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March 10, 2006


Faux Mutation Worries; Less Restrictions Please; EU As Usual; Royal Lowness; Reapers Keepers; Toxicity of Environmentalism


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - March 10, 2006

* Do Transgenes in GM Crops Cause Mutations? Does it Matter?
* Fewer Restrictions Will Lead to New Transgenic Crops
* Irish Scientist demands that ANTI GM food group remove lies from their webpage
* EU Retreats From Setting Unified Biotech-Crop Law
* EU Shows Split Over Biotech Foods as Worries Persist
* Royal Lowness
* Too Subtle for Proust
* Incorrect Information on Seeds is Being Planted
* Islamic Countries Set Implementation Strategy for Biotech
* Reapers Keepers
* India: Three-day AgriBiotech 2006 begins
* Database of the Benefits and Safety of Biotechnology
* Banish the Antibiotic Marker Genes in Food crops
* GM-induced shamanistic reverie, a commune of hippy travellers!
* Seeds of Death vs. Seeds of Life (Shiva Thunders Again, Just in time for Curitiba...)
* Toxicity of Environmentalism
Do Transgenes in GM Crops Cause Mutations? Does it Matter?

- Prof. Wayne Parrott, University of Georgia, USA; -wparrott#uga.edu -

Re the following report by Snow et al of Econexus, the question is not whether mutations occur during transformation. The question is whether we should worry about mutations or not.

We can address the question by comparing these mutations to the ones that take place during every-day plant breeding, not to mention mutation breeding. The answer is that to the extent mutations might occur during the transformation process, the ones associated with engineering are of a *much* smaller scale that what we take for granted in breeding. In general, it is pretty pointless to obsess over random mutations in plants.

If mutations in plant DNA were dangerous, pretty much every plant out there would be dangerous to human health.

I dealt with the topic in my web page at http://www.cropsoil.uga.edu/~parrottlab/Comparison/index.htm. I do need to get around to update this page, but the more recent literature on the topic only serves to strengthen the premise. (If the photos do not show up, check the Java settings on your computer)

We also elaborate on this theme in our article from Nature Biotechnology from last year, which called for a more sane and logical regulatory system, given the relative scale of changes between engineering and breeding:

Bradford, K.J., A. Van Deynze, N. Gutterson, W. Parrott, and S.H. Strauss. 2005. Regulating transgenic crops sensibly: Lessons from plant breeding, biotechnology and genomics. Nature Biotechnology 23:439-444

and a follow-up letter to a rebuttal:

Bradford, K.J., N. Gutterson, W. Parrott, A. Van Deynze, and S.H. Strauss. 2005. Strauss and colleagues respond. Nature Biotechnology 23:787-789.

More on this from Prof. Jonathan Gressel of Weizmann Institute of Science

Wilson et al paper completely misses the whole picture It is well chosen data and extensions and extrapolations of data. To a scientist, the question is "so what if it is true?" - there is no baseline presented, no measure of what they selectively glean vs natural mutation and rearrangement rates, and what have they done to crops, nor a comparison of effects of stress on mutation rates, mutational breeding, etc. Did mutational breeding cause more or less? How many of the problems they describe are removed during backcrossing, as is done with mutational breeding?

It is through such natural processes of mutation and rearrangement that we obtained the biodiversity and speciation and continuing evolution needed to exist on this planet. The last thing we want is uniform, unchanging clones, which is what the article seems to imply.

My guess is that the knowledgeable regulators, who reviewed the packages and saw that there were extra bits, or missing bits, or rearranged bit of DNA just yawned instead of getting excited in the manner of this advocacy group, as this commonly occurs without genetic engineering. The key is always baseline in risk analysis.

To repeat what one excellent risk analyzer answers, when asked "Hows the wife?" - Answer: "compared to what?" "Compared to what?" is missing from this paper.

Prof. Gressel is at Purdue University until March 31; jonathan.gressel#weizmann.ac.il


From - Dr. Klaus Ammann - Friends, here some literature about the baseline completely missing in Latham's paper. With his 'scientific' method you can 'prove' ANYTHING.

Here is some literature about the lacking baseline thoughts on radiation mutation. No word in Lathams paper about this. The usual unfounded focusing effect.

General review about biolistics

Arbers arguments that natural mutation is in many ways the same as GM http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Mutations/Arber-Comparison-2002.pdf


Some literature about radiation mutation




A natural transgenic plant


>Genome Scrambling – Myth or Reality?: Transformation-Induced Mutations in Transgenic Crop Plants

>- Allison Wilson, PhD, Jonathan Latham, PhD and Ricarda Steinbrecher, PhD ; October 2004.
http://www.econexus.info/pdf/ENx-Genome-Scrambling-Summary.pdf Excerpt...

>In this report we examine the mutations introduced into transgenic crop plants by plant transformation. We have searched and analysed the relevant scientific literature for Agrobacterium-mediated transformation and particle bombardment, the two most frequently used plant transformation methods. We have also analysed the molecular data submitted to the USDA in applications requesting commercial approval for transgenic cultivars. Lastly, we have examined whether mutations arising from plant transformation have the potential to be hazardous and whether current safety tests are robust enough to detect hazardous mutations before they reach the market.
>Conclusions: This report identifies the insertion-site and genome-wide mutations created by plant trans- formation procedures as potentially major, but poorly understood, sources of hazard associated with the production and use of commercial transgenic cultivars. We suggest that an understanding of the implications of transformation-induced mutations urgently needs to be incorporated into regulatory frameworks . To facilitate this, we make various recommendations, including a requirement for complete analysis of insertion-site and genome-wide mutations in transgenic cultivars prior to commercialisation. We suggest that changes to both transgenic plant breeding practices and to the regulation of transgenic crop plants are required so that hazardous mutations are either prevented, or identified and removed, prior to commercialisation.

>As discussed in this report, food crops are not inherently safe. All plants produce harmful substances and many food crops are derived from inedible ancestors and may contain toxic tissues or organs. They therefore have within them the genetic potential to cause harm. Consequently, the genetic stability of cultivars in the plant breeding pool is crucial if plant breeders are to produce reasonably safe cultivars.

>The presence of transformation- induced mutations poses a threat to this stability that is potentially very serious and that is also entirely unnecessary. In addition, the pool of cultivars available to farmers is declining and certain cultivars are grown on a large scale worldwide. Consequently, ensuring the safety of commercial transgenic cultivars presents a major challenge for governments and institutions involved in biosafety regulation.


Fewer Restrictions Will Lead to New Advancements in Transgenic Crops

- Blair Fannin, AgNews, Texas A&M Univ., http://agnews.tamu.edu/dailynews/stories/BICH/Mar0906a.htm

Less regulation will allow public entities, including universities, to pursue more transgenic crop research, which will help reduce the number of diseases found in plants, a researcher said Wednesday.

"The impact of regulatory costs on getting a transgenic crop to the field and commercialized is very high," said Dr. Roger Beachy, president of the Danforth Plant Science Center. With commercialization costs of $1 million to $50 million, most research investment is spent on high-return crops, such as cotton, corn and soybeans, Beachy said. "But the small crops that are important to Texas and California, like vegetables, they are mostly locally-grown produce and are inaccessible," he said.

Beachy was the keynote speaker at the Molecular and Environmental Plant Sciences Symposium at Texas A&M University. The high cost for commercialization "prices us from participating in this sector," Beachy said. This means bacterial diseases and fungi on smaller-return crops will continue to be treated by chemical pesticides.

"We are being hamstrung, I think, by current policies on regulation and the cost that regulation imposes," he said. "Don't get me wrong, regulation is important, but let's do it with a sense of what agriculture is and can be, and how biotechnology can play an important role.

"We don't want to expose the public to danger; that's not my point. My point is there are some things out there that we know are safe ... these are genes moved from one plant to another plant. There's a great opportunity for plant biologists and biotechnologists such as those within the Texas A&M University System to contribute."

Beachy, who in the 1980s pioneered the development of virus-resistance in plants through the use of transgenic technology, continues to examine protein movement in tobacco mosaic virus. Another area of his research is mechanisms which express viral coat proteins responsible for disease-resistance in transgenic plants.

His discoveries in the 1980s were part of an effort to combat tobacco streak virus in India's transgenic groundnuts. The disease has also affected cotton, marigolds, okra and sunflowers, he said. "It looks like this 20-year-old technology will be useful in India, and it does it in a setting where it will affect up to 20 million farmers," he said.

Beachy said his approach to studying viruses transmitted in transgenic plants is to fully understand what the pathogen does. "Otherwise, you're taking a shotgun approach," he said.


Irish Scientist demands that ANTI GM food group remove lies from their webpage

- Press Release, March 9, 2006

An Irish scientist who is running a web-blog http://www.gmoireland.blogspot.com/ on the facts of GM food and not the spin today had lies and misinformation published on the website of the Irish ANTI GM food group http://www.GMfreeireland.org.

Shane Morris, who is an Irish GM food expert, was singled out and targeted by the ANTI GMO campaign with lies. Mr. Morris, who is a Canadian public servant, had started his public web-blog after reading scientific misinformation in the Irish media. Mr. Morris has researched and published many scientific papers on the issue of GM crops and has regulated biotechnology derived products.
In responding to the posting Mr. Morris stated, "This is a new low that has been reached by the Irish ANTI GMO campaign. The use of lies and misinformation is a tactic usually used by large biotech multinationals. It is clear the ANTI GM movement in Ireland cannot be trusted to give the facts to the Irish public."
In addition Mr. Morris suggested that "Michael O'Callaghan who runs the Irish anti GM website should live up to the standards he proclaims he represents and remove the attacking citations, especially after the British anti GM food group that published them offered to make corrections. The Irish public deserves better unless he sees no problems in spreading lies in Ireland".
Mr. Morris believes the attack comes as result of his work in reviewing, along with some international scientists, the scientific claims that are currently been used by GMfreeireland.org to convince the Irish public of the some called food risks with GM food.
Mr. Morris ran the first Irish public debate on GM food in 1998 as a graduate at the University of Limerick. He has studied and published internationally recognized and award winning papers on the issue of GM food and public perceptions. He has never received corporate funding from biotechnology companies.

Mr. Morris also stated that, "I have already received some "shut up and be quiet" letters as a result of the posting. It is clear that some people don’t want the facts to come out but no-one has ownership of the science and no-one will keep me quiet on the facts. "

The misinformation was put together by GM watch, a UK based group funded by the JMG Foundation, a foundation not for public factual information but "an anti corporate foundation that helps aggressives campaigns to destroy biotech crop production worldwide". (See http://www.eskimo.com/~4janet/jmg_foundation.htm ) JMG, short for Sir James Michael Goldsmith, the late billionaire husband of the daughter of an anti-Irish Unionist English Viscount, the 8th Marquess of Londonderry (Londonderry in Northern Ireland is called Derry until the English occupiers renamed it!!), would seem to be attempting to stifle Irish free speech.


EU Retreats From Setting Unified Biotech-Crop Law

- SCOTT MILLER, Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2006

BRUSSELS -- The European Union has backed away from trying to establish EU-wide laws on segregating genetically modified crops, even though regulators fear some EU countries are imposing unfairly difficult rules.

In a report to be made public tomorrow, EU regulators say the situation for each crop in each country is too complex for now to make one standard rule, though it could revisit the issue later. The decision comes a month after the World Trade Organization ruled that Europe, long the most-resistant region to biotech food, had violated trade agreements for years by making it too difficult for new types to be approved.

The WTO also found that individual EU countries' bans on certain genetically modified, or GM, crops also violate trade rules.

An EU-wide rule on how far GM crops need to be grown from traditional crops, to avoid the two mixing, wouldn't have addressed the WTO ruling. But it demonstrates how Europe remains a complex market to crack for biotech companies, which are mostly based in the U.S.

European countries have been working on their own rules governing farming of GM and non-GM crops since July 2003, in part because different climatic conditions could have different effects on whether biotech genes spread into neighboring fields. That can ruin non-GM farmers' plans to sell to Europe's large organic and non-GM markets. Biotech genes can travel on the wind or be carried by insects to traditional crops.

A spokesman for the European Commission declined to comment on the report about backing off plans for an EU-wide move. A copy of the report was seen by The Wall Street Journal. The report says some countries are proposing separations between GM and non-GM crops that "appear to entail greater efforts for GM crop growers than necessary."


EU Shows Split Over Biotech Foods as Worries Persist

- Jonathan Stearns in Brussels, Bloomberg News, March 9, 2006 http://www.bloomberg.com

European Union nations laid bare their divisions over genetically modified foods, highlighting the obstacles companies such as Monsanto Co. and Syngenta AG face in gaining more access to the 25-nation market.

Environment ministers from EU nations including Spain and Italy today demanded stricter European rules for approving gene- modified organisms. Ministers from other EU governments including Denmark and Ireland said the existing legislation was adequate to guard against risks to health and the environment. "We need more thorough European legislation,'' Spanish Environment Minister Cristina Narbona said in a public debate in Brussels. Her Danish counterpart, Connie Hedegaard, said the EU's "regulations provide us with a high level of protection. GMOs are here and we have to take decisions on specific applications.''

The European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, wants to speed up gene-altered food approvals to give Europe a bigger share of the $5 billion global biotech-crop market. The commission in 2004 ended a six-year moratorium that stemmed from worries across Europe that gene-engineered products pose risks such as human resistance to antibiotics and the development of "superweeds'' impervious to herbicides.

Biotech foods range from grain to tomatoes whose genetic material has been altered to add beneficial traits such as resistance to weed-killing chemicals. The EU introduced stricter biotech-food laws, including new rules on labeling, before ending its ban two years ago.

EU members can still slow or block approvals because the commission must consult national authorities when it seeks authorizations for the bloc-wide sale of gene-modified products for food, feed or cultivation.

The approximately 10 EU approvals since the moratorium ended all resulted from the commission acting on its own after member states failed to muster a sufficient majority for or against, a situation that adds months to the decision-making process. The World Trade Organization ruled last month that the EU ban was illegal and left open the question of whether the current pace of approvals is compatible with global-trade rules. The WTO ruling resulted from a complaint by the U.S., Argentina and Canada, the world's three biggest growers of gene-modified seeds.

The EU has yet to approve an application to cultivate a gene- modified product since ending the moratorium, limiting authorizations to food and feed use. Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas declined to say when the commission would start the approval process for a planting request, telling reporters today that the EU first needs to put in place a system that would prevent biotech crops from mixing with conventional ones.
Asked whether the commission might act on a cultivation application in the second half of 2006, Dimas said, "It could.''

Narbona of Spain, where most of the EU's cultivation of gene- altered crops has taken place, stressed the risks of pressing ahead with such plantings. "You may have cross-contamination occurring,'' she said in the public debate. "We have to have safe distances established between crops.''

One aspect of EU decision-making over gene-modified foods drew broad criticism, including from some ministers who expressed support for the current legislative framework and urged more decisions on products.

Because national votes are weighted according to the size of member states, situations can arise where the commission can endorsed an application even though more than half the countries oppose it. This occurs when the group of opponents doesn't form a sufficient majority on the basis of total votes to block an approval. The ministers called for a change in this rule. The practice also affects decisions in other areas of EU regulation, complicating any effort to alter the procedure for biotech goods.


Royal Lowness

- Dr. Henry I. Miller, TCS, Mar 10, 2006 http://www.tcsdaily.com

The highly political and often dubious activities of Britain's Prince Charles -- made public last week in a confidential memo from his former deputy private secretary -- is a reminder of the major disadvantage of a monarchy. Unlike in a republic, the citizenry don't get to choose the head of state. Or more to the point, they don't get to reject a pompous git who, if he weren't a member of the royal family, would probably be selling insurance or maybe working as a maitre d'.

According to the memo by Mark Bolland, made public as part of a lawsuit filed by the Prince of Wales against a British newspaper, Charles regards himself as a "dissident working against the prevailing political consensus". The Prince regularly presses his views on government ministers and politicians, including his "vigorous campaign" against genetically modified foods.

Not-so-bonnie Prince Charles has said he rejects the idea that genetic modification simply extends or refines "traditional methods of plant breeding." He is convinced that such practices "belong to God, and to God alone." (Maybe he has an inside track: His family motto is, after all, "Dieu et Mon Droit.") And if mere mortals persist, he contends, they should segregate and label "genetically modified products."

Prince Charles knows little about the genetic engineering of plants, among many other things of which he knows little. For one thing, genetic modification is not new. Plants and microorganisms have long been genetically improved by mutation and selection and used to make biotechnology products as varied as yogurt, beer, cereal crops, antibiotics, vaccines and enzymes (for laundry detergents and food processing).

For decades, using conventional techniques for genetic modification, genes have been transferred widely across "natural breeding boundaries" to yield common food plants including oats, rice, black currants, pumpkins, potatoes, tomatoes, wheat, and corn. These plants, which are "genetically engineered" by any reasonable definition, are not merely found in laboratories or test plots but are the very same fruits, vegetables, and grains that consumers buy at the local supermarket, greengrocer, or farm stand.

The techniques of the "new biotechnology" (gene splicing, tissue cultures, and the rest) essentially speed up and target with greater precision and predictability the kinds of genetic improvement that have long been carried out with other methods. According to a worldwide scientific consensus, the new biotechnology lowers even further the already minimal risk associated with introducing new plant varieties into the food supply — and reduces soil erosion and the use of pesticides and increases yields in the bargain.

The use of these sophisticated techniques makes the final product even safer, because it is possible to introduce pieces of DNA that contain only one or a few well-characterized genes. In contrast, the older genetic techniques transfer a variable number of genes haphazardly. Users of the new techniques can be more certain about the traits they introduce into the plants. Americans have consumed well over a trillion servings of gene-spliced foods, and not a single person has been injured, or an ecosystem disrupted. In contrast, five products engineered with traditional techniques (two squash, two potato and one celery variety) have had unsafe levels of toxins and caused injury or death.

Even though the safety level is exemplary, a few anti-technology advocacy groups -- joined by Prince Charles -- have pushed for labels disclosing the use of gene-splicing techniques. Such labels would add significantly to the costs of processed foods made from fresh fruits and vegetables. The precise costs will vary according to the product. But, for example, a company using a gene-spliced, higher-solids, less-watery tomato (which is more favorable for processing) would have the additional costs of segregating the product at all levels of planting, harvesting, shipping, processing and distribution. Labels would have to appear on vegetable soup, indicating the presence of gene-spliced tomato, potato or other products.

The added production costs are a particular disadvantage to products in this competitive, low-profit-margin market. Unnecessary and arbitrary regulation constitutes, in effect, a punitive "tax" on regulated products or activities which, in turn, creates a disincentive to their development and use.

Consumers, whose prices would be raised and choices diminished by this regulatory tax, would be better served by industry spending its resources on research and development to create new, safer products.

At the end of the day, Prince Charles' reservations about new biotechnology are puzzling. They appear to arise from a lack of perspective on pedigree (a subject that should be of no small interest to someone whose only claim to distinction is his lineage). Would he boycott or request special labeling for the genetic hybrid we call a tangelo (a cross between a tangerine and grapefruit)? Or the mutant peaches we call nectarines?

Biotech's opponents seem to forget that delays or limitations in the use of gene-spliced products cause the poor to suffer most. Because food purchases require a disproportionately larger part of their budgets, those with lower incomes are hardest hit by high consumer prices, which can be reduced by more efficient biotech production processes.

The controversy over biotechnology is not a mere intellectual exercise but a real-life struggle for the availability of products that will prolong and enrich lives, and for the ability of consumers to cast their votes in the marketplace.

Technological innovation -- whether in the form of better tomatoes, faster computers or more effective vaccines -- often occurs in small, almost imperceptible steps. If a new product's characteristics are attractive, and the price is right, it succeeds in the marketplace, stimulating still more innovation. Ironically, some of Prince Charles' own organically-produced vegetables failed this test: so deformed and repulsive to look at, they were not marketable and had to be given to local schools.

Prince Charles should give the new biotechnology a try before he heaves another tomato at it. -----
Henry Miller, a physician and fellow at the Hoover Institution, was the founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology, 1989-1993. Barron's selected his most recent book, "The Frankenfood Myth..." one of the 25 Best Books of 2004.


Too Subtle for Proust

- The Guardian (UK), March 10, 2006

I was taken aback to read the claim (Eco soundings, March 8) that the "merits of GMO giant Monsanto's 'terminator' or 'suicide' seeds, which are sterile and cannot be replanted" should be considered. In 1999 you reported (October 9), in a 1,400-word article, "How Monsanto's mind was changed" about our decision not to commercialise the so-called terminator technology. More than five years later, such sterile seeds still do not exist. We stand by our commitment not to use genetic engineering methods that result in sterile seeds. Period.

- Tony Combes, Monsanto UK


Incorrect Information on Seeds is Being Planted

- The Daily News (Nanaimo) March 9, 2006; Via Agnet

Trish Jordan, Monsanto Canada, Winnipeg, writes that the comments made by Keith Wyndlow of Ladysmith on sterile seed technology that appeared in the Daily News ('Why is no attention being paid to terminator seeds?' Feb. 25) contained several factual errors and incorrect information about Monsanto Company's involvement in the development of sterile seed technology.

First, Monsanto has not introduced any commercial product that includes sterile seed technology (dubbed terminator technology by activist groups), nor do we currently have plans to do so. Second, we are not currently conducting research on sterile seed technology.

Third, there is no commercial seed product available in the marketplace offered by any company that utilizes sterile seed technology. Fourth, Monsanto does not own a patent on sterile seed technology. The patent on this concept is owned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a company called Delta and Pine Land, not Monsanto as Wyndlow incorrectly indicated.

Finally, Monsanto made the pledge in 1999 that we wouldn't commercialize sterile seed technology in crops for food use. That commitment was reiterated in the Monsanto Pledge articulated in 2000 and we have reaffirmed our absolute commitment not to use sterile seed technology that would prevent small growers in the developing world from maintaining their traditional practices, subsistence or livelihood. We have no research or plans that in any way go against that commitment.


Islamic Countries Set Implementation Strategy for Biotech

- Crop Biotech Update, http://www.isaaa.org/kc

Expert members have agreed on an implementation strategy for the development of biotechnology in Islamic countries. They presented the following recommendations during the workshop "Development of Biotechnology in Islamic Countries: Sharing Experience on Issues and Challenges":

* Mobilize political authorities to support biotechnology through legislation and to ensure financial support for * Establish training and education centers in Islamic countries with special emphasis on modern biotechnology tools, information technology, and entrepreneurship. * Establish key research priorities at regional and national levels. * Increase public awareness and understanding on biotechnology and its applications These recommendations will be presented at the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) Ministerial Meeting in August 2006 in Kuwait.

The Expert Meeting was held in Cairo, Egypt, on 6-8 March 2006, and was organized by ISESCO, the Organization of Islamic Conference Standing Committee for Science and Technology (COMSTECH), and Inter-Islamic Network on Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (INOGEB). The meeting was chaired by Prof. Abdul Latif Ibrahim, Director of the Biotech-IT Center Selangor, Malaysia.

For further information contact Prof. Faiq Billal, Director for Sciences, ISESCO at: sciences#isesco.org.ma
Biotech In Islamic Countries: Issues and Challenges

The workshop "The Development of Biotechnology in Islamic Countries: Sharing Experiences on Issues and Challenges" was held in Cairo, Egypt, on the 6th-8th of March. The event aimed to provide a forum for identifying common challenges and prospects for the application of biotechnology in Islamic countries, and promoting scientific collaboration among them. The workshop was attended by delegates from member states of the Organization of the Islamic Countries (OIC), including Bangladesh, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, Senegal, Syria, Sudan, Togo, and Tunisia.

Biotechnology, in particular with regard to agriculture and health, was identified by the meeting’s participants as an essential player in national development. In addition, public science awareness and acceptance were highlighted as key factors in promoting biotechnology. Key challenges for the development of biotechnology in Islamic countries include: public funding for research and development, absence of a legal framework in areas such as biosafety and intellectual property, and inadequate support infrastructure. Opportunities to strengthen collaboration and sharing of scientific information and capacity building were likewise identified.

During the workshop, Islamic scholars stated that Islam is not in contradiction to the development of science and technology, if it is intended for the betterment of mankind and does not harm the environment.

However, efforts are needed to bridge the communication gap between religious scholars and scientists for the formulation of fatwas (Islamic laws) regarding biotechnology and its applications.


Reapers Keepers

- Kannan K. Unni, HindustanTimes (India), March 10, 2006 http://www.hindustantimes.com

Genetically Modified (GM) food crops are not the only way to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing world hunger by half by 2015. However, increased farm productivity as a result of GM crops provides an important means to that end. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be nine billion people in the world. With the impending need to double food production, can we then afford to ignore plant biotechnology?

Through the ages, genetic improvement of crops has always preceded agricultural growth in developed and developing countries alike. Norman Borlaug relied on insect-resistant, high-yield wheat to successfully launch what has now been termed the first Green Revolution. This helped India embark on the road to achieving self-sustenance.

Initiated in 1978, the first Green Revolution depended on increased use of irrigation, pesticides and fertilisers to drive agricultural growth. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh believes that the technologies and strategies counted on by the first Green Revolution seem to have run their course. The advent of genetic engineering promises to propel us towards a more eco-friendly, sustainable agricultural system, which India direly needs. Today, India must make another leap -- from subsistence-farming to sustainable development. The impetus given to agricultural growth in India by the first Green Revolution has slowed down. There is an urgent need for renewed thrust on research to increase agricultural incomes and productivity. The key lies in achieving a harmonious blend of indigenous knowledge with advanced science and proper application of biotechnology to the improvement of seeds.

Since the introduction of biotech crops 10 years ago, it has been proven that cultivation of biotech seeds such as Bt cotton seeds deliver consistent and long-term agronomic, environmental, economic, health and social benefits to farmers and, increasingly, to society at large. With large dry-land areas in India that have hitherto not been arable, farmers are increasingly turning to biotech crops to make a living. Farmers in India are also recognising the more immediate benefits of cultivating such crops -- improved yield, higher profits and reduction in expenditure on pesticides.

Two lesser-known advantages of plant biotechnology are provision of nutrient-enhanced foods and environmental benefits. The introduction of Vitamin A-enhanced Golden Rice promises to provide the essential vitamin to poorer communities in regions where rice is the staple diet. Today, when roughly 124 million people across the world suffer from night blindness, this could translate to a medical breakthrough. Recently, researchers have also proved that GM maize can help tackle the problem of iron deficiency among consumers, especially in developing nations.

Plant biotechnology is also an eco-friendly option. The first Green Revolution has left behind a legacy of increased irrigation and unrestrained fertiliser and pesticide usage. GM crops that are insect-resistant promote a culture of intelligent pesticide usage. Furthermore, biotechnology allows farmers to produce higher yields on less land. Higher yields are crucial as acceleration in urbanisation is playing a major role in depleting agriculture land. Aiming to double farm output using conventional methods could result in resorting to deforestation to increase cropland.

Graham Brookes, Director of PG Economics, Britain, says, "The economic and the environmental benefits associated with the technology can only get greater." PG Economics has just completed a global review of the economic and the environmental impact of biotech crops. The cultivation of biotech crops has directly resulted in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions across the world. In fact, in 2004, 10 billion kg less carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere as a result of the use of biotech crops. Moreover, GM crops require less tilling of the soil, therefore, lessen soil erosion.

No technology is considered an unmitigated blessing, especially when first introduced. However, it is up to human ingenuity to harness it for societal good. Today, a number of activists are opposing modern biotechnology on lofty ideological and philosophical grounds, many without any factual evidence to support their wild claims of negative impact on human health and the environment. In fact, GM crops are extensively tested before they can be brought to the market. They have to be approved by government regulatory bodies, and this process takes years.

India is poised on the threshold of the next Green Revolution -- it will mark a qualitative change in agricultural technology. It has the potential to double its output from 200 million tonnes to 400 million tonnes over the next four years. However, like UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "We must move from promises to practice, from commitments to concrete projects, from intentions to implementations."

It is modern biotechnology that will move conventional Indian agriculture closer to the ideals of sustainable development. In the words of former US President Jimmy Carter, "Responsible biotech is not the enemy; starvation is."


India: Three-day AgriBiotech 2006 begins

- Business Standard, March 10, 2006 http://www.business-standard.com/

New techniques for understanding of genome has led to huge investments in R&D in agri biotechnology, especially in Western countries, but has at the same time given rise to debate in developing countries such as India about the possible risks and benefits associated with genetically modified crops.

To provide a platform for agricultural scientists and farmers from developing and developed countries to discuss the benefits of the gene revolution in the country, the Andhra Pradesh Industrial Development Corporation (APIDC) was holding a three-day international conference, 'AgriBiotech 2006', on ‘Biotechnology for Sustainable Agriculture and Agro-Industry' at Pragati Resorts from today.

Speaking at the first plenary session on 'Biotechnology for Crop Improvement', Swapan Datta, former senior plant biotechnologist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) called upon the Indian agricommunity to achieve its rightful share in the $43 bn global agri-biotech market for the greater benefit of farmers.

Explaining some of the problems being faced by the Indian agriculture, Datta said, "Global agri-subsidy and Indian farmer’s struggle are a study in contrasts. If about 10 million farmers in the US and other Western countries thrive on agri-subsidy, more than 110 million agri-households in India cultivate without any such comparable subsidies."

Roberto Tuberosa, agricultural scientist, department of Agroenvironmental Sciences and Technology, Viale Fanin, Italy said, "GM crops are not controversial but like any other crops are organic crops." Developing countries facing the problem of hunger cannot sideline developments in agritechnology such as the genetically modified crops, Tuberosa said.


Database of the Benefits and Safety of Biotechnology


CropLife International database of published papers and reviews demonstrating the benefits and safety implications associated with the use of agricultural biotechnology products.

Agricultural biotechnology today is realising economic, environmental, health and social benefits for farmers and society in both industrial and developing countries. 8.25 million farmers in 17 countries planted biotech crops in 2004 - 90 per cent in developing countries. While studies recording, demonstrating and quantifying these benefits exist, they can be difficult to locate and access.

The purpose of this database is to enable you quickly and easily to locate and access credible scientific information about the demonstrated benefits associated with the use of agricultural biotechnology products, and about their safety.

The database therefore provides access to a selection of quality studies that highlight the global benefits of these products. Full list of papers at http://croplife.intraspin.com/BioTech/allpapers.asp


Banish the Antibiotic Marker Genes in Food crops

- Dr.P.H. Ramanjini Gowda, Associate Professor, Department of Biotechnology, Univ. Ag. Sciences, India

Biotech offers unlimited potentiality in Agriculture and Medicine. However, we must be cognizant of the opinions of some consumer groups who are expressing lot of concerns and fear about the antibiotic marker genes.

There is not much concern of antibiotic genes in ornamentals and cotton and other fiber crops. Any amount of propaganda or convincing the consumers may not yield fruitful results concerning to antibiotic marker genes. All efforts should be made to develop GMOs without using such marker genes. Currently there are technologies that would help us develop GMOs without using these antibiotic marker genes.


GM-induced shamanistic reverie, a commune of hippy travellers!

- Denis Murphy, UK - dmurphy2#glam.ac.uk -

I thought this following article was tremendously entertaining - surely a classic of its genre and a strong contender for the maximum number of cliches, distortions and inaccuracies that can be crammed into just a few sentences.

I especially liked the reference to 'GM-induced shamanistic reverie a commune of hippy travellers'. Wonderful stuff!

I suspect the writer may have been partaking of the aforesaid substances himself before penning this pernicious screed, which reads more like a 3-week early April Fools Day parody. It is already on the syllabus of my 'Communities, Agriculture & Biotechnology' module and will receive honorable mention in my MSc course on 'GM crops and Conservation Management'.

>Frankenstein weed threatens children and OAPs

>- Mark Ballard http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/03/08/frankenstein_weed_escapes/

Frankenstein crops laden with drugs have infected wild plants around the world after their escape from the GM laboratories and field trials where scientists promised they would be kept safe.

Parents might want to keep their children from playing in green spaces after a series of revelations published (http://www.gmcontaminationregister.org/) by Greenpeace and GeneWatch UK today that describe the infiltration of natural plant species by Frankenstein genes.

Crops genetically engineered to carry drugs in their stems have infected other plants with their horrifying payload, said the green campaigners, whose latest study shows that Frankenstein crops are spreading more rapidly than they had feared, through illegal planting and corporate cover-ups of infections.

Whatever next? It can surely only be a matter of time before these revelations provoke rants about GM corporations deliberately infecting the conventional food chain with crops laced with addictive drugs.

The extent of the danger became apparent when an El Reg reporter discovered during a GM-induced shamanistic reverie a commune of hippy travellers living in a field infected by drug-laden Frankenstein crops. Police forcibly removed them but let them return when the extent of their addiction became apparent. We ran the news by a bloke we met in a pub, who claimed an interest in science.

As GM infections of conventional crops increased, he said, it heightened the chance that a genetic mutation could spread from GM monster weeds to humans. "The result could be even more horrifying than Day of the Triffids. Crossing plant and human genes won't just give you carnivorous plants, our civilisation could be undermined by a generation of kids with pea brains and wheat hearts," he said.

"And we should not underestimate the sort of havoc rye humours could wreak on our society," he said.


Seeds of Death vs. Seeds of Life

- Vandana Shiva http://www.ipsnews.net/columns.asp?idnews=32438

MARCH 2006 (IPS) - When the 8th Conference of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity takes place in Brazil (March 20-31), the homicidal seeds of the biotechnology industry will be at the top of the agenda, writes Vandana Shiva, author and international campaigner for women and the environment who received the Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) in 1993.

In this analysis, Shiva writes that these seeds kill biodiversity, farmers, and people's freedom -- for example, Monsanto's Bt cotton, which has already pushed thousands of Indian farmers into debt, despair, and death. Bt cotton is based on what has been dubbed ''Terminator Technology'', which makes genetically engineered plants produce sterile seeds.

High costs of cultivation and low returns from genetically modified seeds have trapped Indian peasants in considerable debt from which they are escaping by taking their lives. More than 40,000 farmers have committed suicide over the past decade in India -- although the more accurate term would be homicide, or genocide. More than 90 percent of farmers who committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh and Vidharbha in the 2005 cotton season had planted Bt cotton (sic; sick....CSP).

The Feb. 7 WTO ruling against the European Union's moratorium on genetically modified organisms sends the message that citizens' freedom to choose the crops they grow and the foods they eat has no place in a world where rules are created for the freedom of corporations to trade and profit.


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Blast from the past...

The Toxicity of Environmentalism

- George Reisman (1990). Full commentary at http://www.capitalism.net/Environmentalism's%20Toxicity.htm

Environmentalism is the leading manifestation of the rising tide of irrationalism that is engulfing our culture. Over the last two centuries, the reliability of reason as a means of knowledge has been under a constant attack led by a series of philosophers from Immanuel Kant to Bertrand Russell. As a result, a growing loss of confidence in reason has taken place. As a further result, the philosophical status of man, as the being who is distinguished by the possession of reason, has been in decline.