice in the near-term.
• In 2005, the US, followed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada and China continued to be the principal adopters of biotech crops
globally, with 49.8 million hectares planted in the US (55% of global biotech area) of which approximately 20% were
stacked products containing two or three genes, with the first triple gene product making its debut in maize in the US in
2005. The stacked products, currently deployed in the US, Canada, Australia, Mexico, and South Africa and approved in
the Philippines, are an important and growing future trend which is more appropriate to quantify as “trait hectares” rather
than hectares of adopted biotech crops. Number of “trait hectares” in US in 2005 was 59.4 million hectares compared with 49.8 million hectares of biotech crops, a 19% variance, and globally 100 million “trait hectares” versus 90 million
hectares, a 10% variance.
• The largest increase in any country in 2005 was in Brazil, provisionally estimated at 4.4 million hectares (9.4 million
hectares in 2005 compared with 5 million in 2004), followed by the US (2.2 million hectares), Argentina (0.9 million
hectares) and India (0.8 million hectares). India had by far the largest year-on-year proportional increase, with almost a
three-fold increase from 500,000 hectares in 2004 to 1.3 million hectares in 2005.
• Biotech soybean continued to be the principal biotech crop in 2005, occupying 54.4 million hectares (60% of global biotech
area), followed by maize (21.2 million hectares at 24%), cotton (9.8 million hectares at 11%) and canola (4.6 million
hectares at 5% of global biotech crop area).
• In 2005, herbicide tolerance, deployed in soybean, maize, canola and cotton continued to be the most dominant trait
occupying 71% or 63.7 million hectares followed by Bt insect resistance at 6.2 million hectares (18%) and 10.1 million
hectares (11%) to the stacked genes. The latter was the fastest growing trait group between 2004 and 2005 at 49%
growth, compared with 9% for herbicide tolerance and 4% for insect resistance.
• Biotech crops were grown by approximately 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries in 2005, up from 8.25 million farmers in 17
countries in 2004. Notably, 90% of the beneficiary farmers were resource-poor farmers from developing countries,
whose increased incomes from biotech crops contributed to the alleviation of their poverty. In 2005, approximately 7.7
million poor subsistence farmers (up from 7.5 million in 2004) benefited from biotech crops – the majority in China with
6.4 million, 1 million in India, thousands in South Africa including many women Bt cotton farmers, more than 50,000 in the
Philippines, with the balance in the seven developing countries which grew biotech crops in 2005. This initial modest
contribution of biotech crops to the Millennium Development Goal of reducing poverty by 50% by 2015 is an important
development which has enormous potential in the second decade of commercialization from 2006 to 2015.
• During the period 1996 to 2005, the proportion of the global area of biotech crops grown by developing countries increased
every year. More than one-third of the global biotech crop area in 2005, equivalent to 33.9 million hectares, was grown in
developing countries where growth between 2004 and 2005 was substantially higher (6.3 million hectares or 23% growth)
than industrial countries (2.7 million hectares or 5% growth). The increasing collective impact of the five principal developing
countries (China, India, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa) is an important continuing trend with implications for the
future adoption and acceptance of biotech crops worldwide.
• In the first decade, the accumulated global biotech crop area was 475 million hectares or 1.17 billion acres, equivalent to
almost half of the total land area of the USA or China, or 20 times the total land area of the UK. The continuing rapid adoption
of biotech crops reflects the substantial and consistent improvements in productivity, the environment, economics, and social
benefits realized by both large and small farmers, consumers and society in both industrial and developing countries.
• There is cause for cautious optimism that the stellar growth in biotech crops, witnessed in the first decade of commercialization, 1996 to 2005, will continue and probably be surpassed in the second decade 2006-2015. Adherence to good farming practices with biotech crops will remain critical as it has been during the first decade and continued responsible stewardship must be practiced, particularly by the countries of the South, which will be the major deployers of biotech crops in the coming decade.
Anti-poverty group calls modified crops helpful
- ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, By Rachel Melcer, 01/11/2006
Genetically modified crops are not a panacea for world hunger and poverty, but they are making a significant - and growing - contribution, according to a report made public Wednesday by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.
About 7.7 million subsistence farmers planted biotech crops last year, up from 7.5 million in 2004. Most are cotton growers in China, India, South Africa and the Philippines. Their incomes, typically $1 a day, have risen 25 percent to 30 percent with the use of biotech crops, which improve yield and reduce the need to apply costly weed- and insect-killers, said Clive James, chair of ISAAA's board and author of the report.
"It's not a silver bullet. It is a technology, like any other technology, with strengths and weaknesses," James said. ISAAA is a not-for-profit devoted to reducing poverty by boosting farm income and crop productivity. The group has been supported by foundations and companies, including Monsanto Co. and the Monsanto Fund.
To boost production, farmers need a combination of biotech traits, high-quality seeds and good conventional agronomic practices, James said. Biotech crops "are a contribution, not a solution, to the alleviation of poverty."
Yet, these crops are controversial. Friends of the Earth, a nonprofit group that opposes the technology, contends that they could harm the environment, reduce biodiversity and lead to "super weeds" that could resist the most widely used herbicide. In a report issued Tuesday, the group questioned the technology's benefits.
Biotech crops are genetically engineered with traits that appeal to growers, such as the ability to ward off certain pests and to withstand applications of glyphosate herbicide. Companies, led by Monsanto Co. of Creve Coeur, as well as public institutes are developing biotech seeds that will make crops easier to use for food processors and healthier for consumers.
Growth in the use of biotech crops in developing countries - including Brazil, one of the world's top agriculture economies - is outpacing acreage expansion in industrialized nations that have approved the technology, the report said.
In part, this is because the United States already has widely adopted biotech soybeans, corn, cotton and canola. More than 123 million U.S. acres were planted with these crops last year - 55 percent of the total 222 million acres planted with biotech crops in 21 nations. So, countries that are newer to the technology have more room for rapid expansion.
Most of the crops were developed and are sold by Monsanto. Last year, it was the sole purveyor of seeds that are "stacked" with more than one genetic trait, though DuPont's Pioneer Hi-Bred International division and Dow Agro Sciences LLC jointly launched a corn product with two traits for the 2006 planting season.
By stacking traits, companies can maximize profits and value on every acre, and farmers can see added benefits with the use of a single seed. About 20 percent of biotech acres in United States were planted with stacked traits, the report said.
Overall, global acreage of biotech crops grew by 11 percent in 2005 over the prior year. This was the smallest gain seen in a decade of planting, because of a decrease in overall cotton planting in China as well as drought and poor weather conditions in other parts of the world, James said.
The market value of biotech seeds, including fees levied for using the technology, was $5.25 billion in 2005 and should rise to $5.5 billion this year, the report said. Biotech crops, harvested and sold, fetched about $50 billion last year.
Friends of the Earth said biotech crops benefit big corporations - namely, Monsanto - rather than farmers or consumers. Its report said adoption of the technology is a sign of Monsanto's "objectionable" influence over policymakers in many countries and international bodies.
Chris Horner, a Monsanto spokesman, said that report contains old information that major scientific studies have refuted.
"The main thing is, farmers are using this and adopting it at the rate they are because of the benefits," he said. "We can't make farmers do anything."
Germany 'accepting' GM agriculture
- Bangkok Post, By Clive Freeman, Jan 12, 2006
Berlin (dpa) - The chairman of the Federation of German Food and Drink Industries says there is "a greater acceptance" of genetic engineering on the part of the new German government.
At a press conference on the eve of International Green Week - the world's biggest food and farm fair - Juergen Abraham hailed the shift in Germany's thinking on genetic engineering, saying, "We should not deliberately distance ourselves from this worldwide development."
Genetic engineering describes methods to manipulate the genetic material of cells in order to change hereditary traits or produce biological products, including genetically-modified (GM) crops.
Germany is one of several E.U. countries to have banned specific genetically modified crops on their territory.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Green Week "eating and drinking" fair. Established in 1926 as a trade fair for the local Berlin market, it has evolved into a leading international showcase for developments in food and horticulture.
Some 3,729 exhibitors will be participating at this year's show, including some 1,600 exhibitors from 53 foreign countries. Some 115,000 square metres of hall space have been reserved for the event.
All kinds of farm animals go on display each year at Green Week in the farm experience and livestock halls.
The mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, and the chairman of the E.U. Agriculture and Fisheries Council, Josef Proell, are expected to address the show's opening on Thursday.
At Wednesday's press conference, Juergen Abraham praised the coalition government of Angela Merkel for its "objectivity" and lack of "wishful thinking" in confronting the economic problems facing the country.
On the subject of bird flu, he noted that currently the only known way that the virus can be transmitted from birds to humans is through direct contact with infected poultry.
Abraham said German authorities were justified in imposing stricter controls on travellers between Turkey and Germany in an effort to prevent the risk of infection from illegal imports.
Green Week spokesman Wolfgang Rogall, meanwhile, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that all poultry on display at the Berlin exhibition had been vaccinated and cleared by veterinary authorities. Several dozen chickens will be on display at the show.
On the performance of the German food industry in 2005, Abraham said it had stood up well in the face of "difficult conditions" in 2005, pointing to a 3.3 per cent rise in industry sales cent to 134.5 billion euros, mostly fuelled by exports.
"According to our estimates the value of sales of German food products abroad was 29.7 billion euros, a 7.2 per cent increase compared with the previous year," he said. Growth in domestic sales was estimated at a modest 2.2 per cent.
Abraham appealed to the government to reduce bureaucracy in 2006. Excessive regulations were depriving German companies of the freedom to supply innovative products to the German market, the E.U. and the world, he said.
"Our sector (food) in particular is subject to a whole raft of regulations imposed by Brussels," he complained.
The curious incident of the NGO: why didn’t RAFI bark?
- By Dave Wood
I loved the wonderful put-down of rent-a-mob NGOs by “Thingfish” (Hong Kong WTO Riots Meant Nothing to Millions, AgBioView Dec. 23, 2005) with its demonstration of muddle and mixed messages. In particular, the fact that: “Some groups were protesting against genetically modified food, others were demanding control over ‘genetic resources’. While the two sides don’t talk about it and some seem completely muddled by it, the difference between them is as wide as the gap between creationists and Darwinians.”
One of Thingfish’s links (http://targetwto.revolt.org/node/143) takes us to a statement by an Indonesian NGO demonstrating in Hong Kong: “Seeds are the life of the farmers. Farmers have the right to these resources because it is our culture and part of the heritage which has been passed on for generations,” said Erpan Faryadi, secretary general of AGRA in Indonesia.
Tough luck, Erpan, under the new International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (ITPGR), Indonesian farmers will have no right whatever to these resources. In fact, if any Indonesian farmer wants the return of part of any sample of the most important crop (rice) from the largest rice genetic resources collection in the world (IRRI, in the Philippines), each farmer will have to sign a legally-binding agreement not to claim `ownership’ of what is received. This applies even if the requested sample was donated to IRRI by the very same Indonesian farmer years before.
The new Treaty will impose on all countries and individual farmers the need to sign away ownership rights on heritage varieties of major crops if these are stored outside the country. The largest and most important of these heritage collections are in ten Future Harvest Institutes (including IRRI, for rice, in the Philippines and CIMMYT, for maize and wheat, in Mexico).
It once made sense for countries to store duplicate seed samples of national heritage varieties in major international genebanks. These duplicates were always freely available to replace varieties lost through breakdown – not uncommon – of national seed stores. Future Harvest Centres took pride in returning duplicates to the country of origin on request. For example, following Hurricane Mitch in Central America there was a programme to replenish traditional varieties and re-establish crop biodiversity (http://www.futureharvest.org/news/01181999.shtml). Returning traditional varieties from Future Harvest Centres direct to farmers was a scrupulously observed and very practical “Farmer’s Right”.
This right may be lost shortly after the first meeting of the Treaty in July 2006. All the legally independent Future Harvest Centres will be pressured to place all their important seed collections (some 600,000 samples) and all their `products of research’ within the Treaty. Note that these `products of research’ include the Green Revolution varieties that enabled Dr Norman Borlaug, working out of CIMMYT, to save more lives that any other human in history (also AgBioView Dec. 23, 2005). The present Farmers’ Right to receive seed unconditionally from Future Harvest centres will go out of the window.
For example, the Treaty will require that Mexican maize samples in the CIMMYT collections be placed in the Treaty without Mexican agreement (Mexico has not ratified the Treaty). Mexican Government, research institutes, and farmers will therefore have to sign away their rights of ownership if they wish the return of duplicates from CIMMYT. And if patents are taken out anywhere in the world on derivatives of Mexican maize obtained from CIMMYT, then an international tax will generate benefits for the Treaty, and not Mexico.
By chance, some of the lobbying for the Treaty (a `multilateral system’) can be found also in AgBioView Dec. 23, 2005 (Here Come the Bio-Vikings! - Waldemar Ingdahl). This concludes that: “To enable and preserve the access, conservation and utilization of genetic resources there should be a commitment to a multilateral system, including the highly politicized issue of maintaining gene banks for future use. This would benefit the people of developing nations, as the present situation is not favorable to them either; they cannot gain the full benefits of their resources.”
These conclusions are questionable. The Treaty – with only 81 members - favours developed countries (most of whom have ratified the Treaty). Further, most of the lobbying for the Treaty came from developed countries and from NGOs such as the Canadian RAFI (now re-badged as ETC) located in developed countries. Most of the benefits will go to the minority of developing countries who have ratified the Treaty. In contrast to the minority membership of the Treaty, the Convention on Biological Diversity, which also deals with access and benefit-sharing of crop resources, has 188 members. A recent committee of the Convention indicated that it did not want the Treaty to be the sole mechanism for crop genetic resources (http://www.iisd.ca/download/pdf/enb09331e.pdf).This is an international muddle that will keep lawyers and NGOs in funds for ever.
Sherlock Holmes once solved a case by attention to what did not happen, rather than what did.
- Inspector Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
- Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
- "The dog did nothing in the night time"
- "That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
From "The Adventure of Silver Blaze" by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Over the past twenty years RAFI has made an enormous song and dance over access to seed and `Farmers’ Rights’. RAFI has strongly promoted the Treaty (Canada is a member).Yet the Treaty will replace the present global free access to heritage and new varieties from the Future Harvest Centres by a restrictive tax system. Specifically, farmers who have donated heritage samples to Future Harvest centres will not get duplicates back without signing away their ownership rights.
Yet we not heard a peep on the Treaty from the normally noisy RAFI since December 2001, when countries were advised to “Ratify, ratify, ratify - and don't mess with the deal”.
This is a very `curious incident’. Why is RAFI not barking over the clear threat to `Farmers’ Rights’ in the Treaty? It seems that RAFI was more interested in a mind-numbing slogan to promote the Treaty, rather than in real rights for poor farmers. Further, how are Future Harvest Centres going to explain to their host countries who are not members of the Treaty (Nigeria, Colombia, Mexico and Philippines) why Centres are planning to place seed samples obtained from national farmers beyond national and farmer ownership?
ON KRANTHI'S PAPER
- By Sivramiah Shantharam and Prof. C. Kameswara Rao
This has reference to the paper ‘Temporal and intra-plant variability of Cry1Ac expression in Bt-cotton and its influence on the survival of the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa armigera (Hubner) (Noctuidae: Lepidoptera)’ in Current Science, 89 (2):291-298, 2005 (July 25, 2005) by K R Kranthi et al. The major conclusion of the authors is that there are temporal variations in the levels of Cry1Ac Bt toxic protein in the floral and fruiting parts of eight varieties of commercialized hybrid Bt cotton and suggest that the levels of Bt toxin produced ‘are at less than critical levels to confer full protection to the fruiting parts, and the authors speculate that field reports of alleged failure of Bt cotton in certain parts of India may be explained on their findings.
This paper assumes considerable significance around the world as it has been co-opted by the anti-GMO lobby in India in support of their own reports of alleged failures of Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere. The purpose of this commentary is to critically analyze the value and utility of the data contained in the paper that has been used to substantiate the alleged failures of commercial Bt cotton grown under farmer’s field conditions.
We would like to argue that the authors are just about half right and half wrong in their conclusions. The basic conclusion that there are temporal variations in the levels of Bt toxin production, although correct, is nothing new. Authors cite enough references in their own paper to support this basic biology of variable gene expression. Moreover, the authors have really not measured gene expression which usually means measuring levels of mRNA transcription when in fact they just the quantified Bt protein produced. Gene expression and protein quantification are not one and the same although they are related. But, the suggestion that the varying levels of Bt toxin may be insufficient to confer effective bollworm control seems is too simplistic. There are more confounding factors under field conditions that should not be lost sight of. There is neither nor there can be any direct correlation between controlled experiments conducted in Nagpur to the then prevailing conditions in the farmer’s fields in distant Andhra Pradesh. This unsubstantiated suggestion has lead to lots of misinformation campaign on he performance of Bt cotton in India. It is gratifying that that the lead author of the paper has put the meaning and context of this paper in the proper perspective in a leading Indian daily.
At best, the paper’s findings can be only be an indicator and neither a corollary nor a confirmatory finding. Any attempt to use the findings of this paper to draw support for the alleged failures of commercial Bt cotton is scientifically baseless. The experiments described in the paper are laboratory experiments with excised plant parts grown in experimental plots whose conditions have no relation to farmer’s field conditions in distant Andhra Pradesh.
There is not a single crop variety, anywhere in the world that performs uniformly, throughout the range of its cultivation, season after season, and Bt cotton should be no exception. Quantitative temporal variation observed in Cry1Ac protein is occurring in overall background of total protein degradation.
The authors have used their commercialized (their own invention) immunodiagnostic kits for measuring the levels of Bt toxin. Their quantitative measurements are considered “crude” by today’s standards. At best, their measurements are indicative and not deterministic. They should have used more reliable and sophisticated quantitative techniques. What is missing in their measurements is the quantification of total protein which would have indicated that variation of Bt protein is happening in the overall background of general protein degradation. The final quantification should have been expressed in terms of ug Bt protein/total fresh weight protein.
Diagnostic kits are usually used for quick and dirty way of ascertaining whether a given gene product is produced or not. It must be emphasized that the authors have not used any field harvested plants, but only laboratory grown plants under laboratory conditions. Hence, any extrapolation or speculation about field conditions is untenable.
The authors have grown plants in 150 m2, which in no way represents the cotton field situation anywhere (not even that of a subsistence farmer) and the size of a crop field has influence on the density of pest populations. The experiments were conducted in plastic cups in an insectary, which also does not simulate field conditions. The worms are forced to devour what the authors have provided to them under the laboratory conditions. While in the field there alternative choices for a polyphagous insect such as cotton bollworm.
The authors have used excised parts of plants, which make a significant deviation from the field situation. The saliva of the insects acts as a chemical trigger for the mobilization of defense chemicals or stimulators such as jasmonites, and may be even proteins (protein hormones move within plant systems). Of course, no one has tested if Cry1Ac protein also is mobilized thus. Isolated plant parts are denied the natural systemic defense triggers and responses.
The extraction of Cry1Ac protein from tissues for estimation purposes is relatively a challenging exercise and this is not adequately described in the material and methods. Extraction from tissues is challenging because, as the plant ages and forms mature leaf and boll rind, the tissues become very fibrous and some resinous and/or triterpenoidal compounds and tannins do accumulate. All these developments make the extraction of proteins from such differentiated and mature tissues very difficult and incomplete.
The bioassay with detached Bt cotton plant parts at best serves a qualitative purpose, such as finding out if Cry1Ac protein is present or not, but is not a robust and reliable means to gather data for determining the ‘critical expression levels in the plant’. It is not clear if the authors have taken into account the rate of degradation of Cry1Ac in plant parts after they were detached from the plant and other artifacts. The detached plant parts were kept at room temperature for 24 hr, for the insect to feed on. If there were a considerable in situ degradation of Cry1Ac during the assay period of 24 hours, larvae would be able to survive on the tissues even if the plant parts were from ‘high Cry1Ac is expressing’ plants. A whole plant assay, involving artificial infestation of plants with one-day old larvae, could have yielded more reliable data.
The authors have noted that ‘despite variability in toxin expression, the pest control properties are unlikely to be affected significantly at least until the crop becomes 100-115 days old.’ In field situations, the pest pressure on Bt varieties would be far lesser at the flowering time and than earlier. Most of the eggs are laid on the leaves. After flowering, only a small proportion of eggs laid on the floral parts. Thus the predominant pest pressure comes from the worms that hatch from the eggs laid on the leaves and the worms mostly feed on the middle canopy. Larvae start feeding the moment they are hatched and their early feeding is on the leaves, which the authors accept have the highest and more than adequate quantities of Cry1Ac toxin. Consequently, most of the pre-flowering crop of worms is killed by the time of flowering. Only the flowering time hatchlings matter and these are rarely devastatingly high.
The American Bollworm moth (ABW; Helicoverpa armigera) lays eggs pre-dominantly on the shoot regions in the upper half of the Bt cotton plant. The neonates feed on the shoot and other tender parts, mature into II / III instars and then migrate to lower parts of the plant to attack the reproductive structures.
The Spotted bollworm moth (SBW; Earias vittella), also lays eggs pre-dominantly in the apical terminal shoot and is often referred to as ‘shoot borer’. Similar to the ABW, only the II / III larvae reach the green bolls to bore and feed on the internal tissue. Only the Pink bollworm moth (PBW; Pectinophora gossypiella) tends to lay eggs on the flowers and green bolls. The neonates bore through the boll rind and the main food for the growing PBW larvae is the developing cottonseed. The developing cottonseed may form the food for the grown up ABW or SBW, but not for the neonate stages of these insects. Neonate stages feed on shoot regions and mature parts. In rare instances, the neonates also feed on the pollen if the eggs happen to be laid on the square or flower.
Even the authors’ results show that though some worms survived the larvae ‘on all parts were stunted with a weight reduction of 48.8 to 98 per cent’, compared to the larvae on non-Bt cotton plants. This is very significant and cannot give the larvae on Bt plants full score of damage potential. The quantity of the Cry1Ac protein in the ovary and the fruiting parts is not a significant issue. It is very important to have high expression levels in the shoot/ young leaves, because neonates of both ABW and SBW feed on these before migrating to the reproductive structures.
The bollworm is affected only after it takes a few bites of the tissue containing Bt-toxin. Even if the worm dies, after the bite, the damage is already done to the ovary/fruit becomes unproductive. Hence, what is important is that there are few worms on the post-pollination flowers. Only high levels of toxin in the leaves can achieve this. The residual pest pressure has to be controlled by pesticide application at this phase of the crop.
The genetic background of the parental germplasm is certainly an important issue, but the inter-varietals differences are not alarmingly high. The authors are concerned about the hemizygous condition of the Bt event used in India. Literature does not indicate that the hemizygous or homozygous condition of the Bt event drastically affects the total quantity of Cry1Ac protein in the Bt cotton plant. The demand for only true breeding varieties on the belief that they express Bt genes better than hybrids is scientifically baseless. Proven track record of Bt cotton hybrids for the past decade in the US, South Africa and China stands as a testimony to the superiority of the hybrids. Until hybrid cotton technology came about, cotton production in Indian was abysmally low. Hybrid cotton revolutionized cotton productivity in India. Hybrids are superior because of heterosis and hybrid vigor and if one has to achieve full potential of the hybrid, good amount of caring and feeding them is critical. Hybrids are selected for overall superiority in performance not withstanding certain concomitant disadvantages that are usually managed with good agricultural practices. No one selects a hybrid on any one over-riding trait. The basic tenet of crop improvement is to improve upon the previous and it is already happening with Bt cotton hybrids also with the introduction of many other Bt cotton hybrids and so the saga of crop improvements continues. If viewed in the perspective of scientific crop improvement, going back to in-breeding varieties of cotton makes no scientific sense. In any case, ICAR claims to have developed inbred Bt cotton varieties, and remains to be seen how well they perform under field conditions. The key to derive maximum benefits from Bt cotton lies in sound management and stewardship practices. Farmers must be properly advised on the number and timings of pesticide applications to support the defense offered by Cry1Ac protein.
The authors have noted that ‘Since the Bt transgenic technology has thus far proven itself to be one of the most environment-friendly methods of bollworm management, it is in the interests of the technology itself that researchers, technology providers and administrators ensure that it is offered to farmers in a form which gives the best possible returns for the investment’ is a worthy suggestion deserving full attention by cotton breeders.
Kranthi et al paper must be read in the perspective of overall performance of Bt cotton hybrids from all over India (both legal and illegal), and fix the problems encountered with help of intelligently bred varieties. In that context, the authors’ suggestions for future improvement of Bt cotton are laudable and no quarter must be given for any other unscientific criticisms. Ideological or politically motivated recommendations to decide on the usefulness of GM crops technology will not be in the interests of the farmers instead will be detrimental to the development of agriculture.
Prof. C. Kameswara Rao
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education
Philippines' GM Crop Areas Surge 40 PCT In 2005
- Asia Pulse, January 12, 2006
MANILA, Jan 12 Asia Pulse - Areas planted to genetically modified (GM) plants in the Philippines grew by 40 per cent last year, signifying Filipinos' acceptance for biotech crops, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) 2005 executive report bared.
"This unprecedented high adoption rate reflects the trust and confidence of millions of farmers in crop biotechnology," Randy Hautea, global coordinator of the ISAAA told media during the launch of the ISAAA 2005 executive report in Makati City. ADVERTISEMENT
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn plantation has expanded to 70,000 hectares, majority of which are in Region II, particularly in the provinces of Isabela and Cagayan, and South Cotabato in Mindanao.
The Philippines is the first country in Asia to plant Bt corn commercially. The government initially allowed 10,000 Filipino farmers to plant Bt corn in over 20,000 hectares in 2003. Since then, more farmers have gone into the production of GM crops which increased their produce twice.
There are 17 transformation events (TEs) of genetically modified (GM) crops for commercial use approved by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) for food, feed or processing materials.
This includes major crops such as corn, rice, soybean, canola, potato and cotton, tomato, eggplant, and abaca, one of the most important fiber that only the Philippines and Ecuador manufacture.
Currently, the University of the Philippines in Los Banos (UPLB) is field testing its papaya resistant to ringspot virus variety, which is hoped to be commercially available in the next three years.
"Medical biotech had been around for ages, we can't find any reason why some would not accept biotech crops. These crops underwent thorough research and testing. It's proven safe," said National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) president Dr. Emil Javier.
"We are not taking any shortcuts. The NAST is calling for responsible use of biotech crops," he added.
The report bared that global value of biotech crop market projected at US$ 5.5 billion in 2006, an increase from US$5.25 billion in 2005.
GM soybean also continued to be the principal biotech crop worldwide last year, occupying 54.4 million hectares (60 per cent of global biotech area), followed by maize (21.2 million hectares at 24 per cent), cotton (9.8 million hectares at 11 per cent) and canola (4.6 million hectares at 5 per cent of global biotech crop area).
In 2005, herbicide tolerance deployed in soybean, maize, canola and cotton continued to be the most dominant trait occupying 71 per cent or 63.7 million hectares, followed by Bt insect resistance at 6.2 million hectares (18 per cent) and 10.1 million hectares (11 per cent) to the stacked genes. The latter was the fastest growing trait group between 2004 and 2005 at 49 per cent growth, compared with nine per cent for herbicide tolerance and four per cent for insect resistance.
Countries who are now planting GM crops are USA, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Paraguay, India, South Africa, Uruguay, Australia, Mexico, Romania, the Philippines, Spain, Colombia, Iran, Honduras, Portugal, Germany, France and the Czech Republic.