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July 14, 2006


Hardy Crops; Food Safety of Animals Fed Biotech; Chinese Farmers Love GM Rice; Vaccine from Swamp


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - July 14, 2006

* Engineering Drought Tolerance
* Safety of Foods From Animals Fed Biotech-Derived Crops
* Genetic Rice Gives Good Dividends to Chinese Farmers
* Philippines: Biotech Gets Boost From $20M US Loan
* India: Bt cotton on 8.1 Million Acres by 2006
* Straight From The Swamp, A Vaccine You Can Drink

Engineering Drought Tolerance

- Robert Wager, Globe And Mail, July 7, 2006 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/

Without water there is no life. Agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of the world's freshwater usage, even though almost 80 per cent of the world's agriculture is non-irrigated and therefore relies solely on rainfall.

Here in Canada, we are fortunate to have vast amounts of freshwater. Still some Canadian farmers have serious water issues. Rain and snowfall account for a large percentage of the water required to grow crops on the prairies. For several years parts of Canada have experienced lower precipitation and now have drought conditions.

So what can we do about it? Contrary to popular myths we cannot control the weather. Therefore we are left with manipulating the crops to better deal with drought conditions when they arise. On average it takes 1,000 litres of water to grow one kilogram of wheat. What if we could create a genetically engineered (GE) variety of wheat that only required 200 litres per kilogram?

Around the world scientists are working at developing drought resistant crops. Researchers in Egypt are field testing a variety of wheat containing a gene from barley. This genetically engineered (GE) wheat cultivar requires one eighth as much water as its conventional counterpart. At present this transgenic (produced by genetic engineering) wheat is undergoing bio-safety assessments in preparation for commercialization. Undoubtedly some Canadian farmers will be very interested in this drought tolerant wheat.

The publicly-funded International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has been involved with crop improvements since the green revolution. Both transgenic and traditional breeding approaches to crop improvements are used. A drought tolerant transgenic wheat variety is being evaluated and may be ready for commercialization within five years. However, an interesting twist has been discovered with this research project.

It seems that under drought conditions the transgenic wheat does better than non-transgenic varieties, but under adequate water conditions the transgenic wheat performs less well. Therefore researchers are looking for ways to control when the transgene (gene engineered into a crop) is turned on.

There has been some excellent research looking at controlling pieces of DNA, called promoters, which will only turn genes on under specific environmental conditions. Using this controlling DNA is a type of genetic use restriction technology (or GURT). Although critics of GE crops have been very active fighting the advancement of GURT research, Canada is one of a select number of countries that has called for more research into using these technologies to improve crops.

Further, the use of another type of GURT would stop the unwanted movement of the drought tolerance trait itself. Using this type of GURT the pollen or seed of the drought tolerant crop would be sterile so there would be no transfer of the drought resistance into other crops or natural weed populations.

Monsanto is a world leader in agricultural biotechnology research and drought tolerance is going to be a popular trait in their future crop varieties. A look at one of their research facilities shows long hallways filled with growth chambers containing drought tolerant crops in various stages of development. One particular drought tolerant corn variety is moving through the regulatory pipeline and may be ready for commercialization as early as 2010.

Under drought conditions this variety has shown a 20 bushel yield advantage over non-transgenic corn varieties. To give some perspective, the highly successful insect resistant corn varieties give between 6-14 bushels per acre yield advantages. There is little doubt farmers across North America will be very interested in these new drought tolerant corn varieties once they have passed all the regulatory evaluations required for commercialization.

The most popular type of genetically engineered crop grown around the world is engineered to be herbicide tolerant. Growing these crops results in excellent weed control and at the same time allows the farmers to practice reduced or zero tillage agriculture. The benefits have been well documented. By reducing the amount of ploughing, soil erosion and the loss of soil moisture to evaporation are greatly reduced. Therefore, growing this type of GE crop also helps with water conservation.

The other big players in agriculture biotechnology are also heavily investing in drought tolerance research. Bayer, Syngenta, Dow, BASF and Dupont all have extensive research programs in this area. At this point no one knows how many drought tolerant transgenic crops China has in development. But we can be confident it is quite a few as China has three times as many transgenic crops in development as the United States. The adoption rate of agricultural biotechnology is fastest in developing world.

If the current trend of climate change continues there will undoubtedly be shifts in precipitation patterns around the world. Those areas that rely on rain water for agriculture may be at risk. Along with newer drip irrigation systems, agri-forestry, and traditional plant breeding, genetic engineering of drought tolerance will play an important role in maintaining food production with less water.


Safety of Consuming Foods From Animals Fed Biotechnology-Derived Crops

- Council For Agricultural Science And Technology July 12, 2006 http://www.cast-science.org/cast/src/cast_top.htm

The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) is releasing a new Issue Paper, Safety of Meat, Milk, and Eggs from Animals Fed Crops Derived from Modern Biotechnology, fifth in CAST's nine-part series "Animal Agriculture's Future through Biotechnology."

"The safety and availability of high-quality food and animal feedstuffs are critical to populations worldwide," says Task Force Chair Professor Richard H. Phipps, School of Agriculture, Development and Policy, The University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom. "During the last decade the area of biotechnology-derived crops has increased dramatically from 4 to 90 million hectares/year, and crop varieties of corn, soybean, cotton, and canola are now widely used and are an important feedstuff in livestock production systems. It is essential, therefore, to consider the safety of meat, milk, and eggs obtained from animals fed crops derived from modern biotechnology."

Written and evaluated by a Task Force of international scientists-from the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, and Brazil-this timely CAST Issue Paper has the following objectives:

1. To provide an overview of regulatory assessments of biotechnology-derived crops; and
2. To summarize the empirical data generated for assessing the safety of meat, milk, and eggs from animals fed biotechnology-derived crops that express agronomic input traits.

Animal products such as milk, meat, and eggs are significant sources of high-quality food for humans and represent approximately one-sixth of their food energy and one-third of their food protein on a global basis. Therefore, an important underlying tenet for the scientific assessment of the safety and nutritive value of crops derived from modern biotechnology is based on the question "Is the biotechnology-derived crop as safe as a conventional crop?" Safety of Meat, Milk, and Eggs from Animals Fed Crops Derived from Modern Biotechnology provides evidence to support a strong affirmative response.

Areas of study in CAST's new Issue Paper include

* an overview of regulatory assessments for biotechnology-derived crops modified for agronomic input traits,
* an evaluation of the comparative safety assessment process,
* results of feeding studies in farm animals,
* the fate of consumed proteins and DNA, and
* conclusions and recommendations.

"Results of the most up-to-date research compiled by this international Task Force conclude that meat, milk, and eggs produced by farm animals fed biotechnology-derived crops are as wholesome, safe, and nutritious as similar products produced by animals fed conventional crops," says Dr. John M. Bonner, CAST Executive Vice President. "CAST is pleased to provide this important contribution to the scientific literature on feed safety."

CAST's new Issue Paper concludes with several important points? for future research and action to ensure continued safety and nutritive value of feeds in current and future crops derived from modern biotechnology. Recommendations include

* Continue using a case-by-case safety assessment approach
* Assess risks, as opposed to hazards
* Provide adequate funding to regulatory groups
* Provide resources to increase public outreach and dialogue

The full text of the paper Safety of Meat, Milk, and Eggs from Animals Fed Crops Derived from Modern Biotechnology (Issue Paper No. 34) may be accessed on the CAST website at www.cast-science.org, along with many of CAST's other scientific publications, and is available in hardcopy for $5.00 (includes shipping) by contacting the CAST office at 515-292-2125. CAST is an international consortium of 38 scientific and professional societies. It assembles, interprets, and communicates credible science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally to legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public.


Genetic Rice Gives Good Dividends to Chinese Farmers

- Business Recorder July 12, 2006 http://www.brecorder.com

The genetically modified rice provided to Chinese farmers has paid dividends as they succeeded in have their production cost reduced, improving per acre yield, and reducing use to pesticides to zero level, according to a report published in journal 'Science' last week.

Scientists in Tando Jan Sindh Agriculture University evince national interest and are of the opinion that its health and safety should be examined before cultivating genetically modified rice.

The study, conducted by American and Chinese scientists who have long backed the crops, comes as the Chineseb government is deciding whether to approve the sale of genetically modified rice, which would make China the first nation to adopt biotechnology crops in one of the world's leading food staples.

Despite advocacy's by Green Peace volunteers, scientists continue experimenting with genetically modified rice, which plans to seep into the food system.

Supporters who claim that genetically modified crops had no scientific proof of health threats hope that if China approves the altered rice, that endorsement might alleviate health and environmental concerns.

In China, genetically modified rice is approved for use only in designated experiments. Green Peace advocates said two weeks ago that they had purchased bags of the rice in seed markets, and called on the government to stop the rice from spreading more widely into the food supply. Green Peace still insists that the rice could possibly be harmful, as its long-term effects were unknown. The Chinese government said it was investigating whether the rice entered the food supply in Hubei Province, a rice-producing region.

The 'Science' study did not address whether genetically modified rice could be harmful to people if eaten. But it did say the rice was probably better for farmers: genetically modified rice cut pesticide use by as much as 80 percent. The altered rice has a gene that acts as its own insecticide.

Reduced pesticide use would allow farm incomes to rise, the study said. "We estimate that if 90 percent of the farmers plant GM rice, then the annual agricultural income of China will increase by $4 billion," said Huang Jikun, an author of the paper and director of the Agriculture Policy Research Centre at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Some experts, however, say the Chinese government may not approve genetically modified rice this year because of safety concerns.


Philippines: Aggie Modernization Including Biotech Gets Boost From US Loan Of $20M

- Searca Bic Press Release, http://www.bic.searca.org/

Finance Secretary Teves and Ambassador Kenny signed the PL 480 Title 1 Program-Loan Agreement. Witnesses were (L-R) UPLB Chancellor Luis Rey Velasco, Agriculture Secretary Domingo F. Panganiban, and U.S. Acting Agricultural Counselor Dennis B. Voboril. Finance Secretary Margarito B. Teves and U.S. Ambassador Kristie A. Kenny signed today, July 14, 2006, the 'PL 480 agreement for 2006' at the Institute of Plant Breeding, University of the Philippines Los Baņos (UPLB).

According to Secretary Teves, proceeds from the loan agreement shall be used for Philippine agricultural development in four priority areas: 1) reinforced post-harvest handling and infrastructure development; (2) biotechnology research and commercialization; (3) livestock development; and (4) human resource development. "Programs and projects along these priority areas are aimed towards improving food security, alleviating poverty and promoting broad-based, equitable and sustainable agriculture," the finance secretary said. The Department of Agriculture and the National Food Authority will jointly implement the program.

U.S. Ambassador Kenny noted the historical ties between Philippines and US in promoting agricultural development. Doubly significant was the location of the signing of the Agreement, for it was the first time that it was signed under the auspices of the country's premier agricultural university. The signing took place at a biosafety facility for an ongoing transgenic papaya research that receives financial support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture PL 480 Program, the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCARRD), the UPLB, the Monsanto Fund, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program II, and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA).

For 2006, the agreement provides US $20M to import approximately 69,000 metric tons of rice from the United States which will arrive in early 2007. The Public Law 480 of the United States, 'PL 480', is also known as the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act which was enacted in 1954. This law provided for the 'United States Government financing of sales of U.S. agricultural commodities to developing countries on concessional credit terms' according to finance department. The Philippines is a recipient of U.S. PL 480 Title 1 Program since 1991.

Also present during the signing ceremony were Agriculture Secretary Domingo F. Panganiban, National Food Authority Administrator Gregorio Y. Tan Jr., UPLB Chancellor Luis Rey Velasco, NAFC Executive Director Bernie Fondevilla, U.S. Acting Agricultural Counselor Dennis B. Voboril, officials of UPLB and the Los Baņos Science Community, and U.S. Foreign Agriculture Service.


India: Bt cotton to Cover 8.1 Million Acres in the Country by 2006

- Press Information Bureau Government of India, July 13, 2006, Via Agnet,

The area under Bt cotton will reach 81 lakh (10 lakh = 1 million) acres during 2006 in the country. During the year 2002 this was cultivated in 72,682 acres of the land which increased to 31,00,000 acres last year. Experience and high adoption of Bt cotton by farmers have confirmed the efficacy of Bt technology for control of bollworms. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee meeting, which was held on 30.6.2006, further said that about 121 Bt cotton hybrids are under various stages of field trials. India has approved the cultivation of Bt cotton with cry1Ac (Mon 531 event) in 2002 after extensive and exhaustive biosafety and agronomic evaluation. Within a period of four years about 59 hybrids expressing cry1Ac (Mon 531 event) have been released by the GEAC

The Ministry of Environment & Forests, constituted a sub-Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr C D Mayee, Chairman ASRB, and Co-Chair GEAC, to look into the existing processes, protocols and other related issues and gave recommendation for rationalization of the same. The final report of the sub-committee which was formulated through a consultative process was adopted by the GEAC.

The sub-Committee recommended various things. Extensive biosafety and agronomic testing is not necessary for approved event. Once an event has been tested for its biosafety and approved for environmental release, it should be treat ed on par with the non-Bt hybrids.

An "event based approval system" instead of the case by case approval process presently adopted by the GEAC under Rules 1989, would speed up the introduction of new and diverse products for the Indian farmer, stimulate competition and offer a wider choice, without compromising bio-safety and environmental safety.
While due consideration for the agronomic value of the hybrid should be given and not completely done away with, the parameters of prime importance to assess the efficacy of Bt technology are (i) confirmation of the gene/event, (ii) level of protein expression and (iii) morphological characterization based on DUS parameters.

Parameters such as level of protein expression, susceptibility to diseases, staple length, staple strength, etc will be given consideration while selecting promising hybrids as these parameters also contribute to the economic gain. The technology in no way increases the yield potential of a hybrid but because of the inherent protection to bollworms there is a saving of bolls, and also reduction in number of sprays drastically, which results in increase in yield.

Since agriculture is a State subject, involvement of the State Agriculture Universities (SAUs) and State Agriculture Departments has been enhanced by delegating Director Research of SAUs as the nodal point for pre-release field monitoring and Direct Agriculture Extension of SAUs as the nodal point for post release monitoring mechanism under the direct supervision of respectively. A funding mechanism for the same has also been proposed.

ICAR trials in respect of Bt cotton with cry1Ac (Mon 531 event) have been made optional. This was done in view of the constraints expressed by ICAR in handling large number of field trials due to limited resources and infrastructure. Alternatively the Companies may opt for SAU trials.

In case of Bt cotton hybrids expressing new gene events or new transgenic crops, the prevailing system of two year LST in tandem with two year ICAR trials after multi-location tria ls under RCGM would continue. The liberalized procedure recommended for Bt cotton hybrids expressing cry1Ac gene (Mon 531 EVENT) would be applicable to new gene-events after its performance have been monitored post release and GEAC has renewed its approval for commercial release.

Regarding seed production of Bt Brinjal and its large Scale trials permission will be granted. The Committee taking into consideration the comments received from several NGOs and others has extended the time period of submitting their comments upto 15th July 2006. Regarding the request of some NGOS for detailed biosafety package and statistical analysis of biosafety data, the Committee was of the view that the NGOs /Public may be permitted to examine the report in the MoEF in the presence of a GEAC representative.
The GEAC also decided to constitute an Expert Committee to look into the comments received from the NGOS/ public and submit its recommendation to the GEAC.


Straight From The Swamp, A Vaccine You Can Drink

- Simon Grose, Canberra Times, July 13, 2006

"The future is going to be vaccines that you drink," Professor Barry Marshall told a National Press Club audience yesterday. Professor Marshall and Robin Warren won the 2005 Nobel Prize for Medicine for their discovery that Helicobacter pylori bacteria caused stomach ulcers and other symptoms of gastritis.

He famously proved their theory by ingesting a dose of the bacteria which tasted like "swamp water". He and the stomach bugs have had a symbiotic relationship ever since, to the point that he has an "HPYLORI" number plate on the BMW he drives to his labs at the University of WA.

His research is now focused on the fact that H. pylori, a successful colonist in the stomachs of modern humans and their ancestors, is a prime candidate to deliver oral vaccines. "If the bacteria's harmful genes can be turned off, and vaccine molecules for a range of diseases like SARS, malaria, tuberculosis, avian flu, can be spliced onto the bacteria, we could create an inexpensive and very efficient way to deliver vaccines to the third world, " Professor Marshall said. "It is a radical new way of thinking about vaccine delivery, and it requires genetic engineering."

Vaccines based on this technique could also be manufactured more efficiently because millions of doses would not have to be stockpiled as a contingency then destroyed after their use-by date. Modified seed bacteria could be cultured to create millions of doses in an almost immediate response to a disease outbreak.

His spin-off company, Ondek, aims to test the theory in mice by the end of this year. If this approach is successful, a human vaccine could be classified as a genetically modified food.

"But in China and India, where people still remember what hunger feels like, they say: 'GMO debate? What GMO debate?"' As a member of the Lockhart Review which recommended that human cloning techniques be allowed to produce embryonic stem cells for research purposes, Professor Marshall took a low- key approach to the recent cabinet decision to reject the recommendations.

He said the Prime Minister had made a "courageous decision" to allow a Coalition party room debate on the issue and urged scientists and others to engage in a wider debate. "We must all have the courage to look beyond dogma and open our eyes to the possibilities of science," he said. "Now is not the time for us to be reactionary, partisan or predictable, now is the time for a mature, informed and tolerant community conversation."