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August 4, 2006


Kenya and Malawi MPs to seek GMO review; Legal boost for French GM sector; South Africa may reconsider GM sorghum


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: August 4, 2006

* Kenya and Malawi MPs to seek GMO review
* ISAAA CropBiotech Update, August 4, 2006
* Legal boost for French GM sector
* Govt sets up committee on GM food
* High throughput functional genomics of perennial ryegrass
* South Africa may reconsider GM sorghum permit if proper containment is assured
* Biotech crop acres expanding, but still waiting in Montana


Kenya and Malawi MPs to seek GMO review

- Engineering News, Aug 4, 2006

Kenyan and Malawian MPs, who visited South Africa on a genetically-modified (GM) product fact-finding mission, vowed to speed up genetically modified-organisms (GMO) legislation in their respective countries.

The delegation, including the Deputy Minister of Agriculture in Malawi, Henri Mumba, were drawn from various parliamentary select committees to learn about policy issues that had facilitated the adoption of GM crops in South Africa, but hindered their adoption in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa.

Professor Payiecha Olweny, the Kenyan MP, said that biotechnology could bridge the gap between food insecurity and food prosperity in Africa. “The technology offers the best possible solutions to production problems like the striga weed, the cassava mosaic virus, the cotton bollworm and the maize stalkborer.”

“We are convinced that Kenyan and Malawian farmers could benefit immensely from this technology. We will do everything in our power to put pressure on our governments to speed up the introduction of biotechnology.”

They visited small-scale farmers and various demonstration plots of GM and non-GM maize researched by AfricaBio. The purpose of the visit was to expose the visitors to the progress made in South Africa with GM crops and the benefits farmers were reaping.


- ISAAA, CropBiotech Update, August 4, 2006,

- Improved Maize, Wheat Varieties Lower Farmers’ Risks
- Media, Civil Society, and NGOs Meet NEPAD on Biotech
- Evogene, Biogemma Unite for Drought-Tolerant Corn
- Uganda Begins Improving Agri, Industry for Better Economy
- Modern Biotech – Integral Supplement to Plant Breeding
- South Africa Deputy Minister Commends Country’s Biosafety Regime
- Peru Approves Law for the Promotion of Biotechnology
- ASEAN Ministers Support Biofuels in Energy Meeting
- DOE to Invest $250 Million for Biofuel Research
- Iraq Agricultural System to Get U.S. Help
- Mexico Invests In Research and Technology to Boost Agricultural Sector
- NSW Farmers Back GM Crops
- Work Begins on Thailand Biosafety Law
- Italian Scientists Petition for GMO Research
- Indonesia Works On Agarwood
- EU To Assess Biotech Applications
- Tobacco Genes Keep Armyworms Out
- Plant Acid Contributes To Blight Resistance, Research Finds



Legal boost for French GM sector

- FOOD NAVIGATOR, Anthony Fletcher, 02/08/2006

Two recent judicial decisions could be the turning point for biotech cultivation in France, according to a new USDA GAIN report.

The first overturned a lower court ruling exonerating test plot destroyers. The second, reported recently on FoodNavigator, required Greenpeace to remove from its website names and locations of biotech corn growers.

Both decisions, according to the USDA report, could help provide a more conducive environment for biotech cultivation in France.

On June 22nd, the Orleans Court of Appeals upheld the original conviction of 49 people found guilty of destroying biotech plots belonging to Monsanto. This decision overturned a lower court ruling last December releasing the defendants from liability.

The Appeals Court reinstated a two-month jail sentence for one defendant and the others received suspended jail sentences and a 1,000 fine. The Court will continue to investigate Monsanto's claim for 390,000 in damages.

Monsanto welcomed the Court's decision stating that it "implements the law, protecting farmers' property as well as authorised and monitored experimentation." The French planting seed organisations commented that the Court's decision underlined the legitimacy of the "right to conduct research."

And on July 26, Greenpeace was judicially required to remove from its website a map of France with the locations of fields of biotech corn, as well as the names of biotech corn growers, because of the privacy infringement. The farmers whose names were indicated on Greenpeace website had sued Greenpeace, with the help of the French Corn Growers Association (AGPM).

In reaction, some activists destroyed some biotech corn in one of these fields, marking a large cross which was photographed from an helicopter by a nationally-known photographer.

Anti-GM pressure groups therefore appear to be targeting France just as the country appears to be growing receptive to the technology. According to another recent USDA GAIN report, France is set for an explosion in GM corn planting this year.

The Global Agriculture Information Network (GAIN) study said that French Bt corn acreage is expected to boom from 500 ha in 2005 to 5,000 ha in 2006, as a result of the economic advantages experienced by Bt corn growers in 2005.

This would suggest that governments in member states and at the EU level believe that GM technology will be a feature of food production in the future. Having been criticised in the past for failing to develop consistent and science-based regulatory processes governing biotechnology, the bloc appears to be increasingly moving towards enabling the GM sector to flourish.

A major impetus for this of course was the recent WTO ruling, which said that the European ban on GM imports contravened the rules of free trade.

But opposition at the grassroots remains. In France, the group of anti-GM protestors that call themselves 'Faucheurs Volontaires' (Voluntary Cutters) will continue to threaten the biotech industry, and have already claimed that they will attack commercial biotech crops.


Govt sets up committee on GM food

- Andhra Vision News, Aug 4, 2006

Even as controversy rages over pesticides in soft drinks, a new committee will look into what some consider another health hazard - genetically modified food. The labelling of GM foods has been set up by the Health Ministry and the Parliament has just passed a new law which will set up one single authority to replace the existing arrangement where a number of ministries validate GM technology. But politics once again has taken the centrestage, pushing the serious issue to the backseat.

Health hazard?

Are soft drinks really safe? Or could they damage your health? The same question is being asked about genetically modified or GM food like soyabean oil. Last year, India imported 20 lakh tonnes from the USA, Argentina and Brazil. These are countries where genetically modified food is not banned and labelling is not compulsory. The government has now set up a committee to ensure all GM food is labelled and consumers know exactly what they are eating or drinking. But members say labelling is not enough. "This is a very tricky area where we do not even have the wherewithal to test how it impacts human health," said Bejon Mishra, Member, GM Food Labelling Committee. The government has also proposed an integrated food and standards authority - a one-stop shop to clear GM food and technology, part of the 2005 Food Bill just passed by Parliament.

Turf war

This is being currently done by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Environment Ministry and has sparked off a turf war. The Health Ministry, presently regulating the import of GM food, is unwilling to give up control. It has been backed by parliamentary committees as well as the Agriculture Ministry. The matter has now gone to the Prime Minister's office, which wants the body to be autonomous. However, the Food Processing Ministry is unwilling to give up its claims. "I think we have a claim over this. The commission should be under our jurisdiction," said Subodh Kant Sahay, MoS, Food Processing. The impact of Bt cotton on the financial health of the farmers has been documented. But what Bt brinjal and Bt potato will mean to human health has not been documented and to add to it, unseemly bickering between ministries over the issue conveys a degree of unseriousness over an issue of utmost public importance.


High throughput functional genomics of perennial ryegrass

- Information Systems for Biotechnology (VIA AGNET), 03.aug.06, Shivendra Bajaj, Zac Hanley, Kieran Elborough & Sathish Puthigae

Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) is the most important pasture grass for meat, dairy and wool production in New Zealand, covering more than seven million hectares (Siegal et al., 1985).

It is an out-crossing, wind pollinated and highly self-incompatible species and, for these reasons, the pace of genetic improvement has been slow through conventional breeding methods.

Biotechnology can be a tool to accelerate the improvement of perennial ryegrass traits such as drought tolerance that are recalcitrant to conventional breeding techniques.

High frequency genetic transformation of perennial ryegrass and other Lolium spp. has been achieved using biolistic bombardment (Altpeter et al., 2000; Takahashi et al., 2005) but Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of Lolium spp. has proven difficult, and only a few transformed lines have been produced (Wu et al., 2005).

We have developed a high-frequency Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of perennial ryegrass (Bajaj et al., 2006) for candidate gene analysis. We have produced more than 1,000 independent transformed lines from several constructs selected using our SAG analysis of gene expression in ryegrass taken from on-farm pastures.


- Manila Bulletin, By Melody M. Aguiba, 30-July-2006

Government rice breeders had perked up the yield potential of high-yielding inbred rice IR 64 through the development of its bacterial leaf blight (BLB) resistance using a new technology called "molecular marking".

The first conventionally-bred BLB-resistant inbred to be developed through molecular marking, NSIC RC142 or Tubigan 7 had been recommended for commercial release by the National Seed Industry Council (NSIC).

Tubigan 7 has the inherent advantage most farmers look for as BLB (manifested by leaf wilting) can wipe out a conservative 40 percent of yield particularly in irrigated lowland, and even more severely in the wet season. The best inbred can give a yield of five to six metric tons (MT) per hectare at the highest, and BLB-resistance keeps that yield advantage.

Since it is inbred, the IR 64 cross Tubigan 7, developed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) led poor farmer does not need to buy the seed each time he plants it, making rice production cost cheaper for him.

It may even be an instrument for the Philippines' raising its sufficiency rate now that rice import is climbing.

The good thing about the use of molecular marking is it is a conventional breeding process that identifies a rice specie's good traits through amplification of DNA (genes that carry inherited traits). Thus, it veers breeders away from rigid, time-consuming, and costly biosafety regulations.

"Through a submicroscopic device, we can amplify some portions of DNA and see bands under UV (ultraviolet) light. If a long band is associated with the resistance trait, the plant with that long band will be the one tested," said Dr. Antonio A. Alfonso, PhilRice biotechnology chief, in an interview.

Molecular marking is saving breeders lengthy time for developing a desired trait. Under conventional breeding, a rice specie has to go through seeding stage (25 days) and it needs another 45 days from transplantation to be tested for BLB resistance.

To determine if the plant is susceptible or resistant to BLB, another 14 days to 21 days is needed to determine if the plant reacts to the pathogen implanted by breeders after inoculating (immunizing) it.

However, with molecular marking, only 20 days from seed germination is needed to test the plant.

"If you have a laboratory, you can do thousands of trials. You can do it at very early stage," he said. With conventional breeding, "you are limited by your land (capacity)."

A further advantage of molecular marking technique is it retains important traits of a backcrossed variety, in this case IR 64's good milling, eating, and physical qualities, low amylose content (indicating softness, moist, stickiness upon cooking).

Tubigan 7 even has intermediate resistance to major rice pests and diseases - sheath blight, stem borers, green leafhopper, and brown plant hopper.

PhilRice's acquisition of molecular marker device which includes a set-up for gel electrophoresis, (device where plants' band characteristics are exhibited through the gel on DNA) cost almost P1 million. It was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and Asian Development Bank through the "Asian Rice Biotechnology Network", a project for Asian countries.

Phirice is now using the same molecular marking technique in developing other desired rice traits including tungro-resistance, pro-Vitamin A-enrichment in rice (Golden Rice), blast resistance, and submergence tolerance (plants' survival under flooding in 10 to 14 days) which will help farmers in flooded areas.

PhilRice is hoping the development of the BLB-resistant rice that will enhance farmers' income and even raise the country's rice production which at 14.6 million MT (only 9.49 million MT when milled) in 2005 still falls far short of the country's requirement which must be reaching to 11.3 million MT in milled form.


South Africa may reconsider GM sorghum permit if proper containment is assured

- CheckBiotech, August 04, 2006

The South African government has announced that it may reconsider its stance to deny a permit to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to conduct laboratory and greenhouse experiments if the Council demonstrates that the sorghum is suitably contained.

“Provided the CSIR can demonstrate to the Executive Council (EC) that the sorghum is suitably contained, it may well reconsider its stance,” Derek Hanekon, the South Africa deputy science and technology minister said.

According to an opinion article in the Business Day, the deputy minister said that given the importance of sorghum and other indigenous crops on the African continent, there was a compelling reason to conduct research in this field. He said the research would “enable the better understanding of biosafety aspects, including the gene flow of indigenous crops, build capacity and skills and ultimately give us insight into better managing our genetic modification technologies”.

The Minister said the decision to turn down an application by CSIR to perform greenhouse experiments on GM sorghum “reinforced the government’s commitment to public safety”. The deputy minister said this commitment was supported by “ongoing efforts to enhance SA’s capacity to harness the potential of biotechnology to benefit the poor”

All decisions on applications for biotech research are taken by the Executive Council (EC), a statutory body established by the Genetically Modified Organisms Act comprising six government departments (science and technology, agriculture, trade and industry, health, labour, and environmental affairs and tourism).

CSIR’s Executive Director, Dr Gatsha Mazithulela, welcomed the government position and said CSIR was working with the relevant authorities to address the concerns related to the sorghum application. He said the CSIR supported the government’s commitment to public safety. In relation to the permit application, Dr. Mazithulela said “all experimentation will be conducted in a controlled greenhouse that has the necessary measures to minimize any potential hazards to the environment”.

The minister said the inadequate intake of essential micronutrients by many Africans is exacerbated by arid climates and poor soils that cannot support the food needed to supply these nutrients. “On the climatic considerations alone, it stands to reason that there is a role for more experimental research on indigenous crops. An example is sorghum, one of the few crops that grows well in arid climates, but is deficient in most essential nutrients”.

He said Africa’s ‘orphan crops’ were not of major interest for the big multinational seed companies and “if we want to produce improved varieties of crops that have evolved here we will have to do so ourselves”. The Minister added that “the failure of the recent Doha round of the World Trade Organization negotiations perhaps also emphasizes the need to develop niche markets and African orphan crops”.

Henekon asserted that the need to conduct this type of research must be balanced with due consideration given to government’s responsibility to ensure that new biotechnology products or services do not threaten the environment or human life, or undermine ethics.

The minister alluded to the possibility that the EC may have raised the bar for approval of the permit because to-date the vast majority of genetic modification work approved by the Council was based on non-indigenous species.

Millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from health problems associated with poor nutrition, including impaired immune systems, blindness and impaired neuropsy-chological development. It is estimated that in Africa 50 percent of children have a calcium, iron and zinc deficiency; one in 10 infants die before they are 12 months old; one in 10 children suffer from severe malnutrition; and more than one in five are physically stunted due to malnutrition.

The US$18.5 million African Biotechnology Sorghum Project (ABS), funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is aimed at improving nutrition to promote health as part of its Grand Challenges which focuses on improving nutrition levels of bananas, cassava, rice and sorghum. The goal of these challenges is to create a full range of optimal, bio-available nutrients in a single staple plant species.

The project brings together scientific teams from Africa Harvest; agricultural company Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of DuPont; the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa (CSIR), the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of South Africa; the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Universities of Pretoria (South Africa) and California Berkeley (USA).


Biotech crop acres expanding, but still waiting in Montana

- The Prarie Star, August 3, 2006, By Mike Waters

With biotech corn, soybeans, cotton, and canola so commonplace in the U.S. today - both in acreage and in tenure - it's baffling to explain why there'd be any controversy about improving the productivity and end-use quality of other crops with this technology.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 61 percent of all U.S. corn acres this year are planted to biotech varieties, up from 52 percent in 2005. USDA estimates that 89 percent of U.S. soybean acres are planted to biotech varieties (87 percent in 2005), and 83 percent of U.S. cotton acres (79 percent in 2005). It's estimated that well over half of U.S. canola acreage (the vast majority of which is planted in North Dakota) and papaya (Hawaii) are planted to biotech varieties.

All told, about 130 million acres are planted to biotech crops in the U.S. this year. And as biotech crops have become available, the adoption rate in the Northern Plains is among the highest in the nation. For example, South Dakota leads the nation in the adoption rate of both biotech corn and soybeans.

Globally, over one billion acres and a decade of production and handling experience have been gained since biotech crops were first planted in 1996, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, a non-profit organization focused on delivering the benefits of ag biotech to developing countries.

According to the ISAAA, about 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries planted biotech crops in 2005, including 11 developing countries such as China, India, and even Iran. Biotech rice (Bt) was grown commercially for the first time in 2005 on nearly 10,000 acres in Iran by several hundred farmers.

The vast experience gained thus far in the production of biotech crops will pave the way for new traits and new crops to benefit producers and consumers alike. Given the limited crop choices and production challenges (like drought) we have here in eastern Montana, these new traits and new crop opportunities can't come soon enough.