Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on
ag-biotech.


Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives

Subscribe

 


SEARCH:     

Date:

May 2, 2006

Subject:

Food of the Future; Changing the Landscape; A Waste of Time and Money; Blue Rose; Fish Oil in Crops; GM Cotton Lowers Pesticide Use

 

Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - May 2, 2006

* Food of the Future? Controversy Rages Over GM Crops
* Cuba and Biotech
* Plant Genetics: Changing the Landscape of Midwest Agriculture
* GM Cotton Shows Low Pesticide Use, Safety: Study
* .... Despite Pesticide Reductions, GM Cotton Fails to Improve Biodiversity
* Cartagena Protocol: A Waste of Time and Money?
* Growers Welcome GM Blue Roses
* Risk Communication Model to Evaluate Dietetics Viewpoints
* Harvesting Fish Oil in Crops
* Technology to Fight Malnutrition and Improve Health in Africa
* Bioinformatics Gets Transgenic Scrutiny
* Information Technology and Agriculture
--

The Food of the Future? Controversy Rages Over Genetically Modified Crops

- CNN, May 1, 2006 http://edition.cnn.com/2006/TECH/science/04/28/gmcropcontr/

Putting fish genes in plants? It's messing with nature, isn't it? While many scientists and environmental groups claim the cultivation of genetically modified organisms will have severe ecological and health consequences, advocates of the technology claim with equal vigor that genetically modified organisms (G.M.Os) will feed the world and improve human health and wellbeing.

Greenpeace state firmly: "[we believe] G.M.Os should not be released into the environment as there is not adequate scientific understanding of their impact on the environment and human health." But Monsanto, who dominate 90 per cent of the global market in G.M.Os, say on their Web site: "Crop improvements like [G.M.Os] can help provide an abundant, healthful food supply and protect our environment for future generations."
It's complex. Just like nuclear power, genetic modification is a branch of science that has attracted a huge amount of controversy and fierce debate, with both sides claiming the stakes are high.

G.M.Os are on the frontline of one of the biggest conflicts of recent years between the science-business community and activist groups. Many of whom feel that, in addition to environmental concerns, with four big multinational companies dominating the global biotech market, the proliferation of patented G.M.Os will give corporations an unhealthy control of food production.

While U.S. agriculture has embraced the new crops with little controversy, widespread consumer protests in Europe led to the European Union imposing a moratorium on new licenses in 1998 -- an effective ban on imports and new commercial cultivation; something U.S. exporters are now challenging through the W.T.O.
Improving on nature?

Advocates of G.M.Os argue that almost every organism that humans use -- whether vegetables, grains, pigs or cattle --- has already been "modified" by centuries of selective breeding that has tweaked certain desirable characteristics and sought to remove less desirable ones.

The naturally occurring ancestor of the potato, for example, was toxic until selectively bred for human consumption. "G.M. is just much quicker than traditional cross-breeding," says a spokesperson from The Biotech Industry Organization, a G.M.O. "information, advocacy and business support group."

"You can be more precise and achieve change in a generation with biotech that would take many generations with traditional cross-breeding. In Hawaii biotech saved the day recently. There was a virus that affected the papaya crop, and without biotech the crop would have been permanently wiped out, no doubt about it." Monsanto claim that biotech allows them to produce crops that fight plant pests, are easier to process and contain valuable additional nutrients.

G.M.O. skeptics counter-argue that there is a huge gulf between what has happened historically, and the power we have now to put fish genes into vegetables, or clone animals directly from their "parents" D.N.A. They fear that G.M. crops may contaminate the food chain, or that science is taking us into uncharted waters.

G.M.Os and the environment
"There are serious environmental concerns with G.M.Os," says Clare Oxborough from Friends of the Earth. "They can easily spread outside cultivated areas and there are real concerns about cross contamination with other crops and this poses a real risk to biodiversity."

In the UK modified genes from a G.M. crop trial have been found to have transferred into local wild plants, creating a form of herbicide-resistant "superweed." Some farmers in Canada and Argentina who cultivate G.M. soya have also had problems with herbicide-resistant weeds, although these may have developed through natural selection. Experiments in Germany and Canada have observed a phenomenon called "gene-stacking," where crops modified to resist one herbicide accidentally acquire resistance to another.

In Spain, the only EU country to have a significant take up of G.M.Os, a study by two Spanish farming organizations and Greenpeace Spain claimed that up to 50 percent of organic maize crops were contaminated by G.M. maize.

"It's a complex issue," Julian Morris, director of think tank The International Policy Network. "In many ways G.M.Os will improve biodiversity by increasing yields and so reducing pressure on wild areas. But where there is a risk of cross-contamination, when some naturally occurring plants are similar to crops, as with Rape in the UK, we should introduce G.M.Os with care and study what happens.

"The risk is overplayed [by environmentalists], and ignores the reality that many wild plants already contain very powerful natural herbicides and pesticides.

"There is no evidence whatsoever that a shift from conventional agriculture, which relies on large amounts of chemicals, to biotech agriculture, which doesn't, will be bad for the environment."

But environmental groups argue there are real problems with such a switch. "Sure G.M.Os should mean farmers use less pesticides, but in reality they don't," says Oxborough "The evidence seems to suggest that as time goes on weeds become resistant and more and more toxic herbicides need to be employed to get the same effect. "With G.M.Os bred to be insect repellent there's a real risk to non-target species, such as butterflies and moths or beneficial soil organisms. We just don't have enough information. The question is: Should we really be taking a risk with something we don't need?"

Feeding the world
Many pro-G.M.O. advocates say the rich northern hemisphere is guilty of being overly precious about technology that could transform the Third World. "There is massive potential to improve yields, especially in marginal areas with poor soil," says Morris. "Plants can be made more heat, drought or salt tolerant. By improving yields we can produce more food from less land and so prices will fall, which will benefit the poorest people the most."

"In addition it's possible to include traits for certain nutrients. Many health problems in the Third World are related to malnutrition, something G.M.Os can address. For example G.M.O. Golden Rice has high levels of Vitamin A/Beta Carotene [C.H.K.], the lack of which is responsible for 1000s of cases of childhood blindness and immune deficiencies.

"It's not a magic bullet -- many Third World problems are political, not agricultural. But scientifically it has the potential to make a real difference."

In 2003 the then-director of lobby group The Center for Global Food Issues Dennis Avery lambasted the EU for its skepticism: "It's unconscionable. To go to famine areas and say the [G.M.O] food aid is poison, how different is that from crying fire in a crowded theater? Except the scale is larger and the victims are harder to find afterwards."

But environmentalists believe the industry is picking a particularly emotive issue to give them public leverage.
"This is the one thing that will convince people, if they are going to be convinced, about the benefits of G.M.O.," says Oxborough. "But the reality is the technology has been being researched for thirty years, and we've heard these arguments over and over, but nothing is currently commercially available that can do this.
"95 percent of the G.M.O. crops grown worldwide are soya, rape, maize and cotton; the vast majority of this goes into animal feed to support intensive meat agriculture.

"G.M.O. is about cash crops for export, not feeding hungry people. It's all about profit. Meanwhile conventional breeding is coming up with answers to the problems."

Healthy or health concern?
Much of the opposition to G.M.Os focuses on "Frankenstein Foods," and there is considerable public concern about eating G.M.Os. Something refuted by advocates of the crops. "There's no scientific evidence that G.M.Os harm humans," says Morris. "Quite the contrary: The health benefits of G.M.Os, in terms of food security, better diet and nutrition will be overwhelmingly positive."

"It's more a question of uncertainty than clear evidence," admits Oxborough. "There is plenty of evidence suggesting the kind of things that could be happening to us when we eat G.M.Os -- such as an increase in allergies -- we just don't know. We don't have the studies to prove it's safe to push these products through.

"It's very difficult to trace health problems back to a specific cause, because people have such varied diets. While of course anything acute would have been picked up, G.M.Os could be contributing to cancers and allergies without us knowing. The point is: Should we be talking a risk with something we don't understand?"

"Most G.M.Os undergo rigorous lab testing to check human and animal tolerance," argues Morris. "If something is found to cause an adverse reaction, it is not put on sale, it's as simple as that. Conventional crops don't have that advantage."

But, says Oxborough: "All the testing is carried out by the G.M.O. companies. There's no independent scrutiny. We think that warning signals are being ignored." "The biotech industry asks scientists to do the research," said a spokesperson from The Biotech Industry Organization, "then in the U.S., for example, the Food and Drug Administration looks at the data and draws its own conclusions. The R&D for a new product is rigorous and takes 6 to 12 years. No products are rushed out."

The debate rages on. Few technologies are as controversial as G.M.Os, and there's no shortage of opinions, and convincing arguments on both sides: There isn't much that's more political than the food we eat. But whatever the industry and experts argue, ultimately you -- the consumer -- will have to weigh up the choices available, and decide.

**********************************************

Cuba and Biotech

- Bob MacGregor

Alex Avery asked about the implications of the Cuban push for more agricultural biotech applications. Supporters of crop genetic engineering have emphasized that this technology is an ideal complement to organic production methods, since it can help avoid the need to use synthetic chemicals.

I think that, rather than abandoning organic growing, it is more likelythe Cubans are seeing things this way; after all, they didn't go into organic production because they wanted to tap into lucrative international organic vegetable markets-- they were forced to go that way by a financial crunch which made the inputs unaffordable.

The Cubans aren't scientifically backwards nor are they Luddites; this might well be an opportunity to actually demonstrate the compatibility of GM and organic production methods.

**********************************************

Plant Genetics: Changing the Landscape of Midwest Agriculture

- Tom Webb, Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.) April 30, 2006 http://www.twincities.com

Specially bred corn and soybeans are growing in climates that would have killed earlier varieties, astonishing the grain trade. Don't look now, but the Corn Belt is moving.

Iowa and Minnesota are still "Field of Dreams" territory for corn, but now so is a good chunk of North Dakota, which was once considered too chilly for raising corn and soybeans. Ditto Minnesota's Red River Valley. And Kansas, which features wheat on its license plates, now grows more corn than wheat, despite its hot and dry summers.

What's changing the Midwest is plant genetics. High-tech varieties of corn and soybeans are letting farmers reliably grow row crops where they never could before, and the results are confounding the grain trade. The change has been building for several years, but the magnitude of the shift finally hit home last fall, when a severe summer drought wracked the eastern Corn Belt, yet the crop flourished, to the astonishment of many.

"I thought there was no way (corn could do well), given the heat we had," recalls Joe Victor, vice president of marketing at Allendale Inc., a grain-trading firm in Illinois. "Every day was 98 degrees, no rain. I thought, this crop is in trouble."

Amazingly, it wasn't. A new generation of super-plants had changed the game, and redrawn the map. While genetically modified crops remain controversial overseas, they've become commonplace here. "North Dakota has gone from hardly any soybeans to one of the leading soybean-production states in the United States," said Mike Vande Logt, a vice president at Shoreview-based Croplan Genetics. Now changes are coming so fast that, "Over the last five years, you could say (the growing region) is moving 60 miles north every year."

This week marks the traditional kickoff of spring planting in Minnesota, when corn farmers return to their fields. In Otter Tail County, northwest of the Twin Cities, farmer Dave Johnson was out on his tractor last week, "probably the earliest I've ever planted corn in my life. "When I started growing corn almost 40 years ago, we weren't considered in the Corn Belt at all," Johnson said. "We were considered too far north, so the seed companies weren't breeding any corn for this region. Things have changed a lot."

Now those changes are accelerating, shattering old patterns and raising new questions. With genetic engineering, is drought such a big threat anymore? Or weeds? Or bugs? Will more corn growers lead to overproduction? Or will a booming ethanol industry crave the crop?

Agriculture is still sorting out the answers. Last week even President Bush noted the changing dynamics, during a speech praising ethanol. "It's a good thing when a president can sit there and say, 'Gosh, we've got a lot of corn,' " Bush said. "That means we're less dependent on foreign sources of oil. Years back, they'd say, 'Oh gosh, we've got a lot of corn' and worried about the price."

Of course, people still worry about the price, which hasn't been too good for farmers lately. Nevertheless, in 2005 Minnesota farmers grew $2 billion worth of corn, and $1.6 billion worth of soybeans. That enormous output also served as a foundation for Minnesota's livestock, grain processing, energy and food industries.

People worry about subsidies, too, which kick in when prices are low, and multiply when production expands. U.S. taxpayers paid nearly $1 billion to Minnesota farmers in 2005, with the lion's share of that going to corn growers.

Part of that was due to Minnesota's amazing corn yields. Farmers didn't just set a record; they shattered it, with the statewide corn yield rising 15 bushels to 174 bushels an acre. Excellent weather gets some credit. But Minnesota has had good weather before, agronomists note; what's new are today's high-tech crops, modified to do things their ancestors never could.

A decade of biotechnology has allowed crop breeders to change a plant's genetic instructions, like a chef changes a recipe. So what have scientists been coaxing plants to do? Here's a sample:

* Fight bugs. By engineering insect resistance, corn breeders have created ways to fend off destructive pests like the corn borer and corn rootworm.

* Battle drought. By protecting plants against insects, scientists have realized a second benefit -- better drought tolerance. When plants are desperate for water, insects go crazy. "They feed much more voraciously," said Vande Logt of Croplan Genetics, a part of Land O'Lakes. The mixture of drought and insects not only doubles the plant stress, but it also can destroy a plant's ability to recover once the rain returns. "Corn rootworm feeds on the roots, and when you have a drought, less roots are a big problem."

Bob Starke, corn technology manager at Monsanto in St. Louis, saw it play out in last summer's drought areas, where bug-resistant varieties performed well. So well, Starke says, "I have to admit I was very surprised when I saw some of the yields."

* Grow quickly. Frost-free days are so scarce in North Dakota that growing a decent corn or soybean crop has long been difficult.

"There have always been short-season varieties, but they had such poor yields that they weren't profitable," said Dwight Aakre, extension farm management specialist at North Dakota State University. But now, seeds are better engineered to pop out of chilly ground and start growing. "They're more cold-tolerant, and they emerge earlier in the spring, rather than sitting around in the ground and rot," Aakre said.

This spring, North Dakota farmers are boosting their soybean acreage by a whopping 41 percent, and corn by 17 percent, as the reliance on wheat, which is less profitable, fades. In some Dakota counties, "Wheat is almost gone, and corn and soybeans are dominant there," Aakre said.

* Thrive in crowds. Dave Nicolai, a University of Minnesota extension educator in Hutchinson, notes that now more plants can be crowded on every acre, increasing yields and potential revenue. "You have plants that are able to withstand a higher population," Nicolai said. "We have 30,000 to 32,000 (plants per acre), whereas before you have might have 26,000. ? There's higher levels of efficiency, with the plant being able to convert water and sunlight and nutrients into carbohydrates."

These magic traits, however, do not come cheaply, and not every farmer wants to pay the price. Moreover, genetically modified crop varieties, while becoming commonplace in the United States, face considerable resistance abroad.

Johnson, the Otter Tail County farmer, has wrestled with both issues. So he picks and chooses -- planting genetically modified seed when he needs a special trait, but also non-GMO soybeans that fetch a premium price. To fight rootworm, he'll skip the special seeds, rotate his crops, and pocket the savings. "We try to outguess the money and the bugs," Johnson says.

If the past decade has brought seeds with protection against insects, weeds and cold, "The next big frontier is going to come down to one thing, and that's water," Vande Logt said. Drought protection is "probably going to be the most valuable trait of them all."

The drought of 2005 offered the first glimpses of what might become possible in the future, but plant breeders still have a ways to go before farmers can duck a dry spell just by choosing the right seed. Nevertheless, to Victor, the Illinois grain executive, it was "a monumental occurrence for corn production" when Illinois corn survived a brutal summer -- and he sees lessons for energy firms wondering about ethanol.

"If there was one area where the refiners and gasoline companies were wary of stepping a little too close (to ethanol), it was, 'Gee whiz, what happens if we have a major crop disaster because of weather?' ? Even in the face of some extreme drought in northern Illinois, we were able to manufacture a good corn crop. It really does suggest that genetics have pulled it together."

If geneticists can finish cracking the riddles of drought, it will alter the Midwest yet again. "There's no doubt, I believe, that the High Plains will become a corn and soybean (growing region), become a more productive crop production area due to improved drought tolerance," Vande Logt said. "It's going to go from rangeland to cropland."

And what will it mean for the old Corn Belt regions like southern Minnesota? Higher yields, larger harvests and more competition, as the Corn Belt keeps expanding. "In the short term, you might think about more (total) acres out there, and more commodities," Vande Logt said. But given the clamor for U.S. energy, "We can turn the whole U.S. crop into petroleum and still have (scarcity) issues, so I think there's plenty of demand."

**********************************************

GM Cotton Shows Low Pesticide Use, Safety: Study

- People's Daily May 02, 2006 http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/

A genetically modified (GM) cotton with insect-killing toxic proteins may require less pesticide use while keep the overall crop yields, scientists reported on Monday.

This transgenic cotton, called Bt cotton, has been inserted a gene to produce Bacillus thuringiensis(Bt) toxin, a naturally occurring insecticide that kills the major cotton pest pink bollworm. The cotton has been planted in U.S. state of Arizona since 1996.

According to a latest research by scientists at the University of Arizona, for any given level of pesticide use, transgenic cotton had higher crop yields than non-transgenic cotton, and it showed no significant impacts on the biodiversity of non-target insects compared with natural cotton.

However, overall crop yields were similar, largely because the higher use of insecticides with non-transgenic cotton helped control important pests not controlled by Bt cotton, according to the researchers. These findings, coming from the first large-scale study that simultaneously examined how growing Bt cotton affects yield, pesticide use and biodiversity, appeared in the May 1 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Over two years, the researchers studied 81 commercial fields in a 6,600-sq-km region in Arizona, where natural cotton, and two strains of transgenic cotton were planted. They compared the yield and pesticide use for 40 fields of natural cotton, 21 fields of Bt cotton and 20 fields of Bt cotton that was also herbicide-resistant.

The researchers found that Bt cotton produced 9 percent more cotton per acre than natural cotton at the same level of pesticide application, but growers that planted Bt cotton used fewer applications of broad-spectrum pesticides.

As a result, growers ended up with similar yields regardless of the type of cotton grown. The yields were similar across cotton types because the additional insecticide applications on the non-Bt fields cut down on the damage from whiteflies and western tarnished plant bugs, the researchers indicated.

The results suggested that transgenic cotton may help reduce the negative impacts of agricultural intensification such as fertilizers and pesticides, but important pests not targeted by the transgenic cotton could be otherwise controlled, they said.

"The take-home message is that transgenic crops are very promising for reducing the impact of agriculture," said Yves Carriere, an associate professor at the University of Arizona who led this study. "But we need to study how they're integrated into the way we do agriculture. It depends on how the producers react to the technology," he added.

******************

Despite Pesticide Reductions, Transgenic Cotton Fails to Improve Biodiversity

-- David Biello, Scientific American, May 2, 2006 http://www.sciam.com

Genetically modifying cotton promises to reduce the use of chemicals and, potentially, create a better environment for harmless insects and other animals. For the last decade, some farmers in Arizona have been planting cotton engineered to contain a toxin that kills pests such as the pink bollworm.

A study of randomly chosen cotton fields reveals that although this genetically modified cotton did reduce pesticide use, it did not reduce use of herbicides nor did it improve biodiversity when compared to unmodified strains.

Ecologist Yves Carriere of the University of Arizona and his colleagues randomly selected 81 cotton fields--split between unmodified and transgenic cotton breeds--over the course of two growing seasons. The scientists gathered data on pesticide use, herbicide use and all the ants and beetles they could find in pitfall traps placed in the fields, as well as other information. "The idea here is to look at not only the possible effects of transgenics but also all the other factors," Carriere says.

The data confirmed that farmers applied pesticides less often to transgenic fields--and used more precisely targeted chemicals when they did. But use of such targeted pesticides on modified cotton did rise in the fields selected during the second year of the study, perhaps due to the need to control pests unaffected by the engineered toxin, the authors speculate. And herbicide use remained the same no matter whether the cotton in question was unmodified, toxin-producing, or toxin-producing and herbicide resistant. "My guess is that they use herbicide resistance as more of an insurance policy," Carriere says.

Nor did genetic modification seem to have an effect on ant and beetle biodiversity; no matter which type of cotton was grown, ant populations declined and beetles boomed in farmed fields compared to adjacent unfarmed fields. Other factors such as soil type, seeding rates and amount of rain played a bigger role in determining population dynamics, according to the paper in Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

The researchers will continue to refine their analysis of the data, looking for differing impacts on predatory and plant-eating insects as well as an economic analysis of the costs and benefits of genetically modified cotton. "You cannot simply assume that you will get across-the-board benefits," Carriere notes. "One thing I was a bit surprised to find is that if you control some pests with [transgenic] cotton, others become more of a problem."

**********************************************

The Cartagena Protocol: A Waste of Time and Money?

An opinion article was published in Scidev.net in which Arnoldo Ventura, a former scientist and current special advisor to the prime minister of Jamaica, argued that the Cartagena Protocol is a waste of time and resources, and no longer relevant. http://www.scidev.net/opinions/index.cfm?fuseaction=readopinions&itemid=489&langauge=1

Ventura's article sparked reactions from SciDev.Net readers both for and against his position.
http://www.scidev.net/Opinions/index.cfm?fuseaction=readOpinions&itemid=494&language=1

A few select comments:

Hubert Zandstra, emeritus director general, International Potato Center (CIP), Peru

Too often, the environmental benefits of GM crops are ignored. Farmers growing them can substantially reduce their use of farm chemicals, whose threats to human health and the environment are increasingly well documented. Using conventional breeding approaches instead of GM technology to develop pest-resistant crops is not easy.

One area of continued concern is the impact of gene flow from GM crops to traditional varieties and wild relatives in regions where our major food crops originated. These dangers can be managed with practical protocols and constant vigilance.
----
Martin Livermore, consultant, Cambridge, United Kingdom
We have to get our priorities right: why continue to spend more time and effort on an issue when earlier concerns about GM have been shown to be unjustified, and when developing countries could be concentrating on using their genetic resources for the benefit of their citizens? International agreements such as the Cartagena Protocol foster bureaucracy and processes that are hard to stop. There are better ways to use our energies and resources than waste them pursuing the sterile path of the biosafety protocol.
------
Merete Albrechtsen, Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences, Denmark
Far too many resources are spent on fruitless discussions and meaningless experiments regarding GM safety. These resources should be used to implement biotechnology for the benefit of everyone.
------
Josias CorrÍa de Faria, National Rice and Beans Research Center, Brazil
GM technology has been treated with the same kind of suspicion as nuclear weapons. While safety is important, there is no need for panic. After ten years of intensive research and growing GM crops, there is now strong evidence that genetic engineering is as safe as any genetic manipulation achieved through traditional crop breeding in the past. In Brazil, a lack of public understanding of GM technology is the main barrier to its acceptance.
---
Symon Mandala, senior science and technology officer, Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology, Malawi
The Cartagena Protocol is both irrelevant and obsolete. Instead, resources must be channelled into building scientific capacity in developing countries. This would help them to make informed decisions on GM technology and to harness and safely manage modern biotechnology to meet the challenges of development.

We need a better, more harmonised approach with a clear direction and timeframe to resolve concerns about modern biotechnology. Policymakers should base their decisions based on scientific data. Unfortunately, the debate seems to be dominated by politicians and other groups who choose to ignore scientific evidence.
----------
Jaroslav DrobnŪk, Faculty of Science, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
The 'biodiversity' rhetoric surrounding the Cartagena Protocol is just a populist cover for efforts to protect agricultural markets. Many non-GM crops developed using other methods pose even greater risks to biodiversity but we tolerate them because their benefits outweigh these risks. Salt tolerant rice varieties have been introduced in Asia, the centre of rice diversity. Mutant genes could spread to other varieties or wild relatives, potentially creating invasive, salt-tolerant weeds. There are clear risks to biodiversity but nobody is concerned because politicians take no interest in it.

**********************************************

Growers Welcome GM Roses

- Tania Martin, Star News (Australia), May 2, 2006 http://www.starnewsgroup.com.au/story/13972

THE Shire of Yarra Ranges has raised concerns over its power after a genetic modified rose trial in Silvan was approved despite it opposition to genetic modification in the shire. However, nearby rose growers have questioned what all the fuss is about.

Despite the councilís 2001 policy that opposed the introduction of genetically modified crops in the shire, the Gene Technology Regulator will allow Japanese multinational company Florigene Suntori to grow a blue rose at Australian Roses in Silvan by using genetic modification methods.

The council last week agreed to write to the Gene Technology Act Review Panel raising its concerns over the councilís lack of power within the Gene Technology Act. Lyster Ward councillor Samantha Dunn said the council represented public concerns. "We need to question the strength of the local authority (the councilís) as we are the ones who provide the real voice for our community," she said.

Last month Cr Dunn said the council was concerned over the environmental impact that the rose trial could have in the shire. She said that she was also disappointed that councilís standing on the issue had been disregarded with the approval of the trial. "Not enough is known about the potential effects of genetically modified roses on insect life including native and exotic pollinating insects, its potential for recombinant viruses and the level of gene flow with other rose cultivators and potential weediness from altered genes," Cr Dunn said.

Despite the councilís concerns over the blue rose trial, local rose growers have showed their support for the trial. Newstead Rose Nursery owner Karen Nieuwestegg said although she didn't know much about the trial, she said it sounded similar to hybridization of roses which has been going on for hundreds of years.

She said if this trial could produce a blue rose it would be Ďfantasticí and that it would also be good for the rose industry in the hills. "If we (Australian rose industry) can produce and sell the first blue rose to the world, it would be quite incredible," she said.

Ms Nieuwestegg said finding the perfect blue rose had been a desire of rose growers for centuries. Cathy Roberts from Ladybird Roses has also questioned why the council was opposed to the trial. Ms Roberts said hybrid tea roses are already a genetically modified plant due to selective hybridization between species of roses from all parts of the northern hemisphere.

Talking about the council's concerns for cross-species contamination, Ms Roberts said that genes from roses have never before crossed to any other plant species. Ms Roberts said there was no floriculture threat to the shire as the trial of the blue rose is in a controlled environment with the flowers being removed before setting seed.

"We have no community outrage at all. We have had great interest with the general public wanting to know where they would be able to get hold of the worldís first blue rose," she said.

**********************************************

Use of a Risk Communication Model to Evaluate Dietetics Professionalsí Viewpoints on Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops

- Kathy S. Roberts, MS, RD, Marie Boyle Struble, PhD, RD, Christine McCullum-Gomez, PhD, RD, Jennifer L. Wilkins, PhD, RD; Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Issue 5, Pages 719-727 (May, 2006) http://www.adajournal.org/issues?Vol=106

The complex issues surrounding the application of genetic engineering to food and agriculture have generated a contentious debate among diverse interest groups. One pervasive dimension in the resultant discourse is the varying perceptions of the risks and benefits of genetically engineered foods and crops. In the risk communication model, technical information is evaluated within the context of an individualís values and perceptions.

The purpose of this study was to explore how dietetics professionals resp
Three distinct viewpoints emerged: Precautionary (R2=43%), Discerning Supporter (R2=11%), and Promoting (R2=5%). Across all viewpoints, respondents agreed that dietetics professionals should employ critical thinking skills to communicate the social, economic, environmental, ethical, and technical aspects of genetically engineered foods and crops. The findings have implications for how dietetics professionals can foster an open interchange of information among diverse groups.

**********************************************

Harvesting Fish

- Gareth Trickey, Herald Sun (Australia), April 28, 2006

Alzheimer's sufferers, growing children and people at risk of heart disease could soon reap the benefits of omega-3 fats by tucking into a sandwich. Australian scientists have developed a genetically modified plant capable of producing long-chain omega-3 fatty acids that naturally occur in fish and algae.

Some grains already produce small amounts of short-chain omega-3s naturally but fish have the highest concentration of the highly prized long-chain omega-3s. The CSIRO developed the breed of plant by splicing the genes responsible for making the omega-3 fatty acid docosa-hexaenoic acid, or DHA, from marine plants and inserting them into oil-seed crops such as grain legumes and canola.

Lead researcher Matthew Morell said they had so far got the omega-3 content in the grain to 4 per cent. ''Our target is to reach 10 per cent, which is what fish have,'' he said. Dr Morell said he was confident the team would achieve its target in one to two years and food made from omega-3 grains could be on supermarket shelves in the next five years.

Sydney nutritionist Trish Griffiths said studies recommended Australians double the amount of omega-3 in their diet and the new omega-3 grain was a great approach. ''It's hard to get the recommended amount of omega-3 that we need because of the limited sources,'' she said.

Ms Griffiths, who specialises in grains research, said current omega-3 additives advertised on bread and milk were actually derived from fish. And as the benefits of omega-3 became more recognisable, the demand for fish and omega-3 oil was likely to increase. ''Something like this is probably going to be more effective in increasing the omega-3 content in people's diets than pursuing two or three fish meals a week,'' she said.

Grain crops with omega-3 fatty acids would also help people with fish allergies. Ms Griffiths said negative social attitudes to genetic technology in plant production were unlikely to change overnight, but she expected people to accept GM technology more as they realised its health benefits.

Anti-GM spokesman Bob Phelps, from GeneEthics Network, agreed omega-3 fatty acids were an essential part of the diet. But genetic engineering projects promised a simplistic solution to a complex dietary problem, he said. "Adding a gene to crop plants using gene technology may produce essential fatty acids but unless the diet is also better balanced, there may be marginal benefits,'' he said.

Mr Phelps acknowledged the problem of dwindling fish stocks and the increasing demand for fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. But ''on balance, we believe it would be more beneficial and sustainable in the long run to spend this research effort and resources on nutritional and dietary advice, especially to children'', Mr Phelps said.

Chewing The Fat
* Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats.
* They produce anti-inflammatory compounds called leukotrienes that help ease rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.
* A balanced diet with omega-3s reduces blood cholesterol, lowers blood pressure and regulates heart rhythm.
* It can help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, and is essential for the normal development of the fetal brain.

**********************************************

Technology to Fight Malnutrition and Improve Health in Africa

- Michael Rubinstein, m.rubinstein-at-cgiar.org, http://www.ifpri.org/media/20060502Nairobi.asp

NAIROBI--Scientists, policymakers, and other leaders in African agriculture and health will convene in Mombasa on May 4 and 5 for a regional workshop on biofortification--a revolutionary process that holds great potential to enhance the health of poor people. The workshop is co-hosted by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and HarvestPlus, an international research program that seeks to reduce micronutrient malnutrition by harnessing agricultural technology to breed staple crops for better nutrition.

Much of Africa's rural poor can only afford a diet based mostly on staple crops, such as maize, white-fleshed sweet potato, and beans, which are generally low in micronutrients, particularly iron, zinc, and Vitamin A. As a result, more than a third of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa suffers the debilitating effects of micronutrient malnutrition, or diets deficient in essential vitamins and minerals. Diets poor in micronutrients cause illness, blindness, premature death, and impaired mental development, particularly among women and children in developing countries.

Agricultural research has traditionally focused on increasing crop yields, reducing environmental damage, or improving incomes of farmers. Biofortification--breeding crops with higher levels of vitamins and minerals--expands the role of agriculture by using it as a tool for public health. By breeding crops for higher nutrition, food becomes a delivery mechanism for much needed micronutrients.

"Addressing micronutrient malnutrition requires a paradigm shift," said Howarth Bouis, director of HarvestPlus. "Agricultural research needs to move beyond increasing productivity to improving food quality as well. In this way, biofortification can play a critical role in improving health."

Nearly 70 percent of pre-school children in Sub-Saharan Africa are iron deficient--a main cause of anemia--as are large numbers of women. Vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of preventable blindness, while zinc deficiency contributes to stunted growth, increased rates and severity of infections, and pregnancy and childbirth complications. The best solution to micronutrient deficiency is a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and meat. For the very poor, however, such choices are simply not possible because they lack the money to purchase nutrient-rich foods.

"Until now, the solution to micronutrient deficiency among the poor has focused on vitamin and mineral supplements, dietary diversity, and commercial food fortification. While these approaches have attained some success, they have not been able to reach all those in need, particularly people in remote rural areas," explained the Hon. Ruth K. Oniang'o, Member of the Parliament of Kenya and professor of food science and nutrition at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. "By targeting staple food crops grown and consumed by the rural poor, biofortification can reach large numbers of people in a cost-effective and sustainable manner, leading to a nutrition revolution for Africa."

During the workshop in Mombasa, participants will discuss the latest research on biofortification and identify strategies to develop biofortified crops in Africa and integrate biofortification into national agricultural and health policy agendas. Workshop participants will include representatives from ministries of agriculture, health, and finance; African regional and sub-regional organizations; national agricultural research services; departments of health; international and local non-governmental organizations; United Nations agencies, and international donors.

"Imagine a new breed of crops capable of alleviating malnutrition in even hard-to-reach rural areas of Africa," said Dr. Bouis. "We are now capable of producing staple crops--such as beans rich in iron and zinc and orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes packed with Vitamin A--that could be grown on family plots throughout the continent, improving the health, well-being, and productivity of millions of Africans."

**********************************************

Bioinformatics Gets Transgenic Scrutiny

- Scott A. Yates, Capital Press Agriculture Weekly, April 28, 2006 http://www.capitalpress.info/

Spokane - It's just a matter of time before transgenic fruit hits the market. How much time is anybody's guess, but it is certainly measured in years, if not decades.

That's not because the science isn't achievable. A peach has a very simple genetic structure that could be mapped and manipulated with relative ease. Apples are about three times as complicated. The strawberry genome has the most complicated structure of all among the rosaceous family.

But at a recent meeting of the Third International Rosaceous Genomics, Genetics and Breeding Conference there was little talk of commercial transgenic plants. Instead, Jim McFerson, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Commission, said the emphasis was on a much wider swath of the science.

One area under particular scrutiny was the realm of bioinformatics, which studies how to organize, arrange, store and make easily retrievable the genomic and genetic information scientists generate and need to do their cutting edge work.

"Bioinformatics is taking advantage of our tremendous abilities to store huge amounts of information and for utilizing it in explaining biological form and function," he said. "In many ways it is an area of science that didn't exist before computers."

McFerson is particular about his definitions and said biotechnology has automatically come to mean transgenic. He said some of the confusion has been caused by scientists themselves and he criticized those who have oversold and over- promised the technology.

Much of the New Zealand conference was devoted to nutrition including antioxidants, fiber and other constituents of fruit. "There is considerable effort on the part of the USDA to shift the food pyramid toward increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. There is great interest and some of it is rather hyperbolic and faddish. Every commodity group has a cottage industry proving they are healthier than the other," he said.

McFerson said there are discussions about improving a variety of a fruit's healthy components through genetic modification. But he suggests another approach may be superior. "Rather than strive to obtain a specific apple variety that has 25 percent more vitamin C, what if we improved the quality to know it would be good and tasty and kids would eat it rather than throw it away? What if we fed another half-apple a day? The public health impact would be far greater than spending millions on incremental gains in certain plant constituents," he said.

Gene Kupferman, extension horticulturist at Washington State University, said scientists are presently still at the stage of discovering how genes in fruit trees control quality and susceptibility to disorders and insects. "Why does a coddling moth go to the apple? Is there something about the genetics of the apple that might be changed so the coddling moth doesn't like the apple so we don't have to spray?" he asked.

Kupferman said genetic engineering has been going on since the first plant breeder took pollen from one tree and placed it on the stimga of another. All of the apples on the market today and in the stream of new varieties that are being propagated from commercial production, come from traditional plant breeding--genetic engineering by another name," he said.

"Now, if you are talking about gene splicing, where you are cutting a portion of the DNA and moving it from one organism to another organism, that is genetic modification. There are two separate things the general public is very confused about."

Kupferman also made a distinction in the way the technology is used. He condemned what he said was Monsanto's abuse of genetic modification of crops solely for profit and the company's aggressive legal action against farmers when genetically-modified seed has leaked into adjoining fields.

He said it is one thing to misuse the technology. It is another to use it to improve fruit quality. "Genetic modification has the potential for improving human health, for increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables, for reducing the amount of human disease and suffering in the world. That is a positive use of genetic modification," Kupferman said.

***************

Information Technology and Agriculture

- November 9-11, 2006, Bangalore, India http://www.afita2006.org/index.htm

Conference of the Asian Federation for Information Technology in Agriculture (AFITA 2006) to be held from November 9-11, 2006, at the National Science Seminar Complex, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India.

Agriculture continues to be the major occupation of Asian communities. In recent years, IT sector is growing exponentially and offers an immense potential for its synergistic effect on the growth of all sectors including agriculture. Rapidly expanding population and dwindling natural resource base in Asia and steady trade liberalization, necessitate harmonious integration of IT and agriculture. The challenge ahead is to explore the opportunities provided by the IT revolution to ensure a vibrant, responsive, sustainable and productive agriculture.

There is an urgent need of not only securing livelihoods of rural and urban poor but also for catering to the regional and global demands both in quantity and quality. Digital divide between not only rich and poor but also between men and women needs to be bridged for harvesting the benefits of IT towards achieving rural prosperity. Future research, development and policies should take into account all these issues. The onus is on the researchers and policy makers to maintain a holistic approach to IT and agriculture rather than looking at them in isolation.

####