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June 22, 2006


GEAC responds to Bt cotton claims; Earthworms not affected by Bt corn; Transgenes in plant, but not in pollen


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: June 22, 2006

* India: GEAC responds to claims linking Bt cotton to sheep mortality
* Earthworms not affected by Bt corn, research finds
* Field destruction is not a victimless crime
* Transgenes in plant, but not in pollen
* Billionaire digs deep to take on malaria
* I Hate WholeFoods

India: GEAC responds to claims linking Bt cotton to sheep mortality

During their 68th Meeting held on 22 May 2006, India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) deliberated at length the representation received from the Center for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) regarding mortality in sheep flocks after grazing on Bt Cotton fields at Warangal, Andhra Pradesh. According to the CSA report, three random villages surveyed said "animals that fed continuously on Bt cotton for up to a week became listless with erosive lesions in the mouth, nasal discharge and blackish diarrhea."

However, after reviewing the case and the available data, it is the general opinion of GEAC that the report appears highly exaggerated and is based more on hearsay than on scientific facts. The Bt cotton released for commercial cultivation has been approved after evaluation of biosafety data, which includes feeding studies. The 90-day animal feed studies conducted at the Industrial Toxicology Research Center, Lucknow, feeding studies conducted at G B Pant University of Agriculture, Pantnagar on lactating cows and on fish at Avian Research Institute, Izatnagar indicate no toxic effect.

Furthermore, the acute oral toxicity study of Bt protein in mice conducted at Agriculture Group/ Environmental Health laboratory, USA concluded that there was no treatment-related adverse finding in any of the groups administered B.t.k. HD-73 protein (Bt protein) by oral gavage at dosages up to 4200 mg/kg. The oral LD50 for B.t.k HD-73 (Bt protein) protein in mice is greater than 4200 mg/kg and the no-observed effect level is 4200 mg/kg. Further mice gavage studies have shown that an intake of 4300 mg Cry1Ac / Kg body weight had no ill effect on the mice. Assuming a similar upper safe limit for goats, in order to have an intake of 4300 mg. of Cry1Ac/Kg of body wt., the goat should eat (assuming the goat weights 15 kgs) 24,339 kg of leaf/50,300 kg of boll rind, which is not practically feasible.

The Member Secretary of the Review Committee on Genetic Modification (RCGM) informed that, the above representation was discussed at their meeting held on 23 May 2006 wherein it has been recommended that the Department of Biotechnology may sponsor a study to assess the problem at Warangal District with the help of the local Veterinary Hospital. The Committee requested DBT to expedite the study so that the allegation made by the NGOs can be brought to a logical conclusion. The Committee also agreed that, in future, leaf toxicity studies need to be included as part of the biosafety studies. The Committee further decided to refer the matter to the State Department of Agriculture for a factual report on the allegation made by the NGOS and the findings of the post mortem report.

You may read GEAC 68th Meeting decision held on 22 May 2006 at: http://www.envfor.nic.in/divisions/csurv/geac/geac-68.pdf

Earthworms not affected by Bt corn, research finds

- ISAAA, June 21, 2006

Bt-corn is genetically engineered to express toxins that will protect corn against lepidopteran pests. Because Bt corn is widely planted, it is important to evaluate the potential risks of the Bt protein to non-target organisms, such as earthworms.

Earthworms are important to the aeration and nutritional content of soils; they are also important to corn grown in reduced tillage practices, since earthworms can maintain and improve soil physical conditions.

Only a few studies have dealt with the effects of Bt protein on earthworms, and Maria Laura Vercesi and colleagues of National Environmental Research Institute, Denmark add their own research to the tally as they ask: “Can Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn residues and Bt-corn plants affect life-history traits in the earthworm Aporrectodea caliginosa?” In a recent issue of Applied Soil Ecology, the authors report the effects of Bt-corn on survival, reproduction, and growth of the most widespread earthworm species in temperate agricultural soils.

Researchers tested the effects of finely ground Bt corn cultivar MEB307 leaves in soil on A. caliginosa, including concentrations that would be considered “worst case scenario.” They also tested the effects of Bt protein on earthworms by raising juveniles in soils in potted corn plants. After statistical analysis of their results, researchers recorded the following: 1) no earthworm adults died in the reproduction experiments with finely ground corn leaves; 2) there were no significant differences in juvenile growth curves between Bt and non-Bt exposed earthworms, but earthworm growth was drastically reduced in non-Bt plants treated with benomyl, a fungicide toxic to earthworms; and 3) there was slightly reduced cocoon hatchability of earthworms exposed to Bt corn.

Despite the decreased hatchability, scientists concluded that Bt corn residues had no detrimental effects on growth or development in A. caliginosa. This was because scientists added fresh Bt-corn material to the soil every 28 days; Bt-protein in corn leaves is degraded with a half-life of about 20-40 days.

Subscribers to Applied Soil Ecology can read the complete article at:


Federated Association of German Plant Breeders

Press Release (translated)

- Bundesverband Deutscher Pflanzenzüchter e.V., June 8, 2006

Field destruction is not a victimless crime

Losses to breeders and farmers cost millions

The destruction field trials of genetically modified plants by militant opponents of green biotechnology is creating great distress among scientists and plant breeders. After careful scientific and official assessment of ecological and agronomic variables, the field trials take place outdoors where their protection from criminal trespass is scarcely possible. "We are alarmed that the debate over green biotechnology is being threatened by the use of force, so that the basis for an actual social discourse is lost. We will defy the use of force and employ all legal means to resist these criminal tactics," said Dr. Ferdinand Schmitz, managing director of the Federated Association of German Plant Breeders [Bundesverband Deutscher Pflanzenzüchter e.V. (BDP)].

The damage caused by the destruction of the field trials is considerable. Uprooted and destroyed plants do not represent the loss of ordinary crops, but rather the loss of valuable breeding material which contributes to the development of new varieties and new technologies. The immediate physical damages inflicted by the destruction of outdoor field trials amounts to EU250,000 to EU300,000. The value of the research imperiled by destruction of any individual field trial runs into the millions.

Things are little different for seed certification tests. Responsibility for the certification of seed, according to environmental and agronomic characteristics, rests with the Federal Plant Variety Bureau [Bundessortenamt]. Before a new plant variety -- whether developed through biotechnology or traditional methods -- is released to the market, it is evaluated over several years under agricultural conditions. Only the best varieties may be marketed after conclusion of the official examination. If an evaluation for the certification of a new variety is lost, damages ranging into the millions result for the seed developer and with it, an entire year of market opportunity.

Still greater is the loss to agriculture in general. For example, the development of new corn [maize] varieties annually increases productivity by 1.5 decitonnes per hectare. If farmers were to go without this amount of progress for one year, that damage alone is considerable.

Civil courage required

"We cannot test our innovations in secured, isolated areas. We work in and with nature and that leaves us vulnerable to attacks," Schmitz said of the problem. A broad support of the state for the optimum protection of field trial integrity alone is not enough, in the opinion the BDP. "We appeal to attentive citizens who understand injustice, and who share our rejection of the use of force against persons and property to press a political argument. We are very grateful for the civil courage of vigilant residents near the location of the recent raid in Baden-Wuerttemberg, who reported the destruction to police. With support of the public, hopefully expressed by the press, television and politicians, it will become clear to the opponents that this form of argumentation will be ineffective."


Transgenes in plant, but not in pollen

- Weekblad voor Wageningen, 22 juni 2006

Researchers in Wageningen have developed a new method in which a genetically modified plant destroys its transgenes once it has manufactured its pollen. This makes it possible to avoid the spread of transgenes, and to use plants as molecular factories in a cleaner way.

‘It seems to be a very elegant technique. What it comes down to is that, in addition to the genes that we introduce, there is also a gene that ensures that all the transgenes are thrown out once the plant starts to make pollen. To do this we linked the gene to a promoter, a genetic switch, that is only on while the plant is making pollen,’ says Dr Jan-Peter Nap of Plant Research International. Together with Dr Ludmila Mlynárova, now at the Molecular Biology Group, and a colleague from New Zealand, they will publish their findings in July in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Nap is aware that many people will associate this technique with the controversial terminator technology, a genetic modification which prevents transgenic plants from making seed. This enables seed companies to make sure that farmers have buy new improved seed each year, instead of using seed they have collected themselves. ‘It is indeed a new kind of GURT – Genetic Use Restriction Technology – which is also what a terminator gene is. But in our case a plant does produce seed, it is only the production of transgenic pollen that is prevented. This is in response to the criticism that transgenes can be transferred to wild relatives or other crops through pollen. In addition, our technique does not require that plants be sprayed with chemicals to turn the switch on or off. We have made the deletion of the transgenes part of the plant’s biology,’ explains Nap.

The new technique makes use of a cre-gene, which can delete genetic material between two markers, the loxP-sites. By using a genetic switch, the promoter NTM19, which is only turned on during the first phase of pollen formation, only the transgenes are removed from the pollen.

Nap and his colleagues started by testing the system in tobacco plants, from which the genetic switch comes originally. Only two out of 16,800 seeds (0.024 per cent) produced from pollen from the transgenic plant still contained transgenes. ‘That is a surprisingly low percentage,’ says Nap. The system is very robust and also works well in the model plant Arabidopsis.

One possible disadvantage is that, because of the absence of transgenes in the pollen, it will be more difficult to maintain pure breeding lines.

Nap expects applications to be found above all in molecular farming, in which plants are used to manufacture pharmaceuticals and health promoting substances. The tobacco plant is very suitable for producing complex substances, but Nap thinks there are opportunities for using crops such as cabbage varieties to manufacture health-promoting omega-3-fatty acids.

Nap does not think that the development will silence criticism from organisations such as Greenpeace. ‘It is a very ‘clean’ process by which the transgenes are removed, but there still are 22 base pairs left over. This is not enough for a plant to manufacture transgenic proteins, but if activists are looking for a target, they will find one in this. After all, it’s still genetic modification.’


Billionaire digs deep to take on malaria
BILL GATES BOOST: Yorkshire scientists get over £7m for disease fight

Yorkshire Post Today, By Paul Jeeves, June 22, 2006

BILL Gates, the Harvard drop-out behind the Microsoft computer software empire – which turned him into the world's richest man – has given Yorkshire scientists more than £7m to fund the fight against malaria.

York University has received the $13.6m (£7.3m) windfall from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set up by Mr Gates and his wife, to pay for research on a plant which could help alleviate the global shortage of effective treatments for malaria.

The disease kills more than a million victims every year, and is responsible for the death of an African child every 30 seconds.

A specialist unit at York University's biology department is researching ways of increasing the yield of extracts from the plant Artemisia Annua, which is currently the sole source of the leading anti-malarial drug, artemisinin.

The plant, which grows wild in Britain and is known as Sweet Annie, has been used as a treatment for malaria in its native China for more than 400 years.

The research aims to create a non-genetically modified variety of the plant.

University vice-chancellor Prof Brian Cantor said: "This is a very significant grant for the department of biology and is an indication of the all-round excellence of research here.

"It will help scientists make significant progress in increasing the supply of effective cures for a disease that affects so many people across the world."

Demand for artemisinin and World Health Organisation-endorsed artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs) has increased dramatically in recent years because the malaria parasite has developed resistance to traditional single-drug treatments, such as chloroquine.

A shortage of artemisinin has arisen, leading to a five-fold increase in its price since 2004. The Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) at York University has been working on a fast-track breeding research programme for Artemisia Annua.

Mr Gates, 50, who has an estimated $50bn fortune, is to step down from his day-to-day role at Microsoft to concentrate on charity work.


I Hate WholeFoods

- Malevolent Wisdom, June 21, 2006

I will start off by saying that I like their Grain and Rice Bins, but that's about it.

I go in there last night expecting it to be a real store, not a self-righteous yuppy haven. I admit it, I'm naive. First thing that catches my eyes is the grain bins, reminding me of Hannafords (I like them). I head straight over and get some rice and sesame seeds (which are yummy by the spoonful). Now I need produce; veggies, legumes, tubers, and that ilk.

Off to my right is a large section of said items. It's labeled "Organic", which is stupid and attracts yuppies and people who don't know better. People only eat organic materials, whether it be processed or grown without scientific enhancement. Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs, as the "enlightened" like to call conventionally grown food is hypocracy. All food we eat is genetically modified through use of selective cultivation, environment transplanting, and "natural" fetilizers.

So, basically WholeFoods is asking me to pay 5 times what I should pay because they put an obvious and non-regulated label on it. Like "Free Range", which means NOTHING. You can find definitions, but you will see there is no standard by which it is applied.

As if the utter self-righteous bullshit and price gouging, wasn't enough, you can't find the prices on any of the damn produce! There are pictures with prices, but they say "organic 5.34 per pound" and "conventional 4.99 per pound" (Shaws charges 3.20 per pound for the same "conventional" red pepper). The pictures didn't give the code that's used to identify the item and there by the price. So, after staring at the two pictures trying to decide which was which, I asked an employee. "It's 5.34 a pound, like the sign says," trying to get a dig in... nice attempt... but failed. "Oh, so this is organic? It's not the conventional? Because the convential is in which bin?" He stood there looking stupid and probably feeling like he fucked up trying to be smart. "Nevermind, Shaws doesn't charge out the ass for the same stuff and they label everything so the customer can find the price," and I parted his company. I bought a few peppers that were only available in one variety, that way there wouldn't be any more ackwardness.

I left the store feeling stupid and had. I can only imagine that people think they're doing something "trendy" or "healthy" or "supporting the little guy" by shopping there. The quality isn't any better than Shaws (which sells "Organic" food) and the prices were insane. The selection was also sparse, "name" brands were lacking (I couldn't find Slim-Fast... go ahead, make your fat jokes). The store just tries to hard to be counter culture, that it is a new culture.

I'll stick with Shaws, Stop & Shop, Hannafords, Winn Dixie (stupid name, you lost the fucking war!), Publix, and even... CostCo. For those of you that like WholeFoods... ask yourself what is so special about their food that you should pay Name brand prices for Store brand. Pat yourself on the back there Cochise.