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April 26, 2006


GM Bills in Michigan and Vermont; GM Barley in Germany; Ag-Biotech in the Middle East; Walmart and Organic Food


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: April 26, 2006

* Cuba goes from organic to biotech?
* Michigan House approves bill on genetically modified seeds
* Vermont House passes genetically modified seed liability bill
* Biotech Group Sees GMO Crop Use Still Spreading
* University Giessen announces the planting of transgenic barley
* Experts meet for establishment of ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network
* Global GM planting to rise 10% this year
* Small organic food producers find Wal-Mart stiff competitor

From: "Alex Avery"
Subject: Cuba goes from organic to biotech?
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2006 16:46:11 -0400

Does the announcement of a significant Cuban ag biotech effort signal the death of Cuba’s supposedly utopian organic revolution we’d read about in the late 1990s and early 2000s? If you don’t recall, in 1999, the Organic Agriculture Group (GAO) won the “Right Livelihood” award – the so-called “alternative Nobel.”

We (The Center for Global Food Issues) had reported how this was a less-than-utopian reality, given the stringent food rations and the number of people who suddenly needed to scratch for their own sustenance.

Does anyone else have more info on Cuba’s less-than-heralded and nascent biotech revolution?


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.

Alex Avery
Director of Research
Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute
PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421
(540) 337-6354, or -6387


Michigan House approves bill on genetically modified seeds

- The Associated Press, 4/25/2006

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The state House passed legislation Tuesday that aims to block local regulation of genetically modified crops but includes an exception if the Michigan Commission of Agriculture signs off on the regulation.

As approved by the Senate, the measure would have pre-empted local governments from adopting ordinances that regulate or ban the planting of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

But the House version, approved on a 74-32 vote by the Republican-controlled chamber, would let governments ban seeds if they find the seeds will hurt the environment or public health and the bipartisan Commission of Agriculture agrees.

The state Agriculture Department also would have to hold a public hearing and issue an opinion on whether environmental or public health effects will occur.

The legislation now heads back to the GOP-controlled Senate.

Five California counties and cities have restricted farmers from growing genetically modified crops since 2004. Fourteen states have since passed laws barring similar measures, prodded by large seed companies and an increasing number of farmers who plant genetically engineered products.

Republicans have said federal regulators are better equipped to regulate GMOs than are local counties or townships, and they argued that landowners should have the right to plant what scientists have determined is safe, free from local interference.

But some Democrats have said GMOs threaten public health and organic farmers, who worry about losing their "organic" certification because genetically modified crops could contaminate their fields.

The seed bill is Senate Bill 777.

On the Net:

Michigan Legislature: http://www.legislature.mi.gov


House passes genetically modified seed liability bill

April 26, 2006

- Associated Press, By ROSS SNEYD

MONTPELIER — Manufacturers of genetically engineered seeds could be liable for damages if their products drift into the fields of neighboring farmers who don't want them under a bill that won approval Tuesday in the Vermont House.

The proposal could put Vermont at the forefront of a heated national debate about the wisdom of using the seeds and plants, which can be scientifically modified to resist pests or disease.

Some farmers and consumers don't want such technology being used on their food. But others say it's an important way to keep food economical and to control the use of pesticides on farm fields.

That divide was starkly illustrated in the Statehouse. Supporters and opponents thronged the House chamber to witness the debate on a compromise version of the bill that's been debated in the Legislature for the past year and a half.

"As an organic farmer, my job is to make sure I'm producing a crop that's free of genetically modified (organisms)," said Leceister dairy farmer Annie Claghorn after the House voted 77-63 in favor of the bill.

But opponents were out in equal force to demonstrate to Gov. Jim Douglas, who has made pretty clear he'll veto the bill if it wins Senate approval, that they'll back him.

"We're here to show the governor he has the vote when, hopefully, he vetoes it," said St. Albans dairy farmer Mitch Montagne, standing outside the governor's office after the vote.

The issue in the legislation is fairly arcane. The bill was designed to give farmers who don't want to use modified seeds a forum to address their grievances if pollen from modified plants drift into their crops.

The bill would treat farmers as consumers and would allow them to sue a seed manufacturer, claiming the so-called drift into his or her field was a private nuisance. Such a claim could only be made if the farmer could prove that his or her total loss exceeded $3,500.

"This is a bill to protect all farmers, especially those who use genetically modified seeds," said Rep. Dexter Randall, P-Troy, the primary sponsor of the bill and a dairy farmer.

He and others said it was an attempt to give farmers a greater say over their businesses. Although manufacturers retain ownership of the genetically engineered seeds and plants and only lease them to farmers, the companies have been insulated from damage claims.

The new bill would protect a farmer using the genetically engineered seeds, making manufacturers liable for damages. Supporters said that's why they believed the bill would be good for both conventional farmers and organic farmers, who are among the leaders in opposing the use of the genetically altered seeds.

"This bill is not about dividing these farmers," said Rep. Rosemary McLaughlin, D-Royalton. "(It) is about protecting these two types of farmers."

Rep. William Johnson, R-Canaan, also a dairy farmer, argued that all the bill would do was erroneously call into question the safety of genetically modified organisms. "It's based on a false premise," he said. "It's based on the premise that there's something wrong with genetically engineered seeds or biotechnology."


Biotech Group Sees GMO Crop Use Still Spreading

- Reuters, April 26, 2006

MANILA - The global area planted to genetically modified crops, nearly four times the size of the United Kingdom last year, is likely to show double-digit growth again this year, the coordinator of a group promoting biotechnology in developing countries said on Tuesday.

Randy Hautea, global coordinator of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), said the area planted to GMO crops rose 11 percent last year to 90 million hectares, despite fears raised by environmental groups.
Greenpeace, which opposes the planting of GMO crops for fear of its impact on consumer health and the environment, said it doubted the ISAAA report on the extent of the area planted with GMO.

"For 10 years, we have seen double-digit growth yearly," Hautea, whose group tracks planting and development of GMO crops, told reporters on the sidelines of a sugar forum in Manila. "That trend will continue," he added, without further explanation.

Hautea, a Filipino, said areas planted with GMO soybeans are also increasing in Brazil while areas planted with GMO cotton are widening in India.

Areas planted to GMO cotton in India last year nearly tripled to about 1.4 million hectares from half a million hectares in 2004, he said.

The highest biotech expansion last year in terms of actual area was Brazil with 9.4 million hectares planted with GMO soybeans, nearly double the 5 million hectares in 2004, Hautea said.

Pakistan is expected to start commercial planting of GMO cotton this year, he said.

The global value of biotech crops was projected to rise to US$5.5 billion in 2006 from US$5.25 billion in 2005, Hautea said.

GMO crops -- designed to be pest-resistant, give better yields or offer higher nutritional value -- accounted for 60 percent of global soybean area last year, 28 percent of cotton, 18 percent of canola and 14 percent of corn, he added.

But Greenpeace expressed doubts on the accuracy and methodology of the ISAAA estimates.

"We are asking governments to follow the precautionary principles in terms of allowing the commercialisation of GMOs," Daniel Ocampo, genetic engineering campaigner of Greenpeace in Southeast Asia, said.

There were 21 countries that planted GMO crops last year, with the United States accounting for more than half of the total at 49.8 million hectares, Hautea said.

Argentina accounted for 17.1 million hectares, Canada for 5.8 million and China for 3.3 million.


University Giessen announces the planting of transgenic barley

- CheckBiotech, April 26, 2006, Translated by Mark Hutko

The Justus Liebig University Giessen wants to plant transgenic barley on an experimental field-site.

This would be the first time in Germany that such plants were planted outside of a laboratory, said professor Karl-Heinz Kogel on Monday in Giessen. It is expected that enough seed for about 5000 plants will be sown on a 12 square meter area.

There is no danger of the spread of transgenic plants. This project of the Institute of Phytopathology and of Applied Zoology of the University Giessen is called “Biosafety” and is supported by the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety.

“Spreading is out of the question”

The scientists want to find out whether or not the transgenic plants have a detrimental effect upon beneficial soil fungi. Two barley varieties will be planted: one of which contains an additional gene which makes the plants resistant to pathogens.

The second barley variety has an enzyme which allows it to be used as chicken feed. “It is out of the question that the barley variety spreads, or ends up in the food chain via animals”, emphasized Kogel. The pollen of these plants cannot be dispersed by airborne means, and apart from that, barley is a self-pollinating plant and is fertilized only by its own pollen.

“Less fertilizer and pesticides necessary”

Transgenic plants would have the advantage that they would require less fertilizer and would need to be treated with less pesticides than conventional barley. This is positive not only for the environment but also means less work for the farmers. “I think that public debate on genetic technology will slowly become more rational”, said Kogel.

Apart from Giessen two other test-sites in the state of Hessen have been registered at the Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection for sowing of transgenic plants: in Weilmuenster and Hammersbach. Transgenic corn will be sown at both sites. Environmentalist, locals and farmer unions are protesting due to concern over incalculable risks.


Experts meet for establishment of ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network

- CheckBiotech, April 26, 2006

The first ECO Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the establishment of ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network was held in Tehran on April 22-24, 2006, ECO Public Relations Department said in a press release on Tuesday.

Experts in the field of biotechnology from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Republic of Azerbaijan, Islamic Republic of Iran, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Republic of Tajikistan and Republic of Turkey participated in the meeting.

The meeting was inaugurated by Dr. Khayyam Nekoui, director general of the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII). He emphasized the need for food security keeping in view the growing world population and benefits of biotechnology in this regard.

The director general announced that ABRII is willing to provide access to its facilities for researches and students from the institutes and universities of member states for doing research in biotechnology.

Secretary general of ECO, Askhat Orazbay, while mentioning the problems in agriculture like yield and quality losses from pests, inadequate water supply, drought, salinity, soil deterioration, low efficiency of nitrogen fertilizers and absence of appropriate biotechnological tools, said that the biotechnology may provide a significant step forward in increasing yields, improving nutrition and ensuring the sustainability of present fragile agriculture ecosystems.

Delegates from the ECO member countries also delivered Country Reports/Presentations on Biotechnology highlighting the policies, challenges and potentials/opportunities and activities in the field of biotechnology in the countries.

The experts approved the three-year project and work plan for establishment of the ECO Agricultural Biotechnological Network (ECO-ABN). It is planned that the network will be operational within two years. These objectives of the ECO-ABN are networking of national biotechnology institutes, researchers, scientists, engineers, and administrators, linking regional activities and collaboration to international organizations and laboratories, capacity building and enhancement in the relevant institutes of the member states and conducting joint studies and research projects. Harmonization of biosafety protocols and testing in the ECO Region will also be facilitated through the network.

The meeting established a Steering Committee to monitor the implementation of the project. The Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII) will act as Regional Coordination Unit.

The meeting identified the following areas for implementation of joint projects:

I. Production of virus free potato mini-tubers and their propagation

II. Preparation of Plan of Action for development/harmonization of biosafety regulations in the ECO region

III. Intellectual Property Rights in biotechnology

IV. Capacity building e.g. establishment of basic labs and training of staff in the member sates.

During the meeting, Islamic Republic of Iran, Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Republic of Turkey announced that they can support potato tissue culture activities in Afghanistan and other relevant member countries as there is a great potential in this area. The Republic of Turkey also announced that they can set up basic laboratories in some ECO countries including Afghanistan and extend technical assistance to Afghanistan in fruit tissue culture.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan offered readiness to provide technical support to other member states for research purpose.


Global GM planting to rise 10% this year

April 26, 2006, By Rhea Sandique-Carlos

MANILA (Dow Jones)--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, Hautea said.

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.


Small organic food producers find Wal-Mart stiff competitor

- Albany Times Union, By Kevin Harlin, April 23, 2006

HUDSON, N. Y. — By most standards, the 140-acre Farm at Miller’s Crossing is a small operation. But the organic farm is part of a giant industry that’s getting bigger every year.

Organic fruit, vegetables and other foods have gone mainstream. Case in point — this month, discount retailer and supermarket giant Wal-Mart is doubling the organic foods offered at its stores. That comes with both opportunities and worries for small producers. "Even though we’ve expanded, we can’t compete on price against those 1,000-acre farms in California," said Katie Smith, who owns The Farm at Miller’s Crossing with her husband, Chris Cashen

Organic foods were a $15 billion-a-year industry last year — one that grows by about 20 percent annually, said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association.

The group, which pushes for tougher standards, accuses Wal-Mart and large food-processing companies of trying to water down federal guidelines for what can be called organic. Ultimately, that could lead to more imports from China and elsewhere, Cummins said, driving out many of the small farmers who developed the market. "On the one hand, we’re happy to see the big corporate players get into organics. But they’re not playing by the rules," he said. "When you look across the country, the only small and medium-sized farmers who are making a decent living are the organics, and they’re not going to survive."

Wal-Mart doesn’t break out the percentage of sales organics represent but the Bentonvillebased retailer said it is expanding its offerings based on demand from customers. It’s adding coffee, peanut butter, baby formula and ice cream, among other options. "We want to allow anyone looking for an organic alternative to be able to find it at a value," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karen Burk said in an e-mail.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards for organics forbid antibiotics or growth hormones in animals, and most conventional pesticides and fertilizers.

Organics sometimes cost more to produce, though consumers are often willing to pay a premium — sometimes 10 percent to 50 percent more.

Gayle Anderson, produce manager at the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, N. Y., said she thinks the big supermarkets are just trying to make a quick buck off the growing market.

She questioned whether they were keeping up with complex USDA rules for keeping organic and standard produce separate. And she said they weren’t as concerned with local farmers.

Anderson said Honest Weight’s produce comes from around the world, but she buys as much from local farmers as she can when crops are in season.

Even with competition from the mainstream giants, Honest Weight is looking to open a second store, and other groups are considering forming their own food co-ops in the Albany area.

Smith and Cashen, the organic farmers in upstate New York, haven’t sold to Wal-Mart. But they have sold to Whole Foods Markets, a national organic and naturalfood seller.

But even that retailer demands prices that Smith and Cashen said they can’t always meet.

So instead, they’ve focused on selling locally, to loyal customers such as Honest Weight, and at farmers markets, where many consumers appreciate knowing where their food comes from. "There’s still that niche we have, which we can serve," Smith said.