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October 12, 2006


Global GM Doubling Next Decade; Coexistence Petition; Come Out of Your Lab; Parallel Universes; African Banana Plague


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - October 12, 2006

* Doubling of Biotech Crops In Next Decade, says ISAAA
* Coexistence of GM with Non-GM Maize: Your Signature Needed!
* Why Green Biotech Scientists Need to 'Come Out of the Lab'
* Parallel Universes?
* Profile: Michael Fernandez
* Potential Impact and Cost-effectiveness of Golden Rice
* Prospects of Bringing a Green Revolution to Africa
* Plague on African Bananas
* Biotechnology in South Africa
* GM Rice Likely to Make Trade More Complex
* Only Hype Makes Organic Food Healthier
* Human Feces Good for Organic Crops
* Comments on the Korean Workshop on Biosafety and Risk Assessment
* Trends in Research in Ag and Food Sciences - Bombay Meet

Doubling of Biotech Crops In Next Decade, says ISAAA

- Creamer Media's Engineering News Online, Oct 12, 2006 http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/

International Service for the Acquisition of Agri biotech Applications (ISAAA) reports that the next decade is set to see a global doubling in biotech crop availability, as countries become increasingly less sceptical and begin to see the benefits.

ISAAA chair Clive James said that by 2015 it was estimated that the number of countries growing biotech crops would "at least double", from 21 in 2005 to around 40.

The number of biotech farmers around the world were forecast to increase from 8,5-million currently to 20-million, while the global area planted with genetically modified crops will increase from 90-million hectre to 200-million hectre, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

Most growth in biotechnology during the next ten years was expected to occur in key developing countries of Asia, led by China and India, as well as in Pakistan and Vietnam. This would show a marked global expansion from the previous decade's focus on the Americas.

James pointed out that Brazil also had an enormous potential of becoming the leading genetically modified crop producer in Latin America, while the number of biotech countries in Africa was expected to increase "modestly" beyond the current South African monopoly. European Union countries –traditionally more sceptical of the technology –were expected to see a "slow to modest" growth.

"The biggest pollutant in the world today is poverty. The potential we have in the second decade to address this pollutant is huge,” James said.

Biotechnology has improved productivity and income, with yields reporting an increase of 5% to 40%, and total biotech crop production in 2005 reached some $50-billion.

Another impact of genetically modified agriculture has been the protection of biodiversity, said James, since doubling crop production on the same area of land played a significant role in saving forests.

Another environmental impact has been a reduction in the need for 'external inputs', such as pesticides, and the conservation of soil and water, which paved the way to sustainability.

Biotechnology has also contributed to a stability of yield, with promising progress having been made with drought tolerance.

A final impact highlighted by James was the social benefit achieved – the alleviation of poverty - with an improved environment and health and time saving technology leading to more affordable food, feed and fibre.


Coexistence of GM with Non-GM Maize: Your Signature Needed!

- Graham Brookes, PG Economics; graham.brookes.at.btinternet.com

Dear AgBioView reader

As many of you are scientists involved in the research and debate around coexistence of genetically modified and conventional or organic crops, you may be aware of EU Recommendation 2003/556/EC which provides guidelines for the development of national strategies and best practices that, where necessary, can be applied to keep products from non-GM fields below the labeling threshold.

This recommendation specifically states that: "Management measures for coexistence should reflect the best available scientific evidence on the probability and sources of admixture between GM and non-GM crops. They should permit the cultivation of GM and non-GM crops, whilst ensuring that non-GM crops remain below the legal thresholds for labeling and purity standards with respect to genetically modified food and feed and seeds, as defined by Community legislation."

Based on this recommendation, national strategies for coexistence are being developed across Europe. However, some national legislation and proposals do not take into account scientific evidence and do not respect key principles for coexistence such as proportionality, fairness and consistency. This may impede the ability of farmers and downstream users to adopt and utilize GM crops, due to a greatly reduced financial and legal attractiveness.

Against this background, I believe it would be worthwhile if a consensus statement from the scientific community is published to establish what the science really says.

I, in association with a number of scientists in Europe, have therefore drafted a text
summarizing the scientific stand relating to Bt maize (which has successfully coexisted with conventional and organic maize on a commercial scale for 8 years in the EU). The intention is to publish this as a letter signed by scientists so that the statement from the scientific community is in the public domain.

Anyone willing to add their name and organisation to the list of signatories, should e-mail me direct at - graham.brookes@btinternet.com - to indicate their support. If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Web link for document is http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/pdf/Co-existence_maize_10october2006.pdf

With kind regards,

Graham Brookes, PG Economics


Why Green Biotech Scientists Need to 'Come Out of the Lab'

- Cordis, Oct 12, 2006 http://cordis.europa.eu

Biotechnology still has a great deal to offer the agricultural sector, but more needs to be done to help the public understand the benefits of 'green biotechnologies'.

This was the main message from a public hearing on the prospects and challenges for biotechnology in European agriculture, held in the European Parliament on 10 October.

The assembled experts outlined some of the advantages biotechnology offers to the agricultural sector. These range from pest resistant crops and crops with enhanced nutritional values to trees with shorter generation times.

However, the 'green' (agricultural) sector in Europe still suffers from a relatively poor public image. A recent Eurobarometer survey showed that while Europeans' attitude towards technology is generally positive, they remain largely sceptical of the value of genetically modified organisms. Much of this can be explained by the fact that people are only aware of the risks of GMOs, and do not see the benefits they offer.

Most of the speakers noted that more information and education is needed to help the public understand the positive side of biotechnology in the agriculture sector. 'Scientists have a responsibility to come out of the lab,' commented Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness.

David Hill is a farmer from Norfolk in the UK. He has been involved in trials of genetically modified sugar beet, and found he had to spray the GM crop less often, meaning his crop had a lower impact on the environment. He told CORDIS News that when they understand the issues, most people are quickly won over. 'When I explain it to people, most people say, 'what's the problem, why are we arguing about it?',' he said.

Ewen Mullins of the Teagasc Crops Research Centre in Ireland has had a similar experience. 'Consumers can't see the clear benefits of GM crops,' he commented in the hearing. 'But when I explain the benefits they are surprised and encouraged.'

However, while education and information will undoubtedly help the public to form a more informed opinion about GMOs, this will take time. Meanwhile, both consumers and many farmers will continue to demand GMO free products and seeds. Developing co-existence strategies for GM- and non-GM crops is extremely complicated. Some crops can coexist more easily than others, but much of the data on issues such as how far pollen can travel is still disputed.

There are also questions over who should pay for co-existence measures, and who should have the burden of proving that a product is 'GM free'. In addition, stakeholders are calling for attention to be paid to the rest of the processing chain, such as transport and storage.

For more information: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/agri_home_en.htm


Parallel Universes?

- Editorial, Nature Biotechnology - 24, 1178; Oct. 2006. www.nature.com/nbt . Reproduced in AgBioView with the approval of the editor.

An EU Commissioner has a meeting of minds with an antibiotech agitator. The EU's Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas and long-time biotech critic Jeremy Rifkin of the Foundation on Economic Trends share some common sentiments. They both are passionate about the environment. They both purport to embrace new plant breeding technologies. And they're both pathologically averse to GM crops.

Earlier this year, at a meeting entitled 'Freedom of Choice Conference on GMO [genetically modified organism] Co-existence' Dimas declared: "GM products raise a whole new series of possible risks to the environment, notably potential longer-term effects that could impact on biodiversity." At the same conference, he claimed that "terminator technology" is on the market (it is not) and "small farmers are being put out of business by GMOs" (they are not). But he was almost gushing about what he terms "upgraded conventional varieties" created using marker-assisted selection (MAS) technology.

MAS is not rocket science--it is simply the use of genetic markers that segregate with valuable agronomic traits to rapidly identify crossbred seedlings that contain a specific trait of interest. Because you don't have to wait for a seedling to mature until it displays your trait of interest, MAS can cut development times of new commercial crop varieties in half. Coincidentally, in an article published in the Washington Post in July, Rifkin also waxes lyrical about the benefits of MAS, especially as a means of making "gene splicing and transgenic crops obsolete."

Like Rifkin, Dimas sees conventional "crop varieties upgraded through MAS as an alternative to GM crops." At the conference, he was particularly keen to promote upgraded crops as such. However, unlike Rifkin, Dimas seems unaware of a fatal flaw in his whole-hearted espousal of MAS.

Rifkin claims that MAS is of value when it is used as part of a broader, agro-ecological approach to farming, "one that integrates introduction of new crops with a proper regard for all the other environmental, economic and social factors that together determine the sustainability of farming." In other words, Rifkin, the antibiotech gadfly, acknowledges that plants can go bad even when they are not GM.

Commissioner Dimas, on the other hand, in his simple-minded, 'anything-but' approach to GM products, has not understood that a non-GM crop produced via MAS could be just as risky as a GM product; he hasn't grasped that upgraded crops with traits (e.g., herbicide resistance) like those of GM varieties could, by definition, carry the same risks as the GM variety. From an environmental risk assessment perspective, it is the new trait in the plant that is important, not the way in which a gene(s) associated with a trait ended up in the plant.

Unwittingly then, Dimas has disclosed for all to see, the glaring inequity and inadequacy of the current European regulatory framework. Because of its discriminatory and absolute emphasis on anything remotely GM to the exclusion of anything else, European regulation subjects a GM crop containing a trait analogous to that found in a conventional upgraded crop to intense environmental risk scrutiny, but leaves Dimas' upgraded crop with the same trait completely unregulated. The question that the Environment Commissioner should be asking himself is: what if that trait were harmful?


Profile: Michael Fernandez

- Kendall Powell, Nature Biotechnology - 24, 1188; Oct. 2006. www.nature.com/nbt . Reproduced in AgBioView with the approval of the editor.

With a healthy dose of skepticism and a penchant for science policy, Michael Fernandez wades into the contentious issue of agricultural biotech regulation. He talks about how to move a polarized debate forward and the constant challenge of remaining neutral in Washington, DC.

Kara FlynnWhen Michael Fernandez took over as director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology (PIFB) in September 2005, his former boss bequeathed to him a lava lamp for his desk. Oddly enough, the lamp had been the prize for a Halloween costume that parodied Fernandez' image as a dapper science nerd.
Fernandez' colleagues say his ability to not take himself too seriously is justone part of an arsenal of people skills that helps him steer the PIFB, a nonprofit unbiased group, through the sea of special interests in the debate on the proper use and regulation of food biotech products.

It also helps that Fernandez brings to the job a deep knowledge of the regulatory process from a decade of working for Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Not to mention his appreciation of corporate biotech interests, influenced in part by his father who was once chairman of the board at chemical giant Monsanto of St Louis. On a more personal level, Fernandez is an unusual mix of skeptic, family man, sharp dresser and someone so trustworthy, you could have him babysit your newborn.

As dictated by its founder, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the mission of PIFB is to stimulate the discussion on regulation by providing unbiased information for decision makers and holding public forums on the issues. The catch is that PIFB cannot advocate specific policy recommendations and cannot lobby Congress for particular legislative changes. But is such a position tractable in the partisan waters of Washington, DC?
"Pew was taking a bit of a gamble," when it established PIFB in 2001, says Fernandez, who joined the team then as director of science. "Traditionally, if you are trying to influence a policy arena, the most direct way is by being an advocacy organization." Balancing in the middle of a policy debate and convening people is more uncommon.

"Without organizations like this, there would never be a dialog between the business and NGO communities," says Sean Darragh, executive vice president of food & agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) in Washington, DC. Although those two sides may not change each others' minds, he says, the PIFB forums offer an invaluable public vetting of competing views "like a presidential debate."

It has not always been easy, however, to convince stakeholders that emerging technologies and concerns were ready for the public spotlight. That's where Fernandez' reputation as fair, trustworthy and equally skeptical of differing arguments has come in handy. He also takes a "no viewpoint left behind" approach, says Sally McCammon, science advisor at the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Fernandez says getting a broad range of stakeholders around the table has been one of PIFB's key successes. "We've gotten key players from all perspectives to sit down and talk--not always happily or without conflict—and we've made it acceptable to have a different kind of discussion." To do that, Fernandez and PIFB work tirelessly to cultivate relationships with all types of stakeholders, reassuring them of their impartiality. Fernandez has thus earned the respect of almost everyone in the agbiotech arena.

"You can't just hang a shingle out that says, 'Pew Initiative: We're Neutral'," notes, Michael Dykes, vice president of government affairs for Monsanto. "It takes time to maintain neutrality--that credibility is earned." Dykes says that he feels he can call Fernandez to discuss an issue and be heard out fairly--just as any stakeholder could. And he's equally tough on everyone.

"People perceive that he gives everybody the business," says Kathleen Merrigan, professor of public policy at Tufts University in Boston. Merrigan hired Fernandez into his first science policy position in 1991 with the US Senate Agricultural Committee and says that that work trainedFernandez to "look across different rhetoric and framings of an issue and boil it down to its essence."

That fairness helps engage biotech industry, government regulators, organic farmers, consumer advocates and investment bankers in a process that has been by many accounts successful in changing the nature of the biotech debate in the US. Fernandez admits that measuring that success is difficult and qualitative, but possible nonetheless.

In the late 1990s, "if you said anything about the benefits of biotechnology you were an apologist hack and if you said anything negative you were a Luddite," he says. "We do both those things and we are neither of those things." PIFB's presence has changed the way groups are talking, according to Fernandez, pointing out that BIO now promotes having a strong regulatory system to ensure consumer confidence--something unimaginable just eight years ago.

Others note that PIFB has highlighted gaps in the regulatory system for new types of products in the research pipeline, such as pharmaceutical products in plants. "They've helped point out where things might be done better to the government agencies," says Gregory Jaffe, director of biotechnology at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, DC-based nutrition advocacy group. Indeed, Fernandez points to the 2002 conference "Pharming the Field," which helped spur some federal regulatory changes outlining the safety review process and environmental containment rules for drugs produced in crops.

But there is a sense of frustration from NGOs that PIFB, and Pew monies, could be more effective by taking a stance on policy recommendations. "They haven't gone that next step of advocating—it's that extra 20% that really solves a problem," says Jaffe. Ultimately, PIFB cannot force the hand of regulators, critics of biotech or industry leaders.

The legacy of the Pew Initiative will more likely be indirect, but longer lasting. Merrigan holds up the relationship building that PIFB and Fernandez have done as their major contribution. She says, "You don't see it on the front page of the Washington Post, but it's the little moments of trust building that set the stage for those phone calls between sides when they really have to happen. They've planted the seed."


Potential Impact and Cost-effectiveness of Golden Rice

- Alexander J Stein, H.P.S. Sachdev & Matin Qaim Nature Biotechnology - 24, 1200 - 1201, Oct. 2006. www.nature.com/nbt . Reproduced in AgBioView with the approval of the editor. (qaim.at.uni-hohenheim.de)

A News & Views article by Michael Grusak in last year's April issue (Nat. Biotechnol. 23, 429–430, 2005) highlighted the unresolved debate concerning the efficacy of Golden Rice in addressing the problem of vitamin A deficiency (VAD). He pointed out that an assessment of the potential impact of Golden Rice on this type of malnutrition requires the consideration of multiple variables, including the target individuals' life stages, the average amount of rice consumed daily by these individuals and the percentage of -carotene that would be absorbed from rice.

He further explains how early critics of the original Golden Rice technology had used simple estimates of these variables to suggest that unrealistic amounts of the transgenic rice would need to be consumed to satisfy the recommended dietary intakes of vitamin A equivalents (exclusively) through rice consumption. By replacing the daffodil phytoene synthase gene with the equivalent gene from maize, researchers have managed to increase the amount of -carotene that accumulates in rice considerably1. However, a sound impact analysis of this new Golden Rice 2 variety, based on a solid methodological framework, is still outstanding.

Previous impact studies of Golden Rice either focused solely on effects of the rice on individual-carotene intakes without considering the outcome on the health of those suffering from VAD2 or considered health outcomes but used only highly aggregate intake data without taking into account important nutritional features like dietary heterogeneity3. Using a methodology developed for comprehensive ex ante evaluation, we present here a framework that substantially improves on these studies by combining health and nutrition details, as well as socioeconomic and policy factors, thus increasing the reliability of the results. We apply our methodology in an empirical study of Golden Rice 2's impact in India (Supplementary Discussion online).

Adverse health outcomes of VAD include increased mortality, night blindness, corneal scars, blindness and measles among children, as well as night blindness among pregnant and lactating women. We calculated the disease burden associated with VAD-attributable fractions of these outcomes, building on a disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) approach. The combined annual mortality and morbidity burden is expressed in terms of the number of DALYs lost4. The present burden, calculated based on available health statistics, is the situation without Golden Rice 2.

Next, we derived present individual-carotene intakes from nationally representative food consumption data and simulated the expected shift in the intake distribution through future consumption of Golden Rice 2. Higher -carotene intakes will improve the vitamin A status of individuals, thus reducing the incidence of adverse health outcomes. We derived these new incidence rates to recalculate the expected remaining disease burden with Golden Rice 2. The difference in the disease burden with and without Golden Rice 2 is the impact of the technology expressed in terms of the number of DALYs saved. To allow for the uncertainty in ex ante analysis, we used different assumptions and constructed a high and a low impact scenario (Supplementary Discussion online).

According to our calculations, the current annual disease burden of VAD in India amounts to a loss of 2.3 million DALYs, of which 2.0 million are lost due to child mortality alone. In terms of incidence numbers, >70,000 Indian children under the age of six die each year due to VAD. In this context, widespread consumption of Golden Rice 2 with a high -carotene content could reduce the burden of VAD by 59%, whereas under pessimistic assumptions the burden would be reduced by 9% (Table 1). In both scenarios, thousands of lives could be saved. As the severity of VAD is negatively correlated with income, the positive effects of Golden Rice 2 are most pronounced in the lowest income groups.

We also assessed Golden Rice 2's potential cost-effectiveness relative to alternative vitamin A interventions and appropriate benchmarks, with a view to informing policy decisions and international comparisons. Following the low-impact/high-impact scenario approach to determine the research, development and dissemination costs of Golden Rice 2 (Supplementary Discussion online), we find that even under pessimistic assumptions, the cost of saving one DALY is <$20. Compared with a cost of $134–599 of saving one DALY through vitamin A supplementation, which is a commonly practiced intervention, or compared with the World Bank's benchmark of $200, Golden Rice 2 promises to be very cost effective (Table 1). Sensitivity analyses have been carried out to identify critical factors of success and the robustness of the results.

In the future, preliminary results on -carotene bioavailability will have to be verified, the Golden Rice trait needs to be incorporated into agronomically superior local varieties, biosafety and food safety tests have to be carried out and technology dissemination has to be promoted through public marketing campaigns.

Our findings suggest that related investments are worthwhile. These promising results notwithstanding, Golden Rice is no panacea in the fight against malnutrition. Given the magnitude and complexity of the problem, a multiplicity of approaches is needed.

1. Paine J. et al. Nat. Biotechnol. 23, 482–487 (2005).
2. Dawe, D. , Robertson, R. & Unnevehr, L. Food Policy 27, 541–560 (2002).
3. Zimmermann, R. & Qaim, M. Food Policy 29, 147–168 (2004).
4. Stein, A.J. et al. Analyzing the Health Benefits of Biofortified Staple Crops by Means of the Disability-Adjusted Life Years Approach. HarvestPlus Technical Monograph 4 (International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC, USA, 2005). <http://www.harvestplus.org/pubs.html#tech>
5. World Bank. World Development Report 1993 (World Bank, Washington, DC, USA, 1993). http://econ.worldbank.org/wdr
6. World Health Organization. Macroeconomics and Health: Investing in Health for Economic Development (World Health Organization, Geneva, 2001). <http://www.who.int/cmhreport/>
7. World Bank. World Development Indicators Database: India Data Profile (World Bank, Washington, DC, USA, 2006). <http://www.worldbank.org/data/countrydata/countrydata.html>
8. Tan-Torres Edejer, T. et al. Br. Med. J. 331, e1177 (2005).

Acknowledgments: We are grateful to G. Barry, A. Dubock, J. Mayer, S.R. Rao, A.K. Singh and U. Kapil for providing cost figures and expert inputs for essential assumptions. The financial support of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board is gratefully acknowledged.

University of Hohenheim, Department of Agricultural Economics & Social Sciences (490b), 70593 Stuttgart, Germany. astein1.at.uni-hohenheim.de


The Prospects of Bringing a Green Revolution to Africa

- Center for Global Development, Sept. 6, 2006 http://www.cgdev.org/

Starting in the 1950s, Norman Borlaug led an international effort to develop short, fertilizer-responsive grain varieties that became the basis of the Green Revolution, more than doubling harvests and helping to avert famines in much of the developing world, especially Asia. Borlaug has also been a tireless and effective force for better food policies, better aid strategies--and for a Green Revolution in Africa, which failed to reap the benefits of the first Green Revolution. Dr. Borlaug delivered the Keynote address at this event, which was followed by a panel discussion.

The panel discussion focused on several dimensions of the global food economy, including the role of food aid, the agricultural policies of rich countries, and the potential of bio-technology, with a focus on what will work in Africa. The panel members were; Gawain Kripke, Oxfam America; Vijaya Ramachandran, Georgetown Public Policy Institute and Peter Timmer, Center for Global Development.

* Download Dr. Borlaug's presentation slides (pdf, 1MB) * Watch Dr. Borlaug's keynote address at http://www.cgdev.org/content/calendar/detail/9662


A Plague on African Bananas

- -- Andrew Leonard, Salon, Oct 12, 2006. Hyperlinks at http://www.salon.com/tech/htww/2006/10/11/ugandan_bananas/index.html

In August 2001, a previously unknown strain of "banana wilt" began spreading in the Ugandan village of Bulyanti. The effects were disastrous. The outer leaves would begin to yellow and wilt, while secreting bacterial ooze. The banana bunch would prematurely ripen. Eventually the entire plant would die. Unlike other diseases that affect bananas, this one did not discriminate among the 90-plus varieties that grow in the East African highlands. Nearly all have proved vulnerable.

Since then, the banana wilt plague has spread rapidly throughout central Uganda, leaving in its wake considerable dislocation. Per capita consumption of bananas in Uganda is the highest in the world, around one kilogram per person per day. Uganda is the second largest producer of bananas in the world, after India, and nearly all of that production is for domestic use. Some banana strains are used for cooking, others for juice or alcohol (there is banana beer, wine and gin). Banana fibers are used for handcrafts and making rope.
One way to deal with the epidemic could be to create genetically engineered bananas that are resistant to banana wilt. There are a number of potential avenues for such genetic modifications, and scientists have already engineered one variety that is resistant to another deadly banana foe, black sigatoka. But like many other African nations, Uganda currently does not allow the planting or propagation of any genetically modified crops.

On Tuesday, reports SciDev.Net, Opolot Okasai, Uganda's commissioner for crop production and marketing, let loose with some frustration at this state of affairs, complaining that the lack of comprehensive biosafety laws in Uganda was holding back the nation's ability to confront the banana wilt problem. Okasai said that banana wilt could cost Uganda $6 billion to $8 billion in the next five to 10 years.

There are reasons for considering bananas to be good prospects for genetic engineering. Crossbreeding is difficult and slow, and in the current dire situation, time is of the essence. Bananas propagate by cloning themselves via suckers -- so there is little worry about gene flow via pollen contamination, as there is with, for example, genetically modified corn. Furthermore, this is a clear case of dramatic need. This isn't about a Monsanto or Syngenta looking for new markets -- this is about preserving a mainstay of daily Ugandan life. And Uganda has already started down the path of developing the biotechnological resources necessary to start tinkering with the banana genome.

Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, supports the introduction of GM crops to Uganda. But one of the reasons why Uganda has yet to put in place a fully realized set of biotechnology regulations and biosafety rules is precisely because of the pressure exerted by, you guessed it, Monsanto. The giant U.S. biotechnology company has long been pushing for the opportunity to sell its genetically modified cotton and corn strains in Uganda. But Ugandan cotton farmers are worried that the introduction of genetically modified cotton could hurt exports to the European Union, where consumers are virulently anti-GM.

Uganda's GM banana dilemma offers a dramatic illustration of the complexities that emerge when you dig down deep into the highly charged debate over GM crops and Africa. It's not hard to understand why many non-governmental organizations and civil society groups are strongly opposed to the introduction into Africa of genetically modified cash crops that are being pushed by for-profit Western corporations. The green revolution hasn't worked yet for Africa, and there's little assurance that Monsanto really has the best interests of Africans at heart. But do the same objections hold for Ugandan scientists attempting to fight diseases that afflict Ugandan bananas? Is it possible to pick and choose? To be for transgenic bananas but against transgenic cotton? Or does giving in on one front mean conceding the battle everywhere?

Questions like these should obviously be up to Ugandans to answer. But when U.S. government institutions like USAID are working hand in hand with U.S. biotech companies, and European markets open and close depending on whether genes from one organism have been combined with another, it's easy to see why it might be hard figuring out a path forward. Meanwhile, in the East African highlands, bananas are dying.


Uganda 'Needs Biotech Law' to Save Banana Sector

- Peter Wamboga-Mugirya, SciDev.Net Oct 11, 2006

An official in Uganda's agriculture ministry has expressed concern that policymakers are not keeping pace with scientific efforts to control a disease threatening the country's main cash crop.

Opolot Okasai, commissioner for crop production and marketing, told SciDev.Net yesterday (10 October) that banana bacterial wilt could cost Uganda US$6-8 billion in the next 5-10 years. Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organisation and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture are working together to develop a transgenic banana that can resist the disease.

Okasai says the scientists are likely to achieve this in the next few years. But the transgenic bananas will not reach Ugandan farmers until regulations are put in place. "There is no sign that our parliament will enact a law to allow, oversee and protect biotechnology," he says.

The bacterial wilt is highly destructive, wiping out up to 90 per cent of bananas on many of the farms affected by recent outbreaks. It arrived in Uganda in 2001 and spread rapidly to nearly all banana-growing regions. Since then it has also reached the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania.

The disease is currently under control in ten districts in southwestern Uganda, thanks to communities sterilising farm equipment and a ban on the transport of banana planting material between districts, says Okasai.

But according to Okasai: "The most effective way to combat the disease is via genetic engineering. This calls for an expedited legal and policy environment to put into effect the scientific solutions visibly coming up."
Ugandan and Belgian scientists have already genetically modified bananas to resist another serious disease called black sigatoka. They plan to test them in confined trials at facilities being constructed at the Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute.

"We expect results from this research to contribute immensely to the scientific fight against banana bacterial wilt," says Arthur Makara a biosafety desk officer at Uganda National Council for Science and Technology.


Biotechnology in South Africa

- Via checkbiotech.org

This report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA/FAS) examines the use, development, and regulation of agricultural biotechnology in South Africa.

The report finds that genetically modified (GM) crop varieties now make up approximately 92 percent of South Africa's cotton, 29 percent of corn (a.k.a. maize), and 59 percent of soybeans.

GM corn is found in the report to have increased from 16.6 percent of total corn planted in 2005 to 29.4 percent in 2006. Actual hectares planted to GM corn is said to have increased by only 11 percent (to 455,287 hectares) because the total area of corn fell by 45 percent.

GM varieties of white maize, which is a staple food for the majority of South Africans, are found to have spread dramatically between 2005 and 2006 from 8.6 percent to 28.8 percent while GM yellow corn grew from 24 to 30.5 percent.

The report states that South Africa's biotechnology industry is "still embryonic." However, it says South African scientists in both the private and public sectors are researching new varieties of GM corn, melon, millet, lupins, soybeans, strawberries, sugar cane, cotton, apples, tomatoes, sorghum, wheat, potatoes, and grapes.

An appendix to the report lists 57 biotechnology products that have been approved for "general," "commodity," or "trial" release in South Africa. The report states that the country's biotechnology regulatory structure is "in general very progressive."

However, it says "anti-GM lobby groups" have recently been demanding "unscientific" information from the GMO Registrar's office at the National Department of Agriculture, effectively slowing the process for new approvals.

The 22-page report is available online at:


GM Rice Likely to Make Trade More Complex

- Financial Express (India), Oct 12, 2006 http://www.financialexpress.com

New Delhi - The rice market in the near future would be complex due to the proposed commercialisation of genetically-modified (GM) rice, trade experts at the 2nd International Rice Congress (IRC-2006) cautioned. The issue would be linked with food safety and certification.

During the discussions in the session on market intelligence and international trade, experts also said that the challenge would be to assess implication of future rice market and trade on food security, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)'s Asia director, Ashok Gulati said while briefing mediapersons on Wednesday.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)'s director, Prabhu Pingali said, "In future rice will become an inferior commodity in Asia, but its importance will grow in Africa. Per capita rice consumption in most Asian economies is declining due to rising incomes and rapid urbanisation. At the same time, global trade in rice is growing at a faster rate than other major cereals, such as wheat and corn. Global trade in rice increased from 4% to 7% of total production during 1992-2004. Rising production has led to decline in real prices for the crop, which has helped to sustain household food security. Evidence shows countries move away from taxing rice to subsidising it as domestic income levels increase."

Gulati blamed the subsidy regime for the fall in global rice prices. In the session on breeding rice for resistance to biotic stress, experts said through marker-assisted selection useful genes resistance to bacterial blight, blast and gall midge have been pyramided. The newly pyramided rice lines show broad spectrum of resistance to these pests.

The rice varieties and hybrids so developed in the process were, however, not genetically modified ones as no transgene from other crops were involved.

Denying ISAAA report of commercialisation of GM rice in Iran, DS Brar of International Rice Research Institure (IRRI) said, "We have so far received no confirm reports on this issue."

In the session on nutrient use efficiency, experts suggested the site-specific nutrient management (SSNM) approach which would enable farmers to optimally nourish their crops and increase productivity and production. The SSNM approach would also help restore soil health aggravated by umbalanced use of different chemical fertilisers.

On seeds production, experts said that on a global scale the price of seeds were higher than price of grains. However, in Indian context the seed prices in general are not a cause for concern. Certification for quality seeds has gain importance. More than 80% of hybrid rice seed are being produced in Kareem Nagar and Warangal districts in Andhra Pradesh.


Only Hype Makes Organic Food Healthier

- Judi McLeod Canada Free Press, Oct. 10, 2006 [excerpted] http://www.canadafreepress.com/2006/cover101006.htm

Tell a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.

The latest victims of organic products now include two Toronto residents, paralyzed in hospital after drinking carrot juice that tested positive for a botulism toxin.

"There are two adults who are severely ill in hospital and they had a history of drinking the exact same juice that's been part of the carrot juice recall," Dr. Elizabeth Rea, an associate medical officer of health, told the Toronto Star on Sunday.

Four cases of botulism in the United States have been linked to toxic carrot juice. The juice, produced by Bolthouse Farms in Bakersfield, Calif., was ordered off North American shelves late last month.

California grows about $400 million per year in organic produce -- and about half of it comes from just five farms. A Florida woman has been in hospital, unresponsive, since mid-September. Three people in the State of Georgia suffered respiratory failure and are on ventilators since drinking carrot juice a month ago.

Bolthouse Farms, which bottles three brands of "organic" carrot juice, includes three recalled products: Bolthouse Farms 100% Carrot Juice, Earthbound Farm Organic Carrot Juice and President's Choice Organic 100% Pure Carrot Juice.

Ironically, it is the health conscious consumer who looks to organic products as being safer and more nutritious. Bolthouse Farms, which has been around since 1915, describes its carrot juice as "smooth, creamy with a uniquely fresh taste!"

"Bolthouse Farms is the premium producer of the Earthbound Farm carrots, the most recognized organic produce brand. Our organic carrots have all the quality and reliability consumers expect from Bolthouse Farms -- and they're 100% organic certified by CCOF, an accredited USDA National Organic Program third party certifier. From snacking to juicing, Bolthouse Farms offers a variety of organic carrots to fit our lifestyle," says Bolthouse Farms on its website.

"After four generations of innovation in agriculture, harvesting, and now bottling, we know that everything really important (freshness, great taste and good health) still begins in the fields."

And it's the fields that are the problem.

As the National Review's John Miller reported in 2004, "Organic foods may be fresh, but they're also fresh from the manure fields."


Uganda: 'Feces Good for Organic Crops'

- Josephine Maseruka, New Vision (Kampala) October 9, 2006; Hat tip: Andy Apel http://allafrica.com

Human excrement is one of the substances which may be used in organic plant production. Faeces are included on the list of the plant and animal origin of fertilisers and soil conditioners from the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.

This is contained in the East Africa Organic Standard Draft Two report currently under review by stakeholders from the three partner states of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

However, experts told a one-day consultative meeting of stakeholders at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel on Thursday that faeces can only be applied if they are treated, to avoid contamination.

Moses Kiggundu Muwa-nga, a coordinator with the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda, said faeces must not be directly applied on edible plants, adding that they must be mixed with the soil. Uganda is among the best countries in Africa involved in organic production.


Comments on 'The 9th International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms - Biosafety Research and Environmental Risk Assessment - Korea Workshop'

- Some Public Research and Regulation Initiative members (Kim Meulenbroeks,, The Netherlands)

More than 250 regulators and biosafety researchers from public institutions and industry participated in the
9th International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms Biosafety Research and
Environmental Risk Assessment (September 24-29, 2006, Jeju Island, Korea). Several members of the Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI) also attended this Symposium.

Below is a brief summary of their impressions and a link to further information.

The presentations and discussions showed that although much data has been generated by over a
decade of GMO biosafety research, several important questions remain to be answered, e.g.:

* Are the questions being asked by researchers really important? What's the use of the data
generated thus far for effectively decision-making by regulators? What are the significant
questions for research?
* What are appropriate end points for measuring environmental impact?
* What's the acceptable risk? When is there enough information to make a good regulatory decision
(how much precision is required?)

* When is research going to be more directed to new/real important questions?
* How do we effectively account for uncertainty in decision-making?
* How do we overcome the challenge of introducing new products developed by public institutions,
especially in developing countries when there is a huge amount of required data and an overonerous
framework to go through? How do we increase the number of success stories like the
transgenic papaya (Rainbow) in Hawaii?

* How do we become more cost/time-effective? How do we avoid redundant research but yet deal
with spatial variation/diversity of regulatory requirements from country to country? One solution
could be to optimize the development of consensus documents, sharing of information,
reliable/validated/reproducible data

While history of safe use is not yet used extensively in making regulatory decisions worldwide, it might be
applicable in many case. Nevertheless, there are still missing data on certain topics such as:
interactions/consequences with associated species of some crops, impact of perennials, etc; Regulatory
challenges are also presented by new developments such as: increased traits/stacked genes/genes from
new sources and combinations of genes/biopharming/emerging techniques to modify organisms; etc. pose
new issues. Much is done on possible adverse effects of GMOs but the comparable benefits of the
technology are as important for a rational decision taking and they are often forgotten.

The monitoring/surveillance can also be considered on a more holistic approach, for instance to keep an eye
on the product e.g. resistance with the extensive use of Bt corn. Communication is still a powerful tool and
main challenge, that deals with many difficulties e.g. culture, linguistic variation.

This meeting served to provide a forum for leading biosafety researchers to share the latest information on
the research being conducted worldwide. However, it served to highlight the fact that biosafety research
is still dominated by developed country researchers.

The best illustration of developed country domination was the pair of talks on biosafety research ("Two Decades of EC Sponsored Research on the Safety of GMOs", and "Risk Assessment Research in Developing Countries: The Program for Biosafety Systems BBI Grants").

The first represented 20 years of biosafety research in the EU, the second represented 2
years of biosafety research in the developing world. The first represented 5 billion Euros of work, the
second less than 4 million US dollars. The developed country domination, coupled with the continuing
lack of capacity on the part of developing country regulators to discern the "need to know" vs. "nice to
know" information resulting from all the biosafety research conducted worldwide, continues to make the
job of developing country regulators challenging. It is comforting that one recurring theme in the
symposium was the question, "So what?".

Researchers and regulators alike recognized that in the field of biosafety research generally, there is a need to answer this question to focus the research on biologically meaningful work as well as work that will be useful to decision-making by regulators. Finally, one continuing message: Once again the question was asked whether there was any scientifically verified evidence of harm to human health or the environment as a result of growing genetically engineered crops.

The answer continues to be no.

The summary of the presentations and posters as well as the participants list are downloadable from the

Finally, PRRI members Lucia De Souza and Atanas Atanassov represented PRRI at an informal
exchange with the ISBR Executive Committee. ISBR seeks to establish a working relationship with other
associations/ initiatives active in the field of biosafety. It was agreed that in the coming months the
complementarities and synergies between PRRI and ISBR will be explored, which may eventually lead to
a Memorandum of Understanding between the two organisations.


Trends in Research and Technologies in Agriculture and Food Sciences

- December 18-20, 2006; Mumbai (India); BARC Golden Jubilee & DAE_BRNS Life Sciences Symposium 2006

Food production and preservation have been a concern for mankind since the beginning of agriculture. Technologies developed from time to time have been incorporated in the agricultural activities. In the present day world of borderless science, developments in other sciences and technologies are likely to have significant influence on both agriculture and food industry.

India has in the past demonstrated that food production can be revolutionized by adopting appropriate technologies. The green revolution has sustained the growing population so far. The challenge is, however, a continuous one. In spite of shrinking cultivable land and water resources there is a need to catapult the food production to a higher level to meet the expectations of the nation.

Consumers aspire for improved quality and lower prices. Indian agriculture also has to be globally competitive. This apparently insurmountable task can be accomplished if different technologies synergise with agricultural research. Conventional breeding methods can be made more efficient with the help of marker assisted selection. The bottlenecks such as lack of variability can be eased with the help of induced mutations. Research in genomics, use of new high throughput systems and bioinformatics are likely to impact plant breeding. positively. Development in seemingly distant fields such as nuclear sciences, engineering, electronics etc. may provide the inputs required for higher crop productivity. There is a need to understand the molecular and biochemical basis of crop productivity. Potential of high yielding crop varieties has been realised with the use of agrochemicals. However, close monitoring is needed to ensure that these are used judiciously. Availability of good quality seeds/planting materials is an important area, which needs attention to keep up with the growing demands.

Conservation and preservation of food provides economic stability and self-reliance to a nation. World trade in foods is expanding thus bringing in stringent demands of quarantine and production of safe and quality food. Man has always been in search for newer methods to preserve food. Radiation processing is an important emerging technology for strengthening food security, improving food safety and promoting international trade by overcoming quarantine barriers. Recombinant DNA technology, genomics, nanotechnology and various other technologies that revolutionized biology may now be exploited for food science and food preservation. The combined use of food production, preservation and food processing technologies can make the dream of "freedom from hunger for the poorest" a reality.

This symposium, covering different trends emerging in the fields of agriculture and food science, will provide a common platform to scientists, technologists and end-users to discuss the recent developments in these important fields.

Dr. Narendra Jawali; Email: conv-LSS06@barc.gov.in
Dr. Ramaswamy N.K.; Email: sect-LSS06@barc.gov.in