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September 19, 2006


When Spinach Is Bad For You; 21 reasons not to waste your money on organic; GM Flowers in Europe?


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: September 19, 2006

* When Spinach Is Bad For You
* Organic Company Disputes Tainted Spinach Claim
* Utah family joins suit against spinach producer
* Restaurant sues over lost spinach
* 21 reasons not to waste your money on organic
* Question and some answers on spinach
* Thailand sees GM as key to rising threat from Chinese agriculture
* Partnership forged to spur Africa's green revolution
* EU experts to debate approving GMO carnation import


When Spinach Is Bad For You


Environmentalism: Organic spinach appears to be the culprit behind a 20-state outbreak of deadly E. coli poisoning, casting further doubt on greens' claims that "organic is safer."

About 15 years ago, environmentalists set off a scare over the pesticide Alar used on apples. They brainwashed the public into thinking they could die from trace amounts of such chemicals, and the organic movement was born.

Organic growers, including the spinach farm suspected in the E. coli outbreak, use fertilizer made from manure rather than synthetic chemicals. Dangerous bacteria such as E. coli can be found in animal waste. And composting — unlike those "evil" pesticides — doesn't always kill the bacteria.

California-based Natural Selection Foods, the country's largest grower of organic produce, has recalled its packaged spinach throughout the U.S. Its best-known brand, Earthbound Farm, grows the organic spinach found in packaged salad fixings that have become a mainstay of restaurants and supermarkets.

Earthbound's Web site argues that organic farming is safer and healthier than conventional methods using synthetic fertilizers and "highly toxic" pesticides.

"When you choose organic," it says, "you're not only protecting your family's health, you're helping to protect the environment."

Its "earth-friendly alternatives" to chemicals include recycled plants and "sometimes animal waste materials."

You learn elsewhere on the Web site that these materials include chicken manure and "pelletized bat and bird guano," raising questions about the risk of not just E. coli, but also avian flu.

"This ingredient list may sound unappealing," Earthbound concedes, "but utilizing these waste products enables us to grow healthy plants without the use of petroleum-based fertilizers" that could harm the earth.

The more than 100 people battling E. coli poisoning from organic spinach — half of whom have been hospitalized — probably don't care about "earth friendly" alternatives right now. The outbreak has already killed an elderly woman and an infant.

Earthbound maintains that "organic is the healthiest choice for kids." A Dr. Alan Greene is quoted on its Web site saying, "I advocate feeding kids organic foods whenever possible . . . to reduce children's pesticide exposure."

EPA studies show no health damage from trace consumption of pesticides in produce, but we all know E. coli is a killer. And this outbreak is no isolated case. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fruit and vegetables are responsible for more large-scale outbreaks of food-borne illnesses than meat, poultry and eggs.

Produce accounts for 6% of the outbreaks, up sharply from previous years. Organically grown lettuce, sprouts, green onions, tomatoes and melons (bacteria thrive on melon rinds) appear to be especially troublesome.

And as more school cafeterias go organic, more kids are getting sick. A 2002 federal report revealed that the number of school-lunch outbreaks caused by E. coli and salmonella doubled between 1990 and 2000.

The number of outbreaks will only get worse as stores stock more of the potentially dangerous organic produce, which happens to cost more than conventional produce. Organic farming is big business. The Agriculture Department says certified organic acreage has more than doubled over the past decade.

Thanks to the green lobby, consumers have been talked into thinking more expensive organic is safer and healthier. What a load of manure.


Organic Company Disputes Tainted Spinach Claim

- National Public Radio, by John McChesney, September 18, 2006

The California produce company that's been linked to a widening nationwide E. coli outbreak is at odds with the Food and Drug Administration over what's causing the illness.

Natural Selection Foods said Monday that its organic spinach has been cleared as the source of outbreak. But government health inspectors disputed the company's claim and said nothing has been ruled out.

Photo caption: Organic farms use manure instead of chemical fertilizer and some are questioning if that practices increases the risk of E. coli infections.

Listen to full report at:



Utah family joins suit against spinach producer

- Deseret Morning News, By Geoffrey Fattah, September 19, 2006

A Murray mother and her young son have joined what is expected to be a growing number of people who are suing a California spinach producer blamed for a national E. coli outbreak that has caused spinach products to vanish from store shelves.

Richard Green, Associated PressMedia trucks surround spinach fields at the Natural Selection Foods LLC plant on Monday in California's Salinas Valley. According to a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court against Natural Selection Foods LLC, Sheila Leafty claims she bought packages of spinach on several occasions last month. During that time, she fed her son, Brayden, spinach salads between Aug. 22 and Aug. 27. Leafty claims her son began suffering bouts of diarrhea on Aug. 29, and eventually he was hospitalized.

Brayden's illness is just one of an estimated 15 E. coli cases reported in Utah since the spinach-related outbreak was discovered. The FDA continues to recommend that consumers not eat any fresh, uncooked spinach.

Dr. David Acheson of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition said the number of people who have fallen ill from E. coli nationwide is 114, reflecting several new cases reported Monday. In addition to the 15 Utah cases, Wisconsin reported 32 cases and the one death attributed to the bacteria, Ohio 10, Indiana 8 and New York 7. Seventeen other states reported from one to six cases.

Federal officials on Monday began to test farms in California in the search for the source of the E. coli outbreak. While investigators have already conducted tests at the first processing company implicated in the outbreak, the source of the bacteria may be on farms in the Salinas Valley region of California, officials of the FDA said in a press conference Monday evening.

On Sunday, the FDA said that a second company in California has been implicated in the E. coli outbreak. The newly identified company, River Ranch Fresh Foods, obtained salad that included spinach from the first company implicated, Natural Selection Foods of San Juan Bautista, Calif. The spinach that passed through River Ranch was sold under the brand names Farmers Market, Hy-Vee, and Fresh and Easy.

The investigation is proceeding in what amounts to a rearview mirror, with state and local health officials receiving reports of illness, asking people what they ate and searching for the source. To identify the new company, officials examined Natural Selection's records and found it had supplied River Ranch.

Federal health officials told California farmers to improve produce safety in a pointed warning letter last November, nearly a year before the multi-state E. coli outbreak linked to spinach. In fact, the current food-poisoning episode is the 20th since 1995 linked to spinach or lettuce, FDA officials said.

While state and federal officials have traced the current outbreak to a California company's fresh spinach, they haven't pinpointed the sources of the bacteria. The regulatory agency does not consider the contamination deliberate.

"There is always a question in the back of our mind whether it may have been a deliberate attack on the food supply. Currently, there is nothing in the epidemiology to consider this deliberate," Acheson said.

That leaves a broad range of other possible sources, including contaminated irrigation water that's been a problem in California's Salinas Valley. About 74 percent of the fresh-market spinach grown in the United States comes from California, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Nineteen other food-poisoning outbreaks since 1995 have been linked to lettuce and spinach, according to the FDA. At least eight were traced to produce grown in the Salinas Valley. The outbreaks involved more than 400 cases of sickness and two deaths.

In 2004 and again in 2005, the FDA's top food safety official warned California farmers they needed to do more to increase the safety of the fresh leafy greens they grow. "In light of continuing outbreaks, it is clear that more needs to be done," the FDA's Robert Brackett wrote in a Nov. 4, 2005, letter.

Suggested actions included discarding any produce that comes into contact with floodwaters. Rivers and creeks in the Salinas watershed are known to be periodically contaminated with E. coli, Brackett said.

Various produce growers' associations worked with the FDA to publish new guidelines for the safe handling of spinach and other leafy greens in April after the agency reiterated its concerns.

The spokesman for a group representing 3,000 growers and shippers in California and Arizona said the new guidelines were not directly in response to any particular incident.

"The basic standard for the industry is zero tolerance," said Tim Chelling, of Western Growers.

But one food safety analyst said the Salinas Valley was developing a reputation for food safety problems connected to leafy greens.

"Even the biggest companies have become vulnerable," said Trevor Suslow, a microbial food safety researcher at the University of California, Davis.

And with the food-safety risk comes increased vulnerability to lawsuits. In the case of Brayden Leafty in Utah, over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications were not effective, and on the evening of Sept. 1, Brayden's stools became "grossly bloody," according to his mother's lawsuit.

The following day, Brayden was rushed to Cottonwood Hospital, where he received intravenous hydration, pain and nausea medication, the lawsuit said. The boy was taken to Primary Children's Hospital when his condition worsened on Sept. 3.

Leafty told the Deseret Morning News that her son is recovering after a week of continual vomiting. She said her son had to be taken back to Primary Children's several times for intravenous re-hydration. "He has just lost so much weight," she said.

But as of Saturday, her son regained his appetite and returned to school Monday morning, she said.

Leafty said the whole ordeal was quite a scare for her family. A leftover bag of spinach was turned over to the county health department last Friday, she said.

"As the grower and producer, Natural Selection Foods should have been consumers' first line of defense against E. coli entering the food supply," said attorney Bill Marler. "Instead, this company allowed contaminated produce to enter the marketplace and caused one of the largest fresh-produce-related outbreaks in recent history."

Natural Selection Foods defended its safety history. "Quality and food safety have been the centerpiece of our business, and we pride ourselves on the high standards we have set and the great care we take in handling of all the product that comes through our facilities," said Charles Sweat, chief operating officer of Natural Selection Foods, in a written statement. "With over 20 years of experience packing fresh produce, we have built a track record that is unmatched by others in the industry."

Natural Selection Foods has yet to respond to the lawsuits filed against it after the spinach recall.

Marler is also representing the parents of two Wisconsin children who were also believed to have been sickened by contaminated spinach. According to the Wisconsin lawsuit, both children came down with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially deadly condition associated with E. coli infections. As of last Sunday, the daughter remained hospitalized.

An Oregon woman has also sued. According to her lawsuit, she ate spinach for lunch several times during the week of Aug. 21. She reports she was hospitalized at Salem Hospital for six days and required at least four blood transfusions and other medical procedures.

In all of the federal lawsuits, the plaintiffs have asked for unspecified damages, including compensation for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, medical expenses, travel expenses, emotional distress and attorney fees.


Restaurant sues over lost spinach

- Sun Times, September 19, 2006, BY ERIC HERMAN Staff

In what could be the first in a bumper crop of class-action lawsuits, a Glenview restaurant sued a California food company over spinach possibly tainted with E. coli.

G&G Restaurant Corp., owner of Hamilton's Restaurant in Glenview, filed the suit in Cook County Circuit Court on Monday. Unlike other actions filed in the latest outbreak, the lawsuit does not allege physical harm but seeks only compensation for money spent on spinach that had to be discarded.

"We want to ensure that this will not happen again. We're a restaurant, and we're well-known for our fresh products," said George Gregousis, who owns Hamilton's.

The suit's defendant is Natural Selection Foods, a San Juan Bautista, Calif.,-based company that sells prepackaged spinach under the Earthbound Farm brand. Federal authorities have identified Natural Selection as a possible source of the E. coli outbreak.

114 cases nationwide

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration advised consumers not to eat bagged fresh spinach. Natural Selection issued a recall for all the spinach it packages that has "Best if Used by Dates" of Aug. 17 through Oct. 1. In addition to its own brand, Natural Selection packs spinach for Dole, Trader Joe's, President's Choice and other brands.

The strain of E. coli linked to the tainted spinach can cause diarrhea, and in some cases kidney failure. In the latest outbreak, 114 cases have been reported nationwide, with one death in Wisconsin.

Gregousis threw out $40 worth of spinach when he heard about the outbreak. His restaurant has stopped serving spinach salad and omelettes, he said. While he acknowledges $40 is not much money, "It's a lot of people that lost $40," he said.

Class-action suits allow numerous plaintiffs with relatively small claims to band together to seek redress.

3 personal injury suits filed

"All we're seeking is the price that you paid for that spinach, which makes this well-suited for a class action," said Gregousis' lawyer, Tom Zimmerman.

Natural Selection executives could not be reached. Last week, Chief Operating Officer Charles Sweat said in a statement, "Quality and food safety have been the centerpiece of our business, and we pride ourselves on the high standards we have set."

A Seattle law firm has filed three personal injury lawsuits on behalf of alleged victims of the outbreak.

21 reasons not to waste your money on organic

- Forwarded by Tony Trewavas (author unknown)

1. No healthier.

Our Food Standards Agency and other equivalent agencies across Europe have concluded there are no health benefits from organic. A balanced conventional diet provides all that is necessary for good health.

2. Vitamin and mineral intake no better.

Specific varieties of apples, pears, carrots etc vary 5-50 fold in vitamin content and minerals. Your vitamin and mineral intake depends enormously on the varieties you buy not on the few % increase occasionally claimed for organic.

3. Consumption is one thing, uptake another.

Experiments in which volunteers ate organic produce failed to detect any increase in vitamin and anti-oxidant levels in the blood stream. The human body has mechanisms to control uptake of many chemicals such as antioxidants or vitamins and to rapidly excrete excess.

4. Life expectancy continues to increase.

Life expectancy in western countries has been increasing linearly since 1840 based on a diet of conventional produce. UK centenarians are now ten times more common than 50 years ago.

5. Expensive organic produce increases health risks.

Five fruit and vegetable portions a day reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease but only 22% of the UK public eat sufficient for protection. Since consumption is strongly related to price, purchase of expensive organic produce will reduce consumption and increase health risks.

6. Organic may contain more carcinogens, nerve toxins and oestrogen mimics.

About a quarter to half a tea spoon of the thousands of natural pesticides in fruit and vegetables are consumed every day and these test toxicologically as carcinogens, teratogens, nerve toxins, oestrogen mimics (hormone disrupters) etc. Present evidence suggests there are more of these in organic food. Daily consumption of synthetic pesticides (with the same toxicology) amount to less than a speck of dust.

7. Organic baby foods worst for synthetic pesticide residues.

Surveys showed that the highest levels of synthetic pesticide residues were found in organic baby foods.

8. Conventional fruit and vegetables reduces cancer risks.

Some 200 separate investigations have indicated that a Western diet high in fruit and vegetables reduces the risks of cancer by half. But all these observations were made with people consuming conventional produce containing traces of synthetic pesticide residues.

9. Farmers have lower overall cancer rates.

Despite high exposure to synthetic pesticides, conventional farmers have much lower rates of overall cancer and asthma than the public.

10. Freshness determines taste.

The public can distinguish fresh from stale produce. But many rigorous taste tests have shown the public is unable to distinguish fresh (and cheaper) conventional produce from the more expensive organic produce.

11. Sweeteners better than sugar.

Sugar in all kinds of food, rots teeth and encourages obesity. Far better to replace sugar with safe sweeteners that do not encourage mouth bacteria or metabolise to fat.

12. Organic farms produce more carbon dioxide.

Compared to integrated and conservation-managed farms using no-till or min-till (no plough), organic farms produce four times more carbon dioxide. 70% of organic food is flown into the UK thus increasing food miles and pollution. Organic farms are increasingly industrial enterprizes.

13. Low organic yields are a threat to world climate change.

Organic yields are 50-80% conventional farms. Going organic world-wide would require ploughing up the remaining tropical rain forests with disastrous acceleration of climate change.

14. Many farms look after wildlife.

Farm biodiversity depends on a mosaic of habitats provided equally and more cheaply by integrated and conservation agriculture farms.

15. More cruel to animals.

Ideological refusal to treat animals with antibiotics that are in distress and diseased and that will cure these conditions is cruel.

16. Nitrate pollution no better.

Detailed measurements have shown organic and conventional farms produce equal amounts of nitrate run-off.

17. Organic soils become mineral deficient.

Produce sold off-farm contains minerals. These have to be replaced or the soil is mined and crop and human nutrition are threatened. Current measurements indicate many organic soils are becoming phosphate deficient. Despite claims of supposed self-sufficiency, organic farms are dependent either on external sources of minerals or purchase of conventional manure.

18. No specific money is spent to remove pesticides.

Sewage is treated to remove all chemicals and bacteria regardless of source. There is no specific sum of money for removal of pesticides and never has been. The Soil Association misleadingly quotes estimates from the last century for building new sewage treatment plants to comply with new EC regulations.

19. Hidden costs to public.

Organic farmers receive much government money to convert to organic farming.

20. Quality integrated and conservation agriculture farms do not require snoops to maintain high standards.

Integrated and conservation managed farmers contend that their excellent farming standards are by choice and predilection. Snoops or inspectors imply a lack of trust in organic farmers to maintain high standards in the absence of inspection.

21. Organic and superstition.

A relationship has been reported between a belief in superstition and those who purchase organic food. The obsession with supposed healthy organic foods is itself unhealthy.

From: Dr. Tom DeGregori [trdegreg@uh.edu]
Subject: Question and some answers
Date: Sept. 18, 2006

I have sent the following to a number of people who know more about it than I do. I would like to post my question and the responses on AgBioView. I asked in my question for permission to use the names of those who responded but unfortunately, all those who responded did not mention either permitting or denying me the right to use their name so I will post them anonymously.

I am still seeking information on the issue, though it would appear that for a variety of reasons, our only real option for the contaminated bagged spinach that we now have, is to discard it. But we ought to be considering the larger question to be prepared for future events. Opponents of food irradiation and pasteurization always argue for improved sanitary procedures. No sensible person would disagree except that improved sanitation alone does not always work.

Tom DeGregori

Question - Is there any known damage to a vegetable or other food product done to it by the more lethal strains of E Coli other than the E Coli itself? The reason that I ask is that we seem to have a choice now that we are being warned by the USDA not to buy bagged spinach. We can either throw away a large quantity of otherwise perfectly good spinach or where it is feasible to do so, irradiate it and make it available for consumers (provided that there is no other damage). As long as the cost of irradiation is less that the producer cost of the bagged spinach, irradiation would be a loss minimizing strategy even if the seller could not add the cost on to the price of the product. And it would deliver a safe product to the consumer.

Reply number one:

I don't think any type of E. coli damages the food itself. Re: irradiation--I'm not sure if it can be used for leafy greens such as spinach or lettuce. The radiation dose necessary to kill the bacteria might be higher than such produce could tolerate without quality degradation. I'm asking around about

My reply

I assumed that the E. coli would do no damage to the vegetable but I wanted to make sure. I had not thought of the possibility that the level of the necessary dose would cause damage to the leafy greens. I do know that it is recommended for sprouts since there is no other way to kill all the micro-organisms that they may contain. I wait for further information.

Reply number two

Please see: Contaminated Spinach: What Would Popeye Do? At: http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.845/news_detail.asp

Also see: Irradiation of leafy vegetables

Attached are a few papers that deal with the efficacy of irradiation to eliminate E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria from leafy salad vegetables, such as endive, iceberg lettuce, Boston lettuce, red leaf lettuce and green leaf lettuce. These also include extensive information on the what happens to the texture and color of the product at relevant doses.

The references are:

Niemira, B.A. 2005. Nalidixic Acid Resistance Increases Sensitivity of Escherichia coli O157:H7 to Ionizing Radiation in Solution and on Green Leaf Lettuce. J. Food Sci 79(2):M121-4

Niemira, B.A., X. Fan and K.J.B. Sokorai. 2004. Irradiation and modified atmosphere packaging of endive influences survival and regrowth of Listeria monocytogenes and product sensory qualities. Radiation Physics and Chemistry. 72(1):41-48

Niemira, B.A. 2003. Radiation Sensitivity and Recoverability of Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella on Four Lettuce Types. J. Food Sci. 68(9):2784-7

Niemira, B.A., X. Fan, K.J.B. Sokorai and C.H. Sommers. 2003. Ionizing radiation sensitivity of Listeria monocytogenes and L. innocua inoculated on endive (Cichorium endiva). J. Food Protection. v. 66. p. 993-998.

Niemira, B.A., C.H. Sommers and X. Fan. 2002 Suspending Lettuce Type Influences Recoverability and Radiation Sensitivity of Escherichia coli O157:H7. J. Food Protection 65(9):1388-1393

Brendan A. Niemira, Ph.D., Lead Scientist Food Safety Intervention Technologies Research Unit USDA-ARS Eastern Regional Research Center 600 E. Mermaid Ln., Wyndmoor, PA 19038 Tel: 215-836-3784, Fax: 215-233-6406 www.tinyurl.com/njtcg

Reply Number three

No the E. coli has no visible effect which is what makes it so insidious.

Yes irradiation could make it safe. I don't know if it would degrade quality but I suspect it might if overdone. I doubt that there is an established protocol for spinach. In the absence of a protocol it would be a research project to figure out how much energy is needed to kill and not hurt quality. Moreover, you would need an FDA approval of your process and parameters. You can't just start irradiating things. It's regulated.

Spinach may well be one of those veggies in which the cells are alive and metabolism is required to keep it from rapid spoilage. Irradiation could kill the spinach as well as the bacteria. But even if it was useful, spinach is cheap and irradiation is relatively expensive. I think the thing to do is throw it out, find the source of the contamination, eliminate it and move on. Likely it is contaminated irrigation water at fault.

Irradiation to make food that is known or suspected to be contaminated safe would violate some deeply ingrained principles of wholesomeness and would probably not be acceptable. I personally do not think that sterilizing a contaminated food makes it wholesome even if it makes it safe. One of the arguments against irradiation has been exactly what you are recommending. That is, covering over bad sanitation rather than working to achieve a clean raw material, a clean plant and a safe and wholesome product.

Interestingly, we do recommend that meat and poultry be cooked because they could contain E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter. This sounds like the same issue I am objecting to but it is not. It is very difficult to produce these products without some finite chance of contamination, even if it is small. Thus proper cooking (of products that are normally cooked), becomes a step in the chain of safety. Spinach on the other hand is normally expected to be pathogen free and can easily be made so. Thus we do not condone irradiation as a cover up for poor practice.

Interestingly, I suspect the problem here is spinach salads which I loathe. If one cooked the spinach it would pose no problem.

Hope this helps

My reply - I do not know what is meant by "some deeply ingrained principles of wholesomeness" unless it refere to a loss of taste or nutrition. Otherwise I agree with the statement.

Reply Number four

Pathogenic E. coli strains can certainly contaminate spinach or other fresh vegetables. Usually this contamination causes no noticeable damage to the plant tissue in part because the infective dose is rather low for humans; some visible spoilage could occur if high doses of these strains of E. coli were present but that does not typically happen. Irradiation would destroy the E. coli and could be a remediation option, although I do not know the regulatory status of spinach that was irradiated after being found to be contaminated with a potent foodborne pathogen.

I am not an irradiation expert certainly. I am not sure if radiation can be provided to green leafy vegetables without causing damage. Before you suggest that option, you probably ought to seek out someone who is an expert.

Reply number five

I am curious why the organic angle to this story is being downplayed/ignored. I can just imagine the headlines if the spinach had been GM. .. My reply - My thoughts exactly. I caught all three network news stories, several different CNN stories from when it first broke, the NY Times and the Houston Chronicle. Not one of them even used the word organic though in one CNN story I could briefly see the word organic as the camera zoomed in on the farm's packing shed. The only source that I found that even used the word organic was the Washington Post which simply used the term as part of the description of the farm without any comment.

I wonder if others in our group have had the same experience as I have? If it were GM, it would become part of the anti-GM litany even though the "contamination" would have little if anything to do with how the plants were bred. Organic has everything to do with how they are grown.

Finally on Sunday, September 17, The New York Times recognized that an organic farm was one possible source but this was part of an article that argues (correctly) that there is "no conclusive link has emerged between the infection and organic farming." True but the evidence does seem to point in that direction and lacking a "conclusive link" has never stopped the Times from touting the virtues of organic food production nor has it ever hindered any critics of GM food. AgBioView gave us two other stories that noted that the identified possible source was an organic agriculture farm.

The ultimate in brainwashed journalists was Miles O'Brien on CNN. He was interviewwing CNN's resident medical expert and an FDA reprensentative. Immediately after a picture was flashed of the processing shed with the term "organic farm" clearly visible, O'Brien asked whether we should play it safe and eat only "organic" produce?

Anyone want to bet that before this story runs its course, there will be an op-ed piece blaming "industrial agriculture" for the food safety problem just as there were op-ed pieces, letters-to-the -editor and a book that blamed avian flu and its spread entirely on industrial chicken raising.

Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
University of Houston
Email trdegreg@uh.edu
Web homepage http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg


Thailand sees GM as key to rising threat from Chinese agriculture

- AP Food Technololgy, By Dominique Patton, September 19, 2006

19/09/2006 - Thailand is likely to start developing genetically modified crops in order to maintain its competitive edge in the global food export business, said an official from a government science body last week.

Thailand,, the world's leading exporter of canned tuna and frozen shrimp, is seeing a rising challenge from China in many of its biggest exports including rice, shrimp and pineapples.

"China is now producing as much shrimp as Thailand, some 280,000 tons," said Professor Sakarindr Bhumiratana from the National Science and Technology Development Agency during the Fi-Asia conference in Bangkok.

And while Thailand's shrimp production is now saturated, China is expanding in this sector by around 25 per cent this year.

Thailand is also falling down the global rankings in rice exports and needs to increase its research into new technologies to improve productivity.

"China is already very advanced in producing GMO plants, number five in the world," said Professor Bhumiratana.

"I don't think we can maintain this non-allowance of GM field trials for much longer because it will limit our development of seeds and more productive crops," he told delegates.

Thailand also exports significant quantities of prepared chicken, and promotes itself as the ‘Kitchen to the world'. But while the higher value processing sector accounts for and increasing share of its food and agriculture exports, almost 43 per cent of the population still rely on this sector for their livelihoods so agriculture needs to become more profitable.

"We want to increase R&D to 3 per cent of GDP but this will need lots of support from policy makers," explained Professor Bhumiratana.

"With more research spending we could develop diversified products from rice. We also want to make designer starch from cassava using knowledge from the wheat and potato starch industries. We could use modified starch from cassava in future food products."

Thailand also needs to tap into growing world demand for organic food.

Dr Joceyln Naewbanij, director of information services at the National Food Institute, said however that rice exports are forecast to rise again in 2007 based on lower output from other countries affected by natural disaster.

"In 2006, growth in rice export value will be negative but we forecast it will rise by 7.5 per cent in 2007 due to our assumption of natural calamities round the world," she said.

And other food exports are also growing. Thailand's total food exports are forecast by the NIF to reach BT550 billion this year, up by around 5.8 per cent on last year. Economic recovery in some of its key export markets like Japan and the EU as well as an increase in new land for agricultural production are among the factors driving this growth.


Partnership forged to spur Africa's green revolution

The partnership will target farm productivity in Africa Kimani Chege and Wagdy Sawahel

- SciDev.Net, 15 September 2006

A partnership between two key donor agencies aims to spark an African 'green revolution' by addressing farm productivity and training the next generation of agricultural scientists.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa will address the key issues of soil fertility, irrigation, farm management practices and financing as well as access to markets and new seeds.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation will initially invest US$150 million in a programme to improve seed varieties in areas with harsh environmental conditions, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Program for Africa's Seed Systems (PASS), based in Nairobi, Kenya, will invest in national programmes that use local crop breeding techniques to develop seeds that are more resistant to pests, diseases, local rainfall patterns and soil properties.

PASS will also invest in graduate-level education in Africa to train the next generation of crop breeders and agricultural scientists, and in improving rural transport infrastructure to help farmers get hold of better seeds.

Masa Iwanaga, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), stressed the importance of infrastructure, saying it will take more than investing in agriculture to spark an African 'green revolution'.

"Sub-Saharan Africa does not have the physical infrastructure or institutional capacity that made the green revolution possible elsewhere," he told SciDev.Net.

"Yes, agriculture can lead economic growth in those countries, but attention must be paid to natural resource management, improved infrastructure, favourable policies, and access to markets and off-farm income," says Iwanaga.

In a press release, Bill Gates — co-chair of the Gates Foundation — envisioned African entrepreneurs starting seed companies to supply small farmers. The foundation also wants agro-dealers to reach more small farmers with improved farm inputs and farm management practices.

http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=scienceNews& storyID=2006-09-15T154422Z_01_L15513209_RTRUKOC_0_US-EU-GMO-CARNATION.xml

EU experts to debate approving GMO carnation import

- REUTERS, Sep 15, 2006

Brussels - EU biotech experts will debate next week whether to allow imports of carnations whose color has been genetically modified, possibly the first new approval of a GMO plant in eight years, officials said on Friday.

If approval is granted, the carnations would be permitted to enter EU-25 markets as cut flowers for distribution and sale to the general public. They would not be allowed to be grown.

The application for EU approval was filed to the European Commission by Florigene, one of Australia's first biotechnology companies and part of the privately owned Suntory group.

Marketed as Florigene Moonlite, the flowers are modified to produce blue pigment and also carry a herbicide-resistant gene.

Experts representing the EU's 25 national governments will discuss and possibly vote on Florigene's application, submitted via the Netherlands, on Monday.

The same day, EU agriculture ministers will discuss another GMO application for imports of modified rapeseed products marketed by German drugs and chemicals group Bayer. The application is for use in animal feed, not for cultivation.

Ironically, carnations were the EU's last two GMO plant authorizations before the bloc began its six-year moratorium on new biotech approvals. The carnation types were modified to alter flower color and "improve vase life".

Since then, even after the EU's unofficial moratorium ended in early 2004 because of a default legal rubberstamp from the executive Commission, the bloc's member states have consistently clashed on new GMO authorizations and failed to reach consensus.

Both GMO carnations were submitted by Florigene and received EU import approval in October 1998.

According to its website, Florigene developed the world's first mauve-colored carnation in 1996 and devotes much research on developing flowers that lack the blue color, specifically roses, carnations and chrysanthemums.