Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - July 21, 2006
* Biotech Tipping Point
* UK - Proposals for GM crops Launched
* ... British GM Plan 'Will Protect Conventional Crops'
* Will Agbiotech Applications Reach Marginalized Farmers?
* Bangladesh Biotech Policy Declared
* India: A Good Year Again for BioAgri
* Minister Exhorts Scientists to Play Larger Role in Promoting Biotech
* Indian AgriBiotech: Sustaining Growth Momentum
* Baseless Objections
* Science, Ag and the Politics of Policy: Biotech in India
* Functional Foods: World Bank Report
* Farm Scale Evaluation of Transgenic Cotton positive
* Biotech Blue Jeans
* Listen to the Borlaug Biographer
Biotech Tipping Point
- Dean Kleckner, Truth About Trade & Technology, July 21, 2006 http://www.truthabouttrade.org
China is no newcomer to the biotech-crop club--only four countries plant more acres of GM crops than the world’s most populous nation. Yet government leaders in Beijing are on the verge of a decision that historians eventually may interpret as a tipping point in the global debate over genetically modified food.
A "tipping point" is the dramatic moment when something unique or rare becomes utterly common. The term has academic origins, but it gained enormous popular attention a few years ago, upon the publication of Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
I've argued that when it comes to biotech crops, we passed the tipping point long ago. My own favorite metaphor has involved the genie and the bottle--the biotech genie is out of the bottle, and nobody will ever coax him back in. The bottom line is that with well more than a billion acres of GM crops now having been planted and harvested, this agricultural technology is here to stay.
And that fact will become irreversibly true when China approves the commercial sale of GM rice. One recent report suggests that regulators may not approve commercial sales of the rice this year, but it’s only a matter of time before they do.
Anybody who has ever eaten Chinese food knows how important rice is to the Chinese diet--it’s the most basic and popular food in the world’s biggest country. How’s that for a tipping point?
As it happens, biotech rice is already a fact of life in China. The government has researched and tested it, the way governments do before they approve a product for the marketplace. But it’s also seeping into commercial use: Earlier this month, anti-biotech activists at Greenpeace said they that had purchased several bags of rice, tested them for biotech, and received positive results.
I don't trust much of what Greenpeace says, but in this case their finding seems plausible. It wouldn't be the first time biotech crops have gained a foothold in a country before they were formally approved for planting. That’s what happened a few years ago in Brazil, which shares a border with Argentina, one of the world’s leading producers of biotech soybeans.
Brazilian farmers decided that they wanted to take advantage of biotechnology--higher yields, lower costs--just as their neighbors in Argentina did. So they started smuggling seeds across the border. Brazil eventually approved biotech soybeans, but its decision came in the wake of decisions that farmers already had been making for themselves.
It’s not clear exactly how biotechnology moved from field tests to commercial paddies in China, or precisely how widespread GM rice has become there. No matter what the details, it doesn’t take the wisdom of Confucius to understand the motives of Chinese farmers.
A recent study by a team of Chinese and American scientists revealed that the use of biotech rice reduced pesticide costs by 80 percent. "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 Jukun, director of the Agriculture Policy Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
That’s a lot of cash, even in a country that has more than a billion mouths to feed. Government leaders, which recently have promised to improve the economic health of rural China - where a lot of rice is grown - are certain to take note.
What’s more, they have nothing to fear from biotechnology and they know it. They’ve been living with it for years, and now they’re even importing it from the United States: The first cargo of American-grown GM corn is reaching Chinese docks right now.
Around the world, GM crops are becoming more popular. No country that has allowed access to this technology has subsequently turned its back on biotech, in what we might label an "untipping point." To be sure, a number of European nations continue to hold out against GMOs. Yet they are becoming increasingly isolated, and China's forthcoming decision will highlight their detachment.
You certainly don't need to crack open a fortune cookie to predict the future of rice farming in China: Farmers want it, and they will get it.
Dean Kleckner chairs Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org). He is an Iowa farmer and past president of the American Farm Bureau.
UK - Proposals for GM crops Launched
- BBC (UK), July 21, 2006 http://news.bbc.co.uk/
Genetically modified crops grown in the UK would have to be separated from non-GM fields by at least 35m (114ft), under proposals announced by ministers. The measure is designed to minimise crop mixing should the European Union approve cultivation of GM crops.
Other proposals that appear in the UK government consultation paper include a public biotech crop register.
Pressure groups say the measures will not give consumers the choice of eating GM-free food. Sue Mayer of Genewatch UK said the proposals were designed to limit "contamination" of non-GM crops to 0.9%.
European regulations mean that foods containing more than 0.9% of genetically modified ingredients have to be labelled as GM produce, even if farmers had set out to grow conventional varieties. "Under the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) proposals, GM contamination of non-GM crops would be the norm, and a genuine GM-free choice won't be possible," said Dr Mayer. "Another key question is the extent to which it is going to be possible to enforce and police any co-existence measures, particularly for crops such as oilseed rape which are grown on a large scale."
The new proposals, launched by Defra on Thursday, seeks to find ways to minimise unwanted mixing of GM and non-GM crops if and when the EU aproves biotech varieties. Co-existence means exactly what it says, that different forms of agriculture will need to find ways of existing together
Defra's suggestions set minimum separation distances for any GM crops grown in England, ranging from 35m (114ft) for oilseed rape to 110m (361ft) for maize grown for human consumption. They are designed to minimise unwanted mixing of varieties by cross-pollination or the dispersal of seed. Defra is also seeking views on whether there should be a public crop register, and how to compensate non-GM farmers for any financial losses that might arise from the unwanted presence of GM material in their crops.
Launching the report, environment minister Ian Pearson said the government's top priority was to protect consumers and the environment "We have a strict EU regime in place which ensures only GM crops that are safe for human health and the environment could be grown in the UK," he said.
But he said the government had a responsibility to be fully prepared if crops which met the safety criteria were developed and grown in the UK in future. "That's why strict separation distances will be enforced so that organic and conventional farmers don't lose out financially and people can make a choice between GM and non-GM products," he added.
Some scientists are welcoming the consultation exercise.
Professor Philip Dale from the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK, a leading plant research centre, said various groups had been debating the issue for five years or more, so the principles were well understood. "Co-existence means exactly what it says, that different forms of agriculture will need to find ways of existing together," he said.
"This not only raises issues around food crops mixing with industrial GM crops but importantly also raises issues around high value industrial GM crops being devalued by mixing with food crops."
Professor Guy Poppy of the University of Southampton said the consultation would allow the complexity of the situation to be considered. "It is important that farmers have a choice of options available to them," he said. "It is equally important that the public and other stakeholders can have their views heard and can choose how they want the land farmed."
Defra is seeking feedback on the proposals by 20 October this year. The consultation paper applies to England only; authorities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are be responsible for developing their own policies.
British GM Plan 'Will Protect Conventional Crops'
- Mark Oliver, Guardian (UK), July 21, 2006©
The government today (20 July 2006) announced plans for a series of measures it says would ensure genetically modified crops could be introduced safely to Britain in the future and coexist with other crops. The proposals include enforcing strict separation distances between GM crops and conventional crops - a move designed to ease fears of contamination.
Friends of the Earth criticised the proposals, outlined in a consultation paper, as an attempt to permit GM crops though the "back door". The environmental group said it was an attempt to back the biotech industry while "cynically disregarding the millions of British consumers who have clearly said they want their food, farming and environment to stay GM-free".
The government said that under EU rules, no GM crops will be grown in the UK unless scientific evidence shows they are safe for human health and the environment and no commercial GM cultivation was expected before 2009 at the earliest. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said its proposals for a system of safeguards were calculated to ensure GM crops did not disadvantage other farmers.
The plans would mean that anyone hoping to grow GM crops like maize or oilseed rape would have to ensure that they observed the required separation distance and notify neighbouring farmers, if neccesary, to minimise GM cross-pollination.
As part of the consultation paper, Defra is seeking views on a number of related issues, including:
* whether special rules should apply for coexistence between GM and organic crops
* options for compensating financial losses that non-GM farmers might face due to the presence of GM material in their crops
* whether there should be a public GM crop register
* guidance to farmers on voluntary GM-free zones
Clare Oxborrow, Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner, said they were particularly concerned by the prospect of crops being introduced without a public register, which she said should be mandatory. "The government has been very wary of speaking about GM crops in recent years because of the huge opposition by the public. This consultation has been delayed for two years," Ms Oxborrow said. "Meanwhile, the GM industry has changed tactics and has been quietly lobbying the EU for licenses to introduce GM crops."
Ian Pearson, the environment minister, defended the government's position. "Our top priority is protecting consumers and the environment. We have a strict EU regime in place which ensures only GM crops that are safe for human health and the environment could be grown in the UK," he said. "No GMs suitable for UK conditions have met this requirement so far and today's proposals are not a green light for GM crops."
Mr Pearson said the government had a responsibility to be "fully prepared if crops which meet the safety criteria and developed and grown here in future". He said Defra was keen to hear people's views that would inform "our further thinking".
Friends of the Earth urged the public to take part in the consultation. The group said that the "government's consultation assumes that significant levels of GM contamination are acceptable" and did not address the "crucial issue" of how to stop any contamination.
The campaign group said EU food labelling rules said accidental GM contamination of up to 0.9% is allowed before foods have to be labelled as GM. The group said the UK government had taken this to mean that 0.9% GM contamination in conventional crops was acceptable.
Ms Oxborrow said: "This consultation is a complete sham. It highlights the lengths the government will go to back the biotech industry and pave the way for GM crops to be grown in Britain. "The only way biotech companies will be able to grow their crops on a large scale is to allow widespread GM contamination of conventional and organic crops. And this is exactly what the UK government is preparing to do."
The Agriculture Biotechnology Council (abc), which represents the biotech industry, welcomed Defra's proposals and said coexistence was "already a reality for farmers around the world".
The council said there were 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries growing GM crops "without any coexistence problems". Tony Combes, abc's deputy chairman, said: "Coexistence is not a new concept for Britain's farmers, who for many years have grown different types of crops together, to meet the demands of a range of customers and markets.
"We endorse SCIMAC's [the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops] approach to practical coexistence measures so that British farmers can benefit from this technology if they wish to do so."
Will Agbiotech Applications Reach Marginalized Farmers? Evidence from Developing Countries
- David J. Spielman, Joel I. Cohen, Patricia Zambrano. AgBioForum, 9(1), 23-30. Full paper at http://www.agbioforum.org/v9n1/v9n1a03-spielman.htm
Findings from two studies on agricultural research indicate that although developing countries invest in agricultural biotechnology and genetically modified crop research, their policy and investment environments inhibit the contribution of such research to agricultural development and poverty reduction.
Findings suggest that valuable private-sector resources are not being brought to bear on the development challenge, thus slowing the pace of innovation. For such research to benefit developing countries, greater effort is needed to enhance the international exchange of safety and efficacy information, remove the isolation of public research institutions, and overcome barriers to public-private research collaboration.
Bangladesh Biotech Policy Declared
- Rafiq Hasan,The Daily Star, July 19, 2006
The government yesterday declared a National Biotechnology Policy in order to keep pace with the fast advancing field of modern biotechnology and achieve world class competence in the fields of research and innovation.
A meting of the National Taskforce on Biotechnology of Bangladesh (NTFBB) with Prime Minister Khaleda Zia in the chair gave final approval to the policy placed by the Ministry of Science, Information and Communication Technology.
"The approval of National Biotechnology Policy will be considered as a milestone in our effort to promote highest level of science and technology in this country," said Science and ICT Minister Abdul Moyeen Khan. "The policy will help increase agriculture productivity and food security as well contribute to poverty alleviation and ensuring higher quality of life," he told The Daily Star after the meeting. He said the policy will open up a new window of opportunity for the resource- starved country like Bangladesh.
Under the new policy one can easily go into researches involving genetic engineering and open up new vista of innovation and development involving living cells, be it human being, animal or plant, he added. The policy also emphasised protecting indigenous community knowledge, collective innovations and community rights.
For ensuring those, the Community Knowledge Protection Act will be enacted to give guidelines, where it is necessary, to innovations of any form that have used natural and biological resources. Immediate action programmes will also be taken for the development of biotechnology in the country in various sectors like agriculture, health, industry and environment. The programmes will reflect the urgent national needs and requirements in terms of funding manpower and equipment.
An international biotechnology advisory committee will be formed with internationally recognised experts in different areas of biotechnology to advise the government on priority areas of research and development. Besides, the science and ICT ministry will develop a priority plan in different areas of biotechnology to keep pace with the fast advancing field of biotechnology and genetic engineering for poverty alleviation, sustainable development improvement of quality of life and biodiversity conservation.
The new policy will encourage the universities to introduce and strengthen biotechnology and genetic engineering at the undergraduate and post graduate levels. At the same time the biotechnological courses will be introduced at the secondary and higher secondary levels through modification of existing course curricula on biology.
Young graduates will be encouraged for undertaking higher academic studies in advanced universities abroad. The policy draft says in biotechnology research, problem arises concerning the protection of intellectual property for innovations in this field beyond legal and ethical questions. In view of the special quality of living organisms the scope of patents has to be clearly defined to find balance between innovation and public interest.
Under the policy, legal measures will be taken to achieve a balanced system for protecting the interest of the innovation without compromising public interest.
India: A Good Year Again for BioAgri
- BioSpectrum (India), July 14, 2006. Full story with tables at http://www.biospectrumindia.com/content/CoverStory/10607144.asp
With over 81 percent growth, BioAgri industry is the fastest growing sector:
The BioAgri sector in 2005-06 has registered 81 percent growth over that in the previous year to record Rs 598 crore (~$150M; 1 crore = 10 million ruppes; 1US$ = Rs. 45) in revenues. The sector's performance has been driven by Bt Cotton. The Bt Cotton seeds business alone has generated Rs 495 crore in revenues registering close to 115 percent growth compared to that the previous year. In fact, Rasi Seeds, the second company in India to make commercially available Bt cotton, became the largest seller of Bt Cotton seeds. It clocked Rs 309.5 crore in revenues, registering over 250 percent growth. Rasi Seeds in 2004-05 reported total Bt cotton seeds sales of Rs 86.9 crore. Mahyco was the second largest contributor with Rs 117.6 crore in sales. Nuziveedu Seeds and Ankur Seeds were the other two companies that were permitted to sell Bt Cotton, with Nuziveedu Seeds ending the year at Rs 62.52 crore.
A total of 31.30 lakh (1 lakh = 100,000) packets of seeds containing 450 grams were sold. The "Bollgard" Bt cotton seeds were sold in nine states-Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Punjab, and Rajasthan.
While the Bt Cotton seeds sales accounted for bulk of this market, bio pesticides, biofertilizers and markers accounted for the rest. International Panacea, Multiplex Biotech and Biotech International were the other major companies in the biopesticides and biofertilizers category. International Pancea reported sales of Rs 21.17 crore in 2005-06 compared to Rs 17 crore in 2004-05, while Multiplex Biotech's sales stood at Rs 11.7 crore.
Monsanto's technology is still the dominant Bt technology used in India. Each of the seed companies paid Monsanto Biotech about Rs 1,200 per packet as royalty and on account of this fee, Monsanto Biotech's revenues stood at Rs 391.25 crore. This figure has not been considered for the industry sizing.
Today, approvals have been given to 16 major seed companies in India i.e. Mahyco (MECH, MRC), Rasi (RCH), Ankur Seeds (Ankur), Nuziveedu Seed (NSC), JK Seeds (JKCH), Nath Seeds (NCEH), Ganga Kaveri Seeds (GK), Tulasi Seeds (Tulsi), Ajeet Seeds (ACH), Emergent Genetics (Brahma), Vikki Agrotech (VICH), Vikram Seeds (VICH), Pravardhan Seeds (PRCH), Krishidhan (KDCHH), Prabhat (PCH) and Vikram (VICH) seeds.
According to ISAAA, in 2005, six new varieties of Bt cotton hybrids were approved first time for commercial cultivation in Northern zone. In addition, eight new Bt cotton hybrids were approved for Central zone and five Bt cotton were approved for Southern zones in 2005. As a result, farmers had more choices to grow Bt cotton hybrids.
India experienced the highest proportional growth for any biotech crop globally in 2005 with Bt cotton cultivation soaring 160 percent according to ISAAA. Around 13,00,000 hectares of cotton land were planted with Bt cotton hybrids by more than one million farmers in Northern, Central and Southern cotton growing zones in 2005.
The major states growing Bt cotton in 2005 were Maharashtra (ranked first with 590,000 hectares) followed by Andhra Pradesh with 280,000 hectares, Gujarat with 150,000 hectares, Madhya Pradesh with 145,000 hectares, Northern States with 60,000 hectares, Karnataka with 30,000 hectares and Tamil Nadu with 25,000 hectares for a national total of 13,00,000 hectares.
The GEAC has approved around 38 new varieties of Bt cotton hybrids for commercial cultivation in 2006 season in addition to the 20 Bt cotton hybrids approved for sale in 2005. This brings the total of Bt cotton hybrids to 58.
Interestingly, the GEAC has also approved three new events of biotech cotton in 2006. One developed by JK Seeds Pvt Ltd containing the Cry1Ac gene known as (Event 1) sourced from IIT Kharagpur, India; Second one developed by Nath Seeds Pvt Ltd containing fusion genes (cry 1Ab and cry Ac) known as (GFM event) sourced from China and, the third developed by Mahyco containing stacked Cry X (Cry I Ac and Cry 2 Ab) genes (Event MON 15985 or BG-II) sourced from Monsanto.
Clearly, there has been a surge in the demand for Bt Cotton and now there is a pressure on Monsanto to bring down the royalty fees from Rs 1200 to Rs 750 per packet. This year would be another landmark year for Bt cotton in India.
Indian Minister Jairam Ramesh Exhorts Scientists to Play Larger Role in Promoting Biotech
- BioSpectrum (India), July 14, 2006. http://www.biospectrumindia.com
Jairam Ramesh, Union minister of State for Commerce, has urged scientists and agri research institutions in the country to take a holistic approach towards Indian agriculture. The country has the tools, technology and potential, to mitigate and solve farmers' problems, he said.
Delivering his inaugural address at the Agri Biotech Day as part of Bangalore Bio 2006 at the JN Tata Auditorium in Bangalore on June 9, 2006, he said, "It is sad and ironic that farmers from prosperous states like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra committed suicide due to absence of access to institutional credit and risk management mechanisms. The absence of regional rural banks forced the farmers to approach private money lenders. Moreover, the institutional sector was not geared to take up new technologies."
Talking about China's success in biotechnology, which is largely led by government funding and in India by private sector, he said, "Indian agri-biotech is different. It needs two locomotives. One in the front should be funded by public institutions and the back funded by private sector. The absence of one without other will not lead us far. As long as private sector remains the driving force of the industry, I doubt the growth and its ability to make a difference to human aspects. The need of the hour is effective communication between the stakeholders to create public awareness and public-private partnership"
"There has been a significant increase in India's cotton production for the last five years as compared to previous five years," Jairam Ramesh said. "Gujarat, which accounts for one-third of the country's cotton production showed 18 percent increase and Punjab accounted for 20 to 25 percent production. Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh also showed improved results, while it declined in Karnataka and other states. The area under Bt cotton in India is still only 8 percent of total 8.5 million acres of cotton cultivation. It is too early to state that Bt cotton has swamped the country, but it must be said it has huge potential. Major disconnect between growers and the scientists due to various reasons must be overcome to increase adoption of Bt cotton cultivation by the growers," he said. "A good evaluation of cotton is going to be crucial to successful growth of biotechnology," he added.
Stating that cotton yield had increased from 330 kg per hectare to 470 kg per hectare in the last five years, he said the production had gone up from 167 lakh bales to 243 lakh bales.
Chairperson of the Karnataka Vision Group on Biotechnology and Biocon CMD, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw said, "The agri sector faces several hurdles which have to be overcome if India has to move up from the current seventh position in the global biotech map. Though Bt cotton was approved in 2002, not even a single modified genetic crop was approved thereafter. We don't have soya, corn and other similar crops, which are being sowed in millions of hectares in other parts of the world. We need to speed up approvals for moving beyond Bt cotton and increase use of technology for crop produce. Nothing much has been done in biofuel as well. We must bear in mind that biotechnology can help in creating alternate fuel."==
Indian AgriBiotech: Sustaining Growth Momentum
- KK Narayanan, BioSpectrum (India), July 14, 2006. http://www.biospectrumindia.com
'It is high time the Plant Variety Protection and the Farmer's Rights Act of 2002, is effectively enforced'
Agricultural biotechnology continues to be the fastest growing biotech sector in the country with over 80 percent growth in the last one year. This growth is primarily fuelled by the increasing acreage under Bt cotton, the only transgenic crop, approved for commercial cultivation in the country. Since its first commercialization in 2002, the area has increased almost 30 folds, from 44,500 ha to 1.3 million ha last year. While the global average for the annual increase in area under transgenic crops last year was 11 percent, the Bt cotton area in India rose by 160 percent. In just four years, India has emerged as the seventh largest grower of transgenic crops, with over one million farmers cultivating Bt cotton.
In the last count, 58 hybrids from 16 companies have been approved for commercial cultivation in the country. Most of these hybrids carry the Bollgard-I technology from Monsanto, that has been sublicensed to over a dozen Indian seed companies through the joint venture between MAHYCO, a Maharashtra-based Indian seed company and Monsanto. Earlier this year, Bt cotton hybrids carrying two competing technologies, one developed by JK Seeds Pvt Ltd in collaboration with IIT Kharagpur, and the other sourced from China and developed by Nath Seeds Pvt Ltd were approved for commercial cultivation. Along with these new Bt cotton hybrids, three hybrids of MAHYCO, carrying the second generation insect protection technology from Monsanto, Bollgard II has also been approved for commercial cultivation.
Bt cotton yield
Since the introduction of Bt cotton, there has been an increase in the total cotton production in the country without a commensurate increase in area of cultivation. In 2002, the total cotton production was 10.6 million bales which increased to 19 million bales last year. While some of this increase can be attributed to other factors, a careful analysis underlines the role of technology, particularly the Bt cotton hybrids as a significant contributor to the productivity increase. States like Andhra Pradesh where the Bt cotton area increased by 250 percent, the highest in the last one year, and Maharashtra where the increase was 195 percent, are also regions where cotton productivity has increased most significantly. Gujarat, which also saw a significant jump in cotton productivity, appears to buck this trend. Here the area under Bt cotton is reported to have increased only by 15 percent. But this state has seen the largest spread of unapproved varieties of Bt cotton, some say it is almost 85 percent of the total cotton area in the state. If this area, which is obviously not accounted in the official figures of Bt cotton acreages, is factored in, then Gujarat also reinforces the correlation between Bt cotton and increased productivity.
Benefits of Bt cotton
In addition to increased productivity, growing of Bt cotton has also resulted in significant reduction in the use of pesticides and realization of better quality, which have all resulted in increasing incomes to the farmer. There are, however, continuing attempts to highlight isolated cases where Bt cotton failed to deliver the expected benefits or project unsubstantiated reports of adverse effects on farm animals. Such efforts can be seen as a last ditch battle against the growing popularity of Bt cotton, and only go to accentuate the real benefits conferred by the technology to the large section of cotton farmers in this country. The debate in now clearly shifting from issues around the safety and efficacy of the technology, to issues like how the technology benefits should be shared. The most recent example is the controversy over the pricing of the Bt cotton seeds and the government intervention in limiting the seed price. Such interventions, not only go against the principles of free market, but are also unwarranted at this time, when farmers have a choice of new technologies that can give a fair competition to existing ones.
Adopting Bt crops
The promise of biotechnology in agriculture, especially for an agrarian economy like India is now widely accepted. This is also reflected in the large-scale efforts, both in the public as well as the private sector to develop and commercialize genetically modified crop varieties. As of 2005, 14 genetically modified crops were under advanced stages of regulatory field trials. These include field crops like rice, mustard, maize, sorghum and ground nut; pulses like chickpea and pigeonpea, vegetables like tomato, okra, cauliflower, cabbage, tubers like potato and of course, cotton. The traits under development are insect resistance, virus resistance, male sterility, resistance to fungal pathogens and nutritional enhancements.
Though relatively late in adopting biotech crops, India has done well for a start. It is now important to sustain the momentum of this initial growth so that this technology quickly brings a better life to large sections of our society. Towards this goal, two initiatives are important; one, promote innovative research in the country and two, regulatory reforms.
Promoting innovative research
The availability of scientific talent in crop biotechnology, combined with the low cost of innovation can significantly reduce the cost of product development. It is notable that many of the multinational corporations are setting up their own research centers here if they do not have one already, or are partnering with local institutions for research and development of agricultural biotechnology products, not just for India but for the global market as well. It must be understood that in the context of a big agrarian economy like ours, there could be short-term gains in promoting research outsourcing but the really big and long-term value is in developing products tailored to the needs of our agricultural sector.
We have many public institutions that have the competence to develop genetically altered crop varieties using all the modern tools that plant biology has to offer. However, very few useful products have been commercialized by these institutes over the years. Often times it has been the lack of product-focus that leads to the wasteful dissipation of the limited resources that has resulted in this situation. While project funding needs to be increased, there must be an immediate review of the projects to bring about a focus on products or solutions to specific agricultural problems. There should also be a thrust on networking and meaningful collaborations between the public and private institutions. Support for applied research projects should be based on "outcome-oriented" reviews based on clearly laid out, measurable milestones.
In recent years the private sector has also made significant investments into agricultural biotechnology research. Such investments are beginning to bear fruits. However, resource constraints, and the high risk perception, especially in value capture for agricultural biotechnologies in this country, have made the private sector take a rather cautious approach towards research. Innovative ideas which are usually attended by a high risk of failure are often not pursued. There must be more government support directly to the private sector to mitigate the risk of such research projects so that the capacity and experience of the private sector is leveraged appropriately for development of novel products in agriculture.
A key driver of technology innovation is an appropriate intellectual property (IP) protection system. It is high time the Plant Variety Protection and the Farmer's Rights Act of 2002, is effectively enforced. There is also a need for clarity on whether genes and such transgenic technologies can be protected under the new patenting regime.
The testing and approval process for commercialization of transgenic crops, though continuously improving, is still prone to unreasonable delays and uncertainties, all of which add significant costs and indirectly stifles competition. The involvement of multiple agencies and multi-tier committees often leads to unnecessary delays and duplication of efforts. For e.g., the testing of agronomic performance both in the Large Scale Trials (LST) and in the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) trials is unnecessary duplication of efforts. It can even be argued that the regulatory testing should be limited to assessing the bio-safety and efficacy of the transgenic product. With increasing choices, it should be left to the farmer's wisdom to choose the variety that best suits his/her growing conditions.
The formation of the proposed National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA) as envisaged in the National Biotechnology Development Strategy document prepared by the Department of Biotechnology could be a single window agency to clear the commercialization of transgenic crops. Further, the implementation of certain policy changes in the regulatory process like gene/event based approval instead of the present variety/hybrid based approval will go a long way in avoiding unnecessary costs and generally in hastening the dissemination of approved technologies.
KKN is Managing Director, Metahelix, Bangalore
- Frontline (India), July 15, 2006, http://www.frontlineonnet.com/stories/20060728004812900.htm
MOST objections articulated by activists quoted in the article are baseless. First of all, the Indian government is not approving these crops without scientific review. The charge by Kavitha Kuruganti of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture that companies are making meaningless presentations is not true. The only top biotech scientist quoted in the article is Dr. Pushpa Bhargava, the former director of CCMB, Hyderabad. He is quoted as saying that the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee does not have specialised scientists, which shows he is ignorant about the constitution of the committee.
His charge that nowhere in the world is there a satisfactory system of assessing risks is baseless. Not only are there some of the best regulatory review systems in North America and the European Union, but they have demonstrated their effectiveness. Food insecurity is an important issue in the developing world. Biotechnology can be a part of the solution.
Shanthu Shantharam, Ellicott City, USA
> Seeds and protests <http://www.frontline.in/stories/20060630004102200.htm>http://www.frontline.in/stories/20060630004102200.htm
Science, Agriculture and the Politics of Policy: The Case of Biotechnology in India
- New book by Ian Scoones; 2006; ISBN 81 250 2942 7; 436 pages , £15.95
This book examines the intersections of globalisation, technology and politics through a detailed, empirically-based examination of agricultural biotechnology in India. The focus is on Bangalore and Karnataka, a part of India which has seen a massive growth in biotech enterprises, experimentation with GM cotton and a contested policy debate about the role biotechnology should play in economic development.
The book asks what does this new suite of technologies mean - for society, for politics and for the way agriculture, food and rural livelihoods are thought about? Can biotech deliver a second Green Revolution, and so transform agriculture and rescue the countryside and its people from crisis and poverty? Or is it more complex than this? Through a detailed case study, the aim of the book is to discuss, question and refine these broader debates, locating an understanding of biotechnology firmly within an understanding of society and politics.
From Crop Biotech update of isaaa.org: For more information, email Ian Scoones at I.Scoones@ids.ac.uk; or visit http://www.ntd.co.uk/idsbookshop/details.asp?id=882 for international sales, or http://www.orientlongman.com/display.asp?isbn=81-250-2944-3 for India sales.
Biotechnology in Argentine Agriculture Faces World-Wide Concentration
-Liliana Varela and Roberto Bisang, Electronic Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 9 No. 3, Issue of April 15, 2006; Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso -- Chile. full paper at http://www.ejbiotechnology.info/content/vol9/issue3/abstract/27/index.html
In the 1980s, the technical pattern of production in agriculture changed due to the increasing design of genetically modified plants. Modern biotechnology thrived on events requiring certain thresholds of scientific and technological skills as well as scale economies usually seen in developed countries.
The mergers and acquisitions during the mid-1990s led to a world-wide oligopoly composed of very few agri-biotechnological mega-corporations and the literature discusses the impact of the mergers and acquisitions on the agriculture of developing countries with comparative advantages in agriculture.
This paper analyzes the world-wide process of agri-biotechnological mega-corporation mergers and acquisitions as well as its impact and interrelationships with Argentine agriculture using information from primary and secondary sources. Conclusions refer to the set-backs of endogenous agri-biotechnological development due to world-wide concentration in developing countries with comparative advantage in agriculture.
Functional Foods: World Bank Report
As part of its Agriculture and Rural Development Discussion Paper series, the World Bank has just published "Health enhancing foods: Opportunities for strengthening the sector in developing countries", by L. Kotilainen and co-authors. The 82-page report includes a general literature review of the potential generated by functional foods and an assessment of the sector in five countries (Brazil, China, India, Peru and Russia).
he potential of biotechnology for the functional foods sector is also covered briefly. See http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTARD/Resources/Health_Enhacing_Foods_ARD_DP_30_final.pdf
(848 KB) or contact email@example.com for more information.
(Via FAO, Biotech http://www.fao.org/biotech/index.asp )
Farm Scale Evaluation of Transgenic Cotton positive
Dear Friends, This is good news for the transgenic cotton debate: A farm-scale evaluation demonstrates clear positive results in favour of the transgenic Bt cotton. Here are the abstract and link of a publication from May 16 in PNAS:
Cattaneo, M.G., Yafuso, C., Schmidt, C., Huang, C.Y., Rahman, M., Olson, C., Ellers-Kirk, C., Orr, B.J., Marsh, S.E., Antilla, L., Dutilleu, P., & Carriere, Y. (2006)
Farm-scale evaluation of the impacts of transgenic cotton on biodiversity, pesticide use, and yield. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103, 20, pp 7571-7576
and the supporting tables http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/0508312103/DC1
and figures only http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/figsonly/103/20/7571
Summing up this China Bt cotton debate with Greenpeace in short words: THere Are Insect Resistant Crops Performing Well And Fact-Resistant Activists Who Need To Change Their Cheap Propaganda Stunts.
To read the full article and post your reply enter the EFB Forum. Please note that you will need to log in as an EFB member in order to be able to post your message.
Prof. Klaus Ammann
Chairman of the EFB Section on Biodiversity & Moderator of the EFB Ask-Force Forum
Biotech Blue Jeans
- Associated Press, July 18, 2006 http://www.technologyreview.com
Materials made out of genetically engineered plants are becoming more common in the apparel industry, replacing synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon.
In a sneak peek of what could be fashion's future, leggy models draped in dresses by designers like Oscar de la Renta and Versace strut their stuff on the runway. But this is no Paris or New York fashion show.
Rather, the scene is a Toronto biotechnology conference and the dresses are made from a new fiber called Ingeo, made largely from genetically engineered corn.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization used the fashion statement last week to burnish its battered image as an environmental scourge. Biotechnology is quietly playing a growing role in an apparel industry waking up to its customers' concerns about the environment and the country's reliance on the foreign oil used to make synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon. But the trend is raising concerns among some environmental purists who oppose genetically engineered crops of any kind.
''Ingeo still supports genetically engineered crops and we really view it as a slippery slope,'' said Jill Dumain of Ventura, Calif.-based Patagonia Inc., which pays a premium to use only organic cotton in its clothes.
But other clothiers are developing biodegradable fabrics from natural fibers that have their start as genetically engineered crops.
Of course, cotton is still by far the most popular natural fiber. But chances are even the T-shirt you're wearing is made at least partly from genetically engineered crops. That's because 52 percent of cotton grown last year was genetically engineered with a bacteria gene to resist bugs without the need for pesticides, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Now, with more apparel manufacturers turning to Ingeo, more clothes on the rack will have gotten their start in a gene lab. Nearly half the nation's corn crops are genetically engineered to withstand sprayings of a popular weed killer.
NatureWorks LLC, the Nebraska company that turns corn into Ingeo, said it doesn't separate the genetically engineered crop from the conventionally grown crop that comes into its factory. So there's a good chance that just about every Ingeo product is derived, at least in part, from genetically engineered corn.
'We think there is a tremendous future for it, particularly because the consumer world is starting to wake up and recognize that it makes sense to employ some of these different materials as an alternative to both energy and fabric,'' said Martin Dudziak, research director for Linda Loudermilk Inc., a designer making Ingeo clothes.
Depending on how it's finally used, the fiber can feel like cotton or polyester. ''It has all of the attributes of polyester,'' said Steve Davies of NatureWorks, ''and is much more environmentally friendly.'' Early next year, Linda Loudermilk will begin selling five different items, including jeans, made from Ingeo. Many other clothing companies, such as the sock maker Fox River Mills Inc. of Osage, Iowa, plan to follow suit.
Biotech's largely unseen hand in creating natural fibers has set off a debate among apparel makers who consider themselves environmentally sensitive. Many critics of agricultural biotechnology -- from organic farmers to the Sierra Club -- fear the engineered crops will co-mingle with conventionally grown plants.
Others draw a distinction between genetic engineering in food crops and those used in fashion.
''Would I prefer that the world was nothing but organic agriculture? Yes,'' said Leslie Hoffmann, director of the nonprofit environmental group Earth Pledge, which hosted the Toronto fashion show and staged a similar event in April at the biotechnology industry's annual convention in Chicago. ''But on the other hand, (genetically engineered crops) have a much higher yield per acre and use less pesticides,'' she said.
There are even plans to develop for the U.S. market corn-based, disposable diapers that biodegrade quickly rather than filling landfills for decades. An Ingeo diaper is already being sold in Italy and Spain, but making an inexpensive diaper to compete with disposable products in the United States remains a hurdle.
NatureWorks makes the raw materials for Ingeo, fermenting sugar extracted from corn and turning it into plastic-like pellets that are made into the fabric sold to apparel makers like Linda Loudermilk. Other uses for NatureWorks' pellets include the produce packaging found in Wal-Mart stores. But the small subsidiary of food and agricultural products company Cargill Inc. sees a big future cracking into the $181 billion apparel industry with its pellets. NatureWorks declined to discuss Ingeo sales figures.
Because NatureWorks doesn't separate the genetically engineered corn from the conventionally grown corn, it can't serve companies who demand biotech-free Ingeo. For its European customers, who are notoriously averse to genetically engineered crops, the company promises to buy an amount of organic corn equal to the amount of corn it took to produce their Ingeo orders.
That still isn't enough for some environmental purists. ''They can't separate it,'' said Patagonia's Dumain, ''and that's our problem.''
Listen to the Borlaug Biographer
Leon Hesser will be interviewed live on "The Pat Miles Show" on WCCO Radio Monday, July 24th, at 10:40 a.m. for his forthcoming biography of Norman Borlaug, titled "The Man Who Fed the World."
You can listen live through the Internet by clicking the 'Listen Live' button on http://www.wccoradio.com/