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July 26, 2006


Animals fed biotech food safe; New soybean; NSW Farmers call for GM ban to end


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: July 26, 2006

* Animals fed biotech food safe, scientists say
* African experts focus pros and cons of GM research
* Digitised database of India's bio-resources
* Democracy and the debate over GM food
* With new soybean, Monsanto reinvents age-old breeding game
* NSW Farmers call for GM ban to end


Animals fed biotech food safe, scientists say

- Associated Press, By AMY LORENTZEN, July 26, 2006

DES MOINES, Iowa — A nonprofit consortium of scientists says in a new report that food products from livestock that eat biotech crops do not present a risk to consumers.

A three-member task force of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) compiled the report, which looked at regulatory assessments and evaluated safety data.

“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,” said John Bonner, CAST's executive vice-president.

The council, formed in 1972, is a consortium of 38 scientific and professional societies as well as company and nonprofit members and more than 1,200 individual members.

The group brings together agriculture experts from round the world to assemble, interpret and communicate scientific information and gets funding from its members, which include biotech companies.

Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with environmental advocacy group, The Center for Food Safety, said the centre recommends that people not eat genetically engineered products.

“Because the testing is inadequate, we can't be as confident about the safety as we should be,” Mr. Gurian-Sherman said.

He added that CAST's support from the biotech industry must also “be considered in the background.”

Mr. Bonner said CAST is not beholden to its sponsors and did not send its eight-page issue paper, released this month, “to any of the major biotech companies and say 'Is this okay?'”

“We assemble, interpret and communicate credible science,” he said.

The issue paper is part of a series on animal agriculture's future through biotechnology, Mr. Bonner said.

Richard Phipps, chairman of the task force that wrote the paper, said that production of biotech crops, including corn, soybean, canola and cotton, has increased dramatically during the past decade and that biotech crops “are an important feedstuff in livestock production systems.”

Animal products represent about one-sixth of humans' food energy and one-third of their food protein, the group said in a news release. “It is essential, therefore, to consider the safety of meat, milk and eggs obtained from animals fed crops derived from modern biotechnology,” Mr. Phipps said in a statement.

The task force reviewed regulatory assessments on genetically modified crops, looked at results of feeding studies in farm animals and examined what happens when animals consume various proteins and DNA, among other areas.

The bulk of information it reviewed was from the late 1990s through last year.

The paper said evidence indicates that the possible presence of plant DNA fragments in animals tissue did not present a risk. In addition, it said the regulatory processes in place “have been effective in safeguarding the public health.”

The task force recommends future research “to ensure continued safety and nutritive value of feeds in current and future crops derived from modern biotechnology,” the news release said.

Mr. Gurian-Sherman praised the recommendation for continuing case-by-case evaluations, but he had concerns about the scope of the data that were reviewed.

He said most of the data now available are derived from a couple of biotechnology crops – which include weed and insect-resistant genes – while there are potentially hundreds of genes that can be used in genetically engineered crops.

Mr. Gurian-Sherman said crops fed to livestock are mostly regulated under a voluntary Food and Drug Administration program where companies are tasked with ensuring the safety of their own products.

“That has some serious implications for the quality of safety review that is done,” he said.

Mr. Bonner said CAST's paper is slated to be presented at international science symposiums.


African experts focus pros and cons of GM research

- Africast, July 26, 2006

Africa might in future be forced to consume genetically modified food products from other continents if it failed to develop adequate research capacity on genetic modification, a panel of experts warned here Tuesday.

The African Union (AU) High-level experts panel, set up to chart the course of biotechnology research in Africa said the African continent risked perpetual dependence on donor food aid unless it prepared itself to counter food shortages.

"We are talking in 2006, in 10 years time, we do not know what the future would have. if we found out that the rice imported from China was all Genetically Modified (GM), we would be forced to eat it," observed Mpoko Bokanga, a member of the high-level panel.

The AU set up the panel of 14 experts, to make recommendations on whether the continent should adopt GM research, arguing that African leaders needed unbiased research on the benefits and disadvantages of GM research before making a decision.

The panel includes senior Africans in the Diaspora, among them a former Vice-President of the World Bank, a Harvard University professor and a senior South African entrepreneur who is the African president of Microsoft Corporation.

"The issue (GM research) is so controversial. The African Heads of State have heard a lot of statements about GM that they mandated the AU Commission to set up this panel to advise the leaders on a common stance on GM research," Dr Bokanga told PANA.

Speaking in Nairobi during a consultative conference to seek views from parliamentarians, Kenyan legislators said their local farmers were yet to benefit from months of GM research with several farmers losing key crops to viruses.

"We all depend on cassava for our daily bread but a disease that paralyses the plant from the root upwards has been the cause of concern for our farmers, we would like to be told how this can be controlled," said Ocholla Ogur, a Kenyan legislator.

Kenyan MPs attending the three-day conference, which popened on Tuesday, said they would be dismayed by any plans to make their nation rely on externally manufactured research material to be adopted for implementation without the due expert knowledge.

But Dr Bokanga, executive Director of the Nairobi-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation, said Africa was already too dependent on everything and that taking an early lead in scientific research was one way to ensure it does not become over dependent in the future.

"This panel needs to recommend what Africa needs to do. We must keep building on what we have already done, if we decide to stop now, we are going to condemn all the generations from developing their own technologies," he reiterated in an interview here.

African leaders will hold the first-ever scientific conference early next year to discuss the GM research before a full Summit of the Heads of State convening in January 2007, finally endorses the proposals to be tabled by the 14-member panel.

Digitised database of India's bio-resources

- The Hindu (Via CheckBiotech), July 26, 2006

NEW DELHI - What is 'sajeevani'? Where are 'kurunji' flowers found? How does a Great Indian Bustard bird look like? Which are the animals used in cancer studies?

Answers to these and a million other questions on animal, bird, and plant or for that matter marine and microbial resources of the country are now just a mouse click away. All you need is a windows-based PC and access to a set of nine CDs produced by the Department of Biotechnology under the Union Ministry of Science and Technology.

Called `Jeeva Sampada,' the first-ever digitised inventory of India's vast bio-resource provides data on 39,000 species and offers images, distribution maps and an interactive data retrieval system.

It offers information in 10 modules on taxonomy distribution, uses, chemical composition, economic potential and other literature on 2,700 medicinal and economically important plants, 9,000 species of animals, 17,000 microbes and 7,000 marine organisms.

Releasing the database, claimed to be the largest on bio-resource at about seven GB (gigabytes) on Tuesday, the Union Minister for Science and Technology, Kapil Sibal, said it was designed to be of use to a wide range of users, from students, teachers and the general public, to ecologists, conservation-biologists, foresters, policy makers and patent offices.

Web-based portal

Mr. Sibal also launched a web-based portal called Indian Bioresource Information Network, which seeks to network the otherwise independent databases and information on the country's biodiversity as one window system for the benefit of research scientists, bio-resource managers, policy makers, entrepreneurs and the common man.

The portal is in the form of a distributed database infrastructure and provide access to both spatial and non-spatial databases available with various scientific agencies in the country. The University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, will host the non-spatial node for the network and Indian Institute of Remote Sensing, Dehradun, its spatial node. The web address of the network is: www.ibin.co.in

Biodiversity maps

The Union Minister also released an atlas of maps of the biodiversity of East Coast, Eastern Ghats and Central India prepared using the geospatial data generated under a joint project of the Department of Biotechnology and the Department of Space using the techniques of satellite remote sensing and the geographical information system. The maps provide location-specific information for more than 5,000 plant species, including their current status.

The maps are expected to be of value in the context of identifying areas of high priority for bio-prospecting and conservation.

The databases, which cover 42 per cent of the total forest cover of the country, have been integrated into a web-enabled biodiversity information system to facilitate dissemination and use of the data. The DBT and DOS had already brought out similar maps in 2002 for eastern and western Himalayas, Western Ghats and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which had covered 44 per cent of the country's forest cover.

Releasing the three products at the inaugural session of the fourth meeting of the National Bioresource Development Board, Mr. Sibal urged the members of the Board to come out with a proposal to make it an autonomous institution, considering the need to tap the rich bio-resource more effectively.

Separate identity

"The Board needs to have a separate identity. It needs to be provided with not only more funds to step up its activities but also a specific budgetary allocation for the next five years so that it could draw up a road map for better utilisation of the country's bio-resources. This was the right time as the Eleventh Five Year Plan is being finalised."


Democracy and the debate over GM food

- THE GUARDIAN, July 26, 2006

Caroline Lucas's assertions (Letters, July 24) about GM crops cannot be substantiated. Approved GM crops would not be not bad for biodiversity nor pose any threat to human health. They may have been rejected by anti-GM campaigners but not by the UK public, who still cannot buy them in their stores. When people could choose GM tomatoes in 1995-96, they did so with enthusiasm.

Hosts of farmers round the world already benefit from this new technology; ours do not. Competition grows in agriculture as in every other activity - as subsidy regimes are forced to reform, our own farmers will face ever more competitive pressure in the marketplace from those who can and do use the best and most effective technologies.

A couple of years ago, a farmer friend of mine, writing about the legal import of GM fodder while the cultivation of GM fodder crops is banned in the UK, put it graphically: the UK government allows foreign agriculture access to British markets in the full knowledge that those agricultures use cost-saving technologies not allowed to British farmers. They call it the cautious approach. Others may call it the economics of the madhouse. I would call it treachery.

Professor Vivian Moses, Chairman, CropGen

I disagree with Caroline Lucas MEP about the planting of GM crops in this country. In publishing its proposals for the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops, the government has asked for the views and opinions of any interested party - hardly a subversion of democracy. Let us avoid any further subversion of democracy and ensure the debate on coexistence listens to the views of all people, not just those in the organic lobby, so that those farmers who wish to benefit from this technology are given the choice to do so.

Tony Combes, Agricultural Biotechnology Council

With new soybean, Monsanto reinvents age-old breeding game


St. Louis - When Monsanto Co. developed its newest strain of engineered soybeans, the company didn't use gene splicing. It used math.

Monsanto, has touted the Vistive soybean as a scientific breakthrough because it is ready-made for processing into healthier food oils that are low in trans fats.

But the secret recipe behind Vistive doesn't include genetic material from bacteria or other organisms that Monsanto often uses to develop seeds of what become pest-resistant plants.

Instead, there is an enormous numbers game, a complex system of data analysis, gene screening and a transcontinental network of greenhouses churning out seeds every day of the year in search of those with the desired traits.

Although Monsanto is known around the world for making genetically engineered plants - derided as ''Frankenfood'' by critics - it is increasingly focused on breeding as a way to develop new crops.

''I think the thing that's emerging in our business, particularly in the last year and I think in the next few years, is the importance of breeding,'' Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant told stock analysts.

The move could help Monsanto overcome hurdles in the international market, said Bill Selesky, an analyst with Argus Research in New York.

By many measures, the Vistive bean was developed through traditional breeding - mating one plant with another, again and again, until the offspring contain desired traits. But Monsanto applied a new twist to the age-old process, drawing on techniques the company developed over a decade of splicing genes.

The techniques - like using ''gene markers'' to spot promising seeds and crunching the data in supercomputers - shaved at least three years off the process of moving Vistive from the drawing board to the marketplace, said Monsanto Vice President David Stark.

The Vistive bean traces its roots to 2002.

Concern was mounting about trans fats contributing to unhealthy cholesterol levels. It's made when oils are partially hydrogenated, a process that stops oils from naturally degenerating. That results in a longer shelf life.

Stark thought there was a solution - breed a soybean with oils that are already stable enough to have a long shelf life. Cutting out hydrogenation would mean cutting out trans fats.

Figuring out how to do that fell to the likes of Monsanto scientist Pradip Das, who runs the company's crop analytics laboratory that tests everything from the starch content of a corn kernel to the genetic map of a cotton plant.

Das said scientists knew that a key reason soybean oil degenerates is the presence of linolenic acid. Breeding beans low in the acid could reduce the need for hydrogenation.

Genetic splicing wasn't necessary to derive such a bean. Researchers at Iowa State University developed a ''low-lin'' soybean years ago, according to the American Soybean Association. Such beans contain about 1 percent linolenic acid in their oil as opposed to 8 percent in standard beans.

Melding the low-lin strain of soybean into Monsanto's line of commercial crops could have taken many years, said Joe Byrum, Monsanto's trait integration team leader.

Mixing a low-lin bean with a premium soybean produces offspring that still have a lot of genetic ''junk,'' as Byrum puts it. While the low-lin trait might be there, the ''junk'' could yield a spindly plant with skimpy bean production. The goal is to find that one-in-a-million seed with the low-lin trait and nothing else but the premium genes.

But breeding is a game of big numbers, Byrum said. It's a matter of finding the right trait hundreds of thousands of times until the offspring is narrowed down to the right cross - the soybean plant with the low-lin trait and thoroughbred yield performance.

Monsanto has sped up this numbers game at its laboratory in Ankeny, Iowa.

The right strain was found, and Vistive has been planted on about 500,000 acres in the United States this year, according to Monsanto. After harvesting, the beans are kept separate from the general supply and sent to food processing companies like Cargill Inc., which sells the soybean oil as a premium product for a variety of foods - from cookies to spicy mustard.


NSW Farmers call for GM ban to end

- WEEKLY TIMES, 26 July 2006

The NSW Farmers Association wants the NSW Government to immediately lift its moratorium on genetically modified crops.

Delegates at last week's NSWFA conference in Sydney voted for the commercial release of the crops.

Senior vice-president, Richard Clark, said the organisation had previously supported the moratorium while research was done on segregation of GM and non-GM crops in the bulk handling system.

But it now believed the benefits of GM crops outweighed the marketing risks and its members wanted the ability to use the technology.

NSW Government policy is for a moratorium until 2008.

Any move by NSW to lift the moratorium could see a domino effect in other states.

The NSWFA's decision last week was the first time it had backed commercial release of GM crops.

"We've got a lot of ground to catch up."

The Victorian Farmers Federation has never supported a GM moratorium.

The VFF grains group's policy is to give farmers the right to choose the technology they use.

The greatest resistance in the VFF to GM has been from the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria.

But its position and that of dairy research organisations has shifted in favour of GM crops.

The NSWFA will also lobby the state's Primary Industries Ministerial Council to set adventitious presence levels for all crops.

The association said farmers wanted practical, objective and inexpensive GM detection tests as well as an education program before the moratorium was lifted.