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May 25, 2006


No label required; Super-sized Cassava; Corn Growers Protect Bt; Cotton industry and sustainable agriculture


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: May 25, 2006

* No label required
* Super plants may fight African hunger
* GEAC Proposals
* Corn growers looking to protect Bt technology
* Vermont House leaders conclude vetoes can't be overridden
* Cotton industry welcomes discussion on sustainable agriculture


No label required

Requiring labels for genetically modified foods would be difficult, expensive and would offer no health protection for consumers

- Ottawa Citizen, By Robert Wager, May 25, 2006

In North America, food labels are based on the content of the food. This is known as a product-based labelling system. But now people are calling for food labels to be based on how the food crop was generated in the first place, whether or not it was genetically modified. This would be extremely problematic.

Presently all food labels must show nutritional information like protein, carbohydrate and fat content. A good thing, as consumers are becoming more nutrition conscious.

All known strong allergenic content must also be on the label. This is a safety issue as some people can have severe problems when they consume particular allergenic proteins.

These are the two reasons why certain information must be on food labels. This product-based system of labelling is objective, verifiable and enforceable. Truth in labelling is very important.

All food products of biotechnology (GM food) are examined extensively right down to the amino acid (building blocks of proteins), carbohydrate, fat, vitamin, micronutrient and macronutrient content long before the product reaches the market. If the biotechnology product is the same as the parental variety then the product is said to be substantially equivalent. Substantial equivalence is a safety evaluation process endorsed by most scientific bodies around the world including the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization.

Since the biotechnology products are nutritionally the same as their parental varieties, why should a special label be required?

Proteins are made of long chains of 20 different amino acids. Most allergens are proteins and as such have a particular amino acid sequences that gives them their allergenic properties. At present there are about 500 amino acid sequences of known allergenic proteins in databanks around the world. This represents the vast majority of known allergenic proteins. All biotechnology-engineered proteins are compared with the known allergen data banks before they reach the market. If a particular engineered protein has sequence similarities with a known allergenic protein then there are many more requirements that must be met before that particular GM food product is given approval for commercialization. There are no GM food products available today that match anything in the allergen data banks.

This extensive evaluation process for allergenic potential is done on all GM food products long before they reach the market. Is the process perfect? No. But it is certainly far superior to all other types of food, which are not evaluated for allergens at all.

As technology advances we will be better able to further refine the evaluation process. But clearly neither the nutritional content nor the potential allergen content regulations are violated by the lack of GM specific labelling.

For the sake of argument, let's say we are going to label food based on the process used to make it and not the product itself. Here are a few of the hurdles that must be addressed.

First, what is GM food? Different countries have different definitions. Is anything that has its DNA manipulated a GM product? If this is the basis for defining a GM food then virtually every food on the market including organic food is a GM food.

Other modern plant breeding techniques cause random mutations throughout the entire DNA of the plant in order to make new varieties. There is no evaluation of these types of genetic mutations. Only GM crops are extensively analysed at the genetic level.

Second, do we consider highly processed foods genetically modified? For example, is canola oil, which contains virtually no DNA or protein, a GM food? With no detectable DNA or protein it would become impossible to verify labels. This means enforcement would also be impossible.

And third, what do we do about the detection of GM food products? The average biotechnology crop has the engineered protein accounting for 0.00004 per cent of the total protein of the plant. If anything over 0.9 per cent GM content must be labelled (EU regulations) then that would mean labelling for GM content that is 0.0000004 per cent.

Such low levels are far below the levels of other common contaminants of grain such as insect parts and rodent hair. There are very few systems in place that have that level of sensitivity and accuracy.

What should happen with these foods, as labels would not be verifiable and therefore would become unenforceable? These types of problems have been seen in parts of the world that have adopted GM specific labelling systems.

Here is an example of the difficulties of moving to a process-based labelling system. Consider a typical loaf of whole wheat bread. The wheat may or may not be GM depending on the variety (triticale is by most definitions a product of genetic manipulation). The yeast is probably GM. If the fat is from canola it is probably GM but has no detectable DNA or protein in it. Because of the low levels of detectable GM ingredients it is impossible to truthfully label this product as GM or non-GM. Since it is imperative that all labels be truthful, what do we do with a loaf of bread?

It has been said that consumers should have the right to choose, and only labelling GM food will give them that choice. This is a false argument.

About 70 per cent of foods in the supermarket contain at least one ingredient that is a product of food biotechnology. The exception is organic food. Organic food does not use GM food products. This means that everyone has the choice to avoid GM food. They can simply buy organic food.

New regulations now permit a "GM-free" label. If a company wants to market a product that does not contain GM ingredients then that company can label its food GM-Free. However, that company must pay for the tests to prove their claim. In this way there is more choice for the consumer and the price burden of GM specific labelling is put on those who are demanding the labelling in the first place.

It has been estimated that a GM-specific labelling system would increase food prices about 10 per cent. Since there is absolutely no evidence of any harm coming to anyone from consuming food biotechnology products there should not be a financial penalty put on the average consumer for the (scientifically unjustifiable) labelling demands of the few.

Remember that not one single illness anywhere in the world has been attributed to the consumption of food biotechnology products. All claims to the contrary have been disproved. Considering over two trillion meals with biotechnology products have been consumed, the safety record speaks for itself.

Dramatically changing our product-based food labelling regulations from an objective, verifiable and enforceable system to a subjective, non-verifiable and unenforceable process-based system is not in the public's interest.

Robert Wager is a biology professor at Malaspina University College in Nanaimo, B.C.



- Ohio State Research News, May 25, 2006

Contact: Richard Sayre, (614) 292 2587; Sayre.2@osu.edu
Written by Holly Wagner, (614) 292-8310; Wagner.235@osu.edu

COLUMBUS, Ohio – In a recent study, genetically modified cassava plants produced roots that were more than two-and-a-half times the size of normal cassava roots.

The findings could help ease hunger in many countries where people rely heavily on the cassava plant (Manihot esculenta) as a primary food source, said Richard Sayre, the study's lead author and a professor of plant cellular and molecular biology at Ohio State University.

The researchers used a gene from the bacterium E. coli to genetically modify cassava plants. The plants, which were grown in a greenhouse, produced roots that were an average of 2.6 times larger than those produced by regular cassava plants.

“Not only did these plants produce larger roots, but the whole plant was bigger and had more leaves,” Sayre said. Both the roots and leaves of the cassava plant are edible.

Cassava is the primary food source for more than 250 million Africans – about 40 percent of the continent's population. And the plant's starchy tuberous root is a substantial portion of the diet of nearly 600 million people worldwide.

Sayre said he hopes to offer these plants to countries where cassava is an important crop.

The current study appears in the online early issue of the Plant Biotechnology Journal. Sayre collaborated with Ohio State colleague Uzoma Ihemere and scientists from BASF Plant Science in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and BARC-West in Beltsville, Md., who formerly worked on this project in his laboratory.

Sayre said that cassava produces sugar more efficiently than any other cultivated plant.

“We wanted to find a way to help the plant redirect that excess sugar and use it to make starch,” Sayre said.

The researchers used a variety of cassava native to Colombia (cassava was brought to Africa from South America by the Portuguese in the 1500s.) They inserted into three cassava plants an E. coli gene that controls starch production. A non-modified fourth plant served as a control.

“Cassava actually has this same gene,” Sayre said. “But the bacterial version of the gene is about a hundred times more active.”

The modified plants converted more of their sugar into starch, as shown by an increase in root size as well as the number of roots and leaves produced by each modified plant.

The roots of the modified plants were up to 2.6 fold larger than the roots of a non-modified plant (an average of 198 grams for the biggest roots vs. 74 grams for the roots of the non-modified plant.) The modified plants produced a maximum of 12 roots, compared to the seven roots produced by the non-modified plant. These modified plants also produced a third more leaves – a maximum of 123 leaves per modified plant vs. 92 leaves per non-modified plant.

Sayre said that the bigger roots produced by the plants were just that – bigger. They weren't necessarily more nutritious. And they would still need to be processed quickly and properly after harvesting, as the roots and leaves of poorly processed cassava plants contain a substance that triggers the production of cyanide.

In previous work, Sayre helped create cassava that produced little to no cyanide once it is harvested.

He is also the principal investigator of an ongoing project focused on improving the nutritional content of cassava. In this work Sayre leads a team of national and international scientists focused on increasing the vitamin, mineral and protein content of the plant.

The current study was supported in part by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Centro Internacional Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) and Ohio State.


Super plants may fight African hunger

- NewKerala.com, May 25, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio: Ohio scientists say they've produced genetically modified cassava plants with roots more than two-and-a-half times the size of normal cassava roots.

The Ohio State University researchers say the project might help ease hunger in many nations where people rely heavily on the cassava plant as a primary food source.

The study -- led by Richard Sayre, a cellular and molecular biology professor -- involved using a gene from the bacterium E. coli to genetically modify cassava plants. The plants, grown in a greenhouse, produced roots that were an average 2.6 times larger than those produced by regular cassava plants.

"Not only did these plants produce larger roots, but the whole plant was bigger and had more leaves," Sayre said. Both the roots and leaves of the cassava plant are edible.

Cassava is the primary food source for more than 250 million Africans -- about 40 percent of the continent's population, Sayre said. And the plant's starchy tuberous root is a substantial portion of the diet of nearly 600 million people worldwide.

The study appears in the online early issue of the Plant Biotechnology Journal.





- GEAC, May 25, 2006

The GEAC in the Ministry of Environment & Forests has approved the following proposals:

A. Import of GM Soybean oil.

The Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) has notified the Rules for the Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous microorganisms /Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells, 1989 (Rules 1989) under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. As per the provisions of Section 11 of Rules 1989, “Food stuffs, ingredients in food stuffs and additives including processing aids containing or consisting of genetically engineered organisms or cells, shall not be produced, sold, imported or used except with the approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee” (GEAC). The new import policy on GMOs/LMOs, issued by DGFT The Ministry of Commerce through DGFT vide notification No. 2(RE-2006)/2004-2009 dated 7.4.2006., mandates prior approval of GEAC for all GM products including food item. Therefore import of soybean oil (refined or de-gummed) derived from GM Soya would require the prior approval of GEAC.

However, in light of the recommendation made by the Swaminathan Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology and Mashelkar Committee on r-Pharma, the MoEF has taken a policy decision that GEAC would be involved only in regulation of organisms or products where the end product is a LMO. Accordingly it is proposed to amend Rule 11 of rules 1989 through an inter-ministerial consultation. Subsequent to the amendment processed food including oil will not attract the provision of Rule 11 of Rules 1989 of EPA.

On an interim basis the GEAC approved the import of refined soybean oil subject to certification from the country of export that it has been derived from Roundup Ready Soybeans. In case of crude degummed soybean oil, in addition to the certification, regarding it having been derived from Round up Ready Soyabean, the importer is also required to submit the analytical report from either CFTRI/NIN/Shri Ram Laboratories on the composition of crude-degummed Soybean oil both pre and post processing stage before a final view is taken. The test results should also include the pre and post refining levels of glyphosate in the oil as well as in the residue. The GEAC clearance does not exempt the importers from the requirements under PFA.

B. Commercial Release of transgenic Crops:

The GEAC has approved commercial release of Bt Cotton hybrids in the North, Central and South zones as follows:

a. North Zone: 8 hybrids

b. Central Zone: 12 hybrids

c. South zone: 16 hybrids

In addition to Bt hybrids containing the Cry 1 Ac gene (MON 531 event), which was earlier approved by the GEAC and is in commercial cultivation since 2002. the GEAC approved hybrids with three new gene/event namely Bt hybrids expressing encoding fusion genes (cry 1Ab+Cry Ac) ‘ GFM developed by M/s Nath Seeds, Bt hybrids expressing cry 1Ac gene (Event-1) by M/s JK Seeds Ltd and Bt hybrids expressing stacked genes Cry1 Ac and Cry 2Ab (MON 15985 event)—BG-II by M/s Mahyco.

C. Large Scale Trial of bt Cotton

The GEAC has approved large scale trials of Bt Cotton hybrids in the North, Central and South zones as follows:

a. North Zone: 16 hybrids containing cry 1 Ac (Mon 531 event ) and 21 hybrids expressing new gene events.

b. Central Zone: 20 hybrids containing cry 1 Ac (Mon 531 event ) and 12 hybrids expressing new gene events.

c. South zone: 25 hybrids containing cry 1 Ac (Mon 531 event ) and 27 hybrids expressing new gene events.

D. Streamlining of the Regulatory Procedure for transgenic crops.

The MoEF has constituted a sub-Committee on Bt cotton and related issues under the Chairmanship of Dr C D Mayee, Chairman Agricultural Scientist Recruitment Board and Co-Chair GEAC with a view to rationalize the regulatory procedure and facilitate introduction of new technology to make available cheaper options to farmers.

E. Transgenic Bt Brinjal developed by M/s Mahyco—First GM Food crop

M/s Mayhco has produced transgenic brinjal plants with cry 1Ac gene from Bacillus thuringiensis tolerant to the fruit and shoot borer, one of the major pests which attack the brinjal crop throughout its life cycle. Their application for large scale trials and seed production of four Bt Brinjal hybrids namely MHB-4 Bt, MHB 9 Bt MHB 80 Bt and MHBJ-99 Bt containing cry 1 Ac gene during Kharif 2006 is under consideration of the GEAC. The biosafety data will be placed on MoEF website envfor@nic.in under the sub heading GEAC Clearance shortly.

F. Recombinant Pharma

The GEAC has approved the import and conduct of Phase II clinical trials with Chimerivaxtm –JE (Japanese Encephalitis vaccine) in children of descending age from USA by M/s. Quintiles.


Corn growers looking to protect Bt technology

- FarmWeek, May 24, 2006

The nation’s corn growers continue to take steps necessary to protect their use of biotechnology.

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) reported a 2005 survey found that 92 percent of U.S. Bt corn growers met or exceeded the minimum refuge size required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The refuge area is viewed as critical to managing insect resistance to Bt corn and other biotech crops.

NCGA reported 91 percent of growers surveyed in 2004 met the insect resistance management (IRM) requirement for refuge area, up from 86 percent of growers who met the same requirement in 2003.

“We are pleased to see increased IRM implementation by producers,” said Martin Barbre, NCGA Biotechnology Working Group chairman and a corn grower from Carmi.

The findings are based on the results of an independent study conducted on behalf of the Agriculture Biotechnology Stewardship Technical Committee and from on-farm assessments, according to NCGA.

EPA requires growers to plant at least a 20 percent refuge of corn that does not contain the Bt gene used for controlling corn borers.

“A refuge is imperative to maintaining the effectiveness of the Bt technology,” Barbre said. “And growers are required to maintain that.”

Barbre said if a Bt corn grower is found to be out of compliance with the IRM requirements for two consecutive years, he or she is denied use of the technology in the subsequent season.

Users of Bt technology in all areas of the country are required to plant a refuge area within a half-mile of Bt corn. NCGA reported 96 percent of growers last year met that requirement, up from 93 percent in 2004 and 89 percent in 2003.

Barbre said it is vital to protect use of biotech crops at a time when more farmers are finding value in biotechnology.

NCGA reported biotech varieties last year were planted on 52 percent of U.S. corn acres.

“As growers find technology that makes them more money, I think they’ll continue to adopt it,” he said. “At the same time I think there always will be a market for non-GMO crops.”

NCGA reported the use of biotech hybrids in 2004 resulted in a 23-million-pound reduction in the use of pesticide active ingredients.

Barbre believes that as farmers see more benefits to the bottom line and as traits are focused more on consumer benefits, the acceptance of biotech crops will grow.

More information about managing insect resistance can be found at the IRM Learning Center online at { www.ncga.com} .


House leaders conclude vetoes can't be overridden

- Channel 3 News, May 24, 2006

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- Leaders of the House have concluded that there are not enough votes to override Gov. Jim Douglas' vetoes of bills governing genetically modified seeds and banning discrimination based on someone's gender identity.

Speaker Gaye Symington released a statement saying that the full House would not be called back to Montpelier on June 1, as scheduled, to deal with any gubernatorial vetoes.

The Legislature always sets a date for considering vetoes before it adjourns.

But Symington said it was clear after conferring with leaders of the various House caucuses that there would not be a two-thirds majority on either bill to overcome the governor's opposition.

The seed bill would assign greater liability on manufacturers in the event a farmer sued, alleging that he had been harmed when genetically modified seed drifted into his crops and contaminated them.

Douglas has said he believed that would discourage manufacturers from selling their seeds in Vermont, which would hurt all of the state's agriculture.

The other bill would amend the state's anti-discrimination statutes, protecting people based expressing a gender opposite that into which they were born or who have changed their sex.

Douglas said he objected to the bill because he did not believe it had been given a thorough hearing in the Legislature.


Cotton industry welcomes discussion on sustainable agriculture

Retailers are also vulnerable to incorrect information, another good reason to talk cotton with them.

- SOUTH WEST FARM PRESS, By Elton Robinson, May 24, 2006

The trend at Wal-Mart and other retailers toward sustainable or environmental marketing of fabric and apparel might have presented Cotton Incorporated with a challenging public relations battle 10 or 15 years ago.

But today, the organization, as well as the National Cotton Council and the Cotton Board, are welcoming the opportunity to discuss sustainability with anybody who'll listen.

One reason for their enthusiasm are developments in the cotton industry that they say prove that conventionally-grown cotton is the sustainable and environmental fiber in the world today - not organic cotton, and certainly not polyester fiber.

Cotton industry leaders such as Berrye Worsham, president and CEO of Cotton Incorporated and William Crawford, president and CEO of the Cotton Board, say importers and retailers they deal with every day are increasingly hungry for information on environmental issues and sustainability.

"It's quite possible that environmentally-related issues could make their way into the consumer market as part of the buying decision," said Worsham. "We definitely don't want this to be a negative for cotton."

Retailers are also vulnerable to incorrect information, another good reason to talk cotton with them, according to Worsham. As an example, he pointed to a recent Wal-Mart internal publication which implied that organically-grown cotton saves nearly 1 ton of pesticides from being applied per acre. Worsham plans to meet with Wal-Mart, "and we will respectfully challenge the assertions made. I don't think they deliberately distorted the figures but those are the kinds of statements that have become accepted 'facts.'"

The U.S. cotton industry is not out to slam organically-grown cotton as a niche market, according to Crawford. "We're just trying to establish the facts between organic versus conventional production."

The cotton industry plans to convince retailers, importers and brand-name companies that conventionally-grown cotton has what it takes to sway the environmentally-conscious buyer, who might very well be confused by what sustainability means.

As for the cotton industry, "Sustainable production must supply the world's demand for natural fiber and food tomorrow," Worsham said. "It must maintain environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends. It must sustain the economic viability of farm operations.

"People who want to grow cotton organically, that's great. The reality is that demand for fiber grows by 9 million bale equivalents per year, worldwide. That's either going to be supplied by conventional cotton's best management practices, or it's going to be produced in a factory."

The message that the cotton industry will take to retailers will also focus on improvements in conventionally-grown cotton's so-called environmental footprint, which incorporates the number of applications of pesticides, toxicity and persistence in the environment for chemicals used in a specific crop. "From 1996 to 2004, there has been a 17 percent reduction in the environmental footprint of cotton," said Roy Cantrell, Cotton Incorporated vice president, breeding, genetics and biotechnology.

"During that same eight-year period, yields per ace went up 25 percent. So at the same time we're reducing the environmental footprint, yield is actually going up. So we have some outstanding data and a good story to tell."

Using less land to produce more cotton is another environmental benefit, one that organic cotton has difficulty claiming. "In 1926, 17.9 million bales of cotton were produced on 44.6 million acres," noted Cantrell. "In 2004, 23.2 million bales were produced on 13.7 million acres. With modern technology at least 30 million acres can be dedicated to other uses, in the United States alone. In many cases, it's being converted to non-agricultural uses.

"We also see this trend being adopted globally. There are only 85 million to 90 million acres of land globally that can be devoted to cotton production, and we just don't see acreage increasing dramatically. So to meet the growing demand for cotton, we have to increase the productivity per acre and do it in such a way that protects the environment."

Meanwhile, in 2004, conventional cotton averaged 850 pounds of lint per acre compared to a little less than 600 pounds for organic cotton.

Using these numbers, converting conventional cotton to organic cotton would require an additional 6 million acres of land to sustain current demand in the United States and 30 million worldwide. "A production system is not sustainable if it requires significantly more land," noted Worsham.

"Sustainability is a way to look to the future, to be proactive," Cantrell said. "It's not being negative or defensive. It's something we're already doing, but sometimes we're not getting credit for it."

Cantrell noted that the average number of insecticides applied to the crop has dropped over 50 percent Beltwide due to the adoption of GMO technologies, integrated pest management, careful scouting and monitoring of thresholds.

The cotton industry has also seen positive trends in water usage. "We have seen a 45 percent improvement in water use efficiency in the last decade, thanks to modern irrigation technology, higher-yielding varieties and smarter methods of supplemental irrigation.

"One of the most significant changes we've seen in terms of the environment is the adoption of conservation tillage. We have data to show that over 60 percent of the U.S. acreage is in some form of conservation tillage. This reduces fuel use and soil loss due to erosion. It's great for habitat and wildlife. All this integrates into a very positive environmental message."

The application of modern technology has also lead to a dramatic reduction in insecticide applications for U.S. cotton, dropping from an average of 5.5 per acre in 1986-1989 to less than three applications in 2000-2004.