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September 6, 2006


The Man Who Fed the World; Brazilian Scientist Speaks Out on GMO Crops; The Meaning of Organic


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: September 6, 2006

* The Man Who Fed the World
* Objections to GM food must be vetted in peer-reviewed research
* Brazilian Scientist Speaks Out on GMO Crops and Foods
* ‘Low-sat' soybean oil finds champion in Portland
* Private-Public Sector Partnership Necessary in Biotechnology Research
* Let’s pin down the meaning of organic
* Genomics has potential to revolutionise food science


The Man Who Fed the World

How a poor Iowa farm boy came to be one of humanity's greatest benefactors.

- Wall Street Journal, BY RONALD BAILEY, September 5, 2006

Who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970? You may be forgiven for not remembering, given some of the prize's dubious recipients over the years (e.g., Yasser Arafat). Well, then: Who has saved perhaps more lives than anyone else in history? The answer to both questions is, of course, Norman Borlaug.

Who? Norman Borlaug, 92, is the father of the "Green Revolution," the dramatic improvement in agricultural productivity that swept the globe in the 1960s. He is now the subject of an admiring biography by Leon Hesser, a former State Department official who first met Mr. Borlaug 40 years ago in Pakistan, where they worked together to boost that country's grain production. "The Man Who Fed the World" describes, in a workmanlike way, how a poor Iowa farm boy trained in forestry and plant pathology came to be one of humanity's greatest benefactors.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1944, Mr. Borlaug accepted an invitation from the Rockefeller Foundation to work on a project to boost wheat production in Mexico. At the time, Mexico was importing a good share of its grain. Working at plant breeding stations near Mexico City in the south and near Obregon in the northwestern part of the country, Mr. Borlaug and his staff spent nearly 20 years breeding the high-yield dwarf wheat that sparked the Green Revolution. (Using two stations allowed them to plant two crops a year instead of one, doubling the speed of research.) The key to their success was painstakingly cross-breeding thousands of wheat varieties to find those resistant to highly destructive "rust" fungi. They also changed the architecture of the wheat, from tall gangly stems to shorter sturdier ones that produced more grain.
It was an achievement that made Mexico self-sufficient in wheat by the late 1950s and, when later deployed throughout much of the developing world, forestalled the mass starvation predicted by neo-Malthusians. In the late 1960s, lest we forget, most experts were speaking of imminent global famines in which billions of people would perish. "The battle to feed all of humanity is over," biologist Paul Ehrlich famously wrote in "The Population Bomb," his 1968 best seller. "In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now."

As Mr. Ehrlich was making his dark predictions, Mr. Borlaug was embarking on just such a crash program. Working with scientists and administrators in India and Pakistan, he succeeded in getting his highly productive dwarf wheat varieties to hundreds of thousands of South Asian peasant farmers. These varieties resisted a wide spectrum of plant pests and diseases and produced two to three times more grain than traditional varieties.

Mr. Borlaug's achievement was not confined to the laboratory. He insisted that governments pay poor farmers world prices for their grain. At the time, many developing nations--eager to supply cheap food to their urban citizens, who might otherwise rebel--required their farmers to sell into a government concession that paid them less than half of the world market price for their agricultural products. The result, predictably, was hoarding and underproduction. Using his hard-won prestige as a kind of platform, Mr. Borlaug persuaded the governments of Pakistan and India to drop such self-defeating policies.
Fair prices and high doses of fertilizer, combined with new grains, changed everything. By 1968 Pakistan was self-sufficient in wheat, and by 1974 India was self-sufficient in all cereals. And the revolution didn't stop there. Researchers at a research institute in the Philippines used Mr. Borlaug's insights to develop high-yield rice and spread the Green Revolution to most of Asia. As with wheat, so with rice: Short-stalked varieties proved more productive. They devoted relatively more energy to making grain and less to making leaves and stalks. And they were sturdier, remaining harvestable when traditional varieties--with heavy grain heads and long, slender stalks--had collapsed to the ground and begun to rot.

Hence the Nobel Prize. The chairman of the Nobel committee explained why it had chosen Mr. Borlaug in this way: "More than any other single person of this age, [he] has helped to provide bread for a hungry world. We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace."

Whether bread induces peace is a question for another day. It certainly kills hunger and saves lives. Contrary to Mr. Ehrlich's bold pronouncement, hundreds of millions of people did not die for lack of food. Far from it. Despite occasional local famines caused by armed conflicts or political mischief, food is more abundant and cheaper today than ever before in history. It is an absurd travesty that Mr. Ehrlich is still much better known than Mr. Borlaug, but perhaps Mr. Hesser's biography can begin to right the balance.

Mr. Borlaug is still tirelessly working to keep hunger at bay. He remains a consultant to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico and president of a private Japanese foundation working to spread the Green Revolution to sub-Saharan Africa. He believes that biotechnology will be crucial to boosting world food supplies in the coming decades and decries the underfunding of the world's network of nonprofit agricultural research centers.
He also laments the unnecessary suspicion with which biotech is treated these days. "Activists have resisted research," he notes, "and governments have overregulated it." They both miss the point. "Responsible biotechnology is not the enemy: starvation is."

Mr. Bailey is the science correspondent for Reason magazine and the author of "Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution."


Objections to GM food must be vetted in peer-reviewed research

- The Mercury (KwaZulu-Natal), September 5, 2006

Claims of potential "adverse health effects from GM crops", raised by Michael Hansen, a US anti-GM activist, (The Mercury, August 14) are rubbish.

His claim that "new scientific evidence showing the potential for allergy and immune-related problems in GM food had only begun to emerge in the late 1990s" is scientifically and medically unfounded.

Hansen claims he is a scientist. Why has he not produced peer-reviewed, scientifically researched data to substantiate these wild allegations? Nowhere is there any such "new scientific evidence".

In the US, the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environment Protection Agency have fully endorsed food derived from biotechnology plants as being safe and environmentally friendly. The US is today the world's largest producer of GM food

American scientist C S Prakash, of Tuskegee University, concluded after years of research: "GM food is safer than water, less dangerous than stairs, bicycles or medicine. Seven national academies of science have endorsed this approach and 16 Nobel laureates, along with 3 200 scientists, concur." The Royal Society of London says: "There is no existence of any potential harm from GM technology. It should be used to increase the production of main staple foods and reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. Biotech crops may even be safer than regular food."

Hansen also campaigned for the labelling of GM food. In the light of the above-mentioned scientific and medical data why is labelling necessary?

During his trip, Hansen was hosted by the SA Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering, Earthlife Africa, and Biowatch. These are neither agricultural nor nutritional bodies. They are not composed of any agronomists, scientists, medical or health experts.

They have never conducted any peer-reviewed GM crop trials or health tests on GM food. Therefore, they have no legitimacy to tell farmers what crops to plant and consumers what to eat.

Hans Lombard
Consultant to the agricultural biotech industry


Brazilian Scientist Speaks Out on GMO Crops and Foods

Luciana Di Ciero expresses confidence in biotech testing and food safety.

- PRWEB, September 5, 2006

Genetically modified (GM) crops are among the most studied and reviewed food crops in the world. Using well established, internationally accepted standards of risk assessment, regulatory authorities worldwide have reviewed the safety of all GMO crops and foods now on the market and determined that they pose no more risk than those produced through traditional breeding methods.

“As a scientist working with biotechnology, I know the scientific side – all the advantages and possibilities. As a mother, I can say that I feel very safe with biotechnology,” says Dr. Luciana Di Ciero , a scientific researcher in the Forest Genetic Research and Biotechnology Laboratory at ESALQ, University of Săo Paulo in Piracicaba, Brazil.

Before a biotech product is submitted to regulatory agencies for review and commercial approval, scientists spend years testing and analyzing the efficacy and safety of the potential product.

“Biotech products are tested from the beginning in the lab – from the moment the gene is isolated,” says Dr. Di CIero, who is working on plants that can defend themselves against environmental stresses such as insects, plagues and disease. “Then, the gene is transferred to the plant, and the plant is analyzed to see if the gene expresses properly – if the protein we wanted to express is working – and if they are safe for human health and the environment.

“After that, this plant goes to a greenhouse where it is analyzed agronomically. Then these plants go to the field – small experimental areas both for agronomic analysis and environmental analysis,” continues Dr. Di Ciero. “If the plant will be used as food, all tests for allergies and toxicity are done. And only when we’re sure that a product will not cause any problems can it go to the market. The testing is much stricter than for conventional foods.”

A proven 10-year history of safe use supports the conclusion that the regulatory process has been successful. Experts estimate more than 1 trillion meals containing GMO foods have been consumed with no reliable documentation of any food safety issues for people or animals.

“Nothing has zero risk,” says Dr. Di Ciero. “So the risk lies in not using biotechnology, in not utilizing the benefits for both the environment and society, in not using science to solve our problems of hunger, malnutrition, inhospitable areas where it’s difficult to farm.”

Numerous international organizations have endorsed the health, environmental and food safety of GMO foods and crops, including the Royal Society (UK), National Academy of Sciences (USA), the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the European Commission, the French Academy of Medicine, and the American Medical Association.

To learn more about biotechnology and to view Dr. Di Ciero’s exclusive video interview and podcast , visit Conversations about Plant Biotechnology (Web site: http://www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/default.asp).

Conversations about Plant Biotechnology is designed to give a voice and a face to the farmers and families who grow biotech crops and the experts who research and study the safety and benefits of genetically engineered food and crops. The Web site contains more than 40, two- to three-minute, extremely candid, straightforward and compelling video segments with the people who know the technology best. The Web site is hosted by Monsanto Company — a leading global provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products that improve farm productivity and food quality.


‘Low-sat' soybean oil finds champion in Portland

- Iowa Sentinel-Standard, September 5, 2006, By GARY A. SCHLUETER

PORTLAND - Eliminating half the fat in regular soybean oil makes good sense to Brian Stuart - both health wise and, he hopes, economically.

On Saturday morning one may find Brian and Susan Stuart selling not only their produce but also a relatively new low-saturated fat soybean oil called Select Oil.

Low saturated fat oil is a good thing because saturated fats are the bad fats.

According to the “Fat Dictionary” at DietSite.com, “Saturated fats are the very unhealthy fats. Excess saturated fat is related to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.”

The Stuarts have a farm on Portland Road where they grow and sell hay and straw, sweet corn, pumpkins, gourds and eggs - and now, Select Oil - a new item for them.

Brian Stuart has all the facts about Select Oil and gladly shares the information on Saturday mornings with anyone interested.

“This is made right here in Zeeland, Michigan,” Stuart said holding up a bottle of Select Oil, which sells for $3.50.

According to an Iowa State University paper introducing low-saturated-fat soybean oil, soybean oil is the most widely used vegetable oil in the United States. The trouble with traditional soy bean oil is it has about two grams of saturated fat per tablespoon serving.

In 1997 two Iowa State professors came up with a product they trademarked as LoSatSoy. “LoSatSoy has only one gram of saturated fat per serving, half the amount found in traditional soybean oil and the same amount found in canola oil,” the professors reported.

The problem with canola oil is that consumers complained about the taste. The introduction of low-saturated soybean oil was designed to eliminate that complaint.

Stuart is also selling a Monsanto-engineered soybean called Vistive.

“Select Oil is non-GMO, but this Vistive is not,” Stuart pointed out.

Vistive is genetically modified to produce low-linolenic oil “which allows food processors to reduce the need for hydrogenation,” according to a Monsanto informational packet.

“Companies like Kentucky Fried Chicken have put in a big order for Vistive,” he said. KFC is turning to this low-saturated soybean oil because of bad publicity the company has received about the health risks of eating its deep fried chicken.

“There is a great demand for soybeans grown to be low in saturated fats,” Stuart said. “The trouble is not enough farmers have them available. The demand is larger than the supply.”


Private-Public Sector Partnership Necessary in Biotechnology Research

- GMO Africa Blog, September 03, 2006

There are very interesting developments in the field of agricultural biotechnology currently taking place in India.

The Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco) has offered to transfer the technology and basic breeding material of Bt Brinjal, a low calorie vegetable widely grown in India, to two public sector institutions; The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore (TNAU) and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad (UASD).

The public sector institutions will not pay any royalty as long as they don’t commercialize the genetically modified Brinjal. This is a very unusual, but highly significant gesture.

Private seed companies, especially in the field of biotechnology, are not known to freely share innovational information with public organizations. They keep such information under a lock and key for fear of patent infringement. While this is understandable, it has fueled animosity and suspicions among scientists working in public institutions, especially in developing countries.

Obviously, no company would be willing to invest billions of dollars to develop new seed varieties only for an armchair scientist to copy cat them. But the need to safeguard proprietary information shouldn’t override the desire for seed companies to partner with public institutions. Doing so will deny the anti-biotech crowd a chance to characterize biotech companies as selfish and secretive.

Mahyco has set a good example that all biotechnology seed companies should follow. Biotech companies stand to benefit if they open their doors wider to public institutions. This is especially critical in Africa where genetically modified crops are yet to make major inroads.

It can’t be gainsaid that there is already such partnership going on in Africa. In Kenya, for example, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) is working closely with biotech seed companies in the development of genetically modified maize resistant to stem borers. But more such partnership is needed to accelerate the adoption of genetically modified crops in developing countries.


Let’s pin down the meaning of organic

- The Herald, By JOE FATTORINI September 06 2006

We present you with a radical idea. Then you tell us whether we're right or wrong As National Organic Food Fortnight gets under way, could the organisers try to pin down what it is they're actually in favour of before imploring us all to support it? Apparently, organic food is grown without chemical pesticides, herbicides or fungicides except for naturally-occurring substances such as copper, sulphur, soft soap or derris. This is according to the Soil Association, Britain's leading organic certification body. But the "organic" copper spray is Bordeaux mixture, a combination of copper sulphate and calcium hydroxide (slaked lime), neither of which occurs in nature.

By this logic, organic producers might as well use DDT, produced from "natural" carbon, hydrogen and chlorine. And why Bordeaux mixture, anyway? Modern synthetic fungicides are demonstrably more effective, less harmful to non-target species (and farm workers) and rapidly biodegradable. They appear to be rejected because they're not "traditional" like Bordeaux mixture, a treatment older than the organic movement.

This logic might as easily defend child labour, bear-bating and treating scrofula with leeches. Genetically modified plants that have passed the most stringent approval regime ever for foods and need little or no fungicide treatment are, apparently, beyond contemplation. And, indeed, contempt.

But so what if a substance is "naturally occurring" anyway? Derris may be a natural plant by-product. But its active ingredient, Rotenone, is linked to Parkinson's disease, the sort of thing that normally has the Soil Association fulminating. Pyrethroid sheep dips, sanctioned by the association, are "natural", but have wiped out inver-tebrate life in miles of British rivers.

This woolly thinking is endemic to the organic movement. And the loser in the confusion is the consumer. Take wine production. Far from a clear distinction between organic and non-organic, there's a confused organic spectrum. True, there are the (commercially negligible) sulphur-free wine producers who set about their task with the disciplined asceticism of monks. But then loopholes such as Bordeaux mixture creep into the assorted species of bio-dynamism, variously stringent organic certifications and an army of pick-and-mixers. Saluting to a range of halfway-house regimes, these pick-and-mixers aren't "organic" but want a scrap of the emperor's new organic clothes. Why? Because consumers have no idea what organic really means other than that it's a shorthand for a "good", "nice", Felicity-Kendal-agriculture that we needn't feel guilty about.

Organic is now axiomatic for "good" so Organic Food Fortnight will inevitably be a success. To the dismay of the organic movement. Please feel free to re-read that sentence. Supermarket organic ranges will thrive. But they are the Hooded Claw to the small, independent Penelope Pitstops we're meant to support. Sainsbury's enjoys 30% of the organic grocery market and Waitrose 16%, two and four times their grocery share respectively. As the sector grows, both are expanding their organic ranges into those cornerstones of the bucolic, organic kitchen: ready meals and pizzas.

Worst of all, Asda seems to think it can go organic. You might think that Wal-Mart embracing organic food would be a good thing. However, the Organic Consumers' Association in the US is dismayed. Because organic food isn't just about farming without chemicals - well, except for a few that you can use because they kind of feel nicer to us, even though they're actually quite poisonous - and being certified organic - although that kind of depends on where you are because there are different rules and different sorts of organic you see - but it's about an ethical ideal that's more focused on eco-friendly practices (whatever that means) than the bottom line, so you sort of have to buy organic food from the people we say you have to buy it from. So that's clear then. Isn't it?


Genomics has potential to revolutionise food science

- Food Navigator, By Anthony Fletcher, September 4, 2006

More efficient collaboration between the public and private sectors is vital if genomic technology is to truly have an impact in alleviating food insecurity and food shortages around the world.

This issue will be highlighted at the ESRC Innogen Centre's Annual Conference, which begins tomorrow.

Many scientists believe that genomic technology has the potential to alleviate food insecurity and food shortages around the world.

Biotechnology for example has the potential to improve the nutritional content of food crops and, crucially, resistance to insects and disease, leading to improved yields of food crops.

Researchers are also working on 'molecular farming'.

However, these technologies are only likely to impact on world hunger, say scientists, if there is an effective and efficient exchange of knowledge and experience through partnerships.

Dr Simon Best, chairman of the board of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid tropics (ICRISAT) plans to highlight the need for greater and more efficient collaboration between the public and private sectors involved in this research.

Similarly, the director of development partnerships for the International Potato Centre (CIP), Dr Roger Cortbaoui, will argue that there is a need to construct what he calls "useful partnerships and networks including with the private sector" in an industry where basic research is dominated by public funded research centres.

Others argue that even greater private-public interactions are not sufficient. Dr Andy Hall, from the Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology, believes members of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) such as ICRISAT and CIP, are "struggling to deal with its limitations".

Dr Hall argues for a strengthening of interactions with communities and society in general. In addition, Prof. Paul Richards of Wageningen University, says that not enough attention is being placed on involving the poor in decisions and research on the role of genomic technologies in dealing with food insecurity.

The scientific world is slowly opening up to the possibilities afforded by genomics. A group of international scientists recently sequenced the complete rice genome, providing new tools to improve the quality and size of future crops.

Six years of research work conducted by The International Rice Genome Sequencing Project, which includes The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), has found that the completed sequence for the genome consists of around 400 million DNA bases holding 37,544 genes on rice's 12 chromosomes.

The newly discovered sequence should provide a roadmap for agricultural researchers using both biotechnology and conventional farming methods to develop hardier, more resistant strains of rice.

The ESRC Innogen Centre's annual conference, entitled 'Genomics for Development: The Life Sciences and Poverty Reduction', will be held at Regent's College, London on 5 and 6 September 2006.


Gift Will Support “Campaign For A Green Future” And Aid In African Food Security

- Danforth Center, September 5, 2006

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center today announced a $15 million gift from the Monsanto Fund to support the Center’s vision and mission: $7.5 million of the gift will support the Center’s “Campaign for a Green Future” while $7.5 million will go directly to efforts to develop high-yield crops for Africa.

“Monsanto Company and the Monsanto Fund have been important partners in the formation of the Danforth Center and vital to our ongoing success,” explained Danforth Center Chairman Dr. William H. Danforth. “We greatly appreciate the gift from the Fund to the ‘Campaign for a Green Future,’ as it is important to the long-term success of the Center in achieving our mission.”

The “Campaign for a Green Future” was launched in November 2004 with a goal of $100 million. The Danforth Foundation will match, up to $50 million, all unrestricted and endowment gifts from private sources received by December 31, 2010.

“The Monsanto Fund’s commitment to food security is underscored through this gift to the Danforth Center. We contribute funding to put important agricultural technology tools into the hands of farmers who need them through relationships like those with the Danforth Center,” said Gerald A. Steiner, a Monsanto Fund Board Member and Executive Vice President of Monsanto Company. “The Danforth Center’s work builds on Monsanto Company’s strong commitment to sharing technology and devoting resources to efforts that benefit the developing world.”

The Danforth Center has been working to develop virus-resistant cassava (Manihot esculenta) for the past seven years. Resistance to the African Cassava Mosaic Virus would hold great value to farmers, as this virus is having a devastating effect on cassava growth throughout Africa. In addition to cassava, the Center is conducting research on corn (Zea mays) for Africa.

“The Danforth Center is committed to fundamental research in plant biology, and the Monsanto Fund gift the will help to make that happen. We are doubly gratified that a portion of the gift will permit us to expand research on solutions to improve crops and increase food production in developing countries. Additionally, this gift will allow us to continue important research on a cassava and corn for several countries in Africa, and fortifies our commitment to help alleviate certain crop diseases in those countries,” said Danforth President Dr. Roger N. Beachy.

“Cassava and corn are two of the world’s most important food security crops, and the Danforth Center’s work in cassava complements Monsanto’s work in corn,” Steiner said. “Monsanto has demonstrated our commitment to African farmers by providing them with high-quality corn seed. In the future, we hope to bring needed traits, such as insect resistance and drought stress tolerance, to African farmers in order to help bolster food security.”

About The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a global vision to improve the human condition. Research at the Danforth Center will enhance the nutritional content of plants to improve human health, increase agricultural production to create a sustainable food supply, and build scientific capacity to generate economic growth in the St. Louis region and throughout Missouri.

Please visit www.danforthcenter.org for additional information.

About The Monsanto Fund

The Monsanto Fund is the philanthropic arm of the Monsanto Company. Incorporated in 1964, the Fund's primary objective is to improve the lives of people by bridging the gap between their needs and their resources. The Monsanto Fund is focused on grant-making in four main areas: nutritional well-being through agriculture; science education, primarily on professional development for teachers; the environment, which includes conservation, protection of biodiversity, clean water and restoration of wildlife habitat; and improving the quality of life in communities where Monsanto employees live and work. Please visit www.monsantofund.org for additional information.

For additional information contact:
Robert H. Rose, 314/587-1231