Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: June 30, 2006
* ISAAA's CropBiotech Update
* U.S. Farmers Choose Biotechnology
* Indian Company Develops Home-grown Bt-Cotton
* Bt Cotton in India: Past, Present and Future
* The Holy Grail in a Grain of Rice
* Bad science, bad health: Health fads kill the poor
* Don’t create patchwork of GMO rules
- ISAAA's CropBiotech Update, June 30, 2006
- World Food Prize Winners Announced
- Texas Plants Get Chance to be Biofuel Sources
- Act International Adopts Policy on GMOs
- Soy Growers Support New Biodiesel Act
- Lessons on Developing National Biosafety Frameworks
- Iowa State U Works on Its Biofuel Research
- Nigeria President Commends, Reaffirms Support for WARDA
- PRSV Outbreak Causes Papaya Market Woes in Thailand
- Report Sees Grain Strength in Three CIS Countries
- Potato Late Blight, Malaria Agent Share Infection Strategy FROM THE BICs
- Study Tracks Amino Acid Content in Rice Grains
- Now In The Works: Self-Fertilizing Plants
U.S. Farmers Choose Biotechnology
- Truth About Trade and Technology, www.truthabouttrade.org
For more information contact: Mary Boote, 515.274.0800, firstname.lastname@example.org
June 30 USDA Report Confirms US farmers have adopted this technology with amazing speed
Des Moines, Iowa, USA (June 30, 2006) ----- “As farmers around the world are given the opportunity to choose and use the best technology for their farms – regardless of the size of their operation – they are continuing to plant more acres to biotech crops.” That was the opening statement made by Dean Kleckner, Truth About Trade and Technology Chairman, as he read the latest USDA numbers reporting the total U.S. acres planted to biotech crops in 2006.
This morning, the USDA released the latest numbers confirming that US planting of biotech crops continues to expand. Total acres of biotech corn, soybeans, cotton and canola planted in the US for 2006 increased by 11.1 million acres to 128.3 million acres - an increase of 9.5 percent from the 2005 total of 117.2 million acres.
“This report confirms our earlier estimate that somewhere in the world in early June of this year the 1.3 billionth acre of biotech crops was planted since commercial introduction began in 1996”, continued Mr. Kleckner, an Iowa farmer. “While the U.S. continues to lead in total biotech crop acreage, it is estimated that biotech crops have been or will be planted in at least 22 countries during calendar year 2006.”
In the United States, soybeans continue to have the highest adoption rate at 89 percent, up 2 percentage points from last year with a total acreage of 66.7 million acres of biotech soybeans. Corn ranks second in biotech crop acreage in the U.S. at 48.4 million, a 13.9 percent increase from last year, and the fourth highest adoption rate of 61 percent. Cotton has the third highest adoption rate in the U.S. at 83 percent, up 4 percentage points from 2005, and the third highest plantings at 12.4 million acres.
Ross Korves, Truth About Trade and Technology Economic Policy Analyst, has been tracking global biotech plantings for several years. “Farmers in the U.S. and around the world continue to increase their biotech crop acreage because of lower total costs and improved yields” stated Mr. Korves. “Adoption rates continue to vary based on the types of pests, the suitability of varieties that meet local growing conditions and the need to maintain pest refuge areas to protect against resistance.”
Total plantings of biotech crops in 2006 in the northern hemisphere are currently estimated at 145 million acres in 14 countries. Plantings in the southern hemisphere in 2005 were estimated at 72 million acres and could exceed 80 million acres in 2006. Planted in 8 countries, Brazil will likely have the largest growth in acres planted in 2006 as biotech soybean varieties become available for more regions of the country.
Indian Company Develops Home-grown Bt-Cotton
- GMO Compass, June 26, 2006
Field tests are now underway with India's first home-grown Bt-cotton varieties. The Bangalore based biotech company Metahelix is set to release its own Bt-cotton lines resistant to a spectrum of insect pests and adapted to India's local growing conditions.
All Bt-cotton currently grown in India possesses a Bt gene licensed by the US agrobiotech company Monsanto. When Indian farmers first began planting Bt-cotton, Monsanto was the only entity in India permitted to sell the biotech seed. Since then, Indian seed companies have obtained permission to use Monsanto's Bt gene and produce hybrid seed better suited to India's local conditions. Although this diversified the market, Monsanto still collects royalties from every bag of Bt seed sold. Bt-cotton from Metahelix uses a Bt gene developed in the company's own labs, which will make it possible for Indian farmers to access Bt-cotton without having to answer to Monsanto. Metahelix plans to undercut competitors' prices by 30 to 40 percent.
The ongoing field trials are investigating the effectiveness of the Bt mediated insect resistance, cotton fibre quality, and environmental biosafety. The cultivars are expected to be ready for commercial cultivation by 2007-2008.
India's Bt-cotton production in 2005 covered 1.3 million hectares, or 15% of India's total cotton crop. Although India possesses 25% of the world's cotton growing area, it only yields 15% of the worldwide harvest. Losses due to insect pests are partially to blame.
Bt Cotton in India: Past, Present and Future
- Dr D B Desai , Warren Hall 32, Cornell University, Wed July 5, 4-6 PM
Bt cotton was India's first transgenic ["GMO"] crop. Dr. D. B. Desai has been among the most important figures in the spread of this technology. Published work on Bt cotton ranges from findings of significant improvements to farmers' income and field environments to descriptions of agrarian crisis and ecological catastrophe. Political opposition to Bt cotton has been intense and multi-dimensional; institutional concerns about biosafety have attracted much critical attention. In Vandana Shiva's analysis, Bt cotton seeds -- first branded "suicide seeds" -- have been promoted to "homicidal" and most recently "genocidal" seeds -- responsible for the deaths of many thousands of farmers all over India.
Dr D B Desai was famously dubbed "Robin Hood" by farmer leader Sharad Joshi in recognition of Navbharat Seed's incorporation of the Monsanto transgene into the very successful Bt cotton variety Navbharat 151. The BBC celebrated Desai's transgenic cotton as an example of reverse biopiracy. Dr Desai does not claim any such thing. Subsequent to the banning of this variety by the government in Delhi, variants of NB 151 produced by farmers are spreading rapidly and widely throughout India, though Dr Desai himself is not allowed to distribute cotton seeds.
Commentary by Ron Herring and Devparna Roy. Sponsored by the South Asia Program, the Einaudi Center, and the Workshop on Development, Governance and Nature. Contact Ron or Dev if you wish to meet Dr Desai outside the seminar setting.
The Holy Grail in a Grain of Rice
- Dr. Henry I. Miller, TCS, 26 Jun 2006
Who among us hasn't experienced a touch of the trots from stomach flu or food poisoning? For those of us fortunate enough to live in an industrialized country with ready access to health care, diarrhea is little more than a nuisance, most often involving some discomfort and bloating, and a day or two off from school or work; but in the developing world it can be deadly. In sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Latin America and Asia with poor access to health care, clean water, and other resources, diarrhea is the number-two infectious killer of children under the age of five (surpassed only by respiratory diseases), accounting for two million deaths a year.
However, thanks to a simple but ingenious innovation by a California company, those numbers may soon be a relic of the past, like the mortality from smallpox and bubonic plague -- if we don't let naysayers and special interests get in the way.
Since the 1960's the standard of care for childhood diarrhea in the developing world has been the World Health Organization's formulation of rehydration solution, a glucose-based, high-sodium liquid that is administered orally. This low-tech product was revolutionary. It saved countless lives and reduced the need for costly (and often unavailable) hospital stays and intravenous rehydration. However, this product did nothing to lessen the severity or duration of the condition, which over time leads to malnutrition, anemia and other chronic health risks. Other approaches to treatments and preventive measures -- including changes in public policy, improvement of water treatment and the development of vaccines -- have not yielded significant, cost-effective results.
The solution (literally and figuratively) may be an ingenious, affordable innovation from Ventria Bioscience that combines high- and low-tech. It is an improvement on current oral rehydration that could be a veritable Holy Grail: two human proteins produced inexpensively in rice that radically improve the effectiveness of rehydration solutions.
It has been known for decades that breastfed children get sick with diarrhea and other infections less often than those fed with formula. Recent research done in Peru has shown that fortifying oral rehydration solution with two of the primary protective proteins in breast milk, lactoferrin and lysozyme, lessens the duration of diarrhea and reduces the rate of recurrence. Although the availability of an oral rehydration solution that lowers the severity, duration and recurrence of diarrhea would be of modest benefit to those of us in the developed world, it could be a near-miraculous advance in the developing world.
Ventria partnered with researchers at the University of California, Davis, and at a leading children's hospital and a nutrition institute in Lima, Peru, to test the effects of adding human lactoferrin and lysozyme to a rice-based oral rehydration solution (which provides more nutrition and tastes better to kids than glucose-based oral rehydration solution, so they're more likely to drink it).
The researchers found that when lactoferrin and lysozyme are added to rice-based oral rehydration solution, the duration of children's illness is cut from more than five days to three and two-thirds. This improvement is thought to be caused by the antimicrobial effect of lysozyme, which has long been known to be one of the primary protective proteins in breast milk. Moreover, over the twelve-month follow-up period, the children who had received the lactoferrin and lysozyme had less than half the recurrence rate of diarrhea (eight percent versus eighteen percent in the controls). This effect is probably caused by lactoferrin, which promotes repair of the cells of the intestinal mucosa damaged by diarrhea.
These developments represent significant progress in managing diarrhea and keeping it from becoming a chronic, recurring health risk.
What makes this approach feasible is Ventria's invention of a method to produce human lactoferrin and lysozyme in genetically modified rice, a process dubbed "biopharming." This is an inexpensive and ingenious way to synthesize the huge quantities of the proteins that will be necessary. (In effect, the rice plants' inputs are carbon dioxide, water and the sun's energy.)
Sounds like a great success for Ventria and end of story, right? Not by a long shot. Virtually every biotech breakthrough brings the creeps out of the woodwork, and this one is no exception. One radical biotech opponent remonstrated, "The chance this will contaminate traditionally grown crops is great. This is a very risky business."
Rice is self-pollinating, so outcrossing -- interbreeding with other rice varieties -- is virtually impossible. But even in a worst case, "contaminate traditionally grown crops" with what? With two human proteins normally present in tears, breast milk and saliva? Contamination, indeed!
Equally shameful was the comment of Bob Papanos of the U.S. Rice Producers Association: "We just want [Ventria] to go away," he said. "This little company could cause major problems." The truth is that it is the Luddite rice producers themselves who are causing major problems by their willingness to let the antagonism toward biotechnology by foreign importers of American rice interfere with the development of life-saving new products.
There were also completely baseless and malicious objections to the clinical trials themselves from left-wing activists in Peru, who claimed that the rights of the pediatric subjects were violated. Typically, the activists grossly misrepresented the facts surrounding the product and the conduct of the trial. The proteins used to supplement the oral rehydration solution are considered Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRAS; and the protocols, consent forms and study design of the trial were, in fact, approved by not only the Peruvian Ministry of Health, but also by review panels that oversee clinical trials at the University of California, the Nutritional Institute in Peru, and the Peruvian Ministry of Health. Inexplicably, the naysayers ignore that the experimental therapy was found to be both safe and effective.
Biopharming has brought us to the verge of a safe, affordable solution to one of the developing world's most pressing health problems. It will be the first of many to come -- if only we can keep the troglodytes at bay.
-- Henry I. Miller, a physician and fellow at the Hoover Institution, headed the FDA's Office of Biotechnology from 1989 to 1993. Barron's selected his most recent book, "The Frankenfood Myth..." one of the 25 Best Books of 2004.
Bad science, bad health: Health fads kill the poor
- Accra Daily Mail, by Mark Weston, June 30, 2006
Measles has killed one child in Britain this year and infected 450, making headlines. In poor countries it kills over 1,000 children a day. Although there is a cheap vaccine, scare stories from the West are building up aversion to this life-saving MMR injection, just as scare stories caused millions of deaths from malaria.
That one death in the UK was exceptional and measles is just an inconvenience for most Westerners -- some parents even make sure their children get infected, to immunise them. The danger, however, comes from widespread and spreading fears about an alleged link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and childhood autism.
Proof that the scare was based on highly dubious science appeared long ago, in dozens of studies, but the fear lives on, based on 12 cases in the UK in a 1998 paper by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that established no chain of cause and effect.
Activists are keen to export this fear, encouraged by the worldwide ban on DDT that consigned tens of millions to easily and cheaply avoidable death from malaria: DDT never had any effect on humans (in fact you could safely eat it by the spoonful) but the ban remained in force for 30 years and is only retreating very slowly. Again, it was not much of a problem in the West because we had already eradicated malaria, using DDT, by the Sixties. But a million people a year still die of malaria in poor countries.
The fashionable and romantic campaign against genetically-modified (GM) foods is another mild fad in the West that is fatal in the South: Zambia rejected food aid from the United States in 2002, right in the middle of a famine, because it contained GM maize -- the same maize Americans and Canadians have been eating for a decade. Most poor countries ban GM crops, especially for food, saying it might conceivably be harmful, with no evidence.
This is what activists call the "precautionary principle": even if no harm has ever been demonstrated, you must assume that it is harmful if you cannot prove that it cannot harm you in any way. This principle is enshrined in much new United Nations and European Community law.
The "precautionary" effect on MMR could be sudden and dramatic. Just a small decline in vaccinations has disproportionate effects: in the UK, between 1993 and 2003 vaccination fell from 92% of children to 82% while the number of measles cases increased six-fold.
Conversely, when the vaccine is used widely, the effect is also dramatic. In the Americas, the number of reported measles cases has declined by over 99% since 1990. The Western Pacific region has seen a 95% drop in the incidence of the disease since MMR was introduced, and worldwide measles deaths fell from 871,000 in 1999 to 454,000 five years later. Rubella, and the severe defects it can cause in newborn children, has been eliminated in many countries, and the threat to health posed by mumps and meningitis has greatly diminished.
For lucky Westerners measles is not much of a problem but in developing countries poor nutrition and weak health care make it a killer. In a world where international travel has become commonplace, an increase in measles in the West heightens the risk of deadly epidemics in poor countries.
So far, international health agencies have remained steadfast in their backing for MMR. But a UK survey showed that misleading coverage of the MMR scare meant only one in four people were aware that most studies showed no link between the vaccine and autism. Negative stories tend to stick and our increasingly networked world means they also tend to spread.
The internet effect may be working already. In South Africa, two patients who had separate, single-vaccine measles, mumps and rubella jabs instead of MMR have caught measles this year. Peruvian daily, "El Comercio" reported an increase in calls to a Ministry of Health 'phone line from parents worried about the link between vaccines and autism. They are a long way from Britain, Germany and the USA where the scare was incubated.
Only consistent advocacy can work against the spread of fear and myth. At the height of the vaccine scare UK Prime Minister Tony Blair added fuel to the controversy by refusing to reveal whether his baby son had received it. Such equivocal leadership only adds to public confusion, even in other countries.
As the DDT and GM experiences show, leaders facing pressure from activists or the media are quick to invoke the "precautionary principle" in banning a technology, even when scientific evidence of a threat is weak or completely absent. In the developed world, such over-caution is merely an irritant to health and wealth. In developing countries its effects are murderous.
Mark Weston is a policy consultant specialising in international development, including public health, HIV/AIDS, demography, education and corporate social responsibility.
Don’t create patchwork of GMO rules
- Capital Press, June 30, 2006
Santa Cruz County, Calif., is the latest battle front in the years-long war over growing genetically modified crops. It won’t be the last.
Santa Cruz County supervisors last week joined three other California counties – Mendocino, Trinity and Marin – in curbing the propagation of GMO crops. The board put a moratorium on them until warning labels can be placed on food with GMO ingredients.
The unanimous decision came “even though no one is growing genetically modified crops locally,” the Santa Cruz Sentinel said in a June 23 editorial.
Santa Cruz commissioners are not alone in their decision to offer a cure where no ailment exists. Their decision combines the main element of a 2002 initiative in Oregon demanding GMO labels on food with other efforts in California to ban the production of GMO crops.
Even in Oregon, where many urban voters are known for their liberal politics, the label initiative failed by a huge margin.
At the urging of the food-processing industry and other agricultural groups, which argued having a one-state law on labels was expensive and unworkable, 70 percent of Oregon voters rejected the initiative.
That logic aside, the effort to label or ban GMO food continues in California. The long and windy debate has migrated from county to county across much of the state.
At the center of the debate are concerns over whether GMO crops might potentially cross-pollinate with non-GMO and organic crops, whether they might inadvertently promote insects that are resistant to organic and other methods of pest control, whether they might otherwise interfere with organic growers and whether GMO food might somehow hurt consumers.
Although the concerns are many, the facts supporting them are few.
This comes at a time when the propagation of GMO crops is on the rise in the U.S., where more GMO crops are grown than anywhere else. In 2004, 85 percent of U.S. soybean acreage, 76 percent of cotton acreage and 45 percent of corn acreage was planted to genetically modified seed.
Other GMO crops include canola, papaya and squash. Most recently, GMO alfalfa was introduced.
Much of the seed is genetically altered to produce bacillus thurigiensis, or Bt toxin, which wards off insects that would damage crops.
This is the same Bt toxin some organic farmers use to protect their plants. However, they worry the wider occurrence of Bt toxin could cause insects to become resistant to it.
Another GMO seed contains a genetic trait that makes it resistant to glyphosate. That allows farmers to spray to kill weeds without damaging the crop.
Worldwide, about 25 percent of all cropland – 167.2 million acres – is planted to GMO crops, according to the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, a non-profit, non-partisan research project whose aim is to inform the public about agricultural biotechnology.
Along with the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Argentina, China and South Africa grow 99 percent of the world’s GMO crops.
While the production of GMO crops is increasing year by year, the public’s acceptance of GMO food crops is split, a new survey for the European Commission found.
The survey, whose results were released last week, found that overall only 27 percent of the residents in 25 European Union countries supported GMO foods.
The majority of residents of only five European countries – Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, Spain and the Czech Republic – support GMO food.
The California debate over growing GMO crops will continue to skip from county to county, creating a patchwork quilt of regulation that in turn will place a much larger burden on farmers and consumers than GMO crops would ever cause by themselves.
While such debates are healthy exercises in democracy, the results are unhealthy for agriculture, which is burdened by enough regulations already.
If the regulation of GMO crops is to occur, it needs to be on a regional or national level, not by random counties.