Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - Sept 12, 2006
* Opportunities and Challenges for Agricultural Biotechnology
* France: Pioneer Donates GMO Field Trial Damages to the Soil Foundation
* Re: Dr. Borlaug's Wheat in the First world
* USDA Seeks Public Comment On Deregulation of GE Rice
* Shaking Out the Family Tree: Rice Domestication Confirmed Genetically
* Biotech Traits: What's New
* Biotechnology Research Gets a Boost
* California Deans Throw Support Behind Biotechnology
* Redesigning Crops to Harvest Fuel
* AATF to Hold Talks on Biotechnology in Nairobi
* Why Spurning Food Biotech Has Become A Liability
* Conf - Plant Nutrition meets Plant Breeding
* Conf - Scientific Developments in Agricultural Biotechnology
Opportunities and Challenges for Agricultural Biotechnology
- Ross Korves, Truth about Trade and Technology, Sept. 8, 2006 http://www.truthabouttrade.org
Predicting the exact direction of developments in agricultural biotechnology is impossible. What is certain is that federal regulations and other government actions will have a major impact. To help anticipate the future, the USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture developed a report titled "Opportunities and Challenges in Agricultural Biotechnology: The Decade Ahead" that USDA released in late August.
The committee consists of 20 members who span biotechnology stakeholders from farmers to biotech companies to consumer organizations who "share a common vision of a safe and abundant food supply and a diversified agricultural marketplace," but "have diverse views about the appropriate role of plants and animals produced using modern biotechnology in the food and agricultural marketplace." One of its charges is to examine the long-term impact of biotechnology and provide guidance to USDA on pressing issues.
The committee chose to define long term as five to ten years. Some may argue that the long term is much longer than that, but issues that develop over the next five to ten years will likely shape the industry for years to come. The committee identified 26 topics that are relevant to USDA activities. The report is a consensus product of the full committee; except for five topics for which a range of members' views is provided.
Some of the report's guidance fits with today's headlines. Adventitious presence (AP) is addressed by two of the topics that include issues related to the discovery in U.S. produced long-grain rice of trace amounts of genetic material from LL601 genetically modified rice. The report explains, "Although federal policies address some aspects of AP, the federal government has not set forth comprehensive policies, guidelines, or standards regarding the adventitious presence of transgenic events." The report notes the international market implications, particularly the zero tolerance applied by countries for unapproved varieties. This issue takes on increased importance as U.S. wheat producers consider production of biotech wheat. Wheat was mentioned in the report as a crop that has lost acreage to biotech corn and soybeans in Minnesota and the Dakotas. The committee believes that international trade of biotech crops could be helped by synchronizing approvals across major countries. The U.S. is already suffering from lost markets due to moratoria on approving more biotech crop applications.
The committee had divergent views when addressing most issues related to the role and effectiveness of federal regulations. The committee split over the fundamental issue of whether the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should make its voluntary consultative process to review food safety data of biotechnology mandatory or if the consultative process should be eliminated and replaced with a mandatory pre-market approval process. Food labeling also split the committee with some supporting mandatory labeling of all biotech products while others believed that foods that were found to be safe should not be labeled just because they were produced with biotechnology. Some members are concerned that the focus has been only on health and safety issues, with little attention to products being wholesome, pure and natural.
Transparency in the regulatory system is also viewed as critical. The regulatory process must be aware of gene technologies that are not currently covered by regulations, but may be important in the years ahead. To the extent that federal regulations are viewed as effective, the committee believes this could lessen state regulatory efforts that could fragment the U.S. market and reduce use by producers and acceptance by consumers.
Five topics in the report are related to identity preservation (IdP), either in terms of keeping biotech crops out of an IdP system or keeping biotech crops contained in a system. Some consumers are seeking out biotech free foods and retailers have sent that message back through the supply chain. This has created new opportunities, but also has made the supply chain more complex and created additional commercial liability in both domestic and international trade. Improved standards for sampling and testing will be needed to deal with the increased complexities of the supply chain. Creating a closed supply chain that will keep medical and industrial biotech crops out of the food and feed supply remains a key challenge.
The committee believes that farmers in the U.S. will continue to demand more biotech traits to address production problems and escalating costs. Energy specific traits were mentioned as an area of expected growth. Most of the funding for new biotech traits is from private companies that focus primarily on major crops. Specialty crops may have the same needs, but a smaller market base, and will require other sources of funding for new trait development. Protection of intellectual property rights in international markets will be important in recouping costs for both major crops and specialty crops. A regulatory policy will be needed for imported products using biotech traits developed in other countries and for imported seeds used to grow crops in the U.S. using technology not developed in the U.S.
The biggest new challenges over the next five to ten years will be in livestock biotechnology. Some people who have supported crop biotechnology have a different view when it comes to animals. The committee's major concern is that, "The federal government has not clearly indicated how and under which laws and regulations transgenic animals will be regulated."
Agricultural biotechnology has been successful in the U.S. in part because the regulatory structure has been flexible enough to allow innovation while addressing food safety and human health issues. Over the next five to ten years the issues will become more complex. The advisory committee report provides ideas on how that balance can be maintained in the years ahead.
Destruction of Menville, France trials in 2004: Pioneer donates GMO field trial damages to the National Foundation for Soil Conservation Agriculture
Aussonne, France; September 8, 2006 - Pioneer Génétique, announces the donation of the recovered damages of Eur 63,819, to the National Foundation for Soil Conservation Agriculture (FNACS). This was allocated by the Court of Toulouse for the illegal destruction of a GM research trial in 2004. This donation will be used to support an innovative future for French agriculture.
Last November 15, the Court of Appeal of Toulouse gave its decision in the case of the destruction of a Pioneer genetically modified corn trial field located in Menville (Haute-Garonne) in July 2004. The court sentenced eight people to between 2 and 4 months of prison (for destruction of private property) and to jointly pay damages to Pioneer of 58,819 Eur plus 5,000 Eur in legal costs. Last spring, procedures have been launched to seize these funds from the bank accounts of one of the convicted, Mr Noël Mamère. These were finally received by Pioneer on September, 1.
Pioneer decided to make this donation of the recovered damages to farmers which support innovating projects: the National Foundation for Soil Conservation Agriculture (FNACS). FNACS includes a network of more than 300 farmers who are willing to apply techniques of soil conservation. This network aims to run programs to share experiences of no-till agriculture, the rational use of chemicals and of crop rotation methods. The donation has been given to FNACS to use independently for its own research activities for soil conservation. The foundation alone will administer the donation for the achievement of these projects.
By making this donation to FNACS, Pioneer is demonstrating that this is not about money, but about principles -- that farmers have a right to choose to plant products which offer benefits to their productivity, to the environment and to rural economies. Henri Batut, Pioneer France General Manager, commenting on the choice of FNACS: "Since our beginning in 1926, Pioneer has been committed to innovation in agriculture. Contrary to the destructive tactics of a small group of people, we are making this donation for a constructive cause: to an organization which supports innovation and sustainability in agriculture. This donation will be used for a series of trial programs run by innovating farmers that will bring pragmatic answers to the issue of soil conservation and contribute to the sustainable future of French agriculture. Pioneer is pleased that this donation will be used to further the great work done by FNACS."
For more than 40 years, Pioneer has played a major role in French agriculture thanks to its high yielding hybrids and varieties and its agronomic expertise. Pioneer's commitment to providing seed products to meet farmers' needs has been the focus of all our research. To this end, trials of both conventional and biotech varieties will continue to play an important role in our French research program.
"Pioneer has carried out open field trials with biotech varieties in France for ten years in accordance with the applicable laws and regulations. In this time, there has not been any case of damage caused to neighboring farms as a result of the trials. Pioneer will use all legal means necessary to prevent the illegal destruction of our private property so that French farmers have the opportunity to see the safety and benefits of this technology", concluded Henri Batut.
Re: Dr. Borlaug's Wheat in the First world
- Prof. Calvin O. Qualset -coqualset.at.ucdavis.edu-
Re the article on TAM 101 wheat. It was developed by Kenneth Porter at Bushland, Texas. It has no parents from CIMMYT Mexico. Hence no credit to Borlaug for that one. But Kenny Porter was a great plant breeder of the same generation as Orville Vogel, the US breeder who gave Borlaug the short-statured breeding lines that were used to start the green revolution in Asia. It had already started in the US with the release of Gaines wheat in Washington State and others such as TAM 101.
There are plenty of examples of varieties developed in the US that DID use the Borlaug CIMMYT wheats in breeding programs. Yes, Borlaug's wheats did have a big impact on the first world wheat production that permitted the continuous stream of donated wheats to hungry countries from the US.
>Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: September 7, 2006
>* Dr. Borlaug's Wheat in the First world
USDA Seeks Public Comment On Deregulation of Genetically Engineered Rice
- USDA Release No. 0345.06, Sept. 8, 2006
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking public comment on a petition to deregulate a rice genetically engineered (GE) to be tolerant to herbicides marketed under the brand name LibertyLink. In 1999, after thorough safety evaluations, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) deregulated two similar LibertyLink rice lines. Under petition, APHIS would extend its deregulation from the original two lines to include the rice line known as LLRICE601.
On Aug. 18, USDA announced that trace amounts of this regulated GE rice were detected in samples taken from commercial long grain rice. A review of the scientific data by USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded that there were no human health, food safety or environmental concerns associated with this GE rice.
The petition for deregulation, submitted by Bayer CropScience, is in accordance with APHIS' regulations concerning the introduction of GE organisms and products. APHIS has prepared a draft environmental assessment (EA) for LLRICE601. The scientific evidence indicates there are no environmental, human health or food safety concerns associated with this GE rice.
Notice of this action is scheduled for publication in today's Federal Register. USDA is seeking comment on the petition and invites comments on the EA. Consideration will be given to comments received on or before Oct. 10. Send an original and three copies of comments to Docket No. APHIS-2006-0140, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, Md. 20737-1238. Comments may be submitted via the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov/
Comments are posted on the regulations.gov web site and may also be viewed at USDA, Room 1141, South Building, 14th St. and Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C., between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. To facilitate entry into the comment reading room, please call (202) 690-2817. Contact: Rachel Iadicicco (301) 734-3255; Kristin Scuderi (202) 720-4623
Shaking Out the Family Tree: Rice Domestication Confirmed Genetically
- Science Daily, Sept 11, 2006 http://www.sciencedaily.com/
Biologists from Washington University in St. Louis and their collaborators from Taiwan have examined the DNA sequence family tree of rice varieties and have determined that the crop was domesticated independently at least twice in various Asian locales.
Jason Londo, Washington University in Arts & Sciences biology doctoral candidate, and his adviser, Barbara A. Schaal, Ph.D., Washington University Spencer T. Olin Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences, ran genetic tests of more than 300 types of rice, including both wild and domesticated, and found genetic markers that reveal the two major rice types grown today were first grown by humans in India and Myanmar and Thailand (Oryza sativa indica) and in areas in southern China (Oryza sativa japonica).
A paper describing the research was published in the June 20, 2006 issue of the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. "We chose samples across the entire range of rice and looked for DNA sequences that were shared by both wild and domesticated types," said Londo. "These two major groups clustered out by geography."
DNA is comprised of vast, varied combinations of chemical subunits known as base pairs. Londo, Schaal and their collaborators concentrated on finding genetic markers shared by both cultivated and wild rice types that ranged from 800 to 1,300 base pairs. Cultivated rice has a genetic signature that defines it as cultivated, Schaal explained. "What you do is go out and sample all the wild rice across regions and you look for that signature in the wild," said Schaal, who has done similar work with cassava and Jocote (a tropical fruit). "You find that the unique signature of cultivated rice is only found in certain geographic regions. And that's how you make the determination of where it came from."
Schaal said that she was surprised and "delighted" by their results. "People have moved rice around so much and the crop crosses with its wild ancestors pretty readily, so I was fully prepared to see no domestication signal whatsoever,," Schaal said. "I would have expected to see clustering of the cultivated rice, but I was delighted to see geographical clustering of the wild rice. I was thrilled that there was even genetic structure in the wild rice."
In contrast to rice, other staple crops such as wheat, barley and corn appears to have been domesticated just once in history. Rice is the largest staple crop for human consumption, supplying 20 percent of caloric content for the world. By finding the geographic origins of rice, researchers can consider ways to improve the crop's nutritional value and disease resistance, which in turn can help impoverished populations in Asia and elsewhere that rely heavily on the crop.
A third type of rice might have originated independently in India, but the researchers can't be certain, said Londo, because "with two of the gene networks we see sharp similarities, but with a third one that emerges from the data we don't have enough resolution."
Londo expects to find even more evidence for differing geographic domestication. He said that by using the database that they've gathered, they could design a sampling to target specialty rices such as the aromatic rices basmati and jasmine.
For instance, one direction that the researchers are going is Thailand, where the Karen tribe has been using multiple landraces of rice for many hundreds of years, Landraces are localized varieties of rice that have been cultivated by traditional methods and have been passed down many generations, Schaal said. "We're going to try to find out how landrace varieties change after domestication. These landraces are ancient varieties, which are high in genetic diversity, thus valuable to breeders looking for new traits."
Biotech Traits: What's New
- Lynn Grooms, Farm Industry News, Sep 7, 2006
Frequent industry observation is that consumers will not fully appreciate biotechnology until it directly benefits them.
That is why many people in the ag industry are hopeful about the development and eventual commercialization of products with beneficial output (or value-added) traits. (The charts on pages 34 through 37 show the many output traits that are now in development Ed). Some of these traits also are being developed through conventional means.
Some traits, such as those aimed at improving animal feed quality, still benefit mostly farmers. lndirectly, however, improved livestock feed components should benefit consumers through environmental and productivity gains.
Farmers also stand to benefit from corn with enhanced ethanol production traits, but both ethanol producers and ethanol-buying consumers could benefit from more efficient ethanol production that reduces overall costs.
Close examination of the charts indicates that soybean research could yield many consumer benefits in the future. In fact, Monsanto is in the prelaunch stage for soybeans that have improved protein content. These soybeans will provide higher levels of the protein beta-conglycinin to improve protein flavor and functionality, Monsanto reports. The company developed these soybeans using advanced plantbreeding technology.
In 2005, Monsanto introduced Vistive, a line of low-linolenic soybeans developed to help food companies reduce or eliminate trans fats, and the second generation of these soybeans is in the advanced development stage. This second generation is expected to increase the healthiness, stability and shelf life of soybean oil and enable more foods to be trans fat free, Monsanto reports.
DuPont/Pioneer already is marketing a line of low-linolenic-acid soybeans as part of its biotech alliance with Bunge. This is the first step of a long-term effort to develop a diverse lineup of soybean products with added value for food and feed markets. High-oleic soybeans are next in line, offering unique food and industrial product benefits, Pioneer reports. Omega-3 oil is in the "proof of concept" stage and offers the potential for significant consumer health benefits, the company adds.
Syngenta Seeds is developing ultralow-Iinolenic (ULL) soybeans that will contain only 1 to 2% linolenic acid. "Conventional soybeans are as high as 8%, while some of the so-called low-linolenic soybeans being marketed today are in the 3.5% range," says Jack Bernens, head of Agrisure Traits Business, Syngenta Seeds. "Even the 3% linolenic range is too high to effectively meet processor demand for stable oil and consumer demand for heart-healthy oils. That's because linolenic acid above 2% levels in soy oil may still require hydrogenation. This process creates trans fats that have been shown to increase the LDL cholesterol level in humans."
Syngenta Seeds will be testing hundreds of ultralow-linolenic varieties in South America this winter, Bernens says. "We will continue testing these varieties in our Midwestern yield trial locations this summer, with the goal of releasing them within the next few years," he says.
The seed companies also are developing biotech traits for crops other than corn and soybeans. Dow AgroSciences, for example, is working on output traits in canola, sunflower and cotton. By using biotechnology, Dow AgroSciences developed Nexera canola and sunflower seeds that produce no trans fats and are low in saturated fat. Both oils are highly stable due to the combination of high oleic (more than 70%) and low-linolenic (less than 3%) fatty acids, the company reports.
Phase One work at Dow AgroSciences includes development of a novel functional sunflower oil. In cotton, the company's researchers are working on improving fiber quality.
Most everyone wants to see output traits succeed. But they also agree that growers must receive reasonable compensation for growing these new products -- products that may require more identity preservation systems that add to production costs. Vistive soybeans already have brought growers premiums of up to $0.40/bu., says Kurt Wickstrom, traits manager, soybeans and Vistive, Monsanto. He expects these premiums to remain stable through 2007. These soybeans also have the Roundup Ready trait and yield about the same as other Roundup Ready varieties, Wickstrom says.
Pioneer's low-linolenic soybean contracting efforts also provide growers a $0.40/bu. premium using seed with strong agronomic performance and the Roundup Ready trait so they are competitive with Pioneer's commercial soybean lineup, says Russ Sanders, director of marketing, quality traits, Pioneer.
Capitalizing on ethanol
One of today's hottest output traits in corn is a higher level of fermentable starch, Sanders says. Pioneer has designated its line of 135 high total fermentable (HTF) hybrids as Pioneer lndustrySelect ethanol hybrids.
These products were not genetically modified to contain the trait, but were identified as having higher levels of fermentable starch. HTF hybrids can help ethanol processors realize a 2 to 4% ethanol yield gain, which creates an opportunity for possible grain premiums, Pioneer reports. Ethanol yield gains could potentially mean increased value of around $0.l 5Ibu. with today's ethanol prices, Sanders says.
Whether premiums are paid, however, depends on the ethanol processor. The recent boom in demand has many producers just looking to get all the corn they can, highly fermentable or not.
"Ethanol is a very important part of the U.S. energy policy and holds great potential for farmers," says Syngenta Seeds' Bernens. Syngenta is currently marketing 33 NK Brand Extra Edge dry-grind designated hybrids to improve ethanol yield gain. These hybrids also were not genetically modified to contain the trait, but have been proven to deliver higher yields of ethanol through a testing method developed by the University of lllinois and used in the Syngenta Seeds ethanol lab in Stanton, MN, Bernens says. "We have developed and plan to market a genetically modified corn that expresses high levels of amylase in grain," he says.
Monsanto also is involved in improving corn for ethanol production with its Processor Preferred high fermentable corn hybrids.
Corn and soybeans with enhanced components for animal feed are gaining a great deal more interest. The accompanying charts show that the trait suppliers are in various stages of development of such products.
Pioneer, for example, is in Phase One and Phase Two of developing improved feed energy traits. Its Pioneer lndustrySelect High Available Energy (HAE) corn hybrids are already in the market. But the company is continuing to work to combine HAE with oil quality traits in Phase Two and additional oil and protein modifications in Phase One. According to Pioneer, oil modification will provide added feed formulation flexibility and help feeders achieve higher meat quality.
What's more, Pioneer reports that the improved feed traits it develops could add from $600 million to $2 billion per year to the total value of the pork and poultry industries.
Pioneer is using near-infrared spectroscopy technology to predict the digestibility of corn grain. The company already has characterized more than 70 hybrids that deliver 1 to 2% more energy than their counterparts. These hybrids could help livestock feeders fetch $0.07 to $0.10 more per bushel in feed value HAE, says Pioneer's Sanders.
Dow AgroSciences offers Supercede HE High Energy nutritionally enhanced corn hybrids from Mycogen Seeds, a retail seed company of Dow AgroSciences. These hybrids provide 40% more oil than No. 2 yellow corn, leading to 5 to 10% more metabolizable energy, the company reports.
Dow AgroSciences also anticipates the launch of a hybrid lineup in 2008 featuring higher available phosphorus. The company reports that these hybrids are positioned to improve animal performance and reduce phosphorus in manure.
Monsanto formed a joint venture with Cargill called Renessen, which is using biotechnology and conventional breeding to produce corn and soybeans with higher levels of oil, protein and amino acids for animal feed, food and energy markets. Monsanto reports that many of these improvements will be marketed through the Mavera brand.
Mavera high-value corn with lysine, developed through biotechnology, is in Phase Four of the pipeline and is expected to provide economic advantages to livestock feeders. The company expects that the product will be available for 2008 planting, depending on regulatory approvals, says Doug Rushing, Renessen's director of government and public affairs. The trait has been submitted for export approval.
Swine, in particular, need lysine for good muscle growth. The first generation of Renessen's high-value corn with lysine contains about 4,000 parts per million (ppm) of free lysine, which will replace a significant amount of synthetic lysine, Rushing says. Producers often use synthetic lysine in their swine rations, and the synthetic lysine business is currently a $1 billion business, he notes. The second generation of high-value corn with lysine is expected to replace 6,000 to 7,000 ppm of synthetic lysine.
Mavera I high-value soybeans also are in Phase Four of the pipeline. They will produce five points more protein than conventional soybeans, Rushing says. One of the big markets for these soybeans will be China. Poultry producers there are looking to boost the protein of their feed rations. These soybeans will be launched in lllinois in 2007.
In the future, American farmers will have greater opportunities to grow products in demand by livestock producers and food, feed and fuel companies. As a result, growers will have opportunities to earn higher premiums, says Monsanto's Wickstrom At the same time, growers will increasingly need to consider the relationships they have with local grain elevators and processors.
Wickstrom says there may not necessarily be a huge shift toward contract farming with the new output traits coming online, but there could be more on-farm storage and identity preservation systems.
The "generation next" of output traits will offer growers and their customers new options and new profit possibilities.
Biotechnology Research Gets a Boost
- James Wachai, September 10, 2006 http://www.gmoafrica.org
The Monsanto Fund has announced a gift of $15 million to the U.S.-based Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. The gift will go towards running various biotechnology programs being already being undertaken at the center.
Specifically, the grant will promote the center’s Campaign for a Green Future – launched in 2004, and the development of high-yielding virus resistant cassava.
These two programs are of immeasurable significance to farming communities, especially in developing countries. The development of a high-yielding virus resistant cassava portends great promise for Africa, in particular.
Research institutes’ increasing interest in high-yield and virus resistant cassava is encouraging. In May this year, a group of scientists led by Richard Sayre of Ohio University (U.S.A) announced that they had discovered a genetically modified cassava with super size roots.
The scientists also reported that the “modified cassava also had more leaves, which are eaten in Africa as a source of protein, minerals and vitamins.” This was good news to cassava farmers.
Cassava is an important staple food in Africa. Its production, however, continues to dwindle mainly due to two major cassava diseases - the Bacterial Blight and Leaf Mosaic. The genetically engineered cassava being developed at the Danforth Center will be strong enough to resist these two diseases.
In a continent where large populations live on less than a dollar a day, farmers will no longer struggle to buy pesticides. Since this genetically modified cassava yields high, it will also boost their income.
The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center must be commended for sticking to a research agenda that seeks to help poor-resource farmers. It’s instructive that the center makes developing countries aware that it’s advancing their interests. Perhaps, the best way to do this is to establish collaboration with scientists and research institutes in developing countries.
Apart from knowledge sharing, such can be a good opportunity to showcase to them the potential of biotechnology in poverty alleviation.
Biotech Prominent In California's Ag Research: University Deans Throw Support Behind Need for Biotechnology
- Don Curlee, Capital Press, Sept 9, 2006 http://www.capitalpress.info
It doesn't look like the anti-GMO crowd can expect any support for its position from policy-makers at the University of California who oversee agricultural research.
Deans of the three colleges of the university that deal with agriculture wrote a joint statement for the July-September issue of the university's publication California Agriculture.
"The ability to adapt plants, animals and microbes using the traditional and new tools of biotechnology has already had an impact and will certainly play an increasing role in agriculture," they said.
The three are Paul Ludden, dean of the College of Natural Resources at Berkeley; Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Davis; and Steve Angle, dean of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at Riverside.
Pointing to the overseas production of products essential to agriculture such as oil, ammonia-based fertilizers and potassium and phosphorous supplies they said: "All of these issues beg for biotechnical solutions to help farmers adapt and conserve precious resources."
Referring to an article in an earlier edition that emphasized research leading to manipulation of the genetics of specialty crops the writers said: "These crops are the basis of California's competitive agricultural economy and it is critical for UC to do the research that will keep this sector of our state's economy competitive in global markets."
In the same issue Cooperative Extension specialist Peggy Lemaux at Berkeley provided some perspective on the advance of biotechnology in food production.
She pointed out that the genetic engineering to modify plants that was first applied in tobacco in 1983, now plays dominant roles in the production of canola, corn, cotton, soy and alfalfa, and to a limited degree, papaya, sweet corn and some squash.
She said the UC-based Public Intellectual Property for Research in Agriculture and the national Specialty Crops Research Initiative provide opportunities for genetically engineered crops.
"With these factors playing a role, perhaps the promise of biotechnology for California's small-acreage crops will be realized," she said.
Elsewhere in the publication UC researchers address some of the concerns often voiced by those who oppose including and accepting biotechnology. One article is titled When Crop Transgenes Wander in California Should We Worry. Another: Scientists Evaluate Potential Environmental Risks of Transgenic Crops.
A list is included of the 39 transgenic crops that have been approved for field testing through Jan. 16, 2006. Thirteen of them are among the state's top-20 crops.
Biotechnology in the food crops is firmly entrenched in California and in the research machinery that will develop further tools to make the industry profitable and vital and its products useful and acceptable.
Those who don't like biotechnology are free to express opposition based on fear, tradition or mere seat-of-the-pants inklings. If they are producing food, fiber, flowers or fish they can continue to do so the old-fashioned way without interference from modern scientific research.
Don Curlee is a veteran ag publications editor and ag freelancer who writes on a variety of farm-related topics from Clovis, Calif.
Redesigning Crops to Harvest Fuel
- Andrew Pollack, The New York Times, Sept. 8, 2006
More miles to the bushel. That is the new mission of crop scientists. In an era of $3-a-gallon gasoline and growing concern about global warming from fossil fuels, seed and biotechnology companies see a big new opportunity in developing corn and other crops tailored for use in ethanol and other biofuels.
Syngenta, for instance, hopes in 2008 to begin selling a genetically engineered corn designed to help convert itself into ethanol. Each kernel of this self-processing corn contains an enzyme that must otherwise be added separately at the ethanol factory.
Just last week, DuPont and Bunge announced that their existing joint venture to improve soybeans for food would also start designing beans for biodiesel fuel and other industrial uses.
And Ceres, a plant genetics company in California, is at work on turning switch grass, a Prairie States native, into an energy crop.
Richard W. Hamilton, the Ceres chief executive, was quoted as saying, "You could turn Oklahoma into an OPEC member by converting all its farmland to switch grass."
Developing energy crops could mean new applications of genetic engineering, which for years has been aimed at making plants resistant to insects and herbicides, but would now include altering their fundamental structure. One goal, for example, is to reduce the amount of lignin, a substance that gives plants the stiffness to stand upright but interferes with turning a plant’s cellulose into ethanol.
Such prospects are starting to alarm some environmentalists, who worry that altered plants will cross-pollinate in the wild, resulting in forests that practically droop for want of lignin. And some oppose the notion of altering corn to feed the nation’s addiction to automobiles.
AATF to Hold Talks on Biotechnology in Nairobi
- CropBiotech Update, Sept 8, 2006
In a bid to create an environment conducive for the adoption of modern biotechnology in Africa, the Nairobi-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) has initiated a series of talks to be held monthly in various African countries, beginning with Kenya on September 14, 2006. Prof. Ruth Oniang'o, a renowned Kenyan nutritionist, academic and legislator, and Mr. Mark F. Cantley, a former European Commission adviser on Biotechnology, Agriculture and Food (Directorate of Life Sciences) will each make a keynote address to set the stage for the discussions.
The Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), as the talks will be known, are aimed at fostering "constructive debate on biotechnology with the aim of bringing out core issues that may have positive or negative impacts on acceptance, adoption, and application of the technology in Africa," said Dr. Mpoko Bokanga, AATF Executive Director. The initiative, he said, is in response to the need for better understanding of produc ts, benefits, and concerns associated with biotechnology.
They are targeted, therefore, "at individuals who impact the development of biotechnology in Africa in one way or another," the Director said.
For more information, contact Daniel Otunge of the East and Central Africa BIC (ECABIC) at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.aatf-africa.org
Why Spurning Food Biotech Has Become A Liability
- Henry I Miller, Gregory Conko & Drew L Kershen Nature Biotechnology - 24, 1075 - 1077 (2006) http://www.nature.com/. Reprinted with permission.
'By rejecting gene-spliced ingredients in their products, some major food companies may be making foods that are less safe and wholesome for consumers--and that expose them to litigation.'
In the late 1990s, a singular phenomenon swept the world. One after another, food and beverage companies capitulated to strident xenogenophobic voices that called for elimination of gene-spliced ingredients from their product lines. In the United States, fast food giant McDonald's (Chicago) banned transgenic ingredients from its menu, food manufacturers Heinz (Pittsburgh) and Gerber (Fremont, MI, USA) dropped them from their baby food lines, and Frito-Lay (Atlanta) told its growers to stop planting corn containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin or risk exclusion from its snacks business. Elsewhere, brewers Kirin (Shinkawa, Japan) and Carlsberg (Valby, Denmark) eliminated gene-spliced ingredients from their beers.
These actions were rationalized variously as "protecting stakeholder interests," "ensuring human safety" and "safeguarding the environment." Ironically (and also surprisingly in these litigious times), in their eagerness to avoid biotech and the mainstream media's "if it bleeds, it leads" coverage of the outlandish accusations and speculations of anti-biotech activists, these companies have exposed themselves to richly deserved legal jeopardy.
Every year, scores of packaged food products are recalled from the US market because of the presence of (all-natural) contaminants like insect parts, toxic molds, bacteria and viruses. Because farming takes place out of doors and in dirt, such contamination is a fact of life. Over the centuries, the main culprits in mass food poisoning have often been mycotoxins, such as ergotamine from ergot (Claviceps purpurea) or fumonisin from Fusarium spp., resulting from the fungal contamination of unprocessed crops. This process is exacerbated when insects attack food crops, opening wounds in the plant cuticle and epidermis that provide an opportunity for pathogen invasion. Once the molds get a foothold, poor storage conditions also promote their post-harvest growth on grain.
Fumonisin and some other mycotoxins are highly toxic, causing fatal diseases in livestock that eat infected corn and esophageal cancer in humans. Fumonisin also interferes with the cellular uptake of folic acid, a vitamin that is known to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in developing fetuses. Because fumonisin prevents the folic acid from being absorbed by cells, the toxin can, in effect, induce functional folic acid deficiency—and thereby cause neural tube defects such as spina bifida—even when the diet contains what otherwise would be sufficient amounts of folic acid.
Regulatory agencies, such as the US Food and Drug Administration and UK Food Safety Agency are acutely aware of the danger of mycotoxins. They have established recommended maximum fumonisin levels in food and feed products made from corn. Although highly processed cornstarch and corn oil are unlikely to be contaminated with fumonisin, unprocessed corn or lightly processed corn (e.g., corn meal) can have fumonisin levels that exceed recommended levels. In 2003, the UK Food Safety Agency tested six organic corn meal products and 20 conventional corn meal products for fumonisin contamination. All six organic corn meals had elevated levels—from nine to forty times greater than the recommended levels for human health—and they were voluntarily withdrawn from grocery stores.
A role for biotech
The conventional way to combat mycotoxins is simply to test unprocessed and processed grains and discard those found to be contaminated—an approach that is both wasteful and dubious. But modern technology--specifically, products derived from recombinant DNA technology (also known as food biotech, gene-splicing or genetic modification)--offers a way to prevent the problem. Contrary to the claims of biotech critics, who single out such crops as posing the risk of new allergens, toxins or other nasty substances if introduced into the food supply (none of which has been proven actually to have occurred), such products would offer the food industry a proven and practical means of tackling the fungal contamination at its source.
An excellent example is corn crafted by splicing into commercial corn varieties a gene (or genes) encoding natural toxins from the bacterium B. thuringiensis. The Bt gene expresses a protein that is toxic to corn-boring insects but is harmless to birds, fish and mammals, including humans. As the Bt corn fends off insect pests, it also reduces the levels of the mold Fusarium, thereby reducing the levels of fumonisin. Thus, switching to the gene-spliced, insect-resistant corn for food processing would lower the levels of fumonisin—as well as the concentration of insect parts—likely to be found in the final product. Indeed, researchers at Iowa State University in Ames and the US Department of Agriculture found that in Bt corn the level of fumonisin is reduced by as much as 80% compared to conventional corn[ http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v24/n9/full/nbt0906-1075.html#B1 ]1, [ http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v24/n9/full/nbt0906-1075.html#B2 ]2.
Thus, on the basis of both theory and empirical knowledge, there should be potent incentives--legal, commercial and ethical—to use such gene-spliced grains more widely. One would expect public and private sector advocates of public health to demand that such improved varieties be cultivated and used for food—not unlike requirements for drinking water to be chlorinated and fluoridated. Food producers who wish to offer the safest and best products to their customers—to say nothing of being offered the opportunity to advertise 'new and improved!'—should be competing to get gene-spliced products into the marketplace.
Alas, none of this has come to pass. Activists have mounted vocal and intractable opposition to food biotech, in spite of demonstrated, significant benefits, including reduced use of chemical pesticides, less runoff of chemicals into waterways, greater use of farming practices that prevent soil erosion, higher profits for farmers and less fungal contamination. Inexplicably, government oversight has also been an obstacle, by subjecting the testing and commercialization of gene-spliced crops to unscientific and draconian regulations that have vastly increased testing and development costs and limited the use and diffusion of food biotech.
The result is jeopardy for everyone involved in food production and consumption: consumers are subjected to avoidable, and often undetected, health risks, and food producers have placed themselves in legal jeopardy. The first point is obvious, the latter less so, but it makes a fascinating story: agricultural processors and food companies may face at least two kinds of civil liability for their refusal to purchase and use fungus-resistant, gene-spliced plant varieties, as well as other superior products.
(Baby) food for thought
In 1999, the Gerber foods company succumbed to activists' pressure, announcing that its baby food products would no longer contain any gene-spliced ingredients. Indeed, Gerber went farther and promised it would attempt to shift to organic ingredients that are grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Because corn starch and corn sweeteners are often used in a range of foods, this meant wholesale changes to Gerber's entire product line.
As noted above, not only is gene-spliced corn likely to have lower levels of fumonisin than conventional varieties, but organic is likely to have the highest levels because it suffers greater insect predation due to less effective pest controls. If a mother some day discovers that her 'Gerber baby' has developed liver or esophageal cancer, or a neural tube defect such as spina bifida, she might have a valid legal claim against Gerber[ http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v24/n9/full/nbt0906-1075.html#B3 ]3. On the child's behalf, a plaintiff's lawyer can allege strict products liability based on mycotoxin contamination in the baby food as the causal agent of the cancer or neural tube defects. The contamination would be considered a manufacturing defect under products liability law because the baby food did not meet its intended product specifications or level of safety. Gerber could be found liable "even though all possible care was exercised in the preparation and marketing of the product," simply because the contamination occurred.
The plaintiff's lawyer could also allege a design defect in the baby food, because Gerber knew of the existence of a less risky design--namely, the use of gene-spliced varieties that are less prone to Fusarium and fumonisin contamination--but deliberately chose not to use it. Instead, Gerber chose to use non-gene-spliced, organic food ingredients, knowing that the foreseeable risks of harm posed by them could have been reduced or avoided by adopting a reasonable alternative design--that is, by using gene-spliced Bt corn, which is known to have a lower risk of mycotoxin contamination.
Gerber might answer this design defect claim by contending that it was only responding to consumer demand, but that alone would not be dispositive. Products liability law subjects defenses in design defect cases to a risk-utility balancing in which consumer expectations are only one of several factors used to determine whether the product design (e.g., the use of only non-gene-spliced ingredients) is reasonably safe. A jury might conclude that whatever consumer demand there may be for nonbiotech ingredients does not outweigh Gerber's failure to use a technology that is known to lower the health risks to consumers.
Even if Gerber were able to defend itself from the design defect claim, the company might still be liable because it failed to provide adequate instructions or warnings about the potential risks of non-gene-spliced ingredients. For example, Gerber could have labeled its non-gene-spliced baby food with a statement such as: "This product does not contain gene-spliced ingredients. Consequently, this product has a very slight additional risk of mycotoxin contamination. Mycotoxins can cause serious diseases, such as liver and esophageal cancer and birth defects."
Whatever the risk of toxic or carcinogenic fumonisin levels in nonbiotech corn may be (probably low in industrialized countries, where food producers generally are cautious about such contamination), a more likely scenario is potential legal liability when a food product causes an allergic reaction[ http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v24/n9/full/nbt0906-1075.html#B4 ]4.
Between 6% and 8% of children and between 1% and 2% of adults are allergic to one or another food ingredient, and an estimated 150 US citizens die each year from exposure to food allergens[ http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v24/n9/full/nbt0906-1075.html#B5 ]5. Allergies to proteins from peanuts, soybeans and wheat, for example, are quite common and can be severe. Although only about 1% of the population is allergic to peanuts, some individuals are so highly sensitive that exposure causes anaphylactic shock, killing dozens of people every year in North America[ http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v24/n9/full/nbt0906-1075.html#B6 ]6.
Protecting those with true food allergies is a daunting task. Farmers, food shippers and processors, wholesalers and retailers, and even restaurants must maintain meticulous records and labels and ensure against cross-contamination. Still, in a country where about a billion meals are eaten every day, missteps are inevitable. Dozens of processed food items must be recalled every year due to accidental contamination or inaccurate labeling.
Fortunately, biotech researchers are well along in the development of crops in which the genes encoding allergenic proteins have been silenced or removed. According to University of California, Berkeley, biochemist Bob Buchanan, hypoallergenic varieties of wheat could be ready for commercialization within a decade, and nuts soon thereafter (R. Buchanan, personal communication; ref. [ http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v24/n9/full/nbt0906-1075.html#B7 ]7). Once these products are commercially available, agricultural processors and food companies that refuse to use these safer food sources will open themselves to products-liability, design-defect lawsuits[ http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v24/n9/full/nbt0906-1075.html#B4 ]4.
Property damages and personal injury
Potato farming is a growth industry, primarily due to the vast consumption of french fries at fast-food restaurants. However, growing potatoes is not easy because they are preyed upon by a wide range of voracious and difficult-to-control pests, such as the Colorado potato beetle, virus-spreading aphids, nematodes, potato blight and others.
To combat these pests and diseases, potato growers use an assortment of fungicides (to control blight), insecticides (to kill aphids and the Colorado potato beetle) and fumigants (to control soil nematodes). Although some of these chemicals are quite hazardous to farm workers, forgoing them could jeopardize the sustainability and profitability of the entire potato industry. Standard application of synthetic pesticides enhances yields more than 50% over organic potato production, which prohibits most synthetic inputs.
Consider a specific example. Many growers use methamidophos, a toxic organophosphate nerve poison, for aphid control. Although methamidophos is a US Environmental Protection Agency–approved pesticide, the agency is currently reevaluating the use of organophosphates and could ultimately prohibit or greatly restrict the use of this entire class of pesticides. As an alternative to these chemicals, Monsanto (St. Louis) developed a potato dubbed NewLeaf that contains a Bt gene to control the Colorado potato beetle. The ORF-1 (open reading frame 1) and ORF-2 regions from potato leafroll luteovirus (PLRV) were later added to confer resistance to PLRV infection spread by the aphids. The resulting NewLeaf-Plus potato, which received US regulatory approval for food/feed use and environmental release in 1998, is resistant to these two scourges of potato plants and allows growers who adopt it to reduce their use of chemical controls and increase yields.
Farmers who planted NewLeaf and NewLeaf-Plus became convinced that they were the most environmentally sound and economically efficient way to grow potatoes, but after five years of excellent results they encountered an unexpected snag. Under pressure from anti-biotech organizations, McDonald's, Burger King (Miami) and other restaurant chains informed their potato suppliers that they would no longer accept gene-spliced potato varieties for their french fries. As a result, potato processors such as J.R. Simplot (Boise, ID, USA) inserted a nonbiotech potato clause into their farmer-processor contracts and informed farmers that they would no longer buy gene-spliced potatoes. In spite of its substantial environmental, occupational and economic benefits, NewLeaf became a sort of contractual poison pill and is no longer grown commercially.
Now, assume that a farmer who is required by contractual arrangement to plant nonbiotech potatoes sprays his potato crop with methamidophos (the organophosphate nerve poison) and that the pesticide drifts into a nearby stream and onto nearby farm laborers. As a result, thousands of fish die in the stream and the laborers report to hospital emergency rooms complaining of neurological symptoms.
This hypothetical scenario is, in fact, not at all far fetched. Fish kills attributed to pesticide runoff from potato fields are commonplace. In the potato-growing region of Prince Edward Island, Canada, for example, a dozen such incidents occurred in one thirteen-month period alone, between July 1999 and August 2000 (ref. [ http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v24/n9/full/nbt0906-1075.html#B8 ]8). According to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (Rome), "normal" use of the pesticides parathion and methamidophos is responsible for some 7,500 pesticide poisoning cases in China each year.
In our hypothetical scenario, the state environmental agency might bring an administrative action for civil damages to recover the cost of the fish kill, and a plaintiff's lawyer could file a class-action suit on behalf of the farm laborers for personal injury damages.
Who's legally responsible? Several possible circumstances could enable the farmer's defense lawyer to shift culpability for the alleged damages to the contracting processor and the fast-food restaurants that are the ultimate purchasers of the potatoes[ http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v24/n9/full/nbt0906-1075.html#B4 ]4. These circumstances include: the farmer's having planted Bt potatoes for the previous several years; his contractual obligation to the potato processor and its fast-food retail buyers to provide only nonbiotech varieties; and his demonstrated preference for planting gene-spliced, Bt potatoes, were it not for the contractual proscription. If these conditions could be proven, the lawyer defending the farmer could name the contracting processor and the fast-food restaurants as cross-defendants, claiming either contribution in tort law or indemnification in contract law for any damages legally imposed upon the farmer client.
The farmer's defense could be that those companies bear the ultimate responsibility for the damages because they compelled the farmer to engage in higher-risk production practices than he would otherwise have chosen. The companies chose to impose cultivation of a non-gene-spliced variety upon the farmer although they knew that to avoid severe yield losses, he would need to use organophosphate pesticides. Thus, the defense could argue that the farmer should have a legal right to pass any damages (arising from contractually imposed production practices) back to the processor and the fast-food chains.
Food giants -- watch out!
Companies that insist upon farmers' using production techniques that involve foreseeable harms to the environment and humans may be held legally accountable for that decision. If agricultural processors and food companies manage to avoid legal liability for their insistence on nonbiotech crops, they will be 'guilty' at least of externalizing their environmental costs onto the farmers, the environment and society at large.
1. Munkvold, G.P. , Hellmich, R.L. & Rice, L.G. Plant Dis. 83, 130–138 (1999).
2. Dowd, P. J. Econ. Entomol. 93, 1669–1679 (2000).
3. Kershen, D.L. Food Drug Law J. 61, 197–236 (2006).
4. Kershen, D.L. Oklahoma Law Rev. 53, 631–652 (2000).
5. Sicherer, S. , Munoz-Furlong, A. , Wesley Burks, A. & Sampson, H. J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. 103, 559–562 (1999).
6. Bock, S.A. , Munoz-Furlong, A. & Sampson, H.A. J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. 107, 191–193 (2001).
7. Weise, E. Biotechnology appears to be withering as a food source. USA Today February 2 (2005), P. 8D.
8. Nickerson, C. Potatoes, pesticides divide island. The Boston Globe August 30, (2000), p.A1
1. Henry I. Miller is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-6010, USA.
2 Gregory Conko is at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, 1001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA. Barron's has named their book, The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution, one of the 25 Best Books of 2004.
3 Drew L. Kershen is at the University of Oklahoma College of Law, Norman, Oklahoma 73019-5081, USA.
Plant Nutrition meets Plant Breeding
- University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany 26. - 28. September 2006 http://www.uni-hohenheim.de/DGP-FSP2006/EN/index.html
First Joint Conference of The German Society for Plant Nutrition - DGP (Annual Meeting) and The Research Centre Biotechnology & Plant Breeding Uni Hohenheim - FSP (21st Colloquium)
sponsored by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) [German Research Society] and MLR (Ministerium für Ernährung und Ländlicher Raum Baden-Württemberg) [Ministry of Nutrition and Rural Affairs of Baden-Württemberg]
Aims and Scope of the Meeting
The major objective of this meeting is to highlight and strengthen interdisciplinary research in the field of plant nutrition and plant breeding. Special emphasis will be placed on methodologies and achievements in which plant nutritional traits like mineral nutrient accumulation, nutrient efficiency or plant quality factors are investigated by genomic, genetic or breeding approaches.
Recent examples and developments from interdisciplinary projects will be presented by international and national speakers. Further contributions in the form of short oral and poster presentations will be selected from submitted abstracts. The top 5 posters will be awarded.
The following topics will be covered:
* genotypic differences in plant nutritional traits * genomic, genetic and breeding approaches to uncover genes or describe loci involved in abiotic stress tolerance and nutrient efficiency * approaches to develop and employ molecular markers related to nutritional traits
* biotechnological and transgenic approaches aiming to improve plant tolerance to stresses related to mineral elements * nutritional and breeding approaches to improve plant quality
International Conference on Recent Scientific Developments in Agricultural Biotechnology: Sharing Experience and Knowledge
- New Delhi, India September 29-30, 2006; International Life Sciences Institute
The conference will review the latest developments in agriculture biotechnology, with a view to assess how traditional breeding methods can be supplemented by the modern technological tools in breaking yield barriers in different crops, as well as in improving quality and nutritional value of foods with the objective of achieving food security for India.
Ms Rekha Sinha, Executive Director, ILSI-India, Y 40 B, First Floor. Hauz Khas. New Delhi 110016, India, Tel/Fax: +91 11 26523477 or +91 11 26968752, Email: email@example.com