Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - November 27, 2006
* As Millions Starve, Alarmists Block Famine Solutions
* 'Green Revolution' Hero
* Natural Romanticism Only Yields Need and Misery
* ... New Harvest of GM Cotton
* Wheat Gene May Boost Foods' Nutrient Content
* Toxic Seed Becomes Hope for The Hungry
* Genetically Engineered Rice Wins USDA Approval Grain
* Australia: Pressure on Chance over GM Stand
* Golden Rice - Ingo Potryus Advocate Its Case for India
* NY Academy of Sciences Announces Scientists Without Borders
* An All-Natural Chemical Feast
As Millions Starve, Alarmists Block Famine Solutions
- Jay Ambrose, Daily Southern, Nov. 27, 2006 http://www.dailysouthtown.com/
As some of us in this blessed land of ours wonder in the aftermath of Thanksgiving whether we overdid the calories, we might consider that millions in the Third World go to bed hungry every night and that there's an exciting means of assisting them being opposed by anti-modernist environmental alarmists with arguments as shameful as their stance.
The means -- it is not entire or complete, but potentially very, very powerful -- is the technology of implanting genes to enhance an agricultural product in any number of ways, perhaps making it more resistant to pests or disease, maybe even putting selected vitamins into it so those eating it will be more resistant to disease.
As much as has been done with Golden rice, a bunch of journalists were told at an expenses-paid Montana conference sponsored by the Property and Environment Research Center. Bill Dyer, professor of plant sciences and pathology at Montana State University, explained that this rice -- which includes genetically inserted vitamin A -- can help protect the millions of people in Africa and Southeast Asia who die or the hundreds of thousands who are rendered permanently blind by vitamin A deficiency every year.
The professor's further remarks supplemented other things I previously had learned about genetically modified foods through reading and interviews -- there are all kinds of safeguards in place to protect against dangers most scientists consider relatively remote, and millions of Americans consume these foods daily without as much as a burp. For people in the Third World, they could be a godsend -- lifting farmers out of poverty as they get more yield per acre or, more specifically, contain a disease now destroying bananas on which hundreds of millions depend for nourishment and their incomes.
The sad, the reprehensible, fact, however, is that various environmental groups and others have made wild, unsubstantiated claims about the dangers of biotech, and sometimes make it erroneously sound as if the technology's only supporters are right-wing ideologues or paid stooges of money-grubbing corporate interests. They not infrequently have indulged in outright sophistry and have engaged in numerous attempts to obstruct development of these foods.
At the Montana conference, I encountered one of the fallacious arguments sometimes put forth by groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. I had been going on at the breakfast table about how George McGovern -- former senator, former presidential candidate, former U.N. food ambassador -- had challenged fellow liberals at a hearing, telling them the best science appeared to confirm how biotech could help fill the bellies of millions of children in Africa and elsewhere without risks of unmanageable proportions. Genetically modified foods were crucial for the poor of this world, I asserted. Nonsense, one conference participant said. There is plenty of food in the world right now. The issue is distribution.
Now, I may have been heaping it on some, and it is true in my view that Third World hunger has no long-term fix that leaves out decent government, free trade and market-oriented economies. But to talk about "distribution" as an answer is to talk about accomplishing something that never has been accomplished in the history of humankind and that likely would require coercive measures almost sure to diminish the food supply over time and disrupt agriculture in Third World lands. Even if you are convinced this utopian glory soon will be ours, is it unwise to assist millions of people in the meantime?
Already, alarmist groups have exacted tragedy as the price for their exaggerated fears and peculiar reasoning -- once by persuading the president of Zambia to decline genetically modified corn from the United States during a famine.
"There is something insane about food aid rotting while people starve due to disinformation campaigns," wrote a Tanzanian physician, Michael Mbwille, as quoted in an article on the subject, and, yes, there is, and, yes, it's something worth thinking about in these post-Thanksgiving days.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
'Green Revolution' Hero
- Bill Frist, Washington Times, November 21, 2006 http://washingtontimes.com/commentary/20061120-094716-8709r.htm
Though he never became a household name, 92-year-old agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug should make any list of the greatest living Americans. Mr. Borlaug, an Iowan who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, ushered in the "green revolution" by developing new plant strains that thrived in countries where there previously were food production problems. He remains the only Peace Prize laureate honored for scientific achievement. The Senate has passed a resolution to award him the Congressional Gold Medal and the House should too when it gets back to business after Thanksgiving.
Mr. Borlaug clearly deserves the honor -- economic models estimate agricultural developments resulting from his work saved at least 1 billion lives over the last 40 years. The crops he developed ended many plant diseases, greatly increased per-acre yields, and let nations like China, Brazil, and India banish famine. But even as we honor an extraordinary man, Congress should remember that his work feeding the world remains unfinished. To build on his legacy, the United States should revamp its aid programs to recognize the central importance of agriculture in relieving famine and, more specifically, follow Mr. Borlaug's lead by developing economically useful, disease resistant crops that offer real nutritional benefits.
First, when the U.S. and other wealthy nations provide emergency food aid, we should make sure not to undermine local farmers or promote "innovations" that do not make economic sense. The seeds and plants Mr. Borlaug helped develop caught on because farmers could make money growing them. Too many of our aid programs provide only temporary relief while doing little to address the underlying agricultural conditions that make food production hard in the first place.
Second, we should not be shy about sending the best genetically engineered crops as food aid. Mr. Borlaug's always used the best technology -- hybrid seeds during the 1960s and genetic engineering today. Many of the crops he developed succeeded because they were heartier or more disease resistance and thus didn't require expensive chemical pesticides or fertilizers. In the same way, advanced bioengineered crops help protect the environment. If farmers end up using a small portion of food aid to seed fields, we should consider it a benefit.
Finally, we should pay more attention to ensuring everyone in the world gets proper nutrition and clean water. Alone, a diet of 2,000 calories daily isn't enough to maintain health. Proper diet and sustainable, safe drinking water can do more to improve health than the most advanced pharmaceuticals. Throughout the underdeveloped world, shortages of vitamins and minerals -- many of which people need only tiny amounts of -- mean many who consume sufficient calories still face afflictions like goiter and rickets.
A group of leading economists who met in Copenhagen in 2004 to discuss international development concluded "micronutrient" efforts ranked as the most cost-effective way to improve conditions for the underdeveloped world. One existing crop, genetically engineered "golden rice" that produces vitamin A, already holds enormous promise for reducing blindness and dwarfism that result from a vitamin-A deficient diet.
The U.S. government needs to make developing and spreading similar crops a key foreign aid priority largely because they compliment efforts I've spearheaded to help clean up the world's water supply. Dirty water causes at least as many problems as lack of micronutrients and, as the world's largest aid donor, we have a special responsibility to help the entire planet.
In concert, food and water efforts can improve standards of living around the world. Food is at the heart of many of our aid programs and Norman Borlaug's extraordinary work points the way toward maximizing the impact of our efforts.
Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, is Senate Majority Leader and a physician.
Natural Romanticism Only Yields Need and Misery
- Prof. Jussi Tammisola, Helsingin Sanomat (Finland), Nov. 2006, Jussi.Tammisola.at.mmm.fi
Let Nature, or "natural varieties", provide for food production of Africa also in the future. Such a slogan, last scripted by director Anunradha Mittal in California, is chanted by nostalgic movements in the wealthy West (IPS 2006).
Ugh! Based on that particular receipt, Africa was hooked by hunger and poverty. Green revolution in cultivation and plant breeding saved millions of human lives in Asia in the 1960s and 70s, whereas the staple crops of Africa remained aside. Accordingly, yields are decreasing and hunger is increasing in the continent.
In order to compensate for the decades of neglect by the international community, two leading charities recently launched a jointed effort to dramatically increase the productivity of small farms in Africa. Gates and Rockefeller Foundations aim at moving tens of millions of people out of extreme poverty.
This Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa makes a start by financing the development of 100 to 200 new and improved crop varieties, and the training of a new generation of African crop scientists. Furthermore, better access to agricultural inputs and product markets will be provided e.g. by establishing 10 000 small agro-dealers and investing in financial services for the poor.
The political rationale of the "naturalistic" activist campaign above is to attack on sciences in general – and specifically on this donation to human development.
According to the dictates of Vandana Shiva, poor farmers shall remain self-sufficient and only rely on home-made inputs – (scarce) fertilizers, (primitive) equipment, (low-yielding) seeds, (ineffective) drugs, and (poisonous) weeds as vegetables. Companies equate with the Devil. Though, specialization and division of labor were the keys of the rise of human civilizations already 10 millennia ago...
"Natural varieties" do not exist
In fact, “natural varieties” is a popular misconception. Such crop varieties do not exist – and even if they did, such varieties would be inferior to bred ones.
Nature did not give us cultivated plants ready and waiting. Quite the contrary, our staple crops were conquered by man with hard work during millennia. Namely, wild plants are not optimized for human needs but for their own benefits. Hence, crop prototypes were – and are to be – improved by man.
By definition, plant breeding denotes changing the hereditary traits of cultivated plants for suiting human needs better. Thanks to human efforts for millennia, low-yielding and toxic wild plants were transformed to better food and feed. In important staple crops, yields have often increased 10- to 30-fold compared with their wild progenitors.
For example, it took seven thousand years of work plus five radical mutations, and hundreds of smaller ones, to develop the contemporary, highly productive maize crop from its stingy wild progenitor, teosinte. Accordingly, all maize varieties are fundamentally artificial, man-made organisms, which cannot any more manage without human help at all.
Furthermore, in the infertile soils typical of Africa, crop yields remain poor without human help in fertilization. Though, Nature does provide for taking the bulk of crop yields to pests and diseases in the Third World.
With the help of modern plant breeding, based on genetic understanding and know-how, much more nutritious food can be produced in sufficient quantities in developing countries. In a rapidly changing world, a high premium should be put on resistant varieties, which are not lost due to diseases, pests, drought, salty soil or floods.
Scare stories iterated in the media by activist bosses only have two shortcomings in general. First, these are usually based on urban legends in the Internet. And secondly, these do not deal with plant breeding at all, though the scribes so state. That also holds for their claim that better plant varieties would enforce poor farmers to suicide.
Indian cotton production revives
With the help of up-to-date know-how, much greater improvements can often be reached than the ones we got used to during traditional breeding. The benefits of genetic modification have been treated in hundreds of scientific studies.
For example, five fold yields are obtained from virus resistant cassava, compared with diseased ones. And protein crops with better amino acid composition may often be two times more nutritious than conventional varieties. Resistant varieties usually benefit best the poor farmers who cannot afford to buy control chemicals. That also holds true for moth resistant cotton.
The advantages of genetically modified varieties in India and China are undisputable, based on many scientific studies. Cotton yields now hit record heights in India, and thanks to moth resistant varieties, Indian cotton industry is regaining its position lost to foreign competitors. Whereas the related troubles almost exclusively owe to societal structures – in India as well.
Plant breeding does not kill farmers
"Gene-free" movement imposes on a myth that moth resistant cotton forces farmers to suicide. On Indian countryside, suicides are still rare occasions, compared with many western countries. However, their frequency started to rise in the 1990s – notably far before the introduction of resistant Bt cotton in India. Hence, the increase was not caused by moth resistant varieties.
The straits of farmers do not result from plant breeding but unsafe societal structures, such as caste discrimination (forbidden but firmly alive), corruption, scanty prospects for or hard terms of loans, and inadequate compensation or insurance system for crop failures.
After an unfavorable season, poor farmers must turn to taking loans from profiteers. In case of not obtaining superior yield in subsequent season, the farmer may be driven in a vicious circle due to untenably high interest levels.
In order to provide even the poorest farmer with the possibility of improving his production, a well-functioning public loan system with modest payback terms should be built for small farmers. Family livelihoods should also be adequately protected in case of occasional crop failures (though their probability may often be decreased by cultivating resistant crop varieties).
Moth resistant Bt cotton was first produced commercially in India in 2002, and thanks to the positive experiences, it is now grown on 1.3 million ha in the country. In fact the true area may even be considerably larger, because the area sown with "gray" seed is not included in the statistics. Namely, unlike in the western countries, farmers are free to sell their self-produced sowing seed to each other in India.
Consequently, "home-made" GM cotton lines spread rapidly to further farmers "via kitchen" in India, because their seed is cheaper than in seed companies. However, Indian authorities have now imposed price ceiling on cottonseed, in order to provide access to high-quality seed also for poor farmers.
Access to affordable crop seed is a key issue for poor farmers and countries. It can be resolved in co-operation by universities, FAO-supported international agronomic research centers (CGIAR), and private sector plant breeding and seed companies.
Problems may arise even with better plant varieties
In the early years, farmers' livelihoods were sabotaged by firebomb brigades, which swarmed through the country destroying peoples' GM cotton fields in the name of Shiva.
Currently, production of food plants may decrease, when many farmers are excited and move over to the more profitable cotton cultivation.
Furthermore, new cultivation may require guidance, which may not be available to "gray seed" users. When cultivating moth resistant cotton, regular control sprayings at intervals of a couple of days are given up in favor of more ecologic, integrated control systems. Accordingly, the farmer must be prepared to keep watch on other relevant pests and, if necessary, control these early enough. Or else the pests find time to burst into an epidemic with consequent yield losses in the field.
Summer 2004 was exceptionally cool and wet in China, which led to unexpected outbreaks of mirids in the fields, cotton fields included. These bugs eroded the economic supremacy of moth resistant cotton varieties in 2004, because current Bt varieties are not resistant to mirids yet. In subsequent seasons, bug populations were normalized into much lower levels.
Developed plant varieties do not constitute a problem to farmers. Any unsatisfactory variety is automatically eroded away in favor of better ones, because professional farmers are realistic and cannot be pressured, even by political activists, to cultivate loser varieties.
Nostalgia cannot feed humanity. Whereas, modern biology can help produce sufficiently of food, without endangering the biodiversity hotspots and rare wildlife still remaining in the world.
Jussi Tammisola, Associate Prof. in Plant Breeding, Univ. of Helsinki, Finland; www.geenit.fi; The author contributes to international assessment of agricultural science and technology for development
The New Harvest of GM Cotton
- Anuradha Mittal, IPS-Inter Press Service, Nov. 2006
OAKLAND - Monsanto's website boasts that 2005 capped a decade in which the "eager adoption" of technology resulted in the "planting and harvesting of the billionth cumulative acre of biotech crops". It goes on to hail the benefits that the technology allegedly provides to farmers: "increased crop yields, the ability to reduce on-farm chemical use, the opportunity to transition to more environmentally-friendly farming practices, and savings in both time and money".
This fits in well with the industry's public relations exercise of preventing debate by creating a false sense of need. The key arguments used in this pro-industry publicity blitz are green washing --"biotech will create a world free of pesticides"- and poor washing --"We must accept genetic engineering to increase yields, reduce costs, and improve livelihoods of farmers."
Evidence from the fields, however, shows these claims to be spurious. A new study by Cornell University researchers, the first to look at longer-term economic impact of Bt cotton, concluded that the Chinese cotton growers who were among the first farmers worldwide to plant Bt cotton --which is inserted with the Bacillus Thuringiensis gene to produce lethal toxins against bollworms-- are seeing their profits disappear. A study of 481 Chinese farmers in five major cotton-producing provinces found that after seven years of cultivation they had to spray up to 20 times in a growing season to deal with secondary insects, which resulted in a net average income of 8 percent less than conventional cotton farmers because Bt seed is triple the cost of conventional seed. The researchers stressed that this could become a major threat in countries where Bt cotton has been widely planted.
One of the researchers of the study, Professor Per Pinstrup-Andersen, former director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, however, urged researchers and governments to come up with remedial actions before farmers stop using it. "Bt cotton can help reduce poverty and undernourishment problems in developing countries if properly used," he said.
Pinstrup-Anderson would do well to instead urge researchers to examine the harvest of farmer suicides in India. Between June 1, 2005 and August 9, 2006, an estimated 700 farmers in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, took their own lives to escape indebtedness.
Ramesh Rathod, from the village of Bondgavhan, Vidarbha, committed suicide in December 2005. He had purchased a variety of Bt cotton at four times the cost of non-Bt seeds. Ramesh's hopes were dashed when his crop had a severe pest attack and the leaves of the plants turned red before drying up. With the yield destroyed, he was in no position to pay back the loans he had taken to buy the seed. He consumed pesticide and died. Left behind to pay back the debt and shoulder the responsibility of a young family, Ramesh's widow used two costly pesticides, Endosulphane and Tracer, against the bollworm pest, but the three acres of land did not even yield three quintals of cotton.
Cotton farmer Chandrakant Gurenule (34) from Yavatmal committed suicide in April 2006. He too had bought the genetically-modified cotton seeds for his 15-acre (six-hectare) farm, only to watch his crops fail for two successive years. When there was no hope left -- he had sold the pair of bullocks he used to plough the fields and pawned his wife's wedding jewelry -- he doused himself in kerosene and lit a match.
As Bt cotton continues to jostle for public acceptance, travails of Indian farmers continue. Devastated by bollworm pest, Bt crops have been attacked by "Lalya" or "reddening" as well, a disease unseen before which affected Bt more than the non-Bt cotton crop, resulting in 60 percent of farmers in Maharashtra failing to recover costs from their first GM harvest. Some studies show that farmers are spending USD 136.26 per acre compared to USD 11.60 on non-Bt cotton since GM cotton requires more supplemental insecticide sprays.
This failure of Bt cotton crops resulted in the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Indian government banning Monsanto's Mech 12, Mech 184, and Mech 162 varieties in Andhra Pradesh (AP) while Mech 12 was banned all over Southern India. The local government in AP's Warangal district demanded compensation from Monsanto Biotech Ltd., for farmers who lost their crop. In addition, the AP government, backed by the central government, challenged Monsanto under the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission for hugely overcharging farmers for its seed.
In the face of the evidence that small farmers have borne the brunt of Bt cotton's problems, the biotech industry and its researchers nonetheless continue to spin Bt cotton as the way to improve livelihoods of poor farmers and to ensure food security.
Genetic engineering and Bt cotton will neither revolutionise the countryside in the developing countries nor improve food security, but a new farm economy based on the principle of food sovereignty and farmers' rights as the centrepiece of the country's economic development model will. It is time to renew the 1998 call of the African experts, who do not believe in the miracles of genetic engineering as the solution to food security: "Let Nature's Harvest Continue".
(*) Anuradha Mittal is the founder and director of the Oakland Institute.
Wheat Gene May Boost Foods' Nutrient Content
- University of California, Davis http://www.eurekalert.org Nov. 23, 2006
Researchers at the University of California, Davis; the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and the University of Haifa in Israel have cloned a gene from wild wheat that increases the protein, zinc and iron content in the grain, potentially offering a solution to nutritional deficiencies affecting hundreds of millions of children around the world.
Results from the study will be reported in the Nov. 24 issue of the journal Science. "Wheat is one of the world's major crops, providing approximately one-fifth of all calories consumed by humans, therefore, even small increases in wheat's nutritional value may help decrease deficiencies in protein and key micronutrients," said Professor Jorge Dubcovsky, a wheat breeder and leader of this research group. He noted that the World Health Organization estimates that more than 2 billion people are deficient in zinc and iron, and more than 160 million children under the age of five lack an adequate protein supply.
The cloned gene, designated GPC-B1 for its effect on Grain Protein Content, accelerates grain maturity and increases grain protein and micronutrient content by 10 to 15 percent in the wheat varieties studied so far. To prove that all these effects were produced by this gene, the researchers created genetically modified wheat lines with reduced levels of the GPC gene by a technique called RNA interference. These lines were developed by research geneticist Ann Blechl of USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Albany, Calif.
"The results were spectacular," Dubcovsky said. "The grains from the genetically modified plants matured several weeks later than the control plants and showed 30 percent less grain protein, zinc and iron, without differences in grain size. This experiment confirmed that this single gene was responsible for all these changes."
Dubcovsky said the research team was surprised to find that all cultivated pasta and bread wheat varieties analyzed so far have a nonfunctional copy of GPC-B1, suggesting that this gene was lost during the domestication of wheat.
Therefore, the reintroduction of the functional gene from the wild species into commercial wheat varieties has the potential to increase the nutritional value of a large proportion of our current cultivated wheat varieties," he said. "Furthermore, this discovery provides a clear example of the value and importance of conserving the wild germplasm -- the source of genetic diversity -- of our crop species."
Dubcovsky leads a consortium of 20 public wheat-breeding programs known as the Wheat Coordinated Agricultural Project, which is rapidly introducing GPC-B1 and other valuable genes into U.S. wheat varieties using a rapid-breeding technique called Marker Assisted Selection. The resulting varieties are not genetically modified organisms, which will likely speed their commercial adoption. More information about the Wheat Coordinated Agricultural Project is available online at [ http://maswheat.ucdavis.edu/. ]http://maswheat.ucdavis.edu/.
Several breeding programs have already used the GPC-B1 gene to develop elite breeding lines, which are close to being released as new wheat varieties. Breeders are currently testing the new lines in multiple environments to determine if the introduction of GPC-B1 has any negative impacts on yield or quality. The researchers hope that these efforts will soon translate into food products with enhanced nutritional value.
Toxic Seed Becomes Hope for The Hungry
- Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 27, 2006 http://www.csmonitor.com/
Scientists reengineer cottonseed. Now, they aim to turn more poisonous plants into human food.
By Peter N. Spotts | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Where most people might look at a white-capped cotton plant and see the makings of next year's T-shirts, Keerti Rathore sees food for a hungry world.
Dr. Rathore and his colleagues have figured out how to make poisonous cottonseeds fit for human consumption. The new, nontoxic seeds could give 500 million people an additional source of high-quality protein, the team estimates, if the genetically engineered plant is approved for cultivation.
In principle, this approach could expand the array of plants or plant parts humans could eat without heavy processing or precooking preparation. Rathore's team virtually shuts off the gene responsible for the toxin. The researchers don't replace the gene or add one to get the desired trait. Thus, some researchers suggest, the technique might be more politically palatable to people who oppose genetically modified crops.
"This is a nice piece of work," says Steve Scofield, a molecular biologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Still, he cautions, "the biggest issue they've got is that this will be viewed as a [genetically modified] plant. So there may be a public-acceptance issue."
Crop scientists have been exploring the approach, known as RNA interference, to reduce or eliminate compounds they have tied to allergic reactions to foods.
Coming up with a toxin-free cottonseed "is not that straightforward," says Rathore, who heads the Laboratory for Crop Transformation at Texas A&M University. His team's results are reported in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Scientists have pursued the goal for 50 years. Cotton is grown worldwide, and for every two pounds of fiber, a cotton field also yields slightly more than three and a half pounds of seed - totaling some 44 million tons a year.
Cottonseed is the third-largest oil-seed crop in the world, according to the US Department of Agriculture. But its oil requires heavy processing for use in cooking. And the raw seeds are fit to feed only livestock such as cows.
In the 1950s scientists stumbled onto a variety of cotton that didn't have the toxin and bred it with commercial varieties.
"The seeds were good enough to eat," Rathore says. But without the toxin, known as gossypol, the plant cannot defend itself against pests and pathogens.
Thus, for Rathore and colleagues at the USDA's Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center, gossypol became a prime target for RNA silencing - a technique for switching genes off that earned two US scientists a Nobel Prize this year. Genes are long strands of DNA - a twisted, ladder-shaped molecule that carries the blueprint for organic life.
RNA, a close relative of DNA, communicates a gene's information to a cell's proteinmaking apparatus. Shaped like a ladder split down the middle, this messenger RNA is specific to a gene. By joining a strand of messenger RNA with its mirror opposite, scientists learned that the new, combined RNA molecule starts to silence the messenger RNA.
Rathore and his team used this biological "smart bomb" to target the gene linked to gossypol. In addition, the team was able to tailor its approach so that the rest of the plant could produce enough gossypol to meet its defensive needs. But gossypol production in the seeds was suppressed to nontoxic levels.
The team is looking at detoxifying traditional food plants, such as cassava and fava beans, as well as "grass peas" and so called "famine crops," which become a food of last resort for areas hit by drought.
Despite the approach's potential, it's not clear if it will quiet critics of GM crops, notes Douglas Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington.
The team used genetic material foreign to the plant to silence the gene - although eventually the plant's own genetic material could be used for both strands of the RNA off-switch, other scientists say.
Still, "in biology, there is no free lunch," Dr. Gurnian-Sherman says. In this case, he continues, the approach is new and the full range of effects aren't well known.
Some studies have suggested that RNA interference may not be as gene-specific as researchers may think. And lower gossypol levels could still render the seeds more vulnerable to pests or disease.
Instead, the approach may be most acceptable - at least for now - in helping breeders develop more-nutritious crops through traditional crossbreeding.
For instance, scientists at the University of California at Davis, the USDA, and the University of Haifa in Israel have developed a new strain of more-nutritious wheat by crossbreeding it with an ancient type of wheat known to have higher protein, iron, and zinc content. The researchers used RNA interference to ensure that the gene of interest was responsible for the enhancement. Their results appear in the current issue of the journal Science.
Genetically Engineered Rice Wins USDA Approval Grain, Tainted U.S. Supply This Summer
- Christopher Lee, Washington Post, Nov. 25, 2006
The Department of Agriculture declared safe for human consumption yesterday an experimental variety of genetically engineered rice found to have contaminated the U.S. rice supply this summer.
The move by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to deregulate the special long-grain rice, LL601, was seen as a legal boon to its creator, Bayer CropScience of Research Triangle Park, N.C. The company applied for approval shortly after the widespread contamination was disclosed in August and now faces a class-action lawsuit filed by hundreds of farmers in Arkansas and Missouri.
The experimental rice, designed to resist Bayer's Liberty weedkiller, escaped from Bayer's test plots after the company dropped the project in 2001. The resulting contamination, once it became public, prompted countries around the world to block rice imports from the United States, sending rice futures plummeting and farmers into fits.
In approving the rice, the USDA allowed Bayer to take a regulatory shortcut and skip many of the usual safety tests by declaring that the new variety is similar to ones already approved, in this case two varieties of biotech rice that Bayer never commercialized because farmers did not want them in their fields. The department gave its preliminary approval Sept. 8. "The protein in the company's herbicide-tolerant rice varieties . . . is well known to regulators, who have affirmed the rice poses no human health or environmental concern," said Greg Coffey, a Bayer spokesman.
Coffey said the company has no plans to sell the newly approved variety. Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, said the quick approval shows that the USDA is more concerned about the fortunes of the biotechnology industry than about consumers' health.
"USDA is telling agricultural biotechnology companies that it doesn't matter if you're negligent, if you break the rules, if you contaminate the food supply with untested genetically engineered crops, we'll bail you out," Mendelson said in a statement. "In effect, USDA is sanctioning an 'approval-by-contamination' policy that can only increase the likelihood of untested genetically engineered crops entering the food supply in the future," he said.
Most critics agree that the new rice is safe to eat. The bacterial gene that is in LL601 is also in several approved varieties of engineered corn, canola and cotton. Experts say the key gene in the new rice is sure to move via pollen into red rice, a weedy relative of white rice and the No. 1 plant pest for rice farmers in the South.
By September, rice prices had slumped about 10 percent and experts predicted that market losses would reach $150 million. Adam Levitt, an attorney for about 300 farmers suing Bayer, said yesterday's approval does nothing to change that outlook. Officials in Europe, where genetically altered rice is derisively dubbed "Frankenfood," made clear as recently as last week that European countries will not accept any U.S. rice, he said.
"Unless the U.S. export countries change their view and begin to regain a sense of confidence in U.S. rice, the U.S. rice farmers are still hurt and this whole ruling is illusory in its effect," Levitt said. "It's not a victory at all, because at the end of the day people are not purchasing U.S. rice and the exports markets are absolutely closed still."
While Bayer may have received some legal help -- it can no longer be said to be responsible for introducing an illegal variety of gene-altered rice into the U.S. rice supply -- the USDA is still investigating how the variety escaped from test plots into farmers' fields, where it was quietly amplified for years until its discovery.
USDA officials said yesterday that the decision to deregulate the rice is separate from the question of whether Bayer complied with federal regulations in its handling the gene-altered rice. "The deregulation doesn't preclude any legal action against the company for violation of APHIS regulations," said Rachel Iadicicco, a USDA spokeswoman. "Violators of APHIS regulations can face criminal penalties, civil penalties and remediation costs."
Australia: Pressure on Chance over GM Stand
- Ben Spencer, The West Australian, Nov. 25, 2006 http://www.thewest.com.au
Agriculture Minister Kim Chance is under renewed pressure to lift the State Government's moratorium on genetically modified crops.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association grain committee chairman Leon Bradley said it was essential the ban was lifted and the Government was denying farmers the technology that would enable them to "stay in the race". But Mr Chance was standing firm yesterday on the Government's ban, which prevents the commercial release of all GM crops in WA until at least 2009.
Mr Chance said GM technology had a profound and probably irreversible effect on WA's markets and the perceptions of the safety of food in the State. "So far we don't see (enough) client consumer confidence about those effects to warrant taking what would be an irreversible step to adopt the technology," he said.
"We want to take some time to understand that effect and leave our options open. Advocates for adopting the technology now perhaps don't realise it but by doing so we would close those options. "The Government is now in the process of working through a wide range of issues associated with GM technology with industry through the GMO industry reference group."[*] Mr Bradley said the veto was pointless and all Mr Chance was doing was punishing farmers.
"Anything that helps productivity in drought-affected areas is the answer to survival and underwrites prosperity in agriculture," he said. "WA has for generations been a recognised world leader in the adoption of technology for dry land agriculture and now we are becoming a backwater."
WA Farmers Federation policy director Andy McMillan said his organisation only supported GM crops grown in controlled trials at this stage. But he expected the policy would come under scrutiny when WAFF reviewed its policies in February.
"We are not too sure whether WA farmers are disadvantaged and that's why we are calling for the GM crop trials," he said. "It is all very well trying to analyse data coming from overseas on what GM canola can and can't do but it's data that can be interpreted to suit either end of the argument. We are very keen to see how it performs in Australian conditions and obviously WA conditions."
Golden Rice Still at Development Stage - Ingo Potryus Advocate Its Case for India
- Ashok B Sharma, Financial Express, Nov. 23, 2006 http://www.financialexpress.com
The delay in the release of provitamin A rich Golden Rice for mass cultivation in India has led to an avoidable loss of 240,000 lives, says the co-inventor of the product Ingo Potrykus.
The transgenic Golden Rice contains two novel genes - one from maize and other from a soil bacterium. It does not contain an antibiotic resistance marker gene. The only novelty being the protein from the bacterial gene - phytoene-desaturase, said Potrykus and claimed that no environmental risk or health problem was involved. According to him, Golden Rice would minimise vitamin A malnutrition on basis of traditional normal diet.
Potrykus is perturbed over the 'extreme precautionary regulation' for genetically modified (GM) crops in India. "It led, so far, to a delay of at least six years in the use of Golden Rice with a consequence of an avoidable loss of 240,000 lives," he said.
He was also very critical of the 'anti-GMO lobby' for stalling the process of approval of GM crops and alleged that the delay in Indian regulatory process was due to 'European influence'. Golden Rice in India is still at the stage of development in the labs and the developers are yet to apply for permission for contained field trials and hence Potrykus charges against Indian regulatory authority seems to be misplaced.
Potrykus who is also the chairman of the Humanitarian Golden Rice Board and Network that the technology to Indian public sector scientists for public good. Indian scientists can isolate their own genes and use their own constructs and develop their own provitamin A rice lines.
Scientists at Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and BRRI are transferring the new trait into 8 carefully selected Indian rice varieties. Golden Rice, after its approval in the country "would be made available free of charge with limitations within the framework of humanitarian use." The farmers will be able to save seeds for the next season.
The seed multinational, Syngenta, however, maintains the rights for commercial exploitation and those interested in commercialisation of the product would have to get a licence from that company, said Potrykus.
Potrykus, however, hopes that Golden Rice would be released for farmers' field by 2012 and would rescue 40,000 lives per year and prevent 125,000 cases of blindness. He estimated annual loss of lives in India due to vitamin A deficiency at 71,600.
The New York Academy of Sciences Announces Launch of Scientists Without Borders
- Genetic Engineering News, Nov. 17 2006 http://www.genengnews.com/
The New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) today announced the launch of Scientists Without Borders (SM), http://www.nyas.org/borders a groundbreaking project that will help link scientists worldwide to address health and other pressing problems in the developing world.
The program, created in collaboration with the United Nations Millennium Project and guided by the Millennium Development Goals, will create a Web portal designed as a global dissemination and reference point for scientific knowledge. The portal will help to align efforts of the many public and private organizations already working toward the Millennium Goals, which are to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.
The portal will include a database of needs in the developing world and encourage volunteer scientists with applicable experience to help in fighting poverty, hunger, and disease. Ultimately, Scientists Without Borders(SM) will set up a matching service linking organizations to each other and to scientists prepared to donate their expertise to address the challenges set forth by the Millennium Development Goals.
"Although headquartered at the Academy, Scientists Without Borders will be a global collaborative between scientific, philanthropic, and corporate partners," NYAS President Ellis Rubinstein said in announcing the project at the Academy's annual Science & the City Gala, held earlier in the week. "Many organizations and institutions around the world already are doing heroic work individually. This project will bring these organizations together to more effectively solve problems by taking advantage of opportunities that may otherwise be overlooked."
To broaden the network of institutions, academic centers, funding agencies, and corporate entities working toward these goals, the program will work to identify developing country institutions eager to accept capacity-building assistance. Through these efforts, the program will be able to offer a distinctive and powerful information resource to academic and industry scientists wishing to work on global health and environmental challenges. These scientists will have the opportunity to work with organizations and institutions in both the developed and the developing worlds.
"When you think of the specific challenges that the poor face, whether it's the need for essential health services, growing more food, adjusting to climate change, finding safe drinking water, or working out the best ways to pursue sustainable farming, the chance for scientists to make a contribution is enormous," said Jeffrey D. Sachs, PhD, special advisor to the UN Secretary-General and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. "Scientists Without Borders will help ensure that, in any place in the world, when people ask for this kind of help, we have a way to respond in a practical manner that's going to bring the best of our knowledge to bear."
Eventually, the program will seek to create a virtual coalition of major national research funding agencies and scientific academies that wish to achieve synergies in their global health efforts. Scientists Without Borders(SM) will serve as a "co-branded" information hub for the leaders of these institutions. This resource will enable leaders of these institutions to devise more effective ways to partner with each other.
The program will also support an annual group of prestigious "Global Science Fellows," to be linked to institutions in developing countries that would profit from qualified assistance. The hope is that the honorees will become role models for a new generation of scientists committed to world service and collaboration.
Underwriters of Scientists Without Borders(SM )are Merck & Co. and an anonymous donor. Mission partners include Access Industries, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer. Benefactors are Abbott Laboratories, Boehringer-Ingelheim, and William T. Golden. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also has expressed support for the project, as have leaders of such institutions as the Medical Research Council of the United Kingdom, the German research funding agency (DFG), Japan's Science Council, and China's Academy of Science.
The annual Academy Gala at which the Scientists Without Borders(SM) launch was celebrated on November 14, 2006 was attended by dozens of leaders in science, health, philanthropy, and business, and honors key figures and organizations for their work on major scientific issues. This year's honorees were Nobel Laureate Richard Axel, MD, of Columbia University; the UN Millennium Project and the Earth Institute at Columbia University (acceptance by Dr. Sachs); GlaxoSmithKline (acceptance by CEO Jean-Pierre Garnier, PhD); and the Gates Foundation (acceptance by Neil McDonnell, PharmD). Guest speaker was UN General Assembly President H.E. Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa.
An All-Natural Chemical Feast
- Elizabeth M. Whelan, The New York Post, Nov. 23, 2006 http://www.nypost.com
It's time to start the preparation for your multicourse serving of Thanksgiving chemicals.
These days, people think the word "chemical" means "bad" - and supermarkets are filled with foods that claim to be "chemical-free," "all-natural" and "purely organic." Almost daily, media stories tell us, for example, how a "carcinogen" known as acrylamide is showing up in French fries and other cooked high-starch foods.
We're told that nitrite in bacon, saccharin in Sweet 'N Low and PCB traces in farmed salmon are "carcinogens." The basis? They cause cancer in lab rats that have been fed enormous doses.
So it may be a suprise to learn that even 100 percent natural foods - including the holiday feast that will be coming your way shortly - come replete with chemicals, including toxins (poisons) and carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals), which average consumers would reject simply because they can't pronounce the names.
Assume you start with a soup course, then munch down some crispy, natural vegetables, move on to a traditional stuffed bird with all the trimmings (washing it down with a few glasses of wine) and then top it all off with dessert and coffee. You will thus have consumed holiday helpings of various "carcinogens" (again, in lab animals fed high doses). Yes, Mother Nature makes "carcinogens," too:
* hydrazines (mushroom soup) * aniline, caffeic acid, benzaldehyde, hydrogen peroxide, quercetin glycosides, and psoralens (your fresh vegetable salad) * heterocyclic amines, acrylamide, benzo(a)pyrene, ethyl carbamate, dihydrazines, d-limonene, safrole, and quercetin glycosides (roast turkey with stuffing) * benzene and heterocyclic amines (prime rib of beef with parsley sauce) * furfural, ethyl alcohol, allyl isothiocyanate (broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes) * coumarin, methyl eugenol, acetaldehyde, estragole and safrole (apple and pumpkin pies) * ethyl alcohol with ethyl carbamate (red and white wines)
Then sit back and relax with some benzofuran, caffeic acid, catechol, l,2,5,6,-dibenz(a)anthra-cene with 4-methylcatechol (coffee).
These carcinogens in your 100 percent natural holiday meal are accompanied by toxins - popularly known as "poisons," also from Mother Nature. These include the solanine, arsenic and chaconine in potatoes; the hydrogen cyanide in lima beans; and the hallucinogenic compound myristicin found in nutmeg, black pepper and carrots.
Now the good news: These foods are safe.
Four observations are relevant here:
1) When it comes to toxins, only the dose makes the poison. Substances - like salt - are potentially hazardous at high doses but perfectly safe when consumed at low doses like the trace amounts found in our foods.
2) While you probably associate the word "carcinogen" with nasty-sounding synthetic chemicals like PCBs and dioxin, the fact is that the more we test naturally occurring chemicals, the more we find that they, too, cause cancer in lab animals.
3) The increasing body of evidence documenting the carcinogenicity (in the lab) of common substances found in nature highlights the contradiction we Americans have created up to now in our regulatory approach to carcinogens: trying to purge our nation of synthetic carcinogens while turning a blind eye to the omnipresence of natural "carcinogens."
4) While animal testing is an essential part of biomedical research, so is common sense. A rodent is not a little man. There is no scientific foundation to the assumption that if high-dose exposure to a chemical causes cancer in a rat or mouse, then a trace level of it must pose a human cancer risk.
If we took a precautionary approach with all chemicals and assumed that a rodent carcinogen might pose a human cancer risk "so let's ban it just in case"), we'd have very little left to eat. (A radical solution to our nation's obesity problem!)
The reality is that these trace levels of natural or synthetic chemicals in food or the environment pose no known human health hazard at all - let alone a risk of cancer.
So the next time you hear a self-appointed consumer advocate fret about the manmade "carcinogen du jour" and demand the government step in and "protect" us, remember, you just ingested a meal full of natural carcinogens without a care in the world and with no risk to your health.