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Date:

May 4, 2006

Subject:

Best Friend - GM or Organic; Soy Sans Allergen; Hope or Hype?; Green Gobbledegook; Ag Supercourse; OECD Blue Book; Organic Lunacy; Sahel-Saharans Want GM

 

Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - May 4, 2006

* Environment's Best Friend: GM or Organic?
* Natural Allergy-Free Soybeans - from the Chinese Germplasm Collection
* CNN Ponders - Would You Eat GM Food? - You can Respond!
* Debate Over Genetically Modified Foods Essential
* US Scientist to Discuss 'Biopharming' in Philippines
* GM Crops Motion Dismissed as Gobbledegook from Greens
* Supercourse - A Global Repository of Lectures
* The OECD 'Blue Book' - Twenty Years On
* Organic Lunacy
* International Science & Technology Practice & Policy
* Sahel-Saharan Community Recommends GM Crops for Africa
* Scientific Battle for Relevance
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The Environment's Best Friend: GM or Organic?

- Lee Silver, NY Academy of Science, May/June 2006. Excerpt below... Full commentary at
http://www.leemsilver.net/SilverArticles/06NYASorganic.pdf

Ecological degradation has reached crisis levels in heavily populated areas of northern Europe, China, Korea, and Japan. Pig-caused ecological degradation is a complex problem, and no single solution is in the offing. But any approach that allows even a partial reduction in pollution should be subject to serious consideration by policy makers and the public.

A prototypical example of what directed genetic modification (GM) technology can deliver is the transgenic Enviropig, developed by Canadian biologists Cecil Forsberg and John Phillips. Forsberg and Phillips used an understanding of mammalian gene regulation to construct a novel DNA molecule programmed for specific expression of the E. coli phosphorus-extraction gene (phytase) in pig saliva. They then inserted this DNA construct into the pig genome.

The results obtained with the first generation of animals were dramatic: the newly christened Enviropigs no longer required any costly dietary supplements and the phosphorus content of their manure was reduced by up to 75%. Subtle genetic adjustments could yield even less-polluting pigs, and analogous genetic strategies can also be imagined for eliminating other animal-made pollutants, including the methane released in cow belches, which is responsible for 40% of total greenhouse gas emissions from New Zealand.

Environmentally friendly GM
Not all GM projects are aimed specifically at reducing the harmful effects of traditional agriculture on the environment. Other GM products approved to date, developed almost entirely in the private sphere, have aimed to reduce production costs on large-scale farms. But as molecular biology becomes ever more sophisticated, the universe of potential environmentally friendly GM applications will expand. Scientists have begun research toward the goal of obtaining pigs modified to digest grasses and hay, much as cows and sheep do, reducing the land and energy-intensive use of corn and soy as pig feed.

The most significant GM applications will be ones that address an undeniable fact: every plot of land dedicated to agriculture is denied to wild ecosystems and species habitats. And that already amounts to 38% of the worlds landmass. Genetic modifications that make crop production more efficient would give us opportunities to abandon farmland that, in many cases, should cede it back to forests and other forms of wilderness, as long as world population growth is ameliorated.

So why are many environmentally conscious people categorically opposed to all uses of GM technology? The answer comes from the philosophy of organic food, whose fundamental principle is simply stated: natural is good; synthetic is bad.

The roots of organic farming: Before the 18th century, the mate- rial substance of living organisms was thought to be fundamentally different in a vitalistic or spiritual sense from that of non living things. Organisms and their products were organic by definition, while nonliving things were mineral or inorganic. But with the invention of chemistry, starting with Lavoisiers work in 1780, it became clear that all material sub- stances are constructed from the same set of chemical elements.

As all scientists know today, the special properties of living organic matter emerge from the interactions of a large variety of complex, carbon-based molecules. Chemists now use the word organic to describe all complex, carbon-based molecules whether or not they are actually products of any organism.

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, increased scientific understanding, technological innovations, and social mobility changed the face of American agriculture. Large-scale farming became more industrialized and more efficient. In 1800, farmers made up 90% of the American labor force; by 1900, their proportion had decreased to 38%, and in 1990, it was only 2.6%.

However, not everyone was happy with these societal changes, and there were calls in the United States and Europe for a return to the preindustrial farming methods of earlier times. This movement first acquired the moniker organic in 1942, when J. I. Rodale began publication in America of Organic Farming & Gardening, a magazine still in circulation today.

According to Rodale and his acolytes, products created by and processes carried out by living things are fundamentally different from lab-based processes and lab-created products. The resurrection of this pre-scientific, vitalistic notion of organic essentialism did not make sense to scientists who understood that every biological process is fundamentally a chemical process. In fact, all food, by definition, is composed of organic chemicals. As a result, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) refused to recognize organic food as distinguishable in any way from non organic food.

Yet, according to self-imposed organic rules, precision genetic modification of any kind for any purpose is strictly forbidden, because it is a synthetic process. If conventional farmers begin to grow Enviropigs or more sophisticated GM animals that reduce nearly all manure-based pollution organic pig farmers will then blindly continue to cause much more pollution per animal, unless they are prevented from doing so by future EPA regulations.

Many organic advocates view genetic engineering as an unwarranted attack not just on the holistic integrity of organic farms, but on nature as a whole. On the other hand, spontaneous mutations caused by deep-space cosmic rays are always deemed acceptable since they occur naturally. In reality, laboratory scientists can make subtle and precise changes to an organisms DNA, while high-energy cosmic rays can break chromosomes into pieces that reattach randomly and sometimes create genes that didn't previously exist.

Regardless, organic enthusiasts maintain their faith in the beneficence and superiority of nature over any form of modern biotechnology. Charles Margulis, a spokesman for Greenpeace USA, calls the Enviropig a Frankenpig in disguise .

The European Commission states as a fact that organic farmers use a range of techniques that help sustain ecosystems organisms are not really chemicals, but rather organic constituents of nature. Since pyrethrin is produced naturally by chrysanthemums and rotenone comes from a native Indian vine, they are deemed organic and acceptable for use on organic farms

However, the most potent toxins known to humankind are all natural and organic. They include ricin, abrin, botulinum, and strychnine highly evolved chemical weapons used by organisms for self-defense and territorial expansion. Indeed, every plant and microbe carries a variety of mostly uncharacterized, more or less toxic attack chemicals, and synthetic chemicals are no more likely to be toxic than natural ones.

Less-allergenic GM food All currently used pesticides both natural and synthetic dissipate quickly and pose a miniscule risk to consumers. Nevertheless, faith in natures beneficence can still be fatal to some children. About 5% express severe allergic reactions to certain types of natural food. Every year unintentional ingestion causes hundreds of thousands of cases of anaphylactic shock with hundreds of deaths. The triggering agents are actually a tiny number of well-defined proteins that are resistant to digestive fluids. These proteins are found in such foods as peanuts, soybeans, tree nuts, eggs, milk, and shellfish. They linger in the intestines long enough to provoke an allergic immune response in susceptible people.

No society has been willing to ban the use of any allergenic ingredients in processed foods, even though this approach could save lives and reduce much human suffering. GM technology could offer a more palatable alternative: scientists could silence the specific genes that code for allergenic proteins. The subtly modified organisms would then be tested, in a direct comparison with unmodified organisms, for allergenicity as well as agronomic and nutritional attributes.

USDA-supported scientists have already created a less-allergenic soybean. Soy is an important crop used in the production of a variety of common foods, including baby formula, flour, cereals, and 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand come from livestock

Eliot Herman and his colleagues embedded a transgene into the soy genome that takes advantage of the natural RNA interference system to turn off the soy gene responsible for 65% of allergic reactions[9]. RNAinterference can be made to work in a highly specific manner, targeting the regulation of just a single gene product. Not only was the modified soy less allergenic in direct tests, but the plants grew normally and retained a complex biochemical profile that was unaltered except for the absence of the major allergen. Further rounds of genetic surgery could eliminate additional allergenic soy proteins. Meanwhile, other scientists have reported promising results in their efforts to turn off allergy-causing genes in peanuts and shrimp.

Some day perhaps, conventional soy and peanut farmers will all switch production to low-allergenicity GM crop varieties. If that day arrives, organic food produced with GM-free organic soy or peanuts will be certifiably more dangerous to human health than comparable nonorganic products.

Unfortunately, conventional farmers have no incentive to plant reduced-allergy seeds when sales of their current crops are unrestricted, especially when the public has been led to believe that all genetic modifications create health risks. In the current social and economic climate, much of the critical research required to turn promising results into viable products is simply not pursued. Anti-GM advocates for organic food may be indirectly and unknowingly responsible for avoidable deaths in the future.

At some future date, as the power of biotechnology continues to expand, our understanding of plant and for the regrowth of dense forests. As a result, biodiversity would expand, the extinctions of many species might be halted, and a large sink for extracting greenhouse gases from the atmosphere might be created.

Of course, this scenario is wild biotech speculation. But current-day organic advocates would reject any technology of this kind out of hand, even if it was proven to be beneficial to people, animals, and the biosphere as a whole. This categorical rejection of all GM technologies is based on a religious faith in the beneficence of nature and her processes under all circumstances, even when science and rationality indicate otherwise.

---
Lee M. Silver is professor of molecular biology in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, and the author of Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life.

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Unique Soybean Lines Hold Promise for Producing Allergy-Free Soybeans

- University of Illinois, via http://www.eurekalert.org/

Researchers have isolated two Chinese soybean lines that grow without the primary protein linked to soy allergies in children and adults. The two lines already are adapted to Illinois-like conditions and will be given away to breeders seeking to produce new varieties of allergy-free soybeans without genetic engineering.

Crop scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service's Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis screened more than 16,000 soybean lines kept in the USDA's National Soybean Germplasm Collection. The findings will appear later this year in the journal Crop Science.

The two soybean lines (PI 567476 and PI 603570A) contain virtually identical genetic mutations that do not contain the leading allergy-causing P34 protein, which consists of 379 amino acids, said Theodore Hymowitz, emeritus professor of plant genetics in the crop sciences department at the U. of I.

"We are releasing this information with no patents so that companies and breeders involved with soybeans can incorporate these two lines as quickly as possible," Hymowitz said. Companies in Japan, Canada and across the United States have been following the research effort, he added.

The research, which was funded primarily by the Illinois-Missouri Biotechnology Alliance, went through two stages. First, using a specially developed immunochemistry approach, Hymowitz's post-doctoral assistant Leina M. Joseph examined 100 lines of soybeans per day for nine months from the UI-based collection. Seeds were crushed, treated and placed on a membrane for screening. A second screening using stronger antibodies and protein gels was done to confirm the absence of P34 in the two domestic lines, Joseph said.

After the two lines were isolated, seeds were sent to the Danforth Center for additional molecular analysis to determine why P34 was absent. Six identical genetic mutations were found in each, indicating the two lines may be related, Hymowitz said.

"The lack of the protein was confirmed by more-detailed two-dimensional protein assays," said Eliot M. Herman, a lead scientist at Danforth who probed the seeds with post-doctoral researcher Monica A. Schmidt. "We then isolated the gene responsible for the lesion, and we found there was a single significant change in the gene's sequence that likely produced a protein which could not be made as a stable product."

Herman discovered P34 in the early 1990s and in 2003 had successfully used a gene-silencing technique to create a soybean line in which P34 was "knocked out." However, because of public resistance to genetically modified products researchers have been seeking a more traditional approach. Because the newly identified lines occur naturally, they can be successfully crossed into other soybean lines "without any biotechnology-derived component," the researchers noted.

"Soybeans are slowly but surely increasingly being used in the foods we eat, and with that we are noticing an increase in the number of children and adults that have allergies to soybeans," Hymowitz said. Currently, 6 percent to 8 percent of children are allergic to soy-based products, including infant formulas, while 2 percent of adults have had allergic reactions, which range from harmless skin reactions and gastrointestinal irritation to more serious facial swelling, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing and fainting.

Avoiding soy products is becoming more difficult because of soy's use as fillers and components of many menu items. While people can read labels before preparing meals at home, avoiding soy at restaurants isn't as easy, Hymowitz said.
---
Those interested in obtaining the two soybean lines should contact Randall Nelson, USDA Soybean Curator, Urbana, IL 61801; email: rlnelson.at.uiuc.edu.

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Do You or Would You Eat Genetically Modified Food?

- CNN Future Summit forum; Read and post your comments at:

http://edition.cnn.com/2006/TECH/science/04/28/fs.GMprotest.forum

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Debate Over Genetically Modified Foods Essential

- Zoltan Varadi, University of Alberta Folio, Vol. 43 , No. 14 April 13, 2006 http://www.ualberta.ca/~publicas/folio/43/16/05.html

'Dr. Channapatna S. Prakash of Tuskegee University, Alabama, presented a pro-GMO seminar, hosted in part by the University of Alberta's Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science. He cites a long tradition of genetic modification, as well as positive results, such as longer shelf life for food products.'

The kind of awkward silence that can envelope university lecture halls during the Q & A portion of a presentation was one problem the organizers of 'Hope or Hype? - Do We Need Genetically Modified Food to Feed the World?' didn't have to contend with.

Nor was there a rush for the catered spread waiting outside the theatre in which Dr. Channapatna S. Prakash of Tuskegee University, Alabama, presented a pro-GMO seminar, hosted in part by the University of Alberta's Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science. Instead, those in attendance at the public presentation wanted answers to their questions, or simply to voice their opposition.

"I think we could have kept debating for hours at length, and we could have sat there all night, because people come in with preconceived opinions and notions," said Dr. Nat Kav, a researcher in AFNS, a few days after the talk. "Or, in some cases, they may be unwilling to change those, so we could keep the debate going. But, on the other hand, there were also certain important issues that need to be openly discussed."

Prakash did a good job in making a positive case for genetically engineered crops, saying that "practically everything we do in agriculture is unnatural" in regards to the age-old practices of selective breeding and hybridization, and that the transfer of genes into crop plants is "more like a logical extension of those tools used in breeding."

Furthermore, Prakash cited an impressive list of benefits of the 'Green Revolution,' such as the prolonged shelf life of fruits and vegetables, extended crop areas and seasons, and increased stress tolerance for those crops. "The most important impact is when we make our crops hardier, especially against drought," he said.

That is the kind of work Kav is researching at the U of A, namely identifying genes that may be useful for improving crop tolerance towards drought, salience, and diseases. But, like Prakash, Kav concedes that the primary beneficiary of such developments would be the private sector – an overriding concern of the audience.

"The producer has a better guarantee that what he puts into the ground will germinate better if some of our research comes through," he said, adding, "but, if you look at the developing nations, let us say the highly saline soils in a country like Bangladesh or parts of India ... if you can take some of this and put some of these varieties into the ground there, you're talking about basic food production. And there it benefits humanity."

Both scientists believe – given the example of all previous technologies – that although large multinationals whose primary concern is profit, not philanthropy, will use bio-tech for commercial yields, eventually a trickle down effect will take hold, especially after patents expire and genetically modified foods become public domain. Still, neither offers up GMOs as the solution to the world's food shortage problems, citing the socio-political factors that plague traditional resource distribution. And, they know the debate will continue.

"If there is a new genetically modified plant that is being considered for regulatory approval, we need to look at its toxicological safety, its safety to human health, animal health, safety to the environment and all those things need to be asked because they are valid questions," said Kav.

"I don't think (Prakash) or I, or any responsible scientist would say genetic engineering is the answer to all the food problems. No. What I would say comfortably is that genetic engineering is such a powerful tool with the potential to assist in solving some of those problems."

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

US Scientist to Discuss 'Biopharming'

- Mindanao (Philippines) Daily Mirror May 02, 2006

MANILA - A scientist from the United States is in the country for a series of talks and roundtable discussion with government officials and experts in the field of biotechnology concerning key scientific, commercial, and regulatory issues associated with plant-made pharmaceuticals or biopharming.

The scientist, Dr. Henry Miller, is expected to meet with key officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) led by Agriculture Secretary Domingo Panganiban and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) led by Secretary Angelo Reyes on May 3.

Miller, a leading expert in the field of plant-made pharmaceuticals, an important and potentially very profitable area of agricultural biotechnology will give an overview on biopharming and pharmaceutical crops and talk about the U.S. experience in development of pharmaceuticals, regulations, status of approvals and future prospects during a one-day on May 2.

The seminar entitled: Public Seminar on Next-Generation GM Crops: Status and Prospects will be held at the Richmonde Hotel in Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

A research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where his research focuses on public policy toward science and technology that encompasses a number of areas, including pharmaceutical development, the new biotechnology, models for regulatory reform and the emergence of viral diseases, Miller was the founding director of the US Food and Drugs Administration's Biotechnology Office.

Dr. Romeo Recide, Agriculture assistant secretary for Policy and Planning and Director Alicia Ilaga of the biotech Program Implementation Unit of the DA will lead participants of the seminar.

Dr. Nina Gloriani Barzaga, Research Faculty of the College of Public Health of the University of the Philippines Manila will also talk about the edible vaccine in banana project, which aims to produce a breed of banana induced with vaccines against infectious diseases. Bargaza served as Director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology of the National Institute of Health Philippines for 10 years. On the same day, there will be a roundtable discussion with Amparo Ampil, chief of the Policy Adxvocacy and Legislative Support Division of the DA and Dr. Saturnina Halos, head of the DA's Biotech Advisory Team.

The roundtable discussion will tackle the policy and regulatory system in the U.S. for the development and commercialization of pharmaceutical crops and the regulation of GM Plant and plant in Philippines under DA Administrative Order No. 8 and the implications of pharmaceutical crops.

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

Crops Motion Dismissed as Gobbledegook from Greens

- The Nationalist (Ireland), May 3, 2006 http://www.carlow-nationalist.ie/news/story.asp?j=27918

A notice of motion concerning genetically modified crops circulated to town councils around the country was dismissed as "Green gobbledegook" by one member of Muinebheag Town Council.

Passage West Town Council in Co. Cork looked for support from Bagenalstown for a moratorium on the planting of genetically engineered crops in Ireland, either at field trial or at a full scale, until comprehensive scientific research had proven them safe to the environment and human health. "It seems to me to be very green and I won't be giving it my support," said Fianna Fáil councillor Arthur McDonald. "There's too much of a single involvement in this and I won't be supporting it."

Disagreeing with Cllr McDonald, Labour councillor Liam O'Brien said he felt that having a "GM free" label on foods was in the interest of Irish agriculture. "I believe we should be supporting this motion. As it stands at the moment, it's very risky and there is sound scientific evidence there and the Minister would be well advised to have a moratorium on these," he said.

Cllr McDonald argued that it would not be possible to find out more about GM foods unless there were trials. "It strikes me as being Green gobbledegook," he said.

Cllr Denis Foley said that he would not be in favour of putting any obstacles in the way of research being carried out at the moment. He said that while he would note the motion, he would not support it.

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Supercourse - A Global Repository of Lectures

- Ronald E. LaPorte, Professor of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh; Ronlaporte.at.aol.com

http://www.pitt.edu/~super1

Supercourse is a global repository of lectures on public health and prevention targeting educators across the world.

Supercourse has a network of over 32000 scientists in 151 countries who are sharing for free a library of over 2500 lectures. The concept of the Supercourse and its lecture style has been described as the Global Health Network University and the Hypertext Comic Books.

Global faculty is developing and sharing their best, most passionate lectures in the area of Prevention and the Internet using an open source model. This benefits all. The experienced faculty member can beef up their lectures that are not cutting edge. New instructors reduce preparation time and have better lectures. Faculty in developing countries have access to current prevention information for the first time.

The Library of Lectures consists of exciting lectures by academic prevention experts in the field. The classroom teacher 'takes' them out for free like a library book. We 'coach' the teacher rather than directly teaching students from a distance.

Multilingual - For global use, the first lecture is in 8 languages. We are experimenting with machine translation as well; Faculty - Six Noble Prize winners, the US Surgeon General, 60 IOM members and other top people contributed lectures.

We have published over 116 papers in leading medical journals including Nature, Lancet, British Medical Journal, Military Medicine, Nature Medicine, PNAS among others. Our web pages have been identified as in the top 100 by PC Magazine, and one of the top 11 content pages by the Lancet. We receive 75 million hits a year.

--
The Supercourse is planning to expand to establish an Agricultural Supercourse where the best scientific lectures in Agriculture are collected and distributed worldwide. We would very much like to identify a small group of people to discuss how this might be developed.

An example of an agricultural lecture on the Supercourse can be found at: Ushering the New Green Revolution: How Can Biotechnology Contribute to Food Security? Part I http://www.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/agr0011/index.htm

Write to Ronlaport.at.aol.com

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The OECD 'Blue Book' - Twenty Years On

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/45/54/1943773.pdf

Recombinant DNA Safety Considerations

Safety considerations for industrial, agricultural and environmental applications of organisms derived by recombinant DNA techniques

Organisation for Economic Co-Operation And Development Pursuant to article 1 of the Convention signed in Paris on 14th December, 1960, and which came into force on 30th September, 1961, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shall promote policies designed:

- to achieve the highest sustainable economic growth and employment and a rising standard of living in Member countries, while maintaining financial stability, and thus to contribute to the development of the world economy;

- to contribute to sound economic expansion in Member as well as non-member countries in the process of economic development; and

- to contribute to the expansion of world trade on a multilateral, non-discriminatory basis in accordance with international obligations.

(Thanks to Willy De Greef -willydegreef.at.gmail.com-)

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Organic Lunacy

- The Ottawa Citizen, May 3, 2006; Via Agnet

Dennis Lavender of Petawawa, Ontario, writes regarding, Seeing GREEN, April 22, to say that the studies cited by the Sierra Club claiming organic foods are more nutritious are far fewer in number and the scientific community has found the impact of organic foods to be statistically insignificant or the methodology has been found to be flawed.

You have to believe in magic to believe that organic foods are superior, as they are identical in composition to pesticide-produced foods. If columnist Joanne Chianeollo wants to waste her disposable income on organic foods, go ahead. Please don't preach this lunacy to the rest of us.

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

International Science & Technology Practice & Policy

http://www.instepp.umn.edu/

InSTePP brings together a community of scholars at the University of Minnesota and elsewhere to engage in economic research on science and technology practice and policy, emphasizing the international implications. Center research deals with the innovation incentives and R&D actions of private entities as well as government behavior that affect the conduct, performance and economic consequences of R&D worldwide.

Public and private decisions shaping science and technology increasingly involve international dimensions. Investments in research in one locale have spillover consequences in other locations and other areas of science.

International agreements and policy initiatives and the actions of governments and (multinational) firms regarding trade, regulatory and intellectual property concerns are also impinging on and being affected by innovation processes. InSTePP undertakes economic research and fosters professional dialogue to inform and thereby influence strategic policy choices and actions dealing with science and technology. The center deals with both the public and private dimensions of science and technology, and their implications for the conduct, performance and economic consequences of R&D worldwide.

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CEN-SAD, the Sahel-Saharan Community Recommends GM Crops for Africa

- C Kameswara Rao, AgBioView, http://www.agbioworld.org; May 3, 2006

CEN-SAD, the Community of Sahel-Saharan States, established in February 1998, is a framework for integration and complementarity in 23 member countries of the African Continent. With headquarters at Tripoli, Libya, CEN-SAD works together with the regional economic communities and the African Union, to strengthen peace, security and stability and to achieve global economic and social development. CEN-SAD aims at removing all restrictions hampering integration of member countries, harmonize educational, pedagogical, scientific and cultural systems among the member countries.

Recognizing the potential benefits of modern biotechnology in agriculture and considering the serious social and economic concerns as well as the fears of the impact of GE crops on biosecurity and biodiversity voiced by several African organizations, CEN-SAD organized an international conference on the 'Impact of genetically modified seed on the safety of food and environment', in April 25-27, 2006, in Tripoli, Libya.

Delegates from scientific establishments and NGOs, and official representatives of Governments and organizations from CEN-SAD member countries participated in the conference. Representatives form the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and some from countries outside the CEN-SAD region, such as Brazil, Canada, France, Turkey and India, were also invited. Surprising is the absence of conference presenters from Nigeria, a CEN-SAD country deeply involved in developing GE crops.

Except in South Africa, GE crops have no official presence in any other country in the African Continent, though countries such as Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria are involved in experimental and controlled field trials of GE cassava, corn and cotton. In the rest of the counties there are very vocal lobbies against biotechnological intervention in agriculture, more rooted in emotional and sentimental arguments, than in science. Against this scenario, the CEN-SAD conference is a bold and progressive initiative.

A representative of the movement of farmers without land from Brazil, and a lawyer from France made forceful appeals against deploying GE crops and warned against the dangers of MNC dominance and the eventual control of the world seed and food security by the developed countries. The Canadian lawyer who represented Percy Schmeiser, the canola farmer successfully sued by Monsanto for an unauthorized use of Monsanto-patented canola seed, pleaded for provisions to protect accidental, unconscious or bystander incidence of patented GE plants in a crop fields of small farmers.

Representatives of some African NGOs were concerned about impact of GE products on biosecurity, indigenous crop varieties and biodiversity. The fate of the small farmer on adoption of GE technology and ethical issues behind the new technology were voiced forcefully. There were only few presentations that addressed the science and technology of GE and associated issues. Among the African representatives, it was the Kenyan team that was most positive on GE in agriculture. A delegate from Egypt advised that Africa should take a lead from Iran, China and India in deploying GE crops. He also made a case for private sector and agricultural associations for developing the seed industry in the continent. FAO also seems favour small and medium private sector units for seed development in developing countries.

At the end of the three-day deliberations, the conference made several recommendations to the CEN-SAD countries, many of which are consequential to deployment of GE in agriculture. Some of the significant recommendations are:

a) Harmonize rules and regulations for conducting food safety assessment of genetically engineered products (GEPs).

b) Enforce the international arrangements and national policies that demand the assessment of genetically engineered crops (GECs) in relation to their effects on the environment before their release for general utilization.

c) Establish independent African institutions to conduct assessment studies on GEPs. Emphasize the need to strengthen their role within the framework of Codex Alimentarius and the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol.

d) Provide platform to decision makers, scientists, and stakeholders to discuss the potential and challenges presented by GEPs with the goal of ensuring maximum public benefits from these products, while simultaneously undertaking precautions for conserving biodiversity, human and animal health as well as upholding ethics.

e) Strengthen the conventional breeding programs to realize the optimum utilization of local genetic resources that are adapted to the diverse and harsh local environment.

f) Establish Gene Banks to support collection, characterization, evaluation, conservation and utilization of plant genetic resources.

g) Establish and/or strengthen seed policies, programs and legislation to promote the seed industry.

h) Develop biotechnology capacities to benefit from all activities related to non-GE biotechnology such as tissue culture and molecular genetics, to establish the base for modernizing agriculture in Africa.

i) Establish special fund to support research and development in biotechnology in agriculture.

j) Take necessary measures to promote public awareness on GEPs.

These recommendations, cautious but entail a major shift in policy in favour of GE crops. CEN-SAD deserves all support from the rest of the world for this direction change and in its efforts to modernize agriculture in Africa.

--
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India; krao.at.vsnl.com, www.fbae.org, www.fbaeblog.org

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A Scientific Battle for Relevance

- Kevan Salimian, Diamond Back - University of Maryland, May 04, 2006. Excerpt below... Full commentary at http://www.diamondbackonline.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2006/05/04/4459e2c2ab579

Open any recent newspaper and you are bound to see testaments to our nation's current dismal standing in the sciences. With a thriving democracy and the strongest economy in the world, it is truly a shame the United States has failed to take a dominant role in the fields of energy, health issues, environmental protection and space research.

But why do research if nothing can come of it? The truth is the future policy makers and media hegemons do not take physical chemistry or immunology. Therefore, individuals who are well versed in these esoteric fields have the added burden of having to know how to implement knowledge into society, whether it is through active involvement or effective communication. Science without application is simply science, possibly destined to atrophy in the back issues of an inconsequential journal. Science with application to business and policy has the power to change the lives of every individual who will ever live.

The list of examples of our ignorant society goes on, but the true failure to energize interest and change falls squarely on the scientific community. Without an influential figure filling a leadership role, many scientists are OK with hiding in the shadows, only to peek out once in a while with an "I told you so."

That is not to say all scientific discoveries go unheralded. Recently we have begun to implement groundbreaking technology like hybrid cars and genetically modified crops.

Though science cannot solve all of society's problems, it can work to provide answers to many of the questions we currently face. What much of the public does not realize, however, is the direct link between emerging science and their everyday lives.

And so, I implore my fellow future scientists: Put the pipette down and step away from the microscope, just for a minute. Look around at where our country is and how it has ignored the years of hard work and dedication of many scientific experts.

Why not explore classes in fields like economics, business or government? As the future of science, and the world, we have the added stress of not only finding answers, but also ensuring these answers do not fall on deaf ears. It's time for the scientific community to start opening its doors and making its voice heard.
--
Kevan Salimian is a junior majoring in biochemistry and cell biology and molecular genetics. He can be reached at ksal@umd.edu.

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