Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org: April 11, 2006
* DuPont and Syngenta Join in Modified-Seed Venture
* Syngenta to invest in new venture fund focused on plant science
* Indigestible Organic Propaganda
* IFPRI BLOG DOCUMENTS WORLD HUNGER
* Western Australian Agriculture Minister Attacks GM Food Safety
* GENETICALLY modified food will eventually be unavoidable
* DISCOVERY BY DANFORTH CENTER RESEARCHER PROVIDES GREATER DETAIL ABOUT PLANT CELL WALL FORMATION
* Plant Sciences and Biotechnology
* Austria Could be Target of EU anger Over GMO Ban
* Australian scientists have discovered antifreeze genes in Antarctic grass
* GM crops, drugs critical for India's development: minister
* African MPs welcome use of biotechnology to improve agriculture
* NEW FAO COMMISSION LOOKS AT GLOBAL PEST CONTROL
* NEW GENES UNCOVERED FOR BETTER RICE
* Scientists breed rice to defy climate change
DuPont and Syngenta Join in Modified-Seed Venture
- New York Times, By ANDREW POLLACK, Published: April 11, 2006
DUPONT and the Swiss company Syngenta said yesterday that they would join forces in a venture that could present a more formidable challenge to Monsanto's dominance of the business for genetically modified seeds.
DuPont, which owns the Pioneer Hi-Bred International seed company, will become an equal partner in an existing Syngenta venture called GreenLeaf Genetics that licenses both conventional and genetically modified varieties to other seed companies in the United States and Canada.
Syngenta will also use an experimental genetic engineering technology developed by Pioneer that allows crops to withstand glyphosate, the herbicide sold by Monsanto as Roundup. With both Pioneer and Syngenta offering that technology, it should have a better chance of competing against Monsanto's popular Roundup Ready seed technology.
The partnership will "bring more choice, more options, to the growers," Michael Mack, the chief operating officer for Syngenta's seed business, said at a news conference at the biotechnology industry's annual convention here yesterday No financial terms were disclosed.
The move marks a big departure for Pioneer, a company that is extremely proud of its long history as a corn breeder and which until now has sold seeds only under its own name.
But Monsanto has been gaining market share in corn seeds over the last few years at Pioneer's expense, in part by licensing Monsanto's herbicide-resistant and insect-resistant crop genes to other seed companies.
Pioneer executives said they would continue to sell their premium brands under the company's name. "Our long heritage is intact," Dean Oestreich, Pioneer's president, said at the news conference.
But he and other Pioneer executives said there were some nonpremium varieties now just sitting on the shelf that could be licensed to others, allowing Pioneer to expand into the 40 percent of the market that does not buy premium seeds.
Other seed companies will be able to cross lines provided by Pioneer to create new varieties, and seed retailers would be able to sell Pioneer varieties under their own brands.
"What has changed is the time is right," Mr. Oestreich said. "Our biotechnology pipeline is now maturing. These important products really need to be driven across the industry."
During a conference call held by DuPont, analysts questioned why the company entered a 50-50 joint venture, since Pioneer is much stronger in seeds than Syngenta. But DuPont officials said the deal was mutually beneficial.
Monsanto accounts for the vast majority of biotech crops planted in the world, some under its own brands and the rest by other seed companies that have licensed its technology. Its biggest class of products has been soybeans, cotton, corn and canola genetically engineered to resist Roundup, enabling farmers to spray to kill weeds while leaving the crop intact.
Both Pioneer and Syngenta license the Roundup Ready technology from Monsanto to impart glyphosate resistance to their own varieties. Developing their own herbicide-resistance technology would not only give them entry into a lucrative market but also relieve them of paying licensing fees and royalties to Monsanto.
Pioneer executives said soybean seeds using its new technology would be ready for sale in 2009. The technology is called Optimum GAT, standing for glyphosate ALS tolerant. Crops using it would be even more resistant to glyphosate than Roundup Ready crops, the executives said, and would also be resistant to another widely used class of weed killers that use so-called ALS chemistry. ALS is an abbreviation for acetolactate synthase, a plant enzyme that the weed killers inhibit.
In return for allowing Syngenta to use Optimum GAT, Pioneer is getting a license to insect-resistance genes from Syngenta. Pioneer now sells seeds for insect-resistant corn developed in partnership with Dow Chemical.
Robb Fraley, chief technology officer for Monsanto, said it was too early to judge the effectiveness of the Optimum GAT technology or the impact of the new joint venture. "In the end it's going to come down to who has the best product in the marketplace," he said.
DuPont shares rose 27 cents, to $42.97 yesterday, while Monsanto's fell 62 cents to $85.62. Syngenta's American depository receipts were down 24 cents in New York, to $27.71.
Syngenta to invest in new venture fund focused on plant science
- Syngenta, Switzerland, 11 April 2006
Syngenta announced today the launch of a $100m venture fund, LSP BioVentures, based in Boston to be managed by Life Sciences Partners (LSP), a biotech venture capital firm. Funds will be invested over a three to five year period as appropriate opportunities arise.
David Jones, Head of Business Development at Syngenta, said: “This Fund will invest in growth companies and technology start-up opportunities. The investment scope of the Fund is crop biotechnology, crop protection, professional products and new growth areas such as biomaterials and biofuels. Along with sound financial returns, we aim to secure early co-operation with emerging innovators in our sector.”
“We are excited about cultivating creative opportunities through this new Fund and, in particular, look forward to working with Syngenta,” said Martijn Kleijwegt, Managing Partner of LSP. “We expect LSP BioVentures to attract and support entrepreneurial talent and technology that will benefit from being in a ventures-driven environment.”
By appointing LSP as the Fund manager, Syngenta selected a leading venture capital company with an outstanding track record of success in investing in technology-based growth companies. Since 1988, LSP’s management has invested in over 40 companies, and has contributed to the launch of biotech companies such as Qiagen, Rhein Biotech and Crucell. Including the new fund, LSP has $450m under management.
PDF version (20 KB):
Switzerland Guy Wolff +41 (61) 323 2323
USA Sarah Hull +1 (202) 628 2372
UK Andrew Coker +44 (1483) 260 014
Switzerland Jonathan Seabrook +41 61 323 7502
Switzerland Jennifer Gough +41 61 323 5059
USA Rhonda Chiger +1 (917) 322 2569
LSP Media Contact
Netherlands Martijn Kleiwegt +31 (20) 664 5500
Indigestible Organic Propaganda
- Tech Central Station, by Alex Avery, April 11, 2006
Consumer Reports recently released its semi-annual organic foods promotional edition, which claims that consumers would benefit from eating certain organic foods to "reduce exposure" to supposedly harmful pesticide residues. While the promotional is long on comparative residue numbers, it's woefully short on perspective.
With a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), two scientists with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and three university "environmental health scientists" last year spent $1.25 million taxpayer dollars on a paper published in a government-sponsored health science journal, and subsequently trumpeted across the land by the Associated Press and most major U.S. newspapers.
The researchers collected and examined the urine of 23 children looking for traces of the harmless breakdown products (metabolites) of non-persistent organophosphate (OP) pesticides. These are the most powerful, and potentially most worrisome, insecticides. Using ultra-sensitive instruments, they found OP pesticide metabolites at an average of 2-5 parts per billion in the children's urine. When they switched the kids to organic fruits and vegetables, the OP metabolite traces disappeared within 24 hours.
The research is actually good news on two fronts. First, only miniscule traces of pesticide metabolites were found. A part per billion is equal to one second in 32 years. Second, it confirms that pesticides are rapidly detoxified and cleared from children's bodies -- just as we thought they were.
But instead of using these findings to reassure parents about the safety of the food supply, the researchers tacitly promoted organic foods. Consider this line from their paper,
"Although we did not collect health outcome data in this study, it is intuitive to assume that children whose diets consist of organic food items would have a lower probability of neurological health risks, a common toxicological mechanism of the OP pesticide class."
This sentence is an organic food marketers' dream. Most parents would interpret this as a warning that neurological health damage from pesticides is "common" and that organic foods are substantially safer. Neither is true. What is entirely missing from this sentence is the context of dose. While a nickel might be 500% more valuable than a penny, neither amounts to great wealth. So it is with pesticide residue risks.
The CDC researchers who coauthored this paper also published another paper last year showing that even the theoretically most exposed 5 percent of children would still be exposed to less than half of the EPA-acceptable daily lifetime exposure, or chronic Population Adjusted Dose (cPAD). The average kid would be exposed to one-fifth this amount.
How safe is that? The cPAD for the most "toxic" OP pesticide, chlorpyrifos, is 1/1,000 of a non-toxic daily dose in dogs and rats -- the most sensitive animal species tested. Thus, even imaginary fruitarian children consume 1/2000 (0.05%) of a harmless dose and your typical kid consumes only 1/5,000 of a harmless dose. For comparison, one 500mg aspirin is 1/70 of a toxic dose, so we're truly in the realm of alarmist fiction in portraying these exposures as anywhere near worrisome.
I called the lead author -- Dr. Chensheng Lu of Emory University -- to ask if he had any evidence that the children were exposed to anything but a tiny fraction of the ultra-cautious, non-toxic EPA reference doses. He responded by saying that "the EPA reference doses aren't the gold standard for safety."
He's got that right. The EPA reference doses are already so low and so completely in the realm of the theoretical that they are more or less arbitrary. Well-reasoned scientific arguments can be made to set them either higher (because no ill-effects have been observed in any animal species at higher doses) or lower (because one-tenth is intuitively assumed to be ten times safer). Dr. Lu and his fellow co-authors promote organic foods based on the latter "relative risk" argument, but they have not a shred of evidence that any real world risks are reduced by consuming organic food.
Dr. Lu says his team is now developing a "complex model" to convert the urine metabolite levels they measured to estimates of actual food residue exposure. But why create a Rube Goldberg scheme to estimate something we've been directly measuring for years?
The EPA and FDA annually test thousands of food samples for pesticide residues. In 2002, for example, the FDA's Total Diet Study, which tests for pesticides in prepared foods (washed, peeled, or cooked as appropriate) using the most sensitive residue detection methods concluded that "the pesticide residue levels found were well below regulatory standards. [A specific survey] of baby foods from 1991-2002 also provided evidence of only small amounts of pesticide residues in those foods."
Decades of data showing our food supply is safe are apparently not healthy for the careers of environmental scientists. So, good news is twisted to bad using complex methods and jargon. They hide their sophistry behind the flawed concept that less is always meaningfully safer. They examine urine instead of food, metabolites instead of actual pesticides, fantasy risks rather than real ones.
To steal the words of David Martosko at the Center for Consumer Freedom, Consumer Reports should stick to rating toasters and lawnmowers and leave food safety to the real experts at the USDA, FDA, and EPA.
IFPRI BLOG DOCUMENTS WORLD HUNGER
“Blog World Hunger,” an Internet blog facilitated by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), is an open global food and nutrition security diary. It aims to help the effort to identify and analyze alternative national and international strategies, as well as policies for meeting world food needs in ways that conserve the natural resource base. Visit the blog at http://www.ifpriblog.org/.
Western Australian Agriculture Minister Attacks GM Food Safety
- By Ian Edwards, - Edstar Genetics, Perth, Western Australia
Western Australia’s Agriculture Minister Kim Chance is well known for his anti-GM sentiment. His office wall is emblazoned with the slogan “Clean, Green, Western Australia, and in May last year he was reported as saying that he personally would not eat GM food because the promoters used in GM ‘constructs’ might trigger human “junk genes” such as those for tails! His latest foray on the GM ‘front’ is to attack the national regulator (FSANZ – Food Standards Australia New Zealand) for not adequately assessing the health impacts of genetically modified crops.
It should be explained that in Australia the states and territories are signatories to the Gene Technology Act 2000 and the Intergovernmental Agreement on Gene Technology. Under Section 21AA of the Act the states are granted certain marketing rights for GM crops and, under this mandate, all states except Queensland have chosen to impose moratoria on the production of GM crops (with the exception of cotton and carnations). However, health, safety and the environment are the domain of the national regulator, and the states are represented on the boards of the national regulatory authorities. They have a forum for expressing any concerns.
Instead of acting upon his concerns in the appropriate manner, Minister Chance has commissioned a South Australian group to conduct ‘independent’ animal feeding safety studies over a six-month period, for a cost of AUD$92,000. The work was not put out to competitive tender in the normal manner, but Minister Chance presumably feels that the funding is adequate to provide the definitive answer that he seeks. The group contracted to do the work, The Institute for Health and Environmental Research, is well known for its attacks on the national regulator (FSANZ), and its director (Dr Judy Carmen) toured the UK with Dr Mae-Wan Ho speaking against GM crops and food safety. We have drawn Minister Chance’s attention to the 60 abstracts of independent, peer-reviewed feeding studies for GM crops on the AgBioWorld Website, and the numerous independent reviews of GM food safety, but obviously to no avail.
Of concern to Australians is the issue that if each state sought to establish its own verification procedures for products already approved by the national regulator it would turn business into a total turmoil, and have a chilling effect on international investment in R & D in Australia. Of even greater concern to many Australians is the implied assumption that because safety data for GM products throughout the world are provided to regulatory authorities by the companies seeking to market the product in question, they are not independent and automatically suspect.
Lost in the rhetoric on food safety is that fact that companies frequently sub-contract specialist animal feeding trials to independent laboratories, and any adverse product effects not disclosed could render the company liable to very severe penalties. Also lost in the rhetoric is the fact that to date no GM product that has passed final regulatory approval has had to be subsequently withdrawn from the market for food safety reasons. In contrast, traditionally bred varieties of potato, celery and squash have had to be withdrawn from the market for serious human health concerns.
In the years ahead Australian farmers will be counting the cost of being denied a technology choice on their farms because state governments have placed higher priority on political expediency than on good science and market realities.
GENETICALLY modified food will eventually be unavoidable, a top researcher said yesterday.
- Daily Telegraph, April 10, 2006
Dr Liz Dennis, from the CSIRO, said GM crops would become common in Australia, allowing producers to make food more nutritious and use fewer pesticides.
But the prediction comes as food companies are under pressure to ban genetically modified ingredients.
Companies including Cadbury Schweppes, Woolworths and Goodman Fielder are targeted in the True Food Guide, released yesterday by Greenpeace, for not guaranteeing their products are GM-free.
Companies which confirm their products are GM-free go on a green "thumbs up" list while companies which do not have a no-GM policy are put on a red "thumbs down" list.
The green list is growing, with manufacturers wary of consumer concerns about GM food.
DISCOVERY BY DANFORTH CENTER RESEARCHER PROVIDES GREATER DETAIL ABOUT PLANT CELL WALL FORMATION
Research Results Have Important Implications To Understanding How Plants Gain Architectural Strength
Contact: Robert H. Rose, 314/587-1231, email@example.com
St. Louis, April 10, 2006 – Imagine wood that is stronger yet lighter, or ethanol that is cheaper due to more efficient production processes. The current edition of The Journal of Cell Biology published a recent discovery by Danforth Center Principal Investigator Dr. Erik Nielsen that sheds new light on how some types of complex sugars in plants are directed to the construction of cell walls.
“Sugar is the lifeblood of plants, and some are processed into complex polymers for specific uses. In our latest research, my team identified a distribution pathway for some of the complex sugars that are used in the construction of cell walls,” Dr. Nielsen explained. “We have the first understanding of how some of these building blocks in cell walls are delivered and how these building blocks are put together.”
Dr. Nielsen’s research is the first to identity some of the steps in the pathway of cell wall construction as little research has been done in this area. This investigation is important, as cotton, wood and other plant fibers that are vital to everyday life are dependent on plant cell walls. Plant cell walls give wood the strength needed for construction and furniture, among other uses, and give cotton fibers the elasticity for use in cloth. In addition, Dr. Nielsen’s research may lead to crops with stronger but less dense stalks that can be used to produce biofuels and would result in less waste following harvest.
About The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a global vision to improve the human condition. Research at the Danforth Center will enhance the nutritional content of plants to improve human health, increase agricultural production to create a sustainable food supply, and build scientific capacity to generate economic growth in the St. Louis region and throughout Missouri.
Please visit www.danforthcenter.org for additional information.
Plant Sciences and Biotechnology
- Kansas City infozine, By Governor Mat Blunt, April 10, 2006
Plant sciences and biotechnology have fast emerged as a vital and dynamic sector in Missouri's economy, accounting for $24 billion in annual economic benefits and thousands of high quality jobs.
The biotechnology sector has played a valuable role in our state's livelihood since 1979. The state's biotechnology sector accounts for more than 390 cutting edge research and academic facilities, which generate more than 170,000 direct jobs and support 260,000 indirect jobs.
Last year I established the Governor's Advisory Council for Plant Biotechnology. The council is responsible for analyzing the state's current plant sciences environment to determine how Missouri can best capitalize on the industry's potential. There is immeasurable opportunity for economic growth in value-added agriculture and plant sciences, and I am committed to establishing partnerships among farmers, scientists, educators, businesses and government to create high quality jobs for Missourians.
The Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative is an opportunity for Missouri to continue to position ourselves as the leader in the expanding fields of plant sciences and biotechnology. The initiative would generate $450 million, including $30 million to enhance growth and development of technology for businesses all across our state. The initiative I support provides for capital improvement projects such as plant science research centers, health science research and education centers, business incubators and facility renovations that will support professional training and research in the sciences at Missouri's public universities and colleges.
I will soon have the opportunity to represent Missouri's interests at the BIO2006 conference. Greg Steinhoff, director of the Department of Economic Development, and several of our state's premier biotechnology companies will also participate in the conference. The international event will offer our delegation an excellent opportunity to meet with biotechnology companies and academic research institutions from the global community and discuss with them the exciting business opportunities awaiting them in Missouri.
Missouri's economic outlook is strong with new and ever growing developments and accomplishments in the fields of plant sciences and biotechnology. I want to continue to position our state as a national and global leader in this emerging area and will aggressively work to secure Missouri's spot as a leader in the economy of the future.
Austria Could be Target of EU anger Over GMO Ban
- Reuters, April 10, 2006, By Jeremy Smith
BRUSSELS - Austria, current president of the European Union, looks like the only country that might face an order to lift its bans on certain genetically modified (GMO) products, senior European Commission officials said on Friday.
Between 1997 and 2000, five EU countries banned specific GMOs on their territory, focusing on three maize and two rapeseed types that were approved shortly before the start of the EU's six-year moratorium on new biotech authorisations.
Last June, the Commission, the EU's executive arm, tried to get all the bans scrapped. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has also attacked these "national safeguards", as they are called in EU jargon, for breaking international trade rules.
But it got a stinging rebuff from EU environment ministers, which rejected proposals for the five states -- Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg -- to lift their restrictions.
It was the first time that EU countries had managed to agree anything on biotech policy in years, since as a bloc, the EU is consistently divided down the middle on GMO crops and foods.
The Commission's environment department is now expected to resubmit draft decisions for lifting the national GMO bans to the EU-25, following a reassessment of each ban's scientific justification by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
EFSA is expected to give its opinion on the bans very soon.
EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas usually declines to be drawn on his plans for the national bans. But officials and industry observers expect him to bow to WTO pressure and demonstrate to the complainants in the case -- Argentina, Canada and the United States -- that he is taking action on GMOs.
"Let's see what they (EFSA) have to say first," he told reporters on Friday in reponse to a question on his intentions.
PRODUCTS MOSTLY WITHDRAWN
In the meantime, the companies manufacturing the particular GMO products that were the subject of the original bans have withdawn several of them from the market.
One senior Commission official said the companies had now withdrawn most of the products in any case, with only two remaining -- both relating to the bans in force in Austria.
Austria has banned two GMO maize varieties: one in 1997 and the other in 1999. The first was against MON 810 maize made by US biotech giant Monsanto and the second against T25 maize made by German drugs and chemicals group Bayer.
As last June's meeting showed, an EU order for a government to lift its national GMO ban can prove extremely unpopular.
This is especially true in countries such as Austria where opinion is strongly opposed to biotech foods and there is a strong movement to set up GMO-free zones.
Not only that, to try to do this to the current holder of the EU's rotating six-month presidency might run the risk of attracting a lot of sympathy from other EU governments -- meaning the Commission might face a second embarrassing defeat.
One solution could be to wait until after Austria's EU presidency runs out at the end of June and Finland takes the helm, officials suggested. But to wait for too long could also be seen as "undue delay" by Argentina, Canada and the United States and possibly spark more complaints at the WTO, they said.
Australian scientists have discovered antifreeze genes in Antarctic grass
- Sydney Morning Herald, April 10, 2006
Scientists at the Victorian government AgriBiosciences Centre have uncovered genes that inhibit ice crystal growth in Antarctic Harigrass, the only grass species that can survive in temperatures as low as minus 30C on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Victorian Innovation Minister John Brumby said the findings, which he announced at the BIO2006 conference in Chicago, had major implications for improving frost tolerance in crop and pasture species that underpin the world's agriculture industries.
"Over the next few years we should see the development and application of technologies for frost tolerance in crops based on the knowledge gained from the functional analysis of these antifreeze genes," Mr Brumby said.
Up to 15 per cent of the world's agricultural production each year is lost to frost, which also causes more economic loss than any other weather-related phenomenon including drought in the United States.
GM crops, drugs critical for India's development: minister
- Agence France Press, April 10, 2006
CHICAGO (AFP) - Biologically engineered crops and pharmaceuticals are critical to the long-term economic and agricultural security of India, the science and technology minister said.
While some nations like France may be wary of genetically modified food, India cannot afford not to invest in technologies that will boost production and can also serve to address the nutritional deficiencies of India's largely vegetarian population, Kapil Sibal said.
"We can't close our eyes to biotechnology for agriculture," he said at a biotechnology conference in Chicago.
"At the same time we cannot deviate from the goal of sustainable development in terms of environment and the basic interest of the farmer and consumer safety. So our approach is a case by case basis."
Yields in India are significantly lower than in most other nations and the current production growth rate will have to triple if India will be able to feed its growing population.
Scientists are currently working on creating crops enriched with a significantly higher iron content that will allow the 70 percent of South Asians with iron deficiencies improve their hemoglobin counts.
India has been producing genetically modified cotton for three years now and 13 other crops - including rice, chick peas, potatoes, cauliflower and eggplants - ought to be approved in the near-term.
"We have to be very, very careful about safety standards," Sibal said. "We must ensure that the regulatory procedures are such that we don't damage our biodiversity and that in fact we make our biodiversity a source of innovation rather than destroy it."
In the health sector, India companies must invest in biotech research to find new treatments and cures for the "diseases of the poor" like malaria which are being ignored by large multinational corporations, Sibal said.
India aims to develop its life sciences industry in the same way it has developed its information technology industry.
This will create much-needed jobs but will also help drastically reduce the price of treatments because of India's low production costs. India already produces about half of the world's vaccines at just pennies a dose.
One area which India hopes to specialize in is genomics-based preventative medicine which will develop therapies tailored to subgroups said Maharaj Bhan, secretary of the department of biotechnology at the ministry of science and technology.
The Indian government has undertaken a number of measures to jump-start research and development, Bhan said.
It has revised its patent protections to meet global standards, has a goal of doubling the number of students entering life science PhD programs in the next two years and will open 50 centers of excellence over the next five years which will focus on cross-disciplinary research in the life sciences.
But more help is needed from abroad, Sibal said.
"It's very important for the scientific community to remember that yes they should make profits but they have to share knowledge," Sibal said. "Sometimes there is a clash between societal interests and proprietary interests and the world scientific community has to remember that."
Cutting prices in order to make products affordable to developing nations can ultimately result in profits, Sibal said.
A few weeks ago he met with Monsanto and convinced the agricultural product giant to cut its royalty fees by 30 percent on genetically modified cotton seeds.
That will help production of GM cotton to nearly triple from about 13 million hectares in 2005-06 to a forecasted 35 million hectares in 2006-07.
African MPs welcome use of biotechnology to improve agriculture
- Xinhua, April 11, 2006
African Members of Parliament have given a nod to the use of biotechnology to improve agriculture, food security but called for intensive public education on the issue,Ghana News Agency reported on Monday.
After a four-day field visit to South African Genetically Modified (GM) crop farms, Dr. Mathew Antwi, Chairman of Ghana's Parliamentary Select Committee on Food, Agriculture and Cocoa Affairs, said the GM technology would raise production efficiency in combination with the conventional technologies though it was not a complete solution to all the problems in food production and security.
He said, the use of modern biotechnology could be an important tool for sustainable development and benefit many poor farmers as the issue of hunger has been a real factor in the Sub- Saharan Africa.
The field visit, organized by Africa Bio, a South African based non-government biotechnology organization, enabled lawmakers and journalists from Burkina Faso, Mali, Egypt, Ghana and South Africa to have a first hand information, interact with both commercial and small-scale farmers and take a decision for their countries.
Dr. Antwi noted that the safe and responsible implementation of modern biotechnology required effective national policy and bio- safety frameworks, adding "fortunately for us in Ghana, a bill has been prepared and will soon be put before Parliament for its passage so we could also start something."
Ghana was among 130 countries to develop their national Bio- safety Frameworks to help to meet their obligations with regards to the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety in May 2003.
NEW FAO COMMISSION LOOKS AT GLOBAL PEST CONTROL
- Crop Biotech Update, April 11, 2006
The Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM) met for the first time in Rome, Italy, during the first week of April 2006. The meeting brought together delegates from more than 150 countries to discuss how the Commission can deal with the challenge of global pest control. The CPM is a recently established governing body of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), tasked to set standards designed to prevent plant pests being spread through international trade, while ensuring that countries do not use plant protection regulations to protect, instead, their domestic producers.
Crop species host hundreds of pests, and the economic damage such pests can cause run into billions of dollars worldwide annually. As global trade and movement of people and commodities increase, natural and national barriers that were once effective against the spread of unwanted pests are now under intense pressure. According to Richard Ivess, IPPC coordinator, work on keeping pests out will begin by developing working standards on protecting produce. A Working Group of Experts established by the CPM will assess pest control standards, and hand a draft to a Standards Committee, after which the final document will be discussed through consultations, before finally moving to the annual meeting of the CPM.
When asked about how the IPPC helps in regulating international trade, Ivess answered that, “A contracting party can refuse entry to plants and plant products that don't comply with its phytosanitary standards. But it can only put in place measures that are technically justified and consistent with the risk involved.”
Find out more about the commission at http://www.fao.org/
NEW GENES UNCOVERED FOR BETTER RICE
- Crop Biotech Update, April 11, 2006
A Generation Challenge Program led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is now working on two genes that can improve rice: Saltol, which confers salinity tolerance; and Pup1, which improves phosphorous uptake. The program is featured in Rice Today, IRRI’s magazine.
Saltol is on rice chromosome 1, and confers salinity tolerance at the seedling stage, which is important for good crop establishment in coastal areas. Researchers mapped Saltol’s location by crossing a traditional Indian cultivar with moderate salt tolerance (Pokkali) with a saline-sensitive cultivar (IR29). Pup1, on the other hand, is on rice chromosome 12. Scientists are currently in the final stages of fine-mapping the locations of the genes, and expect to have clones of both Saltol and Pup 1 within a year or two.
Once engineered into rice, Saltol and Pup1 can increase rice productivity and improve farmer income. “Both salinity and phosphorus deficiency are widespread and often coexist, especially in the rainfed fields of the poorest farmers,” explains Abdelbagi Ismail, principal investigator of the Saltol and Pup1 projects, “Globally, more than 15 million hectares of rice lands are saline, and more than half of all rice lands are phosphorus deficient.”
Read the complete article at http://www.generationcp.org/
sccv10/sccv10_upload/opposites_attract.pdf or http://www.irri.org/publications/today/pdfs/5-2/34-36.pdf. Read more in IRRI’s magazine, Rice Today, available at http://www.irri.org/publications/today/.
Scientists breed rice to defy climate change
- Reuters, 11 April 2006
LOS BANOS, Philippines - Scientists are developing new flood and drought-prone rice varieties to combat the threat of global warming to Asia’s food staple but more work is needed, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) said.
The institute needs $25 million over the next 5 to 7 years to study the impact of rising temperatures, higher concentrations of greenhouse gases and greater extremes of droughts and floods on rice production, the IRRI director-general told Reuters on Tuesday.
“We have a wide range of research programmes that are addressing issues directly relating to climate change and rising temperatures,” said Robert Zeigler at the IRRI headquarters in Los Banos, in the foothills of Mount Makiling near Manila.
“We have rice varieties that will be released in the near future that are more tolerant to flooding than currently available varieties,” he said.
Zeigler also said the institute was developing rice lines that were tolerant of drought, and had just begun research on rice that could withstand high temperatures.
The institute, credited for helping the world feed itself by developing high-yielding rice during the so-called Green Revolution of the 1960s, is also helping with work on genetically modified Vitamin A enriched rice or “golden rice”.
Golden rice was developed by European scientists by implanting two genes from a daffodil and one from a bacterium into japonica rice variety called T309. Samples of the grain were donated to the institute for research and breeding.
Three billion people, many of them in Asia, rely on rice to feed themselves and the IRRI is hoping a vitamin-enriched variety would improve nutritional standards.
Scientists at the IRRI are also up against rapid population growth in developing countries, which is compounding the problem of global warming on rice output.
For example, the population of the Philippines is growing at around 2 million a year and the country of nearly 90 million people is already one of Asia’s biggest importers of rice.
Like growing old
The IRRI’s study on climate change will look at how the rice plant reacts to rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and how production of the grain contributes to the emission of such gases, blamed for global warming.
The IRRI has committed $2 million of its own funds for the research, and was seeking the rest from international agencies and foundations.
Three areas of about 20 hectares (50 acres) each in the Philippines, southern China and northern India will be used for the study.
“The effect of climate change is not going to be noted in one year to the next,” Zeigler said.
“Maybe, it’s gonna be like growing old. You never quite notice it one day to the next until you look at the mirror and you are bald and have grey hair,” Zeigler said.
In a study released in 2004, the institute showed how rice yields declined 15 percent for every one degree Celsius increase in the mean daily temperature.
It attributed this to higher night-time temperatures associated with global warming.
Researchers speculate that increased temperature at night forces the plant to divert more energy to maintain metabolic functions instead of producing greater biomass and grain yield.
Temperatures are projected to rise globally by 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius in the coming century, three to nine times more than in the past century, the institute said.