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July 28, 2006


Science for Food; Australian Farmers Seek GM Debate; Biotech Wheat; Conservation Tillage Helps Growers Save Time, Money, the Environment


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: July 28, 2006

* CropBiotech Weekly Update
* Science for food
* McGauran joins push to lift ban on GM crops
* Farmers seek GM crops debate
* Biotech talk tops '06 wheat conference
* Plan to boost rice photosynthesis with inserted genes
* Conservation Tillage Helps Growers Save Time, Money, the Environment
* When Transgenes Wander, Should We Worry?


CropBiotech Weekly Update
July 28, Issue

* International Effort to Boost Rice Production
* Bangladesh Approves Biotech Policy
* CAST Paper Says Biotech-Derived Crop as Safe as Conventional Crop
* Indian Parliament Passes Integrated Food Bill
* Biotech Applications for Manure Nutrient Management
* India Exempts Soybean Oil, Extends Trade Regulation to GM Products
* BBSRC, DFID Link for Research on Sustainable Agri in Developing Countries
* India Simplifies Crop Biotech Approval Procedures
* Malaysia: PM to Launch Biotech Hub
* Leaders Resolve to Harness Biotechnology to Develop Africa
* Cloned Oil Palm Making Its Way In Malaysia
* IITA Takes on Banana Virus with UV, Juice Help
* Citrus Tristeza Virus Sequenced In Mexico
* Bt Maize in Spain Found To Improve Production By 7.3%
* New Barley Has Higher Yields, Available Phosphorous
* INRA, CIRAD Link for Agri Study Pinto Bean Lines Developed to Resist Mold
* Biofuels Cost, Benefits Examined
* Study Explores Gene Changes Brought By Virus in Potato

Available at http://www.isaaa.org/kc/CBTNews/2006_Issues/July/CBT_July_28.htm


Science for food

- Nation Online, by Mzati Nkolokosa, 28 July 2006

The famine of 2001 was a double-edged sword in Southern Africa and Malawi was a typical example.

On one side, people were dying of hunger-related illnesses. On the other, government was being accused of accepting genetically modified (GM) relief maize.

Zambia, which was starving as well, was praised for rejecting GM maize because as Mwananyada Lewanika, a biochemist at the Institute for Science and Technology said “GM maize is risky to people”.

This was bought by a network of international organisations. Here, the Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) brought 10 African countries to a conference where GM foods were condemned, saying people were supposed to be warned of the dangers of consuming such foods and that Malawi was supposed to reject the maize.

Government was compelled to mill the maize to prevent people from planting the seed because, as people speculated, GM maize had the ability to kill other crops.

But GM crops are not that bad as I discovered on a fact finding mission in South Africa where I went about the country, visiting GM maize and cotton farmers. In fact, the right name is genetically improved (GI) or biotechnology—applied biology that uses any living system to produce something useful using the latest tools and techniques.

“Science is for the benefit of people,” said Professor Diran Makinde of AfricaBio, an independent, non-profit biotechnology stakeholders association whose role is to provide accurate information and create awareness on biotechnology in South Africa and the region. “A scientist cannot give people something that will destroy them. That is not science.”

Makinde was speaking when he introduced biotechnology to parliamentarians, journalists and scientists from Malawi and Kenya.

The audience was all silent, marvelling at the presentation. Biotechnology, said Makinde, is the science of improving crops and animals by taking genes from any source into another organism.

This technology, although known to most Malawians a couple of years ago, has been around for decades and been useful in sewerage and compositing, making of bread, wine, beer, medicinal plants and vaccine.

A typical example is medicinal trees.

If a medicinal tree in North Pole cannot grow in Malawi, scientists can take the genes to a specie in Malawi, put that gene in a miombo, to produce the same effect as the medicinal tree of the North Pole. That is how biotechnology works.

That is what scientists have done with maize and cotton, for example. It is working in South Africa, the continent’s only country growing GM crops at commercial level.

In Soweto I met a group of women growing BT maize. Their field trials were educative. One of them, Ella Baloyi, was speaking reasonable Chichewa.

“Amuna anga anali a ku Malawi [My husband was from Malawi],” she said. “Look up for him [name withheld] in Lilongwe. He left three years ago.”

She talked of how BT maize is helping them, commercially. She belongs to a club that planted BT maize on one plot and non-BT maize on another. Both were mature and dry.

But there was difference. BT maize cobs were big and healthy, not attacked by insects while non-BT maize cobs were small and partly suffering from weevils and such other insects.

This means more maize has been harvested from a BT crop than non-BT crop from two identical plots. And the differences are remarkable, huge that one wouldn’t go for non-BT maize once they try BT crop.

But it is at Makhathini in Kwazulu Natal where the power of BT crops manifests itself. The place is hot, like Malawi’s lakeshore, typical of cotton growing areas. Farmers here have been growing cotton for years.

But once they tried BT cotton, they vowed never to look back to non-BT cotton.

“I don’t think I will ever grow non BT cotton,” said Rejoice Mkhabela, a farmer at Makhathini where a club of farmers is growing cotton. “With non-BT cotton we used to spray every week for three months, now we spray four times.”

This is possible because BT cotton is a combination of genes that, among other things, make grow leaves that scare insects.

So is maize. Biotechnology is able to produce insect and drought resistant yet nutritious maize.

“Food biotechnology is a way to improve food, crops and animals by selectively giving plants and animals new qualities, such as more vitamins and minerals and better nutritional value.

Traditional breeding methods combine thousands of traits from two plants while with biotechnology, only the desired characteristic is added to a plant.

This means food may be enhanced to contain additional nutrients or other traits to make them taste fresh. Farmers also benefit by having new ways to fight pests and disease and grow food in a more environmentally friendly way.

BT farming is working in South Africa. President Thabo Mbeki has got biotechnology right.

He says his government will increase funding for agricultural research to promote the continuous improvement in competitiveness and leadership in ...biotechnology that is vital to South Africa’s agriculture.

This fired up the fact finding mission. Journalists and MPs realised “we were cheated that GM foods are bad when in true sense they are meant to end hunger in our countries”.

Malawi, too, was ready. Former Deputy Minister of Agriculture Henry Mumba said so. The country has a Biosafety Act to ensure safety imported of BT foods.

Our immediate enemy is not the Israel-Hizbollah war in Lebanon but hunger, disease and envy as the national anthem rightly suggests.

One African, Cryrus Ndiritu, has understood Mbeki correctly.

“It is not multinationals that have a stranglehold on Africa. It is hunger, poverty and deprivation. And if Africa is going to get out of that, it has got to embrace GM technology,” says Ndiritu.

Malawi needs to listen to this call.


McGauran joins push to lift ban on GM crops

- ABC News Online, July 28, 2006

There is growing pressure on the states to lift their bans on commercial trials of genetically modified (GM) crops.

State governments have powers over land which they have used to impose the bans.

Now federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran has joined farm groups in calling for the moratoria to be lifted, saying there are environmental and economic benefits from the technology.

"I believe the states' opposition to genetically modified crops is purely philosophical or ideological, it makes no economic or environmental sense," he said.

"Farmers should make the decision for themselves based on their reading of the marketplace.

"Whether consumers react against genetically modified foods is simply a question for farmers and industries to take into account, it should not be decided by governments from above."


Farmers seek GM crops debate

- ABC News Online, July 28, 2006

The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) is calling for an open and transparent debate on the issue of genetically modified (GM) crops.

At yesterday's TFGA annual conference in Launceston, federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauren urged the State Government to lift its five-year moratorium on GM crops.

TFGA chief executive officer Greg Bradfield says the organisation does not yet have a firm stand on the issue.

"We have 18 months here to really stimulate a good debate and come up with a good position which is best for Tasmania as an economy as a whole," he said.

"We have to make sure the Government partakes in that debate and listens to the answer at the end of the day."


Biotech talk tops '06 wheat conference

- The Wichita Eagle, BY PHYLLIS JACOBS GRIEKSPOOR, July 28, 2006

The time has come for wheat to join the biotechnology revolution.

That was the message as producers, researchers, wheat breeders and government regulators gathered in Wichita on Thursday for the 2006 Kansas Wheat Conference.

"The future of the wheat industry and the future of the human food supply rests on biotechnology," state Secretary of Agriculture Adrian Polanskysaidin his opening remarks at the conference. "We must embrace biotechnology."

Wheat farmers have missed out on the benefits that biotechnology has brought to producers of corn, cotton, canola and soybeans, including $27 million in increased revenue over the last 10 years, said Kansas State University research and extension leader Forrest Chumley.

"A lot of the talk you hear makes it seem that biotechnology has not been widely accepted and that it has been less than successful," Chumley said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

He said biotech crops are grown by 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries.

A variety of factors has slowed the research into biotech wheat, Chumley said, notably a small number of researchers, a complex genome and fears of losing export markets.

Colby producer Mike Brown said he thinks the fact that wheat is primarily a human food product also has played a role.

"People are a little quicker to accept genetic modification of fiber crops or animal feed crops than they are human food," he said.

The wheat industry has also been divided on the issue.

"I think the fact that the first trait offered was herbicide resistance hurt progress," Brown said. "There was only a small segment of the industry that actually wanted that trait."

One of the most promising new gene traits is resistance to a disease called fusarium, which causes head blight and creates a toxin that can cause serious health problems.

"You offer fusarium resistance as a genetic trait and I think you'll see farmers embrace the technology," Brown said.

Dean Stoskopf, former president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, farms near Hoisington. He said he wouldn't hesitate to plant biotech wheat if he thought the modified trait would add value to his operation.

"I think drought tolerance and disease resistance would be popular," he said.

Also promising is the ability to genetically modify wheat to remove the allergens from the gluten, enabling millions of people who suffer from celiac disease to be able to eat wheat products.


Plan to boost rice photosynthesis with inserted genes

- SCIDEVNET, By Mike Shanahan, July 27, 2006

By Scientists have announced plans to radically boost rice yields, warning that unless production increases millions of people could fall back into poverty.

Delegates who met at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines this month (17-21 July) said they hope to manipulate the crop's genetics to enable it to grow faster and bigger.

Traditional methods of increasing rice production - such as crossing different varieties - have been pushed to the limits of what is scientifically possible. But now that researchers have sequenced rice's entire genetic code, more advanced approaches could become available.

Key to the strategy discussed at the workshop is a difference in the way that rice and other plants convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugar for growth - a process called photosynthesis.

Rice photosynthesis is less efficient than that of some other plants such as maize that use an extra chemical process for capturing carbon dioxide.

The researchers say it should be possible to transfer this process to rice by inserting genes from maize or from wild relatives of rice that also use it.

The project is ambitious. The specialists who met this month say it would take about four years to determine whether the technique is feasible and another 10-15 years until the first improved varieties are available.


Conservation Tillage Helps Growers Save Time, Money, the Environment

- AScribe Newswire, July 27, 2006

As fuel prices rise and agricultural profit margins narrow, California farmers may find some relief with conservation tillage, in which growers reduce the number of times that they drive tractors across their fields. Common in the Midwest, conservation tillage is relatively new to California, and UC researchers are working to adapt it to local crops and conditions. The July-September 2006 issue of the University of California's California Agriculture journal includes two peer-reviewed research articles and related news coverage on the pros and cons of conservation tillage in California. The full articles are posted online at http://californiaagriculture.ucop.edu .

"Conservation tillage is not like previous agricultural innovations," says Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension vegetable crops specialist at UC Davis. "Farmers are not just introducing a single technology; they are changing their entire system of farming. Farmers are doing the frontline trouble-shooting work with support from scientists and agricultural industries."

While some innovative California growers have adapted conservation tillage to the state's unique climate and soil conditions, the practice is still relatively uncommon here. (A seminar with California growers who have successfully reduced their tillage will be held Aug. 8 in Sacramento [see below]; the UC Conservation Tillage workgroup has nearly 500 members statewide; see http://groups.ucanr.org/ucct ).

Growers continue to till the soil for a variety of agronomic reasons, Mitchell says, including to manage weeds and diseases, loosen compacted soil and allow more-efficient furrow irrigation.

However, Mitchell says the potential benefits of conservation tillage are numerous. They include water conservation, dust suppression, reduced pesticide runoff into surface water, lowered labor needs and costs, and fuel savings. In addition, limiting tillage helps to keep carbon in the ground and prevent the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

In California Agriculture, Mitchell and colleagues report on a field study of seven different tillage methods in two back-to-back cotton crops in the San Joaquin Valley, with and without an intervening cover crop. While cotton yields were for the most part comparable in all the tillage systems studied, the reduced-till systems decreased the number of tractor operations by anywhere from 41 percent to 53 percent, fuel use by 48 percent to 62 percent and overall production costs by 14 percent to 18 percent.

The other peer-reviewed study published in California Agriculture examines at the effects of different tillage methods on soil quality in a typical San Joaquin Valley cotton-tomato crop rotation, with and without cover crops. The 4-year study found that conservation tillage alone improved some soil parameters, such as bulk density and the availability of nitrogen and phosphorus, but it also significantly increased concentrations of salt and potassium at the soil surface. In this study, however, cover cropping in conjunction with conservation tillage mitigated most of the deleterious effects on soil quality.

"In the low-rainfall regime of the San Joaquin Valley, farmers may benefit more from cover cropping in combination with conservation tillage to maintain soil fertility, as opposed to conservation tillage alone," wrote authors Jessica Veenstra, former UC Davis researcher, and colleagues.

UC Davis soil scientist William Horwath noted that the effectiveness of conservation tillages varies considerably with crop type, agronomic practices and growing conditions. "California agriculture is more intensive than in the Midwest, which is primarily grain crops and is thus more amenable to conservation tillage," Horwath says. "Here we have many varied crops requiring specific agronomic practices. It's not a clear-cut decision, and it may not be for everyone."

Seminar: A free workshop featuring California conservation tillage innovators will be held at 7 p.m. on Aug. 8 at the Hyatt Regency in Sacramento. For more information, go to: http://news.ucanr.org/newsstorymain.cfm?story=820 .


When Transgenes Wander, Should We Worry?

- AScribe Newswire, July 27, 2006

Just like their traditionally bred counterparts, transgenic crops have definitively been shown to crossbreed with crops or native plants growing nearby. In the July-September issue of the University of California's California Agriculture journal, a peer-reviewed review article documents widespread evidence that crop transgenes do, in fact, wander in the environment.

But is this a cause for worry?

"The products of traditional plant improvement are not absolutely safe, and we cannot expect transgenic crops to be absolutely safe either," writes Norman C. Ellstrand, director of the Biotechnology Impacts Center and genetics professor at UC Riverside. "The creators of transgenic plants need to be as mindful of possible problems with their products as they are of potential promise."

With this issue, California Agriculture launches a special series on the risks and benefits of agricultural biotechnology. Three peer-reviewed research articles focus on transgenic crops, fish and animals. (Future issues will examine transgenic insects, pharmaceutical crops and other concerns.) The full articles are posted online at http://californiaagriculture.ucop.edu .

Transgenic plants are engineered with genes from other plants or organisms to express agronomically desirable traits, such as herbicide or insect resistance, or higher vitamin levels. In 2005, the world's billionth acre of transgenic crops was planted; most of that acreage was in the United States, primarily in corn, soybeans and cotton.

Ellstrand, author of the 2003 book "Dangerous Liaisons? When Cultivated Plants Mate With Their Wild Relatives" (Johns Hopkins Press), has conducted extensive research on gene transfer among plants, in addition to field studies.

For example, Ellstrand and colleagues showed that one of the world's most important crops, sorghum, spontaneously hybridized with one of the world's worst weeds, johnsongrass, even when they were grown up to 330 feet apart; furthermore, the two plants are distinct species with different numbers of chromosomes. Other labs have demonstrated crop-to-wild gene flow with sunflower, rice, canola and pearl millet.

Transgenic crops are no different. Transgenic canola has crossbred with its native relative, creating herbicide-resistant volunteers. A more well-known example is transgenic Starlink corn, which was not approved for human consumption but appeared in a variety of corn-based foods. "For a decade, more than a dozen cases of transgenes and/or their products out-of-place have been reported," Ellstrand notes in California Agriculture.

In two other peer-reviewed articles in California Agriculture, Alison L. Van Eenennaam, UC Davis animal genomics and biotechnology specialist, examines environmental and public-policy concerns related to transgenic fish and mammals.

To date, just one transgenic fish has been approved for sale in the United States, a red-fluorescent zebra danio for aquariums (California has banned the fish). A growth-enhanced salmon is currently under federal review. Risk factors associated with transgenic fish include unintended release or escape, and related ecosystem imbalances. For example, in one study "fast-growing transgenic salmon were found to dominate feed acquisition and exhibit strong agonistic and cannibalistic behavior toward their [nontransgenic] cohorts when there were inadequate feed resources," Van Eenennaam writes.

However, Van Eenennaam notes that "neither the risks nor the benefits of transgenic fish are certain or universal." Rather, they vary according to a variety of factors. "Regulators need to apply a scientifically sound, risk-based framework to assess the ecological risks involved with each transgene, species and receiving ecosystem combination on a case-by-case basis."

No genetically engineered food animals have been approved for global or U.S. sale, although numerous animal species have been cloned (but not sold for food) and transgenic animals are producing commercial, nonfood items such as spider silk (by goats). Van Eenennaam notes that transgenic animals raise unique ethical concerns due to "the special place that animals hold in our society."

This concern is often at odds with the scientific process, which "places a high value on controlled experiments as a way to obtain understanding," Van Eenennam writes. She urges scientists to pursue effective and responsible communication with all stakeholders, in order to "reach a consensus on the acceptable levels of risk for specific products of animal biotechnology, and to determine which set of values will ultimately be applied to decide the acceptable uses of animal biotechnology."

California Agriculture is the University of California's peer-reviewed journal of research in agricultural, human and natural resources. For a free subscription, go to: http://CaliforniaAgriculture.ucop.edu , call 510-987-0044 or write to calag@ucop.edu . For a printed copy of California Agriculture, media should e-mail janet.byron@ucop.edu or call 510-987-0668.

CONTACT: Janet Byron, 510-987-0668, janet.byron@ucop.edu



- 26-July-2006 The Biotech Advantage

Members of Kenya's parliament recently voted down an attempt to ban production, consumption and sale of all genetically modified (GM) foods in the country. The failed motion was based on the grounds that most developed countries have banned GM food because they are unsafe for human consumption, and that the Government has failed to implement policy guidelines to guard against the introduction of such foods. Those opposed to the motion said a ban amounted to standing in the way of technology, and that the motion was undemocratic, anti-science, retrogressive, ignorant and frightening.

Citing that GM food is produced, sold and consumed in South Africa, the United States, China, and many European countries, those opposed to the motion said that it would be wrong to pass on employing a technology that could help millions of starving Kenyans.

Peter Kaindi, Agriculture assistant minister in charge of Research and Extension asked the House Business Committee give priority to development of the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, which would enable the Government to promote food and animal production through scientific research.

Kaindi also told the members of parliament that the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services had already "subjected to rigorous tests" any safety claims related to GM foods. He also noted that Kenya had signed conventions and treaties with groups like the World Health Organization stating that Kenya has the capacity to make sure GM foods are fit for consumption.