Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on
ag-biotech.


Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives

Subscribe

 


SEARCH:     

Date:

January 30, 2006

Subject:

WTO Biotech Ruling Due Out Soon; GM Unfairly Blocked by EU; Demonized by Critics; Is There a Bug in Your Juice?

 

Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - January 30, 2006

* WTO Biotech Ruling Due Out February 1
* WTO Biotech Decision Expected Soon, U.S. Says
* Foreign Trade Barriers - Agricultural Biotechnology
* Ag. Biotech: Safe, Effective and Unfairly Blocked by EU
* Sugar-Cane Tests: Biotechnology in Islands is Safe
* Safe Food - Transgenic Crops Have Great Record
* Regulatory Issues for Plant-Made Pharmaceuticals and Vaccines
* 'Terminator' Seeds Unfairly Demonized by Critics
* Where Next for Genome Sequencing?
* Is There a Bug in Your Juice? New Food Labels Might Say
--

WTO Biotech Ruling Due Out February 1

- Agence France Presse, Jan 26,2006

The United States expects the WTO to issue its biggest-ever arbitration report next week on a US-led complaint against the European Union over biotech foods, officials said Thursday. The preliminary report of the World Trade Organisation in the long-running genetically modified (GM) foods case is set to be issued on Wednesday, a US trade official said.

"We believe we've presented a strong case," he told reporters on condition of anonymity. Explaining numerous delays in the report's publication, the official said: "They've told us it'll be the longest report in the history of the WTO system. It'll be hundreds and hundreds of pages."

Argentina, Canada and the United States brought the complaint before the WTO in May 2003, stating that an EU moratorium on GM foods was more about business protectionism than concerns about the health of consumers or the environment.

The EU moratorium was lifted in May 2004, but the three countries did not withdraw their complaint because they claim EU member states continue to block the import and cultivation of biotech foods. "The obligations are to allow every (GM) application to be reviewed under science and to be processed without undue delay. Right now, Europe's just not doing that," the US official said.

"The United States is not telling European consumers what products to eat. Europe has to meet its obligations to follow its own approval procedures. European consumers have the decision whether or not to buy them," he added.

***********

WTO Biotech Decision Expected Soon, U.S. Says

- Kathryn McConnell, USINFO.State.Gov, January 27, 2006

Washington -- A preliminary decision by a World Trade Organization (WTO) panel on the U.S. challenge of the European Union (EU) moratorium on approvals for crops derived from biotechnology is expected around February 1, a U.S. trade official said.

The WTO decision was postponed twice, in August 2005 and early January 2006, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative official told reporters in a January 26 teleconference. Argentina and Canada joined the United States in challenging the EU moratorium, which was imposed in 1998.

A WTO decision in favor of the United States would allow countries to sell large amounts of processed foods containing biotech ingredients to EU countries, the official said. Biotech products are commonly known in Europe as genetically modified (GM).

The United States brought its challenge to the WTO in 2003, saying the moratorium was an unfair trade restriction causing "unnecessary delays" in Europe's accepting U.S. crop exports, the trade official said. (See related article.)

"For years, the United States refrained from bringing the WTO case because the EU continually assured us that the moratorium would soon be lifted. But the EU was not able to overcome its internal political pressures and lift the moratorium," according to a fact sheet from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).

Approximately half of the maize grown in the United States is from biotech seeds, the USTR official said. U.S. consumers have been safely consuming nutritious foods that contain biotech ingredients for a decade, the fact sheet states.

The loss of agricultural sales to Europe because of the ban amounts to "several hundred millions of dollars" annually, according to the official.

Once a preliminary decision is issued, all relevant parties will have a chance to review and comment on it. The WTO then will issue a final decision on the approval challenge in late 2006 or early 2007, the official said. Also at issue is the EU moratorium on accepting new varieties of biotech seed.

Although EU scientists have found no safety risks on approximately half of the biotech products they have examined, some members of European Commission still have concerns about the safety of these products. The commission proposes legislation and is responsible for the implementation of EU treaties and decisions.

The European regulatory system is inconsistent with how other countries regulate agricultural products that use science to determine a product's safety, the official said.

The United States believes the EU moratorium is based on "political expediency" more than on health or safety concerns, USTR says.

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

Foreign Trade Barriers - Agricultural Biotechnology

- Excerpts from http://www.ustr.gov/ (2005)

Since 1998, it has proved impossible to assemble in the European Council a qualified majority of EU Member States in support of agricultural biotechnology product approvals, despite the lack of any legitimate health or safety reason to reject them. Therefore, after lengthy periods of consideration by the Council, in each case, approval applications have been sent back to the College of Commissioners for final adjudication. The Commission subsequently did approve these applications, the first in the EU since the 1998 approvals moratorium took hold.

In May 2003, the United States initiated a WTO dispute settlement process related to the EU’s de facto moratorium on approvals of biotechnology products and on the existence of individual Member State marketing prohibitions on previously approved biotechnology products. Since that time, an initial round of consultations was held, followed by the formation of a panel to consider the case.

In accordance with DG Agriculture’s guidance document on the co-existence of biotechnology and conventional crops, which recommends a regional approach to co-existence issues, a number of Member States, including Denmark, Germany, and three regions in Austria, have drafted new co-existence laws. These laws have taken a maximalist approach, requiring extensive liability systems be put in place and mandating extremely low thresholds for the presence of material derived from biotechnology. Once enacted, the European Commission may initiate infringement proceedings against a Member State’s co-existence law if it is judged to be incompatible with EU law. However, there is no time limit on how quickly the Commission must act.

Traceability and Labeling:
In April 2004, EC Regulations 1829/2003 and 1830/2003 governing the approval, traceability and labeling of biotechnology food and feed became effective. The regulations include mandatory traceability and labeling for all biotechnology and downstream products. Among the traceability rules are requirements that information that a product contains or consists of biotechnology products must be transmitted to each operator throughout the entire supply chain. Operators must have a standardized system in place to keep information about biotechnology products and to identify the operator by whom and to whom it was transferred for a period of five years from each transaction.

The labeling requirements include an obligation to label appropriate products genetically modified and to indicate if the food is different from its conventional counterpart in composition, nutritional value, intended use or health implications. U.S. exporters fear that the practical effect of such labeling requirements will be to drive EU consumers away from such products. In some cases, these burdensome directives have already severely restricted market access for U.S. food suppliers, because food producers have reformulated their products to not use biotechnology products in them. Food producers have indicated concern about needing to find expensive or limited alternatives. The Directives generally are anticipated to have a negative impact on a wide range of U.S. exports, including processed food exports.

Austria: Recent amendments to the Austrian Biotechnology Law allow, in principle, the planting of biotechnology crops. However, strict and complicated rules on liability and compensation still represent a de facto barrier against all EU-approved biotechnology crops. National ordinances effectively prevent the planting of EU-approved biotechnology crops. Under current Austrian rules, unapproved biotechnology events must not be detected in conventional seeds ("zero tolerance"), but EU-approved events may be present in conventional and organic seeds up to 0.1 percent.

Cyprus: Cyprus has adopted increasingly tough standards, which in some cases exceed EU requirements, regarding biotechnology organisms and products. Biotechnology products that are already licensed in the EU may circulate in Cyprus freely. However, biotechnology organisms must be approved, even if they are already licensed in other EU countries.

France: France is in the process of implementing the new EU Regulations on “Genetically Modified Food and Feed” and Traceability and Labeling. However, it is applying standards that go beyond the EU regulations, for example, requiring additional standards for non-biotechnology labeling. The French government plans to present biotechnology legislation to the French Parliament in early 2005. This bill will include provisions on biotechnology and non- biotechnology co-existence and a proposal to create a new French biotechnology committee to assess biotechnology products at the national level.

Germany: Germany has suspended the approvals for planting certain biotechnology crops. In November 2004, Germany passed its new version of a law related to biotechnology, which went into effect on January 1, 2005. This law contains strict regulations for liability and requires the creation of co-existence regulations. The new law is expected to hinder the importation, use, and development of agricultural biotechnology products. Some biotechnology companies have already decided to stop their agricultural research efforts in Germany.

Greece: Greece has not been responsive to applications to introduce bioengineered seeds for field tests, despite support for such tests by Greek farmers and Greece’s agricultural science community.

Hungary: Extensive biotechnology research is taking place in Hungary, and the Hungarian government has allowed field tests for herbicide resistant corn, wheat and other crops. Although Hungary is mandated to adopt all relevant EU biotech legislation, Hungary has not yet prepared the national application rules for the EU biotech regulations on food and feed and traceability and labeling. Hungary’s considerable grain and seed business will not open for biotech varieties in the near future.

Italy: There are varying positions on agricultural biotechnology among Italy’s Ministries of Health, Agriculture, and Environment. The Ministry of Agriculture is trying to minimize the presence of material derived from biotechnology by imposing extremely rigorous thresholds for seed purity, which further threaten U.S. exports of conventional corn and soybean seed. The stated objective of the Ministry of Agriculture is to disallow any bioengineered presence in seeds.

In the case of soybeans used for animal feed, the Ministry of Agriculture allows imported biotechnology beans, since it is unable to meet Italian feed demand from non-biotechnology sources. Italy has not rescinded its ban on four EU-approved bioengineered corn varieties (BT11, MON 810, MON 809, and T25), though an Italian court revoked the decree in late November 2004. Also in November 2004 the Prime Minister’s cabinet passed a decree-law on the coexistence of biotechnology, non-biotechnology, and organic crops that bans biotechnology cultivation in Italy through Dec. 31, 2005, by which time each of Italy’s regions must devise a regional co-existence plan.

Luxembourg: A corn produced by Syngenta AG remains blocked from access to Luxembourg despite the product’s approval by the European Commission in 1997.

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

Agricultural Biotechnology: Safe, Effective and Unfairly Blocked By EU

- Trade Facts, Office of the United States Trade Representative (file 159_8795) http://www.ustr.gov, January 2006

EU Moratorium on Biotechnology Not Based on Science
Since the late 1990’s, the EU has pursued policies that undermine the development and use of
agricultural biotechnology.

Beginning in October 1998, the EU adopted a moratorium on all approvals of new varieties of
biotech crops. Because new biotech varieties are continually introduced, and because crop varieties
are commingled on export, the EU moratorium had the effect of barring many U.S. agricultural
products, including most U.S. corn, from EU markets.

The EU moratorium was based on political concerns, and was not grounded on any health or safety
risks related to biotechnology. To the contrary, there is no internationally recognized science that
demonstrates any safety issues associated with the use and/or consumption of approved biotech
products.

Under WTO rules, when WTO members establish approval processes, they take on obligations to
operate those approval processes in a manner that is based on science and not subject to
unnecessary delays.

The United States believes that the EU adoption of a biotech moratorium unwarranted by valid
scientific concerns is plainly inconsistent with these fundamental WTO obligations.

For years, the United States refrained from bringing a WTO case, because the EU continually
assured us that the moratorium would soon be lifted. But the EU was not able to overcome its
internal political pressures and lift the moratorium.

Finally, in August 2003, the United States – joined by Argentina and Canada – challenged in the
WTO the EU’s moratorium on approving biotech varieties for sale or use in the EU. The United
States and our partners took the case to ask that our farm products are given a fair, rules-based
scientific review.

The WTO case alleges that the EU’s moratorium violates WTO rules by blocking U.S. exports
without a valid scientific basis and imposes undue delay on approvals.

The United States believes it has shown that the EU’s moratorium is based on political expediency,
rather than on health or safety concerns. Indeed, the EU’s own scientific authorities consistently
find biotech varieties to be safe. According to the EU’s regulatory process, these varieties should
have been approved for sale and use in the EU, but the EU has failed to approve them.

Effects of the Moratorium Go Beyond Europe
* In addition to blocking U.S. grain exports to the EU, Europe’s actions unfairly discriminate
against safe and innovative products, and discourage further research and development in
biotechnology.

* Biotechnology has the potential to help farmers meet challenges posed by harsh climates and
disease. Virus-resistant potato and papaya varieties are already helping farmers achieve
higher yields. Research continues on salt tolerant and drought resistant crops.

* Biotech crops with nutritional enhancements like golden rice may help provide the poor with
healthy, more complete diets.

* But restrictions like those in the EU discourage investment in biotechnology, for fear that
these products will not find markets that are open to them.
Biotech Crops are Safe

* Consumers in the United States have been safely consuming nutritious foods that contain
biotech ingredients for a decade.

* The U.S. regulatory process ensures that all biotech products that are commercially grown,
processed, sold and eaten are as safe for the environment and for human and animal health
as their conventional counterparts.

* The UN Food and Agriculture Organization and WHO found that there were no greater risks
associated with biotech than conventional plants and foods. Even the European Commission
for Research has arrived at similar conclusions when comparing biotech to conventional
food sources.

Biotech Crops Deliver Better Yields, Promote Development and Help the Environment
* Biotechnology is part of the long tradition of agricultural innovation and plant breeding to
develop higher yielding, disease-resistant crops.

* Farmers worldwide have recognized the economic, agricultural and environmental benefits
of biotech crops.

* Agricultural biotechnology is important to the United States and the world. It offers the
potential to developing countries to meet their food security needs and to lift them from
subsistence agriculture.

* Agricultural biotechnology also provides environmental benefits. Adoption of biotech
varieties has significantly reduced insecticide and herbicide use, and has allowed many
farmers to adopt “no till” farming practices, thereby reducing soil erosion and water use.
Scientists continue to develop crops that resist drought and disease.

* Poor farmers in developing countries are growing more biotech crops every year. More than
8.25 million farmers around the globe use biotech seeds. 90 percent of those were resourcepoor
farmers living in developing countries.

* The UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization both note
biotech’s value in creating sustainable development and providing reliable and safe food
sources, especially for poor countries. Better yields generate better incomes – another
benefit to the nearly 7.4 million poor farmers in developing countries who grow biotech
crops.

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

Sugar-Cane Tests: Biotechnology in Islands is Safe

Honolulu Advertiser, Jan 26, 2006 http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com

I would like to address the secrecy issue raised by Mr. Hector Valenzuela regarding agricultural biotechnology research tests, the permit system and the amount of monitoring involved by the regulating agency from our organization's actual experience (Commentary, Jan. 22). The staff of the Hawai'i Agriculture Research Center (HARC) is evaluating the potential for sugarcane to be a biorefinery, a facility that makes products other than food from a crop.

Energy production is now receiving significant attention. The sugar-cane industry has a long history of providing energy as a co-product and is evaluating the promising technologies that would allow it to be competitive in this area and increase its role in this area.

It is currently looking at the feasibility of producing therapeutic proteins in sugarcane. Why sugar cane? We are experts in production, and the infrastructure is in place; it is a high biomass producer; it normally produces a low level of proteins, potentially making the purification process easier; its flowering is well understood and can be easily prevented - therefore no pollen production, a point of controversy; making sugar for food destroys protein in the process, so there is no potential food contasmination issue, another point of controversy; the quantity of product would be small, therefore shipping costs are a non-issue and volume production (which Hawai'i cannot do) is not an advantage for competitors.

Unfortunately, there are extremists in the overall environmental movement who believe they are above the law and have committed violent acts with respect to agricultural biotechnology research sites even here in Hawai'i. I am not willing to expose staff nor facilities to the potential criminal acts of activists.

HARC fully complies with statutory and permit requirements. Our exact sites are known to the federal and state agencies involved, and the general location is available on the Web sites designed for this information. Our century-old organization has been involved with regulatory agencies since their inception as they pertain to agricultural tools as they are developed. This is the most highly scrutinized and regulated tool we have ever attempted to use. That is fact.

In the one activity where our organization was involved with a sugar-cane biotech research field plot with a pharmaceutical, that plot was inspected seven times over the 10-month period that the test was conducted. That is in addition to the many communications on exactly how we would do each step of our experiment. Conditions were required by our permit to absolutely prevent any pollen movement and to totally destroy the plants at the completion of the test. That was adhered to and verified by the inspectsors.

This test was initiated in the summer of 2002 and shows that the agency was already handling pharmacrops differently from other engineered crops. This is another fact lost in the rhetoric of the extremists. Their strategy is if you say anything often enough and loud enough, pretty soon everyone will believe it.

Bottom line for the public: Is it safe? According to all the national and international scientific and governmental organizations that have set up experts to examine the information available for engineered products in the marketplace, they are as safe as the conventionally produced foods in the marketplace.

- Stephanie A. Whalen, President and director, Hawai'i Agriculture Research Center

***********

Safe Food - Transgenic Crops Have Great Record

- Honolulu Advertiser, January 29, 2006 http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com

Regarding the Sunday Advertiser's pro vs. con on biotechnology: One pro vs. one con? No, the ratio is more like 499 to 1 among Hawai'i's scientists who can define the word "transgene."

Over 220 million acres were planted to transgenic crops in 2005 by almost 10 million farmers in 21 countries. Without one instance of as much as a sneeze! And with superb increases in quality, safety and yield of food.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug said it best: "Biotechnology is a wonderful tool and allows genetic improvements to be made much faster."

Plant breeders, he added, are simply following Mother Nature's lead in using transgenes to battle pests, diseases, etc. That illustrates, as he put it, "the nonsense of those who oppose biotechnology."

- James L. Brewbaker, Kailua

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

Review Focused on Regulatory Issues for Plant-Made Pharmaceuticals and Vaccines

- NewsRx January 27, 2006 http://www.newsrx.com/

A researcher reviews regulatory issues for plant-made pharmaceuticals and vaccines in a recent issue of Expert Review of Vaccines.

According to the review from the United States, "Recombinant plant systems potentially offer economic alternatives to produce large amounts of pharmaceutical proteins, including those used in subunit vaccines. Plant systems also provide a convenient oral delivery option, overcoming the cost and inconvenience of purification and injections."

"The production of pharmaceutical proteins in transgenic plants is tightly regulated, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture focusing on containment of recombinant material and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration focusing on the production system as it relates to manufacture of the drug or vaccine. Current regulations for the production of plant-made pharmaceuticals are to prevent recombinant proteins from entering the food chain or from persisting in the environment, and to guard against recombinant nuscleic acid sequences entering genomes of food or feed crops, or wild species," said Stephen J. Streatfield at the Applied Biotechnology Institute in the U.S.

"Several alternative plant production systems are being developed. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses with regard to the economics of production, options for alternative routes of administration, authenticity of products and ease with which the production system can be contained," the author noted.

"Risk assessments can be used as a means to quantify risks of inadvertent human or environmental exposure to plant-made pharmaceuticals," stated Streatfield. "Several technologies are being tested that reduce the probability of plant-made pharmaceuticals, or genes encoding them, escaping production sites."

Streatfield published the review in Expert Review of Vaccines (Regulatory issues for plant-made pharmaceuticals and vaccines. Expert Rev Vaccines, 2005;4(4):591-601).

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

'Terminator' Seeds Unfairly Demonized by Critics

- Robert Wager, Stratford Beacon-Herald (Canada), January 27, 2006; Via Agnet

There is no such thing as risk-free anything. However, this fact does not stop some from demanding risk-free agricultural biotechnology. The controversies (mostly hypothetical) over genetically engineered (GE) crops and food never seem to end. As soon as one scare story is demonstrated to be false or highly unlikely, another floods the media. No doubt, this is by design. Canada recently stirred up a hornets nest when its representatives at the meeting of the UN Convention on Biodiversity in Bangkok called for the end to a de facto moratorium on the research and development of genetic use restriction technologies for genetically engineered crops.

Genetic use restriction technologies or GURTs are systems designed to prevent the unwanted transfer of transgenes (the DNA engineered into GE plants) to other plants or the unauthorized propagation of transgenic crops. There are several different ways they work, but these systems have one thing in common. They all block the possibility of the engineered genes and traits from ending up elsewhere. Some GURT-containing GE seeds will not germinate, for example, while other GURT engineered plants will produce only sterile pollen. Either way, no genetically engineered genes will spread to other plants. This is why critics of GE crops call these terminator technologies. Perhaps more than any other aspects of genetically engineered crops, these technologies have been the target of massive fear-generating campaigns by critics.

Critics say GURTs threaten farmers in the developing world by preventing the saving of seed from this year's crop for next year's planting. But GURTs are not designed for developing world farmers. They are designed, in part, for farmers who already buy new seed each year. Most farmers in the developed world buy hybrid, certified or transgenic seed each year. These types of seed cost more, but produce far better yields, protect the environment or cost far less to grow, so the farmer gains in the end.

Virtually all corn grown in North America is from hybrid seed with 50 per cent transgenic. Better than 70 per cent of the canola grown in Canada is transgenic. The benefits are well documented, including less pesticide use, healthier corn with less fungal toxin contamination and healthy canola oils that are trans-fat free. The development and incorporation of GURT technologies would have several advantages over today's transgenic crops. Along with ending illegal propagation of transgenic crops, the issue of horizontal gene flow would also be eliminated. Therefore, there would no longer be any issue of cross-pollination between transgenic and organic crops.

Perhaps this is why certain groups are fighting the development of GURTs so ferociously. In fact, pollen from transgenic crops does not threaten organic crop certification at all. According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), there should not be any threshold of cross-pollination, and if it occurs it does not necessarily threaten the organic status of the product. The IFOAM does not even advocate mandatory testing for the cross-pollination of organically grown crops from transgenic ones.

It has been suggested that GURTs will threaten biodiversity. Critics claim the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, of which Canada is a signatory, prohibits the development of GURTs. However, Article 2 of the protocol states: "Parties shall ensure that the development, handling, transport, use and release of any living modified organism (international term for GE crops) are under taken in a manner that prevents or reduces the risks to biodiversity." Since GURTs would block gene flow from transgenic crops to other plants, their incorporation into biotechnology crops is actually in keeping with the International Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety agreement. There are approximately 60,000 seed varieties sold in North America each year. There are approximately 100 transgenic varieties of crops. It seems very far-fetched to suggest 100 transgenic varieties with sterile GURT engineering are going to threaten 60,000 non-transgenic varieties.

Blocking gene flow is important in another area of agricultural biotechnology. Up to now the production of most pharmaceuticals has required very expensive laboratories and production facilities. This is all about to change. Scientists have developed ways to make pharmaceuticals in plants. This has tremendous health and economic benefits. Where once a particular pharmaceutical might cost $100 per dose to produce, it can now be made in a plant for pennies. Everything from vaccines to heart medicines will be produced in genetically engineered plants. Of course, safety issues surrounding the growing of "pharma crops" have been considered in detail. There are very elaborate rules to maintain separation between food and pharmaceutical producing crops, including dedicated fields, large isolation distances, dedicated equipment, as well as separate storage and processing facilities.

Adding GURT technology to pharma crops would further increase the safety with the complete elimination of the possibility of pollen flow from pharma crops to related plants. Canada should be applauded for its call for a return of a science-based approach to continued research and development of GURTs. It is clear there are many benefits to incorporating GURTs into agricultural biotechnology.

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

Where Next for Genome Sequencing?

- Peter Raven, Claude Fauquet, M. S. Swaminathan, Norman Borlaug, Cristián Samper; Science, January 27, 2006; Vol. 311. no. 5760, p. 468

The successful sequencing of the human genome, along with those of Arabidopsis thaliana and rice, raises the question of what we should do next with the significant sequencing infrastructure and technical capacity that has been developed. Although the costs of sequencing are falling, sequencing eukaryotic genomes still requires a minimum commitment of U.S. $5million to $10 million. For those who can raise such funds, the resulting information will provide an invaluable resource, underpinning research and technology development in their chosen organism and related species for decades to come.

It is easy to justify the scientific value of large-scale, publicly available sequencing projects. Our concern is to ensure that this powerful capacity directly addresses the needs of the majority of the world's people. By the year 2050, 90% of humankind will live in developing countries, where agriculture remains the most important economic activity. Crops grown by small farmers are central to food security, health, economic growth, poverty reduction, and social stability in these regions. In determining how best to exploit the existing capacity for genome sequencing, therefore, we believe that crops essential to resource-poor farmers in developing countries should be given highest priority.

Cassava (Manhiot esculenta Crantz) offers one such important opportunity. Grown throughout tropical Africa, Asia, and the Americas for its starchy storage roots, cassava feeds an estimated600 million people each day. Farmers choose it for its high productivity and its ability to withstand conditions in which other crops fail. Cassava is now the most important source of dietary calories in the tropics after rice and maize.
Cassava retains a largely untapped potential for genetic improvement. Worldwide, average yields barely attain 1/10 of the demonstrated potential. The Global Cassava Partnership (GCP-21), an alliance of the world's leading cassava researchers and developers operating under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization, has proposed that sequencing M. esculenta should be a priority. We agree. Realizing the full genetic potential of cassava to meet the needs of developing countries will require both conventional breeding methods and modern molecular technologies. Sequencing its 770-Mb genome would boost both approaches.

Sequencing the cassava genome would also bring it into the mainstream of plant science research. The community resources required to fully benefit from sequence analysis of the cassava genome are already being established by a small but dedicated group of scientists under the aegis of GCP-21. Large collections of publicly available germ plasm, including wild related species, are available, as are modest but significant EST collections, BAC libraries, and molecular genetic maps. In addition to enhancing the value of these resources, sequencing data will make it possible to interface with existing plant genome databases, and to exploit the biodiversity within cultivated and wild Manihot species more effectively. In this way, genes that impart important agronomic qualities will become increasingly accessible for transfer into elite breeding lines and varieties preferred by farmers.

For a fraction of the cost of other, much larger genomic and postgenomic projects, sequencing cassava could bring this important crop to the forefront of modern science, generating new possibilities for its agronomic improvement. So where next with genome sequencing? It's time to harness part of our technical capacity to advance crops like cassava that are central to the livelihoods and health of half a billion people.

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

Irish School Children Survey on GM Crops

- Claire Mc Sweeney, clr_mcsweeney.at.yahoo.co.uk

We are three secondary (high-school) students from Carrigaline, Cork, Ireland who are entering this years Irish Young Scientists Competition with a project on the pros and cons of the use of GM crops by farmers in developing countries. We have conducted a survey of opinions amongst people in our locality (Carrigaline) on the issue of the use of GM crops by farmers in developing countries. We would like to complement our local survey with a similar e-survey of scientists working in and researching this area of science. We would invite you to please fill in our very short questionnaire (7 questions) so that we can also get opinions from the scientific community on this topic. Our online survey is located at:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=974981570670

We would be grateful if you could spare five minutes of your time to contribute to our survey.

Yours Sincerely, Claire Mc Sweeney, Claire Bouse, Clare Reville

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

Novel Biotechnologies for Biocontrol Agent Enhancement and Management

- Gualdo Tadino, Perugia, Italy, September 8 to 19, 2006. NATO Advanced Study Institute
http://www.ispa.cnr.it/NATO-ASI

Biocontrol will only reach its potential in controlling weeds, pathogens, insects and other pests in
intensive agroecosytems when the control agents have enhanced virulence, and are not just in balance with
their hosts. The main objective of this ASI is to offer to students a concentrated overview of the rapidly
developing advanced biotechnological knowledge and tools to enhance and manage biological control
agents such they will be efficacious in modern agriculture.

The costs for the whole NATO Advanced Study Institute, based on shared double room occupancy, full
board, field trip, and shuttle bus to train station and airport on days of arrival and departure, will be around
1,500 Euro. Some funds are available to partially cover living and travel expenses for a limited number of
students from NATO or Partner or Mediterranean Dialogue Countries. Some governments also have block
grants for NATO courses.

Maurizio Vurro, Institute of Science of Food Production, Bari, Italy – maurizio.vurro@ispa.cnr.it
Jonathan Gressel, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel - jonathan.gressel@weizmann.ac.il

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

Is There a Bug in Your Juice? New Food Labels Might Say

- Jane Zhang, The Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2006; Full article at http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB113833159673257881-7aQTK755ykjASE3hGnfjQrjZlSk_20060203.html?mod=blogs

Food makers may not want to dwell on it, but the ingredient that gives Dannon Boysenberry yogurt and Tropicana Ruby Red Grapefruit juice their distinctive colors comes from crushed female cochineal beetles.

Too much information? Some consumers would say there hasn't been nearly enough.

Pressed by consumer advocates, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to publish a food-labeling proposal online today that would require companies to disclose when a food contains beetle-derived colorings including vivid-red "carmine" and bright-orange "cochineal" (pronounced coach-in-EEL). The public has 60 days to comment before a final ruling is made.

Under current FDA regulations, food labels must identify certain man-made colorings by name, such as FD&C Red No. 40. But for carmine, cochineal and other naturally occurring ingredients, companies can use terms such as "color added" or, oddly, "artificial color."

Bugged by the loophole, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington public-health advocacy group, and a small but vocal group of consumers who are allergic to the ingredients have pushed for stiffer rules. Joining the chorus are vegetarians, who don't want to eat insects, and consumers observing kosher dietary practices. Products containing carmine "may look like kosher," but they aren't, says Rabbi Moshe Elefant, chief operating officer of the kosher division of the Orthodox Union, a leading certifier of kosher products. "There are a lot of people who will not be happy to know that they are eating products that contain dried beetle."

A petition CSPI submitted to the FDA in 1998 and complaints from allergic consumers spurred the FDA's proposal today. The petition suggested that labels disclose carmine or cochineal content with the language, "Artificial color: carmine/cochineal extract (insect based)." The food industry objects, both to the word "insect" and the use of "artificial color" together with "carmine" and "cochineal."

"That lengthy type of description is likely to be unnecessary," says Robert Earl, senior director of nutrition policy at Food Products Association, a food- and beverage-industry group. "It's not part of the requirement for other animal-derived ingredients. Lard is 'lard.' It doesn't say 'pork' after it. 'Milk' doesn't say 'from cow.' 'Butter' doesn't say 'from cow.'"

The FDA's proposal will drop the word "insect" and require that the coloring ingredients be labeled as vivid-red "carmine" or bright-orange "cochineal," says FDA spokeswoman Julie Zawisza.

==
From Prakash - How about further stretching the "Truth in Labeling" --
'Honey' as "Bee Vomit"
'Organic' as "Fertilized with Cow Feces"?
Or this gem I read online -
"Cheese - sour cow mucus left out in the sun"


###