Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - August 16, 2006
* World Bank Panel to Evaluate Benefits, Risks of Biotech Food
* 'Saber Rattlers Who Have Never Produced A Tonne of Food'
* Biotech Finds Wine Headache Relief
* Monsanto to Buy Delta & Pine Land for $1.5 Billion
* Gene-Altered Crops Denounced
* Wheat Discovery
* 21st Century Challenges in Sustainable Agri-Food Systems
* Malawi Formulates National Biotechnology Policy
World Bank Panel to Evaluate Benefits, Risks of Biotech Food
- United States Mission to The European Union, August 29, 2002 http://www.useu.be/Categories/Biotech/AUg2902WorldBankBiotechEvaluation.html
The World Bank is launching an initiative designed to assess the potential benefits and risks associated with genetically modified (GM) crops.
A panel of experts chaired by World Bank chief scientist Robert Watson will examine biotechnology and new farming technologies along with organic agriculture and traditional plant breeding techniques, the Bank announced during the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa.
"Nearly 800 million people go to bed hungry every night and over the next 50 years, food production will have to double to meet growing demands," World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Ian Johnson said in an August 29 news release.
The issue of biotech crops has attracted attention in recent weeks, as three countries in southern Africa that face severe food shortages have questioned the safety of donated food containing genetically modified products. According to the United Nations, more than 13 million people in the region face the threat of famine and 300,000 could die of starvation in the coming months.
The World Bank initiative, expected to last through mid-2003, will promote the exchange of ideas between consumers, farmers, scientists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments, and the private sector in an effort to produce an international assessment on agricultural science and "give decision-makers the tools and information they need to answer the tough questions surrounding the issue," according to the release.
Following is the text of the news release:
Global consultative process looking at risks and opportunities launched
August 29, 2002 - -A new international consultative process on the risks and opportunities of using agricultural science to reduce hunger and improve rural livelihoods in the developing world was launched today at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The initiative, which is expected to last through mid-2003, aims to exchange ideas between consumers, farmers, scientists, NGOs [non-governmental organizations], governments, and the private sector in an effort to produce an international assessment on agricultural science that would give decision-makers the tools and information they need to answer the tough questions surrounding the issue.
The new process will be co-chaired by World Bank Chief Scientist Robert T. Watson, who is also the former head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Claudia Martinez Zuleta, former Colombian deputy minister of environment; Rita Sharma, the joint secretary and land resources commissioner of India's agriculture ministry; Louise Fresco, the FAO's [Food and Agriculture Organization] assistant director general for agriculture; and Seyfu Ketema, executive secretary of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa.
"Nearly 800 million people go to bed hungry every night and over the next 50 years, food production will have to double to meet growing demands," said Ian Johnson, the World Bank's vice-president for sustainable development.
"This will involve both productivity and environmental management challenges. As we move forward, the application of science to agriculture needs to be fully assessed in terms of its contribution to enabling farmers to be more productive. But equally, the environmental and social risks, as well as ethical issues, need to be discussed in an open and transparent manner. By discussing and examining the issues with everyone from farmers and consumers, to NGOs and governments, we can contribute to the informed dialogue among them," said Johnson, who also chairs the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
The consultative process on agricultural science will look at the risks and opportunities of a broad range of issues, such as organic agriculture, traditional plant breeding techniques, new farming technologies, and biotechnology. The assessment will be modeled on similar assessments on climate change and ozone that have proven invaluable for guiding policy makers on pressing issues.
"My experience in chairing international assessments on climate change, biodiversity and ozone leads me to believe that it is possible to ensure that a professional assessment in which all voices are heard will be achieved," said Watson. "Such agreements only work when they are inclusive and transparent. We must not shy away from the difficult challenge of discussing with a wide range of partners what exactly are the tradeoffs in using agricultural science to meet growing food needs."
The consultative process will try to maximize input through a number of ways, including meetings in various parts of the world, videoconferences, and an interactive website at http://www.agassessment.org.
'Saber Rattlers Who Have Never Produced A Tonne of Food'
- James Njoroge -james.njoroge.at.gmoafrica.org
The other day, I was listening to Norman Borlaug being interviewed in Penn Jillette's radio show (http://podcast.penn.freefm.com/penn/25352.mp3) about his work in the field of agricultural biotechnology. Asked about his attitude towards anti-biotech activists, Dr. Borlaug, the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner, dismissed them as saber rattlers who have never produced a tonne of food.
I unreservedly concur with Dr. Borlaug.
Anti-biotech activists are nothing but noisemakers out to deny farmers, especially in poor countries, a chance to enjoy the benefits of modern agricultural biotechnology.
Just recently, Michael Hansen, a researcher at the U.S.-based Consumer Policy Institute, a division of Consumer Union, was in South Africa on a campaign for the labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) products. Consumer Union, since time immemorial, has been spearheading opposition against genetic modification.
I cant really understand Mr. Hansen's motivation. He should leave Africa alone to make its own decision about genetically modified food. Genetically modified crops are yet to gain a foothold in Africa. Except South Africa, no other African country is currently cultivating genetically modified crops. Activists like Mr. Hansen should let Africa to at least start commercializing genetically modified crops.
To Africa, the debate about labeling genetically modified food is premature. Mr. Hansen's labeling campaign equals to putting the cart before the horse. Furthermore, Mr. Hansen and his sponsors have failed to persuade the U.S. government to require all GMOs products to be labeled. He would rather put his house in order before going to Africa. Of utmost concern to Africa at the moment is producing adequate food for its people.
The U.S., Mr. Hansen's home, grows GM crops in abundance, because they're high yielding and require less or no pesticides. This is the same food that's given to Africa in form of humanitarian assistance.
Africa doesn't want to be a perpetual beneficiary of food aid. It wants to produce its own genetically modified food.
To read more about James criticism of Mr. Hansen, go to http://www.gmoafrica.org.
Biotech Finds Wine Headache Relief
- Jim Downing, Sacramento Bee, Aug 15, 2006 http://www.detnews.com
The U.S. wine industry has entered the world of genetic engineering as some vintners experiment with a strain of yeast designed to eliminate chemicals in red wine that are believed to trigger headaches, including migraines, in some people.
Scientific research has played an important role in improving the quality of grapes and wines. But genetic modification -- in this case inserting two genes into the DNA of a yeast species -- marks a new threshold for the industry.
As a result, the biotech yeast is getting a wary reception in a wine industry that sells itself on its artisan reputation and is anxious not to ruffle export markets touchy about genetically modified foods. Experts also say the new yeast alters the flavor of wine.
"As an industry, we're definitely interested in research when it comes to genetic engineering. But I don't think we're prepared to look at genetically modified products yet," said Paul Dolan, a winemaker and chairman of the Wine Institute, the California industry's leading advocacy group.
Still, the new yeast offers a promising way around the wine-headache problem. About 13 percent of Americans suffer migraines, according to the National Headache Foundation. Migraine patients are commonly told to avoid red wine, said Marco Vespignani, a naturopathic doctor at the Institute for Restorative Health in Davis.
A few wines made with the so-called ML01 yeast are reaching consumers this year, according to Jason Rodriguez, wine products specialist for American Tartaric Products Inc., the California distributor of the yeast.
He declined to identify any specific brands, though, and the wines aren't required to carry a special label.
U.S. regulations don't require labels detailing whether a food contains genetically modified ingredients.
Wary of backlash in sensitive export markets, Australia's wine industry -- a key international competitor with California -- in November took an official position against the use of the new genetically modified yeast.
Monsanto to Buy Delta & Pine Land for $1.5 Billion
- Bloomberg, Aug. 15, 2006 http://www.bloomberg.com/
Monsanto Co., the world's biggest developer of genetically modified corn and soybeans, agreed to buy cottonseed maker Delta & Pine Land Co. for $1.5 billion, ending a six-year dispute that started when their last merger accord failed.
Investors in Scott, Mississippi-based Delta & Pine Land will get $42 a share, 16 percent above yesterday's closing share price. Cash and debt will be used to finance the deal, St. Louis-based Monsanto said today in a statement.
Monsanto Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant said the seed industry has become "much more competitive,'' making the transaction possible. Monsanto abandoned its 1998 accord on concern U.S. antitrust regulators would impose stiff conditions to approve the deal. When it collapsed, Delta & Pine sued, saying the cancellation cost investors $1 billion.
The acquisition by Monsanto "makes a lot strategic sense,'' Gulley & Associates analyst Mark Gulley said. "In cotton they were very small. This gives them a market share that you are accustomed to a leader having in a major row crop.'' He recommends buying Monsanto shares.
Shares of Monsanto rose 34 cents to $45.41 at 3:01 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. They have climbed 40 percent from a year ago. Delta & Pine Land surged $3.79, or 11 percent, to $40.03. Before today, the stock had jumped 58 percent this year.
Market Share Drops
Delta & Pine CEO Thomas Jagodinski said his company has 50 percent of U.S. cottonseed sales, down from a peak of almost 80 percent. Monsanto licenses its technologies to rival seed companies, which should help win U.S. antitrust approval, Grant said on a separate call.
Monsanto would pay Delta & Pine Land as much as $600 million should antitrust regulators block the transaction, Jagodinksi said. Cottonseed competition is intensifying amid sales gains by Bayer AG's Fibermax seed and new technologies companies including Dow Chemical Co., Jagodinski said. Bayer has 20 percent to 30 percent of U.S. sales, he said.
The Delta & Pine Land acquisition will "modestly'' boost earnings after one year, Chief Financial Officer Terrell Crews said on the Monsanto call. Delta & Pine Land had sales of $411.4 million in the nine months ended May 31, up 21 percent from a year earlier.
Monsanto probably will shed its Stoneville cottonseed business to gain antitrust approval, Grant said. The company acquired Stoneville with its $300 million purchase of Emergent Genetics Inc., which had 12 percent of U.S. cottonseed sales when the deal was announced last year.
"Combined U.S. market share of more than 60 percent will likely attract antitrust scrutiny,'' Banc of America Securities analyst Kevin McCarthy said in a report. McCarthy, who rates the shares "neutral,'' said the "valuation appears steep'' at 16.3 times estimated pretax earnings this year.
Monsanto in May 1998 agreed to pay $1.82 billion in stock for Delta & Pine Land. That was a "significantly higher'' earnings multiple than Monsanto is now paying, CEO Jagodinski said. The acquisition would boost Monsanto's sales by 6 percent, Gulley of Gulley & Associates said. Seeds will benefit from Monsanto's gene technology because cotton faces a large variety of pests, he said. "Delta & Pine Land has strong cotton genetics, and we believe Monsanto's leadership in providing the best cotton traits can improve on this already strong base,'' Grant said in the statement.
To enhance Delta & Pine Land seeds, Monsanto plans to increase modifications including Roundup Ready Flex for withstanding Monsanto's weed killer and Bollgard II for resisting the bollworm insect, Grant said on the call.
'Grasp Opportunities' Genetically modified cottonseeds account for 11 percent of about 220 million acres sown with seeds engineered by Monsanto, the company said in June. The companies began negotiations on the merger Aug. 10, and talks concluded last night, Jagodinski said. "You have to grasp opportunities when they are there,'' Grant said.
Gene-Altered Crops Denounced - Environmental groups seek moratorium on open-air tests
- Rick Weiss, Washington Post, August 16, 2006 http://www.washingtonpost.com
Environmental groups yesterday called for a moratorium on open-air tests of crops genetically engineered to produce medicines and vaccines, citing a federal court's conclusion last week that the Agriculture Department repeatedly broke the law by allowing companies to plant such crops on hundred of acres in Hawaii.
In a toughly worded 52-page decision released without fanfare late last week, a U.S. District judge in Hawaii concluded that USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which grants permits for the planting of genetically engineered crops, should have first investigated whether the plants posed a threat to any of that state's hundreds of endangered species.
The corn and sugar cane plants, already harvested because the experiments involving them were completed before the case was decided, had been modified to produce human hormones, drugs and ingredients for vaccines against AIDS and hepatitis B.
"APHIS's utter disregard for this simple investigation requirement, especially given the extraordinary number of endangered and threatened plants and animals in Hawaii, constitutes an unequivocal violation of a clear congressional mandate," wrote Judge J. Michael Seabright in his Aug. 10 decision.
The ruling is the first by a federal court on the controversial practice of "bio-pharming," in which crops are engineered to produce potentially therapeutic human proteins. But it is not the first damning federal critique of APHIS's oversight. A December 2005 audit by the Agriculture Department's Office of Inspector General found multiple failings in the agency's enforcement of research rules for gene-altered plants.
APHIS spokeswoman Rachel Iadicicco said yesterday that the agency had already corrected the major problems cited in the 2005 report and had recently made policy changes to satisfy the court's concerns, as well. In addition, she said, APHIS is crafting a sweeping "programmatic" environmental impact statement addressing larger, long-standing concerns about its oversight of biotech crops.
But opponents said they have heard such assurances before.
"We are asking the judge to enjoin the issuance of any biopharma permits anywhere in the country unless and until APHIS completes a programmatic analysis of their regulatory program," said Paul H. Achitoff, managing attorney for Earthjustice in Honolulu, which litigated the case with the Washington-based Center for Food Safety.
The judge has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to decide what remedies to impose.
The court ruling is the latest in a decade-long struggle that has pitted biotech companies against an uneasy coalition of environmentalists and conventional food producers and distributors.
Advocates believe that some drugs and vaccines may be produced more economically in crops than in the laboratory cultures that are commonly used today. Some even envision "edible vaccines," such as bananas laden with proteins that would boost blood levels of protective antibodies -- an attractive strategy for developing countries, where the refrigeration needed for many conventional vaccines is often not available.
But opponents fear that ordinary crops may become contaminated with drug-spiked versions grown in open fields, and that unwanted drug exposures from foods could trigger allergic reactions or other problems in people or animals.
Fears of admixture gained credence in 2002 when a Texas company was found to have broken rules in its cultivation of corn plants engineered to make a pig diarrhea vaccine. The error necessitated the destruction of 500,000 bushels of potentially contaminated soybeans, and left the now defunct company, ProdiGene, stuck with millions of dollars in cleanup costs.
"The use of food crops to produce materials not intended to be in the food supply must only proceed under systems proven to prevent any contamination or adulteration of the food supply," said Jeffrey Barach of the Food Products Association in Washington. "To date, effective control programs have not been demonstrated to our satisfaction."
The federal court decision responds to a 2003 lawsuit filed by several public interest groups. Taking a novel tack, the groups charged that APHIS failed to consider the potential impacts on endangered species when it approved four Hawaii field studies in the previous three years. The plants were produced by ProdiGene, Monsanto, the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center and Garst Seed of Slater, Iowa.
The plaintiffs -- including Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Action Network North America and Kahea, a Hawaiian environmental alliance -- noted that Hawaii is home to 329 endangered or threatened species, more than any other state, including many birds with easy access to test plots.
Seabright agreed with the groups that, although proof of harm is lacking, APHIS's issuance of the permits for 800 acres on four Hawaiian islands without consideration of those potential impacts was "arbitrary and capricious."
"This is probably the strongest message yet to USDA that they need to do a much better job at regulating all genetically engineered crop field trials," said Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety, noting that about a dozen pharma permits are approved in a typical year. "They've been rubber-stamping for too long, and they need to get serious about these crops."
But the judge rejected the groups' broader claim that APHIS had broken its promise to improve its overall system of oversight.
"Although the Plaintiffs are understandably upset by the fact that this process has taken over three years, the court accepts APHIS's representations" that the delay is justified and progress is under way.
Stephanie A. Whalen, president of the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, which ran the studies involving sugar cane engineered to make a human blood protein, said the ruling "looks backward" at problems already corrected.
"The idea that this has got the potential for harm has been all blown out of proportion," she said. "We're really proud of the work we do, and we know how important it is to safeguard the environment."
- Rainie Fraser, Geelong Advertiser (Australia), August 15, 2006
Wheat farmers could be millions of dollars better off thanks to Department of Primary Industries scientists who discovered new drought-resistant wheat lines.
At the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference last week Minister for Innovation John Brumby said the Victorian scientists had identified bread wheat lines that yield up to 20 per cent more grain than currently-used varieties under drought-affected conditions.
''Wheat is Australia's largest crop, with Victorian wheat exports valued at $384 million in 2004-05. However Australian wheat is grown under rainfed conditions and a lack of rainfall frequently reduces the crop yield,'' Mr Brumby said. ''With at least half of Australia's wheat production area subject to drought every year, these new lines could earn Australian wheat farmers an additional $270 million a year.
Groundbreaking discoveries such as this show the potential of innovative agricultural biotechnology in improving the world's food resources, as well as the wealth of expertise held in this area by Victorian scientists.''
DPI researchers and scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in Mexico introduced a variation of wild grass relatives of bread that flourish in dry conditions. They created a hybrid with one of the wild relatives and modern durum wheat, producing what is known as synthetic hexaploid wheat, which was then crossed with normal wheat.
Victorian Minister for Agriculture Bob Cameron said research revealed some synthetic derived wheats carried multiple resistants to some of the biggest threats to Australias's grain crops, including rusts, leaf diseases and nematodes. ''Some are not only tolerant to drought, but also to saline soils,'' he said
21st Century Challenges in Sustainable Agri-Food Systems - Biotechnology, Environment, Nutrition, Trade, and Policy
- An International Conference, Bangalore, India; March 15-17, 2007 http://www.sustainagri.org/
Organized by the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore (UAS) in collaboration with USAID, US Higher Education for Development, and several US Land Grant Universities.
Several technical sessions are planned on broader issues of sustainable agriculture. On March 17, the last day of the conference we have planned a special session on lessons learned and plans for emerging opportunities with India under the Agricultural Knowledge Initiative. In this session, six US universities (Iowa State University, Purdue University, Cornell University, University of California, Michigan State University, the Ohio State University) have been invited to share their experiences under the six USAID funded projects in 2004 with three Indian Universities (Punjab Agricultural University, University of Agricultural sciences Bangalore, and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University).
Also, it is planned to have a special session on the Agricultural Knowledge Initiative. A field tour to two villages near Bangalore is also planned where UAS, Purdue University and Iowa State University have implemented several successful sustainability models during the past two years. Organizers are encouraging you to bring your spouses and children who can join special sight seeing tours/activities planned primarily for families and accompanied persons.
Malawi Formulates National Biotechnology Policy
- Rebecca Chimjeka, African News Dimension, August 16, 2006, http://science.andnetwork.com/
The government of Malawi is in the process of formulating a National Biotechnology Policy that aims to strengthen existing research institutions and improve the country's legal and regulatory framework.
This is to facilitate the safe application of biotechnology and the structured generation of innovation and intellectual property and rights. "The National Biotechnology Policy would address socio-economic needs and utilisation of the country's natural resources and existing conservation rights," said Patrick Kachimera secretary for science and technology at a stake holders meeting on the National Biotechnology Policy held in the capital.
He also said the meeting would also help to address socio-economic needs and utilisation of the country's natural resources and existing conservation rights and help the country to combat disease and nutritional disorders brought about by genetically modified organism foods and increase agricultural productivity and trade.
He said that it was imperative for Malawi as a developing nation to put much emphasis on biotechnology research and development because it can enhance food security, nutritional status, health and well being, create jobs by stimulating economic growth and supporting environmental sustainability.
Kachimera said while there is little controversy about many aspects of biotechnology and its application, GMOs have the potential to increase productivity in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. "GMOs could lead to higher yields in marginal lands. There are already examples of genetic modification helping to reduce the transmission of human and animal diseases through new vaccines and diagonostic tests.
Rice and maize have been genetically modified to contain pro-vitamin A and Iron which could improve the nutritional status of many in the rurual areas," he said.
He said biotechnology, as with all technologies has risks that fall into two groups namely; the effects on human and animal health and the effects on crops and environment.
On human and animal health risk, he said the policy wants to ensure that caution is exercised to reduce the risk of transfering toxins or of transfering allergenic compounds from one species to another or causing resistance to drugs for treating certain diseases.
As a number of countries continue to produce food from GMO, Malawi has had experience of being supplied with GM maize to address the food shortage in 2001/2002, a situation which created problems since the country had no guidelines on how to handle GMO foods.
Solutions ranged from total denial to milling maize before disribution and prohibiting use of GM maize for seed. However, the latter two solutions were adopted.