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October 24, 2006


Do We Need GM Crops?; Golden Genes; Certainty of No Harm; Sprouting Evergreen Revolution; Co-existence


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - Oct. 24, 2006

* Why We Need Genetically Modified Crops
* GMOs Again... I Can't Resist
* Golden Genes
* Reasonable Certainty of No Harm
* Australia's Gene Technology Act: Risk Assessment...
* Sprout an Evergreen Revolution
* Focus the Food Prize on Land Stewardship
* Co-existence: A Challenge for European Agriculture and Supply Chains
* USDA Workshop on Confinement of GE Crops During Field Testing
* Biotech Important to Canada's Environmental and Economic Success
* Plant Breeding: A Vital Capacity For U.S. National Goals
* Biotechnology Policy Documents of FAO Members
* Entomological Society of America’s 2006 Annual Meeting

Why We Need Genetically Modified Crops

- Hegemony in Science, Science Rants. Oct. 22, 2006

I don't usually post in such quick succession but my recent post about cloned animals got me thinking. Why is there so much opposition to genetically modified crops? I believe people that are against it fall into one of three categories: health concerns, concerns for the "sanctity" of nature, or environmental concerns. I'll address these as scientifically as I can first before I rant about my personal feelings.

Some people feel that genetically modified (GM) food is not safe. Up front I'll say that's not true. I can't for the life of me figure out how they think that. I've heard them talking about "toxic" DNA. Of course there's no such thing. So what does DNA do? DNA codes for proteins. Each set of three DNA base pairs (called a codon) code for one amino acid. A chain of amino acids becomes a protein. All that is being changed in GM crops is the proteins they express.

Can these proteins hurt you? No, in no way are regular plant proteins dangerous. Now prions on the other hand are dangerous, but that's a different issue. Most of the proteins you eat are broken down and the amino acids absorbed so you can make your own proteins.There just isn't any rational theory as to how this could be dangerous to anyone. In fact millions of dollars are spent by the FDA to test GM crops before they are used.

For others they have some notion that we shouldn't be messing with nature. This seems to be a more abstract complaint and thus I'm even less sure what they are talking about. But I'll say this, humans have been selectively breeding crops for millennia as the basis of agriculture. Cross pollinating the plants that did well and grafting plants together has been a common practice long before we even knew what DNA was. The main difference is that GM crops are doing the same thing faster. If you look at a codon from wheat it's identical to the same codon from tomatoes. It's all nucleic acid… ribose, phosphate, nitrogenous bases, that's it!

Still others claim that protecting the environment from GM crops is necessary. They tell us that organic farming is the best way to feed the world. If all current farm land were converted to organic farms we would only produce 2/3 of the food we do now. And what's so environmentally unsound about GM crops? They can produce massive yields with out the need for pesticides. It's a fact of growing food that insects are pests and they've been doing just fine despite the fact we've been killing them for many years now. And I'll be the first one to admit that the pesticides we use now are nasty.

So how could we avoid the use of pesticides? Hmm… oh yeah, genetic modification! Here's an example: some plants have proteases (proteins that destroy other proteins) that operate only at alkaline pH. All vertebrates have acidic digestive tracts. Insects however, have alkaline digestive tracts. By adding the gene for this protease to GM crops the plants have a natural defense against insects. Testing in this arena is the responsibility of the EPA, and they spend quite a bit of money to do it.

Now for the rant. Opposing GM crops is without a doubt one of the most idiotic things that a person can do. These foods can feed the world safely and cheaply. With over 20,000 people dying of starvation every day who are we to ignore the advancement that could save these people from suffering? People that are proponents of raw foods and the like seem to forget that most people don't have the luxury of deciding what to eat. It's selfish to oppose GM crops and everyone that does should think about the 20,000 lives lost every day. I bet starving people could care less if that bread was made from grain with a few transgenic genes.

In 2002 at the Environmental summit in Africa the US tried to give several tons of GM food to poor nations. Several groups including Greenpeace convinced the leaders of these nations that the food was poisonous. Can you f@#$!*g believe that? On this poor advice these nation turned down the offer. Of course there was nothing wrong with the food and those same crops have been grown elsewhere with success.

In Zambia, where people are starving to death, Greenpeace unleashed their political agenda and probably killed many people. It wasn't about the food really being dangerous (as I've outlined above) it's about Greenpeace having an ulterior motive… politics. The world cannot be at peace when so many go hungry.


GMOs Again... I Can't Resist

- wiscidea, Oct 18, 2006 http://gristmill.grist.org/comments/2006/10/18/121212/23/1#1

This is why I keep going on about the need for GMO and Organic people to get together and discuss whether there might be an acceptable way to combine the two approaches to reduce or eliminate chemical inputs, improve the grower's bottom line, and protect the health of workers, consumers, and the environment.

Consider the following three chemicals used for controlling late blight infecting potatoes: Maneb, Mancozeb, and Chlorothalonil. All three are recognized carcinogens and each is suspected of three or five of the following: Developmental Toxicant, Endocrine Toxicant, Immunotoxicant, Neurotoxicant, Reproductive Toxicant, Skin or Sense Organ Toxicant, or Respiratory Toxicant. Information from http://www.scorecard.org/index.tcl (a pollution information site).

A list of other chemicals used for controlling late blight can be found at
http://www.uidaho.edu/ag/plantdisease/plbclst.htm. Please look up a few of those at the pollution information site.

I would prefer to consume a GMO potato over those treated with fungicides. I would prefer to live next to a GMO potato field. I would prefer not dumping fungicides into our water supply. I would prefer not to poison the people growing food. GMOs can help us solve many problems. They are not the ultimate solution. And any technology can be abused. But they are not entirely evil either.

Is there any common ground between GMO and organic people? Can they work together to reduce pollution and improve human and environmental health?


Golden Genes

- Edward Cline, The Rule of Reason, October 18, 2006 http://www.objectivismonline.net/blog/archives/002052.html

Out of the suffocating bureaucratic morass that is the European Union - suffocating because of its campaign to homogenize its members and emasculate their sovereignties, even to the extent of subverting their individual legal systems - stands a Frenchman who defies the gray and flaunts his gold. The gold is that of genetically modified corn.

On October 12, The Wall Street Journal ran a story, "Stalk-Raving Mad," about this crop featuring a French farmer near Bordeaux, Claude Menara, who experimented with the "alien" corn, planting a mere seventeen acres of the Monsanto-patented seed in 2005. He was so impressed with the results that this year he planted 250 acres, and next year he plans 500.

I do not believe the French are wild about corn-on-the-cob. It is, after all, an American favorite. Most of the corn grown in France and in the rest of Europe is destined to be consumed by cattle, in M. Menara's case, by Spanish cattle. According to the WSJ, in fact, Spain is the biggest producer of GM (genetically modified) corn with 148,200 acres devoted to its production, followed by France, the Czech Republic, Portugal, and Germany. GM corn is the only "man-made" crop permitted by the EU to be grown in all that it surveys and regulates, although the bureaucrats of Brussels do allow a few GM crops to be imported. They are mulling over what other GM crops they will allow their worker ants to grow.

Like the French butter industry, the French corn industry is subsidized by the EU. M. Menara receives about $225,000 annually, a subsidy which will be phased out by 2013. It would be easy to gainsay M. Menara on the point of the subsidy, but his recognition that GM crops are a value is a quantum of redemption. He is looking ahead to when he can make a profit sans subsidies, thanks to the "alien" corn. A great portion of his expenses in damage control goes to using pesticides to protect his traditionally grown corn. The GM corn requires none.

The most telling part of the article was a picture of M. Menara holding two ears of corn: the perfectly golden GM one, and one grown by "traditional" methods, a quarter its kernels gone, the remaining ones with mottled brown spots, evidence of rot and parasites. Only cattle might have found it appetizing.

The culprits were mainly borer worms, which destroyed half of M. Menara's crop in 1988 and which continue to consume significant percentages of his traditionally grown corn even with the use of pesticides.

"On a recent morning, he shows off an ear of GM corn, full and yellow, alongside an unaltered ear that was withered and ruined. Transgenic corn had added genes, which produce a protein that makes the borer's stomach explode. Cracking open the stalk of the non-GM ear revealed a squad of pink worms."

I was reminded of the season at Colonial Williamsburg when, in the course of researching the Sparrowhawk novels, I worked in costume in the "rural trades" section, growing tobacco, corn, beans and other colonial fare by 18th century methods. Just as disgusting and labor-intensive as picking hornworms from tobacco leaves and ridding the plants of equally destructive aphids, was inspecting and harvesting the corn, which crawled with pests that consumed entire ears. The only "pesticides" available in the 18th century were various kinds of domestic fowl that would be let loose in the tobacco fields to eat the hornworms. Raising a good corn crop, however, was a matter of chance.

A worse threat to M. Menara's crop are environmental jihadists, reports the WSJ - although the article referred to them as "activists," too benign a term to identify criminals and terrorists. Even though GM-produced food crops have not been proven to jeopardize human or livestock health, French environmentalists have mounted a campaign to ban the growth of GM crops not only in France, but also in the rest of Europe. Using modern technology such as the GPS, the Internet, and testing techniques perfected in the U.S., anti-technology Greenpeace jihadists randomly identify farms and send "detectives" to them to determine whether or not a farmer is growing GM corn. If he is, then gangs of environmentalists descend on the farm and trash his crop, or as much of it as they can before the police arrive.

M. Menara has the right perspective on these bipedal pests. "They are thugs," he told the WSJ. He sued Greenpeace to force them to remove his GPS-located farm from its website, and won. "A few days later, Greenpeace activists traced a cross in his field by knocking down corn stalks," reports the WSJ. Later, a notorious French environmentalist, Jose Bove, who was jailed for destroying a McDonald's, led a mob of his ilk to M. Menara's farm and destroyed 30 acres of GM corn. Three of the mob were arrested and face jail time. Menara plans to go ahead with planting his 500 acres of GM corn. It is encouraging to read of a Frenchmen who doesn't wave the white flag of surrender.

Environmentalists opposed to GM crops claim they are concerned about their spread to, well, the environment. Environmentalism is their mystical calling. In this instance, their ostensive, short-range goal is to force farmers to grow crops by "traditional" methods, methods used in the 18th and 19th centuries until technology was brought into the business.

Their long-range goal is, frankly, man's extinction, since even fields of crops are "intrusive" and replace whatever grew wild on the land before men came to make it productive. Never believe an environmentalist when he asserts a concern for humanity; it is humanity he hates and wants to erase from existence for the sake of an "unaltered" earth. The same motive that prompts terrorists to destroy a dealership's SUV's or to booby-trap trees to protest forestry companies, prompts them to sabotage farms.

For my money, M. Menara is a true "friend of the earth" and of human life.


Reasonable Certainty of No Harm

- Letters to the Editor, Wall Street Journal, Oct 21, 2006

Your article "Stalk-Raving Mad -- French Farmers, Activists Battle Over Rise in Genetically Altered Corn" (Marketplace, Oct. 12) failed to put my quote on the long-term effects of genetically engineered crops into the larger context of the process of safety testing done by biotechnology companies in order to gain government approval to introduce a GE crop into the U.S. food system.

The company seeking approval will conduct feeding studies in animals to test both acute (high dose) and chronic exposure (lower dose for a longer time) to either the modified crop or sometimes the protein product of the introduced gene. Such animal testing may be done for a portion of or the entire life span of the animal. If no evidence of toxicity or ill effect is found in the animals, the FDA assumes "reasonable certainty of no harm." This, plus other evidence, may lead to approval of the crop for human consumption. But no human feeding studies are done for both economic and ethical reasons, even though most consumers have the mistaken impression that such studies are part of safety testing.

If there were any possible effects on humans from long-term, very-low-dose consumption of the gene product or the genetically engineered crop, it would emerge only after introduction of the crop into the food system and so the population. Thus, the way we learn the long-term effects of these modified crops on humans is through introduction into the human population.

Similar animal feeding studies are used to verify drug safety, but drug testing also must involve human clinical trials or studies, which are not done with GE crops. As we know, even the human clinical trial data for drugs do not eliminate the possibility of some harmful effects emerging after the drug is approved and introduced into the medical system for use in human treatment. Still, genetically engineered crops and foods derived from these have been in the American food system for more than a dozen years, and no harmful effects on humans have been noted. Many would agree that the standard of "reasonable certainty of no harm" has been met.

J. Lynne Brown, Ph.D., R.D., Associate Professor, Food Science, Penn State University, University Park, Pa.


Risk Assessment and Management of Genetically Modified Organisms Under Australia's Gene Technology Act

- Nicholas Linacre, Jose Falck-Zepeda, John Komen, and Donald MacLaren, IFPRI, October 2006

Compared to both Canada and the United States, Australia has been slow to approve commercial planting of transgenic crops. Two probable reasons exist for the slow approval rate of transgenic crops in Australia. The first reason is community perceptions about the risks associated with transgenic technologies. The second is the regulatory framework currently employed to approve commercial releases.

This paper examines some of the potential regulatory issues that may be affecting the review process and approval of transgenic technologies. First we provide a brief introduction to the regulatory structure in Australia, second we consider the impact of regional, national and state jurisdictions, third we argue that the regulator needs to consider the use of benefits analysis in decision making, fourth we argue for the use of probabilistic risk assessments in certain circumstances, and fifth we look at potential problems inherent in majority voting in a committee and recommend alternatives.

Full Discussion Paper at http://www.ifpri.org/divs/eptd/dp/eptdp157.asp


Sprout an Evergreen Revolution

- Editorial, Des Moines Register, October 23, 2006 http://www.desmoinesregister.com

A theme that emerged at last week's World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines: The world needs a second revolution.

The first revolution, the "Green Revolution," was the historic increase in food production a half-century ago that virtually eliminated starvation in South America and Asia and transformed them from food importers to exporters. The growth in food production in those parts of the world peaked in the 1980s. Today, according to Gordon Conway, chief scientific adviser for Britain's Department for International Development, 800 million people in the world are "chronically undernourished," and nearly all of Africa is "food deprived."

A second Green Revolution, however, will encounter new challenges brought on by global climate change, largely resulting in persistent drought, and increasing demands for environmentally friendly farming practices. As M.S. Swaminathan, father of the Green Revolution in India and recipient of the first World Food Prize, put it: We need an "Evergreen Revolution," which he defined as "increasing productivity into perpetuity without associated ecological harm."

Iowa is uniquely positioned to provide science and farming expertise in the Evergreen Revolution, and the World Food Prize should serve as the voice for the people and institutions that work to fulfill this imperative mission.


Focus the Food Prize on Land Stewardship: Increase productivity -- in sustainable ways

- Editorial, Des Moines Register, October 19, 2006 http://www.desmoinesregister.com

The World Food Prize celebrates its 20th anniversary this week with festivities throughout Iowa and Des Moines. As the prize begins its third decade, it's worth pondering the question of how we will continue to feed the world at a time when the world continues to grow and human activity puts growing pressure on every square inch of the planet.

The story of food production over the two decades since the prize was created is one of productivity growing faster than the number of acres now under cultivation. More food is produced for more people than ever before in history.

Feeding the world in the next 20 years will mean continuing a two-pronged attack: increasing productivity and getting more land into production. A growing challenge, and one that must be of increasing concern for the World Food Prize, is stewardship of the land, using production techniques that assure the land will be fit for producing food for future generations.

The achievements of this year's Food Prize laureates - two Brazilians and an American - represent an instructive example of recent agricultural trends. The men are credited with opening to cultivation Brazil's tropical high-plains Cerrado, transforming a vast and previously infertile region to highly productive crop land.

Iowa native Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution and founder of the Food Prize, called this "one of the greatest achievements of agricultural science in the 20th century." Thanks to advances in science and farming techniques, Brazil's agricultural production has grown twice as fast as the amount of land put under cultivation.

It is not enough simply to grow more food, however. Hunger persists in the world, in large part due to failures of politics, economies and transportation, storage and food-delivery systems. While some criticize the attention the Food Prize pays to genetic engineering and intensive farming techniques, the history of the prize is also the story of how scientists, economists, government officials and entrepreneurs have worked in all those disciplines to feed more of the world's hungry.

A prime example is the 1994 laureate, Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, founder of the Grameen Bank, which makes microloans to rural poor to establish businesses that create income and the ability to feed themselves. This year, Yanus was recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize for his work. Other World Food Prize recipients have been recognized for pioneering biologically based insect controls, nutrition programs and improved methods for delivering food to the hungry and seed to farmers.

Progress on all of these fronts must be maintained as the World Food Prize Foundation continues its focus on growing more food and delivering it to a growing world population. Meanwhile, the challenge will be continuing growth on a finite amount of land. Perhaps over the next 20 years, that challenge will be met, and the emphasis can fully shift from productivity to sustainability.


Co-existence: A Challenge for European Agriculture and Supply Chains

- Yves Bertheau Co-Extra, http://www.coextra.eu/ - an EU research programme on co-existence and traceability. Our goal is to support their implementation and to foster a science-based debate among stakeholders.

'Co-Extra’s editorial office interviewed Co-Extra coordinator Yves Bertheau of France’s National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA). Bertheau explains how Co-Extra will help provide the practical tools needed to keep GM and non-GM crops separate on the farm, in transport, and in processing to make it clear to all food and feed operators, and ultimately to consumers, exactly what they’re buying into. In the end, having a better general understanding of food and feed supply chains will enhance food quality and security in ways reaching far beyond the issue of GMOs.'

* Co-Extra is supposed to help Europe implement co-existence and traceability. What are co-existence and traceability, and why do we need it?
- The main impulse behind Co-Extra goes back to consumer demand for freedom of choice when it comes to agricultural biotechnology and derived products. The issue is that many consumers are critical of genetically modified plants and products thereof, while on the other hand, most of the experts in charge of GMO approvals don’t see any concrete threats to health or the environment. Meanwhile, farmers growing GMOs in other countries are reporting higher yields, greater profits, and seem to have cut back on pesticide use.
The only way to solve this complex equation of offering both consumers and farmers the freedom to use or to reject GMOs is by implementing co-existence and traceability. Traceability has become expected in all European food and feed supply chains, but the traceability of GMOs adds the extra challenge of very strict legal thresholds for unwanted mixing.

* So to answer your question, co-existence means growing GM and non-GM crops side by side and keeping them segregated all along the food supply chain. With Europe’s relatively small field sizes, this promises to be a complicated task.
- The general idea of traceability is to have operators preserve the identity of their goods to ultimately allow consumers to select the agricultural system they wish to support. The end result of co-existence and traceability is having cost-effective ways of getting more information on the origins and safety of our foods, which has benefits for more than just GMOs.

* Co-Extra involves over 200 scientists from 18 countries with a budget of ca €24 million. Why is realising co-existence and traceability so cost and labour intensive?
- The amount of resources being put into Co-Extra is actually in line with other European research projects on food and feed safety and quality under the 6th Framework Programme. For Co-Extra, all this effort is needed because of the complexity of food and feed supply chains combined with the very low legal threshold for unwanted mixing. In just one small box of frozen pizza you could have a few dozen ingredients that come from several different countries. They may have changed hands several times along the way and undergone all kinds of processing.

Using the example of a frozen pizza, freedom of choice means knowing whether or not the bit of soy flour in the dough of the frozen pizza was made from any genetically modified soybeans grown in Argentina, unloaded at Dutch harbour, and processed in French factory. Making all of that information available in a reliable and cost-effective way touches upon a lot of different disciplines. That’s why Co-Extra needs input from experts in agriculture, gene flow modelling, socio-economics, logistics, and molecular biology. Co-Extra even involves legal experts for studying international legal regimes and solutions for liability and redress issues.

* That sounds quite complicated. Will it even be possible to get down to such detail?
- Ensuring co-existence and traceability of supply chains is complicated at the beginning, but it’s more than just a GMO issue. The traceability of all food and feed supply chains is now mandatory under European legislation. On top of that, we now have to label, for instance, all potentially allergenic products sold in the EU. So we are going to have to learn how to segregate supply chains, if only for health reasons. Co-Extra is thus filling in the gap between the demands of European regulations and their practical implementation.
How will Co-Extra go about addressing the fact that co-existence and traceability measures could make production more expensive for stakeholders involved in food and feed production?

Co-Extra has research teams that are focusing on economic aspects of co-existence and traceability. You can look at the existing systems we have today – the industrial chain that is, with its processing, packaging, cooking costs, etc. – and then consider the costs of all the added measures – controls, tests, sampling – which are seen as the new costs of co-existence. Doing this will actually be rather easy, as it’s already been done in many private and academic studies.

Traceability can be expensive in terms of management, and Co-Extra is coming up with technical and organisational ways of assuaging these extra costs. But not all of the extra costs of traceability are specific to GMOs. Much of the added measures for tracing GM and non GM products are in fact already required by general EU traceability requirements for all foods.

Globally, we do not expect there to be significant additional costs for the co-existence of GM and non-GM supply chains. Current prices for non-GM imports aren’t significantly higher than for GM products. Co-existence at the farm-level seems to work well overseas, but Europe faces challenges with much smaller average field sizes than most of the world’s agricultural areas, making out-crossing and mixing on the farm more of an issue. Co-Extra and other European research projects are working to address this.

Apart from added expenditures, it can be difficult to identify and calculate the benefits of such supply chains organisations. The benefits are generally hidden. For instance, if we succeed in managing this GMO/non-GMO distinction, we will then be able to apply it to other sorting processes, like for allergens, industrial crops versus food crops, irradiated products, or to improve RDO (Registered Designation of Origin) products. One of the main goals of Co-Extra is to give clear ideas of what mastering the segregation of GM and non GM supply chains can teach us about the best practices to keep all food and feed supply chains safe and pure.
Some aspects of Co-Extra could bring economic benefits to stakeholders by unlocking a value added market for GMO free products. Well enforced labelling guidelines can be seen as a way of enhancing product quality. If producers capitalise upon this, they could enjoy some economic advantages.

In the end, it all has to reflect market demands. At the end of the day, it is the market that will decide whether or not it wants GMOs. Our job is to anticipate problems, propose solutions, and ultimately enable the freedom of choice.


USDA Workshop on Confinement of GE Crops During Field Testing

- Robyn Rose, Sally McCammon, and Sarah Lively, USDA/APHIS, Sept. 2006

A Workshop on Confinement of Genetically Engineered Crops During Field Testing (Workshop) was held on September 13-14, 2004, sponsored by Biotechnology Regulatory Services (BRS) of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Experts were convened to present and consider past and current information relevant to biological and physical factors that influence the design, implementation, efficacy and feasibility of measures used to confine genetically engineered plants and their progeny to the authorized field sites, including measures that can be taken to limit gene flow beyond the authorized site, commingling with other crops, and persistence of genetically engineered plants in the environment following termination of the field trial.

The use of modeling to predict gene flow or to enhance the design or assessment of confinement measures was also discussed. Finally, there was consideration of where research might facilitate the design or assessment of confinement measures. Three types of plants were considered: 1) wind pollinated crops using corn as a model, 2) self pollinated crops using rice as a model, and 3) insect pollinated crops using safflower as a model.

The Workshop presentations can be viewed online at: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/confine_present.html
There is currently inadequate data on the environmental impact of specific GE traits. At present, no effective gene containment method is available for all GE crops, and considerable investment and research is needed to develop the technologies outlined above.

It is clear that the characteristics of seed and pollen production, dispersal, and potential outcrossing must be determined for each specific crop in each specific environment. Different crop species have different rates of autogamy and outcrossing, and some crops have hybridizing wild relatives only in certain geographical locations. It will also be important to allay concerns that crops engineered with altered pollination, flowering, or male sterility patterns for the purpose of gene confinement will not impact the wider biodiversity of insects, bird and wildlife in existing ecosystems.

As shown above, both biological confinement measures have been developed to control gene flow through pollen or seed. Male sterility is currently commercially utilized in Canola. It is very effective at preventing outcrossing from GE crops to weeds or related non-GE crops. However, seeds produced from nuclear male sterile GE crops by cross-pollination from weeds may become a concern because seeds of such hybrids will produce fertile pollen that would carry the GE trait. Also, pollen is not produced in a crop that makes the seed, making it less desirable for the farmer because it would require cross-pollination from a non-GE crop, or must be propagated by artificial seed. Reversible male sterile systems engineered via the chloroplast genome should address these concerns. Maternal inheritance is a promising approach for transgene containment with added advantages of high levels of transgene expression, rapid multigene engineering, lack of position effect, gene silencing, and pleiotropic effects.

Currently, chloroplast genetic engineering has been enabled in tobacco, a non-food/feed crop as a bioreactor for production of biopharmaceuticals, monoclonals, biopolymers, or to confer desired plant traits. It has also been enabled in several major GE crops, including cotton and soybean. Chloroplast transgenic carrot plants withstand salt concentrations that only halophytes could tolerate. Extension of chloroplast genetic engineering technology to other useful crops will depend on the availability of the plastid genome sequences and the ability to regenerate transgenic events.


Biotechnology Important to Canada's Environmental and Economic Success--but it needs to be a focus of government policy

October 18, 2006, Ottawa – Biotechnology can help Canada achieve its environmental objectives and grow the economy, according to a study released today by the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee (CBAC).

BioPromise? Biotechnology, Sustainable Development and Canada's Future Economy is the first comprehensive effort in Canada to examine biotechnology in relation to sustainable development. Prepared for CBAC by an expert working party, BioPromise? urges the federal government to build a productive, safe and long-term relationship between biotechnology and sustainable development--a new relationship that would support both Canada's economic competitiveness and the quality of Canada's environment.

From ecological monitoring to rural economic development and international cooperation--from public dialogue to sustainability assessment and federal governance-- BioPromise? knits together the most current thinking. Biofuels and other emerging applications of biotechnology such as "biorefineries" are given detailed consideration.

"Imagine in 2020 a flourishing rural economy that supplies one-quarter of Canada's fuel, chemical and synthetic product needs from renewable biomass sources; a 50 percent reduction in the use of harmful chemicals that accumulate in the environment and in peoples' bodies. We could do this and more, including putting an end to contaminated industrial sites and involving Canadians in a biowaste-to-bioproducts strategy," says Dr. Arthur Hanson, Chair of the Expert Working Party and an internationally renowned expert on sustainable development. "If we put strong policy and governance instruments in place, biotechnology could contribute in a major way to these outcomes. It is a tool that—when appropriately deployed—can help Canada achieve its environmental and economic objectives."

CBAC is inviting comments on the report via its website as well as traditional channels, and will use a web-based discussion forum to generate further conversation on ideas stimulated by BioPromise?

Report is at



Biotechnology Is Moving Outside Its Normal Agricultural Envelope

- Owen Roberts, Guelph Mercury (Canada), October 23, 2006

In the five minutes or so that it takes to read this column, it's estimated that more than 600 acres of biotech crops will be planted around the world. About two acres of genetically modified corn, soybeans, cotton and other commodities are planted every second.

That's a phenomenal number. Biotech proponents rolled out the red carpet in May 2005, when a like-minded organization, the Truth About Trade and Technology, proclaimed that based on a global tally of biotech crops, somewhere in the world a farmer had planted the one-billionth biotech acre. Last week when I was writing this column, I checked the very unofficial biotech cultivation counter at truthabouttrade.org, and saw the sum was already up to 1.34-billion acres.

Is there any doubt biotechnology is here to stay? I don't think so.

And neither does the federal government. Sensing the foothold biotechnology had taken here -- Canada has been the world's second or third most active country in genetically modified crop production for the past decade -- Ottawa established the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee in 1999. It's an expert body covering current policy issues associated with the ethical, social, regulatory, scientific, environmental, health and economic aspects of biotechnology.

Last Wednesday, as biotech crops were being harvested in local fields, a report was released from a working group within this advisory committee, saying biotechnology can help Canada achieve its environmental objectives and grow the economy. It was timely, economically -- the same day, the financial community was warning of economic slowdowns here, based on the realistic scenario of manufacturing jobs tailing off, the strong dollar's impact on exports and the new housing industry inevitably meeting demand.

If you're a biotechnology supporter, though, the committee's report offered some optimism. Called "BioPromise? Biotechnology, Sustainable Development and Canada's Future Economy," it looks further down the road -- for the first time, it says -- to examine the connection between biotechnology and sustainable development.

And it liked what it saw. Looking dreamily into his crystal ball, Arthur Hanson, chair of the working party that assembled the report, invites readers to imagine in 2020 a flourishing rural economy that supplies one-quarter of Canada's fuel, chemical and synthetic product needs from renewable biomass sources, and offers a 50 per cent reduction in the use of harmful chemicals that accumulate in the environment and in peoples' bodies. He says this, and more, is possible, including putting an end to contaminated industrial sites and involving Canadians in a biowaste-to-bioproducts strategy.

Now, the committee's urging the federal government to nurture what it calls a productive, safe and long-term relationship between biotechnology and sustainable development. It wants the best of both worlds, in which biotechnology would support both Canada's economic competitiveness and the quality of Canada's environment.

The latter is a big message for the agri-food sector, provided the government heeds its committee's advice. The BioPromise? report goes out of its way to give wide berth to biofuels' and biorefineries' place in the future economy. But it also notes biotechnology in the next decade and a half is moving outside its traditional agricultural envelope, and becoming more mainstream.

That means you'll find it beyond the billion or so acres of genetically engineered crops growing in 60-plus countries worldwide. Instead, biotechnology will appear as genetically engineered enzymes locked inside a bioreactor, for example, generating new products or remediating some environmental contaminant.

There's no question in my mind that when it comes to farming, biotechnology is indeed mainstream. It will continue to grow, as manufacturers find more ways to bring traits together in the same plant -- insect resistance, better yields and herbicide resistance, for example, all in the same variety. And that's just the agronomic benefit. There's still the nutraceutical, enhanced-food industry, the one that adds essential vitamins and minerals to food, particularly in developing and underdeveloped nations. As well, there's the whole area of edible vaccines, introduced into plants and consumed when the plants are eaten as breads and cereals.

This scares those who worry about biotechnology "leaking," escaping or appearing in places where it wasn't intended, causing gene contamination and potentially leading to unexpected allergic reactions, or worse. That's what concerted efforts such as those advocated by this biotechnology committee are supposed to prevent. Hopefully Ottawa will listen.

Owen Roberts teaches agricultural communications at the University of Guelph.


A National Workshop on "Plant Breeding: A Vital Capacity For U.S. National Goals"

- February 8 - 9, 2007; Raleigh, North Carolina

Investment in plant breeding in the U.S. is declining in all sectors. There is a national need for a factual and compelling strategic response to this situation. The Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee (CC) is being established to meet this need. The Plant Breeding CC will be a permanent forum for leadership regarding issues, problems and opportunities of long-term strategic importance to the public and private plant breeding profession and to the U.S. national plant breeding effort as a whole.

Presentations and working groups will analyze the role of plant breeding in achieving pre-defined popular national goals for U.S. agriculture. These analyses will establish the connections between plant breeding and consequences for the economy, the environment, nutrition, food safety, and so on. The resulting syntheses will enable plant breeders to make the value of their work more visible to the non-technical public.

Keynote presentations and working groups for each national goal will address three questions: "What is needed to assemble a factual and compelling case for plant breeding within this national goal?", "What partnerships can plant breeding build with others who are also dedicated to this national goal?", and "What is the action plan and strategy for presenting this case to a broad audience?". The working groups will establish work plans with anticipated milestones and deliverables, elect officers, and continue work throughout the coming year.


Biotechnology Policy Documents of FAO Members

- FAO Biotech News

The annotated list of on-line biotechnology policy documents of FAO members has just been updated on the FAO Biotechnology website. Most of the 22 entries are national policy documents, covering applications of biotechnology in food and agriculture as well as in other areas, such as pharmaceuticals and human health care.

See http://www.fao.org/biotech/country.asp (available in English, French and Spanish, with Arabic and Chinese to come) or contact biotech-website@fao.org to provide comments.


The Entomological Society of America’s 2006 Annual Meeting

- December 10-13, 2006; Indianapolis, IN (November 1 - Last day to register online)

Symposia topics will include crop protection, biotechnology, genomic research, insecticide resistance, morphology, ecology, evolution, medical and veterinary entomology, and more. In addition, there will be various meetings, social events and competitions, such as the Linnaean Games and the Purdue Cockroach Racing & Cricket Spitting Contest.

For a full list of symposia, meetings and other events, go to:

Register online now at:

For more information, visit;