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April 24, 2006


Unjustified Label; Trumped-Up Scares; Let Farmers Decide; Alternative Energy Revolution; Morphing Jose Bove


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - April 24, 2006

* India: Labelling Rules Are Unjustified
* Green Lobby Needs A Trumped-Up Terminator Seed Scare To Survive
* ... Terminating Choice: Maybe farmers--not NGOs--are best able to decide
* Assessing the Environmental Impact of Biotechnology
* Syngenta to Debut Enhanced Seed to Tap Ethanol Demand
* Legumes to Fuel Alternative Energy Revolution
* Cuba Promoting Genetically Engineered Agriculture
* Many Avatars of Jose Bove

India: Labelling Rules Are Unjustified

- Bhagirath Choudhary, Financial Express (India), April 24, 2006 http://www.financialexpress.com/print.php?content_id=124785

Are new regulations for GM crops a boon for agribiotech?

At a time when GMP trade is being permitted in the country, the new regulations proposed by the Union government is expected to keep check on the illegal movement of GMOs. But there is more to the fact that genetic engineering has brought in significant changes in Indian agriculture. The fact that a million farmers have elected to plant Bt cotton over 13 lakh of 90 lakh hectare in 2005 is a classic example. (lakh = 100,000)

The power of advanced biology embodied in the form of seeds has reached every small and big farms in the country, outperforming the adoption rate of the first green revolution. Imagine a single agri-biotech product assuring 250 lakh bales of cotton production, substantially reducing pesticide sprays, lessening farmers' health suffering and making contribution in the tune of Rs 2,000 crore to our farm economy.

Given that genetically modified products employ technological intervention at the molecular level and resulting product incorporates pre-defined changes in the genetic make-up, therefore, the regulatory bodies ensure that these products undergo a rigorous biosafety and risk assessment. Indian regulatory bodies have multi-pronged, multi-level, multi-party involvement in undertaking scientific studies to ensure that the biotech products are as safe as conventional products.

These regulations are further strengthened, as it requires public sector institutions such as ICAR to undertake independent scientific studies and experimentation of the GM products under regulatory review on agronomic performance and environmental safety and submit its undisclosed data and safety assessment to the regulatory bodies.

After analysing the data submitted by different agencies, the Genetically Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)validates claims and authorises the applicants to commercialise Pseeds for a particular agronomic zone suitable for cultivation of the same. This is what had happened in the case of approval of the Bt cotton. It was a long saga of food, feed, agronomical and environmental safety assessment.

India has one of the oldest and robust regulatory regime to handle genetically modified products on case-by-case basis. The regulatory system has been improved many times keeping in view the pace of biotechnological advancement and trade related international obligations. Recently, the ministry of commerce has notified new regulation for import of GM products under the Foreign Trade Policy 2004-09.

The new rules would authorise the GEAC to handle all incoming GM materials. This is a commendable step, as India didn't have rules for bulk movement and there were lots of ambiguity about the import of GM products. On one hand it would support single window clearance system while on other hand, it would put immense pressure on the GEAC to look into the nitty-gritty of each and every consignment. The latter puts the country and consumers on backpedal, as it would demand approval for each consignment causing delay and frustration.

It is up to the GEAC to devise simplified rules for bulk import of GM products that are safe and widely consumed in developed countries. Similarly, the ministry of health and family welfare has issued draft notification to introduce labeling of genetically modified products to be sold in the country. It seems that the labeling requirements are not well thought off and hurriedly notified ignoring the reality of countries vast unorganised food supply chain.

The labelling rules are unjustified given that there is no segregated procurement system in the country for GM and non-GM crops.
The writer is national coordinator, South Asia, ISAAA


Fertile Imaginations: The Green Lobby Needs A Trumped-Up Terminator Seed Scare To Survive

- Will Verboven, Western Standard (Alberta, Canada), April 24, 2006

In the curious world of environmental lobby groups, one has to marvel at their never-ending quest for publicity. If that involves inventing imaginary causes, well, that's OK. It's all part of the business of fundraising.

The latest scare campaign involves farmers using so-called "terminator" seeds. City folks can be forgiven for not being aware of this contrived crisis--even if the word terminator was invented to scare a naive public. Like the word "frankenfood," such terms are designed to attract media headlines for causes that have little substance.

The terminator seed cause is being propagandized by the usual environmental suspects, including the Sierra Club and the David Suzuki Foundation. The Canadian Organic Growers are also involved. The cause even has the support of the Canadian Labour Congress, whose collective knowledge of agriculture, I suspect, doesn't extend beyond knowing how to find the produce section at the local supermarket.

But this issue comes with a twist: terminator seeds are actually something environmental groups and organic farmers have been seeking for years. They're the answer to protecting crops from the alleged spread of genetically modified (GM) crops. But when you're in the convoluted business of managing a cause for cash, the fact is, you really never want what you say you want.

For years, green groups and organic farmer organizations have protested the growing use of genetically modified crops. The greens claim that GM food products are dangerous (a bogus claim, since not a single person has died or gotten sick from food products containing GM ingredients). And organic farmer groups allege that GM crops contaminate their organically raised crops.

The answer to that complaint is simple: modify the GM seeds so that any subsequent seeds they bear are sterile. Any contamination would end in one growing season. That technology actually exists in the form of terminator seeds.

Now you would think the folks opposed to GM crops would support this technology, as it has the effect of controlling the unintended spread of GM crops into non-GM crops. But that would put an end to a perfectly good fundraising effort. So, true to form, these groups now find themselves opposed to something that would actually help their cause.

They're now alleging that terminator seed technology is a global conspiracy by evil biotech companies to prevent farmers from using their own seed, allowing the corporations to control the entire seed market. The groups claim it is the farmers' ancient, God-given right to produce and save their own seed and not be forced to buy new seed from capitalist corporations each year.

No one disputes that right. But the folks promoting that perspective seem to have little understanding of agronomy and crop development history. Ever since the 1920s, corn has been hybridized for higher yields--meaning that corn plants have been crossbred to produce more corn, but sterile or unproductive seeds. For more than 80 years, corn farmers have been buying new hybrid seeds every year, and the world hasn't come to an end. Other commercial crops that have been hybridized include canola and soybeans.

Terminator seed technology would, in effect, have the same impact as hybridization. Befuddled citizens might well wonder what the fuss is all about. Well, the fuss is coming from enviro groups and organic farmer organizations fearful that their cause is being derailed to the benefit of capitalist conspirators.

To make the issue even more absurd, contrary to the rantings of the overzealous, no terminator seeds are currently being developed or marketed. That, of course, is a minor, annoying detail not mentioned in green propaganda.

It seems that in the duplicitous world of environmental causes, real issues are becoming scarce. We're at a stage where environmental groups are protesting things that have not even occurred--except in the paranoid imaginations of their issue-marketing directors.

As the enviro lobby business has grown into a global fundraising industry, involving hundreds of millions of dollars, it's becoming clear that the reality of the issue is no longer even relevant. What's important is how the issue can be exploited to raise enough revenue to reach donation targets and satisfy these groups' anti-corporate, anti-progress agenda.


Terminating Choice: Maybe farmers--not NGOs--are best able to decide whether they want terminator seeds

- Jamie Tarrant, Western Standard (Alberta, Canada), April 24, 2006

Terminators are set to invade the Canadian prairies. No, not the cybernetic killers sent from the future made famous by James Cameron's 1984 sci-fi film. "Terminator seeds" is a scary term that certain non-governmental organizations use to describe Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs)--a gene-switching method that makes crops produce sterile seeds. It sounds dangerous, but terminator seeds may turn out to be some farmers' best friends--if only they were allowed to use them.

Terminator seeds are designed to enhance crop traits--yield, quality, et cetera--and protect them from harmful environmental conditions, such as insects and cross-contamination. Some farmers like that idea. But Terry Boehm, vice-president of the Saskatoon-based National Farmers Union, is anything but thrilled. He says the technology will rob farmers of the ability to reuse their own seeds. Boehm says he reuses 95 per cent of his seeds on his 4,000-acre cereal farm near Allan, Sask. "Farmers around the world are opposed to this because it only has one purpose; it's about control of the seed," he says.

The technology, developed in 1998 by Mississippi seed producer Delta and Pine Land Co. and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, isn't available yet (Delta is greenhouse-testing the seeds, and industry watchers predict the technology could be marketable by 2009). Boehm heads up the Canadian contingent of the worldwide Ban Terminator coalition, made up of 327 NGOs formed to block the development of GURTs. The group was behind the UN's 2001 world moratorium on terminator seed sales. The anti-terminators celebr3ated again in March when the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity's working group, meeting in Brazil, refused to lift the ban, despite a push from Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand to lift the moratorium to allow some field testing of terminator seeds.

Opponents of GURTs insist that the technology is a capitalist power play and will deny farmers the ability to save their own seeds, making them captive consumers to biotech corporations. About half of Canadian producers reuse seeds, estimates Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel, president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers. No wonder: second-generation seeds are usually low quality compared to the store-bought stuff, they don't always grow and they are often cross-contaminated by other crops, even after they've been c3leaned. Meanwhile, the better yield and quality produced from the purchased seeds more than makes up for the extra expenditure. Canola growers have been happily producing nearly sterile "hybridized" crops for years because they produce higher quality canola, says Jolly-Nagel. "About 95 per cent of canola is grown from pedigree seed, which is seed that you purchase every year that has been certified," Jolly-Nagel says. "Round-Up Ready canola is an example. You can't reseed it, but it's perfected in its pureness."

Delta Pine and Land have said that terminator seeds are only useful for certain crop varieties, and it plans to keep marketing non-terminating seeds alongside GURTs seeds. "Farmers will continue to select those varieties offering them the highest returns and the most benefits," notes a Delta brochure. "As is currently the case with transgenic varieties, farmers will still be able to choose from Test Protection System (TPS) [GURTs seeds] and non TPS varieties." And history shows that, as long as there's a demand for certain kinds of seeds, marketers will make them available, says Philip Schwab, vice-president for policy and sector affairs with Ottawa-based BioteCanada, an industry association. "Genetically modified crop varieties are sold along with non-GMO crops and farmers can choose which varieties best meet their needs," Schwab says.

So why would Canadian farmers be opposed to simply having the option of buying terminator seeds if they want to? Well, they're actually not, says Harry Collins, vice-president of technology transfer for Delta and Pine Land. Despite claims by the National Farmers Union (which has a history of socialist activism), Collins says much of the opposition to GURTs in this country is coming from environmental and anti-corporate groups. But their fight against big biotech may be hurting farmers more. About five year3s ago, farmers in Bangladesh began using hybrid rice seeds, and many were happy with the higher yields--enough to sell off surplus crops--despite the poor quality of the second-generation seeds. Still, NGOs campaigned to stop them. "They tried to talk some farmers into not using it," says Collins. "But some farmers liked what they were buying; they were making very good yields and able to sell their crops so they wanted to continue doing it. They didn't care about having to buy the seed every year."

Farmers in Canada aren't likely to be bamboozled out of better crop yields by a bunch of pushy environmentalists. But, notes Collins, "What we're doing is giving farmers a choice; if they don't like our product, they don't have to buy it." Yet until either the UN lifts its moratorium--or countries such as Canada and the U.S. start defying it--farmers won't have the freedom to make that choice for themselves.


Strategic Environmental Assessment: Assessing the Environmental Impact of Biotechnology

- N.A. Linacre, J.Gaskell, M.W. Rosegrant, J. Falck-Zepeda, H. Quemada, M. Halsey and R. Birner, IFPRI, 2005. Download this policy brief (3 pages) at http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/ib/ib41.pdf

Project-based risk assessments or Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) of biotechnology are used to evaluate specific developments when the technology is ready for commercialization, but there is a need to develop comprehensive analyses of plans at an earlier stage of development to justify the investment of potentially large amounts of public monies in specific biotechnologies.

This provides the rationale for the use of SEA in development related investments to integrate environmental considerations with poverty alleviation potential, gender and other social issues that may impact the choice of crop and trait, and governance and legal factors. This would be done at the planning level when alternative biotechnology options are under consideration. However, few attempts have been made to define how an SEA process for biotechnology would work.

The purpose of this policy brief is to start to map out a process for undertaking such assessments. Comprehensive analyses also consider the impacts of not approving novel products. The SEA methodology is set out in Figure 1 and includes qualitative and quantitative analysis, management, participation, and communication.


Syngenta to Debut Enhanced Seed to Tap Ethanol Demand

- Antonio Ligi, Bloomberg, April 20, 2006

Syngenta AG, the world's biggest maker of crop chemicals, will introduce the first enzyme-enhanced corn seed designed to cut the cost of ethanol to take advantage of surging demand for the alternative fuel.

The seeds, which contain an enzyme that turns the corn's starch into sugar for ethanol, will debut next year in the United States, Syngenta's head of development, David Jones, said in an interview at the company's Basel, Switzerland headquarters. The new product may bring in "significant" sales, he said.

Syngenta and US rivals Monsanto Co and DuPont Co are benefiting from demand for corn to make ethanol as crude oil trades above US$70 a barrel. A century after Henry Ford used the biofuel to propel cars, government leaders, including President George W. Bush, are promoting ethanol as way to reduce the global dependence on expensive oil.

The seeds, containing a thermal-tolerant digestive enzyme called amylase, will reduce costs by eliminating the need for mills to add liquid enzymes, said Jones, who oversees Syngenta's seed-development program. Syngenta declined to give an estimate on how much the new seeds will cut production costs. The seeds don't increase yields, just make it easier to manufacture. Syngenta's shares have gained about 49 percent over the last year.


Legumes to Fuel Alternative Energy Revolution

- Margaret Cochran, Queensland, Australia; Margaret.Cochran#ppr.com.au

With crude oil now US$75 barrel, legumes set to fuel industry sustainability and alternative energy revolution Research shows the humble legume could lead the way to future industry sustainability, with oils extracted from soybeans and peanuts shown to be a valuable source for biodiesel production.

According to research to be presented at Science Week in Brisbane, legumes offer enormous potential for an environmentally friendly and viable alternative fuel solution, giving hope to legume farmers throughout Australia and those seeking new market opportunities.

Leader in legume biotechnology research and Director of the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence for Integrative Legume Research, Professor Peter Gresshoff, said momentum behind alternative fuels is gathering closer to home, providing opportunities for Australian growers in a globally competitive market.

"Given increasing pressure for environmentally friendly products and increasing fuel prices, the demand for renewable fuels is escalating rapidly in Australia. This is demonstrated by the fact that the Australian Federal Government has set a 350 megalitre target for renewable fuels by 2010," Prof Gresshoff said.

"The focus to date has been on ethanol blends made from sugar and petrol, but our research shows that the biggest potential environmental rewards are diesel alternatives made from grain legumes, such as peanuts and soybeans," Prof Gresshoff said.

Although biodiesel can also be produced from oilseed plants such as canola, the research presented today at the opening of Science Week shows that legumes can be seriously considered as a potential fuel alternative. The major reason for the advantage of legumes is it s ability to manufacture its own nitrogen fertilizer (through a collaboration with soil bacteria in root nodules). This is in contrast to canola, wheat and sugar cane, which requires fertilizer * costing valuable fossil fuel energy.

"The Australian agricultural industry now faces the challenge of supplying the growing biodiesel market with sufficient volumes of consistently high quality product. This is a valuable opportunity to decrease national dependence on foreign petroleum, increase efficient and sustainable production of domestically grown crops and significantly boost agricultural revenue," Prof Gresshoff said.

"However many oilseed legumes suffer from only average yields under Australian conditions. Our research shows that increased effort is needed to adapt the growth habits and architecture of the legume plant to optimize oil output," Prof Gresshoff said.

Bayer CropScience, who is a major sponsor of Science Week 2006, supports plant biotechnology as a key driver in the creation of novel products to meet the ever increasing demands for renewable resources in the sectors of nutrition, healthcare and biomaterials. (However, Bayer CropScience is not directly focusing on developing grain legumes in Australia).

Prof Gresshoff will present his cutting-edge research at the Queensland University of Technology, Gardens Theatre, on 26 April 2006. Media are welcome to attend.


Cuba Promoting Genetically Engineered Agriculture

- Cuban News Agency, April 23, 2006

Havana, April 21 (ACN) Over 100 million genetically engineered plants have been produced in Cuban biotechnological institutions since their opening in 1988.

According to Rafael Gomez Koski, organizer of the 7th International Symposium on Plant Biotechnology, taking place in the central Cuban province of Villa Clara, this method is being used in the production of high-quality seeds year round and in the search for rapid cures of plant diseases.

Villa Clara's Institute of Plant Biotechnology (IBP) has made great contributions in the research of a species of pineapple immune to harmful agents. In addition, the IBP is carrying out research to obtain resistant varieties of banana and papaya plants.

The application of biotechnology in agriculture has saved some $29 million for Cuban economy. Among the advantages of this application are a reduction in the use of pesticides and decreased seed import. Cuba’s progress in the field of biotechnology is internationally recognized. The island has also exported technology for the creation of bio-institutes to Ethiopia, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina, where there is an increasing demand for Cuban products.


Many Avatars of Jose Bove

- Andrew Apel, AgBioView, http://www.agbioworld.org - April 24, 2006

Friends, There's depictions of Jose Bove all over the internet and many of them are quite good fun!

Of course, there's Bove as Rambo:

Bove as "Dirty Harry:"
http://perso.wanadoo.fr/flatos/photo%20de%20la%20semaine/fdarrous_jose-bove. jpeg

Bove surrounded by... bodyguard sheep?

Bove if he were... genetically modified?

Bove as Zeus (but with a pitchfork):

Bove in a space-suit:

Bove when he's thinking hard:

Bove receiving some "nonviolent direct action:"

And then there's a supporter of Bove: