Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: June 20, 2006
* BT is not the culprit
* GM Cereal Resists Heat to Boost Nutrition
* Ex-agriculture minister grows GM soy
* Biotechnology Continues to Play Significant Role in Reshaping World Agriculture
* Organic Cotton contests Wal-Mart claim on bio-friendly cotton
* One in two Europeans believe biotechnology will improve quality of life
BT is not the culprit
- BioSpectrum, Thursday, June 15, 2006
Tests carried out by scientists in India and abroad on sheep, goats, buffalos, cows, rabbits, birds and fish have confirmed the safety of Bt protein
There is a sensational headline grab bing lots of media attention lately: sheep are dying in India by eating Bt cotton leaves!
Bt protein such as in the genetically modified (GM) cotton in India has been extensively tested in feeding trials and consumed in hundreds of millions of meals by not only livestock but also humans. There has not been a single problem ever, much less a fatality. This suggests one might want to look for a more likely culprit. In this case, as soon as one does that, the culprit seems to leap out-conventional pesticide poisoning. Or even the natural toxins that are abundant in cotton leaves.
The sheep-death-by Bt Cotton-story is the latest scandalous report from the Center for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) of Secunderabad, a "dyed-in-the-wool" group of activists who are hell bent on stopping Indian agriculture on its track to progress. They claim that hundreds of sheep died after eating leaves of Bt cotton, a crop that has been genetically modified (GM) to protect against insect attack. A close examination of the issue reveals that pesticide poisoning or the natural toxins in the cotton leaves rather than the Bt protein are the likely culprits here.
The CSA report does not offer any scientific evidence to suggest the culpability of the engineered insecticidal protein in the cotton plants in the sheep mortality. While CSA calls its report preliminary, they have no compunction to blow it all out of proportions in an orchestrated effort to scare the public.
Media and Internet discussion groups are abuzz with this story convicting Bt cotton of sheep death even without a trial. It is clearly a mischievous and cheap attempt to denigrate and discredit the Bt technology by anti-GM groups to fulfill their avowed goal of making India "GM-free" and rid of modern biotechnology that promises so much for our farmers and consumers.
Indeed, it is refreshing that the state government veterinarian who conducted post-mortem on four to five sheep came to a scientifically reasonable conclusion that the sheep deaths may be due to insecticide poisoning. The autopsy reports show tell-tale signs of pesticide poisoning and the treatment prescribed by the veterinary doctor are atropine and prednisolone, a standard treatment for pesticide-poisoning from organophosphorous and carbamate insecticides.
Dr Richard Roush, an internationally recognized scientist on Bt crops at the University of California (Davis), concurs that poisoning from pesticides or natural plant toxins is the likely cause of sheep death in India, and adds "These anti-GM activists, for their own ideological aims, are taking advantage of local ignorance to try to scare people off from crops that have significant health and environmental benefits. There is least effort to find the real causes."
Dr Sonny Ramaswamy, an entomologist and Director of Agricultural Research Programs at Purdue University (USA), also suspects that natural plant toxins such as gossypol or other alkaloids found in cotton leaves or foliar-applied pesticides may have contributed to the sheep fatality.
There are many other troubling questions here: why are these claims coming from only the anti-GM activists? Why weren't objective animal scientists engaged? Why is the "situation" limited to Andhra Pradesh? Why hasn't this happened anywhere else? Why do published animal feeding studies with Bt crops not show any harmful effects?
While the actual case of sheep mortality in India must be investigated thoroughly, one can easily exonerate the Bt protein as blameless. Bt protein is present in miniscule amounts in cotton leaves whose action is so specific that it does not even damage other insects than its target, the cotton bollworm. Dozens of toxicology and biosafety studies show that Bt protein in GM crops is extremely safe. Mammals (higher animals and humans) do not have receptors for the Bt toxin unlike target lepidopetrans like bollworm. Tests carried out by scientists in India and abroad on sheep, goats, buffalos, cows, rabbits, birds and fish have confirmed the safety of Bt protein beyond doubt.
Bt crops have been grown in dozens of countries across the world in the past ten years over hundreds of millions of hectares. There has never been a single credible report of damage to human or animal health or the environment from approved GM crops or the foods derived from them. Unlike conventional crops, biotech-derived crops are subjected to extremely rigorous safety-testing, and are continuously monitored after their commercialization.
Bt protein in cotton leaves thus is not the culprit of sheep demise. There is nothing in the report of CSA to suggest a direct cause and effect relationship between Bt protein and the death of sheep. Yet, they have made scandalous headlines just to mislead the public.
This needless sensationalization to disparage a highly effective and successful pest-control technology is nothing but political propaganda to scare Indian farmers from using it. Bt cotton technology is a proven technology that is helping farmers around the world including India to grow more crops in an environmentally-friendly manner by reducing millions of kilograms of pesticide.
While the opponents of GM technology cannot produce any scientific or credible evidence that these crops are unsafe, they would not miss any chance to indict the technology with contrived fears. It is easy to dismiss such impish and irrational propaganda but unfortunately the anti-GM activists know too well that the fear-sensation is easy to sell to the gullible public and policy makers.
Every toxicologist knows that "dose makes a poison", a dictum conveniently ignored by groups opposed to biotechnology. Just last year, the anti-GM zealots in India went to town crying hoarse and waving a scientific paper published by Keshav Kranthi of the Central Institute of Cotton Research in Nagpur (Current Science, June 2005) that these same varieties of Bt cotton did not produce sufficient quantities of Bt toxin to control cotton bollworm. Now, these same activists are suggesting that harvested leaves of Bt cotton (where Bt toxin should have suffered sufficient degradation) have so much toxin in them to kill a huge animal like sheep when compared to the tiny cotton bollworm.
This just shows that 'die-hard' opponents of modern biotechnology will go to any length to weave whatever story to suit their political agenda. They are doing a great disservice to the farmers of India by preaching falsehoods and preventing them from using modern technologies that they so badly need and deserve.
GM Cereal Resists Heat to Boost Nutrition
- SciDev.Net,June 19, 2006, By Wagdy Sawahel
The GM wheat contains a nutritional enzyme that can resist boiling.
Scientists have genetically modified wheat and barley so the seeds still contain an important nutritional enzyme after cooking.
The enzyme phytase helps people absorb zinc and iron and the researchers say the plants could be used to alleviate dietary mineral deficiency, which affects 2-3 billion people worldwide, primarily in developing countries.
In wheat, phytase looses its effectiveness at 63 degrees Celcius.
The team led by Henrik Brinch-Pedersen of the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences produced genetically modified (GM) wheat plants with phytase stable up to 89 degrees Celcius by inserting a phytase gene from the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus.
Flour produced from the GM wheat had up to six times more phytase than non-GM wheat flour.
Brinch-Pedersen's team also showed that even after boiling the GM wheat seeds for 20 minutes, they still contained enough phytase to allow people to absorb a significant amount of minerals.
The boiling test reduced the seeds' phytate content by 42 per cent, comparable to what is contained in unboiled non-GM seeds.
Iron deficiency in women and children in poor countries is the main cause of anaemia, which can stunt children's development and cause chronic fatigue in adults (see GM maize 'could help fight against iron-deficiency').
Zinc deficiency increases people's susceptibility to pneumonia and watery diarrhoea, a major cause of death for children in the developing world (see Zinc 'safe' to protect HIV children from deadly illness).
Speaking to SciDev.Net, Brinch-Pedersen said his team had also developed GM barely plants with heat-stable phytases and were planning to do the same for rice.
The research was published on 2 June in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Ex-agriculture minister grows GM soy
- Bucharest Daily News, June 20, 2006
The vice president of Parliament's agriculture committee, former Agriculture Minister Valeriu Tabara, is growing hundreds of hectares of genetically modified (GM) soy in a research resort in Timis County, according to Greenpeace Romania, in a press release made public yesterday.
The organization said it discovered that Tabara was growing genetically modified soy from the former minister himself and the views he expressed during a debate in Parliament on the environment law. Tabara reportedly accused Greenpeace of "crimes against science" over the organization's campaign against genetically modified organisms and invited the NGO to "burn" his crops in Timis. The release shows that representatives of the organization traveled to Timis and found the GM soy, but, "given that Greenpeace is a nonviolent organization, we did not destroy the crops, but we did notify the authorities."
Biotechnology Continues to Play Significant Role in Reshaping World Agriculture
New report states that despite some consumer concern, the biotechnology trend is likely to continue as it leads to productivity gains for farmers.
- Farm Futures, (6/20/2006)
Biotechnology is among key forces reshaping world agriculture, enabling increased crop yields and productivity despite limited available land, and leading to better quality and lower priced food products for consumers.
That's according to a new report from North Dakota State University, "Forces Reshaping World Agriculture," authored by Jeremy Mattson and Won Koo of NDSU's Center for Agricultural Policy and Trade Studies.
The authors point out that growth of agriculture in the United States is dependent on productivity increases. Since there is little land available for expansion of agricultural production in the U.S., growth in production will require increased yields. Export competitiveness is also dependent on relative productivity growth against major competitors.
Future productivity growth will be influenced by current and future research, especially public research. "New developments that could lead to further productivity increases include improved technologies for nutrient, soil, water, and pest management; precision agriculture; and agricultural biotechnology," the report says. "The emergence of biotechnology could especially have a significant impact on productivity worldwide."
Farmers benefit from the use of GM crops through increased weed and insect control, which could lead to increased yields and decreased pesticide costs. Mattson and Koo report that despite some consumer concern, the biotechnology trend is likely to continue as it leads to productivity gains for farmers. "The introduction of GM wheat has been delayed, largely due to concern that consumers in export markets will not accept it, but it could eventually be adopted," they write.
While current biotech crops have been developed mainly to improve agricultural production, future biotech crops could be introduced that have qualities such as increased nutritional content or other characteristics that would benefit consumers. "Consumer response to the further adoption of biotech crops is uncertain, but it may become more favorable as these crops are developed with more obvious benefits for consumers." Developing countries could benefit the most from biotechnology through productivity gains and improved nutritional content of crops such as golden rice.
Mattson and Koo point out that while technological advances appear to initially benefit producers by leading to higher yields, lower costs, and increased productivity, consumers ultimately benefit from lower real food prices.
The entire NDSU report can be found as a PDF online at agecon.lib.umn.edu/cgi-bin/detailview.pl?paperid=21789.
Organic Cotton contests Wal-Mart claim on bio-friendly cotton
- Fibre2Fashion, June 20, 2006
Sam’s Club stores of Wal-Mart recently sold 190,000 yoga outfits made from organic cotton and said that they have set aside the world’s cotton fields from being contaminated by 500,000 pounds of pesticides.
According to Organic Exchange, cotton growers use 1,950 pounds of pesticide per acre, but in fact, American cotton growers have been using only about 2.3 pounds of pesticides per acre.
Pesticides on the other hand helped save 750 pounds of cotton from boll weevils and weed effects in US.
Thus, Wal-Mart had to rectify their claim of saving of 50,000 pounds of pesticide.
It was reported that due to lack of nitrogen required for nourishing the plant roots, Africa could supply organic cotton yields to the tune of only 400 pound while Tanzania achieved only 200 pounds, per acre.
However, due to some unknown reason, organic farming rules prevent the nitrogen fertilizer that encourages higher yields as in the case of the US farmers who use nitrogen from air.
High-yield biotech cotton inherit ultra-safe natural pesticide bred in its tissues and only bugs can eat it although it does not ward off other destroyers like birds, bees or humans.
Above all the organic movement has forbidden all biotech crops from its markets, declaring that they do not yield more.
China possesses new biotech cotton variety that yields 25 percent more fibers per acre than conventional cotton and yet again, Organic Exchange found Wal-Mart on the wrong foot.
One in two Europeans believe biotechnology will improve quality of life
- EU Press Release, June 19, 2006
52% of those polled in the latest Eurobarometer survey on biotechnology, published today, indicated a belief that biotechnology will improve their quality of life. The Eurobarometer “Europeans and biotechnology in 2005” shows that most Europeans are in favour of medical (red) applications of biotechnology when there are clear benefits for human health; and industrial (white)applications, but they are still mostly sceptical about agricultural (green) biotech, and will continue to be so unless new crops and products are seen to have consumer benefits. Confidence has increased in the European Union's regulation of biotechnology but there is no evidence that this has influenced the public's reported purchasing intentions, especially for GM foods. Overall, optimism about biotechnology's contribution to improving society has grown significantly since 1999. There is also support for research using stem cells, provided this is tightly regulated. This survey is the latest in a series of regular surveys on attitudes to biotechnology undertaken since 1991. The survey will be presented at a workshop on 22 June 2006 in Brussels.
The survey examines issues such as:
* Optimism about the contribution of technology, including biotechnology, to our way of life. Here, the survey shows that optimism about biotechnology has increased since 1999, after a period of decline (52% say it will improve their life)
* The development of nanotechnology, pharmacogenetics (analysing a person’s genetic code in order to create drugs which are tailored to him/her and are therefore more effective) and gene therapy, all three of which are generally perceived as useful to society and morally acceptable.
* GM food, where a majority of Europeans (58%) think it should not be encouraged,
* Industrial (white) technologies, such as bio-fuels, bio-plastics (plastics manufactured from crop plants) and biopharming (the use of genetically modified plants in the production of medicines and pharmaceutical products) for pharmaceuticals, which are widely supported.
* Stem cell research, where there is considerable support across Europe, if tightly regulated. There is approval for use of both stem cells derived from umbilical cords (65%) and embryonic stem cells (59%), with 26% of people saying they do not approve of embryonic stem cell research at all or only under very special circumstances.
* Use of personal genetic data, with 58% of participants indicating they would allow their genetic data to be banked for research purposes, though there are differing levels of support for genetic data banks across the EU.
* Trust in actors involved in biotechnology, which shows growing levels of trust in university and industry scientists (73% and 64%). The EU is seen as more trustworthy than national governments on issues of regulating biotechnology (74% compared with 68%).
* Comparison of attitudes with US and Canada, dispelling claims that European public opinion is more technology-adverse than its transatlantic partners.
Close analysis of the data shows that it is inaccurate to ascribe certain attitudes to biotechnology by age group, or gender.
This survey is the latest in a series of such Eurobarometers on biotechnology conducted in 1991, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2002 and 2005. The sixth Eurobarometer on Biotechnology 2005 is based on a representative sample of 25 000 respondents, approximately 1 000 in each EU Member State.
The experts who undertook this survey will present the findings at a workshop on 22 June. To register for the workshop, download the full report and read the executive summary, please visit: