Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - April 25, 2006
* Global Biotech Planting to Rise 10% This Year
* Biotechnology Advocates Look to a Brighter Future
* Pleading Guilty
* Africa Cannot Ignore Food Biotechnology
* Risks and Benefits of Growing Pharmaceutical Corn in the Corn Belt
* Attitudes to Biotech
* Conference on Sustainable Agriculture for Food and Nutritional Security
* Bioenergy: Economic and Scientific Issues
Global Biotech Planting to Rise 10% This Year
- Rhea Sandique-Carlos, Dow Jones Newswires, April 25, 2006
The global land area used for genetically modified crops could rise
by at least 10% this year from the previous year's total land area of
90 million hectares, due to growing adoption of biotech crops, the
International Service For the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech
Applications or ISAAA said Tuesday.
The ISAAA is a not-for-profit organization that delivers the benefits
of new agricultural biotechnology to developing countries. "We're
optimistic it will be at least a double-digit improvement from last
year," Randy Hautea, Manila-based global coordinator of ISAAA, told
reporters on the sidelines of an international sugar forum in Manila.
"It will be safe and conservative to say biotech areas will increase
by 10% this year," Hautea said, noting that areas planted with
genetically modified crops improved by 11% to 90 million hectares in
2005, up from 81 million hectares in the previous year.
The growth will be driven mainly by expansion in genetically modified
soybeans, cotton, corn and canola plantations, he said. Worldwide,
areas planted with genetically altered soybeans account for 60% of
total biotech areas, cotton accounts for 28%, canola with 15% and
corn crops contribute 14%. In the Philippines, resistance to the
commercial use of genetically modified corn has been steadily
declining over the years since it was first introduced in 2003,
Areas planted with biotech corn totaled 70,000 hectares in 2005, a
34% improvement from the previous year, he said. In the past ten
years, the use of genetically altered crops has resulted in global
economic benefits of around $27 billion, and reduced more than 170
million kilograms of pesticide use, Hautea said. Genetically modified
crops are also mostly herbicide resistant, he added.
Biotechnology Advocates Look to a Brighter Future through Genetic Engineering
- Robert Wildeboer , Voice of America, April 24, 2006
Listen to the audio report at
Biotechnology can eradicate disease, provide renewable energy, solve
the problem of world hunger and help the local economy. That was the
message at this month's Biotechnology Industry Organization
conference in Chicago.
In this crowd of 20-thousand conference attendees, there doesn't seem
to be a single pessimist. Almost everyone here thinks biotechnology -
a fledgling industry that manipulates living cells to create useful
products - has the potential to solve the world's most pressing
problems, from disease and hunger to poverty and pollution.
Lois Fergusson is standing in an exhibit that looks like an upscale
American kitchen. She points to the products used to make this
'green' kitchen. "Our countertop is made from hemp and then here we
have our cupboards, [they] are made from wheat straw, very strong and
it's a renewable resource." She says this type of manufacturing will
allow Americans to maintain their high standard of living without
putting so much pressure on the environment. Fergusson then shows off
plastic forks, knives and cups all made from corn starch. They can be
used once, thrown out and they'll biodegrade in thirty days.
A few booths down, Steen Riisgaard stands next to a Formula One
racecar. He's the president of Novozymes, a Danish company that
produces ethanol, a corn-based substitute for gasoline. "Last year,
[160 billion liters] of fuel ethanol were produced here in the United
States," he says. "The expectation is that this number will grow by
25 percent this year and another 25 percent next year and so on."
Riisgaard says that's good for the environment because ethanol
doesn't emit harmful CO2 emissions like gasoline engines do. And it's
good for politics because the U-S won't have to rely on foreign
sources of oil.
And it's good for business. Indeed, biotechnology's business
potential is something more and more countries are showing an
interest inŠ countries like Ireland, which has a popular exhibit
booth here. There's a long line of conventioneers waiting to get a
free pint of Guinness while they listen to live music and maybe get a
pitch from Samara McCarthy. She's here to convince biotech companies
to locate in Ireland. "We're actually putting together sites that are
ready for companies to move straight into," she explains, "so we have
a pre-approved planning permission for all the different aspects that
will be needed for developing a biotech site." McCarthy says
pharmaceutical and biotech giant Wyeth recently opened a
manufacturing plant outside Dublin. That brought 11-hundred jobs to
Lots of countries have exhibits at the convention because they're
hoping to get a piece of the biotech pie. Looking around the huge
room, attendee Michelle Hon says the growing interest in
biotechnology is the most surprising thing about this year's
convention. "We're standing right in front of Argentina['s booth],
you can see Germany, there's France, Canada, Holland, New Zealand,
Australia. All the Asian countries are here, Japan, China, Malaysia's
Biotech's a young industry, but it's growing. In 1993 this conference
attracted 1400 people. This year? 20-thousand. Clive James is the
chairman of the International Service for the Acquisition of
Agri-biotech Applications. ISAAA is a non-profit group that works to
eliminate hunger by helping developing countries gain access to
biotechnology. James says the industry is about more than just
kitchen cabinets, biodegradable spoons, and cars powered by corn.
"We today have a global population of 6.5 billion people that will
increase to 9.2 billion in 2050. The big question, how do you feed
them?" he asks. James thinks part of the answer is genetically
engineered crops. These are crops that have been modified to produce
a higher yield, or grow in cold weather or dry climates, or resist
Critics caution that the young biotech industry doesn't really know
how Mother Nature will respond to such manipulation. Many
environmental groups believe genetically altered crops pose a risk to
both the environment and public health.
But James says the American public has already been safely
participating in a genetically modified crop experiment for the last
ten years. "They have eaten this food, they've eaten meat from
animals that have been fed GM crops and [there has been] not even a
single suggestion that there is anything wrong."
Ravindar Brar grows genetically modified cotton on her 25-hectare
farm in Punjab, India. She says pesticides and fertilizers are
destroying the soil in India, so she grows cotton that requires
little of either. But pesticides and fertilizers were once touted for
the same reasons that biotech farming is now being pushed.
Brar concedes that no one really knows what the long-term effects of
biotech farming will be. But farmers, she says, must grow what the
market wants. "We have to be in stride with the other people. Only
time will tell."
The biotech industry has its sights set on farmers like Brar. As the
western world becomes saturated with biotech crops, the markets in
developing countries are increasingly attractive. Especially big
markets like China and India.
- Dean Kleckner, Truth About Trade & Technology, April 25, 2006
Whenever I see former President Clinton, I'm reminded that we share a
couple of things in common: We've both had heart bypass surgery, and
we both need to eat healthier food.
That's one of the reasons we share a third thing in common: We're
both strong supporters of biotech-enhanced food.
And it's not merely out of self interest. As Clinton made clear in
Chicago last week, when he addressed the BIO 2006 International
Annual Convention, everyone benefits when modern science helps us
improve our food supply: "The first obligation of society is to feed
its people," he said. "Biotechnology can help us feed more people
while addressing environmental concerns such as global climate
Agriculture was a major theme of the convention: There was a
1,000-plant indoor cornfield, almost at the center of the hall.
Previous gatherings have been held on the coasts (last year it was in
Philadelphia, next year it will be in Boston), and pharmaceutical
themes have dominated. This time, it was in the Midwest and there was
a special emphasis on agriculture.
Farmers from around the world were on hand to discuss their personal
success stories. My conversations with several of them, from Romania,
Argentina, India, and the Philippines, reaffirmed in my own mind the
reality that farm biotechnology is scale neutral--that is, it
delivers important advantages to everyone, including small-time
farmers who are simply trying to eke out a living for themselves and
their families. Biotechnology sometimes gets a bum rap for helping
corporations reap enormous profits at the expense of the little guy.
Nothing could be further from the truth, and there's no way anybody
could believe this after spending a little time discussing the issue
with the growers who attended this event.
Clinton'' speech, delivered on April 11, was perhaps the highlight of
the whole convention. It won't go down in history as Lincolnesque,
but it was vintage Clinton--full of energy, wide-ranging,
thought-provoking, masterful with details, and of course occasionally
partisan. He spoke for about 45 minutes, apparently without a text or
notes. From that standpoint alone, I found it to be a remarkable
But the substance of the speech was even better: "I plead guilty to
supporting the development of genetic engineering and agriculture, as
long as we subject all the results to proper testing and continuous
That's precisely my own view. I was reminded that Clinton was
president at a crucial moment for agricultural biotechnology: ten
years ago, it was just becoming commercialized. A different type of
president--say, a European one--might have found a way to smother
biotech crops in their infancy. But Clinton did no such thing. He
comes from Arkansas, a farm state, and he understands how food is
produced and why emerging technologies have a role to play: "If
anybody could give me any evidence why I shouldn't [support
agricultural biotechnology], I'd be happy to change my position. But
failing evidence, I think the use of agricultural technology, which
uses less fertilizer, takes better care of the soil, increases
productivity, and could be transferred at low cost through seeds to
poor farmers in developing countries, is a good thing. We need more
people to be able to grow their own food and feed themselves."
Clinton's words are supported by most farmers.
He also understands that farming isn't just about food production
anymore--it's also about energy: "In the fuel area, clearly, we need
to go to biofuels. We need to move to a biofuel future. And in my
opinion, need to move to a biofuel future based more on cellulistic
fuels than corn, which is a principal contributor to ethanol now.
Why? Because the conversion ratio is better. If the goal is not only
to have clean fuels but to reduce the use of greenhouse gases, then
you want stuff that's lying around anyway, that you didn't have to
burn oil to produce in the first place."
Clinton was wise to embrace the biotech future when he was president,
and he is wise to continue embracing it today: It will lead to a
safer, cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous world for everybody.
Dean Kleckner is an Iowa farmer and past president of the American
Farm Bureau. He currently chairs Truth About Trade and Technology.
Africa Cannot Ignore Food Biotechnology
- Zachary Ochuodho, Kenya Times, April 25, 2006
Achieving adequate food with nutritional requirements for all people
is one of the prime challenges facing most developing countries,
particularly in the sub-Saharan region.
In Africa, for example, governments have made it almost like an
annual habit to ask for food aid claiming that crops had failed due
to unfavourable weather conditions and inadequate rainfall. This is
the excuse that countries, including Kenya, where agriculture is the
lifeline of over 80 percent of rural folks and also provides 70
percent employment, continue to give.
Research shows that farming constraints such as inappropriate
technologies for small holder farmers, high cost of farm inputs, farm
fragmentations, etc that Kenya continue to give as an excuse to
justify its begging spree are a thing of the past.
According to Prof. Onesmus ole Moi Yoi of the Institute of Molecular
and Cell Biology Africa, such constraints have been eliminated in
other parts of the world through use of science and technology. Prof.
ole Moi Yoi argues that food insecurity and malnutrition can be made
a thing of the past if the Government can adopt a policy that would
help rural-based farmers to boost their farm production.
He says, "Food security is achieved, if adequate food (quality,
quantity, safety, sociocultural acceptability) is available and
accessible for and satisfactorily utilised by all individuals at all
times to live a healthy and happy life."
Prof. ole Moi Yoi says following success of green revolution in the
1980s that helped to triple food production (availability) in Latin
America and Asia, but which African countries largely ignored, the
continent can now ill-afford to ignore biotechnology. He says it was
a misnomer that Africa was bypassed by the green revolution adding
that it would be unwise for the same to happen with the GM
technology, which is not only promising to offer solutions to hunger
and environment problems, but also contain malnutrition.
Prof. ole Moi Yoi regrets that Kenya and other countries still rely
on rain fed, the use of irrigation, fertiliser, hybrid seeds which is
too expensive for the poor nation to feed its population. But Dr.
Phelix Majiwa of A New Bridge to Sustainable Agricultural Development
of Africa says, sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where per
capita food production has actually declined over the past two
decades compared to other regions. Dr. Majiwa says that between 1980
and 1995, yields of staple crops, for example, fell by an average of
8 percent compared to an increase of 27 percent in Asia and 12 in
Latin America, which are also classified as developing countries.
Dr. Majiwa says that other than just hunger, sub-Saharan Africa is
still faced with acute malnutrition, which affects over 200 million
of the population. He says nearly two-thirds of Africa's poor live in
rural areas and depend on agriculture for their survival. Low and
often declining farm-level productivity is a major cause of
persistently low income and hunger. Malnutrition is common in
sub-Saharan Africa with about 40-50 percent of the region's
population rstill malnourished each year and the region is worse off
nutritionally today than it was 30 years back Already the Kenya
government has reiterated its support for the genetically modified
crops. As far as Dr. Wilson Songa is concerned the technology is
He says that the importance of the GM technology in crop production
would not only grow faster but also meet the nutritious needs of most
poor communities in Kenya. Dr. Songa agrees that, "The convectional
farming methods alone may not provide solutions to all our problems
given the increased demands for agricultural productivity". Indeed,
agricultural science and improved technologies have over the past 50
years made a huge impact on poverty in the developing world mainly in
Asia and Latin America but Africa is yet to realise anywhere near the
full potential that agricultural science has to offer. The harsh
realities imposed by poverty and food insecurity throughout
sub-Saharan Africa forces countries now to think twice this time
round whether to adopt the use of biotechnology or risk being left
behind as it happened when the Green Revolution came.
Some experts say that Africa stands to miss the benefit of
biotechnology if it is keeps on listening to what other countries are
saying about the use of technology. Dr. Romano Kiome, Permanent
Secretary Ministry of Agriculture, refutes such allegations and
assures that Kenya has the scientific capacity, human resources and
the physical capacities to deliver GM technology to the highest
quality standards required.
Kiome says that Kenya has already adopted the use of tissue culture,
marker aided selector to produce bananas, some species of trees and
is yet to start using genetically modified technology to produce
cereals such as maize which is the region's staple food.
He says maize is one of the most important sources of calories for
the poor in Africa, second only to cassava. It is a significant part
of the diet of millions of smallholder subsistence farmers, who grow
it primarily in mixed cropping systems. Small to medium scale farmers
who cultivate 10 hectares or less grow 95 percent of the maize
produced in Africa.
Diseases and insect pests, particularly several different species of
stem borers, cause significant yields losses in all African
eco-regions where crop is grown He agrees that losses vary from 15 to
40 percent but in some areas it is total failure. A combination of
traditional plant breeding and novel gene technology is being used to
produce maize varieties that are resistant to stem borers.
Perhaps if the losses caused by pests, diseases, weeds, cost of
insecticide, soil erosion, exhaustion etc can be minimised with the
use of biotechnology, African countries, Kenya in particular, would
not be begging for food for its citizen every year.
Risks and Benefits of Growing Pharmaceutical Corn in the Corn Belt
- Dr. Dermot Hayes (Department of Economics, Iowa State University),
Iowa Seed and Biosafety, vol. 22, nov. 2; Fall 2005
Should Iowa continue to allow the production of pharmaceutical corn?
A possible benefit of this activity is the economic activity
associated with the growth and possible production of the
pharmaceutical products. A possible harm that might come about is the
possibility that some commodity corn grown near a field of
pharmaceutical field might possibly be contaminated.
It is very unlikely that contaminated commodity corn would ever pose
a health risk. This is true because many of the pharmaceutical
products that are grown or which might be grown in Iowa are safe for
human consumption. However it seems highly likely that the detection
of pharmaceutical corn in a load of commodity corn would result in a
lower price for commodity corn.
The purpose of the research summarized here was to put a financial
value on the risk associated with cross contamination. there is a
host of possible ways in which pharmaceutical corn might contaminate
the food supply. Obvious examples include accidents in transportation
or contamination caused by terrorism. These possible causes exist
wherever pharmaceutical corn is grown and are not specific to the
Corn Belt. So we narrowed our focus to causes of contamination that
were specific to the Corn Belt. We focused on wind blown dispersal of
pollen from pharmaceutical fields to receptive corn in commodity
fields. The possibility of pollen caused contamination has been a
concern for the USdA Animal and plant Health Inspection Service
(ApHIS) for quite some time, and this organization has put a host of
restrictive measures in place to make sure that this contamination
does not happen. our specific task was to estimate the probability
that cross contamination might occur even if these APHIS requirements
Clearly we are dealing with very small probabilities and we also need
a method to put a financial value on risk. to get round these issues
we found the fair value of an insurance product that paid for the
destruction of all nearby commodity corn in the event of an unusual
wind event that might in theory cause any nearby field of commodity
corn to have one contaminated kernel in any forty acre field.
We do not yet know how farm pollen will move under all possible wind
conditions and if we wait for experimental plot data showing a 1 in
10,000 wind event we might possibly have to wait for many years
before nature provides us with this natural experiment. Instead we
decided to develop a simulation model that showed how far pollen
would move under various conditions and then compare this model
prediction against the data that we do have.
Mark Westgate a professor in ISU's agronomy department provided us
with experimental data on wind flow and pollen movement and we
discovered that the simulation model replicated this data quite well.
Next we ran the simulation model thousands of times using a
distribution of wind speeds taken at Boone airport. This experiment
allowed us to create as many "years" of data as we needed and in so
doing capture likelihood of a very unlikely wind event during
In order to find the fair value of the insurance product we then
assumed that each field of pharmaceutical corn would have a weather
station, and we then insured against the detection by this station of
a wind event strong enough to move the pollen over the set backs
imposed by APHIS. We also took into account the other protective
measures such as de-tasseling, the use of male sterility and temporal
separation that the industry has used to minimize contamination. Our
insurance contract triggered if there was a possibility that one
kernel in any of the surrounding 40 acre fields was fertilized by
The results suggested that the fair value of such an insurance
contract was only $11 per acre of pharmaceutical corn. this suggested
that the various ApHIS requirements were successful. However, our
results do indicate a very-very small possibility that such
contamination might occur especially if the producer did not use male
sterile lines and de-tassle.
APHIS has adopted a zero tolerance against this kind of event and our
results (and the results of any probability based experiment)
indicate that these zero tolerances cannot be met. These findings may
have implications for the production of pharmaceutical corn under
current regulations, the formulation of changes in the formulation of
new government regulations, or the way that risks and benefits
associated with pharmaceutical corn production are communicated to
Attitudes to Biotech
- Paul Christensen (Coordinator of distance education, Seed Science
Center, Iowa State University) Iowa Seed and Biosafety, vol. 22, nov.
2; Fall 2005 http://www.seeds.iastate.edu/
The seed industry is influenced and shaped by attitudes and decisions
concerning the use of the products of biotechnology, and the use of
variety ownership. many of us in the industry tend to approach the
value of seed, varieties and biotechnology from the viewpoint of
their usefulness to people.
In our efforts to apply science, we in the technical community need
to be aware that our attitudes will only take us so far and are not
shared by all. Although view points vary greatly, some of them have a
more rational, philosophical, basis and can be grouped into
categories that make them easier to discuss. In this article I will
focus on two ethical categories: utilitarian and human rights. these
categories include the most effective arguments in favor of
biotechnology and variety ownership.
We need to be aware of the kinds of opinions about the industry so
that we can think about them and react to them. In many cases
decisions about seed or biotech will be made on the basis of economic
or legal arguments, but in this discussion we will accept questions
about why we should use market prices or some particular law. Are
those criteria ethical? Can they be communicated effectively?
Many attitudes toward biotechnology and varieties are about
ownership, and the impact of ownership and possessiveness on
individuals and society. Some are about the relationship between
mankind and nature. Some are about the relationship between
individuals and government institutions, and relationships between
science, government and the public. Arguments narrowly focused on
technology will not address these broader concerns. As scientists and
industry members, readers we may feel comfortable with the positive
or negative value of seed for society, but broader definitions of
knowledge, value and ethics add complexity to the public discussion.
The core beliefs of our developed world grew out of a thought
revolution which came to prominence in the 18th century which
described human as rational, independent beings. the traditional
thought that preceded the enlightenment world conceived of the
individual as a being who depended on institutions, mainly church and
monarchy. this core modern world view is associated with a synthesis
of two kinds of ethical systems: utilitarianism and human rights,
both of which associate value with the individual.
Although libertarians and utilitarians are likely to disagree with
each other, it is difficult to conceive our current world without the
dynamic tension between these two approaches to value and ethics in
public decision making. they both value the individual.
The valid use of market values is central to ethical application of
cost-benefit analysis to biotechnology. we have many kinds of reasons
for accepting markets as ethical institutions: Utilitarian (despite
market imperfections, markets frequently do deliver more benefits to
individuals than alternatives), rights-based (liberty arguments for
unimpeded market freedom), and Kantian (respect for autonomy requires
that we avoid interfering with voluntary exchanges). Accepting prices
determined by markets, we have a well justified basis for the
utilitarian analysis of costs and benefits of the use of
The utilitarian efficacy of markets provides the main justification
for intellectual property rights. these rights are not natural. they
have to be created. without these rights allocation of capital to the
creation of information would not be rewarded. without the rewards
capital will not be assigned to the creation of information in a free
market. without information, the public will not get the benefits
that new information can create. ownership rights will restrict the
use of technology and therefore the benefits from its use, but at a
level higher than is possible under public funding. public creation
of knowledge is an alternative but has been found to allocate
knowledge creation capital inefficiently, and does not solve the
problem of how to reward the development of new information into
Rights allow for differing kinds of thought processes which can not
all be "rational" in the same frame of reference, but placing value
on individuals and their rights is very important to the modern
world. respect for the value of individuals underlies our
representative government and gives collective decision-making a
degree of legitimacy, but respect for human rights can sometimes be
Labeling can allow choice, but mandatory labeling has a cost that has
to be borne by all. How does one balance the right of one individual
to choice, perhaps arbitrary choice, with the right of all
individuals to refuse to pay a mandatory "tax" to allow that choice?
How does one balance the right of one person to free speech about
biotechnology when the lively hood or wellbeing of others is
threatened by statements that can not be confirmed? In practice, such
decisions become the subject of collective choice, where at the
margin the majority of lawmakers are likely to use utilitarian
arguments to decide what constitutes a legal right, but that does not
answer the question of the moral right.
Rights-based approaches to biotechnology and intellectual property
should be given due consideration, even though many in the scientific
community find some of them uncomfortable (excluding some rights
established by long precedent in the academic community), and the
proliferation of rights can logically lead to social or ethical
gridlock when rights conflict. the division between utilitarian and
rights-based approaches to decision making runs through most public
discussion of biotechnology and intellectual property rights.
recognizing these positions can be useful for those participating in
the debate. Use of a utilitarian argument with a person who strongly
believes in Kantian rights may not be productive. It may be more
productive to make the utilitarian argument to his friends and
In coming issues, we will go beyond ethical values based on
individuality to see that there are philosophical positions on the
understanding of reality, the relationship between mankind and
nature, and the relationship between the individual and society which
also play a role in the debates about biotechnology and intellectual
property rights. we will consider whether taking the basis of value
away from the individual creates risks for individuals that will
ultimately be found to be unacceptable.
To read full article go to http://www.seeds.iastate.edu/, choose
International Conference on Sustainable Agriculture for Food and
- New Delhi, India; May 25 - 27, 2006
The issues relating to food and nutritional security for our
population and the impact of modern agricultural practices on the
environment are two major challenges that need to be addressed in the
The proposed conference is envisaged as a forum for formulating a
road map for food and nutritional security and sustainable
agricultural practices in the twenty-first century. Organised by:
TERI School of Advanced Studies. Contact: Vibha Dhawan Email:
link for the agenda at
Bioenergy: Economic and Scientific Issues
The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (
ICABR ) organizer of the 10th International Conference on
Agricultural Biotechnology: Facts, Analysis and Policies that will
take place in Ravello (Italy) on June 29 - July 2, 2006, announces
a pre conference event that will precede the inaugural session of the
Starting at 9 a.m. of June 29 - 2006, it is convened a Workshop on:
Bioenergy: how far and how fast can we travel with it: economic and
- Prof. Vittorio Santaniello, University of Rome, Italy