Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - November 22, 2006
* Bureaucratic Bungling Bedevils Biotech
* Engage in a Constructive Debate About Genetically Modified Crops
* Got Cotton? Texas Researchers' Discovery Could Yield Protein to Feed Millions
* Engineering Edible Cottonseed
* New Percy Schmeiser Scandal Hits the US
* EU Regulations: A Case of the Emperor's New Clothes?
* Sustainable Food: Rethinking Policy, Technology, and the Environment
* India: Increase in Acerage Indicates its Popularity
* Biotech Plays Role in Meeting Food and Fuel Demand
* UK Farmer Wants Access to Benefits of Biotechnology in Europe
* Plantes transgéniques: faits et enjeux
* Economics of Bt Cotton in India
* US: Bacteria Blamed For A Bad Citrus Crop Outlook
* Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food
Bureaucratic Bungling Bedevils Biotech
- Henry I. Miller, LegalNews.tv, November 22, 2006
An important regulatory milestone recently passed unnoticed -- the 20th anniversary of the Reagan administration’s science-based biotechnology regulatory policy, which was supposed to usher in a broad revolution in agriculture. And it might have, had not the bureaucrats at USDA (and also EPA) managed to thwart the intent and ignore the substance of the policy and introduce unneeded and unscientific regulation. Over-regulation has inflated R&D costs, virtually destroyed public sector (that is, university-based) research, and stifled innovation.
This obscure but significant debacle offers a cautionary tale.
USDA’s compulsory case-by-case review and costly field test design requirements have made gene-spliced plants disproportionately – and unnecessarily – costly to develop and test. A field trial with a gene-spliced plant may be 10-20 times more expensive than the same experiment performed with a plant that has identical traits, but that was modified with less precise and less predictable genetic techniques. The ridiculous state of affairs has pushed regulatory costs to levels that "exclude the public sector, the academic community, from using their skills to improve crops," according to Dr. Roger Beachy, the director of the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis.
Although dozens of useful gene-spliced plants have emerged from the development pipeline – pest-resistant plants that have reduced the need for chemical pesticides, and herbicide-resistant plants that have encouraged more environmentally-friendly farming practices, for example – the overwhelming majority are varieties of huge-volume commodity crops: corn, cotton, canola and soy. Because of the astronomical development costs, smaller-volume fruits and vegetables have been sorely neglected, and will likely remain so.
The USDA’s approach to regulation is internally inconsistent and also contradicts the official overarching federal policy (developed in 1986 and further refined in 1992), which stipulates that oversight of biotechnology products should be "risk-based," "scientifically sound," and focused on "the characteristics of the biotechnology product [but] not the process by which the product is created."
In other words, products with more risk should have more regulation, which is only common sense. That’s why plutonium is more highly regulated than petunias. This principle is, in fact, the basis of USDA’s own plant pest regulations, which takes a "yes or no" approach to regulation: if a plant or microorganism is on a list of plant pests (and is, therefore, of significant risk), a researcher or farmer needs a permit to test it in a field trial; if it’s not on the list (and of low risk), no permit is required.
But confounding official policy, scientific consensus and logic, where gene-spliced organisms are concerned USDA has taken exactly the opposite approach, crafting regulation that has an inverse relationship to risk; case by case reviews are triggered by the use of highly precise and predictable gene-splicing techniques. (Not only is a review required when a researcher proposes the initial field trial, but also when he wishes to scale up, or to propose additional sites, or when he makes inconsequential changes in the genetic construct.) This is like imposing extra regulation on only those cars that have disk brakes and radial tires.
USDA’s cluelessness is not limited to regulatory oversight; it also encompasses federally sponsored and conducted research. During a USDA-sponsored workshop held in September, participants concluded that there is inadequate data on the environmental impact of specific traits introduced by gene-splicing techniques, "At present, no effective gene containment method is available for all [gene-spliced] crops, and considerable investment and research is needed to develop the technologies outlined above." The perfect bureaucrats’ full-employment plan for the future.
USDA’s regulatory reviews continue to confirm that the gene-spliced plants pose no greater risk than those modified with less precise conventional techniques. Twenty years and a billion acres of plantings later the regulations have failed to demonstrate a unique risk, but still the over-regulation persists. Why don’t they rationalize their approach? Easy: Their vast bureaucratic empire and their budget would need to shrink.
Even USDA has recognized that its regulatory excesses have caused severe impediments to conducting R&D, particularly for academics and small businesses. But instead of making regulation more scientific and more appropriate, USDA has launched a program to try to guide researchers through the swamp created by the regulators. This is the quintessential governmental approach: marshal additional resources for a lousy solution to a problem that regulators created in the first place. What’s next – yet another program to fix the problems caused by the "helpers" – paid for by us taxpayers, of course?
Even if USDA were efficient and expeditious, its regulatory approach would still founder on the principle that something that isn’t worth doing at all isn’t worth doing well. But USDA isn’t doing it well, according to the USDA Inspector General, the U.S. District Court in Hawaii, and the USDA’s own Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture. All have decried APHIS’s slipshod regulation and compliance processes.
This illustrates one of the bureaucratic and legal pitfalls of ill-conceived regulation, carelessly implemented. Often, the courts support activists’ and others’ insistence that even superfluous, unwise and unscientific legal strictures be adhered to by regulators, researchers and companies. Like a cop giving you a ticket for doing 26 in a 25 mph zone at 3AM on a deserted street, common sense doesn’t always prevail in the application of the law.
When regulation is unneeded in the first place, enforcement and compliance are rather beside the point, a lesson that continues to be lost on USDA regulators. Rather than rationalize regulation, they’ll push ahead to plug the holes in a bureaucratic boat that won’t float – paid for by you-know-who.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and fellow at the Hoover Institution, headed the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology from 1989 to 1993. Barron’s selected his most recent book, "The Frankenfood Myth..." one of the 25 Best Books of 2004.
Engage in a Constructive Debate About Genetically Modified Crops
- James Wachai, GMO Africa, Nov. 19, 2006 [ http://www.gmoafrica.org/ ]http://www.gmoafrica.org/
Richard Heinberg, famous for his rantings against Big Oil, in October delivered a lecture at the E. F. Schumacher Society in Stockbridge, Massachusetts on October 28, 2006. The abbreviated text of the lecture entitled "Fifty Million Farmers," is available in the November 17, 2006 online edition of Energy Bulletin.
In the lecture, Mr. Heinberg forecasted that prolonged famine looms in the United States due to, among other factors, the effects of global warming, shortage of fuel, and increasing scarcity of water. Even agricultural technologies such as genetic engineering, according to Mr. Heinberg, would do nothing to alleviate food shortage in the U.S.
This is what he said about genetically modified crops. "Our collective experience with genetically modifying crops so far shows that glowing promises of higher yields, or of the reduced need for herbicides, have seldom been fulfilled."
He went on, "At the same time, new genetic technologies carry with them the potential for horrific unintended consequences in the forms of negative impacts on human health and the integrity of ecosystems."
Mr. Heinberg’s rantings about GM crops sound like a comic strip. First what does he mean by "Our collective experience with genetically modified crops…?" Whose collective experience is he referring to? His "Our collective experience…" is null and void considering that 200 million acres of genetically modified crops are being grown in more than 21 countries.
It’s even more misleading for Mr. Heinberg to say that new genetic technologies pose "horrific" threats to human health. This is mere sensationalism because he doesn’t even bother to identify these "horrific threats." Studies have repeatedly confirmed that benefits of genetically modified food abound.
Mr. Heinberg’s lecture reminds me of a video clip in YouTube that equally attempts to discredit genetically modified crops without any scientific justification. Entitled "Contaminated" the video, as is the habit of anti-technology activists, dwells on hearsays and lies about modern agricultural biotechnology. What do people stand to gain from distorting scientific facts?
It’s time the world resorts to a civil discourse about GM crops. Let’s dwell on the science behind genetically modified crops rather than half-baked issues only tailored to instill fear and despondence in consumers.
Got Cotton? Texas Researchers' Discovery Could Yield Protein to Feed Millions
- Kathleen Phillips, AgNews of Texas A&M U, phillips.at.tamu.edu [ http://agnews.tamu.edu/ ]http://agnews.tamu.edu/
COLLEGE STATION - A scientific method used to explore cancer and HIV cures now has been successfully used by agricultural researchers in the quest to develop food for the world's hungry.
"The exciting finding is that we have been able to reduce gossypol – which is a very toxic compound – from cottonseed to a level that is considered safe for consumption," said Dr. Keerti Rathore, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station plant biotechnologist. "In terms of human nutrition, it has a lot of potential."
The cottonseed from these plants meet World Health Organization and U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards for food consumption, he said, potentially making the seed a new, high-protein food available to 500 million people a year.
The work, announced this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was done by Rathore and a team of scientists from the Experiment Station, Texas A&M University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Southern Plains Research Center in College Station.
Gossypol naturally occurs within the glands in all the above-ground parts of the cotton plant including the seed. Rathore said the "beauty of this project" is that the gossypol has been reduced only in the cottonseed -- where the high levels of protein are packed -- but not in the rest of the plant where the compound serves as a defense against insects and disease.
The team used RNAi, or technology that can "silence" a gene. This enabled them to target the gossypol gene only in the cottonseed but let the gene express itself in the rest of the plant. The discovery of RNAi is what landed the Nobel Prize for Medicine this year for U.S. scientists Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello. "What we have done is use this technology to selectively inhibit a gene that codes for an enzyme that is involved in the gossypol biosynthetic pathway in the seed, " Rathore said.
Cotton fibers have been spun into fabric for more than 7,000 years. For most of that time, products from the fuzzy seed that is extracted in the fiber process have been edible only for cattle. They can tolerate gossypol only after digesting it through the four compartments of their stomachs.
"Very few people realize that for every pound of cotton fiber, the plant produces 1.6 pounds of seed," Rathore pointed out. "The world produces 44 million metric tons of cottonseed each year. Cottonseed typically contains about 22 percent protein, and it's a very high-quality protein." In all, about 10 million metric tons of protein are contained in that amount of seed, he said.
Decades ago, California and Texas researchers were able to breed cotton varieties that contained no gossypol glands throughout the plant. But glandless varieties were a commercial failure, Rathore said, because the lack of any gossypol made the plants a delicious treat for insects and diseases.
Processes have been developed to extract gossypol, making the oil available for human consumption but at great expense, he said. Plus, the meal that is left after the oil is removed still contains the gossypol and thus is not edible for humans, or for pigs, chickens or turkeys.
Plants with the new trait developed by the team could make the plant more valuable both as a fiber and a food crop. "One could utilize the cottonseed either directly as food if there is no gossypol or as feed for livestock," he said. The food value of the cotton crop may be for countries "where there are small farmers who grow cotton, and if they could use the seed they could get much more value from it," Rathore noted.
He believes food products ultimately could be developed from the cottonseed of these new plants. Though the glandless cotton varieties bred by Experiment Station researchers in the late 1970s and 1980s suffered from insects and disease, one of the food products -- TAMUnuts -- made from the seed of these plants could be eaten by humans.
This discovery will yield not just one new variety, but rather "a new trait that can be bred into any good commercial variety, and the trait should be maintained generation after generation," Rathore said. The researchers have been successful in maintaining the trait through three generations in lab work. The next step will be to screen for the best plants from the many lines they have produced, then grow plants with the trait in a greenhouse.Field demonstrations will follow that, he said. He estimates at least another decade in the development of cotton varieties for widespread commercial production.
Audio and video at http://agnews.tamu.edu/dailynews/stories/SOIL/Nov2006a.htm
Contact: Dr. Keerti Rathore, 979-862-4795,email@example.com
Engineering Edible Cottonseed
- PNAS News Nov. 20, 2006, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
Researchers have genetically engineered toxin-free cottonseeds, potentially unlocking a large source of nutrition.
Cotton fiber continues to be a globally vital textile crop. The leftover cottonseeds are a high source of protein, but the presence of the toxic chemical gossypol makes them unfit for human consumption.
To remove gossypol from cottonseeds, Keerti Rathore and colleagues used RNA interference to disrupt a key gene for synthesizing gossypol in developing seeds. The technique produced mature seeds with gossypol levels well below the safe level for human consumption. Gossypol levels remained high in other parts of the cotton plant, however, allowing the seeds to maintain their natural, chemical defenses.
Considering that the 44 million metric tons of cottonseed produced annually could nutritionally support 500 million people, gossypol-free cotton may provide a boon for global malnutrition, the researchers say. Also, besides the potential of edible cottonseed, RNA interference could possibly be applied to other crops with toxic components, such as fava beans, to increase their utilization.
Article #05389: "Engineering cottonseed for use in human nutrition by tissue-specific reduction of toxic gossypol" by Ganesan Sunilkumar, LeAnne M. Campbell, Lorraine Puckhaber, Robert D. Stipanovic, and Keerti S. Rathore
New Percy Schmeiser Scandal Hits the US
Percy's Speech in California exposes more lies!
Even after the lying scandal in Ireland , where it was claimed Percy Schmeiser was "former Member of Canadian Parliament" Percy has again been caught misleading an audience.
Last week, on the evening of November 14, 2006 at the North Gate Library, Hearst at Euclid Avenue, Berkeley, CA, USA, this incredible segment of Percy Schmeiser's speech was recorded. Ironically, he was speaking on the issue of GMOs and the law. In the segment below Percy lies to the audience, TWICE in 44 Seconds!!
Lie 1: "Since 1996 there's been no GMOs introduced we have been able to stop it for 11 years". (time stamp: 10 seconds)
What a lie!, open the following link where one can see there has indeed been GMOs approved (and introduced) in Canada since 1996. See HERE or take a quick look at the following database.
Lie 2 "I was a Member of Parliament at one time" (time stamp: 16 seconds)
Again, like in Ireland, Percy is trying to sell himself as once being a Canadian MP......PERCY has never been a Member of Parliament in Canada.
Percy continues to attempt to pass off his 1967 to 1971 seat in his local, very rural provisional assembly of Saskatchewan as something bigger than it was. The correct legal and political term for a member of the Saskatchewan assembly is Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). Within Canada this is a VERY clear distinction (as clear as the difference between MP and MEP in the UK). It is very unlikely that Percy Schmeiser, as a current local politician and a former MLA himself, is not aware of this important and clear distinction. Moreover, after exposing his false Canadian MP claims in Ireland he threatened me with legal action but even after this scandal he continues his lying ways. One has to ask why he continues to attempt to mislead the public?...
EU Biotech Crop Regulations and Environmental Risk: A Case of the Emperor's New Clothes?
- Shane H. Morris Trends in Biotechnology, Nov. 20, 2006. Full paper - http://tinyurl.com/yf5dqc
European Union Commissioner for the Environment Stavros Dimas recently hailed 'upgraded' non-genetically modified (GM) crops as an alternative to GM crops. A comparative analysis of the environmental risks associated with such non-GM herbicide-resistant crops and GM herbicide-resistant crops is presented here.
The analysis highlights serious weaknesses in the European Union (EU) regulatory framework, and the contradictory policy of the EU Commission on the precautionary principle is also shown. The continued political stance of ignoring these regulatory and policy inconsistencies is examined and found to be flawed.
It is postulated that, even in the face of these flaws and coupled with recent statements from the UK drawing attention to inconsistencies in the EU regulatory framework, the EU will continue to ignore the real and present environmental risks associated with upgraded non-GM crops for biopolitical reasons.
Sustainable Food for the World: Rethinking Policy, Technology, and the Environment
- Gerald Nelson, The Harvard International Review, Nov. 2006. http://hir.harvard.edu (Via checkbiotech.org)
Today, farmers feed 6 billion people. However, some 800 million people go to bed hungry every night and 166 million children are malnourished. At the same time, current agricultural practices are responsible for dead zones at the mouths of the world’s rivers and rapid species extinctions. By 2050, the human population will grow by two to three billion. The challenge for agriculture is not only producing more food but producing it in a sustainable manner while raising living standards for the poor, many of whom live and work in rural areas. All this must be done while dealing with the uncertain consequences of global warming and geopolitics. The solutions will include new policies, new technologies, and new production practices.
Although the world is an uncertain place, we can anticipate some elements of the future with confidence. In particular, population growth will continue at least until the middle of this century, the effects of climate change will be significant by then, and the products of the biotechnology and IT revolutions will widen the choices available to individuals and politicians dramatically. The consequences for food depend on the complex and unknowable interplay of human and natural systems. Key elements include the growth and distribution of global income, our ability to manage the global commons productively with the benefits shared equitably, and the possibility of irreversible natural events such as a human pandemic or melting of the Greenland ice cap.
Assessing the Future
One recent attempt to assess the bounds of the possible futures is the scenarios work of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Figure 1 portrays the range of possible outcomes as a set of four scenarios, arrayed along the axes of globalization versus regionalization and reactive versus proactive public policy. The scenario results are deep and extensive. All four scenarios show increased food production by 2050, both total and per capita availability, but the means to achieve these increases varies dramatically. In a scenario with more globalization, higher world incomes, and more even income distribution, technological change results in higher yields and lower food prices. The number of malnourished children drops from 166 million to 65 million. By contrast, in a scenario with more inward looking economic policies and reactive policies, increased food production is achieved by area expansion and environmental degradation. Increasing food prices and worsening income distribution leads to miserable conditions for the poor. The number of malnourished children increases by 18 million.
The bad news from the scenarios is how bad the future could plausibly become. The good news is that with a series of enlightened policy choices, agricultural technology investments, and changing production practices around the world, the future is hopeful.
Policy, Food, and Development
Developed countries spend a vast amount of public funds on their agricultural sector—about US$300 billion a year worldwide in the early 21st century—and place an inordinate political significance on policies that support domestic farm incomes. The consequences of national farm policies, however, are felt beyond the border.
Developed country agricultural policies hurt the poor in developing countries in three ways. First, they encourage agricultural production in the developed countries, so that more output than a market economy would demand is produced in the wrong places. Developing countries are forced to accept lower prices and incomes, and incomes of poor farmers and agricultural workers suffer. Second, developed countries have a variety of regulations that unnecessarily restrict food imports from and reduce income-generating opportunities in developing countries. Finally, because agriculture contributes such a large share of the economic activity in developing countries, these effects have negative macroeconomic outcomes, in particular, slower overall growth. It should be pointed out that developing countries also often impose policies to the detriment of their own agricultural sectors. For a positive future of world food, agricultural policies and programs need to be realigned with global efficiency and sustainability as primary goals.
The Potential for Contributions from Science and Technology
Improvements in agricultural technology are a critical part of a positive future for world food. GM crops will be part of the technology improvements but other kinds of technological change are needed as well. Applications of information technology to agriculture have the promise of encouraging more complex and environmentally friendly production practices.
GM crops, particularly corn, soybeans, and cotton, continue to gain acceptance in the market because they increase farmer income. The way they are grown is usually more environmentally friendly than the practices they replace. Second and third generation GM crops will increase the set of improved characteristics, adding drought tolerance for example. There will always be those with moral or ethical objections to genetic modification, but over time, their numbers will likely decline as benefits from individual GM crops become more widespread and well-known. Experts have found no food-health problems with commercial GM crops currently in use and only minor environmental issues, although the potential for pest resistance is worrying. A significant benefit of the controversies over GM crops is that our regulatory systems have been challenged to improve and become more transparent. Both government and private sector oversight of the process of developing and commercializing GM crops has been enhanced dramatically in the past 10 years.
In the next 50 years, with a combination of global positioning systems, precision agriculture, automated farm implements, and vastly improved data collection and analysis, a farmer may very well be able to grow 20 or 30 different crops--instead of just two or three—that mature at different times and require different applications and seasons. Automation will allow a driverless tractor to perform farm operations much more precisely than a human operator. This sounds like science fiction, but the technology pieces are in place and it is only a matter of implementation, a process that could take anywhere from 10 to 30 years, depending on the incentives provided by the marketplace and the policy environment. An added benefit is that these changes will address the criticism that modern agriculture is too reliant on monoculture and industrial inputs.
Is there a Role for Organic Agriculture?
People buy organic for many reasons, including food and environmental safety and support for local agriculture. The demand for organic food today is at least partly a response to regulatory failures of 50 years ago. The early pesticides were nasty--with high generic toxicity and long lasting effects in the environment. They had the advantage for the farmer of simplifying agricultural production techniques, for example allowing much more monoculture. The need for location-specific knowledge content of farming became smaller.
Most pesticides used today are much more specific to the target pest and breakdown much more quickly in the environment. Management practices have improved dramatically so that the residues on food, with a few important exceptions, are very small. So a decision to “go organic” in the 1960s had the potential for health benefits from reduced exposure to pesticides. An organic diet today doesn’t provide the same food-safety benefits. But modern agriculture remains less biologically complex than its predecessors, and ecologists point out that simpler ecosystems are more likely to experience catastrophic failure.
The policy decision by the US Department of Agriculture to create an official definition of organic food and allow a federally sanctioned label has "Wal-martization" of organic food, as that giant corporation and others have recognized a valuable market opportunity. Wal-mart’s entry into the business will inevitably bring change, not just to organic production, but to agriculture more generally. It could spur the adoption of information-intensive technologies in agriculture, and potentially hasten the reintroduction of knowledge-intensive local agriculture with attendant environmental benefits.
As the Millennium Assessment scenarios demonstrate, the possibility of a future with many fewer hungry people and food production that is more sustainable and more environmentally friendly exists. To achieve this future, governments must recognize the global consequences of agricultural policies and find ways to overcome the resistance of entrenched interest groups. It is disheartening to see the collapse of the Doha Round of world trade negotiations because it had the promise of moving agricultural policies in the right direction.
Technological advances will be a key part of a positive future. The genetics and production practice improvements that involve more knowledge-intensive inputs, including organic practices, will need to be location-specific. Citizens must demand that their governments allow the private sector to operate profitably while providing a regulatory environment that encourages sustainability, safety, and equality.
Humanity has made big strides in feeding a rapidly growing population. However, it is unacceptable to have 800 million hungry people in the world. The solution requires everyone to think and act globally, finding ways to choose policies and programs that enhance agricultural productivity globally, maintain environmental sustainability, and encourage technology development, while remaining vigilant about safety.
Gerald Nelson is a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has published extensively on biotechnology, the environment, and agricultural policy issues, especially for the developing world. For the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, he was coordinating lead author for its reports on drivers of ecosystem change.
India: Increase in Acerage Indicates its Popularity
- Vr Kaundinya, Financial Express (India), Nov. 20, 2006 via checkbiotech.org
Genetically modified crops have been at the centre of agriculture, public policy and public debate during the last 10 years of their commercial existence in the world. Perhaps the most violently debated technology that is ever used in agriculture.
Insect resistance (Bt), herbicide tolerance, drought tolerance, etc are in the category of GM 'input traits'. They change the pattern of use of inputs used by the farmer. Bt protein, that occurs naturally in a bacterium, is isolated and used to give plants the ability to resist certain insect pests.
Vitamin enriched rice, oil with modified fatty acid content, etc are the GM 'output traits'. They alter the output profile of the crop. Bt protects crops from insects. The cotton farmers who wage daily battles with insects in their crop understand the enormous benefits brought by this technology.
The history of plant protection in Indian cotton puts Bt cotton technology in the right perspective. Cotton is attacked by four types of Bollworms causing heavy economic damage. Since the early 70s, the insecticide use on Indian hybrid cotton has undergone a continuous change. From the use of chlorinatedhydrocarbons (DDT & BHC) in the early 70s, the farmers moved to carbamates (carbaryl) and organophosphorous compounds (malathion, quinalphos, monocrotophos, phosphamidon, etc) by late 70s. In 1982, a new synthetic pyrethroid technology with a dramatically higher power, was introduced. Each generation of insecticides was an improvement in it’s toxicity profile, friendliness to environment and the power.
Many people would remember the large scale suicides by the cotton farmers in the late 80s in AP because they suddenly faced a secondary infestation of white fly which devastated the crop. While using synthetic pyrethroid technology, the farmers had to use resistance management techniques and alternate application of pyrethroids with conventional products.
While the 90s saw the achievement of a balance between the use of the synthetic pyrethroids and the conventionals, by the end of the decade the farmers were looking for something new. Then came two very high powered new insecticides which were instantly grabbed by the farmers inspite of their high cost.
The cotton farmer in states like Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Punjab sprayed more than 15 rounds of pesticides in one season by the beginning of this decade. Against this background Bt cotton was introduced in 2002. The success of the technology is demonstrated by the huge increase in Bt cotton acreage since then to about 30 lakh acres in 2005 and an estimated 80 lakh acres in 2006.
Various studies have been conducted to measure the socio-economic and ecological impact of the GM crops in the world. A study titled "GM Crops: the global socio economic and environmental impact—the first nine years 1996-2004" by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot quantified the environmental benefits in the following way: * the total volume of pesticide active ingredient (a.i) applied to crops has fallen by 6%
* In absolute terms the largest gains came from the adoption of GM technology in herbicide tolerance. The volume of herbicides used is now 4% less and the environmental 'foot print' is 19% lower than the levels that would have probably arisen if all of this GM crop area had been planted to conventional cultivars.
There is adequate empirical evidence which shows that the use of GM technology is resulting in a reduction in the use of pesticides with consequential benefits for the environment and the farmer.
The writer is MD, Advanta India
Biotech Plays Role in Meeting Food and Fuel Demand
- National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, Nov 20, 2006. [ http://www.ncfap.org ]www.ncfap.org
With ethanol demand at record highs and existing strong food use of corn, some experts are wondering where the extra corn will come from. A new study released today by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (National Center) suggests that biotechnology plays an important role in meeting this increased demand for corn production.
According to the study, U.S. farmers gained an additional 8.3 billion pounds of yield last year due to biotech crops, including an extra 7.6 billion pounds of corn production, a 29 percent increase over 2004's harvest. Since the commercialization of plant biotechnology in the late 1990s, corn production has benefited by an extra 39 billion pounds of yield, equivalent to 1.9 billion gallons of ethanol production. These continued yield increases will be a key factor in meeting future demand as corn prices hit 10-year highs and corn used for ethanol production is predicted to jump 34 percent in 2007.
"The study indicates we have been able to make significant advances in corn production through biotechnology-derived varieties," says Jill Long-Thompson, chief executive officer of the National Center and an Indiana farmer. "Energy independence is imperative for our nation's future. Utilizing renewable sources like corn for energy needs helps achieve these goals and supports our nation's farmers."
Further, the report indicates biotech crops helped farmers increase their income by $2 billion last year, while reducing the amount of pesticides used 69.7 million pounds on the 123 million acres planted to the biotech-enhanced crops. In addition to herbicide-resistant and insect-resistant corn, the report evaluated the impact of herbicide-resistant soybean, herbicide-resistant and insect-resistant cotton, herbicide-resistant canola and virus-resistant squash and papaya. Biotech Meets Food and Fuel Demand
Sujatha Sankula, study author and lead researcher for the National Center, expects these income gains to grow in the second decade of biotech crop production. "In 2005, just more than a third of our country's corn acres were planted to biotech varieties. With over half the corn crop nationally benefiting from biotechnology-derived insect-resistant varieties in 2006, we expect the production and income increases to grow accordingly in the year ahead," Sankula says.
Further, as cellulosic ethanol production comes online, farmers will be able to sell two crops from each field - a food crop and a biomass energy crop. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, that will add an additional $5 billion to farm income each year by 2025. "Since biotech crops came to market a decad e ago, they have helped ensure a bountiful harvest for American consumers and provided extra income for farmers" Sankula says. "Farmers have been able to continually expand corn production each year, and they will continue to do so in the future. New biotech corn varieties with resistance to drought are being field tested, as well as a variety that will improve the efficiency of ethanol production. These enhances will help continue to drive the production trend upward, helping meet the needs for both food and fuel production." '
Missouri corn grower and farmer-owned ethanol plant investor Ryland Utlaut says there is no question that biotechnology has already led to a dramatic increase in corn yields and he is confident that will only get better. "We used to say that trend line yields were a bushel and a half a year, but now we're seeing that double, and I think the average yield increases will come even quicker now because of the new technology," said Utlaut. "Biotechnology has taken us into an area that we never even dreamed was possible ten years ago. It is gaining such acceptance now that people should have great confidence that biotechnology is a good thing for us."
While Americans consume only about 5 percent of the U.S. corn crop as food, biotechnology-derived crops are also making an impact on our every day food supply. About half of our nation's papaya crop and 12 percent of the squash production are protected from devastating viruses through biotechnology, thereby increasing yields for consumers and incomes for farmers. The study is an annual update of a 2002 report by the National Center that analyzes, quantifies and documents the agronomic, economic and environmental impacts of biotech crops on U.S. agriculture. The complete study, "Quantification of the Impacts on U.S. Agriculture of Biotechnology Derived Crops Planted in 2005," is available on the Internet at www.ncfap.org.
UK Farmer Wants Access to Benefits of Biotechnology in Europe
- Press Release, Nov. 20, 2006. via Agnet
In 2005, farmers planted 222 million acres (90 million hectares) of genetically modified crops in 21 countries, including five countries in the European Union: the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Portugal and Spain. While the United Kingdom government has determined there is no scientific case for a blanket ban on GM crops, there are currently no commercialized GM crops being grown in the country.
UK farmer Bob Fiddaman would like to see that change. Fiddaman participated in Farm Scale Evaluation trials on oil seed rape. He hopes that the benefits of biotechnology he witnessed on his farm will soon be commercially available to UK farmers. "The outcome – as far as I was concerned – was a benefit for the GM crop because it gave a higher yield, and it was much easier to manage," says Fiddaman, who has farmed for more than 40 years and currently grows wheat, barley and field beans for animal feed on 1,300 acres (520 hectares).
In other European countries, farmers are utilizing genetically modified, insect-protected (Bt) corn crops that contain a protein from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which protects the plants from specific lepidopteron insect pests. Bt corn has enabled Spanish farmers to reduce pesticide applications, achieve 10 – 15 percent higher yields, and increase gross margins by 12 percent. "We were getting anything from 10 to 15 percent increased yield from the GM part of the crop," continues Fiddaman, referencing results from the field scale trials on herbicide-tolerant oil seed rape conducted on his UK farm.
"Given the opportunity, I'd grow it tomorrow. The technology was that good." Fiddaman discusses the benefits of biotechnology in an exclusive video and podcast available at the Conversations about Plant Biotechnology. In addition to Fiddaman’s video, visitors can view conversations with two of his fellow European farmers -- Pedro Lerín and Ismael Purroy of Spain -- who discuss the benefits of biotechnology in Europe.
Transgenic Plants: Facts and Stakes
- André Gallais, Agnès Ricroch, Plantes transgéniques: faits et enjeux
Paperback - In French 2006 - 34.00 €, ISBN-10 2759200019
Over the past ten years, in excess of 90 millions hectares of transgenic plants have been grown throughout the world. Their development, however has been stalled in France and Europe where they have become a subject of societal discussion, with polemics and political positions. The aim of this book is to compile in one document the information necessary for the reader to better understand the nature of the discussion and the object of the debates.
What are transgenic plants? What benefits can transgenic plants bring? What are the environmental hazards and the health issues? How can risks be controlled? What are the reasons of opposition to the development of transgenic plants?
The public at large will find the book's discussion of all problems related to the development of transgenic plants.
IIMA Study Economics of Bt Cotton in India
- Crop Biotech Update, isaaa.org
A preliminary investigation on 'The Adoption and Economics of Bt Cotton in India" has shown considerable economic gains to Bt cotton farmers in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in India. The study was carried by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) and was supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India.
Results indicate that the yields of Bt cotton are higher and increases significantly in all the States under both irrigated and rain-fed conditions. The average increase in yield of Bt cotton over non-Bt cotton was 30.71% while reduction in the number of sprays was 38.67% or more in all states. The average national increase to farmers in profit per hectare was $250. The increase in profit was $307 for Gujarat, $185 for Maharastra, $298 for Andhra Pradesh and $ 210 for Tamil Nadu. The profit is found to be higher in all the states to the estimated extent of about 80-90 percent when the effects of associated inputs such as cost are included.
For further information, email Bhagirath Choudhary of ISAAA South Asia Office at b.choudhary.at.isaaa.org.
US: Bacteria Blamed For A Bad Citrus Crop Outlook
Full story at http://www.freshplaza.com/2006/22nov/2_us_bacteriacitrus.htm
Slammed by canker and hurricanes, Florida’s citrus growers are preparing for their worst harvest in 17 years. mBut that’s not the worst of it. The billion-dollar industry’s future is looking even bleaker due to a fast-spreading, highly lethal disease that turns a tree’s leaves yellow and its juice rancid, then kills the tree in as few as five years.
Citrus greening, carried by the Asian citrus psyllid, a flying insect slightly bigger than a gnat, was first found in South Florida in August 2005. Today infected trees have been found in 12 counties, including all of South Florida and as far as Sarasota County.
The speed with which greening has swept the state has caught small to mid-sized growers off-guard. But the biggest players say greening is now their top concern. "This is absolutely the most serious threat the citrus industry has ever had," said Mike Carrere, executive vice president of Lykes Brothers in Tampa, the state’s second-largest citrus grower. "Canker debilitates a tree. Greening actually kills it."
Once a tree is infected, there is no way to stop the bacteria’s growth. The only option is to destroy the tree, then aggressively spray neighboring trees in an effort to reduce the population of bacteria-bearing insects. Spraying won’t eliminate the pests, however.
Some scientists and officials say the ultimate solution to greening will come through development of a genetically modified citrus tree which is immune to the bacteria.
Though researchers are mapping the citrus genome and an Alachua company, Integrated Plant Genetics, has developed promising anti-bacterial technology, it would take money and nearly a decade to get a new species to market.
And major juice buyers like Tropicana and Minute Maid, as well as the public, would have to embrace genetically modified oranges.
Gast, of Southern Gardens, thinks there are few options other than genetically modified trees. "Either you don’t have citrus juice at all and fresh citrus is very expensive," he said.
"Or you have juice but you have to use more pesticides. Is that what people really want?’"
Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food
- Anne Mendelson, New York Times, Nov. 22, 2006
Book Review 'Meals To Come: A History Of The Future Of Food, By Warren Belasco, University of California Press'
ARE we headed for an age of Frankenfoods or superfoods? Mass poisoning by hamburger or improved vitality through next week's nutrition breakthrough? Do we face global starvation, or is global abundance just around the corner? And if so, how will the planet pay for it?
"Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food," (University of California Press), Warren Belasco's entertaining and incisive survey of food futurism, hazards no guess. Its mission is to review a humbling spectrum of other people's guesses, from the French Revolution on. Weigh in on the question, "Will we/when will we run out of food?" and in Mr. Belasco's view you're joining prime ministers, biospace engineers, market consultants, World Bank luminaries, and other contenders in a two-century donkey sweepstakes filled with spectacularly wrong answers.
As Mr. Belasco shows at length, the finest minds of many eras have never been slow to turn crystal balls into fog. Here is the pre-World War I Belgian chemist Jean Effront lecturing shortsighted hedonists: "It would be a hundred times better if foods were without odor or savor. For then we should eat exactly what we needed and would feel a good deal better."
As late as 1919, an American geographer could write, "It is true that the farm tractor is on the way, but it has less prospect of displacing the work animal in food production than the automobile has of driving the work horse off the road."
But as Mr. Belasco points out, "accuracy is only one of many reasons why people make predictions." His intricate exploration begins with highlights of the three-way debate among Malthusians (following Thomas Malthus, they foresee an unavoidable collision of food supply and population growth), "cornucopians" (who imagine a future of plenty) and egalitarians (redistribute wealth, they argue, and nobody will go hungry). It concludes with a bracing glance at cornucopian scenarios since the late 19th century — world's fair exhibits; experimental foods from sources like algae and plankton; displays at Epcot at Disneyworld; and so-called advanced nutrition claims. Among these widely different approaches to fact, Mr. Belasco gives fiction a whirl.
One of his sharpest insights is that speculative fiction à la H. G. Wells or Isaac Asimov can be a better predictor than methodical "white-paper futurism" because it has room for exactly what the experts don't see coming: "wild cards, unexpected twists and turns, surprise decisions." For a hundred years science fiction writers have been picturing garden-like worlds where bountiful food reaches everyone through rational planning and sustainable technology. Or dinner by control panel, as in a 1911 Hugo Gernsback story in which a silver mouthpiece was "placed in the mouth and one pressed upon a red button," to start food flowing through a tube. Other buttons for spices, salt and pepper could make the food "as palatable as wanted." Or unintended consequences of progress like the growth-enhancing feed additive in Wells's "Food of the Gods," which somehow leaks out of an experimental farm and takes over the environment "with the pertinacity of a thing alive."
Steering briskly through these what-if scenarios and the new century's uneasy grapplings with nonfiction prospects like "functional foods" (a k a "nutraceuticals") and genetically modified crops, Mr. Belasco gives us plenty to chew on.
The book's weaknesses will be more apparent to scholars than general readers. They include cluttered, hard-to-unsnarl documentation of sources and a tendency to editorialize on the sexist/racist/imperialist past with cursory attention to facts. It takes incredible sloppiness to say that a magazine account of Irish famine victims "dehumanizes" outcasts by the use of animal metaphors, when the article in question actually comments with horrified compassion that poor people reduced to living in holes represent an "experiment made on human beings," a sort of vivisection. And what Malthus really says about the implications of meat-raising versus crop-raising is completely unrelated to the carnivorous, Asia-phobic agenda Mr. Belasco puts into his mouth.
Manglings like these sometimes skew but don't derail an investigation that at its frequent best negotiates a dizzying web of issues with subtlety and balance, not to mention polish and verve. Mr. Belasco's sense of the ridiculous -- recommended equipment for any study of futurology -- coexists with a rueful awareness that we can't see ourselves today as others will see us tomorrow. "How do we keep a grip on reality while still allowing ourselves to dream of a better future?" he asks. One way for some of us to start is to read this book.