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August 18, 2006


Andean Farmers Ready for GM Potato; Africa Must Sow Green Revolution; Ethanol Can Make You Hungry


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - August 18, 2006

* Andean Farmers Ready for GM Potato, Paper Finds
* African Governments Must Sow Green Revolution
* Agricultural Biotechnology Information Disclosure
* Ethanol Could Leave the World Hungry
* Comparing the Official and Unofficial Bt Cotton in India
* Questions Australian Journalist Anna Salleh Should Have Asked....
* USDA Members to the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology

Andean Farmers Ready for GM Potato, Paper Finds

- CropBiotech Net, isaaa.org, August 18, 2006

Potato production in Peru is affected by a high number of pests and diseases, all of which result in low yields or extensive use of pesticides.

Is it time for genetically modified (GM) potatoes to enter the scene? Jasper Buijs and colleagues of the International Potato Center (CIP), Peru, report on the "Potential adoption and management of insect-resistant potato in Peru, and implications for genetically engineered potato" in a recent issue of Environmental Biosafety Research, where they survey farmers in Peru's major potato producing areas and use their data to analyze important issues surrounding the possible adoption of the GM crop in the country.

According to the survey, farmers considered insect damage (mainly duet to Andean potato weevil and potato tuber moth) the biggest constraint to potato cultivation. In addition, the team reports:

1) 97% of smallholder farmers would be willing to pay more for an insect-resistant potato variety, although a majority would buy it only once every 2-4 years;

2) Farmers would be willing to pay a premium of 50% on seed cost for insect resistant potatoes, which would still increase their net income, assuming insect resistance is high and pesticide use is strongly reduced;

3) 55% of farmers indicated preference for insect-resistant potato over their current varieties;

4) 68% of farmers would not always be able to sow insect-resistant varieties next to one of their current susceptible varieties; and

5) 89% stated that they could refrain from mixing insect-resistant lines with conventional varieties.

The survey, the authors write, indicates that smallholder farmers in Peru are interested in new varieties, and have a positive perception of improved varieties. The authors propose that a variety-based segregation scheme be developed to separate GM from conventionally-bred potatoes. They also advise that a two-gene approach be used to engineer GM potatoes; and that male-sterile lines be used to control of gene flow without preventing farmers from multiplying their own planting materials clonally.

Subscribers to the journal can read the complete article at:

Other readers may take a look at the abstract at :


African Governments Must Sow Green Revolution

- Scientific American, August 17, 2006 http://www.sciam.com/

Johannesburg - Food production in hunger-sticken Africa could slip further if governments fail to reverse decades of damaging policies and underinvestment, a leading American economist said on Wednesday.

The promise of global trade reforms will fail without concerted government action, said Douglas Southgate, of the Ohio State University Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics.

Governments in the world's poorest continent must take immediate steps to promote innovation and improve transit infrastructure that will aid cash-strapped farmers, he said. "Trade liberalisation alone will not save Africa. Development doesn't just involve open trade but it involves an investment in agriculture," he told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference on sustainable agriculture.

The Green Revolution in Asia and South America bypassed Africa which is frequently hit by food shortages. Africa has bucked a world trend that has seen the overall level of food output outpace the consumption needs of a rapidly expanding population, said Southgate.

Internationally, improvements in agriculture technology such as sophisticated irrigation systems and mechanised farm machinary boosted crop yields. But Africa still uses inefficient crop-growing techniques which have exacerbated food security woes such as persistent shortages, malnourishment and even famine, he said.

The setback is also linked to environmental stresses such as soil depletion, deforestation and frequent droughts. Other challenges to food production in Africa are due to the AIDS pandemic, poor infrastructure, a heavy reliance on subsistence farming and poor governance.

"African agriculture has benefited from the economic liberalisation that's taken place in this continent -- some places you do see pockets of growth," he said. "But the reality is bleak in some parts of Africa. Farmers are losing their stamina," he said.


Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture
Release Confidential Business Information Paper from Workshop

In December 2005, the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) undertook the first in a series of dialogues on existing and potential frameworks for engaging in cooperative oversight of agricultural biotechnology and on the unique regulatory challenges presented by the technology. The first workshop in the series, "Agricultural Biotechnology Information Disclosure: Accommodating Conflicting Interests Within Public Access Norms," was held in Dallas, Texas, and examined how confidential business information (CBI) conflicts can impede cooperation between state and federal regulatory agencies.

Over the course of the two-day event, participants from both federal and state governments gathered to find solutions to the issues that disrupt cooperation between state and federal agencies in their efforts to share information necessary for effective oversight of agricultural biotechnology.

The Pew Initiative is pleased to announce that a paper based on that workshop is now available at: http://pewagbiotech.org/events/1214/WorkshopReport.pdf.

Some of the key points that emerged from the workshop included:

* State and federal regulatory authorities sometimes are not able to share important information with each other about the field trials they regulate due to the need to protect confidential business information.

* State regulators often do not have sufficient information from federal agencies to understand and assess the safety and containment measures associated with a particular field trial.

* State agricultural officials, who are often on the 'front lines,' have difficulty providing assurances to concerned citizens inquiring about genetically engineered crops, due in part to the lack of information from their federal counterparts.

* In terms of agricultural biotechnology regulation, there is a clear need for the relevant federal government agencies to forge strong relationships with the relevant state agencies and to find ways to be conduits for information sharing and collaborative oversight of genetically engineered crops and experimental field trials of those crops.

An overview of the conference agenda and the full paper from the workshop can be viewed at: http://pewagbiotech.org/events/1214.


Ethanol Could Leave the World Hungry

- Lester Brown, Fortune, August 21, 2006

One tankful of the latest craze in alternative energy could feed one person for a year, Lester Brown tells Fortune.

The growing myth that corn is a cure-all for our energy woes is leading us toward a potentially dangerous global fight for food. While crop-based ethanol -the latest craze in alternative energy - promises a guilt-free way to keep our gas tanks full, the reality is that overuse of our agricultural resources could have consequences even more drastic than, say, being deprived of our SUVs. It could leave much of the world hungry.

We are facing an epic competition between the 800 million motorists who want to protect their mobility and the two billion poorest people in the world who simply want to survive. In effect, supermarkets and service stations are now competing for the same resources.

This year cars, not people, will claim most of the increase in world grain consumption. The problem is simple: It takes a whole lot of agricultural produce to create a modest amount of automotive fuel. The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol, for instance, could feed one person for a year. If today's entire U.S. grain harvest were converted into fuel for cars, it would still satisfy less than one-sixth of U.S. demand.

Worldwide increase in grain consumption
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that world grain consumption will increase by 20 million tons this year, roughly 1%. Of that, 14 million tons will be used to fuel cars in the U.S., leaving only six million tons to cover the world's growing food needs.

Already commodity prices are rising. Sugar prices have doubled over the past 18 months (driven in part by Brazil's use of sugar cane for fuel), and world corn and wheat prices are up one-fourth so far this year.
For the world's poorest people, many of whom spend half or more of their income on food, rising grain prices can quickly become life threatening.

Once stimulated solely by government subsidies, biofuel production is now being driven largely by the runaway price of oil. Many food commodities, including corn, wheat, rice, soybeans, and sugar cane, can be converted into fuel; thus the food and energy economies are beginning to merge.

The market is setting the price for farm commodities at their oil-equivalent value. As the price of oil climbs, so will the price of food. In some U.S. Cornbelt states, ethanol distilleries are taking over the corn supply. In Iowa, 25 ethanol plants are operating, four are under construction, and another 26 are planned.

Iowa State University economist Bob Wisner observes that if all those plants are built, distilleries would use the entire Iowa corn harvest. In South Dakota, ethanol distilleries are already claiming over half that state's crop.

The key to lessening demand for grain is to commercialize ethanol production from cellulosic materials such as switchgrass or poplar trees, a prospect that is at least five years away.

Malaysia, the leading exporter of palm oil, is emerging as the biofuel leader in Asia. But after approving 32 biodiesel refineries within the past 15 months, it recently suspended further licensing while it assesses the adequacy of its palm oil supplies. Fast-rising global demand for palm oil for both food and biodiesel purposes, coupled with rising domestic needs, has the government concerned that there will not be enough to go around.

Less costly alternatives
There are truly guilt-free alternatives to using food-based fuels. The equivalent of the 3% of U.S. automotive fuel supplies coming from ethanol could be achieved several times over - and at a fraction of the cost - by raising auto fuel-efficiency standards by 20%. (Unfortunately Detroit has resisted this, preferring to produce flex-fuel vehicles that will burn either gasoline or ethanol.)

Or what if we shifted to gas-electric hybrid plug-in cars over the next decade, powering short-distance driving, such as the daily commute or grocery shopping, with electricity? By investing not in hundreds of wind farms, as we now are, but rather in thousands of them to feed cheap electricity into the grid, the U.S. could have cars running primarily on wind energy, and at the gasoline equivalent of less than $1 a gallon.

Clearly, solutions exist. The world desperately needs a strategy to deal with the emerging food-fuel battle. As the world's leading grain producer and exporter, as well as its largest producer of ethanol, the U.S. is in the driver's seat.
Lester R. Brown is president of the Earth Policy Institute and author of "Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble."


Comparing the Performance of Official and Unofficial Genetically Modified Cotton in India

- Stephen Morse, Richard Bennett, and Yousouf Ismael (The University of Reading, UK); AgBioForum, Vol. 8, no. 1

Genetically modified (GM) cotton was approved for commercial cultivation in 2002. Hybrids to date have carried the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) gene, which confers resistance to Lepidoptera and certain Coleoptera. As well as "official" Bt hybrids (i.e., those that have gone through a formal approval process), there are "unofficial" Bt hybrids produced without such approval.

The owners of the official hybrids, Monsanto-Mahyco, claim that the unofficial hybrids are not as good and could even damage the perception of Bt cotton amongst farmers. Anti-GM groups claim that neither type of Bt hybrid provides either yield or economic advantages over non-Bt hybrids. This paper reports the first study of official versus unofficial versus non-Bt hybrids in India (622 farmers in Gujarat State) with the specific aim of comparing one hypothesized ranking in terms of gross margin of (a) official Bt hybrids, (b) unofficial Bt hybrids, and (c) non-Bt hybrids.

Results suggest that the official Bt varieties (MECH 12 and MECH 162) significantly outperform the unofficial varieties in terms of gross margin. However, unofficial, locally produced Bt hybrids can also perform significantly better than non-Bt hybrids, although second-generation (F2) Bt seed appears to have no yield advantage compared to non-Bt hybrids but can save on insecticide use. The paper explores some of the implications of this ranking.

Full paper at http://www.agbioforum.org/v8n1/v8n1a01-morse.htm


All about Anna Salleh's beat up, and questions she should have asked Associate Professor Jack Heinemann.

- GMO Pundit, August 18, 2006 http://gmopundit.blogspot.com

In a previous post Pundit discussed a journalistic beat-up. Pundit didn't have time then to do justice to the scale of the beat-up. Here is an attempt to correct that failing.

The beat-up involves ABC journalist Anna Salleh re-broadcasting fears Associate Prof. Jack Heinemann has been spreading about a new GM maize called LY038.

Maize variety LYO38 which has high lysine levels, and was developed for the animal feed market. It has recently been evaluated by Australia's Gene Technology Regulator OGTR.

Many readers will know lysine is an essential nutrient that is quite low in most other maize varieties, generally reducing the quality of maize as a source of protein and causing much malnutrition world wide. Lysine is a component of proteins.

Jack says OGTR have got it wrong.

Here are the questions Anna should have asked Jack.

Question 1.
Isn't it true, Jack, that an existing maize variety called QPM has similar levels of lysine to the new GM LY038 maize you raise safety doubts about with your assumption that high lysine levels in maize is hazardous. (go to the the end of this post for the evidence on this).

The "QPM" maize was developed with huge effort by the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to improve nutrition in poorer maize eating communities world-wide. CIMMYT got The World Food Prize for the effort (see below) and rightly so. QPM means quality protein.

Question 2.
Is it therefore not true Jack that the hazard speculation you are spreading about LY038 also applies to an existing high lysine maize eaten by poor people world-wide?

QPM maize has been widely used this last 6 years or more, and Jack's fears imply it is harmful.

Question 3.
Are you saying, Jack that QPM is a misleading acronym?

Question 4.
Since Jack, you also raising fears about QPM maize which provides better food and nutrition in poor communities world-wide, shouldn't you put up or shut up?

And a question for Anna: Arn't you morally bound to run this corrective story at ABC news?

More at http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/2006/08/all-about-anna-sallehs-beat-up-and.html


USDA Names Members to the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology And 21St Century Agriculture

USDA, Aug. 16, 2006, http://www.usda.gov/

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced members to serve on the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21).

Members reappointed to one-year terms beginning on Feb. 23, 2006 are: Leon C. Corzine, Assumption, Ill; Carole L. Cramer, Jonesboro, Ark.; Michael D. Dykes, Washington, DC; and Jerome B. Slocum, Coldwater, Miss.. Members reappointed to two-year terms beginning on Feb. 23, 2006 were: Daryl D. Buss, Madison, Wis; Carol T. Foreman, Chevy Chase, Md; Randal W. Giroux, Wayzata, Minn; and Margaret Mellon, Washington, DC.

One new member, Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, Columbia, Mo, was appointed for a two-year term beginning on Feb. 23, 2006, and another new member, Steven G. Pueppke, East Lansing, Mich, was appointed to a one-year term beginning on Feb. 23, 2006.

Two new members were also appointed for two-year terms beginning on Aug. 3, 2006: Nancy S. Bryson, Washington, DC; and Sarah K. Geisert, Minneapolis, Minn.

The AC21 was established in Feb., 2003 to provide information and advice to the Secretary of Agriculture on topics related to the use of biotechnology in agriculture. The committee is charged with examining the long-term impacts of biotechnology on the U.S. food and agriculture system and USDA, and providing guidance to USDA on pressing individual issues, identified by the Office of the Secretary, related to the application of biotechnology in agriculture.

More information on the AC21, including consensus reports developed by the committee, can be found at http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?navid=BIOTECH