Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - Feb 16, 2006
* Australia: Call for Ban on GM Crops to End
* Journalism's Sparse Harvest
* Monsanto v. Schmeiser
* Science Meets Beauty in Quest for Perfect Rose
* Tweaking Plants for Better Health
* Borlaug Wins Medal of Science from President Bush
* What on Earth is JIGMOD?
* Excessive Regulation is Getting in the Way - Canadian wheat
* Regulatory Obstacles Thwarting Biotechnology
* You Can't Just Force People!
* New Global Biosociety: Innovation, Security and Development
* Fruitful Pursuits: Research Careers in Plant Science
Australia: Call for Ban on GM Crops to End
- Tim Colebatch, The Age (Australia), Feb. 17, 2006 http://www.theage.com.au
A full-scale review of Australian farm policies has called on Victoria and other states to end their ban on production of genetically modified crops, warning that Australia is being left behind by new technologies used overseas.
A taskforce of 11 farm and food industry leaders, chaired by National Farmers Federation president Peter Corish, has also caused shockwaves among farmers by calling on the Federal Government to phase out interest-rate, fodder and transport subsidies during droughts and instead promote "self-reliance" among farmers.
The main thrust of the report is to warn that in a world of expanding competition from lower-cost countries, the only way Australian agriculture can remain competitive is by increasing use of new technology and research and development.
Mr Corish said the most important recommendation of the study was that states should lift their bans on commercial use of gene technology, so that Australian farmers could catch up with the rest of the world, where genetically engineered crops are spreading rapidly.
The report points out that while Australia, Argentina, Canada and the US all began using gene technology in 1996, Australia has now fallen far behind because Queensland is the only state allowing commercial use.
Argentina now has 65 times as much land producing genetically modified crops as Australia has. Canada has 21 times as much, the US almost 200 times as much, and even Brazil, which only started in 2003, now has 20 times as much GM crop land as Australia.
In Victoria, the Bracks Government has placed a moratorium on commercial production of genetically modified crops until February 2008, with exceptions only for field trials. In Queensland, by contrast, most cotton is now grown using seeds modified to increase resistance to insects.
"The world is moving forward on genetic technology, and those states that have moratoria are holding Australia back," Mr Corish said. He said farmers should be able to use new technology, which made their crops more resistant to drought, insect pests or saline soils.
Journalism's Sparse Harvest
- Henry I. Miller, TCS Daily, Feb. 14, 2006 http://www.tcsdaily.com
Occasionally, I over-react to the inaccuracies and ideological bias peddled by the New York Times in what are supposedly "news" stories. Sometimes, I mutter an invective and aver that the Times is good for nothing. But that's an over-statement: it's still fine for wrapping fish.
Andrew Pollack's February 14 piece on biotechnology applied to agriculture" Biotech's Sparse Harvest," was no valentine either to science or to good journalism. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/14/business/14gene.html
His thesis: "At the dawn of the era of genetically engineered crops, scientists were envisioning all sorts of healthier and tastier foods, including cancer-fighting tomatoes, rot-resistant fruits, potatoes that would produce healthier French fries and even beans that would not cause flatulence. . . Resistance to genetically modified foods, technical difficulties, legal and business obstacles and the ability to develop improved foods without genetic engineering have winnowed the pipeline."
While Pollack misses many of the nuances about biotechnology applied to agriculture and food production, he devotes ample ink to the anti-biotech crowd, including the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology (which Pollack describes as a "non-profit group," although "anti-biotechnology lobbyists" would be more accurate) and the radical Friends of the Earth. All points of view on scientific and technological issues are not created equal. Good journalism is not served by creating a kind of moral equivalence between those who hold ideological, anti-biotech views and those with supportable, legitimate viewpoints -- not unlike equating creation theory with Darwinian theory.
How ironic that the same activists who have opposed agbiotech relentlessly for 20 years now decry the "hype" and "over-selling" of its benefits -- rather like the teenager convicted of murdering his parents who asks for mercy from the courts because he's an orphan.
Reflecting the views of biotech's antagonists, Pollack approaches the subject as though the genetic engineering of plants were fundamentally new. But virtually all of the 200 major crops in North America have been genetically improved, or modified, in some way. Plant breeders, not nature, gave us seedless grapes and watermelons, the tangelo (a tangerine-grapefruit hybrid), the canola variety of rapeseed, and fungus-resistant strawberries. In North American and European diets, only fish and wild game, berri.es, and mushrooms may be said not to have been genetically engineered in some fashion. North Americans have consumed more than a trillion servings of foods that contain gene-spliced ingredients, with not a single untoward reaction. Gene-splicing is essentially an extension, or refinement, over earlier, less precise, less predictable techniques.
In fact, when conventional and gene-spliced seed materials are mixed, arguably the former should be thought of as contaminating the latter.
What makes false alarms about a new technology hard to expose is the virtual impossibility of demonstrating the absolute safety of any activity or product: There is always the possibility that we haven't yet gotten to the nth hypothetical risk or to the nth dose or the nth year of exposure, when the risk will finally be demonstrated. It is logically impossible to prove a negative, and all activities pose some nonzero risk of adverse effects.
The use of gene-splicing to craft small, precise genetic changes that enhance or introduce desirable traits into plants has been a stunning technological success -- but excessive and unscientific regulation and the intractable opposition of activists have slowed the translation into consumer-friendly foods. Contrary to the implication in Mr. Pollack's article, gene-spliced "potatoes that would produce healthier French fries" (that have a higher than usual increased starch content) were, in fact, available -- until anti-biotech activists bullied the fast-food chains into rejecting them.
Mr. Pollack's statement, "Developing nonallergenic products and other healthful crops has also proved to be difficult technically," is simply untrue. A vast spectrum of such plants have been crafted by laboratory scientists, but they cannot afford the gratuitously inflated regulatory costs to test the plants in the field. Excessive and unwise regulation is a major reason that products in the development pipeline "do not include many of the products once envisioned," to quote Mr. Pollack. Unscientific and discriminatory EPA and USDA regulatory policies make field trials with gene-spliced plants ten to twenty times more expensive than a similar plant engineered with less precise, less predictable conventional genetic techniques. Unlike pharmaceutical development, agricultural R&D is a low-budget enterprise, and such counter-intuitive regulation and gratuitous regulatory costs make the development of many promising and even important food products uneconomical.
Finally, Mr. Pollack's disparaging assertion that "industry. . . has been peddling the same two advantages herbicide tolerance and insect resistance for 10 years," is puzzling. These traits have been of monumental importance -- not only to farmers' bottom line, but to occupational health and the natural environment. Enhanced pest resistance in plants has obviated the need for hundreds of millions of pounds of chemical pesticides (and thereby reduced environmental and occupational exposures), and herbicide tolerance has made possible a shift to more benign herbicides and to environment-friendly no-till farming.
As British historian Paul Johnson has written, "Left to themselves, the creative forces in society will always deliver, but keeping them reasonably free to do so is a perpetual, grinding battle. It is one that must never be lost." But once again, the New York Times is fighting on the wrong side.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and fellow at the Hoover Institution, headed the FDA's Office of Biotechnology from 1989 to 1993. Barron's selected his most recent book, "The Frankenfood Myth..." one of the 25 Best Books of 2004.
Monsanto v. Schmeiser
- Drew L Kershen - dkershen.at.ou.edu- Earl Sneed Centennail Professor of Law, University of Oklahom College of Law
As reported in AgBioView (Feb. 14, 2006 edition), Percy Schmeiser has released a video about Monsanto suing him for patent infringement. Schmeiser, of course, claims to be telling the truth.
In response, AgBioView printed Rick Roush's analysis of Schmeiser's claims. Rick does an excellent review of the inaccuracies in Schmeiser's claims. Congratulations to Rick.
I would like to add one additional point about Monsanto v. Schmeiser. I do not know whether Schmeiser's video attacks the tests and samples showing 95-98% Round-up Ready canola on his 1000+ acres. Schmeiser has done so in speeches. Many of his supporters have similarly claimed that the tests and the samples were bogus.
However, Alan McHughen and I, both independently but almost simultaneously, clearly saw several months ago that the opinion by the Canadian trail court answers the claim by Schmeiser that the tests and samples were bogus. As I do not have access to the opinion from where I am typing this e-mail, I cannot cite the precise paragraphs of the Federal Court Trial opinion. But if anyone wants to find those paragraphs, simply search the document for the words "test" or "sample" and you will quickly and easily find the paragraphs to which I am referred.
In the opinion, the uncontradicted testimony went as follows:
1. Schmeiser took his "saved seed" (the specially selected seed that Rick highlights) to have it cleaned by the Humbolt Company.
2. Unbeknownst to Schmeiser, Humbolt Co. saved a sample of Schmeiser's seed. [The opinion does not say why Humbolt Co saved a sample but those familiar with clearning seed know that companies save seed to protect themselves if a farmer later complains that the Company kept his good seed and returned poor quality seed.]
3. At trial, the litigants learned of the Humbolt saved seed and both sides demanded that it be tested because neither side trusted the other's sides sampling or testing.
4. The court order Humbolt to divide its sample into three portions -- one portion sent directly to Schmeiser for his testing; one portion sent directly to an independent court appointed expert; one portion sent directly to Monsanto Canada for its testing.
a. Schmeiser divided his portion into two portions -- one for his own testing; the second Schmeiser portion, Schmeiser sent to the same independent court appointed expert.
5. Results of the tests:
a. Schmeiser's test showed 60-65% RR canola on the portion he kept for his own testing that Humbolt had sent directly to him.
b. Monsanto Canada's test showed 95-98% RR canola on the portion sent directly to it.
c. The independent court appointed expert found the following:
i) On the portion Humbolt sent to him directly, 95-98% RR canola. The same result as that obtained by Monsanto Canada.
ii) On the portion received from Schmeiser, 60-65 RR canola. The same result as Schmeiser got on his test.
End of testimony.
If you were the judge, what conclusion would you draw from the above testimony? Let me state the conclusions I would draw.
I would conclude:
1) that Humbolt had no interest in the case and sent three samples of idential, fungible grain to Schmeiser, Monsanto, and the independent expert. In other words, Humbolt did not tamper with the evidence;
2) that on the tests sent directly to the independent expert 95-98% was RR canola;
3) that on the test of the Schmeiser portion that Schmeiser sent to the independent expert 60-65% RR canola; Monsanto could not have tampered with this portion becasue its chain of custody went from Humbolt to Schmeiser, then Schmeiser to the independent expert.
4) as the independent expert on the directly received portion from Humbolt found the same level of RR canola as the Monsanto Canada test (i.e. 95-98%), but only 60-65% on the portion received from Schmeiser, Schmeiser apparently tampered with the evidence;
5) leaving aside the fact that 60-65% RR canola is still too high (as a matter of plant biology) to support Schmeiser's claims of canola seed carried by wind or falling off passing trucks loaded with RR canola, etc., the fact that the independent expert on the portion received directly from Humbolt found 95-98% RR canola means that the weight of the evidence clearly is with a 95-98% level of RR canola.
The court did not find that Schmeiser had tampered because there was no direct evidence of his tampering with the sample received from Humbolt. But the court could clearly conclude, on the undisputed evidence, that the 95-98% level of RR canola was the preponderance of the believable evidence. In fact, the court did so determine as a matter of fact -- the level of RR canola on Schmeiser's 1000+ acreas was 95-98% RR canola. Schmeiser was not an "innocent" farmer.
When these paragraphs about the testing and samples are read together with the other paragraphs in the court's opinion (some of which Rick Roush cited in his excellent response to the Schmeiser video), Schmeiser (reincarnated today on the lecture circuit as an anti-transgenic naif) is actually seen as a farmer desparately wanting RR canola who purposefully selected RR canola for his field. He only became an antagonist after he got caught. He is actually the opposite of a naif -- he was a farmer so anxious to have access to the new technology that hewas even willing to "steal" it.
Comments from an Another Farmer on Percy Schmeiser
- Gordon Couger, Stillwater, OK http://www.couger.com/gcouger
I was taught the value of using the best seed I could get by my father and he and I both participated in the Oklahoma Certified Seed Program. We multiplied Registered and Certified seed and saved seed for ourselves sold seed to other framers and to retail seed merchant.
For Mr Schmeiser to get Monsanto's genetics in a substantial part of his seed unknowingly stretches the imagination so far the moon gets in the way.
I have lost 100 acres of seed wheat to one sack of seed accidentally being mixed with 70 sacks of wheat. The one or two drill rows of the wrong variety stood out like a sore thumb at harvest as it was very noticeably different than the other variety. I have never planted to varieties of anything side by side that were not different enough to notice during the season. A breeder spends a lot more time with his crop than I ever did as a farmer. I can judge the differences I want to see at the cotton gin, scales or grain elevator. Mr Schmeiser not noticing the majority of his crop being different than what he has been breeding all this time is unbelievable for a breeder or a farmer that was saving seed.
To accidental get some seed blow off trucks or get some plants pollinated by the wind and then suddenly the whole crop become restraint to Round Up could only happen if he sprayed what he panted with Round Up and saved the seed which Mr. Schmeiser assures us he didn't do.
Another reason the edge of the field story sounds false is every one I know cut at least 30 feet off the out side of the field and takes it to market before they start catching seed so they don't get the weed seed from the weed that creep in from the sides of the field.
Mr. Schmeiser is thief that increases what I have to pay for Monsanto's technology. The Canadian courts saw it that way. Nothing he has said or has been reported to the contrary makes sense in the context of seed breeder or as a farmer. I don't like having to pay for Monsanto to defend themselves from thieves and those that use them to try to further what ever end they are promoting by using them. I am satisfied it is not the wholesomeness of food.
Science Meets Beauty in Quest for Perfect Rose
- Adam Bell, Charlotte Observer, Feb 14, 2006. Full story at http://www.charlotte.com/mld/charlotte/news/breaking_news/13866097.htm
Through the ages, romantics have pursued that one perfect love, from Antony and Cleopatra to Brad and Angelina.
So for Valentine's Day, let's embrace the latest quest: Creating the "perfect rose."
Our story begins in an unlikely setting: Kannapolis. That's the former mill town where David Murdock, owner of Dole Food Co., is building a $1 billion biotechnology hub, the North Carolina Research Campus. Besides bananas and pineapples, Dole says, it also imports and markets more cut flowers than anyone else in North America. Dole began brainstorming with N.C. State University, one of its collaborators at the research campus, on projects they could tackle together. The subject was roses.
Just as first love often withers, so do roses, usually after a week or so in the vase. Dole and N.C. State want to produce roses that last three to four weeks. To that end, Dole is giving N.C. State $1.4 million for a three-year study that will start next month in Raleigh and then expand to Kannapolis.
The goal: Genetically engineer a red rose for Dole that lives longer, contains few thorns and maybe smells even better. In search of lasting blooms
People aren't perfect, and, John Dole concedes, neither are roses.Dole (no relation to the company) is an N.C. State floriculturist. He leads a rose team that includes nine other professors, as well as graduate and post-doctoral students. "There's nothing more disappointing than getting a beautiful bouquet and not having them hold up," he said. "We want people to buy flowers, know they'll last and get their money's worth."
But that one good plant is hard to find. For decades, the floral industry has sought to make flowers last longer. Genetic science finally has advanced enough to help, Dole said. Just like scoping out a person's profile before Internet dating, researchers need to study traits from different rose varieties to see what they excel in.
The lists are not unrelated: nice shape; fairly resistant to disease; long-lasting with few thorns; and the ability to produce many stems. In the next step, the N.C. State team will take one of two approaches: Find the genes that produce the good characteristics and introduce them into a single plant; or identify, then turn off, genes that inhibit the good qualities in one plant. "It sounds very simple, but it's not," Dole said.
The group also will examine how roses are cut, how they're shipped and handled and what's in the water they're shipped in. Fragrance, like a relationship, is complicated, but Dole said they may tackle it later. Still, the law of unintended consequences applies equally to blind dates and messing with roses' DNA: The results may not be pretty.
Total estimated sales in the retail floral industry, 2004: $19.5 billion; Total value of rose sales of U.S.-produced roses at wholesale, 2004: $43.1 million; Estimated number of rose stems produced for Valentine’s Day 2005: 180 million.
Did You Know? Roses have existed for at least 40.million years and have been cultivated for at least 5,000 years. The world’s oldest living rose, about 1,000 years old, grows on a wall at Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany. Close to 120 rose varieties are available commercially. French explorer Samuel de Champlain brought the first cultivated roses to North America in the 17th century. George Washington is considered the first U.S. rose breeder.
Tweaking Plants for Better Health
- Tracy Powell, Wired News, Feb, 16, 2006 http://www.wired.com
Genetically modified crops have received an official thumbs-down internationally, promises of feeding the world notwithstanding. But a new technology could get the same results without actual genetic modification.
It's called Tilling, or targeting induced local lesions in genomes, and it uses reverse genetics to pinpoint mutations that might enhance nutritional value or eliminate allergens. The technology thus far has not raised the hackles of environmental groups the way genetic modification has.
The controversy surrounding biotech foods often focuses on transgenics, the controversial technique that involves inserting genes from one species into another. "The issue with transgenics is the capacity to bring in new genes that haven't been in that genome before," says Jane Rissler, a senior scientist at the Washington, D.C., Union of Concerned Scientists. "It's this power to combine genes from very different organisms that's causing concern."
Tilling, on the other hand, avoids these concerns because it relies solely on genes already in the plant.
Scientists at the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Crop Production and Pest Control research unit on the campus of Purdue University, have launched a Tilling project with the goal of making hypoallergenic soybeans. The researchers are creating as many mutations as they can in soybeans, then mining that information.
"It may be possible to identify mutants in the Tilling population that do not produce specific allergens," said Niels Nielsen, a geneticist working on the soybean project.
Soybeans are one of the top eight allergenic foods, along with peanuts. Food allergies affect 6 to 8 percent of children and 1 to 2 percent of adults. The U.S. government has mandated that all products with soy should be labeled as containing potential allergens in 2006.
Nielsen and his colleagues are also using Tilling to develop healthier soybean oil and higher-protein soybeans. They estimate that trans-fat-free nonhydrogenated soybean oil will be available in one year, while soybean oil that will rival olive oil for its monounsaturated fats is three years away. Steven Henikoff and his colleagues at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle first developed Tilling, a process that begins with soaking seeds in chemicals to induce mutations. Researchers then plant the seeds, and analyze genes from the mutated plant. They collect and store DNA samples containing mutations on a given gene.
Tilling can be used in a variety of plants. Researchers at Arcadia Biosciences in Davis, California, recently showed it could help develop an improved line of bread wheat. The technology can also help scientists find previously unidentified mutations. "By identifying mutants of genes whose function is unknown and studying them," Nielsen said, "it may be possible to deduce what they do."
Borlaug Wins Medal of Science
- Philip Brasher, Des Moines Register, Feb 14, 2006
Washington, D.C. - Nobel Peace Prize. Presidential Medal of Freedom. Now, Norman Borlaug, the Iowa native credited with saving hundreds of millions of lives through his work in plant breeding, is a winner of the National Medal of Science.
President Bush presented the honor to Borlaug, a one-time farm boy from Cresco, and seven other scientists Monday at a ceremony in the White House East Room. National Medals of Technology also were presented. Borlaug's citation, read by a military aide, said his improvements in wheat genetics and training of poor farmers provided a "new, high-quality food source for millions of people around the world."
Many of Borlaug's previous honors, notably the Nobel Peace Prize, focused on the humanitarian achievement of bringing on what is known as the Green Revolution. The latest honor is special, said Borlaug, because it recognized the scientific work "that was behind the Green Revolution."
Borlaug, 91, continues to travel widely and is an outspoken supporter, as is the Bush administration, of using agricultural biotechnology to address lingering problems of hunger and malnutrition worldwide. India, one of the biggest beneficiaries of Borlaug's work in the 1960s, recently awarded Borlaug its second-highest honor.
The science medal "is very appropriate, given the scientific breakthroughs he achieved during the Green Revolution but also his commitment and involvement with biotechnology," said Kenneth Quinn, president of the Des Moines-based World Food Prize Foundation.
Borlaug founded the World Food Prize to recognize people who had made achievements in food production. Borlaug is a distinguished professor of international agriculture at Texas A & M University, and he and Bush shared a light moment that was puzzling to non-Texans in the White House audience.
Bush whispered to Borlaug and gave him a thumbs-up, the hand sign for fans of Texas A & M. Borlaug, chuckling, responded with both thumbs up. To the befuddled audience, Bush explained the sign was for a "fighting Texas A & M Aggie."
Bush used a short address at the beginning of the ceremony to push for higher math standards in public schools and to encourage more science and math professionals to take teaching jobs. "There's no better way to make sure that young students are encouraged to take math and science than to have successful scientists explain to our students just the wonders of exploration," Bush said.
Borlaug said there's a need for young scientists who can do what he did and integrate knowledge of genetics with expertise in agronomy, soils and economics. Scientific advancements must be put to use to address lingering problems in agriculture, he said.
Few young scientists in the field understand farming, and they become too highly specialized, he said. "Who is going to be the person who puts all the pieces together, who has the broad agricultural background?"
What On Earth is JIGMOD and what does science have to say about it? GMO Pundit's Take
Anti-GMO organisations seem to be staging a big talk-fest in Paris April 2006. Good time, Good place, the Pundit would love to be there, and maybe even attend some of the conference.
It will be interesting to see though whether this is pure street theatre, or whether there is any scientific substance to the stream of press releases, letters, and long signature lists that will flood the media around that time.
8th of April 2006: Joint International GM Opposition Day (JIGMOD).
100 international organizations from more than 40 countries are now announcing April 8, 2006 as a Joint International GM Opposition Day. The day will feature major public events in several of these countries to demonstrate continuing global opposition to genetically modified foods and crops. "This international day follows the WTO decision to restrain European governments from protecting their farmers and other citizens from the threat of GMOs," explained one of the US promoters of the event. We will join with our allies around the world to condemn the WTO decision, and to denounce the US administration’s attempts to impose this hazardous technology on us all."
'Excessive regulation is getting in the way of expanded markets for Canadian wheat through genetic modification'
- National Post (Canada), Feb. 15, 2006; via Agnet
Colin Cater, Derek Berwald and Al Loyns, the authors of The Economics of Genetically Modified Wheat, published today by the University of Toronto Centre for Public Management and supported, in part, by a grant from Monsanto Canada, a manufacturer of biotech wheat, write in this op-ed that ever since the federal government took control of wheat marketing in Canada in order to serve the mother country, it has proudly promoted high-quality wheat as its brand. Stringent and expensive regulations have been used to implement the "high-quality" strategy in grading, testing and the release of new wheat varieties.
Unfortunately, the process of maintaining the "Cadillac-quality" philosophy has persisted, despite lack of evidence that it has been profitable for farmers. This mindset in Ottawa is 50 years out of date and costly to wheat growers. The reason is simple: Poor countries, which now buy most of the wheat traded internationally, are unwilling to pay Cadillac prices and are happy with lower-quality wheat. As a result, Canada's share of the world market for wheat has declined over the past two decades.
Due to excessive regulation, Canadian wheat farmers are now missing another opportunity -- biotech wheat. Biotechnology can transfer genes into wheat from other living organisms, to change how the plants perform. In numerous countries, scientists are busy introducing genes into plants that will give them resistance to herbicides, insects, disease, drought and salt in the soil. Bioengineering crop research is also aimed at improving the nutritional quality of food, such as providing healthier vegetable oils. Compared with traditional plant breeding, biotechnology can produce new varieties of plants more quickly and efficiently, and it can introduce desirable traits into plants that could not be established through conventional plant breeding techniques.
However, controversy surrounds the commercial production and marketing of bioengineered crops and the foods made from these crops. Supporters of this relatively new technology point to evidence that genetic modification of plants reduces the use of chemicals in agriculture, with direct environmental benefits. Farmers gain from reduced chemical costs, and often the biotech crops are higher yielding because of fewer pest and weed problems. This is not all speculation. The commercialization of biotech canola has been a huge success story in Canadian agriculture and has had a positive environmental impact. In fact, Canada is recognized as one of the world's leading adopters of crop biotechnology in canola, a crop not controlled by Ottawa.
Despite 10 years of positive experience with biotech crops (corn, soybeans, canola and cotton), detractors continue to claim that genetic modification is unnatural and carries unknown risks that could be hazardous to human health and the environment. This spurs opposition, led by the federal government's Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), to the introduction of biotech wheat in Canada.
The CWB and others base t heir concerns over loss of markets and negative agronomic impacts. They argue, for example, that biotech wheat in the system could not be kept separate from our traditional high-quality wheat. Most of the Canadian food-processing industry is also opposed to biotech wheat. These firms don't see biotech wheat's introduction leading to a significant boost in their returns because wheat typically represents a small share of input costs for processed food products. The food processors mare afraid of losing market share if environmental activist groups decide to stage a boycott of food products containing biotech wheat.
The success of any such boycott is doubtful because a very large percentage of processed foods sold in Canada today contain some biotech ingredients. In addition, most people regularly consume pharmaceuticals that are biotech products and don't ask questions -- a biotech bird flu vaccine has just been announced and will undoubtedly be well received. Why are some consumer products produced with biotechnology viewe d differently than others? And who, really, makes the decisions?
Unfortunately wheat farmers have had little or no say in this process. Wheat is a struggling industry in Western Canada and growers are shifting away from wheat due to its low profitability and its over-regulation. Our economic study of biotech wheat found that the benefits exceed the costs for biotech wheat on the Canadian prairies. We documented biotech canola's 80% adoption rate across the prairies because of its many desirable attributes and few negatives. Both biotech and non-biotech soybeans are succmessfully grown in Canada and segregated in the marketing chain without problems.
Unfortunately, as with other technological advances in the prairie grain industry, the regulators intervened to thwart biotech wheat on the basis of limited and incomplete research. We have applied economic analysis to several dimensions of measuring the economic impacts of biotech wheat and found that this new technology could have very favorable implications for produc ers, the prairie economy and for Canada as a whole.
Biotech wheat offers some potential to turn around the wheat industry on the Canadian prairies. Rather than exploring ways that this new technology could improve grower returns, the Canadian Wheat Board and others categorically rejected its introduction in Canada, due to a fear of lost markets.
Biotech wheat will surely be adopted in Asia or Latin America, lowering production costs there and exposing Canadian wheat farmers to even harsher competition. Canada's farmers need not suffer this fate. Now is the time to put biotech back on the drawing boards in Canada.
Regulatory Obstacles Thwarting Biotechnology
- University of Guelph News Release; Feb. 15, 2006 via Agnet
Canada will have to change the way it regulates scientific advances if it’s to benefit economically and socially from biotechnology innovation, according to a new report by a University of Guelph professor.
"Federal and provincial government agencies have made a concerted effort to increase support for biology," said philosophy professor David Castle, the study’s lead author. "But biotechnology innovation continues to outpace the development of the regulations necessary for product approvals. This problem is highlighted when new biotech products straddle different regulatory authorities."
The report focussed on three novel biotechnology innovations and, in each case, found significant regulatory stumbling blocks. Researchers looked at nutrigenomics, the field of personalized nutrition based on the study of the interaction between nutrients and genes; plant-derived vaccines, the production of vaccines for humans in crop plants; and the Enviropig, a line of pigs genetically modified so their bodies can absorb a normally indigestible form of phosphorus.
The report, "Convergence in Biotechnology Innovation: Case Studies and Implications for Regulation," is posted at http://www.gels.ca/events.php
'You Can't Just Force People!'
- Birgit Voigt, Neue Zürcher Zeitung AG, Feb. 14, 2006, http://verlag.nzz.ch/ger Via checkbiotech.org
Syngenta has again published brilliant results. Group CEO, Michael Pragnell, has geared the agribusiness group up to satisfy trends in the big producer countries. The doubts felt by the Europeans are not particularly relevant.
The Sunday NZZ: Mr Pragnell, what kind of a car do you drive?
- Michael Pragnell: A Mercedes Benz diesel.
Do you use biodiesel?
- Not as yet, but technically it would not be a problem.
Last week the EU decided to take still stronger promotional measures to encourage the use of bio fuels. Will this be a completely new market for Syngenta sales?
- The EU in fact was late taking its decision. In Brazil, ethanol already represents nearly 30% of vehicle fuel. They began to use it back in the nineteen-seventies.
Does this really make sense in terms of the overall ecological and energy balance?
- We must analyze the position following the EU decision, from the legal framework through to the possible added value chain. We will then see how farmers can produce renewable fuels in the most economical and environmentally-friendly manner possible. Syngenta is doing research on a genetically modified maize which is expected to yield better ethanol. We are trying to arrive at a situation in which the maize plant itself produces an expensive enzyme which must otherwise be added during the ethanol production process. That would greatly enhance productivity. We would then be able to offer a truly attractive technology. We have submitted the documents and hope to obtain an authorization in the USA by 2008.
Could the growing of bio fuel crops save many European farmers who have experienced problems in selling their output in recent decades?
- There might indeed be very attractive prospects in this regard. But this debate about over-production in Europe misses the point. At the global level, far from having too much we have too little food to meet the needs of the whole population. And the key means of production needed by farmers, i.e. water, is becoming increasingly scarce in many regions of the world. Farming uses up to 70% of global water consumption. Rice cultivation requires a particularly large amount of water.
In China, rice is part of the staple diet, but there is a growing problem both with water supplies and with water quality in that country. Let us extrapolate this trend. In twenty years time 1 think people will be astonished to see that we have set aside land areas which are perfectly suitable for agricultural purposes. Instead, we are trying to grow meagre crops at great expense in areas of the world where the conditions are unfavourable.
You are overlooking the fact that in many poor regions farming is the only source of food, employment and income for the population. Social and political reasons mitigate in favour of a functioning agricultural system.
That is of course correct. I am simply pointing out that nature is in growing contradiction with these demands in many parts of the world.
The WTO, the World Trade Organization, handed down a ruling last week to the effect that the EU Member States must not prevent imports of genetically modified good. What impact will this ruling have?
- Not much in the short term. In general, the genetically modified seed material on offer today is mainly of interest for the countries of North and South America where it is being grown. Genetically modified maize is being grown on a modest scale in Europe We must accept the fact that people cannot be forced to buy something they do not want. Nevertheless, Europe is not an area where no genetically modified food products are found. 90% of all soy beans come from genetically modified seed materials.
Until the first case of poisoning is reported...
- So far, there is absolutely no documented case in which people might have been harmed by the consumption of officially authorized genetically modified food products Not one.
Your arguments are not winning much acceptance. Just a few weeks ago, Switzerland approved a moratorium on genetically modified food.
- We very much regretted that decision. The political system in Switzerland favours the status quo and does not promote change. So we were not surprised. But I do believe it is very short-sighted. Scientists are migrating in droves to the US because researchers, like most other people, do not like to work in a climate which is hostile to them. Syngenta transferred its research to the US a long time ago. Especially because we want to be close to our markets.
Syngenta earns over 70% of its sales with crop protection agents: around 6.3 billion last year. Do we really need these toxic substances to grow our food?
- Let us consider your question against the background of the very high standard of living in Europe. Without the products made by our industry, agricultural crop yields would be 35% lower for staple foodstuffs worldwide. Two billion more people would go hungry. Please also think back thirty years and ask yourself what selection of fruit and vegetables people in the developed countries found in their shops then. The choice was not always impressive. Today, you have high quality products, year in year out, at much lower prices.
There have certainly been successes. But the fear of toxicity is deep-rooted. Your product Gramoxone is constantly hitting the headlines.
- Political groups are often prone to hold up Gramoxone as a kind of scandal. The herbicide is used in warm and humid regions to check the growth of plants which compete with useful crops. When it is washed into the soil by rain it becomes permanently attached to the earth and is not leached out into the rivers.
But Gramoxone is not harmless to the people who spray it.
- That is true. If it is not used correctly, it can cause temporary irritation of the skin or eyes. We therefore urgently recommend the use of suitable protection measures. We also train people in the developing countries to the best of our ability. But many development aid and environmental protection organizations make use of this problem to stir up hostility to us.
Sadly, from time to time, impoverished farmers in the developing countries swallow the herbicide to commit suicide. Last year, we therefore added a bright colorant, an acrid odour and a substance to make people vomit and prevent absorption of the product. We are currently testing another variant. An innovative gelling agent will hopefully prevent the absorption of large quantities of the toxin in the body if it is swallowed. Since the introduction of these training and information campaigns, the number of suicides caused by gramoxone has fallen significantly.
Syngenta was created in the year 2000 by the merger of the agrichemical branches of the British AstraZeneca and Novartis companies. For the last two years (2005: sales worth 8.1 billion dollars, 19,000 employees worldwide) the business has been highly successful. This has been clearly reflected in the stock market prices. 58 year-old group CEO Michael Pragnell has been in charge of the group since the merger. He joined AstraZeneca back in 1995 as director of Zeneca Agrochemical
The New Global Biosociety: Innovation, Security and Development
- Guest Editor: Professor Calestous Juma, International Journal of Biotechnology (IJBT), Special Issue - Vol. 8, Issue 1/2, 2006
Fruitful Pursuits: Research Careers in Plant Science
- Crispin Taylor, Science, February 10, 2006
Why would people want to study plants? What's the draw? Plants (and other things that photosynthesize) are the world's primary producers and have been converting the sun's energy into usable chemical form, including food for animals, for billions of years. Fast-forwarding toward the present day (and the current context), plants have been the genesis of numerous advances in biology as a whole. The science of genetics is built on Gregor Mendel's work on peas; Barbara McClintock discovered transposable elements--"jumping genes"--while working on maize; the science of "RNA interference" and its potential therapeutic applications derives from early studies of cosuppression in transgenic purple petunias.
Fossil fuels, of course, are derived from plants, and a great deal of attention of late is being paid to research to figure out how to skip the intervening several hundred thousand years so that we can go efficiently, and more or less directly, from plants to fuel for vehicles and power plants. Basic and applied research on plants supported the green revolution, and as the world's human population continues to grow, we will increasingly rely on an ever-deepening understanding of plant biology and on agronomic improvements to keep us all fed, clothed, and mobile.
So, to anyone who asks me "Why plants?" I answer: Who wouldn't want to be a part of this kind of science?
Read on http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_development/previous_issues/articles/2006_02_10/fruitful_pursuits_research_careers_in_plant_science/(parent)/158