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January 26, 2006


In Defence of Bt Cotton; Soybean in Brazil; Potato Opportunity; India Recognizes Borlaug; Evaluating Safety


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org January 26, 2006

* In Defence of Bt Cotton
* Almost Half of Soybean Crop in Brazil is Transgenic
* Opportunities to Open for Spud Growers
* Cute Animation of EU GMO Approval Process
* India Recognizes Norman Borlaug with a National Award
* Evaluating Safety: A Major Undertaking

In Defence of Bt Cotton

- R K Sinha and Bhagirath Choudhary, The Times of India, Jan 24, 2006 http://www1.timesofindia.indiatimes.com

Bt cotton technology has been widely accepted by Indian farmers across the country since its first commercialisation in 2002. In 2005-06, the current cotton season, legally permitted Bt cotton has been planted over 14 lakh hectares in northern, central and southern cotton growing zones as compared to merely 45,000 ha in 2002-03.

The area under official Bt cotton accounts for 15.6% of the 90 lakh ha, which is the total cotton area of the country. There were only three Bt cotton hybrids in 2002. Against that, nearly 20 Bt cotton hybrids belonging to half a dozen companies have been planted across the country in the current season. In 2005-06, more than 10 lakh small and medium farmers in India enjoyed the benefits of Bt cotton technology.

The significant increase in cotton yield during the last five years is reportedly higher than the cumulative increase in the last five decades. As a result, cotton production has touched 250 lakh bales (1 bale=170 kg) in the 2005 season, higher than the projected target of 220 lakh bales for the tenth five year Plan under the Technology Mission on Cotton (TMC).

Yield, that directly measures the income of poor farmers, has increased from 309 kg/ha in 2001-02 to 460 kg/ha in 2004-05, and is estimated to reach 475 kg/ha in 2005-06.

Bt cotton technology provides new avenues for the Indian textile industry in the post-quota regime of the WTO. The availability of good quality raw cotton on a regular basis was a genuine concern a few years back.

With the introduction of Bt technology and effective implementation of TMC, the cotton textiles industry has grown in confidence. Cotton textiles exports increased from $3 billion in 2001 to $4 billion in 2005.

The textiles industry is expected to reach a size of $85 billion by 2010 from the current size of $42 billion, both in terms of exports and domestic consumption, with a significant increase in cotton component in the total textile trade.

Taking into account the performance of various Bt cotton hybrids in different agro-climatic zones, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee has already commenced diversification in Bt genotypes by permitting more companies to introduce different Bt genes.

A recent report, organised by the National Commission on Farmers under the chairmanship of M S Swaminathan, has recommended that biotechnologies can offer new hope for increased productivity, sustainability and profitability to Indian farmers.

It has concluded that the cultivation of Bt cotton allows for an additional net pro-fit of at least about Rs 12,000 per ha, and about 40-50% savings in pesticide use, while other varieties report failure due to drought and multiple pest epidemics.

Bt hybrids mature early, enabling double-cropping in single-cropped areas. The consultation raised serious concerns about the sale of spurious Bt cotton seeds and calls for strong measure to prevent that.

Lack of general awareness of crop biotech in different cotton-growing areas is cause for serious concern.

The consultation has also advocated that a large-scale training programme be introduced in Krishi Vigyan Kendras and the state-extension system to ensure safe and effective transfer of crop biotech products.
Critics of agri-biotech have often cited a recent research paper of K R Kranthi of the Central Institute of Cotton Research, published in Current Science. It is incorrect to conclude that the paper points to the ineffectiveness of Bt cotton in controlling the bollworm.

While Bt cotton is highly effective during the 60-115 days period, we advocate the use of insecticide sprays during the remaining one to two weeks period when bollworm populations may reach economic threshold levels.

A recent global study on socio-economic and environmental impact of GM crops by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot reported a cumulative gain of $124 million to the Indian farm economy over the last three y as a result of Bt cotton technology.

However, cases of wilting of Bt cotton crop have been reported in the media. Micronutrient imbalance might have caused the wilting problem. It is essential to educate farmers to adopt an integrated fertiliser, pest and micronutrient regime.
The writers represent AICBA and ISAAA respectively.


Almost Half of Soybean Crop in Brazil is Transgenic

- Eduardo Mamcasz, Agencia Brasil, Jan. 23, 2006 http://internacional.radiobras.gov.br/

Brasília - Nearly half the 58 million tons of soybeans that Brazil expects in its next harvest are transgenic. This phenomenon, which is no longer just a subject of debate, but a significant aspect of the new Brazilian agricultural landscape, was the focus of a special program, "Soybeans - A Big Business," broadcast on Friday (20) by the Radio Nacional and available in its entirety to listeners on the Agoncia Brasil's website.

According to the director of Research and Production of the Brazilian Seed and Transplant Association (ABRASEM), Ivo Carraro, there will be even more growth of genetically modified soybean cultivation in the coming years, because "the technology really makes the farmer's life a lot easier."

He pointed out that in some regions, such as Rio Grande do Sul, the upcoming soybean harvest will be almost 100% transgenic. Bahia and Mato Grosso, he says, are not far behind, as published by Agöncia Brasil website.

Researcher says Embrapa invests in transgenic soybeans for strategic reasons

In a special program, "Soybeans - A Big Business," broadcast on Friday (20) by the Radio Nacional, the deputy head of research and development at the Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Company) Soybean Unit, Joäo Flävio Veloso, affirmed that the company's involvement with transgenic species for agricultural use is prompted by a "strategic consideration."

In his view, it is important for the government enterprise to have its own genes in order to give "support to this type of biotechnological development, to keep in step with the growth of Brazilian agriculture."

The Embrapa head also pointed out that the government's investments in transgenic soybean research hold out the "possibility of biotechnological independence in the future, in the genomic sphere, to keep Brazilian soybeans competitive on the international market."

Among the other reasons he indicated for Embrapa's efforts along these lines is the fact that there are farmers in Brazil interested in transgenic soybeans, as published by Agoncia Brasil website.


Opportunities to Open for Spud Growers

- Scott Kraus, Ag Weekly Online Jan. 24, 2006 http://www.agweekly.com/

Pocatello, Idaho - Future opportunities for Idaho potato farmers lie in growing for new markets, using new business models and adopting new technology, said an agriculture professor for the University of Idaho in Moscow.

Joseph Guenthner, past president of the Potato Association of America, said new markets include other countries that are planting more potatoes. "Growth in rich countries or developed countries is slow growth in less than a half a percent a year," Guenthner said Thursday at the University's 38th annual Potato Conference in Pocatello. "The most rapid growth in terms of consumption demand is coming from developing countries n poor countries, especially the two most heavily populated countries in the world, India and China."

Meanwhile, a key new business model is the supply-management system provided by the new United Potato Growers of Idaho and related groups elsewhere in the United States and Canada. He said the group puts significant market power in growers' hands.

Another potential growth area in technology is for genetically modified, or GM, potatoes. Despite a difficult start due to opposition from Greenpeace and others, the technology is likely to eventually take hold, he said. That's because of demand from developing countries that need food or want to save on production costs.

"People who come from Africa say the biggest pro-GM force is hunger. The people are starving, they're desperate for new technology to put food in their belly," he said. "That powerful force is bringing GM to that continent."

Another issue propelling its use is the money it saves on pesticides and production. In Brazil, use of GM soybeans was illegal, he said. But farmers planted them anyway with seed from Argentina, where the technology was legal. It was planted so widely that Brazil changed its law to allow GM soybeans. "So I see that as another force that's bringing GM technology to other countries," Guenthner said. "Where it's illegal now, the growers will grow it anyway and the law will be changed."

He said he believes that even European countries, which have been reluctant to allow GM technology, will eventually adopt it, too. Otherwise, they'll get left behind economically. He also points to a new product called Talent from a company called Luxan. The company says the caraway oil-based product regulates sprouting during storage of seed potatoes. It also says the award-winning product allows higher storage temperatures and improves seed performance. "There are other new technologies coming, and I see opportunities to make money on some of them," Guenthner said.

Another fresh business model is global farming. That involves producers from Idaho and elsewhere being invited by processors to live and grow spuds in other countries. "So there's an opportunity to be a farmer, not just in the neighboring county or neighboring state, but all over the world," he said.


Cute Animation of EU GMO Approval Process

- Andy Apel

I just found a really neat animation on the EU approval process for GM crops. You can find it by going to:


and clicking on "Animation: The Authorisation Process in Motion!"

Of course, if things worked as well as portrayed, the WTO wouldn't be involved, but it's still cute.


India Recognizes Norman Borlaug with a National Award

- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India http://fbae.blogs.com/

Norman E Borlaug, the still vigorous 91-year old Iowa plant breeder, who was recently awarded the U.S. National Science Medal, is honoured by the Government of India, with Padma Vibhushan, the second highest national award, announced on the eve of the Indian Republic Day (January 26, 2006).

In 1970 Dr Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the work of a lifetime, popularly called the 'Green Revolution', which saved one billion people from starvation in the 1960s. Thirty-five years later, Dr Borlaug is still working tirelessly on the campus of Texas A&M University to reduce hunger in the world.

The Economist (December 25, 2005) traces the place of wheat in the fascinating story of Green Revolution in the article Ears of Plenty.

Short wheats: Collected by Cecil Salmon at the end of the World War II, Norin is a Japanese variety of wheat that grew only two feet tall, instead of the usual four. This is an advantage as the taller wheats lodged causing extensive grain loss. Orville Vogel crossed Norin 10 with other wheats in Oregon in 1949 and produced several varieties of short wheat.

Wheat in Mexico: In 1952, while breeding fungus resistant wheat in Mexico for the Rockefeller Foundation, Dr Borlaug made new crosses using Norin and a Norin-Brevor hybrid. He also used natural mutants. By 1963, 95 per cent of Mexico's wheat was Dr Borlaug's variety that gave three times the yield of the usual wheats, making Mexico's wheat harvest six times higher than when Dr Borlaug started his work.

Green Revolution in India: By the 1960s, India was beginning to suffer a mass famine. Huge shipments of food aid from the US were crucial to save the swelling population from a terrible fate. Indians were living from 'ship to mouth'.

The Stanford environmentalist, Paul Ehrlich wrote in his international best seller 'The Population Bomb', that the world had too many people, America could not save India, and it should not. Mass starvation was inevitable, and not just for India, but for the world.

Neither Dr Borlaug nor Dr M S Swaminathan, the then adviser to the Indian minister of agriculture, was so pessimistic.

In 1961 Dr Swaminathan invited Dr Borlaug to visit India. Borlaug arrived in India in March 1963 and tested three new varieties of Mexican wheat. The yields were four to five times better than Indian varieties. In 1965, overcoming much bureaucratic opposition, Dr Swaminathan persuaded the Indian government to order 18,000 tonnes of Dr Borlaug's wheat seed. Dr Borlaug loaded 35 trucks in Mexico and sent them north to Los Angeles. The convoy was held up by the Mexican police, stopped at the border by US officials and then held up by the National Guard when the Watts riots of August 1965 prevented them reaching the port. The shipment eventually sailed, but war broke out between India and Pakistan. The war in fact proved a godsend, because the state grain monopolies lost their power to block the spread of Dr Borlaug's wheat. Eager farmers took it up with astonishing results. By 1974, India's wheat production had tripled and India was self-sufficient in food.

Despite extensive and continued management errors in implementing the practices of Green Revolution, India now has over 65 million tonnes of surplus food grains, assuring its food supply.

Dennis Avery (http://www.agbioworld.org) identifies the following as the major achievements of Green Revolution, particularly in the developing world:

a) Improved seeds and farming systems have made food more abundant and less expensive in the decades since 1970, saving one billion people from starvation.
b) Green Revolution has helped to radically lower human birth rates, voluntarily. Third World births have dropped from about 6.2 births per woman to less than 2.8; more particularly in countries that increased their crop yields the most.

c) The 21st century farmers are feeding 6.3 billion people on the same farmland area that was inadequate to feed 1 billion in 1900. Getting today's food supply with the seeds and farming systems of 1950 would have forced the world to plow down its remaining 16 million square miles of wild lands.
d) In Africa, Dr Borlaug's International Maize and Wheat Center produced corn seeds that quadrupled African corn yields, increasing food security.

In 1986, Borlaug founded the World Food Prize, awarded annually to individuals and institutions, on the United Nations World Food Day (October 16) , in recognition of services in the cause of fighting hunger. Dr M S Swaminathan (1987), Dr Verghese Kurien (1989), Dr Gurudev Kush (1996), Dr B R Barwale (1998), Dr Surinder Vasal (2000) and Dr Vijay Gupta (2005), are the Indians who received the World Food Prize.

Dr. Borlaug endlessly struggled to integrate the various streams of agricultural research into viable technologies. He has immense faith in genetic engineering and modern agricultural biotechnology and has been at the forefront of the campaign in its favour.

Dr Borlaug is now an even more a towering figure than in 1970. This World Citizen is proposed to be nominated as the 'Greatest Living American', for 'Saving People and Nature with the Green Revolution', writes Dennis Avery.

India has done proud in recognizing Dr Borlaug's invaluable services to the country, though a little belatedly.


Evaluating Safety: A Major Undertaking

- GMO Compass, http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/safety/human_health/41.evaluation_safety_gm_food_major_undertaking.html

Foods made from GMOs must be considered safe -- otherwise they wouldn’t have received authorisation. But assessing safety is easier said than done.

Like any food, genetically modified or other novel foods are complex mixtures of thousands of different substances in varying proportions. With trusted foods that have been eaten for generations there is little concern. They are considered safe based on experience, not necessarily based on scientific proof. For novel or genetically modified foods, proving safety is a legal obligation. This burden of proof is often a high hurdle to leap.

Safety evaluation in two steps
According to laws that apply to all EU member states, a GM food can only be allowed onto the market if it can be documented using scientific data that it is just as safe and healthy as a comparable conventional product.

When evaluating the safety of food from a genetically modified organism, two areas are looked at in particular:

(1) The safety of the novel GM trait : When a new gene is introduced into a plant, the general outcome is the formation of a new protein. These proteins are oftentimes new for human consumption. Effects on human health are not out of the question. The safety of a particular protein regarding toxicity is assessed using animal feeding tests. For food additives or herbicide residues, these kinds of tests are routine. When results from animal trials are applied to humans, considerable extra safety measures must be taken.

Safety evaluations must include tests to find out if the new protein could trigger allergies. Several criteria are known that indicate allergic potential. If one more of these criteria are met, the GM plant expressing this protein is unlikely to receive clearance in the EU.

(2) Unforeseen changes in plant metabolism as a result of gene transfer: When a new gene is transferred into a plant, no one can rule out the possibility of unforeseen "side effects". This has to do with the fact that a new gene can interact with existing genes. For instance, a new gene could deactivate an existing gene, thereby causing shifts in a plant’s metabolism. In certain cases, this kind of change could potentially impact human health.

To see what types of unforeseen changes may have taken place, two types of tests are carried out: an analysis of the most important chemical components of the GM plant and animal feeding trials.

Chemical Analysis - In order to minimize the possibility of harmful, unforeseen effects, genetically modified plants and derived foods are subjected to thorough analyses.

Nutritional value and vitamin content are measured along with levels of toxins that occur naturally in some foods. An increase in toxin content to unsafe levels is not permissible. If any other measurements are different from the plant’s conventional counterpart, it would suggest that problematic, unintended effects could exist. The health consequences of such differences would need to be thoroughly investigated.

Feeding Tests - In many cases, feeding test results are submitted to authorities along with an application for the authorisation of a product in the EU.

In these tests, the whole food is fed to animals such as rats or chickens over an extended period of time. It is anticipated that any dangerous "side effects" of the GM food would be made noticeable by changes affecting, for instance, the animal’s immune system or its internal organs.

Feeding tests: Common practice - Toxicological assessments on test animals are not explicitly required for the approval of a new food in the EU or the US. Independent experts have decided that in some cases, chemical analyses of the food’s makeup are enough to indicate that the new GMO is substantially equivalent to its traditional counterpart. Feeding tests are only requested in cases of doubt.

Nonetheless, the results of animal tests are routinely presented to the European safety assessment authorities. In recent years, biotech companies have tested their transgenic products (maize, soy, tomato) before introducing them to the market on several different animals over the course of up to 90 days. Negative effects have not yet been observed.

GMO critics claim that feeding studies with authorised GMOs have revealed negative health effects. Such claims have not been based on peer-reviewed, scientifically accepted evaluations. If reliable, scientific studies were to indicate any type of health risk, the respective GMO would not receive authorisation.