Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: September 14, 2006
* Organic Cheats
* Ghana: US long-grain rice is safe
* Gates, Rockefeller Charities Join to Fight African Hunger
* USDA moves to deregulate controversial Bayer rice
* GM banana plants resist disease
* Europe close to allowing GM canola event
* Modified foods to die for
- BBC Radio 4, September 9, 2006
With organic food sales booming, how tempting is it to be an organic cheat?
'Farming Today This Week' brings together key figures in the organic movement to answer this question.
Listen to this radio program at:
It can be heard only until September 16th, so if you want to listen you need to hurry.
Ghana: US long-grain rice is safe
- ACCRA MAIL, By Kofi Agyepong, September 11, 2006
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that long-grain rice from the USA is good and poses no health hazards to consumers.
According to the department, it has found traces of genetically engineered rice (LLRICE601) that the US Food and Drug Administrative (FDA) has declared to be completely safe for human consumption.
In a statement, the USDA noted that it has in conjunction with the FDA reviewed the scientific data and concluded there are no health, food safety or environmental concerns associated with the US rice.
On the 8th of August this year, US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced that US commercial supplies of long-grain rice had become inadvertently contaminated with a genetically engineered variety not approved for human consumption, but USDA and FDA has countered: "It has been repeatedly and thoroughly scientifically reviewed and is used safely in food and feed, cultivated, import and breeding in the United States, as well as dozens of countries around the world".
The statement noted that the LLRICE601 strain was found in commercial rice only in trace amounts.
"Furthermore, evaluation by FDA and USDA of the two other Bayer products found no health or safety concerns for them at the 100 percent level", it said.
According to the statement, Bayer CropScience has developed many genetically engineered (GE), herbicides-tolerant products with the protein called Liberty Link, including varieties of corn, soybeans, canola and cotton.
It also noted that USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service also conducted a risk assessment, which indicates LLRICE 601 is safe in the environment.
The statement said, because the line of GE rice in question was regulated, APHIS is conducting an investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding the release that the rice is contaminated and whether any violation of USDA regulations occurred.
In the Statement, the USDA and the FDA assured Ghanaians that the U.S rice industry is committed to continuing to supply Ghanaian consumers with the safest, healthiest, highest quality products to which "they and our consumers are accustomed".
"We appreciate Ghanaians confidence in the US government's work to assure the safety of the US food production system, and the US rice industry's continuing efforts to ensure the products we deliver to you are healthy, safe and nutritious".
Gates, Rockefeller Charities Join to Fight African Hunger
- Washington Post, By Karen DeYoung, September 13, 2006
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's richest charity, joined with the Rockefeller Foundation yesterday to launch a new development initiative for sub-Saharan Africa that they said would revolutionize food production and reduce hunger and poverty for tens of millions of people.
Modeled on the Rockefeller-pioneered "green revolution" that transformed farming methods and staved off widespread famine in much of the developing world nearly a half-century ago, the initiative coincides with a new round of Western concern about the long-intractable problems of the poorest continent.
Home to 16 of the 18 most undernourished countries, Africa is the only part of the world where food production has decreased in recent years. At the same time, political upheaval and conflict there are seen as providing fertile ground for extremists. Widespread famine in Africa has spurred high-profile relief efforts over the years, from United Nations programs to celebrity fundraising concerts such as Live Aid in the 1980s and Live 8 last year.
Sponsors of the new "Alliance for a Green Revolution" said yesterday they are looking for a more systematic, long-term solution to African hunger.
The alliance is the first Gates venture into poverty and development after years of focusing largely on global health and education. The effort follows a doubling of the foundation's $30 billion endowment, drawn largely from Bill Gates's Microsoft Corp. fortune, with investment guru Warren Buffett donating an additional $31 billion earlier this year. Gates has said he will step down from direct management of Microsoft in 2008 to work full time on foundation activities.
"We've been looking into the causes of extreme poverty and how we might make a contribution to reducing that," Gates said during a conference call with journalists yesterday. "If we can work on health and poverty issues concurrently, there is a lot that can be done to improve the quality of life. . . . Today no country of any size has been able to sustain a transition out of poverty without substantially raising productivity in the agricultural sector. It can have a transformative impact."
Melinda Gates, who serves on the board of The Washington Post Co. along with Buffett, said she and her husband studied development problems over the past three years before deciding to move beyond their health initiatives.
The Africa program will begin with a relatively small Gates contribution of $100 million over five years, plus $50 million from Rockefeller, to fund development of more robust disease- and drought-resistant seeds for primary African foodstuffs, enhanced distribution networks for seed and fertilizer, and university-level training for African crop scientists.
The new partners are still exploring how to make sure their initial steps do not overwhelm the continent's capacity to absorb assistance, Rockefeller President Judith Rodin said. Although future investments are likely to "scale up significantly," she said, "all of us intend to be mindful of really measuring outcomes and learning as we go and then providing the necessary resources."
Nancy Birdsall, president of the Washington-based Center for Global Development, said the mere fact that the world's biggest philanthropist is joining with the preeminent foundation working in agricultural development is "going to make a difference," adding: "It's a real shot in the arm."
Bill Gates agreed that the initial investment pales when compared with his contributions to the development of an AIDS vaccine. But he said that he expects the program to continue for decades.
"The first green revolution took a long time," said Gates program manager Roy Steiner. "It started in the 1940s with investment and made an impact in the 1960s. That takes committed partners that are going to be there for the long term and are willing to focus on what's going to help small-scale farmers" who produce most of Africa's food.
Program planners readily acknowledged that Africa's problems today far outstrip even those confronting Asia in the 1960s, including a lack of roads and irrigation, primary food crops that vary widely from region to region, degraded soil, unstable governments and tenuous security. The Rockefeller Foundation, which started shifting the bulk of its development funding from Asia and Latin America to Africa several years ago, recently shut down its program in Zimbabwe because of political strife there.
Although the Gates/Rockefeller program will be available throughout Africa, Rodin said, the partners are still studying which 10 to 20 countries to select for initial funding.
Following the pattern of its health initiatives, Gates will provide money and results-based expertise, building on existing seed development programs begun by Rockefeller and African agencies, such as a new strain of rice produced in West Africa that promises to increase yields fivefold. A concurrent goal is the expansion of seed and fertilizer distribution networks through small entrepreneurs in rural areas. Both partners hope to prime the pump for participation by both African and donor governments.
The Bush administration has increased U.S. aid to Africa significantly over the past five years, though much of it consists of food shipments and military assistance. This year's G-8 conference of the world's wealthiest nations brought agreement to cancel much of Africa's debt, but pledges to double development aid were acknowledged to be largely symbolic.
USDA moves to deregulate controversial Bayer rice
- GMO Compass, 13 September 2006
The United States Department of Agriculture has initiated the process of deregulation for an unapproved, genetically-modified variety of long-grain rice, known as LL RICE (Liberty Link Rice) 601 and which was found in American supplies destined for the table.
The proposal for deregulation, submitted to the USDA by the manufacturer Bayer CropScience, was published in the Federal Register. The petition is in accordance with APHIS’ regulations for the introduction of GM organisms and products, and the USDA will be open for relevant comments from the public through 10 October.
On 18 August, the USDA announced having found traces of the GM strain in conventional, commercial rice harvests in 2005. Based on USDA research, and agreeing with both a draft environmental assessment from APHIS and data from the US Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture also affirmed the unlikeliness of a danger to human health or to the environment: LL RICE 601 is similar to two other Liberty Link GM varieties from Bayer which were declared safe, and deregulated, in 1999.
Due to bacterium-derived genes which they share, all three strains of rice are capable of withstanding the herbicide Liberty (known also as glufosinate). The USDA claims this similarity, together with information gathered in ‘numerous field trials’ between 1998 and 2001, to be the basis of the decision to apply for the extension of deregulation to all three varieties.
Upon deregulation, Bayer would be permitted to exploit its commercial possibilities, although no intention to do so has been made yet clear. However, rice farmers from six US states, claiming contamination of their crops with LL RICE 601, have initiated suits currently against Bayer in a U.S. District Court in Arkansas.
Still uncertain are also the potential effects of deregulation upon importers of US rice. Since the USDA announcement of local contamination with LL RICE 601, many have instituted import restrictions: Japan, for example, banned US rice completely. The European Union ordered testing of imports, to ensure that this rice remain outside its member states - however, since the contamination of US rice appears to have remained unnoticed for several months, the impossibility of a guarantee was officially admitted by the EU last week.
In Germany, according to the Baden-Wuerttemberg ministry of agriculture, LL RICE 601 has been detected in seven out of forty-six retail supplies tested: this rice, which may be sold neither in the USA nor in the EU, was confirmed by the ministry to have been immediately removed from the shelves.
The ministry also stated that, according to present knowledge, it could be assumed that the incident poses ‘no threat to health’, since only minimal quantities (less than 0.05 percent) of LL RICE 601 were found – a result which agrees with US findings of about 0.06 percent contamination in supplies.
USDA: Fact Sheet Genetically Engineered Rice:
GM banana plants resist disease
- Fresh Info, September 14, 2006
Commonly called roundworms, nematodes and are some of the most destructive pathogens damaging banana and plantain crops world-wide. Chemical nemacides have been banned in most of the world due to their dangerous toxic and carcinogenic nature
Now, Israel’s Rahan Meristem has developed banana plants resistant to nematodes – a development set to save banana growers globally millions of dollars in lost crops.
Improvement of banana strains has been slow due to the banana plant’s natural sterility, but lengthy field testing and genetic modification have now yielded excellent results: plants immune to the parasitic organisms.
"We are very pleased with our accomplishment of creating genetically engineered banana varieties that were proven highly resistant to root nematodes,” Rahan ceo Onn Barzilai said. “Our unique technology will also be used to improve additional crops against nematodes in a sustainable and safe manner."
Rahan Meristem was founded in 1974 by members of Kibbutz Rosh Hanikra, located on Israel’s coastal border with Lebanon. Since the mid-1980s, the company has focused on a small variety of plants, and in vitro propagated banana plants became the leading product. The company employs 110 people, and aside from its main office in northern Israel, maintains agencies in Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia, Serbia and Croatia.
Europe close to allowing GM canola event
- RESOURCE NEWS INTERNATIONAL, By Phil Franz-Warkentin, September 12, 2006
Winnipeg, MB - The European Union's Agricultural Council is set to vote on allowing a certain genetically modified (GM) canola event on September 18, 2006. However, there is still one more trait that must be approved before any sizeable shipments of Canadian canola to Europe will take place, sources added.
JoAnne Buth, of the Canola Council of Canada, said the event going to vote on September 18 was the one contained in Bayer CropScience's InVigour varieties. The event has already passed the EU's safety evaluation and no issues were found with regards to human or environmental safety.
For approval the event now needs to obtain a qualified majority from the Agricultural Council, with the votes being weighted based on the size of each country. While Buth said no GM trait has ever received the qualified majority, she added that a qualified majority negative was also rare. If the canola trait fails to get a qualified majority, one way or the other, the case will go back to the European Commission, she said adding that the EC has always made their decision based on the safety evaluation in the past.
While the easing of EU restrictions on one GM trait was seen as a step in the right direction by Canadian export sources, the fact remains that canola is a bulk commodity and separating canola with the approved traits from the canola that still contains unapproved traits could prove difficult.
"Unless its all approved, we're still no further ahead really," said one commercial export official adding that "I don't think anyone will take a chance on any shipments."
Monsanto's Roundup Ready varieties have already received approval from the EU, and if the InVigour varieties are also approved that would represent 99% of the GM canola events grown in Canada, said Buth.
"We still have one more trait that we need to get an approval for, or some type of acceptance for low levels appearing in the crop," said Buth. She added that the event in question was no longer in commercial production in Canada.
Modified foods to die for
- WIRED NEWS, By Lore Sjöberg, Sep, 13, 2006
Some people are concerned that genetically modified foods may by unhealthy. Others fear that they will destroy the environment. My concern is that they will bore me until I want to die. Come on, increased yields? Pest resistance? Dull, dull, dull. If we're going to be tinkering with the very building blocks of life, I expect to be seriously entertained. Here are my suggestions for modified foods that would make it worth playing God.
What's the worst thing about eating corn? That's right, those interminable rows of fascistically identical kernels. I've seen Indian corn in any number of hokey Thanksgiving centerpieces, so I know we can do better. What if we could genetically arrange different-colored kernels of corn so that when we peel back the husk we're greeted with, say, an image of Catherine Zeta-Jones playing croquet in a lovely summer dress? Or maybe some sort of futuristic space tank? That, my friends, would give new meaning to the word "shuck-worthy."
Judging from the 400 varieties of non-meat meatlike items in your average California supermarket, the one thing vegetarians want most is the great taste of flesh. If we could just go ahead and make a soybean that tastes like top sirloin right off the vine or branch or whatever soybeans grow on, then we could cut out any number of middlepersons. Or, alternatively, couldn't we genetically modify cows just enough so they're technically plant life? Like, get some xylem and phloem in there. Maybe some chlorophyll, just enough so that they taste the same but they move over to the "vegetable" column. That would be a crime against nature that would make everyone happy!
Food with surprises in the middle
The second-most beloved category of foodstuffs in America is "things with something interesting in the middle." (The most-beloved is "things that come with dippin' sauce.") Whether it's cheese in our pizza crusts, "stuf" in our Oreos, or caramel in our pre-packaged ice cream cones, we love to discover that our delicious food contains even more delicious guts. Until now, most fruits and vegetables have had only disappointment at their core, in the form of hard pits, bitter seeds or determined insects. Why can't we grow apples and carrots with something interesting squished into the middle? Why have a regular apple when you can have one that contains creamy nougat? Who would ever even consider eating a regular carrot when you can get one that bleeds picante ranch dressing? And if our scientists work really hard, maybe we can get a toy surprise in there too.
I feel sad -- weepy, really -- when I hear about people who can't even eat a single peanut without keeling over and dying. Some of them can't even eat food that's made on the same machinery as something containing peanuts, and a very unlucky few can't even eat food that contains the letters in the word "peanut" rearranged, like the delicious South American guinea pig-based dish "npeatu." It's simply not fair, and I think we need to correct this injustice. I propose our finest genetic engineers create an incredibly delicious food that will kill you if you eat it, unless you're allergic to peanuts. If you can't eat peanuts, you can shovel this stuff down all day, and you probably will, because it will be so delicious. "Keep your PBJ and your dan-dan noodles," the peanut-sensitive will say. "I'm just going to have some more of this savory, fulfilling, Hommelangooboojib." Or whatever they end up calling it.
Tomatoes that are actually a vegetable
I'm really tired of stupid arguments and boring trivia about whether tomatoes are actually a fruit or a vegetable. They taste like a vegetable, so the obvious choice is to make a plant that grows tomatoes as part of the root system or stalk or something. Alternatively, you could make them sweet, like strawberries. Hey, let's do both. Scientists with odd birthdates, make vegetable tomatoes, scientists with even birthdates, make sweet fruit tomatoes. You can race!
Seriously, these things look really delicious but they taste really gross. Make them taste better, please.