Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: June 7, 2006
* Farmers yet to reap benefits
* Biotech business expected to touch $5 billion by 2010 in India
* Despite worldwide growth Europe has little transgenic corn
* Clarify Bt brinjal safety: Govt to Mahyco
* GM papaya for local market
* Gene boost lets plant tolerate low boron in soil
* Critics question added benefit, cost of organic foods
* Organics pricier than conventional but not any more nutritious
* Darker side to Argentina's soya success
* Cuban Scientists Obtain First Monoclonal Antibody from Transgenic Plants
Farmers yet to reap benefits
- FINANCIAL EXPRESS, By P. Chengal Reddy, 04 Jun 2006
The order of the Andhra Pradesh government invoking ESMA and fixing the Bt cotton seed price at Rs 750 will have wide reverberations. Transgenic has been a contentious issue not only in India but all over the world for the past decade. There were doubts about the suitability of this frontier technology to Indian conditions, environment, its viability, yields, quality, etc.
However, Bt cotton, introduced by Mahyco-Monsanto in 2001-02, has caught the imagination of farmers and by 2006, over 13 million hectare will be cultivated by about 10 million farmers across 10 states in India. However, the overall benefits of transgenics are yet to reach the Indian farmers. China, which started transgenic research in 1986 along with India has permitted six crops, i.e. cotton, maize, rice, sweet potato, soybean and tomato as against cotton by India.
Globally, the area under 18 biotech crops is about 400 million hectares planted by close to 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries, out of which 7.7 million are poor subsistence farmers. In fact, biotech crops have many advantages as they give high yields, develop pest resistance, herbicide resistance, environmental stress resistance, add vitamins and act as vaccines.Indian cannot achieve second Green Revolution without biotechnology. There are 60 Bt cotton high breeds marketed by 15 companies licensed by Monsanto. In addition, JK Seeds with Indian Gene and Nath Seeds with Chinese Gene are marketing their products in India.
Will their prices also be controlled by government? What about controlling price of papaya seed costing at Rs 1,50,000 per kg, capsicum seed at Rs 60,000 per kg, chillies Rs 32,000 per kg, maize Rs.1,000 per acre?
With the government fixing Bt cotton seed price, farmers will demand price control on other hybrid seeds, pesticides, tractors as well as agriculture implements. Farmers will also demand subsidy on Bt cotton seed. Will government be able to oblige them? Will the seed dealers sell the Bt cotton seed as fixed by government without company permission?
With advancing Monsoon season, cotton seeds are to be made available to farmers immediately. Any delay in seeds supply will have serious repercussion on production of cotton. The argument that royalty paid to Monsanto in China is less compared to India does not sound logical. If Indian Courts uphold this decision, basing on the same logic, what will happen if Indian farmers file cases against the government demanding the same subsidy as paid to American and European farmers? Will this court pass favourable orders and will government be able to implement such orders?
The further action of the Andhra Pradesh government will be closely observed by both Indian investors, multinationals as well as experts. The state government ought to have acted as an arbitrator instead of filing court cases and issuing GOs.
The government should not lose track of the fact that it is promoting biotech research by giving large scale incentives, which shows that this frontier technologies requires heavy investments and has many risks and that government institutions can not do it is obvious.
There is nothing wrong if MNCs come forward in agriculture sector and help the farmers. In their over enthusiasm to play to the gallery and usual rhetoric of the policy makers, the fact that Bt cotton was widely accepted by the Indian farmers was forgotten.
The writer is secretary-general, Consortium of Indian Farmers' Association
Biotech business expected to touch $5 billion by 2010 in India
- THE HINDU, June 06, 2006
Bangalore - The biotechnology industry in the country is growing at an exponential rate and is expected to touch business worth over $5 billion by 2010 and generate over a million jobs in agriculture and pharmaceutical and allied sectors, according to Biocon India Chairperson and Managing Director Kiran Mazumdar Shaw.
Dr. Shaw, who is also the Chairperson of the Karnataka Vision Group on Biotechnology, told presspersons here on the eve of the sixth edition of Bangalore Bio that the potential of this sector could be gauged by the number of countries participating and it becoming a national brand.
She said despite lack of infrastructure and skilled labour, the biotechnology industry in the country was poised to make big strides.
There were opportunities in clinical research, clinical services, research and development and development of medicines. The industry was growing at the rate of over 30 per cent per annum, she said.
While thanking the State Government for taking the initiative to set up the country's first biotech park in Bangalore at a cost of Rs. 103 crore, she said that it would have a cascading effect. "Bangalore Bio has been growing from strength to strength. It has earned a huge national brand for us, as it is being evident from the growing number of visiting delegates to the event. This year, delegates from the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands, France and Germany are coming in a big way. We are also conducting a unique B2B conference, which has attracted national and international delegates," she said.
Anup K. Pujari, Principal Secretary, Information Technology, Biotechnology, Science and Technology, said, "The Government is keen to play a supportive role to the biotech sector, which is poised for the future. To maintain its leadership position in cutting edge research and to keep its flag flying high, the Government has taken two important steps: setting up of a venture capital fund for IT and BT projects and setting up of a biotech park, which will go a long way in supporting the biotech sector."
Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy will inaugurate Bangalore Bio 2006 on Wednesday.
Union Minister for Science and Technology and Ocean Development Kapil Sibal will be the chief guest.
Bangalore Bio, which has a focal theme on "Discover, Nurture and Accelerate," will be attended by more than 60 international and national speakers and 500 delegates from industry, academia and research and development organisations.
`Agri Biotech Day'
President of the Association for Biotech Led Entrepreneurs (ABLE) K.K. Narayanan said June 9 had been earmarked as "Agri Biotech Day" in which experts would deliberate on kharif crop and prices of BT cotton, among others.
"Globally, the growth of GM crop is pegged at 11 percent, where as in India it grew by 160 per cent which shows the relevance of the technology," he said.
The three-day event will comprise a trade show, "The Market Place," with participation from over 150 organisations, an international conference with deliberations on important issues, special networking events such as the CEO conclave "Confluence of Bio Titans," BYB Forum - Buzz of Biz, Awards Nite and Bio Banquet.
The exhibition will be held at the Bangalore Palace grounds.
Conferences and poster session will be held at the J.N. Tata Auditorium.
Despite worldwide growth Europe has little transgenic corn
- FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU, June 06, 2006, By Stephan Boernecke; translated by Mark Hutcko and Stephan Nyeki
To this day the agricultural area sown with transgenic crops is miniscule in Germany. In fact, seed companies announced an increase in the acreage sown with transgenic corn this spring which is positive from their point of view. However the increase is modest, as half of the initial applications submitted to the Central Registry have been withdrawn.
Of the 2000 hectares registered last winter, only 1046 hectares remain. (Similarly), of the original 1000 hectares at the end of last year, only 362 hectares were planted with transgenic corn. The main areas of transgenic crop cultivation are Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommen. In all of Germany, from the Alps to the North-Sea coast, conventional corn is planted on an area of 1.6 million hectares.
Besides Germany, transgenic corn is also being cultivated in Spain, France, Portugal and the Czech Republic. The variety of transgenic corn approved to-date, develops an insecticide in its leaves which is effective against the corn-borer, found in abundance especially in warmer regions. Spain is at present the leader in Europe, where this variety has been cultivated since 1998: the sixty thousand hectares of transgenic corn planted in Spain make up 12,5 percent of Spain's corn production. However, the planted area in 2005 decreased slightly for the first time. Trangenic corn plays a similarly subordinate role in the other three countries as well as in Germany, although the acreage in the Czech Republic has increased tenfold this year, to about 3000 hectares as reported by "Transgen".
On the other hand, the worldwide importance of transgenic crop cultivation continues to grow, especially for soybeans and cotton, as well as corn and rapeseed, and papaya and sugar beet in the USA. Transgenic soybeans, as a result of their genetic traits, are mostly resistant to total herbicides. The market share of transgenic soybeans already lies by 87 % in the USA. In Romania, where transgenic soybeans are to be banned as of 2007, market share stands at 65 %.
Importers of non-transgenic soybeans, are focusing on Brazil. Brazil produces almost as much soybean as the USA. However, the market share of transgenic soybeans only now stands at 40 %. Soya husk, used as a source of protein and a waste-product of soyoil production, is found in feed supplements for pigs, cattle and chicken. Labeling on the feed bags generally declares that feed may contain transgenic plant products, whether this is true or not. There is no obligatory declaration on food products in Brazil whether or not animals producing milk, eggs or meat have been fed transgenic soybeans. The German minister of Agriculture, Horst Seehofer (CSU-party), is therefore contemplating to bring this labeling loophole up for discussion in the European Union, once again, according to AgraEurope.
Clarify Bt brinjal safety: Govt to Mahyco
- Business Standard, June 7, 2006
The genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC) of the environment ministry has sought clarifications on safety of Bt brinjal seeds from the manufacturer Mahyco.
Mahyco has sought permission for large-scale seed production and field trials of Bt brinjal which is the first genetically altered food crop to seek such approval in India.
The company was asked at the GEAC last week to clarify on some specific safety concerns raised by a member. The clarifications provided by the company are to be put on the ministry’s website and comments sought from the public, a member of the committee said.
The main clarifications sought were regarding the tests on fruit dry matter, flavour, and effect of leaves on goats and cattle who fed on them.
One of the expert members wanted the analysis of fruit dry matter to be carried out to determine differences in yield. The committee also sought leaf feeding studies on goats, as studies have been confined to fruit so far. Bt brinjal being a food crop, a flavour analysis of Bt and non-Bt fruits was also sought.
Permission has been sought 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 expressing cry 1 Ac gene.
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.
In accordance with the regulatory requirements, the company has completed biosafety studies to establish environmental and health safety. The Bt brinjal hybrids developed by the company have also completed the multi-locational trials.
The company made a presentation before the committee covering the studies carried out by the company during 2002-2006. The biosafety studies include pollen escape, outcrossing, aggressiveness, germination and weediness, effect on non-target organisms, presence of Cry 1AC protein in soil, effect of Cry1 AC protein on soil micro-flora, and baseline susceptibility studies.
Meanwhile protests are coming thick and fast from activist groups against genetically engineered brinjal. Aid India, an NGO, has shot off a memorandum to the committee saying that the matter of genetically modified crops was pending judgment in the Supreme Court and hence approval for Bt brinjal cannot be granted now.
GM papaya for local market
- BUSINESS WORLD, Beverly T. Natividad, June 7, 2006
The proposed commercial production of genetically manufactured (GM) papaya in the Philippines will be targeted only for the domestic market in a bid to revive papaya plantations devastated by the ringspot virus in Luzon, said Dr. Randy Hautea of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.
This, as environmental group Greenpeace sounded off opposition to the impending commercialization of GM papaya in the Philippines, saying that GM papaya has limited export potentials since countries like Japan and Germany are not inclined to import genetically altered tropical fruits.
Mr. Hautea said in an interview that the planned commercial production of GM papaya in the Philippines will focus primarily on meeting local demand. "The GM papaya being field-tested at this time is principally for the local needs. The export market is only secondary," said Mr. Hautea.
In a press conference yesterday, environmental group Greenpeace opposed moves to commercialize genetically manufactured papaya, saying the country stands to lose its papaya export market in countries like Germany and Japan which reject such altered crops. "If GM papaya is commercialized in the country, our farmers will not only be faced with the immediate loss of major export markets which reject genetically modified organisms (GMO), the added uncontrollable threat of GM contamination on conventional papaya plants will be a serious problem that will hound farmers for years to come," said Daniel Ocampo, Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner.
But Mr. Hautea said that "their [Greenpeace] contention is erroneous because that assumes that the Philippines only offer one product. We can serve both markets. If there is demand for non-GMO in other countries then we will supply that."
Mr. Hautea explained that the current application for field testings for GM papaya at the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines is specifically geared to revive the papaya industry in Southern Tagalog and Bicol. These areas, he said, used to be major papaya producers before their fields were devastated by the ringspot virus in the early 1980s.
He noted, Mindanao-based papayas will still be largely non-GMO since the commercialization of GM papayas will mostly be directed in Luzon and Visayas where the old devastated plantations are located.
Besides, Mr. Hautea added, the country's papaya exports account for less than 10% of the country's total papaya production. The main focus of the initiatives towards producing GM papaya, he said, is to serve the larger domestic need and not to export. "The highest market is for local needs. Only less than 10% of our papayas are exported," said Mr. Hautea.
Data from the Agriculture department's Bureau of Agricultural Statistics and the Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Service show that the country's total papaya production for 2005 totaled 146,628 metric tons (or 146,628,000 kilograms). Of this, only 4.1 million kilograms are exported to countries like Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Gene boost lets plant tolerate low boron in soil
- SCIDEV.net, Wagdy Sawahel, 6 June 2006
Researchers have genetically modified a plant to make it tolerate low levels of boron, a nutrient often lacking from soils, especially in southeast China and Pakistan.
The researchers say it is likely that a similar approach could be used in crop species to provide a cheap alternative to using boron fertiliser which can cause pollution.
The scientists, whose findings were published on 22 May in The Plant Journal, modified Arabidopsis thaliana, a relative of mustard that is often used in research on plant genetics.
Toru Fujiwara of the University of Tokyo, Japan and colleagues increased the activity of the plant's BOR1 gene, which controls the uptake of boron. The genetically modified (GM) Arabidopsis plants produced more seeds under low boron conditions than non-GM plants and were twice as heavy.
Previously, researchers developed tobacco plants able to tolerate low boron levels but this affected the plant's ability to process sugars. The approach used by Fujiwara's team is advantageous as most plants have genes very similar to BOR1 and boosting the gene's action is likely to affect only boron uptake.
Abdul Rashid, chief soil scientist at Pakistan's National Agricultural Research Center, told SciDev.Net that after zinc deficiency, a lack of boron is the most widespread micronutrient problem for crops. It affects at least 132 plant species in 80 countries.
It increases plants' susceptibility to diseases and affects flower development and seed growth, causing a decline in quality in crops such as rice and wheat.
Research suggests that rising greenhouse gas emissions will make the problem worse as plants are likely to require more nutrients, particularly boron, as levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increase.
Rashid welcomes the new finding but cautions that it will take time before other GM crops that can tolerate boron-deficient soils are available.
"Even after such plants become commercially available, we need to find out whether their genetic potential can be realised without applying boron fertiliser in soil-deficient situations", he told SciDev.Net.
Critics question added benefit, cost of organic foods
- AZCentral, By Kathleen Doheny, Jun. 5, 2006
Your local grocer remodels the store, and one of the big changes takes place in the produce department.
Like many other markets, he has decided to expand the organic produce section. Now, if you want, you can buy organically grown apples, bananas, carrots, kiwis and other fruits and vegetables.
But you must also answer the question: Is it worth paying more for the advertised advantages of organic foods? advertisement
If you're like a growing number of Americans, you just may say "yes."
The organic food industry in the United States surpassed $10 billion in consumer sales in 2003, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), which is based in Greenfield, Mass. The market has grown from between 17 percent to 21 percent each year since 1997, according to OTA estimates.
In a survey by Ohio State University Extension, researchers interviewed 2,000 Ohio residents and found that 40 percent "often" or "occasionally" buy organic foods. Thirty-two percent of the respondents said they would pay 10 percent more for organic foods; six percent said they'd pay 25 percent more for organics, and one percent said they'd be willing to pay 50 percent more.
While prices fluctuate, organic dairy products typically cost about 15 percent to 20 percent more than conventional products, and organic meats can cost two to three times more than traditional meats, according to the OTA.
"Meats and milk are where you will see a greater difference in price," said Barbara Haumann, a spokeswoman for the OTA, while the differences are usually less for fruits and vegetables.
"For instance, you can buy organic bananas in New England this week for 79 cents a pound," Haumann said recently, "and conventional are 59 cents a pound."
The OTA doesn't conduct price surveys, Haumann said, but meats probably show the largest variation between organic and conventional products. "I actually found a farmer in Iowa who sold tenderloin for $16.99 a pound. That's close to conventional prices. But organic beef can be as expensive as $55 a pound for filet mignon," she said.
Why are organic foods more expensive? Higher operating costs, among other factors, Haumann said. "It takes three years to get the land ready," she said. "(Organic farmers') yields go down while they are transitioning" from conventional to organic production.
"They also face higher costs in growing crops," she said of organic farmers. "They don't use herbicides and fungicides so it is more labor intensive."
In exchange for the higher cost at the market, consumers can be assured that organic means the products have met certain standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If meat, poultry, eggs or dairy foods are labeled "organic," they must come from animals given no antibiotics or growth hormones. And organic produce is made without using most conventional pesticides.
But a critic of the organic movement, Alex Avery, director of research for the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues, a Washington, D.C. think tank, said organic farmers use pesticides, too. Instead of calling them pesticides, however, organic farmers are likely to call them "botanical products." For example: some organic farmers use pyrethrum, which is a derivative of the chrysanthemum plant.
That's a fact organic farmers don't dispute.
As for organic food advocates' claim that non-organic foods contain too many pesticides, Avery said: "You are talking about residues at the part per billion level."
More markets are expanding their organic offerings not to boost consumer health, Avery said, but their own bottom line.
"Retailers are realizing there can be good profits in this," he said. "To date, nobody has shown any meaningful difference in the quality of food produced."
Organics pricier than conventional but not any more nutritious
Canadian Press, By Rebecca Field Jager, June 7, 2006
They don't look healthier. Mind you, judging by the price tag, they ought to be.
According to dietitian Lois Ferguson and home economist Mary Wiley, organic fruit and vegetables cost about 40 per cent more than regular ones but are zero per cent more nutritious.
During a recent visit to Hamilton, they bought $9 worth of organics and $9 worth of conventionally grown vegetables at a local grocery store.
The result? The organic pile was half as high. The price difference has health professionals concerned.
"We're worried about moms who think organic produce is better for their families so they buy it, but because they're on a budget, they buy less," says Ferguson. "The result is their children don't end up getting the five to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables recommended daily by the Canada Food Guide."
Certainly, budget is a primary concern for many Canadian families. According to a recent survey by research company Pollara, 80 per cent of women with children feel it's a challenge to provide healthy, nutritious food to their families while sticking to a budget.
According to Statistics Canada, the average family spends $125 on groceries per week. Of that, $9 goes to vegetables.
So, if organic produce is not more nutritious, why do people buy it?
Janet Jacks, owner of Goodness Me! Natural Food Market in Hamilton, believes that organically-grown produce does indeed contain more nutrients.
"What's in the soil determines what's in the plant. Since the 1940s, when we began using chemical fertilizers, we've been depleting the minerals in our soil, so now, although vegetables look healthy, they're less nutritious," she says.
"The more crops that are organically grown in the soil, the more the nutrients are replenished, so today there's a good chance organic vegetables will contain more minerals."
But nutritional content is not the main reason most people are willing to spring for organics. Rather, they're paying for what's not in the food.
"People are worried about chemicals and don't want residues. They don't want dyes or wax like you get on regular peppers and cucumbers. Also, people don't want food that is genetically modified because we haven't studied the results of its long-term impact."
Philosophically speaking, organic aficionados are traditionally friends of the earth, adds Jacks.
"As Franklin Roosevelt said, 'A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.'"
Weighing in on the controversy is Joe Schwarcz, director for McGill University's Office of Science and Society and author of Let Them Eat Flax: 70 All-New Commentaries on the Science of Everyday Food and Life (ECW Press).
"The idea that organics are pesticide-free isn't entirely true," he says. "They use no synthetic pesticides, yes, but natural ones are allowed."
Schwarcz cites arsenic as an extreme example of a natural pesticide. He doesn't go so far as to say organics may be riddled with such hazardous stuff but notes that the notion of producing enough crops to feed the planet "organically" is romantic.
"Before 1900, everything was organic and people starved," he quips. Today, in a country as regulated as Canada, Schwarcz maintains that produce that reaches the retail shelf is completely safe.
"No, the PMRA (Pest Management Regulatory Agency) can't say any substance is 100 per cent safe for everyone because even something as natural as a peanut can kill some people."
Schwarcz advises consumers to ignore media hype surrounding food scares and miracle foods and go beyond the headlines when making decisions.
"It's easy to take scientific information out of context," he claims. "Tomatoes, for example, contain lycopene, which wards off certain cancers. This makes the news and suddenly everyone is buying tomatoes.
"Then they tell us that red has three times the lycopene as pink so certain tomatoes are better than others. Also, lycopene is concentrated beneath the skin so cherry tomatoes are best because they have the highest skin-to-flesh ratio. Suddenly cherry tomatoes are the new miracle food, but no one tells you how much you would have to eat for it to make a difference."
High cancer rates are another example of information being taken out of context, Schwarcz claims.
"Cancer rates have always remained fairly constant with some such as stomach cancer going down, and others such as breast cancer on the rise. But if you pool them all together, you get a straight line. Cancer is an age-related disease, and today, people are living longer. The thing to remember is, you can't get out of life alive."
Perhaps not, but even if it costs a little more, clearly many people will die trying.
Darker side to Argentina's soya success
- Financial Times, By Benedict Mander, June 7 2006
At Las Tortugas farm in Campo del Cielo, a seemingly interminable expanse of soya stretches into the distance in all directions.
It was not always like this. A decade ago, the view would have been very different: perhaps some cows lazily grazing, orthe thick scrubland typical of this dry northern region.
But the runaway expansion of soya cultivation in Argentina, one of the cornerstones of the country's impressive economic recovery since the crushing debt crisis of 2001-02, changed all that.
Propelled by rising demand in China, soya production in Argentina took off in 1996 when it became one of the first countries, along with the US and Canada, to introduce genetically modified soya.
By 2003, production in Santiago del Estero alone had increased almost tenfold, stimulated by the greatly reduced production costs that GM crops allow.
"In other parts of the country you will find farmers using the same tractors as their grandfathers. The ones you see here will probably be no more than 10 years old," says Alberto Huber, a local farmer.
The rapid introduction of soya farming in this province reflects a national trend. Argentina is now the third largest soya producer in the world, after Brazil and the US. Thanks to its very low rate of internal consumption, it is also now the biggest exporter of both soya oil and soya flour, accounting for about half of the world's exports of these products.
But while the so-called "green gold" may have played an important part in revitalising the country's economy over the past five years, many are concerned about the longer-term consequences for its key agricultural sector.
In the past decade, the area of land occupied by soya has increased from 6m hectares to 15.2m hectares, accounting for about half of all agricultural land in use. This has given rise to fears of deforestation, a lack of crop rotation damaging soil fertility and the indiscriminate use of chemicals. Crops such as maize and sunflowers have suffered marked declines.
Perhaps the most serious concern is the damage to Argentina's emblematic beef sector - soya crops have displaced cattle from traditional grazing grounds in the pampas, forcing herds to less fertile pastures that yield a lower quality and quantity of meat.
While soya production has rocketed by almost 4,000 per cent since 1970, the number of head of cattle fell from 53.2m in 1994 to 48.5m in 2004.
The case of Las Tortugas, a cattle ranch turned soya farm, is not unique. It is not hard to understand why: "There is no competition between a business that gives you returns at least three times in three years and one that pays out only once in the same period," says Mario Mondino, a local agronomist, explaining that a crop of soya can be harvested in six months at the very most, while it takes three years until a steer is ready for slaughter.
"And when you have a president who makes life difficult for beef producers, it's only natural that you would choose to grow soya instead - it's a serious problem," he adds, referring to the tense relations between the government and the beef sector that led to a controversial ban on beef exports that has since been only partially lifted.
The roots of this tension go back to the 2002 devaluation, which benefited soya but had an unexpected effect on beef. The sudden tripling of the amount of pesos received for the same amount of goods sold abroad benefited exporters as a whole. But the ensuing increase in beef exports put pressure on domestic supply, pushing up prices and attracting unwanted attention from a government that was battling to keep high levels of inflation under control.
Javier Gonzalez Fraga, an economist, cattle farmer and former governor of the central bank, says Argentina's dependence on soya makes it vulnerable to fluctuations in international demand.
The soya sent abroad in 2006 accounted for 13 per cent of the value of exports in the first quarter of 2006 as opposed to 3 per cent for beef, he says.
Some fear a drop in demand from China due to increased domestic production, or an increase in supply from other countries like Brazil.
Mr Gonzalez Fraga urges a revitalisation of the beef sector - involving lifting the "ridiculous" ban on exports - along the lines of French wine or Scottish whisky industries.
Like Argentine beef, but unlike its soya, these industries have the security of high levels of domestic demand.
Cuban Scientists Obtain First Monoclonal Antibody from Transgenic Plants
- Cuban News Agency, June 6, 2006
Havana, Jun 6 (ACN) The first ever monoclonal antibody obtained starting from transgenic plants with the purpose of purifying a human vaccine was registered in Cuba by the State Center for the Control of Medication Quality (CECMED), the regulating authority in charge of the control of medical drugs of the Ministry of Public Health.
This is the first ever monoclonal antibody registered in the world for this purpose and coming from genetically modified plants, according to Dr. Carlos Borroto, the deputy director of Havana’s Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center (CIGB).
Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory substances that are joined to specific cells, and each one only recognizes a protein or antigen as its target, explains a report on Granma daily newspaper.
The antibody is used in the process of purifying the active pharmaceutical ingredient of the Hepatitis B vaccine produced in Cuba by the CIGB sold under the trade mark of Heberbiovac-HB.
In comparison with the traditional production process, starting from the ascitic liquid of the mouse, obtaining the antibody from genetically modified tobacco plants, has advantages due to higher levels of safety and industrial possibilities, said Doctor Borroto.
Borroto made it clear that the tobacco plantations that were genetically modified have nothing to do with the commercial strains of that plant that are cultivated in Cuba.
He noted that the CIGB has taken appropriate actions to avoid possible risks to the environment when cultivating transgenic strains. This production process is confined to special controlled growing areas, where the technology specifically created with that purpose is in use, according to the Good Agricultural Production Practices demanded in the obtaining of vegetable biomass for pharmaceutical applications, Dr. Borroto confirmed.
This monoclonal antibody obtained from transgenic plants obtained the license granted by the National Center of Biological Safety that is part of the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment.
Approval by CECMED guarantees that the monoclonal antibody obtained as well as the innovative process that precedes it, has quality standards that are equivalent to the one obtained from the mouse ascitic liquid according to the existing international standards for the pharmaceutical industry.