Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - August 7, 2006
* Use Biotechnology to Feed the Poor
* GM Foods Will End World Famine: Expert
* Sort Out Biotechnology Facts
* GM Plant Genes
* GM Scaremonger
* No Reign of Terror in Germany: InnoPlanta condemns field destruction
* Cutting the Grass May Never Cause Tears Again
* Enlightening the Future 2024... Key Challenges for the Next Generation
* Wal-Mart and Environmental Defense: Strange Bedfellows - CSPI update
* FAQ on Bt-Cotton
* India's Cotton Exports May Hit Record 5 Mln Bales
* Tarnishing Silver Bullets: Bt Technology Adoption
Use Biotechnology to Feed the Poor
- Jennifer Thomson, Australian, August 7, 2006 http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/
'Europe's opposition to GM food hurts the world's impoverished'
We all know that much of the developing world struggles to find enough food for its people. Yet bureaucrats in Europe sit and determine that these countries and others should be cautious in adopting genetically modified crops until they are deemed safe. Meanwhile thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people are dying.
Melbourne is hosting an international agricultural biotechnology conference that offers the chance to debate and, hopefully, solve this growing schism between those in the West who want to do the "best" by the rest of the world and the rest of the world who simply want to eat.
If sub-Saharan Africa continues to produce crops based on its present agricultural practices, there will be a cereal shortage of nearly 90 million tonnes by the year 2025. Clearly something has to be done.
Certainly there is enough food produced in the world to feed everyone: the problem is how to get it to the people in need?
Ideally, we should stop wars and eliminate corruption so that food gets to the right people and build roads and railway lines to transport food from areas of feast to those of famine. But how long will that take?
In the meantime, genetically modified crops that give increased yields are just one of the ways in which we can tackle the problem.
How safe is food derived from GM crops? Listen to Craig Venter, a scientist who led the team that sequenced the human genome. No food crop, he insists, has ever been tested for human safety as rigorously as GM crops. Indeed, in contrast, many conventional food crops can be extremely toxic.
The bottom line is that multinational companies have little interest in improving yields of these African crops. So we have to produce them ourselves. In South Africa, GM crops that are being cultivated include herbicide-resistant maize and soybean, as well as insect-resistant cotton and maize.
Each application for a commercial release is assessed by the Genetic Resource Centre of the National Department of Agriculture on a case-by-case basis. The cotton and maize are being grown by many small-scale farmers who are experiencing great increases in yields. In addition, with insect-resistant cotton and maize, they are saving money by decreasing their use of insecticides -- definitely an environmental improvement.
Other crops in the pipeline include maize resistant to the African endemic maize streak virus and cassava resistant to the African cassava mosaic virus. MSV is rampant in many African countries, and a few years ago Uganda nearly lost its entire crop of cassava to ACMV, which is spreading rapidly towards Nigeria, one of Africa's most important producers of the crop.
Another trait that is being developed in important African crops is drought tolerance. The lack of water is surely one of the greatest problems facing agriculture in Africa.
Three years ago the US, Canada and Argentina filed a complaint against the EU, claiming the 1998 moratorium on GM crops violated a food trade treaty that requires regulatory decisions to be made without "undue delay" and to be based on science. The irony is that very few European countries grow GM crops, yet Europe is the world's biggest importer of soybeans, used for animal and chicken feed ever since the mad cow disease scare turned them against using animal products for feed. But the vast majority of soybean is GM, so although Europe doesn't grow many GM crops, it certainly imports them.
In February, the World Trade Organisation ruled in favour of the US when it found that the EU breached international rules by restricting imports of genetically modified crops and food made from them. The decision signalled a victory for the agricultural biotechnology industry, which for years has been battling opposition to its products from consumers and governments in Europe.
One of the key issues to be discussed at the ABIC meeting in Melbourne will be how these recent developments in Europe will hopefully diminish the schism between the developing and developed worlds.
Europe can no longer sit back, amid its mountains of extra food, and determine that the world should be "cautious" about its use of GM crops. Because continental Europe and Scandinavia do not want GM crops and foods, they should not prevent Africans from benefiting from this technology. Indeed, such a position is immoral. As they sit in their offices and homes contemplating the possible dangers of GM foods, EU bureaucrats will effectively commit Africans and those in other developing countries to years, even decades, of further starvation.
Jennifer Thomson, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, is the chairwoman of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation in Kenya. She is a key speaker at the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference in Melbourne this week.
GM Foods Will End World Famine: Expert
- NineMSN (Australia), August 7, 2006 http://news.ninemsn.com.au
Problems associated with genetically modified food are only an issue in countries where food is plentiful, an African professor has told a biotechnology conference. Professor Jennifer Thomson said when people were starving the advantages of stronger, healthier crops far outweighed the risks.
"When you live in a country where you haven't got enough food, it's all about the benefits," she said. "If we want to feed African and other developing countries we're going to have to use new technologies."
The technologies would help to grow crops able to withstand viruses, disease, insects, weeds and drought. "If we can improve soil fertility, have less loss to weeds, insects, diseases and drought, farms can be secure and farmers can move from being subsistence farmers to commercial farmers," Prof Thompson said.
The World Trade Organisation in May this year overturned the European Union's four year moratorium on GM foods. But Australia and Europe continued to sit back amongst their mountains of food and urge the world to use caution when considering GM crops, Prof Thomson said.
Hysteria and misinformation out of Europe, she said, was still sending the wrong message. "In Zambia they were told GM food would make them sterile," she told the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference in Melbourne.
"Bad mouthing" of GM crops had led to Zambia refusing food aid that had been genetically modified for fears it would affect the country's GM-free export status. What was not explained to the Zambian farmers was that the US maize sent to Zambia was sensitive to African disease and any attempt at growing it would see the crop wiped out by Zambia specific viruses, the conference was told.
In the meantime at the current rate of production, sub-Sahara Africa was facing a cereal shortage of 88.7 million tonnes by the year 2025. "Food is a very emotive issue," Prof Thomson said.
"But Europe can no longer sit back and urge caution
"As European governments sit and contemplate the possible danger of GM foods, they commit Africans and those in other developing countries to years even decades of starvation."
Prof Thomson is the chair of the Board of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation in Kenya.
Sort Out Biotechnology Facts
- Bob Krauter, Capital Press Agriculture Weekly, August 4, 2006 http://www.capitalpress.info
'Not all people embrace change and innovation, so it will be important to address their questions'
The horseless carriage, frozen peas, microwave ovens and jet airliners.
Many technological and scientific advances once feared, have become mainstays in improving our quality of life. People today are living longer, healthier, happier lives than ever for a variety of reasons, but there is no doubt that we are benefactors of science, technology and innovation. But not all people see change as a good thing, especially when it comes to biotechnology.
Anti-biotech activists in recent years have fanned out across the country to target biotech crops, using terms like "Frankenfoods" to create doubt, alarm and fear in the public and support for state and county bans against the technology. They have pushed for outright bans on biotech crops and onerous labeling laws to tag biotech as the boogeyman lurking in kitchen pantries.
The anti-biotech spin is we shouldn't fool with Mother Nature. Anything "natural" or produced through natural selection is good and superior to anything that can be selected or improved by man.
In the past few years, dozens of California counties have grappled with the question, "Is biotechnology good or bad?" Four have adopted anti-biotech ordinances - Mendocino, Trinity, Marin and most recently, Santa Cruz. Voters in four counties have dumped biotech bans and there have even been some counties that have passed pro-biotech measures.
As California's experience seems to indicate, the biotech rebellion has not created the groundswell that activists had hoped. But that hasn't stopped some states from passing laws to require a uniform, statewide policy on biotech agriculture.
Laws have been passed in more than 10 states and many other state legislatures, including California's, are currently considering similar measures. Senate Bill 1056, authored by State Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, recently passed the Assembly Agriculture Committee. It has support of Assembly members Barbara Matthews and Bill Maze and more than a dozen of their colleagues in the Senate and Assembly.
The bill clarifies that the California Department of Food and Agriculture has the authority to regulate what seeds and nursery plants can be grown in the state. It would provide some sense of sanity in the debate that is pitting county against county.
It reinforces the oversight role governing what can legally be grown in the state and, importantly, it provides some assurances to farmers who may be shying away from which crops to plant for fear that they may become prohibited in the future.
The state Legislature can and should restore calm and common sense to the biotech debate, and pass this bill into law. But a new law should not stifle the ongoing discussion to determine how society can be use biotech to enhance our quality of life. We should strive to ask the question - "How can we best use this technology to benefit mankind in the future?"
To date, the greatest and most notable impact of biotechnology has been in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. More than 200 million people worldwide have benefited from hundreds of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines produced by the biomedical biotechnology industry.
Scientists are currently investigating applications of advanced gene therapy to address hereditary disorders, cancer and recalcitrant infectious diseases like AIDS.
Scientists are exploring new ways to develop better medicines, new ways to produce more and better foods and ways to detect and mitigate environmental contaminants through biotechnology.
One of the societal benefits of biotechnology is greater protection of the environment. A two-year study in the May 4 online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed biotech cotton resisted the damaging pink bollworm while having no harmful impact on benign insects.
The wise use of biotechnology can improve crop yields, cut the use of pesticides and herbicides and reduce the amount of land needed to be cleared for food production to feed the world's population.
Each new venture in history has produced its share of doomsayers and doubters and biotech is no exception. Christopher Columbus had trouble convincing Europeans that the earth was round and that his ships would not fall off the edge of the world before their reached America's shores.
It is incumbent on all - regulators, local governing bodies, the biotech industry, farmers and members of the general public to work together to address questions about the risks and benefits of biotech.
Only through sorting through the facts and addressing concerns that people have can we truly benefit from an exciting technology that promises to change the quality of life of people in ways never imagined just a few years ago.
Bob Krauter is the Capital Press California editor based in Sacramento.
GM Plant Genes
- The Guardian (UK), August 7, 2006 http://www.guardian.co.uk
In her reply to my letter of July 31, Val Spouge (Letters, August 4) is incorrect in her assumption that GM technology always involves the transfer of foreign genes. I and many other plant scientists have spent a great deal of time regulating the expression of native plant genes by using fragments of these same genes to control crop growth processes such as ripening, drought tolerance and plant stature - usually with very positive results. And of course thousands of genes that exist in plants are genetically identical to those that exist in us, so how does one define a foreign gene?
Ms Spouge does not appear to understand that I was talking about induced mutations by radiation or nuclear disrupting chemicals, not naturally occurring mutations. Almost all consumed crop plants have been directly or indirectly subjected to this artificial form of mutation - including organic fruit and vegetables.
She also brings up unpredictability and unknown effects of GM crop plants. Very recent peer-reviewed work shows that GM wheat plants had far fewer changes in gene expression than those produced through conventional breeding.
- Professor David James, Maidstone, Kent
- Sunday Telegraph (UK), August 6. 2006 http://www.telegraph.co.uk
Michael Meacher points to the hypothetical threats that GM crops pose to human health (Comment, July 30), based on just three inadequately done experiments, and ignores hundreds showing that, once they have passed the necessary checks, they are as safe as any other new breeds of crops.
In a new crop, whether it be GM or non-GM, it is essential to check its real properties carefully: is the food you make from it healthy, does the crop grow well, does it keep insects off, etc?
Unfortunately Mr Meacher only contributes to the scaremongering about GM crops and the polarised public opinion.
- Richard Braun, Bern, Switzerland
The Bounty of Biotech
- Henry I. Miller, Los Angeles Times, August 5, 2006 http://www.latimes.com
'Activists are promoting a big lie about better foods'
Anatole France famously said, "If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing." That aphorism applies to politicians and voters who have, over the last few years, introduced and passed local ordinances in four California counties to ban the cultivation of plants improved with state-of-the-art genetic techniques. These actions in Trinity, Mendocino, Marin and Santa Cruz counties represent democracy at its worst.
To begin with, the measures are unscientific and logically inconsistent, in that their restrictions are inversely related to risk: They permit the use of microorganisms and plants that are crafted with less precise and predictable techniques but ban those made with more precise and predictable ones.
Further, vast numbers of gene-spliced and other bacteria are released routinely from ordinary, low-containment microbiology laboratories, such as those at UC Santa Cruz, without any harmful effects. A study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that for each technician in such labs, 50 million to 1 billion bacteria on average escape daily -- on lab coats, in hair or just blowing out the door.
But there is a far more fundamental issue at stake: the freedom of individuals and companies to pursue lawful activities unencumbered. All citizens should be concerned about the implications of subjecting safe, legitimate commercial products -- in this case, plants crafted with a proven, superior technology -- to surveillance, confiscation and destruction by local officials.
Fortunately, California legislators have introduced a bill, SB 1056, that would preempt local regulation of seeds and nursery stocks. It would ensure consistency of regulation throughout the state and obviate the need for farmers to navigate a county-by-county patchwork of restrictions and requirements. The bill has the support of virtually all major agricultural organizations, including the California Farm Bureau, Western United Dairymen, Western Growers Assn., the Wine Institute and more.
Outlawing the cultivation of insect-resistant crops developed with the assistance of modern biotechnology ensures the increased use of chemical pesticides, the persistence of these chemicals in ground and surface water, and it will result in increased occupational exposures.
Most important, the county prohibitions block sophisticated genetic approaches to the eradication of blights that threaten a variety of crops and ornamental plants in California. Biotechnology's potential is not just theoretical. By inserting a single gene into squash and other crops, scientists have made them virus-resistant. Gene-spliced papaya varieties have resurrected Hawaii's $64-million-a-year industry, which was moribund a decade ago because of the predations of ringspot virus. And because gene splicing has enhanced the resistance of plants to pests and disease, we have been spared the use of millions of pounds of chemical pesticides.
The future holds out even greater hope. The technology makes it possible to remove dangerous allergens from wheat, peanuts, milk and other commonly allergenic foods. Gene splicing will allow crop varieties to thrive in conditions of drought or near-drought.
For years, activists have relentlessly promoted the Big Lie about gene splicing -- namely, that it is unproven, unwanted, untested and unregulated. After more than 20 years, none of the hypothetical concerns about safety has been substantiated. Crops using gene-splicing techniques are grown by 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries annually. California farmers plant almost a million acres of gene-spliced crops annually. Americans have consumed more than a trillion servings of foods that contain gene-spliced ingredients.
There is not a single documented case of injury to a person or disruption of an ecosystem. There is a broad consensus among scientists that gene-splicing techniques are essentially an extension, or refinement, of earlier ones, and that gene transfer or modification by molecular techniques does not, per se, confer risk.
Letting ideology and misguided activism trample science and common sense is antithetical to sound public policy. That's why we need SB 1056.
HENRY I. MILLER, a physician and molecular biologist, is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of "The Frankenfood Myth." He headed the FDA's office of biotechnology from 1989 to 1993
No Reign of Terror in Germany: InnoPlanta AGIL condemns field destruction in Badingen
- InnoPlanta AGIL Press Release August 1, 200. Via Andy Apel. http://www.innoplanta.my-content.biz
Gatersleben, Germany - In the Brandenburg region of Badingen, militant opponents of genetic engineering last weekend destroyed 150 square meters of a cultivated field. The field contained Bt-maize which was genetically improved to fight the European Corn Borer, a dangerous parasite which now strikes a quarter of all German maize acreage. The Innovative Farmers Working Group [Arbeitsgemeinschaft Innovative Landwirte] of InnoPlanta e.V. (InnoPlanta AGIL) condemns this destruction.
InnoPlanta AGIL welcomes the decision to file charges against 90 of the activists. In addition, those who had called for the destruction should be held accountable.
After the events on July 30, 2006, InnoPlanta AGIL spokesman Karl Friedrich Kaufmann said: "As part of our initiative 'No Reign of Terror in Germany,' we decided to confront the influx of 150 genetic engineering opponents. We were particularly pleased with the support of the leaders of AGIL, Dr. Christel Happach Kazan (MdB) and Professor Klaus-Dieter Jany. We will not countenance destruction as a way to express arguments regarding Green genetic engineering. In addition, a local opinion poll conducted by the Brandenburger Gransee News and the Oranienburger General Ledger found that 66.2 percent of respondents were in favor of using plant biotechnology in agriculture."
Karl Friedrich Kaufmann says the use of Green genetic engineering is justified. "Farmers who decided to grow certified varieties of Bt-maize are acting completely within the law. They decided to grow a type of maize which makes the use of crop protection chemicals unnecessary. In regions which are threatened by the European Corn Borer, crop biotechnology allows farmers to protect their yields in an environmentally conscientious way. Many studies demonstrate the advantages by Bt-maize. It seems that a few critics of genetic engineering have given up on taking part in the debate and have taken matters into their own hands instead."
Cutting the Grass May Never Cause Tears Again
- Ben Doherty, Sydney Morning Herald, August 7, 2006
HAY fever sufferers may soon be breathing a whole lot easier, thanks to a biotechnology breakthrough: a strain of low-allergen ryegrass.
About 1.8 million Australians suffer from hay fever, most affected by perennial rye-grass, and it is estimated the condition costs well over $100 million a year in health costs and lost work days.
A team of scientists at the Department of Primary Industries in Victoria, led by Professor German Spangenberg, found two proteins - LOLP1 and LOLP2 - were responsible for all those runny noses, watery eyes and grating coughs. Through the development of "antisense" gene-silencing technology, the team was able to produce a strain of ryegrass with those two proteins "switched off".
Already, an initial field trial in the US has proved successful, and it is expected the new strain will be ready for commercial sale by 2013. Ryegrass is also grown around the country as feed for cattle, and the low-allergen variety will be just as hardy and easy to grow as its naturally occurring cousin.
"The initial results from the first field trial indicate that the sole difference between the low-allergen ryegrass and the allergenic grass is simply the accumulation levels of the allergen," Professor Spangenberg said.
Further development by the team has seen the grass made more nutritious and easier for cattle to digest.
Announcing the discovery yesterday, the Victorian Minister for Innovation, John Brumby, said the new grass was a profound breakthrough. He said the development showed the extraordinary potential of biotechnology.
Enlightening the Future 2024... Key Challenges for the Next Generation
- Prof. Jonathan Jones, senior scientist at the Sainsbury Laboratory at the John Innes Centre (UK)
I work on how plants resist disease and how microbes cause disease. Progress in the last 18 years has been spectacular and will remain so. This knowledge provides strategies for reducing crop losses. However, to use this knowledge, we need to get over our irrational societal neurosis about genetically-modified crops and genetically-modified food. The arguments against this beneficial technology owe more to religious fundamentalism than analysis.
We are nearing or have reached peak oil production. A major scientific challenge is to derive enough energy from current photosynthesis to replace fossil photosynthesis. Again, to solve the problem, we must overcome neurosis about genetically-modified organisms.
We should ask ourselves what our population should be. Already, humans intercept 30% of total terrestrial photosynthesis, a staggering consumption of resources by one species. To raise living standards of the poor, and retain and promote the planetís biodiversity by sharing more with other species, there needs to be fewer of us.
To make the right judgements about our future, with tolerance and sensitivity, we need a scientific, rational culture. That is now threatened by religious fundamentalism. At the risk of replacing one fundamentalism with another, the track record of all religions reveals them as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Wal-Mart and Environmental Defense: Strange Bedfellows--UPDATED: CSPI vs. Biotech??
- Jeff Stier, Esq. Health Facts and Fears, http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.816/news_detail.asp
Environmental Defense, Inc. announced that they are opening an office near Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas so they can better "advise" the leading retailer. Under a multi-front attack from unions and other anti-business groups, Wal-Mart is in this case happy to accept guidance from Environmental Defense on matters such as how to lower energy consumption, especially because Environmental Defense portrays itself as a "business-cooperative" environmental group. Perhaps in the same way the IRS is cooperative with tax-payers.
But does Wal-Mart really need advice on how to lower costs? We're all for saving gas, but if history is any guide, Environmental Defense will go a lot farther than efficiency suggestions. We are talking about a group that still takes "credit" for the DDT ban, a move which cost millions of African lives by depriving that continent of the malaria-combating pesticide. Environmental Defense is not an environmental group -- they are anti-industry, anti-consumer environmental extremists funded by far-left, ideologically-motivated foundations with ties to the plaintiffs' bar.
Wal-Mart should stand up to the onslaught of junk science-driven scares hyped by left-wing activist groups.
--For instance, Wal-Mart should continue to sell safe products like Teflon pots, plastic baby bottles, and products with brominated fire-retardants, which despite activist claims do not cause cancer in humans. Activists recently persuaded the San Francisco City Council to ban common baby bottles because they claim the bisphenol A in them is a carcinogen. But it just isn't so, and Wal-Mart should stand up for consumers by dismissing such claims.
Instead, with its huge buying-power, Wal-Mart should take steps to encourage the use of technologies which (unlike its foray into organic food) can actually improve public health. They should not let activists frighten them away from useful products.
--There's little doubt that automatic defibrillators (AED) can save lives when used appropriately. But they cost too much for widespread ownership. If Wal-Mart stocked AEDs, prices could drop from $1,400 to, say, $800 almost overnight. More lives would be saved by this one move than banning every synthetic chemical ever sold in Wal-Mart's history.
--Critics claim that obesity is caused by the low price of food, and Wal-Mart is partially to blame. Short of artificially increasing food costs to combat obesity, as some have seriously proposed (through fat taxes), there is something Wal-Mart can do to fight the obesity crisis. They can take the lead in embracing food technology to give consumers tools to get their weight under control.
For example, they can invest in promising biotechnology -- often vilified by Environmental Defense's compatriots among the food police such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Sell biotech innovations such as the high-starch potato, which would absorb less fat. Without any activist "advice," Sam's Club chips could become both profitable and low-calorie.
--And judicious use of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals such as Alli (orlistat) -- opposed by the activist group Consumers Union -- could also help certain people reduce fat absorption.
Wal-Mart should reject the ideology of the scaremongers and sell safe and effective products that benefit consumers. But first they'll have to get some mainstream scientists to advise them instead of activists and cranks.
Jeff Stier, Esq., is an associate director at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org, HealthFactsAndFears.com).
Dr. Michael Jacobson (August 2, 2006)
Dear Dr. Whelan:
A recent ACSH article criticizes the Center for Science in the Public Interest for opposing agricultural biotechnology: "For example, they can invest in promising biotechnology -- often vilified by Environmental Defense's compatriots among the food police such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest."
I am puzzled why ACSH alleges that CSPI opposes biotechnology when, in fact, we have supported it (if not every application of it)--and been criticized by some opponents for doing so. CSPI, which has criticized countless foods, companies, and food additives, believes that genetically engineered foods should be examined individually: ones that are unsafe to consumers or the environment should not be used, while safe ones (including all GE foods currently on the market) should be used to reap the benefits." We have vigorously supported Sen. Richard Durbin's legislative proposal that would have the FDA formally approve the use of biotech crops so as to ensure safety and buttress public confidence in them. His carefully written bill, not yet re-introduced in 2006, protects consumers without requiring onerous tests (indeed, industry has long claimed that it voluntarily provides the FDA with all necessary data).
Four articles that reflect CSPI's position on ag biotech (the first three are from 2001, the fourth is 2005):
Nutrition Action: http://www.cspinet.org/nah/11_01/
Christian Science Monitor: http://www.cspinet.org/biotech/gecrops_article.html
Wall Street Journal article: http://www.cspinet.org/new/biotechnology.html
National Agricultural Biotechnology Council: http://www.cspinet.org/biotech/proper_environment.pdf
Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest
Henry Miller (August 2, 2006)
If you favor unnecessary, excessive, debilitating, anti-innovative regulation of something -- especially when it's superior to the alternatives -- you're not really a "supporter" of it.
ike everything that comes out of Dick Durbin's mouth, his (anti-) biotech legislation (which was drafted by Washington-based, anti-biotech activists) is rubbish. His approach would create regulation in which the degree of scrutiny is inversely proportional to the perceived risk.
- Henry Miller, M.D. (ACSH Trustee), Hoover Institution
Ruth Kava (August 2, 2006)
It is true that CSPI doesn't paint the fruits of genetic engineering as uniformly dangerous. By calling for mandated safety testing that is way beyond expectations for conventionally altered crops, however, you imply that gene spliced crops are inherently less safe, which is certainly not true. Simply mentioning that there are current benefits to producers and the environment, but emphasizing the need for excessive testing is hardly a supportive stance.
- Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D., Director of Nutrition, ACSH
FAQ on Bt-Cotton: Answers to Some Frequently Asked Questions
- T. M. Manjunath, tmmanjunath1939.at.yahoo.com (under publication as on 1st Aug 06)
* Will Bt-cotton control all pests?
The Bt-genes like cry1Ac and cry2Ab2 that are currently incorporated in the commercialized cotton plants are lepidopteron specific. They are primarily targeted against bollworms which have been the most destructive and difficult pests to control. Bt-cotton also provides protection against secondary lepidopteron pests like semilooper (Anomis flava) and leaf roller (Sylepta derogata). However, it is not designed to offer protection against sucking pests (whiteflies, aphids, thrips) and other non-lepidopteron pests as also diseases and other environmental factors. Appropriate control measures will have to be taken against these as and when warranted.
* Will Bt-cotton be effective against bollworm larvae at all stages?
Bt-cotton is most effective against young larvae that are in the first or second instar. They get killed within one or two days after ingesting the Bt protein while feeding on plant. The older larvae may not die, but they suffer a setback in their overall health and vigour. Such sick larvae feed far less. Since Bt protein is constitutively expressed in Bt-cotton and the neonates ingest the protein as soon as they take the first bite of the plant, the chances of larvae escaping and surviving beyond first or second instar are rare.
* What about the chances of older larvae migrating from the adjacent non-Bt plots and damaging the Bt plants?
Helicoverpa larvae generally have a tendency to feed on the same or a few adjacent plants. Plot-to-plot en mass larval movement generally does not occur. Only the moths are highly migrant and known to travel long distances. In the case of Spotted Bollworm and more so with Pink Bollworm, the larval movement is even more limited. Therefore, one need not be unduly worried about the presence of non-Bt crop in the adjacent plots.
* Does the expression of Bt-protein remain at the same level in all parts of the plant and throughout the plant life to ensure effective bollworm control?
The expression of Bt protein is more in tender leaves as compared to squares, bolls, flowers and pollen. The expression in leaves is most critical as a large number of bollworm eggs are laid on leaves and the newly hatched larvae, while feeding on chlorophyll in the leaves, ingest Bt protein and perish. Bt protein expression also varies with different cultivars depending upon their genetic background. The temperature and other environmental factors may also play a role. The protein expression remains more or less consistent up to about 100 days, but gradually declines as the plants age.
Keeping such factors in mind, 'High Dose' (or 'Optimum Dose') strategy is deployed in Bt-plants so that they express far greater quantity of protein (>25 times) than actually required for causing larval mortality. Thus, in the later stages of crop growth, even if the protein level has dropped, the remaining protein is adequate to bring about larval mortality, thereby ensuring satisfactory bollworm control throughout the season. Another objective of this strategy is to ensure that all susceptible larvae and even those which are heterozygous for resistance (i.e., likely to develop resistance with constant exposure to Bt-crops) are killed so that there is a very low probability of insects gaining resistance to Bt protein. Bollworm populations vary considerably in their susceptibility to Bt proteins and occasionally, especially later in the growing season, some larvae may survive, although at a greatly reduced level. Necessary alternative control measures have to be taken on such occasions if warranted. Bt-cotton should not be treated as a silver bullet.
* Will the sucking pests become more serious due to control of bollworms by Bt-cotton?
The mode of feeding by sucking pests and bollworms is different. Sucking pests like aphids, thrips and whiteflies feed by sucking the sap whereas bollworms feed by chewing the plant parts. They do not compete for the same source of food within the same plant. Therefore, control of bollworms need not necessarily result in encouraging sucking pests as do certain environmental factors like dry spell. On the other hand, due to very limited or no application of chemical pesticides for bollworm control in Bt-cotton, the natural enemies of various pests are conserved and these contribute to keeping them under check.
However, to get the full benefit of Bt-technology, it is always better to be watchful and take appropriate measures to protect the crop from sucking and other pests as also from diseases and environmental factors that are not controlled by Bt-cotton. The ideal approach will be integrated pest management (IPM) with Bt-cotton as the major thrust.
India's Cotton Exports May Hit Record 5 Mln Bales
- Biman Mukherji, Reuters August 5, 2006
India's cotton exports will hit a record 4.5 to 5 million bales in the year ended September, surging from 1 million the year before on the back of a rich harvest and carryover stocks, an industry official said on Saturday.
K.F. Jhunjhunwala, president of the East India Cotton Association, said crop output this year would slightly exceed official estimates at 24.5 million bales due to the use of better seeds and a larger area under cultivation.
The Cotton Advisory Board had estimated the crop at 24.4 million bales. "In spite of massive exports, we will be left with huge stocks at the end of the season. Further, the crop prospects for next year are very bright," he told a cotton conference in Mumbai.
"This would afford a great opportunity for exports during the next season." India produced 24.3 million bales in the year ended September 2005. "So far, the rainfall in cotton growing areas has been very, very satisfactory," he added.
The cotton crop, prone to attack by pests such as bollworm, has remained largely pest-free this year due to more widespread use of pest-resistant, genetically modified cotton. New hybrid seeds were also helping to increase yields.
Tarnishing Silver Bullets: Bt Technology Adoption, Bounded Rationality and the Outbreak of Secondary Pest Infestations in China
- Shenghui Wang, David R. Just and Per Pinstrup-Andersen, American Agricultural Economics Association, Annual Meeting Long Beach, CA, July 22-26, 2006
Full report at http://www.grain.org/research_files/SWang_tarnished.pdf